Saturday, April 18, 2015

Fantastic Fiction Friday

Once a month, one of our branches has Fantastic Fiction Friday. Usually, they discuss just one book, but you all know that's not my style. I want to talk about all kinds of books. So, I picked twenty books. Remember, these might not be all my favorites. They were fiction titles on the shelf at the branch library.

One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern. After journalist Kitty Logan watches her career crumble because of a scandal, she asks her mentor what story she always wanted to cover. The clues are on a piece of paper with one hundred names, but Kitty's friend dies before she can tell her about those names.

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen. Allen's debut novel introduced the Waverley women, unusual even in their unusual North Carolina town. The women have always had a way with plants, and they tend an apple tree that is rumored to be magical. Some of the family work with their abilities, while one sister runs from it.

Home for the Haunting by Juliet Blackwell. Part of Blackwell's Haunted Home Renovation series, this one finds contractor Mel Turner doing a good deed, leading a volunteer home renovation project, only to get caught up in murder and ghosts at a house the kids call "The Murder House".

Scent of Murder by James O. Born. Introduces a special team of Florida K-9 cops led by Deputy Tim Hallett who get caught up in the search for a dangerous predator. Told from multiple viewpoints, including that of one of the dogs, this is action-packed mystery.

Between Heaven and Texas by Marie Bostwick. In a prequel to the Cobbled Court Quilt series, Bostwick takes readers to a small Texas town, where the Templeton sisters fall for the wrong men, but find their true calling, and the true meaning of family.

One Book in the Grave by Kate Carlisle. In the fifth Bibliophile mystery, bookbinder Brooklyn Wainwright agrees to restore a copy of Beauty and the Beast until she discovers it was once owned by a friend who died in a suspicious car accident.

Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo. The first Kate Burkholder novel introduced the new Police Chief of Painters Mill, Ohio. Burkholder, from Painters Mill, suffered through a terrible crime as a young Amish girl, left her religion, and, now must deal with her past and new crimes when a body is found in the snow.

Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas. My favorite Sandra Dallas book tells of a family who sees their Colorado small town turned upside down when a Japanese internment camp is built there during World War II. Told through the eyes of Rennie Stroud, a thirteen-year-old girl, the story has an unusual perspective.

Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons. A fascinating story of three generations of women in North Carolina, told by the adult granddaughter during World War II, with a focus on her grandmother, a self-educated medicine woman who treated everyone.

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin. One of my favorites of 2014, the story brings together Elizabeth (Sisi), Empress of Austria, Captain Bay Middleton, an impoverished British horseman, and Charlotte Baird, an heiress who falls for Bay, until he helps the Empress when she comes to England to hunt, and falls under Sisi's sway.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. One that will undoubtedly make my favorites of 2015 list, this powerful novel of two sisters in Occupied France has been optioned for a movie. In 1939, when Germany moves into France, two sisters react very differently. While one secretly works in the Resistance, the other does everything she can to keep her family alive.

Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. If I can put my hands on this book, it always makes my list of favorites. Optioned for a movie, this is the story of young CeeCee Honeycutt whose early life is tragic until her great-aunt swoops in and takes her to Savannah where, for one summer, she learns about life from a group of eccentric, strong women.

Spirit of Steamboat by Craig Johnson. A wonderful Christmas novella featuring Sheriff Walt Longmire and his predecessor, Lucian Connally, a WWII vet who flew in the Dootlittle raid on Tokyo. When a young woman comes looking for Lucian on a Christmas Eve, and whispers "Steamboat", the memories take them back to a Christmas Eve in 1988, and a heroic flight during a blizzard.

Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger. In his fifties, Frank Drum looks back at a Minnesota summer when he was thirteen, and found his entire life changed by a number of deaths, as his observations made him grow up.

Due or Die by Jenn McKinlay. What better way to end National Library Week than with one of the mysteries in the Library Lover's Mystery series? Library Director Lindsey Norris investigates when the president of the Library Board is the primary suspect in the murder of her husband.

The All You Can Dream Buffet by Barbara O'Neal. A novel of food and friendship brings together four different women, all food bloggers, as they meet for the first time when one of the women plans to turn her lavender farm over to the woman who would treat it with love.

Julie and Romeo by Jeanne Ray. Two rival florists fall in love, but their feuding families interfere in this delightful story.

A Star for Mrs. Blake by April Smith. In 1929, Congress passed legislation to send the mothers of soldiers who died in World War I to France to visit their sons' graves. This novel follows five of those mothers, emphasizing Cora Blake, a woman who has lived almost her entire life in a Maine fishing village.

While We Were Watching Downton Abbey by Wendy Wax. The concierge of an historic Atlanta apartment building invites the residents to attend weekly screenings of Downton Abbey. Unexpectedly, four people find themselves not only connecting with the show, but with each other.

Unleashing Mr. Darcy by Teri Wilson. Wilson just announced that this charming version of Pride and Prejudice, set in the world of show dogs in England, has been optioned by the Hallmark Channel. New Yorker Elizabeth Scott believes caring for a pack of show dogs in England is just what she needs to get over the scandal in her teaching career. She doesn't count on her attraction to the arrogant billionaire and dog breeder Donovan Darcy.

Twenty titles for Fantastic Fiction Friday. Some of my favorites. Have you found one or two you haven't read?

Friday, April 17, 2015

Winners and Mystery in the City Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last contests. Eileen K. of Island Lake, IL won The Ghost and Mrs. Mewer. Jacki R. from Pflugerville, TX won Meow If It's Murder. There were two winners of the copies of D.M. Pulley's The Dead Key, Daniel M. from Weymouth, MA and Carol N. from Madison, WI.

This week, I'm giving away mysteries with "City" in the title. Rhys Bowen's City of Darkness and Light takes place in New York City and Paris. Daniel Sullivan wants his family out of New York as soon as possible after a gang retaliates against Daniel after he makes a big arrest. So, he sends Molly and their son, Liam, to Paris to stay with friends. But, Molly's search for her friends leads to the discovery of a murdered artist. And, she soon fears her son is in greater danger in Paris than at home.

Or, you could win Julia Dahl's Invisible City. Rebekah Roberts has moved to New York City where she's working as a reporter. When she's asked to cover the story of a murdered Hasidic woman, Rebekah finds a connection to the mother she never knew, a woman who abandoned her baby to return to her religion and the Hasidic community in Brooklyn. As she searches for the answer to two mysteries, she discovers everyone has a secret to keep from an outsider.

Which "City" mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win City of Darkness" or "Win Invisible City". Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, April 23 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

How to Be a Heroine by Samantha Ellis

For a reader, Samantha Ellis' subtitle tells the true story of this book. It's actually called How to Be a Heroine, Or, What I've Learned From Reading Too Much. The author and playwright looks back at the books and heroines she's loved over the years, in order to analyze her own life.

It all started with an argument about Wuthering Heights with her best friend, Emma. Emma challenged her. Why did she like Cathy Earnshaw so much, and not Jane Eyre? Ellis was stunned. "My whole life, I'd been trying to be Cathy, when I should have been trying to be Jane." When she realized that, Ellis went back to meet all her old heroines again, beginning with her earliest ones. She wanted "To think about what they meant to me when I was growing up."

Ellis looks at all of those early heroines and puts them in context. She was growing up in an Iraqi Jewish community in London. Her mother has been a heroine, imprisoned for twenty days when trying to escape Iraq. But, Ellis didn't want to be her mother. She went from reading fairy tales about princesses to reading about heroines who were writers, and that's what she aspired to be. But, as she looks back at Anne of Green Gables and Jo March from Little Women, she's sees them now as characters who compromised and settled when they married. For a while, Lizzy Bennett from Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice became her role model. The author covers everything she read and admired, from Gone With the Wind to Valley of the Dolls and feminist writing, and back to Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre.

As Ellis expounds on the heroines she admired over the years, she also discusses her own life, her romances, her rebellious years, her college and working life. The book is fascinating, both for its analysis of her readings, and the comparison to her own life. In the end, though, it's one sentence that sums up the readings, her life, and, in many ways, the life of so many readers. "I'm beginning to think all readings are provisional, and that maybe we read heroines for what we need from them at the time."

Samantha Ellis' website is

How to Be a Heroine, Or, What I've Learned From Reading Too Much by Samantha Ellis. Vintage Books. 2015. ISBN 9781101872093 (paperback), 272p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Manhattan in Miniature by Margaret Grace

Anyone who has been to Manhattan in December will recognize the wonderful setting of Margaret Grace's latest mystery. Fortunately, most of us won't be involved in theft and murder investigations as Grace's characters are in Manhattan in Miniature.

Gerry Porter's son never even thought of those scenarios when the worrywart agreed to let his daughter, Maddie, go with her grandmother to a craft fair in New York City. Gerry's friend, Bebe, manager of the Lincoln Point, California SuperKrafts, was attending her first show, promoting the miniatures that Gerry and Maddie love. Gerry has dreams of assisting her friend at the show and showing New York in all of its Christmas splendor to her eleven-year-old granddaughter. Unfortunately, another of Grace's friends has something else in mind.

Cynthia Bishop is convinced her ninety-five-year-old aunt Elsie was murdered. And, she knows Gerry is the person to investigate and then convince the police. She's been successful before. But, Gerry sees herself as "A simple retired English teacher and grandmother who was a miniatures enthusiast." She's the only one who thinks that, though. Maddie sees the two as a crime-fighting duo who can investigate crimes, whether it's Elsie's death or theft at the craft fair. And, even Gerry's nephew, a police officer himself, is willing to give her tips.

Manhattan in Miniature is another charming mystery in this enjoyable series by Margaret Grace. The setting is inviting. The descriptions of the miniatures are always fun. But, the best part of this series is the relationship between Gerry and her granddaughter. Gerry and Maddie enjoy the time they spend together, sharing a love of miniatures, and a love of each other. In fact, Gerry's relationships with her friends and family, her worries about them, and her attempts to keep everyone happy bring a special warmth and comfort to the books, despite the crimes that occur.

You can start with Manhattan in Miniature without having read previous books. However, I'm guessing if you like this one, you'll want to go back and read the earlier adventures of Gerry and Maddie Porter, two wise amateur sleuths.

Margaret Grace (Camille Minichino) has a website at

Manhattan in Miniature by Margaret Grace. Perseverance Press. 2015. ISBN 9781564745620 (paperback), 232p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The publisher sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

What Are You Reading?

I had book group last night, so didn't finish my book. I'm reading Margaret Grace's Manhattan in Miniature, the latest mystery featuring Grace Porter and her granddaughter, Maddie. They head to Manhattan for a crafts show, and end up investigating a murder. And, we all know how much I love New York, so I'm enjoying the story so far.

What are you reading this week? Tell us about it, please!

Monday, April 13, 2015

TLC Book Tour - The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley

I love the premise of D.M. Pulley's debut novel, The Dead Key. In 1998, a structural engineer evaluating a bank that's for sale discovers that the safe deposit boxes in the bank's vaults are still there, locked. And, what it makes it even more intriguing is that the story is based on one of Pulley's own experiences as a structural engineer. While evaluating a building, she found a basement vault filled with unclaimed safety deposit boxes.

In 1978, the First Bank of Cleveland closed overnight at the same time the city of Cleveland was in financial trouble. There had been rumors the bank was in trouble, and stories of women disappearing. Now, twenty years later, Iris Latch is sent into the bank to survey it for a possible sale. She's stunned to find the building abandoned just the way it was the day the doors were locked. Files are intact. But, there's still a guard on duty twenty-four hours a day. And, as Iris uncovers stories of other women who were once in the bank, and disappeared, she's warned not to disturb the ghosts. But, keys and shorthand journals and personnel files are too tempting, and Iris continues to look for answers. The stories of Doris and Max and Beatrice should be warnings. Cleveland's powerful and wealthy men had secrets to keep, and those secrets can reach across twenty years.

As I said, I love the premise of this story. And, I was particularly interested because of the Cleveland setting. But, I never warmed up to any of the characters, even Iris and Beatrice. And, the story seemed repetitive,  the characters panicky and the story too long. But, don't take my word for it. Give it a chance, and come back and let me know what you think.

Two readers will have that chance. The publicist will give away one copy, and I'll give one away. If you'd like to win, email me at Your subject line should read "Win The Dead Key." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, April 16 at 6 PM CT.

D.M. Pulley's website is

The Dead Key by D.M. Pulley. Thomas & Mercer. 2015. ISBN 9781477820872 (paperback), 471p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to participate in the TLC Book Tour.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Dancing with Rose by Lauren Kessler

In some ways, Lauren Kessler's Dancing with Rose picks up where Lisa Genova's Still Alice left off. Genova left Alice sitting in her kitchen, aware she was sinking deeper into Alzheimer's. Dancing with Rose looks at it from the caretaker's point of view. However, it's nonfiction, and Kessler takes readers into what happens when the Alzheimer's victim must finally go into a home.

Kessler's mother suffered from Alzheimer's, and Lauren didn't know how to cope. She tried to relieve her father of nursing duties by bringing her mother into a home near her, but it didn't last, and her father took her back east where she died. However, Kessler admits she never did understand her mother, one of those victims of World War II who successfully worked until she was forced to leave the workplace when the men returned. After her mother's death, Kessler felt guilty that she felt fear and detachment. As a journalist, she decided to explore the world of Alzheimer's.

Eight years after her mother's death, Lauren Kessler took an entry-level minimum wage job as a Resident Assistant in a facility she calls Maplewood. And, it was there that she learned what a brutally hard job it was for the RAs, but also what a rewarding job it was. She began to see the residents as individuals, as humans going through another stage of life. And, for the first time, she began to understand her own mother, and feel sorry for the woman who actually left herself behind before she suffered from the disease.

Dancing with Rose is a moving story of a daughter coming to terms with her own mother's loss of memory and life, her own fear of inheriting the disease, and her perceived failures as a daughter. It's a moving story that puts faces not only to the people who suffer from Alzheimer's, but also to the low-paid women who care for family members and parents. It's a thoughtful book that humanizes the ones who suffer from it, and the people who cope with the problems on a daily basis. Lauren Kessler did her penance for her lack of feeling for her mother. Though no one truly understands those who suffer from Alzheimer's, Kessler does her best to make the reader see the victims as people who are still leading lives, just different lives than they once experienced.

Dancing with Rose: Finding Life in the Land of Alzheimer's by Lauren Kessler. Viking. 2007. ISBN 9780670039596 (hardcover), 260p.

FTC Full Disclosure - Library book.