Thursday, September 03, 2015

October Treasures in My Closet - Part 3

Today is the third and final Treasures in My Closet post featuring October book releases. It just shows  the variety of books released every month. I hope you found something of interest in one of these three posts!

Do you wonder what Dr. Oz' family eats? His wife, Lisa Oz, now reveals it in The Oz Family Kitchen. It's a collection of more than one hundred simple recipes, with a foreword and healthy eating tips from Mehmet Oz. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

The Devil in Jerusalem by Naomi Ragen has a fascinating premise. Two brothers are admitted to a Jerusalem hospital with horrific injuries. Their mother, a young American heiress, devoutly recites Psalms, but refuses to answer any questions. When Detective Bina Tzedek investigates, she follows a winding path that takes her through Jerusalem's Old City, kabbalists, mystical ancient texts, and terrifying cult rituals until she finally uncovers the shocking truth. (Release date is Oct. 13.)

Laura Resau's juvenile novel, The Lightning Queen, is set in Mexico in the 1950s. Nothing ever happens on the Hill of Dust in the remote mountains of Mexico. And, then Esma, who calls herself the Gypsy Queen of Lightning rolls into town. And, her caravan's Mistress of Destiny predicts that she and Teo, a young Mixtec Indian boy, will be lifelong friends. (Release date is Oct. 27.)

Well, here's a book that's one of my highlights for the month, Hank Phillippi Ryan's What You See. Reporter Jane Ryland is caught up in a family emergency when a nine-year-old girl, supposed to be a flower girl in a family wedding, is kidnapped by her stepdad. At the same time, Detective Jake Brogan has a strange case. At Boston's historic Faneuil Hall, a man is stabbed to death, and tourists captured the murder on their cell phones. The photos and surveillance video lead Jake to a dark conspiracy. And, the two cases test Jane and Jake's loyalties. (Release date is Oct. 20.)

Steven Saylor brings back Gordianus in Wrath of the Furies. The mystery, set in 88 B.C., finds Gordianus waiting out wars in Alexandria. But, he receives a cryptic message from his former tutor and friend who thinks his life is in danger. To rescue Antipater, Gordianus concocts a daring scheme that will take him behind enemy lines. (Release date is Oct. 13.)

Lisa Scottoline's latest Rosato & DiNunzio novel features Bennie Rosato, the founder of the law firm. In Corrupted, a case from Bennie's past comes back to haunt her. A young boy was sent to juvenile prison. Now, Jason Leftavick is grown, and he's indicted for killing the bully who taunted him as a kid. Bennie sees not choice except to represent him. She feels she owes him for past failures of the law, of the juvenile justice system, and of her own misjudgments. Now that she has to relive the darkest period of her life, she'll do anything in her power to get the truth. (Release date is Oct. 27.)

I always look forward to Jeffrey Siger's mysteries featuring Chief Inspector Andreas Kaldis. The books capture modern Greece, with all the politics and corruption. Devil of Delphi focuses on an assassin, Kharon, who hopes to rebuild his life in Delphi. But, a ruthless criminal decrees that Kharon must serve the mastermind behind counterfeit beverages that are often laced with poison. But, when Kharon shoots a member of one of Greece's richest, most feared families, he draws Kaldis into a firestorm that threatens to bring down the government. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

Jane Smiley completes her acclaimed American trilogy with Golden Age. Following the success of Some Luck and Early Warning, she now takes the Langdon family into our present time, and beyond. (Release date is Oct. 20.)

Carrie Smith introduces Detective Claire Codelia in her debut mystery, Silent City. Codelia catches a high-profile case while she's still struggling to get back up to speed after returning from her sick leave  when she battled cancer. Now, she's caught up in the world of New York City school politics, investigating the murder of a popular principal of a public school. (Release date is Oct. 13.)

Nine Lives launches a new series by Wendy Corsi Staub. After her husband's death, Bella Jordan and her son need a fresh start. But, on their way to stay with family, a storm forces them to spend the night in Lily Dale, New York. Bella's late husband always talked about settling down in a quirky small town like Lily Dale, a town filled with kooky psychics and mediums. So, Bella agrees to help out when she's asked to step in for the local hotel owner, who recently died. But, the woman was murdered, and now it's up to Bella to track down the killer. (Release date is Oct. 27.)

I'm a sucker for adorable cat stories. Nils Uddenberg's true love story is The Old Man and the Cat. It's Uddenberg's own story of how the retired Professor of Psychology became a cat-owner even though he had never owned a pet. But, he discovered a female cat sitting outside his bedroom window on a winter morning, staring at him. And, slowly she worked her way into his life, and his heart, while he tried to analyze her inner life. (Release date is Oct. 13.)

Jeanette Winterson retells Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, calling it The Gap of Time. Shakespeare's "late play" tells the story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his wife. His daughter is found, and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast. In Winterson's version, we move from London, a city suffering after the 2008 financial crisis, to a storm-ravaged American city called New Bohemia. It's a story of the consuming power of jealousy, and redemption and the enduring love of a lost child. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

Edited by Kenneth Wishing, Jewish Noir is a collection of new stories by Jewish and non-Jewish literary and genre writers such as March Piercy, S.J. Rozan, Harlan Ellison, Alan Orloff, Moe Prager. The stories explore issues such as the Holocaust and its long-term effects on subsequent generations, anti-Semitism, and the dark side of the Diaspora. (Release date is Oct. 1.)

I have to admit part 3 is my favorite listing, with some of my favorite authors. What October titles excited you?

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

October Treasures in My Closet - Part 2

Wait until you see the long list of books for part 2. It was actually an arbitrary ending yesterday. I ran out of time. Today's list is a little off because I received a couple books in the mail, and I'm adding them to this list. Let's start with them.

Julia Buckley kicks off a new series with The Big Chili. Lila Drake dreamt for years about owning her own catering company. She's made a small start by discreetly providing covered-dishes to neighbors who don't have time or the skills to cook. Everything's great until someone drops dead at a church bingo night minutes after eating chili that Lilah made for a client. Now, the anonymous chef has to find a killer before her business collapses. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

Carolann Camillo and Phyllis Humphrey take readers into the world of soap operas in Eyewitness. Toni Abbott finally has her big break, playing a soap opera villainess. But, her luck runs out when a photographer is killed during a late-night photo session, and Toni hits her head in the confusion, and can't remember what happened. Apparently the killer thinks Toni might remember, though, because she barely escapes another attempt. Too bad the police believe she might be involved. (Release date is  Oct. 15.)

Who isn't fascinated by Houdini? David Jaher brings us The Witch of Lime Street: Seance, Seduction, and Houdini in the Spirit World. This account pits the pretty wife of a Boston surgeon, Margery, the nation's most credible spirit medium, against Harry Houdini, the world's greatest unmake of charlatans. The book takes readers back to the 1920s to a time when people yearned for contact with an unseen spirit world. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

The latest Tara Holloway novel is Diane Kelly's Death, Taxes, and a Chocolate Cannoli. IRS Special Agent Tara Holloway has risked her life to take down drug cartels and other dangerous tax frauds. But, cream-filled cannolis could be hazardous to her waistline when she goes undercover at a bistro in order to take down a crime boss. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

With Schwarzkopf: Life Lessons of the BEAR is Gus Lee's tribute to his mentor, General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. In 1966, Lee was on the verge of getting kicked out of West Point. Then he was assigned a new professor, then-Major Norman Schwarzkopf. The two began to meet regularly, discussing what it meant to be a scholar, a soldier, and a man. Now Lee brings Schwarzkopf and his teachings to life as he shares the wisdom his mentor imparted. (Release date is Oct. 13.)

In Devotion, Adam Makos asks "How far would you go to save a friend?" It tells a story from America's "forgotten war" in Korea, that of the U.S. Navy's most famous aviator duo. Lieutenant Tom Hudner was a white New Englander from the country club scene, and Ensign Jesse Brown was an African American sharecropper's son from Mississippi. The two became pilots, and as the war in North Korea escalates, the duo fly to save a Marine unit. And, then,  when one man is shot down, the other faces an unthinkable choice, whether to watch his friend die, or attempt a one-man rescue mission. (Release date is Oct. 27.)

When Alex Mar set out to direct the documentary American Mystic, she learned that almost a million Americans practice Paganism today.Witches of America is the account of her exploration as it delves into the history of Paganism and the occult in America, as she learns about the world of present-day witches and magical societies. (Release date is Oct. 20.)

Bernard Minier, the internationally acclaimed author of The Frozen Dead, brings us a chilling murder mystery set during the World Cup in the south of France, The Circle. In June 2010, Martin Servaz has to investigate two brutal murders, one of a teacher, and the other of a Classics professor. Now, death and chaos is surrounding the small university town in Southern France where Servaz was once a student and where his daughter is now enrolled. With the help of two detectives, Servaz has to find the person behind the gruesome murders. (Release date is Oct. 27.)

Howard Frank Mosher's fiction is set in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, telling the intertwining family God's Kingdom is set in the 1950s, revealing the Kinneson family through the coming of age of the heir to its rich and complicated history, Jim. He's a bright young man, a loving son and brother, but he's also curious about the unspoken "trouble in the family" that haunts his father and grandfather. Layer by layer, Jim explores the family history, ending with a discovery that changes his life forever. (Release date is Oct. 6.)
stories. His

The Mark and the Void is Paul Murray's madcap new novel of institutional folly. Since it's a convoluted synopsis, here's the one from the back of the book. "What links the investment Bank of Torabundo, (yes, hots with an s; don't ask), an art heist, a novel called For Love of a Clown, a four-year-old boy named after the TV detective Remington Steele, a lonely French banker, a tiny Pacific island, an ex-KGB agent?" You'll have to read the book to understand. (Release date is Oct. 20.)

Ben Nadler's novel, The Sea Beach Line, combines mid-20th-century pulp fiction with traditional Jewish tales folklore. It updates the story of a young man trying to find his place in the world, introducing Izzy Edel. After being expelled from college, Izzy returns to New York City, searching for his estranged father. But, when reports are that his father has died, he takes over his father's bookselling business and meets the hustlers and gangsters who filled his world. (Release date is Oct. 13.)

Today's collection was an odd one, wasn't it? But, there are so many books that I'll have to end the list tomorrow. Wait until you see the terrific books in tomorrow's collection!

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

October Treasures in My Closet

It's fun to look at October book releases, but I'm not happy to think about the year flying by. We all know I hate winter, and the year is going too fast. But, there are plenty of October book releases. Get them early, and add them to your TBR pile for the winter!

I'll kick off the October list with Tasha Alexander's latest Lady Emily mystery, The Adventuress. Lady Emily and her husband, Colin, travel to the French Riviera for an engagement party. But, the celebration is cut short with a shocking death, an apparent suicide. But, Lady Emily isn't convinced by the coroner's verdict, and she employs all her investigative skills to discover the truth. (Release date is Oct. 13.)

John Brady attempts to tell the full story of the romance between Frank Sinatra and Ava Gardner in Frank & Ava: In Love and War. The insecure Ava Gardner fell in and out of love, marrying first Mickey Rooney and then Artie Shaw. Neither marriage lasted a year. She was courted by Howard Hughes and others, and then Sinatra, dealing with his own problems, thought no one wanted him, except Ava. The resulting affair broke all the rules, but their eventual marriage had problems as well. It's called "a compelling drama of love and emotional war". (Release date is Oct. 13.)

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks was one of the hot books at Book Expo America in June. The author of People of the Book and March now turns to the dramatic story of King David. Brooks tells David's story through the eyes of a courtier who advised him, and gives voice to those who loved and feared David. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

Laura Childs joins forces with Terrie Farley Moran for the latest Scrapbooking Mystery, Parchment and Old Lace. Carmela Bertrand has a wonderful dinner at Commander's Palace in New Orleans with her boyfriend, Detective Edgar Babcock. The only disturbance is Isabelle Black who stops by to brag about her upcoming wedding. And, then the couple's after dinner walk is interrupted by a scream coming from the legendary Lafayette Cemetery. The bride-to-be has been murdered. Carmella would rather let Edgar investigate, but Isabelle's sister asks Carmela for help. It will take a little work to untangle the enemies of Isabelle's past before someone else ends up in a cemetery. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

In A House of My Own: Stories from My Life, Sandra Cisneros, the author of The House on Mango Street, compiles true stories and nonfiction pieces to tell the story of her life. Cisneros takes readers from Chicago where she grew up to her abode in Mexico where her ancestors lived for centuries, the places that inspired her poetry and writings. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

If I start by saying, in Argentine Antarctica, humans and robots are agitating for independence, you'll probably guess that Cassandra Rose Clarke's Our Lady of the Ice is science fiction. But, it also features a female PI, Eliana Gomez, who is looking for a way out of Hope City. Unfortunately, when she accepts a job from an aristocrat with a secret, she comes into conflict with the gangster who controls the food supply in winter. And, then the electricity that keeps the city from freezing begins to fail. (Release date is Oct. 27.)

Lynn Cullen, author of the bestseller, Mrs. Poe, now brings us a novel about the personal life of an iconic American author, Mark Twain. Twain's End tells of the marriage of Twain's secretary, Isabel Y. Lyon, and his business manager. In March 1909, Mark Twain cheerfully blessed that wedding. One month later, he fired both, and he and his daughter, Clara Clemens proceeded to slander Isabel in the newspapers, erasing her seven years of service to the family. It's a story of tangled relationships and love triangles, based on Isabel Lyon's diary and Twain's writings and letters. (Release date is Oct. 13.)

Zachary Thomas Dodson's illuminated novel, Bats of the Republic, is a debut. It's a story of adventure featuring hand-drawn maps and natural history illustrations, subversive pamphlets, and a nineteenth century story inside another one. In 1843, naturalist Zadock Thomas must deliver a secret letter to an infamous general on the front lines of the war over Texas. The fate of the republic hangs in the balance. When a cloud of bats leads him off the road, he happens upon something impossible. Three hundred years later, the world has collapsed. Zee Thomas has inherited a letter from his grandfather, but the disappearance of the letter could lead to the destruction of the republic. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

Who was James Putnam? Allen Eskers asks that question in The Guise of Another. The answer may save Minnesota detective Alexander Rupert's career. When he's asked to look into the fake identity of a car accident victim, a man who in fact died fifteen years earlier, he hopes to regain his respectability. But, the investigation puts him in the path of a sociopath assassin, and his life is soon spinning out of control. Alexander's brother, Max, a fellow police detective, may be his last hope. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor are the creators of the popular podcast, Welcome to Night Vale. Now, they turn that darkly funny series into a novel of the same name set somewhere in the American Southwest. Night Vale is a small town where ghosts, angels, aliens and government conspiracies are all part of everyday life. It's here that the lives of two women, with two mysteries, will converge. (Release date is Oct. 20.)

John Fortunate's Dark Reservations is the winner of the Tony Hillman Prize for best debut mystery set in the Southwest. Bureau of Indian Affairs Special Agent Joe Evers faces a forced early retirement after a bungled investigation. He needs a new career, not another case. But when Congressman Arlen Egerton's bullet-riddled Lincoln turns upon the Navajo Reservation twenty years after he disappeared during a corruption probe, Joe has to team up with a Navajo Tribal Officer to solve the cold case. It's an investigation that antagonizes potential suspects, while, at the same time, Joe faces personal problems. (Release date is Oct. 13.)

A Poet of the Invisible World is Michael Golding's spiritual fable about a boy who embarks on a remarkable journey through pain and loss to transcendence. It follows a boy named Nouri, born in thirteenth-century Persia, with four ears instead of two. He's taken into a Sufi order where he meets an assortment of dervishes and is placed upon a path toward spiritual awakening. But, it's a path that means one painful experience after another on the way to manhood. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

Garth Risk Hallberg's enormous (944 pages) novel, City on Fire, was another one of those blockbusters at Book Expo America. Author Stephanie Hochschild describes is as "both thrilling mystery and sweeping literary epic. Revealing every gritty corner of 1970s New York City, Hallberg brilliantly weaves together the lives of characters from every stratum of society and observes them as their fates collide in the blackout of 1977." (Release date is Oct. 13.)

Carolyn Hart brings back her ghostly sleuth Bailey Ruth Raeburn in Ghost to the Rescue. When a little girl wishes for help, Chief Wiggins at Heaven's Department of Good Intentions sends Bailey Ruth back to her old hometown of Adelaide, Oklahoma. Deirdre Davenport, a single mother and struggling writer is trying to support her two children, with hopes of getting a faculty job with the Goddard English Department. But, when a professor ends up dead, Bailey Ruth must find out who killed him before Deirdre ends up in prison, leaving that little girl without a happy ending. (Release date is Oct. 6.)

The last book for today launches a thrilling supernatural series that has been optioned by Warner Bros TV. Carter & Lovecraft by Jonathan L. Howard takes the story of H.P. Lovecraft into the twenty-first century. Daniel Carter is a private investigator trying to lead a quiet life until he inherits a bookstore in Providence from someone he's never heard of. He also inherits a bookseller who doesn't want a new boss, Emily Lovecraft, the last known descendant of author H.P. Lovecraft, who told tales of creatures and entities. When people start dying in impossible ways, Carter's investigation leads to a discovery that Lovecraft's tales were more than just fiction. (Release date is Oct. 20.)

The last two entries today are perfect for October. Come back tomorrow to learn what other books are October Treasures in My Closet.

Monday, August 31, 2015

Lynn Kaczmarek Interviews Julia Keller

We're very lucky today. Lynn Kaczmarek, who often interviews authors for Mystery Scene, offered to interview Julia Keller for us. Keller's new Bell Elkins mystery, Last Ragged Breath, has just been released. Thank you, Julia and Lynn for a fascinating interview!

Julia Keller
Have you ever started a book and just a few sentences in took a deep breath and settled in because you knew you’d be there for a while? That’s exactly what happened to me with Julia Keller’s debut mystery featuring Bell Elkins, a West Virginia prosecutor. There are now four books in the series, including that debut book, A Killing in the Hills, followed by Bitter River, Summer of the Dead and Last Ragged Breath, published in August.

Bell Elkins is the prosecuting attorney in Acker’s Gap, West Virginia. She’s feisty, stubborn, and totally believable. You don’t always like her; you don’t always agree with her decisions, but you care about her… a lot. The stories are complicated and incredibly well written. But the sense of place, oh my, the sense of place is remarkable.  You see the poverty and anger and resignation combined with the beauty of West Virginia. Keller knows this place and somehow gets it all down on the page. She’s not new at this – she was the culture critic for the Chicago Tribune and won the Pulitzer Prize while she was there. But I for one am happy that she’s turned to writing fiction. The books are not always easy – bad things happen and bad people exist. But Bell Elkins gives Acker’s Gap just a whisper of hope that things will get better. And Julia Keller gives her readers outstanding books.

What made you want to become a writer? Not only of mysteries, but non- fiction too?

The first time I walked into a public library – I was about five, if memory serves – I felt a sort of funny whooshing feeling in my stomach, like riding a roller coaster and having the flu, both at the same time. I was dizzy, and my palms were sweaty. Just the sight of all those books, rising higher and higher on shelf after shelf, beckoning me, left me woozy and besotted. (I’m a little lightheaded right now, just from the recollection!) From that moment on, I was hooked. Hooked on reading and, shortly thereafter, hooked on writing. I started writing my own books when I was in fourth grade. I wrote a sci-fi novel called "Trapped in a Glacier," and a mystery series with titles like, "The Clue of the Card Tip" and "The Clue of the Caller's Whistle." (I believe the Nancy Drew influence on these titles is fairly apparent.) As long as I can remember, I've been in love with language; certain words give me that fizzy feeling all over again. Words like "luminous" and "capacious" and "restitution" and "trajectory" and "preponderance" still make me shiver and swoon. So I write because I love words. I love the sound of sentences, whether they're written on a page or spoken aloud. I love stories – telling them as well as listening to them. To this day, a stroll through a library gives me heart palpitations (another great word –  "palpitations"!) and the sight of a stack of blank paper sends me into flights of ecstasy.  

You worked at the Chicago Tribune for years and won a Pulitzer while you were there. Were you there in the "good old days"? Tell me what that was like and for what did you win the Pulitzer?

The Pulitzer Prize was awarded to my three-part series about the small town of Utica, Ill., that had been decimated by a tornado. I wanted to explore how each of the victims of that terrifying storm had come to be where they were at the crucial moment. So much randomness is involved in our fates. How, I wondered, do we come to terms with that tragic capriciousness? The victims had done precisely what you are supposed to do, when a tornado threatens; they went to the oldest, sturdiest building in town and they went into the cellar, the lowest point. And then the building collapsed. I interviewed hundreds of survivors, over a four-month period, and then I tried to describe the storm and its aftermath. 
I worked for the Tribune for a dozen years, mainly as the paper's chief book critic. (The Utica series was reported and written mainly on my own time.) It was a glorious time to be at the Tribune. Certainly things have changed a great deal in the newspaper business. I resigned in 2012 – not because I was disenchanted with journalism, but because I wanted to write novels. And I knew I couldn't do a good job at both. I had to choose. I chose fiction. 

You now live in Chicago and Ohio and yet your books are set in West Virginia. What drew you to this setting?

I was born and raised in Huntington, West Virginia. I've long maintained that West Virginia is the most unique state in the union. Many states are beautiful, and many states have grievous social and economic problems. But only West Virginia has both – that stunning natural beauty, and those desperate problems that bedevil its people. That juxtaposition – beauty and sorrow – creates a place where stories matter inordinately, and live in the very air.

You've written four books in this series, Killing in the Hills (winner of the Barry Award for best debut novel), Bitter River, Summer of the Dead and now Last Ragged Breath, all featuring county prosecutor Bell Elkins. Bell is feisty with a chip on her shoulder. Tell us about her and why she came back to West Virginia.

She wants to do right by her people. She knows it sounds corny, but she doesn't care – she wants to do what she can for a state that has often been ill-served by its public officials. Bell has a law degree now, and she wants to put that to good use as a prosecutor. The prescription drug abuse epidemic is tearing Appalachia apart – in real life, as well as in my novels – and Bell wants to fight back. As you say, she has a chip on her shoulder, and she has an anger management problem –  but sometimes, anger is fuel.

I find the relationship between Bell and her sister an interesting, strained one and one that provides an intriguing backstory. Would you elaborate?

Shirley, Bell's older sister, served a long prison sentence for killing their father, an abusive parent and generally wretched human being. Now released from prison, Shirley comes back to Acker's Gap (this occurs in Bitter River, second book in the series) and must start her relationship with Bell all over again. I have two sisters myself, and the older I get, the more I realize how crucial they are to my own sense of myself. They are the witnesses to our shared past. I can't imagine life without them. I wanted to create a sister duo that would reflect this bond, this unbreakable connection. I've read a lot of books about brothers, but not enough about sisters and that very special link.

Your depiction of Acker's Gap and the level of poverty in the area is heartbreaking. How do you balance depicting this and still leave the reader with a glimmer of hope? Mostly...

Oh, you've put your finger on the central dilemma I face with each book! I want the books to be authentic representations of the terrible, grinding pressure of poverty on human souls – but I also don't want readers to go kill themselves in despair after reading the novels. There IS hope, but it is a hope that must be earned, worked at, struggled for. I think that's the overall message of Bell and her mission: Yes, the light exists, but you have to keep your head up and your eyes open in order to see it.

In the Acknowledgements of Last Ragged Breath, you say that Homer Hickman's Rocket Boys and the 1999 film October Sky, based on the book are national treasurers. Why?

History is so important in a place like West Virginia. The people live with a sense of history inside them; the events, both dark and light, settle in your bones and influence every day of your life.  I loved Homer Hickam's inspirational memoir because it recognized the way history infiltrates a young West Virginian, and can be both a positive and negative force. Hickam left the small coal-mining town in which he was born and became a NASA engineer – but he never lost his love for his home state. 

In my own childhood, the 1972 Buffalo Creek flood – a real-life event – was frightening to read about, and it haunted me and my childhood friends for many years. The idea that you can be sitting in your house on a Saturday morning when, out of the blue, millions of gallons of nasty black water – waste material from coal mines – can come hurtling down on your head, sweeping away homes and cars and lives, is terrifying. But it happened. And it's a central event in Last Ragged Breath.
Midst the tension of the story in Last Ragged Breath, you've dropped these almost poetic jewels. For instance, in describing turkey vultures overhead, Bell observes "The sound was like the sexy rustle of silk or the preliminary shifting of a heavy velvet theater curtain just before the show commences..." Or one character says "To walk each day on ground that had given rise to you: that was a privilege. Not a curse." They give you breathing space. Do you plan these for a reason or do they just appear?

I love this question, because I used to argue with a writer friend of mine about his habit of going back to a story and "putting in" a bunch of poetic metaphors. No, no, no – that's what I'd say to him, with a groan. Metaphors and analogies should never be "tacked on" to an existing story. They should rise organically from the story you're writing. My rule is: any imagery that you have to sweat over should be left out. Period. If it's not right there, on the tip of your tongue (or the tip of your pen), then dump it. Don't go back and "tart up" the story with some pretty language. The lines you mention from Last Ragged Breath all came during the first draft. Yes, I re-write; every writer does. But the re-writing is NOT to add flowery imagery. It's to assure coherence and to get rid of repetition. I can generally always tell when a writer has gone back and crammed in a bunch of metaphors. 

Bell's description of the sound of turkey vultures flying overhead comes from a real moment I experienced, when I was standing in the woods one day and, in the midst of absolute silence, I heard those wing-flaps overhead. A cauldron of vultures was on its way somewhere – to carrion, no doubt. I was transfixed. And when I was writing about Bell's thoughts at that moment in the book, the sound and the image arose, unbidden, from the crucible of my imagination. It wasn't grafted on or trumped up. It was there, waiting patiently inside my imagination for the moment when it found its perfect home. 

Are you writing another book in the series now? If so, would you tell us something about it?

I am indeed. It is tentatively titled Sorrow Road, and it involves a series of mysterious deaths at an Alzheimers care facility near Acker's Gap. I wanted to explore the issue of memory – how it can be a comfort as well as a crippling force. Life is a journey, and as we move along that road, it can sometimes seem to be all about loss – but of course it is not just that. It's also about the wisdom gained in the face of these inevitable losses. We are stronger because of the ordeals we endure.

Let's talk process... When and where do you write? Computer, pen and ink? Do you outline? 

I love writing by hand, but all those years in journalism (and all those deadlines!) required me to become accustomed to writing on a computer. I still miss paper and pen. I've thought of going back, as an experiment, and writing a novel by hand, just as a carpenter might eschew power tools and build his next house with just hammer and handsaw. Perhaps I will.
No, I don't outline. I like to let the story lead me, rather than me leading the story. I'm often surprised by plot developments that I didn't see coming – but once they do, they seem totally inevitable.

Describe the place you write.

After many years of writing wherever I could find space and time – kitchen table, armchair, unmade bed, upended pickle bucket – I finally treated myself to a desk and a chair, and I gave myself the gift of time. Leaving journalism was all about that gift. There is an Irish anecdote I've long loved: When you come to a high wall that you're afraid to climb, the trick is to throw your cap over the wall – forcing yourself to climb it. That's what I did when I left the Tribune to write fiction full-time: I tossed my cap over the wall.
My desk is in a small room in my basement. I'm surrounded by full-to-the-brim bookcases on three sides. In effect, I'm hemmed in by words. I work in a thicket of sentences. And it's wonderful.

What are you reading right now? Your favorite authors/books?

I'm like Sheriff Nick Fogelsong in my series: Unless I have a book in my hand, I feel naked. I always have at least four or five books going at once. I just finished H is for Hawk, Helen Macdonald's beautiful memoir about training a hawk as a sort of grief therapy after her father's sudden death, and The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan, the Man Booker Prize-winning novel about prisoners in a Japanese work camp in World War II and the atrocious conditions therein. It's lyrical and harrowing, an immense achievement.

I'm halfway through Aurora, the new novel by Kim Stanley Robinson, and it is exquisite; to call him a science-fiction author is ludicrously inadequate. Yes, he writes about the future, but it's so much more than that. I treated myself to some re-reading this summer and went back to Virginia Woolf's Night and Day, one of her earliest novels. Lovely stuff! Woolf was much wittier than she's given credit for. The image of this depressed, brooding writer lugging around all these heavy, serious books is a myth. Her prose is very light, very playful. The big ideas are all under the surface.
Favorite writers? Woolf, certainly; I wrote my doctoral dissertation on her, and can't imagine a world without To the Lighthouse. Also, Iris Murdoch, John Banville, Joyce Carol Oates, Willa Cather, Margaret Atwood. Among mystery and thriller writers, I love Ruth Rendell, Henning Mankell, Alan Furst, John LeCarre (but of course!), Denise Mina, Val McDermid and Louise Welch.

Tell us something about yourself that your readers don't know. 
Is this where I'm supposed to confess to some heinous crime for which I was never caught or punished? Alas, as an adult, I'm a notorious rule-follower and goody-two-shoes. I did shoplift once, when I was in second grade; I swiped some Bazooka bubble gum from our local grocery store. I remember plotting my theft, then doing it, and then bragging about it to my sisters, who promptly ratted me out to my mother. She forced me to go back to the store and confess to the clerk. A lesson was learned that day: If you sin, for heaven's sake keep it to yourself.

And so I shall.

Thank you, again, Lynn and Julia.

Julia Keller's website is

Last Ragged Breath by Julia Keller. St. Martin's Press. 2015. ISBN 9781250044747 (hardcover), 384p.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

A Ghostly Demise by Tonya Kappes

I enjoy cozy paranormal mysteries featuring ghosts, and Tonya Kappes' books have the added feature of Southern humor and lifestyles. Kappes knows Kentucky small towns, and she capitalizes on that knowledge with her latest mystery, A Ghostly Demise.

Emma Lee Raines is the undertaker at her family funeral home in Sleepy Hollow, Kentucky, the Eternal Rest Funeral Home. Family comes first to Emma Lee, so she puts up with her exasperating Granny, Zula Fae Raines. But, it's hard to put up with Zula Fae and her mayoral campaign, as she zooms around town on her scooter. But, it's no easier putting up with Emma Lee's other curse. She's a Betweener who can see ghosts of the murdered dead, people who are stuck between the here and the after. When Cephus Hardy shows up, it's a real shock. Everyone thought he left town years earlier. He was known as the town drunk, a gambler and womanizer. And, no one suspected he was murdered since his body was never found. But, once Emma Lee starts asking questions, someone tries to blow up the old mill with her in it. And, then another person becomes a ghost. It's not an easy life for a Betweener when everyone suspects she's talking to herself.

Kappes' mysteries are delightful with a cast of eccentric Southern characters, beginning with Emma Lee and her Granny. It doesn't get much crazier in a small town than a mayoral campaign between competing funeral home owners at the same time a carnival is in town. Granted, Emma Lee is a little more careless with her own safety than I usually like in a cozy mystery. But, she's already a little nuts. What's a little recklessness? She inherited some of her Granny's spritely mannerisms.

If you enjoy cozy paranormal mysteries with eccentric ghosts and Southern mannerisms, check out Tonya Kappes' latest, A Ghostly Demise.

Tonya Kappes' website is

A Ghostly Demise by Tonya Kappes. Witness. 2015. ISBN 9780062374912 (paperback), 275p.

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

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Elizabeth and Fred

Tomorrow I should have a book review for you. And, Monday there's a terrific author interview. But, today I'm celebrating my niece, Elizabeth, and all her hard work with her Pygmy goats, but, especially my favorite, Fred. If you've been following my blog for most of the ten years, you may remember Elizabeth as the young girl who challenged me one year, saying she could read more books than me.

Elizabeth doesn't have as much time now to read over 150 books in a year. She took fourteen Pygmy goats to the Sandusky County Fair, and she, with some help from family and friends, had to transport those goats, feed them a couple times a day, clean out pens, and, of course, show them on Wednesday and Friday.

Friday was the most successful day, when she and her Pygmy goats competed in Open Classes, meaning people of all ages could show their goats. She had a few first place winners, including one class that consisted of three goats, all from the same sire. But, it was Fred, her first goat, and, as I said, the elder of the herd, who carried the day. Fred was first in his class, Wethers 3 years and over, and then he was Reserve Grand Champion Wether.

Congratulations, Elizabeth and Fred. And, congratulations to your family and friends who worked so hard to tend and show the goats.

Elizabeth showing Fred

Elizabeth when Fred was proclaimed the winner of his class

Me with Elizabeth and Fred, The Reserve Grand Champion Wether

Friday, August 28, 2015

Winners and Historical Mystery Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of Les Roberts' The Ashtabula Hat Trick. The books were mailed to: Sally S. from Antioch, CA, Harvey D. from Winthrop, ME, Jeannette G. of Benicia, CA and Trish R. of Decatur, GA.

This week, I'm giving away two copies of one of the best historical mysteries I've read in quite some time. Nancy Herriman's No Comfort for the Lost is the first in a series set in San Francisco in the late 1860s. Celia Davies is a nurse, originally from England, who served in the Crimea and the American Civil War. Now in San Francisco, she operates a free clinic for those women who cannot afford other care, or who might not be offered other care. One of those in a Chinese prostitute trying to make a better life. But, before she can do that, she's murdered. And Celia's brother-in-law in a suspect. She teams up with Detective Nicholas Greaves who is willing to look for the killer, despite the opinions of his superiors. It's a search that takes them from Chinatown to the Barbary Coast and the homes of the wealthy and influential. And, it's a terrific mystery.

If you'd like to win a copy of No Comfort for the Lost, email me at Your subject line should read, "Win No Comfort for the Lost." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Sept. 3 at 6 PM CT.