Saturday, January 31, 2015

Spell Booked by Joyce and Jim Lavene

I have nothing but admiration for two writers I've never met, Joyce and Jim Lavene. Ten series under three names, plus a standalone. And, that's only what I find on Stop,You're Killing Me. I admire the creativity it takes to come up with three witches who are hoping to retire to Boca Raton in Spell Booked, the first in a new series.

Molly, Elise, and Olivia find that their powers are waning, so they are hoping to find three younger witches to teach, and then turn over their spell book. They have their eye on a young librarian who doesn't know she's a witch, but before they can discuss it with her, Olivia is killed, and their spell book is stolen. Now, two witches on the verge of retirement have to turn to a novice and a powerful witch they don't trust for help in finding a killer. Molly's a little handicapped in the search, though. Her family's been threatened. Her son has dropped out of college and returned home to live. And, maybe worst of all, her husband is a police officer investigating Olivia's murder, but Molly never told him she's a witch because the Grand Council of witches forbids it. It's only going to get worse.

Welcome to the Lavenes' idea of preparing for a witch's retirement. Spell Booked is a terrific mystery filled with delightful characters and a great deal of humor despite the tragedy and murder investigation. There's one wonderful scene when witches show up from all over to "poke" fun at a messenger from the Grand Council. There are other funny scenes involving the cat familiars, a ghost, a werewolf. I could go on, but I only hinted at some of the characters so I don't spoil surprises.

I'm sorry for the trouble Molly and Elise have to go through. But, I'm so glad Joyce and Jim Lavene decided to relate the story of witches who hope to retire. Spell Booked is magical, a fun mystery with dangerous undertones.

The Lavenes website is

Spell Booked by Joyce and Jim Lavene. Berkley Prime Crime. 2014. ISBN 9780425268254 (paperback), 294p.

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

Friday, January 30, 2015

Give Books, Not Roses Giveaway

First, congratulations to the winners of the last contest. An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey goes to Carol M. from Monroeville, PA. Mildred B. from Great Neck, NY won Lisa Scottoline's Betrayed.

This week, I have a special giveaway from Hatchette Book Group and their  "Give Books, Not Roses" campaign. I'm going to let editor Christina Boys explain it.

Dear  Reader,

Valentine’s Day is just around the corner! The crisp, cool air feels a little sweeter and stores are filling their shelves with greeting cards and candies. But instead of sharing the usual gifts, the way to someone’s heart can be through a story (and maybe a little bit of chocolate). Hachette Book Group is offering a “Give Books, Not Roses” Valentine’s Day giveaway for those of you who want to express your admiration for friends, family, and loved ones.

Love Gently Falling written by Melody Carlson is a romantic novella about the power of Valentine’s Day and how one woman discovers love while at the same time saving her family’s business. Successful hairstylist to the stars Rita Jensen returns to her hometown in Chicago after receiving news that her mother has suffered a stroke. Though Rita must come up with a plan to save her mother’s salon, the oncoming holiday and her undeniable feelings for an old classmate become quite a distraction.

Keys of Heaven is the second book in Adina Senft’s Healing Grace trilogy. Amish widow Sarah Yoder helps her community by creating teas and tinctures from the herbs she grows. She struggles to find love with an Amish man, and she doesn’t know what to do about her attraction to her friend Henry Byler, who has turned away from her beliefs. Sarah’s story will show anyone that romantic love is not the only love that matters.

Valentine’s Day is an internationally celebrated day of romance, dating back to the 5th Century. But today, love touches our lives in so many different ways. Whether you are dedicating the day to your good friends or your life partner, treat them to these wonderful stories of courage, kindness, and love.

Christina Boys


So, this week, in honor of the "Give Books, Not Roses" campaign, one lucky winner will win copies of both books, and also a chocolate bar from Olive and Sinclair in Nashville. (We may be saying not roses, but we'll never say not chocolate.)

Email me at to enter the giveaway. Your subject line should read, "Give Books, Not Roses." Please include your name and mailing address. The giveaway will end next Thursday, Feb. 5 at 6 PM CT. Entries from the U.S. only, please.

And, in case you don't win, the books are available here:

Barnes & Noble:

Barnes & Noble:

And, the chocolate bar? It's from Olive and Sinclair in Nashville,

Thursday, January 29, 2015

What Are You Reading?

I have to be honest and say I just couldn't read the last mystery I tried. Some of the characters were too creepy. And, that's coming from someone who liked the movie Silence of the Lambs. But, I guess I like to feel as if characters have a soul.

So, I turned to something a little lighter to take the taste away. Spell Booked is the first Retired Witches mystery by Joyce and Jim Lavene. It's the story of three witches planning to retire to Boca Raton until one dies and their spell book is stolen.

What are you reading today?

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

My Father's Wives by Mike Greenberg

Perhaps my reaction to Mike Greenberg's latest novel, My Father's Wives, says more about me than it does about the book. Maybe I shouldn't have read it immediately after Michael A. Kahn's The Sirena Quest. Together, they made me think men spend too much time dwelling on their past.

Jonathan Sweetwater thought he had the perfect life, a job he liked, travel, a wonderful wife, and two children he adored. And, then one day he came home early from work, and, suddenly he thought his life was built on a lie. And, that's the most important thing he and his wife, Claire, had agreed on. She said, "If you promise always to lie with me and never to lie to me, I'll do the same." But, Jonathan couldn't face asking the tough question. Instead, he decided to search for the answer to a question he never really knew. Who was the father who left him when he was nine years old?

Oh, Jonathan knew his father was "Percival Sweetwater III. Five-time United States senator, liberal lion, legendary lothario and bon vivant, author of nineteen books, sponsor of eleven legislative bills, trusted advisor to three presidents, husband to six women, and father to one boy." And, Jonathan's mother, Alice, was Percy's first wife. But, why did Percy leave on Jonathan's ninth birthday? To find the answer, Jonathan went looking for the five other women his father married.

Even now, it seems that Jonathan's decision to search for his father's story seemed ill-timed. It doesn't really fit with the problem that he himself was facing. In fact, I saw the search as a way to escape from making any decisions right then. Maybe he was trying to learn how his father made the decision to move on with life since his father said people are "the sum total of all the decisions we make". And, Jonathan had a major one to make.

My Father's Wives had a satisfying ending, although, as I said, the two storylines didn't always seem to fit together. And, Greenberg worked hard to make every one of Percy's wives different, while also making them seem perfect. It doesn't seem as if Jonathan would like every one of the former wives.

Mike Greenberg's My Father's Wives provided a few hours of entertainment. For many men, it will offer one of their fantasies, a scene with Michael Jordan. My favorite part of the book was a comment that was a throwaway line. "Don't be so afraid to die that you forget how to live."

The official author Twitter site for Mike Greenberg is @Espngreeny

My Father's Wives by Mike Greenberg. William Morrow. 2015. ISBN 9780062325860 (hardcover), 240p.

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

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Sirena Quest by Michael A. Kahn

Michael A. Kahn may be best known for his mysteries featuring attorney Rachel Gold. And, Rachel does may a brief appearance in his latest novel, The Sirena Quest, but she isn't an essential part of this story. This is really the story of a quest, as the title states. But, what a quest! It's a caper, the story of the search for a missing statue, and the story of the brotherhood of four men. In the end, it's the story of determination to see an adventure through to the end.

Lou Solomon is a widower, father of two children, and a successful lawyer in St. Louis, known as the "Iceman" to the attorneys in his firm. He's also a graduate of Barrett College, Class of 1974. And, twenty years after graduation, when his former roommate, Ray Gorman, calls out of the blue and asks him to hit the road with him, the Iceman does something no one in his law firm would ever have expected. Lou accepts Ray's challenge, and the national challenge made my a wealthy graduate of the class of '59. Find Sirena, the statue that disappeared from the campus 35 years earlier. There's twenty-five million dollars at stake if the statue is restored to the campus on the day of the college's sesquicentennial. Lou, Ray, and their other two roommates from their freshman year hit the road in search of a legend.

The Sirena Quest is a little bit nostalgic, and quite funny. The four men, who had drifted apart after that year, have to discover who they are twenty years later. Their trip together is not only a trip into their past, but a revelation as to the men they became, the women they loved, and the lives they made for themselves. Along the way, they face setbacks and challenges, and the knowledge they are not the only team of hunters looking for Sirena. And, they face the knowledge that, for them, this may be the ultimate adventure. "Hey, maybe someone will write our story some day. Sirena may not be the Holy Grail, but she's the closest the four of us will ever get."

Michael A. Kahn has written an adventure for grown-ups. No one is in danger, but the men are determined to make one final trip together, a trip that will call on their bond of friendship. The Sirena Quest is funny and sad at the same time, a reminder of a past that can't be called back. As with any quest, sometimes it's the journey that's important, not the end result. And, sometimes, a dream comes true in ways not quite expected.

Michael A. Kahn's website is

The Sirena Quest by Michael A. Kahn. Poisoned Pen Press. 2015. ISBN 9781464203503 (hardcover), 287p.

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

Monday, January 26, 2015

Book Chat, Feb Mysteries from Penguin's Berkley Prime Crime & Obsidian

Lots of mysteries to list for February. I hope you find some to read. And, I hope you enjoy Jinx' role this month.

As Gouda as Dead - Avery Aames - 6th Cheese Shop Mystery
Played by the Book - Lucy Arlington - 4th Novel Idea Mystery
This Old Homicide - Kate Carlisle - 2nd Fixer-Upper Mystery
Murder in the Queen's Garden - Amanda Carmack - 3rd Elizabethan Mystery
A Root Awakening - Kate Collins - 16th Flower Shop Mystery
An Early Wake - Sheila Connolly - 3rd County Cork Mystery
Fry Another Day - J.J. Cook - 2nd Biscuit Bowl Truck Mystery
The Drowning School - Monica Ferris - 17th Needlecraft Mystery (1st time in paperback)
Darned If You Do - Monica Ferris - 18th Needlecraft Mystery (hardcover)
Book or by Crook - Eva Gates - 1st Lighthouse Library Mystery
Town in a Sweet Pickle - B.B. Haywood - 6th Candy Holliday Murder Mystery
License to Dill - Mary Ellen Hughes - 2nd Pickled & Preserved Mystery
At the Drop of a Hat - Jenn McKinlay - 3rd Hat Shop Mystery

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James

Miranda James' delightful Cat in the Stacks mystery series moves to hardcover with the publication of Arsenic and Old Books. All of the books combine mystery in a small college town with a charming Southern gentleman librarian who owns Diesel, a talkative Maine Coon cat. Or, as cat lovers would say, Charlie Harris is owned by Diesel. The mysteries are atmospheric with a close-knit cast of characters. In this case, James adds a fascinating search through Civil War diaries for the answer to a contemporary investigation.

Charlie Harris is thrilled when Lucinda Beckwith Long, the mayor of Athena, Mississippi, donates four volumes of family diaries to the archives at Athena College. But, before he can do anything but add the gift to the archival records, two women show up demanding access to the Long family diaries. One is  a history professor desperate for tenure. The other is a writer, wanting to search them for ammunition in a political race involving two native sons, Beck Long and Jasper Singletary. Charlie is horrified when the diaries are stolen from his office. But, when the theft is followed by a hit-and-run death, Charlie fears someone is desperate. Is Charlie's job of preservation and research putting him at risk?

James' latest mystery is engrossing, blending political skulduggery, Civil War stories, and a murder investigation. Charlie's job in the archives comes front and center in this novel, and it's key to the story. Arsenic and Old Books is an absorbing mystery, the story of people whose good intentions go wrong.

The other essential element in these mysteries is Diesel. He's always at Charlie's side as a companion who attracts attention wherever they go. Diesel is appealing, and he's recognized and beloved around town. Diesel is present throughout Charlie's adventures. And, as a bonus element in this book, James tells the story of the first meeting of Diesel and Charlie.

A lovable, entertaining cat, Civil War diaries, small town secrets, politics, crime. Miranda James successfully incorporates all of those elements in the engaging mystery, Arsenic and Old Books.

Miranda James' website is Or visit James' Facebook page at

Arsenic and Old Books by Miranda James. Berkley Prime Crime. 2015. ISBN 9780425257296 (hardcover), 293p.

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