Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Spine Haiku: Variations on an Ending

You'd never know it to take a look at this blog, but I love poetry. It's a love that came to me while I was in college because nothing much was said or done about that art form while I was in high school. During those university years, I had a full-blown love affair, especially with the English Romantics and Victorians, and with Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson.

It was probably Emily Dickinson's style that led me to the Japanese form of haiku: a three-line poem consisting of lines of five, seven, and five syllables. Haiku normally are fleeting glimpses of nature, but since they are the only sort of poem that I've ever been able to write, I've bent the rules a time or two. That's why I decided to bend them for National Poetry Month.

I've seen posts on book blogs over the years showing "spine poetry," in which bloggers have made poems from the titles showing on spines of books. That's always appealed to me. This year I decided to do a little spine poetry of my own, but I always have to play around with the rules. The two rules I added are: (1) the "spines" would be from my crime fiction to-be-read shelves, and (2) the poems would all be haiku.

It didn't take me long to find two books that just seemed to fit together. The problem was that I found four different endings. I'm going to show them all to you and let you choose your favorite. How's that?


The Boy in the Snow
Started Early, Took My Dog.
Death Lurks in the Bush.


The Boy in the Snow
Started Early, Took My Dog...
Going Nowhere Fast.


The Boy in the Snow
Started Early, Took My Dog...
Death in the Dark Walk.


The Boy in the Snow
Started Early, Took My Dog...
Faces of the Gone.

They all turned out a bit foreboding, didn't they? Which one do you prefer-- 1, 2, 3, or 4?  Inquiring spine haiku poets would love to know!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

A Few Drops of Blood by Jan Merete Weiss

First Line: The moon was a ghost when the call came in.

The bodies of two murdered men are found astride a statue in the garden of an elderly countess. The shocking and gruesome scene is not what most people have in mind when they breakfast out on the terrace. At the request of the countess, Captain Natalia Monte of the Naples Carabinieri is assigned to the case. It's a case that will have Natalia investigating art galleries and local crime families, but more importantly, it will have her questioning her own past and allegiances as well as those of her beloved city.

When I read the first book in this series, These Dark Things, I had mixed emotions. I absolutely loved the setting, but felt that there were problems with the plot and the characters. I'm very happy to say that A Few Drops of Blood have put most of those problems to rest.

As in the first book, the setting is superb. Since Natalia lives close to the police station, she often walks to work, to cafes, and to the shops. As she walks, her policeman's eyes are never at rest, but as she's observing, she's also mentally listing all the many reasons why she loves the city of her birth. Her musings are making me fall in love with the city as well.

The main characters are more fleshed out in this book. There have been consequences to Natalia and Pino's relationship that began in the first book, and we get to see how they are dealing with them here. The most fascinating part of Natalia's background, however, is her relationship to several females who have positions of importance within the local Camorra (crime families). These women have been close friends since they were small children going to school together. Natalia knows that her job requires her to forsake her friends, but she refuses. This insistence gives her both an edge in solving some of the cases she's assigned and a disadvantage because someone's constantly trying to force her to take a side. I admire her for her refusal to abandon her friends, and I also enjoy watching her walk a tightrope as she investigates anything that touches the Camorra.

The only thing that bothered me as I read was the fact that the plot seemed to wander from time to time. Although I was enjoying the scenic route as I turned the pages, I kept wondering when Natalia was going to settle down and actually investigate the murder of the two men. Never fear, Natalia does put all the facts and clues together-- and she reveals some very nasty thorns hidden amongst the petals that make up the beautiful city of Naples. This series is turning into something very special, and I look forward to the next installment.

A Few Drops of Blood by Jan Merete Weiss
ISBN: 9781616953539
Soho Crime © 2014
Hardcover, 304 pages

Police Procedural, #2 Captain Natalia Monte mystery
Rating: B+
Source: the publisher

Monday, April 21, 2014

The Comfort Test

You Find Stories Comforting


You love to dream, imagine, and escape into a beautiful story. There's nothing like leaving the real world for a while. Books are the ultimate relaxation for you, but you can also be drawn into the right movie, TV series, or even song.

For you, there's no better experience than finding a book you love, especially if you connect with the characters. You can lose all sense of time in a story, and at the end of it all, you have a new perspective on the world! 


@ The Poisoned Pen with the Berkley Prime Crime Ladies!

A bookstore celebrating a milestone-- like its twenty-fifth anniversary-- can dish up some very nice perks, like the one on the evening Denis and I headed over to Scottsdale and The Poisoned Pen.

We were going to enjoy a couple of hours with four talented writers: Carolyn Hart, recipient of the Grand Masters Award from the Mystery Writers of America and author of four series and several standalones; Margaret Coel, author of the Wind River mysteries and Catherine McLeod novels; Avery Aames (AKA Daryl Wood Gerber), author of two series; and Earlene Fowler, author of two series and a standalone novel. These women have all won awards, and they are all published by Berkley Prime Crime.

I wasn't about to pass up the chance to see them, and Denis-- who rocketed through the Wind River mysteries after meeting Margaret Coel-- is always game to go to our favorite bookstore because he usually comes home with more audiobook suggestions.

On the drive over, the radio station alerted us to the haboob moving in from Casa Grande. Evidently everyone was supposed to stay off the road at 5 PM, which made me wonder what all these people were going to do instead of coming home from work. Just how much of a chance do you think there would be of having everyone stay at work? I thought so-- you and I are on the same page with that one! The sky was blue, there was no signs of billowing clouds of dust, and in no time, we were at The Poisoned Pen.

"Take cover!"

L to R: Fowler, Hart, Coel and Aames
Having already met Earlene Fowler at the very first CozyCon, I'd fallen in love with her humor and outspokenness. As the four women took their seats, Earlene immediately made us laugh.  "So this is one of those haboobs?" Fowler asked. "We heard the news in our hotel. They were telling everyone to get off the roads, to stay inside, to close windows and doors.... I was telling these three to take cover, and I started checking to see if we had enough food and water in the mini fridge!" (If you haven't guessed it already, a haboob is a dust storm, and as far as they go, this one was a no-show.)

As is often the case, Barbara Peters had taken the women out to lunch, and she looked over the room and said, "You think these authors come to The Poisoned Pen to sign your books. They really come here to eat!"


The evening officially began with each author introducing herself.

Avery Aames

Daryl Wood Gerber introduced herself by saying that she writes a cookbook cozy series under her real name, and the cheese shop mysteries as Avery Aames. (When you spell Ames with two A's, you're first alphabetically on the shelf.)

"All the titles in in the second series are quite cheesy," she said with a laugh.

Margaret Coel

"When I began writing the Wind River mysteries," said Margaret Coel, "I had to find a logical way to get an amateur involved in solving murders. Then it dawned on me... when you're in trouble, who do you turn to? You often turn to your priest, your lawyer.

"What my books are about is how things that happen in the past percolate up to affect the present." She added that this also happens in her two Catherine McLeod books set in Denver, Blood Memory and The Perfect Suspect.

Carolyn Hart
"My Death on Demand book coming out in May will be my fifty-third," said Carolyn Hart. "I've been writing for fifty years. I grew up during World War II and always wanted to write about ordinary people in extraordinary times.

"I wanted to write a non-fiction book about American nurses in the Philippines during World War II, but when I asked to see their papers, the papers were not available to view. Now they are, and seven or eight years ago, a wonderful book was written about them. All the nurses survived, although they'd all been Japanese prisoners of war."

When Barbara Peters asked her which of her books was her favorite, Hart quickly replied, "Escape from Paris," which is a suspense novel about two American sisters in Paris during the Occupation who risk their lives to save a downed British airman from Nazi arrest.

Earlene Fowler

"I feel so intimidated sitting next to Carolyn!" quipped Earlene Fowler. "I wrote each Benni Harper novel as if it were the last. I'm on hiatus at the moment."

When asked what she was doing, Earlene smiled and said, "Right now I'm doing promiscuous reading, and I think everyone needs to stop writing for at least six months to give us all a chance to catch up!"

Questions & Answers

Barbara Peters: You all write more than one type of book. Carolyn, you started out with juvenile fiction, and now you're writing about a ghost (Bailey Ruth). It's almost as if you're covering all the bases from birth to death!

Carolyn Hart: I had to do copy edits on a new version of a book that's set in Mexico City involving college students in 1954. Doing that made me feel young again. (Looking out over the room) Everybody in this room has a story.

Margaret Coel: We all wonder if we can do it. It expands our capabilities, and it's fun. I did it because I wanted to challenge myself.

Earlene Fowler: Benni is a young widow who has a great support system. I wanted to write about a young widow who has none of that. (The Saddlemaker's Wife)

Barbara Peters: Earlene, you write about the thing that scares you most: being widowed.

Earlene Fowler: Yes. I had a writing instructor tell us to write about the thing that scares you most, and that's what I did.  I met my husband when we were fifteen; we were married when we were nineteen; and we're now fifty-nine with no kids. Well, except our Corgi. I lost twenty-five pounds writing my first book, Fool's Puzzle because the thought of losing my husband scares me to death.

Avery Aames: My publisher wanted a niche sort of book about cheese, which has always been considered a sort of comfort food. They wanted cheese, and they liked my writing.  I was an actress, and I wrote lots of screenplays, but I had six unpublished novels sitting on the shelf. The only way to be published was to say yes to cheese. And I'm excellent at doing my research!

I will say that my cheese shop series isn't so much about cheese but the relationship between an orphaned girl and her French grandparents. My main character can't cook so fans who also can't cook can still relate to the series. Speaking of cooking, if you haven't done so, I hope you all will visit one of my favorite websites, Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.

Barbara Peters: The people at Berkley will often have an idea and then look for an author to pair with that idea. In some cases, Berkley owns the name the author writes under.

Earlene Fowler: I know of authors who write under four or five different names, and they've dedicated books to themselves. I've often thought that writers have to be successful schizophrenics; they have to write, and then they have to deal with their publishers.

Barbara Peters: It's a strange business, and speaking of business, I'd like to say that the Poisoned Pen Press' debts have all been paid off. We've even hired a marketing expert and an assistant publisher. (Enthusiastic round of applause throughout the bookstore)

Earlene Fowler: And as writers we sometimes get to travel to promote our books. We get to stay in a nice hotel. We get to see a haboob....

Barbara Peters: In the bookstore business, I've learned that customers are predictable. I hate to say that, but you are. When The Poisoned Pen was first open, there was an elderly lady who would spend $34-37 every other week in the store. This went on for well over a year. Then she called one week, ordered books, and asked for them to be delivered. I knew something was wrong, so I delivered the books myself. She wanted me to leave the books at the door and leave, but I refused. When she finally opened the door, she was so embarrassed. She had an abusive grandson, and he had beaten her. But we need to get back on track....

Earlene Fowler: You can't leave us hanging like this! (Everyone in the room agreed.)

Barbara then went on to say that she took the lady to the hospital to get her checked out, and the grandson was arrested and jailed. (See what kind of service you get at an indie bookstore?)

Barbara Peters: Where do you get the names for your characters?

Earlene Fowler: From all over. I once met a woman named Bunny. She was six feet tall, dressed in a work shirt, jeans and cowboy boots. Not your run-of-the-mill Bunny!

Margaret Coel: I have an Arapaho vet my manuscripts, and I once had to change the name of one of my characters because it was very similar to the name of an Arapaho who would've brought many unhappy memories and associations to the tribe.

Avery Aames: I get a lot of mine online. I want them to be easily pronounceable. I met a woman called Bingo at a signing, and I asked her daughter, "Bingo as in the dog?" No. The woman was called Bingo because the very first time her husband laid eyes on her, he said, "Bingo!"

Earlene Fowler: I named one of my characters after a real person, and I didn't tell her. Three months later, the woman called me and said, "You named that character after me!" I responded, "'bout time you read the book!"

As the evening reluctantly drew to a close, Margaret Coel told us a bit about her newest book that's coming out in September. She found out that Butch Cassidy once hid out on the Arapaho reservation, and an idea sprouted. The book is called Night of the White Buffalo. White buffaloes are very sacred to Native Americans, and when one is born, many times the rancher will kill it immediately. Why? Because thousands of people will come to see it, and they cause traffic jams, trample pasture land, and break down fences in order to do so. A white buffalo can be a very costly occurrence.

Then it was all over... but everyone in the bookstore had smiles on their faces. What a fun evening!

Friday, April 18, 2014

The Wish Me Luck Weekly Link Round-Up

From the title of this post you probably think I'm off on a long journey, or I've entered some sort of contest, but that's not the case. Have you ever heard of spine poetry-- poems formed from the titles on the spines of books? Well, it's been intriguing me for years, and since this is National Poetry Month, I thought I might give it a try. As usual, I tend to put more parameters on myself like: (1) crime fiction titles only and (2) poems in the form of haiku, which is the only sort of poetry I've ever been able to write. Now you see what I mean about wishing me luck!

But first I'm going to do something much easier-- round up some links!

Books, Movies & Other Tidbits

    My Indiana Jones Segment
    You know... a little natural history, a little architecture, a little archaeology...
    • A tiny Minnesota museum's canoe just happens to be a 1,000-year-old historic find.
    • A near-complete T. Rex skeleton has arrived at the Smithsonian.
    • A fascinating look backstage at Versailles: a handyman's tour of the palace.
    • Archaeologists have found things that suggest Rome is a century older than everyone thought.
    • Another story that proves everything on this planet is interconnected: the power of poop. (No, that's not a typo.)
    • Drone images have revealed a buried ancient village in New Mexico.
    • Experts in Serbia are using heavy machinery to move a mammoth.
    • The dinosaur-killing asteroid impact has been dwarfed by an earlier space rock crash.

    I  ♥  Lists

    That's all, folks! Don't forget to stop by next week when I'll have a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure. Have a great weekend!

    Thursday, April 17, 2014

    Inspector Singh Investigates: A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree by Shamini Flint

    First Line: My feet sink into the mud as if it is quicksand.

    Inspector Singh's superiors have sent him to Phnom Penh, Cambodia, as an observer to the international war crimes tribunal. As far as he's concerned, he'd much rather be home in Singapore. Then a key witness at the tribunal is murdered, and Colonel Menhay of the Cambodian Police asks Singh to be assigned to the investigation. It doesn't take long for the portly inspector to realize that the roots of this homicide reach all the way back to the horrors of the Cambodian killing fields.

    I have enjoyed each book in this series for the character of Inspector Singh and for the depiction of areas in Southeast Asia that I probably will never see. A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree contains what I've learned to love about Shamini Flint's writing and then proceeds to take it to an even higher level.

    It was Singh's life mission to tramp after the murderers in his snowy white sneakers, following the evidence and his instincts, ignoring the advice and warnings of his superiors, stopping only for regular meals, cold beer and the  odd afternoon nap, until he had ensured some justice for the dead.

    Inspector Singh is his usual irascible self-- a man who loves his work, a man who appreciates time away from his ill-tempered wife, a man who manages to put up with his superior officers. In the eyes of those "superiors," policing is all about appearances, and the turbaned, overweight, chain-smoking, white sneaker-wearing inspector just does not fit their idea of what the police force in Singapore should look like. The only reason they don't get rid of him is because his success rate is so high. So they let him solve murders and hope as many of them as possible occur somewhere far away.

    He remained a policeman under sufferance, his bosses always looking for an excuse to get rid of him. He suspected that deep down they feared someone whom they could not control, who valued a victim's right to justice more than the rules and regulations of the Force.

    Part of the delight of reading these books is in seeing how Singh can circumvent the rules and regulations his superiors are trying to impose. He doesn't take shortcuts in interviewing witnesses or suspects, or in collecting evidence. He's just learned the best ways to avoid all those silly "for appearance's sake" rules.

    What brings this book to an even higher level is its setting. Shamini Flint brings Cambodia's tragic history into sharp focus without being graphic about it. In imposing a radical form of agrarian socialism on his people, Pol Pot, his policies, and his henchmen were responsible for the murder of 25% (at least two million) of his country's people. Cambodians could be killed for wearing glasses or for being seen reading a book or for speaking a foreign language. By having Singh bear witness to the testimonies of those who survived at this international war tribunal, readers experience a tiny bit of the horror of the killing fields.

    Once he's an official part of the murder investigation and helping Colonel Menhay, Inspector Singh learns that vengeance runs deep in Cambodian society. There are several suspects for this murder, but the truly mind-boggling part is in putting facts and supposition together in order to discover the true identity of each suspect, each person's motivation, and-- since the body count does rise-- exactly which suspect is responsible for the death of each victim. And always in the background is the serial killer who roams the countryside murdering former members of the Khmer Rouge.

    If the phone had rung or if someone had knocked on the door while I was reading A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree, I would have ignored them. I was totally engrossed in this story, and I had to see how Singh and Menhay solved the case. In the end, I learned that my involvement led to my ignoring Flint's subtly planted clues. The identity of one of the murderers shocked me-- and that was the icing on the cake. One of my favorite characters, an emotionally charged setting which both taught and entertained, and a truly puzzling case.  I highly recommend this book-- and the entire series.

    A Deadly Cambodian Crime Spree by Shamini Flint
    ISBN:  9780749953478
    Piatkus Books © 2011
    Paperback, 320 pages

    Police Procedural, #4 Inspector Singh mystery
    Rating: A
    Source: the author 

    Buried in Bargains by Josie Belle

    First Line: "Mom, you need to get a grip," Laura Gerber said to her mother as they trudged up the sidewalk through the center of St. Stanley, Virginia.

    It's My Sister's Closet's first holiday season, and the Good Buy Girls are hunting for cheap (yet stylish) wrapping paper so thrift store owner and head GBG member Maggie Gerber can offer free gift wrap. It should be a time of good cheer, but pregnant Good Buy Girl Joanne Claramotta is acting more like Ebenezer. There's more than hormone surges at work here. Her husband has hired a pretty young thing to work at their deli, and Joanne just can't fight the feeling that Michael's eye has strayed from her whale-like figure to the svelte Diane Jenkins.

    Calming her down is going to prove all but impossible when Maggie finds Michael unconscious on the deli floor... with the strangled body of Diane not far away. Soon Maggie needs to be calmed down as well because Diane was a woman with no paper trail and no past. She's afraid that when Michael's secrets come to light, the holidays may be ruined for them all.

    I've come to the conclusion that one of the reasons why I enjoy Josie Belle's Good Buy Girls mysteries so much is that, by reading them, I experience something I've never had: the close friendship and emotional support of a group of women. These books almost make me want to start wearing nail polish and looking for bargains on shoes. Almost. (Sorry, Jenn, but I never was and never will be a girly girl.) This time around, Maggie and her friends are still dealing with the dangerous diva, Summer Phillips, but the emphasis is less on bargains and cat fights, and more on family, relationships, and a first-rate mystery.

    Another thing that I love about this series is that no character is really left behind. When a long-married couple splits in one book, they don't disappear; we get to see how they deal with living apart. When these amateur sleuths help a dead woman's daughter, the next book shows us how she is coping-- and how she is able to move on with her life. This is definitely a series about family and about friends, and while a killer is being hunted, Buried in Bargains really delivers. A word of warning: when reading about the fancy dress Christmas ball, please have tissues on hand. You will need them. It's one of the very best cry-for-happy scenes I've read in a long, long time. I also have to admit that finally getting a chance to see Maggie's daughter was a bonus-- as well as watching further progress in the relationship between Maggie and Sheriff Sam Collins.

    If you love feeling invested in the crime fiction you read, get hold of the Good Buy Girls series. The whodunit aspects are good, and the cast of characters is so strong that you'll wish you could move to St. Stanley, Virginia, to become a part of such a loving, supportive group. Buried in Bargains is the best of the bunch so far. It can be read as a standalone since the author does provide enough backstory for you to get a feel for the characters, but I'd advise that you read 'em all. Why deny yourself the pleasure?

    Bring on the next one-- I have my coupons ready!

    Buried in Bargains by Josie Belle (AKA Jenn McKinlay)
    ISBN: 9780425252307
    Berkley Prime Crime © 2013
    Mass Market Paperback, 272 pages

    Cozy Mystery, #3 Good Buy Girls mystery
    Rating: A-
    Source: Purchased at The Poisoned Pen. 

    Tuesday, April 15, 2014

    Nearly Departed in Deadwood by Ann Charles

    First Line: The first time I came to Deadwood, I got shot in the ass.

    Deadwood, South Dakota, always seems to be a place of mixed blessings for single mother Violet Parker, especially when she has all the planning and organizational skills of Stephanie Plum. At the end of her financial rope, she's moved her young twins to the small town so they all can live with her aunt while she tries being a realtor. She's not had much luck with that either, and if she hasn't sold a house in the next three weeks, she can kiss this job good-bye. Just when an owner chooses her to sell his grand old Victorian house, Violet learns of something that she just can't ignore: three little girls have gone missing in Deadwood in the past year, and she's afraid her daughter may be next. Is there any possible way she can sell a house and keep her daughter safe at the same time?

    I have an affinity for old mining towns, and the word "Deadwood" was the first thing to catch my eye about this book. Old mining towns have history; they have character; and they're often good places to set a story. I found that to be true here. Deadwood also has casinos, so there will be an ever-changing mix of familiar faces and strangers just drifting through to play the slots and to avoid a hand of aces and eights at the poker table. Charles did a first-rate job of highlighting Deadwood's quirky ambiance.

    Ann Charles' voice and her sense of humor are the two things about this book that I absolutely loved. I lost count of the number of times she had me laughing as I turned the pages-- even when Violet's twins were up to some hare-brained scheme. (She's really going to be in trouble when these two become teenagers.)

    As far as characters go, Violet is 95% of the show, and although she had me won over from the first line, I would've liked to see other characters-- like her aunt-- featured a bit more. One of the characters at Calamity Jane Realty, however, highlight one of the unrealistic parts of the story. One of the realtors is a smarmy buzzard who wants Violet to fail so he can practice a bit of nepotism. His constant stream of sexual innuendo makes me wonder what cave he was hiding in when all the emphasis against sexual harassment in the workplace was being explained. Not only that, but Violet puts up with it, so there's something wrong with her, too.

    It also seems as though Violet's the target of every man's salacious thoughts there in Deadwood, and if you enjoy romance in your mysteries, you're going to find plenty of it here, with handsome men both wanting to sell and buy houses from her-- and to keep Violet entertained in other ways. A word of warning: the amount of detail in a romantic encounter goes well above what is usually found in the typical cozy. It's not graphic, but be aware just in case you need to turn on a fan as you read that chapter.

    I did find this book to have a slow-moving start, and I really don't think a small town would be quite so blasé about three missing girls as Deadwood residents appeared to be. There's also a tiny bit of the paranormal added at the end that really wasn't necessary; Violet's confrontation with the killer was chilling and well-written to begin with.

    I'm finding several things to be picky about, aren't I? Yes, there are some problems with Nearly Departed in Deadwood, but the writing style and the humor were so enjoyable that I was willing to overlook a few details. I'm also more than willing to go to Deadwood and visit with Violet again. Let's face it: I love old mining towns, and I love to laugh.

    Nearly Departed in Deadwood by Ann Charles
    ISBN: 9780983256809
    Corvallis Press © 2011
    eBook, 352 pages

    Humorous Mystery, #1 Deadwood mystery
    Rating: B-
    Source: Purchased as an eBook from Amazon.