Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Whispers by Lisa Unger


First Line: Eloise Montgomery had always believed that on the day that the worst thing happened, she would know.

In the past author Lisa Unger has written two books set in The Hollows, a secluded town 100 miles outside New York City. Both books-- Fragile and Darkness, My Old Friend-- feature an ensemble cast, and Unger has long wanted to flesh out some of the characters living in this fictional town.

First up is psychic Eloise Montgomery in "The Whispers," number one in a series of three digital short stories. Set in 1985, "The Whispers" tells us Eloise's backstory. Eloise, her husband, and two daughters were involved in a horrendous car crash that killed husband Alfie and oldest daughter Emily. Now she and Amanda have the seemingly insurmountable task of learning to cope with their loss and moving on. They aren't always successful. 

Eloise must also deal with a very strange side effect from her injuries in the car crash: she can hear whispers from the other side, and she feels uncontrollable urges to act on those whispers. She's not Super Sleuth or Wonder Psychic. She's a rather ordinary grieving widow and mother standing in the doorway of a strange new world-- and she thinks she's going crazy. She gathers as much information as she can from these whispers and contacts the authorities so they can do what they're trained for. Basking in the limelight from any success is the last thing she wants to do, and that one small detail endeared her to me.

In a few short pages, Lisa Unger has created a very real mother and daughter who quickly engage a reader's interest and sympathy. This first digital short story sets up the following two perfectly, and I can't wait to read them. Moreover, since I had never read any of Unger's books before, I'm looking forward to reading them as well.

(Note: "The Whispers" is roughly 45 pages long. The rest of the download consists of a sneak peek at Unger's novel Crazy Love You.)


"The Whispers" by Lisa Unger
eISBN: 9781476797786
Pocket Star © 2014
Digital Short Story, 45 pages

Short Story, #1 The Hollows
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley
 

Friday, October 24, 2014

A Shining Beacon of a Weekly Link Round-Up





Denis and I went to The Poisoned Pen this week to see two of our favorite authors, Jeffrey Siger and Timothy Hallinan. Little did I know but those two very talented men both made me feel a bit like royalty.  They had "talked up" their appearance on their Facebook pages, and-- amid all the poor unfortunates bemoaning their fates-- I said I was really looking forward to seeing them both, and they returned the sentiment.

Tuesday evening Jeff and Tim were mobbed the second they stepped foot inside the bookstore, and I-- not being a fan of elbows and competitive conversation-- just kept my seat in the back and divided my time between reading and people watching. I had no idea that they would both seek me out! Jeff found me first. He shook my hand, introduced me to the people who'd followed him to the back of the store, and then he sat down and proceeded to chat with me. 

Tim also found me a few minutes later. He's teased me about my "free advertising" Facebook photo (also used on my blog's sidebar) in which I'm seen holding a copy of one of his books. Tim and I also got a few precious minutes to chat before the interview began. And now I finally get to the meaning behind my post title. How did both men find me? My short white hair shines like a beacon in the bookstore's lighting. Now I know for certain that if I ever want to go anywhere incognito, I need a hat and/or a wig!

Enough hair talk. Let's get to those links!

 
Books, Movies & Other Interesting Tidbits
  • I thought I'd seen an infographic for just about everything... but not for the aroma of books.
  • A man used Twitter to get himself out when he discovered that he was locked in a London branch of Waterstones.
  • Here's a quiz to see how well you know the villains of literature.
  • There's a Sherlock Holmes exhibition at the Museum of London.
  • One bar closer to humanity: Hopefully this video will persuade some people to put down their phones.
  • Here's an enjoyable crime fiction dictionary. I have to admit that I was just as interested in seeing if I'd read the books given as examples as I was in reading the definitions.
  • Amazon wants you to decide what eBooks get published with Kindle Scout.
  • Do readers choose eBooks because they are cheaper?  
  • Local Poisoned Pen Press now has the North American rights to the British Library Crime Classics series and the British Library Spy Classics series. 
  • After last week's incident in which a tourist was locked inside one of their stores, Waterstones is having a contest for ten guests to win a sleepover in their Piccadilly branch.
  • IKEA is coming up with some really good commercials. This time, it's a take on "The Shining." 
  • Join me in signing this petition showing your support for "Longmire".


Channeling My Inner Indiana Jones

The Happy Wanderer


I  ♥  Lists


Book Candy


That's all for now. Don't forget to stop by next Friday when I'll be sharing a freshly selected batch of links for your surfing pleasure. Have a great weekend!


 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Streets of Fire by Troy Soos


First Line: Marshall Webb wasn't even aware of how far he'd rolled his oak swivel chair back away from his desk.

Webb is dissatisfied with his job as a reporter for Harper's Weekly, mainly because he's required to sit at his desk and rewrite old articles instead of being out on the streets gathering new material. His old job as a dime Western novelist is looking more and more attractive. 

After striking a bargain with his editor, Webb finds himself back out on the news beat in one of the worse winters of recent memory, and the icy streets are filled with tension. Brooklyn is torn apart over the news that it is losing its independence and joining with New York City, and a strike by the trolley workers threatens to paralyze the area.

Police are called in to keep the peace along the trolley lines, and one of the them is shot in the back and killed. Webb finds himself joining forces with an old friend, Brooklyn detective Buck Morehouse, and the whirlpool of corruption they begin uncovering will even affect Webb's friend Rebecca Davies and fellow social reformer Vivian O'Connell.

I read and loved the first three books in this series, and when I discovered that there was a fourth, I just had to get my hands on it. Soos is extremely adept at creating historical mysteries, although he's better known for his baseball mysteries (which my husband enjoyed). Webb and Davies make a strong pair of sleuths. Webb is an investigative journalist whose contact in the Brooklyn police, Buck Morehouse, has helped him on more than one case. Webb knows how to root around and get the facts. Buck has his own ways of meting out justice. In our modern eyes, Buck is a bit of a crooked cop, but in 1895 he's one of the most honest ones you'll find in the New York City area. If anything, readers get the impression that Buck has been beaten down by all the on-the-job corruption he has to face.

Into the mix of Webb and Morehouse add Rebecca Davies, a young woman of wealth and privilege who is in charge of the family's shelter for young homeless women. Rebecca's background means that she has entry into the finest homes in New York City. Her experience working with the underprivileged means that she's an idealist with street smarts. Put Webb and Davies together, and there are sparks. Add Morehouse, and there are murderers being brought to justice. 

In Streets of Fire, Soos once again paints an indelible, three-dimensional portrait of the mean streets of New York during a time when graft and corruption were King. It's taken for granted that the rich and powerful will abuse their positions-- and the employees who work for them-- with alacrity. In setting this book during the trolley workers strike, Soos shows us people who are sick of the status quo and are willing to fight for better lives for themselves and their children. We get a further look at the plight of the poor as Rebecca shows Vivian how to choose the right building in the right area for a women's shelter as well as how to run it properly.

If only the mystery in this book lived up to its setting and its characters! As one chapter followed another, I couldn't help comparing Streets of Fire to its predecessors. Here the mystery is weak and extremely slow to start. The identity of the killer was not hard to deduce. I could even say that the investigation felt half-hearted-- almost as if the author had been told that his contract for the series wasn't going to be renewed before he even began writing. (This is pure speculation, by the way.) I love the first three books in this series, and I recommend them highly, and while this one is good, it just doesn't stand shoulder to shoulder with the others.
 

Streets of Fire by Troy Soos
ISBN: 9780758206251
Kensington © 2008
Mass Market Paperback, 288 pages

Historical Mystery, #4 Marshall Webb and Rebecca Davies mystery 
Rating: C+
Source: Paperback Swap

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Books Make a Home by Damian Thompson


First Line: "When I have a little money I buy books."

This is a gorgeous book that all book lovers will want to get their hands on. With a royal purple ribbon to use as a bookmark, Books Make a Home is divided into chapters showcasing books in every room in the house: as decoration, in kitchens and dining rooms, in bedrooms and bathrooms, in children's rooms, and-- my personal favorites-- on stairs and in corridors, in living rooms, and in libraries and studies. As you can see by my favorites, I'm a bit of a traditionalist when it comes to storing and displaying all my books (although I don't have stairs or even a hallway wide enough in which to put them).  

As you can imagine, the photos are glorious and will have readers torn between running to the nearest bookstore or revamping their own libraries, but there is more to this volume than the photos. The text itself is well-written and informative, and a large section in the back lists resources and suppliers that will lead to many an internet search.

Books Make a Home is the perfect book to encourage daydreaming and wish lists, or to motivate bibliophiles to do some reorganization, and it definitely would make a wonderful gift for anyone-- like me-- who's completely under the spell of the printed word.
  

Books Make a Home: Elegant Ideas for Storing and Displaying Books 
by Damian Thompson 
ISBN: 9781849751872
Ryland Peters & Small © 2011
Hardcover, 160 pages

Non-Fiction, Standalone
Rating: A
Source: Purchased from BookOutlet 


Tuesday, October 21, 2014

The Lost Empress by Steve Robinson


First Line: This would be his first murder, and he hoped it would be his last.

Genealogist Jefferson Tayte's client has an interesting ancestor. Every record Tayte can find insists that this ancestor drowned one hundred years ago when the Empress of Ireland sank to the bottom of the St. Lawrence River; however, his client's very existence proves that can't be true. He has to get to the bottom of the mystery, and the bottom is in England. Tayte's search will have him uncover secrets buried before the beginning of World War I, and-- once again-- he's going to be a part of an investigation into murder. Who says researching family history is dull?

As in his previous book To the Grave, author Steve Robinson tells his story with two narratives; one in 1914 and Tayte's in the present day. It is a technique he does well. I found both narratives to be equally interesting, and both kept me guessing at how all the pieces fit together. 

In addition, Robinson shines the spotlight on an almost forgotten tragedy: the sinking of the Empress of Ireland. With a death toll almost as high as the Titanic, the Empress of Ireland has long been overshadowed by the Titanic, the sinking of the Lusitania, and by the beginning of World War I. The Lost Empress does deal tangentially with the Great War and its centenary this year by focusing on some of the events that led up to it. This strong historical foundation adds a great deal to the past narrative in the book.

As someone who's read all four of Robinson's Jefferson Tayte mysteries, it's easy to see what a canny writer he is. One of the things I enjoy the most is his character's use of basic genealogist's tools to solve mysteries. Having lived with two of this breed, I know just how much information can be found in old records, be they census records, wills, photographs, newspaper accounts, or letters and diaries. To the uninitiated it may seem incredulous that Tayte can solve crime using these methods, but it's not. (Did you know that there's such a thing as forensic genealogy?)

Another thing that Robinson has done throughout this series is vary the action. From someone who blundered from one concussion to the next in the first book, Tayte has become calmer and more assured-- even to the point of dodging bullets in The Last Queen of England. Robinson knows that there aren't many genealogists out there who dodge bullets for a living, so there's no repeat of that in this book. Instead the focus is on that very puzzling ancestor and her story, and it's a very rich and satisfying mystery to solve.

This book can easily be read as a standalone, but as the story ends with Tayte being on the verge of making a life-changing decision, chances are excellent that this is one series you're going to want to continue following.


The Lost Empress by Steve Robinson
ASIN: B00K5HU3IC
Thomas and Mercer © 2014
eBook, 337 pages

Amateur Sleuth, #4 Genealogical Crime mystery
Rating: B+
Source: Net Galley 


Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson


From the Acknowledgements: After I was fortunate enough to win the Cowboys & Indians Tony Hillerman Award with "Old Indian Trick," the first short story in this collection and the first short story I had ever written, I got the bright idea that I'd send it to the folks who subscribed to my newsletter as a free gift for the holidays.

Author Craig Johnson just didn't know what he was getting himself into. The following November fans starting asking him about that year's Christmas Eve story, and thus began a tradition. Each Christmas Eve, those fans who've signed up at Johnson's website are treated to a short story-- another little glimpse into the life of beloved character Sheriff Walt Longmire. It didn't take long for folks to start asking about print editions of these stories, and Wait for Signs is the first collection. 

Having read each tale-- except for the brand-new "Petunia, Bandit Queen of the Bighorns"-- in my Christmas Eve emails, I looked forward to having a copy sitting on my Craig Johnson shelf in my personal library. With an introduction by Lou Diamond Phillips who portrays Henry Standing Bear on the hit television series Longmire, this volume contains gems, including "Divorce Horse" and "Messenger" which have only been available as digital editions. These stories are filled with humor, with the characters so many fans have grown to love like family, and with glimpses into Walt's present and past. 

Wait for Signs is the perfect introduction for new readers who have yet to travel to Absaroka County, Wyoming, and it's perfect for fans. As soon as I got my copy, I had to sit down and start reading because I quite simply needed a Walt Fix. Yes, I'd read them before, but there's no better pick-me-up than to laugh at the sly wit in "Old Indian Trick," to revisit the Port-A-Potty in "Messenger," to meet the woman who believes Walt is a deity in "Ministerial Aide," or to laugh at the pork rind-addicted crooks in "High Holidays."

I'd better warn you: if you're a first-time Craig Johnson reader when you pick up Wait for Signs, don't be surprised if you immediately begin a fevered quest to get your hands on all books Walt Longmire. Craig Johnson's writing is more addictive than those Lays potato chips we used to hear about all the time.


Wait for Signs by Craig Johnson
ISBN: 9780525427919
Viking © 2014
Hardcover, 192 pages

Short Stories, Sheriff Walt Longmire
Rating: B+
Source: Publicist 


Monday, October 20, 2014

Where Should You Travel To?


You Should Travel to Africa

 


You are ready for a grand adventure, and you're not afraid to get off the beaten path completely. You are ready to immerse yourself in nature, thrills, and very foreign lands. You want to experience culture shock.

Whether you're hanging out in Cape Town by the beach or going on a week long safari, you'll love the journey that is Africa. You're looking for a trip that will change your perspective (and your life), and Africa is the perfect place to do just that! 


 



Betty Webb at The Poisoned Pen!




To be perfectly honest, I've had better weeks. I'm still recuperating from some sort of stomach bug that laid me so low that I missed a favorite author at The Poisoned Pen, so I was bound and determined that I'd make it to Betty Webb's official launch party for Desert Rage.

It was a gorgeous October afternoon and crosstown traffic was light, so I made good time to my favorite bookstore. I had plenty of time to chat with one of the staff, buy some books (pictured to the right), and reserve a copy of yet another book before I sat down with my advance reader's copy of Timothy Hallinan's latest Poke Rafferty mystery. 

At least that was my intention. Instead I heckled David and Jeff as they set up the chairs, and got to chat with Betty as she sat down by me to autograph a big stack of mail order copies of Desert Rage. "I've been told that the room where I usually sign is a mess, and they're afraid books will fall on me," Betty told me. "I think that would be the perfect death for an author-- to be buried under a mountain of books!"  As she went off to browse, I did finally find myself lost in Thailand with Poke, but Betty's fans began arriving in smiling, chatting groups, and I was torn between people watching and reading. 


Betty Webb with one of her fans.
Of course people watching in a bookstore means I'm also keeping an eye on the books they want to buy. We fans are here because we love one author in particular, but what other books and authors do we enjoy? I usually find the results are fairly evenly divided between those who choose other books I love and those who choose books that I don't care for. 

While I was ruminating over the other folks' reading material, Betty was laughing and chatting with one fan after another. Being a local author, she knew several by name and gave one or two big hugs, but she was happy to talk with everyone who approached her. 





A Puffin on the Horizon


Background L to R: Betty Webb, Barbara Peters. Foreground: Ariel with the cake!


Since this was a launch party for Betty and her latest Lena Jones mystery Desert Rage, The Poisoned Pen staff made sure there was cake and iced tea for everyone, and the goodies underscored the festive atmosphere. Seconds before the official start of the event, which was recorded on Livestream,  host Barbara Peters donned her editor's hat and asked if there was a puffin on the horizon-- referring to the next Gunn Zoo mystery, The Puffin of Death. Betty smiled and said, "It's moving right along!" which is wonderful news to everyone who loves her second, light-hearted, series. 

Once the camera began to roll, Peters told us that there was indeed a puffin on the horizon, although she thought the book was "a rather spurious reason for a trip to Iceland." Betty knew she was being teased, but she did mention that she'd already been audited, so she'd just have to wait and see. Peters (who is also a lawyer) said, "As long as you produce the book, the IRS won't care!"

Back in editor mode, Peters said that Webb hardly needs any editing now. "I think that's because I've grown into the voice of Lena," Betty said. Barbara agreed. "In the beginning I constantly had to remove all the cute words Betty used because they just didn't suit Lena." 

Webb laughed and said, "Anyone who knows me knows that the voice of Teddy is the real Betty Webb. I can let my own voice really rip in the Gunn Zoo books."


Desert Rage & Lena


Warning us that there wasn't a lot that could be said about this latest book without giving too much away, Betty gave a brief synopsis of the novel. A right-wing candidate for the U.S. Senate wants Lena to investigate the gruesome murder of a Scottsdale family to which the 14-year-old daughter and her boyfriend have confessed. Lena doesn't like the woman or her politics and doesn't want to take the case. The woman persists, so Lena insists on knowing why the woman is so interested in the case. When the woman was a poor, struggling college student, she sold some of her eggs to a fertility clinic. After doing her own investigating years later, she discovered that the 14-year-old girl who's confessed to torture and murder is her biological daughter. With that information-- and the knowledge that the girl's boyfriend is a product of the same foster care system that Lena herself barely survived-- Lena agrees to take the case.

Available Now!
One of her fans asked Betty where in Scottsdale these characters lived, was it north? Betty laughed and said, "Whenever I talk about big bucks, I have to move my characters north of where I live here in Scottsdale!"  

"Since we can't talk much about the book," Peters asked, "what's been going on in Lena's personal life?" Betty began to fill us in a little bit.

As fans, we all knew that Lena Jones is a product of the foster care system and had to survive more than one abusive foster parent. In doing research for her character, Webb learned that adults who have gone through this are usually in one of two groups: they become clingy because their emotional needs have never been met, or they go out of their way to form no close attachments to other people. Lena belongs to the second group. She's had several relationships, but none of them have ever lasted. In fact, she's been the one to end many of them. This pattern of behavior begins to change in Desert Rage. As she gets deeper into the case, she forms an attachment to young Ali and her boyfriend Kyle. This growing closeness blinds her to some of the facts she uncovers in the investigation.

"But Lena does get to spend a lot of time with the wonderful foster mother who changed her life," Barbara said.

"Yes, she does," Webb agreed. "For quite a while readers were led to believe that this woman was dead, but she's not. She's an artist who lives between Apache Junction and Florence-- which just so happens to be on one of my favorite stretches of road to drive. And you'll notice as you read the books that Lena always has to interview someone in Apache Junction!"


"Write what you know..."


Betty Webb
Betty Webb's books are usually written in main character Lena Jones' voice, but in Desert Rage Lena shares the spotlight with the voice of 14-year-old Ali.

"In order to get ready to write in the voice of a 14-year-old, I read all of Jodi Picoult's books. I used to make fun of Jodi Picoult, but now I love her!" Webb laughed.

"I was a beast when I was fourteen," Betty divulged, "which made those parts of Ali easy to write."

"Well, you know what they say: write what you know," Barbara quipped, which made us all laugh.

Talk turned to the future of the Lena Jones series, which was originally planned to be nine books. (Desert Rage is number eight.) "I've thought of some prequels!" Betty said, which perked us all up after the news that the next book was supposed to be the last. After all, prequels means more than one, right?

Barbara Peters didn't look all that enthusiastic, but Webb didn't notice because she'd immediately gone on to tell us that the ninth Lena Jones book is tentatively titled Desert Vengeance and will have Lena begin to understand what happened to her as a child. "Remember that I said 'tentatively,'" Webb cautioned. "This eighth book was originally titled Desert Regret, but Barbara changed it."

"Yes. I read the manuscript and told Betty, 'Everyone in this book is enraged, not regretful,'" Peters said.

Betty then told us that there would be ten books in the series, but Barbara jumped in to say that she wouldn't be surprised if the series went to twelve.  It's no surprise that everyone in the room really liked the sound of that.

"I have to admit that my husband is the one who suggested prequels," Webb said. "He asked me what Lena was like in college."

Again, talk of prequels had made Peters' face darken slightly, but the mention of college visibly cheered her. "For a minute I was afraid this meant that we'd be seeing Lena as a four-year-old. Lena as a college-age student would be interesting. Who are you going to channel for the 19-year-old Lena?" she asked Betty.

"Oh, I can channel myself for that one!" Betty assured us.

The two women then went on to talk about how characters age in books. Lena Jones is an active woman who often finds herself in dangerous physical situations. In a long-running series, authors have to take care in how they age such physically active characters; otherwise, Lena would find herself too old and decrepit to get herself out of danger. Peters then mentioned that Ian Rankin had had to stop writing his Rebus books because Rebus had reached the mandatory retirement age for a policeman in Scotland-- an age limit which has since been raised. "I still think the Scottish Parliament changed the retirement age for policemen so Rankin could write more Rebus books," Barbara said with a twinkle in her eye.

Talk began to wander from one interesting tidbit to the next. For instance, I never knew that Lena lives above the original location of The Poisoned Pen, which means Desert Investigations is located in the former bookstore. This fact has always made Barbara feel a little proprietary about Lena's business.

From that we went on to learn that Betty would prefer to be executed by firing squad during a short recap of the way Arizona has executed its prisoners on Death Row. (Hanging, which changed to firing squad after a woman's hanging was horribly botched, to electric chair, to lethal injection.) When Betty referred to someone as having been hung, Barbara hopped in with "Pictures are hung. People are hanged"-- something that I'd heard in the last episode of "Lewis." With James Hathaway and Barbara Peters reminding me, I think I'll remember!


Cross Genre!


Betty Webb
Probably the biggest laugh of the afternoon came when talk returned to the Gunn Zoo mysteries, and Webb referred to "Desert Anteater"-- a perfect blend of Lena Jones whose book titles all begin with "desert" and the very first Gunn Zoo book The Anteater of Death.

A fan had asked when Webb had begun writing her second series in relationship to her Lena Jones books. "I started writing the Gunn Zoo books after the fifth Lena Jones book, Desert Cut," Webb said. "Writing Desert Cut was so grisly and disturbing that I decided I needed a little cheer in my life so I wrote Desert Anteater."

"Oh, we're going to have a cross genre book now!" Peters exclaimed. "Lena Jones will be investigating the death of an anteater, and the Phoenix Zoo will be the venue!"

When Webb began writing her second series, she used the Phoenix Zoo as the location for the books, since she'd been a volunteer there for many years, but she soon realized that the location would have to change. "Oh my God, they're not going to let me volunteer there anymore if I keep having people die in their zoo!"  So the location was changed to the Monterrey Bay area of California. Gunn Landing is based on Moss Landing (population 500), "a great town-- I stay at the Captain's Inn every time I'm there!


Betty and Barbara



Globe


It was definitely the type of afternoon a person hated to see end. In the free flow of questions and answers, more interesting morsels were shared.

The idea for Desert Run came from Webb's newspaper days when a nearby reporter was interviewing a former prison guard for the World War II era German POW camp in Scottsdale.

The Maytag family was responsible for giving the land (and a large chunk of money) for the creation of the Phoenix Zoo. 

Another great town was mentioned when Betty declared, "Globe [Arizona] is a great town. I'm going to kill someone in Globe someday!"

Webb started out in art school. She's a very visual person, but when reading David Morrell's The Successful Novelist, she came across the fact that most writers leave out a very important sense when setting a scene: the sense of smell. She now tries to include that in her writing.

Barbara added that it was due to Betty's second Lena Jones book, Desert Wives, that they all learned the importance of footnotes. Desert Wives deals with the polygamist sects up on the remote Arizona-Utah border, and Webb included her research in several footnotes, both to enhance her story, show that she was telling the truth, and to ward off lawsuits. 

The polygamists' location was very carefully thought out. If Arizona law enforcement officers showed up, all they had to do was step over the border into Utah, and when Utah law enforcement officers showed up all they had to do was step into Arizona. It was clear that only some sort of technicality would put a stop to something which has wrecked countless human lives. Like income tax evasion brought down Al Capone, something as simple as federal welfare fraud could bring down the polygamist leaders of the Arizona Strip. Barbara Peters sent a copy of Desert Wives to then Governor Janet Napolitano who read it with a great deal of interest, and you might just remember the trial of Warren Jeffs.

The afternoon ended on another humorous note when Betty mentioned a book review of Desert Wives by a syndicated reporter living in Nevada. The reviewer panned the book, stating over and over how nothing in the book could possibly be true. Since she was syndicated, that review appeared all over the United States.  "You can almost track my sales by where that review appeared!" Betty laughed.

Although none of us wanted the afternoon to end, it did. At least there was cake and tea waiting for all of us!