Monthly Archives: November 2016
Getting Swallowed Up in Another Time and Place
Kay Kendall writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. A reformed PR executive who won international awards for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she’s a Bob Dylan buff too.
RAINY DAY WOMEN (2015) won two awards at Killer Nashville 2016 — for best mystery and best book. It is the second in her Austin Starr Mystery series and is available in E-book, trade paperback, and audio-book.
DESOLATION ROW (2013), first in the series, was a finalist for best mystery at Killer Nashville in 2014.
As a reader, I love immersing myself in a long-go world and enjoy figuring out how aspects of the past have led us humans to where we are now. As a mystery writer, I prefer to describe human emotions and motives rather than technical gadgetry that can prove who committed a crime. That inclination pushes me back to writing about the days before CSI could have existed. That means I write historical crime novels.
I try to create an accurate portrayal of the time, to keep historical details in the background, and to make the stories themselves entertaining. I realize that not everyone is as much of a history freak as I am, to put it mildly. I confess to being so extreme that even if a film or television show isn’t as fabulous, say, as “Downton Abbey”, even if it merely shows beautiful historical costumes and old buildings, well, by gosh, I will watch it and enjoy it.
The mysteries in my Austin Starr series take place in the late 1960s. While some people don’t even consider the sixties as historical, I beg to differ. For example, my characters are forever running around trying to find payphones when they are in the midst of emergencies. If they are expecting a phone call, they have to sit by the phone and wait. If they miss a call, they don’t realize it. Very few people had answering machines back then as they had just come onto the market. Boy oh boy, is that time long ago and far away—history, in short.
My first mystery, Desolation Row, deals with the murder of an anti-war protestor, and the second, Rainy Day Women, finds murders in two women’s liberation groups. I expected some blowback for selecting such contentious backgrounds, but I am pleased to say it has been minimal. Even online comments made anonymously have been thoughtful and always courteous.
The closest I’ve come to negative remarks was when a few readers said that living through the sixties was difficult enough and so they preferred to keep their memories buried and not relive them by reading about that era. On the other hand, at my favorite bookstore event, forty readers delved spontaneously into the effects of the Vietnam War on themselves and their loved ones. When an hour had passed and the discussion showed no signs of flagging, we finally had to stop so I could sign books. Deep wounds caused by that controversial war had surfaced, and that audience wanted to talk and vent and share their remembered miseries. Conversely, I expected to find little or no resistance to my book with the women’s movement background. When I began writing Rainy Day Women, these issues had just begun to become timely again.
These two mysteries are set in Canada, and I write about it like a truly foreign country—and not the fifty-first state, as some Americans seem to think. Being married to a Canadian, I lived in Canada for many years before we relocated to Texas. I learned that although the cultural and historical differences between the United States and Canada may be small, they do exist nevertheless, as does some anti-American feeling.
My idea in writing the Austin Starr mystery series was not only to treat the sixties like long-gone history but also to treat Canada like a real foreign country, from an American perspective. For a writer, showing different terms that Canadians and Americans use for the same item is fun. Pronunciations of the same English word can vary also. Such differences make my amateur sleuth, Austin Starr, feel like an outsider in the Great White North. Also, she longs for home. One of the over-riding questions in the series is whether or not Austin Starr will succeed in returning to her home country.
I came to my fiction-writing life relatively late in life, after a career in public relations that lasted twenty-five years. Having found a new and fulfilling pursuit, I often think about the words of the great Gloria Steinem, and how she said it best: “Writing is the only thing I do that, when I’m doing it, I don’t feel like I should be doing something else.”
Book Review: A Silver Medallion by James R. Callan
A Silver Medallion
A Crystal Moore Suspense #2
James R. Callan
Pennant Publishing, May 2016
A Mexican woman shows up at Crystal’s grandmother’s house saying that she’s escaped from a man’s house where she was kept as a slave. There’s another woman who won’t leave the slave situation because she’s been threatened with harm to her children who are being kept captive in Mexico. Crystal’s parents died when she was only seven, and the thought of the youngsters being separated from their mother won’t let her sleep. She sets out, without much of a plan, to free the mother and her children.
Crystal Moore is one of those heroines you just want to yell at, “Don’t do that! Don’t go there! Listen to your best friend, your grandmother, your boyfriend, the police, and that big, tough guy and his wife in Mexico. You’re going to get yourself killed!”
It’s the reader’s good fortune that James Callan’s sleuth doesn’t listen. We get to follow her quest into danger zones. She’s the heroine, and we know she’ll escape or be rescued, but wait… How will she survive when she gets herself into such impossible predicaments?
We almost have to create a new category for this mystery—cozy thriller. We love the main characters. There is an amateur sleuth, and her job is an important aspect of the story. But the lurking danger creates suspense as Crystal tries to save these young Mexican women and children who have been coerced into slavery. Read A Silver Medallion in order to experience delightful, cozy situations in towns and rural areas in southern Texas and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Don’t expect all relaxation, though. Your fingers won’t have a minute’s rest as you turn pages, and your shoulders will tighten from the suspense every time Crystal turns a corner.
Reviewed by Joyce Ann Brown, September 2016.
Author of cozy mysteries: Catastrophic Connections, Furtive Investigation and Nine LiFelines, the first three Psycho Cat and the Landlady Mysteries.
Book Review: Feliz Navidead by Ann Myers
A Santa Fe Café Mystery #3
William Morrow, November 2016
Mass Market Paperback
From the publisher—
Holly, jolly, and downright deadly—the third Santa Fe Café mystery unwraps surprises both naughty and nice… It’s the most picturesque time of the year in Santa Fe, and Chef Rita Lafitte of Tres Amigas Café hopes the twinkling lights and tasty holiday treats will charm her visiting mom. Rita is also planning fun activities, such as watching her teenage daughter, Celia, perform in an outdoor Christmas play.
What she doesn’t plan for is murder.
Rita discovers a dead actor during the premier performance but vows to keep clear of the case. Sleuthing would upset her mom. Besides, there’s already a prime suspect, caught red-handed in his bloodied Santa suit. However, when the accused Santa’s wife begs for assistance—and points out that Celia and other performers could be in danger—Rita can’t say no. With the help of her elderly boss, Flori, and her coterie of rogue knitters, Rita strives to salvage her mother’s vacation, unmask a murderer, and stop this festive season from turning even more fatal.
If you ask me, a cozy is the best kind of mystery to read during the holiday season. Sure, murders don’t exactly go along with the program but, in a cozy, they’re a kinder, gentler sort, you know? There’s also humor, loyalty, friendship, family, the love of those friends and family and maybe, just maybe, a touch of romance. What more could we ask for in a season meant for comfort?
In addition to all that, a cozy gives us a puzzle to solve and Feliz Navidead is just the ticket. When Chef Rita reluctantly puts on her sleuthing cap once again, she at least has a little experience at such things, having solved one or two murders in the past. To help her investigate, Rita can count on a crew of elderly ladies who knit, purl and snoop up a storm and it’s these ladies I loved the most, especially because they are yarn bombers. We have one here in town and it’s loads of fun when we spot one of her creations on a road sign or a fence post. The Knit and Snitchers cracked me up and I quite simply fell in love with them.
Other characters like Rita’s boss, Flori, and Rita’s mom and daughter are not too shabby either, not to mention a food-stealing donkey, and Rita herself is intelligent, caring and very likeable. Getting to the solution of the crime leads Rita and the gang down a variety of danger-laden paths and I found myself pegging first this possible perp and then that one before the denouement.
One last note—Santa Fe is a lively and intriguing character itself and my years-long wish to visit is even stronger now. Besides getting a firm sense of setting and culture, the food in the Tres Amigas Café sounds divine and the author has very nicely included some scrumptious recipes.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.
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An Excerpt from Feliz Navidead
Mom stopped mid-stroll, thumping one hand to her chest, gripping a hip-high adobe wall with the other.
“I need to catch my breath, Rita,” she declared, rather accusatorily.
I murmured, “Of course,” and issued my best good-daughter sympathetic smile. I did, truly, sympathize. At seven thousand feet above sea level, Santa Fe, New Mexico, can literally take your breath away, and my mother had flown in only a few hours earlier from the midwestern lowlands. Adjusting to high altitudes takes time. About a week, the experts say, although I’ve called Santa Fe home for over three years and still blame the paltry oxygen when I pant through my morning jog and puff under overladen burrito platters at Tres Amigas Cafe, where I’m a chef and co-amiga. I’ve even postulated that the thin air makes my thighs look larger. Lack of atmospheric compression, that unscientifically tested theory goes. The more likely culprit is my steady diet of cheesy chiles rellenos, blue corn waffles, green chile cheeseburgers, and other New Mexican delicacies.
Mom took deep breaths beside me. I wasn’t too worried. If Mom was at risk of anything, it was overacting. I strongly suspected she was making a point, something she likes to do indirectly and with drama.
Things Mom doesn’t like? High altitudes, dry climates, hot chiles, and disturbance of her holiday routine. I knew she wasn’t thrilled to spend Christmas away from home. My goal was to win her over, and lucky for me, I had Santa Fe’s holiday charm on my side.
I leaned against the wall, enjoying the warmth of solar-heated adobe on my back. A group of carolers strolled by, harmonizing a bilingual version of “Feliz Navidad.” String lights and pine boughs decorated the porticos along Palace Avenue, and pinon smoke perfumed the air. To my eyes, the self-proclaimed “City Different” looked as pretty as a Christmas card. Once Mom got over the initial shock of leaving her comfort zone, she’d come around.
I hoped . . . Mom reached for a water bottle in her dual-holstered hip pack. “Hydration,” she said, repeating a caution she’d first raised nearly two decades ago, when I embarked for culinary school in Denver and its mere mile-high elevation. In between sips, she reminded me that proper water intake was the key to fending off altitude-induced illnesses ranging from headaches to poor judgment. She tilted her chin up and assessed me through narrowed eyes.
“You’re not drinking enough, Rita. I can tell. Your cheeks look dry. Your hands too. And your hair…”
Mom made tsk-tsk sounds. “Perhaps a trim would keep it from getting so staticky. You do look awfully cute when it’s short.”
I patted my shoulder-length locks, recently cut into loose layers that emphasized my natural staticky waves. I could use a drink. A tart margarita on the rocks with extra salt would do. My mouth watered. Behave, I chastised myself. It wasn’t even two in the afternoon, way too early for tequila. Plus, I loved my mother and her cute silver-flecked pixie cut. Most of all, I was delighted that she’d come to visit me and my teenage daughter, Celia. It was nice of Mom. No, more than nice. The visit bordered on maternal sacrifice.
As far as I knew, my mother, Mrs. Helen Baker Lafitte, aged sixty-eight and three quarters, of Bucks Grove, Illinois, had never left home for Christmas before, nor had she wanted to. Mom is a retired high school librarian, a woman of card-catalog order and strict traditions, otherwise known as doing the same thing year after year. Under usual circumstances, Mom keeps our “heirloom” artificial Christmas tree perpetually decorated and stored in the garage until the day after Thanksgiving, when she takes it out, dusts it off, and installs it to the left of the living-room fireplace. She places electric candles in each front window, hangs a wreath on the door, and wraps the holly bush in tasteful, nonflashing white lights. All of her holiday cards are mailed by the twelfth of December.
Food traditions are similarly strict. The Christmas Day lunch begins promptly at noon and is typically attended by my Aunt Sue, Uncle Dave, Aunt Karen, and younger sister Kathy and her family. Kathy’s husband, Dwayne, watches sports in the den, while their three kids hover between completely exhausted and totally wired from their morning gift frenzy. My mother and aunts whip up a feast of roasted turkey and stuffing, scalloped potatoes, sweet potato casserole with mini-marshmallows, Tater Tot hot dish, amazing monkey bread, Aunt Sue’s famous (or infamous) Jell-O surprise featuring celery and cheese cubes, and my favorite dish: pie, usually apple, mincemeat, and/or pumpkin. It’s a lovely meal, which I truly miss when I can’t attend. However, I also love Santa Fe and want to make my own traditions here.
“That’s one benefit for your sister,” Mom said, polishing off her second water bottle. I swore I heard her stomach slosh. “The beach is at sea level.”
“Yep, that’s the beach for you,” I replied in the perky tone I vowed to maintain for the rest of Mom’s visit. “Kath and the kids must be loving it. What a treat! A holiday to remember!”
“I warned Kathy about jellyfish,” Mom said darkly. “Rip currents, sharks, sand, mosquitoes. . . . It simply doesn’t seem right to be somewhere so tropical for Christmas, but Dwayne went and got that package deal.” Mom’s tone suggested Dwayne had purchased a family-sized case of hives.
I gave Mom another sympathetic smile, along with the extra water bottle she’d stashed in my purse. Of course she was out of sorts. Once the kids learned that they’d get to open their presents early and go to Disney World and the beach, Mom and the holiday hot dish hadn’t stood a chance. I, meanwhile, saw my chance to get Mom to Santa Fe.
I employed some of the guilt she usually ladled on me, telling her truthfully that Celia and I couldn’t get away this year between my work and Celia’s extracurricular activities. Mom, the master of loving manipulation, countered with how much my Illinois relatives would miss us. I was also single, she needlessly pointed out, implying that I could easily uproot. Furthermore, I lived in a casita, a home with tiny in its very name. She wouldn’t want to put me out, she said. Mom then played her wild card, namely Albert Ridgeland, my junior prom date. Wouldn’t you know, Mom had said. She’d recently run into Albert and he was divorced just like me, and with his own successful dental clinic and a mostly full head of hair and he sure would love to catch up.
Mom might be indirect, but she’s never subtle. Ever since my divorce from Manny Martin, a policeman with soap-opera good looks and accompanying philandering tendencies, Mom’s been after me to move back “home.” She sends me clippings of employment ads and monitors eligible bachelors. Peeved that Mom had dragged a divorced dentist into the debate, I went for the guilt jugular, reminding Mom that she was retired yet hadn’t visited in nearly two years. My tactic worked, possibly too well. Mom was staying for nearly three weeks—to get her money’s worth out of the flight—and I’d feel terrible if she didn’t have a good time.
I looked over and saw Mom eyeing a brown paper lunch sack perched a few feet down the adobe wall. The bag was open at the top and slightly singed on the sides. I could guess the contents. A votive candle nestled in sand.
Mom stepped over to peek inside.“It’s a wonder this entire state doesn’t burn down,” she declared. “Remember when your middle school band director, Mr. Ludwig, put on that world Christmas festival in the gymnasium? He almost set the bleachers on fire with one of these . . .” She paused. “What do you call them?”
“A farolito,” I said, proud to show off my local knowledge. “Some people call them luminarias, but Santa Feans are very particular about terminology. Here, luminaria refers to small bonfires. Farolitos are the candles in paper bags. There are electric farolitos too. You’ll see a lot of those along the rooflines of hotels and businesses. They’re pretty but nothing compared to the real ones on Christmas Eve. You’ll love it, Mom. You’ve never seen anything like it.”
Mom shuddered, likely imagining Santa Fe bursting into a spontaneous inferno rather than aglow with thousands of flickering lights. I decided not to tell her about the amazing three-dimensional paper lanterns I’d once seen soaring above the adobe city, lifted by the energy of the candles burning inside them. I needed to work on Mom before I exposed her to flying flames or peppers for breakfast.
Mom was rooting around in her hip pack. “I thought I had a granola bar. This time change and the lack of air are making me light-headed. You need to keep eating too, Rita.”
Eating, I always had covered. I also had a better idea than a squished fanny-pack snack.
“It’s the holidays, Mom. Let’s get some pie.”
About the Author
Ann Myers writes the Santa Fe Café Mysteries. The first book in the series, Bread of the Dead (2015), introduced café chef and reluctant amateur sleuth, Rita Lafitte. Rita and her friends stir up more trouble in Cinco de Mayhem (March 2016) and Feliz Navidead (October 25, 2016). Ann lives with her husband and extra-large house cat in southern Colorado, where she enjoys cooking, crafts, and cozy mysteries.
You can find Ann online on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AnnMyers.writer/ and her website http://www.annmyersbooks.com/
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11/20 Review, Guest post, Showcase @ Lauras Interests
11/21 Showcase @ Books, Dreams, Life
11/22 Showcase @ The Reading Frenzy
11/23 Showcase @ A Dream Within A Dream
11/25 Review @ Book Reviews From an Avid Reader
11/27 Review @ Buried Under Books
11/28 Review @ Rainy Day Ramblings
11/29 Interview @ Writers and Authors
11/30 Review @ 3 Partners in Shopping, Nana, Mommy, &, Sissy, Too!
12/01 Showcase @ The Pen and Muse Book Reviews
12/05 Showcase @ Sapphyrias Book Reviews
12/06 Showcase @ Books Direct
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12/08 Showcase @ Lazy Day Books
12/10 Showcase @ A Bookaholic Swede
12/12 Review & Guest post @ Jane Reads
12/12 Review @ Writing Pearls
12/13 Review @ sunny island breezes
12/14 Review @ Hezzi-Ds Books and Cooks
12/15 Review @ Booked on a Feeling
12/16 Review @ Reading Authors
12/18 Interview @ Cozy Up With Kathy
12/19 Review @ Wall-to-wall books
12/20 Review @ Book Babble
12/21 Review @ Bookishly me
12/28 Review @ JBronder Book Reviews
12/29 Showcase @ Bound 2 Escape
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Book Review: H.A.L.F.: The Makers by Natalie Wright
H.A.L.F. Book 2
Boadicea Press, May 2016
From the author—
Erika Holt dodged death and departed Earth in an alien ship. It wasn’t how she’d planned to spend her senior year. Is Erika on her way to paradise? Or to a hell worse than the underground lab she escaped?
The greys rescued Tex from A.H.D.N.A. and have promised him a life he could never have imagined. But what will he have to give up to become one with The Conexus?
Jack Wilson is still Commander Sturgis’ prisoner, but a promise of freedom comes from an unlikely source. Will his liberation cost more than he’s willing to pay?
Caught up in their personal battles, will any of them realize the threat that looms over us all before it’s too late?
I read the first book in this series, The Deep Beneath, back in September 2015 and have been eagerly awaiting the next chapter ever since. I’m very happy to say the wait has been well worth it as The Makers is every bit as entertaining.
The first thing that got my attention was the pronunciation and definition guide, a tremendous help when you’re reading a book involving unfamiliar terms and language. Will I remember any of it? No, of course not, or at least not much, but it certainly enhanced my enjoyment of the story not to have to try to remember all these details and foreign words. Actually, I probably will retain a few things, like “manthruin” which is a spice similar to our own cinnamon; I love cinnamon so I’m intrigued by this alien spice. I’ll also remember “mach” because it’s always useful to know how to ask for a toilet 😉
Sometimes, we discover that the things we know are not much like reality and Erika has certainly had to cope with a lot of reality since first encountering aliens but being in servitude to the aliens is definitely not what she and Ian want for their future. Unfortunately, their options are limited since they’re on an alien spaceship heading to….somewhere. Meanwhile, back at the ranch (so to speak), Jack was left behind on Earth and needs help from Dr. Sturgiss, not his favorite scientist, if he wants to remain alive and free. Meanwhile, Tex, a created hybrid alien/human, has to stay out of the hands of the aliens if he wants to retain his human side, his emotions.
Ms. Wright has worldbuilding down pat, creating an alien society and diverse people trying to fight off their control in a story that’s very plot-driven and completely engaging. At the same time, a plethora of characters that could be kind of overwhelming are anything but as the author has managed to make even peripheral players come to life. The aliens are referred to as “greys” and that can also be seen as a descriptor for the lack of a black and white clarity; all humans are not good and all aliens are not evil.
I’ve become quite fond of Erika and Jack and Tex and all the others and the H.A.L.F. series is an example of how adventurous and fun science fiction can be. The third and final book will be out in 2017 and I’m really looking forward to it.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.
Book Review: Little Girl Gone by Gerry Schmitt—and a Giveaway!
Little Girl Gone
An Afton Tangler Thriller #1
Berkley Books, July 2016
From the publisher—
In the first Afton Tangler thriller, the unforgiving cold of a Minnesota winter hides the truth behind an even more chilling crime…
On a frozen night in an affluent neighborhood of Minneapolis, a baby is abducted from her home after her teenage babysitter is violently assaulted. The parents are frantic, the police are baffled, and, with the perpetrator already in the wind, the trail is getting colder by the second.
As family liaison officer with the Minneapolis P.D., it’s Afton Tangler’s job to deal with the emotional aftermath of terrible crimes—but she’s never faced a case quite as brutal as this. Each development is more heartbreaking than the last and the only lead is a collection of seemingly unrelated clues.
But, most disturbing of all, Afton begins to suspect that this case is not isolated. Whoever did this has taken babies before—and if Afton doesn’t solve this crime soon, more children are sure to go missing .
A year ago, I would never have expected this novel from this author and the reason is simple….Gerry Schmitt is Laura Childs and, if there has ever been a Queen of the Cozies, it’s Laura Childs. I really like her various series so, when I heard this book was coming, I was intrigued. For the most part, I think this new direction is successful and quite promising.
One minor quibble is in the label “thriller”. Since we know from the beginning who the bad guys are, I tend to think of this as suspense, not so much thriller. It’s really just semantics, though, and the book world has been debating how to apply labels, subgenres, categories and so forth almost for as long as I can remember so it doesn’t truly matter. In this case, calling it a thriller probably won’t matter to anyone but me 😉
Afton Tangler (nifty name) is a woman who, like many of us, has accomplished part of her dream but isn’t quite all the way there yet. As a liaison between the police and the victims of crime and their families, she has her job with the police but what she really wants is to be a detective and she does whatever she can to connect with the people who can help. That’s not to say she uses them, far from it. Afton is a woman who’s easy to like and her boss, Deputy Chief Gerald Thacker, does recognize her value as liaison and encourages her up to a point. Another supporter, with some reluctance, is veteran detective Max Montgomery and he is the lead on the baby kidnapping case. Since Afton needs to work with the Dardens, parents of the missing Elizabeth Ann, Max includes her in much of his investigation even though Thacker has reminded both that she is not to do any detecting. That right there was enough to make me like Max.
Twists and turns, not to mention the creepy idea of reborn babies, send Afton and Max in more than a few directions and going along with them as they work to find the baby before it’s too late kept me engaged. There were a few spots where Afton’s behavior was out of touch with what a “real” detective would do and where the story dragged just a mite but I really liked that the story is told from multiple points of view including that of the very unsavory bad guys.
Besides being a compassionate, intelligent person, Afton is also a bit of a kickass as an ice climber and the physical and mental qualities, as well as sheer courage, needed to be successful at climbing carry over to her work. She bumbles occasionally, especially with this being such a sensitive and high profile case, but Afton is the kind of person who could make a most excellent professional sleuth given the opportunity. I can’t wait to find out what happens next with this aspiring police detective when Shadow Girl comes out next July.
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2016.
To enter the drawing for a print copy
of Little Girl Gone by Gerry Schmitt,
just leave a comment below. The winning
name will be drawn on Monday night,
November 28th. This drawing is open
to residents of the US and Canada.