Jeanne Matthews happily announced the arrival of a new historical mystery, Devil by the Tail, released in July 2021. Jeanne has a yen for travel and a passion for mythology, which she works into her novels whenever she can. Originally from Georgia, Jeanne lives in Washington State with her husband, a law professor, and a Norwich terrier named Jack Reacher. Information about her books, including the Dinah Pelerin international series, can be found on her website. http://www.jeannematthews.com
After a long absence from the real world, I flew to Chicago in September for the biggest little outdoor book fair in the Midwest, the 36th annual Printers Row Litfest. The sun was shining, the streets were bustling with writers and readers, and the atmosphere was positively exhilarating. After the long Covid hiatus, it felt like a reawakening. The event is traditionally held in June, but the sponsors postponed in hopes of attracting larger, vaccinated and enthusiastic crowds by fall. Attendance in the past has reached as high as 150,000. I don’t think this year’s turnout was that high, but the people I saw and talked to were definitely enthusiastic.
Book publishing in Chicago dates back to at least 1839 and as the city grew, it became a mecca of book making. Beginning in 1880, Chicago was the largest center of publishing west of New York City. Millions of books flowed from the bookbinders and publishing houses that lined the streets along Printing House Row. In addition to the dime novel and trade books, fiction of all kinds flourished and quality magazines and newspapers enhanced the city’s literary reputation. In the 1990s, consolidation and technological changes ended the heyday of publishing, but the tang of history is in the air. One can still imagine the whir of linotype machines and the smell of ink and glue.
My publisher D.X. Varos pitched his tent in the center of the action and a steady stream of booklovers flowed around us, many weighed down with armloads of books. What a pleasure it was when readers stopped to browse the interesting array of titles on display at our table and chat about their reading interests. How sweet it was when they lingered over my own book and decided they might be able to fit one more book into their shopping bag. All this excitement and I managed a visit to the Chicago Art Institute, to boot.
Encouraged by the success of that trip, and the happy fact that I came home without Covid, I drove to Portland earlier this month to join D.X. Varos at the Pacific Northwest Book Association trade show. The show is designed for booksellers to network with other booksellers and expose them to a wide variety of publishers and authors, with an emphasis on writers from the Northwest. “Back in the Flow,” as the sponsors dubbed the show, required proof of vaccination and masks, and seating at various events was limited for safety. Still and all, the general mood was festive and conversations brimmed with a spirit of optimism.
The bigger the publisher, the more elaborate the exhibit and the cooler the swag. It was hard to compete with the likes of Simon & Schuster (now absorbed into Bertelsmann, Penguin, Random House). They were definitely the elephant in the ballroom. But there were plenty of medium-sized and small publishers on hand with a whole gallery of new titles to introduce and give away as samples to regional booksellers.
I enjoyed mingling with authors from other presses and signing free copies of Devil by the Tail for booksellers who, fingers crossed, will order the book for their mystery section. Of course reading tastes differ and you can’t win over everyone with your riveting tale. One bookseller glanced over the many diverse offerings at our table and gave the lot a disdainful sniff. My publisher sought to engage her, reeling off the variety of novels and subject matter in his catalog. Speculative fiction, fantasy/supernatural, historical and general fiction, young adult, LGBT fiction, sci-fi, mystery. Surely she had customers who would find one or more of these genres to their liking.
The lady squinched her eyes, leaned across the table and hissed through her mask. “Cats.”
“Do any of them have cats?”
On the spur of the moment, the publisher couldn’t recall the presence of a single cat.
She walked away and belatedly, it occurred to me that there’s a passing mention of a lost cat around about page 177 in my book. He doesn’t appear again and his fate is left unresolved. Not enough kitty in the plot to call the lady back and try to make a sale, but I did give him a name. Tenero. By the end of the story, business has picked up for the Garnick & Paschal Detective Agency and Quinn and Garnick no longer have time to search for lost cats. Still it’s good to catch up with the customers and hear what it is they want. I may reprise Tenero in the sequel. He won’t talk or solve the murder, as happens in some cozies. But the next time somebody asks me if there’s a cat, I can claim a “Hidden Paw” lurks somewhere between the covers.
Yay for Vacay
Pug Pals #2
Scholastic Press, January 2019
Sunny and Rosy are a couple of content canines. They enjoy time with their human and time together. The pugs are particularly fond of their daily routine.
So, when their lady came home early and began packing, they were puzzled. When she put them in the car, they were not pleased.
But Sunny soon recognized the route to “Grandma and Grandpa”. She could not wait for Rosy to meet them!
Romping around Grandma’s garden was simply spectacular. Rosy and Sunny tuckered themselves out, then slept soundly in sun. When Sunny awoke, it felt like she was having a bad dream.
Angry Grandma glared at the pair and pointed to her half-eaten garden. Even though they didn’t do it, there will be no more gardening for them.
Unwilling to be punished for someone else’s crime, the pups decide to be dog detectives. They even include their new friend, the gopher. Can they catch the thief and prove their innocence to Grandma?
I loved Sunny and Rosy so much in Ms. Ahn’s Two’s a Crowd (Pug Pals #1), I immediately donated my copy to my favorite elementary classroom library. Students were fast fans, so I’ll follow up with my copy of Yay for Vacay (Pug Pals #2).
Reviewed by jv poore, January 2021.
Heart Horse: A Natalie Story
Second Chance Ranch
Jolly Fish Press, January 2019
Patience has paid off for Natalie Ramirez. Having outgrown her beloved barrel-racing pony, she has been searching for a horse. She was thrilled to learn the beautiful, brilliantly skilled Apocalypse would be available. A young champion is hanging up her hat and heading to college. Natalie is the perfect person to give her horse a new home.
While the Appaloosa needs no competition training, Natalie understands the amount of time and attention the energetic equine will require. She hasn’t forgotten the sweet, gray mare she helped save from a meat market (growing up on Second Chance Ranch has benefits). Natalie is a competent and capable twelve-year-old. She can be instrumental in the healing and care of Eleven while still giving Apocalypse a warm welcome.
Training for the coveted gold buckle was rigorous and rewarding. Providing food, first-aid and comfort for Eleven was…something indescribable. As Natalie teaches her new wards, she learns a few valuable lessons herself.
I was so happy to revisit the Second Chance Ranch and the Ramirez family. Each book has been an engaging, easy read, filled with animal facts that are second nature to the four sisters, but new to me.
Reviewed by jv poore, May 2020.
Miss Moriarty, I Presume?
The Lady Sherlock Series #6
Berkley Books, November 2021
From the publisher—
A most unexpected client shows up at Charlotte Holmes’s doorstep: Moriarty himself. Moriarty fears that tragedy has befallen his daughter and wants Charlotte to find out the truth.
Charlotte and Mrs. Watson travel to a remote community of occult practitioners where Moriarty’s daughter was last seen, a place full of lies and liars. Meanwhile, Charlotte’s sister Livia tries to make sense of a mysterious message from her beau Mr. Marbleton. And Charlotte’s longtime friend and ally Lord Ingram at last turns his seductive prowess on Charlotte—or is it the other way around?
But the more secrets Charlotte unravels about Miss Moriarty’s disappearance, the more she wonders why Moriarty has entrusted this delicate matter to her of all people. Is it merely to test Charlotte’s skills as an investigator, or has the man of shadows trapped her in a nest of vipers?
Why am I waiting so eagerly? I’m not especially fond of Sherlock Holmes but I do enjoy some of the numerous pastiches and this series is, I think, one of the best. Ms. Thomas offers a re-imagining of the famous detective but in female form and Charlotte has to contend with all the male-dominated societal restrictions of the day hence Charlotte presents herself to the world as the sister of her ill but nonexistent brother. With a premise like that, the possibilities are limitless and each book has entertained me greatly. I can expect no less from this entry 😃
Trapeze/Orion Publishing, May 2021
Sharon Bolton’s latest is a terrific read.
Six friends are celebrating the end of term exams; exams, the results of which, will set them on their individual paths to careers and futures. Bored and a little inebriated they attempt the daredevil pursuit they’ve managed to pull off successfully a number of times throughout the year – driving the wrong way down a busy Motorway. The dare this time ends in a horrific accident.
Not aware of the full extent of the accident, Megan offers to take the blame, accepting the fact that it might well result in jail time. The others are quick to accept her offer and when Megan suggests they all sign a Pact stating they will grant a favour once she is released from prison, they readily agree. But none of them, least of all Megan, anticipates the length of the sentence brought down by the judge.
The lives of the five friends proceed in expected ways, although none of them have either the courage or the decency to call or visit Megan in prison. When the time comes for her release, each of them grows anxious fearful of the price they will be asked to pay. They meet to discuss what they might expect, wondering if they should have tried harder to find the Pact they signed with the object of destroying it.
When Megan makes contact with them one by one, wanting to renew the friendships, she is hurt and angry at the reception she receives. It’s payback time, she tells them, but senses that her old friends are unwilling to fulfill the Pact they all signed.
It is interesting to watch the reactions of the friends as Megan deftly invites herself into their lives. None of them are willing to welcome her back into the fold. She is an ex-con now and definitely not the kind of friend they would normally cultivate. Tension mounts as she pushes harder to get what she feels is owed to her.
When one of the five is murdered it appears obvious to the other four Megan has crossed the line and is out for revenge.
The author raises the stakes as the remaining four fear for their lives. As a result I found it difficult to put the book down until I reached the unexpected but thrilling conclusion.
The Pact is a must read….
Check it out. You won’t be disappointed.
Reviewed by guest reviewer Moyra Tarling, September 2021.
Stories set in boarding schools really float my boat,
not to mention how much I enjoy fairy tale retellings
AND this one has a major mystery. Be still my heart…
and thank you, Kristi, for the heads up!
The Grimrose Girls by Laura Pohl
The Descendants meets Pretty little liars.
Four troubled friends, One murdered girl… and a dark fate that may leave them all doomed.
After the mysterious death of their best friend, Ella, Yuki, and Rory are the talk of their elite school, Grimrose Académie. The police ruled it a suicide, but the trio are determined to find out what really happened.
When Nani Eszes arrives as their newest roommate, it sets into motion a series of events they couldn’t have imagined. As the girls retrace their friend’s last steps, they uncover dark secrets about themselves and their destinies, discovering they’re all cursed to repeat the brutal and gruesome endings to their stories until they can break the cycle.
This contemporary take on classic fairytales reimagines heroines as friends attending the same school. While investigating the murder of their best friend, they uncover…
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“It was a slaughter,” Salty the elf said.
He’s not wrong, I thought as I surveyed the ruins inside the greenhouse. He’d warned me what to expect during his emergency phone call summoning me, but a slaughter of pumpkins proved more upsetting than I’d prepared myself for. And by “a slaughter of pumpkins” I don’t mean a vegetable term of venery like “a murder of crows” or a “flamboyance of flamingoes.” This was literal violence against a greenhouse full of gourds that had been carefully planted and tended by Salty, the elf who was Castle Kringle’s head gardener and groundskeeper.
I picked my way across broken glass at the threshold of Salty’s greenhouse, horrified by the carnage. Jagged chunks of pumpkin flesh and streams of seedy entrails were strewn across the thermally heated soil. Despite the blissful warmth inside the place, I shivered. I think I knew even then that this vandalism augured worse to come.
From the publisher—