Book Review: The Ocean in Winter by Elizabeth de Veer—and a Giveaway! @BlackstoneAudio @TLCBookTours

The Ocean in Winter
Elizabeth de Veer
Blackstone Publishing, July 2021
ISBN 978-1-982674649
Hardcover

From the publisher—

The lives of the three Emery sisters were changed forever when Alex, eleven at the time, found their mother drowned in the bathtub of their home. After their mother’s suicide, the girls’ father shut down emotionally, leaving Alex responsible for caring for Colleen, then eight, and little Riley, just four. Now the girls are grown and navigating different directions. Alex, a nurse, has been traveling in India and grieving her struggle to have a child; Colleen is the devoted mother of preteens in denial that her marriage is ending; and Riley has been leading what her sisters imagine to be the dream life of a successful model in New York City. Decades may have passed, but the unresolved trauma of their mother’s death still looms over them creating distance between the sisters.

Then on a March night, a storm rages near the coast of northeastern Massachusetts. Alex sits alone in an old farmhouse she inherited from a stranger. The lights are out because of the storm; then, an unexpected knock at the door. When Alex opens it, her beautiful younger sister stands before her. Riley has long been estranged from their family, prompting Colleen to hire the private investigator from whom they’d been awaiting news. Comforted by her unexpected presence, Alex holds back her nagging questions: How had Riley found her? Wouldn’t the dirt roads have been impassable in the storm? Why did Riley insist on disappearing back into the night?

After her mysterious visitation, Alex and Colleen are determined to reconcile with Riley and to face their painful past, but the closer they come to finding their missing sister, the more they fear they’ll only be left with Riley’s secrets. An unforgettable story about grief, love, and what it means to be haunted, The Ocean in Winter marks the debut of a remarkable new voice in fiction.

Eleven-year-old Alex lost her childhood in an instant the moment she found her mother dead from suicide. Even that extremely traumatic event might have not been so overwhelming if only her father had been strong enough to step up to his duties but, no, he retreated. The three children were pretty much left on their own with Alex taking on the role of mother to Colleen and Riley.

The three girls promised to always be there for each other but life didn’t cooperate and they drifted apart, each on a very different path. Then certain circumstances bring them back into each other’s orbits again and the deep-seated love is still very evident.

This is a character-driven story with limited plot and, as such, the pacing is much slower than I usually like but there is no shortage of feeling. In fact, emotions run high and numerous themes come into play including some that might be considered triggers (suicide, depression, drug addiction, emotional abandonment, etc.). Ms. de Veer handles all of this with grace and compassion beyond her status as a debut author.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, July 2021.

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Purchase Links:
Barnes & Noble // Kobo // Amazon 
Blackstone Publishing // Indiebound

”Do we choose our memories, or do our memories choose us?
That’s the central question for the three sisters in Elizabeth de Veer’s
emotionally rich, incandescent debut novel. Ocean in Winter is
a page-turner of a book with a family mystery at its core, and profoundly
explores the ways in which women struggle to rebuild their lives
after grief and trauma. You won’t want to put it down once you start.”
—Holly Robinson, author of Beach Plum Island and Chance Harbor

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An Excerpt from
The Ocean in Winter

I am hurtling through Massachusetts at a rate of speed I cannot understand; the wind blows my cheeks, but it does not feel cold. I know only generally where I am going: deep into the state’s north- east corner where small towns cluster at the coast like grapes, nestled by a fragile barrier island at the mouth of the Merrimack River. The towns, blanketed now in briny mist, go by these names: Rowley; Newbury; Newburyport; Salisbury; and, inland, the city of Amesbury, the rough-edged river-fed mill town where my sisters and I grew up, a place I left when I was eighteen and never returned to. The town was too small for me, I suppose, and too much had happened for me and Amesbury to pretend that we had ever been all that close.

A storm has been raging here all day, but now the rain has stopped. In this strange moment, I come to stand on the doorstep of a house in the town of Newbury that I have never seen before, an old farmhouse whose white paint and green trim are cracked and peeling, wooden beams rotted. Behind me, I leave no foot- prints in the cold mud.

What year is this? I think for a moment. Wait, how do I not know the answer immediately?

It’s 2014. The answer comes to mind like a vague memory, as though the question itself does not matter. The house belongs to my oldest sister, Alex. Time is confusing to me right now—how long has it been since I saw her? Years, I think. But how many? Four, five, six? More? Maybe seven. I pushed her away. I pushed everyone away, far away, all to protect my ugly little secrets. Regret lingers in my throat like bile; I’ve made so many mistakes.

I glance through the front window; the room beyond is pitch black. The electricity in this area is out and has been out for a couple of hours. How do I know this? I’m not sure. In the woods beyond this clearing, trees creak high and long like old rocking chairs, swaying slowly in one direction and then the other. The effect is eerie, ghostly.

Many secrets stand between me and my sisters, Alex and Colleen, but not all will be revealed tonight. Tomorrow, after dawn breaks, one of these secrets shall become known. Others will unfold in the days to follow. Far from here a little boy sleeps soundly in his bed in the city. My awareness of him is so intense, I can almost hear his soft steady breath. Goodbye, sweet Caleb. Mama loves you, though she never did a good job of showing it.

I stand for a moment at the threshold of this house and take a deep breath of damp, mossy air, while a chill wind presses against my neck and blows my hair in my face. Alex is inside alone. She is not waiting for me, in fact, she is not expecting my visit. I raise my fist to the door and rap my knuckles against it. One moment passes, and then another. Nothing happens, so I knock again. Finally, Alex opens the door a crack.

“Hello?” she whispers. “Is someone there? Colleen?”

“Alex, it’s me,” I say, pushing my hair away from my face. “Riley.”

“Riley?” she says, incredulous. Then she opens the door the rest of the way. She points her flashlight toward me; I squint in the light and raise my hand to shield my eyes. From the shadows Alex stares, her pale face wide-eyed with fear and surprise. Slowly her expression registers recognition and then she gasps.

“Riley!” She pulls me inside and slams the door to leave the wind and wildness behind us. She throws her arms around me and hugs me hard and long; I do the same. There is a damp towel over her shoulder. Her wool sweater smells dusty, and the air reeks of plaster and paint.

“Hi, Alex,” I say.

“Where have you been?” she says, touching my arm as though she does not believe that I am real. “We’ve been searching for you. Are you okay? Wait, how did you find me?”

“That’s a lot of questions,” I say.

“Let me look at you,” she says, and she holds my face in her hands. She’s shorter than I am, which is surprising because she is eight years older, and I remember her as tall, although I suppose the last time I saw her I was already over a head taller. In my childhood memories, she’s a grown-up, which I guess she has been since she was eleven, since the day she saw what she saw. In the pale shimmer from two utility candles in paper cups, her skin looks tired, her eyes sunken as though she has not been sleeping. Her eyes bear the beginnings of fine lines at the corners; she, too, has aged in these past years. The dark, curly waves of her hair are streaked with a few gray strands, tied back in a sloppy ponytail. She looks strong, like she’s someone who knows what she’s doing. The kind of person I always wished I were or would someday become.

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About the Author

Elizabeth de Veer has a Master of Theological Studies from Harvard Divinity School and has been admitted to writing residencies at the Jentel Artist Residency, the Hambidge Center for Creative Arts and Sciences, and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. She is a member of several writing groups, including Grub Street Writers’ Collective of Boston, the Newburyport Writers’ Group, Sisters in Crime New England, and the New Hampshire Writers’ Project. She lives in a small town in Northeast Massachusetts with her husband, daughter, and labradoodle.

To learn more, check out her web site at elizabethdeveer.com.

Connect with Elizabeth
Website // Facebook // Instagram

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Follow the tour here.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a print copy of
The Ocean in Winter, leave a comment
below. The winning name will be drawn
on the evening of Thursday, July 29th.
US entrants only.

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Sterling and Me: Tail of a Mystery Author and Her Dog #4—and a Giveaway! @TheMysteryLadie

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, Chris Matheson Cold Case, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty-five titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Killer Deadline marks Lauren’s first venture into mystery’s purely cozy sub-genre with a female protagonist. 

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

A popular speaker, Lauren is also the owner of Acorn Book Service, the umbrella under which falls iRead Book Tours. She lives with her husband and two spoiled rotten German Shepherds on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Connect with the author:  Website  ~  Twitter  ~  Facebook  ~  Instagram ~ Pinterest

Why I Didn’t Write Today

As the author of close to thirty books, I take great pride in declaring that I write every single day. It keeps my writing skills taunt, much like how an athlete has to hit the gym every day. Even after taking over iRead Book Tours, I still managed to spend a few hours working on my own books in the evenings and weekends.

Sadly, this all went out the window when the pandemic hit because authors were forced to abandon in-person book events in favor for virtual book tours. Buried under an avalanche of work, I have had to scrape together what little bit of time I could to work on my next Mac Faraday mystery.

As things have started to open up a bit, I finally managed to shuffle things around to piece together two and a half days a week, the weekend, to work exclusively on my own books.

Finally, after over a year of mayhem, I was making creative progress on my next Mac Faraday mystery, A Homecoming to Die For. In this new installment, Mac and Archie return to Deep Creek Lake after a year abroad to encounter a mystery when Mac’s son finds the remains of a missing woman in a dismantled swimming pool of his new home.

That was when my dishwasher decided to launch its attack on my routine.

It was two-thirty Sunday morning when I awoke from a nightmare. It was awful. The world had been hit with a dreadful chocolate and dog biscuit shortage. There wasn’t a chocolate truffle to be had anywhere. With no reward for good behavior, Sterling transformed into a werewolf.

I awoke with a start.

Sensing that I was awake, Sterling announced that it was time to start my day. I figured I could bribe him to go back to sleep with a dog biscuit.

We shuffled into the kitchen to attack the biscuit jar (and check the cookie jar to ensure that my nightmare was only a dream) to discover a puddle in the middle of the floor. Not only that, but the dishwasher was running. The control panel showed an error code that read HE.

Now at this point, I did what any normal person would do. I gave Sterling his biscuit, mopped up the puddle, and returned to bed in hopes that when I woke up in the morning, I would find that it was all a bad dream.

After five minutes of staring up at the ceiling in terror, I returned to the kitchen to discover that it was true. My dishwasher was still running.

Sterling thought, “What luck!” as he ate another biscuit. (This is why his diet is not going well. The dog has no self-control.)

An LE website listed the HE code as one to indicate overheating or not heating up enough. It suggested resetting the dishwasher by turning it off. So, I hit the power button to turn it off.

Fifteen seconds later, it turned back on by itself. This time, the error code was AE. The website said this code meant that there was either a clog or a leak.

Well, the mystery writer in me concluded that since there had been a puddle in the middle of the floor when I entered the crime scene, a leak was the culprit.

At this point, it was after three o’clock in the morning. I decided to turn off the dishwasher and confront the issue in the morning. I turned it off.

It turned back on.

I turned it off again.

It turned back on. With the motor running and grinding and running.

There’s no water in you, you stupid, dishwasher! So turn off all ready before you burn out your motor!

Unable to turn the thing off, I went to the circuit board and flipped the switch. After counting to thirty, I turned it on again.

I could hear the dishwasher running again like a machine gone mad all the way down in the basement.

The website said to reset the dishwasher, turn off the power for ten to fifteen minutes and then turn it back on.

Well, the dishwasher was on the same circuit as our refrigerator and freezer, but I figured they would stand ten to fifteen minutes without power.

During that time, I worked a bit on A Homecoming to Die For. Mac Faraday and David O’Callaghan were getting the autopsy results from Doc Washington on the latest victim of a nasty murder when my husband shuffled out of the bedroom.

“What’s going on?” He peered with suspicion at the mop propped up against the wall. Something had to be horrendously wrong for me to mop the floor in the middle of the night.

I recounted the events of the night to him. He did what any normal person would do. He went back to bed in hopes that he would wake up later to discover that it was all a bad dream.

I turned the power back on to the dishwasher (and the fridge). Instantly, the dishwasher turned on and flashed that AE message. A repairman on YouTube stated that the dishwasher does this because it wants me to know that there is a leak and wants me to fix it.

Yeah, I’ll fix it all right. Give me a stick of dynamite and I’ll fix it good.

Now would be a good time to tell you about my recent history with dishwashers. You might want to grab a cup of coffee or something stronger. I’m going to grab a bag of Hershey kisses.

I have a dishwasher for a reason. I hate washing dishes. I have never liked washing dishes.

Everyone has one chore that they would rather stick needles in their eyes than do. My husband’s detested chore is cleaning up pet do or changing diapers. When my son was a toddler, I came down with pneumonia. I was bedridden for four weeks. My mother stayed with us to take care of me. In the hours between when I got home from the hospital and my mother arrived, Tristan did something in his diaper. Hysterical, my husband carried him with outstretched arms to me and begged me to find the strength to change it.

Six summers ago, I spent two months washing dishes. We had a Samsung dishwasher that was under warranty. It stopped working. Samsung sent out a repairman who assessed the issue. They sent out a part. Two weeks later, the repairman came out to install the part. The dishwasher still would not work. They sent out another part. Two weeks later, the repairman came out to install that.

And so on and so on throughout the summer from June to August.

That was not a good summer.

The repairman said that I needed a new dishwasher and told Samsung that. Still, Samsung would send out different parts for him to replace and still the dishwasher would not work.

About mid-August, I was on the phone with Samsung when I read the portion of the warranty stating that if they could not fix it that they would replace it. The customer service rep said that they were replacing it—and this is not an exaggeration—it is a direct quote: “One part at a time.”

Do you know how many parts there are in a dishwasher? A lot!

I went all the way to the store manager where we had purchased the dishwasher. A week later, we had a new dishwasher. This one is an LG.

Fast forward two summers.

The motor went out. LG was fast and furious compared to Samsung. In less than one miserable July, I had a new motor and was back in business.

Last May, my husband walked in and handed me a notice from LG informing me that our extended warranty was going to expire in one month. They offered to renew the extended warranty for a cool price. “Do you think we should renew it?”

As if to answer him, the dishwasher stopped working.

In less than a week, a repairman was at our home. His assessment: the dishwasher needed a new motherboard, seals, you name it. Basically, it needed to be rebuilt.

Remember, this was during the pandemic. It took an entire torturous summer for the parts to be hunted down and smuggled from remote regions of Asia to West Virginia for him to rebuild my dishwasher.

I washed dishes by hand from May to August.

It was a long, hot, horrendous summer.

But we ended the summer with a five-year-old dishwasher (now out of warranty) that had been completely rebuilt with all new parts.

Eleven months later, it was running and running like some possessed appliance out of a cheap sci-fi film. The only way to shut it off was via the circuit board, which also shuts off the refrigerator.

Armed with a screwdriver, vice grips, and three YouTube videos posted by appliance repair people, I broke into the dishwasher in search of the leak that threatened to ruin yet another summer.

As long as I’m in the vicinity of the biscuit jar, Sterling requested biscuits to soothe him. He hasn’t seen me in such a state since last August.

It was during the morning hours that I had planned to spend working on my next mystery, that I dismantle this lemon in search of the leak.

Finally, I find it! The leak was in a piece of plastic attached to the vent in the door. This piece of plastic is attached to another piece of plastic. Together, they look like they are probably twenty to thirty dollars. After all, they are made of nothing but plastic.

YouTube says that you can’t buy one piece of the plastic part. You have to buy both.

Easy for him to say. Nowhere on the Internet does any parts website recognize these parts by name or part numbers.

Well, I figure, I can repair the leak with duct tape. Maybe since I tore the demented appliance apart, that will convince the demon inside that I have sufficiently addressed the issue of the leak and stop running.

I proceed to put it back together—and it won’t go back together. None of the screw holes will line up.

By now, it was noon. I was running on caffeine and fury.

My husband emerged from his study to announce, “Home Depot is having a sale on dishwashers. Their website says delivery will be July 14.”

After kicking the lemon out into the garage, we went to get lunch (cheesecake for me) and ordered the new dishwasher.

Delivery is August 9 due to backorder. So much for “delivery will be July 14.”

It’s going to be a long miserable summer. The stores have better stock up on chocolate truffles and dog biscuits.

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Giveaway

Three winners will receive an Audible download
code
for It’s Murder, My Son! To enter the
drawing, leave a comment telling us

what appliance you can’t live without. The winning names will be drawn on Friday, July 16th.

Ripped from the Headlines, 19th Century—and a Giveaway! @JMmystery

Jeanne Matthews is happy to announce the arrival of a new historical mystery, Devil by the Tail, scheduled for release 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  

Crime was an important theme in newspapers of the 19th Century and a major source of profit, especially accounts of sensational murders.  The more lurid the headlines, the more papers were sold.  The murder of beautiful and virtuous young ladies proved enormously popular, the gorier the better.  The love-gone-wrong angle added still more sizzle – infidelity, jealousy, insanity.  Readers gobbled it up and demanded more.  Written in a florid, exaggerated style, these reports sought to involve the emotions and play upon a sense of outrage.  “Next to the feeling that must arise from the contemplation of so foul a crime, we give ourselves to sadness that this unfortunate innocent should be murdered in the most shocking manner.”  But even more titillating than the death of an innocent, the murder of an infamous “nymph of the night” transfixed the public and boosted newspaper sales through the roof.

The murder of the prostitute Helen Jewett in 1836 changed journalism forever and coverage of the killer’s trial created a frenzy of competition among the penny press.  Which paper had scored an interview with the accused’s alibi witness?  Which had acquired statements from the prosecution’s lineup of witnesses, most of whom worked in the same brothel as the victim?  The public’s insatiable appetite for news created the inspiration – and the template – for the modern-day tabloid.  When Helen’s murderer was acquitted, a fresh cycle of shock and sensation erupted.

Of course murder wasn’t the only thing that grabbed readers’ interest.  One of the biggest stories reported from old Chicago was the affaire d’amour between “Gentle” Annie Stafford, the city’s most flamboyant brothel keeper and Cap Hymen, who ran its most notorious gambling den.  Annie had a savage temper, a misty-eyed fondness for the poetry of Lord Byron, and a serious crush on Cap.  We can’t know how he fell short of her romantic expectations, but on September 23, 1866, she armed herself with a rawhide whip and stormed into his card house.  The crowd cleared out as she knocked Cap downstairs, dragged him into the street, and chased him for several blocks, cracking her whip and expressing her disappointment in colorful language.  A few weeks later they married.  The wedding, attended by everyone who was anyone in the world of prostitution and gambling, was lavishly covered in the press.  The papers described all the juicy details of the event while deploring the couple’s unholy doings in their “shadowy haunts of vice.”

Before writing Devil By The Tail, I read a good many newspaper articles from the 1800s.  One item about a man who choked his wife to death impressed me so much I used it to kick off the novel.  “The orgy of crime continues and this reporter’s pen must hasten to keep pace with the bloody track of the monster.”  The literary flourishes, the hyperbole, the speculations and moralistic riffs fascinated me.  I studied journalism in college and once entertained ambitions of becoming a star reporter.  That didn’t happen, but I liked the idea of introducing a reporter into my new novel.  I invented a scandal-mongering news hound, a character prone to embellishments and distortions, someone whose business it is to stir public sentiment regardless of the havoc he might cause.  A bride slain by a jealous rival is grist for his mill.  As my two detectives, Garnick and Paschal, conduct their investigation, this muckraker complicates their efforts at every turn – not only poisoning public opinion against their client, but delving into the private lives of the detectives, as well.

There’s a wonderful quote in an 1866 detective novel, The Dead Letter by Metta Fuller Victor, and I couldn’t resist including it as the epigraph for Devil By The Tail.  “The morning papers had heralded the melancholy and mysterious murder through the city…thousands of persons had already marveled over the boldness and success, the silence and suddenness with which the deed was done, leaving not a clue by which to trace the perpetrator.  The public mind was busy with conjecture as to the motive for the crime – and it is not in the nature of a daily paper to neglect such opportunities for turning an honest penny.”

There has always been a morbid fascination with murder – a hunger for the heinous.  If it bleeds, it leads and sex sells.  This was as true in the 19th Century as it is today.  But the breathless, histrionic style of those early accounts “ripped from the headlines” makes murder sound simultaneously more horrible and more riveting.

Giveaway

Two unedited author review copies of Devil by the Tail are available for give away to readers who comment on this post; the winning names will be drawn on the evening of Monday, June 28th.  And if you don’t win the drawing, the book remains available for pre-order from the publisher at a 30% discount until its release in mid-July.  https://www.dxvaros.com/Devil-by-the-Tail-presales.

Decluttering — and What Else? A Giveaway, Of Course! @JMmystery

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

The past year has narrowed the scope of what is and isn’t possible.  During the pandemic we’ve all had to cancel or postpone travel plans, convert social visits to a computer-generated version of reality, and learn to subsist on home cooking or take-out.  At midnight on December 31st, 2020 dissolved into 2021 without bringing much change.  Health experts urge us to remain cloistered in our own pods for the foreseeable future.  In the circumstances, it was hard for me to muster a list of healthy New Year’s resolutions.

Drinking less is out of the question.  Wine is one of the few things I look forward to at the end of the day.  The other two are pizza and chocolate, so screw any notion of dieting.  Having recently had knee replacement surgery, I can’t take up kickboxing or distance running.  The piano has been out of tune since God knows when and the only other “improving” sort of resolution that came to mind was decluttering.  People write about the joy of shedding unneeded possessions, how it boosts productivity, reduces stress, and lifts the spirits.

I started in the bedroom closet.  It’s been months since I needed anything that came off a hanger.  Near the back a sad little cluster of dresses surprised me.  I tried to recall the last time I’d had occasion to wear a dress.  I tried to imagine the next time.  If there were a next time, would any of these long disused outfits reach around my expanding middle?  The answer did not reduce stress or spark joy.

A better place to begin downsizing might be the library where books spill out of cases onto the floor and lay jumbled in teetering piles.  I surveyed the case with the shelf that collapsed last year under the weight of the People’s Almanac, a multi-volume compendium of little known and fascinating facts.  I browsed a few pages of Volume 1.  Mata Hari charged her lovers $7500 a night?  Wow.  And a whole section on the billions of dollars in lost and buried treasure right here in the U.S.A.  Set that one aside to read later.  Volume 2 contains accounts of several sensational murder cases.  Maybe some good plot ideas in there.  Better save that one, too.  William Roughhead’s The Murderer’s Companion is definitely a keeper.  Also, The Annotated Mother Goose and the 1959 edition of Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable.

Behind Birds Every Child Should Know, I found a dog-eared copy of Topper, the hilarious novel about a pair of madcap ghosts named George and Marion Kerby that gave rise to a movie and TV series.  Another keeper, definitely worth rereading.  My decluttering resolution, like so many resolutions of New Years Past, was going nowhere fast.  Then what to my wondering eye should appear but “Dr. Eliot’s Five-Foot Shelf of Books,” a/k/a The Harvard Classics.  Published in 1909 and 1910, these fifty-one volumes were intended to provide a liberal education to anyone who read them diligently for fifteen minutes every day.

Diligence has never been my strong suit.  Maybe if I’d begun in 1910, I’d be up to speed.  But after a certain age, the philosophy of Epictetus and the Confessions of St. Augustine can’t compete with a juicy murder mystery or Bill Buford’s fabulous new book (Dirt) about cooking and eating in France.  I should have sold Dr. Eliot’s classics on eBay back when so many TV talking heads were scrambling for impressive Zoom backgrounds.  Oh, well.  Into the box they go.  Two whole shelves empty.  I run a Swiffer across the dust left behind and feel the stress leaving my body.

I’m on a roll now, feeling ruthless and productive.  More boxes!  Project Gutenberg has no doubt made Mother Goose and Brewer’s Dictionary available free online.  Toss them.  And looky over there in the corner.  One, two, three, four pristine hardcover copies of my first novel – last seen at Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe ten years ago and lugged home in a suitcase full of free pre-release books and promotional swag from other authors.  Remembering how that initial story developed and came into being still elicits a frisson of pride and nostalgia.  But holding onto extra copies of one’s own books is a vanity best outgrown.  So.  If anyone would like a copy of Dinah’s debut in the wilds of Australia, leave a comment – and perhaps a bit of advice on the Zen of decluttering.  I’m afraid to discover what lurks in the attic.

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Help Jeanne declutter!

To enter the drawing for a hardcover copy
of Bones of Contention, just leave your
decluttering comment/advice below. Four
winning names will be drawn on Monday
evening, January 11th.

Book Review: The Second Mother by Jenny Milchman—and a Giveaway! @jennymilchman @Sourcebooks

The Second Mother
Jenny Milchman
Sourcebooks Landmark, August 2020
ISBN 978-1-7282-2636-1
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Opportunity: Teacher needed in one-room schoolhouse on remote island in Maine. Find the freedom in a fresh start.

Julie Weathers isn’t sure if she’s running away or starting over, but moving to a remote island off the coast of Maine feels right for someone with reasons to flee her old life. The sun-washed, sea-stormed speck of land seems welcoming, the lobster plentiful, and the community close and tightly knit. She finds friends in her nearest neighbor and Callum, a man who appears to be using the island for the same thing as she: escape.

But as Julie takes on the challenge of teaching the island’s children, she comes to suspect that she may have traded one place shrouded in trouble for another, and she begins to wonder if the greatest danger on Mercy Island is its lost location far out to sea, or the people who live there.

I live on an island but, I guarantee, my island is nothing like the one that Julie moves to. Physically, there’s a world of difference between Maine and Florida climates so there’s that. Also, my island has the “island time” thing going on and I’m not sure that’s as strong in a non-tropical setting plus Mercy Island is decidedly more rustic and therein lies one of Jenny Milchman‘s strengths, the evocation of the danger that can come with a seemingly simple, homespun kind of atmosphere.

Julie is running from her grief-stricken past but learns all too quickly that this fairly remote island may present her with even more darkness and secrets that could very well bring her to her knees. One interesting facet of being on this island is that the isolation, the distance from the real world back on the mainland, actually creates a sense of claustrophobia because she can’t really escape or, at least, not easily.

Another thing that Ms. Milchman does extremely well lies in her main character. Like other women who have preceded her in Milchman novels, Julie has an inner toughness that comes out when she most needs it, proving to herself and, ultimately, others that she is no pushover, no shrinking violet. On the other side, the malefactors here are surprising and add much to the sense of growing tension. While The Second Mother isn’t my favorite of this author’s books and I do think it’s a good bit longer than it should be, I still found myself reading into the wee hours because I just couldn’t sleep without knowing what was going to happen 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.

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Giveaway 

To enter the drawing for a very gently
used advance reading copy of

The Second Mother by Jenny Milchman,
leave a comment below. The winning name will
be drawn on Thursday evening, December 24th.
Open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Hometown Burning by C.K. Crigger—and a Giveaway! @ckcrigger

Hometown Burning
A Hometown Homicide Mystery #2
C.K. Crigger
City Lights Press, December 2019
ISBN 978-1-64734-154-1
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Paramedic and Afghanistan veteran Frankie McGill and resident deputy Gabe Zantos are caught up in a case of arson and murder. A house at the end of a country road has stood vacant for years, it’s occupants mice and the stray raccoon or two.

When the derelict house catches fire, the Hawkesford Fire Department responds because of the danger to the dry wheat fields surrounding it. But then two bodies are found in the ashes, along with evidence of a meth cooking operation. Gabe suspects gang rivalry.

Soon, an experienced welder dies in what appears at first to be a horrific accident at his lonely farm. A second house burns, and Frankie barely saves the elderly occupant. Then there’s the mysterious call over 911 that cries for help at an isolated ranch. There’s one thing ties these events together…

People like Frankie, whether fictional or real, interest me because I wonder why war veterans frequently seem to get into EMT work (or firefighting or law enforcement). Is it because of the adrenalin rush, having become accustomed to always being on high alert? The aspect of danger or maybe the real need to continue finding ways to serve the greater good? I wonder, too, how much harder it must be for someone like Frankie who suffers from a certain level of PTSD, not to mention physical disabilities. Whatever her reasons, Frankie is a stand-out character and she continues to show her strength and intelligence in this second novel.

Frankie’s roommate, Gabe, is a deputy sheriff so, when a suspicious fire leads to the discovery of bodies, the two work together to follow the trail of what seem to be the repercussions of a particularly ugly drug operation. Before long, though, it becomes obvious that further deaths will take them down another path altogether.

While Frankie is certainly a strong woman with plenty of resilience, she would find life much more difficult if it were not for the love and assistance of her dogs. Then there’s Gabe who clearly cares for Frankie, and she for him, but we’ll have to wait to see if that mutual caring will develop into something more. I can only hope 😃

One further note: besides reading the print edition, I also listened to the audiobook. I thought that Gail Shalan’s tone was a little lightweight, almost like a teenager’s voice, but I still enjoyed her narration of the story.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, December 2020.

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Giveaway 

To enter the drawing for a paperback
copy of Hometown Burning by C.K. Crigger,
leave a comment below. The winning name
will be drawn on Saturday evening, December 19th.
Open to the US and Canada.

Book Review: Traces by Carl Brookins—and a Giveaway! @carlbrookins @BPPress

Traces
Carl Brookins
Beaver’s Pond Press, April 2020
ISBN 978-1-64343-897-9
Trade Paperback

From the publisher—

Mystery, danger, and international intrigue confront Lockem and Kane in their second high-stakes adventure, Traces. As we wander through life, we leave evidence of our passing: footprints, DNA, connections with others. Our trails are sometimes large and vibrant, often pale and uncertain. Marjorie Kane is a retired exotic dancer who, after years of headlining in upscale venues, gradually descends into performing in meaner clubs. Looking for new adventures, she meets Alan Lockem, a retired army intelligence officer interested in continued service. Together, Lockem and Kane take on unusual and sometimes dangerous jobs to help troubled civilians and former colleagues. When Lockem is asked to retrieve a flash drive storing military records, it seems simple enough. But encounters with foreign spies, an armed home invasion, and interactions with international, federal, and local police complicate Lockem and Kane’s efforts to unravel and understand the traces of these crimes and aid their old colleagues across the pond.

When I met Marjorie Kane and Alan Lockem in their first adventure (see my 2018 review of Grand Lac), I was really drawn to this couple who are so unique and, yet, so very normal. Marjorie, in particular, naturally attracts a reader’s attention merely by her past as an exotic dancer but the point of this duo is that, like many people, they’ve reinvented themselves in their later years and they’ve done so successfully and with panache, not to mention taking much pleasure in their new lives as private investigators of a sort.

This time, Lockem and Kane set out on what should have been a fairly uneventful job but turns out to be their own personal spy thriller. Who could have guessed that Minnesota could be a hotbed of international intrigue and military secrets along with some serious danger for our investigators, these people who could be any happy, comfortable couple in any middle class neighborhood?

This is where backgrounds and life experiences come into play and Lockem and Kane prove themselves to be resilient and up to the task at hand. These are intelligent people with more than a little street smarts and that’s why I like them so much, along with a hefty dose of just plain likeability. Mr. Brookins has crafted a story full of interesting twists and a pair of protagonists I hope will be back with many more adventures 😃

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, November 2020.

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Giveaway

To enter the drawing for a
paperback copy of Traces,
leave a comment below. The
winning name will be drawn on
Monday evening, November 23rd.
Open to the US and Canada.