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Monday, January 31, 2011

Every blogger wants to know what you the readers are wanting from the blog.  I am so tickled that I have readers at all - but I want to spend time on providing the best mystery blog.  I need your feedback to do that.  

 Last summer participation in the book giveaways tapered off and it hasn't really bounced back from my last book giveaway.  So I am asking you to take a few moments and tell me what I am doing right so far.  What are the two top things you like about the blog.  

If you wish to take a few moments and share with me what you would like to see that I have not been doing - then please, please, please leave a comment.

Thank you for your participation!

In the world of mystery books and authors we are sad to say that Ariana Franklin, author of the Mistress of the Art of Death series passed away January 27, 2011 at 77 years of ageAriana Franklin was the pen name of British writer Diana Norman. A former journalist, Norman had written several critically acclaimed biographies and historical novels. She lived in Hertfordshire, England, with her husband, the film critic Barry Norman. 

Miss Norman will truly be missed. 

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

Review - Death at the Alma Mater

I have been wanting to read this author ever since she won the Malice Domestic Grant and went on to win the Agatha Award for best first novel with "Death of a Cozy Writer."  The publisher kindly sent me this book to review.  Miss Malliet says "My books are affectionate send-ups of the traditional
British mystery."  See what you think.

Author: G.M. Malliet

Copyright: Jan 2010 (Midnight Ink) 283 pgs

Series: 3rd in Arthur St. Just Investigations

Sensuality: Mild

Mystery Sub-genre: British Police Procedural

Main Character:  Detective Chief Inspector Arthur St. Just

Setting: Modern day St. Michael's College at the University of Cambridge, England

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

It starts like a traditional British mystery, weaving a story slowly and around page 70 the murder takes place.  St. Michael's is desperate for money and invites former wealthy graduates back  to the school for a fund-raising weekend to solicit charitable donations.  But these alumni have intermingled histories, the most famous is how Sir James left his "Paris Hilton-esque" celebrity wife - Lexy,  while at school for India.  Lady India Bassett is not happy that the threesome will be reunited and while many expected some melodramatic scenes from Lexy nobody foresaw her brutal murder.  To top it all off, her body is discovered by India's son!  The strands of the various participant's past come back to haunt them. 

This book has a nice handful of suspects.  Besides the triangle of Sir James - Lexy - Lady India, there is Augie the Texan , Gwen the celebrity reporter, Hermoine the stuffy uptight activist, the financier Karl and his wife Constance, the neglected son Sebastian and Saffron the girlfriend he selfishly uses, and Geraldo the millionaire playboy on Lexy's arm for the weekend.

But hands down the star of the book is St. Just.  He is my favorite police detective now.  Miss Malliet has created a sparkling main character.  He is an experienced investigator yet he keeps from being completely jaded.  He is in love and looking forward to marrying Portia (who is featured occasionally in the book since she attends the college.)  St. Just is humorous and wonderfully like-able, honorable without being stuffy and appealing as a human being. 

The great reveal of the murderer was the campy "suspects are all gathered together".  It worked.  

The motive for the murder stayed murky until the reveal and without that piece to the puzzle was very difficult for the reader to pinpoint the killer.  Like any great mystery novel, the clues were all there and looking back, it was pretty clear.  All I can say about the wrap-up is "Well Done, Loved It!"

So I am sold - this is what makes an award winning author.  Great book, I am looking forward to the next one.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Reader Question - Which is more important?

There is a balancing act in books between characters and plot.  In mysteries it is said that plot is king, in suspense novels plots with action rule, in cozies characters carry the day.

But what do you like - weigh in with your thoughts on the matter.  How important is plot versus characters in a stellar mystery?

Is the character of Miss Marple the star or are the cleaver plots what grab you?  In today's stories is the intrepid policeman or detective the selling point or the tight plot with some twists what you long for?  Which will win?

As of Sunday Jan 30, 2010 the tally is:
Plot 2 votes
Characters 4 votes
Love them both equally 5 votes

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Review - Dangerous To Know

I specially requested this mystery from the publisher after reading the blurb on it.  It is billed as suspense as well as a mystery and I think that is fair.  See what you think. 

Author: Tasha Alexander

Copyright: October 2010 (Minotaur Books) 320 pgs

Series: 5th in Lady Emily Mysteries

Sensuality: Victorian mild

Mystery Sub-genre:
Historical Mystery

Main Character:  Lady Emily Hargreaves

Setting: 1892 Normandy France

Obtained Through:
Publisher for an honest review

This book apparently picks up shortly after the prior book.  The preceding book's climax had Emily wounded from her confrontation with the killer and she is in need of some physical and emotional healing time.  Her new husband, Colin, takes her to Normandy to stay at the country manor house of his mother - awkward.  Chapter one starts out immediately with Emily out riding a horse to get away from her mother-in-law and comes upon a brutally murdered girl.  The initial suspicion is that Jack the Ripper has moved from England to France because of the level of brutality (which is only sparsely described.) 

The victim, Edith Prier, came from an aristocratic family in nearby Rouens and was confined to an insane asylum.  Emily is still trying to deal with her emotional trauma and is thrown into this tale of a completely dysfunctional family and their disturbed daughter.  Mix in the reappearance of the flirtatious rouge thief - Sebastian who appears to have followed her to Normandy, the atmospheric settings employed, the ghost of a young girl who drops blue ribbons, the tension with Emily's new mother-in-law, and Colin deciding he must protect independent Emily by "forbidding" her to investigate and you have a full novel. 

I had my suspicions about the villain, but the motive is actually quiet a surprise and caught me off guard - bravo there.  Although the storyline might suggest this is a dark novel, it isn't.  There are some humorous parts with Emily interacting with Colin and Sebastian which still make me chuckle.  The revealing of the killer is actually scary - truly well done and I must give kudos for that climax.  Just thinking of it makes me shiver.

Lady Emily is tested emotionally in this book and her true metal is revealed.  This was no small task and could have fallen short in less capable hands, but Ms. Alexander shined in giving us an emotionally wounded heroine facing some her emotions.  I have not read any of the prior novels in this series but I have grown very fond of this character in short order.  Colin is portrayed well as a man caught between his enlightened beliefs about women's roles and his emotions to protect his new bride.  That was a touchy point, for up to this point Collen had co-investigated with Emily.  I know Ms. Alexander was portraying a confused man feeling his way through his dilemma between logical thought and instinct and also be true to the time period.  This is the one area of the book that could go either positive or negative depending upon the reader.  I tried to keep it in the context I just mentioned, and while not preferable, I understood it. 

The rascal Sebastian is a fresh breath along with Emily's good friend Cecile.  A nice touch was the guest appearance of French writer Maurice Leblanc who became know for the Arsene Lupin novels - the French answer to Arthur Conan Doyle's successful series.  Through the novel even Colin's mother is given just the right touch to make the reader want to see her again.  I enjoyed this novel and the climax will stay with me for a long time. 

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Reader Question - Do you like Book Trailers?

Book trailers are the same idea as a movie teaser to spark some "buzz" about the upcoming release but for books.  With the advent of YouTube and movie maker software easily available, authors can make their own book trailers or hire professionals to do it.  Book trailers are seen around the internet since most authors can't afford their book trailers as television commercials.

My questions:

-  Are book trailers something you consider when looking for a book? 

-  Have you, dear readers, watched book trailers (I have only posted a few)?

-  Do you look for book trailers?

-  Where have you most often found book trailers?

-  What have you thought of the book trailers you have seen?

-  Do you prefer a book trailer or the author discussing the book?

-  Do  you have some book trailers that you particularly like?

-  What aspects do you like or dislike about book trailers?

Please take a few moments and get a discussion going on this new form of internet promotion.

Here is a fairly typical book trailer to get discussion started:


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Thursday, January 13, 2011

Review - The Paris Vendetta

It has been awhile since I have reviewed a hard core suspense novel. I purchased this when I was in Paris and the places and sites in the book where more alive to me for just having visited them. Join me in this fast paced ride combining contemporary suspense and historical mystery.

Author: Steve Berry

Copyright: July 2010 (Ballantine Books) 496 pgs

Series: 5th in The Cotton Malone Adventures

Sensuality: adult references

Mystery Sub-genre: Suspense

Main Character:  Cotton Malone, a former U.S. Justice Department operative now owner of a used book store in Copenhagen

Setting: Modern day Paris primarily

Obtained book: Personal Purchase

The prologue takes the reader to the Giza Plaza in Egypt, 1799 to join Napoleon at the Great Pyramid.  Chapter one jumps us to current day Copenhagen with Cotton Malone waking in his apartment to the realization somebody is there sneaking around.  He finds a young conspiracy theorist (Sam Collins) asking for his help.  Sam, an agent fired because of his conspiracy website, was sent by the Danish billionaire Henrik Thorvaldsen, who had set Malone up with his used book store.   

Henrik Thorvaldsen had befriended Malone five years earlier when Malone had taken out several terrorists in Mexico city who had killed Henrik's son in the incident.  Henrik has tracked down the two men responsible and one of them was about to attack Henrik.  The instant Malone rushes to Henrik's aid he steps into a whirlwind of Disaster Capitalism conspiracy (via the financial cartel "the Paris Club"), two vendettas, a hunt for Napoleon's mythic treasure, and a reunion with his Justice Dept. boss. 

It was my first Steve Berry novel and it was easy enough to catch up on the back story.  There are several instances of back flashes for several of the characters filling in histories.  At times the flashbacks hindered the flow a bit.  Also the story would occasionally alternate between Napoleonic times and modern day.  I didn't mind this technique but some dislike it - so fair warning. 

There are two real villains but one rises above the other as being the most dangerous that must be stopped at all costs.  This is suspenseful with plenty of danger and improbable stunts.  Cotton Malone is supposed to be middle aged and yet carries off "Jason Bourne" style rescues - which is a great thought and makes those "of a certain age" hoot and holler but stretches the believability a bit thin.  Never-the-less it is like junk food in its appeal.

Henrik's obsession with killing the last man who was behind his son's death got old later in the book.  I wanted to like Henrik and this was difficult for me.  

Sam was introduced and I got the impression that he may be featured more in future books of the series - but that made this book suffer.  I felt as though Malone's spotlight was being shared to setup Sam and I wanted to stay focused on Malone.  That along with the character flashbacks, several subplots and reverting back to Napoleon occasionally left the book feeling a bit unfocused.

There is plenty of history about Napoleon in this book which I found fascinating but not everybody will enjoy since it slows down the action.  The Disaster Capitalism conspiracy seemed to take the book "Shock Doctrine" and utilize it in the plot which actually gave a great demonstration of how powerful people make fortunes from disasters.  I found that a selling point for the book alone.

I enjoyed it overall, despite the few detractors.  If you enjoy history and suspense this may be a new series to indulge in.

Here is a video of Steve Berry and James Rollins discussing the book.  This is a short video but I think you will enjoy it.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

Mystery & Crime Fiction Blog Carnival for December 2011

A new year and time for the Blog Carnival. I hope your new year is starting out with health, love and abundance. Let's check out what offerings are out there for you to read. Click on the title or author's name to go to that link.

Police Procedural / Private Investigator  Book Review

How Mysterious! reviewed The Bohemian Girl by Kenneth Cameron

Book Lovers Inc. reviewed Dark Road to Darjeeling by Deanna Raybourn

Musings of a Bookish Kitty reviewed Deeper Than the Dead & Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag

Cozy  / Amateur Sleuth book Review

Books You'll Love from Books We Love reviewed Mardi Gravestone by Sandy Semerad

How Mysterious! reviewed Last Rituals by Yrsa Sigurdardóttir

Reviews from the Heart reviewed The Sherlockian by Graham Moore

2 Kids and Tired Cooks reviewed English Trifle by Josi Kilpack

King's River Life reviewed Drowning in Christmas by Judith K. Ivie & Mistletoe and Murder by Carola Dunn

Our Book Reviews Online reviewed by The Killer's Daughter by Vivian Oldaker

Mystery Librarian reviewed both Murder Past Due by Miranda James plus Chapter and Hearse by Lorna Barrett

Thriller/Suspense Fiction Book Review

Ultimate Novel Reviews gave us The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown

Ultimate Novel Reviews gave us The Brethren by John Grisham

Niche Volumes reviewed ICEWINE by R.R. Bruno

Author Interview

Library of Clean Reads interviewed Susanna Kearsley

The Novel Blog interviewed Debbie Macomber

Writing Tips and Advice

CYNSATIONS  gives us "Just Add Tension: How to Make Any Book - But Especially Mysteries and Thrillers - Better"

Writers Sense gives us "Finding Time to Write"

Plot Whisperer gives us "Depicting Character Emotion"

#####Let's make next month's Carnival even better. For more information on the specifics of the Carnival and how to submit your posts go here. #######

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Review - Fundraising the Dead

Here is the first review for the new year. I am looking forward to this year. I never would have guessed how 2010 would have unfolded. But I have some specific goals for this year that I am pursuing steadily. I trust your goals are attainable and you realize a dream or two in this year before us.

This week we are in Philadelphia for murder among historical antiquities and old wealthy families in a series debut. What better city than Philly for history and sleuthing?

Author: Sheila Connolly

Copyright: October 2010 (Berkley Books) 336 pgs

Series: 1st in Museum Mysteries

Sensuality: mild adult references

Mystery Sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth

Main Character:  Eleanor (Nell) Pratt, Fundraiser for The Society for the Preservation of Pennsylvania Antiques

Setting: Current day Philadelphia

Obtained Through: publisher for honest review

Nell loves her job.  To Nell she is doing her part to preserve our heritage.  Of course every job has its less desirable aspects and Nell is swept up into the political minefield when influential board member Marty Terwilliger informs Nell that her family's historical document collection that was donated has an important letter from George Washington missing. Marty is adamant that something be done immediately.  

Marty's timing couldn't be worse - only hours before an important gala fundraiser.  But Nell takes a few moments to discuss the situation with Alfred who is cataloging all the massive collections they have.  Alfred confides that he has noticed other important documents that appear to be missing.  All are items that would bring a high price from black market collectors.  By morning Alfred is found dead.  The police declare it an accident. 

Additionally, the Society's President, suave and charming Charles Worthington slow rolls addressing the missing documents.   These developments rile Marty Terwiller who was related to Alfred and believes it was murder... and connected to the missing documents.  Nell and Marty form an unlikely partnership and Marty drags her cousin, FBI Special Agent James Morrison into their plotting since stealing historical artifacts is the FBI's realm. 

Nell is a competent, intelligent, self-sufficient and yet vulnerable character.  She is your average woman in looks which makes her easy to identify with.  But she also has an element of hutzpa that we all desire in ourselves which makes her character perfect for a sleuthing series.  Marty is an assertive and influential woman who makes a good friend to Nell.  I hope this character continues in the next book because she is great as the likable but loud and pushy side kick (or is that instigator?)   Even Agent Morrison shines as a competent agent trying to crack the case while keeping Nell and Marty out of trouble.  Could Agent Morrison be a potential love interest down the road?

The plot was solid.  The only potential glitch was why a Board Member would seek out the fundraiser regarding a missing item rather than the collections director.  Marty says it is because she knew Nell would take it seriously.  Through most of the book the culprit is known but it is a matter of building up evidence and a case.  There was one twist at the end and Nell finds herself in real peril.  This story has enough of the real world without being dark or pessimistic.  The wrap up even had change for Nell's career that will make the next book eagerly awaited to see how she fairs.

This is a stellar debut novel and I expect this new series to rapidly garner a fan base - and deservedly so.  I had reviewed Ms. Connoly's latest Orchard Mystery that I enjoyed, but this new series has won me over!

And now for your Superbowl party, try these easy and different dips.

Margarita Dip
Serve with fresh fruit, Nilla wafers, pound cake, or angel food cake


    * 1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
    * 1/3 cup frozen margarita mix, thawed
    * 2 tablespoons orange juice
    * 1/4 cup confectioners' sugar
    * 1/4 cup whipped cream


   1. Use an electric mixer to beat the softened cream cheese, margarita mix, orange juice, and confectioners' sugar in a large bowl until smooth. Thoroughly fold whipped cream into mixture. Cover and chill 1 hour to blend flavors before serving.

Pepperoni Dip


    * 2 (8 ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
    * 8 ounces sour cream
    * 2 (8 ounce) packages sliced pepperoni, quartered
    * 2 (4 ounce) cans chopped green chilies

You can use reduced fat (not fat free) versions of the cream cheese and sour cream and turkey pepperoni. 


   1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C).
   2. In a baking dish, stir the cream cheese, sour cream, pepperoni, and green chiles together.
   3. Bake in the preheated oven until thoroughly heated, about 30 minutes.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Happy New Year and Some Paris thoughts

First I wish you all a happy, healthy and abundant new year.  Stay warm for those of you in cold climates - like me!  

FYI, It is J.R.R Tolkien's 119th birthday anniversary today.  The Tolkien Society requests that you honor him by raising a glass to the Professor.  Cheers to a man who made elves and hobbits household terms.

My trip to Paris was memorable and a dream come true.  One of those long standing resolutions finally realized, which attests to perseverance.  The city has tremendous history on every corner.  The 1920's saw a generation of writers, painters, musicians and composers that went to Paris to make their name.  Hemingway wrote his first novel, The Sun Also Rises, about Paris. 

We only made it to a few of Hemingway's hangouts.  We stayed in a studio apartment on the left bank in the heart of the historic Saint Germain des Près neighborhood right across for the Village Voice Bookshop .  I took special notice of the Ritz, Hemmingway's favorite hotel when in Paris and Lipp's restaurant where he would eat.  We strolled past the L'Hotel where Oscar Wilde died. 

The Rose line leading to the obelisk
The Louvre, Eiffel Tower, L'arc de Triumph, Champs Elysee, the Seine, Christmas day at the Notre Dame, Saint Sulpice (featured in the DaVinci Code), the Roudin Museum, The Egyptian Obelisk, Napoleon's tomb, Palaise Royal, Princess Diana's memorial and Montparnasse were all wonderful.  Sainte Chapelle was unfortunately closed and I was really looking forward to that.

We tried to see the Père Lachaise cemetery (most famous cemetery in the world) where notables such as Jim Morrison of The Doors, Richard Wright, Marcel Marceau, Isadora Duncan, Frédéric Chopin, Eugène Delacroix, Marcel Proust, Gertrude Stein and Oscar Wilde among many more important and historical people are buried - but it was closed due to snow. 

We even went to "the ultimate rock bar" (The Cantada II at 114 rue de Bagnolet) that serves a wide selection of Absinthe (alcohol made from Wormwood plant) that was featured in an Anthony Bourdain episode! That was a strange experience because of the decor.  But even in this punk/metal bar the wait staff was kind and explained the differences in the variety of Absinthe they carried.  The modern Absinthe is not made the same as the original controversial liquor.  It does have an "energy drink" effect to it along with the licorice flavor.  I hate licorice so I didn't taste it.

While England socializes in the Pubs, Parisians socialize in the cafes and we found many great ones.  Interestingly, the 2X2 tables are lined up next to each other and you are elbow to elbow with the folks at the next tables.  The old buildings are just small and cramped.  The food was truly fabulous.  I really have to say that we met many very kind people who helped out the confused Americans.  It is a very big city and there are crowds and no sense of personal space so I can see how some would interpret that as rude and pushy.  But we had a great overall experience.

I had this wild idea to find the French author(s) Claude Izner (pen name for two sisters) who write the popular "Victor Legris" mystery series.  Legris is a bookseller in late 19th-century Paris who is also an amateur detective.  Unfortunately all I could find out is that the sisters, Liliane Korb and Laurence Lefevre, are booksellers on the banks of the Seine, and they are experts on nineteenth-century Paris.  Well there are a lot of little kiosk type shops along the miles long Seine and many were closed for the holidays. I never did find the elusive sisters -  I guess I flunked as a sleuth,  but it was fun to try.

I also considered the Aimee Leduc Investigations author Cara Black but found out she doesn't actually live in Paris...but in San Francisco!  Foiled again.

In any case try out Claude Izner or Cara Black for some mysteries set in Paris and see what you think.  There are the Bruno Courreges investigations by Martin Walker that are set in rural France if you want to try breaking out of the British country mysteries.  I ran out of reading material and started the suspense novel The Paris Vendetta by Steve Berry.  My review will be coming in a few weeks for that.

So, what resolutions did you see come true in 2010?

I want a Quarter-Pounder with Cheese?

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