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Monday, July 30, 2012

A Bookish Focus

The concept that where or what one's attention is focused upon is where your energy flows is often true.  If a culture focuses on frivolous pursuits, that is often where their future seems destined as well.  What if cultures all through the world focused attention on books and reading?  Books symbolizing knowledge and an open exchange of ideas and wisdom.  Books are such a powerful symbol that the image of a bonfire fueled by books screams of oppression and shakes us to our very core.

In the spirit of uplifting the book and its symbolism, following are examples of public fountains, architecture, and some videos of books used in artwork.  Enjoy!

Fontaine de Jouvence by Olivier Duque
Cincinnati Public Library fountain

Fountain at the Chattanooga Library Foundation

Library Bar and Grill 312 Central Ave SW Albuquerque, NM

The Kansas City Public Library looks like a row of older volumes.  
The entrance is to the left.

The House of Free Creativity in Turkmenistan is a mirror-like single open book.

This video shows a growing number of artists who are turning books into artwork of a more sculptural nature.

This video is of book artist Su Blackwell's, who creates mini-masterpieces that can take up to a month to complete.  Her artwork depicts scenes from books which resonate with the artist. Her work is framed in books containing fairy tales, poetry, and even how-tos.

Enjoy the world of books around you.

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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Review - Mr. Churchill's Secretary

This week's review takes us to war torn England of 1940 for some intrigue and chasing shadows.  This is a debut novel of a new historical suspense/intrigue series.  There have been some mixed reviews for this book, so let's see how it fared.

FYI, Thursday, July 26, 2012 is Miracle Treat Day at Dairy Queen® stores with proceeds of $1 or more from every Blizzard® Treat purchased at participating stores to be donated to Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals. 

Author: Susan Elia MacNeal

Copyright: April 2012 (Bantam) 384 pgs

Series: 1st in Maggie Hope Adventures

Sensuality: Mild references

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Intrigue,

Main Characters: Maggie Hope, American in London

Setting: 1940, London England

Obtained Through: LibraryThing

Maggie Hope somewhat reluctantly takes the job of new Prime Minister Winston Churchill's secretary. The last secretary was was murdered and it seems that Maggie is being watched in her new job as well.  England itself is facing Hitler preparing to pummel England with bomber planes as households build bomb shelters.  Additionally, the IRA is bombing sites in London and could be Nazi sympathizers, joining against England - the common enemy. 

Maggie's British parents were killed when she was still an infant and she was raised by an aunt in America.  Her aunt raised her in the academic world of colleges where she works. Maggie is forced to suspend her graduate studies in mathematics at MIT to travel to London and sell her inheritance from a grandmother she never knew she had.  Thus, Maggie is incredibly overqualified for the job of secretary with her Mathematics skills, plus she is fluent in a few languages.  All of which means she is smart and some secrets she will figure out, placing her in more danger.  Secrets - such as why her father isn't buried with her mother? 

Maggie Hope is a good main character, smart, loyal and caring.  She has several friends that are living in the inherited house, all helping each other through the challenging times.  There are so many characters who populate the story that a character guide up front would have been helpful.  Maggie's housemates are interesting and varied.  I didn't particularly care for the ditzy twins, but otherwise they were all engaging.  There is even the hint of a romantic interest with an acquaintance who also works for Churchill.  Churchill himself is very well portrayed.

Historical books, when done correctly really, bring the time period alive.  I was skeptical to read this book because of a review I read somewhere that said there were historical errors.  After reading the book I was surprised, because I didn't find anything of particular note.  I went back and found the criticism had to do with the color of Women's Naval Service uniforms and such details.  Unless you are familiar with such WWII details, I doubt you will notice the errors either.  I can say that a few times there was a term or phrase that was more modern that struck me.  But again, not so much that it detracted from the story for me.  Rather, the terror of a sudden air raid siren and the scramble to get into a bomb shelter and the tense listening to explosions while waiting for the all-clear siren were all brought vividly to life.  

The plot of IRA forces combining with Nazis to infiltrate Churchill's inner circle was well done and quite believable.  The circumstances around Maggie's father (not to give away too much here) are a tad of a stretch.  The pacing kept the tension and story going solidly for me throughout.  This was one of those books when you think you just made it through the climax and can resume breathing, only to find there is more and your blood continues racing.  Well done climax and solid wrap-up that sets up further adventures for Maggie.

This is a solid debut entry in the historical intrigue or historical amateur sleuth genre. 

Rating:  Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list.

I have this piece of a documentary about the London blitz to share.  It is so easy to forget what London went through while the Olympics are there.


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Monday, July 23, 2012

Reader Poll Results

The results of the poll as of the writing of this post are 22 total votes with 12 voting no rating system and 10 voting for a rating system. Rather than a certain number of stars or a 1-5, I propose a compromise. I will give a personal recommendation with general terms at the end of reviews. The basic phrasing is below, but it may vary a smidgen depending on the situation. 

I personally doubt I will ever give a "poor" rating simply because I don't know that I could force myself to complete such a book. There have been books I have just quit reading and switched to a better one. 

I also take into consideration the specific genre of the book.  What is near perfect for a cozy is completely different than near perfect for a suspense or police procedural.  


Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list 

Good - A fun read with minor flaws. Maybe read an excerpt before buying. 

Okay – A few good points, but with significant flaws. Library/swap/borrow if you want. 

 Poor - I had to force myself to finish it. Fatally flawed on multiple levels. 

I am hoping that this is better than just a rating and yet still provides a level of recommendation.  

Last week I got to spend a few days in Santa Barbara - naturally thought of the hit TV show "Psych" since it is based in there.  I took the trolley tour of the town and the tour guide pointed out the police station because it is a point of interest since the show!  Beautiful place to unwind on the beach.  I am surprised there aren't any mystery series  based there.  Do you know of one?

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Thursday, July 19, 2012

Review - As the Crow Flies

This week the review is of the series that inspired the new A&E drama "Longmire."  I have watched only 1 full episode, but there seem to be many differences between the television version and the books.  We reviewed the two prior books, Junk Yard Dogs (click here) and Hell is Empty (click here,) as well as an author interview (click here.) Let's see how the newest book in the series stacks up.

Author:  Craig Johnson

Copyright:  May 2012 (Viking Adult) 320 pgs

Series:  8th in Walt Longmire Mysteries

Sensuality:  some adult references

Mystery Sub-genre:  Police procedural

Main Character:  Sheriff Walt Longmire

Setting:  Modern Day, Absaroka County Wyoming

Obtained Through:  from publisher for an honest review

Henry Standing Bear and Walt have been tasked with securing a venue for Walt's daughter's wedding.  But they run into difficulty.  They end up in the wilderness around Painted Warrior cliffs scouting an outdoor wedding location for Cady, when they witness a women plummet from the cliff heights to her death.  When they race to the location, they find the woman dead, but her infant managed to survive.  The location is not within Walt's jurisdiction, which is good, because he has a wedding to take care of, right?  The new Sheriff for that location is an Iraq war hero, but she is inexperienced as a police officer.  The beautiful and fierce Chief Lolo Long asks Walt to help her untangle this web of who would kill an abused wife and her infant, and give her some on-the-job training while he helps. 

Walt is a fascinating character,  tough guy widower whose daughter means the world to him, with humorous with wry western wit, and a self-effacing manner. His best friend, Henry Standing Bear, is in most of this book and shows his temper with hints of his past.  These two are golden together as the male buddies who have each others backs.  Chief Lolo Long is well portrayed as a quick-to-anger woman who is tough as nails, but has a difficult time mellowing after her traumatic time serving in Iraq. Walt's dog, named "Dog," is the self-appointed protector of the infant survivor and gets three cheers for his role.  Henry's ramshackle truck, RezDaug, is practically a character, serving as Walt's inanimate nemesis.  Cady has a few cameo appearances woven through the investigation along with her mother-in-law, both showing how capable they are.

The setting is on the Cheyenne Reservation.  While the location may not be a character in itself, it is portrayed in a manner to accentuate the entire story, providing the contrast, shading, and flavor to the drama.  The plot has a slight rough beginning due to the low believability factor of hiking into the woods looking for a wedding site, but quickly solidifies to rock solid.

The pace remained steady through the twists and turns to the investigation right up to the confrontation with the killer.  Even the killer and motive seem stained by the settings savage beauty, as though the sadness of the Reservation touches everybody's life.  

This is another powerful addition to the series with Mr. Johnson's now-signature writing style.  I enjoy this series and each book is finely crafted. The books surpass the new television series "Longmire" by light years in my opinion.  I highly recommend this modern-western style mysteries and this book in particular.

Here is an interview with Craig Johnson on Marshall University's UpLate Show.


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Thursday, July 12, 2012

Review - A Sinister Sense

This week we visit Maine for a little mischief.  This is the second book in a new series that is mildly paranormal by the author of the Pennyfoot Hotel mysteries.  We seem to be tied in the poll regarding a rating system on the book reviews!  Hmmmm.  

Author: Allison Kingsley

Copyright: July 2012 (Berkley) 288 pgs

Series: 2nd in Raven's Nest Mysteries

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Cozy, mild paranormal

Main Characters: Clara Quinn

Setting: Modern day, Finn's Harbor, Maine

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Clara Quinn works afternoons at her cousin's bookstore, The Raven's Nest.  Clara and her cousin Stephanie are more like sisters than cousins, except Stephanie never inherited the "Quinn sense," which is like a psychic sense.  As a result Clara has spent most of her life denying her abilities so Stephanie doesn't feel short-changed.  Clara is particularly trying to ignore her Quinn Sense because it never gave a hint that her finance was such a snake. That explains why Clara is treading carefully with Rick Sanders, the owner of the hardware store across the street from Raven's Nest.  But when an unknown dead man is found in Rick's truck bed and the entire town, including the mayor, is convinced Rick is a killer, Clara believes the vision she saw of the murder and that Rick is innocent.  Could her fondness for Rick be clouding her judgement, or is Rick is being framed by a clever killer? 

Clara is an okay character who carries baggage from her time in New York and a relationship gone bad. Several times in the book Clara's mother comments on how NY has changed her.  Clara clearly has trust issues, with men and with her "gift."  It is a bit frustrating that she doesn't want anything to do with her gift, then gets mad because it fails her when she does want it.  Rick, the love interest and prime suspect, is a good character as far as he goes.  The glimpses we get of him are not much.  

Cousin Stephanie was either yelling at her kids, running out of the store, or making excuses to investigate. I don't know what to make of Stephanie yet.  It is a bit surprising how little this family does as a family.  Clara's mother, Jessie, comes across a bit harsh of Clara most of the story.  Jessie is recently widowed and that may be part of it, but I don't care for the dysfunctional dynamic.  Towards the end of the book, the relationship seemed to gain a little balance which I hope caries forward.  The break-out star of the book is the wayward, gentle-giant dog, Tatters, that Clara takes in from Rick when he becomes the main suspect.  The dog is strong, just a little willful, and a misunderstood sweetheart.  The depiction of Tatters is golden and I couldn't help but think of Marmaduke.

In this particular edition to the series I didn't get much of a real sense for the town as a setting in its own right.  The descriptions are fine and give a good form as a stage for the action, but I love when a place is so strong it becomes a character in itself.  That was not the case in this book.  I understand the first book in the series utilized the atmosphere of the bookstore's Edgar Allan Poe and metaphysical themes  to good effect, but that was not in evidence this time around.

The plot was revealed as more information about the victim was uncovered in the course of the book and similar for who the killer really was.  The motive and killer were fairly well done and straightforward.  The confrontation with the killer is a bit contrived, but definitely rings true to the cousin's penchant for mad-capped adventures that has been built up through the book via reminiscing.  The wrap up is short, just a couple of pages, but shows Clara working on trust.

This is a fun, lite cozy read with minor flaws along with some good points. Maybe read an excerpt before buying. 

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Monday, July 9, 2012

Reader Poll

Today we have a poll so I can get your feedback on how I review books.

In my book reviews, I have not included a rating system because what people like is subjective.  Within the first six months of starting this blog (I am approaching the blog's three year anniversary) I read a book that I thought was poorly done overall, "what was the editor thinking?" sort of book.  I wrote a mediocre review without open criticism, but not by any stretch recommending it.  I had a few people leave comments of how they loved the book.  One reader specifically mentioned loving a scene that I thought was terrible.  This reinforced in my mind that I should just present what I saw in a book and let each reader decide if it resonates with them.  So I have shied away from a rating system.

However, I seem to be one of the few in the blogosphere that does not provide a rating system for book reviews.  So, today I am offering the subject up for your input.  Do you prefer to have a rating system on book reviews?  Please take this quick "yes" or "no" poll.  I welcome comments to discuss this.  Thank you sharing!

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Thursday, July 5, 2012

Review - The Scarlet Pepper

Winners of the Mid-Summer Blog Hop Giveaway are CaseyCG, Erma2167, Jenn, hhkaufman78, Amanda Ray, Tamar W, and Darlene (I had three more books added at the last minute for seven total winners.)  You should receive an email asking for your mailing addresses.

We are headed into a heated campaign season.  I thought we could lessen the intensity with a mystery involving the White House Gardener!  Let's see just how controversial a kitchen garden on the White House property can be.

Author:  Dorothy St. James

Copyright:  April 2012 (Berkley) 320 pgs

Series:  2nd in  White House Gardener Mysteries

Sensuality:  n/a

Mystery Sub-genre:  Cozy mystery

Main Character:  Cassandra "Casey" Calhoun, Assistant White House Gardener

Setting:  modern day, White House in Washington D.C.

Obtained Through:  Publisher for an honest review

Casey has been targeted by a D.C. reporter on her kitchen garden for the First Lady with accusations that the garden is a staged hoax with mature plants having been substituted rather than actually growing them.  One report even claims that the soil is contaminated.  Casey is assisting the wife of the Press Secretary, who volunteers in the garden, by writing a dinner mystery for one of her fund-raisers.  But when the troublesome reporter is found dead in the exact manner that Casey had devised for the dinner mystery, she is on the hot seat.  To make matters worse, somebody is sabotaging the garden as the big "First Harvest" media event is approaching.  Casey must figure out who is behind these attacks or face loosing her job.  Then a Scottish organic gardening show celebrity manages to elbow his way into the White House Garden as a consultant.  Casey is feeling the heat besides just the heat wave plaguing the city.

Casey is an average cozy sleuth, she has a little baggage (abandoned by her father, and raised by aunts and her grandmother.)  Other than that causing trust issues, there didn't seem to be much to her.  When I thought back to write this review, there wasn't much that stood out about her. The way the story is written Casey comes across as the Chief gardener, but she is only the assistant.  Her self-autonomy and bossiness seem inappropriate considering her position. The potential love interest is one of the Secret Service agents, Jack.  He insists that she not get involved on any level whatsoever.  He seems like a nice guy who wants to be in serious relationship and is patient with Casey.  The elderly garden volunteers are priceless and the arrogant Scottish organic expert is one of those slightly "over-the-top" characters.

The White House is always fun to read about and provides a good backdrop for this mystery.  The D.C. media is presented as vultures picking the meat off anybody to get a story.  The kitchen garden aspect allows for interesting organic gardening tidbits that could be useful to the home gardener.

My pet peeve #1 is the sleuth being pressured about sleuthing - I hate that.  This book has that pet peeve throughout which irritated me from the start. The main plot was the reporter getting murdered with several subplots: from an ambitious reporter's personal investigation, the sabotaging of the garden, some White House staff members not liking Casey, Casey's problems trusting Jack and pulling away, to some scandal the dead reporter was about to break that somehow involved the Press Secretary.  **Spoiler follows** I had a difficult time with Casey accusing other staff members only to find out she was wrong.  Actually she is wrong through the entire book (I think I know why her co-workers don't like her) and yet she insists she is right and won't even consider other options up to the very end. **End Spoiler** 

For my part, I pegged who the killer was when the murder was introduced, I just didn't have the motive until that was slowly revealed.  There was a suspenseful scene in the course of Casey investigating.  The confrontation with the killer had some good intense moments. The wrap-up completes the last of the subplots and provides a feel-good ending.

Overall it is a lite cozy mystery, good for those times when you don't want a heavy intense book but a simple distraction.

No doubt the current White House Garden provided some inspiration for the basis of this story.  Here is a video on the actual White House garden that has several interesting items.  Please enjoy (this is not intended to be political - just a tie-in to the book.)


This year I am trying container gardening.  It is challenging but fun.  No tomatoes so far :-(   Here is a video I wanted to share with you if you are interested in gardening in urban or small spaces.  This is a blogger become author (Life on the Balcony Blog.)


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Monday, July 2, 2012

Mystery & Crime Fiction Blog Carnival - July 2012

It is the first Monday of the month - time for another highly anticipated Blog Carnival.  Please help the newsletter for the blog carnival to get more subscribers.  If a blog reviews mystery/suspense/thrillers occasionally then I would like to feature them.  I send the newsletter out once a month announcing the deadline for submitting to this blog carnival.  Multiple entries from a blog are welcome.  Now on to this month's blog carnival.  Click on the title or author's name to go to that link.

I will be announcing the winners of the Midsummer's Eve Giveaway Hop on Thursday.  I am just a little behind.  For those readers in the U.S., please have a safe and enjoyable Fourth of July celebration.

Police Procedural / PI Book Review

Booking Mama reviewed No Mark Upon Her by Deborah Crombie

Joanne Guidoccio reviewed A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny
How Mysterious! reviewed Midwinter Blood by Mons Kallentoft, which takes place in Linköping, Sweden

Booking Mama reviewed Midnight in Peking by Paul French and shares it is a terrific novel – part history and part true-crime mystery.

A Date with a book reviewed Left to Die by Lisa Jackson

Booking Mama reviewed Only One Life by Sara Blaedel and shares that Ms. Blaedel is one of Denmark’s most successful crime writers and considered to be the "Danish Queen of Crime." Her books are now becoming available in the United States.

Amateur Sleuth / Cozy book Review

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed A Fitting End by Melissa Bourbon

Booking Mama reviewed Unraveled by Maggie Sefton

A Date with a Book reviewed Mayhem in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

Novel Reflections reviewed The Long Stitch Good Night by Amanda Lee

How Mysterious! reviewed The Forgotten Affairs of Youth by Alexander McCall Smith

A Date with a Book reviewed Buffalo West Wing by Julie Hyzy

Novel Reflections reviewed Brownies and Broomsticks by by Bailey Cates

A Date with a Book reviewed Alibi in High Heels by Gemma Halliday

Mysteries and My Musings reviewed The Deathly Portent by Elizabeth Bailey, and asks what do you get when you throw a young women who has psychic visions, a newly arrived parson, and a murdered blacksmith all together in a superstitious small town?

A Date with a Book reviewed Chocolate Cat Caper by Joanna Carl

Thriller/Suspense Fiction Book Review

A Date with a Book reviewed A Deeper Darkness by J.T. Ellison

Joanne Guidoccio reviewed The Girl in the Box by Sheila Dalton

A Date with a Book reviewed The Sinner by Tess Gerritsen

Booking Mama reviewed The Paris Directive by Gerald Jay

A Date with a Book reviewed Fifteen Digits by Nick Santora

Booking Mama reviewed Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes and shares it was full of ups and downs and twists and turns.

Writing tips

Bryton's Briefs gives us some insights into developing a story idea.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A huge "Thank You" to all the wonderful bloggers out there who contributed to the carnival.  Keep them coming.

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.
Submit your blog entry for next month's Carnival here: (

Spread the word far and wide!!!

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