Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Afterlife, by Marcus Sakey

I enjoyed this book. Author Marcus Sakey has a wonderful ability to create new worlds within worlds. A sniper has killed 17 innocent, unconnected people in Chicago. FBI agent Will Brody has the sniper’s DNA, but little else, and is tracking him using skills honed in his military service in Afghanistan. Sent by his boss, and lover, Claire McCoy, to investigate an anonymous tip about an abandoned church, Brody dies when an improvised explosive device blows up. Despite his gruesome death, he awakens in a grey Chicago with no life and no warmth. He is in an afterlife called the Echo because it mirrors life, but like an echo, it fades over time.

Joined by a large group of new friends who have fought for years against seductive evil tendencies in the Echo, Brody uncovers dangerous dark secrets that mankind has not even guessed at. Forced to fight this evil while protecting Claire McCoy, Brody must travel through darker and darker worlds, worlds that echo the despair of Dante’s Inferno.

Although most of the novel is well written with richly developed characters and plot lines, several parts of the book seemed to be hastily put together. Notwithstanding, this is a superb book and I highly recommend it.

* Print Length: 320 pages
* Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (July 18, 2017)
* Publication Date: July 18, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Happy Birthday Harold Pinter

When I was 20 years old, I worked for a season as an assistant director at the Soho Poly Theatre in London (now called the Soho Theatre). For its time, it was a cutting edge fringe theatre, made even more vivid and relevant by Verity Bargate, one of its founders. Nobel Prize winner, Harold Pinter was one of the playwrights who, at Verity’s invitation, tried out his new material in her little stuffy but charming basement theatre.

I assisted directors, primarily the magnificent Donald Sumpter (yes, Maester Luwin in the Game of Thrones). I also, on occasion, served Verity’s liver pate in the tiny cafe, and I helped with props and sound effects. (My mother remembers visiting me at the theatre on the day I had to cry like a baby off stage.) I proudly earned enough money to pay the weekly rent for my room.

I remember Harold Pinter as a blur of energy with large eyeglasses, and as someone who never spoke unimportant words. Unfortunately, he passed away in 2008. I wish I had known him better, but I doubt he would have wanted to know me better. I was a very naive 20 year old. I am honored, however, to have worked with this great playwright so, so many years ago.

Happy Birthday Mr. Pinter!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Come Sundown, by Nora Roberts

For grittiness, Nora Roberts gives Patricia Cornwell a run for her money in this novel. The brutal kidnapping of a young woman in 1991, and the horrible abuse she was subjected to for 25 years, are the book’s undercurrents. Juxtaposed to the wealth and love her estranged family enjoys during these years, her life seems even more brutal. The characters of family, victims, and victimizers, leap to life, as they do in every Roberts’ story. I could not put this book down.

Print Length: 477 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1250123070
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (May 30, 2017)
Publication Date: May 30, 2017
Sold by: Macmillan

Monday, September 25, 2017

The White Feather Murders (Herringford and Watts Mysteries Book 3), By Rachel McMillan

If you love historical fiction, and mysteries where you cannot guess the murderer, you will enjoy Rachel McMillan's Herringford and Watts Mystery series. In this third novel in the series, it is 1914 and Toronto is anxiously waiting to hear whether the British Empire is going to war with Germany. In this tense environment, which gets more tense after war is declared, female detectives Merinda Herringford and Jemima Watts (Mrs. DeLucca) must find out who is terrorizing German immigrants and leaving white feathers at the murder scenes of seemingly unconnected individuals.

Neither of McMillan's detectives fits the mold of an early 20th century female. Jemima, married with a baby son, agonizes over her duties to her family, and her commitment to her detective agency and to her friend Miranda. Miranda furiously rejects marriage because she does not want to lose her independence. At the same time, however, she is strongly conflicted on the subject. In many ways, these conflicts are reminiscent of the roiling internal battles fought by Dorothy Sayers' 1930s' character Harriet Vane in her relationship with Lord Peter Wimsey. McMillan makes the battles just as believable.

McMillan does an excellent job of bringing 1914 Toronto to life as a multilayered budding metropolis, home to wealthy elites, a growing middle class, and a refuge for immigrants fleeing the tyranny and poverty of the old world. My only concern with the novel is its sense of finality. I hope it is not the last book in the Herringford and Watts Mystery series because I want to know what happens to McMillan's well-crafted protagonists as the trenches and fires of World War I change everything.

* Print Length: 236 pages
* Publisher: Harvest House Publishers (April 25, 2017)
* Publication Date: April 11, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Monday, July 3, 2017

Fire and Ashes (Death Investigator Angela Richman Book 2), by Elaine Viets

Elaine Viets' s new "Death Investigator" series is a world apart from her "Dead-End Job" and " Mystery Shopper" mysteries. While the protagonists in those novels lead problematic lives (including hiding from court orders by staying off the grid), Viets's new Angela Richman novels are interestingly darker. In both the first book in the series, "Brain Storm," and this second novel, Viets successfully depicts a physically and emotionally flawed stroke survivor who investigates often gruesome deaths while grieving for a recently deceased husband. In addition, although not as stark as "Brain Storm," "Fire and Ashes" pulls no punches when describing the white privilege demanded by the wealthy residents in Angela Richman's town of Chouteau Forest, Missouri.

Richman, back to investigating deaths after recovering from six strokes and a coma, is tasked with investigating the deaths of a wealthy, but grubby sexist-70 year old, and a seventeen year old heroin user. In both cases, in order to find the truth, Richman must push back against assumptions of guilt made by the police, prosecutor, and leaders of society, based on bigotry concerning local Mexican-Americans.

Viets's mastery of criminal forensic science is impressive, as is her skillful ability to give voice to the characters depicted. Several years ago, her narrative concerning overt law enforcement and prosecutorial bigotry probably would have been viewed as unrealistic and over the top. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said today.

Without a doubt, this book should be at the top of summer reading lists.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 288 pages
* Page Numbers Source ISBN: 1477848800
* Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (July 25, 2017)
* Publication Date: July 25, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Grumpface, by B.C.R. Fegan, (author); Daniela Frongia, (illustrator)

This is a book about a clever, but clumsy, inventor, Dafty Dan, who secretly loves the girl selling flowers in his village. While searching the nearby forest for a rose to give to her (since roses will not grow in her garden), he is trapped by a very grumpy, green creature with warts on his nose, called "Grumpface." Grumpface will not let Dan go free until he performs three difficult tasks. As Dan sets out to solve the tasks by inventing, he somehow never manages to invent what he intended, and so the story unfolds.

B.R. Fegan's artful, rhyming prose is reminiscent of children's fairytales from earlier times. Together with Daniela Frongia's glorious whimsical illustrations, this book will capture the attention and imagination of both parents and children.

(I received a review copy from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.)

* Print Length: 34 pages
* Publisher: TaleBlade (May 1, 2017)
* Publication Date: May 1, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Murder on the Serpentine: A Charlotte and Thomas Pitt Novel, by Anne Perry

Since 1979, Anne Perry has provided readers with a window into the affairs of the British upper class, and the lower classes' fight for survival, during the Victorian era. In her first novel, Thomas Pitt, a policeman who has fought his way from destitution to middle class, meets his wife Charlotte while investigating the murder of her sister. Now, 20 years later, it is 1899, and Pitt is Commander Thomas Pitt, the head of Special Branch.

Queen Victoria is tired and in poor health. She has mourned her beloved Prince Albert for over 38 years, and the burden of her grief, combined with the stress of ruling an empire alone since she was 18 years old, has taken its toll. Nonetheless, the Queen has never shirked her duties and when she hears a rumor that her son, the Prince of Wales and future king of England, has been led astray by one of his circle, she asked an old friend to investigate. When that friend suffers an accidental death on the day he was to report his findings to her, the Queen calls on Commander Pitt to investigate the death and determine what he had uncovered.

As he investigates, Pitt must unravel a treasonous conspiracy against Great Britain while protecting the Royal family, and his own family from the fallout. Anne Perry skillfully, and with historical accuracy, brings each character to life against a backdrop of the last years of the Victorian era and the beginning of the 20th century.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 288 pages
* Publisher: Ballantine Books (March 21, 2017)
* Publication Date: March 21, 2017
* Sold by: Random House LLC
* Language: English

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Take It to the Grave, Part 1 of 6: A tense and addictive psychological thriller, by Zoe Carter

Zoe Carter tantalizes us with the first part of her six part thriller series. Sarah is living every woman's alleged fantasy life with a gorgeous, wealthy husband, a healthy, beautiful baby boy, and a house in East Hampton, Long Island. Except it's not. The growing stench of backstabbing neighbors, marital infidelity, a demanding, cruel mother-in-law, and eating disorders permeate Sarah's life. Pushed by her mother-in-law to invite her family to her son's christening, Sarah reluctantly contacts her estranged sister, Maisey, thereby adding buried dark family secrets to her already troubled life.

Carter knows how to write and how to keep her readers glued to the page. Indeed, Part 1 of "Take it to the Grave" is such an exhilarating, roller coaster of a ride, it's hard to imagine a reader not grabbing the next installment in the series.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 64 pages
* Publisher: Harlequin Special Releases (June 1, 2017)
* Publication Date: June 15, 2017
* Sold by: Harlequin Digital Sales Corp

Friday, June 23, 2017

Argyle Fox, by Marie Letourneau

This is a big, beautiful book (12" by 9.1") that young children will love to own, look at illustrations, and read or have read to them. Ms. Letourneau wrote the text and created the illustrations. The protagonist is Argyle Fox, a young fox who always wears argyle scarfs or sweaters, which are knitted for him by his loving, elegant mother. Argyle loves to play in the forest with his friends: squirrel, beaver, ground hog and badger, but the wind interrupts their play. So Argyle sets out to create a toy designed to be used in the wind.

The book opens to an easy to read illustrated map of Argyle Fox's forest and surrounding area. There's beaver's pond, pirate ship, groundhog burrow, Argyle's four story house within a tree, and in the distance there is a knight's castle. The book's clever, large illustrations are its best feature, with the text appearing in a relatively small area at the bottom of each page. Young children will be delighted with this lovely, well-designed book with gorgeous illustrations. Its large size will encourage small children to spend hours pouring over it.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)
* Age Range: 3 - 7 years
* Grade Level: Preschool - 2
* Hardcover: 32 pages
* Publisher: Tanglewood (March 14, 2017)

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

To Dream, Anatomy of a Humachine (Book 1), by Louis K. Lowy

Louis K. Lowy does a stellar job unveiling a complicated plot with many moving parts in the first novel of his new series: "To Dream, Anatomy of a Humachine." His protagonist, Dr. Niyati Bopari, is a brilliant roboticist and bio-physicist who mourns her beloved son, Jay, a young man killed in a car crash on his high school graduation day. Dr. Bopari was driving the car, and her guilt, despair and love for her son is so intense that, unbeknownst to her employer, Ameri-Inc., in 2030, as she builds their first highly advanced human-machine hybrid (humachine), she infuses it with his DNA, and names it, "J-1." Subsequently exiled by Amer-Inc., to a manufacturing facility on the planet Truatta for almost two hundred years, J-1, for various reasons, begins to evolve. As he does so, he must deal with the corrupt underbelly of Ameri-Inc., its attacks on the human population of both Truatta and Earth, and his growing awareness of his own human roots.

Despite a storyline that goes back and forth between two centuries, with detailed descriptions of different technologies and different cultures and characters, Mr. Lowy manages to keep his writing crisp, focused and understandable. The emotional impact of this novel surprised me. In a science fiction novel covering two centuries and several planets, where one of the main protagonists is a hybrid between robot and human, I did not expect to be so moved by his plight. This is a novel worth reading.

* Print Length: 305 pages
* Publisher: IFWG Publishing (January 2, 2017)
* Publication Date: January 2, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Interview with Louis K. Lowy

I asked Louis Lowy what inspired him to write this novel. He graciously provided the following answer:

L. Lowy: "'To Dream: Anatomy of a Humachine' was inspired by a three page short story that I had written over a decade ago and had completely forgotten about. Rummaging through my virtual files, I stumbled upon it. Reading it, I thought it had the basic elements for a longer (in this case, much longer) story. The basic elements were there. The protagonist was an A.1. named J-17, which became J-1 in my novel. He was working on another planet, which I utilized, and he was mining Genimetrothiasine -- another thing I incorporated.

From there it became a lot of 'what ifs' and 'how do I explain how the what ifs came about.' I had to answer nine key elements of the 'how the what ifs came about' before I started on the novel. That took me a couple of months, but once I had the answers, I began writing and eventually the book reached fruition. Of course, there were twists and turns that I hadn't seen coming, but that's one of the joys of storytelling."

For more information about Louis K. Lowy, go to:

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Vicious Circle (A Joe Pickett Novel),by C.J. Box

In "Vicious Circle," C.J. Box's master storytelling allows the reader to smell the cold, fresh scent of Wyoming's pine tree forests, and see the hard whiteness of the stars and moon over the dark blue of the Teton Mountains.

Picking up from the 16th novel, Box weaves a tight multilayered plot involving a few very bad and very corrupt characters. Dallas Cates, the rodeo star who abandoned Pickett's daughter by the side of the road, is out of prison. Together with two ex-cons, he intends to avenge himself and his family by killing Pickett and his whole family. As Pickett desperately tries to keep his family safe, he is confronted with seemingly honest individuals conspiring to destroy his reputation, and the riddle as to where Cates is getting the money to buy them off. "Vicious Circle" is a page turner that I literally could not put down.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 377 pages
* Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons (March 21, 2017)
* Publication Date: March 21, 2017
* Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

The Year's Best Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016, by Rich Horton

Rich Horton packs this anthology to the brim with bite size stories with unexpected plot twists and surprise endings. Artificial Intelligence (AI) plays a lead role in many of the stories. There are AIs that love humanity, such as the android in "I am Paul, Martin," by L. Shoemaker, where a future android provides medical and sweet empathetic care to Mildred, an elderly woman with Alzheimers disease. And in "Cat Pictures Please," by Naomi Kritzer, there is a caring AI who wants only to help you since it knows everything about you, and wants cat pictures in return.

In some stories, time travel happens in unique, surprising ways. For example, in "Time Bomb Time," by C.C. Finlay, the author cleverly poses the implied question, what if you read a story about time travel and find yourself reading the same conversation twice? Is it a typo? An heuristic device? Or have you traveled back a few minutes in time?

A science fiction and fantasy anthology would be incomplete without a few dystopian futures, and Mr. Horton does not disappoint. In Ray Nayler's, "In Mutability," two strangers, Sophia and Sebastian, reside in a future world where death apparently is no longer inevitable, but neither stranger has many memories. One day, at the cafe in which Sebastian spends his days, an unknown woman, Sophia, befriends him and shows him a photo of the two of them, centuries old. Neither remember each other or the photo, but why not?

In "Folding Beijing," by Hao Jingfang, (translated by Ken Liu), a future Beijing has become so crowded the population is divided into three spaces where First Space contains the rich and well educated, and Third Space contains the poor and lower classes. As each class awakens, another space rotates and folds up. Lao Dao, a Third Space waste processor, wants to enroll his daughter in a music and dance kindergarten. To do so, he must get more money by illegally carrying messages and goods to and from First Space. Author Hao Jingfang's story, however, is more than a glimpse at a possible dystopian future based on class and privilege. Rather, it is an Aesopian tale about love and friendship, and where true contentment lies.

Most of the writers in this anthology are exceptionally talented, and a few will take your breath away. In "The Karen Joy Fowler Book Club," by Nike Sulway, an older female, who loves her solitude and her library room, walks alone in a Serengeti-type outdoors and fears that her type will be extinct because the daughters do not see the need for procreation. In this beautifully told tale, are the women human?

Another author who captivates is Will Ludwigsen, whose channeling of a 1940s pulp science fiction writer and his writing for a 1960s, "Twight Zone"-type of television show, "Acres of Perhaps," is sheer genius. As the writer grieves for his lost love who has died of cancer after 50 years together, he remembers the 60s and the two other writers for the show, one of whom believed he was living in an alternate universe. The story is a loving homage to rural America, 1960's science fiction and two great romances. Ludwigsen is an award wining author and this story demonstrates why.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 576 pages
* Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
* Publisher: Prime Books (June 10, 2016)
* Publication Date: June 10, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Downward Dog: Very Serious Haiku from a Very Serious Dog, by Samm Hodges and Phinheas Hodges, Illustrated by Idil Gozde

Martin is a dog who stars in a forthcoming ABC television show called, "Downward Dog." He has written "Downward Dog: Very Serious Haiku from a Very Serious Dog," a poetic homage to his life, his poop, his food, and to his beloved human, Nan. Of course, since Martin has not yet learned to write (I think), Samm Hodges and Phinheas Hodges, transcribe his thoughts for him, with Idil Gozde doing the illustrations.

Martin's funny, bitter sweet poetry reflects the innocence and soul of a "good dog." He thanks his "Mom and Dad, whoever you are," and his Nan, his human, "my moon and my stars for ever and ever. I love you so much I can never tell you, I will always love you, I love you, I love you, I can’t believe how much I love you. Also, please never leave again for the whole weekend; it was so, so horrible."

If you have ever loved a dog, you will recognize the truth in Martin's Haiku, and you will read it over and over again to catch every nuance and thought that Martin wants you to know.

Paperback: 52 pages
Publisher: Animal Media Group LLC (June 20, 2017)
Language: English
(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

Monday, May 22, 2017

The Other Daughter: A Novel, by Lauren Willig

There is a mistaken belief that the Jazz Age of the 1920s was a romantic time of flappers and long necklaces. Instead, there was little romance in this decade where the remnants of the generation that had not been killed in the slaughter of World War I, threw off Edwardian constraints, raised hemlines, bobbed their hair, partied all night, and obsessed over cocktails. In "The Other Daughter," Lauren Willig skillfully captures the crazy hysteria of the English upper classes during this time. She makes clear that it was a backlash against the overwhelming grief and despair that had drowned veterans, and families of the war dead during and after the war.

Rachel Woodley, an English governess to the children of a wealthy, cold French family, finds herself catapulted into this mess when her beloved mother dies of influenza. Raised in a quiet English village as the daughter of a proper, widow who gave piano lessons, Rachel returns to England only to learn that her father is not dead and he has become Lord Standish with another family, including another daughter. Crushed that her beloved father had abandoned her, and her life had been a lie, Rachel wants revenge. Accordingly, she sets out to infiltrate what she believes is the happy, modern set. As she befriends her half-sister, and others, the fragile veneer peels away, and the ugly truth of the so called "Roaring Twenties" is laid bare.

* Print Length: 305 pages
* Publisher: St. Martin's Press (July 21, 2015)
* Publication Date: July 21, 2015
* Sold by: Macmillan

The Sound of Rain, by Gregg Olsen

When a slot machine hits a jackpot at the Snoqualmie Casino, in Washington State, it makes the sound of rain. The poetry of the title and the musical sound of the jackpot on her favorite slot machine, frames Detective Nicole Foster's life. A compulsive gambler, Foster must fight the dark side of a gambling addiction, which constantly sinks its claws into her every waking moment

When three year old, Kelsey Chase, is kidnapped from a car outside of a Target store, while her mother and five year old brother are shopping, Foster and her partner, Detective Danny Ford, are assigned to find the little girl. When Kelsey turns up murdered, Foster must battle her addiction and wade into a deep muck of deception and psychotic betrayal that engulfs the murder, and her professional and personal life at every level.

Gregg Olsen skillfully creates a complex, absorbing plot while giving believable voices to both his male and female characters, a talent many authors lack. "The Sound of Rain" captures you emotionally and intellectually, and does not let you go until you finish the book. Five stars.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 350 pages
* Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (December 13, 2016)
* Publication Date: December 13, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Saturday, May 6, 2017

The White House Wedding: A Solve-the-Mystery Blog Tour by Radha Vatsal

Radha Vatsal, the author of The Front Page Affair and Murder Between the Lines, has a mystery for you to solve involving the wedding of President Woodrow Wilson and Mrs. Edith Bolling. The following six book bloggers, including me, have published sequential clues to the mystery:

CLue 1:
Clue 2:
Clue 3:
Clue 4:
Clue 5:
Clue 6:

If you would like to solve the mystery, read the clue provided by Radha Vatsal below and visit the blogs above. Good luck!

From Radha Vatsal:

The White House Wedding: A Solve-the-Mystery Blog Tour by Radha Vatsal

At 8:30 PM on Saturday, December 18, 1915, President Woodrow Wilson married Mrs. Edith Bolling. The new Mrs. Wilson would go on to become one of the 20th Century’s most powerful first ladies and shepherd the United States through turbulent times. In the course of this blog tour, I describe four different aspects of their wedding plan: The Location on Jane Reads, Guest List and Attendants on Benjamin Clark, Ceremony and Officiants on J. Roslyn's Books, and Dress and Flowers on My Merri Way. The wedding went off as arranged, except for one significant last-minute change. Your mission is to guess what changed and why. The answer will be revealed in the final blog post. For more on the president and Edith Bolling/Wilson’s relationship, see the Introduction on Katherine’s Chronicle,

The president was Presbyterian, Mrs. Galt was Episcopalian, so they decided that both faiths ought to be represented. They would follow the complete Episcopalian service, which would be performed by an Episcopalian Bishop with the Rev. James H. Taylor, pastor of President Wilson’s Presbyterian church assisting. Rev. Taylor delivered the benediction as the close. When the question: “Who giveth this woman to be married to this man?” was asked, Mrs. Bolling, Edith’s mother, stepped forward and put her daughter’s hand into that of the president’s.

Did any of this change? The number or type of officiants, perhaps? Or the precedence given to one type of service over another? At the last minute, did Edith Galt, as a woman who ran her own business and had been previously married, ask her mother to stand back and in a gesture of independence “give herself” to Mr. Wilson?

Next Up: Dress and Flowers on My Merri Way

The new First Lady and Woodrow Wilson make a dramatic appearance in Murder Between the Lines, the second novel in the Kitty Weeks Mystery series, which features the adventures of bold newswoman Capability “Kitty” Weeks in World War I era New York. For more historical surprises, sign up for the Kitty Weeks newsletter:

Friday, May 5, 2017


Radha Vatsal is the author of two highly rated historical novels set in New York City during the years leading up to America entering World War I: "The Front Page, Affair," and, "Murder Between the Lines. We have reviewed both books in our prior post.

We asked Ms. Vatsal why she chose the years of World War, and she graciously provided us with the following guest column.

"World War I isn’t usually considered to be America’s war. The US joined the fighting late – the war began in the fall of 1914 and America joined the fray in 1917. By and large, stories about the war tend to focus on the experience “over there”—in English or French country homes, or in the battlefields of Europe. To me, it seems that we know more about World War II, in part because of that war’s atrocities and in part because it had clear good guys, Roosevelt and Churchill, and bad guys, Hitler and Stalin. World War I is more complicated. It was started by Kaiser Wilhelm--first cousin to King George of England--but was the result of military buildup that had been going on in Europe during the so-called “Belle Epoque,” a seemingly tranquil period of peace and prosperity—and the setting of many beloved period series and films. But tensions were mounting behind the scenes and when they exploded, the world changed. Empires that had ruled great swathes of the world for centuries fell: the Hapsburgs of Austria-Hungary, the Romanovs of Russia, the Ottomans of Turkey, and the seeds were set for the modern world of nation-states that we inhabit and for political strife that haunts us to this day.

Across the Atlantic, the US didn’t remain untouched by all this upheaval. It faced what we would now call domestic terrorism on its shores (the subject of A Front Page Affair) and rapidly went from being a second-tier country to a global superpower. Along the way, President Wilson had to convince the public that America could no longer remain “a provincial nation”—part of a speech he gave at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel in New York City. The speech forms the climax of Murder Between the Lines and a crucial part of American history. The American economy prospered, thanks in no small part to the ramping up of the military—Kitty Weeks delves into this as she investigates the Edison company’s work on new submarine batteries.

I chose to set the Kitty Weeks Mystery series during the WWI-era because so much happened during this period, and there so many colorful stories that have remained under-explored and under-reported. In addition to the world history aspect, the late 1910s also saw a seismic shift for women: women won the right to vote after WWI in 1920. In the course of her adventures and investigations, Kitty Weeks meets and interviews (as is only fitting for a reporter at the New York Sentinel’s Ladies’ Page!) influential women of her day. In A Front Page Affair, it’s Anne Morgan, the philanthropist sister of banker J.P. Morgan. Anne Morgan championed the cause of working women, was active in war relief efforts in France, and was one of the founders of the first women’s-only club with its own building, the Colony Club in Manhattan, which still exists today. In Murder Between the Lines, Kitty interviews the divorcee and widow Alva Belmont. Belmont had originally been married to W.K. Vanderbilt, whom she divorced—much to society’s dismay—and then married financier, O.H.P. Belmont. After Belmont died, she devoted her energies and fortune to promoting the cause of woman suffrage, even producing a “suffragist operetta,” Melinda and Her Sisters—Kitty observes the rehearsals in Murder. Kitty grows, learns and is inspired by these women, many of whom are forgotten today.


-Radha Vatsal is the author of the Kitty Weeks mystery series. Her latest book, Murder between the Lines (Sourcebooks), was published on May 2, 2017.

BLOG TOUR:* Murder Between the Lines and The Front Page Affair, By Radha Vatsal


In her second Kitty Weeks novel, Radha Vatsal again takes us back to the 1910s, a tumultuous time in U.S. history, where women are demanding the long promised right to vote, and, as World War I bloodies Europe, the American government and defense industries are quietly preparing for war.

Set in 1915, New York City, "Murder Between the Lines," depicts an America that, on the surface, appears to be as it has been for decades. Kitty Weeks, the daughter of a wealthy man who simultaneously tries to protect her as he encourages her to be independent, knows that war is coming. The signs are not hidden well. Her best friend returns from nursing soldiers on the battlefields of Europe a broken woman. She has seen the horror of trench warfare first hand. At the same time, former President Theodore Roosevelt has "called for a navy that would be second in size and efficiency only to that of Great Britain," and government money is pouring in to test Edison's batteries for use in submarines.

A writer for the ladies' page of "The Sentinel" newspaper, Kitty has pushed hard against covering tea parties and has successfully convinced her editor to allow her to cover suffragettes and Woodrow Wilson's visit to New York City. When Elspeth Bright, a young, vibrant woman, connected to the Edison battery-research, is found frozen to death in Central Park, Kitty is driven to use her journalist skills to try to bring her justice.

Vatsal's meticulous historical research broadens Kitty's world to include the famous suffragette, Alva Belmont (also known as Alva Vanderbilt), and the actress Marie Dressler, known later for, among other things, her brilliant performance in "Dinner at Eight." We also attend the "first annual dinner of the Motion Picture Board of Trade of America" at the newish Waldorf-Astoria. Here, President Woodrow Wilson prophetically states: “America will always seek to the last point at which her honor is involved to avoid the things which disturb the peace of the world, ...there will come that day when the world will say, ‘This America that we thought was full of a multitude of contrary counsels now speaks with the great volume of the heart’s accord, and that great heart of America has behind it the supreme moral force of righteousness and hope and the liberty of mankind!'”

Radha Vatsal is an exceptional writer and gifted historian. In the first Kitty Weeks novel, "The Front Page Affair," and again in this second novel, Vatsal has successfully recreated the mood, the sights, smells and controversies of New York City in the years leading up to the deployment of American soldiers to fight in the Great War. As the United States enters into the centennial anniversary of America's involvement in that war, Vatsal's books allow us to reflect on the small fires that led to the conflagration, and they allow us to recognize that the fight for female equality is not a recent endeavor.

"Murder Between the Lines" deserves more than five stars. Read it and you will agree.

Print Length: 320 pages
Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (May 2, 2017)
Publication Date: May 2, 2017
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

*A virtual blog tour is underway where six book bloggers, including me, post clues provided by Radha Vatsal to a mystery involving President Wilson's 1915, wedding. Click here to read clue number four, and to find links to other five clues.*


Although World War I raged in Europe starting in 1914, the United States did not declare war on Germany until April 6, 1917. As we enter into the centennial anniversary of America's involvement in that war, historical novels, such as Radha Vatsal's excellent, debut novel, "The Front Page Affair," provide clear and insightful glimpses into the tension-filled and fearful miasmas that permeated New York City in the years preceding 1917.

Specifically, Ms. Vatsal recreates the 1915, New York City world of Kitty Weeks, a wealthy young woman who has traveled the world with her cosmopolitan father. Although she is considered from the "wrong side of town," (at least, according to Kitty's debutante friend), Weeks is a well educated, modern woman.

Constrained by the social mores of the time, Kitty is prohibited from covering news stories, and instead she is forced to write for the Ladies' Page of one of the many New York City newspapers. Born abroad, raised in Europe and educated in Switzerland, Kitty struggles to find her niche. After stumbling upon a murder while covering her first society event, she finds herself enmeshed in what may be an espionage scandal that has major implications for America's continued neutrality concerning the war with Germany.

It is very rare to find a debut novel so well written and so engrossing. "The Front Page Affair" is on a par with the Maisie Dobbs novels of Jacqueline Winspear. More than that, Ms. Vatsal clearly understands the importance of creating an historical novel that transforms 1915 from a dusty, ancient year in America's past, to a vibrant and dangerous time not unlike our own.

* Print Length: 338 pages
* Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark (May 3, 2016)
* Publication Date: May 3, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Radha Vatsal is the author of two highly rated historical novels set in New York City during the years leading up to America entering World War I: "The Front Page, Affair," and, "Murder Between the Lines." We have reviewed both books, above.

We asked Ms. Vatsal why she chose the years of World War I as the setting for her Kitty Weeks novels, and she graciously provided us with a guest post, found here.

*A virtual blog tour is underway where six book bloggers, including me, post clues provided by Radha Vatsal to a mystery involving President Wilson's 1915, wedding. Click here to read clue number four, and to find links to the other five clues.

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Lilli de Jong: A Novel, by Janet Benton

Author Janet Benton writes that "in the long days and nights of nursing and nurturing" her own baby, as she held her in her "arms and listened to the ticking of a clock, a voice came now and then" into her mind. "It was the voice of an unwed mother from long ago." The voice clearly inspired this novel about an unwed mother and the hypocrisy and corruption of late Victorian, Philadelphia society that preferred the death of illegitimate children over exercising a duty of care for them and their mothers.

Protagonist, Lilli de Jong, is a teacher at a Quaker school. Her family has deep roots and is well respected in her community. Like other members of her religion, they have eschewed luxury and live plainly without the modern comforts of gas lighting or water pipes. Lilli's mother has recently died, and Lilli, her brother, and her father have become rudderless. After her father has an adulterous affair with a mean-spirited "spinster cousin," the family is exiled from their Quaker Friends community. Her brother and her suitor leave their jobs in the family's furniture business to seek their fortunes in the steel mills of Pittsburgh. Isolated, and pregnant by her suitor, Lilli is ordered out of her home by her father's lover-turned wife. Forced to give birth in a charitable institution, Lilli defies convention and refuses to abandon her child to abusive adopters or foundling homes.

Her journey, as an unwed mother, is told through her diary entries. Through her eyes, we see the horrors that society of that time heaped on the most vulnerable: the poor, the elderly, the disabled Civil War veterans, orphans, and, at the bottom of the unwanted pile, unwed mothers and their babies. Benton writes of one scene these unwanted people faced living on the streets: "Early-rising laborers pass, mostly hidden by umbrellas, and sodden rats and dogs run along the bricks, sniffing for tidbits dropped by the street cleaners."

Benton's intelligent prose and meticulous, extensive research sets this novel apart from popular, romantic versions of similar stories. The people, the streets and the buildings of 1883, Philadelphia are described in such detail, reading about them is akin to time travel. This book definitely is a must-read.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)
Print Length: 352 pages
Publisher: Nan A. Talese (May 16, 2017)
Publication Date: May 16, 2017
Sold by: Random House LLC

Papaya Sunset, by Robert E. Schiller

Robert E. Schiller knows basketball, and in "Papaya Sunset," he manages to draw the reader into the excitement of a close game, a last minute basket, and the intricate moves of the players. As skillfully and colorfully as he describes a basketball game, he tells the story of Stewart Anderson (Sam) Mackenzie, an extremely successful Chicago lawyer who married into a wealthy society family in his early 20s, became a partner in his father-in-law's law firm, and whose life goes bottom up after his extra-marital affair is discovered.

On a "sabbatical," a euphemism for being tossed out of his family and his law firm, Sam lands in Key West, aboard his sail boat, the "Jump Shot." The crisis of his forced sabbatical coincides with his middle aged crisis. Together they are a five alarm fire. We learn that Sam was a star, All American, basketball player who destroyed his leg while making a game winning shot. With pro-basketball an impossibility, he allowed his girlfriend's well-connected family to take control of his life: marriage, law school, partnership, and summers on Mackinaw Island.

After sleepwalking through his life, Sam lands in Key West (the "Conch Republic"), apparently as far from a button down, white shoe law firm as he could get. If you have visited Key West, you will appreciate Schiller's wonderful description of its people, its food, its bars and restaurants, and the beauty of its sunsets. Schiller also skillfully introduces us to the colorful people who befriend Sam, including Freddy, the extroverted Cuban fishing boat captain who loves women from the cruise ships because they get back on the ship and leave after a passionate night. They also include Moira and Felicia, a beautiful Cuban refugee and her small daughter. Schiller clearly has a talent for bringing his characters to life. Although a tad didactic, each character has a chance to tell his/her story and each has a different, recognizable voice. This is the hallmark of a good writer.

Papaya Sunset is a good read. I know little about basketball, but Schiller kept me involved in the game. Similarly, Schiller skillfully framed Sam's middle aged crisis without resorting to tired cliches. This is definitely a five star book.

* Print Length: 409 pages
* Publisher: Robert E. Schiller (January 27, 2016)
* Publication Date: January 27, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Cowboys, Cowgirls and B.J. McDaniels

The Cowgirl in Question: A Western Romance Novel (McCalls' Montana)
by B.J. Daniels

An excellent read if you want to shut out the world, visit a small town in Montana, solve a few mysteries and watch romances bloom.

Print Length: 256 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Special Releases (February 1, 2017)
Publication Date: February 27, 2017
Sold by: Harlequin Digital Sales Corp.
Cowboy Accomplice (McCalls' Montana)
by B.J. Daniels (Author)

A B.J. Daniels novel is the perfect escape hatch. As with all of her books, this story and its mystery kept me glued to it until the end.

Print Length: 256 pages
Publisher: Harlequin Special Releases (April 1, 2017)
Publication Date: April 10, 2017
Sold by: Harlequin Digital Sales Corp.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Radio Girls, by Sarah-Jane Stratford

There are some novels that you never want to end. "Radio Girls," a great novel of historical fiction, is one of them. Author Sarah-Jane Stratford takes us to mid-1920s' London, a time when the BBC was inventing itself, and most of parliament considered radio an experiment that would not last. The novel's protagonist, Maisie Musgrave, is a young Canadian women with a cold, distant actress mother and a British father she has never met. She is hired by Sir John Reith, the BBC Director General, as a secretary, but is soon working for Hilda Matheson, the director of the new BBC "Talks." (Reith is known as one of the few employers of this time to hire women for substantive positions--as long as they remained unmarried.)

Surrounded by Cambridge and Oxford graduates, Maisie feels the lack of her formal education. She has never gone to any school, and is mostly self-taught by reading everything she could find in the libraries in the many cities she traveled to, dragged along by her mother. She also doesn't know if her parents ever married, a serious mark against her in the 1920s, if true. Notwithstanding, Matheson recognizes that Maisie's solid, investigative mind is that of a potential producer and takes her under her wing. Vivacious, exciting Matheson, a member of the Bloomsbury Group (and romantic partner of Vita Sackville-West), is used by Stratford to convey the thrill of creating a media that, for the first time, connected people as live radio broadcasts entered their sitting rooms. Stratford writes:

"Hilda had written in her notes on broadcasting, that it was 'a capturing of sounds and voices all over the world to which hitherto we have been deaf. It is a means of enlarging the frontiers of human interest and consciousness, of widening personal experience, of shrinking the earth’s surface.' Such a lovely way to describe this curious creature they were continually inventing. The stranger inviting itself into a silent home, asking to become a friend."

(How intriguing and moving that Matheson's words could also be used to describe that 21st century "creature," the internet.)

It was an exciting time for any young person with a lively, curious mind. The world was changing quickly: in London automobiles were everywhere, hemlines were rising, women were entering the business world and universal suffrage was about to become law. Maisie absorbed all of this. In addition, as part of her duties, Maisie was required to contact famous authors and artists to see if they would agree to be part of the daily "Talks." Imagine her excitement, or the excitement of any young person of the time, when she is given the responsibility of telephoning Virginia Woolf, E.M. Forster, H.G. Wells, and P.G. Wodehouse, to name just a few.

"Radio Girls" is one of best novels I have read this year; it definitely is a book that lovers of historical fiction will want to read.

Print Length: 381 pages
Publisher: Berkley (June 14, 2016)
Publication Date: June 14, 2016
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Sunday, April 9, 2017

The End of Normal: A Wife's Anguish, A Widow's New Life, by Stephanie Madoff Mack

Stephanie Madoff Mack (she changed her name to Mack after Bernie Madoff went to jail) writes 272 pages about how she refuses to be a victim of Bernie Madoff, her father-in-all. That would be something to be proud of if she didn't spend much of her book writing about how much she has been victimized by Madoff, his wife, Ruth, and every other adult member of the Madoff family.

Mack's husband committed suicide, devastated at the constant attacks on his family and him. It was a tragedy, but Mack's narrative about closure is shockingly tone deaf. After having him cremated, Mack, who is not Jewish, divided up his ashes into little boxes which she offers to his Jewish ex-wife for their children to dispose of, and to his Jewish brother. When they tell her they want none of it, she makes zero effort to understand why not. She seems to have forgotten, or never bothered to learn, that Jewish people, even non-observant ones, do not like cremation, and certainly don't like the idea of little packages of ashes being doled out like candy.

To her credit, Mack does write a competent book about her family and its reaction to the Madoff scandal as it unfolds. Unfortunately, she devotes way too much of the book to discussing her own anger, and her own need for revenge, including devoting many pages to discussing the multiple letters she sent to Ruth and Bernie Madoff scolding them, blaming them, and informing them that she was cutting them out of her life and her children's lives. It's all too much drama and venom for this reader.

* Print Length: 272 pages
* Publisher: Plume; 1 edition (October 20, 2011)
* Publication Date: October 20, 2011
* Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Buzz Books 2017 Young Adult Spring/ Summer

Buzz Books is used by publishing insiders to decide which books to purchase ahead of publication. Their 2017 sampler of recently published or soon-to-be published Young Adult books offers some fascinating choices that young adults and their parents or older sibs will enjoy. Moreover, some of the covers are fabulous!

Don't take my word on this, this edition of Buzz Books is available for downloading free at

Here are just a few of the books that jumped out me.

FUTURE THREAT, by Albert Whitman & Elizabeth Briggs (Publisher: Albert Whitman Teen)

"Six months ago Aether Corporation sent Elena, Adam, and three other recruits on a trip to the future where they brought back secret information—but not everyone made it back to the present alive. Now Elena’s dealing with her survivor’s guilt and trying to make her relationship with Adam work. All she knows for sure is that she’s done with time travel and Aether Corporation."

* Print Length: 276 pages
* Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0807526843
* Publisher: AW Teen; 1 edition (March 1, 2017)
* Publication Date: March 1, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

DREAM ME, by Kathryn Berla (Publisher: Amberjack)

"Babe’s dreams of the perfect guy, Zat, seem so real that she willingly suffers extreme migraines for the chance to spend another night touring her memories and meeting her acquaintances with him. Zat, a dreamer from a time in the distant future when humans no longer dream, risks it all to travel back in time and live in Babe’s dreams."

* Paperback: 275 pages
* Publisher: Amberjack Publishing (July 11, 2017)

SPIRIT QUEST, by Jennifer Frick-Ruppert (Publisher: Amberjack)

"Skyco, an Algonquin boy, is heir to the great chief Menatonon, but he has much to learn before he can take his place within the tribe. He studies with the shaman Roncommock, who teaches him how to enter the spirit world and communicate with spirits and other animals, while he also learns practical skills of hunting, fishing, and starting a fire from other men in his village."

* Print Length: 271 pages
* Publisher: Amberjack Publishing (April 18, 2017)
* Publication Date: April 18, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

PIPER PERISH, by Kayla Cagan (Publisher: Chronicle Books)

"Piper Perish inhales air and exhales art. The sooner she and her best friends can get out of Houston and get to New York City, the better. Art school has been Piper’s dream her whole life, and now that senior year is halfway over, she’s never felt more ready. But in the final months before graduation, things are weird with her friends and stressful with three different guys, and Piper’s sister’s tyrannical mental state seems to thwart every attempt at happiness for the close-knit Perish family. Piper’s art just might be enough to get her out."

* Print Length: 416 pages
* Publisher: Chronicle Books LLC (March 7, 2017)
* Publication Date: March 7, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

HOW TO BE A SUPERVILLAIN, by Michael Fry (Publisher: JIMMY Patterson, an imprint of Hachette)

"Victor Spoil comes from a long line of famous supervillains and he’s fully expected to join their ranks one day. But to his family’s utter disappointment, Victor doesn’t have a single bad-guy bone in his body. He won’t run with scissors, he always finishes his peas, and he can’t stand to be messy. Hopeless!"

* Print Length: 320 pages
* Publisher: jimmy patterson (May 2, 2017)
* Publication Date: May 2, 2017
* Sold by: Hachette Book Group

LAUGH OUT LOUD, by James Patterson and Chris Grabenstein (Publisher: JIMMY Patterson, an imprint of Hachette)

"Jimmy loves reading so much that he’s inspired to start his own book company—as marvelous and fun as Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. It’s a big dream for a twelve-year-old boy—some would even say it’s laugh-out-loud ridiculous! But Jimmy’s doubters soon learn that he’s not the kind of kid who gives up easily."

* Print Length: 304 pages
* Publisher: jimmy patterson (August 28, 2017)
* Publication Date: August 28, 2017
* Sold by: Hachette Book Group

THE ONE MEMORY OF FLORA BANKS, by Emily Barr (Publisher: Philomel Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House)

"Seventeen-year-old Flora Banks has no short-term memory. Her mind resets itself several times a day, and has since the age of ten, when the tumor that was removed from Flora’s brain took with it her ability to make new memories. That is, until she kisses Drake, her best friend’s boyfriend, the night before he leaves town."

* Print Length: 304 pages
* Publisher: Philomel Books (May 2, 2017)
* Publication Date: May 2, 2017
* Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Gem & Dixie, by Sara Zarr (Publisher: Balzer + Bray, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books)

"Gem has never known what it is to have security. She’s never known an adult she can truly rely on. But the one constant in her life has been Dixie, the sister she’s taken care of when no one else could. Even as Gem and Dixie have grown apart, they’ve always had each other. When their dad returns home for the first time in years and tries to insert himself back into their lives, Gem finds herself with an unexpected opportunity: three days with Dixie—on their own in Seattle and beyond. But this short trip soon becomes something more, as Gem discovers that that to save herself, she may have to sever the one bond she’s tried so hard to keep."

* Print Length: 288 pages
* Publisher: Balzer + Bray (April 4, 2017)
* Publication Date: April 4, 2017
* Sold by: HarperCollins Publishers

Buzz Books 2017: Young Adult Spring/ Summer from Publishers Lunch. Copyright © 2017 by Cader Company Inc. All rights reserved.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Timeless Moments, by Michelle Kidd

In her debut novel, Michelle Kidd has written a time travel novel with a very clever plot. Jewel, a young, 19 year old woman, is married to a doctor who is well regarded in their city, Lynchburg, Virginia. Unfortunately, her husband is a crazed, abuser who believes that she is a witch and that he has to beat the "evil" out of her in the same way he beat his mother and sister. (We later learn that he killed both ladies.) It is 1917, a time when battered wives were expected to endure the abuse behind closed doors.

Help for Jewel comes from an unexpected place, the future. In 2014, Jack is restoring the same victorian house in which Jewel and her husband reside in 1917. He tries to help Jewel after he hears her crying in the garden. Afterwards, for several months, they are able to communicate with each other through letters, and because of what Jack tells her, she decides to leave her husband.

Jewel's story does not end here. Kidd introduces us to the work of a detective looking for a missing Jewel in 1917, and to his detective son who resumes the search in the 1950s, and she takes us to the battlefields of World War I, to 1967, and finally back to 2014. Notwithstanding this very complex plot, Kidd manages to keep us enthralled.

The plot is truly excellent for a first novel, but the writing style is not as sophisticated as the plot. I give this book four stars, and I look forward to Ms. Kidd's future work.

* Print Length: 423 pages
* Publisher: Kindle Press (November 29, 2016)
* Publication Date: November 29, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
* Language: English

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Silent Child, by Sarah A. Denzil

Sarah Denzil has written a fast-paced thriller that challenges what we believe about English village life. Using crisp, focused writing that avoids unnecessary verbiage and tiresome cliches, Denzil takes us on a rollercoaster ride that is impossible to stop until it reaches the end. The protagonist, Emma, is a 24 year old mother with a happy life. Her beloved son, six year old, Aiden, is a lively, bright little boy, and, his father, her high school boyfriend Rob, lives nearby. Emma thinks she knows everyone in her tiny, northern English village and she feels safe.

When a storm hits the area, the local Ouse River overflows. Aiden, for some unknown reason, leaves the safety of his school and drowns. To lose any child is a parent's worst fear, and Emma's life becomes an almost unbearable nightmare. Moreover, she has no closure because her boy's body has never been found. When Emma's parents are killed in an auto crash four years later, Emma cannot bear to live. Rob has left, and she has no family. During a suicide attempt, Emma is saved by Jake Hewitt, an art teacher ten years her senior. Fast forward six years, Emma is married to Jake and eight months pregnant. On her last day of work, she receives a call from the police detective who had investigated Aiden's death. He tells her that Aiden has been found alive and is in a local hospital, but he is mute and cannot tell them where he has been.

Although this book was a page turner that was hard to put down, Denzil opens several plot lines that seem to appear at random and are not closed. Nonetheless, Denzil successfully rips the masks off Emma's idyllic village and its inhabitants, exposing such evil and viciousness it is almost impossible to believe. I give this book four stars, and I recommend that any lover of absorbing, non-cozy English village mysteries read this book.

* Print Length: 417 pages
* Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
* Publication Date: January 22, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Monday, March 20, 2017

Forever a Hero: A Western Romance Novel (The Carsons of Mustang Creek), by Linda Lael Miller

"Forever a Hero" is Linda Lael Miller's third Carsons of Mustang Creek novel, and, once again, she proves she is a master storyteller. Her characters in this novel are slightly older and more wary than her usual protagonists. Kelly is sales agent for an international marketing firm that specializes in promoting small wine businesses. Divorced from a man who betrayed his earlier promises to her, Kelly has no desire to marry again anytime soon. Mace Carson is the owner of a family wine business in Mustang Creek, Wyoming, and he has no desire to hand over control of his business to Kelly's company. Mace is also the man that saved Kelly from a violent would-be rapist ten years earlier when both were college students in California. As Kelly and Mace butt heads and fall in love, we meet the wonderful, slightly eccentric members of the Carson family, and the very eccentric citizens of Mustang Creek. Love is the operative word in this delightful novel. Love of family including the four legged variety and those related by friendship, not blood, and love of fellow humans. As Mace says to Kelly while trying to convince her to take a leap of faith and love again:

“Seems to me if there’s one hope of pulling this world out of the soup, well, that hope is love. Wide-open, hell-bent-for-election, take-no-prisoners love. Sure, it’s risky, putting your heart out there, but if we don’t take the chance, you and me and everybody else who gives a damn, then that’s it. Game over, lights out. The dark side wins and everything gets a hell of a lot worse.”

I give this novel five stars, plus, and I hope we meet the citizens of Mustang Creek again.

(In return for an honest review, I received an advance copy from the publisher via NetGalley.)

* Print Length: 400 pages
* Publisher: HQN Books (April 1, 2017)
* Publication Date: March 21, 2017
* Sold by: Harlequin Digital Sales Corp.

When We Rise, My Life in the Movement , By Cleve Jones,* Reviewed by Nicholas F. Benton**

Cleve Jones is the author of the current best-selling book, When We Rise, My Life in the Movement (New York, Hachette Books, 2016) that formed the basis for the recent TV mini-series by the same name on ABC. This memoir of his life in the gay movement is unique for the first-person, eye-witness, up close and personal accounts it provides by a close associate of San Francisco's legendary gay icon Harvey Milk. It offers spellbinding descriptions of Milk's influence, his horrific assassination in November 1978, and of Jones' growing role in the LGBT movement since.

Jones, who invented the idea for the Names Quilts response to the AIDS crisis in the 1980s that brought home the personal dimension of the epidemic, had a major role as a consultant in the making of the 2008 Academy Award winning film, Milk, when he parlayed his friendships with its screenwriter Justin Lance Black and producer Gus Van Sant into an extraordinary portrayal of Milk's career. Sean Penn won an Academy Award for his portrayal of Milk, Emile Hirsch portrayed Jones, who approved of the choice (“except that I am taller,” he wrote), and Black won an Oscar for his script.

In fact, Jones was sitting with Black at the February 2009 Academy Awards ceremony when Black won the Oscar and delivered an acceptance speech that was a first of its kind. Speaking openly of being gay, himself, Black said in words that was an amazing affirmation to millions watching on TV, “If Harvey Milk had not been taken away from us 30 years ago, I think he'd want me to say to all the gay and lesbian kids out there who have been told that they are less by their churches, by the government, or by their families that you are beautiful, wonderful creatures of value and that no matter what anyone tells you, God does love you and that very soon, I promise you, you will have equal rights federally, across this great nation of ours.”

Jones wrote that “I watched from my seat and could not stop crying,” just like myself, and millions of other Americans, I am certain, including LGBT persons of all ages, their loving families, friends and supporters. It marked after 31 years a national redemption for the murder of Milk and a prescient forecast of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling that confirmed that the equal protection under the law guarantee of the U.S. Constitution does, indeed, extend to LGBT persons, including to their right to marry, on June 25, 2015, another day I could not stop crying.

In Jones' memoir, he writes about how the young, post-Stonewall gay movement
“saved my life, twice:” first, in 1971, “as a frightened teenager, when I learned of the gay liberation movement and flushed down the pills I had hoarded to end my life,” and again in 1994 “when I was dying of AIDS,” when “the movement stormed the Food and Drug Administration, confronted the pharmaceutical industry's greed, and exposed the shameful lack of government response” leading to a life-saving treatment regimen for the epidemic that had killed 600,000 other mostly gay males in the U.S. The LGBT movement, he wrote, “saved my life and gave it purpose and connected me to other people who also sought love and purpose in their lives.”

But Jones' eyewitness to the LGBT movement was not without plenty of pain, including the Milk assassination and the AIDS epidemic. His vivid and penetrating recollections of these experiences and so much more make his book one of the more important contributions to the growing library of indispensable LGBT literary works.

I don't recall, but I have a strong sense that I met the young Jones, who escaped his family to show up as a teenager in San Francisco in 1972. I was still in the midst of my most energetic gay activism at that same time. I co-founded the Berkeley, Calif., chapter of the Gay Liberation Front and was a major contributor to the Berkeley Barb and Gay Sunshine counterculture newspapers. Jones wrote, “In those days, one could probably count the number of self-described 'gay rights activists' on the fingers of two hands.” Well, one of those fingers belonged to me.

He was 18 then, and I about 10 years older, and we traveled in the same neighborhoods of downtown San Francisco then, from Market Street, to the Tenderloin to Polk Street, from the front of Flagg Brothers and the lunch counter at Woolworth's, to Ritch Street and Bob's Burgers.

He was known as the “class sissy” in Phoenix before coming to San Francisco, and I was described as one among “offbeat liberation fairies” by the openly-gay San Francisco Chronicle Randy Shilts in his book, The Mayor of Castro Street, the Life and Times of Harvey Milk (1982), because my politics was more radical than simply a call for equality.

Fast forward to 1977, as the ABC mini-series did, Jones returned after long periods of travel, to volunteer for the first Milk campaign running for the San Francisco Supervisors from a particular district (encompassing the Castro and Haight), Milk's first and only electoral victory.

Jones' recollections of that campaign and the subsequent incredibly politically-dense period that followed are the most compelling part of his book, from the demonstrations and riots all the way to a vivid, stomach-churning description of the slain Milk's body as it lay for hours on his City Hall office floor.

Jones' memoir skips over other important years, namely 1983-1984, when controversies over how to react to the massive and horrible deaths from AIDS that claimed so many gay men before anything like a cure was found. The pain and panic was too great, perhaps, although Shilts, in his And the Band Played On: Politics, People and the AIDS Epidemic chronicle of the AIDS epidemic published in 1987, wrote that Jones had reluctantly aligned with those in the San Francisco gay leadership who called for the closing of the bathhouses.

By Jones' own account, he seldom shied away from taking strong and controversial positions in the often-contentious gay movement. To this day, he remains on his feet, so to speak, to present one more gift to his catalogs of enormous contributions to the movement, his new memoir. We can expect that much more is still to come.

Print Length: 305 pages
Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0316315435
Publisher: Hachette Books (November 29, 2016)
Publication Date: November 29, 2016
Sold by: Hachette Book Group


** Nicholas F. Benton is the owner and editor of The Falls Church News Press. He is also the author of
Extraordinary Hearts: Reclaiming Gay Sensibility's Central Role in the Progress of Civilization

Friday, March 17, 2017

A Dog's Purpose, by Bruce Cameron.

I haven't seen the movie version of "A Dog's Purpose," but I am going to go out on a limb and insist that, if you love dogs, you read this book whether you go to see the film or not. It will answer every question you have ever had about a beloved dog. It will make you smile much more than it will make you weep, but be prepared for the tears.

The narrator is Bailey, a dog who is reincarnated as a dog many times over the fifty year-time span covered by the book. He has different names in different lifetimes, and he comes back as different dog breeds (and genders), but in every lifetime he seeks to be a "good dog."

One beloved human boy, Ethan, is very special to Bailey, and they take care of each other starting when Ethan is 8 years old. When, as a very old dog, Bailey must move on, college age Ethan, holds him and weeps. Bailey never forgets his love for Ethan in lifetime after lifetime.

Bailey is not a human who woke up as a dog, he is a dog who always wakes up as a dog, and who always seeks a human to love. Bruce Cameron channels Bailey so brilliantly, it makes me wonder if perhaps he, like Dean Spanley, remembers his own prior life as a dog. I was deeply moved by this book. Please read it, your dog will thank you.

Print Length: 334 pages
Publisher: Forge Books; Reprint edition (June 29, 2010)
Publication Date: July 6, 2010
Sold by: Macmillan

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Renegade's Pride, by B.J. Daniels

As usual, B.J. Daniels, the master storyteller, has created a town, a ranch and a whole slew of interesting characters who keep you glued to the book until the end. Housework, job, sleep? Pffft. Forget that stuff if you have a B.J. Daniels novel in your hands!

Print Length: 384 pages
Publisher: HQN Books (March 1, 2017)
Publication Date: February 28, 2017
Sold by: Harlequin Digital Sales Corp.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

The Gaudí Tour, by Raul Fattore

Raul Fattore's "The Gaudí Tour" should be mandatory reading for any tourist who visits Barcelona. Published as part of Mr. Fattore's "Barcelona on a Budget" series, the book provides a "[s]elf-guided tour with clear turn-by-turn instructions to discover 15 Gaudí works in Barcelona, including all the tips and secrets to do it on a budget." For each of these works, the book provides a history and detailed description, information on any mass transportation to the building, street by street instructions on getting there via a YouTube linked-video guide, the hours the building is open, whether the admission is free or discounted, and a list of places to visit nearby. While the book is available in paperback, the ebook format, capable of being downloaded to a smart phone, is especially convenient for a visitor who wants to limit the amount or weight of cargo to carry while touring Barcelona.

This is a book that introduces the visitor to Barcelona and its important Gaudí buildings. While I would prefer to see more photos of the buildings in the guide, since it not a treatise on architecture or art, additional photos may not be necessary. "The Gaudí Tour" is a valuable, very helpful tool to be used when visiting Barcelona.

(In exchange for an honest review, I received a review copy of this book.)
Print Length: 138 pages
Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited
Publication Date: October 31, 2016
Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Obsession, by Nora Roberts

Nora Roberts never disappoints. Naomi Bowes was the daughter of the most prolific, gruesome serial murderer of the 21st century. She didn't know it, however, until she was 12 and saved one of his victims. As a result of her actions, her father's killing spree ended and he was sent to prison for life. Seventeen years later, Naomi ends a nomadic existence and settles down in the small town of Sunrise Cove. She has become a successful and very gifted photographer. All is going well for her until the killings, identical to her father's, begin. Roberts is a wonderful storyteller who brings both exqusite character development and fascinating plot to her novels, and this novel proves it. Romance, art, mystery and the joy of good friends are all part of "The Obsession," I could not put it down.

Print Length: 464 pages
Publisher: Berkley (April 12, 2016)
Publication Date: April 12, 2016
Sold by: Penguin Group (USA) LLC

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Father's Big Improvements 
By Caroline Dwight Emerson

Caroline Dwight Emerson wrote this delightful book in 1936. Her clear intention was to demonstrate to the children of 1936 that the modern conveniences they took for granted were not always there. Indeed, 1936's modern conveniences were astonishing new inventions to children in the 1880s and 1890s.

In the 1880s and 1890s, the Marshall family was like everyone else in their town. Their house had been built in 1792 by great grandfather Marshall, and grandma thought it was perfect as is. Father, however, wanted indoor running water. So, the house was torn up while the pipes were installed. When the plumbers left there was an indoor bathroom where an old bedroom used to be! Father did not know, however, that pipes burst if they freeze during the winter. Next Father had a furnace installed to replace the old stoves in each room. But Jimmy Marshall forgot that he put his coat over the chimney while rescuing his kite, and the house filled with smoke.

Then Father wanted electricity, and the house was again torn up. When relatives came for Christmas, all the new lights were turned on, and from a distance the relatives thought the house was on fire! It was so much brighter than any other house on the street. Next, Father had a telephone installed and Mother complained that it rang constantly since each house was assigned a different number of rings and calls often rang in the wrong house.

Finally, Father bought an automobile, but it stoped working because Father did not know it needed refills of gasoline. Notwithstanding all of the initial problems with the new technologies, Jimmy and his sister Nan were excited over each new addition to the house, and the entire town was astonished at these modern miracles.

Ms. Emerson was born in 1891, so it's a sure bet that she was writing about her memories as a child. By 1936, electricity, indoor plumbing, central heating, telephones and automobiles were very common. Nonetheless, imagine the reaction of a 1936-child to the technology of 2017, and you will understand how incredible new technologies appeared to an 1890's child. Would Mr. Marshall be excited over the internet or cable television or smart phones or airplanes? I think so, but this would be a good question to ask after a child has read this book.

The book is out of print, but used copies can be bought from Amazon or Abe Books or other used book sellers. It also is for sale as a scanned version from, and it is available on the Open Library ('s_big_improvements). The book was reprinted at least three times in 1960s (and, as a child, I read and adored one of those reprints), so there are many used copies available. Hopefully, the publisher will one day in the near future re-release it.

Published 1965 by Scholastic Book Services, New York.

Monday, February 13, 2017

Forgotten Women, by Freda Lightfoot

The Spanish Civil War was a bloody fight that lasted from 1936 to 1939, and was fought between the Republicans who favored democracy, and the Nationalists, self-described fascists led by General Franco. Although much has been written about the men who fought this war, including General Franco, who ruled until his death in 1975, very little has been written about the women who kept the fighters on both sides of the battle alive through their nursing and their farming. It is these forgotten women that Freda Lightfoot focuses on in her novel of the same title. In truth, the novel is centered on the stories of four forgotten women. Two of them, Charlie and Libby, left Scotland in 1937 to provide support in Spain. The third woman is Rosita, a Spanish Republican, who found herself in the middle of the war married to a brutal fascist. The fourth woman is Jo, Libby's Scottish granddaughter who, in 1986, inadvertently instigates the unraveling of fifty year old mysteries when she displays in her art gallery an old painting that she found in her grandmother's attic. Lightfoot tells their stories in pieces. Some of the pieces belong to the 1930s, and some belong to 1986. All of the pieces are connected to each other and are interwoven with mysteries, love affairs and stories of deceit, betrayal and murder. This is a book that was hard to put down.

(I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

* Print Length: 384 pages
* Publisher: Lake Union Publishing (September 6, 2016)
* Publication Date: September 6, 2016
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Friday, February 3, 2017

Dream Big, by Kat Kronenberg

"Dream Big" is an extraordinary children's book that successfully transports the reader, young and old, to the magical time when life was forming and changing "in the wilds of East Africa, when the savannas were new." In the hot orange of the daytime, to the music of cynical Baboon's drum beat, Caterpillar longs to fly, Tadpole longs to dance, Flamingo longs to be beautiful, and Termite longs for a home. Cynical Baboon laughs and sneers at them, until, during the cool blue of the evening,"Whoosh Wham You Can Be Anything" flies across the night sky, and, because they believe that, Caterpillar grows wings to fly and becomes Butterfly, Tadpole grows legs to dance and becomes Frog, Flamingo turns pink and becomes Beautiful, and Termite creates a home filled with friends and family.

I fell in love with the incredible illustrations first, then I fell in love with the poetry of the story. If you haven't guessed already, I love this book and I wish I could give it more than five stars.

(I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

* Print Length: 21 pages
* Publisher: Greenleaf Book Group Press (January 10, 2017)
* Publication Date: January 10, 2017
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Monday, January 30, 2017

When, by Victoria Laurie

Maddie is 16 and has an incredible gift. She knows the date a person will die by reading numbers on their forehead that only she can see. When Maddie was much younger, her policeman father died in a shootout with a drug gang. Unable to warn him because at that time she didn't understand the numbers she saw on his head, Maddie has felt guilty ever since and her mother has drowned herself in bottles of vodka. Unable to hold onto a job, she and Maddie have relied on funds provided by her uncle Donny, an attorney. In order to get extra money to cover her vodka needs, her mother has hired Maddie out for "death date" readings. When one of Maddie's clients freaks out at the death date assigned her son, and her son is then murdered on that date, Maddie's world comes crashing down.

Victoria Laurie's writing is clear, crisp, focused and appropriate for high school age and older.

* Age Range: 12 - 17 years
* Grade Level: 7 - 12
* Paperback: 336 pages
* Publisher: Disney-Hyperion; Reprint edition (September 6, 2016)

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Rise: How a House Built a Family, by Cara Brookins

Cara Brookins and her young children rose from being victims of terrible domestic abuse by building their own beautiful home. Relying on YouTube DIY videos, they built a sanctuary, called Inkwell Manor, one concrete block and one piece of plywood at a time, without the help of a building contractor. Cara tells their story in her memoir, "Rise."

Her family had been the victims of two domestic abusers, both ex-husbands. One, Adam, a paranoid-schizophrenic, who, despite a divorce, and restraining orders, still managed to terrify the family by making death threats, chasing their car, torturing their dog, rearranging furniture and leaving psychotic messages. The second man, Matt, had subjected Cara to frequent violent, life-threatening rages and, as most batterers do, blamed Cara for his rages.

Cara describes the abuse in chapters interspersed with others describing the building of the house. At first, the lack of chronological order was a little confusing. Nonetheless, since Cara's story is not linear, the way she unfolds it makes sense. Her family had been deeply scarred by the abuse. Removing the abusers from their life did not, by itself, remove the fear or the scars. Building their house together, however, as rough and exhausting as it was, helped to exorcise the bad experiences. Indeed, placing the abuse stories between chapters describing the building of their home seems akin to burning sage in a new house to remove bad karma.

During the build, the family's transformation from victims to joyful house builders was not without humor. Astonished to learn that a neighbor could save them days of work by cutting out the windows and doors with a chainsaw, Cara writes: "Five minutes later, he fired up his chain saw in my bedroom. I shook my head: There’s a thing not every girl can say with a straight face."

At the end of the day, Cara's memoir makes clear that she and her children dealt head on with the many hardships and obstacles that came their way, and they succeeded in a task that many thought was impossible, they built themselves a home.

(I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)
Hardcover: 320 pages
Publisher: St. Martin's Press (January 24, 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1250095662

Cara Brookins in the library she and her children built.

Inkwell Manor

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Mystery Mile (Albert Campion), by Margery Allingham

Albert Campion, eccentric gentleman investigator, made his first starring appearance, along with Magersfontein Lugg, his butler/valet/bodyguard, in this novel, first published in 1930. While onboard a ship, Campion saves the life of an American judge and learns from him and his adult children, that there have been several other attempts. Although at first they think he is a buffoon, the Americans ask for his help in desperation after yet another attempt on the judge's life. Intent on finding a safe refuge for his new acquaintances/clients while he brings down the would-be murderers, Campion convinces his oldest friends, Biddy and Giles, to lease the Americans their out-of-the-way Manor House located in the rural village of Mystery Mile, somewhere on the marshy coast of Suffolk, England.

Originally intended to be a comic version of Dorothy Sayer's detective, Lord Peter Whimsey, Allingham apparently grew attached to her creation and, as a result, Campion is more British eccentric than clown. Although he speaks with an English school-boy, P.G. Wodehouse-type of jargon, there is no question that Allingham created a smart character capable of great emotion. Similarly Campion's "man," Lugg, a rough and tumble cockney, Great War veteran with few manners, is no comic figure. Instead, when least expected, he shows himself to be a man with hidden depths. When the judge disappears and key villagers succumb to an unexplainable kind of evil miasma, Campion and Lugg use all of their talents to unravel a dense mystery and save the American's life.

Reading one of Margery Allingham's Campion mysteries is like escaping to a time between the wars where you have nothing more pressing to do than lounge in a well-worn comfy chair on a sunny day in a well-stocked library, with tea and biscuits. I was sorry the book ended.

(I received this copy from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.)

* Print Length: 226 pages
* Publisher: Bloomsbury Reader; 1 edition (May 6, 2014)
* Publication Date: May 6, 2014
* Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Buzz Books 2017: Spring/Summer: Exclusive Excerpts from 40 Top New Titles,* By Publishers Lunch

Buzz Books 2017 is an amazing menu of the new books that will be released this spring and summer. Take a look yourself: Publishers Lunch has made this gorgeous list available for free at any major ebookstore or at

It would take weeks for me to synopsize the hundreds of great books listed and excerpted in this Buzz Books for Spring/Summer, so I will focus on a few of the forthcoming books that I am anxious to read and review.

The Marsh King’s Daughter, by Karen Dionne (G.P. Putnam’s Sons). The protagonist, Helena Pelletier, has a great family and a successful business, but all of that is at risk when she learns that her father has escaped from prison. This father abducted and raped her mother when she was a teenager, then kept both mother and child prisoner for many years. With echoes of the Jaycee Dugan story, this novel appears to have much to say.

Soleri, by Michael Johnston (Tor). Michael Johnston promises an elaborate, vast story that is based both on ancient Egyptian history and King Lear, and that involves "a world of ancient and elaborate rites, of unseen power and kingdoms ravaged by war, where victory comes with a price, and every truth conceals a deeper secret."

The Mystery Knight: A Graphic Novel,
by Ben Avery (Adapter), George R. R. Martin (Author), (Bantam). Billed as prequel to The Game of Thrones, this book is sure to be a bestseller.

Come Sundown, by Nora Roberts( St. Martin’s Press). Nora Roberts has written another blockbuster of a stand alone novel. An aunt, long considered dead, suddenly appears at her family's ranch in Montana. Her appearance resurrects old mysteries, and her dark past seems to be the reason murders are being committed.

The Road to Jonestown: Jim Jones and Peoples Temple, by Jeff Guinn, (Simon & Schuster). The same author who wrote about Charles Manson now takes on Jim Jones, the man responsible for the Jonestown Massacre, which is still considered the largest murder-suicide in American history. I think this is a book that will challenge what we know about Jim Jones and cults in general.

The Velveteen Daughter: A Novel
by Laurel Davis Huber (She Writes Press). This novel is about Margery Williams Bianco, the author of The Velveteen Rabbit, and her daughter Pamela. Although fictionalized, it is based on a true story.

The Radium Girls: They paid with their lives. Their final fight was for justice, by Kate Moore (Sourcebooks). Although they were assured that radium was safe, many women who thought they were helping America in the WWI effort, lost their health and their lives. This is a story that is long overdue.

I'd Die For You: And Other Lost Stories
by F. Scott Fitzgerald (Author), Anne Margaret Daniel (Editor) (Scribner). Apparently, F. Scott Fitzgerald was not finished with society, and these new stories echoing his take on his wife and the social mores of the 1920s and 1930s, just might have a greater impact today than if they were published 80 years ago.

Dragon Teeth: A Novel , by Michael Crichton (Harper). Yes, you read that correctly. A new Michael Crichton novel has been recently discovered and it is being published posthumously. And it is about the Old West in 1876, and "two monomaniacal paleontologists [who] pillage the Wild West, hunting for dinosaur fossils, while surveilling, deceiving and sabotaging each other in a rivalry that will come to be known as the Bone Wars." This novel is sure to spark the interest of the millions of viewers who loved HBO's remake of Crichton's "Westworld."

Fallout: A V.I. Warshawski Novel (V.I. Warshawski Novels), by Sara Paretsky (William Morrow). V.I. Warshawski is back with a new case that will lead her and her dog "from her native Chicago... and into Kansas, on the trail of a vanished film student and a faded Hollywood star."

The Painted Queen: A Novel,
by Elizabeth Peters (Author), Joan Hess (Author) (William Morrow)
This is the final book in the wonderful mystery series involving Amelia Peabody and her archeologist husband, Radcliffe Emerson. In this installment, we travel back to Egypt in 1912, to search for a stolen bust of Queen Nefertiti.

(*In return for an honest review, I received Buzz Books 2017: Spring/Summer via NetGalley.)