Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Tucson Festival of Books

Last year, I went to Phoenix for Left Coast Crime, and I realized how much I missed Arizona in March. Well, let's face it, I always miss Arizona. But, I'm going back this year. I've also missed the Tucson Festival of Books. It's a two-day festival held on the campus of the University of Arizona. And, it's wonderful.

The list of authors goes on and on. Cara Black, Donis Casey, Craig Johnson, Terry Shames are just a few of the mystery authors. Authors such as Brunonia Barry, Alice Hoffman, Paulette Jiles, Lisa See, Douglas Brinkley, David Maraniss, Richard Reeves, Amy Dickinson.

I'm moderating a panel on the Sunday of the event. It's called Deadly Debuts, and features Gina Wohlsdorf, author of Security, and Hester Young, author of The Gates of Evangeline and The Shimmering Road. Those books are next on my TBR pile.

Then, when the festival is over, and I'm back in the Phoenix area for a couple days, I'll grab the opportunity to go to The Poisoned Pen and see Jacqueline Winspear.

In the meantime, the 70 degree temperatures we've had here are just giving me a taste of heat. I'm looking forward to a March long weekend in Arizona.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Happy Hollisters

The Stratemeyer Syndicate published more than Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys, the Bobbsey Twins
and Tom Swift. They published a series of thirty-three books by "Jerry West", whose real name was Andrew E. Svenson. My sister, Linda, and I devoured these books on a camping trip. Our public library only had the first book, but Linda's best friend, Patty, owned the series. Linda told me recently that she was always envious of Patty since she owned those books.

But, one summer, we were going on a month-long trip. We were each allowed fifteen books, so Linda and I made sure we took books that the other person wanted to read. Patty was kind enough to lend us some of the Happy Hollister books. The books had titles such as The Happy Hollisters and the Ice Carnival Mystery (set in Quebec) and The Happy Hollisters and the Haunted House Mystery.

Pete, Pam, Ricky, Holly, and Sue. They ranged in age from twelve down to four, the ages of the expected readers. The children in the family were modeled on Svenson's own children. But, the mysteries! The Happy Hollister mysteries were for a younger audience than Nancy Drew, up to about age twelve. The family traveled, but even in the first book, when they moved to their new home, there was a mystery. And, the children became amateur sleuths.

The first book in the series was The Happy Hollisters. The books were written from 1953 to 1969. Since Linda and I were reading them in the sixties, we were the perfect audience for these mysteries. The rights were given to the family after Svenson's death in 1975, and, beginning in 2010, the estate started reissuing the books.

Now, they have a new website, and a new place to discover these books. It's at www.The These illustrated mysteries bring back such wonderful memories of sharing them with Linda on our trip.

So, how many of you read The Happy Hollisters? I know they're not as well known as the other books from the Stratemeyer Syndicate. But, these books set me on the path of becoming a mystery reader.

Monday, February 20, 2017

"In the Bleak Midwinter"

No, unfortunately, I'm not running that series on my blog. I'm also the blogger for The Poisoned Pen Bookstore, and I've been running that series on their blog. Craig Johnson is the guest author over there today. I asked a few authors to recommend some titles for winter reading, with the theme "In the Bleak Midwinter". Since I was working all weekend, and haven't had a chance to read anything for the blog, I'm going to refer you to that site. Scroll through some of the posts for the month, and find the ones that say, "In the Bleak Midwinter". It's at, and click on blog.

In the meantime, it will be a couple days until I'm up to speed here again. Thanks for giving me the time.

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Have You Heard? - Latte Trouble by Cleo Coyle

“Have You Heard?” is a column featured only on Lesa’s Book Critiques.  It features many reviews of audiobooks (fiction, with a concentration in mysteries) but these reviews will include recent and past books for an interesting mixture of titles. Content is usually written by Sandie Herron.  It also covers news of note and not generally available, such as ASAP publishing a limited edition for a certain author or perhaps something important out of Publisher’s Weekly.  The column is published sporadically, so you’ll want to watch for it! Trouble
Coffee House Mystery #3
Written by Cleo Coyle, Narrated by Rebecca Gibel
Unabridged Audiobook, Listening Length: 8 hours and 7 minutes
Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc. Release Date: November 9, 2011
ASIN: B00654G23Y

The third coffee house mystery was an intriguing trip through the various facets of the fall Fashion Week in Manhattan.  One of the most famous and accomplished designers literally designed her new line of jewelry based on the coffee bean while visiting the Village Blend coffee house.  Lotte Harmon insisted on opening the show at the Village Blend.

The show's debut was a huge success with patrons squeezing into every available nook.  Customers out numbered staff, so a special drink was prepared with soy and destined for Lotte Harmon.   It was a disaster when another thirsty customer swiped her drink from the serving tray.  He took a large swig and began to turn pink, convulse, and died in rapid succession.  The victim's mate also had a sip, but CPR was begun and an ambulance called, so he never got completely oxygen deprived.

Was this a deliberate poisoning?  Who was the intended victim?  Lotte or the man who died?  And who added the poison to the drink?  Cops circled the scene and focused on Tucker, the barista who made the drink and attempted to serve it to Miss Harmon.  Clare Cosi, manager of the blend doubted Tucker was guilty but had no alibi to prove his innocence. Tucker was sent to Ryker's Island prison for safekeeping.  

Clare quickly began her own investigation. She went with a disguise and the owner of The Blend to a formal reception on a business rival's yacht all a twitter about Lotte's return to build her line again.  Clare's ex-husband Matte ended up in a fight on the yacht, pointing out another suspect.

Clare kept believing in Tucker and continued building her case.  Answers were unexpected and the ties between them also surprising.  The suspects had been alluded to early in the story yet it was done so casually and slipped in so well that I easily forgot the solution right in front of me!  A very enjoyable and recommended read.

Reviewed by Sandie Herron

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth

If you're a fan of the issue-oriented novels of Jodi Picoult or Lisa Genova, you might want to try Sally Hepworth's The Mother's Promise. I'll admit, it was a difficult book for me to get through. But, I'm a wimp who likes even my mysteries to end on a satisfying note. These three authors write realistic stories that don't always have happy endings.

Zoe Stanhope suffers from social anxiety disorder. From the time she went to kindergarten, she experiences panic. Her first slumber party was a disaster. And, whether or not they're actually looking at her, Zoe always feels as if people are staring at her. As a teenager, it's worse than ever. She reluctantly agrees to go on a double date with her best friend, only to crash at the last minute. It's her mother, Alice, who has always been there for her. As a single mom, Alice understands her daughter's fears and needs. She's Zoe's safety net. And, then Alice is diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. It's only then that Zoe's mother realizes there is no other safety net for Zoe.

Alice has to turn to two other women for help, but they are needy themselves. And, one of them causes a crisis in Zoe's world when she intervenes. It's a story that allows the three women, and Zoe, to face their fears, and deal with their problems. Without going into detail, these women have innumerable issues.

The Mother's Promise is an emotionally intense, heart wrenching story. It's a novel with a bittersweet ending, featuring women who have to step up with courage. I wouldn't have read the novel if I hadn't been reviewing it for a journal, and, I won't say I'm "happy" that I read it. But, The Mother's Promise fulfilled Hepworth's intention. Her story is about the strength of a mother's love, and what she'll do for her child.

Sally Hepworth's website is

The Mother's Promise by Sally Hepworth. St. Martin's Press. 2017. ISBN 9781250077752 (hardcover), 336p.

FTC Full Disclosure - I received the book to review it for a journal.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Winners and a 1920s British Giveaway

Congratulations to the winners of the last giveaway. Copies of Terry Shames' An Unsettling Crime for Samuel Craddock will be going to Andi D. from Phoenix, AZ and Elaine R. from Jamesville, NC. The books are going out in the mail today.

This week, I'm giving away mysteries set in the 1920s in England. In Carola Dunn's Requiem for a Mezzo, the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple attends a performance of Verdi's Requiem with Detective Chief Inspector Alec Fletcher. But, the pleasant performance is disrupted when the mezzo-soprano falls dead onstage. There are a number of suspects, and Daisy is determined to help Fletcher, whether he wants help or not.

Frances Brody brings us Murder on a Summer's Day. When the India Office needs help in finding Maharajah Narayan, last seen hunting on the Bolton Abbey estate, they call on renowned amateur detective Kate Shackleton to investigate. But, the missing persons case turns to murder. And, there's a  missing valuable diamond. Vengeance takes many forms as Kate discovers as she digs into the case.

Which mystery would you like to win? You can enter to win both, but I need separate entries. With such long titles, we'll use the authors' names for this giveaway. Email me at Your subject heading should read either "Win Dunn" or "Win Brody." Please include your name and mailing address. Entries from the U.S. only, please. The giveaway will end Thursday, Feb. 23 at 6 PM CT.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Montgomery Rabbit by Sandy Little

Sandy Little's juvenile book, Montgomery Rabbit, has won several awards for early readers from various independent publishing groups, including an IPPY bronze medal. Second or third graders could read the book, but anyone would enjoy the story of a rabbit who falls into an adventure. The illustrations by David Wenzel are stunning.

Montgomery Rabbit is a lop-eared rabbit who lives in an enclosed yard. A young girl in dusty boots brings him raspberries in a silver bowl. He is quite content until the day she was late. He grows restless, and when he hears a rustle outside the hole in the fence, he peers through it. On the other side, he sees a gray field rabbit. His curiosity turns into an accidental adventure when he falls through the hole, and can't get back. He tries following the rabbit, but when he wears himself out, he stops in an open spot. The rabbit warns him he could be picked off by a hawk by sitting there. When Bentley, the field rabbit, introduces himself, the two are on the way to friendship.

The book is a story of friendship, of adventure as the two rabbit search for a fabled raspberry patch. Along the way, they have to help each other. They also find others along the way who guide them. Little's first book is a charming story of two strangers who develop a friendship despite their different appearances, different backgrounds, and different experiences. It's an interesting tool for discussion of differences and similarities with children.

Montgomery Rabbit is a delightful book to read with children. It's a book with such a subtle message that it can be read just as an enjoyable story. As I said, it's an award-winning book. But, before you pick up the book, I urge you to check it out on Amazon (have you ever seen me say that?), where you can see some of Wenzel's illustrations for this book. As enjoyable as the story is, the illustrations add so much. They're lush, beautiful pictures that add to the warmth of the story.

Montgomery Rabbit by Sandy Little. Illustrations by David Wenzel. Dog Ear Publishing. 2015. ISBN 9781457542923 (hardcover), 76p.

FTC Full Disclosure - The author sent me a copy of the book, hoping I would review it.