Category Archives: Mystery

Book Review: SKETCHER IN THE RYE by Sharon Pape

Publisher: InterMix

Published: December 13, 2013

Format: ebook (260 pages)

ASIN: B00AVA4NH0  

Series: A Portrait of Crime Mystery

Origin: Publisher through NetGalley (egalley)

***Though the publisher provides the free book, I offer the opinion.***

 

My Look:

Hobo has disappeared on Harper Farms, and even though Hobo is a dog not a ghost, Rory McCain is worried.  The otherworldliness of her life is enough to make anyone crazy, but she’s gotten used to it, sort of.  But Hobo is somewhere loose on a working farm on a cold November day and could get hurt or worse. 

Soon, Rory’s delight in finding the dog was outmatched by the dog that was all over her despite his recent mud bath with the pigs.  After the embarrassing incident, she had the pleasure of bumping back into the man who had just hired her private detective agency for a case of industrial farm espionage.

Gil Harper was a man who held money as no object in solving this case and whose loyalty didn’t protect his family.  Rory was told to investigate everyone, including all of his family members, and Gil openly declared his belief that anyone of them could be the culprit.  She was already racing the clock when she had another race with Hobo.  This stinky mud covered creature didn’t weave back to the love of his life in the pigpen, but instead he dove into the corn maze. She had managed to keep up and maintain a slight hold upon his leash until she stumbled.  Now, her dog was lost again.  

She tried to follow the sounds of Hobo’s insistent barking which seemed to be deflected by their current environment.

Meanwhile, Hobo’s noise was akin to an alert that went viral for trouble.  Almost lost inside the maze,  she was finally able to track her dog, but trouble wasn’t all he found.

Now, how was she going to explain another dead body in her presence?  Her friend, Leah, is still with the police and doesn’t treat her as a traitor for leaving the PD, but this isn’t how most of them feel.  Let’s just say professional courtesy isn’t usually extended to private detectives anyway, but a stranger in town would garner more than an ex police officer in this town. 

Maybe all wasn’t lost.  If this man on the ground had a pulse, all she’d have to do was call in an emergency.  Rory knelt and was able to quickly determine a coroner’s wagon would outweigh the chance an ambulance would suffice, and Rory and ghost partner Zeke had more than one case to solve.  However, her ghostly partner wasn’t the easiest to work with, on many occasions.

Picture an 18th century Western Federal Marshal working with a modern woman.  Got that picture?  Okay, now add to that having to make sure when this said partner disappears, he’s not up to something that the living can see.  Yeah, Rory’s only problem on this case wasn’t going to be the cold shoulder of the police department.

She couldn’t leave the dead man here, right?  No.  She did what any civic-minded citizen would do.  She called her best friend at the police department.  Suddenly, the disembodied voice of her partner accused her of creating more trouble, but when she turned, Zeke was here in person, wearing the duds from yesteryear looking like anyone else.  Yeah, this was going to mean trouble for sure.  

 

My Take:

Sharon Pape’s SKETCHER IN THE RYE a cozy mystery wrapped inside a ghost story that will keep you turning pages!

I enjoyed sleuthing with Rory McCain.  She is a former police sketch artist with a penchant for murder, crime, and ghosts, but she is able to draw the who, discover the why, and prove it all too.   Zeke is a Federal Marshal and a character all to himself.  However, his ghostly image becomes human through his story too.  He’s a man who has solved murders,  put away the criminals, and loved.  He is also a man who lost his love before he lost his life.  

These two detectives make an exceptional tag team in crime, but their backgrounds can add some problems in the mix.

SKETCHER IN THE RYE by Sharon Pape takes us inside her great family ties, some growing pains, and more than a few family dysfunctional situations to solve a crime, save a life, and discover who did it.  However, you’ll just find yourself wanting to read more of her titles in this series, SKETCH ME IF YOU CAN (Berkley 2010), TO SKETCH A THIEF (Berkley 2011), and SKETCH A FALLING STAR (Berkley 2012).

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Book Review: THE AMBITIOUS CARD by John Gaspard

Publisher: Henery Press

Published: August 20, 2013

Format: Paperback (288 pages)

ISBN: 9780988657137  

Origin: Publisher through NetGalley (egalley)

***Though the publisher provides the free book, I offer the opinion.***

 

My Look:

Eli Marks is a bachelor, a debunker, and a magician, but now, he can add a new title to that list.  A murder suspect.

He is a well-known in the circle of magicians, psychics, and sensitives, but Eli is not usually liked much among this crowd, for good reason really.  He performs, but he’s also known to expose the frauds and enjoy it too.

When he’s not making the magic world mad, he and his uncle, Harry, make customers happy.  They run Chicago Magic (which is far from that location) and sell to those who really want to learn their craft.  In fact, Uncle Harry will not sell the next trick to some of his customers until the customer proves the mastery of the one they owned previously.  

This store has been in his family for years and was Eli’s home during his childhood.  With Halloween closing in on them, his uncle is already in preparation mode and everything seems to be going according to plan until Eli picks the wrong fraud to expose.  This man who was publicly shown off, and didn’t take it well, is murdered.  He dies with the same card that Eli used to expose him, exposing Eli to his ex-wife’s police detective husband before becoming a thorn in his ex-wife’s side.  

On the good side of luck, he’s finding that his new love interest seems interested in him too. 

However, once more murders happen to the people Eli knows, he is aware that even his prosecutor ex-wife can only do so much, as this frame couldn’t fit any better around Eli’s neck.  And by the time Eli thinks he knows who is doing this, he founds out that not only is he wrong, but he is about to die too.

My Take:

John Gaspard’s AMBITIOUS CARD will introduce you to the world of magic and it’s history, but this book will leave you falling into murder along the way.

I really enjoyed getting to know Eli Marks, and I loved Uncle Harry too.  These two show that old school and new age come from the same cloth and both men have the utmost respect for the craft.  To each, trickery is not magic but true magic is a time-honored tradition, and it’s one that today is still very interesting.  You’ll find yourself rooting for Eli and his love interest, while enjoying Uncle Harry’s assortment of friends.  

THE AMBITIOUS CARD by John Gaspard is a must read!

 

 

Book Review: THE WORLD BENEATH by Rebecca Cantrell

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Published: January 10, 2014

Format: ebook (315 pages)

Series: Joe Tesla 

Origin: Recommendation

***Though the author provides the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***

My Look:

Most would agree that Joe Tesla is a successful millionaire.  After all, his company made today’s facial recognition abilities possible, but Joe’s success seems to have become stymied by fear. Those who know Joe know he doesn’t relent to people or governmental agencies, but those who know Joe, now, call him everything but brave.

Joe doesn’t even understand how this happened. 

One day he was normal and one morning he was too scared to go outside. The doctors call it one thing while his former colleagues call it something totally different. Unfortunately, he agrees with most of them, during most times. 

Agoraphobia is known to occur, but it didn’t occur to him until one day, after one night, a couple of drinks, and a government agency fight later.  He’s been trying to piece out this puzzle, but he’s also been learning to adjust to life inside and outside his old Victorian home.  Joe’s Victorian is a home inside one of the many connected underground tunnels of New York City.  It’s owned by a family friend of his and much to her brother’s dismay, Joe stays here.  There are many secrets held in these tunnels and with his penchant for a puzzle he puts things together to distract him from the knot in his mind barring him from the world outside.  He often studies and explores these amazing places.

At least, he did until he meets Subject 523, known also as Rebar.  

It was kind of normal to meet strange people underground, and Rebar seemed to be some form of military by stance and speech but one look at this man labeled him homeless.  However, he wasn’t just down here looking for a place to stay, this man was taking down a tunnel wall by sledgehammer, and the pieces he already removed seemed to expose yet another part of the tunnel.  This man was so intent on his task he didn’t mind Joe watching him.  Also, when the wall fell, he wasn’t at all surprised by his discovery.  On the other hand, Joe’s astonishment leads Rebar to realize Joe wasn’t in on it with him and up comes the hammer.  Joe takes off running. 

What Joe Tesla couldn’t know was that his nightmare of running doesn’t end, it just stops for a bit and reloads.  Like in some gamer’s paradise, at every turn, something else is to happen and others will join in the fun.  

The rest of this nightmare begins when Joe Tesla couldn’t just forget about what he saw in that exposed wall.  He went back to poke around, but discovered his former threat as demolished as those bricks, and a new threat sends Joe and his dog Edison running for their lives, with even more questions.

How many people know of this secret?  How many of them want Joe dead?

My Take:

THE WORLD BENEATH by Rebecca Cantrell is a heart-pounding thriller with an infective puzzle!

Rebecca Cantrell brings to life the amazing world beneath the sidewalks of New York. Her character, Joe Tesla, is a down-to-earth computer geek who struck it rich but maintains his giving heart; his kindness and affection for people shows through in all of what he does, while his resourcefulness will astound you.  Joe doesn’t need his wallet to solve a problem, his brain doesn’t work that way.  Give the guy a can of beer and some Wi-Fi, and he could literally change he way you see the world around you.  He uses his powers for good not evil, even though everything he does is not exactly lawful.

Joe Tesla lives the story of many, but his world holds more dangers than these panic attacks induce.  With him and Edison, you’ll be racing the clock to find answers that can save thousands of lives, but his adversaries come out of the walls within the ranks of government bureaucracy, having more pull than any imagination could muster.

Rebecca Cantrell’s THE WORLD BENEATH is a virtual page-turner!

Book Review: FORGET ME KNOT (A QUILTING MYSTERY) by Mary Marks

Publisher: Kensington

Published: January 07, 2014

Format: Paperback (384 pages)

ISBN: 9780758292056

Origin: Publisher

***Though the publisher provides the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***

My Look:

Martha Rose, Birdie Watson, and Lucy Mondello are on their way to meet with Claire Terry.  They’ve discussed whether Claire would be a good fit for their quilting club for Quilty Tuesdays, and now they want to be sure . . .  

These gals are a bit dubious, as a previous new member really wasn’t a good fit at all.  All three women know Claire Terry’s quilting abilities, as she’s won many awards, but this grouping is made of friends not frenemies, and being an award-winning quilter isn’t a requirement. 

Upon arrival, it was odd the host wasn’t answering her door. 

The meeting was scheduled and therefore expected; Claire hadn’t cancelled.  Martha Rose looked in the window and saw someone laying on the floor. The resulting alarmed conversations brought forth the nearest neighbor to the rescue with a key, but no rescue attempts could help Claire Terry. This grouping discovers her dead body, lying unseeing on the floor with bloody hands. 

Fast forward to a quilt showing, knowing it would be her last, it was hard to see the dead woman’s quilt hanging with its award. However, what was even harder was to see her quilt and a few others stolen. A masked thief had caused many disturbances upon his escape, but a detective wants to know why these women seem to show up at crime scenes. Just when things couldn’t possibly get worse, Martha Rose was asked by the association to make the condolence call on the Terry family. 

Mrs. Siobhan Terry had a request.  It was one Martha couldn’t decline, although she doubted she’d be able to find anything.  Claire had once told her mother that these quilts denote her life stories.  Did they? 

Finding nothing stuffed inside the quilts begins a puzzle these three ladies are perfect to solve, but Martha Rose pays a price for playing the lead amateur detective, when death threats push up the suspense in this deadly game of hide and seek. 

My Take:

FORGET ME KNOT (A Quilting Mystery) by Mary Marks is a surefire hit in crafting cozies!     

These women are all in various stages and ages over fifty. Some of them have health problems, not so great marriages, or cheating ex-husbands, but they all they have close stitched friendships that brings each a support system.  Their love of quilting is their attachment, but their love of each other is their true bond.  Murder is a motive for growing closer and solving a puzzle, but it’s also a motive for keeping each other close and watching out for safety.  Maybe quilting is reason to kill, but it’s also a great way to gather clues.   

Meeting Martha, Lucy, and Birdie is a like being with a group of people you’d love to spend more time with. Their life isn’t yours or mine, but their situations could easily be any of ours. I chuckled, clamored, and clucked, but I rooted for a shot of romance along the way.

Mary Marks’ FORGET ME KNOT is a standalone title that will introduce you to the world of quilting, with both bad and good characters.  However, if you’ll be able to pardon my pun, you will find yourself on pins and needles until the next Quilting Mystery comes along! 

Book Review: THE SECRET ROOMS by Catherine Bailey

Publisher: Penguin Books

Published: December 31, 2013

Format: Paperback (512 pages)

ISBN: 9780143124733  

Origin: Publisher 

***Though the publisher provides the free book, I offer the opinion.***

My Look:

History is everything but boring within Belvoir Castle  . . .

Why was the physician of King George VI expected?  Most astonishing of all, why was this physician and others awaiting the patient to be ready for them?

These questions show only the beginning of the Duke of Rutland mystery, while England was entering the fray of World War I.  Other issues plagued the hierarchy landing many in a state of turmoil long before the war.  In fact, to some, the war was a welcome act, to others it marked the end of a lifestyle, and to some, it was a fear like no other. 

To understand this time and culture one needs to understand the history.  Further, one needs to know that history has the ability to change, albeit not sometimes expectedly.  Moreover, one needs to realize the family dynamic.  The family position was, well, everything and appearances mattered daily. However, it was the first-born male heir who mattered most, but this young heir landed at death’s door. 

Was it an accident?  Or an illness?  Or was it something more? 

Know up front that a castle was not a domicile, but it was the domain of many families, each in their own place.  A major household such as this was not a mere building, but it was sustenance to whole villages.  Villagers worked inside and outside the estate and their work earned the family wages — “a feudal system”. However, many things had changed from a long-lasting agriculture depression, where many Dukes’ positions financially suffered. Land was devalued. It was at this time, taxes became levied on the ducal aristocrats and a stripping of their political powers were meant to castrate the bunch.  

The Duke of Rutland’s problem actually was far more reaching than this and scaled many years before.  To keep from losing land, the Duke was using legal maneuvering to disinherit his second and only living son, while his mother was using whatever sway she could to keep her family growing.   From war strategies to safe keeping of documents, this family weaves itself through actual history, in both the good and bad ways, depending on who knows about it and who was on the receiving end of the deception. 

However, what exactly was important enough to hide that would cause this Duke to die while keeping it hidden?  

My Take:

In THE SECRET ROOMS, historian and author Catherine Bailey provides a narrative that changes the course of her writing and research, when mystification is inbred with fact and becomes a point of view meant to not be seen.  Her resulting true mystery raptures the reader from page one and doesn’t falter!  

Catherine Bailey brings to life yesteryear that Downton Abbey fans will relish, and her riddle manages to capture mystery lovers and history buffs too. 

The lives in this story will have you enthralled, as you race to find answers that lay just beyond indecorum and falsehoods. Strong women, weak men, appear inside the walls of Belvoir Castle, but roles change as their time progresses. If you are like me, you’ll believe that just maybe someone still living is suspicious that things weren’t right in the past.

Catherine Bailey’s book, THE SECRET ROOMS, is a book I recommend!

Book Review: THE GOOD GIRLS GUIDE TO MURDER: A DEBUTANTE DROPOUT MYSTERY by Susan McBride

Publisher: Witness Impulse

Published: December 17, 2013

Format: ebook (372 pages)

Origin: Publisher through Edelweiss: Above the Tree Line

***Though the publisher provides the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***

My Look:

Andrea Kendricks owes her mother big.  This Debutante Dropout doesn’t flaunt or use her family position or wealth, but when a friend is in need, Andy asks her mother for assistance.  However, the repayment to her mother, Cissy, stretches a mile and then some.  For instance, Andrea Kendricks is now working temporarily for one of Cissy’s closest friends, Marilee Mabry, and this assignment is taking painstakingly long.   Andy wants to get back to her nonprofit work, but it will take a while.

However, just when Andy’s nearing the finish line for this temporary job, Cissy has yet another angle to wangle.   

You see one of the many dates that Cissy Blevins Kendricks imposed on her daughter has actually led to chemistry.  Her and Mr. Malone are doing okay in Andy’s book, but Cissy feels this relationship has stalled.  Now, Andy’s repayment includes attending the “soiree” of her temporary employer in designer duds to keep interested the many expected male counterparts that will attend. Never you mind that Andy has all the interest she wants in Mr. Malone.  

In the meantime, Brian Malone has other ideas for Andy’s time on that date.  This is when Andy comes up with a plan, hit the party, stay an amount of respectable time, and take Mr. Malone up on his timely offer.  

Accepting the duds wasn’t as stressful as Andy thought, since wearing designer fashions that made her look pretty wasn’t what this debutante dropout expected.  She arrived at the party as planned, but when she went to check out the video equipment, Andy got an eyeful.  Marilee Mabry’s daughter is, um, entertaining on the office sofa.  As if that wasn’t bad enough, the man she kept busy was the young stud belonging to her mother.  Not wanting to deal with this messy situation, Andy ignored Kendall Mabry’s rant about how awful her mother is and what she’s done to deserve this treatment and set to finish the job she was there to do.

Soon, the party was getting underway and Andy saw even more cracks in the behind the scenes on set of The Sweet Life.  The domestic diva, Marilee Mabry, fights with a chef and the chef’s retaliation is something that would gross out the toughest stomach. This launch seems to be headed for a mud match, but unbeknownst to Andy, the best is yet to come. 

Marilee herself has more than one agenda. 

Her arrival on set starts out with a rare, expensive bottle of Dom Perignon and a public lambasting of Marilee’s ex-husband and his wife (husband’s playmate during his marriage to Marilee).   The two women get into a physical tussle that ignites the flames of hell, literally.  The set catches fire, the sprinklers activate, lights go out, and Andy finds a body on the floor.  Seeing Kendall down and barely breathing in bathroom leads Andy to suspect foul play, and she’s not the only one.  When Cissy adds her conspiracy theories, things only go from bad to worse, but luckily Kendall is going to survive.

Despite the mayhem of it all, the prescheduled filming of The Sweet Life segment at the Dallas Diet Club member’s home of Cissy Blevins Kendricks is still on.  Stage hands, props, filming, and audio gear turns the beautiful home into a stage of false wood floors and fights.  More disgruntled infighting comes to the surface, and the domestic diva stabs to death a pecan pie.  

Soon, the filming begins, but a life ends.  While Kendall is alive and well her mother, Marilee Mabry, is lying dead on the floor of her friend’s home. 

My Take:

THE GOOD GIRLS GUIDE TO MURDER: A DEBUTANTE MYSTERY by Susan McBride is a tale within the twisting highway of the society pages!  

Getting to know Andrea, Andy, Kendricks makes her someone to like.  She’s down-to-earth, smart, and funny who struggles to keep herself away from the wealth, glitzy, glamour, and pitfalls of the high society scaffolding in Dallas.  The mystery is not just in the murder or the happenings but also in the people you’ll meet and their motivations.  While new neighbors are welcome, they have their secrets, but the employees of the wealthy hide their own agenda and come armed with knowledge.  However, you’ll also meet those who hang on to the coat hem to be dragged along for the ride with little of their own power being expended.    

Susan McBride’s THE GOOD GIRLS GUIDE TO MURDER: A DEPUTANTE MYSTERY ebook is a re-release of her original hardcover by Avon Harper Collins (2004).  The paperback re-issue will released January 7, 2014.  While this title is a standalone novel, you’ll want to catch the other titles in the Debutante Dropout mysteries!  

Book Review: DEAD SILENT by Amy Beth Arkawy

Publisher: Cozy Cat Press  

Published: April 18, 2013        

Format: Paperback (218 pages)      

ISBN: 9781939816047            

Series: An Eliza Gordon Mystery

Origin: Recommendation

***Though others provide the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***

My Look:

Goodship, NY is a lovely town for tourists in summertime and of those many whom revisit or establish a yearly routine of showing up.  With the many new visitors, Goodship goes through some growth spurts and some are not all good.  In fact, a new addition to the town ends up very dead and a gossip website about the many residents of this town may very well lead to this inevitable ending.

However, life in this small town will go on throughout all seasons and all seasons seem to have one thing in common.  Everyone eats soup at Soup Opera and this eatery owned by a former Soap star, Eliza Gordon, becomes the very polestar of gossip, bad behavior, innuendo, and sleuthing. 

Eliza Gordon does like having her fingers on the pulse of her adopted home of Goodship, but she isn’t the one pulling the strings behind an evil website called The Goodship Grapevine.  In fact, this site’s mission doesn’t just seem to be about old-fashioned gossip but is rather about the utter destruction of the townspeople, and while this site becomes everyone’s focus, the newest radio star runs a close second.   This man is not loved, liked, or even well tolerated.  Even Eliza’s best friend and radio D. J. /part owner, Midge, despises this man. 

The shock jock in question around the town is Paul Hackett, and it’s not only is radio personality that is questionable.  Midge’s brother suspects his wife of having an affair with this man, and Midge is the one who has suggested as much to him.   This guy seems to always be around the women and especially around young ladies who love the famed.  This eatery owner does wonder what the newly minted Grapevine website and the newest radio star have in common beyond the town of Goodship. Although, Eliza doesn’t just have sleuthing on her mind these days.

Her prodigal brother-in-law, Jonas, has returned home to the family estate.  

This home is in the same place she’s living and although this sprawling estate can still provide the privacy she needs, this living arrangement has stirred up a need to leave it and a curiosity about her dearly departed husband’s younger brother who bears a striking resemblance to her man.   It’s been so disturbing to her that she actively tries to avoid the man.  Meanwhile, Eliza is still in therapy to get over the death of her husband and move into a budding relationship with Goodship’s Police Chief, Tom Santini.  However, even her relationship with Tom is skewed toward her husband.  Tom was her husband’s best friend.  Despite her history as a Soap star, Eliza’s personal life was usually tidy, in order, and happily without much drama.  However, these days the only order her life seems to have is keeping herself busy at the eatery, but even Soup Opera was founded with and established with her husband, Eddie.

This former Soap star’s life is about make a turn that could lead to her murder.  Once the most despised radio host is murdered inside her best friend’s radio station and haunting flyers appear to tell everyone about The Quiet, it all seems indicative that there is something more sinister happening that goes much beyond the murder, and it could be infecting the town’s youngest adults.  Even if these two events are much unrelated, which they do seem to be, it spells trouble for Goodship and even more trouble for our soup designer sleuth.     

My Take:

Amy Beth Arkawy’s DEAD SILENT, is a twisty tale of mystery that will have you worried about The Quiet and about murder, while you turn pages hoping everyone will still be standing at the end!

Eliza Gordon is a widow whose grieving has stabilized into a steady ache with fewer tears but a cloak of sorrow remains.  However, her widowhood has also sprawled out into a wanting for change in life without the loss of her memories or the betrayal of them.  Given all this, her natural curiosity for crime solving tends to get in the way of real life’s changes, but a murder does provide refuge for her mind around a whodunit to give her some much-needed space to stop using therapy as a way to delay these changes.

I’m hooked on this series and look forward to the next Eliza Gordon mystery!

A Conversation with Elizabeth Gilbert Author of THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS

Q: After the stunning dual success of your memoirs Eat, Pray, Love and Committed, the safer, more obvious choice for you would have been to continue in nonfiction. What was it that prompted you to return to the novel with THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS?

A: I needed to come home to my roots as a writer. Fiction is where I began my writing journey, and all I ever wanted to be was a pure novelist. Fate intervened and led me into the world of memoir (and believe me, I am grateful for my success there!) but the next thing I knew, a dozen years had passed since I’d written a word of fiction. I simply couldn’t let another year go by, so I embarked on this novel.

Q: How difficult is it for you to shift gears between genres?

A: I thought it would be more difficult than it was. I feared I had lost the skill of fiction entirely (almost the way you can lose a foreign language if you don’t practice it often) and so I was intimidated by the prospect of returning to the form of a novel. As a result of my fear, I over-prepared for this book ridiculously. I did ten times the research I actually needed, just to feel covered and safe. Up till the very day I put down the research and began actually writing the novel, I honestly wasn’t sure if I could do it. But as soon as I began, the moment Alma was born, I realized, “Oh! I was so wrong! Fiction isn’t a foreign language; it’s my mother tongue!” I had forgotten nothing, except the joy of it. It felt like a homecoming.

Q: THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS opens in 1800 and spans much of the 19th century as its heroine Alma Whittaker comes into her own as an accomplished botanist. According to Kirkus Reviews, this “sweeping saga…offers an allegory for the great, rampant heart of the 19th century.” Why did you choose to set your novel during this particular time? And what aspects of this era are important for us to remember in modern times?

 

A: The nineteenth century fascinated me because of its intellectual accessibility. I could never write a story about modern science because the comprehension of modern science is far out of reach to anyone except modern scientists (and each of them can only understand the specifics of their own narrow fields.). The nineteenth century was the last moment in history when a relatively educated layperson could follow what was going on in the world of science and invention to a wide degree. Also, there were no “professionals”, such as we know them today. This was a time when amateur explorers, naturalists and enthusiasts were are still making major contributions to progress. Alma is a woman who would have been up-to-date on all the latest thinking in the world, across many different fields of study. With her own well-tended library, her private offices, and her brilliantly cultivated mind, she could easily have come up with botanical theories to rival those of any man. This idea of such open access to history-changing ideas fascinated me more than anything. That, and an inherent attraction to the gorgeous language of the day. With apologies to the Elizabethians, I think nobody ever wrote or spoke better English than during the nineteenth century. We could use a little more of that.

Q: The mass popularity you achieved with Eat, Pray, Love has probably changed your definition of success. As you go forward, what does it mean to you now to succeed as a writer?

A: I’m lucky in that pressure for success is completely off for me—at least as far as I’m concerned. Fortunately, there’s no way to match the phenomenon of Eat, Pray, Love, so I don’t even have to attempt it! What Eat, Pray, Love did for me was to give me the liberty (both artistically and financially) to pursue my own private literary passions in whatever direction I wanted. There could be no THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS without the beneficence of Eat, Pray, Love. That book has been my great enabler, my great patron. My notion of success now is simply to keep following my interests, wherever they may take me.

Q: The novel’s story soars across the globe—from London, to Peru, to Philadelphia, to Tahiti, to Amsterdam and beyond. You are one of modern literature’s most famous travelers, from Italy, India and Indonesia in Eat, Pray, Love to Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia in Committed, so readers will surely be looking forward to the armchair travel of THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS. Can you discuss why you chose any of these particular settings for the story?

A: I think of this story in some respects as a mystery novel (in that everyone is seeking to solve or find something of great importance to their fates) so I felt the need to follow the mystery wherever it led me, anywhere on the planet, as long as the search remained historically accurate. For Henry to have made his fortune in the quinine trade, for instance, I needed him to explore Peru and then set up business in the Dutch East Indies, before settling down in Philadelphia, which was in fact the birthplace of the American pharmaceutical industry. Ambrose’s search for rare orchids would naturally have led him to the jungles of South America. As for the section of the novel that takes place in the South Seas, well….no self-respecting nineteenth century adventure story would be complete without a journey to the South Seas! That was just a nod to Kipling, Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson — as well as a nod to Captain Cook himself. Finally, Alma’s search for an independent and dignified life could only have brought her back to Amsterdam, which has always been a progressive and intellectually welcoming city. As somebody who herself has found great answers to life through travel, I wanted my characters (especially Alma) to be afforded the same privilege. (And if researching this novel forced me to travel to places like London, Amsterdam and Tahiti in order to get my facts straight…well, that is simply the sacrifice I am willing to make for my work!)

Q: The epigraph of THE SIGNATURE OF ALL THINGS reads, “What life is, we know not. What life does, we know well.” That line is a bit of a riddle in itself. How do you think it comments on Alma Whittaker’s story?

A: I think it’s such a lovely quote because it sheds light on the dilemma of all scientific inquiry. Life’s basic doings are fairly simple to decode. From careful observations, we have been able to figure out how systems like photosynthesis and cell regeneration and reproduction all function. That part is straightforward. But that still doesn’t tell us what life IS. Why are we here? Why do we have these extraordinarily over-evolved minds? Why do we long for the divine? Why do we suffer? Why do we feel that we have souls? Why are we moral or immoral? Why do we contradict and surprise ourselves so? Despite all our intellect, we are no closer to answering these questions than ever—as Alma, by the end of her journey, well realized.

Q: The title of your novel alludes to a theory set forth by a sort of scientific mystic from the 1500s, Jacob Boehme, who argued that the entire natural world is a divine code, crafted and encrypted by God for the betterment of humankind. Boehme was a pretty weak scientist but a highly inspirational thinker. Why did you choose his phrase “the signature of all things” as the name of your novel?

A: First of all, the phrase itself is simply beautiful. But I also felt that Boehme’s theory speaks to a common longing which unites scientists, the religious and the artistic—namely an urge to break the code, to look behind the veil, to be shown the secret answers. I feel as though all the main characters in the novel are, in their own ways, searching for the Signature of All Things. They don’t merely want some of the answers: they want THE answer.

Q: Your book has much of the feel of a novel written in the nineteenth century. How, as a writer, did you go about establishing the authenticity of your novel’s mood?

A: I completely immersed myself in nineteenth-century prose and ideas. Fortunately this was fun for me; I have always had a particular love for writers like Dickens, Trollope, Eliot, Austen, and James. I went back and re-read many of those great novels, and, of course, I also sought out as much information as I could on the botanical exploration and history of the day. But mostly I read letters—not only letters of great naturalists, but also the letters of common people. Those unguarded everyday letters are where I could best hear people’s common speech, and that helped me fall down the rabbit hole of time and language.

Q: Henry Whittaker, your heroine’s father, dominates the first fifty pages of the book, and he rules much of his daughter Alma’s life thereafter. He’s a trifle like a pre-modern Gatsby: an uncultured roughneck who parlays his I’ll-show-them attitude into an incalculable fortune. Do you see his story as a commentary on the temptations and pitfalls of the American Dream?

A: I didn’t intended for Henry to be a commentary on the American Dream, to be honest …partially because I don’t totally see Henry as American, and partially because I don’t see his trajectory as being tragic in the manner of Gatsby. Henry doesn’t have enough self-doubt or self-awareness to be a tragedy, and he never really fails, either. There is nothing he longs for that he does not achieve—except immortality, of course. I see Henry more as a countryless force of nature, as a creature who is, from birth to death, comprised of pure and unstoppable will. It was exhilarating for me to write Henry Whittaker, because he is so huge and relentless and shameless. It was so fun to write of his galloping ascent and his stubborn endurance. He’s the power source whose energy fuels the whole first half of the book. I think of him like the booster rocket who eventually thrusts Alma out into the stratosphere. Yes, he is domineering, but he also loves and challenges his daughter, and without the example of his ruthless might, Alma could never have been the force that she turns out to be.

Q: Your heroine, Alma Whittaker, may be one of the most fully developed characters in all of American fiction. Were there real-life nineteenth-century women to whom you referred in creating her?

A: I looked closely at the lives of such women as Mrs. Mary Treat (a New Jersey–based expert on carnivorous plants who was a correspondent of Darwin’s), and Elizabeth Knight Britton (a respected moss expert who founded the New York Botanical Gardens along with her husband), and Marianne North (a wonderful and fearless botanical illustrator who, like Alma, set out alone to explore the world quite late in life) . . . and many more besides! In the nineteenth-century, botany was considered the only science that was truly open to women (flowers and gardens being “feminine” topics, you know) so I found no shortage of brilliant and tireless female researchers from whom to draw inspiration for Alma’s work. Emotionally, though, Alma is my own creation. From the very first page, I simply felt that I knew her in my bones, and that I had an obligation to tell her story as honorably and thoroughly as I could.

Q: Alma’s great passion is for botany. You yourself were raised on a tree farm. Like Alma, you had a childhood with few neighbors and a lot of books. What other similarities between you and Alma might it benefit readers to know about?

A: A dear friend who read the novel early on said, “It’s so interesting to see bits of your DNA woven into Alma’s character, and then transformed and exaggerated.” This comment surprised me, because I honestly hadn’t seen the resemblance! Then I thought, well, let’s see . . . I also had a charismatic and somewhat self-absorbed father, quite gifted with trees, whom I absolutely adored. I also had pragmatic and efficient mother whom I loved and respected, and who (like Beatrix and Hanneke, both) taught me the gift of discipline, and never permitted me to wallow in my sorrows. (Though my mother is infinitely more affectionate than Beatrix.) I also had, from earliest childhood, an instinctive thrill of learning, and was always exploding with curiosity. I also grew up without friends and neighbors nearby, in the isolated bubble of my parent’s farm. As an adolescent, I was also tall and ungainly, and I longed for male attention that I could never hope to receive. And as an adult, I have also sought (and found) deep refuge and satisfaction in my work—especially at times when my personal life may have disappointed or hurt me. This last bit is really what Alma and I most share in common. The name Alma itself means “soul,” and in this regard (her lifelong passion for her work) Alma is indeed my soul.

Q: For each of the friends, marriage turns out to be, to one degree or another, a catastrophe. You have reflected a great deal about marriage in your other writings, especially in the memoir Committed. What do you think your characters’ errors might teach us about the rather tricky business of matrimony?

A: I think, to be honest, the depiction of their marriages is a bit more realistic and accurate than the model that most romantic novels would have us believe! I didn’t intentionally set out to make these women suffer, but I wanted to show what would really and truly have happened in these mismatched unions. None of their husbands are bad men (in fact, there is not a villain of any kind in the entire novel) but they are simply not the right fit. We all know that this can happen. Poor Retta Snow is the only one who is really undone by matrimony (though I suspect her mind would have unraveled over time anyhow, no matter whom she had married.) Prudence and Alma both survive their marriages with dignity. As their mother teaches them early on, dignity is the only thing that matters, and time will reveal who has it. I feel proud that, by the end of the novel, they both have earned their dignified lives.

Q: Your novel looks at nature in search of something like divinity. Your observation that moss “is a resurrection engine” typifies this quest (p. 169). Can we find God in the physical world?

A: Well, people sure used to think so. Up until the middle of the nineteenth century, men of science were all believers. Most of the great early English naturalists were also ministers; they were the only ones who had education and leisure for such pursuits. Darwin himself almost became a minister. God’s power was always thought to be most easily and obviously revealed in the majestic works of nature. (I think we still instinctively feel that sense of awe and humility when we are faced by nature’s wonders.) The problem came when the scientific evidence began to contradict the biblical record. We must never forget how painful this schism was—and remains—to the deeply devout. As early as 1850, you start to see people having to choose sides, and this choosing seemed to tear something vital out of everyone. Now we live in a world full of scientists who live without divinity, and believers who live without science. I feel something has been lost here—reverence on one side, rationality on the other. I hope my book speaks to that loss. And I love giving the last chapters of my novel to Alfred Russel Wallace, who was a great evolutionary scientist, as well as a believer in the notion that there exists in the universe some “supreme intelligence” who calls to us and longs for communion with us. Wallace saw no inherent contradiction in these two ideas, and he died a happy man.

Q: What are you working on now?

A: Absolutely nothing! I am resting. I am deeply at rest. This book was a long journey and I think I may have to catch my breath a bit before launching into another.

Book Review: WEDDING CAKE AND BIG MISTAKES by Nancy Naigle

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Published: July 9, 2013

Format: Paperback  (258 pages)

ISBN: 9781612182776  

Series: An Adams Grove Novel (Book 2)

Origin: Publisher through NetGalley (eGalley)

***Though the publisher provides the free ebook, I offer the opinion.***

My Look:

Although Carolanne Baxter had been more than ready to live back home, she wasn’t ready for the many challenges that seem to arise in Adams Grove.  

Some irritations are small, some are tedious, some are weddings, and sometimes it’s a murder!

It all starts with something small.  

The laid back lifestyle of a small town is hard to get used to with her transplanted city roots. Carolanne did grow up in this town, but this lifestyle wasn’t the reason she ran far. Back then, major reasons like a deceased mother, a heartbroken, drunk father, and limited career possibilities made her go.   She’s back among friends, and her law practice is a partnership affair where they each live upstairs and practice downstairs.  It’s a platonic relationship that everyone seems to think is or should be something else entirely.  

Her move should help change that view.  In fact, her house is done ahead of schedule, and during her tedious maid of honor duties, when everyone is trying to pair her up, even though she doesn’t want to be paired up at all, she is starting the moving process.  Away from her partner, she will go and those persistent people should get the message loud and clear.

Meanwhile, preparations for Jill and Garrett’s wedding start to stir up some feelings that Carolanne is certainly not used to having, but she takes it in stride and keeps with the plans. Until, soon, the wedding is upon them. 

Carolanne sees to all the usual traditions like something old, something new, and something borrowed, but the something blue is really only the beginning of this event.

She doubts anyone expected someone blue to pop up at this affair, not even the murderer.

My Take:

WEDDING CAKES AND BIG MISTAKES by Nancy Naigle successfully blends romance, mystery and family drama into a read you can’t miss!  

I enjoyed getting to know Carolanne Baxter, and I’m sure you will too.  This character’s reasons for coming home are still unclear even to her, but those around her see everything perfectly clear.  These people prove not only valuable to her life, but they start Carolanne’s desperate desire to prove them wrong, which only proves them one hundred percent correct. Meanwhile, she has family fences to mend and a new house to pay for, all the while she’s loosing her best friend.   

Nancy Naigle’s WEDDING CAKES AND BIG MISTAKES is a standalone novel, but you’ll want to read the SWEET TEA AND SECRETS (Montlake Romance 2012) while you await the next Adams Grove novel!

Book Review: OF GRAVE CONCERN by Max McCoy

Publisher: Kensington

Published: July 02, 2013

Format: 304 pages

ISBN: 9780758281937  

Series:  Ophelia Wylde Paranormal Mysteries

Origin: Publisher 

***Though the publisher provides the free book, I offer the opinion.***

My Look:

I saw a dead girl.  Okay, to a spiritualist medium it shouldn’t have been so shocking, but it was a moment for sure.   Most of the time, I pretend talking to dead people.  Easy, really.  After visiting the best graves, it’s easy to find the recent dearly departed with the most cash and the wealthy family who would be the easiest picking.  

Now, I’m not the self-satisfying type, so hold on and I’ll explain.  

Dr. Ophelia Wylde wants to give comfort to those who hurt not just enjoy their cash, and she wants to give the peace that she is denied when her heart aches.  

See the thief that stole from me wasn’t the same kind of thief that you might be thinking of me.  This man took more than cash in the most perverse way. Enough said about that.  You see I am a widow.  While both my husband and I shared love, happiness, and a belief in the spirits speaking, we made a promise—if  ever eternally separated, we would reconnect with a message.  While I believe that is somewhat still possible, I know that this is my last chance to have it happen.

In these years, since my beloved’s death, I moved down the wrong path.  However, the belief that the dead can speak was founded many years ago in New Orleans, and still follows me today at a strange place for sure, Dodge City.  If the sight of a dead girl didn’t cost me angst the animal smells and sunning hides would certainly have had the privilege.

In 1877, the locomotive is my mode of travel with my beloved pet, Eddie.  He is not a talking bird, for the record; he does something better.   Anyway, my desire to find this dead girl overtook me, and I wound my way to her.  Although, I did need to be brief before the train moved on without me. You see that just wouldn’t do.  I have an appointment to keep, and it is one that is dear to me.  

After arriving at the spot that held this woman, I knew my eyes deceived me.  I wasn’t a little one seeing a dead man in the mirror anymore, no.  This dead girl did not even exist.  

Feeling somewhat a fool, I made my way backward to the station and arrived with time to spare.  Although thanks to some idiot’s drivel, my leaving on this train becomes impossible, since a bounty hunter listens to someone’s babble and adds my non-traditional female mode of dress and sums up that I am someone else, entirely.  This person who is supposed to be me is a female serial killer.  

The sound of the cell door closing makes me positive that I will miss my appointment and just might be here . . . forever.

Finally, my bail was set by a man who’s grieving and needs my special, albeit fake, help. However, needing money to pay the lawyer, the hotel, and feed myself is the part that isn’t so selfless.  

Really, it’s not until I recognize the cowboy that I’d stepped over, when he was sauced, do I make the fatal slip-up.  

Fatal does not describe his problem, but it does describe my own.   

Meanwhile, I see the dead woman, again. This time, so does two cowboys, but even knowing there is more than meets my eye on this woman, my earthly time becomes limited due to my own mistakes.   

My Take:

OF GRAVE CONCERN by Max McCoy is an amazing story that blends the Western traditional genre with the paranormal genre of today to make a mystery that will bring you back in time and won’t let you go!

Dr. Ophelia Wylde is someone you’ll come to know as early trailblazer of today’s independent woman.  

Walking with baggage like anyone of us could, this character spins us into a world that exists beyond this one.  In her flawed but believable fashion, Ophelia shows that a woman wearing pants is not a recent fashion trend, and her independent streak is both a product of herself and her circumstances.   She’s a woman of 1877 who knows there are very few ways for a female to make money.   Choosing the way she can live with herself and bring happiness to others, she sees herself perpetrating a victimless crime of mercy, well except for when she becomes the next victim. 

Max McCoy produces a great historical read in OF GRAVE CONCERN with twists and turns that any mystery reader will love.  As the story unfolds, other mysteries emerge.  However, many of these mysteries are of the world and some aren’t.  I know that you that you will be entranced and won’t want to miss the next Dr. Ophelia Wylde mystery!