Five Stars for Murder on Lexington Avenue

8-31 Victoria Thompson coverMur­der on Lex­ing­ton Avenue is the 12th in Vic­to­ria Thompson’s Gaslight Mys­tery series. I’ve read sev­eral, but this one is a favorite of mine. My review: Sarah Brandt, New York mid­wife in the early 1900s, keeps get­ting involved in mur­der while deliv­er­ing babies. It isn’t any­thing about souls pass­ing in and out, it’s just that the same peo­ple are involved. While one woman is hav­ing a baby, some­one she knows, be it her fam­ily or her neigh­bors, is mixed up in mur­der, often as the vic­tim. Sarah is handy and will­ing to help out an Irish cop, Detec­tive Sergeant Frank Mal­loy. In this case, the teenage daugh­ter of the vic­tim is involved with con­flict­ing schools of train­ing the deaf. Her father is a gen­er­ally dis­liked busi­ness owner. But, who killed him? Seem­ingly he was alone at his place of busi­ness. His busi­ness part­ner, and sev­eral oth­ers may have vis­ited. Or, none of them saw him, if one is to believe the tes­ti­mony. And, even if Frank Mal­loy finds the killer, 1903 in New York often meant Frank, although he was the police, would find it dif­fi­cult to accuse any­one who had the money to make sure he didn’t keep his job. Then another mur­der com­pli­cates the possibilities.

The ambiance is authen­tic, the plot is devi­ous, the char­ac­ters are a mix from delight­ful to dev­il­ish. Best of all, the out­come is com­pletely unex­pected, but, oh so absolutely right! Highly rec­om­mended to mys­tery and his­tory readers.

Vic­to­ria Thomp­son has been nom­i­nated for an Agatha for his­toric mys­tery. There are now 17 books in the series. Her Ama­zon author page is here. (I believe the mid­wife and the police detec­tive sergeant are plan­ning to wed in the lat­est. Must read that too!)

Art In The Attic

A son visits his father.

A son vis­its his father.

The draw­ings on the wall of a third floor stor­age room have been there for over one hun­dred years. As the house passed through dif­fer­ent own­ers, one promise was made—leave the pic­tures alone. They are pen­cil draw­ings, made by two boys who lived with their mother in the rented house. Some of them depict their older brother, Leo Hauck, who was a cham­pion boxer.

How did this all get on the front page of my local news­pa­per? The cur­rent home­owner was curi­ous. She asked ques­tions and dis­cov­ered a few amaz­ing con­nec­tions. Three of Leo’s chil­dren sur­vive and live locally. Peggy, age 100, and Eddie, age 94, didn’t walk up the stairs to see their father as a young boxer. Joe, age 80, lives less than a mile away. He and his daugh­ter vis­ited the third-floor draw­ings and were amazed.

As a writer, I always think, what if? What if any one of the own­ers of the house had painted over those pic­tures? What if, the house was remod­eled and win­dows replaced a wall? What if the area had been zoned for renewal and the place torn down and became a park­ing lot? What if none of those hap­pened, but the con­nec­tion was never made?

Joe Hauck was thir­teen when his father died. He knew he’d been a fighter. He’d known those uncles who drew the pic­tures as chil­dren. He knew his father started box­ing as a fly­weight at age four­teen. He knew he was known as the “Lan­caster Thun­der­bolt,” and often as Leo Houck due to a mis­spelled pro­mo­tional piece. Joe’s father, who suc­cess­fully boxed in every weight up to heavy­weight (as he grew) is named in the Inter­na­tional Box­ing Hall of Fame. Now Joe knows a bit more.

To see more pic­tures and the com­plete arti­cle, check out this link in LNP News­pa­pers.

Five Stars for Land Of Mountains

This is the first time my five-star review has revis­ited any author. You see, I like to toot the horn for as many authors as pos­si­ble, often talk­ing about the first in a series. But this book is a stand-alone, and in an entirely dif­fer­ent cat­e­gory. For a dif­fer­ent age, as well. Middle-grade to young adult ver­sus adult mystery.

First Cover

First Cover

Okay, enough with  the blather. Land of Moun­tains by Jinx Schwartz is the view­point story of ten-year-old Lizbuthann, Texan, who moves to Haiti with her fam­ily dur­ing the 1950s. If Adven­tures of Huck­le­berry Finn is a must for every boy (and girl) to read, equally, Land of Moun­tains is a must for every girl (and boy) to read! (Hey, I know excla­ma­tion marks should only be used once in every full-length novel, if ever. You’ll under­stand if you read this book.)

New Cover

New Cover

Here’s the Ama­zon blurb: “A ten-year-old’s new home on an exotic Caribbean island proves so fas­ci­nat­ing she quickly for­gets she didn’t want to leave Texas. After all, where bet­ter than a jun­gle world teem­ing with voodoo, mys­tery, and a really pesky zom­bie, to indulge her favorite pas­time: snooping.

In this humor­ous mys­tery, award-winning author Jinx Schwartz trans­ports the reader to another time and place where rivers, and lit­tle girls, ran wild and free.”

One reviewer says: LAND OF MOUNTAINS by Jinx Schwartz is a Young Adult book for read­ers from 8 to 108. The book is a final­ist for a 2012 Eppie award.

LAND OF MOUNTAINS is a fun read, with seri­ous over­tones and under­pin­nings. WECLOM to Haiti, a coun­try verg­ing on rev­o­lu­tion when Eliz­a­beth Ann or Ann, as her father calls her, and her fam­ily of Texas South­ern Bap­tists arrive in 1954. Haiti, they soon learn, is a child’s par­adise and an adult’s nightmare.”

I first dis­cov­ered this book in time to give it to my third grand­daugh­ter when she was twelve. She thanked me pro­fusely. (Note — kids haven’t writ­ten any reviews.) That one had the first cover. Last Decem­ber I gave the same book (new cover) to my fourth grand­daugh­ter, age eleven. Her fifteen-year-old brother took one look at that new cover and said, “I am so going to read that. (Have I made up for the lack of youth reviews?)

Land of Moun­tains is sold as an ebook and paper­back (with either cover) at Ama­zon link.

The Burning of Washington, D.C. 1814

Rear Admiral Cockburn had his portrait painted in front of burning Washington

Rear Admi­ral Cock­burn had his por­trait painted in front of burn­ing Washington

After Britain defeated and impris­oned Napoleon Bona­parte in April 1814, they had the men and ships to renew attacks on the United States. Eng­land wanted to retal­i­ate for  the “wan­ton destruc­tion of pri­vate prop­erty along the north shores of Lake Erie” by Amer­i­can forces. Rear Admi­ral Cock­burn was given orders to,  “deter the enemy from a rep­e­ti­tion of sim­i­lar out­rages.…” You are hereby required and directed to “destroy and lay waste such towns and dis­tricts as you may find assailable”.

On August 24, 1814, he found Wash­ing­ton, D.C. assail­able. Most pub­lic build­ings were destroyed. Actu­ally, the American’s burned the fort before the British arrived to keep them from get­ting their pow­der. The British burned what was left of it in their sweep. The Library of Con­gress and all the books were burned. Cock­burn was so upset with the with the National  Intel­li­gencer news­pa­per for call­ing him a Ruf­fian, he intended to burn their build­ing too. How­ever, a group of women con­vinced him a fire would burn their homes, so he had his men tear the build­ing apart, brick by brick. He also had them destroy every C in the type fonts, so they could no longer abuse his name.

At the White House, it was not Dol­ley Madi­son who saved George Washington’s por­trait. She did orga­nize the slaves and staff to carry valu­ables, car­ry­ing some of the sil­ver in her retic­ule, The French door­man and the president’s gar­dener saved the por­trait. After Mrs. Madi­son and the staff left, the British came in, ate the meal and drank the wine pre­pared for the res­i­dents, then went about burn­ing the build­ing. It was dif­fi­cult. They ended up pil­ing fur­ni­ture and light­ing it which finally started the build­ing burn­ing. They added fuel dur­ing the night. The only gov­ern­ment build­ing left stand­ing was U.S. Patent Office.

Less than a day after the attack started, a ter­rific storm hit the area from the south­east. It spawned a tor­nado and put out the fires. Accord­ing to reports Admi­ral Cock­burn asked a woman, “Dear God! Is this the weather to which you are accus­tomed to in this infer­nal coun­try?” She replied, “This is a spe­cial inter­po­si­tion of Prov­i­dence to drive our ene­mies from our city.” But Cock­burn insisted the storm helped them destroy the build­ings. Actu­ally, he was cor­rect. How­ever, the storm also dam­aged the British ships in the harbor.

Sounds to me like they had a hurricane.

Five Stars for Death By A Dark Horse

8-17 Death by a Dark HorseWhen Thea’s miss­ing horse, Blackie, is found in the pas­ture with a dead woman, the first thought was that crushed head was caused by Blackie. Thea knows that’s not true, but how did Valerie die?

Was it mur­der? Who did it? And why? Soon Thea is ask­ing all those ques­tions, but so are the police, and they have more clout.

Death by a Dark Horse is the first in Susan Schreyer’s Thea Camp­bell series. Blackie is a promi­nent char­ac­ter in each one. (For a horse lover, how can that be bad?) And, since Thea has a habit of find­ing dan­ger, and her horse seems to real­ize that—how can that be bad for a mys­tery lover?

Let me share some other reviews from Goodreads. “The clev­erly titled Death By A Dark Horse has all the trap­pings of an engag­ing mur­der mys­tery: high stakes, an inde­pen­dent hero­ine, intim­i­dat­ing goons and a clever vil­lain. All of this is set upon a back­drop of horse-riding and dres­sage, so right off the bat I can eas­ily rec­om­mend this story to horse lovers.”

Another one: “This mys­tery has enough twists, turns, and inter­est­ing char­ac­ters to keep me reach­ing for my Kin­dle every free moment.

I enjoyed learn­ing inter­est­ing tid­bits about horses and their care while try­ing to fig­ure out “who­dunit” and why. The protagonist’s char­ac­ter­is­tics make her some­one I will fol­low into the next book of the series: Lev­els Of Decep­tion.”

I, too, found this mys­tery a cap­ti­vat­ing read. Rec­om­mended for horse lovers, mys­tery lovers, heck, let’s just say for all read­ers and be done with it! And, I just dis­cov­ered, right now it’s a free ebook at Ama­zon.

Discovering Character-And Other Things

I should know Jo, my main char­ac­ter by now—I’ve just com­pleted final edits of the sec­ond mys­tery, plus a short story pre­quel. But she con­tin­ues to sur­prise me. I’ve been resisting.

Why? Hey, she and I started out the same age with the same child­hood mem­o­ries, but our per­son­al­i­ties and life expe­ri­ences are dif­fer­ent. Over the years that I wrote and rewrote that first mys­tery, I aged, while Jo kept get­ting younger. By the time a small press said, “Is your man­u­script still avail­able? We want it,” I was nearly eighty and she was some­where in her late six­ties (never specif­i­cally stated).

As I started the sequel, I thought, 61. Yeah, sounds about right. But, as I wrote, I decided, maybe late 50s. That’s old enough to have the his­tory I’d sup­plied. Some of those mem­o­ries could be from Grandma, or a par­ent. Or, she’s into old stuff. Then I added a TV ref­er­ence I remem­ber watch­ing with my kids. My kids are mostly in their 50s. So I wrote away, decid­ing she was that age. But, I still  had those ‘old’ ref­er­ences. Jo described her­self as old in a vari­ety of ways. I do not think of my 50s daugh­ters as old. They do not look old. Perhaps—I just didn’t think.

Until, I saw an arti­cle about Valerie Bertinelli with her cook­book.8-13 Bertinelli cover She’s 55. Yoiks! How can that be? I remem­ber her on TV as a teenager. I’m real­iz­ing that fifty is def­i­nitely the new thirty. Finally, I have an image of my fifty-something Jo—maybe not a beauty, def­i­nitely not a Valerie twin, but cer­tainly not a hag. And a whole new image of my mar­ket. And the pos­si­ble cover. And pos­si­bly a redo of the first cover. And, def­i­nitely, a redo of Jo’s atti­tude. She’s been much too laid back about the guy who’d like to know her much bet­ter. I mean, let’s have a lit­tle chem­istry there.

And maybe I’ll try Valerie’s recipes. (I do love to cook!)

 

 

Five Stars for Red Notice

8-10 Red Notice CoverA non-fiction that reads like a thriller? Yep, that’s Red Notice. Before the book begins, the term is explained: “An Inter­pol Red Notice is the clos­est instru­ment to an inter­na­tional arrest war­rant in use today.” Any coun­try can issue a red notice, which then goes into the elec­tronic sys­tem that is used to ver­ify trav­el­ers as they go from one coun­try to another. Almost always, unless the per­son check­ing pass­ports is not fol­low­ing pro­ce­dure, that per­son is shipped straight to the coun­try they prob­a­bly want to escape. It’s rare that Inter­pol fails to comply—which was why some Jews try­ing to escape Hitler’s Ger­many were returned. There are other such instances as well.

Bill Brow­der, the author of Red Notice was speak­ing in Nor­way when Rus­sia issued the first one on him. Born in the United States, he lived in Lon­don with his Russ­ian wife and his chil­dren. But, by then he was no longer run­ning Her­mitage Cap­i­tal Man­age­ment, the largest for­eign investor in Rus­sia. By then, some crooked cops and oth­ers had stolen his Russ­ian busi­ness he’d down­sized in favor of diver­si­fi­ca­tion. He sur­vived many legal busi­ness deals that were unpop­u­lar with Putin. He thought, since he was not Russ­ian, that he was safe. How­ever, he was only safe while his activ­i­ties were in Putin’s best interest.

I could go on, tell you more of this engross­ing, true story, but I don’t want to ruin it for any reader. It’s great as a story. It’s even bet­ter as a warn­ing. One of the author’s Russ­ian lawyers was tor­tured to death because he refused to lie and accuse Brow­der of trumped up charges. Two of Browder’s lawyers were older. They remem­bered the Russ­ian mind­set and barely man­aged to escape. The younger lawyer knew he’d done noth­ing wrong. He knew Rus­sia had no legal rea­son to arrest him. But, of course, to Putin, legal had absolutely noth­ing to do with it.

Do read this chill­ing tale. Then watch the news. You won’t get most of it—the media is too involved in var­i­ous flashy sto­ries. How­ever, recently I read in The Week Mag­a­zine some­thing I saw nowhere else. One night a month or so ago, Rus­sia moved all the bound­ary signs a mile into Geor­gia ter­ri­tory. The home­own­ers now in Rus­sia were upset. A pipeline was now in Rus­sia. Noth­ing was, or could be done.

 

Do You Tweet?

Some days I tweet, some days I don’t. Today, for some rea­son, I put up sev­eral tweets on dif­fer­ent sub­jects. I linked them to my blog, or to an Ama­zon site. I can’t say if Ama­zon got any clicks, but my blog got a cou­ple. They were about books—nothing about any of mine, but com­ments about other books and favorite books. Did a clicker then go to the other books’ Ama­zon sites, maybe buy a book? I don’t know.

_Fish or Cut Bait coverSpeak­ing of tweet­ing, those of us who con­tributed to the Fish or Cut Bait anthol­ogy decided to tweet and retweet other’s pro­mo­tions. I’ve done so a cou­ple of times. But, there are so many tweets fly­ing by, I haven’t seen any to retweet. (And that’s another thing I’m unable to check for any kind of benefit.)

I like to add pic­tures to my tweets, a book cover, usu­ally. Does that make a tweet more notice­able? Prob­a­bly. Or, does the reader just get tired of see­ing so many, often the same pic­ture repeat­edly? Yeah, I’m sure that hap­pens too.

I’m not all that savvy to use Tweet Deck or any such pro­gram. I’ve tried a cou­ple, unsuc­cess­fully. So, I’m not a tweet expert. I tweet in the dark, you might say.

How about you? Shall we just bum­ble along together?

Five Stars for The Glassblower’s Wife

8-3 Glassblower coverI love an his­tor­i­cal mys­tery. I espe­cially love one that intro­duces me to his­tory I don’t know in such a thor­oughly engross­ing way. The Glassblower’s Wife, by Joanna Camp­bell Slan, is a long short story rather than a full-length novel. But, it packs a wal­lop! It is an his­toric tale involv­ing Jew­ish glass blow­ers from Italy who took their excep­tional craft to France to make the mir­rors for the Hall of Mir­rors in Ver­sailles. There’s mur­der, devo­tion, an excel­lent plot, and superb writing.

The offi­cial blurb states: “When Jew­ish glass­mak­ers and their fam­i­lies flee the pow­er­ful Doge of Venice, the cost of their free­dom is three hun­dred and fifty-seven mirrors–the cre­ation of the mag­nif­i­cent Hall of Mir­rors in Ver­sailles. But the Doge sends assas­sins to pick off the artists, one by one. Can Ruth Telfin, the mute wife of the head glass­maker, save her people?”

I’m not the only reader who com­mented favor­ably. One says, “Since this is a short story, I fig­ured it would be a good chance to get a taste of this author’s writ­ing style. I never expected such a pow­er­ful story.”

Another said: “I must admit that this type of book isn’t really what I usu­ally pick to read. Hav­ing read all of Camp­bell Slan’s other books, I decided to give it a try. This is a long short story based on his­tor­i­cal facts back in the late 1600’s. I really learned a lot from it. She throws in a fic­tional char­ac­ter that really saves the day at the end. Kudos to Slan for her research and drive to write this book.”

And that’s my focus today—fiction that gives the reader his­tory with a story that not only inter­ests the reader, but opens her eyes to some­thing that really hap­pened, per­haps years, per­haps cen­turies ago. All too often his­tory is pre­sented as bor­ing, irrel­e­vant, unim­por­tant, or, even as per­pet­u­ated untrue myth. One of the web­sites I researched to fol­low this story said: “His­to­ri­ans have long repeated that the for­mula for lead-glass was invented in 1674 by an Eng­lish­man, George Raven­scroft. His­to­ri­ans often make a habit of being in error. In this case the error could not be more gross. Raven­scroft was nei­ther an arti­san nor an inven­tor. It is true that Raven­scroft patented the process; it is false that he invented it.”

And, occa­sion­ally, text­books per­pet­u­ate myth as well. I remem­ber one such from my own high school years. I cer­tainly know that fic­tion often plays fast and loose with his­toric past. No prob­lem, as long as it is under­stood. Some of my favorite reads are steam­punk nov­els, the ulti­mate reworked his­tory. But I love the true mean­ing that often comes through in his­tor­i­cal fiction.

A Vacation Visit

7-30 RR 2This week The Grandma Moses of Mys­tery has grand­chil­dren vis­it­ing. (They are much more active than their grand­par­ents, believe me!) One day we spent with the Stras­burg Rail­road. We rode on the old-fashioned din­ing car and had a lovely lunch while trav­el­ing from Stras­burg to Par­adise and look­ing at corn fields and livestock.

 

 

After that, we toured the Rail­road Museum, climbed inside a few ancient train cars, read the7-30 museum observationbridge
inter­est­ing his­tor­i­cal facts, and finally stopped for ice cream cones at the Stras­burg Cream­ery, where they hand dip all your favorite ice creams. A fun (and fill­ing) time was had by all.

Vis­it­ing grand­chil­dren make for lovely sum­mer break from writ­ing (and post­ing infor­ma­tive blogs). What have you done for your sum­mer break?