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?