Category Archives: Book Review

Magpie Murders

636318482052153699-MagpieMurders-HC-CThis is my first book review for 2018. This was a book I have had on my radar for a while. I belong to a couple writer’s organizations, as you know and at a recent Christmas party for our local chapter of Sisters in Crime, I snagged this one.

I finally finished this book, not because it was boring but because I try to savor good reads and yes, I read slowly.   If I didn’t have to work, I could have stayed up half the night to finish it towards the end.

The author is Anthony Horowitz . I am a huge Midsomer Murders fan. If somehow you have never heard of Midsomer Murders, it is a British Television show and Anthony Horowitz is the screenwriter for it. That show is one of the reasons I signed on to Netflix. One of those reasons it takes me so long to read and write but that could be a future post.

Since reading this book, I did discover he wrote Moriarty. I am assuming it is a Sherlock Holmes version written in his nemesis point of view. Have not read that one yet and because my – to be read pile is so huge, if I do, I am not sure when it will happen. So many books, so little time.

Back to my review. A big reason  I thought this book sounded interesting is that it is a mystery within a mystery. I could not figure out how that could happen, but he did an excellent job of it.

The protagonist is Susan Ryeland. She is the editor of the fictional book ‘Magpie Murders’, written by one of their star authors – Alan Conway.
The whole book is her story about that book and it begins with us reading the book with a few scenes buried in between telling us about the protagonist’s (Susan Ryeland’s) life while editing it.

They pull you into the story ‘Magpie Murders’ which is set in a small town in England with the book’s protagonist – Atticus Pund who solves mysteries in picturesque villages in England, like the series Midsomer Murders.

Well you  read all the way through the book in the book and get to the end and realize at the same time as Susan Ryeland that you are missing the last few chapters. By this point – Atticus Pund tells you he knows who the killer is and then there is no more.

This wouldn’t be much of a problem except, the fictional  author Alan Conway dies accidentally by falling off a tower of his home. Of course, people begin to think it may not have been an accident and Susan Ryeland, the fictional editor,  is pulled into the real time mystery because this could make or break her career.

This leaves the reader with lots of questions, who killed Alan Conway and also how does Magpie Murders end – who killed the victim in the book? By then, if Alan Conway had been a real person and alive, I might have killed him for not giving us the ending of his book.

There are lots of suspects in both stories, lots of twists and turns, and a little romance.
I hope this didn’t confuse you. It makes total sense while you are reading it. I do hope it makes you want to read the book. You will see that it is a big book and that may have been why it took me so long to read .  No matter how long it takes you, it is well worth it.
Woman In Window Book

My current book is ‘Woman in the Window’. I am about half way through it and will review it later. What are you currently reading? How is your writing project going? What keeps you moving forward. Would love to know. Please feel free to comment.

If you are a local Iowa writer and looking for a writer’s group, check out both Iowa Romance Novelists and Sisters in Crime – Iowa on Facebook. Hope to see you at our next meeting – February is the 3rd Saturday at  10:00 AM at the Pleasant Hill library for IRN and 3:00 PM at Café Diem in Ankeny for Sisters in Crime – Iowa.

Planning to write about my writing space next month.

Until next time,




Moon Signs – Book Review

Moon Signs by Helen Haught Fanick

This was an enjoyable read. The lead characters are sisters who are in their late fifties, early sixties. One is a widow the other never married. Their niece is working at a lodge in a mountain range on the east coast that had been owned at one time by the sister’s family. There is a rumor that there are a couple of Monet‘s stashed away there that belong to the family.

A sister and brother now own the lodge. He is romantically involved with the niece and his sister doesn’t like it. The lodge owner’s sister is a disagreeable character and they soon discover that not many people like her. Shortly after they arrive someone kills her. There are a slew of diverse characters who all make great suspects.

This is a cozy so not much violence but there are plenty of threats to the co-protagonists and twists and turns to make you keep guessing. I liked the idea of moon phases affecting the story line and the author did mention it a couple of times but then nothing more. Would have liked to see more of that connection, especially with the title being ‘Moon Signs’.

I would recommend to anyone who loves cozy mysteries.

Not sure what I will read next. So many books, so little time.

What are you reading?


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Posted by on August 9, 2012 in Book Review


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House of Many Shadows – Book Review

I recently suggested this author, Barbara Michaels, to a writer friend. I have to confess, I read several books by this author years ago and thought I’d read all of them. I was wrong. I discovered a few more that I must have missed and this is one of them.

House of Many Shadows is about Meg Rittenhouse, a young woman who was hurt in an accident and has been experiencing hallucinations. Her doctor said her mind was playing tricks on her. A wealthy relative offers to let Meg move into one of many homes she owns to recuperate. The home, a large mansion in New England, comes with a caretaker, Andy Brenner, whose family once owned the home. Meg soon discovers that Andy has his own issues and she suspects her cousin has allowed him to stay to recover also. A romance begins to blossom while they discover that the hallucinations that start up again are shared. Meg is relieved to know that they are not further evidence of her mental health but isn’t sure how to deal with the fact that the home may be haunted.

The two work together to dig into the homes history and discover who in the netherworld is trying to get their attention and why.  They also find themselves the target of the previous renter; a dangerous artist who is an alcoholic and harasses them. The home is stock full of antiques and the former tenant attempts to steal them.  He and his wife are dangerous and Meg and Andy are never sure if the ghostly activity is real or the tenant trying to scare them.

All in all it was an enjoyable read. I would recommend it for anyone who likes cozy mysteries with a little paranormal.

Have a great week reading.


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Posted by on July 26, 2012 in Book Review


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Sarah’s Key – a Book Review

Sarah’s Key by Tatiana De Rosnay

I discovered this book when someone recommended the movie. Can’t remember who it was but they said it was a very good movie. I have yet to watch it but I did read the book. Figured if the movie was good the book would be good also.

This is a fictional story written around an actual event. It bounces back and forth from present day Paris to Paris, July 1942. The present story is told by Julie, an American woman who has lived most of her life in France and is married to a Frenchman. They have a young daughter. Her husband’s grandmother has moved from an apartment to assisted living and Bertrand, the husband is remodeling the apartment for him, Julie, and their daughter Zoe.  Julie introduces the reader to all of her friends, including a gay couple she shared an apartment with before she was married. All of the characters are well developed and interesting. It becomes clear, early on, that she feels that she has never been accepted by her husband’s family.  No matter what she does, she is just an American.


Every other chapter moves back to the past and starts with that infamous day in July in 1942. That night, the French Police gathered all of the Jews and took them to several different camps to be processed before going on to Auschwitz. It is the story of Sarah, a young Jewish girl and her family. The night of the raid that dragged them from their home, Sarah committed an innocent act that would haunt her for the rest of her life.


The present day Julie is a journalist who is assigned to write an article about Vel’ d’Hiv, the night the Jews were gathered. She discovers clues about this piece of French history that most people would rather ignore and forget. The mystery unfolds as she discovers connections between the past and a family secret. Her husband discourages her but she finds an ally in her father-in-law who supports her efforts and eventually acknowledges his appreciation for answers to questions that relieved a burden of guilt his family had locked away.

The author weaves the two stories together in a way that makes it difficult to put down, until the very end. I felt that the story ended a few chapters before the author actually stopped writing. I couldn’t wait to find out the secret but once that was revealed, the author continued to tell me more than I needed to know about Julie. I did need to know the very ending but some of the stuff between felt tacked on and not so well thought out as the rest of the book. Even with the less than perfect ending, I would recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the holocaust and man’s ability to survive after unthinkable horror.  I will look for more from this author.

I am currently reading ‘The House of Many Shadows’ by Barbara Michaels. I recently recommended this author to a friend and decided to pick up a few more that I had missed reading. Love the gothic mystery feel and her use of paranormal.


As far as non-fiction, I have been reading several books on outlining and will share some information from them in future posts.

Hope your writing week is productive and enjoy a good book.


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Posted by on July 16, 2012 in Book Review


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Miss Me When I’m Gone – Book Review

          This book was described as a “Honky-tonk” Eat, Pray, Love. I wouldn’t have described it that way. It is the story of two women who were college friends. Both write, one, Gretchen, is a successful novelist working on her second book and the other, Jamie is a pregnant journalist.

The story begins when Gretchen falls down the stairs outside of a small town library after doing a book signing. At first it looks like an accident but when they find her purse several towns away in a lake, they know it is much more.

Gretchen’s first novel called ‘Tammyland’, was about the women of country music, Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Patsy Cline, and of course Tammy Wynette. She draws parallels of abuse from those women’s lives and compares them to her own mother who had been murdered when she was a child.

Jamie is asked to be the literary executor by Gretchen’s mother to oversee her unfinished work and hopefully complete it.

While reading ‘Tammyland’ the fictional book in the story – that reveals some interesting anecdotes about the country music icons-(like the time Tammy Wynette took a bubble bath with Burt Reynolds).

Jamie soon discovers that Gretchen may have found out something about her mother’s murder. Someone breaks into Jamie’s home and steals some of Gretchen’s notebooks and a couple laptops. Gretchen had also left a cryptic voice mail message that she had the feeling someone was lying.  The same message, Jamie now feels guilty for having ignored.

Jamie’s pregnancy progresses as she digs deeper into the mystery of both Gretchen’s death and her mother’s and she knows that she has to finish this before the baby comes or she may never find the time. Ignoring her husband, Sam’s, concerns she plunges herself into the past hoping to explain her friend’s death. She feels she owes it to Gretchen to catch her killer.

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes women’s fiction and mysteries. It’s one of those stories that straddle the line between two genres. It reads like women’s fiction but feels like a mystery.  Though I took a few days to read this one, I was pulled back often to finish it. This story was well written with believable characters and setting. I especially liked how this author brought in information about several well-known songs and how they came to be.

It may have been just me but I really enjoyed the stuff about Tammy Wynette. Probably because my cousin played guitar in her band and I have always been curious about her because of that connection.

I am currently reading ‘Sarah’s Key’ and will review it when I have finished it. It is one of those that I seem to be breezing through because I like it.

What are you reading?



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Posted by on July 4, 2012 in Book Review


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In The Bleak Midwinter – Book Review


This is the first Julia Spencer-Fleming novel I’ve ever read and I thought it was an enjoyable read. Her protagonist is a female priest of a small Episcopal church in an upstate New York town called Millers Kill. Isn’t that a great setting for a murder mystery? Come to find out kill means the river running through the area. Being in the Midwest, I have never heard that term. We call our waterways rivers or creeks, and occasionally  maybe a crick but nothing as interesting as a kill.

The story starts out with the protagonist, Clare Ferguson finding a baby on the steps of her church in December. Who and why would someone leave a baby there like that? The story introduces you to some of the residents of Millers Kill, some good and some not so good. Kept me guessing till close to the end. Clues were spread out so that you didn’t feel cheated when everything was revealed.

I especially liked the little romantic twist. The hero is a police officer Russ Van Alstyne who doesn’t go to church and lets Clare know from the beginning that he questions his faith. The author explains a enough about the denomination so that we know that even though Clare is a priest, she is able to marry.  There are sparks of interest between Clare and Russ but the twist is that Russ is married, making it a forbidden romance, not because she is a priest. I plan to read more of this series. Clare is a strong female lead and Russ is a good Beta male lead that feels natural when the two work together.

The author described the setting so well, I could feel the cold and snow they had to trudge through and it made me that more grateful for the mild winter we’ve had so far here in Iowa. Any mystery lover should enjoy this series. Thanks to Library Thing again, I discovered a new author. Well, at least new to me.

On another note, I have been working on my own novel, slowly progressing. Developing my characters, setting, and plot a little more with each writing session. I have finally concluded that I will never be able to sit down and outline a story from start to finish and complete it. Once I have outlined the story, it feels like I have already told it and lose my enthusiasm. I have decided that I have to plot out just enough to feel like I have some structure and a little direction, then just write.  So for now, I have plot points determined and each time I sit down to write, it gives me a direction but I have to discover how I will get there. I may write myself into a corner and have to back track. That’s okay. For now, I’m enjoying the journey.

Currently reading Mary Higgins Clark‘s “I Heard That Song Before.” My Sisters In Crime chapter decided we needed to read a romantic suspense for February.

Tell me a little about your writing process. Do you outline everything first and then write or do you let the story unfold as you go?  Also what are you reading now?

Next week, I have a guest blogger, Lois Greiman.    

Until next time,



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Who Do Voodoo? – Book Review

I happen to love stories with a paranormal twist.  It is the first in a series of Mind for Murder Mysteries by Rochelle Staab.

It took me a little while to really get into the story and there was one time that I almost set it aside to not finish. Then I saw it sitting on my nightstand with a bookmark in it and decided, what the heck, I’ll give it another try. What drew me to this story was the fact that it involved tarot cards. I have taken a few classes to read tarot myself and wanted to see how the author would use that in the story.

With my second attempt to read this book, I did get hooked. The protagonist, Liz Cooper, is a psychologist whose best friend, Robin, an assistant for a talent agent, is threatened by someone who has been leaving tarot cards taped to her front door. They aren’t just any tarot cards; they are the same tarot cards used in a reading the night Robin’s husband died.

The protagonist spends most of the book investigating the murder of a Voodoo priestess who didn’t get along with Robin. The two argued, the night she was murdered and Robin became a suspect. So as any best friend would do, she had to prove her friend’s innocence.

  • While investigating, Liz discovers a cursed spell book.
  • She becomes romantically involved with her brother’s friend, Nick Garfield, a professor who lectures on the occult.
  • Her brother, who is a police officer, discourages her from getting involved in the investigation and with his friend because he doesn’t think she knows what she is doing and he thinks his friend will break her heart.
  • Her ex-husband, a professional ball player, who played around on her tries to get back into the picture and her tarot card reading mother attempts to play cupid with them because she liked him more than Liz did.

This story is a cozy mystery with a paranormal twist and though the characters are not as well rounded as those in a more literary novel, it meets the standards of this genre. It had a satisfying ending that even made me feel good. The story-line was well plotted and it kept me guessing right up to the reveal. I will watch for the next one in this series.

Happy writing and reading.



Posted by on December 2, 2011 in Book Review, What I'm Reading



‘The First 50 Pages’ – A Book Review

If you can’t hook an agent or an editor, how can you expect to hook a reader?

Just finished reading‘The First 50 Pages’ Engage Agents, Editors, and Readers, and Set Up Your Novel for Success by Jeff Gerke.

Donald Maass even wrote a blurb for the cover – “From the insider’s perspective, everything they’re not telling you about your first 50 pages. Invaluable.”  Jeff is an editor and author of fiction and nonfiction. I haven’t read any of his fiction but I had read Plot Versus Character: A Balanced Approach to Writing Great Fiction”. If you are writing to publish, I would recommend this book as well. It breaks down the differences between people who outline and those who don’t and how you can improve by looking at the process from the other kind of writer’s perspective.


Jeff broke ‘The First 50 Pages’ down into two parts. Part one covers the submission process, including proposal killers and a list of mistakes he has seen over and over again with submissions.

Part two consists of what your first 50 pages needs to accomplish. He spells out what you should and shouldn’t do to get published. Jeff’s explanations are easy to understand and he uses examples of both good and bad writing. I was surprised that some of those examples were from published books and well known authors. He showed how they could have been better.

Most of the mistakes made are considered lazy writing. It’s easier to tell instead of show is probably the biggest misstep. He used both books and movies for his examples.

I plan to keep this book handy once my first draft is finished and I’ve started revisions. Jeff reinforced how important beginnings are for publication. I think my biggest surprise was his advise on prologues. He thinks they have been given a bad rap and if done effectively, he thinks they can improve the beginning of a story. Jeff did admit that some Editors are so against them that he has heard of one in particular who would rip it off the front of the manuscript and throw it away before reading the material.

If you’re looking for a writing book to help motivate you to write better, check this one out, I don’t think you will regret it.

May your writing week be productive and your reading enjoyable.



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Sacrifice – S.J. Bolton

There are maybe five authors I read that I can’t wait for their next book. Whenever I find a new author to add to that list, I get excited. S.J. Bolton is one of them. Awakening was the first S.J. Bolton novel I’d ever read. It involved snakes. Lots of snakes and a female protagonist who as a veterinarian, gets pulled into helping investigate the deaths because she is one of the few people who is an expert on poisonous snakes. The story starts when she is called to the neighbors to get a poisonous snake out of a babies crib. Within a short time, several residents die and there are a few close calls. The snakes involved in the deaths are not from the area.  It was a mystery with a little paranormal twist and I loved it.

I finally found the first book – Sacrifice. It too is a mystery with a dash of paranormal story line. This one has a female protagonist who is a medical doctor who delivers babies at the local hospital on the Shetland Islands.

It starts out with her digging a grave for her horse and finding a body. At first they think it is an archaeological burial because the body had been buried in peat that causes it to be more preserved than you would expect with a normal burial. When she finds an engraved wedding ring, she suspects the body is more recent. The story goes into a local legend about an all male race of trolls with special abilities. The mothers are, of course, sacrificed for the cause but no one will believe her. It looks like all the prominent men in the area are involved, including the police and her own father-in-law and husband.  Ms. Bolton weaves the story line in a way that you believe.

Bolton is great at pacing. She tells just enough to reel you in and when it gets to the scary stuff she draws it out just enough to make you suffer. Because you never know exactly what is happening, I would call her books more mystery than horror. There is always a puzzle to piece together right to the very end.

There are a couple more for me to read and with my pile of to-be-read growing steadily, I wouldn’t be surprised if she gets another out before I get her current stuff read.  If you like your mysteries with a little bump in the night, you need to check out S.J. Bolton.


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I’d Like to Introduce Sparkle Abbey

I continue to plug along writing my current work in progress. Each day I get a few more pages done. I truly think writing a novel is probably the most difficult thing I have ever attempted. When it is finished, I hope I will think it was the most satisfying.  It’s just getting there. Each day, I try to enjoy the moment and there are moments that are enjoyable. I love when I get in the zone. If you write, you know what I mean. When it happens, it feels like you are lost in the story. I tend to produce a lot more words. I know what I want to say and it flows easily. That doesn’t happen every day. I have found that it happens more often though, when I glue my butt to the chair and write. Even though I would much rather curl up in front of a good movie with Mr. G. I keep telling myself it will be worth it in the end.

Over the years, I have met quite a few writers and some of them use their own name and some don’t. Some publishers request you use another name. After working so hard to finish a book, I think it would be nice to be able to put my name on it but I also know that it is a business and as writers we probably should listen to the people who want to see us be successful. I suppose if that was a requirement for publication, I probably would do it.

I ran into a couple of my author friends at an event this weekend and they have their first book out. They had to make that choice and I know how difficult it was for them, because I know how long they have been writing and like me, they really wanted to see their name on that cover. They agreed to use a pseudonym.  They go by the name Sparkle Abbey. They came up with that name when the publisher insisted they needed a name to tie the series together because they co-write. Sparkle is Maylee’s cat and Abbey is Anita’s dog. Marylee Woods is a writer friend I met at least 15 years ago when I joined the local chapter of RWA. She co-writes with Anita Carter, someone else I have known for a while. They co-write the Pampered Pet Mystery Series and the first of four books they have sold came out recently, Desperate Housedogs. They have a unique way of collaborating. They share the same setting, Laguna Beach, CA and the same secondary characters. They each have their own protagonist. They plot their books together and often sit across the same table to write so that they can bounce ideas off of each other, along the way. Marylee wrote book one, Anita wrote book two that will be coming out in early 2012, Marylee will write book three and Anita, book four. Marylee’s protagonist is a pet therapist, while Anita’s protagonist is a cousin to Marylee’s and she owns a pet boutique. The two women are former beauty queens from Texas and currently are not speaking. They are both feuding over a god-awful ugly brooch their grandmother left to “her favorite granddaughter”. She didn’t specify exactly who she meant. I read the book and think it is so clever and such a good read. If you like cozy mysteries that make you laugh; you really need to check this one out. I think they have a great future with this series. Future books are titled, ‘Get Fluffy’, Kitty, Kitty, Bang, Bang’ and ‘Yip, Tuck’. I can’t wait to read them.

I know they each would rather have seen their own name on the cover but I think they made the right choice and if they keep producing this quality of cozy mystery, it really won’t matter. They will be around for a long time and everyone who really knows them will know who Sparkle Abbey is.

Until next time, keep writing… and reading.



Posted by on November 13, 2011 in Book Review, Novel Writing


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