Monday, July 21, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Gold Diggers, Gamblers and Guns by Ellen Mansoor Collier


During Prohibition, Galveston Island was called the “Free State of Galveston” due to its lax laws and laissez-faire attitude toward gambling, gals and bootlegging. Young society reporter Jasmine (Jazz) Cross longs to cover hard news, but she’s stuck between two clashing cultures: the world of gossip and glamour vs. gangsters and gamblers.

After Downtown Gang leader Johnny Jack Nounes is released from jail, all hell breaks loose: Prohibition Agent James Burton’s life is threatened and he must go into hiding for his own safety. But when he’s framed for murder, he and Jazz work together to prove his innocence. Johnny Jack blames her half-brother Sammy Cook, owner of the Oasis speakeasy, for his arrest and forces him to work overtime in a variety of dangerous mob jobs as punishment.

When a bookie is murdered, Jazz looks for clues linking the two murders and delves deeper into the underworld of gambling: poker games, slot machines and horse-racing. Meanwhile, Jazz tries to keep both Burton and her brother safe, and alive, while they face off against each other, as well as a common enemy. A soft-boiled mystery inspired by actual events.



You just know it's about to hit the fan when the city's sole Prohibition agent is out on the town with a society reporter at one of the better speakeasies.  Sure enough, they step outside and someone tries to gun down the agent.  Maybe the language and the dress has changed since nearly 100 years ago, but the gangs and the drive-by shootings haven't.

"Gold-Diggers, Gamblers and Guns" reminded me of the movie "The Sting" in time period.  I guess that would make Jazz and James (Agent Burton) the Newman and Redford characters.  There were a ton of double-crosses to keep everybody guessing and to ensure that the path of true love would not run smooth.  And you know that will continue because Jazz is not a shrinking violet kind of a doll.

The book also reminded me of "Guys and Dolls" without the singing and big dance numbers.

"Gold-Diggers, Gamblers and Guns" is, in itself, a wonderful romp through another time and another place that you can take right from the comfort of your own home.  It is also the third in Ms. Collier's "Jazz Age" series of mysteries, which means I'm going to have to go back and catch up on #'s 1 and 2, because I really like the character of Jazz.  She is like the little sister I never had.



Ellen Mansoor Collier is a Houston-based freelance magazine writer and editor whose articles and essays have been published in a variety of national magazines. Several of her short stories have appeared in Woman’s World. During college summers, she worked as a reporter for a Houston community newspaper and as a cocktail waitress, both jobs providing background experience for her Jazz Age mysteries.

A flapper at heart, she’s worked as a magazine editor/writer, and in advertising and public relations (plus endured a hectic semester as a substitute teacher). She graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a degree in Magazine Journalism and served on UTmost, the college magazine and as president of WICI (Women in Communications).

FLAPPERS, FLASKS AND FOUL PLAY is her first novel, published in 2012, followed by the sequel, BATHING BEAUTIES, BOOZE AND BULLETS, released in May 2013. She lives in Houston with her husband and Chow mutts, and visits Galveston whenever possible.

“When you grow up in Houston, Galveston becomes like a second home. I had no idea this sleepy beach town had such a wild and colorful past until I began doing research, and became fascinated by the legends and stories of the 1920s. Finally I had to stop researching and start writing, trying to imagine a flapper’s life in Galveston during Prohibition.”


(Disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the author and publisher via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.)


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Friday, July 18, 2014

Friday 56: Gold-Diggers, Gambers and Guns

"The Friday 56" is hosted at Freda's Voice.

*Grab a book, any book.
*Turn to page 56 or 56% in your eReader
(If you have to improvise, that's ok.)
 *Find any sentence, (or few, just don't spoil it) that grab you.
>*Post it.
*Add your (url) post below in Linky. Add the post url, not your blog url. It's that simple.


As I turned to go upstairs, I heard a slight tapping on the window, almost a clawing noise 
Nervously, I peered through curtains, and sucked in my breath: On the front porch stood Agent Burton, bruised and battered, a black eye starting to darken, his suit disheveled and torn.

Sound interesting?  Do you speak 'flapper'?  There will be a review of "Gold-Diggers, Gamblers and Guns" on my blog on Monday, as part of a tour set up by Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours and you're all invited back! :O)

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Blade of the Samurai by Susan Spann


June, 1565: Master ninja Hiro Hattori receives a pre-dawn visit from Kazu, a fellow shinobi working undercover at the shogunate. Hours before, the shogun’s cousin, Saburo, was stabbed to death in the shogun’s palace. The murder weapon: Kazu’s personal dagger. Kazu says he’s innocent, and begs for Hiro’s help, but his story gives Hiro reason to doubt the young shinobi’s claims.

When the shogun summons Hiro and Father Mateo, the Portuguese Jesuit priest under Hiro’s protection, to find the killer, Hiro finds himself forced to choose between friendship and personal honor. .

The investigation reveals a plot to assassinate the shogun and overthrow the ruling Ashikaga clan. With Lord Oda’s enemy forces approaching Kyoto, and the murderer poised to strike again, Hiro must use his assassin’s skills to reveal the killer’s identity and protect the shogun at any cost. Kazu, now trapped in the city, still refuses to explain his whereabouts at the time of the murder. But a suspicious shogunate maid, Saburo’s wife, and the shogun’s stable master also had reasons to want Saburo dead. With the shogun demanding the murderer’s head before Lord Oda reaches the city, Hiro and Father Mateo must produce the killer in time . . . or die in his place.

Blade of the Samurai is a complex mystery that will transport readers to a thrilling and unforgettable adventure in sixteenth-century Japan.



I kind of jumped at the chance to read and review "Blade of the Samurai".  I grew up with a crush on Richard Chamberlain in the mini-series of James Clavell's "Shogun" on tv.  I even remember a half-dozen or so words in Japanese from watching the drama.

With all the character names and Japanese terms in the book, it could have been easy to get somewhat lost, but Ms. Spann does a good job of making it clear what the terms mean so her readers can become involved with the story itself.

Some might find it harsh that, after being 'hired' (in a sense) to find a murderer, if Hiro and Father Mateo cannot solve the murder in a couple of days, they will be killed in his (or her) place and face will be saved.  Of course, when you live in a military society where might makes right (not a judgment-just a statement), and you never know what another family will do to oust those in power to advance their own status...there is little or no room for error.

There are many twists, turns and intricacies in the plot of "Blade of the Samurai".  It's like being presented with a complex piece of origami and trying to figure out how to make it yourself by reverse engineering.  Each new fold uncovers a hidden gem, a piece of the larger puzzle.  Each time I thought, "Aha, that is the murderer," some new piece of evidence would pop up.  It made me want to keep reading until I found out who actually committed the crime.

"Blade of the Samurai" is a well-researched novel that shows despite a 500 year distance, people are people.  The characters have hopes, dreams, aspirations, jealousies, obstacles much like we do today.



Susan Spann is a transactional publishing attorney and the author of the Shinobi Mysteries, featuring ninja detective Hiro Hattori and his Portuguese Jesuit sidekick, Father Mateo. Her debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CAT (Minotaur Books, 2013), was named a Library Journal Mystery Debut of the Month. Susan has a degree in Asian Studies from Tufts University, where she studied Chinese and Japanese language, history, and culture. Her hobbies include cooking, traditional archery, martial arts, and horseback riding. She lives in northern California with her husband, son, two cats, and an aquarium full of seahorses.


(Disclosure:  I received a copy of "Blade of the Samurai" from the author and publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

Thursday, July 10, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Bitter Chocolate by Dawn Greenfield Ireland


The characters you loved in Hot Chocolate are back with more escapades of life in Houston’s wealthy River Oaks.

Lila Mae is in a tizzy over the Chocolate Ball – a huge event that she and her sisters, Dorothea and Madge, host every year. But due to unusual circumstances, Dorothea and Madge dump everything in Lila Mae’s lap. If it weren’t for Julian Gillespie of Event Is King, the Chocolate Ball would have melted.

Bernie, the Alcott sisters’ 92-year-old father, decides he wants his Bentley back. The sisters and Bambi are horrified. They hire Joseph’s cousin Chewie as Bernie’s new chauffeur.

Wolfram, Lila Mae’s new astrologer, gives clues of things to come. This leaves Lila Mae and her sidekick Amelia with brows furrowed.

On her day off, Amelia decides to bake a chocolate blueberry pie. She discovers she needs to make a grocery run. When she returns home, she discovers her kitchen door is slightly ajar. Arms loaded with groceries, she toes the door open.

Three things catch her attention: a vase of flowers on the kitchen island that was not there when she left the house, her marble rolling pin covered with blood… and a dead body on her kitchen floor.

Amelia’s eyes drift toward the dining room and beyond – is the house empty, or is there a murderer inside? She backs up, turns and hurries outside. After setting the bags on the ground, she slips back into the kitchen and snaps a picture of the dead guy. Then she calls Detective Chance Walker, Lila Mae and finally… 9-1-1.



So many cozy mysteries seem have a heroine that has just moved recently to a small town, has come out of a disappointing relationship and runs a fledgling business.  "Bitter Chocolate" is nothing like that.  Vive la difference!  Like a cold glass of sweet tea on a humid southern afternoon, Ireland presents us with a second look at the Alcott family, members of Houston's social and economic elite.  And they are actually likeable, unlike most of the 'rich & famous' we see on 'reality tv' these days.

I have a disappointing history with fruit and chocolate together (well, except for chocolate-dipped strawberries), so I don't know if I could ever try a chocolate and blueberry pie.  But I DEVOURED this book!

As Ms. Ireland is a new-to-me author, I've added the first Alcott Family Adventure "Hot Chocolate" to my TBR list at GoodReads, and I can't wait for "Spicy Chocolate" (Book 3) to come out - it is expected in 2016.



Dawn Ireland is the CEO of Artistic Origins Inc, a 100% woman-owned publishing and technical writing service company that has been doing business since 1995. She’s an award winning independent publisher and author of The Puppy Baby Book Mastering Your Money, and Amazon Best Seller Hot Chocolate (the first in the series, and her fifth novel). The Hot Chocolate audio book was awarded theAudioFile Earphones Award on Valentine’s Day 2014.

Her family feature film screenplay A Girl and Her Dogwas awarded a Kids First! Endorsement by the Coalition for Quality Children’s Media in October 2012 and optioned by Shadow Cave Productions in February 2013.

Originally from Feeding Hills, MA, Dawn migrated to San Antonio in 1968, then when her first son was one years old, her family moved to Houston where work was more plentiful. After 40+ years of heat and humidity, she has her sights on the Pacific NW.

Dawn is the co-author of the animated screenplay Memoirs of a Dog which won the Spirit Award of the Moondance Film Festival (children’s category) September 2011. Her dark comedy Plan B was a finalist in the Table Read My Screenplay script competition in 2010 and years before that, Standing Dead won the Women in Film and Television (Houston Chapter) screenplay award.

Stay tuned for The Last Dog (futuristic/sci-fi 2015), and Spicy Chocolate (2016).


(Disclosure:  I received an e-copy of "Bitter Chocolate" from the author via Virtual Author Book Tours in exchange for my honest, non-biased opinion.)

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Penny Wise by Dave and Neta Jackson


Michelle Jasper doesn’t have much time to hang out with her neighbors—not with thirteen-year-old twins, another teen with hoop dreams, a full-time job as a caseworker, volunteering at a crisis pregnancy center, and heading up the women’s ministry at Northside Baptist. Her husband’s constantly changing shifts as an air traffic controller at the world’s busiest airport—Chicago’s O’Hare International—and responsibilities as a trusted deacon at Northside only add to the juggling act at the Jasper household.

Her new neighbors, Harry and Estelle Bentley, mean well with their friendly efforts to bring people together, but how can she deal with neighborhood concerns—like Greg Singer, who lost his job and is now trying to recruit sales reps from the neighborhood for his new venture—when she’s confronted with tragic family situations daily in her job? Like little Candy and her baby brother Pookey, victims of neglect . . .

With the “tyranny of the urgent” crowding out the important, Michelle is blindsided by danger involving her own kids—and a personal crisis that calls into question the very values she holds dear. How could this happen? Does God even care?

As her life unravels, a missing penny—and a “penny from heaven”—give her a shred of hope. But will God just laugh at her penny test?



"Penny Wise" by Dave and Neta Jackson is a wonderfully readable story about everyday folks in middle America.  The story flows naturally and more than once I was nodding my head in recognition of situations in Michelle's life and the lives of her family, neighbors and friends.

Michelle's morality was also presented in a non-preaching manner, which I appreciated.  It was nice to read about a mom who worried about her 13-year old daughter going to a cheerleading camp where the outfits were *ahem* not exactly modest.  Not that other mothers don't take that into account, but sometimes it seems the emphasis is on whether or not the children will fit in with the popular crowd, or that the parent is trying to live out some of their dreams through their children.  (Can we say "Toddlers and Tiaras" anyone?)

While it's nice, sometimes, to read stories about people who are not like 'us' (whatever that means), it's also a good experience to read stories to which we can relate on a personal level.  Everyone is valuable in the eyes of God and "Penny Wise" is a great story about the worth of 'ordinary' people.  In my opinion (and from my experience) when it seems like God isn't there, it's because we are looking for Him in the wrong place.

The Jacksons are a new-to-me writing team.  They have collaborated with each other and with other writers on absolutely SCADS of books (154 listed on GoodReads).  Assuming they are all as good as "Penny Wise", I'm going to be a busy reader for a long, long time.



Dave and Neta Jackson are award-winning authors living in the Chicago area where their parallel novels from the Yada Yada House of Hope and Harry Bentley series are set. As a husband/wife writing team, Dave and Neta Jackson are enthusiastic about books, kids, walking with God, gospel music, and each other! Together they are the authors or coauthors of over 100 books.


(Disclosure:  I received a copy of "Penny Wise" from the authors and publishers via Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my honest, unbiased review.)

Monday, July 7, 2014

BOOK REVIEW: Waking Up White by Debby Irving

• Paperback: 288 pages
• Publisher: Elephant Room Press (January 9, 2014)



On the heels of a year when films such DjangoThe Butler, and 12 Years a Slave have made real the lived experience of black Americans, Waking Up White exposes critical aspects of the white experience. White people are thirsting for clarity on racial issues and the confidence to engage in conversation about them. Many people of color yearn for authentic, informed dialogue about racism with white friends, family, and colleagues.Waking Up White bridges this divide by functioning both as a “Racism 101” for white people and a rare exposé on whiteness for people of color. The book is a catalytic kick-starter that provides people of all colors and levels of racial awareness with the language and tools necessary to enter into cross-racial conversations about race within a less threatening context. For white readers wanting to further their own awakening, Irving includes short prompts and exercises at the end of each chapter.

“When I finally came to understand the way racism worked,” she explains, “I spent a lot of time thinking about what might have enlightened me earlier. I decided it wouldn’t have been an academic book, an essay, or a book from the perspective of a person of color — it would have been another white person describing their own awakening. What I needed was a memoir so irresistible that I would have read it even if racism weren’t on my mind.”



Writing as a person who happens to be Caucasian , reading this book was not always easy.  But then, life is not easy either, but it is worth living.  And, "Waking Up White" is definitely a book worth reading.  The reader doesn't pick it up to read.  It picks the reader up and practically demands to be read.

I was born in 1961 in a wide spot in the road just north of Pittsburgh, PA, and lived my early childhood in the small town of Cumberland, MD.  There was one black family in town (of which I was aware).  One of their sons just happened to be in my grade school class.  My mother once described the family with the words, "and they're so clean".  Here's an interesting tidbit.  Nearly 50 years in the future, I remember the names of my two closest friends, and the name of my African-American classmate ... and that's it.

When I was 8 or 9 years old, my family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah - also not one of the more racially balanced cities in America.  I remember an incident from the 1970's where there was a big stink when someone made a show of conferring the LDS priesthood on a black man outside of Temple Square.  Up until that time, the church's priesthood groups contained few, if any, men of color and certainly no blacks.

Later, I had a job for a while on a magazine crew.  I was going door-to-door in a neighborhood outside Washington, D.C.  It was a sea of apartment buildings (and I make the distinction here from 'projects'), as far as the eye could see.  And I was the only white person I saw for several hours.  I wasn't disturbed or fearful ... but I sure felt 'different'.

Lastly, there is a country lane not far from where my family lives that is called "Old Negro Creek Road".   The long-time residents of the area still occasionally use another, less-politically correct name for it.

A main benefit (IMO) of Irving's book is that she 'leads by example' and offers up her life as a textbook for helping people think about the effects of race on our lives.

Sometimes, I feel sorry for myself as a person with chronic, clinical depression, or someone whose family cannot be described as 'well-off' financially, I often forget the advantages I have.  Some of these advantages come just because my skin is white.

At the end of each chapter is a question or two for our consideration.  A few of them had me scrambling for excuses to take a break.  I noticed the less I liked my reflection (based on the question), the more likely I was to invent 'any' excuse to stop reading for a while.  And I didn't like that about myself.  So I went back and read some more.

I may never 'leave my nets' or sell all of my worldly goods to exclusively follow the cause of racial justice.  It's a big world and there are all kinds of problems that vie for people's time.  You have to pick your battles.  The most satisfying job I ever had taught me that you have to stand up for what is right, and lessened my fear at so doing.  "Waking Up White" is a phenomenal education (for anyone) on the ins and outs of racial bias and justice.  While I may never be a general on the racial justice battlefield, I am grateful to Irving for supplying me with a field manual so I can be a well-trained, thoughtful participant in the on-going struggle.



Debby is a white woman, raised in Winchester, Massachusetts during the socially turbulent 1960s and ‘70s. After a blissfully sheltered, upper-middle-class suburban childhood, she found herself simultaneously intrigued and horrified by the racial divide she observed in Boston. From 1984 to 2009 her work in urban neighborhoods and schools left her feeling helpless. Why did people live so differently along racial lines? Why were student outcomes so divergent? Why did she get so jumpy when talking to a person of color? Where did the fear of saying something stupid or offensive come from, and why couldn’t she make it go away? The more she tried to understand racial dynamics, the more confused she became. “I knew there was an elephant in the room,” she writes, “I just didn’t know it was me!”

In 2009, a course at Wheelock College, Racial and Cultural Identity, shook her awake with the realization that she’d missed step #1: examining the way being a member of the “normal” race had interfered with her attempts to understand racism. Waking Up White is the story of her two-steps-forward-one-step back journey away from racial ignorance.

Debby has worked since the 1980s to foster diversity, inclusiveness, and community-building. As general manager of Boston’s Dance Umbrella and later First Night, she developed both a passion for cross-cultural collaborations and an awareness of the complexities inherent in cross-cultural relationships. She has worked in public and private schools as a classroom teacher, board member, and parent. A graduate of theWinsor School in Boston, she holds a BA from Kenyon College and an MBA from Simmons College. Now a Cambridge-based racial justice educator and writer, Debby supports other white people grappling with the impact whiteness can have on perception, problem solving, and engaging in racial justice work.

(Disclaimer:  The author and publisher provided me with a print copy of "Waking Up White" via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest and unbiased opinion.)

BOOK REVIEW: A Biscuit, a Casket by Liz Mugavero



The small town of Frog Ledge, Connecticut, has wholeheartedly embraced Kristan “Stan” Connor’s new business – preparing quality organic treats for dogs and cats. On a healthy diet, the animals may live longer…but one local farmer won’t be so lucky. As Halloween approaches, Stan is asked to cater a doggie costume party hosted by the Happy Cow Dairy Farm. Part of a local co-op, Happy Cow specializes in organic dairy products, and farmers Hal and Emmalee Hoffman have started opening up the farm for parties, offering a “haunted” corn maze as an added attraction. When Hal’s lifeless body is found in the maze, the police at first suspect his wife, but Stan soon learns the dairy farmer had plenty of enemies – from bitter family members to shady business associates. If Stan can’t extract a kernel of truth from the labyrinth of lies, she may be the next one to buy the farm…



Gotta love small towns.  Like Frog Ledge, Connecticut, or Dog Walk, Kentucky.  That, and the fact that the townsfolk love their dogs enough to spring for 'gourmet' dog food and treats almost gives me warm fuzzies about the Yankees (people who live in the northern United States, not the baseball team). *LOL*

I love the way Ms. Mugavero weaves in the thoughts and principles of specially prepared pet food and vegetarianism into "A Biscuit, A Casket" without preaching to the readers.  After all, most pet-lovers consider pets as their family.  (Seriously, how many times have you seen bloggers call pets their 'furry babies'?  I've seen it.  Heck, I've done it!)

With 'Casket' in the title, it would seem obvious that someone is going to wind up dead.  When Stan is setting up for a doggy costume party at a farm where there is also a corn maze, someone stumbles across (almost literally) the body of the farm's owner in the corn maze.  Either he has...well, enemy or there was a severe penalty for taking a wrong turn.  And Hal was no saint, so there is no dearth of suspects.  Just as the wife is being taken down to HQ for 'questions', the couple's eldest son, Tyler, confesses.

This is a cozy mystery.  Stan (Kristan) gets cozy with Jake.  Widow Hoffman gets cozy with Ted - one of the farm's co-op partners, and even Stan's mother, Patricia, seems awfully cozy with a local mayoral candidate, Tony Falco.

Mugavero does an excellent job of weaving the varied lives of a large cast of small-town characters together to create a coherent and thrilling mystery with a heart.



Liz Mugavero has been writing stories since she could hold a pen. Before that, she would tell them to anyone who would listen (not many at the time). After deciding early on she would write books for a living, she practiced by writing bad, angst-filled poems, short stories and even a storyline for a soap opera–all by age 15. She never wavered from her goals despite all the usual questions including, “So are you going to be an English teacher with that degree in English?” or, “That writing thing sounds nice, but how are you REALLY going to make a living?”

She went on to get a master’s in writing and publishing and spent time in journalism, PR, and presently, corporate communications. And she’s confident this writing thing IS the way to make a living.

Aside from writing, she loves animals (has a houseful), the beach, reading other writers’ masterpieces and Starbucks coffee.


(Disclaimer:  I received a print copy of "A Biscuit, a Casket" from the author and publisher via Great Escapes Virtual Book Tours in exchange for my honest opinion.)