Monday, November 24, 2014

Holy Mailbox Monday, Batman!

Mailbox Monday is the gathering place for readers to share the books that came in their mailbox during the last week. Warning: Mailbox Monday can lead to envy, toppling TBR piles and humongous wish lists.  Click the link-up button above the see more book hauls and/or to add your own!

It's been a dry spell in my mailbox of late.  Seriously, I've been going through withdrawal.  But just now, I went down to the road to a mailbox STUFFED with envelopes and packages.  (I didn't think the mail carrier was down there that long!)

First up, all the way from the UK:

(Cover graphic is linked to tour page at Historical Fiction Virtual Blog Tours.  I will review this title on Friday, December 5, 2014.)

Publication Date: December 5, 2014
Crooked Cat Publications
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 312
ISBN: 978-1-910510-06-3

Genre: Historical Fiction

SIX EPOCHS, TEN LIVES INTERSECTING AT A SINGLE PLACE. 2013: Al Cohen, an American in search of his European heritage.

1944-1946: Friedrich Werner, an officer of the Wehrmacht and later a prisoner of war. His wife Greta, clinging to what remains of her life in war-torn Berlin.

1799: Suzanne de Beaubigny, a royalist refugee from revolutionary France.

1517: Richard Mabon, a Catholic priest on pilgrimage to Jerusalem with his secretary, Nicholas Ahier.

1160: Raoul de Paisnel, a knight with a dark secret walking through Spain with his steward, Guillaume Bisson.

4000 BC: Egrasté, a sorceress, and Txeru, a man on an epic voyage.

Transgressions, reconciliations and people caught on the wrong side of history.

Omphalos. A journey through six thousand years of human history.


Next up, a book I have been waiting for since I read its predecessor, When Camels Fly back in May of this year:

(Cover links to the book's GoodReads page.  The book is part of a tour by Virtual Author Book Tours.  I will post a review of this title on Friday, January 16, 2015.)

Publication Date: November 12, 2014
RidgeRoute Press
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages: 408
ISBN: 0991401735

Genre: Historical Fiction

A friend's deception. A family's dilemma.

While cataloguing looted antiquities in Brussels, archaeologist Grace Madison discovers that her daughter has vanished in France, and her son's bride has been attacked in Switzerland. After the Madison family unearths a relic whose taproot pierces the Ancient Near East, they realize that before they can save themselves, they must rescue an old friend. If he'll let them. 

Because choosing what's right is all that's left. 


(Cover links to the tour page at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  I will post a review of this title on Wednesday, December 10, 2014, and host a guest post by the author on Friday, December 12, 2014)

Publication Date: September 29, 2014
Raven’s Wing Books
Formats: eBook, Paperback
Pages:  344
ISBN:  1618071254

Genre: Historical Fiction

“… in the meantime, a credible report caused all ecclesiastics of the Catholic Church to lament and weep.” Prudentius of Troyes, Annales Bertiniani, anno 839

On Ascension Day May 22, 838, Bishop Bodo, chaplain, confessor, and favorite of both his kin, Emperor Louis the Pious, son of Charlemagne, and Empress Judith, caused the greatest scandal of the Carolingian Empire and the 9th century Roman Church.

Bodo, the novel, dramatizes the causes, motivations, and aftermath of Bodo’s astonishing cause célèbre that took place during an age of superstitions, a confused Roman Church, heterodoxies, lingering paganism, broken oaths, rebellions, and dissolution of the Carolingian Empire.

And last but not least:

(Cover links to the tour page at Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours.  I will post a review of this title on Monday, December 8, 2014.)

Publication Date: October 1, 2014
Blank Slate Press
Formats: eBook, Trade Paperback
Pages: 300
ISBN:  0985808667

Genre: Historical Fiction

Agnes Canon is tired of being a spectator in life, an invisible daughter among seven sisters, meat for the marriage market. The rivers of her Pennsylvania countryside flow west, and she yearns to flow with them, explore new lands, know the independence that is the usual sphere of men.

This is a story of a woman’s search for freedom, both social and intellectual, and her quest to understand what freedom means. She learns that freedom can be the scent and sound of unsettled prairies, the glimpse of a cougar, the call of a hawk. The struggle for freedom can test the chains of power, poverty, gender, or the legalized horror of slavery. And to her surprise, she discovers it can be found within a marriage, a relationship between a man and a woman who are equals in everything that matters.

It’s also the story of Jabez Robinson, a man who has traveled across the continent and seen the beauty of the country and the ghastliness of war, as he watches his nation barrel toward disaster. Faced with deep-seated social institutions and hard-headed intransigence, he finds himself helpless to intervene. Jabez’s story is an indictment of war in any century or country, and an admission that common sense and reasoned negotiation continue to fail us.

As Agnes and Jabez struggle to keep their community and their lives from crumbling about them, they must face the stark reality that whether it’s the freedom of an African from servitude, of the South from the North, or of a woman from the demands of social convention, the cost is measured in chaos and blood.

This eloquent work of historical fiction chronicles the building of a marriage against the background of a civilization growing – and dying – in the prelude to civil war. 


If you made it this far, first of all: congratulations!  Secondly, thank you!  Which of these books seems most up your alley?

Book Review: Murder for a Rainy Day by Teresa Trent


Animal rustling is alive and well in the sleepy little town of Pecan Bayou, Texas–but with a particularly peculiar spin. Only the fake livestock seem to be at risk. First, cowboy legend Charlie Loper’s larger-than-life fiberglass horse disappears from the town square, but before the police can get any solid leads, the cow in front of the local steak house gets pinched.

Betsy Livingston Fitzpatrick, local helpful hints columnist for the Pecan Bayou Gazette, is trying keep her mind off of being nine months pregnant in the blistering Texas summer heat. Troubled by haunting dreams, she pursues the odd animal thefts in a case that soon turns into murder. As Betsy closes in on the killer, a hurricane is headed straight for the Gulf Coast sending spin-off storms and tornadoes to the little town of Pecan Bayou.

“Hunker down” with Betsy and the lovable characters of Pecan Bayou in the latest Betsy Livingston mystery from cozy author Teresa Trent. Recipes and helpful hints included.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Interview: Sybil Johnson of Fatal Brushstrokes


I am delighted to welcome Sybil Johnson to the Back Porch today to let us know a little more about her new book, Fatal Brushstroke, the first "Aurora Anderson Mystery", and a little more about herself!  Be sure to check out my review and the giveaway published earlier today!


1.  So are you crafty in general and/or do you specialize in tole painting?

I’ve always enjoyed crafts and have tried out many different ones over the years. My mother taught me to embroider when I was in grade school.  My first project was a set of flour sack towels embroidered with cartoon mice. When I was a kid, I checked out issues of the Pack-o-Fun magazine 
from the library and did some of the projects. I’ve tried sewing, macramé, crocheting, knitting, scrapbooking, calligraphy, counted cross-stitch, and tole painting. Counted cross-stitch and tole painting are my favorites, though, and the ones I do most often.

2.  What brought you to SoCal from the Pacific Northwest?

I moved to L.A. to go to college. I’d never been to L.A., but I’d always wanted to come here so I applied to the University of Southern California. They awarded me a full scholarship so I headed south. I graduated with a degree in Computer Science which was a fairly new field at the time, got a job here, and ended up staying.

3.  Have you written in other genres as well?

Not yet. Most of my ideas fall into the crime/mystery genre so that’s what I’ve been concentrating on. It’s also the genre I enjoy reading the most.

4.  If you could walk on the beach with any other writer from history, who would you ask, what would you talk about, and how would you stay hydrated?

Agatha Christie. After I got over being in her presence, I’d ask her what her work process was, what it was like to live through WWII in London, what it was like to be on archaeological digs with her husband, and what really happened during the time she was missing. (The answer to the last I would never reveal to a soul, of course, since she’d be telling me in confidence.) I’d be drinking peppermint water for hydration.

5.  Is there a set number of books in the Aurora Anderson mystery series or is it more fluid?

It’s fluid. I’m contracted for 3 books so far in the series. Beyond that, I don’t know. I’d like to keep writing Rory’s adventures as long as I come up with ideas.

6.  What is the hardest part of being an author?

Juggling writing and promotional activities. Posting on Facebook, tweeting, blogging, updating a website, posting reviews on Goodreads... It’s all a lot of fun, but can also eat up all of your writing time if you’re not careful.

7.  What is the raison d'etre of your writing?  What would you like to accomplish?

Reading has brought me a lot of enjoyment over the years and I’d like to return the favor. I’d like to write stories people enjoy reading. It’s as simple as that.

8.  I am impressed that you remember one of the first books you read.  Does your head for detail help you keep characters and stories straight?

I’m fortunate to be blessed with a good memory for details (or cursed depending on how you look at it.) That helps quite a bit in my writing, but things sometimes still get muddled in my brain, so I keep notes on all my projects. At one point, I did some script supervising (continuity) on a few student films. Script supervisors use a slew of forms to keep track of all the details they need to remember when filming. I’ve repurposed one or two of those forms to help me keep track of information in my books.

9.  What is the best book you've ever read?

That’s a tough one. I’ve read so many great books, fiction and non-fiction, over the years I don’t really have a favorite. So here are a few books I’ve read fairly recently that stand out in my mind: LOSING CLEMENTINE by Ashley Ream, AUNT DIMITY’S DEATH by Nancy Atherton, DIAL H FOR HITCHCOCK by Susan Kandel, DISSOLUTION by C.J. Sansom, DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY by Erik Larson.


Book Review/Giveaway: Fatal Brushstrokes by Sybil Johnson


A dead body in her garden and a homicide detective on her doorstep…

Computer programmer and tole-painting enthusiast Aurora (Rory) Anderson doesn’t envision finding either when she steps outside to investigate the frenzied yipping coming from her own backyard. After all, she lives in Vista Beach, a quiet California beach community where violent crime is rare and murder even rarer.

Suspicion falls on Rory when the body buried in her flowerbed turns out to be someone she knows—her tole painting teacher, Hester Bouquet. Just two weekends before, Rory attended one of Hester’s weekend painting seminars, an unpleasant experience she vowed never to repeat. As evidence piles up against Rory, she embarks on a quest to identify the killer and clear her name. Can Rory unearth the truth before she encounters her own brush with death?



I was a bit surprised to have the crime already committed at the book's open, but that was a good thing.  That is unusual.  In a genre (such as cozy mysteries), there are certain conventions to which a book will adhere.  It follows then that having something to distinguish one's work from amongst the crowd makes people sit up and take notice.  I certainly did.  My little reading radar was twitching madly!

Rory and Liz's friendship is great.  You know they are close because with half a dozen words over the phone from Rory, Liz knows that something is wrong.  Of course, communication is as much about what is not said and non-verbal clues, but a good friend would pick up on that.

Each chapter seems to bring a new thread or two (no wait, tole painting and the outdoors figure into this mystery) plant or two to the garden, another color or two to the palette.  Why is the body found in Rory's garden?  Either she is the murderer or someone is planting evidence (*groan* I know) against her.  Does someone hold a grudge against her?  (It certainly doesn't look good for Rory as she turns out to be the child of the couple responsible for the chief of police's family's arson deaths.)  I am NOT saying the Chief is in any way responsible but does this make it easier for him to believe the mounting evidence against Rory?  An interesting psychological angle.

Fatal Brushstrokes is an intriguing start to the Aurora Anderson Mystery Series and a satisfying read in its own right.  Freelance computer programmer is a pretty gutsy career choice for a cozy heroine.  I know it is written in 3rd person, but I had a very 1st person connection to Rory's experiences.  I felt I was seeing what she saw, feeling what she felt, etc.  I am excited to see where this series will take us!



(photograph by Nicole Ortega)

Sybil Johnson grew up in the Pacific Northwest. Frequent trips to the library introduced her to the Land of Oz, Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, Bilbo Baggins and a whole lot more. She fell in love with mysteries reading Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. In junior high, she discovered Agatha Christie.

After high school graduation, Sybil moved south to attend the University of Southern California, majoring in Computer Science. After twenty years of designing and writing code and managing programmers and software development projects, she turned to a life of crime writing.

Her short fiction has appeared in Mysterical-ESpinetingler MagazineKing’s River Life Magazine, Crimson Dagger, and Silver Moon Magazine. A past president of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles, Sybil also co-chaired the 2011 California Crime Writers Conference. In her spare time, she enjoys tole painting, studying ancient languages (Ancient Egyptian and Coptic are her current areas of interest), and spending time with friends and family.


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Click the logo above to follow the tour, including more reviews, guest posts, interviews and more chances to win!

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

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Book Review: Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death by Mark Reutlinger


Everyone knows that Rose Kaplan makes the best matzoh ball soup around—she’s a regular matzoh ball maven—so it’s no surprise at the Julius and Rebecca Cohen Home for Jewish Seniors when, once again, Mrs. K wins the honor of preparing the beloved dish for the Home’s seder on the first night of Passover. 

But when Bertha Finkelstein is discovered facedown in her bowl of soup, her death puts a bit of a pall on the rest of the seder. And things go really meshugge when it comes out that Bertha choked on a diamond earring earlier stolen from resident Daisy Goldfarb. Suddenly Mrs. K is the prime suspect in the police investigation of both theft and murder. Oy vey—it’s a recipe for disaster, unless Rose and her dear friend Ida can summon up the chutzpah to face down the police and solve the mystery themselves.

Monday, November 17, 2014

2015 Hard Core Re-reading Challenge Sign-up Post

Please click the button above to go to the challenge sign-up page and see all the particulars.

I'm going for Level 1 on this challenge, which is 10-20 books.  The books listed below are books that I have read in 2014 that I would like to re-read.

1.  Murder at Honeychurch Hall by Hannah Dennison
2.  The Publicist by Christina George
3.  Shelf-Life by Christina George
4.  The Lens and the Looker by Lory S. Kaufman
5.  The Bronze and the Brimstone by Lory S. Kaufman
6.  The Loved and the Lost by Lory S. Kaufman
7.  When Camels Fly by N.L.B. Horton
8.  Dance of the Spirits by Catherine Aerie
9.  The Angel of Losses by Stephanie Feldman
10.  Who am I? by Megan Cyrulewski
11.  Lost Legacy by Annette Dashofy
(links in this list go to GoodReads)

and in the 'catch-all' categories:

a.  anything I've already read by Joyce and Jim Lavene
b.  anything I've already read by Daryl Wood Gerber
c.  anything I've already read by Avery Aames

These lists are by no means exhaustive, because I'm exhausted.  But they give me a good 'tour guide', so to speak, and let me know which books I should not put on the high shelves. ;)

As I finish the re-reads/re-reviews, I'll start a list below:


Book Review: Die I Will Not by S. K. Rizzolo


Unhappy wife and young mother Penelope Wolfe fears scandal for her family and worse. A Tory newspaper editor has been stabbed while writing a reply to the latest round of letters penned by a firebrand calling himself Collatinus. Twenty years before, her father, the radical Eustace Sandford, wrote as Collatinus before he fled London just ahead of accusations of treason and murder. A mysterious beauty closely connected to Sandford and known only as N.D. had been brutally slain, her killer never punished. The seditious new Collatinus letters that attack the Prince Regent in the press also seek to avenge N.D. s death and unmask her murderer. What did the journalist know that provoked his death? Her artist husband Jeremy is no reliable ally, so Penelope turns anew to lawyer Edward Buckler and Bow Street Runner John Chase. As she battles public notoriety, Buckler and Chase put their careers at risk to stand behind her while pursuing various lines of inquiry aimed at N.D. s murderer, a missing memoir, Royal scandal, and the dead editor s missing wife. As they navigate the dark underbelly of Regency London among a cast driven by dirty politics and dark passions, as well as by decency and a desire for justice, past secrets and present criminals are exposed, upending Penelope s life and the lives of others."