Murder at the Book Club

Need a little escape from the hustle and bustle of the holiday season? Why not discover a new author and a new cozy mystery series? Maggie King is introducing the first of the Book Club Series on December 30 — perfect way to use that Amazon gift card you receive as a gift! Check out an excerpt here. Now is also the ideal time to pre-order. Amazon is offering 25% off books with the promotional code BOOKDEAL25

Murder at the Book Club

Author: Maggie King

Paperback: 400 pages (also available in e-formats and audiobooks)

Publisher: Pocket Books (December 30, 2014)


Hazel Rose never dreamed that the murder mystery book group she and her friend Carlene started would stage a real murder.

Nevertheless, the normally composed Carlene is unusually angry and rattled one night during a book group discussion and dies after drinking cyanide-spiked tea. Despite a suicide note, Hazel is skeptical; Carlene never seemed suicidal—she was busy making plans for her future. Incidentally, Carlene was married to Hazel’s ex-husband, and Hazel has always suspected there might be something more to her past than she let on.

How much does anyone really know about Carlene Arness? And did she die by her own hand or someone else’s? Hazel begins a search for the truth that produces no shortage of motives, as she unearths the past that Carlene took great pains to hide. And most of those motives belong to the members of her very own book group…

Featuring memorable characters and a wicked sense of humor, Murder at the Book Group shows the darker side of a book club where reading isn’t about pleasure—it’s about payback.

The Tiny Portrait

The Tiny Portrait

Author: Heidi Carla

Illustrator: Karla Cinquantatinyportrait

Hardcover: 56 pages

Publisher: Curly and Iceberg Publishing (October 1, 2014)


Young siblings Tess and Toby discover an antique tintype portrait of an unknown ancestor in a family heirloom trunk. Their discovery leads them on an unexpected adventure when they embark on an imaginative journey to uncover her identity. Along the way, the children are encouraged to explore their own unique connection to the past by creating a family tree. This curio keepsake book features atmospheric photographic illustrations with inter-generational appeal.


Every kid loves a treasure hunt. I know, because I once planned a pirate party for my daughter, complete with treasure hunt. Author Heidi Carla and her sister Karla Cinquanta, the book’s illustrator, managed to combine treasure hunts, which kids love, with genealogy, which grown-ups love. It’s a great way to draw your children into your hobby or even just encourage them to be interested in their ancestors. The book’s illustrations, which seem to be mainly black and white with selected sections colored, serve as the perfect bridge between the present and the past. The do add a bit of a haunted feel to the book which I’m sure kids will love. Adults will love the fact that the illustrations are beautiful.

I think this book has the possibility to serve as a way to nourish the relationship between grandkids and grandparents. I would even give this to an adult who enjoys genealogy or perhaps a teacher with a lesson plan that involves family trees.

5Ws with Linda Appleman Shapiro

Linda Appleman Shapiro is on a WOW Blog Tour with her memoir She’s shes-not-herself-coverNot Herself: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness (Dream of Things, September 2, 2014). You can stop by the other blogs on her tour by checking out her schedule and an opportunity to win a copy of She’s Not Herself here.

Her first memoir, Four Rooms, Upstairs, was self-published in 2007 and named Finalist in the Indie Next Generation Book Awards in 2008. Her blog of three years, “A Psychotherapist’s Journey,” named Shapiro Top Blogger in the field of mental health by WELLsphere.

She’s Not Herself: A Psychotherapist’s Journey Into and Beyond Her Mother’s Mental Illness is a journey to make sense of the effects of multi-generational traumas. Linda Appleman Shapiro is ultimately able to forgive (without forgetting) those who left her to fend for herself–and to provide readers with the wisdom of a seasoned psychotherapist who has examined human vulnerability in its many disguises and has moved through it all with dignity and hope. The result is a memoir of love, loss, loyalty, and healing.
On the surface, her childhood seemed normal–even idyllic. Linda Appleman Shapiro grew up in the iconic immigrant community of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, with her parents and a gifted older brother. But she spent her days at home alone with a mother who suffered major bouts of depression. At such times, young Linda Appleman Shapiro was told, “Your mother…she’s not herself today.” Those words did little to help Linda understand what she was witnessing. Instead, she experienced the anxiety and hyper-vigilance that often take root when secrecy and shame surround a family member who is ill.

Today Linda is visiting Words by Webb to answer five questions.

Who do you hope will read your book?

LINDA: First and foremost, I hope I have written a story that will speak to all readers. I do not think my memoir is merely about my personal survival, which will relate only to adult children of the mentally ill. I think that most readers will be able to use what I’ve experienced to help them understand, identify and empathize with any dysfunctional situations in their own lives or the lives of others.

Even those in the professional community of therapists, social workers, and psychologists are claiming to benefit as I share how I processed years of trauma by examining them through the lens of time and with the help of skilled professionals. Gaining inspiration and the ability to forgive without forgetting is never easy. However, it is my hope that in my search for ways to face a reality that was never acknowledged, I am encouraging others to succeed in finding ways to feel more at peace as they cope with whatever obstacles have blocked their path to healing.

What do you feel are the most significant changes in society’s attitudes toward mental illness compared to when you were young? What do we still need to improve?

LINDA: We know today that secrets within in a family are the breeding ground for all sorts of emotional problems including mental illness. Surely there has been a paradigm shift in de-stigmatizing illnesses in general. The scientific community is moving forward in its race to better understand and treat patients suffering from a variety of conditions that fall under the broad umbrella we refer to as mental illness. If we focus only on the reported rise in children with autism, the increasing numbers of teen suicides, or the ever-increasing numbers of the mentally ill who are incarcerated instead of hospitalized (*when all statistics point to the fact that the great majority of the mentally ill are not perpetrators of crime), there remains am urgent need to help identify and treat loved ones whose families don’t know how to help even when they are witness to unusual and even aberrant behaviors.

Additionally, due to the increase and awareness of the number of physical illnesses (including cancer) societal pressures are offering patients and their families as many options for treatment and care that are currently available.

The curtain to what was my so-called “normal” for my family in the 40s and 50s is certainly lifting. Yet, there still remain many communities and religious sects that adhere to the belief that problems in any family should stay within the family. They don’t want others to judge them and therefore they do nothing to change what, on some level, they are aware of as having the potential for danger. Therefore, all the auxiliary people who come in contact with children – from pediatricians to teachers to social workers – must be better educated to recognize the signs and symptoms that children inevitably exhibit if a trained eye is watching them. More funding must be allotted for further scientific research that includes how to best treat patients as young as toddlers and treatment centers and hospitals must be available for those in all socio-economic groups, if we are ever to live in a saner and safer world.

Why did you choose memoir instead of fiction, a genre that leaves you greater latitude?

LINDA: I chose memoir because I felt compelled to share a story that I experienced first hand. I then re-visited, remembered, and sorted through all that has affected me, shaped who I was and who I have become.

I am happy to leave it to others to create worlds within worlds with fictional characters and reach the hearts and souls of readers as great writers throughout time have always done. That was not my calling.

When did you begin writing?

LINDA: I began to journal at the age of eleven after reading Anne Frank’s Diary and have written poetry (primarily for myself and a few chosen loved ones). I only wrote critical papers throughout college and the various graduate programs I attended. Creative writing was not anything I even attempted to explore.

To answer your question, I’d have to say that writing my memoir has been my first real stab at writing. I’d be less than honest if I didn’t admit to it also being a labor of love and tenacity. It has reaped untold hours of revelatory awareness of who I was and who I have become.

Where will your writing go from here?

LINDA: I intend to revive a weekly blog a wrote for three years – “A Psychotherapist’s Journal” – which I’m proud to say named me Top Blogger in the field of Mental Health by Wellsphere (an on-line site whose mission was to “to help millions of people live healthier, happier lives by connecting them with the knowledge, people and tools needed to manage and improve their health).

With regard to writing another book:

In spite of the fact that I know how difficult it is for authors who are not well known to get a book of essays published, that is, in fact, my next project. I started it a while back, but now that my memoir is out, I have every intention of returning to it.

I have always been fascinated by the power of myths within families, cultures, and religions – all of which influence our choices, affect our beliefs, and color our biases.

Although many people associate the word “myth” with Greek Mythology, Webster defines a broader usage of myth to include “any invented story, concept, or idea.” It’s this broader sense of “invented stories” and how they affect us that I will be addressing in my essays. Whether we believe or don’t believe the constructs that have been passed down to us, we continue to tell ourselves stories to create other myths to heal old scars or enhance current joys. . . and it is only when we work to change negative behaviors do we create new realities. Such new realities help us identify the myths we’ve chosen to sustain us and allow us to discard those that have harmed us.

Questioning and exploring the role myths play in our lives, the essays will address a wide range of subjects, most of which are not nearly as whimsical as the working title I am now using, “Unicorns Eat Strawberry Ice Cream.” Whether that title will ultimately work or not, I’m not certain. But it gives me pleasure to know that I have taken it from an essay I wrote about a child’s ability to enjoy the luxury of imaginative play, admiring how she perceives her world to be safe and loving.

Since I grew up not knowing how to be care-free and spontaneous but was, instead, always on guard and hyper-vigilant, never knowing when the “black clouds,” (as Mother referred to the times when she was overcome by her demons) would descend.

I was, therefore, overwhelmed with joy when I spent an evening with my granddaughter (when she was 3½) and she asked me – when playing with a soft, cuddly stuffed unicorn – if I knew that unicorns ate strawberry ice cream. She couldn’t have been more serious on the one hand and more playful on the other. That ability left me awe-struck.

The sound of her laughter and the security she felt about going to sleep at night were not luxuries afforded to me at her age. For those of you who may have lived through family traumas or are living through them now, such luxuries are, no doubt, absent from your lives as well.

Yet, while anything can happen to any of us at any time, we can’t afford to allow the news of the week – the multitude of disasters around the globe – to deny ourselves the sheer pleasure of appreciating a child’s delightfully trusting and magnificently magical imagination. Even though such times may be too few and too fleeting, they are always precious.

That is why when we have the privilege of being with children reflecting the safety of the world as they know it, reveling in their playfulness enriches our lives. Learning from their ability to feel free enough to think creatively, encourages us to be open to all sorts of new possibilities. It serves us well to know that if we allow our innocent children to captivate our attention and in so doing inspire us, offering the opportunity to share in their gaiety, knowing that – even while they are aware that they are weaving a yarn, making up a story such as one where unicorns really do eat strawberry ice cream – so much more is possible.

More often, however, I will address the serious implications of myths as they impact 21st century life – including our need to understand relationships; the effects of failing economies; the changing priorities and new definitions of what constitutes a “family;” the attitudes toward mental health and the health care system itself; bullying in various arenas, and our changing attitudes towards toward age and aging.

Throughout this book, my mission will be to disempower outdated myths that impede progress. I’ve been told that this book of essays is the first book written by a psychotherapist addressing how the myths we absorb over time affect our present-day lives. If we become aware of them, we might then replace them with new stories – myths, if you will – that reflect our current realities, promote healthy growth and help to fully realize our potential. In order to move forward, we need the freedom to allow our imaginations to be more expansive, our attitudes towards people and cultures to become more inclusive. It’s a path toward the development of a saner, more civilized world.

5Ws with David Berner

David Berner is on a WOW Blog Tour with his latest book Any Road Will Take You There: A Journey of Fathers and Sons (Dream of Things, September 17, 2014). It is a heartwarming and heartbreaking story told with humor and grace, revealing the generational struggles and triumphs of being a dad, and the beautiful but imperfect ties that connectanyroad all of us. In the tradition of the Great American Memoir, a middle-age father takes the reader on a five-thousand-mile road trip–the one he always wished he’d taken as a young man. Recently divorced and uncertain of the future, he rereads the iconic road story–Jack Kerouac’s On the Road–and along with his two sons and his best friend, heads for the highway to rekindle his spirit. However, a family secret turns the cross-country journey into an unexpected examination of his role as a father, and compels him to look to the past and the fathers who came before him to find contentment and clarity, and celebrate the struggles and triumphs of being a dad.

David W. Berner–the award winning author of Accidental Lessons and Any Road Will Take You There–was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where he began his work as a broadcast journalist and writer. He moved to Chicago to work as a radio reporter and news anchor for CBS Radio and later pursue a career as a writer and educator. His book Accidental Lessons is about his year teaching in one of the Chicago area’s most troubled school districts. The book won the Golden Dragonfly Grand Prize for Literature and has been called a “beautiful, elegantly written book” by award-winning author Thomas E. Kennedy, and “a terrific memoir” by Rick Kogan (Chicago Tribune and WGN Radio). Any Road Will Take You There is the recipient of a Book of the Year Award from the Chicago Writers Association.

You can learn more about the stops for Berner’s blog tour and book giveaways here. Today, you can learn more about Berner and his writing in five questions.

WHO inspired you? Jack Kerouac?

DAVID: This may sound terribly cliché, but I have gained inspiration from a lot of people and not just writers. My sons inspire me with their passions and enthusiasm. My mother inspired me with her tenaciousness. My father inspired me with his unconditional love. Bob Dylan’s lyrics inspire. The music of alternative artists like Dawes, and Iron and Wine stimulate my creative side. And so many writers! Jack Kerouac’s free spiritedness that fills On the Road and The Dharma Bums certainly inspired Any Road Will Take You There. His compulsion to travel for the sake of travel, for insight, for redemption is the essence of my memoir. Hemingway also inspires me, and so do more modern-day writers like Chuck Klosterman and Paul Theroux. I love Annie Dillard. I could go on and on. In fact, I am frequently inspired, even in some small way, by the writer I’m reading at the moment. The simple leap of faith to put words down on paper deserves a celebration.

WHAT type of writing do you enjoy the most? You’ve done a bit of everything: fiction, memoir, non-fiction, reporting.

DAVID: I love creative nonfiction, the delving deep into the stories of our lives. This clearly stems from my journalism background. But what I write, most of the time, is not journalism, it’s personal stories. Nothing is better than a true story told well, a story that has layers based in the human experience.

I’ve written some fiction. In fact, I have a novel I’m trying to get published. But although it’s fiction, it’s based on a lot of my own experiences. It’s fiction in the Hemingway tradition. There’s truth between the lines.

DavidBernerWHY did you decide to tackle a memoir that focused on your relationship with your sons?

DAVID: I was compelled. In the first part of Any Road Will Take You There I lay out a story of a family photograph, long hidden. It’s of four generations of men: my great grandfather, my grandfather, my father, and me when I was a young boy. But it was never displayed in my home because it held the secrets of the scars of the men in that snapshot. This is what got me thinking about fatherhood and my own role as a dad. The road trip turned into a deep reflection about my relationship with my father and the ones I was forming with my sons.

The father-son relationship is so intensely complicated and layered. There’s nothing like it. Men carry the DNA of all the fathers who came before them, the good and bad stuff, and we struggle trying to decide what to keep and what to throw away. And because of the long tradition of fathers who stood at a distance from their sons, believing it was the right thing to do or because they didn’t know any differently, the modern father stumbles attempting to figure out what his role is supposed to be. There are all those echoes from the past, all those long shadows. I wanted to explore this, not only because it was important to me but also because I believe it resonates with every single man.

WHEN did you realize you would be a writer?

DAVID: Second grade. Seriously. I wrote a short book for class called The Cyclops. It was maybe five pages long. I was so proud of that book. Still have it in a storage box somewhere. It was the story of a deep-sea monster and the men who tried to capture it. The idea must have come out of all those Jacque Cousteau specials on TV back in the 1960s.

But I knew I was a professional writer when I began to get paid for writing journalism, print and broadcast, back in the late 1970s. My first writing job was in radio. I was a news reporter and had to write each day on deadline. It made focus on telling a story succinctly. It also helped me be a good editor. That’s probably why I love the rewriting or drafting process, sometimes even more than the writing itself. I love to massage and shape a story.

WHERE did you and your sons go on your journey?

DAVID: The trip was about 5000 miles: Chicago, Iowa, Denver, Moab, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Flagstaff, Santa Fe, back to Denver and Chicago and many places in between.

But miles on pavement cannot define the best part of the journey; it was instead measured by what was in our minds and hearts. There was a lot of time to listen to music, think, and talk. And in that kind of atmosphere, there is no way you can avoid going deep into the crevices of memory and emotion. Road trips force it all to the surface. It’s not as if we were in some sort of highway therapy session. It was simply the luxury of space and time that permitted us to observe and ask more questions of each other. I think my boys saw sides of their father they had not truly seen before, the introspective and the deeper side. And I saw boys turning into men. I saw the blossoming passions of my sons; I saw two exposed hearts. I truly believe that only time traveling over long stretches of highway can evoke such things.

Giveaway of Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death

Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death

Author: David ReutlingermrsKaplan

E-Book: 170 pages

Publisher: Random House (November 18, 2014)


Move over, Miss Marple—Mark Reutlinger’s charming cozy debut introduces readers to the unforgettable amateur sleuth Rose Kaplan and her loyal sidekick, Ida.

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.


Let me set the scene: Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson are drinking tea in a little cafe. But they’re both wearing flowery dresses, carrying large pocketbooks and have a tendency to say things like “Oy vey!” and, when they aren’t trying to figure out why a woman died they spend their days “lending a hand” to people’s personal (read: love) lives. That is Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death. Are you laughing a little bit after this short description? Well, you will be roaring with laughter once you start this book.

Author Mark Reutlinger does a fabulous job capturing the lives of little old ladies with time on their hands and a quirky way of looking at the world (every little old lady I’ve ever known!). The death (somewhat ridiculous) of Bertha is the catalyst for Rose and Ida’s adventure but you get the feeling they would have just as wild a time if someone stole Mr. Goldstein’s favorite pipe or Julian broke Hannah’s heart at the annual Hannakah celebration. What brings this book alive is the relationship of Rode and Ida. Rose is the deep thinker(she has a love of Holmes) and Ida seems to have “unusual” connections. And the situations they get into! Read this and picture your grandmother in some of these situations — and admit it, your crazy grandmother would totally do these crazy things.

I can’t wait to see what Rose and Ida are up to next!

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tlc-logo-resizedThanks to TLC Book Tours for an e-book to review and a chance for all Words by Webb readers to win a copy of Mrs. Kaplan and the Matzoh Ball of Death!

Giveaway: My Sister’s Grave

My Sister’s Grave                                                                                                   Dugoni_SistersGrave_19181_CV_FT-199x300

Author: Robert Dugoni

Paperback: 416 pages (also available in e-formats and audio)

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer (November 1, 2014)


Tracy Crosswhite has spent twenty years questioning the facts surrounding her sister Sarah’s disappearance and the murder trial that followed. She doesn’t believe that Edmund House-a convicted rapist and the man condemned for Sarah’s murder-is the guilty party. Motivated by the opportunity to obtain real justice, Tracy became a homicide detective with the Seattle PD and dedicated her life to tracking down killers. When Sarah’s remains are finally discovered near their hometown in the northern Cascade mountains of Washington State, Tracy is determined to get the answers she’s been seeking. As she searches for the real killer, she unearths dark, long-kept secrets that will forever change her relationship to her past and open the door to deadly danger.


Tracy’s sister Sarah has been dead for twenty years but author Robert Dugoni manages to “bring her to life” for readers with flashbacks to their childhood, last day together, and even a brief peek at the time after she has abducted. Thank you, Robert because the book just wouldn’t be complete without meeting Sarah. By meeting her we don’t just develop sympathy for Sarah but also better understand Tracy and her actions over the past two decades.

In the beginning this seems like a straightforward search for the true killer. But it ends up traveling down a completely different trail. Do not miss this book and this journey that Tracy takes. My Sister’s Grave does a great job of keeping you off balance. Is there anyone in Tracy’s hometown she can trust? What is the secret they all seem to know but aren’t willing to share with Tracy? Your mind will spin into overdrive as you try to figure out what the “big secret” is. Personally, I developed and abandoned at least a half dozen theories about what REALLY happened on that country road and in the days after Sarah’s abduction.

Ask yourself: how far would you go to get justice for the people you love?

Giveaway: Thanks to TLC Book Tours I’m giving away one copy of My Sister’s Grave!

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Slack Friday: Skipping Christmas

Remember Slack Friday from last week’s post? Well, here’s another holiday themed book to consider for Slack Friday.

Skipping Christmas: A Novel           13_SkippingChristmas

Author: John Grisham

Hardcover: 208 pages (also available in paperback, e-formats and audio)

Publisher: Random House (October 26, 2010)


Imagine a year without Christmas. No crowded malls, no corny office parties, no fruitcakes, no unwanted presents. That’s just what Luther and Nora Krank have in mind when they decide that, just this once, they’ll skip the holiday altogether. Theirs will be the only house on Hemlock Street without a rooftop Frosty, they won’t be hosting their annual Christmas Eve bash, they aren’t even going to have a tree. They won’t need one, because come December 25 they’re setting sail on a Caribbean cruise. But as this weary couple is about to discover, skipping Christmas brings enormous consequences—and isn’t half as easy as they’d imagined.

A classic tale for modern times from a beloved storyteller, John Grisham’s Skipping Christmas offers a hilarious look at the chaos and frenzy that have become part of our holiday tradition.


We’ve all had that passing daydream of escaping to somewhere (preferably tropical) and leaving the Christmas holiday behind. Yes, we love Christmas…the cookies, the gifts, the tree, the lights, the carols, the parties…but every once in a while the peacefulness of being somewhere not-Christmasey crosses all our minds. The first thing you’ll cay after reading this is, “John Grisham, really?” It’s a surprise and a pleasant jump to a voice that is quite different from his usual books. This book will speak to everyone, because we all have some part of Christmas (well not Christmas as much as the preparations) that we don’t enjoy. The Kranks decide to skip the craziness of Christmas but it quickly becomes an insane snowball of madness as they prepare not to prepare. This is a fun quick read that will make you appreciate they insanity that is your Christmas holiday.



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KidLit: The Eye of Zoltar

The Eye of Zoltar: The Chronicles of Kazam Book Three   us_zoltar_400x600

Author: Jasper Fforde

Hardcover: 416 pages (also available in e-formats)

Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (October 7, 2014)

Age Range: Grades 5 to 9/Ages 10 to 14


Although she’s an orphan in indentured servitude, sixteen-year-old Jennifer Strange is pretty good at her job of managing the unpredictable crew at Kazam Mystical Arts Management. She already solved the Dragon Problem, avoided mass destruction by Quarkbeast, and helped save magic in the Ununited Kingdoms. Yet even Jennifer may be defeated when the long-absent Mighty Shandar makes an astonishing appearance and commands her to find the Eye of Zoltar—proclaiming that if she fails, he will eliminate the only two dragons left on earth.

How can a teenage non-magician outdo the greatest sorcerer the world has ever known? But failure is unacceptable, so Jennifer must set off for the mysterious Cadir Idris in the deadly Cambrian Empire—a destination with a fatality index of fifty percent. With the odds against them, will Jennifer and her traveling companions ever return to the Kingdom of Snodd?


I keep saying I don’t like fantasy/sci-fi but I must be coming around because I loved The Eye of Zoltar. Although this is the third book in the series it wasn’t difficult to get up to speed. The characters gradually tell you the basics you need to know about the Ununited Kigdoms and Kazam Mystical Arts Management.

Author Jasper Fforde does a great job of keeping you turning pages. Even when things are calm (and mostly they aren’t) you feel an underlying tension of whatever is coming up. There are also so many people with hidden motives — they say one thing but Jennifer Strange (and you) know something else must be up so you keep reading trying to uncover what’s really happening. Along with adventures and unusual characters, The Eye of Zoltar has humor (but often with a tinge of darkness to it). I also noticed a pattern of short (3-4 pages) and longer chapters which is a plus when you have a reluctant reader at your house.

At 400+ pages this is a bit longer for younger readers but hopefully this crazy world and the wild quest will propel readers to the end.

And if you have a few minutes check put Fforde’s website, it’s tons of fun!


5Ws with Gretchen Archer

DOUBLESTRIKEfrontGretchen Archer just released Double Strike, the third book in the Davis Way Caper series, last month. Bellissimo Resort and Casino Super Spy Davis Way knows three things: Cooking isn’t a prerequisite for a happy marriage, don’t trust men who look like David Hasselhoff, and money doesn’t grow on Christmas trees. None of which help when a storm hits the Gulf a week before the most anticipated event in Bellissimo history: the Strike It Rich Sweepstakes. Securing the guests, staff, and property might take a stray bullet. Or two.

Bellissimo Resort and Casino Super Spy Davis Way has three problems: She’s desperate to change her marital status, she has a new boss who speaks in hashtags, and Bianca Sanders has confiscated her clothes. All of which bring on a headache hot enough to spark a fire. Solving her problems means stealing a car. From a dingbat lawyer.

Bellissimo Resort and Casino Super Spy Davis Way has three goals: Keep the Sanders family out of prison, regain her footing in her relationship, and find the genius who wrote the software for futureGaming. One of which, the manhunt one, is iffy. Because when Alabama hides someone, they hide them good.

DOUBLE STRIKE. A VIP invitation to an extraordinary high-stakes gaming event, as thieves, feds, dance instructors, shady bankers, kidnappers, and gold waiters go all in.

For a review of Double Strike visit Building Bookshelves here. But today Gretchen stopped by for a quick 5Ws. Thanks for stopping by Gretchen!

Who are your favorite authors?

Carolyn Keene, Lawrence Sanders, Carl Hiaasen, and Janet Evanovich.GretchenArcher

What games do you play when you visit casinos?

Every single one. I start in one corner and work my way around, up and down the aisles, and when I get to the opposite corner I turn around and play every game again. Backwards. (#gamblingproblem) No, seriously, I love slot machines. I do. The bells, the dings, the whistles, the lights. My favorite slot machines have bonus rounds, like Top Dollar and Pinball. I don’t play blackjack or poker (Zzzzzzz), or craps (I don’t understand craps), or baccarat (I truly have no idea what’s going on there), or roulette, a simple game, but…why? Slot machines. The only action in a casino where you can be down to your last dollar, then thirty seconds later, up $8,000.

Why did you begin writing? And why gamblers?

One day I had nothing to read, so I began writing. And why write about gamblers? Casino gambling is huge. The latest from the American Gaming Association reports there are 71.6 million casino gamblers in the United States, and 61% of them are slot players. That’s a nice audience.

Where will your writing go from here? More Davis Way? A new series? A stand alone?

I hope to write Davis for several more books. The challenge is to keep Davis fresh, and keep her life moving forward. I don’t want to stall her for ten books, but I think the setting and her age—she’s almost thirty-four—can sustain several, at least three, more books. I hope.

When you get writer’s block, what do you do? Or are you immune?

Immune? There’s immunity? As in a vaccination? Where? No, I’m not immune. When I’m not hitting my word count or making progress, it’s not writer’s block so much as it’s the business end of publishing cutting way, way, way into my writing time, and feels like writer’s block. Being published comes with responsibilities: appearances, conferences, networking with other writers, a ton of reading (believe it or not), social media, and a never-ever-ever-empty inbox. It’s easy to call the heavy lifting of being published writer’s block. Where’s that vaccine?

Slack Friday

DSCN1923 (2) Yesterday at the grocery store I saw fresh cranberries! Cranberries mean Thanksgiving and after Thanksgiving…well Friday usually goes one of two ways: either you’re a shopper or an eater. But this year Pocket Star Books wants to start a new day-after-Thanksgiving tradition. Slack Friday is for curling up with a holiday themed book and reading the day away. Sound good to you? Because it sure does to me! So good that each Friday between now and December 25 I’m going to feature a holiday themed book!

Let’s start with a book that was brought to my attention by Melissa Gramstead of Pocket Star Books. 43088_PocketStar_Ornament_OnlineAsset

Author: Jim Piecuch
November 17, 2014
E-book $1.99

In A Christmas Carol, evil Scrooge was shown the error of his ways by three helpful ghosts and vowed to become a better person. Bob Cratchit and his family benefited most from Scrooge’s change of tune—but what happened after the goose was given, and Scrooge resolved to turn over a new leaf?

Tim Cratchit’s Christmas Carol shows us Tiny Tim as an adult. Having recovered from his childhood ailment, he began his career helping the poor but has since taken up practice as a doctor to London’s wealthy elite. Though Tim leads a very successful life, he comes home at night to an empty house. But this holiday season, he’s determined to fill his house with holiday cheer—and maybe even a wife.

When a single, determined young mother lands on Tim’s doorstep with her ailing son, Tim is faced with a choice: stay ensconced in his comfortable life and secure doctor’s practice, or take a leap of faith and reignite the fire lit under him by his mentor, Scrooge, that fateful Christmas so many years ago.

Dr. Timothy Cratchit emerged from his Harley Street office shortly after six-thirty in the evening. He was surprised to find that the yellow-gray fog that had blanketed London for the past week had disappeared, swept away by a biting north wind. He paused for a moment to gaze up at the stars, a rare sight in the
usually haze-choked city. Then, pulling his scarf tightly around his neck, he walked quickly down the steps and along the path to the curb, where his brougham waited. The horses, a chestnut gelding and another of dappled gray, stomped their hooves on the cobblestone pavement. They made an odd pair, but Tim had chosen them for their gentle nature rather than their appearance. As the doctor approached, his coachman smiled and swung open the side door. The coach’s front and rear lamps
barely pierced December’s early darkness.

“Good evening, Doctor,” the coachman said as Tim approached.

“Good evening, Henry,” the doctor replied. “How are you tonight?”

The coachman, who was tall and lean, wore a knee-length black wool coat and a black top hat, his ears covered by an incongruous-looking strip of wool cloth below the brim.

“Cold, sir,” Henry replied. Tim grasped the vertical rail alongside the carriage door and was about to hoist himself inside when he heard a shout. Stepping back from the carriage, he turned to his left, toward the direction where the sound had come from.

The gas lamps along the street penetrated just enough of the gloom to allow Tim to distinguish a figure hurrying toward him. As the person drew nearer, Tim could see that it was a woman, clutching a dirty bundle to her chest. Thousands of poor women in London made a meager living sifting through the city’s dustbins for usable items and selling them for whatever pittance they could fetch. The bundle this woman cradled so carefully probably contained an assortment of odd candlesticks, worn shoes, frayed shirts, and the like. Still, this was not someone who would normally frequent Harley Street.

“Wait a moment, please,” Tim told the coachman, resignation in his voice. He was eager to get home, and too tired to wait while the woman unwrapped the bundle. He reached into his trousers pocket, found a half crown and two shillings to give her so that she would continue on her way.

When the womtinytiman came to a stop in front of him, Tim noticed with surprise that she was young, perhaps twenty years old. She was small, not much over five feet tall, clad in a tattered dress covered by a dirty, threadbare gray blanket that she had fashioned into a hooded cloak. Her dark brown hair was matted
in greasy clumps, and a smudge of dirt smeared her right cheek. Her face, though it was beginning to show the premature wear of a hard life, was still quite pretty. She stood with her brown eyes downcast, silently waiting for Tim to acknowledge her.

“Can I help you, miss?”

“Thank you for waiting, sir,” the woman said, still struggling to catch her breath. “I was hoping that you could take a look at my son. He’s very sick.” She tugged back a corner of what appeared to be a piece of the same blanket that constituted her cloak to reveal the face of an infant.

Tim suppressed a groan. It had been a long day—all his days seemed long now—and he was eager to get home. “Come inside, please,” he instructed the woman. To Henry he said, “This shouldn’t take too long.”

Unlocking the office door, Tim went inside, lit a lamp, and then held the door for the woman and baby to enter. Inside, the woman gazed at him with an earnestness that aroused his sympathy.

“I’m very sorry to bother you like this, Doctor. I didn’t mean to come so late, but I had to walk all the way from the East End, and it took longer than I thought,” she explained. “I never would have found your office yet, except that a kind old gentleman asked if I was lost and then pointed me to your door. A
friend of yours, he said.”

“Well,” Tim replied in a reassuring tone, “you’re fortunate that I had to work late; I usually close the office at six.”

The woman shuffled her feet uneasily. “If it’s too late, sir, we can come back tomorrow.”

“No, no, that’s all right. Now tell me, what is the matter?”

“It’s my Jonathan, sir. He’s been sickly since birth, and now he’s getting worse,” she said. Tim noticed that her eyes were moist.

“Let’s take him into the examination room.” Tim led them in, lit the lamps. The woman laid the child on the table and pulled back the blanket and other wrappings. Tim was shocked to see that the boy was not an infant—his facial features were too developed—but he was clearly undersized, and Tim did not
dare hazard a guess as to his age.

“How old is the little fellow?”

“Three last summer, sir.”

Tim studied the boy. His eyes were open, brown like his mother’s, and though they gazed intently at Tim, the little body was limp. No mental defect, but something physical, and severe. Tim placed a thumb in each of the tiny hands.

“Can you squeeze my thumbs, Jonathan?” he asked. The boy did so, feebly.

“Very good!” Tim said. Jonathan smiled.

“I didn’t know who else to go to, sir,” the woman explained as Tim flexed the boy’s arms and legs. “There’s no doctors who want to see the likes of us, but then I remembered you, sir. You took care of me many years back, when I had a fever. You came by the East End every week then, sir, and took care of the poor folk.”

“I’m sorry, but I treated so many patients that I can’t recall you, Miss, ah, Mrs.—”

“It’s Miss, Doctor. Jonathan’s father was a sailor. We were supposed to marry, but I never seen him since before Jonathan was born. My name’s Ginny Whitson.”

It was already clear to Tim that the child, like his thin, almost gaunt mother, was badly malnourished. That accounted in part for his small size. Tim also noticed that the boy’s leg muscles were extremely weak. Jonathan remained quiet, looking at the strange man with a mixture of curiosity and fear.

“Does Jonathan walk much?” Tim asked.

“No, sir, never a step. He could stand a bit until a few weeks ago, but now he can’t even do that. I think it’s the lump on his back, Doctor.”

Tim carefully turned the boy over to find a plum-sized swelling along the left edge of his spine at waist level. He touched it lightly, and Jonathan whimpered. “How long has he had this?” Tim asked.

“I didn’t notice it till a year ago, sir. It was tiny then, but it’s grown since. In the last month or so it’s gone from about the size of a grape to this big.”

Tim hesitated. He needed to do some research and then give Jonathan a more thorough examination before he could accurately diagnose and treat the boy’s condition. He did have several possibilities in mind, none of them good, but there was no sense alarming Ginny prematurely. After she had swathed her child in the bundle of cloth, Tim ushered them back into the waiting room, where he studied his appointment book.

“Can you come back at noon on Saturday? I’m sorry to make you wait that long, but I have some things to check, and it will take time.” Ginny nodded. “I’ll see then what I can do,” Tim said.

“Oh, Doctor, thank you so much,” Ginny blurted, grateful for any help regardless of when it might come. She shifted Jonathan to her left arm, and thrust her right hand into the pocket of her frayed and patched black dress. Removing a small felt sack, she emptied a pile of copper coins onto the clerk’s desk. Most were farthings and halfpennies, with an occasional large penny interspersed among them.

“I know this isn’t enough even for today, sir,” she apologized. “But I’ll get more, I promise. I’m working hard, you see, sir. Every day I go door-to-door and get work cleaning house and doing laundry, and save all I can.”

With his right hand, Tim swept the coins across the desktop into his cupped left palm and returned them to Ginny. He was touched by her attempt to pay him, knowing that she must have gone without food many times to accumulate this small amount of money. Her devotion to her son and effort to demonstrate her independence impressed him.

“There isn’t any fee, Miss Whitson. I’ll be happy to do whatever I can for Jonathan at no charge.”

“But I can’t accept charity, Doctor,” the surprised woman answered. “It wouldn’t be right, taking your time away from your paying patients.”

“We all need charity in one form or another at some time in our lives,” Tim said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if not for a great act of charity long ago, and as for taking time away from my paying patients, that may be more of a benefit than a problem. Come along, now, and I’ll give you and Jonathan a ride home.”

Tim locked the office door and escorted Ginny and Jonathan to his coach as tears trickled down her face, picking up dirt from the smudge on her cheek and tracking it down to her chin. Jonathan began to cry soon after the coach got under way, and Ginny comforted him with a lullaby, one that Tim remembered his own mother singing to him. When the child finally fell asleep, both remained silent, afraid to wake him. Once they reached the narrow streets packed with sailors, beggars, drunks, and an assortment of London’s other poor wretches, Ginny asked to be let out. Tim knocked twice on the roof, and Henry reined in the horses.

As she was about to step out of the carriage, something she had said earlier occurred to Tim. “One moment, Miss Whitson. You mentioned that someone directed you to my office. Do you know who he was?”

“No, Doctor,” she replied, “and he didn’t say. He was an old gentleman, thin, with a long nose and white hair. Neatly dressed, but his clothes weren’t fancy, if you know what I mean, sir.”

Tim bade her good night and watched as she walked down the sidewalk, past gin mills and dilapidated rooming houses. She soon turned into the recessed doorway of a darkened pawnshop and settled herself on the stone pavement. Tim briefly thought of going back to find out if she even had a home, or if she was going to spend the night in the doorway. Fatigue slowed his thoughts, however, and by the time the idea took root, the carriage was a block away and gathering speed.

Tim lay back against the soft, leather-covered seat cushions, pondering which of his Harley Street neighbors had directed her to his office. Most of them would have ignored such a woman, or ordered her back to the slums. Her description, though, didn’t fit any of them. He shook his head, trying to remove the cobwebs from his tired mind. It must have been someone else, someone he just couldn’t recall in his fuddled state. No sense wrestling with the question, he concluded.

During the long drive across town to his home in the western outskirts of London, Tim tried to relax. It had been another in a seemingly endless string of days filled with consultations and surgeries. Tim had arrived at his office at five-thirty that morning, half an hour earlier than usual, to prepare for a seven
o’clock operation on the Duchess of Wilbersham. She had been complaining for weeks about pain in her left shoulder, which she attributed to a strain that refused to heal. Since she never lifted anything heavier than a deck of cards at her daily whist game, Tim doubted the explanation, and several examinations showed no sign of any real injury. The duchess had a reputation as a hypochondriac who sought treatment for her phantom ailments from the best doctors in London, then bragged about
how she managed to maintain her health by not stinting on the cost of good medical care. To placate the pompous woman, Tim had finally caved in to her demand that he operate to repair the tendons and ligaments she insisted had been damaged. Because the surgery was minor and the duchess, with good reason, abhorred hospitals, Tim performed the operation in his office, which was equipped for such tasks. A small incision and internal examination verified his suspicion that the duchess’s shoulder was perfectly sound. When she awoke, with more pain from the surgery than she had ever experienced from her imaginary injury, along with sutures and an application of carbolic acid to prevent infection, she swore that the shoulder had not felt so well in ten years. Tim wondered if she would be so pleased when the effects of the morphine wore off.

“Just give the doctor that bag of coins I asked you to bring,” the duchess had ordered her maidservant. “I won’t insult you, Dr. Cratchit, by asking your fee, but I’m sure there’s more than enough here to cover it, and worth every farthing, too.”

When Tim’s clerk opened the leather pouch, he found it contained one hundred gold guineas. Tim could not help contrasting the way his wealthy patients tossed gold coins about with Ginny Whitson’s offer of her pathetic little hoard of coppers. The thought stirred memories of his own childhood, when pennies were so scarce that he and his brothers and sisters sometimes had to roam through frigid alleys to scavenge wood scraps to keep a fire burning on winter nights. It was on one such night when he lay awake, shivering on his thin straw mattress, that he overheard the conversation that changed his life.

“I’m to get a raise in salary,” his father murmured excitedly, trying not to wake the children.

“I don’t believe it,” Mrs. Cratchit declared. “That old miser would die before he parted with an extra farthing.”

“It’s true, dear,” Bob Cratchit insisted. “I’ve never seen Mr. Scrooge like that. We sat for an hour this afternoon, talking. He asked a lot of questions about our family, Tim in particular.”

“I’m surprised that he even knew you had a family, Bob.”

“I was, too, dear, but he seemed to know a good bit about us. Why, from a few things he said about hoping we had a good Christmas dinner, I think he’s the one who sent the turkey yesterday. Who else could have done it?”

“Well, I hope you’re right, Bob. I’ll not believe any of it until I see the proof.”

Tim smiled at the recollection of his mother’s skepticism. She had always been the realist in the family, Bob the optimist. Tim had shared his mother’s doubts. She and the children had despised Ebenezer Scrooge, blaming his greed for the family’s struggles. But with his stomach filled to bursting with turkey
left over from Christmas dinner, Tim dared to hope that his father was right, and that old Scrooge might truly have undergone a change of heart. After all, it was Christmas, a time when good things were supposed to happen.

The sudden stop as the carriage arrived at his front door shook Tim from his reverie. He was out the door before Henry could dismount from the driver’s seat and open it for him, a habit that Tim had observed left his coachman more amused than chagrined.

“That’s all right, Henry,” he said, waving toward the carriage house. “You and the horses get inside and warm up.”

Entering the large, well-lit foyer, Tim was greeted by his maid. Bridget Riordan was a pretty Irish girl, with long, flaming red hair pinned up under her white cap, numberless freckles on her cheeks and small nose, and green eyes that always seemed to sparkle with happiness. She took Tim’s top hat, coat, and
scarf. “Dinner will be ready in a half hour, Doctor,” she announced, “so you can rest a bit if you’d like.”

“Thank you, Bridget,” Tim replied, watching her walk gracefully toward the kitchen. He loosened his cravat as he climbed the stairs, thought briefly of skipping the meal and going directly to bed, and decided that he could not afford the luxury since he had a long evening of work ahead of him.

As usual, Tim dined alone. At the time he had purchased the large house, Tim had expected that he would one day need the space for the family he hoped to have. However, the demands of his practice and the memory of his one previous and unsuccessful attempt at courtship kept him from actively pursuing any romantic interests. Now he sometimes wondered whether he would spend the rest of his life a bachelor, without the happiness he had enjoyed as a child in the crowded and bustling Cratchit home.

Solitary meals in the cavernous dining room always seemed to dim Tim’s pleasure despite the hot, tasty food that Bridget prepared. When he had hired them after buying the house, he had often insisted that she, Henry, and William, the gardener, join him in the dining room. But the trio had been servants
since their childhood, and their previous masters, who had not shared Tim’s lack of concern with class distinctions, had impressed upon them the idea that it was improper for servants to associate with their master outside the scope of their duties. The dinner conversations had been stilted, with Tim trying to
make conversation and Bridget, Henry, and William replying in monosyllables punctuated by “sir.” Tim had quickly given up the experiment, yet he still could not help feeling a pang of sadness, mixed with a bit of jealousy, every time the sound of their friendly conversation and laughter in the serving room rose
high enough for him to hear. Still, he admitted that all three servants had warmed to him over the past two years, and had grown more willing to engage him in informal conversation. Perhaps one day they could dine together without the awkwardness of his previous attempts, he thought.

Shortly after nine o’clock, Tim retired to his upstairs study. There each night he reviewed the next day’s cases, looked up information in his medical books that he might need, and, if time permitted, read the most recent scientific journals to keep up to date on the latest advances in medicine and surgery. At
one time he had contributed his share of new knowledge to the medical profession, but for the last several years he just could not find the time to do so. He really didn’t have the opportunity, anyway. How could he devise innovative treatments, he asked himself, when most of the patients he saw, like the duchess, had nothing seriously wrong with them to begin with?

Having finished his preparation for the next day’s work, Tim drew out his pocket watch. Not quite half past ten. He reached across the wide mahogany desk for the latest issue of the Lancet, which had lain unread for more than a week. Tim pushed it aside. It would have to wait until he had researched Jonathan’s condition. Tim walked over to the bookcase, scanned several volumes, removed a reference book, and returned to his chair. The coal fire that Bridget had stoked was still burning strongly; he would see if he could find confirmation of his suspicions regarding the boy’s problem, or alternative, less dire diagnoses, before retiring. Balancing his chair upon its two rear legs, he put his feet on the desk and opened the volume.

Tim did not know how long he had been reading. It seemed he had gone over the same paragraph a dozen times without registering the information in his mind when he felt how cold the study had become. He glanced toward the fireplace, where a single small log emitted a parsimonious warmth. The room seemed dark—looking over his shoulder at the gas lamp, he was surprised to see only a candle in a tin wall sconce, flickering in a chill breeze that came through a cracked windowpane. Strange, Tim thought, he was certain Bridget had closed the curtains. And when had the window broken?

His eyes better adjusted to the gloom, Tim turned back toward the fireplace. His surprise turned to shock when he looked down at his legs and saw that the new black trousers he had been wearing were now coarse brown cloth through which he could see the outline of his legs, withered and weak. The
elegant marble of the fireplace had been replaced by cracked, ancient bricks. Leaning against them was a crutch. His childhood crutch.

Tim stared at the hearth, baffled, for how long he did not know. Then he started to get up, reaching for the crutch, only to find that his legs were so weak he could not stand. He gazed at his extended right hand. It was that of a child. He leaned back in his chair, rubbed his eyes, and when he looked around again, he was back in his own comfortable study. The gas lamp burned brightly, the fire still blazed in its marble enclave. There was no crutch to be seen. He flexed his legs. They were strong. He shuddered, perplexed at what had occurred. Although he was quite sure that he had not fallen asleep, he reassured himself that it must have been a dream. Not surprising, considering his thoughts about Jonathan, and the unavoidable realization that the boy’s plight reminded him so much of his own childhood illness. Tim stood, uneasy, and dropped the reference book on the desk before heading to bed.

Standing over the washbasin, he poured water from a pitcher into the ceramic bowl. He wet a washcloth and rubbed his face. Even in the light of the single gas lamp, he could see the creases beginning to form on his forehead, the dark circles under his blue eyes. A few strands of gray were sprinkled through his blond hair. He thought he looked at least a decade older than his thirty-two years. Combined with his short stature and thinness, Tim reflected that in a few years he would look like a wizened old man.

Too much work, that was the cause, he thought. Unpleasant work. And now he also had to do something about Jonathan Whitson, who had what was likely a malignant tumor. A boy not yet four, probably sentenced to death by nature before his life had a chance to begin. Five years ago, Dr. Timothy Cratchit would have tackled the child’s case enthusiastically and with optimism. Now he was reduced to performing fake surgeries to placate hypochondriacs.

Ginny Whitson had met him years earlier, and believed in his abilities. He only wished that he shared her confidence.

Jim Piecuch is an associate professor of history, and has published several works of nonfiction. Tim Cratchit’s Christmas Carol is his first novel.

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