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)

Synposis:

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.

Mark-Reutlinger_Author-PhotoReview:

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)

Synposis:

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.

imagesReview:

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)

Synposis:

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.

Review:

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

Synposis:

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?

Review:

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
Who are your favorite authors?

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

What
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
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
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
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

TIM CRATCHIT’S CHRISTMAS CAROL: THE SEQUEL TO THE CELEBRATED DICKENS CLASSIC
Author: Jim Piecuch
November 17, 2014
E-book $1.99

SUMMARY:
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.

EXCERPT:
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.

AUTHOR:
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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Review & Giveaway of Mr. Samuel’s Penny

Mr. Samuel’s Penny

by Treva Hall Melvin

on Tour November 1-30, 2014


Book Details:

Genre: YA Murder Mystery

Published by: The Poisoned Pencil

Publication Date: November 4, 2014

Number of Pages: 259

ISBN: 978-1929345045

Purchase Links:

Synopsis:

It’s 1972 and fourteen-year-old New Yorker Elizabeth Landers is sent to the sleepy town of Ahoskie, North Carolina to spend the summer with relatives. Her expectation of boredom is quickly dispelled when police sirens and flashing lights draw her to a horrible scene at the Danbury Bridge. Mr. Samuel, owner of Samuel’s Lumber Yard, has driven his car off the bridge and into the river, drowning himself and his daughter. The medical examiner thinks it’s an accident, but the Sheriff finds fresh bullet holes on the bridge right where the skid marks are. Curiously, Mr. Samuel died clutching a unique 1909 wheat penny—a penny that is then stolen from the Sheriff’s office. Lizbeth witnesses Miss Violet’s grief upon learning that her husband and child are dead, and decides she will help by finding the penny.

Her search involves Lizbeth in the lives of many Ahoskie residents. Like the owner of the grocery store, mean old Mr. Jake, who—as all the kids in Ahoskie know—hates black folks. Plenty of pennies in his till. Then there is Ms. Melanie Neely, otherwise known as “Ms. McMeanie,” who thinks the lumber yard should belong to her. And Mr. Samuel’s handsome brother Ben, who struggles to keep the business afloat after his more clever brother’s death. Lizbeth searches through the collection plates at church and in the coin jars of crazy old Aunt Ode, a strange old woman missing one eye and most of her teeth, who keeps a flask in her apron pocket and a secret in her soul.

Read an excerpt:

Prologue

It is peculiarly bright this evening. Will not be dark for another hour or so. The headlights of the ’68 station wagon are on, but their worth cannot be seen until the fog seeps between the slats of wood. The sweet smell of honeysuckle floats through the air on a blanket of steam rising up from the river as the car makes its way across the threshold.

The old bridge aches aloud, for its back has carried many a passenger the last hundred years to and from Ahoskie, North Carolina. Known as “The Only One,” Ahoskie has existed as a settlers’ town and with the Indian name since 1719, but without the Indian’s permission to do For a moment there is a sense of unsteadiness.

Got to get across.

Just one more time.

Sometimes easy.

Most times hard.

Then sometimes someone never crosses back.

Chapter 1

For seven hours, I’d done nothing but unpack and eat. I was ready for something to happen.

But I wasn’t ready for anything like this.

I was standing at the front door that mid-June evening, waiting for Aunt Alice to come home from the grocery store, when I heard the piercing sound of horns and sirens unleashing their fury, synchronized to the flashing red and white lights leading the way south, away from town. The pimples that ran down my spine hurt from the screeching noise. At least five vehicles rushed down the narrow road, leaving great clouds of dirt as though dragged by invisible ropes behind them. Heading for a place where something God awful was happening.

I could see Auntie’s car trotting at a nervous pace behind them, then veering off to the left, down our street. I focused on her torso behind the wheel, then her head, then her eyes, steadfast with purpose.

“Hi Auntie, what’s going on down there?” I asked, with my hand shielding my eyes from the fading sun as she opened her car door to get out.

“I don’t know really, Lizbeth, ‘cept Uncle Frank was called to come in a hurry to help with his wrench truck down by the bridge.”

As the jarring sounds washed out through the tall bushy heads of the trees, Aunt Alice stared out towards the road. With her chin tucked in she spoke:

“Lizbeth, I’m going down there to see what’s going on. It’s going to be dark out soon. You can stay here if you want to, or go over to Mrs. Cooper’s if you get scared.” She placed her hand on my shoulder to reassure me that all would be okay.

“Scared? I’m not scared; I just want to go with you! See what’s happening down there!” I exclaimed, shaking her other hand in a tantrum, dividing her fingers between my two hands.

“You couldn’t fit in there anyway Lizbeth, I have a car full of groceries, girl. And besides, by the time I finish putting them away I may as well stay home.” She had me there, but I wasn’t about to give up. My eyes darted around the yard looking for a way out of the problem.

And there it was.

“You’re right Auntie, I can’t fit in your car, but I can ride my bike!” A prideful smile burned in the flesh of my cheeks.

“But Lizbeth….”

“I got a light on my bike Auntie. Besides, I bet I get there before you do!” That was all that needed to be said.

I arrived at the bridge before Auntie, thanks to my cousins showing me a narrow path just a couple of days earlier. I rode right on up to the bridge and oh so quietly kicked my kick-stand down. There wasn’t one holler, mostly because the police and other officials were concentrating on the sadness below. Good thing I had enough sense to leave my bike where it lay and walk the rest of the way so as not to call attention to myself. As my excitement grew, I tried to hold my breath, feeling my heart thumping through my chest, hoping that my good fortune in not being shooed away would hold out until I got a closer look.

By now the sun was so low the river looked like black ink slapping the shore angrily for letting Uncle Frank’s crane drop into its waters, and men bobbing up and down like red and whites. Flashlights dotting and dashing about like lightening bugs searching for their supper. A few orders jabbed out amongst the men here and there. Other than that, there was silence.

A startling shout came from a man with a white hat, and a tremendous swoosh broke through the dark water. When the crane pulled the car up, with a solemn grinding motion, something burst free from one of the car’s open windows. Shocked me so bad I nearly fell over into the deep, so shaken from the sight.

A man’s hand had set itself free from the car.

At first glance, the hand seemed to be riding the surface of the water, waving happily without care. But then the ashen skin with its grotesque wormy veins made it clear it was not.

Something glistened in rhythm with the ripples of water flowing over his fingers—a gold band.

But before I could focus, the shoulder and the head of the man slipped through the window like an eel. I could have held on a little longer but for the man’s face turning upward; his eyes bulging out of their sockets like strained ping pong balls. I threw up right then and there on the bridge, and luckily not on my brand new checkered shirt.

“Hey, hey you there girl! Get off the bridge before you drown your fool yourself! We don’t have time to be searching for no more bodies tonight. G’on now!” The man with the white hat again. I wanted to say sorry, but my wobbling legs took the best of me. Luckily I spotted Auntie on the shore, so I got my bike and stumbled to her side. Auntie held me close to her breast for a little while, still keeping her watch over the damage in the Ahoskie River.

I gathered myself and sat on the hood of her car, still hot from the engine, with a sweater between it and my legs. Auntie stood like stone beside me. Even the soft jowls of her face looked hard above her densely clasped hands.

I caught Uncle Frank’s eye across the river, and he waved to me in return. Not the free and happy to see you kind of wave, more like the I am here and so are you kind.

The rumble of a car moving fast towards us made me turn behind myself to see who was in such a hurry to see death. The Spring City emergency squad had already arrived, though late if you ask me, and there was nothing left to do except get that poor soul out of there. As the car’s lights peeked through the woods, I could see a turquoise Ford Country Sedan with a woman behind the wheel. A black woman. She steered wildly, like a cartoon character scripted for disaster, nearly hitting us as she drove up beside us. Punishing the brakes to screeching tears.

Barely before the car had stopped, she ran out towards the bridge.

She had on a light blue dress that ruffled at the collar and short sleeved cuffs. Her black hair, which was once held in a knot, was fast becoming a ponytail with every step she took. And she was beautiful. Only when she reached the water’s edge did I hear her crying. No, not crying.

She made a sound like an animal being torn apart from its limbs. She did not get far, thank God.

“My babyyy!” She hollered. Fighting to break free of the man in the white hat who had taken both her firm arms.

“Noooo, not my baby! Emma! No God, no!”

I looked over to Auntie’s grim face.

She could have been mistaken for a totem pole. I was afraid to speak; to interrupt the stranger’s pain seemed rude, but Auntie must have read my mind.

“Emma is…was their baby.” Aunt Alice swallowed hard when she said ‘baby.’ “The man you saw down there, her husband, Joseph Samuel.” I’ve known my Aunt Alice all of my life.

She obviously had some kind of affection for these folks for her to well up like this. “Joseph and Violet Samuel…and their daughter Emma.”

Lost in misery, we hardly noticed that Uncle Frank had crossed the bridge to meet us. He gave Auntie a long hug, then ushered me in to join them.

“What happened?” She whispered.

“I don’t know, hun’. Sheriff Bigly said the skid marks show Joseph drove that car clear off the bridge.” He stroked her back, gently rubbing the information in, soothing her like oil on a baby’s bottom. She let his powerful strokes sway her back and forth without resistance.

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man dashing to the grieving Miss Violet. A man named Benjamin Samuel, I gathered, from the loud and thankful greeting made by Sheriff Bigly.

Must be someone close in the family, I thought. He barely grazed her arm, when she suddenly turned to see who it was.

“My baby’s dead!” she cried to him.

His long fingers got a hold of her petite arms. As he pulled her closer in, she fought with the strength of twenty slaves to be free from his grasp. But he wouldn’t let go. She kicked her feet wildly to get him off of her, but she failed. I could hear her lungs heaving hard, until her body became limp in his arms.

That moment was hard with silence.

*

After what seemed like forever, Auntie finally broke her trance, got into the car and turned the engine on. I nearly fell off the hood from the suddenness of her intentions. Thank goodness her headlights were already on. I grabbed the handle and swung myself into the seat.

As soon as my seatbelt ‘clicked’ she was heading out. She braked with a jerk, and then yanked the gear hard into forward. As she pulled around to get back on the road, a dust cloud gathered around the wheels. Crackling bits of dirt and gravel pricked the skin of my arm dangling out the window.

“You okay Auntie?” I asked. I wanted to touch her hand, but both were clinched with a mind to stay on the steering wheel; ten and two o’clock. So I went for the flapping short sleeve of her shirt instead.

She nodded at me with a fleeting smile.

*

Review:

A southern man and his baby daughter drive off a bridge into the river and drown. At first it seems like an accident, but after evidence of gunshots is found it looks more like murder. With I found out about the Southern setting and the young character (Lizbeth is fourteen years old) I thought this might remind me of John Grisham’s The Client. But the mystery aspect of this book is just one small aspect.

Instead, as Lizbeth fumbles around searching for Mr. Samuel’s penny (and perhaps the identity of his killer), readers learn about her and the small North Carolina community she’s visiting for the summer. Since Lizbeth is both an outsider and “family” she enjoys the best of both sides of the coin: she notices things the residents don’t see or are eager to overlook and since she’s “family” she is introduced to people, rumors and traditions that someone passing through town wouldn’t be privy to. I found this to be a fascinating peek at 1970’s small town North Carolina. Although I’m a true blue Yankee, I feel author Treva Hall Melvin did a fine job portraying the Southern way of life. If you’re looking for a mystery that strays from the predictable formula Mr. Samuel’s Penny is for you. But then again, even if you aren’t a mystery fan, you’ll enjoy the rich people that populate Melvin’s town of Ahoskie.

The main character, Lizabeth, is just 14 years old so I think this book would be equally appealing to teen readers and adults. It is definitely a great book for parents and children to share since it brings up many issues that are easier to talk about with a literary jumping off point: prejudice, poverty, infidelity, jealousy.

Author Bio:

Treva Hall Melvin, has been a practicing attorney in all levels of government as a prosecutor and criminal defense attorney. A native New Yorker, she graduated from Villanova Law School in Pennsylvania and now lives in the Philadelphia area with her husband, their two children, and their dog Audrey. She loves athletics and antiquing.

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Review: Blond Cargo

Blond Cargo

Author: John Lansing

E Book: 292 pages

Publisher: Gallery Books/Karen Hunter Publishing (October 20, 2014)blond cargo

Synposis:

Jack Bertolino’s son, Chris, was the victim of a brutal murder attempt and Vincent Cardona, a mafia boss, provided information that helped Jack take down the perpetrator of the crime. Jack accepted the favor knowing there’d be blowback. In Blond Cargo the mobster’s daughter has gone missing and Cardona turned in his chit. Jack discovers that the young, blond, mafia princess has been kidnapped and imprisoned while rich, politically connected men negotiate her value as a sex slave.

A sizzling whodunit for fans of James Patterson and Patricia Cornwell, Blond Cargo taps into the real-life crime world to deliver a thrilling, action-packed story that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the explosive, unprecedented finale.

Don’t miss a chance to get Blond Cargo for just $1.99 until November 14.

Review:

Vincent Cardona, a mafia boss, finds his family victimized — not because of any of the criminal activities he’s been involved in over the years — but for a totally random reason. And that randomness is why suddenly it is so easy to sympathize with a textbook “bad guy”. That randomness transforms Vincent into one of us. Just a guy wondering, “Why my daughter?” Of course, Vincent has it even tougher than us because, due to his…ummm, business dealings, the cops aren’t jumping to help him out and are certain that maybe this is something that Vincent brought on himself by his shady dealings. So Vincent has to turn to Jack Bertolino, a private investigator who owes him a favor. Vincent saved Jack’s son, now Jack has to return the favor. Of course it’s a lot more complicated for Jack because not only does Jack have to find Vincent’s daughter but he has to keep Vincent and his “guys” from killing anyone who looks remotely related to the kidnapping.

Blond Cargo is more interesting than your average kidnapping because gradually Lansing gives is a peek into the minds of everyone involved. The twisted way they rationalize their actions will give you chills. Also, besides the fact that Jack has no idea if Vincent’s daughter Angelica is dead or alive he also can’t get a handle on the reason. Why kidnap her? Why not ask for ransom? When the reasons become clear you’ll find yourself getting those chills again.

The first part of this book focuses on unraveling the reasons but once the action starts…BAM! You’ll be holding your breath waiting to see who Jack can get on his side, if he can rein Vinnie in, and if he manages to save Angelica in time.

**There is some graphic violence (after all there are a few mafia guys in the mix) — don’t say you haven’t been warned.

Don’t want to jump in midstream? Check out the first Jack Bertolino book here.

Christmas at Tiffany’s

Christmas at Tiffany’s: A Novel

Author: Karen Swan

Paperback: 592 pages (also available in e-book format)
xmas@tiff

Publisher: Pan Publishing (November 1, 2011)

Synposis:

What do you do when the man you pledged your life to breaks your heart and shatters your dreams? You pack your bags and travel the big, wide world to find your destiny—and your true love . . .
Ten years ago, a young and naïve Cassie married her first serious boyfriend, believing he would be with her forever. Now her marriage is in tatters and Cassie has no career or home of her own. Though she feels betrayed and confused, Cassie isn’t giving up. She’s going to take control of her life. But first she has to find out where she belongs . . . and who she wants to be.
Over the course of one year, Cassie leaves her sheltered life in rural Scotland to stay with her best friends living in the most glamorous cities in the world: New York, Paris, and London. Exchanging comfort food and mousy hair for a low-carb diet and a gorgeous new look, Cassie tries each city on for size as she searches for the life she’s meant to have . . . and the man she’s meant to love.
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5Ws with Austin Williams

Don’t miss my review and giveaway of Austin Williams latest, Misdirection,here. And today get to know a bit more about Williams and being a writer.

There’s also another chance to win a copy of Misdirection — print or e-book — your choice.

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williamsWHO
Who would you have dinner with if you could pick five mystery/thriller writers (and of course feel free to bring someone back from the dead)?

In no particular order: Arthur Conan Doyle, Elmore Leonard, Agatha Christie, James Ellroy, and John le Carré. I think that group would make for some pretty lively conversation, though Ellroy might feel restrained from using too much profanity in the presence of Dame Agatha. Then again, maybe he wouldn’t.

WHAT
What would you be doing if you weren’t writing thrillers?

I’d most likely be involved with writing and/or editing of some sort. I’ve done quite a bit of freelance work in the SEO field, creating online content for clients in the travel and tourism industries. It’s an enjoyable way to earn a paycheck but obviously not as challenging or satisfying as working on a book.

WHY
Why did you decide to set your novel in my favorite vacation spot — Ocean City? Are you a native or a vacationer?

I grew up in Baltimore and spent summer vacations with my family on the Delaware Shore, which included trips to Ocean City. I’ve always been impressed by the sheer scale of the place; its famous boardwalk is three miles long and certain sections are lined with condominiums the size of Manhattan skyscrapers. It struck me as an ideal location for a thriller, especially one that takes place in late fall, when all the tourists have packed up and gone home. A weird atmosphere takes hold in a resort town during the off-season. You’ve got street after street of vacation homes standing empty and abandoned for the cold weather months, creating an eerily calm and slightly ominous vibe that lends itself to all kinds of shady activity. Great place for a crime spree, at least in the pages of a fictional book like Misdirection.

WHERE
Where do you do your writing?

I have a home office that suits the purpose well. Nothing fancy, but it has a few essential features. It’s quiet, my desk faces a window allowing for fresh air and sunlight (though overcast days are the best for writing) and I have easy access to any research materials I might need, either online or in a bookcase close enough to reach from where I sit while typing.

WHEN
When did you decide you were going to be a writer?

There was no specific moment of decision. I’ve been an avid reader since childhood and enjoyed any kind of creative writing assignments in school. My original career interests lay in filmmaking, and, like pretty much everyone in Los Angeles, the first writing project I managed to complete was a screenplay. A pretty bad one. As it became clear screenwriting wasn’t going to pan out for me, I started writing short stories just for the fun of it. From there, taking a stab at a full novel seemed like the next logical step. I’m just a fan of good storytelling, whether in prose, on film, or any other medium.