Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Review: The Bird Boys by Lisa Sandlin ~ Lone Star Literary Book Blog Tour

A Delpha Wade and
Tom Phelan Mystery
  Genre: Gentle Noir / Mystery / Women Sleuths
Date of Publication: August 20, 2019
Number of Pages: 306

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The new novel from award-winning author Lisa Sandlin catches up with the almost-murdered secretary Delpha Wade (The Do-Right, 2015, set in 1973) as she’s released from a hospital in order to be tucked into the back seat of a police cruiser. Her boss, P. I. Tom Phelan, sets out to spring her. He needs her back in his investigation business, where he’ll soon be chasing a skulking grand larcenist and plotting how to keep a ganjapreneur out of the grabby hands of a brand new agency, the D.E.A. Delpha digs through old records and knocks on strange doors to unravel the dangerous case of two brothers with beaucoup aliases—verifying that sometimes truth is not true, but murder is always murder.


Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
“What makes this crime novel soar is the humanity and humility of its main characters. It is by turns exciting, tender, suspenseful, observant, and gently funny. Readers will eagerly await the next installment.” 

Booklist, Starred Review
“Sandlin’s sequel soars on the wings of its spot-on evocation of a time and place and its utterly compelling central characters... A first-rate series crying for word-of-mouth support.”

Kirkus, Starred Review
“Proving that anything old can be new in the right, talented hands, Sandlin has crafted an outstanding series that readers will want to follow and savor.”

Robert Faires, Austin Chronicle
"I confess that as a Beaumonster who remembers that city in the early seventies, the book has a special appeal; Sandlin gets so many details just right. But you don't have to have lived there to be captivated by The Bird Boys. Its characters, wit, exquisite prose, and sense of redemption are so richly crafted that they'll stick to most anyone like, well, a shirt to your skin on an August afternoon in Beaumont."

I was a big fan of the first book in this series, The Do-Right, so I was thrilled to get an opportunity to read and review the follow-up novel. It is not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this one, but if you do, The Bird Boys begins right after the other one ends, with the main characters, Delpha Wade and Tom Phelan, dealing both physically and emotionally with the fall-out of a crime. 

Delpha Wade is a wonderfully well-drawn character, and her personality shines through in both novels. She has been recently released from a long prison term after killing a man in self-defense who was assaulting her when she was 18 years old. But the prison experience has shaped the person she is today: strong, organized, determined; someone who doesn't suffer fools gladly. 

Tom Phelan is a Vietnam vet and is struggling to get his P.I. business off the ground. He feels a growing attachment to Delpha, but is very aware of how badly she has suffered in the past and is gentle with her, which I admired. The two cases the main characters investigate are interesting, and you really see the reality of what it must be like working as a private investigator.

The novel's setting is in Beaumont, Texas in 1973, and the author has done an excellent job of characterizing this town, which is located not far from Houston. The era of the book is interesting to read about since there were no computers, cell phones, or other technology that we are used to seeing in contemporary mysteries. This means that the work done by a private investigator is a lot more complicated and slow. The author also was careful, and successful, in getting the historical references right, including, for example, the mentions of Watergate, Hurricane Celia, the use of a Selectric typewriter, the Bobby Riggs/Bill Jean King tennis exhibition, and the $1.60 cent minimum wage.

The writing is something special. The author's sentence structure, which is short, and not always complete, really drives the narrative and gives a unique cadence to the reading experience, as in this paragraph toward the end of the book:

"....he hoped the phone was still in working order. He got out and tried it. Dial tone, all right. Hung it up and leaned against the wall, waited. The breeze mild, pleasant. Clouds on the moon. The station's orange security lamp stained the leafy underside of the nearest tree an orangey-brown. Weird effect."

For me, the pace really slowed down in the middle of the book as Tom and Delpha each investigate the two mysteries they are trying to solve. The description of the process of uncovering the clues says a lot about how tedious most P.I. work probably is, but this is not so great for a narrative that you want to keep moving. That being said, I never wanted to stop reading this noirish tale at any point, and was hungry to find out the solution to the mysteries.

One of my favorite things about the book, hands-down, is that the author has dedicated her novel to "librarians everywhere," and she incorporates libraries and librarians into the novel in a very positive way. Overall, I enjoyed The Bird Boys and would recommend this series to those who like mysteries with intriguing characters, a slower pace, and an unusual setting of time and place. 

Lisa Sandlin is the author of The Do-Right, winner of the Shamus Award from the Private Eye Writers of America and the Hammett Prize from the International Association of Crime Writers. Her new mystery thriller The Bird Boys is set in 1973 in the same town she was born, Beaumont, Texas. Her previous books are The Famous Thing About Death and Message to the Nurse of Dreams, Cinco Puntos Press; In the River Province, SMU Press; and You Who Make the Sky Bend, Pinyon Publishing.

THREE WINNERS: Choice of eBook or Print Copies of THE BIRD BOYS
August 20-30, 2019
(International - eBooks only)
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Author Interview
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Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Iberian Ties by Quintin Vargas ~ Lone Star Literary Book Blog Tour ~ Excerpt and Giveaway!

Quintin Vargas
Genre: Crime Fiction / Mystery / Suspense International Thriller 
Publisher: Vanguard Publishers
Date of Publication: May 13, 2019
Number of Pages: 405

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Without a motive, how do you catch a killer? A gripping thriller in the vein of Harlan Coben, Paula Hawkins, and Lee Child. A rising star psychiatrist, American Nate Shelley is in Spain’s Canary Islands, making his world debut at a convention. But after delivering his keynote address, he and his fiancée Miro are arrested for murder. Nate knows he’s not guilty, but is his future wife involved in some way in the crime? Miro’s directly implicated when the murder victim is identified as her stalker. Is Nate’s career ruined? Is he facing life imprisonment? Does the American couple stand a chance of convincing the Spanish authorities—and Interpol—that they’re innocent? Not in a post-Brexit, anti-Trump European environment. Racing to clear their names, Nate and Miro will soon be embroiled in sham investigations, powerful cartels, and family secrets finally coming to light. Full of intrigue, this gritty international crime novel is a thrilling ride.


“Brilliant thriller! I totally loved and enjoyed this book!! Interesting twists and turns, well-developed characters and suspense all along the way. Definitely kept me on the edge of my seat. Can't wait for the next book!” –Gaby M., Goodreads Review

“This was an education about cultures and history as well as an unpredictable mystery.” –Robert R., Amazon Review

Excerpt from Iberian Ties
by Quintín Vargas

It was the third night after Trump’s election, and Nate found himself in the Canary Islands, with the lifeless body of a woman in his hotel room.
* * *
He waited for the local police in the lobby. What a nightmare. A disheveled young man wearing an ill-fitting sport jacket came around the registration desk. “Would you like some assistance, Dr. Shelley? A glass of water perhaps?” He instructed a room clerk to bring their esteemed guest some mineral water. “I’ve sent our security guard to check on your room, Dr. Shelley.” He explained that he was there to assist Nate in whatever he needed until the police arrived.
Nate absent-mindedly thanked him and continued to pace the lobby. Random thoughts crossed his mind. Miró was fortunate not to have been in the room. Or, was she? Could she be involved? No, of course not. Nate accepted the mineral water from the hotel clerk. How can I think that? But, if Miró’s not involved, is she in danger?
Although a great deal of his medical training had taught him how to be in charge, he felt imbalanced, out of sorts. For the seventh time that night, Nate dialed Miró’s number. His call again went to voice mail. From Carabela’s, the piano bar, a Louis Armstrong sound-alike crooned—as if through gravel—What a Wonderful World.
Nate walked to the front entrance. No sight of the ambulance…or the police. My God, the press could implicate even me…’Celebrated Psychoanalyst Guilty of Murder’. He could already read the headlines. I’ve worked hard to be the best in my profession…
He caught himself reciting a prayer in his head, and he bit his lip. Nate, praying again?
“You’re pacing the floor as if you’re awaiting a death sentence, Shelley. What on earth is wrong?” It was Beech’s nasal, and somewhat slurred, voice. He had just retrieved an envelope from Aamir Farooq, who for a second time, was departing the lobby in a hurry.
“Fritz…ish…warming up a…brandy for you.” Hiccup. “He’s on hish way.”
Stepping into the carpeted lobby from the piano bar, Dr. Luntz approached Nate with concern in his eyes. “Here’s a Hennessy, my boy. It’ll give you pleasant dreams.” Nate sat on the plush lobby sofa. He took a deep breath and thanked Luntz. The sip of cognac warmed his diaphragm and cleared his nasal passages. He took another deep breath as if attempting to capture the smell of gardenias at the front entrance. Eyes shut, Nate described the scene he’d found upstairs. He told Luntz and Beech about the lifeless body. He mumbled, almost to himself, something about the fragrance of a Japanese garden in the suite. “Worst of all,” he complained, “the ambulance and police are taking their time getting here. It’s been…what…more than ten minutes.”
Again, the night manager approached Nate and his two companions. “If I can offer our private office while you wait, perhaps you can be more comfortable there? The guests may get worried. I’m sure you understand, Dr. Shelley…”
By now, a few other guests had approached the lobby’s waiting area, concerned but unaware of the reason for the scene.
“Are you sure that she’s dead?” Luntz took Nate’s arm and offered to accompany him upstairs. He used a discreet whisper, but the concern on his face was evident to all in the lobby.
“It looks like a homicide to me, Dr. Luntz. I believe we should let the local police take care of this one,” said Nate.
Luntz and Beech hovered over him. Although unintelligible, even Beech’s words comforted Nate. If only the police would get here to settle this mess once and for all.

Iberian Ties is the first work of fiction published by Quintin Vargas. In addition to being an author, he combined a career as professor and dean in various American universities with becoming owner of a firm that prepared new immigrants to enter the marketplace and international workforce. His work impacted leadership development for various domestic and international private industries, non-profit organizations, and higher education.

As an academic, he served as dean and provost at various universities, including DePaul University in Chicago, the University of Texas, San Antonio, and St. Edward’s University. His academic writings have been highlighted in various publications, including the Journal of Research and Development in Education, the National Commission on Testing and Public Policy, and the Journal of Thought

He and his wife, Marty, have five children and thirteen grandchildren. They reside in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.

Three Winners: Choice of Signed Print or eBook Copy
July 23-August 2, 2019
Notable Quotable
Guest Post
Author Interview
Top 15 List
Scrapbook Page

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Mom's Perfect Boyfriend ~ Crystal Hemmingway (7/16/19)

Mom's Perfect Boyfriend (Smart Companions Book 1) by [Hemmingway, Crystal]

What a breath of fresh air it was to settle in and read MOM'S PERFECT BOYFRIEND, the debut by Crystal Hemmingway, especially since I have been a bit burned out by thrillers and darker literary fiction, lately. Thank you to the publisher for sending me a very nice early print copy!

An epistolary tale written entirely in Instant Messages, Text Message, Emails and Journal entries, this book was a lot of fun!

When Crystal loses her boyfriend, her job, and her apartment, she has no choice but to move back in with her mother, Margot, and try to finish her novel (a re-telling of Rapunzel). Finding that her mother's constant hovering is getting in the way of her writing, Crystal signs up for a "Smart Companion" to keep her Mom company from Boople, the organization where her sister, Lisa, works - a thinly disguised Google, natch. What could go wrong, right?

Writing a novel in this format can be challenging, but the author has managed to create very distinct characters, keep the "narrative" pace flowing nicely, and make you want to find out what happens next. There are also some laugh out loud moments that will linger!  I enjoyed this debut, and will look forward to what the author comes up with next.

Happy Reading!

Costalegre ~ Courtney Maum

Costalegre by [Maum, Courtney]

I reviewed Costalegre by Courtney Maum as I turned the last page when it was still fresh on my mind a couple months ago, and I'm grateful to the author and publisher for an early read. I will tell you that this is not a book I would normally choose to read; but after reading it I am again so impressed with the titles coming from Tin House lately. I loved A Key to Treehouse Living (Elliot Reed) last year and now this beautiful and strange novel, Costalegre

Based loosely on the lives of Peggy Guggenheim, her daughter Pegeen, and the surrealist art movement that Peggy supported during WWII by rescuing numerous artist and artwork from "Schlechty" (the nickname for Adolf Hitler), the author has chosen to place all these characters in the jungles of Mexico instead of the "jungle" of New York. 

Costalegre is a slim novel narrated in journal entries by 14 year old Lara, who finds herself in a strange land with even stranger people, and most tragic of all, a mother, Leonora, who is so caught up in the "art" of her guests that she ignores her daughter and leaves her entirely to her own devices. 

Without a tutor to educate her, Lara is learning about life from the kaleidoscopic world around her, with her only friends being the neglectful, narcissistic artists who struggle to "work" with few supplies, food, or inspiration. Since her father and brother stayed behind in Switzerland to wait out the war, Lara is truly on her own; and her only real pleasure is attempting to draw and paint herself, which the reader gradually realizes is her attempt to gain attention from the self-obsessed adults orbiting her life.

The theme of "disappearing" resonates in this novel: horses, a goat, the servants, and finally some of the artists themselves disappear, too. Lara feels invisible, and when she is thrown from a horse and gone for a night, no one realizes she was even gone - she may have well disappeared herself.

When an older male artist, who has lived in Costalegre full time since escaping Germany, expresses dismay that Lara is living in such circumstances, is it any surprise that she latches onto the one person in her world who seems to care about her?

The novel ends rather suddenly, and at first I was disappointed that there wasn't more closure to the story. But upon reflection, I realized that I was feeling so much like Lara, having lived with her voice all day as I read: there is no closure for her in Costalegre. She knows not what the future holds for her, and when anything will get any better. 

She ends with the hope that the ship that her mother commissioned with all the art from Germany will sink, so "there'd be nothing left to fawn over and boast about and move around the world for and maybe she [Leonora] would be emptied enough to finally mother me."

Getting to know Lara has been beautiful and sad and worthy. Costalegre is a short novel with a much larger story than its length suggests, and the emotional impact will linger. Really well done.

Thanks to Tin House Books and W.W. Norton Library Marketing for the advanced readers' copy.

Saturday, July 13, 2019

The House on Tradd Street (Book One) by Karen White

White, Karen. 2008. The House on Tradd Street. New York, NY: Berkley, a division of Penguin Random House.

I've had a little trouble finishing books lately for several reasons, primarily because of all the activity surrounding sending my last kiddo off to college in August (sob)! I have a 30 minute, twice daily, commute and some days that is all the "reading' I am able to do.

I had been meaning to read this series over the years, and requested this first one through Inter Library Loan (ILL) since we did not own it on audio at my library. I also downloaded the book to read along with the audio, and just finished it this weekend. Yay, for finishing a book! I enjoyed it and am eagerly looking forward to the next one in the series, as well, called The Girl on Legare Street. The author mentioned it was originally supposed to be a two-book series, but is now 5 books long, with the 6th coming out in October. It's a testament to the author that she can continue a series for so long, and have so many happy fans continuing to read it.

Set in Charleston, South Carolina, this novel introduces Melanie Middleton, a type-A realtor who has an annoying little ability to see...ghosts; and Jack Trenholm, a disgraced author who is a little bit too interested in a house on Tradd Street that Melanie has unwillingly inherited from an almost-stranger. Other quirky, and some menacing, characters populate this enjoyable story, and epistolary sections break up the narrative to give background to some of the history explored in the book.

There are a lot of secrets to be revealed in this novel, as there usually are in Karen White's novels, and she does an excellent job of revealing them in a way that keeps the suspense at a high level and the reader turning the pages. Oh, and there's a DOG, named General Lee, which is always a plus in my book, so to speak. 😊 I will look forward to spending more time with these characters in the rest of the series - once I get The Teen launched out into the world (or at least off to college)!

I would recommend The House on Tradd Street to fans of Southern Fiction, Women's Fiction, and those who enjoy a little Gothic paranormal in their reads.

Happy Reading!