Thursday, May 31, 2018

Dear Committee Members ~ Julie Schumacher

Schumacher, Julie. 2014. Dear Committee Members. New York, NY: Doubleday, a division of Penguin Random House. ISBN 978-0385538138. $22.95

Every month Librarians in my library, known also as “Selectors,” receive a HOT list from our vendors (Brodart and Baker & Taylor) containing a list of the books publishing three months hence that various metrics and research indicate will be popular and “musts” for the library to acquire.  I select books for technology, self-help, art/crafts/decorating and Science Fiction and Fantasy.  But I always peek at the mystery and fiction books coming out because I want to see what’s buzzing and want to put them on hold as soon as we order them.  Not everyone knows this, but libraries usually order books 3 months in advance, so you can put your favorites on hold and get to the head of the line for the next big blockbuster!

This month a fiction title caught my eye that will be published in August: The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher, a faculty member in the Creative Writing Program and the Department of English at the University of Minnesota. Based on the description, the book is a sequel to Dear Committee Members which our library didn’t own.  So I promptly put it on hold at another local library where I have check-out privileges and read it in one sitting!

Written in epistolary form, Dear Committee Members consists almost entirely of Letters of Recommendation written by a beleaguered, curmudgeonly English professor at a fictitious Midwestern university. Beginning at the first part of the academic term, it follows a year in the life of Jason Fitger as he tries, unsuccessfully, to promote the work of one of his graduate students who is writing a “promising” novel, and includes Letters of Recommendation for other students he barely knows (or likes)!  Within the letters Jay inserts extremely sardonic, passive-aggressive and downright hilarious commentary about all sorts of things going on in the English department where he works.

Sparing none of his colleagues or ex-wives or girlfriends, we learn that Jay had one successful novel published as the result of attending a writing seminar some 20 years previously and used personal details of his own life in the fictional novel which destroyed a number of personal relationships. Other written communications in this short novel reveal his attempts to repair some of those relationships.

Dear Committee Members is an extremely well-written literary novel that puts the "pissed" in epistolary, and it has many laugh-out-loud moments. It is full of academic shenanigans and bitter back-stabbing, but also contains themes of aging, the fear of failure, perseverance, and is not necessarily a happily-ever-after tale.  Still, I loved it so much.

The next novel, The Shakespeare Requirement, apparently continues the life of Jason Fitzger, now Chair of the English Department, but is written in narrative, rather than epistolary form, and I can't wait to read it!

The Shakespeare Requirement: A Novel by [Schumacher, Julie]

Happy Reading!

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

The Widow's Watcher ~ Lone Star Book Blog Tours ~ Promo, Book Trailer & Giveaway!


Genre: Literary Fiction Publisher: Lake Union Press
Date of Publication: March 29, 2018
Number of Pages: 286

  Scroll down for the giveaway!

From Eliza Maxwell, the bestselling author of The Unremembered Girl, comes a gripping novel about the mysteries that haunt us and the twists of fate that can unravel them…
Living in the shadow of a decades-old crime that stole his children from him, reclusive Lars Jorgensen is an unlikely savior. But when a stranger walks onto the ice of a frozen Minnesota lake, her intentions are brutally clear, and the old man isn’t about to let her follow through.
Jenna Shaw didn’t ask for Lars’s help, nor does she want it. After he pulls her from the brink, however, Jenna finds her desire to give up challenged by their unlikely friendship. In Jenna, Lars recognizes his last chance for redemption. And in her quest to solve the mysteries of Lars’s past and bring him closure, Jenna may find the way out of her own darkness. 
But the truth that waits threatens to shatter it all. When secrets are surrendered and lies are laid bare, Jenna and Lars may find that accepting the past isn’t their greatest challenge. Can they afford the heartbreaking price of forgiveness?

"There was a moment I had to tell myself that this is just a book..."
- Goodreads reviewer

"A well-paced story of healing, forgiveness and tragedy, with enough unexpected twists to keep readers guessing.”
-- Amber Cowie, author of Rapid Falls


║ BARNES AND NOBLE (Print Only) 


Eliza Maxwell lives in Texas with her ever-patient husband and two kids. She's an artist and writer, an introvert and a British cop drama addict. She loves nothing more than to hear from readers.

Twitter ║ Facebook   ║ Instagram Website 
Three Winners! 1ST PRIZE: Signed Copy + $25 Amazon Gift Card 2ND PRIZE: Signed Copy + $10 Amazon Gift Card 3RD PRIZE: Signed Copy
MAY 22-31, 2018
(U.S. Only)

Book Trailer
Guest Post
Notable Quotable
Author Interview
Notable Quotable
Deleted Scene
Top Five List
BONUS Review

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Thursday, May 17, 2018

#ewgc: The Death of Mrs. Westaway ~ Ruth Ware

Ware, Ruth. 2018. The Death of Mrs. Westaway. New York, NY: Gallery/Scout Press, an imprint of Simon & Schuster.  ISBN 978-1501156212. $26.99 USD.

One of the highlights of my month is participating in a Twitter Chat called #ewgc (Early Word Galley Chat). Librarians across the nation, and Publishers, as well, get together for an hour and tweet about books that are being published in the next few months.  We can only talk about pre-pub books.  If you are in the book industry (Librarian, Bookseller, etc.) you may be fortunate to have an opportunity to download electronic/digital galleys (advanced reader copies) of books from NetGalley or Edelweiss, once you build a profile and start reviewing books on social media or a blog.  You can request to read a certain title, and the publisher will approve or decline your request.  So far, I've read and reviewed over 100 titles, combined, on the two sites.  The gathering for #ewgc is a fun way to network with other librarians, see what books are buzzing, and then fill your e-reader with more galleys than you can possibly read! One such title I heard about, then read, was The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware.

I have read this author's other novels (In a Dark, Dark Wood, The Woman in Cabin 10 and The Lying Game), and now think this one is my favorite so far. I was able to figure out "who done it" in the others, but not this one. The narrative was laid out so well that I really didn't see it coming. Excellent!

Harriet "Hal" Westaway is barely making ends meet reading Tarot Cards and telling fortunes to tourists and locals in a sea-side town, having lost her mother a few years before and gotten into debt from a loan shark. When she receives a letter from an attorney in Cornwall informing her that she may be entitled to an inheritance from an unknown relative, it seems like an answer to a prayer.

Unfortunately, Hal realizes rather quickly that she's not who the family thinks she is - the child of a woman who went missing years before. Shutting down her moral compass, which is screaming at her that it's wrong, she decides to go to the funeral; maybe she can get a few hundred dollars from these "relatives" to keep her bones and teeth intact from the leg breaker the money lender has sent after her.  Hal's ability to cold-read people and situations, which has worked so well in her life and work, should give her a chance to feel out the family.

Upon arriving at the rather Gothic-like mansion, and meeting her three "Uncles," Hal starts to feel even more guilty for her deception. But there are secrets in that house: secrets being kept by a number of people, secrets that were kept from her, too.

The author does an amazing job of creating a sense of menace and dread that keeps the reader turning the pages. Entries from a diary written years before are interspersed with the present-day narrative revealing some clues, but not all of them. This was a highly entertaining read, with a likable main character, for once, even though she makes some questionable decisions. My only criticism, and it's a small one, is that the author spends a little too much time describing Hal's nervous stomach: it clenches, rumbles, rolls, turns over, drops away, et cetera, et cetera....Just an editing issue, in my opinion. It didn't really take away from the enjoyment of the book. I can certainly recommend this new title to my psychological suspense customers knowing they will enjoy it.

Happy Reading!

How it Happened ~ Michael Koryta

Koryta, Michael. 2018. How it Happened. New York, NY: Little, Brown and Company, a division of Hachette Book Group. ISBN 978-0316293938. $27.00 USD

Michael Koryta is a very accomplished writer, and his books always have high holds at the library. I had not read one of his novels in a while, and when I looked up after starting the book, time had flown by: the mark of a great read!

It opens with a riveting description of a female suspect, Kimberly Crepeaux, confessing to her part in a double murder. The main character, Rob Barrett, is an FBI agent who is skilled in getting criminals to confess, and he believes Kimmy knows where the bodies are buried (so to speak). The problem is, the evidence doesn't align with the confession; and Rob will put his career, and his life, on the line to solve this case, which has ties to his childhood in Maine.

Koryta is a great story teller, and the writing is so seamless and propulsive that you just keep turning the pages. The only problem I had with the book is that I think the summary from the publisher gives too much away. We know from that blurb that no one is going to believe Rob, the evidence won't add up, and his career will be at stake. Knowing all this takes away some of the enjoyment of the book, because it diminishes the suspense in the beginning. That's my only criticism of this excellent story. I'm sure it will be widely read and enjoyed by my customers, who already have holds placed.

Happy Reading!

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof, Narrated by Lorelei King

Woodroof, Martha. 2014. Small Blessings. Macmillan Audio; Unabridged edition. Book on CD.
ISBN 978-1427244130  $39.99 USD.

Embarking on a road trip is unfathomable without an audiobook to pass the long, boring driving hours across the very large State of Texas, and I don’t always end up with one I want to listen to for 10 hours. This past weekend, however, I totally lucked out and listened to Martha Woodroof’s Small Blessings, narrated by the incomparable Lorelei King.

I happen to really enjoy campus stories, so my antenna went up when I read the summary of this novel. It’s set on a small college campus and populated by the most amazing characters. Tom Putnam is an English professor, married for two decades to a fragile woman with a mental illness, and he just barely gets through the day with the help of his mother-in-law, Agnes. He had a 9 day affair ten years ago with a visiting poetess which sent his wife, Marjorie, off the deep end; and he learned his lesson about trying to have a life different from the one he is trapped in. Tom has a friend, Russell, who is a blow-hard and recovering alcoholic, and who lives to torment the cranky, aggressive Iris, a professor with some addiction issues of her own.

One day a woman named Rose Callahan arrives to manage the college bookshop, a little boy named Henry arrives on a train claiming to be Tom’s son, and none of the characters in this story will ever be the same. Filled with entertaining prose, snappy dialogue, extremely well-developed characters, and a hint of mystery, Small Blessings will just steal your heart right out of your chest.

Listening to the narrative on my road-trip had me nodding my head, smirking, huffing with laughter, and it squeezed my heart with profoundness, as well. It reminded me that when life seems to be going off the rail, that new direction might be the one we’re supposed to be on after all. I need more stories like this one!

 Happy Reading!

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Four Plants...and a Book Review!

I have only written book reviews on this blog, but I’ve been thinking about nature, flowers and other flora as Spring has approached in all her warmth and beauty. We had a Spring Gardening Craft Program at the library in March, which I facilitated, and I had to plant a succulent – the first time I have ever planted anything!

My mother has a verdant green thumb, and mine is brown, bordering on black! The only plant I have kept alive is Hercules, a Pathos Ivy that my husband was given over 35 years ago, before we were married – and Hercules still lives!

I’ve killed the three plants my mom gave me when I started work at my new office (over-watered, I think), but I bought Marion at Thom Thumb a few months ago, and she seems to like library, as I do! She is surviving on healthy neglect, I think!

After planting the succulent in March, I was inspired to plant some more. Here are the Winston Trio that decorate my desk at work.

 And, then at Sprouts last week, I saw another succulent for sale (these are hard to kill, you know), and was enchanted by the container he came it. Here is Bartlett:

Finally, I brought home Shelia from my late Aunt’s funeral arrangement. She’s a Schefflera, and she lives, quite happily so far, on the ledge around the garden tub. I’m really praying that this plant lives, as it’s a reminder of my Aunt Shelley.

Speaking of plants and flowers, I read the most wonderful book last year. So here’s the book review:

Branard, Lynne. 2014. The Art of Arranging Flowers. New York,NY: Berkley, a division of Penguin Random House. ISBN 978-0425272718. $15.00 USD.

I came across this title in our audiobook collection last year. I loved it so much, I asked the Fiction Selector at work to purchase a copy for each branch. It falls under the genre of Women’s Fiction, but the new-ish genre of Up-Lit works in describing it, too.  Heartwarming, quirky characters, small town setting, with enough emotional resonance to lift it above others like it, it stole my heart!

Ruby Jewell has known tragedy in her life. When she was in her twenties, her beloved sister committed suicide; this sent Ruby into a downward spiral of depression, causing her to drop out of law school. One day, lying in bed, unable to get up and get back to life, she happened to notice some beautiful flowers growing outside her window. That vision was enough to help her get up, and gradually over time, to put together a life of sorts.

Ruby became a florist in a small town, and for twenty years she has helped to commemorate all the celebrations and passages of time for those in her community, with only her faithful dog, Clementine as company. With just one look at a customer, Ruby seems to know exactly what type of arrangement is needed to help heal a broken heart, or a sudden passing of a loved one; to convince that girl to go out with you, or remind a friend you are worth forgiving. She is beloved in the community, but not loved with someone's heart.

All that changes, when a young orphaned boy asks for a job at the Flower Shoppe, a man who has flown to the moon takes a sudden interest in her, and a local veterinarian starts causing some long-forgotten feelings in the region of her heart. It sounds like a romance, but it’s really not. It’s about life, tragedy, community, faith, and yes, love, too. It has stayed with me for a long while, as the best books do, and I have bought copies for family and friends, as well as recommended it through Reader’s Advisory. Sometimes you just need this type of story, and if you do, this one’s for you.

 Happy Reading, and Planting!

Instagram, Discovered...


I’ve gotten fairly proficient at using Twitter for work. I use it for Collection Development, Reader’s Advisory, and Publisher and Author contacts. But I started noticing these things called #Bookstagrams on Twitter, with lovely images of books and flowers and nature scenes. Hmmm, I thought, I need to look into this!

So, I had my teenager show me how to use Instagram (it didn’t go over very well). I stumbled along and figured it out eventually, and off I went. But a funny thing happened: I started noticing things I usually overlooked – colorful flowers, book covers, beautiful nature scenes (yes, even in Texas we have some nice things to see - bluebonnets, for example). So, out came the smartphone and I started taking photos of what caught my eye. At first they were pretty ordinary. A few wild flowers, some stacks of books. But then, I discovered filters! And hashtags! And suddenly I had followers and was stopping traffic and knocking on strangers’ doors to take pictures of flowers and bottle trees! I was getting out of control! This morning, during a devotional, I paused on the page that said “May,” with a photo of some flowers on it. Out came the phone (Sorry, God!), and off I went to find the perfect quote to go with the picture to post on Instagram #flowers #Spring, etc. And a quick prayer after that to move social media down the list of priorities in my life!

Here are some of the Instagram #pics I've #posted on #bookstagram and #flower sites!!  (Well, I need a little help, here, after all)!

Cara Cara Oranges are in season!

Bottle Tree

Month of May

My Mom's Backyard

My Towering TBR!

Happy Viewing!

Saturday, May 5, 2018

A Texas Treat - Bill Crider's Sheriff Dan Rhodes Series, as Narrated by George Guidall

Murder in Four Parts: A Dan Rhodes Mystery (Unabridged) - AudiobookRed, White and Blue Murder: A Dan Rhodes Mystery, Book 13 (Unabridged) - AudiobookMurder Among the OWLS - Audiobook

I’ve been a huge fan of George Guidall from the very first audio-books I listened to that he narrated. I became kind of a groupie, searching our collection for all the audio-books narrated by him that I could find. I went through most of the political thrillers (Daniel Silva), the Craig Johnson’s Longmire series, and am currently listening to the late Bill Crider’s Dan Rhodes series set in a fictional town in Texas.  I have about a 30 minute daily commute, so I can listen to an hour of Mr. Guidall’s excellent interpretation of various character voices, and it makes the drive a dream! (Here’s a link to a NYT article that tells why George Guidall is “the undisputed king of audiobooks":

In Bill Crider’s Dan Rhodes mystery series, set in Blackland County, Texas, there’s always something a-foot, and Sheriff Rhodes has his hands full, not only with handling the various crimes committed in his territory, but dealing with his contrary staff  (Hack! Lawton!) and other odd-ball members of his community.  I’ve found that you don’t have to read the books in order, as the late author did a great job of gently revisiting the basic setup of the characters, and you can step right in anywhere you like.

We only own about 5 of these audio-books (the series started in 1980’s), so now I’m on the hunt through Interlibrary Loan to track down some more!

Happy Reading (and Listening)!

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Dark Queen ~ Faith Hunter

Dark Queen (Jane Yellowrock) by [Hunter, Faith]
Hunter, Faith. 2018. The Dark Queen. New York, NY: Ace, an imprint of Penguin Random House. ISBN 978-1101991428. $7.99 USD, Mass Market Paperback.

I've been reading and enjoying the Jane Yellowrock series from the very first book, Skinwalker, and introduce it often to Urban Fantasy fans.  Some of the books in the series have been a little "out there" with the magical and mystical elements, but overall it's an excellent Urban Fantasy series that ticks all the boxes: strong, independent heroine; unique world building; well-developed secondary characters; creative magical elements; and of course, vampires, shifters, witches and even angels.  What makes this series stand out is the dual nature of the heroine: she is a Cherokee shapeshifter with the soul of a puma concolor (mountain lion) named "Beast" living inside her.  Beast has her own unique voice, opinions, strengths and sense of humor!

In this 12 title in the series, we are introduced to a new character who may or may not be Jane's biological brother, and this turns her world upside down. Although Jane has developed her own kind of family with the Youngers and Truebloods, she has always felt alone - the sole shapeshifter from her clan. She has to work through why her "brother" has suddenly shown up, as he seems to have ulterior motives. There's a lot of action in this book, as always, and the presence of the European Vamps and the upcoming vampire duel for the U.S. territories is on everybody's mind.  There are a lot of moving pieces in the story, but the climactic fight scene is worth the cost of the book!

 It was great fun to immerse myself in this unique and entertaining world again. I recommend this series often, and in my mind it's up there with other great Urban Fantasy series', such as those written by Anne Bishop, Patricia Briggs and Ilona Andrews.