Holiday Round-Up: Books We’re Getting and Books We’re Giving

Screen Shot 2014-12-04 at 10.04.20 AMHappy Friday, All. One of the most common questions we crime writers are asked at library and bookstore events is: What books do you read? So here, from some of our regulars, are our answers to the questions:

What books do you want to get for Christmas and what books are you going to give?

Kate Flora: When John and I were children on the farm in Union, one of the high points of the holiday season was when the Brentanos catalogue arrived. Each of us was allowed to pick on special book which our parents would order for us for Christmas. It was more magical than the Sears catalogue, and the choice was anguishing. It had to be a very special book, and we wanted it to be one that would last though as much of the school vacation as possible. I still have my volume of Amecrian myths and legends, one year’s prized selection.

These days, despite being passionate about books, there have been years when I didn’t get any books except a cookbook. Now that my sons are older, they choose books for me, and I love the fact that they will often pick something I’ve never heard of or would be unlikely to read. Dan Chaon short stories. Neil Gaiman. The Poisoner’s Handbook. I’ve set aside the two days after Christmas to curl up on the couch and read.

Giving? We have a five year old, so I’ve ordered Where the Sidewalk Ends, and Bendy Wendy by Jo Jo Thoreau, a Maine author who just turned 10. For the dog lovers, Cat Warren’s wonderful book, What the Dog Knows. And someone will get Sparta, by Roxana Robinson, because it is truly wonderful book.

Lea Wait: Books I’d love to get for Christmas?  EUPHORIA by Lily King (a Mainer) and THE BURNING ROOM by Michael Connelly.  I’m also really looking forward to reading the first in Maine Crime Writer Sarah Graves’ new series, WINTER AT THE DOOR, which will debut on January 6.

As gifts? My younger grandchildren who giggle a lot are getting PRESIDENT TAFT IS STUCK IN HIS!cid_487CF410-53E3-4F9A-B4E9-3E3180900689
BATH by Mac Barnett and with hilarious illustrations by Mainer Chris Van Dusen. For the granddaughter who still wants to be a princes when she grows up – PRINCESSES ARE NOT JUST PRETTY by Kate Lun and Sue Hillard. The young man who’s just getting interested in American history will be unwrapping Philip Hoose’s WE WERE THERE, TOO: YOUNG PEOPLE IN US HISTORY.  (Yup. Phil Hoose is also a Mainer.) And for the older granddaughters, Jacqueline Woodson’s brilliant and moving memoir, BROWN GIRL DREAMING, and I AM MALALA: How One Girl Stood for Education and Changed the World, by Malala Yousafzai and Patricia McCormick.

Vaughn Hardacker: I can’t think of a single book that I’d like to receive however, a gift card to a bookstore (although the nearest one to me is BAM in Bangor three and a half hours drive from here) I have sent out a couple of books as gifts though: Lee Child’s latest Personal and Deadline by John Sandford (his latest Virgil Flowers book). I have a couple of books available in eBook format: SNIPER and my book loosely based on my experiences in Vietnam (very loosely) ELEPHANT VALLEY.

Ho Ho Homicide-comp (199x300)Kaitlyn Dunnett: In what’s left of our tiny family, we no longer exchange gifts at Christmas but rather celebrate by getting together, pigging out on food, and catching up on news. The only exception has been our niece and it has been my habit to buy two or three hardcover middler grades books as presents for her. I was all set to order Dreamwalker (Red Dragon Academy Book 1) by Rhys Bowen and her daughter, C.M. Broyles, a fantasy novel aimed at kids in grades 4-8 when the family got together for Thanksgiving and I learned two things. One, said niece has only read a handful of fiction all year. Two, that what she has read is way beyond what I’d have expected for someone in her age group. On her teacher’s recommendation, she read Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper. Currently she’s reading a book about a girl from another country trying to adjust to living with an American family. Sorry, I didn’t catch the title or author. My conclusion? Give the kid cash and let her pick out her own present. Maybe it will be a book and maybe it won’t but at least she’ll be happy with her choice.

At her age, I always received a stack of girls’ mystery stories—Nancy Drew, Judy Bolton, and all the rest. I was always happy to get them and had probably read them all within a week. Then it was back to borrowing from the library and occasionally buying a title for myself at the local Woolworth’s. These days, when I real almost everything not for research on my iPad, I download a book as soon as I decide I want to read it. Combined with that non-exchange of gifts thing I just mentioned, I don’t expect (or even want) to receive any books for Christmas. An extra piece of apple pie, though, or some leftover fudge . . .

Susan Vaughan: I’m giving my husband THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN, book 4 in the Martin Beck winter coverseries by Swedish authors Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo. He enjoys the Inspector Wallander series by Henning Mankel and other mysteries by Swedish authors (in English) so this seemed a natural. It’s a mass-murder police procedural and thriller I think he’ll enjoy. If the title seems familiar, THE LAUGHING POLICEMAN was made into a film starring Walter Matthau, but neither of us has seen it.

I couldn’t put down Hallie Ephron’s stand-along thriller NEVER TELL A LIE, so I’d like the road the first book in the Dr. Peter Zak series she and Donald Davidoff write as G.H. Ephron. The idea of a forensic psychiatrist as sleuth intrigues me. So Amnesia is going on my holiday list.

John Clark: Now That You’re Here by Amy Nichols.

One minute Danny was running from the cops, and the next, he jolted awake in an unfamiliar body–his own, but different. Somehow, he’s crossed into a parallel universe. Now his friends are his enemies, his parents are long dead, and studious Eevee is not the mysterious femme fatale he once kissed back home. Then again, this Eevee–a girl who’d rather land an internship at NASA than a date to the prom–may be his only hope of getting home.

Eevee tells herself she’s only helping him in the name of quantum physics, but there’s something undeniably fascinating about this boy from another dimension . . . a boy who makes her question who she is, and who she might be in another place and time.

Barbara Ross: 

Books I’m giving.

My husband Bill told me he had “bought lots of books for Christmas presents.” So, in preparation for this list, I went up and opened the box. They were all for our nineteen month-old granddaughter!

So, I can say without fear of anyone reading this and spoiling their present, this Christmas we are giving

The Rhino Who Swallowed a Storm, by LeVar Burton
The Night Riders, by Matt Furie
Stories 1, 2, 3, 4 by Eugene Ionesco and Etienne Delessert
Symphony City, by Amy Martin

As for what is on my list

To Dwell in Darkness, Deborah Crombie
The Handsome Man’s Deluxe Cafe, Alexander McCall Smith
Tagged for Death, Sherry Harris
Death with all the Trimmings, Lucy Burdette

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Thea’s Quick and Dirty Holiday Party

Kate Flora here, still busy doing my homework, way behind on holiday shopping, with nothing
wrapped and no holiday tree. So you won’t be surprised to learn that when I sat down to write a blog Educated Death coverpost, I came up kind of empty. Childhood Christmas, I thought. Dug through the old photos. Came up uninspired. Holiday baking, I thought. But I’m not a very good baker, so that was out. And then I remembered: Thea’s Quick and Dirty Holiday Party ideas. Everyone can use a little help from Thea Kozak, right?

So I dug through my old Thea Kozak mysteries, and there it was, on page 283 of An Educated Death. Thea is consulting on a student death at a private school, and the headmistress’s assistant is in a tizzy because she’s supposed to give a party and the school’s emergency has had her working overtime. Thea says: “Are you really in trouble with your own hors d’oeuvres? Because I’ve got some great quick and dirty recipes.” And when the answer is yes, she starts reeling off advice:

“Hope you don’t mind cream cheese. It’s the staff of life. . . .Get some smoked trout, about half a pound. You have a food processor? Okay, you mix it with a package of cream cheese, horseradish, and lemon juice. Thin it with some half and half it it’s too thick. Great on crackers. It’s also wonderful on cucumber slices. Use the English kind, they don’t had those big seeds. Next, a can of crab, another package of cream cheese, a little lemon juice, and a teaspoon or two of curry. Mix it together it the food processor, put it in a dish and bake for about twenty-five minutes.”

I dictated while she scribbled frantically.

“Now, everyone is impressed by piles of food. Doesn’t have to be special, just has to be massive. So get a couple pounds of shrimp, pile ‘em on a platter with a bed of lettuce, use a green pepper in the middle filled with cocktail sauce and lots of lemon wedges. Do the same with a platter of raw veggies. Use sugar snap peas, red, yellow, and orange peppers, those ready-peeled baby carrots, cauliflower and broccoli. Hollow out a small red cabbage and a small green cabbage, fill one with ranch dressing and one with honey mustard dressing. Belgian endive. Separate it into spears, fill the big end with herbed cheese, arrange on a tray like flower petals and sprinkle with sprouts.”

“Stop,” she said, “this is great but you’re making me hungry. But how do you know all this? You never entertain. You’re always at work. I know you are.”

“I used to have a life once. And my mom is the world’s greatest cook. Don’t forget little smoky sausages and Swedish meatballs with a dish of mustard. Don’t forget toothpicks.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 7.13.00 PMAfter a bit of back and forth, Thea adds that for dessert a giant chocolate cake and a cheesecake will make everyone feel like they’ve had an amazing treat. Just make it look opulent.

For my holiday parties, I add a spiral sliced ham, a basket of assorted breads, a variety of mustards, and a caviar pie. Here’s that recipe:

Mix 6 chopped, hard-cooked eggs with 3 T. of mayo

1 c. minced onion

8 oz. cream cheese mixed with 2/3 c. sour cream

Arrange in layers in a springform pan. Chill. Top with 2 small jars of caviar. Serve with crackers.Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 7.11.28 PM

Thea and I wish you a very happy holiday.





Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 7.11.58 PMAnd if you’re not happy enough yet, may I suggest the Peartini?

Pear vodka, St. Germain or other elderflower liqueur, the juice of a fresh lime. Shake with ice or pour over ice. And be careful. Be very careful. These are addictive.

Want to go fancier? Slice some pears, marinate in a bit of the vodka, and add to the drink.


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An Unexpected Event

DSCN0049 (640x480)Hello again from Sarah Graves, writing to you from Eastport, Maine where I do still look like the photo at left, but the background doesn’t. The poor old car is there but the snow is gone, melted by inches of rain that soaked us all through but that at least did not have to be shoveled. And in December, if it comes out of the sky but doesn’t remain in the driveway or on the front walk afterwards, I’m all for it. A photogenic dusting is fine for the holidays but otherwise they can keep it on the ski hills, as far as I’m concerned.

breakwater2The unexpected event was the collapse of the Eastport breakwater. As you may already know, it happened in the middle of the night, very suddenly. People nearby said the sound of a snowplow scraping on pavement woke them, the sound being tons of earth, steel, and wood falling. The caretaker on the schooner Ada Lore and his dog, asleep on the vessel directly adjacent to the collapse, barely escaped with their lives, and other boats were sunk or damaged as well.

breakwaterHere’s the scene from above. (Both of these photos are by Jim Lowe – thanks, Jim!) It could have been much worse since just a few hours later dozens of fishermen and their trucks would’ve been on the breakwater. But as it is, they’ll have to find other places for their boats — not an easy task. Having them out on moorings instead of in the boat basin means having to get to them by dinghy, a dangerous trip in winter when things are icy. And there’s no storm protection like the kind they used to get inside the breakwater.

FSCN0495I wasn’t kidding about the rain. Fortunately, I have indoor work to do: the second book in the Lizzie Snow series, set in Aroostook County, Maine and called THE GIRLS SHE LEFT BEHIND, is in progress and I am chugging along on what I hope is the second-to-last rewrite. When I get to this stage I tend to remember without wanting to the theme music from “Murder, She Wrote,” that happy, tra-la-la tune that makes writing sound like such a pleasant occupation. The well-kept hands with their manicured nails moving lightly over the keyboard, the brisk, satisfied straightening of the finished pages…oh, how I despise that music. But I love Angela Lansbury, so there’s that. And even after all this time I do love the process, even when — especially when, actually — there’s no tra-la-la about it.

winter coverThe first book in the new series, WINTER AT THE DOOR, is due out January 6th, 2015 — i.e., Real Soon, Now —  so I suppose I’d better say something about ex-Boston homicide detective Lizzie Snow’s maiden voyage. This one sends her to Bearkill, Maine where her long-missing niece may have been sighted, where her faithless but still devilishly attractive ex-lover Dylan Hudson, now a Maine state murder cop himself, tries luring her back into his arms, and where a series of supposed cop suicides may turn out to be something worse. Before it’s over, Lizzie’s going to find out just how different the mean streets of Boston are from the rural roads around Bearkill — and why taking an unscheduled bathroom break in a northern Maine swamp is a Really Bad Idea, at least until after there’s been at least one hard frost.



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Voice from the Past

534392_471646666199537_383056311_nDorothy Cannell with a tale of remembrance and caution: A couple of weeks ago I received an email from Norm, a member of a writers’ group to which I also belonged more than thirty years ago. I was delighted to hear from him. His reminiscences brought back a flood of heartwarming memories of our every other Thursday meetings covering a period of five or six years. We called ourselves the Shagbark Scribes. I’m not sure why, but someone suggested it and everyone agreed. For a long period we were all about enthusiastically supporting each other whether we were writing for the enjoyment of it or hoping to get published. Norm asked me if I remembered when the ‘rot’ set in and I wrote back to say I certainly did.

The group was founded by Ivan Sparling who taught creative writing at the local community college. Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 5.22.28 PMOur meetings were held in a classroom. He mailed invitations to likely people who had attended one or more of his classes, as I had done. At the end of the session I’d taken with him he’d told me I should write professionally. It was something I’d always wanted to do, but without his encouragement I’m not sure I’d done more than continue to think about it.

Joining the writing group set the seal on my commitment. It provided me with self-imposed deadlines – must complete something to read for each meeting. But of even more importance was the confidence boosting that came from being a cheering squad for each others work. Critiquing always came from the wellspring of desire for each of us to succeed. The Ivan Sparling approach. He was our core. His mentoring never heavy handed. He continued with us for several years after his retirement from teaching until his wife’s ill health necessitated his saying goodbye.

I’m not sure how much later the ‘rot’ and negative change that Norm mentioned occurred. It came in the person of a new member who had the status of being a published writer (something the rest of us had not yet achieved) having sold one story to a mystery magazine. Suddenly, he was our self-appointed leader, setting assignments rather than leaving us to bring whatever we wanted to read. And he proceeded more often than not, before anyone else opened their mouths, to shred our efforts. None of us balked. I suppose we were too dazzled by his ‘Success’, assuming he knew and we didn’t. One occasion springs to mind on my account. We had been instructed to write four pages that included a number of elements, the one I remember being a ghost. I had a ghost story in mind for sometime and set to work intent on getting part of it down, but became so caught up in it that I completed a nine page short story. Amazing for me, considering I’d never written one less than twenty.

I took it to the next meeting and when my turn came explained to our illustrious leader that I’d gone over the allotted amount but requested being allowed to read the first four pages. Permission was granted to real all nine. When I finished he eyed me over steepled fingers and uttered this pronouncement, “Dorothy you were instructed to write four pages, you wrote nine. Where there is no discipline there is no art.”

Silence from all sides. I shriveled. Went home, tossed the story in the back of a drawer and for at least a week considered never writing again. Forward a few years. By then I’d written three books. My agent phoned and asked if I’d like to write a ghost story for a magazine. I told her I had one, if I could find it.

A few weeks later my husband came home from work and I greeted him with a statement. “Remember that story – the one when I was told where there is no discipline there is no art? Well, there probably still is neither, but now there is $2,500!”

Screen Shot 2014-12-15 at 5.27.00 PMThe reason I’m passing along this bit of smugness is as a caution to fledgling writers to share their work only with people who wish them to succeed, not ones whose own egos demand setting themselves up as experts.

Luckily there are far more of the other sort. I remember Norm with deep affection. Glad to hear he’s still writing.

Good luck.






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A possible new publisher

Jayne Hitchcock here. I’m pretty disappointed with my publisher – my last book, True Crime Online, hasn’t been selling well and when it first came out, I did a flurry of radio interviews, but then that was all they did for publicity. I had to rely on my media contacts and contacting local media when I did speaking engagements or book signings (which I also scheduled myself) to promote it.

I was ready to give up on writing when I got an email from a publisher in Maryland in October. They wanted to know if I’d be interested in writing a book about online crimes. Would I?! Of course! Before replying, I did my research, found them to be reputable and with a good lineup of books and authors. I cautiously replied, talked to the publishing agent who had contacted me over the phone, wrote a proposal for a book about cyberbullying and sent that off to her, along with a copy of True Crime Online and my previous book, Net Crimes & Misdemeanors 2nd edition. She got back to me with what they provide for publicity/promotional events and I was pleasantly surprised at how invested they are in their authors.

I was psyched and posted on Facebook that I might be writing a new book. While most of my friends congratulated me and wished me luck, several (who mainly messaged me privately) asked if the publisher could look at their book as well.


I was a bit affronted. First, my books are mainly non-fiction and all of the people who contacted me had written a “novel.” They obviously didn’t know anything about the publishing business. I patiently explained to each one that there are different kinds of publishers and mine was strictly non-fiction looking to branch out into the technical/Internet areas. A couple of them actually got upset with me that I wouldn’t 1) Share the name of the publisher or 2) That I wouldn’t help them get published

Again, what?!

I patiently guided them to the Writer’s Digest web site and guide to literary agents and publishers, then let it go.

The publishing agent asked if I had five peers who could vouch for my expertise, so I set about contacting some Internet-savvy folks I know, some dealing with social media, and asked if they could be used as a reference for my new publisher. One was “too busy,” another wanted to know who the publisher, but I was hesitant to share. Is that wrong? But I did finally get five people who will vouch for me.

Now I have to sit and wait until the first of the year to see if my book proposal is accepted. I am thinking it will be, since they *did* invite me to provide one to them.

Some friends have been asking, online and in person, if I’ve written the book yet. I honestly almost laughed out loud. I had to explain that my proposal has to be accepted first, then a contract signed, then I will start writing, which probably won’t be until January or February at the earliest and again, only *if* it is accepted and approved. Then I have a year to complete the manuscript, then it goes to editing, proofing, etc. It probably won’t be out until 2016 if it all goes well. People are just boggled over that. They think getting a book published happens like magic!

Have any of you experienced this? Friends wanting you to help get them get published and not understanding anything about how it is really done? How do you handle it?

Cross your fingers for me and have a wonderful Christmas and Happy New Year!

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