Thursday, June 30, 2011

Review: Turn Right at Machu Picchu

Turn Right at Machu Picchu: Rediscovering the Lost City One Step at a Time by Mark Adams

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Memoir, Travel Writing
Pages: Hardcover, 325pp
ISBN-13: 9780525952244

(Received from an honest review from Dutton)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Mark Adams on the WEB: website

Excerpt from
Turn Right at Machu Picchu
Book Trailer:


What happens when an adventure travel expert-who's never actually done anything adventurous-tries to re-create the original expedition to Machu Picchu?

July 24, 1911, was a day for the history books. For on that rainy morning, the young Yale professor Hiram Bingham III climbed into the Andes Mountains of Peru and encountered an ancient city in the clouds: the now famous citadel of Machu Picchu. Nearly a century later, news reports have recast the hero explorer as a villain who smuggled out priceless artifacts and stole credit for finding one of the world's greatest archaeological sites.

Mark Adams has spent his career editing adventure and travel magazines, so his plan to investigate the allegations against Bingham by retracing the explorer's perilous path to Machu Picchu isn't completely far- fetched, even if it does require him to sleep in a tent for the first time. With a crusty, antisocial Australian survivalist and several Quechua-speaking, coca-chewing mule tenders as his guides, Adams takes readers through some of the most gorgeous and historic landscapes in Peru, from the ancient Inca capital of Cusco to the enigmatic ruins of Vitcos and Vilcabamba.

Along the way he finds a still-undiscovered country populated with brilliant and eccentric characters, as well as an answer to the question that has nagged scientists since Hiram Bingham's time: Just what was Machu Picchu?


July 24th marks the 100th anniversary of the discovery of Machu Picchu, a massive Incan landmark in Peru's Andes Mountains. Travel writer Mark Adams set out on an adventure to follow the steps of Yale professor Hiram Bingham III, who is credited with the discovery. In his latest book,
Turn Right at Machu Picchu Adams attempts to find out how Bingham found the city and to try to give some light to the recent controversy surrounding Bingham and his motives. This book is both travelogue and memoir, as Adams travels the Inca trail with some interesting travel companions. Readers will love Adams' light-hearted writing style and his extensive knowledge of all things Inca.

When I was approached to review this book, I got really excited. As many of you know I am a freelance writer, and have worked in both print and online media. One of my very first accepted assignments was a piece on the Inca Trail, the city of Cusco and the ruins of the ancient city of Machu Picchu, so this review is near and dear to my heart for a lot of reasons. Travel writing is something that has always been a strength for me. The research and the travel and finding out about little known areas and legends and even meeting the people who live in this type of environment is exciting and full of possibilities and I think this book by Mark Adams really embodied the sense of adventure that goes along with this kind of writing.

One of Mark Adams strengths with this book is his ability to write in depth and thoughtful descriptions of both the areas he is visiting and the people around him. He is clear and concise and the reader can almost envision what he was seeing by reading his words. He pays great attention to even the smallest of details and in travel writing that is so important. You want readers to like this place, you want them to want to take a mule up a mountain. You have to get into the place and it's people and make others want to go there and he pulls it off with style in this book. This is a place that many avid hikers and adventurers want to travel to sometime in their lives. It is majestic and beautiful and there is a sense of awe that surrounds it and Mark Adams is able to bring those feelings out in his writing.

One of the goals that Adams was undertaking in traveling to Machu Picchu was to learn more about Professor Hiram Bingham III and to try to shed some light on what he was trying to find in the Andes mountains. In later years Bingham has been heavily criticized and accused of stealing artifacts from the lost city and several other allegations even resulting in a controversy over whether he really did discover Machu Picchu. I think Adams picked a really interesting person to research. Here was a man who actually influenced pop culture. He is the model, if you will, for the highly popular movie character Indiana Jones. He was a professor, an academic from Yale, yet he had a sense of adventure that wouldn't let him go. I thought Adams did a fantastic job of giving readers a glimpse into Bingham's life and even coming up with some credible ideas on what really happened at Machu Picchu.

This is book I would recommend to readers who are adventurers at heart. I am an avid hiker myself, and Machu Picchu is definitely on my bucket list. This book is part memoir and part travelogue. It is full of descriptions of all things Inca and the author shows a deep appreciation for the country of Peru and it's heritage, as well as, the people and the ancient sites. He visited not only Machu Picchu, but other little known areas with an Australian survivalist and a bunch of mule herders... LOL! Definitely a great armchair adventure for those who can't visit this glorious place!

Turn Right at Machu Picchu is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Mark Adams is the author of the acclaimed history Mr. America, which The Washington Post named a Best Book of 2009. A writer for many national magazines, including GQ, Outside, and National Geographic Adventure, he lives near New York City with is wife and children.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Review: Martha

Martha by Diana Wallis Taylor

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Genre: Christian Fiction/ Biblical Fiction
Pages: Paperback, 256pp
ISBN-13: 9780800734657

(Received for a honest review from Revell Books)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository,, IndieBound

Diana Wallis Taylor on the WEB: website, blog, facebook

Excerpt from Martha


Perhaps one of the most misunderstood and misrepresented characters of the New Testament is Martha. Often painted in the colors of reproach, Martha seems to be the poster child for how not to be a follower of Jesus. From the mind of Diana Wallis Taylor comes this touching, well-researched portrayal of Martha of Bethany, sister of Mary and Lazarus. Through Taylor's lush descriptions and inspired combination of imagined and recorded dialogue, Martha's world—her trials, triumphs, and loves—vibrantly comes to life. Follow Martha as she is jilted by her betrothed, falls in love with a Roman soldier, grieves the death of her father, cares for her siblings, and serves her Lord with dignity and grace. Readers will never read the biblical story of Martha the same way again.


Author Diana Wallis Taylor takes a little known woman from the New Testament and tells her story in a new and refreshing way. In her latest book, Martha, Diana Wallis Taylor weaves Biblical accounts with fiction to create the life of this caring woman. Readers will love Wallis Taylor's power of description and her ability to take a character that is mentioned in less than a few sentences and give her a life, with the loves and trials any woman of the time might have faced. This is a stirring account of Martha of Bethany's life, that will leave readers with a much deeper appreciation for a woman who didn't feel like she had time to sit at the feet of Jesus.

Martha has carried great responsibilities most of her young life. With her mother dead, it is up to Martha to care for her father and brother Lazarus as well as running the household and keeping up with her little sister Mary. Martha has become adept at making things run smoothly, seeing to everyone's needs, making sure Mary does what is expected of her, but will she ever find time for herself? Martha dreams of a life and home of her own with a husband and children she can love and nurture, but that doesn't seem to be in her future. There is always something else that needs done, some task to attend to, no time for her to enjoy herself or to experience the freedom of young adulthood. Will she ever find time to find love?

Martha has always been a very interesting character to me. Since childhood I have always heard the story of Jesus going to visit the home of Lazarus of Bethany and how Mary sat and washed his feet with her hair. Mary seemed to be the main character of that particular story, but you also have Martha who was so busy doing everything that had to be done, she didn't take the time to sit down when Jesus was there. She's usually depicted as someone who didn't have time for Jesus and in a negative way. I always thought that was a misconception, even as a child. I always wondered what Martha was up to, what made her the way she was, was there more to the story. Though we probably won't ever know the actual details Diana Wallis Taylor's book Martha gives readers a wonderful idea of who Martha could have been.

It is obvious that the author did a remarkable amount of research on this novel. Her descriptions of life during the time when Jesus walked the Earth are fantastic. She describes the area, the dress of the people, the attitudes that pervaded Bethany at that time. She even goes into detail on the daily life that Martha probably experienced and how being a friend of Jesus affected her family. Jesus was not always the most popular person to be friends with during this time and I thought the author conveyed that to the readers as well. Martha becomes a real person in this book, readers become attached to her and want her to find love and even sympathize with her when she is rebuked for not sitting at the feet of Jesus. Diana Wallis Taylor takes a person from the Bible who readers know practically nothing about and she brings her to life with ease and purpose. I think it was the author's intention to show her in a different light and she pulls it off in a great way.

Readers who have been reading Christian fiction for awhile will find this new spin off called Biblical fiction interesting and something that changes the idea of what inspirational writing is all about. Biblical fiction basically takes people from the Bible or stories from the Bible and expands and develops them with fiction. They give the reader an idea of who these people really were, how they lived, what they faced in their everyday life. There are many different authors who are beginning to write Biblical fiction and to see the benefits of telling these stories, though they may not be an exact portrayal of Biblical events, they do have their place and I look forward to reading more of this kind of Christian writing. Diana Wallis Taylor is sure to be a front runner in this sub-genre. Martha is beautifully written, very descriptive and very poignant. I think readers will appreciate a different view of this often misunderstood woman. I recommend it to anyone who love Christian fiction and to those who wish there was more to the story...

Martha is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Diana Wallis Taylor is an inspirational speaker, an award winning writer, and the author of the novel, Journey to the Well. She lives in California.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Review and Giveaway: To Sketch a Thief

To Sketch a Thief (Portrait of Crime - Book 2) by Sharon Pape

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: Paperback, 304pp
ISBN-13: 9780425241929

(Received for an honest review from Berkley Prime Crime)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Sharon Pape on the WEB: website, blog

Excerpt from To Sketch a Thief


Former police sketch artist Rory McCain never needed a partner to create a likeness of a suspect. But now, working as a sleuth, she's got a partner who's been dead for over a century...

Ghosts are supposed to be frightening, not exasperating. But Federal Marshal Ezekiel Drummond, aka Zeke, is one spirit who seems to specialize in fraying Rory's nerves. Although it helps to have a lawman as part of her private detective business -- even one who was shot in 1878 -- Rory often wishes she had a silent partner, instead of a dead one.

After a stray dog named Hobo leads Rory back to his murdered owner's corpse, she finds herself involved in another homicide case -- not to mention the new owner of a lovable pooch. Unfortunately the spirit who haunts her house doesn't get along with dogs. Despite this bone of contention, Rory, Zeke, and Hobo are soon on the trail of some deadly dognappers and a missing Maltese...


A cozy mystery with a touch of the paranormal! Sharon Pape's latest book in the Portrait of Crime mystery series,
To Sketch a Thief is a cross been a great whodunit and a paranormal mystery. Readers who love both genre's will be thrilled with this pairing. Pape's protagonist Rory McCain is a former police sketch artist who happens to live with the ghost of a 19th century US Marshal. Pape's ability to create complex characters and well thought out mysteries will have fans roaring for more. A great read for a relaxing afternoon!

Former police sketch artist Rory McClain inherited more than just a house from her Uncle Mac. The house comes with a ghost. The ghost of Marshal Ezekiel Drummand, who was shot on the property in 1878. In exchange for Rory using her experts to help Zeke solve his own murder, Zeke will help Rory solve cases for her private investigations business. It's an unlikely duo that causes sparks to fly on a daily basis, but these two PI's have got each others back. When Rory finds an abandoned dog named Hobo, with an address tag, she takes him home only to find the door ajar and his owner murdered. It turns out the owners other dog, a Maltese is missing along with several other dogs in the neighborhood. Rory is hired to find the kidnapped dogs, but she may end up finding a murderer as well.

Sharon Pape has created a great new cozy series with a paranormal twist.
To Sketch a Thief is the second book in the Portrait of Crime series and Rory and her supernatural partner are once again thrown into the middle of a difficult case. Pape is playing on the popularity of both the cozy mystery sub-genre and the paranormal craze that has swept the reading populous. By combining the two she has opened up this series to a much wider audience. This book has a lot to offer many different kinds of readers. You have those readers who love cozies, of which I am one, you have the paranormal lovers, which I am also, but you can also add in artists, dog lovers and animal enthusiasts. I see a lot of potential with this series and I think readers will really enjoy Pape's take on help from beyond.

Rory is a very good protagonist. She has two interesting professions to her credit, both police sketch artist and private investigator. She is determined to prove herself and she comes across as very intelligent and warm. Though we don't see her use her skills as an artist as much as I would have liked, this adds a very interesting depth to her character. Artists are generally people who tend to see things that others miss, they are more observant and able to tie things together that some people wouldn't even consider. I think that helps her in her career as a PI.

One of the most interesting aspects of her personality seems to come out when shes interacting with Zeke, her partner who just happens to be a ghost. It's easy to see that she believes in Zeke, she uses his advice, even the advice she doesn't want to hear sometimes, but there is still that part of her that wants to solve his murder so he will go away. She doesn't want to appear strange to her family or anyone else, she's hesitant where he's concerned and even a bit whiny at times, but I think readers will understand her sentiments, would you want to have people over to your house and introduce them to your resident ghost? LOL...

Zeke is easily my favorite character in this series. There are so many things to love about him. He is quirky and a little eccentric which I would guess is normal for someone who lived in the last century. I enjoyed the parts of the book that delved into Zeke's past and will probably eventually lead to solving his murder. The reader will find themselves almost wishing that Rory doesn't solve the case because that might mean that Zeke is history, literally. But, I think Pape is on to something with this supernatural character. I don't think she will be quick in providing the answers to Zeke's case or perhaps he will hold off crossing over in favor of helping Rory a little longer. Fans are sure to fall in love with Zeke's inability to understand today's slang and his interfering ways.

The supporting cast in this one really adds to overall atmosphere of the book. From Hobo the dog, who becomes Rory's latest housemate, to her Aunt Helene, Pape has created characters that are funny and endearing. The relationship between Hobo and Zeke is very comical to read and ends up one where they share a deeper understanding of each other. I thought Pape was clever to use the idea that animals are supposedly a lot more susceptible to the supernatural to her advantage. Aunt Helene is just a delight to read. How many people have that one older lady in the family who just can't seem to keep her nose out of your business? That's Aunt Helene in a nutshell. She loves to get down and dirty with Rory's cases and adds a lot of flavor to the story. Readers are sure to love her.

The mystery aspect of the book is well thought out, though maybe a little improbable. I'm not sure that all readers will buy the idea of dognapping as a motive for murder, but if you've ever watched the Westminster Dog Show or tried to buy a registered dog from a breeder, you will quickly find out that some of dogs are worth thousands of dollars. I think readers will be quick to understand that this wasn't just any pooch you might find at the pound and let's face it people are sometimes murdered for a lot less. Pape keeps readers guessing all throughout the book. There's a lot going on here, Hobo's owner's murder, Zeke's murder, and the missing dogs. Keeping it all straight might sound difficult but it all works really well together. Pape puts in enough twists and turns to keep you guessing all the way to the end.

I thought Pape did an excellent job with this book and I'm looking forward to reading more from this series. I recommend this one to a wide range of readers from cozy fans to paranormal junkies. Those who love animals to those who love art, there's something here for just about everyone. The premise of the mystery may seem a little far fetched, dognapping as a motive for murder? But I think readers will agree that the impossible or improbable is usually why we like to read...

To Sketch a Thief is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Sharon Pape is the author of four previous novels. She lives on Long Island with her family.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of To Sketch a Thief to one winner from Debbie's Book Bag.

~ You must be a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US Addresses only (Publisher Request)
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST July 12th.

1. Please leave a comment in appreciation to the author on THIS post.
2. Please fill out the FORM.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Review and Giveaway: Ink Flamingos

Ink Flamingos (Tattoo Shop Mystery - Book 4) by Karen E. Olsen

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: Paperback, 320pp
ISBN-13: 9780451233790

(Received for an honest review from Obsidian Mystery)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Karen E. Olson on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter

Previous Books in the Series: The Missing Ink, Pretty in Ink, Driven to Ink


Dee Carmichael, lead singer of the hot pop sensation, The Flamingos, has been one of Brett's most dedicated customers - or was. Allergic to red dye, Dee has been discovered dead in her hotel room with a pink flamingo tattoo and surrounded by ink pots and needles - and a tall redhead was seen leaving the crime scene.

Now Brett has been branded as the prime suspect. This can't be good for business. . . .

Meanwhile, a blog has been showcasing Dee's deadly tattoo. Things get worse when pictures of Brett start appearing on the blog. Turns out someone isn't merely following her, but impersonating her all over town.

Brett must act fast to find out who's out to get her before the killer puts the dye in dying once again. . . .


Karen E. Olson's Tattoo Shop Mystery series wraps up with the last book in the series, Ink Flamingos. Fans of the series will love the latest adventure with Brett and the gang from The Painted Lady tattoo parlor in Vegas. Olson has created a series that is very edgy and current and readers will love her complex characters and carefully constructed plots. Ink Flamingos is a fast paced, dramatic mystery that will have readers biting their nails and staying up all night wondering whodunit?

Brett Kavanaugh is the owner of a high end tattoo shop called The Painted Lady. Brett is well known on the Vegas strip for her intricate tattoo's and sassy spirit. When Dee Carmichael the lead singer for the pop sensation, The Flamingos is found dead in her hotel room surrounded by ink pots and sporting a pink flamingo tattoo, it's up to Brett to find the killer. Dee was one of Brett's most high profile customers and a woman with red hair was seen leaving the scene of the crime, which means Brett is the prime suspect, especially since she was aware that Dee was allergic to red tattoo ink. When a blog shows up online that posts pictures of the deadly tattoo along with someone impersonating Brett and made to look like a killer, she knows she has to move fast to save her reputation and prove she didn't want Dee to dye.

Karen E. Olson has created a cozy mystery series that is very cutting edge. Tattoo's are very popular right now and that makes this series extremely current and well thought out. One of my favorite parts of the cozy sub-genre is the way that writers are able to take interesting professions and use them to accent their stories. In this case, the idea of the protagonist being a very sexy, intriguing tattoo artist really works. Olson's descriptions of tattoo's and ink and how tattoo's are done is very interesting and it's easy to see that she's done a lot of research on the topic. The scenes and the setting come across as believable and credible. I think readers really appreciate it when a writer gives a lot of attention to the smallest of details and that's what sets Olson's writing apart from the crowd.

Protagonist Brett Kavanaugh is such a great character. She is spunky and edgy and everything you would expect from a tattoo artist. It's easy for the reader to believe that she could become involved in a murder. People from all walks of like get tattoo's from stars to mothers but you also see a lot of people who are on the fringes of society as well. Those who are closer to the wilder side of life and I think that's what makes Brett so realistic. She just seems able to walk that thin line between good and bad. But her most prevalent characteristic is her caring heart. She may appear to have a tough exterior but she cares so much about people that, that's what usually gets her involved in case after case. Olson does a fantastic job of bringing Brett to life along with the other characters she has created for this series.
Ink Flamingos is the last book in this series and I'm sad to see it go. It has been one of my favorites. Olson's writing style appeals to me. She's straight forward and to the point. Her mysteries move quickly and they really keep the reader guessing. In this one she takes on identity theft in a very real way. Not only is someone stalking Brett and taking pictures of her to use to make her look like a killer, but they are also impersonating her around town. She's a suspect in the murder and is also having to defend the reputation of her shop and her colleagues as well. Olson does a remarkable job of keeping readers on their toes with this one. I thought I had it figured out, but she pulled a fast one on me in the end, which I love. It's a very gripping book that pull the reader into the more colorful side of Vegas and it's inhabitants. I loved the authors descriptions of the city and the people who populate it. I have never been to Vegas but this series makes me want to go, just to see if it's like Olson makes us believe it is.

Ink Flamingos is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 5 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Karen E. Olson was a reporter and editor at newspapers throughout Connecticut for twenty years. She lives in a suburb of New Haven with her husband and daughter.


The publisher has been good enough to offer one copy of Ink Flamingos to one lucky winner her at Debbie's Book Bag.

~ You must be a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US addresses only (Publisher Request)
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST July 11th.

1. Please leave a comment in appreciation to the author on THIS post!
2. Please fill out the FORM.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Review: Double Take

Double Take by Melody Carlson

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Baker Publishing Group
Genre: Christian Fiction, YA
Pages: Paperback, 271pp
ISBN-13: 9780800719647

(Received for a honest review from Revell Books)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository,, IndieBound

Melody Carlson on the WEB: website, facebook

Excerpt from Double Take


It's spring break of her senior year and Madison Van Buren is fed up. Stressed over Ivy League pressure, her parents' marital problems, and her boyfriend's neglect, Madison gets in her car and drives west. Meanwhile, eighteen-year-old Anna Bronner wants to escape the so-called simple life—which for her consists of caring for younger siblings, sewing, cooking, and gardening—and she's well aware that her future will simply be more of the same with a man she doesn't love. Suddenly, worlds collide when Madison and Anna meet in a small town, realize they look uncannily similar, and decide the grass is definitely greener on the other side.

Readers will love this funny and provocative tale of switching places from bestselling author Melody Carlson. As they get a glimpse into two very different worlds, they may find themselves happy to be just who they are, where they are.


Acclaimed author Melody Carlson has written over 200 books for the young and adult readers. With her new book Double Take she takes on one of Christian publishing's most popular sub-genre's, Amish fiction. Carlson is above all else a wonderful storyteller and readers will enjoy this modern twist on Twain's, Prince and the Pauper. Wealthy city girl, meets simple Amish girl, who looks enough like her to be her twin. The premise may seem far-fetched but that's why they call it fiction!

By some standards Madison Van Buren has the perfect life. She has money and a high powered family. She can have anything she wants or so you would think. But Madison is being pressured on every side. Her parents want her to go to a particular school and their constant bickering is driving her crazy. Her boyfriend even chimes in on how things should be. Madison feels like she has to get away. Meanwhile Amish teen Anna Fisher is going through problems of her own. She cooks, she sews, she gardens and she watches the younger children. She's bored and wonders what life outside the Amish community holds. Her boyfriend, Jacob ran away to New York and she misses him. Both girls have issues with how their lives are, but is the grass greener on the otherside? When they meet and realize they have an uncanny resemblance to each other, switching places seems to be the answer.

Melody Carlson has thrilled fans over and over with her Christian fiction titles. She has a knack for getting inside the heads of teens who are experiencing changes in their lives and in their faith. With her latest book, she takes on the Amish fiction sub-genre. This kind of fiction has really taken Christian publishing by storm in the last few years and I was really interested to see how Carlson approached it. I have always been a big fan of Mark Twain and when I read the premise for Double Take I automatically thought about Twain's very popular story, The Prince and the Pauper. This is a modern YA twist on that old favorite. I thought Carlson came up with a story that young adult readers will really buy into. What teen doesn't want to escape their life sometimes? I think it's a rite of passage that Carlson takes to whole new level.

First and foremost Carlson is a great storyteller. In Double Take she gives the reader a glimpse into a modern Amish community. It is a much simpler life style and seems to stem back to a different time, yet this is how the Amish choose to live their lives. Most Amish stories readers are exposed to these days have the same theme. Amish girl or boy decides to leave the Amish community to see what the world holds. This book is similar in that Anna has the same intentions, but then you have to add in Madison, who has a totally different motivation. I liked the way that Carlson gave both girls a reason to want to see how the other half lived. I liked the way that each of them learned some life lessons from their experiences as well. One thing you can always count on with Carlson is good clean read that will appeal to both young and old readers and this one doesn't disappoint.

The premise doesn't seem very plausible. Two girls meet, who look just a like and they decide to switch places for a week. It may not seem realistic, but does it really have to? I don't think so. Reading is about escaping from your every day and this book certainly provided that escape, for me as a reader and for the characters in the story. I thought Carlson did a fantastic job of incorporating her message into the book, without being preachy or too over the top. Both girls learn a lot and they also teach the other people they come in contact with as well. I would recommend this one to Christian fiction fans and young adult readers. If you like Amish fiction this one is a little different than most and I think you'll enjoy the refreshing changes.

Available June 2011 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of the Baker Publishing Group.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Melody Carlson has written around 200 books for teens, women and children. That's a lot of books, but mostly she considers herself a "storyteller." Her books range from serious issues like schizophrenia (Finding Alice) to lighter topics like house-flipping (A Mile in My Flip-Flops) but most of the inspiration behind her fiction comes right out of real life. Her young adult novels (Diary of a Teenage Girl, TrueColors etc.) appeal to teenage girls around the world. Her annual Christmas novellas become more popular each year. She's won a number of awards (including the Rita and Gold Medallion) and some of her books have been optioned for film/TV. Carlson has two grown sons and makes her home in the Pacific Northwest with her husband and yellow Lab dog.

Winner: Alice Bliss

The giveaway for one copy of Alice Bliss by Laura Harrington ended recently. I used to choose the winner. The book will be sent out directly from the publisher and the winner will be notified later today.

Thanks to everyone who participated.

The winner is:


New Winner: Queen by Right

I recently picked a winner in the Queen by Right giveaway who had already won the book from another blog. So, I used today to pick a new winner. This book will be sent out directly from the publisher. The winner will be notified later

Thanks again to all who participated in this giveaway.

The new winner is:

Carol Wong

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Review and Giveaway: Sentenced To Death

Sentenced to Death (Booktown Mystery - Book 5) by Lorna Barrett

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: Paperback, 352pp
ISBN-13: 9780425241868

(Received for an honest review from Berkley/Obsidian)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Lorna Barrett on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter

Excerpt from Sentenced to Death

Synopsis (Book Blurb):

As the owner of Stoneham, New Hampshire's mystery bookstore Haven't Got a Clue, Tricia Miles can figure out whodunit in the latest bestseller way before she gets to the last page. But these days, Tricia is using her sleuthing skills for much more than the books on her shelves...

It's Founder's Day in Stoneham, and the whole village has turned out to celebrate in the square, including Tricia's friend sand festivities organizer Deborah Black. As everyone watches Deborah give the opening speech, a small aircraft crashes into the village gazebo, killing both Deborah and the pilot.

While the Sheriff's Department is convinced that it was an accident. Tricia has a feeling that there's more to the story. And when she reads between the lines of the case, what she finds is worse than the most sinister whodunit...


Author Lorna Barrett adds another cozy mystery to her resume with the latest in the Booktown Mystery series, Sentenced to Death. Fans of the series will enjoy returning to the small town of Stoneham, New Hampshire and it's many book stores. New readers to the series will find Barrett's character driven cozies, full of excitement and plenty of clues to unraveling the latest whodunit.

Tricia Miles owner of Stoneham's mystery bookstore, Haven't Got a Clue is spending more time sleuthing than selling books of late. Her skills are put to the test during the Stoneham Founder's Day celebration. Tricia's friend, Deborah Black owner of Happy Domestic is spearheading the festivities. Suddenly a small plane dives toward the ground just as Deborah is giving the opening speech for the celebration. The plane lands on the gazebo where Deborah was speaking and ends up killing both Deborah and the pilot. Everyone including the Sheriff's office is convinced it was a freak accident but Tricia isn't buying it. There is something strange going on and she has to figure out what it is. Deborah's husband isn't himself, he has his wife's remains cremated, and quickly sells her shop. Are these the actions of a grieving husband is something more sinister at hand?

Lorna Barrett once again thrills cozy mystery readers with the latest addition to the Booktown Mystery series. Sentenced to Death revolves around the murder of one of Tricia Miles' friends, Deborah Black. Readers who are familiar with the series will remember that Deborah and Tricia became friends when Tricia first came to Stoneham to open her bookstore, Haven't Got a Clue. Avid readers will enjoy the fact that Barrett sets her series in a town that is filled with every kind of book store you can imagine. I certainly would love to live in a town with so many reading and sleuthing options. It seems that people tend to drop like flies in Stoneham and readers never know who's going to best next.

Tricia Miles' is a character that fans of the series have grown to love. She's spunky and full of determination and has read so many mysteries that it's easy for her to put two and two together to find a killer. This one hits a little closer to home, as one of the victims was a friend. Tricia is portrayed as the kind of person who sees a mystery in everything and most usually she's right. Even when the police decide this was a freak accident, her sixth sense tells her something isn't quite what it seems. I liked the way that the author lets Tricia come across as analytical and thoughtful, she isn't just grasping at straws there are real reasons to think something funny is going on. She appears authentic and believable which is so important in any mystery.

Barrett uses some unlikely weapons in her mysteries, this one is no different, using a small aircraft to bring about the dirty deed. One of the things that I appreciate about Barrett's writing is her ability to take the impossible and make it seem plausible. How many times have we seen something like this happen in every day life? Probably never, but it comes across as realistic, if a bit harrowing. It doesn't seem over the top or contrived the way Barrett writes it. I think this comes from Barrett's attention to detail and the little things, like the festive atmosphere where a reader can imagine a small plane carrying a banner letting citizens know about the celebration. It seems natural and full of potential. Barrett's mysteries are always well thought out and character driven.

Barrett's characters have been developing throughout the series. Some are old favorites from the town, others are new, some have been victims, but the landscape of Stoneham is ever-changing like any small town. Everyone knows everyone else and everything seems to be everybody's business. Readers get to know a little more about main characters with each book. In this one, Tricia Miles is trying to get rid of an old boyfriend, and isn't too sure of the new one. Barrett has a knack for giving her characters personality and a story apart from the whodunit aspect of the book. Readers will love finding out more about the history of the town and the people.

This book can easily be read as a stand alone but once you've read one you'll want to read the rest. I recommend this one to cozy mystery fans and readers who like a mystery that isn't bogged down with a lot of gore and heavy emotions. If you like Trixie Belden or Nancy Drew as a child, you're sure to love cozy mysteries. Barrett has a unique style and a sharp sense of what readers will find believable and what they won't. I definitely look forward to reading more of the Booktown series.
Sentenced to Death is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Lorna Barrett is the Agatha-nominated, New York Times bestselling author of the Booktown Mystery Series. She also writes under the name of Lorraine Bartlett with the Victoria Square Mysteries, and L.L. Bartlett, for the Jeff Resnick suspense series.

Lorna lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and four felines, and is a proud member of Sisters in Crime.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of Sentenced to Death for one winner from Debbie's Book Bag.

~ You must be a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US addresses only (Publisher Request)
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST July 7th.

1. Please leave a comment in appreciation to the author on THIS post!
2. Please fill out the FORM.

Review and Giveaway: Down from Cascom Mountain

Down From Cascom Mountain by Anne Joslin Williams
Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: Hardcover, 335pp
ISBN-13: 9781608193066

(Received from TLC Tours for an honest review)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Ann Joslin Williams on the WEB: website, facebook

Excerpt from Down From Cascom Mountain

Synopsis (Book Blurb):

Ann Joslin Williams grew up observing the craft of writing: her father, Thomas Williams, was a National Book Award-winning novelist. Many of his stories were set in the fictional town of Leah, New Hampshire, and on nearby Cascom Mountain, locations that closely mirrored the landscape of the Williamses' real hometown. With Down from Cascom Mountain, Ann Joslin Williams proves herself a formidably talented novelist in her own right, while paying tribute to her father by setting her debut novel in the same fictional world-the New Hampshire he imagined and that she has always known.

In Down from Cascom Mountain, newlywed Mary Hall brings her husband to settle in the rural New Hampshire of her youth to fix up the house she grew up in and to reconnect to the land that defined her, with all its beauty and danger. But on a mountain day hike, she watches helplessly as her husband falls to his death. As she struggles with her sudden grief, in the days and months that follow, Mary finds new friendships-with Callie and Tobin, teenagers on the mountain club's crew, and with Ben, the gentle fire watchman. All are haunted by their own losses, but they find ways to restore hope in one another, holding firmly as they navigate the rugged terrain of the unknown and unknowable, and loves lost and found.


Down From Cascom Mountain is the debut novel from Ann Joslin Williams. Williams takes readers back to the fictional town of Leah, New Hampshire, made famous in the writing of her father, acclaimed author, Thomas Williams. This book is set in the shadow Cascom Mountain, known for it's haunting stories and mystical appearance. Williams has created characters that readers will identify with and become emotionally invested in, in this portrait of grief and second chances.

Mary Hall was raised at the foot of Cascom Mountain and after she leaves and marries she decides to bring her husband back to the mountain to restore the home where she spent her childhood. Mary is drawn back to the rural setting and the simpler pace of like in Leah, New Hampshire, but things quickly change when Michael plunges to his death on a day hike up on the mountain. Mary is filled with grief and pain, but still finds solace in the new friends she meets including her troubled teenage neighbor, Tobin. Tobin's mother is mentally unstable and he fears leaving her to go to college. Callie is a young teenager working at the Mountain Lodge for the summer, who tries to help Mary deal with her grief, all the while dealing with issues of her own. Ben is fire watchman, that has dealt with loss of his own in the form of his true love. Together Mary and her friends find ways to draw strength from each in the shadow of the mountain.

Ann Joslin Williams has crafted a stirring portrait of grief in its many forms in her debut novel, Down from Cascom Mountain. Williams is able to show this strong emotion in several different ways through the characters in her book. I thought the author did a fantastic job of giving readers a glimpse into the process of grief and the stages a person goes though, as well as showing that grief takes many forms and is different for each person.

Mary Hall is dealing with sudden grief. After bringing her husband Michael back to live at the foot of Cascom Mountain he is suddenly killed and she is left with a gapping hole in her life and heart. Williams is able to show how this sudden grief affects Mary and what goes into her healing process. She draws strength from the other characters in the book, that she meets along the way. But each one of them is dealing with their own forms of grief. I enjoyed the way that Williams portrays Mary. She seems like a woman who is well grounded. She is somehow connected to her rural roots and the mountain. She is determined and strong and faces her grief in a simple and urgent manner.

Tobin, Mary's teenage neighbor is dealing with a different kind of grief. Tobin's mother is unstable and he feels responsible for her. Though he is able to finish school at Exeter at only fifteen, he doesn't believe he can leave her to go to college. Tobin is dealing with the grief of loosing his childhood and his future. In spite of himself he blames his mother for his loss and he wonders about his own stability. He attaches himself to Mary as her protector and champion. But he is still a young boy, and his life begins to change when he meets a young girl.

Callie is a teenager who is spending the summer working on Cascom Mountain at the mountain lodge. Callie is struggling to find who she is and who she wants to be. When she becomes entangled in a situation with an older man, she begins to feel uncomfortable and we her feel the loss of her innocence. It is almost a coming of age story for Callie. I think lots of young girls will be able to identify with this character more than any other in the book. Her loss and grief come from the passing of her childhood, as she becomes a young woman. I thought Williams did an excellent job of portraying the heart of a young girl.

Ben is a gentle man. He is unhurried in life and has a great clarity about him. He is bemoaning the loss of his first love. His grief is poignant and heartfelt. His relationship with Mary is sweet and full of wonder and appreciation for her. He is portrayed a good man who has suffered a lot and he and Mary are able to draw strength from each other. I loved the way that the author didn't leave each character the same. There is some change or epiphany for each of them and somehow they are all connected to the mountain. The mountain itself takes on the characteristics of a character in the story and it is up to the reader to decide if it is a place of loss or a place of strength.

This is a well written debut that is character driven. Williams does a great job of creating characters that readers can identify with and invest in. I recommend this one to readers who are looking for something different. A story that is about more than the typical fare of romance or mystery. It is a very emotional book and the reader will find themselves feeling a great deal as they read. It's a book about grief, but it's also about healing. It may sound sad, but in the end it's really about moving on and what happens after you experience grief. I really enjoyed it.

Down From Cascom Mountain is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Ann Joslin Williams is the author of The Woman in the Woods, a collection of linked stories (Eastern Washington University Press, 2007), which won the 2005 Spokane Prize. She earned her MFA from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and was a Wallace Stegner Fellow at Stanford University. She is also the recipient of a 2008 National Endowment for the Arts grant. Her work has appeared Storyquarterly, The Iowa Review, The Missouri Review, Ploughshares, and elsewhere. Her first novel, Down From Cascom Mountain, will be published by Bloomsbury, USA, in spring, 2011.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of Down From Cascom Mountain by Ann Joslin Williams .

~ You must be a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US and Canadian Addresses only (Publisher Request)
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST July 6th.

1. Please leave a comment in appreciation of the author on THIS post.
2. Please fill out the FORM.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Review and Giveaway: Hexes and Hemlines

Hexes and Hemlines (Witchcraft Mystery - Book 3) by Juliet Blackwell

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Penguin Group USA
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Pages: Paperback, 336pp
ISBN-13: 9780451233783

(Received for an honest review from Berkley/Obsidian)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Juliet Blackwell on the WEB: website, blog, facebook, twitter

Excerpt from Hexes and Hemlines

Synopsis (Book Blurb):

With her vintage clothing store taking off, Lily Ivory is finding that life in San Francisco suits her just fine. But her ability to sense vibrations from the past, so useful in locating secondhand gems, has landed her in the middle of a new mystery...

Lily gets called away from Aunt Cora's Closet when the police need a witch's take on a strange case. Malachi Zazi was stabbed to death in his apartment, under a ladder, surrounded by the number thirteen, a broken mirror, and a black cat - superstitions that the victim, as head of a rationalist society was devoted to discrediting.

When the police identify a suspect from the Serpentarian Society. Lily is shocked to learn it's someone she knows. But with bad luck plaguing all the members, she begins to wonder if there's more at work than mere coincidence. And while there aren't many clues from the crime scene. Lily finds evidence of dark witchcraft and a hex on her friend's doorstep. With her friend's safety at stake, Lily is determined to use magic to find the murderer before everyone's luck runs out...


Juliet Blackwell has created a series that will appeal to mystery fans as well as paranormal enthusiasts. Blackwell's latest release, Hexes and Hemlines is the third book in the Witchcraft Mystery series. Fans of cozy mysteries will find this one full of interesting characters and information on Wiccan and occult lore. This may be lighter type of mystery but it definitely packs a punch. Readers who love paranormal characters will fall in love with Lily Ivory and her vintage clothing shop. A great addition to the series!

Lily Ivory is living her dream of owning her own vintage clothing shop. She has also helped the San Francisco police on a few cases, with uncanny ability to feel vibrations from the past. When the SFPD asks for her help with a new case involving a the head of a rationalist society, Lily is quick to access the situation. Malachi Zazi is known for refuting superstitions and bad luck omens and when he is found murdered he is surrounded by several of them, a black cat, a ladder, and a broken mirror among them. Lily can see that the scene has been magically cleaned up and she knows that dark magic is at work here. Her mentor Adian tries to warn her off the case, but Lily's friend Bronwyn has asked her for her help. Lily feels that she has to do the right thing and find the killer, but she may have bitten off a lot more than she can chew.

Juliet Blackwell does a remarkable job of giving readers interesting characters to read about. Combining both a mystery and a paranormal, Blackwell has opened up this series to a bigger audience. Lily Ivory is a character that fans of the series have grown to love. Hexes and Hemlines can be read as a stand alone or as part of the Witchcraft Mystery series. Lily's adventures take place in San Francisco and I think the author does a fantastic job of describing life in this city and what kinds of things Lily would be experiencing. Blackwell's attention to detail is a part of her writing style that gives her books an authenticity that some books don't seem to have.

Blackwell is also very adept at incorporating occult and Wiccan ideas and practices into her books. I am sure that the author has spent a great deal of time in research or is very interested in the subject to be able to give the detail and the polish to this aspect of the book. I found the subject matter interesting, it's not something I have read a lot about and even though this was a mystery novel, I still felt like the author was able to educate me as a reader. I think other readers who have interests in this area will love it, as well as readers who just enjoy paranormal characters. Lily's familiar, Oscar a pot-bellied pig added a lot of comic relief to the book and readers will find him quite funny.

The mystery itself was full of bad luck and superstitions. Living in Kentucky where superstitions are known to rule everything from where you can walk to how to plant your crops, I found this part of the book easy to relate to and understand. Malachi Zazi was a part of a group that refuted these types of things and I thought it was a great touch to surround him by the very things he was trying to combat in his death. I liked the way that Lily was able to use her own magic to figure out the clues to the killer. The supporting cast including Adian, her mentor and Bronwyn her friend, added to the book as well. This was a well thought out whodunit and I definitely didn't figure it out til the very end.

I liked this one a lot and I recommend it to readers who love cozies and the paranormal. Putting the two together makes a great combination and a great series. Hexes and Hemlines is the third book in the series, but it's not necessary to read the others to understand what's going on, but it does give the reader a lot of backstory and information on the characters.

Hexes and Hemlines is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Juliet Blackwell is the pseudonym for a mystery author who, together with her sister, wrote the Art Lover's Mystery Series as Hailey Lind--including the Agatha-nominated Feint of Art and the IMBA bestsellers Shooting Gallery and Brush with Death. The fourth in the series, Arsenic and Old Paint, will be released in fall, 2010.

Juliet's new paranormal Witchcraft Mystery series begins with Secondhand Spirits (July, 2009), about a witch with a vintage clothing store in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco. The second in the series, A Cast-Off Coven, will be released June, 2010. Juliet also has a new Haunted Home Renovation series starting in 2010.

A former anthropologist and social worker, Juliet has worked in Mexico, Spain, Cuba, Italy, the Philippines, and France. She is a California native and currently resides in a happily haunted house in Oakland, where she is a muralist, portrait painter, and recipient of the overly zealous attentions of her neighbor's black cat, who seems to imagine himself her new familiar. Juliet is two-term president of Northern California Sisters in Crime.


The publisher is sponsoring a giveaway for one copy of Hexes and Hemlines by Juliet Blackwell.

~ You must be a Google Friend Connect follower to participate.
~ US Addresses only (Publisher Request)
~ The deadline to enter this giveaway is Midnight EST July 5th.

1. Please leave a comment on THIS post in appreciation of the author.
2. Please fill out the FORM.

Review: The Soldier

The Solider (Duke's Obsession - Book 2) by Grace Burrowes

Publication Date: June 2011
Publisher: Sourcebooks Inc.
Genre: Historical Romance
Pages: Paperback, 416pp
ISBN-13: 9781402245671

(Received for an honest review from Sourcebooks)

Purchase: Barnes & Noble, Book Depository, IndieBound

Grace Burrowes on the WEB: website, blog, facebook

Excerpt from The Solider

Synopsis (Book Blurb):


Devlin St. Just has tried everything to escape his demons. But his responsibilities are multiplying and his despair deepening, until beautiful, enigmatic neighbor Emmaline Farnum steps in...


Devlin's torn spirit calls to Emmaline, but even as she gives in to his irresistible caresses and her own growing desires, she's keeping a devastating secret...

Protecting Emmaline becomes Devlin's urgent mission, if only he can overcome the forces that are driving them irretrievably apart...


Once again Grace Burrowes brings historical romance readers a story of timeless love. The Soldier is the second book in the Duke's Obsession series and readers will fall in love with Burrowes' compelling plot and multi-layered characters. This is the sequel to Burrowes' highly acclaimed debut, The Heir and readers will be introduced to a new character, Devlin St. Just. Readers will enjoy the authors affinity for the Regency period and her ability to bring her story to life.

Devlin St. Just is a soldier, a man who has seen far too much and lived to tell the tale, but it doesn't come without it's own scars. Devlin is wounded in spirit and is falling into a deepening depression. When he is given an earldom for his service, he quickly finds out that it is almost as dilapidated as he is. Devlin goes to take possession, and is greeted by former heir's illegitimate daughter, Winnie, who is now his responsibility. Winnie's cousin Emmaline Farnum is engaged as her governess and Devlin and Emmie quickly become friends and take solace in each other. Both have pasts they would like to forget and but there are some secrets that could drive them apart forever.

Grace Burrowes received widespread praise for her debut novel The Heir and many fans were eagerly awaiting her sophomore effort. The Soldier is a novel that readers won't soon forget. From the heart-warming romance between the two main characters to the difficult themes tackled by the author, this isn't one historical romance fans will want to miss.

Burrowes does a wonderful job of giving the reader a hero who is not perfect. Devlin St. Just is portrayed as a man who has done his duty for his country, but not without price. He is practically haunted by what happened to him during the war. What he saw and what he had to do to survive. In today's society we would say that they had a case of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which generally occurs when a person has gone through something traumatic and may cause serious depression. It's almost as if Devlin doesn't understand why he survived and others didn't. I thought Burrowes did a wonderful job of bringing this theme into clear focus in a historical romance, not something that is tackled often.

Devlin is however still the quintessential Regency hero that readers have come to love. He is handsome and honorable even though he is troubled and when he meets Emmie and starts to come out of his shell and starts living again, he comes even more alluring. The relationship between Emmie and Devlin is written with a poignancy that readers will love. Burrowes was able to give readers characters who needed something more from each other. They still have the passion and sensuality that is needed for a romance, but they also seem to draw strength from each other. Devlin has his tortured past dealing with the war and Emmaline has secrets of her own that have made her an outcast among the neighbors.Together they make a great couple and Burrowes does a remarkable job of bringing them together and letting their romance develop. I thought their love was very believable and in a sense very innocent. They took what each had to give and didn't ask for more. It was enough just to be together. I really enjoyed the simplicity of it and I think readers will as well.

Emmie has some deep rooted fears and secrets. Usually this type of thing would keep hero and heroine apart and to some extent it has the potential to do that with Emmie and Devlin. The secrets of Emmaline's family and past has made her an outcast among the people of the area. She has been resigned to becoming the baker for the community, but people treat her as though she is tainted. The secret isn't hard to figure out, but it's difficult to figure out what to do about it. Sometimes the longer a secret goes without being told the harder it is to finally let it out and I think that's what happened here. She should have told Devlin in the beginning but it may have changed the entire outcome of the story if she had. I didn't believe the secret was a deal breaker so to speak, but it was something that needed to be aired and dealt with. I though the author did an excellent job with this aspect of the book, and it gave the story more depth.

I recommend this one to fans of historical fiction and historical romance. The Soldier takes place during the Regency period and the author does a great job of incorporating Regency dress and decorum into this novel. Readers who love a very tender and romantic tale, will find this one right up their alley. There is still the passion needed to make it perfect for readers who need that extra steam to make them love a story and there are some difficult themes broached like, PTSD and secrecy.

It's a wonderful book and I hope you will check out my interview Grace Burrowes and take your chances at winning a copy of The Soldier, you'll love it.

The Soldier is available NOW from your favorite bookseller.

I'm giving this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag!

Grace Burrowes started writing as an antidote to empty nest and soon found it an antidote to life in general. She is the sixth out of seven children, raised in the rural surrounds of central Pennsylvania. Early in life she spent a lot of time reading romance novels and practicing the piano. Her first career was as a technical writer and editor in the Washington, DC, area, a busy job that nonetheless left enough time to read a lot of romance novels.

It also left enough time to grab a law degree through an evening program, produce Beloved Offspring (only one, but she is a lion), and eventually move to the lovely Maryland countryside.

While reading yet still more romance novels, Grace opened her own law practice, acquired a master's degree in Conflict Transformation (she had a teenage daughter by then) and started thinking about writing.... romance novels. This aim was realized when Beloved Offspring struck out into the Big World a few years ago. ("Mom, why doesn't anybody tell you being a grown-up is hard?")

Grace eventually got up the courage to start pitching her manuscripts to agents and editors. The query letter that resulted in "the call" started out: "I am the buffoon in the bar at the RWA retreat who could not keep her heroines straight, could not look you in the eye, and could not stop blushing--and if that doesn't narrow down the possibilities, your job is even harder than I thought." (The dear lady bought the book anyway.)