Fiction Review

Kate Atkinson’s Big Sky

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It’s been quite a number of years since Kate Atkinson wrote about her detective Jackson Brodie. Now, he’s back in her forthcoming book, Big Sky. You can pre-order a copy of it through the Web Store.

For a brief summary, along with Stephanie Merritt’s review of Big Sky, check out the link to The Guardian article.

Interview with Leslie Budewitz

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Leslie Budewitz, author of Chai Another Day, a cozy mystery set in Seattle, recently took time for an interview. You can find that book, and other ones by Budewitz through the Web Store.

Thank you, Leslie, for taking the time to answer questions.

Leslie Budewitz and I share something in common, besides our love of mysteries. When I asked her about her childhood reading, she mentioned the Happy Hollisters. That series marked my first foray into mysteries. I was eager to read what else the former President of Sisters in Crime had to say in this interview. Thank you, Leslie, for taking time to answer questions.


Leslie, I reviewed Assault and Pepper, your first Spice Shop Mystery, and we’ve met up at conferences, but I’ve never interviewed you. Let’s remedy that. Would you introduce yourself to readers?

Thanks, Lesa! I’m a lawyer turned mystery writer, living in the woods in NW Montana with my husband, Don Beans, aka Mr. Right, a musician and doctor of natural medicine, and our cat, a big gray tuxedo. I’m passionate about books, food, art, and small-town life.

Would you introduce us to Pepper Reece?

Ah, Pepper. She didn’t get her name from her job, running Seattle Spice in the Pike Place Market, but it suits her. (Her grandfather gave her the nickname when she was a toddler, and you’ll have to know her a long time before you find out her birth name. Or read Killing Thyme.) She loved her life—married to a cop who worked the bike patrol and running staff HR for a major Seattle law firm. Then she turned 40 and it all fell apart. She literally tripped over her husband and a meter maid practically plugging each other, then the law firm imploded in scandal. So she bought a downtown loft and the spice shop. (Wouldn’t you?) She never expected to find solace in bay leaves, and it hasn’t always been easy—not with murder investigations regularly dropping in her path. But when you’re in trouble, Pepper is the woman you want on your side.

Tell us about Chai Another Day, without spoilers. 

When Seattle Spice Shop owner Pepper Reece overhears an argument in an antique shop, she finds herself drawn into a murder that could implicate an old enemy, or ensnare a new friend.

It’s about loyalty, trust, and identity—that last is a theme in all the Spice Shop Mysteries. Pepper’s starting a new relationship, and struggling a bit with knowing whether she can trust this man and her own judgment. She’s juggling employee crises and conflicts, as every business owner does, and trying to be a good daughter to a mother going through shifts of her own. It’s about an ever-changing city, and yes, it’s about chai. 

Why spices and Pike Place Market for this series?

My Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries debuted in 2013 with Death al Dente; the series is set in Jewel Bay, Montana, based on the real village in the NW corner of the state, near Glacier National Park, where I’ve lived for nearly 20 years. When I decided to write a second series, I picked Seattle, where I went to college and practiced law for several years, partly for the contrast to the village and partly to let me spend time, on the page and on my feet, in a magical place.  I fell in love with the Market my first year in college, more than 40 years ago, and still love it. It’s the oldest continuously operating public market in the country – founded in 1907 – and it’s constantly evolving. Think of the research! And by research, of course, I mean eat. 

The urban cozy requires a community within a community, which defines Pike Place. In my early forays to the Market, I always stopped at Market Spice, next to the fish market, for a cup of tea, and it was the whiffs of herbs and spices that lured me into learning to cook. Spice has been luring humans for millennia! Giving my protagonist a spice shop not only gives her a popular market haunt, but it also connects her to the city’s food and restaurant world, giving her good reasons to investigate.

It’s been a few years since the last book in the series, Killing Thyme. How have you been killing time since then?

I finished the Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, with Treble at the Jam Fest (2017) and As the Christmas Cookie Crumbles (2018). I discovered another captivating character, “Stagecoach Mary” Fields, a real-life historical figure who stars in a series of historical short stories set in Montana Territory beginning in 1885. The first, “All God’s Sparrows,” appeared in Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine and just won the 2018 Agatha Award for Best Short Story. The second, “Miss Starr’s Goodbye,” will appear in AHMM this fall. Another short story, “With My Eyes,” set in Seattle and Athens, appeared in Suspense Magazine and won the 2018 Derringer Award, given by the Short Mystery Fiction Society. And “A Death in Yelapa: A Food Lovers’ Village Story” is in the new Malice Domestic anthology, Mystery Most Edible.

I’ve also got a couple of book projects I hope I can talk about soon. 

Everyone’s journey to publishing is different. Tell us about your journey to publication for Death al Dente in your Food Lovers’ Village series. Then, that book went on to win the Agatha for Best First Novel. How did you learn about that?

I started writing in my late thirties, during a personal crisis. Turns out that’s not uncommon—if we’ve got a creative urge, it will often demand our attention during difficult times. I wrote four manuscripts, all set in Montana, that got attention and agents, but didn’t sell. Finally, I followed the lead of Doug Lyle, MD, well-known in the mystery community for providing medical and forensic info to writers, and turned my newsletter columns on legal topics into Books, Crooks & Counselors: How to Write Accurately About Criminal Law & Courtroom Procedure, which won the 2011 Agatha Award for Best Nonfiction.

But passionate as I am about helping writers get the facts about the law right, I wasn’t through writing my own fiction. I love cozies—the light side of mystery, with no graphic sex or violence and lots of graphic food—and thought my Montana village would make a fresh setting for a series, with each book focused on a festival, some real and some made up. (We love our festivals out here.) Happily, Berkley agreed. I headed back to Malice Domestic, where the Agatha Awards are given, and got to share the joy of winning with my editor and many friends from the Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter, who were my fairy godmothers on the path to publication.

Leslie, you were president of Sisters in Crime for a year. What are your favorite memories from that year? Your greatest accomplishment as president?

It is such a deep joy to hear from members—whether published or not, and of course, many aren’t writers—telling me how much SinC means to them, both nationally and in their chapters. I had a fabulous board, in 2015-16, and we did a lot of work behind the scenes, so that SinC’s finances and publicity work could run smoothly, and to enable us to support our chapters with the organizational nitty-gritty, ideas for programs and projects,  and most exciting, the education grants. I had a blast representing SinC at the mystery cons, the Edgars (where we were awarded a Raven for contributions to the mystery community), the Writers’ Police Academy, American Library Association, and more. It was a thrill to interview our founding mother, Sara Paretsky, as part of our 30th anniversary celebration, and to work with the chapter liaison and members to establish new chapters.  And now it’s a joy to watch subsequent boards and presidents continue the good work. 

If you had to recommend 5 books for a person to read so they could get a feel for you and your reading taste, what 5 would you pick?

My tastes are nothing if not eclectic. I am a devotee of the poets Ted Kooser and the late Mary Oliver. It’s a treat to sink into long-running mystery series where the characters are old friends who take me places I’ve never been, particularly those of Deborah Crombie, Barbara Ross, and Jacqueline Winspear. I’ve read A Mercy by Toni Morrison countless times, and few modern writers capture the voice of the young boy better than the late Ivan Doig, although I find Jamie Ford’s young protagonists very appealing. (I say modern because of Mark Twain.)

And apparently, I can’t count.

What books did you love as a child?

The usual mysteries, of course, starting with the Happy Hollisters. But the one book I most loved and still keep on my writing room shelves is Calico Bush by Rachel Fields, published in 1931. It’s the story of Maggie, a French girl orphaned on board ship to the New World in 1743. She’s “bound out” to a young family homesteading along the coast of Maine, where she finds courage and hope in the face of loss and struggle.. It’s a marvelous book, still in print. 

As a librarian, I like to end interviews with the same question. Tell us a story about how a library or librarian influenced you?

I grew up in Billings, Montana, where the main library was built in 1903 as a gift to the city from the Billings family, who made their fortune in railroads. It’s a sandstone building with turrets and cubbies and fireplaces in unexpected places, including the children’s room. We all called it “the Castle,” and though the city outgrew it in the late 60s and it now houses the Western Heritage Center, it started me on a long, magical road paved with books. These days when I visit libraries, they may be modern architectural wonders, refurbished  schools, or spaces in strip malls. But they’re all castles to me.

Thank you, Leslie.

CHAI ANOTHER DAY Seventh Street Books — June 11, 2019 Paperback: $15.95, Kindle $9.99 ISBN: 978-1633885363



Leslie is a 2018 Agatha Award winner for Best Short Story and also a recipient of the 2018 Derringer Award in the Long Story category.

CONNECT WITH LESLIE BUDEWITZ ONLINE Website: Facebook: /LeslieBudewitzAuthor Twitter: @LeslieBudewitz Goodreads: /LeslieBudewitz

You can also join Leslie for more food, books and fun at Mystery Lovers Kitchen and Killer Characters!

Conversations about Warriors

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Authors Mike Maden and James O’Donnell spent time talking with Poisoned Pen Bookstore owner Barbara Peters recently. They both wrote books about men who could be called warriors. Maden’s Tom Clancy Enemy Contact features Jack Ryan, Jr. James O’Donnell’s featuring Julius Caesar is The War for Gaul: A New Translation. Both books are available through the Web Store.

Here’s the summary of Tom Clancy Enemy Contact.

Jack Ryan, Jr.’s race to stop an international criminal conspiracy is intertwined with the fate of an old friend in this blistering entry in the #1New York Times bestselling series.

The CIA’s deepest secrets are being given away for a larger agenda that will undermine the entire Western intelligence community. Director of National Intelligence Mary Pat Foley wants it stopped but doesn’t know who, how or why.

Jack Ryan, Jr., is dispatched to Poland on a different mission. The clues are thin, and the sketchy trail dead ends in a harrowing fight from which he barely escapes with his life.

If that’s not bad enough, Jack gets more tragic news. An old friend, who’s dying from cancer, has one final request for Jack. It seems simple enough, but before it’s done, Jack will find himself alone, his life hanging by a thread. If he survives, he’ll be one step closer to finding the shadowy figure behind the CIA leak and its true purpose, but in the process, he’ll challenge the world’s most dangerous criminal syndicate with devastating consequences.


Here’s James O’Donnell’s new translation of The War for Gaul.

A new translation that captures the gripping power of one of the greatest war stories ever told-Julius Caesar’s pitiless account of his brutal campaign to conquer Gaul

Imagine a book about an unnecessary war written by the ruthless general of an occupying army-a vivid and dramatic propaganda piece that forces the reader to identify with the conquerors and that is designed, like the war itself, to fuel the limitless political ambitions of the author. Could such a campaign autobiography ever be a great work of literature-perhaps even one of the greatest? It would be easy to think not, but such a book exists-and it helped transform Julius Caesar from a politician on the make into the Caesar of legend. This remarkable new translation of Caesar’s famous but underappreciatedWar for Gaulcaptures, like never before in English, the gripping and powerfully concise style of the future emperor’s dispatches from the front lines in what are today France, Belgium, Germany, and Switzerland.

While letting Caesar tell his battle stories in his own way, distinguished classicist James O’Donnell also fills in the rest of the story in a substantial introduction and notes that together explain whyGaulis the “best bad man’s book ever written”-a great book in which a genuinely bad person offers a bald-faced, amoral description of just how bad he has been.

Complete with a chronology, a map of Gaul, suggestions for further reading, and an index, this feature-rich edition captures the forceful austerity of a troubling yet magnificent classic-a book that, as O’Donnell says, “gets war exactly right and morals exactly wrong.”


Here’s the event, if you’d like to watch it.

A Vietnam War Story

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When Stephen Coonts and aviation historian Barrett Tillman appeared at The Poisoned Pen recently, they were there to bring the history of the Vietnam War to life through their book, Dragon’s Jaw. You can order a signed copy of that book through the Web Store.

Here’s the description of Dragon’s Jaw.

A riveting Vietnam War story–and one of the most dramatic in aviation history–told by a New York Times bestselling author and a prominent aviation historian

Every war has its “bridge”–Old North Bridge at Concord, Burnside’s Bridge at Antietam, the railway bridge over Burma’s River Kwai, the bridge over Germany’s Rhine River at Remagen, and the bridges over Korea’s Toko Ri. In Vietnam it was the bridge at Thanh Hoa, called Dragon’s Jaw.

For seven long years hundreds of young US airmen flew sortie after sortie against North Vietnam’s formidable and strategically important bridge, dodging a heavy concentration of anti-aircraft fire and enemy MiG planes. Many American airmen were shot down, killed, or captured and taken to the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” POW camp. But after each air attack, when the smoke cleared and the debris settled, the bridge stubbornly remained standing. For the North Vietnamese it became a symbol of their invincibility; for US war planners an obsession; for US airmen a testament to American mettle and valor.

Using after-action reports, official records, and interviews with surviving pilots, as well as untapped Vietnamese sources, Dragon’s Jaw chronicles American efforts to destroy the bridge, strike by bloody strike, putting readers into the cockpits, under fire. The story of the Dragon’s Jaw is a story rich in bravery, courage, audacity, and sometimes luck, sometimes tragedy. The “bridge” story of Vietnam is an epic tale of war against a determined foe.


Now, you can watch Coonts and Tillman discuss the history and their book.

Willig, Ashley & Carlisle in Conversation

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While I mentioned Lauren Willig’s recent appearance at The Poisoned Pn in conjunction with her book, The Summer Country, I didn’t mention the authors who appeared with her. Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, also welcomed Jennifer Ashley, author of Death in Kew Gardens, and Kate Carlisle, author of The Book Supremacy. And, you never know who will show up in the audience at The Pen. Authors Paige Shelton and Jenn McKinlay were in attendance, as you can hear if you listen to the YouTube video of the event. Books by all of the authors are available through the Web Store.

Because I talked about The Summer Country just yesterday for Hot Book of the Week, here’s the information about the other two books.

In the latest in this New York Times bestselling series, San Francisco book-restoration expert Brooklyn Wainwright investigates a mysterious spy novel linked to a string of murders…

Newlyweds Brooklyn and Derek are enjoying the final days of their honeymoon in Paris. As they’re browsing the book stalls along the Seine, Brooklyn finds the perfect gift for Derek, a first edition James Bond novel, The Spy Who Loved Me. When they bump into Ned, an old friend from Derek’s spy days, Brooklyn shows him her latest treasure.

Once they’re back home in San Francisco, they visit a spy shop Ned mentioned. The owner begs them to let him display the book Brooklyn found in Paris as part of the shop’s first anniversary celebration. Before they agree, Derek makes sure the security is up to snuff—turns out, the unassuming book is worth a great deal more than sentimental value.

Soon after, Derek is dismayed when he receives a mysterious letter from Paris announcing Ned’s death. Then late one night, someone is killed inside the spy shop. Are the murders connected to Brooklyn’s rare, pricey book? Is there something even more sinister afoot? Brooklyn and the spy who loves her will have to delve into the darkest parts of Derek’s past to unmask an enemy who’s been waiting for the chance to destroy everything they hold dear.


From the New York Times bestselling author of Scandal Above Stairs

Kat Holloway steps out from beneath the stairs and into international intrigue, where murder and stolen treasure lurk among the upper echelons of Victorian London.

In return for a random act of kindness, scholar Li Bai Chang presents young cook Kat Holloway with a rare and precious gift—a box of tea. Kat thinks no more of her unusual visitor until two days later when the kitchen erupts with the news that Lady Cynthia’s next-door neighbor has been murdered.

Known about London as an “Old China Hand,” the victim claimed to be an expert in the language and customs of China, acting as intermediary for merchants and government officials. But Sir Jacob’s dealings were not what they seemed, and when the authorities accuse Mr. Li of the crime, Kat and Daniel find themselves embroiled in a world of deadly secrets that reach from the gilded homes of Mayfair to the beautiful wonder of Kew Gardens.


If you would like to hear more, watch the fun video.

Hot Book of the Week – The Summer Country

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Lauren Willig was just at The Poisoned Pen, so she had an opportunity to sign the current Hot Book of the Week. The Summer Country is her latest novel. You can order her books, including signed copies of The Summer Country, through the Web Store.

Here’s the description of The Summer Country.

A brilliant, multigenerational saga in the tradition of THE THORN BIRDS and NORTH AND SOUTH, New York Times bestselling historical novelist Lauren Willig delivers her biggest, boldest, and most ambitious novel yet—a sweeping Victorian epic of lost love, lies, jealousy, and rebellion set in colonial Barbados.

Barbados, 1854: Emily Dawson has always been the poor cousin in a prosperous English merchant clan– merely a vicar’s daughter, and a reform-minded vicar’s daughter, at that. Everyone knows that the family’s lucrative shipping business will go to her cousin, Adam, one day.  But when her grandfather dies, Emily receives an unexpected inheritance: Peverills, a sugar plantation in Barbados—a plantation her grandfather never told anyone he owned. 

When Emily accompanies her cousin and his new wife to Barbados, she finds Peverills a burnt-out shell, reduced to ruins in 1816, when a rising of enslaved people sent the island up in flames. Rumors swirl around the derelict plantation; people whisper of ghosts.

Why would her practical-minded grandfather leave her a property in ruins?  Why are the neighboring plantation owners, the Davenants, so eager to acquire Peverills? The answer lies in the past— a tangled history of lies, greed, clandestine love, heartbreaking betrayal, and a bold bid for freedom.

THE SUMMER COUNTRY will beguile readers with its rendering of families, heartbreak, and the endurance of hope against all odds. 

Martin Walker in Conversation

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Perhaps Martin Walker’s Bruno, Chief of Police novels are not as well known in the United States as they are in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In his recent conversation with Barbara Peters, owner of The Poisoned Pen, he comments that last year’s title is currently #1 on the bestseller lists in all three of those countries. However, American readers are lucky enough to have the new one available, The Body in the Castle Well. Walker was at the Pen recently to discuss his books with Peters. You can find copies of the books, including signed copies of The Body in the Castle Well, in the Web Store.

Here’s the description of the latest Bruno book.

An aging art scholar and a visiting student, haunting echoes of France’s colonialist past, and a delicious navarin of lamb–Bruno is back, and his latest case leads him from the Renaissance to the French Resistance and beyond by way of a corpse at the bottom of a well.

When Claudia, a young American, turns up dead in the courtyard of an ancient castle in Bruno’s jurisdiction, her death is assumed to be an accident related to opioid use. But her doctor persuades Bruno that things may not be so simple. Thus begins an investigation that leads Bruno to Monsieur de Bourdeille, the scholar with whom the girl had been studying, and then through that man’s past. He is a renowned art historian who became extraordinarily wealthy through the sale of paintings that may have been falsely attributed–or so Claudia suggested shortly before her death. In his younger days, Bourdeille had aided the Resistance and been arrested by a Vichy policeman whose own life story also becomes inexorably entangled with the case. Also in the mix is a young falconer who works at the Château des Milandes, the former home of fabled jazz singer Josephine Baker. In the end, of course, Bruno will tie all the loose threads together and see that justice is served–along with a generous helping of his signature Périgordian cuisine.


Whenever you have time, you might enjoy the Martin Walker event at The Poisoned Pen.