Ann Parker's Gift List

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Did you notice that several of the authors who sent us book lists have recent or forthcoming books? I wanted to keep you in the loop with some authors you might not recognize.

Ann Parker is a Sourcebooks/Poisoned Pen Press author. Mortal Music, the seventh book in her Silver Rush series, is scheduled for release at the end of January. You can pre-order Mortal Music through the Web Store, or order Parker’s other books. http://bit.ly/2RJ35qC

Like several of the other authors, Ann has books she wants to suggest as gifts, as well as several she’d like to receive.

Ann Parker’s Gift List (both giving and receiving)

There are so many books I’d love to recommend, it’s hard to choose just a few. But (deep breath) here goes. I’ve picked three, spanning the spectrum from chilling to cozy, that I read recently and thoroughly enjoyed. Let’s start with dark and move toward the light.

A Killing Fire by Faye Snowden 

I was lucky to hear the author read aloud from this book at a local Sisters in Crime event, and I was hooked! Detective Raven Burns returns to a small town in Louisiana, where she becomes tangled in events and memories stemming from her childhood, when she was the unwitting sidekick of her father, Floyd Burns, a serial killer.  If you like dark and atmospheric and a strong-willed but damaged protagonist, then someone should wrap up this book for you, sneak into your bedroom in the dead of night, and leave it for you to read. The Prologue alone sent chills up my spine, and that was just the beginning. This is a book that grabs you by the throat and doesn’t let go until you reach THE END…

The Dead Beat Scroll by Mark Coggins 

Do you like The Maltese Falcon? If you do, then this is the book for you. You’ve got San Francisco (and fog!), a modern-day PI who is tough, determined, and a technological luddite (which leads to some interesting situations), and a missing manuscript from the beat generation writer Jack Kerouac. Fantastic descriptions of the original noir city, and plenty of plot twists and snappy dialogue. 

Murder at the Palace (Movie Palace Mystery #1) by Margaret Dumas 

Make yourself a bowl of popcorn and a nice hot cup of cocoa, because if you are looking for a cozy/quirky “light paranormal” mystery, I think you’d enjoy Margaret Dumas’ new Movie Palace Mystery series. And what better place to start than with the first? Protagonist Nora Paige flees LA and her philandering husband to San Francisco and a job at the Palace Theater, a once-grand movie house that shows only classic movies. But, oops! A dead body shows up in the ice machine in the basement! And the ghost of a long-dead usherette from the 1930s suddenly appears!  So suspend your disbelief, settle into a comfy chair, and have fun reading this who-done-it that has well-drawn quirky (there’s that word again) characters and a light comic touch.

As for books I’d like to receive, I need look no further than the list of 2020 reads for our local mystery book club, which meets monthly at our local indie bookstore to discuss the book-of-the-month while drinking tea, and eating jellybeans (yes, that’s what we do). Once again, I’ll mention three that seem to span the spectrum from noir to cozy: 

The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsen 

First in the Department Q series, listed as “Scandinavian noir.” (Our little group just can never get enough Scandinavian noir, it seems.)

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris 

This one sounds is billed as psychological suspense with Gothic overtones, set in Victorian 19th-century Scotland. Sounds good to me!

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett 

  • A cozy mystery set in Los Angeles, and the first book in the A Detective by Day series. This one won a boatload of awards, including the Anthony Award for Best First Novel, the Agatha Award for Best First Novel, and the Lefty Award for Best Debut Mystery Novel.

There are others on our list, but this at least gives you a taste of the variety of books we will be exploring next year. If variety is the spice of life (and of reading!) I think 2020 is shaping up to be a good year.

Paige Shelton's Gift List

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Actually, author Paige Shelton has just given all of us a gift. She kicked off a new mystery series set in Alaska. You can find signed copies of that new book, Thin Ice, along with Shelton’s other books, through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2DiEf8P

If you pick any of her books, or any of her gift suggestions, there’s still time to have them mailed for the holidays by Dec. 16.

Here’s Paige Shelton’s suggested gift titles.

There is no better gift than a book – giving or receiving. I have a special shelf just for the book gifts I’ve received, and it’s the shelf I revisit the most. It holds many of the books that changed something in me; either the way I read or the way I write or both. If I were to choose the top book gifts I’ve received, I’d start with:

A is for Alibi by Sue Grafton.
An oldie but a goodie. If, for whatever reason, you have missed this series or you know someone who has, you simply can’t go wrong with this one, the first in the wonderful Kinsey Millhone series. I wish I could read it again for the first time.

Murder in Rat Alley by Mark de Castrique. I managed an early read of this great book. It’s a mystery on top of an old mystery. It’s not Syfy, but there’s mention of aliens, and I loved getting to know the characters. It’s book seven in a series, but I was okay jumping in for the first time, and I think giving this one to someone new to the series would be just fine.  

The Great Alone by Kristen Hannah
Ms. Hannah is an incredible writer, there’s no doubt, but of the books of hers I’ve read, this is my favorite. The story takes place in Alaska in the mid-seventies. Hannah’s writing evokes such a sense of place, I had to blink my way back to reality every time I finished reading a chapter or two. It’s a brutal story with some graphic violence, but the story and the writing are too good to miss.

Books I’ve Put on My Santa List:

My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
Lots of buzz about this one, and with a title like that!

American Predator, The Hunt for the Most Meticulous Serial Killer of the 21st Century, by Maureen Callahan
Not to be stuck on serial killers or anything, but I came across this killer when I was working on an Alaska article. Man oh man, this guy was terrifying and I really want to know his story.

And, I could never forget:
Blue Moon by Lee Child
It’s always a good time for a new Jack Reacher fix.

Happy Holidays to everyone!

Catching Up with Greg Iles

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The Poisoned Pen audience waited nine months to catch up with Greg Iles, author of Cemetery Road. He wasn’t able to make it when the book was first released in hardcover, and the paperback will be released at the end of the year. However, there are still signed copies of the hardcover available, as well as other books by Iles. Just check the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2XvH3Im

Here’s the description of Cemetery Road.

“An ambitious stand-alone thriller that is both an absorbing crime story and an in-depth exploration of grief, betrayal and corruption… Iles’s latest calls to mind the late, great Southern novelist Pat Conroy. Like Conroy, Iles writes with passion, intensity and absolute commitment.”— Washington Post

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Natchez Burning trilogy returns with an electrifying tale of friendship, betrayal, and shattering secrets that threaten to destroy a small Mississippi town.

Sometimes the price of justice is a good man’s soul.

When Marshall McEwan left his Mississippi hometown at eighteen, he vowed never to return. The trauma that drove him away spurred him to become one of the most successful journalists in Washington, DC. But as the ascendancy of a chaotic administration lifts him from print fame to television stardom, Marshall discovers that his father is terminally ill, and he must return home to face the unfinished business of his past.

On arrival, he finds Bienville, Mississippi very much changed.  His family’s 150-year-old newspaper is failing; and Jet Talal, the love of his youth, has married into the family of Max Matheson, one of a dozen powerful patriarchs who rule the town through the exclusive Bienville Poker Club.  To Marshall’s surprise, the Poker Club has taken a town on the brink of extinction and offered it salvation, in the form of a billion-dollar Chinese paper mill.  But on the verge of the deal being consummated, two murders rock Bienville to its core, threatening far more than the city’s economic future.

An experienced journalist, Marshall has seen firsthand how the corrosive power of money and politics can sabotage investigations. Joining forces with his former lover—who through her husband has access to the secrets of the Poker Club—Marshall begins digging for the truth behind those murders.  But he and Jet soon discover that the soil of Mississippi is a minefield where explosive secrets can destroy far more than injustice.  The South is a land where everyone hides truths: of blood and children, of love and shame, of hate and murder—of damnation and redemption.  The Poker Club’s secret reaches all the way to Washington, D.C., and could shake the foundations of the U.S. Senate.  But by the time Marshall grasps the long-buried truth about his own history, he would give almost anything not to have to face it.


If you waited nine months as well, you can catch up with Greg Iles here.

Connie Berry's Gift List

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Have you “met” author Connie Berry yet? She was a debut author in 2019, but her second book in the Kate Hamilton series is already out. The first one, A Dream of Death, took American antiques dealer Kate Hamilton to her late husband’s home in Scotland. In the second one, A Legacy of Murder, Hamilton is in a small English village at Christmastime. There’s a cold case, legends, and a touch of romance in Berry’s mystery series. You can find them through the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2sYLzo9

Once you’ve checked out Connie Berry’s books, you’ll want to check her suggested gift books. They’re available through the Web Store, https://store.poisonedpen.com. Thank you, Connie, for the list below.


Giving books for the holidays is a fantastic idea. In Iceland, where people read more books per capita than anywhere else in the world, there is a lovely tradition called Jolabokaflod—Christmas Book Flood. On Christmas Eve, Icelanders exchange books and then spend the rest of the night reading. I may adopt that tradition. Here are my top four picks for Christmas giving, plus one book I’d love to receive (hint, hint). I make no apologies for the fact that each takes place in England:

  • The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

This spooky but ultimately less ambiguous retelling of Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw features Rowan Caine, newly hired nanny in a beautiful but isolated house in the Scottish Highlands. Equipped with smart technology that remotely controls the light, heat, and locks, the house is also fitted with cameras that allow the absent owners to surveil every room and even talk through speakers in the walls. Right at the beginning we learn that one of the children has died and Rowan is in prison awaiting trial for murder. Writing to her lawyer, Rowan struggles to lay out what really happened. But can the reader trust her? Rowan is no angel. With a secret garden, an enigmatic handyman, ghostly footsteps in the night, a locked attic room, and a scribbled warning from the previous nanny, The Turn of the Key is a perfect gift for anyone who loves spellbinding suspense coupled with elegant prose

  • The Sentence is Death by Anthony Horowitz

In this second installment of the Inspector Hawthorne series, Horowitz casts himself as the reluctant sidekick and unwilling amanuensis to the infuriating ex-Scotland Yard detective turned private investigator Daniel Hawthorne. When celebrity divorce lawyer Richard Pryce is found dead in his bachelor apartment, bludgeoned to death by an expensive bottle of Chateau Lafite—strange because Pryce didn’t drink—the London police call in Hawthorne. With the number 182 painted on the wall behind the body, the obvious suspect is Pryce’s soon-to-be-ex wife, the famed poet Akira Anno, whose haiku #182 ends with the words The sentence is death. But when two of Pryce’s old spelunking pals are murdered in Yorkshire, the mystery deepens. Everyone, it seems, has secrets—including Hawthorne himself. Always a step behind (think Poirot’s sidekick, Hastings), Horowitz vows to uncover those secrets, even at the risk of death. This book will appeal to fans of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

  • A Bitter Feastby Deborah Crombie

Deborah’s fans waited two years for this book, but the wait was worth it. Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his wife, Detective Inspector Gemma James, plan a relaxing family weekend at Beck House, the Cotswold country estate belonging to the wealthy parents of Gemma’s detective sergeant, Melody Talbot. A posh charity luncheon is planned, catered by up-and-coming local chef, Viv Holland. With well-known food critics and bloggers on the guest list, this meal could make Holland’s career. A tragic automobile accident casts a pall on the festivities, but when members of the catering crew start dying, Kincaid and James join the investigation. Is someone trying to sabotage Beck House or Viv Holland’s career? A Bitter Feast is a classic mystery with heaps of atmosphere, believable, fully developed characters, and a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the world of haute cuisine.

  • Dear Mrs. Bird by A. J. Pearce

I usually don’t buy audible books as gifts, but because the talented Anna Popplewell (she played Susan Pevensie in The Chronicles of Narnia) narrates this charming debut novel, I’m making an exception.  During the Blitz, young Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a London war correspondent. Instead, due to an unfortunate misunderstanding, she finds herself typing letters for the redoubtable, straight-laced advice columnist, Mrs. Henrietta Bird. Mrs. Bird’s rules are clear: any letter containing Unpleasantness or Inappropriate Subjects are to be chucked into the bin. When Emmeline realizes some of the forbidden letters were written by young women desperately needing guidance, she secretly begins offering advice herself. Lighthearted and brimming with humor, this audio book would be perfect for anyone who loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Now for the book on my own wish list:

  • Hall of Mirrors by Christopher Fowler

Fowler’s quirky, highly entertaining Bryant & May series features the irascible technophobe Arthur Bryant and smooth-talking ladies’ man John May, two elderly detectives who head up London’s Peculiar Crimes Unit, founded during World War 2 and specializing in crimes deemed too sensitive or bizarre for public consumption. Published in 2018, this book transports the reader back to the early days of the unit. Since I haven’t read it yet, I’ll quote from Fowler’s website: 

In 1969, ten guests stay in an isolated country house, Tavistock Hall, for the weekend, but one of them is harboring thoughts of murder. Young detectives Bryant and May are tasked with protecting Monty Hatton-Jones, a whistleblower turning Queen’s evidence against a corrupt architect. The pair are obliged to attend the house party disguised with false identities, and so the scene is set for the perfect country house murder mystery—except it proves to be nothing like the ones in Golden Age novels….You are cordially invited to a weekend in the country. Expect murder, madness, and mayhem in the mansion!

I can’t wait to read Hall of Mirrors. Maybe someone on your gift list would like it, too. The Bryant & May novels (17 so far) can be read as stand-alones, but if your recipient is a stickler for chronology as I am, you might start them off with the first in the series, Full Dark House. Fowler also writes a witty daily blog on his website www.christopherfowler.co.uk.

Happy Holidays and Good Reading

Dana Stabenow's Gift List

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Dana Stabenow not only has book suggestions to share, but she has a new Kate Shugak mystery due out right after the holidays. No Fixed Line is due out January 14, 2020.

Check for No Fixed Line in the Web Store, along with Stabenow’s suggestions for your holiday giving, and books she wants to read. https://store.poisonedpen.com

Thank you, Dana, for sharing these gift suggestions.

I was so glad to see that the British Library included books by Michael Gilbert in their reprint series of classic crime novels (republished in the US by the Poisoned Pen Press), including Smallbone Deceased, Death in Captivity, and (o joy!) a title new to me, Death Has Deep Roots. It’s a courtroom drama, a locked room mystery, a cold case, and a spy novel all rolled into one. An edge-of-the-seat read, as no one before or since (and I include Agatha Christie in this assessment) has been able to string out the tension of a murder trial like Michael Gilbert. I’ve probably given away more of Michael Gilbert’s books than I have sold of my own, and no regrets, either.

I’ll be first in line for Alone in the Wild, the fifth novel in Kelley Armstrong’s Rockton series, when it comes out in February. i’ve been a fan since the first book, City of the Lost. Big city homicide detective Casey Duncan is hiding in plain sight from her own demons and then her best friend Diana is attacked by Diana’s ex. Both flee to Rockton, a town of two hundred deep in the Yukon Territory to the purpose made for people like Casey and Diana to hide out in at $5000 a head. The crotchety local sheriff Duncan doesn’t want either one of them in his jurisdiction but people are going missing and being murdered and he needs Casey’s expert help in figuring out what’s going on. In the meantime, there are monsters in the woods and possibly more right in town.

Down Among the Dead, the tenth Nick Dixon novel by Damien Boyd, comes out next May, oh boy oh boy oh Boyd. Boyd is writing simply the best police procedurals today on either side of the Atlantic. In Beyond the Point, the last Dixon outing, Nick solves the current murder by finally tracking down and gaining the confession of the murderer from Dead Lock, the eighth book in the series. At gunpoint. On top of a sky crane. On the a construction site of a nuclear reactor. In the middle of a storm. Man, these books are good.

A book I really want to read is Metropolitan Stories by Christine Coulson, an epistolary novel set behind the scenes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art which now and then features the voices of the art itself. That sounds like a whole lot of fun, if only to find out which piece of art Coulson allows to speak. I imagine The Portrait of Madame X might have some interesting things to say. The Temple of Dendur, too.

Jess Lourey’s Letter to Santa

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If you haven’t heard of Jess Lourey, I think you will come January when her novel, Unspeakable Things, is released. Check it out in the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2rsDgQP

Jessica (Jess) Lourey writes about secrets.

She’s the bestselling Lefty, Agatha, and Anthony-nominated author of nonfiction, YA adventure, magical realism, suspense, and thrillers. Jess is a tenured professor of writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft’s Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a Psychology Today blogger, and a TEDx presenter. Check out her TEDx Talk to discover the surprising inspiration behind MAY DAY, her first published novel.

She lives in Minneapolis with her family and her foster cats (and occasional foster puppies, but man those goobers are a lot of work). You can find out more at jessicalourey.com.


This year, everyone on Lourey’s gift list is getting a book, as you can tell from her letter to Santa. Watch for those titles in the Web Store! http://bit.ly/2rsDgQP


Dear Santa:

How are you? Good, I hope. Me too. Hey, I know you’re going to be pretty busy the next few weeks, so I’m writing to let you know you can skip my house. I’ve decided to Jolabokaflod (https://www.countryliving.com/life/a46204/jolabokaflod-iceland-christmas-reading-tradition/) the heck out of this holiday season. 

Specifically: FOR HUSBAND: My husband is returning to college at age 49 to be a K-8 art teacher—he’s going to be spending a lot of time nurturing kids. I’m so proud of him. He’s also a big fan of all things Mr. Rogers, and so for the holidays, I’m getting him Everything I Need to Know I Learned from Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood: Wonderful Wisdom from Everyone’s Favorite Neighbor, by Melissa Wagner.

FOR 17 yo SON: My son loves reading fantasy with strong female protagonists, it’s important to me to expose him to the voices of women of color, and I’m a big fan of checking out staff picks at independent bookstores, and so Tomi Adeyemi’s Children of Blood and Bone ticks off three boxes. I really appreciate Elinor at Poisoned Pen including it on her Staff Picks page! I’m sure my son will love it.

FOR 21 yo DAUGHTER: As you know, I came across Mary Beard’s Women & Power while researching that book. Named one of the Guardian‘s “100 Best Books of the 21st Century,” it’s a short (115 pages!), powerful manifesto exploring how women have historically been silenced and what we—all of us; you too, Santa—need to do about it now. It’s the perfect book for a recent college graduate—a woman who is claiming her voice and her place in the world.

FOR 26 yo NIECE: My niece is one of my heroes. She’s been handed more than her share in life, and through sheer will and with a community she’s built from the ground up, she’s healing herself. I want to get her something to show my support but that also doesn’t feel like a lot of work in her already overwhelming life, so I’m going to get her this sweet, funny book of cartoons: Kind of Coping: An Illustrated Look at Life with Anxiety, by Maureen Marzi Wilson.

FOR BEST FRIEND: I love everything Rachel Howzell Hall writes, and I want the rest of the world to know how great her books are. That’s why I’m getting my best friend a copy of Rachel’s latest. They All Fall Down is a twisty turny suspense novel, an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None that will keep my friend up long past her bedtime.

So, Santa, I think I’m covered for gifts this year, unless you want to land me on The New York Times bestseller list? Than I believe it’d be rude to stand in your way. Happy holidays to you and yours.

Big love,

Jess Lourey

Tracy Clark’s Gift List

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Do you know what I love about the gift lists from the authors? I enjoy seeing how they each tackle the same topic. The voices and styles are always unique.

Tracy Clark is our guest author today. Clark is a newspaper editor based in Chicago. Her first mystery, Broken Places, introduced Cass Raines, ex-cop turned PI. She followed that critically acclaimed book with Borrowed Time. You can find copies of both of her Chicago-based books in the Web Store. http://bit.ly/2Ooki6K

You can also find Tracy’s gift suggestions in the Web Store. I hope you’ll check them out. https://store.poisonedpen.com/

1. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? Agatha Christie. I’d give this book to anyone interested in a twisty good time. The fun of a good Christie yarn is how this master of red herrings and deviously masked clues manages to trip up a reader every single time. Oh, you go into each book thinking you can outsmart her, outthink her, but you cannot. She’s probably somewhere up there laughing at us right now. Evans is one of my favs. It doesn’t feature Marple or Poirot, just a couple of energetic amateur sleuths, but I love this one. When I read it the first time decades ago, I kicked myself for getting bamboozled. Having read Evans a few times since, now I just smile and give the great dame her props. Brava, Dame Christie. Brava!

2. To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee. OK. This one’s not technically a mystery, though maybe it could be considered one, given that whole Boo Radley thing. But Mockingbird would be on any list of my all-time fav books, and I’d gladly gift it to anyone, anywhere, anytime. If I were deserted on a desert island and was allowed only one book to have along, this would be the book. I don’t know how many times I’ve read it and have no idea how many more times I’ll open it up and read it again. I like the simple beauty of Lee’s words, her unique voice, her social commentary. Every sentence is a descriptive masterpiece and her characters have become iconic, as familiar to most readers as a member of their own family. Everyone knows a Scout. Everyone stands at that defense table with Atticus Finch. Read this book. Treasure it.

3. A is for Alibi through Y is for Yesterday, Sue Grafton. Pick one. Doesn’t matter which, they’re all great fun. Grafton is a true master of the female-led PI story, one of a handful of Golden Age of female detective writers who took the conventional PI genre and flipped it on its hard, bumpy little head. Kinsey Millhone with her little black dress and peanut butter and pickle sandwiches (ick) is a real delight. Never laughed so hard as when Kinsey tried squeezing through a doggy door in the pursuit of justice. I’m laughing now just remembering it. Start at A work your way through the alphabet.

4. One Coffee With, Margaret Maron. This one kicks off the Sigrid Harald series. Harald is a brilliant NYPD police lieutenant with a unique backstory. But she’s a bit peculiar, a loner, socially awkward, which makes her so much fun to get to know. I think there are seven or eight books in the Harald series. I wish there were more.

5. A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens. I’ve given this one as a gift a few times. I want everyone to love it as much as I do. I read A Christmas Carol every year, speeding all the way through from their first glimpse of Marley’s ghost in the door knocker all the way through to that little kid lugging that massive turkey back to Scrooge’s place on Christmas morning. Love it, but I’m a big Dickens fan. Bleak House, David Copperfield, Oliver Twist. Count me in. It doesn’t have to be Christmas to read this one either. Read it on the Fourth of July. It’s still good.

Thank you, Tracy. And, happy reading!