Monday, December 28, 2015

Book Review: To Helvetica and Back by Paige Shelton

I love cozy mysteries, and Shelton has been my favorite cozy writer for several years now.
I first got hooked on her Farmers' Market series, then smoothed right into her Country Cooking School series.  But now Shelton has a new series out --- this one is minus the recipes of the other two because it's book-themed.
To Helvetica and Back is set in Star City, a fictional version of Park City, Utah.  There are quaint shops, a film festival, and suspicious polygamists lurking not far away.  And skiers.  Plenty of skiers.  The real Park City attracts them from all over -- and one never knows what might be hiding in their pasts.
These elements add to Shelton's excellent characterization skills.  The protagonist is dealing with people she's known forever -- but does she know everything about them?  Not as much as she thought.  And then there's that cute geologist who's new in town.  Her best friend, who just happens to be a cop, has been hinting there's a problem in his past.  Is he really a murderer?
I love how much of Utah Shelton manages to work into this book: mining, skiing, polygamy, the Sundance film festival, geology.  It's great.
And the mystery of a typewriter with coded keys.... even though it was more than obvious what all the numbers referred to, the whole point of Why?  and Why wait so long?  made this into a real mystery.
I rather miss the ghosts from Shelton's Country Cooking School series, and it is odd not to have a few of her great recipes in the back, but I enjoyed the book restoration and sales tidbits.
If you think cozies are silly, then this is not for you.  But if you like them, try out this first-in-a-new-series book by Paige Shelton.  You won't be disappointed.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

New Year, New Giveaway!

Care to win a little post-Christmas gift for yourself?  Check this out:

If you live in the USA or Canada and are at least 13 years old, you can enter to win the goodies pictured above.
You'll get a copy of my latest YA paranormal novel, The (Dis)Appearance of Nerissa MacKay (Check out the details here.), a tote bag featuring the beautiful Tree of Life art work used for the cover of my YA novel Becoming Brigid (you can learn more about that book here), a bookmark and a button from the Half-Vampire series (have and look here and here for more information on those), and a cream-colored, light-weight shawl from Russia.
Why a shawl?  Well, Nerissa MacKay is an eccentric girl who dresses for a different theme every day, and she has some unusual clothing.  This shawl is exactly the sort of thing she'd happily pull out of Grandma Maggie's trunk and wear around her shoulders with and evening dress for a Glamor Evening look -- or toss over her head for a peasant look -- or wear twisted around her neck with a bomber jacket to create a WWI flying ace look (Curse you, Red Baron!).
Where did it really come from and why am I giving it away?  It was given to me by a Russian girl I met in Scotland.  (It's common for veteran travelers to take gifts to give to new friends; I've given away dozens of bandanas and imitation turquoise necklaces and US flag pins in 25 different countries.)  Since I own 6 other Russian shawls (purchased in Russia), 1 Italian silk shawl (yup, purchased in Italy), and two off-white Mexican shawls (yes, purchased in Mexico) very similar to this one, I've never worn in.  It's been carefully wrapped and sitting in a drawer for several years, and someone else may as well enjoy it.
Want it?  Want the rest of the goodies?  Enter right here:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Charming Small-Town Libraries

We bookish folks love libraries.  We even visit them when we travel.
Due to my own and family members' health problems, I haven't been blogging much or writing much since before Thanksgiving.  But earlier in 2015, I did have some vacation time, and I snapped some shots of some great little libraries.

This is the library in Bergen, Norway.  It's in a very prominent spot between the train station and the large city park.

And this library was darling:

Located in the near-village of Mount Pleasant, Utah, it was built art deco style with Carnegie funds in 1917.  It has comfy leather chairs, a sizable amount of books for a small town library, restrooms, and a grumpy librarian.  The art deco windows are the best. :)  I bought a book there at their used book sale.

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Book Reviews: Two Mormon Mysteries Contrasted

A week or so ago, I happened to read two Mormon mysteries back-to-back, which provided for an interesting experience.

The first one was A Killing in Zion by Andrew Hunt.
This book was the second in a series, but, although I hadn't read the first book, I had no trouble catching onto the characters and set up.  This is always a plus in a mystery series.
Hunt has set this series in Salt Lake City in the 1930s, specifically for this book in the summer of 1934, and he clearly revels in his historical research.  He describes streets and buildings I know or have heard about (Sweet's Candy Company, anyone?) and appears to pay meticulous attention to details -- except when he doesn't.
In this particular story, Hunt uses the murder of Rulon Allred  by a polygamist rival as an inspiration for his fictional crime set decades earlier.  He changes the real polygamist towns of Hilldale and Colorado City (collectively known as Short Creek) to Dixie City, but that's OK; it's fiction after all.  However, he's got the polygamists wearing pioneer clothes decades too early; a brief glance at the round-up photos even from the 1950s show that they didn't start their back-to-Brigham look until later.
Also, Hunt has a few other anachronisms which seem to arise from using only books for research and not talking to real people: 1) Family Home Evening.  Uh, that was a David O. MacKay Mormon thing which took hold in the late 1960s and early 70s.  Hunt's a good 30 years too early. 2) His cop protagonist keeps noting how the nearby wildfires have polluted the air in the Salt Lake Valley.  However, what Hunt doesn't seem to be aware of is that this would have made the summer skies look like the winter skies.  In the 1930s, Salt Lake residents used mostly coal in their furnaces, and the result was winter air thick enough to slice -- air that made our current temperature inversions look sparkling clean in comparison.  Hunt's protagonist would surely have thought of this, but Hunt doesn't seem to know about it.  3) The protagonist's wife teaches school at East High.  She's married, has two kids at home, and is pregnant, and she's teaching school in 1934.  Probably not.  Obviously, Hunt wants to make his cop protagonist into a man with modern appeal, a man who thinks of his wife as a partner instead of as a lesser human whose job it was to keep him happy.  While I admire this sentiment, I believe Hunt has pushed it too far past believability.  He seems to have forgotten that 1934 was during the Depression.  I knew a woman (now deceased) who taught school in the Salt Lake Valley in 1934; she had to hide her marriage and lie to her employer in order to keep her job, as it was district policy to fire married women so a man could have the job.  (It was assumed that a married woman would be taken care of by her husband.)  When this woman got pregnant, she had to quit because she could no longer hide her lie.  Thus, I have a hard time believing that this pregnant school teacher whose husband has a good job would be allowed to continue her profession in 1934.
Then there's the problem of travel.  The protagonist and his buddy zip out past Utah Lake to an abandoned army fort without one thought of where they would buy gas.  They also travel south to the fictional Dixie City -- which is somewhere past St. George, Utah -- without a single tire blow-out and without even worrying about the car's overheating in scorching weather.  This is ridiculous.  People who lived in southern Utah at the time used to tie wet burlap to the grills of their cars to help keep the engines and radiators cool.  Heck, I used to drive a 1966 VW Beetle, and it would just shut down in weather over 100 degrees.  Yet Hunt's characters have no car problems at all.  They don't even worry about paying for gas in the height of the Depression.  This bothered me.
Other than that, the book is pretty good.   The protagonist is a bit of a Mary Sue, but the criminal underworld of the polygamist clans was great.
I'd definitely recommend this book to mystery lovers and those who enjoy historical fiction.

I then read His Right Hand by Mette Ivie Harrison, the sequel to The Bishop's Wife, which I reviewed here.

As a mystery, His Right Hand isn't quite as good as The Bishop's Wife: the guilty party is too obvious way too early in the book.  And again, the big problem with setting a series of books in a tight Mormon community is that there's just so very much that must be explained to the non-Mormon, non-Utahn reader.  This does bog things down a bit.
However, I feel that this is an important book, rather than a terrific mystery.  Harrison explores gender issues within a strict religious setting, and that's a very hot topic for 2015.  (Only a few short months ago, Born Again Kim Davis became a homophobic heroine to many who claim to be Christians.) Harrison probes into some pretty deep areas about gender as a construct vs a God-given state.  (I suspect the author may have been reading some feminist literary theory, which is something not very many Mormon women do.)  She forces the reader to think through some difficult things: What does gender mean?  Is it fluid?  How can a person be devout in a religious organization which actively condemns what the said person believes is true about her/his basic identity? What are the downsides to the LDS Law Of Chastity?  How many marital problems are caused by following this doctrine?  How many suffer in silence and ignorance because all discussion is taboo?  How can the kind-hearted religious person who fits the mold possibly understand and accept the person who does not?  These are some might tough questions with which lots of LDS women wrestle.  And I think Harrison's book might make a few more women -- those who perhaps feel that the "Sunday School" answers will do (Note: LDS Sunday School answers to all life's problems are: pray, go to church, read the scriptures.) -- wrestle a bit more and think a bit more deeply.
Thus, while His Right Hand is not a superb mystery, it IS a superb bit of philosophy wrapped into a contemporary mystery novel in a way that will make difficult thinking accessible to the non-academic reader.  I'd like to see this book in the hands of all Utah Relief Society members -- but that image makes me giggle. :)
If you're not from Utah and not a Mormon, you might have some difficult with this book.  However, if gender issues and/or religions grappling with modernization interests you, it might be a good choice anyway.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Spend Christmas With A Half-Vampire! Giveaway!

Let's have another book-and-swag giveaway!  (Hey, it's Christmas.  Why not?)

Of all my books, the Half-Vampire ones have remained the most popular.  I guess there's just something alluring about a vampire....
Fortunately for all of you, I still have some Half-Vampire swag left to give away with books.  Let's start with this bundle here:

This prize pack will include a copy of Confessions of an Average Half-Vampire by Lisa Shafer (that's ME!), a "Just another average half-vampire" tee-shirt (size XL), a bookmark featuring Confessions on one side and the sequel, All in the Half-Vampire Family, on the other, a button featuring the blood splatter and the Half-Vampire logo, and the "Vampire's Lair" scent pack from Adventure Scents tucked into a "frosted blood" jar with a silver lid.
(To learn more about the books, click on the titles or visit my "books" page.)

Are you age 13 or older?  Good.  You can enter.  Here's the giveaway:

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Wednesday, December 2, 2015