Cozy

Choosing A Book by Its Cover

 

Book Cover - Rain FallBook Cover - A Clean Kill In Tokyo

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I buy over 100 books a year from brick and mortar stores, and am given loads of free books at the conferences I attend, so I have piles of novels and a few weighty works of non-fiction sitting around the house. (This is the reason for the free drawings we hold for subscribers at NBR)

Soooo…what draws me to pick up a particular title at the bookstore if I’m not already familiar with the author? On any given day, I preselect the genre by wandering into category areas of the brick and mortar store, whether indie or big box store. Then, I am drawn to:

 

1) The color of the spine and cover

2) The artwork and text on the cover

3) The blurb on the back cover

 

Color

Notice that #1 is not about the author or the concept of the book. The initial interaction is not about the cover text. If you don’t pick the book up, you’ll never read that part anyway. Marketing people discovered years ago that the eye is drawn to bright splashes of color when choosing a product – any product – and that reds and yellows are seen first, then blues and greens. The rest of the artwork on the covers is set off by that color. Think of it as the backdrop for showcasing the information being delivered by the artwork and the text.

 

The art on the covers

Authors and publishers alike stay up nights, hoping and praying that the colors, the design, the font, the size of every tiny piece of graphic on the cover – all go together in a way that will entice you to pick up the book. Is there a person in the artwork? How about guns? Or beaches? Or cats? Is the setting implied somehow? Is the artwork dynamic, garish, or calming? Is the artwork representative of the actual content inside the book?

 

The Blurb

The publisher’s blurb on the back cover of today’s novels reveals something about the lead character and contains just enough about the plot to make us want to know more. If the book seems a little different, inspirational or more exciting than the norm, we feel compelled to plunk down money and take that book home. If the book is even better than the blurb promised? We tell our friends.

 

The following books exceeded the promise of the back cover. My thoughts are in bold type.

 

“John Rain kills people. For a living. His specialty: making it seem like death by natural causes. But he won’t take out just anyone. The job must be an exclusive. The target must be a principal player. And he’ll never murder a woman.” – Rain Fall by Barry Eisler.

This was the debut novel for the bestselling author. Excellent hit-man thriller that was made into a movie in 2011. Eisler drew from his own time as a lawyer in Tokyo for the exotic backdrop. The Rain series continues to be successful.

 

“Former army homicide investigator Paul Brenner has just gotten used to the early retirement forced on him after the disastrous end of his last case when his old commanding officer asks him to return for one final mission: investigate a murder that took place in wartime Vietnam thirty years before. Brenner reluctantly accepts out of curiosity and loyalty…and maybe a touch of boredom. He won’t be bored for long.”

Up Country by Nelson DeMille. The book delivers far more than a chilling murder investigation. It is based on DeMille’s own experiences in Vietnam and takes a look at war and its aftermath. Haunting. Reviewed here on NBR.

 

“First a dead stranger. Now a missing police chief. Did Cade run off to elope…or has he met with foul play?” – Southern Storm by Terri Blackstock Nobody in her right mind would think that Cade had eloped. The blurb seems purposely misleading. Thank goodness for Blackstock fans that the book was better than the blurb.

 

“Times are a-changin’ in Pickax, giving Jim Qwilleran some newsworthy notes for the Qwill Pen. A new senior center is in the works as well as a frisky production of ‘Cats.’ And a local mansion…” The Cat Who Had Sixty Whiskers” by Lilian Jackson Braun.

This was the 29th book in the gentle ‘Cat Who…’ series. Fans buy the books no matter what’s on the cover. Mom bought every one.  The series is reviewed here on NBR.

 

Now for the two covers for Rain Fall. The original cover is the red one. It popped into my view at a conference, piled next to stacks of books by other authors. The more recent cover is the blue one on the right (same book, different title) designed after Eisler regained the rights to his books and changed titles and covers. If you don’t already know who Barry Eisler is, which one would cause you to buy the book?

 

Do you choose a book based on the blurb? Is it the art on the cover itself that helps you decide? Let us know in the comments below.  J

 

*note: I buy lots of ebooks as well, but that’s for another post.

 

 

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Summer Shorts, 2015 – Three for the Beach

 

There are two kinds of Beach Reads:

  • Action-packed adventure/thrillers that rev up your blood pressure and provide stay-awake reading
  • Completely relaxing, low-key, fun mystery books that tweak your brain cells, but allow you to nod off on time


Action-packed Beach Reads are books that you can take with you on vacation, or allow you to immerse yourself between the pages if you can’t get away. They transport you to a place and time you will most likely never see and the heroes and heroines are super at what they do. A great action Beach Read delivers pure escapism.

 

Book Cover - Expedition Indigo

 

Stacy Allen’s debut novel, “Expedition Indigo,” introduces us to Dr. Riley Cooper, a Professor of Archeology at a renowned university, an expert in Mediterranean history, a certified diver, but not so expert in picking the right guy, or staying out of danger.

 

The Under Water Sea Adventures salvage company has discovered a sunken ship off the coast of Italy that may hold Charlemagne’s coronation cross, thought to have been lost forever. When Cooper’s boss is injured in a mysterious accident, she gets the chance of a lifetime to work in the field to verify the cross’ authenticity, but suspense and intrigue surrounding the find may be her undoing. The Vatican wants her help, a rival salvage company wants people dead, her love interest may have too many strings attached, and Riley just wants to do her job.

 

Cooper’s refreshing naiveté in the cutthroat world of treasure hunting, and the fascinating look at the world of archeology, combine to make this an entertaining (as well as educational) Beach Read, with plenty of action to boot. Nominated for the Silver Falchion Award for Best First Novel.

 

Visit www.stacyallenauthor.com

 

 

Book Cover - Weakest Lynx

 

 

Fiona Quinn, “Weakest Lynx” – In Quinn’s first solo novel, she delivers an absorbing spin on the thriller genre with an under-the-radar, 20 year old psychic, Lexi Sobado, at the center. When a creepy stalker threatens her life, she receives round the clock protection from the Special Ops teams she has helped in the past. 

 

Quinn’s writing style is taut, as Lexi deals with the stalker that never stops coming, a honeymoon cut short, and constant psychic and physical challenges. Not to give anything away, but Lexi’s recovery from an accident is particularly hair-raising. Her psychic sensations will give you chills and the disturbing stalker will make you think about getting a security system installed before you finish reading the book. With a forbidden love interest, and loads of action from start to finish, this is a wild Beach Read and a Kindle Scout winner. Book 2 of the series, “Missing Lynx,” is out now.

 

Visit www.fionaquinnbooks.com

 

 

For something more mellow, look to…

Book Cover - braun1

 

Lilian Jackson Braun, “The Cat Who…” series

The prolific Lilian Jackson Braun wrote the extremely popular ‘Cat Who’ series of twenty-nine books between 1966 and 2008. They starred James Qwilleran, former newspaper reporter who inherits a large fortune in the fictional small town of Pickax. In order to accept the inheritance and manage a worthy Foundation, he must move to the town. A man of simple means and a huge mustache, this grates against his nature, but the greater good changes his mind.

 

Coming from the big city, Qwilleran isn’t used to the scrutiny of small town living, but settles in with two Siamese cats, KoKo and Yum-Yum. They help him solve cases, mostly murders, by doing what cats do best, knocking over books which miraculously open to pages indicating clues, chasing each other through the Apple Barn (in which he lives for most of the books) when something happens they don’t like. They have diets of salmon and other expensive tidbits – they eat better than most people – and won’t settle for ordinary food. Delightful series, quick gentle reads for those that want to enjoy quirky characters, solve the mystery, and de-stress while on vacation.

 

As always, Happy Reading, whether at the beach or staying home with a tall glass of sweet tea and a great book.  What's your favorite Beach Read? Let us know in the comments below.  🙂

 

 

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“A Biscuit, A Casket,” by Liz Mugavero

 

A Biscuit A Casket.jpg

 

Liz Mugavero, the author of “A Biscuit, A Casket,” has delivered more murder and mayhem into Stan (short for Kristan) Connor’s life. Connor, a former PR executive, settled in small town Frog Ledge, Connecticut, in order to change her life for the better. Her life certainly changed, what with finding a body after moving in, surviving murder accusations, starting a new business, and making great new friends in the opening book of the Pawsitively Organic series, “Kneading to Die.” (Read review here.)

 

“A Biscuit, A Casket,” takes place in the weeks before Halloween. Stan’s organic pet food business has been embraced by the townspeople and dogs and pet parents alike seek out her treats. The Hoffmans, owners of the Happy Cow Dairy Farm, have even provided space for her to host a doggie birthday party near their Halloween frights-and-sights corn maze. But, Hal Hoffman is found dead in said corn maze – face down in the mud with a sickle in his back – and nobody is singing Happy Birthday.

 

It has been said that the majority of murders are committed by someone close to the victim, and Emmalee Hoffman (Hal’s wife) may have had a motive, given their less than perfect marriage. But then, so did Hal’s business partners, his questionable buddies, as well as some of his employees. Did somebody try to collect what was owed, but killed Hal instead? As the well-developed plot unfolds, we discover how co-op farming (and especially dairy farming) works, and motives fly faster than an angry cow kicks.

 

With several solid and sometimes nasty suspects to investigate, Stan puzzles through the list and even chats with her cat, Nutty. If you’re a cat owner, you will recognize these chats as perfectly reasonable and spot-on. Nutty responds with eye-glints and tail-flicking that keep the delightful conversations going.

 

Relationships shift in “A Biscuit, A Casket,” as misunderstandings and Hal’s business dealings come to light, but solid friendships remain and flourish. Local bar owner, Jake, has more to offer than was shown in the first book, and the possible romantic connection between him and Stan is explored as they get to know each other.

 

Mugavero artfully has family members play a larger role, as Stan finds her place in the community. Stan’s naïveté about the dangers of country life provides fodder for her getting into more trouble as the series continues, a happy prospect for the readers. 

 

There are yummy organic pet treat recipes at end of “A Biscuit, A Casket.” The pumpkin one looks great – just add some people sugar and I’m good to go. In case you are unaware of the organic pet food market, and wonder if it’s fact or fiction, I assure you that it is quite real. I passed a store recently that carried only hand made treats for dogs and cats. The pet bakery, located at a major mall, was quite busy. Moms and Dads relaxed at tables with beverages in hand, while pets chomped on their own nutritious snacks.

 

Mugavero has cleverly wicked causes of death in her novels. The previous book served up kibble on the body in a vet’s office. “A Biscuit, A Casket,” features the sickle in the farmer’s back. I can’t wait to see how the corpse gets done in, in the third, "The Icing on the Corpse," just released. “Murder Most Finicky,” book four of the series, is due out at the end of 2015.

 

Please visit www.lizmugavero.com for information about Ms. Mugavero’s books, as well as her marvelous work in the animal rescue community.

 

 

 

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“Tagged for Death” by Sherry Harris

 

Book Cover - Tagged for Death

“Tagged for Death,” Sherry Harris’ debut novel, tells the story of Air Force wife, Sarah Winston, recovering from her husband’s betrayal. She can’t forgive him getting drunk at a party and winding up in bed with a young female airman under his authority. Especially when the gal gets pregnant during the supposedly one-night stand. That indiscretion causes the hubby to lose his command, as well as Sarah, in a matter of a few short months.

 

After CJ (the ex) becomes Chief of Police in the neighboring town, Sarah gets crank phone calls with gunshots in the background, and is harassed by his cop cronies – pulled over for bogus tickets. Sarah can't go to CJ to complain, not sure if the pranksters aren’t following his orders. 

 

Sarah, ever resilient, uses her knack for bargain shopping at garage sales for distraction, but finds bloodied evidence in one of her collection bags that probably belonged to CJ. To make matters worse, CJs ‘one night stand’ goes missing. When blood (and lots of it) is found in the woman’s room, CJ comes under suspicion. Inexplicably, Sarah wants to help. I did say they were exes. The cops and even her old friends on base are wary of her motives. Harris does a nice job of teasing us along, while we wonder ‘why in the world is she doing that?’ and has the characters ask questions at just the right moments in order to move the story forward.

 

Sarah is a bit nosier than she should be, but how else would our amateur sleuth solve the likely crime(s) and uncover the truth? She doesn’t see that her actions could get her dead, as the pranks turn lethal and enemies pop up in unexpected places. She doesn’t know whom to trust, but there are secrets to be found and as she works her suspicious, naïve way through the twists and turns of the plot, she uncovers all.

 

Harris, no stranger to military living herself, gives us an insider’s look at life on an Air Force base: the many fundraising events, short-term friendships that are the norm, how personal mistakes become career nightmares, and friendships are sometimes based on spousal rank rather than on how the gals hit it off. It is great to discover that more experienced military couples do mentor the younger people on base.

 

Harris’ personal knowledge of garage sales (something she discovered back in the second grade) weaves a convincing thread to tie the action and sub-plots together. Through Sarah’s character, we learn how to organize a successful sale, even how to create a part-time job out of it. She includes great tips at the end of “Tagged for Death.”

 

Harris also explores the idea of second chances in a marriage.  Sometimes people have poor judgment, but leaping to conclusions before all the facts are in? can cause irreparable harm.

 

Harris’ “Tagged for Death” has just been nominated for an Agatha Award-2015 in the best first novel category. Well-deserved recognition for this enjoyable read. It is the first in the ‘Sarah Winston Garage Sale Mystery’ series.

 

Please visit www.sherryharrisauthor.com for more information about Ms. Harris and her other projects.

 

 

 

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Reader Favorites – New Reviews 2014

 

Book Cover - Upstairs at the White House

It’s always fun to discover which new reviews get the most attention during the year. The most popular reviews were ReTweeted dozens of times, shared on Facebook, and Google+, and got some attention on Pinterest. There were old titles, new titles, fiction and non-fiction, seasoned authors and debut authors in the mix. Several were best sellers.

 

In case you missed the reviews, here are the 2014 favorites on NightstandBookReviews in alphabetical order by author. Click on the titles and take a look:

 

Lucy Burdette, “Appetite for Murder

 

Robert Dugoni, “My Sister’s Grave

 

Robert Dugoni, “The Conviction

 

Sarah Graves, “Triple Witch

 

Edith Maxwell, “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die

 

Leigh Perry, “A Skeleton in the Family

 

MJ Rose, “The Book of Lost Fragrances

 

Barbara Ross, “Clammed Up

 

Daniel Silva, “The English Girl

 

JB West & ML Katz, “Upstairs at the White House

 

Lynn Chandler Willis, “The Rising


Happy reading!

 

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“A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die” by Edith Maxwell

 

Book Cover - A Tine to Live A Tine to Die

Finding a body in the barn, complete with a pitchfork sticking out of its neck, would not be my favorite ‘before dinner’ activity. Organic farmer, Cam Flaherty, in Edith Maxwell’s “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” doesn’t like it either. My grandfather had several barns and not one of them came decorated with a pitchfork sticking out of a body. He had the pitchfork, just not the body. Untidy, to say the least.

 

Flaherty has taken over the farm from her great-uncle and dreams of getting certified in order to sell organic produce to the locavores (people who eat locally produced food). She is not allowed to use chemicals to fertilize plants or kill bugs and has to follow those practices for several years before being awarded the coveted certificate. Her one employee, Mike Montgomery, doesn’t see the point, is tired of handpicking beetles off the potatoes, and stores decidedly toxic pesticide in the barn. Flaherty fires him for endangering her business – on the opening day of the harvest share. She’s only in year one of the certification process and can’t afford his sloppy work habits or his negative attitude.

 

Despite Montgomery’s absence, Flaherty has a successful first day with the customers and is hopeful about a good first season – as long as she can get volunteers to assist a few hours a week. But, six hours after she fires him, Montgomery is deader than dead inside the hoop house. Flaherty just might be the chief suspect in his murder, what with opportunity, suspected motive, and the blood on her clothes.

 

Unhappily, Flaherty discovers that not everyone is overjoyed about her dream. Some of the local farmers don’t want the extra effort of organic, see her as tough competition and may even think that the wrong person wound up with the pitchfork problem.

 

“A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” provides a peek into the life of a farmer: the dawn to dusk hours, the weeding, the seeding, the pests, the planting, the tilling, the harvesting and more. We get to see the business side of a modern farm, with websites and marketing to contend with in addition to the age-old problem of equipment breaking down just when you need it the most. Maxwell herself ran an organic produce farm for about six years, putting in eight-hour days in order to get the work done. She says she had no animals on the farm to deal with at the time, which allowed her to focus on the crops. I take care of flowers in my 1/3-acre backyard for an hour or so a day and I can’t imagine doing the weeding and pest control no matter what the weather with several acres of produce. It is backbreaking work. Big thank-yous to the farmers of this world!

 

Maxwell delivers an assortment of quirky characters, supportive friends, and suspects aplenty for the murder as well as later sabotage against the farm. Cam Flaherty’s childhood friend, Ruth Dodge (now a police officer) especially well drawn with marriage and job challenges, stands up satisfactorily for Flaherty when she can, but remains professional when she has to.

 

The subplots of illegal immigration, a past that still haunts Flaherty, as well as a budding love interest, are interwoven nicely with the stories of tasty meals prepared with produce fresh from the garden. “A Tine to Live, A Tine to Die,” ends as it began, in fine dramatic fashion with Flaherty proving to be a truly appealing lead character. She has foibles like the rest of us, and is able to deal with challenging issues when the situation calls for it.

 

Edith Maxwell’s comments at ‘Jungle Red Writers’ about being a farmer can be read here:

http://www.jungleredwriters.com/2014/06/the-unsettling-of-mystery-writer.html

 

For more information about Maxwell, as well as her most recently published book featuring Cam Flaherty, “ ’Til Dirt Do Us Part,” please visit www.edithmaxwell.com

 

 

 

 

 

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“Clammed Up” by Barbara Ross

 

Book Cover - Clammed Up

 

Last time I checked, murder is not on a wedding caterer’s official to-do list. They would have a tough time getting paid if bodies started popping up during the reception. But, that’s exactly what happens to Julia Snowden in Barbara Ross’ “Clammed Up.” An already cash strapped family business faces disaster when the groom’s missing best man is found hanged on the island where the clambake reception will be held – before wedding vows can even be exchanged.

 

Why is Ray Wilson dead? How did the body get there? How many people had a motive? Will the murder kill the business or bring the tourists in droves? Will the bank listen to reason? So many questions raised by Ray’s untimely demise, and Ross supplies us with multiple answers for each in this charming cozy.

 

Julia Snowden is back in Maine to save the family clambake business. Her father is dead, her brother-in-law has over-borrowed to keep the operation afloat, and Julia (with her venture capitalist background) seems like the perfect person to save the day. Except that the bank doesn’t want to hear her tale of woe; they will call in the loan of $1.5 million dollars if the business is closed for more than five days during the short Maine tourist season. The pesky murder takes up one of those days. And counting.

 

The murder, the engaged couple with lots to hide, the childhood crush who has grown into a hunky young man, an AWOL son, family accusations and betrayal, the police who seem to be dragging their heels, millions of dollars at stake, the friends who act as sounding boards when Julia can’t figure out why all this is happening – all combine to make “Clammed Up” a very satisfying mystery. The important characters are agreeably drawn – Gus, the restaurant owner, is a gem and his ‘house rules’ are hilarious. He carries the Maine anti-outsider bias to extreme by barring anyone he doesn’t know – and gets away with it.

 

Beyond the inventive storyline, “Clammed Up” introduces us to the behind-the-scenes world of a real Maine Clambake and tells us how the seafood is stored to keep it fresh and cold. We are walked through a dinner prep and service, with the entire staff working to get the food on the tables so that each guest can have the full experience of cracking the lobsters, opening the clams, and wearing the bibs, all at the same time.  Although not really a foodie book, Ross does weave food deliciously throughout the plot with a conversational tone – Julia sharing her story over a bottle of cold Sea Dog ale, chatting about the meals she has eaten along the way to solving the crime.

 

The prominent subplot of the precarious seasonal businesses at the Maine coast is handled effectively. Ross discloses the constantly present issues of bad weather and limited time available to make the yearly income, and it is clear that both play a huge role in the livelihood of both employers and employees alike. Rain keeps the tourists away and everybody suffers. B&B owners give up their own bedrooms for paying customers for the season, just so the bills can be paid for the rest of the year. A few rainy days scattered throughout the summer is bad enough, but if a hurricane hits and homes or businesses are damaged, or the economy slumps and people stay home, then disaster strikes. Not everyone has the cash reserves to come back from that, as has been demonstrated after real-life disasters up and down the East coast of this country.

 

Happily, there are mouthwatering recipes at the end of “Clammed Up.” I can’t wait to try the lobster mac & cheese and the blueberry grunt. I’m already salivating and getting my grocery list ready.

 

Barbara Ross’ thoroughly enjoyable “Clammed Up,” is an Agatha Award nominated book for Best Contemporary Novel. I’ll post the results after the votes are in this weekend.

 

Please visit www.maineclambakemysteries.com for more information about Barbara Ross and her next book in the series, “Boiled Over.”

 

 

 

 

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