Five murder-less mysteries to read now

2015-09-14-1442202994-5925631-mildredpierce.jpgNo murder, not even a crime; yet the 1941 novel Mildred Pierce is filled with suspense and tension throughout. I had no problem getting Joan Crawford (from the 1945 film Mildred Pierce) out of my head as I read because the real Mildred Pierce (well, the fictional Mildred, but the one in the novel) is younger and more complex than Crawford’s onscreen character — and the story is rawer. Not even Kate Winslet’s portrayal in the 2011 HBO mini series detracted from the vividness my readerly imagination brought to James Cain’s book.

“Mildred Pierce is the unicorn of crime fiction, a noir novel with no murder and very little crime,” mystery novelist Laura Lippman wrote in a Slate piece (more…)

New middle grade books for June 2016

Screen Shot 2016-06-02 at 9.26.16 PMJust in time for summer, an excellent selection of new middle grade releases hits bookstore and library shelves this month. Look for new titles from Dorian Cirrone, Karen Cushman, Kate Messner, Tricia Springstubb, JenniferSwanson and more. I rounded up 24 books for this blog post for the Mixed Up Files of Middle Grade Authors. Read more: New Releases: June 2016 …


So, I had a heart attack …

Three months ago I had a heart attack. And since the symptoms of a heart attack are different for women, and since the kind I had can strike people with no markers of heart disease, I’ve decided to tell my story. And because I love to name drop, I’ll do some of that along the way because I was with authors I love that night.

I was at Queen Anne Book Company in Seattle, surrounded by friends. Authors Kirby Larson, Kristen Kittscher and I had just finished a presentation on our middle grade mysteries when in a flash everything changed for me. I had full-on flu-like symptoms, unlike anything I’d ever experienced before. I whispered to Kirby that I didn’t feel well and needed to leave; she took one look at me and tried to intervene, asking to take me home or to urgent care. Something was off. She told me she was worried, and that I looked “ashen.” (That specific word comes into play later.) I assured her I’d be fine. My friend Sara Nickerson looked concerned and touched her chest, a movement that triggered something in my brain.

I am having a heart attack in this photo. But look at who I'm surrounded by -- friends and writers. Love these women! Kirsten Kittscher, Kiry Larson, Suzanne Selfors, Sara Nickerson, Jennifer Longo.

I am having a heart attack in this photo. But look at who I’m surrounded by — friends and writers I love. Kristen Kittscher, Kirby Larson, Suzanne Selfors, Sara Nickerson, Jennifer Longo. I love these women!

As I headed to my car, a pressure came into my chest. Weird, but not too bad. I thought about what Kirby had said, how Sara had touched her heart. I tried to stop the crazy thoughts in my head that maybe I was heading toward a heart attack. I thought about going back to the store, knowing that anyone in there would help me. My dear friend Jane (friends since college) had just left the bookstore and lives nearby. I knew I didn’t have to be alone. But I decided to drive home anyway.

A few minutes into the drive, stabbing pain in my back came and I knew precisely what it was (thank you PBS documentary on women and heart disease!). Still, because I’m a dummy, I drove all the way home, threw up and then the pain went down my left arm to my little finger.

I walked inside and asked Kevin, my husband, to take me to the ER. He asked no questions, just jumped up and grabbed his keys. I remember saying something like I might be embarrassed if it was nothing, but that I’d rather be embarrassed than dead. He just said: “We’re going.”

My heart attack was not the Hollywood kind where someone (almost always a man) grabs his chest and doubles over in pain. Every one of my symptoms was one that would stand on its own as a possible heart attack; all of my symptoms are ones that could be, and often are, dismissed by healthcare professionals, let alone the people having them. When I walked into the ER, I listed them quickly and specifically. If you are a woman (or you know one), please take note of my heart attack symptoms:

  • Stabbing back pain between my shoulder blades
  • Pain radiating down my left arm to my little finger and ring finger
  • Vomiting
  • Chest pain (this was the least of my symptoms)
  • And, I said, “A friend said I looked ashen.”

All were noted, the word “ASHEN” in all caps, and I was taken in immediately. It was confirmed that I was having a heart attack, or, as I now call it, a myocardial infarction (MI). Just a couple months after a physical where I’d had a normal ECG and full blood work, with cholesterol scores so good I could have framed them. I exercise, eat reasonably well, don’t smoke, I’m not THAT old, and I was having a heart attack.Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 3.10.02 PM

The heart attack (MI) was caused by a tear in an artery wall, which is called a spontaneous coronary artery dissection, or SCAD. SCADs occur predominantly in women who are fit and healthy, with an average age of 42. We don’t know why they happen, and I’m not sure there’s anything I could have done to prevent it from happening. The first articles I read kept referring to SCAD as a rare disease. The SCAD Research Alliance says this: “SCAD isn’t rare. It’s rare to meet a survivor.”


My friend Jane took this photo just minutes before my heart attack. I still feel like the person here, although my new normal is definitely different.

I’ve met some wonderful women through a SCAD Survivors group and I’m thankful every day for them and the research now being done at the Mayo Clinic. SCAD survivors share information on how hard the first year is, the fear of recurrence (a real fear, as it happens frequently), anxiety, making progress in cardiac rehabilitation, and finding a “new normal.”

I am incredibly grateful to my friend Kirby because her concern and her words got me to the point where I knew this was real. This was big. Ashen is an unusual color for me unless, as it turns out, my heart is not getting enough oxygen.

Heaps of thanks to my family and to all my friends, and those who, when they asked what they could do, came when I said the dog really could use a walk, or two, every day for a few weeks. Thank you.








My library card + Zinio = The New Yorker for free on my iPad

I have a new-found love for Zinio, a free service via libraries where you can checkout and download magazines for free. Here’s a blog post I wrote for Shelf Talk at the Seattle Public:

There’s a new New Yorker waiting for me …


Girls, Girls, Girls! Coming to a book title near you

Post I wrote for Seattle Public Library’s Shelf Talk blog …

Shelf Talk

Girls Girls Girls sign glows in racy pink neon against dark night backgroundI made just one new year’s reading resolution this year: Read no books with the words “girl” or “wife” in the title.

A few days into 2016 and I failed with American Housewife by Helen Ellis (a pure delight to read and sure to be one of my favorite books of the year), followed shortly after by The Forgotten Girls by Sara Blaedel (Denmark’s “Queen of Crime”). Now All the Missing Girls by Megan Miranda and The Girlsby Emma Cline are stacked on my nightstand. In the 12 months prior, my reading list included: Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll, Girl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart, The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girlby Carrie Brownstein and Not That Kind of Girlby Lena Dunham.* So. Many. Girls.

In the fiction world, publishers are still riding high on the success of

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February 2016 events: Seattle and Anacortes

queen anne books event (1).JPGDastardly Plots, Daring Adventures — with Kristen Kittscher and Kirby LarsonTuesday, February 23, 2016, at 7 .m.
Queen Anne Book Co.
1811 Queen Anne Avenue North
Seattle, WA 98109

Two of my favorite authors will be at Queen Anne Book Co. on 2/23 — and I get to be with them!  Kristen Kittscher (Wig in the Window, Tiara on the Terrace) is in town this week; and the incomparable Kirby Larson has a new historical mystery series out, starting with Audacity Jones). We’ll be talking about sleuths, (more…)

Sister Act: 10 middle grade novels with sisterly love

When I was about ten, I almost grasped an important grammar lesson from my father: If there are two siblings, one is older and the other is younger, not oldest and youngest. It was a conversation about comparatives and superlatives, but what stuck with me is that you need three to add the all-important -est to an order. This blew my mind, as I had firmly planted in my mind that I was the youngest. Turns out I was merely the younger. My dad tried to explain it to me in terms of “good, better, best …” and this is about where I stopped listening and just imagined (more…)

New releases: February 2016

Hooray for leap year 2016! February 29 means we have an extra day for reading this month, which you’re all going to need when you look at this lineup of selected new releases. Here are two dozen titles in this round up from the Mixed-Up Files of Middle Grade Authors blog: 

Read the rest of the post: New Releases February 2016

My favorite books published in 2015 (#libfaves15)

List Fatigue can set in as early as November 30 with all the “best”  books, movies, music lists that start rolling in. At first I compulsively check out all the book lists, and then I check out after about List 11 — because many of the lists repeat the same books.

Commonality is fantastic, and gives us a memorable snapshot of the year. The Best Books lists are also great guides for shopping for books for Christmas gifts. But the real Top 10 lists I love? The ones from librarians. Instead of doing a “best of …” type list, many of us tweeted our favorites of the year. (Big distinction between “favorite” and “best.”) Using the hashtag #libfaves15, librarians counted down their top 10. No restrictions (other than asking that people choose books published in 2015). The result? Some of the top books you’ve seen on other lists, but also a lot of shout outs for science fiction, fantasy, mystery, historical romance and contemporary romance. Books that we love — and that we can’t wait to share with readers. (more…)