Category Archives: Krista Hall

Krista’s Fav Podcasts for Writers (And Readers)

Whether it is genre or literary, excellent fiction is rooted in the real world. In order for you, the reader, to take that leap of faith from the concrete to the virtual worlds of our stories, we, the writers, must first earn your trust that our stories have a foundation in truth, even when they take place in alien or imaginary places. So how do we find those kernels of truth?

Research. Lots of research.

One of my favorite research methods is listening to podcasts—usually in my car, while running my daily errands. (Today that proved impossible when the forecast for snow exceeded expectations so Rosie and I had the day off.)

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Here are a few of my favorite podcasts paired with book recommendations.

WORKING (Slate)

Get the inside skinny on many usual and unusual professions with these podcast episodes. Titles include: How Does a Forensic Anthropologist Work? How Does an Animal Behavior Specialist Work? How Does a Club Doorman Work? Sometimes the only way for a writer to get inside the head of a character working in an unfamiliar profession is to listen to real people talk about what they do for a living, why they do it, and how it is meaningful to them. After all, it’s not the profession that makes a character compelling, it’s the character’s passion for that profession.

The Janitor’s Boy and Rising Tides

STUFF YOU MISSED IN HISTORY CLASS

Compelling romantic suspense is grounded it in real world events. As a chemistry major, I have to admit that I either forgot or missed a great deal of what I was taught in high school history class. Luckily for me, this podcast offers a range of interesting historical facts to enrich plots as well as intriguing tidbits such as Who Was the Real Professor Moriarty? I had no idea that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s character was inspired by the real life criminal mastermind Adam Worth.

All the Light We Cannot See and The Final Problem, The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes

THE BLACK TAPES

This podcast is too scary for me, but if you like your mystery/suspense wrapped in spooky/scary…

The Bazaar of Bad Dream and The Dead Play On

READING LIVES

Writers are also avid readers. Listening to these podcast episodes gives me the opportunity to learn from writers I probably will never have the good fortune to meet, let alone engage in conversation. For instance, did you know… Iconic romance author Beverly Jenkins does not write during the NFL playoffs. She once binge-read Harlan Coben’s Bolitar series on her kindle. And she was featured in a 5-page spread in the 1995 Valentine’s Day edition of People magazine written by reporter Nancy Drew.

Night Hawk and Deal Breaker (Myron Bolitar)  and The Secret of the Old Clock (Nancy Drew)

Do you have a favorite podcast? Add to my list…please!

 

Happy Holidays! A White House Tour

Democrat, Republican, Independent, naturalized citizen, American-born, permanent resident, foreign visitor, adult, child. No matter who you are, it is always a thrill to cross the threshold into “The People’s House” aka The White House. But during the holidays, it is magical. This year you are greeted by giant penguins as you enter through the East Visitor entrance.

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Portraits of First Ladies line the walls as you walk up the steps toward the East Colonnade–Nancy Reagan in her signature red and Bess Truman exuding Midwestern warmth. The first tree you see is the Gold Star Tree in honor of the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. It is always surrounded by a crowd of people, writing messages of hope and gratitude and remembrance. You, too, can send a message to our troops and their families by visiting Honoring Our Troops on the White House website.

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The East Colonnade is a winter wonderland this year (even though the temperature outside is well-above freezing). Hand-crafted snowflakes bearing the hopes and aspirations of D.C. public school students float in the air and a cheerful cadre of snowmen have invaded the East Garden.

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Rounding the corner, you enter the East Garden Room. Tennis ball trees surround the First Family’s dogs Bo and Sunny.

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Milk bones dangle from the branches of a Douglas fir while Abe Lincoln looks out from a corner, reminding us of where we are.

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Pass through the long central hall way on the ground floor. Peek into the White House Library where six trees are trimmed with novels and manuscripts, the Vermeil Room with the ethereal portrait of Jackie Kennedy, and the China Room with the striking portrait of Grace Coolidge and her white collie Rob Roy. In addition to the holiday decorations, these rooms brim with antique furniture from the Federal period. Then up the stairs to the East Room where I stopped to pose for a photo.

If you look closely, you’ll see the famous Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington—the one First Lady Dolley Madison saved when the British invaded Washington D.C. and ransacked the White House in 1814. Festive trees fill the Green Room, Blue Room, and Red Room, but my favorite eye-candy is the artwork hanging on practically every inch of wall space: Portraits of iconic statesmen like Benjamin Franklin, sweeping landscapes of America’s West, scenes from America’s past, and modern masterpieces like The Builders by Jacob Lawrence.

Onward to the State Dining Room where the eye-candy really is candy!

The forty-five minute holiday tour ends in the Cross Hall and Grand Foyer. Here images of our late-twentieth and twenty-first century presidents stand sentinel. The haunting, almost surreal portrait of John F. Kennedy across from the eternal optimist, Ronald Reagan, as you enter the Cross Hall. And George W. Bush and Bill Clinton on opposite walls in the Grand Foyer. Music spills into the air as a pianist seated at the 1938 Steinway plays holiday tunes.

One last look, then you exit out the front doors, down the steps of the North Portico, and head toward Pennsylvania Avenue.

Before I leave the White House grounds, I take a moment to savor the view of D.C. from inside the wrought iron fence that surrounds The People’s House.

Happy holidays! Wishing you and yours peace, love, and joy in the New Year!

Quirky Q&A with Cathy Perkins: So About the Money

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Left-brain meets right-brain. Add in heart. Award-winning author Cathy Perkins skillfully blends all three in her newest mystery with a financial twist and a dash of romance: SO ABOUT THE MONEY.

When Holly Price trips over a friend’s dead body, her life takes a nosedive into a world of intrigue and danger. With an infinitely sexy cop—Holly’s pissed-off, jilted ex-fiancé—threatening to arrest her for the murder, the intrepid accountant must protect her future, her business…and her heart…by using her investigative skills to follow the money, before the killer decides CPA stands for Certified Pain in the Ass…and the next dead body is Holly’s.

How does Cathy do it? That’s what I wanted to know so I asked her a few quirky questions which she gamely answered for her third visit to K&T. Join me in welcoming the mastermind behind the Holly Price amateur sleuth romantic mystery series. (And be sure to read to the end to find out who won the Lark Brennan DANGEROUSLY YOURS give-away!)

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Krista passed along five sentences openers for me to complete for this guest post. Panic! My mind raced along with my heart. I have to be profound. Funny. Introspective. Yikes!

Wait a minute. I just have to be “me.” Whew. I know how to do that. So here we go. So-About-the-Money-2-200x300

1) I do my best thinking when… I’m moving. “Moving” can mean running, hiking or driving—anything that lets my mind relax. It may be getting into that zone that lets my subconscious toss out ideas that have churned around down there. Aside – the idea for So About the Money came while I was hiking with my husband along the Snake River in eastern Washington. As we pushed through some tangled foliage at the water’s edge, I peered over my shoulder and said, “Wouldn’t this be a great place to find a body?” Yes, mystery/suspense authors think things like that.

2) I’m addicted to… coffee. Seriously, I don’t function without it. My husband is either an enabler or the best husband ever (my personal choice) because he always starts the machine when he gets up.

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3) In my spare time… Wait, you have spare time? Can you lend me some? I’m still rocking the day job while writing. Oh, and there’s the tree farm. And building the new house. And… But soon—really, really soon—I want to get back to the other creative outlets I adore—fused glass, watercolor, hand-sewing little girl dresses.

4) Smart women are… everywhere. “Smart” comes in so many varieties—I hope all of us can appreciate what everyone else has to offer. Book smarts, people skills; natural leaders and nurturers. Life is so much better when we focus on what women do well and help each other succeed.

5) Traveling… is my favorite thing. I love exploring new cultures and new places. My personal bucket list includes items big and small, local as well as international. Diving the Great Barrier Reef, Soap Lake’s mineral springs, and seeing Qin Shi Huang Di’s terra-cotta army in Xi’an, China.

What about you? Is there a place you’d love to visit?

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So About the Money by Cathy Perkins

Holly Price never expected to be back in Richland, Washington. She bolted out of the small town in eastern Washington for college—with no intention of returning. She also never expected her father to have a mid-life brain-fart and run off with his yoga instructor. His defection stranded Holly’s mother both personally and professionally. Without Holly’s CPA license, her mother would have to close the family accounting practice.

And absolutely the last thing Holly expected was for a hike with Alex Montoya to turn into the date from hell, but when he’d invited her to Big Flats, she’d heard “hike,” while he meant “hunt.”

Excerpt:

She peered forward and behind. “Alex,” she called, louder this time. “Where are you?”

She might be the commitment-phobe in this relationship, but surely Alex wouldn’t leave her out here. Everywhere she looked, dangling leaves and dried canes blocked her path. The sharp staccato of a dog’s excited bark broke the silence. Duke—ahead and to the right. The dog must have found the wounded pheasant.

She edged past a mushy spot. A harsher tang that reminded her of the dead fish they’d passed earlier grew stronger with each step. Nose covered with her hand, she rehearsed choice phrases to unleash on Alex when she finally found him, starting with a sarcastic, “Thanks for your concern,” before descending rapidly to “asshole.”

Something big rustled in the dense undergrowth behind her. Heart pounding, she spun around and peered into the thicket. They had coyotes out here. And drug grower/dealer guys. The only person they’d seen between the gravel parking area and this jungle was an Aryan Nation skinhead dude. Her heart stutter stepped. Oh, crap. What if this was his territory?

The noise from something plunging through the brush grew louder, closer. Blindly, she turned and crashed through the tangled foliage.

The rushes ended at a mound of dirt. She staggered into the clearing, her gaze zeroing in on Alex. Leaning over something on the ground, he tugged at Duke’s collar. The dog struggled, twisting his body in a muscular objection.

“Alex. Thank God.” Her knees felt weaker than she wanted to admit. “I heard something in the bushes back there.”

“Probably a deer. Stay back.” He wrestled the dog to the side.

His brusque tone shattered her mini-panic.

Well, don’t I feel silly.

A quick glance around registered the details. A drooping cottonwood canopied the clearing. Sunlit water lapped at the muddy shore. Gulls whirled overhead in a protesting flurry, lingering in a swirling complaint of dirty white feathers. The clearing looked like a teenagers’ party spot. Tattered food wrappers and empty beer bottles littered the ground. Filthy, torn clothing formed a soggy heap at the water’s edge.

The wind gusted off the inlet, carrying a stench across the clearing.

“Phew.” As bad as it smelled, she wondered if a dead fish was caught in the trash. A few birds remained near the river, their wings raised high, voices screeching defiance.

The pile of clothes had female-shaped contours. Eyes narrowed, Holly gave it a closer look. A pale, mud-streaked foot extended toward her. “Is that a woman?”

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Visit Cathy Perkins on Facebook, Twitter, and Cathy’s website.

For more Cathy Perkins K&T interviews:

The Two (Suspenseful) Sides of Cathy Perkins & A New Kind of Mile High Club with Cathy Perkins

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Congratulations to DARCY WOODS for winning the $25 Amazon gift card from Lark Brennan! And a special thanks to all of you who helped us celebrate Lark’s debut DANGEROUSLY YOURS last week. DANGEROUSLY YOURS debuts today!

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Dog On KaT: Rosie Sniffs Out Her Favorite Animal Sleuth

Private Eye Rosie

Dogs are natural sleuths, especially scent dogs like my chocolate Lab Rosie. She is curious about everything. Her inner monologue on a walk: That bush smells different today. Hey there’s a silver wrapper in the grass, maybe it will taste good. Oh yum, a banana peel! Squirrel! What’s in that bag? Does that person getting out of his car want to pet me? Wait, I don’t want to go that way. Look, there’s a bug on the sidewalk. Where’s it going? Is it food? Hey, I’m not done eating that…Rosie vs Beetle

But you don’t have to know a dog like Rosie to enjoy the crime-solving antics of Rosie’s favorite dog sleuth Chet the Jet of the Chet and Bernie mystery series by Spencer Quinn (aka Edgar Award winning author Peter Abrahams). Chet is a K-9 school drop out and the faithful companion of down-and-out private investigator Bernie Little.

Cozy mysteries with animal sleuths are not uncommon. What sets this part-cozy-part-hard-boiled mystery series apart from others in those genres is that the P.I.’s cases unfold in the first person narrative of Chet the dog. Author Spencer Quinn does an excellent job imagining a canine inner monologue while leaving all the deductive reasoning to Chet’s human partner Bernie. If Rosie could read, I suspect she would find Chet to be a very relatable protagonist.

“What is it, Chet?”

I smelled all kinds of things, but that wasn’t the point. The point was those smells brought back a memory of this grate and what had fallen in: one of the sharpest memories I’d ever had, so sharp my side hurt.

“What are you barking about?” Bernie got down on his hands and knees and peered through the grate. “Can’t see a goddamn thing. Can you?”

Nope. But I didn’t have to: I knew what was down there. I pawed at the grate. Bernie gazed at me, then went to the car and came back with the flashlight. I loved the flashlight, how it poked holes in the dark, and always got a bit excited when we were using it.

“Stop charging around like that.”

I stopped, returned to the grate. Bernie was kneeling again, shining the light down through.

dog-on-it-cover-663x1024As you can see, the tone of the series is warm and humorous, but there is a brush of darkness that adds depth. Like any fictional detective, Chet encounters real danger and adversity. Chet must outsmart some truly evil villains while navigating a world of humans and machines that is often beyond his ability to understand. Even well-meaning humans can be a danger to a dog. In DOG ON IT (the first book in the series), Chet has a very close call with death when he is separated from Bernie and put in an animal shelter. No one wants to adopt him, and Bernie doesn’t know where he is.

A cold place, with lights that were much too bright shining on machines I didn’t understand. The lawn mower is one of the worst, and these, not much like lawn mowers, somehow looked as bad. I turned back toward the metal door: closed.

And Chet’s relationship with Bernie is rich with emotion while not straying too far from Chet’s doglike thinking.

I knew men could cry—had seen Bernie tear up that time Leda came and packed up Charlie’s stuff; did I mention that already? At that moment I came close to making— What would you call it? A connection, maybe, a connection between Bernie’s situation and—

But it didn’t happen. I spotted a Cheeto under the bed. Munch munch and it was gone.

If DOG ON IT sounds like your kind of read, you’ll enjoy the other Chet and Bernie Mysteries too. Even the titles are fun!

Chet & Bernie Book Covers

Thereby Hangs a Tail; To Catch A Thief; The Dog Who Knew Too Much; A Cat Was Involved (Prequel, short story); A Fistful of Collars; The Sound and the Furry; Paw and Order; and Scents and Sensibility.

You might also want to check out Chet’s blog and, of course, his FaceBook page.

What animal sleuth mysteries do you like to read?

Nobody’s Valentine

The year is only two months old and already I found myself in Books-A-Million making an impulse purchase. London journalist Paula Hawkins’s 2015 debut blockbuster and New York Times #1 bestseller THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN grabbed me from the moment I stepped up to the display of current bestsellers vying for attention.

Maybe it was the arresting cover (designed by Gretchen Achilles) that had me pulling the book off the shelf to get a closer look even though I have nine books on my must-read-before-I-buy-anything-else list. Or the cover quote by Tess Gerritsen: “So thrilling and tense and wildly unpredictable.” Wow!

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Or maybe it was the title. The Girl on the Train. For a whole year back in my mid-twenties, I was a girl on a train, commuting from my home in Connecticut to my job in New York City. Paula Hawkins stated in an NPR interview that the idea for the book came from her own experience commuting by train to London during her college years.

Or maybe it was the book description inside the jacket.

THERE SHE SITS, THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. WHAT SHE SEES, GAZING OUT THE WINDOW, WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING.

Pretty intriguing, right? I’m sure you can understand why I had my wallet out in a flash to buy the book. I hurried home and immersed myself in the dark, twisty tale that unfolds in a series of mornings and evenings that coincide with the rhythm of the train commuter during that stretch of time when she is the outsider, the daytripper, the person watching the action like a theater-goer at a live performance.

The unreliable narrator of the novel is nobody’s Valentine. Alone, divorced, and unemployed, Rachel spends her days commuting to London to pass the time. On the train, she cracks open a can (or two) of gin and tonic and spins stories about a young couple who live in a house along the tracks. She imagines their perfect, golden life, a fairy tale of love and devotion that comforts her. Until she discovers that the young wife has disappeared under mysterious circumstances.

Did Rachel see something from the train that will help the police solve the case? Or is she an unreliable witness who will cause more harm than good? You won’t stop turning the pages until you find out.

Fun fact: The Girl on the Train is not the author’s only book. Paula Hawkins previously published three chick lit books under the pseudonym Amy Silver. So if you are looking for a happier read for Valentines Day, you might be able to get your hands on one of her paperback titles: Confessions of a Reluctant Recessionista, All I Want for Christmas, and One Minute to Midnight.

What was the last impulse buy you made at the bookstore?

Congratulations to the February 3rd winners! To claim your prizes, please go to Contact Us and complete the form.

The Kennedy Connection–Maureen

The Midnight Hour–Patti Straight

Tis the Season to Give and Give Back

Thanksgiving is over. We Americans were thankful for our blessings and then quickly pivoted to preparations for the season of giving (aka Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, etc.). It is also the season to give back. Today, I have my own opportunity to give back. As it happens, it is also a second chance because it was an opportunity that I passed up the first time it presented itself.

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What was the opportunity? (You were wondering that, right?) Modeling.

Yes, as surprising as it may sound, late last week I found myself suddenly in demand as a model. In a fashion show for a holiday luncheon benefit. An event I was helping to organize and planning to attend.

What I hadn’t planned on is the catwalk.

When the call to action came last week—We’re down three models; please help us out—the words on the tip of my tongue were all negative. I can’t. I ate too much pumpkin pie last week. I might trip on the catwalk. But before those words could launch into sounds of refusal, I remembered how much generosity, support, and kindness has been given to me this year. These same women who are dedicating their time, talents, and energy to organize the Northern Virginia Alliance League (NVAL) holiday luncheon to benefit Friends of Guest House, were also the same women who celebrated with me earlier this year when I announced that I had published my first book.NVAL

My heart has been full of gratitude at their enthusiasm and support expressed in word and deed. Not only have many of my NVAL friends bought Broken Places, they have also taken the time to write reviews on Amazon, to express interest in the writing and publishing process, to invite me to talk to their book groups, and to give copies of Broken Places to their friends.

It has truly been a wealth of blessings. I have a pretty good idea of how George Bailey must have felt at the end of It’s a Wonderful Life. (Another holiday favorite of mine.) How could I say no to these friends who have given me so much? It was my time to give back. Keep your fingers crossed I don’t trip over my own two feet!

BrokenPlaces-FrontCover-Final-72dpiDo-gooders and second chances are two prominent themes of Broken Places so in the spirit of giving back, I will be donating half of my December Amazon royalties to Friends of Guest House, a 501(c)(3) serving women ex-offenders returning to the community after serving their time. Sometimes a helping hand can make all the difference. I think the mission statement from the Friends of Guest House website says it best: Help, hope, and new beginnings for Northern Virginia’s ex-offender women.

Here’s a list of other authors who are doing good while entertaining us with stories that give us the opportunity to walk in someone else’s shoes, even if just for a few short hours.

  • Heather Ashby donates half of her royalties to Fisher House to support military families in the U.S.
  • JK Rowling is donating all global royalties for The Cuckoo’s Calling to The Soldiers’ Charity to support military families in the U.K.
  • Nora Roberts donates millions every year to the Nora Roberts Foundation to support literacy and children’s programs.
  • Debbie Macomber serves on the Board of Warm Up America which distributes hand-knit afghans, caps, and other items to tens of thousands of people in need.
  • K&T’s Rachel Grant and the authors of the Hometown Heroes book bundle are donating all royalties to Pets For Vets.
  • K&T’s Lena Diaz organizes the K&T donation as well as donating her own books and other items to the annual Brenda Novak Auction in support of Juvenile Diabetes research.

Wishing you and your family peace and joy in this season of giving! Christmas background with snowy fir trees

All month, the kindle edition of Broken Places is a free download for anyone who purchases the paperback edition through Amazon. Give a gift and keep one for yourself!

 

Winners!

CONGRATULATIONS,  QUANTUM and JDH2690! You’re each the winner of  BROKEN PLACES!

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 To claim your prize contact us with your email address and preferred ebook format within 10 days.

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CONGRATULATIONS TO 2014 RITA & GOLDEN HEART FINALISTS!

This year the winners in the romantic suspense category are:

RITA winner Carolyn Crane for OFF THE EDGE

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And GOLDEN HEART winner Denny S. Bryce for CHASING DAMN

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Tune in tomorrow when Manda gives a sneak peek into the final installment of her Wicked Widows trilogy, Perdita and Archer’s story, WHY LORDS LOSE THEIR HEARTS…

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A Killing in the Hills–A Novel

Wikimedia Commons, Mmacbeth, 3-27-2014

Wikimedia Commons, Mmacbeth, 3-27-2014

Sometimes in my dreams I’m back in Charleston, West Virginia, wandering the wooded ridgelines of Sherwood Forest where I lived for six years as a child. The hills and hollows, the switchback roads, the heavy humidity, and the acrid scent of chemicals when the wind blew in from the southwest. The wild beauty of the hills co-existed with hulking chemical plants along the banks of the Kanawha River and grinding poverty in the hollows. Contrasts with razor sharp edges that pierce your soul, even when you’re just a kid.

Krista (far right) with her Sherwood Forest BFFs, early 70s

Krista (far right) with her Sherwood Forest BFFs, early 70s

And that probably explains why I was drawn to Pulitzer prize-winning journalist and West Virginia native, Julia Keller’s Bell Elkins books—a fairly new mystery series set in fictional Acker’s Gap, “a shabby afterthought of a town tucked in the notch between two peaks of the Appalachian Mountains, like the last letter stuck in a mail slot after the post office has closed down for keeps.”

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This mystery series begins with a dream too. County prosecutor Bell Elkins is haunted by her early years in a trailer on the banks of a West Virginia creek and the dark tragedy that changed the course of her life. “You could smell the creek, a damp rotting smell that was somehow also sweet, even before you could see it. The woods around it made a tight screen, as if the branches were gripping hands in a game of Red Rover. Daring you to break through.”

In A KILLING IN THE HILLS, Julia Keller’s debut book, three old men in a crowded restaurant are gunned down in broad daylight: “Pock Pock Pock.” Bell Elkins and the local sheriff Nick Fogelsong suspect that the horrific crime is tied to the illegal prescription drug trafficking that is “roaring across the state like a wildfire in a high wind,” but they are baffled by the shooter’s deliberate targeting of the three old friends. “One shot per head.” This is not a random act of violence. And even worse, Bell’s teenage daughter witnessed the murders.

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What I like best about the series is Bell Elkins. She’s a fierce crusader with a shadowy past that both propels her and hinders her in her roles as prosecutor, mother, friend, sister, ex-wife, and child of Acker’s Gap. “To know and not to do is not to know,” is the driving force behind Bell Elkins’s return to the small mountain town from which she had once thought she’d made a clean break. She has an unshakable conviction that she must do what she can to beat back the poverty, hopelessness, and crime that is ravaging her homeland. In this way, she reminds me of the heroine of my own book, BROKEN PLACES, who also wrestles with the same question: What is our responsibility to act in the face of the suffering we witness?

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Reading the Bell Elkins books reawakened a lot of memories for me (West Virginia luggage—a paper bag, riding my bike up and down the steep roads of my hilltop neighborhood, the scent of the woods in the summer), but you don’t need to have lived in West Virginia to thoroughly enjoy this excellent crime fiction series. Author Julia Keller explores universal themes of loss, redemption, forgiveness, and personal responsibility that resonate powerfully while her skillful crafting of engrossing mysteries will keep you guessing to the end. Good stuff, as my AP English teacher used to say!

What book have you read recently that struck a personal chord? I’m giving away BROKEN PLACES (ebook) to one randomly selected commenter! Be sure to return to K&T on Monday, July 28th, to see if you’re the winner. I’ll also be posting the names of the 2014 Romance Writers of America Rita® and Golden Heart® Romantic Suspense Winners!

 

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