Archive for March, 2010

Jen’s Jewels with Alafair Burke

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

April 1, 2010

The Internet can be a valuable resource. Whether researching a topic for school or keeping abreast of the latest political news, we always seem to be connected in one way or another. It’s hard to remember what our lives were like before its conception! Nowadays, we even have Face Book and Twitter. The advances in technology are truly amazing.

Just as we have embraced this new movement comes the alarming reality of the dangers associated with these networking sites, especially for our youth. The number of predators lurking in cyberspace is disheartening. From prostitution rings to drug trafficking, the Internet has become a very nefarious place.

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Alafair Burke tackles this very controversial topic in her latest release, 212. The third installment of her highly popular The Ellie Hatchet Series, Alafair takes us through the streets of New York in search of a cyber killer. Fast-paced and brutally honest, she exposes the secret lives of women caught up in the Internet sex industry.

As part of this interview, Harper, an imprint of Harper Collins Publishers, has generously donated five copies for you, my favorite readers, to try to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure.

Jen: Without a doubt, the headlines are the spark that ignites your suspenseful stories that keep your readers on the edge of their seats. So that we may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.
Alafair: I’m a law professor at Hofstra Law School outside of New York City, where I teach criminal law and procedure. Prior to that, I was a prosecutor in Portland, Oregon and a law clerk to a federal appellate court judge. I graduated from Reed College and Stanford Law School.

Jen: I think it would be fair to say that your legal career gives you a leg up for writing in this genre since your experience lends credibility to your plot. At what juncture in your life did you decide that writing needed to be part of the equation? And, how do you manage to balance a law career with writing full-time?
Alafair: I came to writing as a reader. I’d always been an avid reader of the genre. After five years of working at the District Attorney’s Office in Portland, I felt like I was ready to contribute. By then, I could imagine the kinds of settings, characters, and dialogue that would color a series set in the Portland prosecutor’s office. I also had a plot, inspired by two actual cases that arose while I was in the office. That idea became my first novel, Judgment Calls.

As for the balance, I have to be diligent. I’m always working on something whether a book, or a law review article that no one will ever read, or teaching. It pretty much means I work a lot, but it’s all stuff I love. I know I’m lucky.

Jen: Your latest release is the third book in your highly acclaimed The Ellie Hatcher Series. 212 is a riveting novel that delves into the clandestine world of the sex industry. For those readers unfamiliar with your books, please give us a brief overview of the series and its main characters.
Alafair: Ellie Hatcher is a detective in the NYPD, relatively new to homicide cases. Her father was a cop whose mysterious death plays a big part of her back story, but because she was raised in that atmosphere, she has good instincts about human motivations. She and her partner, JJ Rogan, are still finding their way, but they’re a good team.

Ellie was raised in Wichita, but she’s been in New York for over ten years after initially following her big brother, Jess, there. Jess is a terrific character, a struggling musician who crashes on her couch during frequent bouts of unemployment.

Jen: Ellie Hatcher is not your typical detective. Hard-nosed but sensitive, she runs the gamut with her emotions. Yet, with every step she takes, she inches closer to the killer. What is the driving force behind her desire to succeed?
Alafair: There’s no question that Ellie is always looking for approval from her dead father. She also has an overriding desire for justice. She wants to do what’s right, even when it puts her in peril.

Jen: Ellie’s partner J.J. is a rough and tough kind of guy who definitely has a soft-spot for her. Like a protective older brother, he’s got her back. What makes these two such formidable partners? And, are they truly equals in each other’s eyes? Why or why not?
Alafair: JJ’s got the experience, but he’s careful not to use that against her. He started out partnering with her when other detectives were skeptical after Ellie’s rapid movement in the department. I love the comfort they’ve managed to find in each other after a pretty short relationship. I’ve also been careful to steer clear of the usual romantic sparks. Their relationship is absolutely platonic.

Jen: The suspect in 212 is Sam Sparks. A Donald Trumpish kind of character who believes himself to be above the law, he irks Ellie from the get-go. If this character were Samantha Sparks, would Ellie have reacted in the same way? Why or why not?
Alafair: What a terrific question. It recognizes that women are often their harshest critics. In this case, however, I think Ellie would have reacted the same. Sparks gets under her skin not because he’s a man, but because he’s part of an extremely elite class that she knows does not accept her kind and that she’ll never be a part of. I don’t want to say too much, but Sparks turns out to be more than he appears.

Jen: Without giving too much away, the essence of the plot centers on some girls getting caught up in a prostitution ring via the Internet. I was shocked by my own sense of naiveté when it came to this topic. How are social networking sites such as MySpace, Facebook, and Craig’s List a crucial part of the mainstreaming of the sex industry?
Alafair: What the book explores (in an entertaining way, I hope) is the mainstreaming of today’s sex industry. Walking on corners has been replaced by ads in Craig’s List, and ads on Craig’s List don’t seem so different to some young women from social networking sites. At the same time, the dating world has become courser, as many girls routinely “hook up” with free-spending guys on the assumption that there’s no future, just an expensive night. As Eliot Spitzer’s escort has since explained, she didn’t see a big difference between hooking and what she and her friends had already been doing.

Jen: In terms of the storyline how does the role of technology help as well as hinder Ellie’s investigation? With prepaid, disposable phones and unidentifiable IP addresses, how can today’s law enforcement effectively protect our citizens? In your opinion, are they able to remain one step ahead of the criminals? Or, are they constantly just trying to keep up?
Alafair: Technology has become a part of the cat and mouse game between police and criminals. Johns no longer have to circle a high vice area in their car to pick up a prostitute; they can go online, making it much less likely they’ll be stopped in advance. On the other hand, internet use leaves more of a fingerprint than people realize. If the trick goes wrong and police are looking for the person who hired the victim for the night, chances are they’ll be able to track the person down through technology. That, in turn, causes more sophisticated criminals to hide their tracks, using public cyber cafes and downloading programs that block their identifying information. I find it all fascinating. So much has changed even since I was a prosecuto

Jen: In 212, the character Katie Battle is a real estate agent who turns tricks at night to make ends meet. Nowadays, celebrity news magazines seem to glorify these types of women making their pursuits a desirable profession. How do you think this will affect future generations of young women? And, what can we do to stop it?
Alafair: Oh, if only I knew. As a writer, it’s much easier to point out and fictionalize social ills than to fix them. I do think we have created a culture in which young women think it’s normal to see Miley Cyrus and Britney Spears dance on stripper poles, for women to engage in girl-on-girl flirtations not because they want to but to titillate men, and even for them to sell their bodies for money if the price is right.

Jen: Of course, every leading lady must have a strong, sexy man to share her bed. Max Donovan is definitely hooked by Ellie’s charms. Why then is she so reluctant to just let herself go and fall deep in love with this super guy?
Alafair: I try to leave that for the reader to figure out. It could be that Max just isn’t the right guy. More likely, she’s so used to being the one who has to take care of everyone that she’s just not able to need another person. She’s getting better, though. It’s part of her journey.

Jen: What’s next for Ellie now that she has closed this case? And, when can we expect to see it in bookstores? (I will be the first in line!)
Alafair: I’m working on a standalone right now, also set in New York City, but a little different for me. The main character’s not in law enforcement. Then it’s back to Ellie. I’m pretty much on a book-a-year schedule.

Jen: Let’s switch gears and talk about your promotional plans. Will you be going on a book tour?
Alafair: I’m already on the road! I launched in NYC last week, then went to Pittsburgh over the weekend and Houston today. This week I’ll be doing a joint event with Harlan Coben in Phoenix, and then I’m off to Seattle and Portland. The full schedule is at

Jen: Please take us on a brief tour of your website. Do you e-mail notification of upcoming releases? Do you give away signed bookplates?
Alafair: I have a newsletter than people can subscribe to on the website. I also have a blog that I update regularly with videos, interviews, announcements, and, yes, giveaways.

Jen: Do you participate in author phone chats? And if so, how would my readers go about scheduling one?
Alafair: I have been experimenting with Ustream, which allows me to do live video chats. The first one was a great success. Sign up for my newsletter for notice of future chats.

Jen: Thank you so much for taking time out of your very busy schedule to stop by and chat with my readers. I absolutely loved 212. I look forward to seeing it at the top of the bestsellers lists! Best of luck!
Alafair: Thank you so much for including me in your interview series. I’m proud of 212, so really hope your readers will enjoy it.

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Alafair. If you would like to read more, please check out my Reviews Page which contains a Browse Inside excerpt of 212. Also, please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, would you like to win one instead?

Okay, be one of the first five readers to e-mail me at with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll win!

Name the lead character in 212.

Later this month, I will be bringing to you my interview with debut novelist Holly LeCraw. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…


Last Song – Book to Movie

Wednesday, March 31st, 2010

Today (March 31) is the opening of the movie The Last Song, directed by Julie Anne Robinson, starring Miley Cyrus, Kelly Preston, and Greg Kinnear, and based on Nicholas Sparks’s The Last Song (Find this book in our catalog).

“Seventeen-year-old Veronica Miller’s life was turned upside-down when her parents divorced and her father moved from New York City to Wilmington, North Carolina. Three years later, she remains angry and alienated from her parents, until her mother sends her to spend the summer with him.” (catalog summary)

For an author biography of Nicholas Sparks, click on “Author Notes & Sketches” in the sidebar to the left of the record of the title in our catalog. Our catalog contains many value added features including book reviews.

Annual Award for Independently Published Books

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

ForeWord Reviews announced their BOOK OF THE YEAR AWARD FINALISTS March 18, 2010. Click here for more details.

The finalists are examples of independent publishing at its best. The winners will be determined by a panel of librarians and booksellers selected from ForeWord’s readership, and will be announced at BookExpo America in New York City on May 25.

Award winners and nominees often make good choices for book groups. Independent publishers have been known to publish break-out best sellers that mainstream publishers have overlooked.

Amish Grace – TV Movie Tie-In

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

Amish Grace by Donald B. Kraybill and others, the extraordinary account of the Amish response of forgiveness in the aftermath of the tragic Nickel Mines, PA, schoolhouse shootings in 2006, is now the basis for the Lifetime movie of the same name, premiering today, March 28, 2010. Find this book in our catalog

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie Wins Dilys Award

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley has won the 2010 Dilys award. The Dilys is sponsored by the Independent Mystery
Booksellers Association and is given to the mystery title of the year that member booksellers have most enjoyed selling. Click here for more about the award.

Find this book in our catalog

This is what I wrote earlier on BlogaBook about The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie: “The books I like the best are the books where I find myself relating to the main character, where for a time I find myself, as it were, inside the character’s own skin. This was very true with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie.

This is what it says in our catalog: “In his wickedly brilliant first novel, Debut Dagger Award winner Alan Bradley introduces one of the most singular and engaging heroines in recent fiction: eleven-year-old Flavia de Luce, an aspiring chemist with a passion for poison. It is the summer of 1950 and a series of inexplicable events has struck Buckshaw, the decaying English mansion that Flavia’s family calls home. A dead bird is found on the doorstep, a postage stamp bizarrely pinned to its beak. Hours later, Flavia finds a man lying in the cucumber patch and watches him as he takes his dying breath. For Flavia, who is both appalled and delighted, life begins in earnest when murder comes to Buckshaw.”

Perhaps I was able to relate to Flavia because she is eleven years old in 1950, a girl trying to have adventures in a cotton frock. She is constantly getting her dress filthy and ripping the soles half off her shoes. I grew up in the fifties in England and remember painfully how hard it was to ride a bike fast and yet modestly in a dress. I thought the author’s depiction of the era was right on. Flavia is feisty, brave and resourceful, and yet everything conspires against her success, including the weight and age of her bike, her distant father, and her bullying older sisters. Flavia is the classic child on her own against the world much beloved of children’s authors. She is Harry Potter, she is the Little Princess, and she suffers A Series of Unfortunate Events. And yet this is a book for adults.

It will remind you of books you read as a child; and yet you will admire the sophisticated wit, the understatement and the irony. Flavia is a brilliant child and adroitly manipulates all the people she meets to her own ends. She is quite cynical and understands people’s motives only too well. The reader enjoys Alan Bradley’s larger-than-life and yet somehow authentic characters, especially as they are revealed by Flavia in her own snippy voice.

I liked the wit and I enjoyed the gothic style mystery and the bizarre details such as the decaying Rolls Royce in the barn and the decaying auto repair shed at the village library. All is decay, but no detail is unimportant: the reader needs to keep awake.

The pacing is very appealing. You are drawn in straight away by the opening: “It was as black in the closet as old blood. They had shoved me in and locked the door.” You know straight away that you are in for an embattled protagonist, dark secrets, violence and domestic misery.

Sure enough, Flavia’s father is soon arrested for the murder and Flavia takes it upon herself to prove he did not do it. Her quest brings her face to face with some very adult issues involving love, loyalty, guilt, revenge, despair, vanity, and misunderstanding. At one time I thought I understood what the sweetness at the bottom of the pie was, but now I am not so sure. Perhaps when you have read the book you will understand.”

Another Tie-In to The Pacific Miniseries

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

Another tie-in to HBO’s The Pacific, the miniseries:

Strong Men Armed: The United States Against Japan by Robert Leckie (Find this book in our catalog)

Robert Leckie is one of the three veterans the series follows. As scout and machine-gunner for the First Marine Division, the author fought in all its engagements until his wounding at Peleliu. For Strong Men Armed, he used his experience and researched battles of the Pacific campaign.

Another The Pacific Tie-In

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

Another book related to The Pacific, the HBO miniseries:

Islands of the Damned: A Marine at War in the Pacific by R.V. Burgin (Find this book in our catalog). Burgin is featured in the miniseries.

“This is an eyewitness – and eye-opening – account of some of the most savage and brutal fighting in the war against Japan, told from the perspective of a young Texan who volunteered for the Marine Corps to escape a life as a traveling salesman. R.V. Burgin enlisted at the age of twenty, and with his sharp intelligence and earnest work ethic, climbed the ranks from a green private to a seasoned sergeant. Along the way, he shouldered a rifle as a member of a mortar squad. He saw friends die – and enemies killed. He saw scenes he wanted to forget but never did – from enemy snipers who tied themselves to branches in the highest trees, to ambushes along narrow jungle trails, to the abandoned corpses of hara kiri victims, to the final howling banzai attacks as the Japanese embraced their inevitable defeat. An unforgettable narrative of a young Marine in combat, Islands of the Damned brings to life the hell that was the Pacific War.” (catalog summary)

Movie Tie-In: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

The Swedish film of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo opened in the U.S. yesterday, Friday, March 19, in limited release. The movie has English subtitles.

This is what our contributor, D. L. S. wrote about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo on Blogabook 8/27/09: Find this book in our catalog

“Before Stieg Larsson died in 2004, he was the editor of Expo, the journal of the Swedish Expo Foundation, an organization dedicated to tracking the activities of racist organizations. He was also an expert on Nazi and other extreme right-wing organizations. Not surprisingly, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has within it the most unsavory of evils, loosely linked to Nazis of the past and present.
The novel’s narrative focus is captured in its original Swedish title, Men Who Hate Women, and flows from two major plots: a failed investigation of a corrupt businessman, and a crime case of a murder long ago committed and recently resurrected. Linking both stories are the characters of Mikael Blomkvist and Lisbeth Salander. Blomkvist is a journalist found guilty of libel for his investigative work on industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerstrom. He’s lost his job and his integrity, and he’s about to lose his freedom when he begins his jail sentence for his crime. Millionaire industrialist Henrik Vanger, however, intercedes and asks him to investigate the cold case of Vanger’s long-dead niece, Harriet, who decades before was probably murdered. No body was ever found, but the suspect must be one of Vanger’s unsavory family members. Blomkvist is to conduct the case privately, under the guise of his work on a Vanger family chronicle. If Blomkvist agrees to investigate the old crime, Vanger will give him much-needed information on Wennerstrom.
Running parallel to this is the narrative of Lisbeth Salander, the girl with the dragon tattoo, as well as other tattoos and various body piercings. She is small and anorexic-looking, disagreeable, mistrusting of people, probably mentally ill, and a computer genius. She works for a private security firm and collides with Blomkvist in an uncomfortable way – she’s been investigating him for Vanger. That aside, Blomkvist takes her on as a partner in the search for information on the missing Harriet and subsequently the continuing investigation of Wennerstrom.
The intricate interwoven plots lead readers to a cast of hideous characters, who are as appalling in their portrayal as in their crimes. Neither Salander nor Blomkvist escapes the evil that swirls around them, in a heart-stopping climax where good and evil clash.
The last section of the book may, ironically, seem to slow to a crawl, but after the grisly events of the previous pages, the reader might instead breathe a sigh of relief in this complex follow-up to a corrupt industrialist’s crime investigation.”

Second book in trilogy: The Girl Who Played with Fire Find this book in our catalog

The third book in Stieg Larsson’s trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the
Hornet’s Nest
, is being published in May 25. Click here to reserve a copy.

Jen’s Jewels with Lucie L. Snodgrass

Saturday, March 20th, 2010

Cooking has always been an interest of mine despite my lack of aptitude. Sure, I can whip up a tasty meal courtesy of my ever-reliable crock-pot. As far as I am concerned, being able to cook an entire meal in one pot is worth its weight in gold. However, when the task of grilling meat while simultaneously sautéing veggies with perhaps a side of you-name-it comes into play, that’s when I call in the reinforcements…my husband and sons!

This month’s Jen’s Jewels Lucie Snodgrass is always a welcomed guest in our home. A culinary expert in her own right, she has cleverly combined her passion for cooking with her love of our bountiful state in a delightful new cookbook, DISHING UP MARYLAND. From each of the four seasons, she shares with us some of the most scrumptious recipes indigenous to this area. From the novice cook to the professional chef, there is something here for everyone.

As part of this interview, Storey Publishing has generously donated five copies of DISHING UP MARYLAND for you, my faithful readers, to win. So, don’t forget to look for the trivia question at the end. And as always, thanks for making Jen’s Jewels a part of your reading adventure. Bon appétit!

Jen: Cookbooks such as yours are a special treat! Filled with delectable recipes and anecdotal tales, DISHING UP MARYLAND is a delightful adventure from the Alleghenies to the Chesapeake Bay. So that my readers may have a better understanding of the woman behind the words, please share with us your educational and professional background.
Lucie: My background is in public policy, although I also have a Master’s degree in writing. My undergraduate education was a double major in English and Political Science from Vassar College. I also have a Master’s in Public Policy from Harvard University and a Master’s in Writing from Johns Hopkins University. I think it’s fair to say I’ve always done a lot of writing in my public policy jobs, and I’ve brought public policy to some of my writing. I’ve worked as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill for U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski of Maryland, I was in Legislative Affairs at the State Department during the Clinton administration, I spent years at a senior level in county government, and I went back to work for Senator Mikulski in 2009 as her State Director. In between that, I worked as a freelance writer for numerous magazines and newspapers and I co-authored a horticultural book with my husband, Ed.

Jen: Not only are you married to a horticulturist (Edmund Snodgrass), but also your background in agriculture stems from your love of nature and the environment. Quite naturally, your passions lead to the writing of this book. Describe for us the evolution of the project.
Lucie: Well, as you know, I married into an old farming family, so that in addition to gaining a wonderful husband and two terrific boys, I came to live on a farm. And I just fell in love with the farm community in our county and became a committed supporter of local farms. Both Ed and I are passionate about preserving his family’s land, but we’re equally dedicated to preserving the farmers who live on farm land. There’s a popular bumper sticker in our part of the state that says “No Farms, No Food,” and that about sums it up for me. Food doesn’t come from supermarkets, it comes from farms and farmers, and too many of us — especially children — have lost all connection with where our food originates. It’s why I agreed to co-chair my Governor’s Agriculture Transition Team and why I helped to bring about cookouts at the Governor’s mansion featuring Maryland foods, and why I was on the steering committee to start “Maryland Homegrown Lunch Week” in our public school system. This book grew out of my desire to help reestablish that relationship for people in Maryland and show them how many wonderful local food choices exist here — year round! And I also wanted to tell them that when they buy local oysters or watermelon or rockfish or strawberries or any of the other myriad foods that are grown or harvested in Maryland, that they’re supporting a family and a lifestyle that is part of the essence of our country. I also wanted to encourage people to eat seasonally, because that helps to support our local food producers, as well. When you eat a tree ripened peach that was picked that morning, it didn’t come from 1500 miles away, expending hundreds of gallons of fuel in the process. It probably came from less than ten miles from where you purchased it. But part of that equation is that you can only find local peaches from July to September in Maryland. I’m fine with that, partly because I can my own peaches and so have them for the whole year, but also because it makes the seasons meaningful to me and gives me the pleasure of anticipation. Sure, we all buy bananas and many other things that aren’t local or seasonal — I love them as much as everyone else does — but I consciously try to grow or buy as much local food as I can, cooking and eating what’s in season as much as I can. In the book, I try to show that there are lots of good things to eat in each season, but that it varies, so that you won’t find strawberry recipes in December, say.

Jen: At the forefront, how did you go about deciding on the format? How did you choose which farms to include? And, what was the most challenging aspect of organizing the writing process?
Lucie: Well, I knew that I wanted to organize the book seasonally, so that gave me the structure I wanted. I then made a list of the ingredients that I wanted to include in the book, starting with asparagus in spring and ending with cabbage and kale in winter, for example, and then adding in seasonal seafood like oysters and crabs, and then including local meats, cheeses, etc. Then I began thinking about farmers and watermen and chefs who might be good to include because of a crop they grew, or livestock they raised, or for their commitment to purveying local ingredients in the food they cook. The hardest part of the book, by far, was having to limit the number of farmers, watermen and other people I could include. I had so many wonderful choices from across the state that it was agonizing having to make cuts. I did try to feature a farm or a waterman or a chef from every part of Maryland, and I’m proud to say that I was able to do that, and I attempted to include a lot of diverse products — like maple syrup — that people wouldn’t necessarily associate with Maryland. Now, I’m sure someone will say that I didn’t do enough about their part of the state, and they’re right. That will give me the excuse to write “Dishing Up More of Maryland!”

Jen: Dividing the book into seasonal sections makes the cookbook very user friendly. With that being said, how much research was needed prior to each season in order to be prepared for its arrival? At any point in the creative process, did you feel time constraints due to the necessity to use seasonal ingredients?
Lucie: I wrote the book in a year, so I went through all the seasons as I was writing and cooking, which worked well. I began in the fall and finished in the late fall, although the book starts with spring. I did research as I went along, shopped at farmers markets around the state, and I relied on lots of tips from the Maryland Department of Agri
culture and from others across the state who became interested in the project. The only real pressure I felt was when Edwin Remsberg, the talented photographer for the book, asked to do the crab feast shoot in February, for scheduling reasons. I cheated then and my sister in law and her husband, who own a seafood business, shipped up crabs from their plant in Texas and we bought Florida corn and cooked it and arranged the whole spread on newspaper, just like you would in the summer, and it turned out wonderfully. And I hate to admit it, but those Texas crabs were tasty, too, even if not as sweet as Maryland crabs!

Jen: Are the recipes your own? If not, from where did you collect them?
Lucie: The book has a mix of recipes. Many, probably half, are my own, while others come from farm families, from chefs, from watermen, etc. It’s a great mix of old and new, borrowed and blue (as in crabs!).

Jen: A question I just have to ask, did you actually prepare each recipe included in the book? If so, which was the most challenging and why?
Lucie: Yes! I did prepare just about every recipe in the book, often multiple times to get it right, with a very few exceptions, and those dishes were prepared by the chefs who created them. And truth to tell, I despise oysters, probably because I’m allergic to them, so I left the oyster dishes to others. Other than that, I cooked like a mad woman for months on end, and let me tell you I had the highest food bills you’ve ever seen, although I was so fortunate to get lots of meat and cheese and fruits and vegetables and seafood donated. And if you’re wondering who ate all of that food, it was my husband’s staff. His nursery business is on our farm and he has a business partner and a staff of six to nine, depending on the season. So I would spend the morning cooking and then carry the food across the lawn to the old dairy barn, where their offices are, and we’d all eat lunch together. It was such fun, because I made them critique the food as part of the bargain, and we shared a lot of laughs over the occasional failures. On the whole, they were one fat and happy crew of people, I can tell you that.

Jen: Let’s talk about a few of the people included in the narrative. I especially enjoyed learning about Michelle and Jimmy Hayden from Dorchester County. They are a part of a dying breed of watermen. No insurance and very long hours, their passion for the Chesapeake Bay keeps these two afloat. From your encounter, what sets these two individuals apart, and warranted their inclusion in your book? And, how has the economy affected their business?
Lucie: Well, many things set them apart: their young ages in that field, the fact that they worked together, their determination to stick with (most would say) a dying way of life, and their love for what they do. They work so hard and are beset by huge challenges, including a serious health condition that Michelle is now facing, and yet they don’t give up. There was both nobility and lunacy in what they’re doing, and I just couldn’t leave them out of the book. I spent one of the coldest mornings of my life dredging oysters, thinking they were crazy for doing it willingly every day, but there was such beauty in the gray winter sky and such a sense of freedom, being out there all alone. And there were so many others who touched me, too, like Leo Shinholt, who has been tapping maple trees for maple syrup for over half a century. He refuses to raise his prices to where average families can’t afford it — despite plenty of opportunities to make more money. I just loved him for that! Over and over, I found wonderful people who worked the water or the land because they loved doing it, regardless of how much or little they earned. And all of us are richer and eat better for knowing those people. The Haydens, like many other families, have been severely affected by the downturn, which is why Michelle makes and sells jewelry on the side and Jimmy works construction and odd jobs to keep food on the table. I want people to think about the choices they make when they buy their food and the impact their purchasing power has on local farmers and watermen.

Jen: Surprisingly, Maryland has 14 registered bison farms around the state. Who knew?! I certainly didn’t! On the menu at The Savage River Lodge, one can find this delectable meat. What makes this charming hide-a-way a favorite destination year after year?
Lucie: The Savage River Lodge is just a wonderfully romantic, relaxing, beautifully run lodge in Western Maryland, where, among other things you can cross country ski and tap your own maple syrup in winter. Jan and Mike, the owners, have decades of experience in the hospitality industry, and it’s apparent in everything at the lodge, from the wonderful food and roaring fireplaces to the beautiful cabins and the excellent wine list — including, let me say, some great Maryland wines. Plus, it has great hiking trails where the occasional bear and bobcat are spotted — again, don’t you just love everything that Maryland has to offer?

Jen: Our very own Broom’s Bloom Dairy in Harford County has the best homemade ice cream I have ever tasted! What makes Kate Dallam’s treat so sweet?
Lucie: Kate is one of the smartest, pluckiest women I know, and I think her ice cream tastes so good because she puts so much of herself into it. She buys local fruits when she can, so summer offers some especially delicious flavors for my taste, and she or one of her employees makes the ice cream fresh every day. It’s no wonder that there are long lines out the door year round. And Kate and her family just do everything right, from the fact that you can look over to the dairy barn while eating your ice cream, to the homey ice cream parlor and store that was built by her brother with local hardwoods, including a downed cherry tree from their farm, artifacts from Kate’s parents’ farm, including some old doors, and a chalkboard with the day’s flavors written on it. I’ve never met a person who went to Kate’s who didn’t think it was one of the most special places around. If she wanted to, she can franchise her business or open locations all over, but she doesn’t want to, because she knows that part of what is so special about Broom’s Bloom is that families get to come to a working farm that’s been in her husband’s family since the 1700s.

Jen: A fact my readers may not know is the abundance of wineries in our state. As you mention in the book, some of these vineyards are second and third career endeavors by their owners. In addition, their processes for grape production are unique. For example, Black Ankle Vineyards utilizes biodynamic principles. Please share with us its core principles and how this affects our environment.
Lucie: Biodynamic principles were developed by the Austrian philosopher Rudolph Steiner in the 1920s. They are rooted in organic farming, but they go beyond that, relying on the rhythms of the sun, moon and planets for planting; utilizing vegetable and animal waste and fermented herbal and mineral composts to boost the soil, and operating farms as self-nourishing and sustaining entities.

Jen: Crabs, crabs, crabs! I’d be doing a disservice to my readers if I didn’t mention our favorite crustaceans. For all those non-Marylanders out there, what is a soft-shell crab? And, what is the best kind of crab to use in crab cakes and why so?
Lucie: Soft shell crabs are those that have molted, which crabs will do 20 or more times in the course of their lives. Immediately after they have molted and before the next shell begins to harden, the crabs can essentially be eaten whole. I will say that many non-Marylanders are totally revolted by soft shell crabs, which are most often prepared by dredging them lightly in flour
and frying them. To that, Marylanders simply say, “More for me, thank you!” It’s our version of haggis; you may have to grow up eating them to love them. As for crab cakes, you want to use either jumbo lump or backfin crab meat, because you’ll get nice chunks of crab meat and don’t have a lot of cartilage and shell to deal with. Claw and “special” crab meat is used for other crab dishes, like soups and appetizers.

Jen: As the ink dried on the very last page, how did you feel as your beloved project finally came to an end?
Lucie: It was bittersweet, of course. I loved writing the book and in one way didn’t want that experience to end. I’m an introvert, so writing the book gave me a legitimate excuse to poke my nose into other people’s lives, which I’m usually too shy to do, so I adored that. Plus, I love learning new things, so the process was wonderful. But I’m really a results oriented person, and so I’m delighted to finally see the book come out, and more than anything, I’m excited to have the spotlight shining on our farmers and watermen.

Jen: What’s next for you? Will you undertake another grand project? Or, is it simply time to savor the sweetness Maryland has to offer?
Lucie: As you know, I’m always on to something new. My fulltime job as State Director for a U.S. Senator keeps me very busy, but I also have a huge garden, which I’m gearing up for, and I’m sure I’ll start on another writing project soon — maybe a novel this time — like my dear friend Jen Vido!

Jen: Thank you, friend, for taking time out of your very busy schedule to share our bountiful state of Maryland with my readers. I look forward to trying my hand at some of these tempting recipes. As the French would say…bon appétit!
Lucie: It’s been a joy doing this, Jen. Thank you! And remember, eat locally!

I hope you have enjoyed my interview with Lucie. Whether you live in Maryland or as far away as Washington State, this cookbook is a must have. As an added bonus, I have included an audio link. Please check it out.

Also, please stop by your favorite bookstore or local library branch and pick up a copy today. Better yet, how would you like to win one instead?

Okay, be one of the first five readers to e-mail me at with the correct answer to the following trivia question and you’ll win! Good luck!

What is the name of the farm that makes the best ice cream in Maryland?

Next month, I will be bringing to you my interview with Alafair Burke. Her upcoming release 212 is a roller-coaster ride of suspense. You won’t want to miss it.

Until next time…


The Information Officer by Mark Mills

Friday, March 19th, 2010

The Information Officer: a Novel by Mark Mills Find this book in our catalog

This is yet another mystery where the setting plays an enormously important part – I seem to go for those! Readers who like their mysteries to include lots of rich detail that will teach them interesting stuff about a place or a time period will enjoy this. The Information Officer is set in Malta during the World War II siege and bombing assault on the island by the Third Reich, which unleashed every day more explosives than were dropped during the whole Coventry bombing campaign.

This is fast-paced and exciting. Dodging bombs and bullets, the hero, the island’s British Information Officer tasked with maintaining the morale of the local islanders, drives from place to vividly described place on his motorbike. He is following up clues in the serial murders of three call girls from the cabarets in The Gut, Malta’s red light district. The local setting and historical details are so well done!

The tone is desperate. At the same time as sorting out the facts of the murders, The Information Officer also is struggling to repair his disintegrating love life. The action takes place over only a few days, and our hero barely rests. He is under the gun to solve the mystery before a British submarine, possibly with the murderer on board, leaves the island.

The plot has many strands. Right at the beginning the reader is witness to one of the killings and is gradually allowed into the killer’s thoughts and complex motives as he plots his next murders. The killer could be any one of a group of British army officer friends and their wives, and we don’t find out until right at the end. For some reason the authorities do everything to stifle any investigation into the murders, but our hero continues, partly for personal reasons and partly to avert a huge public relations disaster for the British.

The plot strands come together in an inevitable confrontation. The reader is by now routing for the likeable, but in many ways clueless hero. It will be touch and go whether he survives with his career intact, or if he even survives at all!