Thursday, February 28, 2013

ICYMI: New Acquisitions!


Print and Digital:
Stephanie Gertler’s Jimmy’s Girl (originally published by Dutton)
Allie Duzett’s second YA: Surge Protector

Istoria Books, a boutique publisher of print and digital fiction, is proud to announce the acquisition of digital and print rights to Stephanie Gertler’s acclaimed women’s fiction book Jimmy’s Girl, and to the second young adult novel by Allie Duzett, Surge Protector.

Originally released by Dutton in hardcover in 2001, Gertler’s Jimmy’s Girl tells the poignant story of a Connecticut wife reconnecting with a lost love, now a Vietnam War veteran, 30 years after their teenage romance. “Gertler's first novel is a sweet response to one of life's constant what-if questions,” wrote Booklist of the novel’s original release. Publishers Weekly said: “…an assured debut, themed to situate its author alongside Waller and Sparks…Gertler weaves a winsome morality tale.” Istoria will release Jimmy’s Girl summer 2013.

This fall, Istoria will release Allie Duzett’s second young adult fantasy, Surge Protector, a continuation of her The Body Electric story. In Surge Protector, Colorado teen Lena (Helena) Clark must fight her attraction to new-guy-in-town Zach Zuson or face the wrath of the gods. Zach, meanwhile, confronts several tests of his strength, while both teens discover someone in their friends’ circle isn’t precisely who they thought he was.

Istoria Books is a boutique publisher formed in 2010 by Libby and Hannah Sternberg, both of whom are published authors, along with Matthew Sternberg. Previously a digital-only publisher, Istoria began producing print books in 2012. Istoria publishes only fiction and looks for “good stories, well told,” books where readers want to keep turning the pages and want to hear that author’s voice telling them the story.

Several of Istoria’s releases have appeared on Amazon’s “top 100” lists in the paid category of a particular genre, including Libby Sternberg’s inspirational romance Kit Austen’s Journey, several of Jerri Corgiat’s Love Finds a Home romances, and Gary Alexander’s literary novel Dragon Lady. The first volume of Istoria’s short story collection, Lunch Reads, has appeared in the “top 100” paid anthologies on Amazon.

Istoria Books releases are available on all major ebook e-tailers, most notably Amazon’s Kindle store, and, in addition to others. Print books are distributed through Ingrams.

A humorous piece by Libby Sternberg about the evolution to digital publishing (“From Papyrus to Gutenberg to Kindle”) was published by the Wall Street Journal on January 5, 2011.

Reviewers interested in Istoria Books offerings should contact Libby Sternberg at or

Monday, February 25, 2013

MYSTERIOUS MONDAY: Whither the Hit Person by Gary Alexander

by Gary Alexander 

In this age of the fictional vampire and other writerly fads, is the classic hit man/woman/person in mystery fiction getting the hook?

Perhaps, perhaps not.

I’m not suggesting that they’re going the way of the Ivory-billed woodpecker, but their purity is in jeopardy. Hit persons are showing up as protagonists, for crying out loud.

Disappeared's new digital cover!
Whether they’re pathologically bad or are written with some, uh, redeeming qualities, they pretty much do the same thing. They kill somebody and get paid for it. This usually goes on until the end of the novel. Then the hit person is either dispatched by a civic-minded protagonist or retained for the next book in the series, whether he or she is the protagonist or not.

I’m sorry, but that’s just too neat and civilized for my taste.

In Disappeared, Ted Snowe turns the profession on its ear. Ted is an ersatz hit man. The Mafia pays him to “whack out” individuals with whom they have grievances. Ted takes their cash under false pretenses. Instead of giving value for payment received, he prepares new identities for the subjects, throws a net over them, charges them a hefty fee for their lives, and releases them into the wild, thus double-dipping.

Ted is bluffing them. He wouldn’t harm a soul, except opponents with his elbows when he played minor-league basketball in places like Rockford and La Crosse, as boos echoed throughout near-empty gyms.

Gary Alexander
This outrageous violation of business ethics eventually comes to the attention of his clients, who send a real hit man after Ted.

Leonardo (The Asp) Aspromonte loves his work and takes enormous pride in it. He idolizes Albert Anastasia, president and CEO of Murder Incorporated, an organization with an impressive body count. Albert, himself, was whacked out on Friday, October 25, 1957, while reclined in a barber chair at Manhattan’s Park Sheraton for his last shave, allegedly by the Gallo brothers, capable hit men in their own right.

The Asp does catch up to Ted, but he also receives a minor-league elbow to the noggin before he can do what he does. When The Asp awakens, Anastasia is inside his head, serving for the rest of the novel as a consultant.

So there it is, an untidy professional sequence, circular mayhem or the promise thereof. A hit man who isn’t is pursued by a hit man who is, aided by the mother of all hit men, who was ventilated over fifty-five years ago.

Further, Ted Snowe, the phony-baloney assassin, becomes romantically entangled with the ex-wife of one of his non-victims.

And late in Disappeared, yet another person arrives to practice the craft, providing a lollapalooza of an ending.


That would be telling.

Gary Alexander's mystery caper, Disappeared, first appeared in hardcover through Five Star Cengage Press, and is now available digitally through Istoria Books. Order here on Amazon.


Istoria Books's "Mysterious Monday" program features posts about mystery writing, reading, bookselling and more by writers from beyond the Istoria stable. Stop back on Mondays for insightful posts on the mystery genre. Check out Istoria Books's mystery offerings here.

Mysterious Monday posts from the past:

Coming up: Author Joyce Yarrow talks about favorite characters and favorite character types in mystery, and book blogger and reviewer Marlyn Beebe shares her thoughts on what she likes in mysteries
Like Istoria Books on Facebook!

Monday, February 18, 2013

MYSTERIOUS MONDAY: A President's Day Mystery

by Libby Sternberg

Today is President's Day, an appropriate time to reflect on a real presidential mystery, one covered expertly in a nonfiction book released by Chicago Review Press in 2011. Here are just the facts, ma'am:

The president: Grover Cleveland
The year: 1893
The mystery: the president vanishes

For five days in the summer of 1893, President Grover Cleveland was incommunicado, out of sight and out of touch. In those days before instant communication, even this blackout of presidential contact was still unusual.

Where was the president? Why had he disappeared? When did the true story finally surface?

Author Matthew Algeo answers all these questions and more in his tightly written story of a secret medical emergency involving the country's CEO: The President Is a Sick Man.

When President Cleveland was diagnosed with a cancerous lesion on his soft palate, drastic action was recommended--surgery to remove the tumor. But in 1893, health issues of public figures were not publicly discussed, especially if the health issue was serious and could have an impact on the leader's ability to....lead. So the president and his doctors decided to keep his condition secret and to deal with the surgery where no one could find him to question what was going on.

The operating theater for this delicate procedure was none other than a friend's yacht, sailing the "calm, blue waters of Long Island Sound" as the president's physicians cut out the malignant growth in the summer of 1893.

Despite the concealment efforts, one intrepid reporter sniffed out the story. When he started reporting the tale, he was mocked and derided, called a "disgrace to journalism," only vindicated a quarter century later with the publication of a story in the Saturday Evening Post about the operation and the journalist's role in digging it up.

That journalist, by the way, ended up doing all right, despite his public condemnation. He went on to write for the Wall Street Journal in 1909 and became involved in a legal case that helped set the precedent for reporters' protecting anonymous sources.

These details and more set the stage for an intriguing little story. When I first picked up this book, I knew nothing about Grover Cleveland and was only vaguely aware of the issues of the day. But Matthew Algeo weaves in history about the gold vs. silver currency wars of the day, the Panic of 1893, railroad bankruptcies and more.  In a mere 228 pages, Algeo relates the mystery of Cleveland's "vanishing," and gives readers a neat little history lesson about fin de siecle America.

An informative read, a good mystery, and some great storytelling. Highly recommended for this President's Day!


Libby Sternberg is an Edgar-nominated novelist and editor-in-chief of Istoria Books.

Istoria Books's "Mysterious Monday" program features posts about mystery writing, reading, bookselling and more by writers from beyond the Istoria stable. Stop back on Mondays for insightful posts on the mystery genre. Check out Istoria Books's mystery offerings here.

Mysterious Monday posts from the past:

Coming up: Authors Gary Alexander and Joyce Yarrow talk about favorite characters and favorite character types in mystery, and book blogger and reviewer Marlyn Beebe shares her thoughts on what she likes in mysteries
Like Istoria Books on Facebook!

Monday, February 11, 2013

MYSTERIOUS MONDAY: Pet Peeves in Mysteries, Part Deux

by Libby Sternberg

Last week, we featured comments from mystery writers and readers about their pet peeves in mystery stories. The post was very popular, and even after it was up, I was still receiving "peeves" in my email. So -- drum roll, please! -- here's Part Two of that post, with a few more comments on what gets mystery writers, in particular, riled up when reading or watching stories in their favorite genre. Enjoy....and know that some time in the coming months, I will feature a post on the opposite topic -- what do mystery writers and readers particularly like about mystery stories, and what kinds of storytelling help them look past their peeves and keep turning pages.

Convenient time-eating explanations
"An annoyance. The book is told in first person. At the end, the killer has the protagonist at knife/gun point and is planning to kill her/him, but goes into three of four pages describing how he/she executed the crime -- giving the protagonist just enough time to reach the paperweight with which to bash the criminal over the head.  (Also)...The protagonist receives a phone call from someone who says that he/she has an important clue but can't divulge it over the phone, so the protagonist must come over to her/his place AT ONCE.  When he/she arrives -- SURPRISE! -- the caller has been killed."--Mary Devine, from the DorothyL mystery readers/writers group

The discarded weapon
"I hate it when the protagonist throws away a weapon (usually a gun) and says, "EW!," generally carelessly leaving it where the perp (even if dying) will grab it and shoot the protagonist & kill a beloved secondary character who in a better novel or movie would have gone on to be an enjoyable secondary character."  Brenda from the DorothyL mystery readers/writers group

Confusion masquerading as complexity
"One thing that bugs me is when the author makes the set-up super complex, just to hide the fact that it doesn't make sense. I think this happens a lot in spy thriller/mystery movies -- often I have this moment where I realize that the reason I don't understand everything is not because I failed to follow the story correctly; it's because it really makes no sense." Hannah Sternberg is the author of the young adult novel, Queens of All the Earth

The day job with lots of time for sleuthing
"Amateur sleuths who have a job, or even run a business, but seem able to take unlimited unscheduled time off to sleuth." Carola Dunn is the author of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries
"Cell phones that go conveniently dead just as the bad guy is zooming in on the protagonist. Darn those cell phones, anyway. They make it a lot harder to get the sleuth out of the shop to investigate, and to get her into trouble she has to work her own way out of." -- Leslie Budewitz is an award-winning mystery author and a lawyer who blogs regularly about how to write accurately about criminal law and courtroom procedures at the Law and Fiction blog.

Pets and children who fade away

"Characters who have pets that are only seen for a comedic moment but never mentioned again, even when the character is home." Pat Brown is the author of a series of L.A.-based mysteries.

The unmistakable and villainous car
"My most irksome peeves involve cars. I lose all suspension of disbelief when our hero is on the run in an unmistakable car, the special-order British Morgan sport car in the case I'm thinking of, and doesn't think to DUMP THE CAR until it's too late. Also, I hate cases of The Sinister Car, where the glimpses of a certain make or model of vehicle provide the only tension for great lengths of narrative. But, most of all, I hate when women in danger carrying guns just FREEZE and can't use it before the villain disarms them. Please. I'm not buying mothers needing assault rifles to take down gangs of terrorists storming their housefuls of cowering children, but one woman and one gun can do a lot of self-defense if necessary." Carole Nelson Douglas has been published in several genres, including suspense.

Oh, baby...
"My most hated (peeve) is when the female protag suddenly zeroes in on the magnificent pecs straining the cop or detective's shirt. OMG! You were just mugged or cheated, honey--this is not kissy time!" Star Lawrence is a member of DorothyL, a mystery readers/writers group

The cliched detective
"I personally am sick of the alcoholic, depressed detective. Yes, characters should be flawed, but I'm tired of this cliche. I also dislike the clever ending that is unbelievable but chosen because the author wants to come up with something that no one will guess. I have a couple of books in mind with that flaw." Susan Oleksiw is a member of DorothyL, a mystery readers/writers group

The cliched pantry...
"Add me to the list of those who are annoyed at protagonists who have refrigerators with moldy cheese and pantry shelves with crackers that have no snap left and--maybe--coffee. OR their cousins who eat junk food all day and gain nothing." -- Radine Trees Nehring, is a mystery author, and a 2011 Inductee: Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame

So much to do...except solve the mystery
"One of my pet peeves is 'the stall'-- when a character gets a promising clue but has to delay following up or else the mystery will be solved too soon. I know this happens in real life because I put off doing things I ought, but in a mystery I find it annoying. It usually goes something like this: sleuth is given phone number for pawn shop that deals in stolen
 goods, but can't call because she has a yoga class in fifteen minutes. Then after yoga class, she gets asked to go for ice cream by cute cop and by then it's too late to call, but she will the first thing next morning except that her dog has a vet appointment and then her cell phone battery dies. Three chapters later she finally calls the guy, who immediately gives her a name or Big Clue and case is solved. Or else she never calls, is in danger, but saved by cute cop who did follow up on the lead. On the other hand, there are authors who do 'the stall' so well that I only realize there was a stall in retrospect. I really admire them." Jeanne of the Bristol Public Library

The bridge to nowhere
"I read a lot of historicals, and it really irritates me when I come across something that I know is an anachronism or distortion of fact that isn't otherwise explained in an Author's Note. Example: going under the Veranzanno Narrows Bridge in 1936, when I know it wasn't built until the 1960s. Something like that destroys the entire 'suspension of disbelief,' and takes me right out of the story." -- Roberta Rogow (who has "fudged" a date or two, but nothing quite so horrendous as that!) is the author of several mysteries

Hacking away
"The super hacker buddy (mentioned in previous Pet Peeves post) was going to be mine, as well. And it's not just cops; it's P.I.s and reporters, etc. They all know someone who'll be able to hack into something and get them the exact piece of information they need. Happens on TV, too, though there it's usually just easily found computer information instead of hacking. Everything is found with a few clicks of the keys." Jane Joregenson is a member of the DorothyL mystery readers/writers group

But what about the mouse?
"Jane's peeve reminded me of one of mine that I see on television shows a lot -- when the crime-solving computer whiz starts clicking away at the keyboard to bring up pages of info. Usually those kinds of searches don't involve keystrokes as much as mouse clicks. Nobody uses the mouse. They type away as if they were Googling on an old Remington." Libby Sternberg is editor-in-chief of Istoria Books and an Edgar-nominated author


Istoria Books's "Mysterious Monday" program features posts about mystery writing, reading, bookselling and more by writers from beyond the Istoria stable. Stop back on Mondays for insightful posts on the mystery genre. Check out Istoria Books's mystery offerings here.

Mysterious Monday posts from the past:
Coming up: Authors Gary Alexander and Joyce Yarrow talk about favorite characters and favorite character types in mystery, and book blogger and reviewer Marlyn Beebe shares her thoughts on what she likes in mysteries
Like Istoria Books on Facebook!

Monday, February 4, 2013

MYSTERIOUS MONDAY: Pet Peeves in Mysteries

by Libby Sternberg

Years ago, I read a mystery with all the elements for a super satisfying tale: exotic locale and time period, great historic detail, multi-layered characterizations and complex plot. But the resolution involved a culprit who turned out to be the equivalent of a supernumerary, a walk-on role, someone who didn't even have a name or presence in the book, a real "face in the crowd." Grrrr....I thought. Cheap trick! Unfair! It's one of my mystery pet peeves--making the culprit someone the reader couldn't possibly guess.

I asked a bunch of mystery readers and writers what really irritates them when reading/watching mysteries, and below is a round-up of their answers. Enjoy their analyses and then share your own peeves.

The TSTL (too stupid to live) heroine:
"One of mine is the kind of mystery--you can usually tell after the first few pages--where you know the heroine is going to do something stupid and get herself into a sticky situation in the next to last chapter." Carola Dunn, author of the Daisy Dalrymple mysteries

"My pet peeve is when the heroine goes down to the basement in her nighdress when a storm has knocked out the electricity and the phone, knowing that there is a serial killer loose in the neighborhood! I try not to let my heroines be too dumb, although occasionally they are!"  Rhys Bowen is a bestselling mystery novelist and an Agatha- and Anthony-award winner.

The TSTL (too skinny to live) heroine:
When the female detective (police or amateur) eats like a horse but she's skinny because she has such a white-hot metabolism And she eats lots of junk, too. Or she forgets to eat. When a woman (it's always a woman), real or fictional, says 'Oh, I forgot to eat,' I want to hurt her. Bad." Siobhan Kelly is the author of Through a Shot Glass Darkly: A Nebraska Mystery.

The tortured protag and the guest villain
"For me, it's the LEO (law enforcement officer) with 'demons' whether it's alcoholism or a murdered loved one. It was the one thing I didn't like about Castle. Becket's dead mother drove too many of the episodes and the conclusion really made me question watching the show anymore. But the alcoholic cop is beyond cliche. In any serial TV show, you can always tell who the villain is -- the well known guest star."  Pat Brown is the author of series of L.A.-based mysteries

Coinkydinks, miraculous recoveries, and bad grammar
"Whopping coincidence to solve the crime. Coincidence does happen in real life. Okay, but let's not use it to solve the mystery. Unrealistic physical action such as the PI is seriously  beat up and then within hours or minutes is back to full function. Bad grammar revealing the writer/editor merely used a computer program to check spelling and sentence construction. Over-use of current slang." Carl Brookins is the author of several mystery series.

Speaking of coincidence...
"When the detective protagonist, especially when he or she is a private investigator, happens to be in exactly the right place at the right time and thus is suddenly embroiled in a case instead of being sought and hired by a client. It happened to Mike Hammer in most of his cases, and has happened to, among other luminaries, Philip Marlowe (the opening of Farewell, My Lovely) and Lew Archer (Find a Victim)." Barry Ergang is a Derringer winner for best short flash fiction and a former mystery magazine editor.  

Cast of thousands
"Too many characters mentioned briefly and sometimes randomly.... I just wish the author would add a character key. Good example of an excellent character key is in St. Zita Society by Ruth Rendell (2012). She uses the inside cover to show the characters in her book. This made reading the book a true pleasure. If I get the notion early on that there will be many characters, I create a running list--but it is a pain, especially if I catch on too far into the book. I am sure I am not the only one with this complaint or problem remembering names. I also agree 100% with you about the person briefly mentioned being the culprit!" Janis Rothermel

Speaking of culprits arriving late...
"My pet peeve is when the detective pulls the killer out of thin air. All of a sudden the killer shows up in the last chapter and he's the guilty party. They have been doing this a lot on TV lately because there are so many commercials that there is not enough time left to create sufficient clues for a good story." Richard Brawer is the author of numerous books, including the Silk Legacy series.

Too much rock 'em sock 'em
"I get sick of knowing that the hero/heroine has to get beaten up before the book can end. I don't really enjoy that part any more than I do violence in movies. I understand that the author wants to create suspense, etc., but wouldn't it be nice if they had sufficient talent to do it some other way?" Leslie S. Lebl

Experts who know experts...
"We read and scoffed at a series where the protagonist just happened to have not only all of the necessary skills, but just happened to know an expert who could help." Judi Maxwell

"Wait and I'll reveal all...."
"I hate it when the characters say, 'I can't tell you until I ---' and then, of course, they go off on their own and bad stuff happens. I like to be in the character's head, and if the author can't figure out a way to stick to the character's POV while withholding information, that irritates me.  And, in reference to your pet peeve -- Lee Lofland reviews Castle for police procedure every week on his blog, and he says he can always guess the killer because it's the character they bring in early, ask a few questions, and dismiss." Terry Odell is the author of romance, romantic suspense and mystery

The killer next door
"The heroine's new boyfriend turns out to be the one killing people (and trying to kill her). Some well-known writers have committed this sin. Please. How lazy can you get?? I also hate thrillers in which one of the cops or FBI agents chasing a serial killer turns out to be the serial killer. Again, some well-known writers have done this. And again, it's just plain lazy and unimaginative." Sandra Parshall is author of the Rachel Goddard mysteries

 "One of my biggest pet peeves is the twisted, sick cop as killer. I'm sure there are twisted, sick cops out there who have killed.... I don't think the percentage is greater within law enforcement, but too many novels would have you believe otherwise. My other huge pet peeve is the stupid law enforcement professional, like the FBI agents who don't check the house next door to their safe house because it's a vacation home and not occupied off-season. Well, guess where the serial killer was hiding all along?" Lois Winston is the author of The Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries

The recapitulation sermon
"One thing that drives me nuts...We get to the solution of the mystery, the bad guy is caught (or dead), and then we get 10-15 pages of the hero explaining how he/she figured it all out. What I say is that the reader, at the end, should be able to get that without a huge amount of recapitulation..." Don Coffin 

The evil twin
"Call it bad luck or whatever, but two recent reads from  two favorite British authors (who shall be nameless) where in each story a villain at the end was a twin of the suspect! I couldn't believe the coincidence. I think that having one villain turning out to be a twin is asking a lot of patience from a reader, but one after the other put me off both writers for a while!" Kit Sloane, author of The Margot & Max series.

Super cyber buddies
"The super hacker cop buddy bugs me. When a PI or cop is at a dead end in the investigation, or there's critical but unobtainable information out there, they go to their super hacker buddy who can break into anything. Sure enough, he gets the key data. It's a crutch. In pre-computer days it was informants lurking everywhere.  'Word on the street is....' The computer-related pet peeve that's really annoying, though, is guessing a person's password in one or two attempts."  Michael Allan Mallory (along with Marilyn Victor) is the author of the Snake Jones Zoo mysteries

The perp prologue, the closeted killer
"I have two (pet peeves). The first is the prologue told from the unnamed adversary, be it a serial killer or lunatic, who reveals a small amount of the plot as he/she plans to make the first move. The second is the gay killer who kills to stay in the closet.. Oy, what a tired old chestnut that is...."
Jeffrey Marks is the author of both fiction and nonfiction. He is working on a biography of Ellery Queen

What's in a name?
"This one was in a mystery but doesn't involve the mystery itself. The writing otherwise was fairly well done, but in conversations, the characters mentioned each other by first name in nearly every sentence. It was quite distracting and totally unnecessary. It was obvious from the conversation who was speaking, and people just don't address each other that way." Chester Campbell writes a series of post-Cold War political thrillers.

Yes, what is in a name? 
Pet peeves:
--giving someone who turns out to be bad an angelic name to divert suspicion from that character.
--giving someone who turns out to be the killer a name that's clearly a pseudonym . Michael Connelly did that and I stopped reading him.
--throwing in a gratuitous sex scene that doesn't advance the story or deepen insight into the characters . Lev Raphael is the author of mystery and historical novels

Gotta .... confess!
"My pet peeve is when the detective provokes a confession on the slimmest of evidence. I find it hard to believe that a clever murderer who knows that there is not sufficient physical evidence to charge him would confess when presented with what amounts to a 'guess' on the part of the detective. " Mary Ann Myer

That suspect is too obvious to talk to
"One of mine (pet peeves) is when the investigation is prolonged because no one questioned the right, very obvious person. (This happened) in a well-reviewed series, smart and witty, but the book was about a girl from a strict, religious family who disappeared. If such a person had a near-in-age sister, who would you talk to first? And keep talking to. Yes, me, too. (I had two daughters) I never read another book by the author."
Triss Stein is the author of Brooklyn Bones, an Erica Donato mystery

Dreams, loose ends, random action
1. An unexpected letter or phone call that arrives or turns up at the end and reveals a vital clue.
2. A dream that reveals that vital clue. (Note: I have no problem with dreams revealing the detective's mind at work while asleep, but an out-of-nowhere dream revelation not based on facts already presented will make me close the book.)
3. No logic or thought to lay a foundation for action so the sleuth's moves appear random and we readers wonder why he or she is doing something.
4. Too many loose ends or confusion at the end. Carolyn J. Rose, author (Who has been guilty of doing all of this in early works and may do it again because I'm not getting any younger)


Libby Sternberg is editor-in-chief of Istoria Books. She is also an Edgar-nominated novelist.

Istoria Books's "Mysterious Monday" program features posts about mystery writing, reading, bookselling and more by writers from beyond the Istoria stable. Stop back on Mondays for insightful posts on the mystery genre. Check out Istoria Books's mystery offerings here.

Mysterious Monday posts from the past:

Coming up: Authors Gary Alexander and Joyce Yarrow talk about favorite characters and favorite character types in mystery.

Like Istoria Books on Facebook!