Better Off Read A Bookmobile Mystery By Nora Page: Review/Giveaway/Interveiw

Jul 7, 2018 | 2018 Articles, Cynthia Chow, Mysteryrat's Maze

by Cynthia Chow

This week we have a review of Better Off Read by Nora Page, and an interesting interview with Nora! Details at the end of this post on how to enter to win a copy of Better Off Read along with a link to purchase the book from Amazon, and an indie bookstore where a portion of the sale goes to help support KRL.

Better Off Read: A Bookmobile Mystery By Nora Page
Review by Cynthia Chow

Only a true villain would dream of sacrificing a public library in favor of a fishing pier and floating casino. That’s what the insultingly young new Mayor Jebson Day intends, dismissing the pleas by septuagenarian librarian Cleo Watkins to instead repair their Catalpa Springs Library. Left with only her beloved, boy scout-renovated, bookmobile to service the entire Georgia County, Cleo makes it a mission to coax irritable library board and town council member Buford Krandall to her side. Even Cleo, who as a librarian never judges patrons on their reading selections, has to question why DIY-aficionado Buford is suddenly requesting a surplus of true-crime books on unsolved murders. Cleo’s worries were misplaced, as it is Buford who turns up dead in his creepy home, surrounded by torn books (gasp) and one opened to a chapter depicting the exact method of his murder.

mystery book coverAlthough Cleo’s inherent librarian skills as a researcher and people-reader make her an intrepid investigator, she intends to stay out of the way; at least until the good ol’ boy network narrows the focus upon Buford’s neighbor, Mary-Rose Garland. Mary-Rose’s and Buford’s families had been warring since the Civil War, and most recently his water pump was draining Pancake Springs and polluting her restaurant’s water. That Cleo’s ne’er-do-well grandson seems to have been be-spelled by a tattooed activist only further muddies the water (figuratively, this time), forcing Cleo to intervene on behalf of a misguided Ollie. It will be up to Cleo and the charming rare book store owner Henry Lafayette to determine why Mary-Rose is lying, if Buford’s 20-year-long divorce finally pushed his wife over the edge, and whether their mayor has brought in Vegas “Family” to implement his plans to make Catalpa Springs the Fishing Capital of the Universe.

Book lovers will adore this series that celebrates libraries, librarians, and the power of reading. A surplus of snarky wit elevates the writing and highlights Cleo’s sharp wit, describing Buford as a hypochondriac Dracula, allowing Words on Wheels to become a temporary party bus, and depicting a scene of “strip bingo” that fortunately – or unfortunately, depending on one’s taste – is not what one first expects. Many will relate to the “book hangover” that occurs after being too immersed in the fictional world, but one might not mind if it left one in Catalpa Springs. Cleo’s, library cat Rhett Butler, Henry, his wobbly pub Mr. Chaucer, and aspiring librarian Leanna all prove to be a delightful detecting team, ultimately proving that one should never defy the library or harm the books within. This is a wonderful mystery that showcases how librarians should never be underestimated.

Cynthia Chow is the branch manager of Kaneohe Public Library on the island of Oahu. She balances a librarian lifestyle of cardigans and hair buns with a passion for motorcycle riding and regrettable tattoos (sorry, Mom).

Interview by Nora Page:

KRL: How long have you been writing?

Nora: I’ve always been writing in some form or another, including previous jobs in grant writing, editing, freelance writing, teaching, and printing tiny names on cul-de-sacs in the last days of hand-drawn street mapping. I’ve been writing mysteries for a little less than a decade.

KRL: When did your first novel come out? What was it called? Can you tell us a little about it?

Nora: Bread of the Dead, a culinary cozy mystery set in Santa Fe, came out in September 2015, written as Ann Myers. My husband and I had moved to the Southwest after many years in the South, and I became smitten with the place and food. My protagonist in that series is also a relative newcomer. She gets a taste for New Mexico while dishing up regional delicacies and reluctantly solving crimes. All three books in the Santa Fe Café series also take place during holidays: Day of the Dead, Cinco de Mayo, and Christmas.

mystery author

Nora Page

KRL: Have you always written mysteries/suspense? If not what else have you written?

Nora: Yes, always mysteries and suspense. They’re what I love to read, and it seems like I can’t think up a plot unless someone dies.

KRL: What brought you to choose the setting and characters in your latest book/series?

Nora: Cleo Watkins, septuagenarian librarian, combines elements of people I love, real and fictional. When the Santa Fe series ended, I missed the characters, especially the feisty octogenarian sidekick. Cleo has bits of that character’s spark, and this time the senior sleuth gets to take center stage. Cleo also reminds me a little of my grandmother, a former librarian who shared Cleo’s devotion to pie. My grandmother once lugged a cherry pie down the side of a waterfall because she believed a good picnic needed pie. Cleo would agree. As for the setting, Catalpa Springs is fictional but full of my fond memories of the South (and less fond memories of battling invasive vines). I love the atmosphere of the South as a setting. Plus, I still enjoy dropping an all y’all into conversation.

KRL: Do you write to entertain or is there something more you want the readers to take away from your work?

Nora: Entertainment. That’s why I love to read mysteries and especially cozies. Of course, there are serious themes, along with murders, betrayal, and dark secrets, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a good time.

KRL: Do you have a schedule for your writing or just write whenever you can?

Nora: I try to keep to a schedule through a daily word-count goal and self-imposed guilt, tracked and color coded on a calendar.

KRL: Do you outline? If not, do you have some other interesting way that you keep track of what’s going on, or what needs to happen in your book when you are writing it?

Nora: I write a synopsis first and often a back-cover-style blurb. Then I outline at least the first act and the ending. In my ideal world, I’d outline down to the scene and sentence and stick to it. In reality, my characters and storylines sometimes switch directions midway through. At the end of a draft, I’ll re-outline.

KRL: If you had your ideal, what time of day would you prefer to write?

Nora: Mornings. Ideally, I’d get up before the sun and have my word-count goal done by brunch. Ha! You did ask about my ideal…

KRL: Did you find it difficult to get published in the beginning?

Nora: Yes! I had a manuscript with a fabulous title (if I do say so myself) but all sorts of troubles I didn’t see at the time. I queried a nearly uncountable number of agents before realizing they were right to reject. I started over with the Santa Fe series.

KRL: Do you have a great rejection/critique or acceptance story you’d like to share?

Nora: You know writers are supposed to always remember “The Call,” the one when you learn a publisher accepted your first book? I remember ? I do! But I also remember doubting it. When my wonderful agent called, I was in Barcelona with my husband, who was about to teach a study-abroad class. Fabulous and memorable, right? Absolutely! Except… it was nearly midnight. We were asleep, having just gotten in after long flights for which I’d taken nerve-smoothing medication, necessary ever since sudden-onset flying phobia turned me into a sweaty, seatmate-clutching menace of the skies. The medication came with the usually pleasant side effect of mild amnesia. Needless to say, I was pretty dazed during The Call. My husband slept through everything. The next morning, I told him what happened, hoping I hadn’t dreamed it all up. Thankfully, I hadn’t.

KRL: Most interesting book signing story-in a bookstore or other venue?

Nora: I don’t have any “interesting” stories yet, as in disasters or embarrassing incidents or book fights, thank goodness. My most memorable signing was a book fair hosted by my hometown bookstore, From My Shelf Books and Gifts. It was great to have family there and former classmates I hadn’t seen in decades.

KRL: Future writing goals?

Nora: I’m about to start on revisions of the second Bookmobile Mystery and am brainstorming ideas for the third book. I hope that Cleo and Words on Wheels will keep rolling for many more adventures.

KRL: Writing heroes?

Nora: All writers! That might seem like a cheating answer, but it’s true.

KRL: What kind of research do you do?

Nora: I probably get a little too bogged down in researching small details, like what plant is blooming in Cleo’s garden or what time the sun sets in November. Even if many of these items don’t make it into books, I like having them sorted out in my mind. More practically, I compile lists of images, details, and ideas I’d like to include in the story.

KRL: What do you read?

Nora: Mysteries and cookbooks. I’m the person nabbing the new cookbooks at my local library.

KRL: Favorite TV or movies?

Nora: I’m being so predictable, but I won’t pretend: I love mysteries, especially British series such as Endeavour, Shetland, Broadchurch, and of course Agatha Christies.

KRL: Any advice for aspiring or beginning writers?

Nora: Forge on and finish a full draft! The exclamation point is there as a reminder to myself. I fight the urge to tinker endlessly with the first few chapters. But I now know they might change or even get cut after the full draft is done. Keep going until you reach the end.

KRL: Anything you would like to add?

Nora: Thank you so much for inviting me! It’s wonderful to be here!

KRL: What is something people would be surprised to know about you?

Nora: That I have multiple degrees in geography? It’s surprising because I get lost everywhere.

KRL: Many of the female characters face off against outdated, sexist attitudes. Have you had any experience with being underestimated or overlooked because of you age, race, or gender?

Nora: What a great question! I’m a forty-something, gray-haired woman, so on age and gender, I have to say undoubtedly yes. But more broadly, these are attitudes cozy mysteries suffer from too. Cozy readers and writers know this: our books are sometimes dismissed as too fluffy, frivolous, or cutesy. Too female, as if that’s a problem! Cozies feature strong protagonists (mostly women) of all ages and professions, and that’s something to celebrate. Cozy protagonists stick up for their family and friends and justice. They’re clever and brave. They’re superheroes, just not usually in Spandex suits, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

KRL: How have libraries influenced and affected you?

Nora: This is a hard one! I feel like libraries are such an essential part of my life, it’s like pondering the influence of food and water. Libraries and reading surely gave me a broader perspective and sparked an urge to explore other places and cultures. I grew up in the country in a very rural area. My family didn’t travel, and we had little TV reception at the time. Library books took me everywhere.

KRL: Possibly related, what are your strongest memories of libraries?

Nora: I haven’t lived in my hometown for decades, but every time I visit, my mother and I end up at the library. It has a distinctive scent of paper, wood, and old house. It’s like how certain food aromas can spark instant nostalgia ? that’s what I get when I step into that library. It’s a lovely old home with white pillars and a curved front porch. I used it as the model for Cleo’s library in the Bookmobile Mysteries.

KRL: Do you think libraries can stay relevant in this techno-driven society?

Nora: Absolutely! Of course, I love going to the physical library and browsing the shelves, but there’s so much available electronically now too with e-books and audiobooks, online resources, and archives opened up for anyone with an internet connection to explore. I encourage everyone to hop over to their library’s website and check out all the offerings. Libraries will always be relevant!

KRL: Website? Twitter? Facebook?

Nora: My website is You can find reviews there and more on Better Off Read. I’m also on Facebook and Instagram, where my cat makes appearances too.

To enter to win a copy of Better Off Read, simply email KRL at krlcontests@gmail[dot]com by replacing the [dot] with a period, and with the subject line “better,” or comment on this article. A winner will be chosen July 14, 2018. U.S. residents only. If entering via email please include your mailing address (so if you win we can get the book sent right out to you), and if via comment please include your email address. You can read our privacy statement here if you like.

Check out other mystery articles, reviews, book giveaways & mystery short stories in our mystery section. And join our mystery Facebook group to keep up with everything mystery we post, and have a chance at some extra giveaways. Also listen to our new mystery podcast which went up on June 5!

Use this link to purchase the book & a portion goes to help support KRL & indie bookstore Mysterious Galaxy:

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Disclosure: This post contains links to an affiliate program, for which we receive a few cents if you make purchases using those links. KRL also receives free copies of most of the books that it reviews, that are provided in exchange for an honest review of the book.


  1. I agree that Libraries are a very important part of our culture. I lived in the country and our local library, in a town of 1500, only was open 2-5 pm, during the week and from 1-5 pm on Saturdays. I believe there was one evening a week it was open from 6-8 pm.

  2. What a great review of “Better Off Read.” I had such fun reading it and also reading the interview with Nora Page! When I was growing up, my mom was a part-time librarian in our little hometown library. She was plucky like Cleo, and very devoted to her job and books in general. However, she never encountered any dead bodies or had to resort to sleuthing to find the murderers, although maybe she would’ve enjoyed that, too.

  3. I love the Santa Fe Cafe books! Thank you so much for this giveaway!

  4. I donate new and once read books to a local library in Queens, NY. These are books that I am gifted and do not collect. I think Brooklyn and Queens each have a single mobile library bus they use when a branch is closed for repairs.

    I love the series and would be thrilled to be the lucky winner.

  5. What a wonderful premise for a story. When I was a child, the bookmobile became my refuge. I was able to take home a stack of books and when I was done with those I got some more. Now that is my idea of heaven.

    I have worked in a big city library. Best of all, I was able to be a part of creating a library in a small town. Life has been good because of my connection to libraries.

  6. I love libraries. My mom helped me get my first library card when I was 10 and I haven’t been without one since no matter where I’ve moved to. I love the cover and look forward to reading this new to me series. Thank you so much for this chance at the giveaway. pgenest57(at)aol(dot)com

  7. I love the idea of an septuagenerian sleuth who is a librarian as well. I have fond memories of the library when I was a child as well. Congratulations on the new series!

  8. Love the cover, this is a new series for me! I look forward to reading it! Continued success!

  9. I love libraries. I have always owned a library card where ever I have lived. There are very important to not only our youth, but everyone. Thank you for a chance at reading a new to me author’s work

  10. What a terrific review! And I agree—this is a wonderful book. The characters, setting, and mystery are all fantastic. Libraries rock!

  11. I love libraries and I cannot lie!! That being said, I’d love to read Better Off Read! Thanks for the chance! nschwenkner (at) gmail (dot) com

  12. Cool interview! I do love libraries. Growing up, I’m the oldest of 6, the only library we knew was the school library, no book mobiles, no book fairs. Daddy worked 2 jobs, we had 1 car. But when I was 9 yrs old, my teacher got me hooked on Agatha Christie, so she’d loan me her A. C, books. I didn’t see the inside of a “library” other than the schools libraries until I was in my 20’s! I now live in a small town,our poor library, (to me) needs a Book Makeover in the worst Anyway, my question for Nora Page..what was the fabulous title ??? nani_geplcs(at)yahoo(dot)com

  13. As a retired librarian, I always enjoy reading
    books involving librarians. I once took on
    a city official who made a snarky comment
    about the library and librarians beind
    dull and boring. thanks for the
    chance to try a new author (new for
    me). txmlhl(at)yahoo(dot)com

  14. I loved going to the library as a kid. We spent a lot of time at the library in the summer. Looking forward to reading “Better Off Read”.

  15. We have a winner!


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