Thursday, December 19, 2013

Straight Chatting From the Library: Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel by Linda Bennett Pennell

This post is part of a virtual book tour organized by Goddess Fish Promotions. Linda will be awarding a $15 Amazon or BN GC to a randomly drawn commenter during the tour. Click the tour banner for all the dates -- the more you visit, the better your chances of winning.

What is your favorite book today?

This is a hard one, but if I can pick only one, it would have to be Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose – medieval setting, religious politics, romance, and a murder mystery! What more can a reader of historical fiction ask?

Tell us about your current book in 10 words.

This is fun and challenging, but I’ll do my best. Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel in 10 words: murders, mystery, searching, moonshine, gambling, prostitution, friendship, love, betrayal, resolution. How’s that?

What are you reading right now?

I am reading straight through Georgette Heyer’s mystery series. I am really enjoying her clever writing style and her humor. She is of course, better known as the mother of the modern Regency romance novel. And talk about prolific! She published over 60 novels and short stories between 1921 and 1974. Here is a link to her bio:

Do you have any bad book habits?

I do something that makes librarians and other bibliophiles shudder. In fact, some might see it as a sacrilege, but I have a very good reason for my terrible habit. I bend the spines of books back until they loosen enough to lay flat. I don’t know how people can read with the pages half closed. I just can’t seem to manage it. I believe that books are meant to be enjoyed to the fullest, not treated like religious relics. When books were expensive objects bound in gold embossed tooled leather and available only to the wealthy, handling with great care made sense. The advent of the paperback changed all that, in my opinion.

E-Reader or print? and why?

I have a confession. I don’t own a true e-reader, but I do have the apps on my laptop and phone. An iPad mini is on my wish list. While I read books on my phone, my real preference is print. I love the feel of a book in my hands, the smell of the paper, the ease of reading that print affords. I find the e-reader apps on my phone very useful when I either don’t want to carry a book or have forgotten one, but give me a real print book anytime!

Dog-ear or bookmark? (don't worry—Librarian Judith won't hold it against you—much)

Oh, dog-ear – definitely! Reference the question above about my bad book habit. Dog-earing is as extension of my lack of reverence. Besides, bookmarks fall out, get lost, and are in general a pain to keep up with.

Do you loan your books?

I loan paperbacks that I am not concerned about being returned. That includes most fiction. I hang on to my hardbacks like they are made of gold. Most of them were bought for research, so I know I will use them again and again. If I have a friend who really needs the book, I will loan a hardback. Of course, she must sign for it in blood! Not really, of course, but I do expect her to return the book.

How do you keep your books organized?

My husband and I own a lot of books, so some semblance of organization is a must. I try to keep my reference works and other books used for research grouped by theme, topic, or historical period. Business books are grouped together, as are those for hobbies, etc. We don’t go so far as to number them or alpha order them. That would be way too much organization for two people with serious ADD, but we can usually put our hands on a particular title when we need to do so.

What would make you not finish a book?

Poor editing and/or research are a real drag. There have been books where either issue was so great that it became too distracting to finish the book. A best selling author is now off my must read list for the issue of poor editing. Squarely in the middle of a very long book sat a passage that made absolutely no sense. Unfortunately, it was at a pivotal point in the plot. It wasn’t a word or two out of place. The entire passage read like something cobbled together by a robot gone wild. It made no sense at all. Needles to say, the editing process for my own work gives me nightmares!


Al Capone at the Blanche Hotel tells a story of lives unfolding in different centuries, but linked and irrevocably altered by a series of murders in 1930.

Lake City, Florida, June, 1930: Al Capone checks in for an unusually long stay at the Blanche Hotel, a nice enough joint for an insignificant little whistle stop. The following night, young Jack Blevins witnesses a body being dumped heralding the summer of violence to come. One-by-one, people controlling county vice activities swing from KKK ropes. No moonshine distributor, gaming operator, or brothel madam, black or white, is safe from the Klan's self-righteous vigilantism. Jack's older sister Meg, a waitress at the Blanche, and her fiancĂ©, a sheriff’s deputy, discover reasons to believe the lynchings are cover for a much larger ambition than simply ridding the county of vice. Someone, possibly backed by Capone, has secret plans for filling the voids created by the killings. But as the body count grows and crosses burn, they come to realize this knowledge may get all of them killed.

Gainesville, Florida, August, 2011: Liz Reams, an up and coming young academic specializing in the history of American crime, impulsively moves across the continent to follow a man who convinces her of his devotion yet refuses to say the three simple words I love you. Despite entreaties of friends and family, she is attracted to edginess and a certain type of glamour in her men, both living and historical. Her personal life is an emotional roller coaster, but her career options suddenly blossom beyond all expectation, creating a very different type of stress. To deal with it all, Liz loses herself in her professional passion, original research into the life and times of her favorite bad boy, Al Capone. What she discovers about 1930’s summer of violence, and herself in the process, leaves her reeling at first and then changed forever.


“Jack Blevins, where have you been? It’s after midnight.” Meg grabbed her little brother’s arm and pulled him through her bedroom window. “If Daddy finds out, he’ll skin you alive.”

“Well, he ain’t gonna lests you tell him.” Jack hit the floor with a thump. “Man, I’m glad to be home.”

Meg’s eyebrows rose. “That’s sure new. Mama says you stay gone as much as you can get away with these days.”

“Yeah, I guess.” Jack kicked at the edge of the rag rug beside his sister’s bed. “If I’d known you was coming home, I’d of stayed around.”

“Nice to know you haven’t gone completely wild.”

Jack grinned at Meg and winked. “Not yet, but you never know. It could happen any day now. At least that’s what Mama says.” As he picked a thorn out of his elbow, he became quietly thoughtful. His words turned halting when he spoke again. “Meg, you ain’t gonna believe what me and Zeke seen at the sinkhole.”


I have been in love with the past for as long as I can remember. Anything with a history, whether shabby or majestic, recent or ancient, instantly draws me in. I suppose it comes from being part of a large extended family that spanned several generations. Long summer afternoons on my grandmother's porch or winter evenings gathered around her fireplace were filled with stories both entertaining and poignant. Of course being set in the South, those stories were also peopled by some very interesting characters, some of whom have found their way into my work.

As for my venture in writing, it has allowed me to reinvent myself. We humans are truly multifaceted creatures, but unfortunately we tend to sort and categorize each other into neat, easily understood packages that rarely reveal the whole person. Perhaps you, too, want to step out of the box in which you find yourself. I encourage you to look at the possibilities and imagine. Be filled with childlike wonder in your mental wanderings. Envision what might be, not simply what is. Let us never forget, all good fiction begins when someone says to herself or himself, "Let's pretend."

I reside in the Houston area with one sweet husband, one German Shorthaired Pointer who thinks she’s a little girl, and one striped yellow cat who knows she’s queen of the house.

Favorite quote regarding my professional passion: "History is filled with the sound of silken slippers going downstairs and wooden shoes coming up." Voltaire



Twitter: @LindaPennell

Buy link:


  1. This sounds wonderful! Thanks for the excerpt. =) Best of luck with this book!

    cloud.weaver.girl AT gmail DOT com

  2. Shame on you for dog-earring your books. lol The book sounds like a great read.


  3. Great interview!
    Thanks for the excerpt and the chance to win!
    Happy Holidays!
    natasha_donohoo_8 at hotmail dot com

  4. I'm looking forward to reading more.


  5. I'm laughing at the question about dog-ears or book mark! I thought of that when I read the question about book bad habits! I'm a book mark fiend and absolutely hate dog ears! Even though I don't keep books after I read them, I would never bend a page.

    Haven't gotten a copy of this book yet, but I'm off to check it out at Amazon right now.

    kareninnc at gmail dot com