Monday, February 17, 2014

Author Spotlight -- Elisabeth Elo

I've decided that one of the best ways in which to share all the amazing authors and their works is to have a continuing Author Spotlight feature.  It will not be a biographical post, but instead it will be about a particular book or multiple books written by that author.  In short, the posts will be about the authors' books, although I won't hesitate to include an interesting tidbit or two about said author.

The first author up is newcomer Elisabeth Elo, whose debut novel North of Boston I just finished reading.  I was held captive from this book from the atmospheric cover to the last page of thrilling content.  Pirio Kasparov, the main character, is as interesting a character as her name suggests.  Elo is definitely an author I want to keep a close watch on as her career and writing continue.  Below is my review of North of Boston.

It's hard to believe that this book is Elisabeth Elo's debut novel. The story is quite unique, and the writing flows with an even pace. There are many aspects of this story that appeal to me, with the name of the main character, Pirio Kasparov, leading the way. Character development seems to be a particular strength with Elo, as Pirio and all the supporting cast are given a thorough treatment of background and how they have all arrived to be a part of the events that unfold. I admit that I wasn't sure where the author hoped to go with the initial mystery of what caused the accident to the lobster boat that resulted in one death and Pirio's miraculous survival. But, then, as with all captivating stories, the layers start to be peeled away, revealing so much more than just an unfortunate boating accident. Elo introduces the characters in the progressive drama at just the right times, and brings out the nasty secrets of those who will stop at nothing to get what they want when they want it. So, a boating accident becomes murder, and Pirio Kasparov becomes an indefatigable pursuer of the truth and champion to a cause that she wasn't even aware existed before she defied the odds and survived four hours in 48 degree ocean water. Pirio has defied the odds before, though, as she overcame a troubled, if privileged childhood, and landed in life as a responsible thirty-year-old woman, who must be a stable force in the life of her unstable friend's son and is the heir-apparent to a prospering perfume business. After the funeral of her friend Ned, who was owner of the lobster boat and killed in the accident/murder, Pirio connects with two men at the bar where mourners gather. One is a former boyfriend and friend of Neds, a boyfriend whom she hasn't seen in years and who is now married with children. The other man, a stranger to Pirio, engages her in talk about Ned and the accident, and he later poses as an insurance investigator. Neither man is what he seems and both will play a significant part in Pirio's attempts to find out what really happened the night she and Ned were hit by a freighter. The author knows her way around the fishing industry and the ships that participate in it, and she takes the reader on a learning journey of legal and illegal practices of that industry. Pirio begins her search for answers in Boston, but she must travel to the Canadian Artic and her childhood past to unravel a crime most heinous.

Monday, February 3, 2014

One Last Look at 2013, Books That Pleasantly Surprised Me

In talking to a fellow bookaholic the other day about a book from 2013, I realized that I talked a lot on the blog about series books and Bouchercon authors from last year that thrilled me, but there were a few stand-alone  novels that pleasantly surprised me, too.  One of the great reading experiences is being proved wrong about a book, thinking that you probably won't care for it, and finding that it was an amazing read.  The books that fall into this category for me from 2013 were We Are All Simply Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes.  It's not that I didn't think that they would be good reads, just that that wouldn't be great reads.  I'm so pleased that I was wrong.  I had read books by Fowler and Atkinson and enjoyed them, but, for me, these two authors reached a more intense depth of writing than before.  Their new offerings to the reading world are simply special.  I hadn't read anything by Beukes before, and this appears to be a departure from her previous writing, too.  All three of these books were "different," dealing with either subject matter or format that was outside the box.  That in itself appealed to me, but the fact that they carried it off was what impressed me and made the novels memorable.  Not everyone agrees as to their specialness.  Indeed, the friend with whom I had the discussion about one of these books differed with me in her rating and satisfaction level.  I actually like the fact that the books stir up different feelings, as it prompts me to vocalize my support in more specific terms.  So, I am posting the reviews I did for each of these three books here in the hopes that other people might be stirred to read and embrace them.

We Are All Completely Beside OurselvesWe Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Although this novel is assigned six parts to it, for me it is separated into two parts, before the big reveal and after.  At first, I was bothered by the big reveal, and it annoyed me in the sense of having been tricked or snookered into believing that the book would be about one thing, and, then, a huge monkey-wrench (only the-already-have-read-it will truly appreciate that term) is tossed into the perceived story to come.  That the reveal comes almost 100 pages into the book seemed particularly unsporting.  However, after getting over my initial shock and disgruntlement, I began to realize what all the hullabaloo over this novel was about.  There are quite simply important issues at hand in Rosemary Cooke's narrative of her life, her unusual early childhood and her confused state from age five to early adulthood.  Unfortunately, so much cannot be related in this review unless I fill it with spoilers, which I try diligently to avoid in reviews.   

At the heart of this story is Rosemary Cooke and her family, who experience the closest knit love of togetherness and the consuming grief of unexpected separations.  As a loquacious child, Rosie's (Rosemary) father advised her to start in the middle of what she wanted to say, and so it is this very manner in which she proceeds to tell the story of her family from her perspective.  It is only after she is in college that she begins to know and understand the perspectives of her other family members.  So much is unspoken, too much that Rosie has had to fill in for herself, and not all of her version is accurate, due to missing information.  Not to worry.  Along with the great reveal are other reveals that plug the holes of faded and selective memory.  Rosie might start in the middle, but the beginning and ending (up to a satisfactory point of ending) are disclosed, too.  The title is well chosen, as the family is indeed completely beside themselves with a despondency that exists primarily because the deep voids of information are left unresolved for so long.  I kept wanting to shout, just ask why or what happened.  Alas, Rosie must take her own path (and sweet time) to lift herself out of the fog that encapsulates her.

Without giving anything away, because it is to important for each reader to discover the hidden beauty and ugliness of the tale for him/her self, I need to at least remark on the fact that this book will most likely make you want to know more about experimentation by scientific institutions on animals, past and present, and the unconscionable treatment of animals by the food industries. It doesn't preach about the wrongs, but you may want to after reading it. Several quotes from the book concerning this issue of animal treatment made an impression on me.  " ... a number of states are considering laws that make the unauthorized photographing of what goes on in factory farms and slaughterhouses a felony." Unfortunately, I believe this legislation has already been enacted in some places.  —“I’m unclear on the definition of person the courts have been using.  Something that sieves out dolphins but lets corporations slide on through.”  A thought provoking assessment.  “No Utopia is Utopia for everyone.” Ain't that the truth. 

So, Karen Joy Fowler, you have done yourself proud with this novel that touches our hearts and minds in a most profound way.  Kudos to your excellent writing, which includes a richness of vocabulary last encountered by me in my earlier years of reading the apposite-worded Agatha Christie novels. I feel rather as if I sucked the pages of your story dry, in that I gleaned so much worth retaining.  You, Ms. Fowler, have reached a level of distinction in your writing that demands attention, not to mention awards. 

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Life After LifeLife After Life by Kate Atkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

First thought in describing this novel during and after reading is how innovative a vehicle Kate Atkinson created in presenting the story, or so it happens, stories.  Reincarnation is alive (pardon pun) and well in this latest by Atkinson.  I feel it is a major achievement in this author's writing career, a progression to higher thinking, so to speak.  The novel starts and stops with the birth of Ursula Todd, or with major events in her lives, as she lives many variations of her life throughout the novel. 

I was a bit uncertain as to what my attachment to Ursula would be in the first of the book, as her birth on a snowy evening in February 1910 and her early childhood seemed to be stuck in a repetitive cycle unable to proceed.  However, once the bump past her childhood was achieved, the person who is and was Ursula becomes interesting and emotionally connective.  Much time is spent in London during the blitz of WWII and a lesser amount of time in Germany.  It is the time in London that I found more historically interesting and revealing about Ursula.  Deja
vu becomes a large part of Ursula's lives, as she is able to relate to or vaguely remember things from her previous lives.  For certain, there are some of Ursula's lives that are more palatable than others, ones I was happier with for her and other members of her family.  Born (albeit many times) to Sylvie and Hugh Todd, she is the third of five children and the second of two daughters.  Her family is hugely important in her life, and one of the compelling reasons that she has an inconsolable desire to "get things right."  Many philosophical questions are raised in the repetition of her lives, and it rests with the reader to determine if any satisfactory answers are arrived at by the end of the book.

I was completely immersed in this novel and its revolving door presentation.  Although the atmosphere of it was mostly dark, there were bits of humor interspersed that helped round out an existence that was temporal at best.  The ending was somewhat less than satisfying for me, but I'm not sure it was fair of me to expect such an ending for a circular story such as reincarnation is.  I do consider it an amazing read that does what all amazing reads should do, push me out of my comfort zone of what the world is and consider what the world might alternatively be.

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The Shining GirlsThe Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

We know who the killer is.  We know who the victims are.  We know who the lone survivor is.  We know all of this information fairly quickly.  What we don't know is if the killer will ever be caught or if the survivor will remain so.  Of course, there is a complication for the police and the survivor.  The killer is a time traveler, using a ramshackle house in the depression era 1930's to find his way to and from the future.  The house is itself alive with its urges to kill that must be obeyed by the depraved man who stumbles upon the evil and who is more than compliant in his devotion to carrying out the nefarious deeds.  Harper Curtis has chanced upon his soul mate in the form of the grotesque dwelling. Kirby Mazrachi is trying to ferret out her would-be killer whom she doesn't realize leaped from 1931 to 1989 to stalk her and strike her down.  To Curtis, she is simply one of his "shining girls," one of nine predestined to die.

For Kirby, it is 1993, and she has taken an internship at the Chicago Sun-Times with Dan Velasquez, sports reporter, but formerly homicide reporter who covered her case.  Her placement with Dan is deliberate on her part, as she is attempting to uncover any information about her case.  Her goal is to expose her attacker and link him to at least one previous murder.  Kirby detects a pattern, but she is unable to support it with evidence.  She enlists Dan's aid in digging through materials, both old and new, connected to her attach and similar murders.  Is it possible to make sense of the implausible, to even arrive at its connection to reality?  To stay alive, Kirby will have to entertain her wildest thoughts as the key to catching a ruthless, elusive killer.

Lauren Beukes has written a brilliant novel, a full-on creepy novel that will shock you with brutality, but at the same time, it will spellbind you with the suspenseful genius of a story you cannot read fast enough. (I would have read straight through on it, but I had to be of town the day after the night I began to read it.)  In fairness, the brutality is brief in its telling, but knives are always a particulary grisly method of death.  Beukes achieves the back and forth of the time traveling with deftness and intrigue.  As a fan of time travel, I am impressed with her ability to create a story that flowed so smoothly with so many different time frames involved.  I feel certain that this book will be short-listed for several awards and included on many summer's hottest reads lists.   

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013 Ends as One of My Best Reading Years Ever!

If I finish up a book I'm reading tonight, I will have read 100 books in 2013.  However, the number is not what made this past year one of the best reading years I can remember.  A large part of the credit goes to attending Boucheron for the first time, and as a matter of preparation for it, I discovered favorite new mystery authors and series.  At the Bouchercon event itself, I met and became friends with many of these authors, as well as getting to meet old favorites and getting literally suitcases of books signed.  Elly Griffiths, Jen Danna, Louise Penny, Deb Crombie, Rhys Bowen,  Laurie R. King, Julia Spencer-Fleming,  Lyndsay Faye, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Hallie Ephron, Lucy Burdette, Sue Grafton, Tess Gerritsen, Anna Loan-Wilsey, Catriona McPherson, Ovidia Yu, Simone St.James, Michael Robertson, Harlan Coben.  Also, I met new reading friends there, most notable becoming a member of the FOLs (Friends of Laurie R. King).  These warm and gracious fellow readers helped me to successfully navigate my first Boucercon, and I remain in awe of their knowledge and event savvy.  Sharing this experience with someone who has been a friend of mine since kindergarten was the cherry on top of the cake.  So, I am going to share some pictures from this monumental book event in my life to end out the magical year.  The first two photos are of the magnificient FOLs, and the last photo is of my dear friend Mary Susan, who enthusiastically joined me in Albany and then led me on to some other great adventures in upper state New York and Niagara Falls.


                                                               Author Lyndsay Faye

                                                                  Author Elly Griffiths

                                                                 Author Laurie R. King

                                        Authors Rhys Bowen, Deborah Crombie, Louise Penny

                       Author Louise Penny, her husband Michael, super fan Chris Aldrich, and me

Author Julia Spencer-Fleming 

                                                     Authors Elly Griffiths and Jen J. Danna

                                                              Author Michael Robertson

                                                                  Author G.M. Malliett

                                                              Author Deborah Crombie



Tuesday, November 26, 2013

New Author Spotlight -- Jen J. Danna

 Jen J. Danna
Jen J. Danna is a research scientist who specializes in infectious diseases at a university in Ontario.  Along with Ann Vanderlaan, she has created a new forensics mystery series featuring Massachusetts State Trooper Leigh Abbott and forensic anthropologist Dr. Matt Lowell.  The first book in this intriguing new series was Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It (published in June 2013) and introduced the team of Abbott and Lowell working to solve murders that required the science of forensics coupled with the indefatigable diligence of detective work to bring justice to those who could no longer speak for themselves.

Today is the release date of the series' first novella, No One Sees Me 'Til I Fall, and it is a welcome treat for those of us waiting for the next hardback, A Flame in the Wind, with its expected publication date of May 2014.  My review of this captivating novella follows below.  I recommend that readers jump into this exciting series sooner rather than later.  You will be hooked after the first book.

No One Sees Me 'Til I Fall
No One Sees Me 'Til I Fall (Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries #2)One Sees Me 'Til I Fall by Jen J. Danna

My rating:: 5 of 5 stars

The e-book novella between full length books in a series is becoming a popular device for authors to keep readers involved with the series' characters and these novellas can be used to present a new story (in this case mystery), or to expand upon an event that happens or a character mentioned in one of the longer stories.  Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan have used this e-book to give the reader another adventure, albeit shorter, with the fascinating characters they've created. The new story novella serves to move the characters along and reveal more about them.  No One Sees Me 'Til I Fall gives fans of the newly minted series a satisfying length of a story where the progression of the characters and supporting characters is played out in a thrilling new case of forensic identification and smart police work.  Trooper Leigh Abbott of the Massachusetts State Police and Dr. Matt Lowell, forensic anthropologist, must combine their skills for a second time to solve a baffling murder.

In this second tale of gruesome murder, Leigh consults Matt about a just discovered quickly decomposing body that has been dumped in a landfill.  The body's enclosure in a garbage bag and being heated up by the garbage pile beneath it has resulted in major loss of tissue, so Matt and his graduate students team are needed to piece together a human being from the bones beneath.  The news that the body belongs to a female from age 18 to 23 is not a surprise, but the uncovering by Matt of a heinous abuse stuns everyone involved in the case.  Determined not to let the monster who abused and most likely also murdered this young woman escape justice, Leigh and Matt pool their resources and skills and those of Matt's enthusiastic grad students. Matt will unfortunately have to relive some painful war memories to aid the search for the killer, but his unique experiences are key.  Leigh and Matt will find their personal relationship gaining ground along with their smooth working partnership as the evidence unfolds.

Jen Danna magically weaves words to enable the reader to feel the intensity of the investigation in this story and feel a part of the action.  At times, I felt as if I were sitting at the table discussing the leads with the pair or running alongside in a chase.  Engagement is fully achieved.  One of the lines from the story expresses Leigh's admiration for the forensics involved in helping to give a face to the faceless victim, the words describing it as "marvelling at the skill that brought bone to life."  This series is so impressive in its detailed accounting of that forensics and the amazing results.  I can hardly wait to read the next book to learn more about how science and detective work take the impossible to the solvable.">View all my reviews

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Bouchercon 2013: A Dream Come True

So, I had my entire report on Bouchercon ready to blog, except for the pictures, and I somehow deleted it.  Not a happy camper.  I will now begin a new post on this wonderful experience, but I might be adding it in increments this time.  So, here goes, again.

Attending my first Bouchercon was perhaps the highest point of my reading life, other than reading, thus far.  At the end of it, I was spent in the best possible way.  Only a frenzy of author meetings, book signings, book talk, book dinners, and book buying could produce the feeling of euphoria upon which I am still riding high.  Of course, the best part is that I now get to carry these memories into the reading of books by all of the fantastically talented writers that I met and listened to.  Putting a personal link to so many of my favorite authors and series will enrich my reading and stir my heart with each new book.

With so many of my favorite authors attending Bouchercon 2013, I was truly the metaphorical kid in the candy shop.  There were always authors walking the hallways, signing and spending time in the book room, and taking part in intriguing panels.  Accessiblity was constant.  I was able to see, listen to, talk to, and get pictures taken with the rock stars of my reading world.  There were a few authors that I had intended to and wanted to meet that I missed, but that was simply due to the abundance of desirable authors and not being able to be two places at one time.  That super power would have come in extremely handy.

So starting the list of authors with whom I was able to spend glorious moments was Laurie R. King.  I have been reading Laurie's Mary Russell and Sherlock Homes series for years, and my dream to meet her took on fantasy status at Bouchercon.  Before this event, I had hooked up through Goodreads with the Friends of Laurie, the LRK Virtual Book Club, and been generously received into a group who have known and followed LRK through many Bouchercons and book events.  I met up with the wonderful members of this group who were attending Bouchercon 2013 on my first morning there, becoming acquainted and getting my Bouchercon entry badge decorated in true Bee style (The Beekeeper's Apprentice being the first in the Russell/Holmes series).  Through this well-organized, affable group I not only was privileged  to meet Laurie King and her daughter Zoe, but I had dinner with the lot.  Laurie was so gracious, and I thought my heart might beat out of my chest when she sat down and talked to me and those with whom I sat.  It was an amazing experience that is a recurring event with FOLs at the yearly Bouchercons.  I am proud to be a member of this group now, and I'm so grateful for their acceptance and guidance as a first time attendee.  I should note that LRK writes wonderful books other than the Russell/Holmes series, and I am about to read her latest, The Bones of Paris, her second novel featuring Harris Stuyvesant.  One of the aspects of Laurie's books I enjoy the most is her second-to-none talent at making the different settings of her books come alive and engage the reader.  The research and intelligence of this author shine through in each and every book she writes.

                                           Laurie R. King and daughter Zoe

Another of my near-heaven experiences (lol) was meeting Elly Griffiths (Domenica de Rossa), with whom I had an immediate connection and felt as if I were seeing an old friend I hadn't seen for some time.  Meetings like the one with her make me think that maybe reincarnation is a possibility, and that she was an important part of one of my former lives.  There are just those few times in our lives when we meet someone that we are immediately comfortable and know that here is a friend whom I was intended to find.  Of course, what led me to this fateful meeting was the brilliant writing of Elly's Ruth Galloway mystery series.  What's hard to believe is that I didn't discover these books until this year.  The characters are now favorites, and the stories are so suspenseful and brilliantly paced that I literally can't put them down.  Elly's ability to weave in the historical connections to Ruth's archeological pursuits provides for fascinating reading.  I have to wait until March 2014 for the next Ruth Galloway, but I know it will be well worth the wait. 

                                                      Elly Griffiths and Me

Louise Penny is author of the Inspector Gamache series that I became a fan of a few years ago.  The village of Three Pines and the inhabitants of it plus Armand Gamache and his family and co-workers have simply captured my heart.  Louise was the first author that I was aware of who was attending Bouchercon 2013.  I knew I had to be there.  I was able to meet her husband Michael, whom she includes in her blogs, and he was as gracious and lovely as his wife.  The Beautiful Mystery, 2012, won an Anthony this year for best novel (fourth in a row for this talented author).  Listening to Louise on panels and actually talking to her was yet another piece of surreal wonder.  Luckily, her 2013 novel, How the Light Gets In, came out in time for me to read it before Bouchercon, so I was able to tell Louise how magnificent it is. 

Two authors whom I’d met before, but whom I will never tire of seeing are Tess Gerritsen, American Guest of Honor at this Bouchercon, and Sue Grafton, Lifetime Achievement recipient at the event.  The Rizzoli and Isles series from Tess and the Kinsey Millhone Sue writes are two favorite series that I have followed for years and in which I have never been disappointed.  They are masters of their craft.  I have just started W is for Wasted, Sue’s latest.  Tess assured me that she has a new novel coming out next year.   G.M. Malliett is yet another author whom I have been following for a while and love her mysteries set in small English villages, with Pagan Spring being her new novel.

The Jungle Red group of writers consists of so much talent and so many books I’ve loved that I fairly expected the panel featuring this group to explode from the mass of awesome.  The two series that I discovered this year and can’t believe that I’ve lived without before now are Deborah Crombie’s Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid and Julia Spencer-Fleming’s Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne.  I could not read through these two series fast enough.  They were like a highly addictive drug that I craved more and more of.  These two authors and the rest of this stunning group were so funny and friendly that I am now equally addicted to them as people, not limited to their author labels.  Rhys Bowen, author of the Molly Murphy series I’ve recently begun and will continue lends her British accent to the fun and camaraderie, and she was gracious enough not to correct me when I mispronounced her first name.  Deborah gets special kudos for being at Bouchercon a week before her daughter got married.  Rounding out this crazy, loveable group were Hank Phillippi Ryan, Lucy Burdette, and Hallie Ephron.  I’ve only read one book from each of these three authors, but they are also new favorites.

And, my favorite authors there continue with Jen Danna, Lyndsay Faye, Catriona McPherson, Anne Cleeland, Susanna Calkins, Ann Loan-Wilsey, Ovidia Yu, Peter May, Charles and Caroline Todd,  Harlan Coben, Sean Lynch, Carla Buckley, Simone St. James, Mark Pryor, Michael Robertson, M.J. Rose, and Wendy Webb.  Jenn Danna is another author with whom I felt a personal, immediate connection and am hoping to be working with her on publicizing her works in the future.  She is such a smart lady, and her writing reflects her meticulous research, as in her debut novel,  Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It.  Catriona McPherson is a wonderfully witty Scottish author (now living in California) who is a candidate for life of the party any day of the week.  Catriona’s stand-alone novel, As She Left It is not her first, but it is the one I have read and enjoyed.  Lyndsay Faye is yet another author whose intricate knowledge of what she writes is awe inspiring.  I’ve only read her first novel, Dust and Shadow, but I will catch up soon, knowing that I have in store some great reading.  Lyndsay was also so sweet about picture taking and signing.  Simone St. James wrote a ghost story, The Haunting of Maddy Clare, that was deliciously scary and just what a ghost story should be.  It was nice to meet this lovely author who can write such terror into her characters, and I’m excited to have received her next book, An Inquiry into Love and Death as a gift from her.  Ovidia Yu gets the prize for having traveled the furthest, coming all the way from Singapore to talk about her new book, Aunty Lee’s Delights, which I plan to read very soon.  I shared bus rides and two meals with Ovidia, and a more pleasant person is not to be found.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Bouchercon Book Reviews #8

First up tonight in my reviews for books by authors attending Bouchercon 2013 in Albany is There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron, a member of the amazing Jungle Red Writers.  The second review covers the first in the Hugo Marston series by Mark Pryor, entitled The Bookseller.  I'm adding a third review, which is for Laurie R. King's most recent Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes book, Garment of Shadows, published last year.

There Was an Old Woman: A Novel of SuspenseThere Was an Old Woman: A Novel of Suspense by Hallie Ephron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second part of the title of this novel by Hallie Ephron reads, “A Novel of Suspense.”  It is aptly labeled.  It is one of those books that the reader, me, had to finish before going to bed, simply because there would be no sleep until the suspense ended.  Hallie Ephron knows how to entice a reader with intriguing characters and induce anxiety over what is on the next page.

Evie Ferrante is a senior curator at Five-Boroughs Historical Society in New York City and is putting the finishing touches on her first solo exhibit when she receives news that her mother is seriously ill in the hospital.  Her mother’s neighbor in the riverfront neighborhood of Higgs Point, the Bronx is 91-year-old Mina Yetner, and it is Mina who calls Evie’s sister Ginger to inform them of their mother’s departure in an ambulance from the neighborhood.  As Ginger has dealt with their alcoholic mother’s spells before, she insists that Evie take care of things this time, not realizing the severity of the situation.  Evie has not seen her mother for four months, after yet another no-show from her mother at a lunch, and she is in shock at the condition of her mother’s house when she arrives there.  Equally disconcerting is the discovery of large amounts of money and a new large, flatscreen television amidst the rubble in the house.  Unfortunately, her mother is in no condition to answer any questions. 

While Evie is struggling with her mother’s deterioration of both person and home, Mina is fighting her own battle to remain independent and not succumb to her nephew’s wishes to enter an assisted living facility.  Evie temporarily moves into her mother’s house, and she becomes friendly with Mina, hoping that the older woman can help in the search to understand what has happened to Evie’s mother.  Although Mina is beginning to wonder what is happening to herself and her neighborhood, she is still a sharp observer of human nature and her community.  Evie and Mina will need each other to uncover the secrets of those around them, secrets and manipulations that have led to murder and threaten to lead to more.

One of the aspects of this novel that especially appealed to me was the historical information about the WWII bomber plane that hit the Empire State Building in 1945.  Ephron smoothly integrated this historical event into the story through Evie's job and another surprising source.  I always appreciate a little history with my mystery. 

The Bookseller: The First Hugo Marston NovelThe Bookseller: The First Hugo Marston Novel by Mark Pryor

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When I read the back blurb of The Bookseller and the description of the main character, Hugo Marston, as head of security at the US embassy in Paris, I feared the book might be an espionage action book.  I'm not particularly fond of that type of book.  However, the additional statements about disappearing booksellers and WWII Nazi collaboration connections peaked my interest.  I'm so glad that they did.  This debut book by Mark Pryor is a well-honed mystery story with multiple layers of intrigue.  Although the story is wonderfully complex, it is at no time confusing or cumbersome.  Marston fully develops his characters and presents the engaging Paris setting without onerous distension.  He knows what it takes to get the job done without overdoing.

The novel begins with Hugo Marston bemoaning the fact that he is on a forced vacation from his embassy job, as idleness is not his natural state.  While stopping to visit his favorite bookseller, or bouquiniste, along the Seine River, Hugo witnesses the older man's abduction at gun point.  Hugo is determined to discover what happened to Max and why. As bouquinistes begin turning up dead in the river, Hugo uses his embassy resources and his ex-FBI experience to unravel a devious plot full of ghosts and murder.  Aiding him in his endeavors is his friend Tom, who is a semi-retired CIA agent, visiting him in Paris. One of the books that Hugo bought from Max the last day he saw him leads Hugo to one of the most influential families in Paris and figures into Max's mysterious disappearance, too.  His chance meeting with Claudia, a police reporter for Le Monde, both complicates and improves his life.  She, too, will be involved in Hugo's investigation of the bouquiniste problem and its connections to the past.

Marston has written a fast, smooth moving tale that is an excellent start to the series.  I'm looking forward to the next installment, The Crypt Thief.   
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Garment of Shadows (Mary Russell, #12)Garment of Shadows by Laurie R. King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

#12 and I'm still loving Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes.  I am most happy for the return of Sherlock to the main action and storyline.  Also, the revisiting of the Hazr brothers, whom we first encountered in Oh, Jerusalem and Justice Hall, was a welcome touch. Laurie King's deft description of the exotic Morocco setting calls to the reader like a snake charmer entrancing his graceful companion.  The story hits the ground running, both physically and mentally, and it is a fascinating journey to determining who is false and who is true.   

Waking up in Fez, Morocco with amnesia and a head wound, Russell must regain her bearings and find Holmes in order to prevent a political disaster.  Russell must not only put the pieces of her ordeal back together, but she must figure out where Mahmoud Hazr has gone missing to and his part in the unfolding mystery and intrigue.  Holmes quickly realizes that his casual visit to his distant cousin, the Resident General of Morocco from France, is to be anything but casual.  The rebel leader of Riff/Emir of the Revolt, Abd el-Krim, is another key player in the maze of the Moroccan politics of survival.  A small, mute boy is yet another integral part of where the twists and turns will lead. 

Another great read in this series! When I started reading this series some years ago with The Beekeeper's Apprentice, I knew that I had found a special series written by an amazingly talented author.  To have maintained the level of excellence after so many books guarantees that my faith was well placed in this mystery maven.    

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bouchercon Book Reviews #7

Tonight, I'm posting my review of Tess Gerritsen's most recent Rizzoli and Isles book, published last year and read by me then.  I have been a fan of Gerritsen for quite a few years now, and I have never been disappointed in her writing.  The second review is for an author that is new to me, but I intend to become acquainted with more of her novels.  Catriona McPherson provided me with a great read in As She Left It.

Last to Die (Rizzoli & Isles, #10)Last to Die by Tess Gerritsen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Simply delicious to the last drop!  Tess Gerritsen always delivers a great read, but Last to Die is an especially tasty treat.  Jane Rizzoli and Maura Isles are at their best in this blood chilling tale about three teens who have each survived two massacres involving their families and their foster families.  Leave it to Jane and Maura to discover that the latest multiple homicide in Boston leaving 14-year-old Teddy Clock as the sole survivor is far from an unlucky home invasion.  Teddy along with two other teens are being targeted, but there doesn't seem to be a connection to the three families.  The teens end up at Evensong boarding school, which caters to traumatized teens, and promises to be a safe haven for them with its location in the Maine wilderness and carefully selected staff.  But, evil can be a relentless adversary, and it soon is apparent that even a well fortified sanctuary can be penetrated.  Gerritsen gives readers some tantalizing twists in a plot that is masterfully concocted.  I couldn't stop reading, even though I knew that it meant the book would end more quickly, and one never wants a great read to end. 
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As She Left ItAs She Left It by Catriona McPherson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What originally brought this book to my attention and put it on my to-read list was that its author, Catriona McPherson, will be at Bouchercon this year, and I'm trying to read different authors that interest me before I attend.  Then, the book's description intrigued me, promising to provide a mystery dark and deep.  I'm happy to say that promises were kept, and I was well pleased with this novel. 

As She Left It is a story full of deeply buried secrets, some dating as far back as the 1940's.  At the center of this maelstrom of secrecy is Opal Jones, who has returned to her childhood home on Mote Street in Leeds following the death of her mother.  Her reappearance occurs after an absence of some years, leaving her alcoholic mother's neglect at 12 years of age and returning as a young woman of 25.  Surprisingly, Opal finds her old neighbors and friends still ensconced in the little community that the street has created.  The familiarity of these people provides Opal with both comfort and confusion, which leads to her becoming involved in trying to root out and resolve their secrets as well as her own.  The disappearance of Margaret's, her across-the-street neighbor, grandson ten years before Opal's reemergence serves as the focal point of mysteries that need resolution.  Opal decides that she is the only one who can ferret through the lies and misinformation surrounding the boy's disappearance, and she sets out to set it all right.  As she searches for answers, Opal encounters two more mysteries that she senses could be related, if not directly to the disappearance, to the well-being of the community of people to which she once more belongs. 

Opal is a somewhat quirky character of whom I became fond and rooted for in her efforts to move beyond the shadows of her life.  McPherson did an excellent job of developing not only the main character but the supporting cast of neighbors.  Never predictable, the plot and solutions captured me from beginning to end.  
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