When you think about all of the books and short stories eligible and worthy of a Bouchercon Anthony Award, it makes you realize just how special the winning titles of the awards are. Hearing one's name called and walking up to the podium to receive an Anthony has to be an overwhelmingly emotional moment for an author. And, it is emotional for the readers who are fans of the books and authors, too. The awards ceremony is one big mushy love fest, and to experience it is to understand that reading is actually a shared adventure. Nominating five titles for each category of the Anthony Awards is a privilege and responsibility that gives readers a voice in honoring their favorites. So, I continue with these posts of my reviews for some of the many eligible titles and hope that it helps in filling out your nomination ballot. I'm not campaigning for any particular titles, but, of course, my reviews speak for themselves when I'm especially enamored.
The four books and reviews for consideration today are Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day from Seventh Street Books (eligible for Best Paperback Original); Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King from Bantam (eligible for Best Novel); Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron from William Morrow (eligible for Best Novel); and Entry Island by Peter May from Quercus (eligible for Best Novel, published in U.S. in 2015, Britain was earlier).
Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Can success or failure in high school continue to define a person ten years down the road? In Lori Rader-Day’s latest novel, Little Pretty Things, Juliet Townsend seems forever stuck in the fallout from coming in second, never the winner or the one who receives the accolades and the rewards of being first. Juliet has settled for less because she has never had more. Working in a one-star motel on the edge of her small town Midway, Juliet herself admits that “(She) hadn’t moved on.” It was typical of Midway, where people seem to fit the name, where people acquiesced instead of chasing dreams. Juliet’s one piece of salvation is her “little pretty things,” which she keeps hidden away.
But, the past can often prove to be a catalyst as well as a prison. When Juliet’s best friend from high school, Madeline Bell, shows up at the Mid-Night Motel, Juliet is less than thrilled to be reunited with the person who beat her in every track race throughout high school and kept Juliet from a coveted scholarship to a brighter future. Maddy is everything Juliet is not—well-dressed, well-traveled, polished, perfect face and hair, and wearing an enormous diamond engagement ring. Maddy had escaped Midway, and hadn’t been in touch in the intervening decade. Maddy wants to reconnect with Juliet and talk to her about “some things,” but Juliet brushes her off. And then, Juliet finds Maddy dead, murdered. Realizing that she is high on the suspect list of who killed Maddy, Juliet must revisit her and Maddy’s past to uncover long kept secrets with far-reaching effects.
Little Pretty Things is my first Lori Rader-Day read, and I can hardly wait to go back and read The Black Hour, her award-winning debut. Her writing is brilliantly suspenseful, and she makes even the most ordinary of characters interesting. Little Pretty Things is a mystery, a self examination, a journey through time, and a cautionary tale. I was indeed fortunate to receive an ARC through Goodreads, and I can guarantee this book is going to collect nominations and awards, too.
Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Years ago I came upon a mystery series by Laurie R. King featuring Sherlock Holmes and a young girl who was his neighbor in Sussex, where Holmes was keeping bees. This first book entitled The Beekeeper's Apprentice was one of those books that it seems I'd been waiting my whole life to read. I fell head over heels in love with King's Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell. Following them through their adventures, including being married, has been one of my greatest reading pleasures. Each book in the series has been a return to a world in which I can expect to experience adventure, intelligent detecting, wit, and a constant quest for knowledge. I come away from each reading having been privy to an exciting story written by an amazing author whose every sentence has purpose in extricating the essential truth from the quagmire of subterfuge. And, of course, Russell and Holmes, with their wit and skills, are the most capable of guides through said quagmire.
In the 13th book of the Mary Russell narrated series, Russell and Holmes have returned to Sussex in March 1925 from their many travels to find a Japanese rock in their garden. It is not the only thing from Japan that will turn up at this time in their lives and take them back to thoughts of the year before when they spent a brief, yet intense time in that country. In April of 1924, Russell and Holmes had just finished a case in India (an adventure told in The Game) and we join them on a ship in Bombay headed for Japan. Neither has been to Japan, so it will be a learning experience for both of them this time, not just Russell. On board, Russell makes the acquaintance of a young Japanese woman, Haruki San, who agrees to tutor the pair in the Japanese language and customs. Another passenger catches Holmes' notice, and although the gentleman is an Earl, the Earl of Darley, Holmes is familiar with Darley as a suspected blackmailer, one Holmes would very much like to expose. As the voyage spreads out over three weeks, the undertones of things not being as they seem increase daily. Russell and Holmes even encounter a ninja.
Upon arriving in Japan, things become first more clouded and then an immersion into the culture brings clarity. Of course, clarity doesn't always mean immediate resolution. Haruki San continues to play an important part in guiding the detectives on their Japanese journey, on a journey that will take them along the Nakasendo Road of which the Haiku poet Basho wrote, giving Russell a close appreciation of the Japanese poet and the beauty of the poetry form and the land of which it spoke. With each chapter in the book beginning with a haiku, my fascination with that poetry has also grown. The journey introduces the couple to green tea, eating octopus, sleeping on tatami floors and bedding, public baths, and a person of future infamy to the world. The Prince Regent Hirohito, who would some years later become Emperor Hirohito, is in 1924 a young man with a problem requiring the assistance of Holmes and Russell. With international relations and a country's welfare at stake, there is nothing for it but for the husband and wife team to do all they can to solve a mystery and avoid international disaster. Some things, however, take longer than one expects for final resolution.
It was a thrill for me to receive an ARC from Random House of Dreaming Spies, as I had been a fan for so long of this series. I gain so much from reading the Russell and Holmes books. A great story, delight in witty dialogue, the pleasure of feeding my inner Anglophile, and the learning of historical elements and countries that enrich my reading all around. Laurie R. King is an author that never disappoints me, and I am at the ready whenever I'm asked to recommend a series with the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes adventures.
Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Hallie Ephron’s book Night Night, Sleep Tight delivers consuming drama and spellbinding suspense in a story that has its beginnings in the glittering Hollywood atmosphere of the early 1960s. A murder in 1985 sparks the revealing of secrets that have been bottled up for two decades, secrets that shaped lives and destroyed relationships. The author was herself a child of these Hollywood days, with parents who were script writers. The kernel incident of this fictional story is the true life event of Lana Turner’s daughter shooting and killing Lana’s boyfriend in their Beverly Hills home. Hallie’s childhood home was near the place of this tragedy, so it is with complete authenticity that the time and place of the story is imparted to the reader. How Hallie Ephron takes the real life kernel and develops it into a layered story with threads of imagination spinning purpose and direction is brilliant. She knows how to make the fantastic real and put the reader right in the middle of the setting and story. I always feel so connected to the characters and their plights when I read a book by Hallie. It’s no surprise that this author has written a non-fiction book on how to write mysteries.
Deidre Unger is returning to her childhood home of Beverly Hills to help her father, a once successful Hollywood script writer, ready his house to be sold. With her parents long ago divorced and her older brother rather sketchy in his responsibilities, this task has fallen to Deidre. It’s 1985 and twenty years past her nightmarish accident that left her crippled, and returning to the scene is anything but pleasurable. It becomes even less so when Deidre arrives and finds her father floating dead in his swimming pool. As the police dig deeper into the “accident,” it is soon ruled murder, and Deidre is being questioned closely about the timing of her arrival. Appointed in her father’s will as his literary executor, Deidre begins to uncover puzzling information about the past and the night that saw glamorous actress “Bunny” Nicol’s boyfriend murdered by her teenage daughter, Deidre’s friend Joelen. Deidre had been in the Nicol’s house that night, but her memory is hazy due to a car accident she was in that same night, an accident which left her life forever altered. That the long ago night and her father’s death could be connected in any way seems implausible to Deidre, but therein lies the story of greed, secrecy, and betrayal that is so intriguing.
Start early in the day on this book, or plan to stay up late. You will want to keep reading straight to the end, as the pages practically turn themselves in the story’s well-structured flow.
Entry Island by Peter May
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Peter May's The Lewis Trilogy books rate among my favorite reads in the past few years, so it is with great anticipation of enjoyment that I began Entry Island. I was not disappointed. Peter May is simply a master at telling generational stories, with the connections to past and present being one of the most fascinating mysteries to decipher. There is the intriguing murder mystery, too, but it is a deliciously layered one with the events of the past coming into play. And, those fans of The Lewis Trilogy will be well pleased that the mystery of Entry Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has its beginnings on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. So, blackhouses and windy hilltops and sandy coves in a previous century are part of the present-day story.
Entry Island is a remote island in the Magdalen Island chain in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and a murder has occurred on this island, where crime is unheard of and doors always left unlocked. Detective Sime Mackenzie of the Montreal Surete has been assigned to the team traveling to the islands because of his fluency in both English and French. Entry Island is English speaking in a country where English and French languages have claimed different and often adjoining areas. It will be Sime's job to interview the widow of the slain man in a case that on the surface appears to have an easy solution, that of wife killing husband. But complications arise in the very makeup of the team sent to investigate, as Sime's ex-wife is the crime scene investigator. It is the breakup of their marriage that has produced a less than full functioning Sime, a Sime beset by chronic insomnia.
From the very moment that Sime meets Kirsty Cowell, the victim's wife, a surreal sense of deja-vue colors his part in the investigation. He knows that he has seen this woman before, but he has never been to Entry Island before, and Kirsty Cowell has never been off of Entry Island. Kirsty's recounting of the attack that left her husband dead is of a knife-wielding intruder clad in dark clothing and a ski mask first trying to kill her and her husband rushing in to fight off the assailant. James Cowell is stabbed three times and the killer runs off into the night. With no evidence of a third person and no murder weapon, the attention focuses on the wife as the main suspect, and information starts leaking out about the Cowells' marriage being in trouble. With James Cowell having been a most wealthy man, the Surete team thinks it has an open and shut case. But, Sime isn't convinced that Kirsty is guilty, and he begins to have dreams in his brief periods of sleep that come from another century and his great-great-great grandfather's journals that seem to bear relevance in a peculiar way to the current circumstances. The dark atmosphere of the storm laden weather mirrors the darkness that Sime must sort through if he is to find a definitive answer to both this murder and his strange connection to it. The path to that answer also includes a look at the historically accurate clearing of the Hebrides in the 19th century, where lords of the land drove people from their blackhouses and onto ships headed for Canada.
Peter May is a brilliant writer, creating atmosphere and story that creep into your mind and under your skin until you truly feel a vested stake in the outcome, too. May's books are complex, layered accounts of people grappling with a past and unable to proceed with the present until coming to terms with that past. The characters, the settings, the flow of story are all done with the touch of master storyteller. Reading Peter May books is always a thrilling experience.