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. 

https://www.goodreads.com/review/list/971945-kathy-b">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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Monday, September 2, 2013

Bouchercon Book Reviews #6

Today's featured Boucheron authors' books reviews include a great series that I've been meaning to start for a while now, Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy series, and the beginning of a new fascinating series, the Hattie Davish series by Ann Loan-Wilsey.

Murphy's Law (Molly Murphy Mysteries #1)Murphy's Law by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I have been meaning to read the Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen for quite a while.  Finally, I have read the first book in the series, Murphy's Law, and I can't believe I waited so long.  I love the character of Molly Murphy, an Irish young woman who unexpectedly finds herself running from the English police and on a boat to America.  She makes a deal with another young woman who is trying to get her children to New York City to be with their father.  Molly agrees to escort the children when the woman gives her ticket to Molly because the mother is dying from consumption and not allowed to board the ship.

Molly's hope of arriving in America and quickly fading into the background of the masses is derailed when a murder occurs among the immigrants while waiting to leave Ellis Island, their point of entry to New York City.  Our sassy Irish lass is discovered to have been in the vicinity of the murder during the hours it took place, so she must face further delay and suspicions from the police before embarking on her new life.  The policeman in charge, Cpt. Daniel Sullivan, is an attractive descendent of what is known as the "black Irish," and he takes a keen interest in Molly's connection to the murder.  After finally being released to enter NYC, Molly takes her two charges and meets their father.  Her living arrangements at the father's cousin's apartment are precarious at best and don't last long.  With the arrest of one of Molly's friends from onboard the ship to America as the murder suspect, Molly's challenges in starting a new life become complicated.  Searching for the real murderer to clear her friend's name, trying to find employment, and needing a place to live all converge on Molly at once.  She has her work cut out for her in this new world.  Luckily, Molly Murhpy is one plucky gal, and she meets challenges head on with determination and strength.  

Rhys Bowen has created a character-driven series that I am delighted to have finally started reading.  I love the wit and steely resolve that Molly Murphy exhibits.  She is such a captivating personality, bringing fresh air to all she encounters.  Of course, for Captain Daniel Sullivan, Molly often brings exasperation along, too.  Following Molly navigate the streets of New York City to solve murders and make a life for herself is a journey I look forward to in the continuing books of this series.  

A Lack of Temperance (Hattie Davish Mystery, #1)A Lack of Temperance by Anna Loan-Wilsey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One of the best aspects of reading for me is the introduction to new places and historical connections.  Anna Loan-Wilsey in her debut novel has given me both.  I admit that I wasn't overly excited with the setting being in Arkansas, as I didn't think I would be that interested in it, but Eureka Springs was fascinating.  That should teach me to make unsubstantiated locale judgements.  I found myself getting up out of bed the night I started reading it and using the computer to look up the area to better picture in my mind all the unusual street configurations and spring locations.  To my delight, the author has links and information on her page about Eureka, even a map of how it would have appeared in 1892, the time setting of the novel.  I do, however, wish that the map had been included in the book.  It would have been helpful in imagining Hattie Davish's, the main character, wanderings throughout the town.

Hattie Davish is a traveling secretary who arrives in Eureka to serve as secretary for Mother Trevelyan, president of the women's temperance movement.  Eureka is the site of the national meeting for the American Women's Temperance Coalition timed to coincide with a vote on Proposition 203 to criminalize the sale of alcohol.  Before Hattie can meet her new employer, the temperance leader is murdered.  A local bar owner is charged with the murder, but Hattie doesn't believe he is guilty and sets out to do some investigating on her own.  With her meticulous eye for detail and order, she uses her typewriter to keep track of events and people, compiling a list of questions to try and connect the dots.  She becomes acquainted with some interesting characters during her query, the delightful older sisters, Lucy and Lizzie, and the charming Dr. Walter Grice.  Secrets are buried deep in this historical mystery, and Hattie encounters much personal risk, but she is as diligent in the undertaking of detective work as she is in her secretarial duties.  She even discovers a few things about herself in the process.

Anna Loan-Wilsey has written an interesting, engaging historical mystery that left me looking forward to the next installment of the Hattie Davish series.  1892 turned out to be a very good year.  
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Sunday, September 1, 2013

Bouchercon Book Revirews #5

I'm excited to share two more reviews with readers, reviews of books that include one long-time favorite author in Louise Penny and one new-to-me author in M.J. Rose. 

How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #9)How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I just now finished reading How the Light Gets In, and I am spent.  My emotions have survived a roller coaster ride that has taken me to the dark edge of despair to the bright light of hope, and then they have been flipped over and over again.  If you have read the previous eight books of this series, then you have already fallen in love with Armand Gamache and his supporting cast of characters, many of whom live in the fiction world's most beloved village of Three Pines.  And, because of that love, there is nothing for it but to become immersed in this current story to the point of feeling all the anguish and joy that it contains for your favorite characters.  I not only read the story, I lived it.

Number eight in the series, The Beautiful Mystery, left reader with a troubling cliff hanger.  Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir had returned to his pain pill addiction with a good hard push from a manipulating Chief Superintendent Francoeur.  Chief Inspector Gamache had sent Jean Guy back to Quebec in hopes that Beauvoir would get help.  In How the Light Gets In, the suspense of that outcome is answered in the beaten-down, pill-popping form of Gamache's once second-in-command.  Now working for Francouer, Jean-Guy has turned against Gamache and the two no longer speak.  Gamache's crack homicide unit has slowly been dismantled by Francoeur, leaving only Inspector Isabelle Lacoste to help Gamache amidst new, untrained, and disloyal team members.  But, Three Pines is blessedly the same peaceful village removed from the corruption and turmoil of the world outside its isolated valley.  Gamache is called to Three Pines by Myrna Landers, who owns the local bookstore, to investigate the disappearance of a friend from Montreal who was overdue for her arrival in the village for a Christmas visit.  When a late arrival turns into a murder, Gamache begins to unravel a back story of national interest, but he is able to contain its secrecy.  The deeper, more distressing problem/mystery with which Gamache must deal and try to unravel is what the corrupt Francoeur and his team are up to, a matter that threatens to involve and destroy all that Gamache holds dear, even his safe haven of Three Pines.  There is a ticking clock that must be stopped, but it must first be discovered who is the puppeteer holding the strings and what is the means by which the final blow will be struck. 

Louise Penny has accomplished what I thought impossible, a story that continually disturbed me and, yet, a story I absolutely embraced with complete enthusiasm.  She can combine the terrible with the heart-warming better than any other author.  The inhabitants of Three Pines--Clara, Myrna, Gabri, Olivier, Ruth and her duck Rosa--along with Gamache and his circle of friends and family--Reine-Marie, Annie, Jean-Guy, Isabelle, Yvette, Therese, and Jerome--are so much more than characters in a book.  They are friends we are privileged to visit and from whom we glean hope, not only in their world, but ours, too.  The quote by Leonard Cohen upon which the title of the book is taken conveys that hope perfectly and is yet another gift from this book.  "There is a crack in everything, that's how the light gets in."
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SeductionSeduction by M.J. Rose

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The title of this novel is suggestive of a book of romance, but the "seduction" that plays out in the lives of the characters is a much more powerful seductress than love.  The controversial belief in reincarnation and its connection to past lives and troubled memories provides a maze which must be navigated in order to answer questions crucial to the present-day lives and sanity of two tortured misfits who possess unusual insights into times before they existed.  The island of Jersey in the Channel Islands contains the key to the tragedies of the past which must be sought out and linked to those still living.  Victor Hugo's interest in reincarnation and his many seances he held while living on the island play a major part in unlocking all the secrets that must be discovered, including a dark force that almost destroyed him and that still poses a danger a century and a half later.  

Coming into a series that already has two books prior to Seduction was not as problematic as I feared.  I was able to enjoy this novel without confusion over earlier events, even though said events were referred to at times in the book.  What did happen is that I now want to go back and read those novels, as I'm convinced that M.J. Rose in this reincarnation series has struck a chord of interest and intrigue for me, which will compel me to read more.  Great atmosphere and complex characters, along with a suspenseful plot, make Seduction a book easy to be taken over by.
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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Bouchercon Book Reviews #4

The reviews I'm posting today are for Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland and Invisible by Carla Buckley.  Both of these books are great reads.

Murder In ThrallMurder In Thrall by Anne Cleeland

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Delighted is what I am with this new mystery from Anne Cleeland.  It has me speaking like the fair lass, DC Kathleen Doyle, that is half of the Scotland Yard team in this first in the series of Acton and Doyle Scotland Yard Mysteries.  Cleeland presents this story in a fresh, original style that opens each chapter with the very private thoughts of Chief Inspector Michael Sinclair, who also happens to be Lord Acton and the other half of the Scotland Yard team and brilliant, revered detective.  Acton has tapped Doyle to work with him, finding most useful her intuitive skills discerning a witness's veracity. 

The murder that begins the complex sequence of events in this mystery is that of a horse trainer at a London racetrack.  Acton and Doyle begin interviewing witnesses with a prearranged signal from Doyle if interviewee is lying.  Before 24 hours has passed, another murder has occurred, and thus begins a trail of bodies and mixed clues that make solving this case particularly difficult.  Doyle's fellow DCs are disgruntled that she has been handpicked to assist Acton, and some wonder if it's more than just Doyle's detective skills that are admired.  The partners play their personal lives close to the vest, so no one has any real ammunition to support any rumors.  As Acton and Doyle find themselves involved in a quagmire of leads and false leads, they get to know each other on a personal level, too.  It's a mystery that will keep you guessing until the end, trying to finger the rotten apple in the barrel.    

I enjoyed the dialogue between Kathleen Doyle and Michael Acton as much as I've ever enjoyed a dialogue.  Kathleen's Irishness is full of good humor and cheer, and Acton's often dry humored responses are a perfect match.  I found myself laughing aloud at some points, and at all times, I was just mesmerized at how seamlessly the dialogue flowed. If ever there were a book to use as an example of great dialogue, this one is it.  I am truly smitten with this two new characters, and I can hardly wait to hear them talk again.  
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InvisibleInvisible by Carla Buckley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In a word, oustanding!  Carla Buckley delivers another page turner in her second novel, Invisible.  She may be the most underrated published author that I read.  Not that many people aren't reading her, but the national spotlight hasn't focused on her, yet.  It will.  Nobody does characters better than Buckley, and that includes a lot of better known authors, who might do them as well, but not better.  Buckley's two novels, The Things That Keep Us Here and now Invisible, will grab you from page one.  No waiting for the storyline or the characters to get interesting.  They are immediately so.  Both of her novels deal with pandemics of sorts.  While The Things That Keep Us Here deals with a visible illness that devastates the country, Invisible showcases a silent killer that is harder to identify and fight.  It is the people in these stories that make them real, that personalize the immense tragedies.  Invisible does have a larger character roster, and each of those characters, from the main female lead of Dana to the waitress at the diner, are given their due and become a meaningful patch in the quilt that makes the elegant whole.  From description to action to dialogue, Carla Buckley is simply a master at creating characters you want to know and a story that you can't wait to hear more of. 

I was fortunate to meet Carla Buckley at a book festival last year where I bought her first book and obtained the usual author signature.  There was nothing flashy or overly colorful about her, but in the brief few moments of talking with her, I had my suspicions that she was something special.  It's quite gratifying to realize how right I was.   

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

Bouchercon Book Reviews #3

Today, I'm posting reviews for two more books from authors who will attend Bouchercon in Albany in September.  The first review is for Julia Fleming-Spencer's first book in her Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne series.  I have finished this series, but I thought it would be best for other readers to share the review of the book that began yet another favorite mystery series for me.  The second review is for the first book in a delightfully fun series by Lucy Burdette, An Appetite for Murder, set in one of my favorite places, Key West, Florida.

In the Bleak Midwinter (Rev. Clare Fergusson & Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, #1)In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I am an avaricious consumer of mystery series, but there are so many stand-alone books that I want and need to read right now that yet another delectable series is an unwise choice.  Well, too late.  I read the first in the Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne, In the Bleak Midwinter, and once again, I'm hooked.  Julia Spencer-Fleming is another Bouchercon 2013 author that I wanted to sample before the September gathering, and I duped myself into believing that I could indeed eat just one.  I will begin #2 today.   

This series, set in the shadows of the Adirondack mountains in the small town of Millers Kill, features ex-Amy helicopter pilot, newly ordained Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson and ex-Army, present-day police chief Russ Van Alstyne.  Clare is the first female priest at the Episcopal church in Millers Kill, and is quite different than her conventional predecessor.  When only after a month on the job, she discovers a newborn baby abandoned outside the church, Clare quickly becomes involved in the search for its parents and the subsequent murder of the baby's mother.  As rapid as her involvement in the resolution to these mysteries and ones to follow, her friendship with Russ Van Alstyne, the chief of police, takes the fast trak to closeness and trusted confidant.  Of course, the chief is married, which creates a stumbling block to a more intimate relationship.  In solving not one, but two murders, Clare and Russ come to rely on one another's intelligence and intuition, moving in sync as two partners with different skills that mirror in a complimentary efficiency.  

 It's always so satisfying to encounter yet another author whose manipulation of the language results in a spine-tingling tale.  Julia Spencer-Fleming is extraordinarily gifted in her skill of description, including setting, action, and characters.  I was truly amazed at the detail of description in those areas, and it made the story so complete.  There is no fuzzy, half-hearted imagery in Ms. Spencer-Fleming's writing.  The reader is treated to complete disclosure of what a place looks like, what a character's physical and emotional make-up is, and what the action would look like if you were there.  The twists and turns of the plot are page-turning pleasures.  Now, on to the next adventure/mystery of the Clare and Russ team.  Again, my reading pile groans with the weight of of  books waiting. 
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 An Appetite for Murder (Key West Food Critic Mystery, #1)An Appetite for Murder by Lucy Burdette

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

What a great lot of fun this book was!  I used to be torn about my love for both the cozy mystery and the more intense, complex mystery and rating them.  Then, I realized that books have to be rated on their own merits and not a comparison basis to all other books.  And, as if Lucy Burdette were reading my mind, the first words of her delightful novel, a quote at the beginning of chapter one, simplified all my thoughts and past vacillations.  "A hot dog or a truffle.  Good is good." (James Beard)  It doesn't matter what genre, what categorization a book falls into. Good is good, and An Appetite for Murder is oh so good.  I would say that this first book in her Key West Food Critic mystery series is both hot dog and truffle.  Well written with great characters and dialogue, it has little nuggets of gold interspersed throughout.  

Haley Snow has landed in the layback capitol of the country, Key West, after following her boyfriend of a couple of weeks there.  Unfortunately, love up close isn't what it seemed like from a distance.  Dumped, without a job, and living in a small houseboat with a friend, Haley is trying to live up to her namesake, Haley Mills, and smile through the pain.  Not so fast, Ms. Snow.  While focusing on snagging a food critic job with a new Key West magazine, a magazine half-owned by her ex-boyfriend's current love, Haley tries hard to keep her head above water.  Then, the waves start crashing down upon her.  Kristen Faulkner, her replacement in her ex's affections, is found murdered, and Haley is seen as an especially interesting person of interest to the police.  And, Haley's fast, nervous talking and good intentioned but backfiring actions are helping to dig her hole deeper and deeper.  The police seem to be getting closer each day to arresting the budding food critic, and Haley's spice of life new start will become most unpalatable unless she can find the missing ingredients to a murder.  

 Lucy Burdette takes me to one of my favorite places in this series, Key West, Florida.  Her spot-on descriptions of this paradise enabled me to once again walk down Duval Street and enjoy the sights, sounds, and smells of a town that rates as my number one place to relax and forget your worries.  Ms. Burdette's book is very much a Key West state of the mind trip itself.  I am looking forward to continuing the series and following Haley Snow as she makes her home in the Conch Republic.   


Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Bouchercon Author/Book Reviews Post #2

Continuing with my reviews of books written by authors attending the upcoming Bouchercon in Albany, I am posting my thoughts on Elly Griffith's first Ruth Galloway novel, The Crossing Places and Lindsay Faye's Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson.

The Crossing Places (Ruth Galloway, #1)The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The only reason that I'm not kicking myself for having not started to read this series before now is that I am experiencing the thrill of a newly discovered favorite series.  Nothing is sweeter in reading than that first kiss of what you know is going to be a special reading adventure.  Elly Griffiths has been on my reading radar for ages, and thanks to her appearance at the upcoming Bouchercon Mystery Convention, I am finally beginning the Ruth Galloway series.

Ruth Galloway is an archaeologist living in a remote saltmarsh area of Norfolk, England.  Her teaching duties at the local university, her friends, and her two cats provide a satisfying life for her.  Approaching the age of 40 and being slightly overweight are the only two issues that trouble her much.  All that changes when bones are discovered in the saltmarshes by her home, and Ruth, a bone forensic/preservation expert, is called on by Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson to examine those bones.  Nelson is hoping that the bones belong to a child who went missing ten years ago, hoping to bring closure to the case and the girl's parents.  However, although the bones to belong to a child, that child is from the Iron Age of British history.  Nelson is disheartened, and Ruth doesn't expect to see him again.  Then, a second little girl is abducted, and Nelson again involves Ruth to peruse letters sent to him over the course of both missing girls' investigations, letters with references that Ruth might understand from her professional viewpoint. Before long, a connection between the two disappearances and local archeological discoveries, both past and present, begins to surface.  Ruth struggles to make sense of it all, as old friends and new add to the confusion of false perceptions and reality.  Nelson, whom Ruth never expected to even see again, becomes an integral part of her world.  From her isolated saltmarsh home and shell of self-sufficiency, Ruth Galloway bursts into the world as a crucial link between life and death.

Elly Griffiths creates suspense that is cringe-worthy, that delicious and tormented feeling of wanting to close your eyes at what's coming, but being unable to look away.  Atmosphere abounds, and you savor it.  She is one of those master storytellers who create the perfect ebb and flow.  The character of Ruth Galloway is one I've been waiting for, flaws with which I can identify and strengths that are much admired.  Her contrast to Harry Nelson creates a wonderful yin to yang.  All the characters are interesting, well-developed attributes of the story.  The plot is filled with twists and turns and a few red herrings that unite into a fascinatingly scary tale.  I finished the book and immediately ordered the rest of the series thus far published.  I'm now like a kid looking for a Christmas package to arrive.  Ah!         
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Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. WatsonDust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killings by Dr. John H. Watson by Lyndsay Faye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Talk about ambitious.  Lyndsay Faye chose to tackle both Jack the Ripper and Sherlock Holmes in her debut novel, Dust and Shadow.  This novel is certainly not the first pastiche of Holmes, and it is not the first novel to deal with the infamous Ripper.  What a challenging task Faye set for herself.  The good news is that she passed with flying colors.  She was able to achieve the voice and style of Arthur Conan Doyle, and she was able to create a fresh, absorbing story of the nefarious deeds of London's notorious killer.  The fall of 1888 was one of terror for the residents of the Whitechapel area of London, with women who depended on the streets for their livelihood in fear for their lives by the Knife, as Jack the Ripper was also called.  

Lyndsay Faye is an author who can do characters well.  She presents the familiar cast of Dr. Watson, Sherlock Holmes, Inspector Lestrade, Mrs. Hudson, and Mycroft Holmes with a precision that Doyle himself would approve.  And, then she delightfully adds characters such as Mary Ann Monk, a friend of the Ripper's earliest victim, whom Holmes employs as his eyes and ears around Whitechapel; Stephen Dunlevy, a man who pretends to be a soldier and whose role must be ferreted out by the great detective; and Leslie Tavistock, a journalist who will do or write whatever gets him the most attention, abundantly skirting the truth.  Then there is the character of Jack the Ripper, who must remain a shadow, but a shadow with distinguishable, observable traits.  The author makes each character come alive, no small feat.  

So, we have the story of Jack the Ripper being pursued by Sherlock Holmes, with the aid of Dr. Watson.  It is every bit as exciting an adventure as such a story should be.  What the reader might not expect is that the identity of Jack the Ripper is revealed, or at least a plausible identity that fits with the story and Holmes' powers of deduction.  Each murdered woman is an escalation of the Ripper's madness, and Scotland Yard's Inspector Lestrade is depending on Sherlock Holmes to solve his most important case ever.  Of course, the path to resolution is frustrated by a lack of evidence left at the murder scenes, and Holmes must even contend with suspicion being cast upon his own innocence.  One of the ways I think the author helps readers place themselves so intensely into the action is the placement of a map of Whitechapel in the front of the book.  I found myself referring to this map quite a lot, which aided me in picturing the movements of the Ripper and those who pursue him.    

It's hard to believe that this novel is the author's first.  I'm looking forward to reading her second novel, Gods of Gotham, next.  The amazing talent apparent in Dust and Shadow bodes well for Faye's future efforts.  I'm a definite fan.  
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Saturday, August 17, 2013

Getting Ready for My First Bouchercon

I have been reading like mad as I prepare to attend my first Bouchercon, and I have discovered many new, wonderful authors and continued to read my long-time favorites.  Feeding my love of mystery series, I have lucked into some new favorites, too.  In addition to the mystery/crime series that I discussed in my previous post on series reading, I now have the following to savor: Julia Spencer-Fleming's Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne, Hank Phillippi Ryan's Jane Ryland, Anna Loan-Wilsey's Hattie Davish, Lucy Burdette's Haley Snow, Rhys Bowen's Molly Murphy,  M.J. Rose's Recarnationist novels, Mark Pryor's Hugo Marston, Heather Graham's Cafferty and Quinn, and Jen J. Danna's Abbott and Lowell.  Stand-alone favorites are rolling in, too, with Lindsay Faye's Dust and Shadow, Simone St. James' The Haunting of Maddy Clare, Catriona McPherson's As She Left It, Susanna Calkins' A Murder at Rosamund's Gate, and Lori Roy's Until She Comes Home.  I still have selections to read for Bouchercon and ones I know I won't get to until after, but it has been one great summer of reading for me. 

Today, I am starting to post reviews of the above mentioned authors/books and will continue to do so right up to my departure for my Bouchercon vacation extravaganza (Virginia Beach, Albany, Niagara Falls).  I'm about as excited as a bookaholic can get as the date for this event rapidly approaches.  It is no longer a count of months, but of days, and I am simply a giddy girl anticipating the face-to-face with my author rockstars.  So, let the reviews begin and the days fly.



The Other Woman (Jane Ryland, #1)The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's 2 a.m.  Do you know where your daughter/mother/grandmother is?  If she's lucky, she's finishing The Other Woman by Hank Phillippi Ryan. To a bookaholic such as myself, staying up late to finish an awesome book is on the grand experiences level of reading.  When I started reading last night, my goal was to read 200 pages in The Other Woman and finish it today.  Ha.  I laugh at my naivety.  There would be no putting this book down until it was finished.  Reading at its best. 

Jane Ryland is starting over in her career of news reporting after her fall from grace as a television newscaster star. She now finds herself working as a reporter for a Boston newspaper and being assigned the less newsworthy issues.  For Jane, being out of the loop is unbearable, and she quickly finds ways to connect to the bigger stories.  Her assignment to cover the wife of a senate candidate leads to a search for the other woman, but the other woman proves to be an illusive term and person. As is often the case, present-day puzzles stem from past actions and events, both from Jane's life and the political scene in which she becomes involved.  Jane's friendship with Detective Jake Brogan and his investigation into recent homicides of young women left near city bridges contributes more dots in Jane's search.  With election day closing in, time is a constricting commodity.  Not only are a senate race and the lives of young women at stake, Jane's redemption from her public career disgrace is on the line. 

Hank Phillippi Ryan has created a mystery/crime thriller/political puzzle that will satisfy readers of all three interests.  I lean more towards mystery and crime, but Ms. Ryan has shown me that political intrigue can be fascinating, too.  Because, really, it's all about people and what makes them tick, motivates them, and sometimes leads them to paths of destruction for others and themselves.  That's mystery indeed, and the combination of elements leads the reader on a delightfully suspenseful chase of first one twist, then another.  Not to be ignored is the restrained but apparent chemistry between Jan and her detective, a fire that simmers waiting for the flame to rise.  So, what's not to enjoy in reading The Other Woman?  I suspect that Ms. Ryan will continue to titillate our reading pleasures in the next installment of this series.    
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The Haunting of Maddy ClareThe Haunting of Maddy Clare by Simone St. James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I love a good ghost story, and The Haunting of Maddy Clare is indeed a good ghost story.  It passed my ghost story test, which is dreaming about it.  When scary carries over to my sleep, I am thoroughly satisfied.  Simone St. James has made me a very happy reader.  The ghost story has historical aspects, with WWI having recently ended, and romantic aspects, with two of the main characters trying to fight their attraction to one another, as well as an angry ghost.

Sarah Piper is a London girl in her mid-twenties and surviving on temp work through an agency.  Her life is rather uneventful and focused on finding work to pay the rent and eat.  All of that dramatically changes when she accepts an assignment to accompany ghost hunter Alistair Gellis to a small English village where a female ghost, Maddy Clare, is haunting the barn in which she committed suicide.  The owner of the barn and nearby house is desperate to be rid of Maddy and her tricks and unruly behavior.  Sarah is to be Alistair's assistant, but his usual assistant, Matthew Ryder, turns up, too, and the three of them must work together to try and understand what the unsettled ghost wants before she can rest. Alistair and Matthew have never encountered a more devious or powerful spirit. Maddy Clare will bring a terror into the three associates' lives that is truly beyond this world.  They must find the missing pieces to the tragedy of the girl's short life or face destruction of their own lives.  Maddy is not easily appeased. 

Kudos to Simone St. James for writing a superb scary tale that would have had me closing my eyes in parts if it had been a movie.  It is an amazing debut novel, and I look forward to more great scares from her. 
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