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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