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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