Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite 2014 Reads

As usual, I have lots of favorites out of the 82 books I read this past year.  Here are some of the best. 

Seven for a Secret by Lyndsay Faye
A Flame in the Wind of Death by Jen J. Danna with Ann Vanderlaan
City of Darkness and Light by Rhys Bowen
The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley
The Outcast Dead by Elly Griffiths
Murder in Retribution by Anne Cleeland
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
Palisades Park by Alan Brennert
Songs of Willow Frost by Jamie Ford
The Day She Died by Catriona McPherson
Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Bone Dust White by Karin Salavaglio
A Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon (S.J.) Bolton
The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey
The Lewis Man by Peter May
Written in My Own Heart’s Blood by Diana Gabaldon
The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie
Truth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan
Two Parts Bloody Murder (coming out in 2015)
Death with All the Trimmings by Lucy Burdette
The Zig Zag Girl by Elly Griffiths (coming out in U.S. in 2015)
A Deadly Measure of Brimstone by Catriona McPherson

Monday, November 17, 2014

End of Fall Reading 2014

With the first snow of the year, I've determined that fall is indeed ending and winter is announcing itself.  So, I want to share some of the highlights of my fall reading, which has been a bit less than usual due to that pesky real life getting in the way.  But, less doesn't mean a dearth of quality, as evidenced in my reviews below.  I've read some outstanding books since August, and there are others spilling over into winter reading.  I might want to wish for more snow to ensure my reading chair stays filled.

To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie

To Dwell in Darkness (Duncan Kincaid & Gemma James, #16)To Dwell in Darkness by Deborah Crombie

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Anyone planning a trip to London should forget about Frommer's, Fodor's, Lonely Planet, DK Eyewitness, or Rick Steves.  Deborah Crombie now has 16 novels taking place in and around different areas of London (well one in Scotland) that give detailed information about those areas, their history and their present-day configurations, that will make the reader feel at home in those areas.  And, hey, there are brilliantly plotted stories that accompany these tours.  Deborah's latest Duncan Kincaid and Gemma James mystery acquaints readers with Camden and the glorious St. Pancras Train Station, a Victorian marvel that has been remodeled with its history intact.  I'd be derelict in my reviewing if I didn't also mention yet another great accompanying map by Laura Hartman Maestro inserted in the inside front and back covers of the book.  The story, the characters, the setting, the map all provide a journey that is all-consuming from start to finish.  Doesn't it take a special kind of genius author to be on book #16 in a series and have kept fresh the excellence and excitement?  Well, Deborah Crombie isn't from the state of Texas for nothing, as large and mighty are expected and fulfilled trademarks.

Duncan Kincaid is still in a state of puzzlement and unease about his unexplained transfer from Scotland Yard headquarters to the borough of Camden, where he encounters in his new detective inspector Jasmine Sidana a bruised ego and negative attitude towards him.  He may be smarting inside from the obvious demotion of command, if not in title, certainly in control, but Duncan's priorities are quickly ordered when a protest turns deadly at St. Pancras Station.  A would-be smoke bomb has revealed itself as an incendiary device, releasing deadly phosphorous that burns and damages in a ghastly manner.  The dead protestor who carried the device must be identified and motivations must be untangled as Duncan works with his new team to investigate the protest group and its secretive members.  Fortunately for Duncan, Gemma (Duncan's wife and newly promoted Inspector)has a superb second-in-command, Melody Talbot, who happened to be at St. Pancras Station listening to her boyfriend's band play.  Melody's eyewitness account and quick thinking are a great advantage to Duncan in coming into the scene.  He includes Melody in his investigation, along with his former Scotland Yard sergeant Doug Cullen, to enhance his new team in trying to uncover what went wrong with the protestors' innocuous plans.  The dead protestor must first be identified, but that doesn't solve anything, other than elimination of one of the two missing members.  Investigation of the still missing protestor will lead Duncan and the others into areas of hidden danger and secrets best left alone.

Gemma is involved in her own investigation of the brutal murder of a young girl, trying to prove that the lead suspect is indeed the nefarious killer.   As is often the case, she and Duncan have their hands full with work and their family of his, hers, and ours children.  What is additionally amazing about Deborah Crombie's writing is that in the thrill of police investigations and solving murder mysteries there is room for Duncan's and Gemma's personal world with their family and friends.  It is a world that captures the readers' hearts and gives a fullness to the characters that makes coming back to them time and time again a homecoming of comfort and joy.  All the main players have backstories and lives that easily flow into and out of the story at hand, making a gathering at Gemma's and Duncan's house one that the reader revels in as if seated at the table alongside.  Crombie integrates characters from past stories into present ones with a deftness that is truly magical.  Their presence never feels extraneous.  All characters have purpose and flow in the story.  And, I always wonder how Deborah thought to create this perfect family of the three children for Duncan and Gemma, as it was no simple task.  But as with all the elements in this brilliant series, there is a deliberate progression that results in great satisfaction for readers.

One caution about To Dwell in Darkness.  Do not expect all questions to be answered.  There will still be much uncertainty left to explore in book #17.  But then, life is a continuation of discovery, isn't it?

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The Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

The Skeleton RoadThe Skeleton Road by Val McDermid

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Books can transport us to some wonderful places.  Books can transport us to some terrible places.  Often, the place is the same with the perspective different.  The place can be a vast geographical landscape, or it can be the confines of a mind.  Reading allows us to see the beauty and the ugliness of that same place so that making a black and white judgment becomes obstructed by the full disclosure of knowledge.  We are forced to be less judgmental and more understanding.  Val McDermid is the master of showing us what we think we know is but a fragment of a whole.  The world and the mind are never black and white, and reading a Val McDermid novel quickly reminds you of that.  The Skeleton Road is a journey through war, love, retribution, and the aftermath thereof. The Bosnian War after the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 90s plays an integral part in McDermid's story, and I'm embarrassed to admit that it took reading this book to bring the bones of this war to my full attention, not that readers should expect an in-depth account of that complicated conflict.  The author skillfully uses the war as a backdrop to the present day action of the story.

The Skeleton Road opens with the discovery of a skeleton with a bullet hole in its skull on the rooftop of an old abandoned historic Edinburgh building being assessed for development.  As the skeletal remains are conclusive proof that the crime took place some time ago, DCI Karen Pirie of the cold case unit of Police Scotland is called in to investigate.  First to be addressed is identification of the remains.  But identification of the victim as of Yugoslavian roots only deepens the mystery, leading Pirie from the academic world of Oxford to the complex world of Croatia.  To further complicate matters, the victim, who has been dead for eight years, has been a recent interest of two lawyers of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY) investigating a series of murders of war criminals. Unable to attribute the murders to the deceased, these rather bumbling lawyers must scramble to determine who else could be responsible, as their new boss puts them under increasing pressure.  DCI Pirie, who is calm under her boss' pressure to solve her case, finds the investigative road leads to an Oxford University professor, Maggie Blake, who was in residence in Dubrovnik during its 1991 siege in the war between the Serbs and the Croats and who fell in love with a Croatian general.  Both of these women will uncover long buried secrets in the course of the investigation.

The novel is told from three perspectives, predominantly by DCI Karen Pirie following her investigation into the murder of her cold case victim.  Pirie is a very steady character, as she is likeable, dedicated to her job, gifted with a sense of humor, and is in a stable relationship.  So, her point of view is an ongoing source of reliable narrative.  But, as Pirie's case is deeply rooted in the bloody, tragic past of Croatia, the other two points of view are a natural connection to her narrative.  Maggie Blake's flashback chapters deal with the intensity of being in the war zone of the Bosnian War, the human toll and emotions of it, and provide important points of time and place.  The two ICTY lawyers, though rather inept at first glance, bring needed background and information with their POV chapters.  Together, McDermid uses these three perspectives to create the intense drama of crime built upon crime.

War is hell, and its nightmares don't end with its end.  The atrocities by both sides in war reach beyond the graves of the original victims.  McDermid has given us a dark, gripping tale that terrifies and educates.  The characters are deftly drawn with their strengths and flaws that cautions the reader to pause before drawing any conclusions.  I did have a couple of issues with the ending, but it did nothing to disturb my opinion that Val McDermid has given readers a magnificent story.  Although the book is described as a stand-alone and can absolutely be read as such, for those of us who are taken with DCI Karen Pirie, the first book featuring her is A Darker Domain.

I was fortunate to receive this book from the publisher Grove Atlantic as a promotional giveaway on Goodreads for my honest opinion of it.

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A Deadly Measure of Brimstone: A Dandy Gilver Mystery by Catriona McPherson

A Deadly Measure of Brimstone: A Dandy Gilver MysteryA Deadly Measure of Brimstone: A Dandy Gilver Mystery by Catriona McPherson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

One thing a reader can count on when reading a book by Catriona McPherson is layered plot and interesting characters.  Although A Deadly Measure of Brimstone is the 8th addition to the Dandy Gilver series, it is my introduction to these books set in the 1920s in Scotland.  Of course, I’ll be playing catch-up now, but I was quite comfortable in reading this one before the first seven, as the characters were well fleshed out and relationships were clearly formed.  I think that reading the previous seven will add to my enjoyment of reading more of all of the recurring characters, but I didn’t feel at all lost or confused in their roles.  I consider it a great talent of the author to make the reader comfortable in her series, wherever they might happen to jump in.

The main character is, of course, who the series is named for, Dandy Gilver, a woman of considerable means living in the Perthshire countryside with her husband Hugh and their two teenage sons.   Hugh is very conventional and likes to maintain a certain order to life, although I suspect that his time in WWI, from which he just returned in the first book of the series, has opened his eyes more than he admits to changes that are in progress.  Dandy needs a bit more adventure than her husband, and, thus, her detecting business allows her to use her abundant instincts and smarts to satisfy her yearning for excitement.  Joining her in her detective business is neighbor Alec Osborne, with whom Dandy seems to be able to let down her positional reserve and get to the nitty gritty of murder and strange occurrences.  Theirs is an easy-going back and forth, with witty conversation and true team work.  Alec appreciates the plucky side of Dandy, and Dandy thrives on the support for her endeavors. 

In this eighth novel, Dandy’s husband and sons have been lingering with the flu and its after effects for some weeks.  As luck would have it, and Dandy does seem to have a certain amount of that, the family of an older woman who has died at a Hydro facility in the Borders town of Moffat, requests the services of Dandy to investigate the suspicious death.  So, Dandy is able to convince her husband that he and the boys need to partake of the healing powers of the facility, not revealing to him the ulterior motive behind the trip.  There is a practical reason for removing her family from their residence, too, as Dandy hopes to do have some home renovations done while away.  Alec is on board with the assignment and arrives at the Laidlaw Hydropathic Hotel as a guest, while Dandy lets a house for her family. 

Investigating the death of their clients’ mother, Mrs. Addie, takes Dandy and Alec, as well as the reader, into the 1929 world of hydrotherapy to try and determine just what went wrong with Mrs. Addie’s treatments there.  The brother and sister who run the establishment, Thomas “Tot” Laidlaw and Dr. Dorothy Laidlaw, strike Dandy as odd from the get go, but their secrets are well hidden and difficult to uncover.  To further complicate matters, there is the rumor of ghosts and that Mrs. Addie herself had seen one.  Spiritualists start arriving at the Hydro as the Gilvers settle in, and Dandy and Alec must determine what, if any, the other world has to do with the mysteries of this one.   

One of my favorite parts of this novel was the time setting, the end of October 1929, and as Dandy and Alec inch ever closer to the answers of what happened to Mrs. Addie, time inches closer to the date of the 1929 stock market crash in America, which had effects worldwide, including Dandy’s peer group.  McPherson cleverly brings this important event into the story in subtle references to finances and the stock market in America, and, she ties up the solution to all the mysteries in the plot to coincide with the Crash of ’29.  Great pacing in this ending and throughout the novel.   

I thoroughly enjoyed this Dandy Gilver mystery and plan to read the others set in a time of great change for the world, especially Great Britain, where the traditional ideas of class and culture were being shook to the core after WWI.  Dandy is the perfect vehicle in which to see these changes.  She may have much in common with the ladies of Downton Abbey, but she is able to use her wit, good humor, and practicality to carve an identity all her own.   Catriona McPherson, who just won the Anthony Award at the 2014 Bouchercon for “Best Paperback Original” for  her stand-alone As She Left It, knows how to tell a story with unforgettable characters and captivating plot.       

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Carry-over Books Published in Fall 2014 to Read This Winter

Station Eleven: A Novel by Emily St. John Mandel (hardcover)
The Secret Place by Tana French (hardcover)
Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes (hardcover)
A Demon Summer: A Max Tudor Mystery by G.M. Malliet (hardcover)
The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North (paperback)
The Cinderella Murder: An Under Suspicion Novel by Mary Higgins Clark & Alafair Burke (hardcover)
Glory O'Brien's History of the Future by A.S. King (YA hardcover)

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Hank Phillippi Ryan, A Force in Fiction and Real Life, Truth Be Told

Hank Phillippi Ryan has a new novel coming out on the 7th of  October entitled Truth Be Told.  I was fortunate, as in the sense of fireworks celebration, to receive an ARC of Truth Be Told, and it is the upcoming publication and my reading of this third book in the Jane Ryland series that I wish to address first.  So, I am placing my review of this sure-to-be-another-award-winning-book at the beginning of my tribute to this favorite author of mine.  Reading Hank's novels is experiencing reader satisfaction extraordinaire.

Truth Be ToldTruth Be Told by Hank Phillippi Ryan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In Truth Be Told, Jane is dealing with a new editor at the Register, the newspaper where Jane is still getting her footing after a public parting of the ways with her television news career.  Jane's current assignment is the foreclosure aspect of banks against those who have taken out loans and can no longer keep up the payments due to unemployment or some other unforeseen hardship.  Covering the emptying of one such family's possessions from their home by sheriff's deputies, Jane and her camera man are taking notes and recording the callousness of the event when the dead body of a young woman is found inside the house, putting a halt to the action and transforming yet an eviction story into a murder scene.  As the only reporter on the scene, Jane is there when Jake Brogan, Boston PD detective shows up to take charge.  Jane's and Jake's yet undetermined relationship that is moving towards definition with an upcoming weekend to Bermuda is still under wraps due to their conflicting careers, her wanting the scoop on a story and Jake required to keep mum about his cases.  With the eviction story intertwined with a murder, Jane and Jake must once again work out their personal and professional boundaries.  Jake's involvement in another case, the twenty-year-old Lilac Sunday murder and a new confession to that murder, coupled with the now empty house murder results in the cancellation of his and Jane's romantic weekend.  That's just the beginning of complicated in this story. 

Truth is always the goal for reporter Jane Ryland and detective Jake Brogan, but never more than now in stories/cases where innocence and guilt are hidden in complex motivations and decades-old secrets.  Who is guilty?  Who is innocent?  Are they exclusive of one another?  Is the complete truth ever told?  Jane's job depends on getting the big scoop, but Jane's personal wiring demands that the innocent are not collateral damage.  Jake has a responsibility to the victims and their families to bring some closure to a tragic event, but closure is never more important than justice.  Joining the two truth seekers in their quest is a new character, Peter Hardesty, who is a lawyer representing the man who has confessed to the Lilac Sunday Murder and another man charged with the empty house murder.  He believes deeply in the right to any person's day in court, and, yet, he is a kindred soul to Jane and Jake in the attainment of truth.  Peter's character also presents a bit of a wrinkle in Jake's clear path to Jane's affections, although that may be a false alarm.  It will be interesting to see what the author's intentions are concerning this appealing new character. 

There is so much to recommend about this book that it might just be easier to say, "Read the book and then we will head nod about its perfection."  Cold cases, the human impact of foreclosures, the power of big banks, the manipulation of money and people, the costs of greed, the ugly twists of love, and the choices that unite and divide us.  Truth is the theme here, but as Liz McDivitt, A & A Bank's first customer affairs liaison notes, "in reality, nothing (is) black and white."

I met Hank Phillippi Ryan at last year's Bouchercon in Albany, and she impressed me as a highly competent, sophisticated woman with a genuine interest in people, her fans, of which I was and am one.  I had read The Other Woman, her first Jane Ryland novel, and so I knew that she was also a brilliant writer.  You would think that all of that would be enough, but since that meeting, I've gotten to know more about Hank and communicate with her via several different venues, and that was just the tip of the iceberg.  Below is the information listed on HPR's Web site as her "short story," as there is a "long story," too, that outlines her amazing accomplishments in more detail.

Hank's Bio—the Short Story
"Hank Phillippi Ryan is the on-air investigative reporter for Boston's NBC affiliate. She's won 32 EMMYs, 12 Edward R. Murrow awards and dozens of other honors for her ground-breaking journalism. A bestselling author of six mystery novels, Ryan has won multiple prestigious awards for her crime fiction: the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, and for THE OTHER WOMAN, the coveted Mary Higgins Clark Award. National reviews have called her a "master at crafting suspenseful mysteries" and "a superb and gifted storyteller." Her newest thriller, THE WRONG GIRL, has the extraordinary honor of winning the 2013 Agatha Award for Best Contemporary Novel! A six-week Boston Globe bestseller, it is also an Anthony and Daphne Award nominee, a Patriot Ledger bestseller, and was dubbed "Another winner" in a Booklist starred review and "Stellar" by Library Journal. She's a founding teacher at Mystery Writers of America University and 2013 president of national Sisters in Crime. Watch for her next novel, TRUTH BE TOLD, on October 7, 2014."

What the short or long bio fail to disclose about Hank Phillippi Ryan is her amazing generosity to fellow authors.  In addition to her own book promotion events, Hank is constantly attending other authors' book events in support of their work.  Keep in mind that she has a full-time job as a reporter and is a best selling author.  I'm still looking for the phone booth where she changes from her stylish Hank apparel to the Superwoman costume.  And, of course, she is also one of the most gracious and appreciative authors to her fans.

Having just finished reading Hank's third Jane Ryland novel, Truth Be Told, due out October 7, 2014, I am happy to devote this post to such an amazing author.  I encourage all readers who enjoy crime fiction and mystery to settle down in your favorite reading chair in your favorite reading room and treat yourself to some great reading with the Jane Ryland series by Hank Phillippi Ryan.  I've included my reviews to introduce the books, without spoilers.

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/husband/son is?  If they are lucky, they're 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.    

The Wrong Girl (Jane Ryland, #2)The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In The Wrong Girl, Hank Phillippi Ryan continues the reporter Jane Ryland and Detective Jake Brogan series in great form.  As in the first book, The Other Woman, the action is perfectly paced, constantly building from one thrilling scene to the next, driving towards a connection of the mufti-layered plot that will not disappoint.  Ms. Ryan knows how to hook the reader on page one and keep you squirming until the last word.

With Jane Ryland still adapting to life as a newspaper reporter, after her fall from television fame for protecting a source, she can ill afford any missteps in her precarious new position.  What she doesn't need is Tucker Cameron, an ex-colleague that caused her headaches at the newspaper, showing up at her apartment on a Sunday afternoon with a problem for which Tuck is soliciting Jane's help.  Having recently been reunited by a reputable adoption agency in Boston with her birth mother, Tuck is convinced a mistake has been made.  Tuck implores Jane to use her reporter skills to uncover what is going on at the adoption agency that guarantees its information as indisputable.  Tuck isn't the only person to be doubting the perfect record of the Brannigan Family and Children Services, and Jane soon starts to suspect that there's indeed something rotten in Denmark concerning the prestigious placement agency.  The secrets run deep, and there are those willing to do whatever it takes to protect them. 

Meanwhile, Boston Police Detective Jake Brogan is called to the scene of a murder where a young woman with no identification has been killed and two small children left alive in an apartment.  Jake also notices a cradle, but no baby.  He seems to be the only one at the crime scene puzzled about the absence.  What appears at first glance to be a domestic homicide proves to be much more complex, wrapped in layers of missing information and missing and misidentified people.  The foster care system becomes an integral part of an investigation that must break through a facade of smoke and mirrors.

Jane and Jake keep finding themselves crossing paths once more in looking for answers (and Jane, a scoop) in their respective searches.  As usual, they serve each other as invaluable resources, and it is for that very reason they struggle to keep their desire for intimacy at bay.  They fear anything beyond friendship and professional allies would cross a line that could cost one of both of them a career.  But, when Jane starts receiving threats and Jake is placed in increasingly dangerous situations, it becomes harder to ignore the depth of their feelings for one another.

One of the aspects of Ryan's writing I most enjoy is how she puts layers of meaning in so much.  Dialogue, plot,characters, and even the title.  These all contain depths that tease the intellect and reward thinking.  With both books in this series, one realizes that the titles, "other woman" and "wrong girl", have multiple sources to which these names could apply in the stories.  I'm so looking forward to the next set of layers from this author. 


Saturday, August 16, 2014

End of Summer Reading

Someone said to me recently that if it weren't for all the new titles constantly coming out, she could catch up on her reading.  It's a common problem for we book addicts, but it's a problem we love to have.  Every month brings a new delight by a favorite author or the discovery of a new favorite author, established or novice.  It's like Christmas morning all year long.  This summer has and continues to provide an extensive list of new publications to entice readers.  So, as August is rapidly passing and with it summer, here are some great titles with which to finish out the season.  I've provided reviews for the first two.  I'm still playing catchup and looking forward to the others. 

The winners of Sujata Massey's The Sleeping Dictionary were Karen F. and Karen B.  I guess Karen was the lucky name for these two drawings.  Congratulations to you both, and I know you are in for some great reading.

End of Summer Books Reviewed

Murder in Retribution by Anne Cleeland
First up is one coming in at the tail end of July, and I was fortunate to receive an early copy of this one back in March.   Murder in Retribution by Anne Cleeland is the second book in the Acton and Doyle Scotland Yard series, and this new series has completely captivated me.  The suspense and unusual relationship between Acton and Doyle are fascinating.

One of the most thrilling discoveries for a mystery genre reader is that of a new series. That has indeed been my pleasure with the New Scotland Yard series by Anne Cleeland. I was most fortunate to receive an advanced copy of the second in this series, Murder in Retribution, and reading it has cemented my addiction to the characters of Chief Inspector Michael Acton and Detective Constable Kathleen Doyle as they work together both professionally and personally. I think Cleeland's real gift in this series is its unexpected bluntness of events, an original approach that ignores the normal unfolding of life and relationships. I am hopelessly hooked, just as Acton is with Doyle.

In this second novel of the series, the husband and wife team of Acton and Doyle become involved in the underworld murders in London that seem to be a tit-for-tat turf war affair. It's a dangerous matter of investigation, and as seems to be the norm for the anything but normal couple, the investigation turns personal. Acton has his own interests in bringing to justice certain criminal elements, and Doyle becomes a sitting duck for a most callous killer. Even the brilliant Acton can't anticipate the insidious plan of attack that ensues.

Anne Cleeland has created a captivating series full of intrigue and originality. The delightfully witty dialogue of her characters is not limited to the main characters' give and take of intellectual sharpness and Irish good humor. The entire cast is gifted with clever quips and interplay. I find myself rereading dialogue in various scenes just to experience the satisfaction of it again. Doyle is perhaps the most gifted, as even in dire circumstances, she seems to be capable of seeing the irony or insanity of it. And, her understanding of and acceptance of Acton's special problem is most welcome, as the reader doesn't have to spend time wading through misunderstandings and immature relationship issues.

So, it is with unrestrained enthusiasm that I endorse and recommend Anne Cleeland's novel Murder in Retribution, due out the end of July. I encourage pre-ordering it to ensure a quick arrival. And, if the first in the series, Murder in Thrall, hasn't been read, it's a must to enjoy the full impact of the Acton/Doyle partnership. I confess that, even though I'd already read the first book, I went back and reread it before delving into the second. Now, you know just how much I am enraptured by these novels. 

Queen of Hearts by Rhys Bowen  (August 5th)
Another great piece of luck was receiving the 8th Her Royal Spyness novel with wonderful Lady Georgie.  Rhys Bowen is one of those authors who is unbelievably of producing two great series a year, both of which are favorites of mine.  Her Royal Spyness and Molly Murhpy are mystery series with wonderfully detailed historical connections.

Although Lady Georgian Rannoch's mother is completely self-centered and mostly ignores Georgie, Claire has seemed to find some use for her daughter as an adult child. Georgie wisely takes advantage of her mother's whims to include her on unexpected adventures. Claire Daniels has finally decided she will marry her wealthy German industrialist, but she must first divorce her American husband. The quickest way to do that is to travel to Reno, Nevada in the States, so Claire invites, or rather she swoops into Kingsdowne Place in Kent to scoop up Georgie to accompany Mummy dearest to America. What's especially generous of clueless Claire is that she realizes Georgie needs clothes for the trip. Of course, it's just possible that Claire only wants Georgie to look presentable to be with a famous actress of the London stage. While Georgie is the Lady and 35th in line to the British throne, she is penniless and much dependent on the way the wind blows.

A five-day voyage to America provides Georgie with much adventure and reunites her mother with an old acting buddy, Stella Brightwell, who had found fame in American movies. Stella is traveling with Cy Goldman, the impresario of Golden Pictures, who made her a star and is her lover. It's not long before a plan is hatched to help Claire get her quickie divorce and star in a movie with Stella. The crossing also produces Darcy O'Mara, Georgie's love, who is working on behalf of the Crown to snag a jewelery thief supposedly aboard the ship, possibly within Georgie's circle of acquaintances. As one coincidence usually leads to another with Georgie, she finds herself in the midst of movie making Hollywood in the 1930s and being surprised by her English best friend, Belinda, who shows up, as she so often does, unannounced. Charlie Chaplin makes an appearance in a delightful side note role, and shows his admiration of the female sex. It seems bed hopping isn't just an English sport. When the whole troupe retires to Cy Goldman's Hollywood hills home, the action really heats up in more ways than one, and Georgie and Darcy must once again unscramble a murder scene with unexpected results.

The Royal Spyness series is a constant source of entertainment and suspenseful adventure. The intermingling of humor in a story of financial downfalls, royal missions, and perplexing murders is a successful formula that shows no cracks. Rhys Bowen has created a perfect cast of characters to love, hate, and even occasionally become frustrated with. Oh, those of you fans who are reading these books as quick as they hit the stores know to what I refer concerning the frustration part. I'm guessing the cold Pacific Ocean comes in handy. 

Other Books for End of Summer Reading

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty July 29th
Lucky Us by Amy Bloom   July 29th
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica   July 29th
A Little Night Murder (10th in Blackbird Sisters Mystery series) by Nancy Martin    Aug. 5th
An Unwilling Accomplice (6th in the Bess Crawford Mystery series) by Charles Todd   Aug. 12th
Designated Daughters (20th Deborah Knott book)  by Margaret Maron,    Aug. 12th
Small Blessings by Martha Woodroof    Aug. 12th

Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough   Aug. 19th
We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas   Aug. 19th
The Long Way Home (10th in Armand Gamache series) by Louise Penny    Aug. 26th
Sunshine of Scotland Street (8th in 44 Scotland Street series) by Alexander McCall Smith  


Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey: Reading Room Review and Interview with the Author

Those of us who are addicted to reading constantly yearn for the moments of striking it rich, where that nugget of gold appears and gives rise to a rare treasure.  Today I am sharing such a nugget with you, as it is my great honor and pleasure to be interviewing Sujata Massey, author of The Sleeping Dictionary, a novel of exquisite beauty and courage.  

As with most ardent fans of a book, I want everyone to read The Sleeping Dictionary and experience the intoxication that I did.  So, I'm excited to announce the giveaway of this book to one lucky reader of my blog.  Simply follow the directions in the last question of the interview about promotions for readers, and you could receive a signed copy of The Sleeping Dictionary.  And, since it is a novel that I want to get into every reader's hands, for those who are a follower or become one of this blog and leave a comment on this post, I will randomly select one of those people and send a copy of the book.  So, two ways to receive a free copy of this amazing book, Sujata's signed copy via her email and instructions and an unsigned copy via this blog through comments. (Both awarded on July30th)


Sujata, your popular Rei Shimura series is a mystery series set in Japan.  Why did you decide change course to historical fiction in The Sleeping Dictionary?  And why this particular story?

I have always loved reading historical fiction, so it seemed that after writing 10 mysteries, it was a good time to try something new. I’ve always been interested in writing about diverse communities—my Japan books always feature a variety of nationalities going through the Tokyo experience—so the British colonial period allowed me to explore ideas about race and mixing in India. I also feel there aren’t many tales of this colonial time told from an Indian woman’s viewpoint…especially a woman who was a player in both the government establishment and the freedom movement. So I was happy to jump in and do that.

Julia Spencer Fleming, author of the outstanding Clare Fergusson/Russ Van Alstyne Mysteries, has said that when she was learning to write mysteries, your first book in the Rei Shimura series, The Salaryman’s Wife, influenced her in her approach to location, and that she still cites it when teaching.  The locations of India, from the small Bengali village of Johlpur to Kharagpur to Calcutta were so vivid in The Sleeping Dictionary that I wonder what were your major resources, including traveling for bringing India of the 1930-40s to life?

Wow, this is a great compliment and surprise. As far as the locations in my novel, the only place I really knew was the capital city of Calcutta, my father’s family’s home base and a place I’ve visited four times over the years. Johlpur is a fictional Bengali village based on novel and nonfiction accounts of early 20th century village life. I visited Kharagpur and Midnapore just once, but it seemed most of the old places I was searching for were rebuilt, so I relied on early 20th century guidebooks and memoirs written by Indians and British, and photographs and blogs by Anglo-Indians who’d grown up in that area.

The cover of The Sleeping Dictionary is so beautiful.  How did it come about? 

Thank you very much! In my contract I had something called “cover consultation.” This means that my agent and I could veto a cover and suggest alternatives if the art department’s early efforts didn’t connect with the book’s text. The publisher liked my idea of an Indian style bed with a book on it (supposed to make you think of an dictionary!). In India, the novel is titled differently and has its own cover. PenguinIndia/Random House decided to call it The City of Palaces, after Calcutta’s nickname during colonial days for its grand architecture. However, there’s no city on the cover…although there is an unclothed woman! This was not my idea at all--but the cover is striking and seems to be selling.  (For more about arriving at the cover of this book, read Sujata's blog entry, "The Road to the Right Cover" @

I have the trailer from your Web site to share.  What do you think of trailers for books?  Will there be more for the rest of the Daughters of Bengal series?

I can’t afford to pay for book trailers; I hear the cost is about $1000 per minute! Simon&Schuster put together that interview and the old pictures into a kind of book trailer. It was very kind of them, and I like the result. We’ll see what happens in the future regarding trailers for other books. I think trailers are neat to put on web pages and share as Internet links, but I’m unsure whether they inspire people to buy books. At the very least, though, trailers are a way to build awareness of a book’s title. 

As her identities change in book, Kamala changes her name, too, to reflect these changes in her stations.  How important are the characters’ names in your books to you, and how did you choose Kamala’s different names?

India is a place where people might go through life with a variety of names called by their immediate family, the school and work community, and the family they marry into. The narrator is a little girl who starts out being called “Pom” by her family. When Pom shifts to a boarding school she’s renamed by the headmistress as “Sarah” as part of her Christian conversion. There’s a 1740 novel by Henry Richardson called Pamela, or Virtue Rewarded, about the danger of beautiful young girls becoming exploited; this influenced my decision for Sarah to be called Pamela in the book’s third section. Finally, she chooses a name for herself, Kamala, to cut ties completely with her past. In Sanskrit, Kamala means “lotus” and is also an alternate name for the Goddess Lakshmi, the Hindu deity my narrator sometimes calls on for help.

Tell us some about your research for The Sleeping Dictionary.

I immersed myself as best I could in the language, setting, clothing and historic events of 1930s and 1940s Bengal. This was accomplished by reading old books and newspapers and interviewing some historians and elderly people over a four-year period. I traveled to find documents and people I needed in London and India, but the bulk of work was done in Minneapolis, MN, through conversations with my father, who was born in India during the colonial period, and using the fabulous Ames Library of South Asia within the University of Minnesota. I plan to visit the Ames library again next month to look for material to help me with my next India historical. I’m so excited!

You’ve said that there was much more material to the original text than made the final cut, and I thought what was included was just the perfect amount.   How hard was it to let go of that material?

It was sad to let go of a couple hundred pages that I had spent months on and that was written with a lot of enthusiasm. Especially since in the realm of international literary fiction, some very long books have been published! Were these long books big sellers, though? Not always, and paper is a big cost to publishers, and shelf space is a cost to booksellers. The book I did finally produce--about 450 trade paperback pages—is probably long enough for most people. Fortunately, I was able to rework some of the removed material into a novel, The Ayah’s Tale, which is currently an e-book and will be part of a paperback anthology very soon.

While I was reading The Sleeping Dictionary I wasn’t aware that it is the first in a series.  What can we expect next and in the coming books after that?

I hate to let go of great characters, so I had an idea of a series of books featuring Kamala’s descendents. But I’ve also got a very pressing idea for another series set in India during the 1920s and ‘30s. For the time being, I’m running with this second idea and in time I hope to have the wisdom to do a book featuring Kamala’s daughter set in the 1950s. But one thing I’ve learned in this business is that ideas and books can’t be rushed. Books need time to marinate.

Are you a plotter or a pantster?  Are outlines a part of your writing at all?  Did you know where Kamala was going to end up in The Sleeping Dictionary when you started?

I’m a moderate (not extreme) outliner. This means I usually write a couple of pages of what I think will happen in a book and who the characters will be. Things do change along the way, but this kind of a roadmap makes it easier to stay on track. I’ve always wondered why such book summaries as I’ve described are called ‘outlines.’ In my opinion, they are closer to synopses. A lot of publishers would like to see an outline as well as a few chapters when deciding whether to give a writer a book contract. But my agent does not like to look at an outline, because when she reads the book the first time to give me feedback, she wants to do it from a more natural viewpoint and not see the twists and outcomes ahead of time.


Can you tell us tell us a little about your writing process.   Any particular schedule to which you adhere?  Do you have a set number of hours or words you strive for each day?  Any quirky writing habits you care to share?

I look at my upcoming week’s calendar every Sunday. Any time I’m not involved in chauffeuring or otherwise taking care of my children is either scheduled for writing, cooking/grocery, or exercise. Well, to be honest, exercise has taken a backseat to other activities this summer…and don’t ask me what MY backseat looks like after two months with no spinning or toning classes.
Ideally I do all these things—cook, write, chauffeur, errands, help kids with homework, and exercise—in one day. I’m pleased if I write 1000 words a day or 6000 words a week. I sometimes write for very short periods of time such as a half -hour, because I don’t have big blocks of uninterrupted writing time. I also can write very early and very late in the day, and under noisy conditions and in public waiting rooms, because I’m just so desperate for any time at all to myself.

Do you have a favorite part of writing? Hardest part?

My favorite part is pretty straightforward. It’s finishing a productive writing session of at least 3 hours (sometimes more) in which story flows without too much trouble. The hardest part is getting to work every single day to even get a page done. It’s easy for books to stall. I wish I were an eight-hour-day writer, but I have too many other jobs to take care of for that to be possible.

How have your personal experiences affected your writing?

After having children, the Indian side of my heritage (my father is from India) became more important because I was involved in cultural activities and holiday celebrations. Getting closer to India like this slowly built the ideas and motivation to write The Sleeping Dictionary and to continue exploring India and its fantastic history. If I were able to live for an extended time in India, and not just visit, it would be absolutely ideal for work, but that opportunity will probably not come until my children are out of the house.

Can you remember your first story you ever wrote?  Feel free to go back to childhood for this one if you like.

Hmm. This is kind of embarrassing, but it was a 300-page-plus novel I started at age 13. The book was set at my junior high school after it was hit by a tornado…and an extremely handsome and perfect 9th grade guy and I had to save everyone. It had no title, but was a love story and disaster story rolled into one that my sisters delighted in sneaking out from its hiding place and reading with gales of laughter! 

Do you attend any conferences?  If so, what is your favorite?  Where can we reading fans catch you the rest of this year?

I’m often at Malice Domestic, a long-lived cozy mystery convention with a lot of enthusiastic readers not far from my home in Maryland. I wish I could find a historical fiction convention in the United States—it would be pretty thrilling to meet historical authors I admire learn more about the craft and connect with readers.
I have an author newsletter that comes as a free email every now and then which gives its readers an exclusive or the first shot tat upcoming events and promotions such as raffles and flash sale prices on e-books. 

What would you like to tell us about yourself that isn’t in your bio material?

While I crave “alone time” in order to write, I’m very social in the off-hours and enjoy hosting and attending dinner parties, neighborhood happy hours, book signing parties, coffee klatsches, afternoon teas, potlucks, barbecues and benefit dinners. Usually when I go out somewhere, I have it in mind that it will be an enjoyable time. And it is.

In your recent newsletter, you talked about cooking with cilantro, and there are recipes shared in your writing.  Is cooking another talent or passion of yours? 
I’ve enjoyed cooking since I was a girl because both my parents cooked together and were excellent at it. I grew up eating fabulous international food, an experience I’m trying to replicate for my family though my kids sometimes complain about it. I want to give a shout out about Indian cooking here! Anyone interested in learning to cook this delicious cuisine can start out with Madhur Jaffrey’s cookbooks. Her recipes are easy and delicious. It’s super-quick to get recipes from the Internet now, and I’m as guilty as everyone else at Googling “cucumber soup,” but carefully developed and tested recipes in cookbooks are essential to keeping serious, authentic world cooking alive. The people who produce cookbooks are authors we must support!

Can you tell us about your next book and when we can expect it?

My next book is titled The Kizuna Coast and is a mystery in my long-running Japanese series. I decided to publish at least one more Rei Shimura novel for those fans. This is a full-length novel about the tsunami of 2011 that devastated the Tohoku area of Japan. It’s a very exciting venture for me because I’ve hired my own developmental and copy editors and cover artist and plan to release it as a trade paperback under my new imprint, Ikat Press. The advantage to publishing this way is that a book can be brought to market sooner, plus I can keep it as long as I’d like, and I can charge what I think is an attractive price to readers. The disadvantage is it’s harder to get book reviews. Here’s where bloggers can really help out! Any bloggers interested in a free advance review copy should send me an email here


 You’re also part of a book bundle called Killer Femmes.

Some mystery writer friends and I, who all write series featuring cool female sleuths, decided to build readership by working together. We each chipped in an already-published book that is a reader favorite to form a “bundle” titled Killer Femmes selling for .99 or the foreign price equivalent at all e-book platforms. Killer Femmes features novels by me, Libby Fischer Hellman, Zoe Sharp, Julie Smith and Christine Kling. If you haven’t yet read them, you’re in for some suspenseful late nights. Here’s a link to the Amazon page

What are you reading now? 

I’m listening to the audiobook of The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan, an historical novel set in early 20th century China. The paper books halfway-read on my bedside are: Niranjan Pal: A Forgotten Legend & Such is Life, an autobiography of the late Indian playwright/screenwriter; and Ayya’s Accounts, a memoir-biography of a South Indian merchant, M.P. Mariappan, told by him and his anthropologist grandson, Anand Pandian. The latter two books are research relating to my forthcoming work, although they are also a pleasure to read.

Any upcoming promotions for readers? 

Yes, indeed! I’m holding a contest for readers of this blog to build awareness of The Sleeping Dictionary. If you send me your name and email, I’ll enter you in a drawing for a free, signed book to be awarded by July 30, 2014. Just send the details to with the subject line “Bookaholics Contest.”

I’m also promoting a Killer Femmes Facebook contest that is even cooler—for a $100 or $50 ebook gift certificate to spend at the ebook retailer of your choice. Fill out the free contest entry form which is here


Sujata Massey Bio and Author Information:

Sujata Massey was born in England to parents from India and Germany and grew up mostly in St. Paul, Minnesota. She holds a BA in Writing Seminars from Johns Hopkins University and started her working life as a features reporter for the Baltimore Evening Sun. After leaving the newspaper, she moved to Japan, where she studied Japanese, taught English and began writing her first novel, The Salaryman’s Wife. This novel became the first of many in the Rei Shimura mystery series, which has won Agatha and Macavity awards and been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony, and Mary Higgins Clark awards. Her August 2013 release, The Sleeping Dictionary, is a trade paperback with Simon & Schuster’s Gallery line, and also an audiobook published by Dreamscape. It’s the first in a series of historical suspense novels featuring Bengali women who each play a role in making modern India.  (Borrowed from Sujata Massey's Web site biographical material @

My Review of The Sleeping Dictionary

The Sleeping Dictionary (Daughters of Bengal, #1)The Sleeping Dictionary by Sujata Massey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

To say that I fell in love with this book is not an exaggeration.  It is one of the most beautifully written, soulful stories that I’ve had the pleasure to read.  There are those books that are so special, so captivating, that you know it will forever be a part of you, and you will be perpetually indebted to is author for its creation.   Where were the Pulitzer people last year when this book was published?  Sujat Massey knows how to start a book, end a book, and, so importantly, how to include the perfect amount of story between beginning and ending.  In her comments about writing The Sleeping Dictionary, Sujata admits that there was some extraneous material she had thought of including, but, thankfully,  through her good sense and astute editors, she pared it down to what makes it a novel of exquisite style and content, avoiding a cumbersome tome of good and bad.  It is simply the good, and the good is great.  

The Sleeping Dictionary is a profoundly moving story of heartbreak, courage, loyalty, betrayal, love, hate, loss, recovery, hope, despair, and victory against the odds.  It is historically epic, taking place over the last seventeen years of the British Raj rule in India, which began in 1858 and ended in 1947.   Massey shows us how much more it was than just the British oppressing the Indians, how the caste system marked its people, and how the interaction of Muslims, Indians, and Anglo-Indians all played a part in limiting its native-born citizens and freeing them, too.  This fascinating story follows an Indian girl from the age of 10 through 27, showing the transformation from one identity to another as Kamala struggles to survive and find some meaning in her existence in a world that itself is rapidly changing.   It will literally captured my heart and made me ache for the cruelties Kamala suffered along her journey.  Her resilience is an amazing feat to follow. 

“You ask for my name, the real one, and I cannot tell.  It is not for lack of effort.”
1930 finds ten-year-old Pom living with her family in the small Bengali village of Johlpur,  where her father farms rice for a landlord.   Although her Hindu family is poor and low in the caste system of India, there are many poorer.  Her family has just recently been blessed with the birth of a boy, the first in her family, and life is considered good.  But, Pom’s world is literally turned upside down when a tidal wave wipes out everyone in her village but her.  Near death herself, she is discovered by a Muslim man who works for a girls’ school some distance away.  She ends up working as a servant at the school, where her name is changed by the headmistress to Sarah, as a more appropriate name for her surroundings.  It is the first of several name changes and identities she will assume.  Life is often cruel for the young Indian girl at Lockwood School, but it is also the place where she learns English, develops a love of reading, and makes a friend who has an important impact.   It is the first stop in an education of both the good and the bad in life.  Her next life experience will prove to be almost unbearable, but she keeps her eye on Calcutta and the hope it holds for a better life.  Her name changes with her different identities and experiences, and she will go from Sarah to Pamela to Kamala, her final name, before the story ends.  Kamala’s story is entwined with the liberation of India from the British, and, as a result, is in flux with the events of that historic time.  Like all great historical fiction, readers will be affected by a desire to learn even more about colonial India and its long fought for freedom.  Through Kamala’s life, I was able to encounter the different elements, good and bad, that was India during this period.  Her courage and resolve are indicative of a nation fighting for its release to self government. 

I was first intrigued by the name of this book and its beautiful cover, and upon finding out to what the title referred, I was sure that this was a book I wanted to read.  I was rewarded with a setting, cast of characters, and story that would mesmerize me from beginning to end.  The author includes a Hindi/Bengali/English glossary and a cast of characters description section.  Though the glossary might at first appear daunting, it is not, and I found it essentially helpful and never distracting.   I thank Sujata for writing this book that has so enriched my reading life and given me a favorite for the ages.  When you read this novel, don’t be surprised that you will want everyone you know to read this amazing book, knowing that their lives will never be complete unless they do.  
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