Sunday, December 18, 2016

Catriona McPherson's Christmas Memory (and a giveaway, too)

Anyone who knows Catriona McPherson has fallen under her spell of Scottish charm and wit.  She is the person who immediately lights up a room and is the friend all want to spend time with.  Of course, her writing isn't too shabby either, as she has one of the wonderfully quirkiest minds an author could wish for.  Catriona's standalones are works of creative genius and her Dandy Gilver series is as delightful as it is thrilling.  That mind of Catriona's is a space of many stories, quite beyond the easily imaginable, and we readers are indeed fortunate that she chooses to use that imagination and talent for good (hehehe).  I have a treat for you from Catriona at the end of my chatter.   

In my enthusiasm for Catriona's latest creation, The Reek of Red Herrings, I pre-ordered it twice, and, thus, I now have an extra copy on hand.  I could send it back, but where's the fun in that.  So, what I've decided to do is a Christmas giveaway.  After all, the story takes place at Christmas.  

Here's how to enter.  For all of those commenting on the blog, I will put one entry into a hat for you (a Santa hat, of course) to win this latest book in the Dandy Gilver series.  At the end of the post is a gray box that contains either the words "no comments," if there aren't any yet, or it will read "2 comments," or however many comments there are so far.  Click on that to comment.   For those who are already followers of the blog or who become followers with this post, I will add an extra entry for you.  For those who share the post on FB, you get an extra entry, too.  So, you can have up to three entries to win.  Unfortunately, I will have to limit it to the United States this time, as I'm trying to get the book to you by Christmas.  You have until tomorrow at noon my time, Central Time, to enter.

Now, for the absolute best part of this post today.  Catriona has graciously written about a treasured Christmas memory, exclusively for this blog, and you readers will get to go back in time to Scotland when a fourteen-month-old Catriona was having a particularly memorable Christmas.  Well, she might remember more about it as an adult.  Oh, and it's full of all that wonderful Catriona/Scottish wording. 

             A Christmas Treasure by Catriona McPherson

On Christmas Eve 1966, when I was 14 months old and my sisters were 9, 6 and 3 years old, my dad hid a big old reel-to-reel tape recorder under the telly (the size of a sarcophagus in those pre-flatscreen days).

As usual, we got up at the crack of dawn, waited bursting with excitement for my mum to get a cup of tea and then lined up outside the living room door while my dad went to to see if Santa had been (i.e. turn on the Christmas-tree lights). He flipped the switch on the tape machine.

So it was that we got a tape of the four of us opening our Christmas presents. (Weve all got copies of it on discs now.) I dont contribute much beyond a bit of gurgling and some ear-splitting squeals. My mum occasionally says Look what Babys got and the other girls all pause and say Awwww! before going back to ripping paper off their own swag.

Sheila, the oldest, is most chuffed with her books Barchester Towers! she cries with apparent delight. Jane Eyre! I do wonder what a nine-year-old would make of Anthony Trollope for Christmas now.

Audrey got a talking doll Rosebud who says things like Can I have a biscuit? in cut-glass tones (think Julie Andrews), which cracks us all up on the tape.

Wendys credit column has plenty presents in it (she got a toy Post Office among other things) but her debit column has the fact that at one point I crawl over and sink my tiny teeth into some of her stocking fruit. She was never a grumpy wee girl. All she says is You know what? Shes eating my pear.

These days, every second of childhood is videoed (harrumph, bah humbug, get off my lawn) but all we had was that one snapshot of one Christmas morning. Its all the more precious for it.
Im not complaining about modern technology, though. Im a long way from them all this year and Skype will make my Christmas Day.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Favorite Reads of 2016 (So Far)

The reason that I labeled this post "My Favorite Reads of 2016 (So Far)" is because due to unforeseen circumstances I lost a couple of months reading time in 2016, and there are some books published in 2016 that I know I would have put on this list if the year hadn't run out before I read them.  I think that this year is going to require an addendum sometime early in 2017, after I've managed to read those 2016 books that got caught in the year-end crunch.  However, I did enjoy a great reading year with the books I did read.  So, here are sixteen books from 2016 that I absolutely loved from beginning to end, heavy with series' books, but some spectacular stand-alones, too.  

I Let You Go by Claire Mackintosh 

       The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake by Terry Shames

                                                          Jane Steele by Lyndsay Faye 

The Murder of Mary Russell by Laurie R. King                        


 The Woman in Blue by Elly Griffiths      

                                           Walleye Junction by Karin Salvalaggi 

 Quiet Neighbors by Catriona McPherson 

    Heart of Stone by James Ziskin

                                                 Crowned and Dangerous by Rhys Bowen 

A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny 

                                Coffin Road by Peter May 

                                   The Queen's Accomplice by Susan Elia MacNeal 

Murder in Containment by Anne Cleeland 

                              Smoke and Mirrors by Elly Griffiths 

                                                     Say No More by Hank Phillippi Ryan 

Darktown by Thomas Mullen 

Sunday, December 4, 2016

What's in My Christmas Bag of Books This Year? Lots!

One present I've looked forward to the past decade is my Christmas Bag of Books that I give myself.  Even though I buy the books and put them in the Christmas-themed bag and put it under the tree, I still get excited knowing they are waiting for me on Christmas morning.  Playing Santa to myself is quite rewarding, especially with all the books I have coming for this year's bag.  Sixteen books!  I promise I've been a good girl.

Crosstalk by Connie Willis  (Connie Willis' Historical Time Travelers Books are some of my most favorite books, so I thought I'd give this new book of hers a try.)

Upstream: Selected Essays by Mary Oliver (Introduced to Mary Oliver by author and friend Kaye Wilkinson Barley, I think I've found a new poet and essayist in which to indulge.)

Shell Shocked Britain: The First World War's Legacy for Britain's Mental Health by Suzi Grogan  (This nonfiction book was in the bookstore of the WWI Museum in Kansas City, Missouri, and since I was planning on reading more of Charles Todd's Ian Rutledge series this winter, I thought it would be a good companion read.)

The Last Days of Night: A Novel by Graham Moore  (Thomas Edison, Nicola Tesla, George Westinghouse, and J.P. Morgan all figure in the race to power the country when electric lights were
making their arrival.  I've long been interested in this particular piece of history, and a novel about it by Graham Moore is a no-brainer for me.)

Disappearance at Devil's Rock: A Novel by Paul Tremblay  (About Tremblay's novel A Headful of Ghosts, Stephen King said, “A Head Full of Ghosts scared the living hell out of me, and I’m pretty hard to scare.”  I've been wanting to read a Paul Tremblay novel since reading that quote, and I decided to start with this one.)

Out of Bounds by Val McDermid  (Available in the U.S on December 6th, I've ordered it from Book Depository instead because I like the UK cover better.  Val McDermid is a sure bet for a Christmas treat.  And, Erin Mitchel, who knows great books like nobody's business, says it is one of the best books she's read in 2016.)

Silent Nights: A British Library Crime Classic, edited by Martin Edwards  (I met Martin at Bouchercon New Orleans and was immediately smitten with his British accent and gentlemanly ways.  I know Martin has done lots of work with the series of British Library Crime Classics, and I'm sure I'll read more he's edited, as well as other edited ones.  I'm also interested in Martin's Lake District Mysteries and finally getting to his award-winning nonfiction book, The Golden Age of Murder )

Never Alone by Elizabeth Haynes  (This title is available in the U.S. in ebook, but I wanted the paperback, so I once again turned to Book Depository to order that.  Elizabeth is an author I've wanted to get to for some time, so I made her a Christmas Bag purchase to ensure I get to her sooner rather than later.  Elizabeth is a former police intelligence analyst who lives in Norfolk.  That hooked me.  Also, it's another recommendation from Erin Mitchell, my book guru, as one of her favorite 2016 reads.)

The Blood Card: Stephens and Mephisto #3 by Elly Griffiths  (Ordering this from the British Book Depository is a matter of impatience for me, as it doesn't come out until 2017 in the U.S., and I want to get to it even before I receive an ARC of it for the U.S. edition.  Besides, I try to collect both U.S. and U.K. editions of Elly Griffiths', a.k.a. Domenica de Rosa's, books, both the Magic Men series and my beloved Ruth Galloway series.)

Commonwealth: A Novel by Ann Patchett  (I love everything Ann Patchett writes, and I haven't read this latest one published in September of this year, so it must go into the Christmas Bag of Books.) 

 Classic Penguin: Cover to Cover, edited by Paul Buckley  (I am fascinated by book covers, from complex to simple, from textured to flat.  I often want different editions of books just for their covers.  Penguin is a long-time favorite publisher of mine where covers are concerned.  I have several different Penguin editions for certain books.  One of the latest cover types for Penguin was the Graphic Novel cover, and I purchased several of the classics in these covers.  And, this Classic Penguin has a foreward by Audrey Niffenegger.)

Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan  (You had me at bookshop.  Also, recommended to me by friend Lesa Holstine, a librarian and blogger extraordinaire.)

The Reek of Red Herrings by Catriona McPherson (Even though I need to catch up in this series, I couldn't resist buying this latest one in the Dandy Gilver series, as there's a wedding and people are snowed in, and, of course, it's set in Scotland.)

The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon  (I love YA/Teen fiction and don't get to read nearly enough these days, as I'm so heavy into mystery and crime.  I couldn't pass up this one for my Christmas Bag of Books after a hearty endorsement by fellow YA/Teen reader, fellow mystery/crime reader, and kick-butt blogger and friend Kristopher Zgorski.) 

Under the Harrow  by Flynn Berry  (I'd had my eye on this one for a while, and with the great reviews and placement of it on many best lists, I know it will be a great addition to my bag.)

Plaid and Plagiarism by Molly MacRae  (This book is the first in the Highland Bookshop Mystery series, and I have a giant Scottish reading fetish, so I'm really looking foward to getting in on the ground floor of this mystery series set in Scotland.  Of course, it also helps that Dru Ann Love, an amazing blogger and book enthusiast and friend, just recommended this book on her blog.)

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Lone Wolf by Sara Driscoll: My Review

A new crime series is an exciting event, and when it expands one’s horizons in the genre, it is especially a great find. Lone Wolf by Sara Driscoll is the first in the F.B.I. K-9 novels and features F.B.I. Special Agent Meg Jennings and her black Labrador search-and-rescue/tracking dog named Hawk. Using dogs to help recover and/or discover during a crime investigation is an area with which I was not familiar and an area that has not been overly covered in the mystery/crime genre. Lone Wolf does an excellent job of bringing these dogs and their handlers to the light of day. The team of handler and dog are fiercely devoted to one another and must be able to depend on each other in life and death situations. The author does a superb job of describing the emotional bonds of handler and dog, as well as the physical training required. The use of a defined search-and-rescue term at the beginning of each chapter in the book helps acquaint readers with the jargon used in this function of search-and-rescue. The characters are fresh and interesting including the canine ones, the plot is all too plausible in our world today, and the story unfolds in a chilling atmosphere of well-measured suspense.

Fear has gripped the nation’s capital as a domestic terrorist is targeting government buildings and departments which he feels have wronged him and ruined his life. The modus operandi is homemade drones, packed with C-4 for maximum damage and loss of life. Meg and Hawk are drawn into this nightmare investigation as the first drone demolishes the Department of Agriculture building on a day that school children are visiting and directly in the bomb’s path. Survivors must be found in a crucial window of time, and the FBI K-9 unit is an integral part of the search and rescue effort. Meg and Hawk and the other canine teams work throughout the night locating those who clung to life amidst the hellish chaos.

The perpetrator soon shows that he is an angry American with axes to grind and no regard for human life, as he sends an anonymous email to Washington Post reporter Clay McCord indicating that there are more bombings to come. The next target is outside of D.C., and Meg and Hawk are once again called in with the other first responders. With a home-grown terrorist who shows no signs of stopping his attacks to kill and maim, Meg enlists the aid of McCord to do some private investigating into finding this madman before the death and destruction paralyzes the nation with uncontrollable panic.

I think that Jen Danna and Ann Vanderlaan, a.k.a Sara Driscoll, have found a niche in crime fiction that the FBI K-9 series fills quite nicely. I look forward to the minor characters, Meg’s fellow dog handlers and the newspaper reporter and the hint of a romantic interest for Meg all being fleshed out more. To me, that’s one of the beauties of a series, each book adding more background and more character development. There is lots of potential for this series to be a popular one, and not only for dog enthusiasts.

I received an ARC of Lone Wolf, but it is a definite hardback buy for me, too.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Interview with Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan

Today I'm interviewing a couple of authors who are as diversely interesting as they are impressively talented.  Jen J. Danna and Ann Vanderlaan first began their writing partnership with a favorite series of mine, the Abbott and Lowell Forensics Mysteries.  There are currently four titles in that series.  Jen and Ann have now joined forces in a new series, the F.B.I. K-9 Mysteries, and its first title, Lone Wolf, comes out tomorrow, and they have a new author name of Sara Driscoll for it.  As with all their work, Lone Wolf is a special read, and I will be posting my review of it here on the blog tomorrow.

So, now I will let you get to know Jen and Ann as they answer some questions about their writing and personal lives.


    Reading Room:  I’ve always been fascinated with how a partnership in writing a book works.  I’m guessing neither of you is a control freak.  Considering that you live in Canada, Jen, and you live in Texas, Ann, when and how did the two of you first meet and decide to write a book together, and what is the division of labor?

Jen: When I started writing again following a very long hiatus (more on that later), I posted some of my work online. Ann saw some of that work and introduced herself. She had correctly caught me in a gun error—she’s a gun owner herself and I’m a gun control-loving Canadian, and I was clearly making it up as I went along. We started talking and she offered to beta read some of my writing. But it quickly got to a point where she was contributing so much on both editing and plotting that we knew we’d be more successful if she was involved right from the beginning. That process is essentially the same one we still use: we do character and story/series planning together, then I write each chapter, and Ann rips it apart. We then put it back together as a team and then move onto the next chapter. Once the entire manuscript is done, we do several similar passes at the manuscript level. Ann also writes the chapter titles/descriptions, assists with research, lends her particular medical/technical/veterinary expertise, helps beat out the ‘Canukisms’ I inadvertently write into the manuscript, and is invaluable when we are writing characters that require a local colour and voice I simply don’t know. The perpetrator of the crimes in Lone Wolf is a perfect example of this. His life comes directly from Ann’s experiences and from the people she knew from when she lived on the east coast.

    Reading Room:  I follow both of you on FB and probably know from our acquaintance through your books some interesting facts about you, such as scientist and dog lover.  Could you tell those who are just starting to read you something about yourselves in your day jobs or activities?

Jen: I work full time in an infectious diseases lab at a Canadian university studying dengue fever, West Nile, influenza, and a number of other pathogens. We run a number of national and international studies funded by both American and Canadian funding agencies. We are an extremely busy and diverse group, but the day job is never boring (we don’t have time for boring!). So my writing has to fit around my day job, which means writing during my lunch hour, after work and in the evening, and on weekends.

Ann: I’m retired, but have never been busier. Aside from our writing, I am the treasurer and registered agent for a 501(c)(3) bully breed rescue, train and amuse my own dogs every day, assist my therapy dog with his day job at a domestic violence shelter and an elder care facility, practice nosework with my therapy dog in his favorite sport, and act as interpreter between vets and rescue members for some medical cases.

    Reading Room:  Jen, I had the good fortune to meet you at my first Bouchercon in Albany, New York in 2013.  You and Ann had started the Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries series, which I’ve really enjoyed, as I’m a big fan of forensics and you all did a superb job of that.  Could you tell us a bit about how you and Ann came to decide on that series’ subject matter?  Will there be more Leigh Abbott and Matt Lowell in the future?

Jen: Both Ann and I are scientists by heart and career and we both find the field of forensic anthropology fascinating and an interesting spin on a typical police procedure when you want to build in an active forensic angle. I personally wanted to be able to combine my love of science with my life-long love of mysteries, without writing a biothriller, which would be too close to my actual day job to be fun. It required learning the field of forensic anthropology to make the series believable, but my job at the university made all the professional journals available to me. Dr. William Bass, the father of modern forensic anthropology was speaking at Killer Nashville when I attended in 2011. Many writers spoke to him about how they loved his books (he writes with Jon Jefferson as Jefferson Bass). I’m sure I was the only one who spent time talking to him about his career as a scientific researcher and how his journal articles allowed me to write our forensic mysteries.

The next book in Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mysteries, Lament the Common Bones, will be released on March 15, 2017. This book is special because it not only has a full and very interesting case, but also wraps up a long arc of some very personal troubles for Leigh Abbott.

    Reading Room: Now, to your exciting new series, the FBI K-9 Series with Meg Jennings and Hawk, her search-and-rescue Labrador.  How did this series come about?  And, the new author name of Sara Driscoll?

Jen: We owe a large part of the FBI K-9 series to our agent, Nicole Resciniti of the Seymour Agency. She had lunch with editor Peter Sentfleben, who was with Kensington at the time, discussing the books he’d like to see. He requested a police procedural with a K-9 angle. Nicole brought that request, along with a number of other requests from other editors to her clients and Ann and I jumped at it. With Ann’s background in dog training and handling, we knew we had a leg up on many other writers. We were thrilled when Peter offered us a three book, hardcover deal. Lone Wolf is the first book in that series. Sadly, Peter moved on to a new publishing house, but we are now working with our new editor, Esi Sogah, on Before It’s Too Late, book two in the series, which will release in October 2017.

As far as the name, Kensington wanted a fresh name for the fresh series, so we came up with a name to encompass the two of us. Sara is the name of Ann’s granddaughter. When it came to the last name, what we were aiming for was something a little unusual that had no one like it through existing booksellers. And Sara Driscoll was born.

    Reading Room:  Something that I’d like for all of your readers to know is that you have one of the most interesting blogs around, with its “ forensics, archeology, science,  (your) writing and publishing path, and, the world of K-9 investigations.”  The recent post “The Brains Behind the Dog” featured dog handlers and there was a nice picture of Ann and the dog she serves as a handler for.  Most of the posts lately have been about working dogs, but this past year has also seen posts about Colma, CA, the city of death and the talented photographer daughter of Jen, Jess Danna.  So, the question is, do you write the blog solo, Jen, or do you and Ann both contribute to it?  Also, add anything else about the blog you want.

Jen: Both Ann and I look for interesting content for the blog, either through our own interests or current news stories. For example, we followed the discovery of the remains of Richard III from the first announcement of the uncovered skeleton, all the way through to the final facial reconstruction and DNA results in real time. For the K-9 stories, Ann has a heavier hand in the content as that’s her forte, not mine. Just as with our prose, I do the writing, and Ann does the editing.

    Reading Room:  Can either or both of you remember your first writing, be it as a youth or an adult, that made you think writing was in your future?

Jen: I used to write for fun as a teenager, but gave it up when my life got busy getting a university degree, then getting married and raising kids. But about twenty-five years, later, as my kids were older and didn’t need me as much, I started writing again. Back when I first started, I was writing with a girlfriend—now published children’s author R.J. Anderson. We lived 275 miles apart and used to snail mail chapters of our stories to each other. I’m sure the writing was terrible but I really wish I’d kept some of it because there’s absolutely nothing wrong with a learning curve and we all start somewhere. But never in a million years did I think this would be a career. I have a science degree and haven’t taken a single English class past high school. But both Ann and I are voracious readers and you can learn how to write simply by reading a lot of excellent writing. 
Ann and I wrote for fun for two years, composing five trunk novels in that time. We simply did it for the joy of writing, until a few people said to us ‘Why aren’t you doing this professionally?’ and we both thought ‘Why aren’t we?’ We scrapped everything we’d done in the past and started the first Abbott and Lowell Forensic Mystery, Dead, Without a Stone to Tell It, and the rest is history. But neither of us initially intended it as a career. 

Ann: I never really thought of writing as my future. I always wanted to be an engineer or biomedical scientist.

    Reading Room:  Something I like to ask all authors in an interview is about their secret or lesser known talents.  I know with both of you exude talent in your writing and your other work, but what’s a talent each of you has that might be quirky or not as well-known as your obvious ones?  Dowsing? Grave digging? 

Jen: Well, it’s not really a quirky talent, but I, like the rest of my family, am very musical. I used to play the oboe in high school, still dabble at the piano, and sing regularly in a choir.

Ann: I’ve taught courses in a vet school, a medical school, and a nursing school before veering off into software and automation in the oilfield. I am fascinated by large machines and how things work. But even before grad school I was always interested in systems behavior: why do individuals (people, red blood cells, software modules, etc.) behave differently when alone rather than in a crowd, living body, or other system? After years of living in a prolific moonshining county, I can walk outside on a crisp fall morning and identify which of my neighbors’ stills are running and what mash they are using. I learned how to quilt by hand. I also was taught how to dowse, although I am a skeptic.


    Reading Room:  And, being interested in what everyone else is reading, I must ask, what book or books do you have on your nightstand now?

Jen: I’m just about to start Louise Penny’s most recent release A Great Reckoning. I love her Chief Inspector Gamache books (and no, not just because she’s a Canadian author writing a Canadian setting). She writes beautifully, and that series is a fantastic example of how you can build up a long arc over eight or nine books, culminating in a magnificent climax, in her case, in How the Light Gets In. Simply amazing.

Ann: With five large dogs, reading is a communal activity in the living room reserved for evenings or wet days. Currently, I’m reading And the Dog Who Spoke with Gods by Diane Jessup and Jordan’s Stormy Banks by Jefferson Bass. Without Mercy, also by Jefferson Bass is next on my list.

    Reading Room:  One last question that I personally am excited to know the answer to.  Are you amazing authors going to be at Bouchercon next fall when it’s in Toronto?

Jen: Absolutely! Wouldn’t miss it!