Saturday, March 26, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 6

Adding a few more books for Bouchercon 2016 attendees to consider as you fill out your Anthony Awards ballot, due April 30th.  Today's selections include Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen from Berkley (eligible for Best Novel),  Come to Harm by Catriona McPherson from Midnight Ink (eligible for Best Paperback Original), Fate of the Union by Max Collins and Matthew Clemens from Thomas & Mercer (eligible for Best Paperback Original), and Fatal Reservations by Lucy Burdette from  NAL (eligible for Best Paperback Original).

Malice at the Palace (Her Royal Spyness, #9)Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lady Georgie series by Rhys Bowen is one of the most enjoyable reads I look forward to each year. I know when I open a Lady Georgie book that all the boxes will be ticked. Great characters, witty dialogue, fascinating history, intriguing settings, and a story that keeps me reading into the night/morning. Humor, history, mystery. I'm in reader heaven! Rhys Bowen writes like King Midas transformed; everything is gold.

For those multitude of fans who already follow the adventures and misadventures of Lady Georgie, you know that the books usually start with Georgie being between living suitable living arrangements and direction for her life. Unfortunately, as a part of the royal family, even if 35th removed from the crown, she has certain restrictions on what is acceptable and not for her path in life. In Malice at the Palace, Georgie has returned from her Hollywood adventure in America and is temporarily staying at her friend Belinda's Mews Cottage. But, Belinda unexpectantly returns and Georgie must find new digs. Discovering her brother Binky and his family are in residence in London, it appears that Georgie will have to move in with them, something she and her sister-in-law Fig both would like to avoid. And, as is often the case with Lady Georgie, the Queen's wishes intercede, and Georgie finds herself living at Kensington Palace as a companion for Prince George's bride-to-be, Princess Marina of Greece. With the wedding two weeks away, Georgie is to be Marina's guide and escort in London, showing off the best of the city and shopping for last minute trousseau items. In spite of the palace's haunted history, Georgie is looking forward to landing someplace where she doesn't have to worry about having no money.

Of course, with Lady Georgie, nothing ever goes in a straight line order. No sooner does Princess Marina touch down on English soil than a body turns up, discovered by Georgie right outside Kensington Palace. With Georgie practically stumbling upon the body when she's alone, the first order of business becomes secrecy, keeping the news from the Princess and the public. Georgie once again finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, albeit one in which she must pretend doesn't exist. The royal family must be protected at all costs, and Georgie fears that cost may include the murderer getting away with the crime, as the murder victim is one of Prince George's former dalliances. But, Georgie is nothing if not persistent, and she is quite willing to do her own investigating, which can have illuminating results, but can also lead to deadly danger. And where is Darcy, the love of her life? Her exasperation with her beau is at its all-time high, and a crossroads of which direction the relationship will take is all too evident.

There is so much to love about this latest Lady Georgie book, and I feel like I say that about each one, which only means that each book offers a freshness of story that is captivating. The combination of mystery and history makes the story especially interesting to me, and the inclusion of the wedding of Prince George and Marina, with the sidebars of Prince David and Mrs. Simpson are seamlessly included in the fictional murder story. Recommending Malice at the Palace is to recommend a pleasure of a treasure.

Come to HarmCome to Harm by Catriona McPherson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I was on edge during the entire reading of Catriona McPherson's Come to Harm. I just knew at any moment the ax, so to speak, was going to fall. Kudos to this brilliant author for creating this suspenseful atmosphere, where the reader steps carefully along with Keiko, the main character, into the dark secrets of Painchton, Scotland. There are some comments I want to make, but it would be a disservice to new readers to ease the tension that winds one up reading this story. I will say that there are a number of possible suspects in a number of possible scenarios of wrong doing.

Keiko Nishisato has arrived in Painchton, Scotland to attend university in Edingburgh to work on her PhD. She has a scholarship and is being sponsored by the Painchton traders and given a free apartment for three years. It's all almost to good to be true, and Keiko begins to suspect that maybe that's exactly what it is. Everyone is extremely friendly and eager to help her settle in, but there seems to be a hidden agenda that Keiko can't seem to crack. She slowly acclimates herself to new customs and new food in this home six thousand miles away from Tokyo. And, oh, the food is plentiful, with all the merchants wanting to feed her and teach her about traditional Scottish foods. Of course, Keiko's PhD original subject matter deals with food, so the residents are more than happy to help. Then, the apartment that Keiko has been given is above the butcher shop, and she becomes friends with the two Poole sons who work in their family's shop. Only their mother, Mrs. Poole, keeps her distance from Keiko and doesn't join in the town's enthusiastic welcome. As Keiko digs in to work on her studies, she feels more and more that there information is being intentionally withheld from her and people might not be who they seem. With several girls having left Painchton in a rather abrupt manner, Keiko begins to worry that it's urgent for her to discover why they left.

Come to Harm is yet another great read from Catriona McPherson. A dark thriller, it will keep you on guard and give you the gasp you're waiting for.

Fate of the UnionFate of the Union by Max Allan Collins

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Political thrillers are not usually the first books I pick up in the crime genre, but when I do and the book is as great a read as Fate of the Union, I begin to wonder why my reticence. The action is full of the suspense that I crave in books, and the characters are wonderfully drawn, with interesting flaws and quirks. Max Collins and Matthew Clemens have certainly won me over with this second in their Joe Reeder series. I plan to quickly go back and pick up the first, Supreme Justice.

Joe Reeder is an ex-Secret Service agent, who has twice saved the lives of the leaders in the United States, one of those being the President. He has earned a stellar reputation and envied popularity rating, but he is dismissive of the accolades and more interested in running his successful security buiness, ABC Security, name chosen for its advantageous placement in the phone book. How does one create a leading character who is a hero and a great guy with an amazing sense of humor, an admired figure who doesn't take himself too seriously? Well, Collins and Clemens have created such a character, a blend of kick-ass awesome. Of course, once in the Secret Service, you become ensconced in a mind-set that stays with you, and if you're lucky, keeps you alive.

Reeder is what is loosely termed a consultant for the FBI's Special Situations Task Force, as well as running his successful security firm. He and the head of this force, FBI Special Agent Patti Rogers, worked together on the last case where he saved the life of a high-ranking official. In Fate of the Union, the officially labeled suicide of one of Reeder's former Secret Service colleagues and string of execution-style killings bring Reeder and Rogers together again. The connection of these separate events is buried deep in a conspiracy that requires the combined efforts of these two highly capable professionals, along with Roger's personally vetted task force. The stakes are high and the bodies are piling up, as a killer has his sights on a prize of enormous impact. And, of course, time is slipping away as fast as the killer. For Reeder and Rogers, they must be their most brilliant and most resourceful ever if they are to prevent the final act of a madman.

So glad that I expanded my reading comfort zone to include this amazing novel. The action is so well paced and the story is so compelling that a reader will immediately become fully engaged in this crisis for the nation. The characters and their dialogue, with an infusion of humor, are yet another reason to enjoy this book, and it doesn't hurt that it all takes place in the invigorating setting of Washington, D.C. A most satisfying read.

Fatal Reservations (Key West Food Critic Mystery, #6)Fatal Reservations by Lucy Burdette

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If the Key West Food Critic Mystery series was food, it would be Key Lime Cake prepared by the chef at Firefly Restaurant in Key West, a dessert that just happens to be the most delicious, refreshing piece of eating that one's mouth could savor. I truly come close to squealing with delight when each new book in this series deals with a different part of Key West that I have personally visited. But, you needn't have visited Key West to enjoy these tasty morsels, because author Lucy Burdette creates a vivid picture that ensconces you into the atmosphere and geography of this island paradise, a paradise full of colorful people/characters and a bit of murder on the side.

In Fatal Reservations, Haley Snow, the food critic at Key Zest magazine and character who seems to always find herself in the middle of police business, is getting used to a new boss, Palamina Wells, at the online magazine, while dating her other boss, Wally, there. Never a dull or uncomplicated moment with Haley, she is in the midst of gearing up to review Key West's new restaurant, a floating restaurant named For Goodness Sake, and she's keeping a watchful eye on her boathouse roommate, eighty-year-old Miss Gloria, who is a new volunteer at the Key West Cemetery. Attending a city commission meeting over the controversy of the new restaurant bypassing certain regulations to which other land restaurants had to adhere. The meeting also brings up another issue, the problem of allotting spaces to the Mallory Square Sunset Celebration performers. It's a heated situation, and with the identification of a body that just washed up in brackish water as one of the Mallory Square performers, everyone is on edge. When Haley's good friend whom she frequently consults, Lorenzo the tarot card-reader of Sunset Celebration fame, becomes the prime suspect in the murder, Haley must once again take matters into her own hands to try and help him. If only so much evidence didn't point to him as guilty.

Lucy Burdette has created a series that I have come to depend on as a guaranteed great read. The characters, the plots, the setting, the witty dialogue, and the food. Oh, the food! I consider these books my guide to eating in Key West, and I haven't been disappointed. And, then there is Haley's fabulous cooking, for which Lucy so generously provides recipes at the end of the story. It's with anticipation I open each new book, and with great joy I read each page. The latest adventurous mystery with the great title of Fatal Reservations will charm you and thrill you with the best Key West has to offer.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 5

So, I'm still reading 2015 books, trying to catch up with some of the ones I want to consider for my nominating ballot for the Anthony Awards.  Ballots are due April 30th, and I fear I won't get all the reading in that I'd like.  But, I will never get in all the reading I'd like.  And, in addition to reading for the nominations, I have a long list to read before Bouchercon in September.  I keep thinking that one of these years, I won't have such a list for Bouchercon, that I might catch up, but that's the joy of reading, always hearing about authors that are new to you and scrambling to read a series and/or stand-alones by those authors.  After I finish posting about the nominations, I plan to do posts on those authors with whom I'm hoping to become acquainted before rolling into New Orleans next fall.  

Today's four books and authors for nominee consideration are No Other Darkness by Sarah Hillary from Headline Book Publishing (eligible for Best Paperback Original), A Deceptive Homecoming by Anna-Loan Wilsey from Kensington (eligible for Best Paperback Original), The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins from Riverhead Books (eligible for Best Novel), and Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen from Berkley (eligible for Best Novel).

 No Other Darkness (DI Marnie Rome #2)No Other Darkness by Sarah Hilary
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

It's usually a difficult read in crime/mystery when the victims are children, as it should be. I'm not quick to go there in my reading. However, Sarah Hilary develops the story with such care and respect for the deceased children that I didn't just want to read how their deaths came about and who was responsible, I needed to read it for the answers in finding justice for lives cut so tragically short. Hilary delves into the darkness that needs to be explored to find the answers readers need, darkness that can consume a mind and direct actions to unspeakable results. It is psychologically intense, with so many threads and clues and past lives that must be sorted, and sorted it will be, brilliantly. No Other Darkness is actually the second entry into the DI Marnie Rome series, but starting with the second book posed no problems in becoming fully engaged in the story and the characters.

In the city of London and its surrounding area, there are countless old tunnels, buildings, and underground shelters left behind by wars and earlier needs. It is in one such underground shelter that the bodies of two children are discovered, and DI Marnie Rome and her partner Noah Jake are called in to investigate. It's a challenging case, as four or five years have passed since the deaths of the children. A father of a family living in a fairly new housing area discovers the shelter and bodies as he's digging a garden. There is, of course, no identification, but the children are determined to be young boys. Rome has what seems like an impossible task before her, but she is tenacious, determined, and deliberate in piecing together a complete picture that joins past and present together, even if it means revisiting her own painful past and unresolved feelings.

The true genius of this book is that it goes beyond a murder mystery of investigation and solution. It is at its essence a story about the dynamics of relationships in a family, dealing with love, the good, and pain, the bad. What happens when a family reaches the breaking point? How do people survive the loss of family and love again?

There is no straight line to answers in this intricately plotted story. Lots of twists and turns and suspects who fit but then don't. It is an absolute unraveling of the past and present to see where they meet. The characters are so well developed, main characters and secondary ones. Marnie is a complex person, strong and vulnerable. I look forward to reading more background about her when I read the first book in the series. Noah's character is not just a sidekick to Marnie's story, but he has his own fascinating personal space and story. I'm not quite sure how Sarah Hilary gives the readers such a complete character with the different characters in this story, but it is a gift that adds great dimension and flavor to a mesmerizing plot. 

A Deceptive Homecoming (Hattie Davish Mystery, #4)A Deceptive Homecoming by Anna Loan-Wilsey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The fourth entry into the Hattie Davish Mystery series is one of the best reads I've had all year. No one does historical mystery fiction better than Anna Loan-Wilsey. She is simply superb at the research behind the books and masterful at folding it into brilliantly written stories with characters and descriptions that bring the 1890s alive for readers. And, the mid-1890s was a fascinating period in the history of the United States, a time of innovation and progress on the cusp of a new century. Reading the Hattie Davish series allows one to experience the excitement of the changing times while showing an appreciation and connection to the past. I am always thrilled to learn bits of history that Loan-Wilsey has pulled from the lesser known facts surrounding famous names and events from our country's past. As a traveling secretary with a meticulous eye for detail and a knack for solving crimes, Hattie Davish is a character who takes us on a journey of intriguing discovery.

In a Deceptive Homecoming, readers finally get to see where Hattie's life began, where she took form and purpose. She has returned to her hometown of St. Joseph, Missouri to attend the funeral of one of her best friend's father and to be of assistance and comfort. But it would seem that her friend, Virginia Hayward, doesn't welcome her aid or comfort concerning her father Frank's death. Hattie is at a loss to understand Virginia's demeanor, and becomes even more at odds with Virginia as Hattie begins to question the identity of the man in Frank Hayward's casket. Coming home has also brought a reunion with Mrs. Chaplin's School for Women, the place where Hattie became a skilled secretary and learned to fend for herself through her education. Always grateful for her experiences at the school, she can't help but become involved in the problems that are besieging her alma mater. Bizarre happenings and missing money at the school would appear to be separate from her problems with Virginia, but are they? And, as Hattie digs deeper into the mysteries surrounding her old friends, her own personal history comes back to haunt her. Hattie's search for the truth and possible murderer take her through the streets of a transformed St. Joseph to the horrors of a lunatic asylum. It's a treacherous trip down memory lane.

Anna Loan-Wilsey has now given readers four great multi-layered stories, full of history and suspense. With each book, I become more convinced that the 1890s is an amazing time in which to start a series about an independent, smart woman who, like the times, are moving forward and breaking barriers that once were thought impenetrable. I can't wait to see where this ingenious author takes us next.

The Girl on the TrainThe Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I approach reading a book such as The Girl on the Train with all the hype surrounding it in a state of both excitement and trepidation. With promises that it’s going to be one of the year's best books, I read the book with this expectation hovering over me. I really wanted to love it, to be able to proclaim my agreement with the horn tooters and prophets. It was interesting to see if I would fall in with those who proclaim its genius or those who failed to be smitten.

This one had me lingering in the land of suspended opinion for pretty much the first half of the book. I genuinely disliked all the characters and found the three major women narrators either weak or bitchy. However, there is one measure of a novel’s effectiveness that cannot be denied. Did I need to keep reading to see what happens? Did I stay up late reading to fulfill that need as quickly as possible? The answers to both questions are “yes,” so I have to conclude that the story is a compelling one, and the deeply flawed characters are paramount to the success of the plot. The whole crazy setup works, and the characters do evolve. Of course, the fact that I have a fascination with trains and a long standing curiosity about what is going on in houses that I pass either on a train or car enhanced the method in which the story unfolds. My voyeurism was born watching Rear Window, where watching the daily routines of neighbors proved chillingly exciting and deadly. Not surprisingly, Hawkins’ book has been described as having Hitchcockian flair.

Rachel Watson is about as sad a sack as can be, and the only real interest she has in life is watching the lives of others out of the train window as she travels from a small suburb of London into the city itself. Alcoholism and obsession are the constants of her life, and moving on from a devastating divorce seems an elusive step for her. As a distraction from her pain and decline, Rachel has become fixated on one couple in particular during her daily commute and has named them Jason and Jess, the perfect couple. The train’s signal stop enables Rachel to witness Jason and Jess having coffee on their back terrace in the mornings, and she becomes emotionally invested in the scene playing out before her. And, then Rachel's image of her perfect couple gets slammed by reality, as interactions Rachael witnesses in her train watching spill over into a drama of a missing woman. The often incoherent state of black out in which Rachel finds herself proves to land her right in the middle of this suburban drama as she strives to remember vital information. The police consider her an unreliable witness when she reports on what she’s seen from her couple watching. As Rachel desperately searches for answers, the lines between lies and truth blur, and the tension of the story winds tighter and tighter.

Paula Hawkins uses three alternating narrators, three women at the heart of the story, with Rachel's voice being the prominent one. This approach allows the reader to understand how very little is as it seems. It works toward the climax of the different perspectives coming together in a chilling reveal. I started out stating that I didn't like the characters, meaning I wouldn't pick them as people to be in my life, but it doesn't mean that the characters didn't do their job well. While it won't be my favorite book of the year and isn't an "it" book for me, it was a good read that hit on my "Rear Window" sense of thrill. 

Malice at the Palace (Her Royal Spyness, #9)Malice at the Palace by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lady Georgie series by Rhys Bowen is one of the most enjoyable reads I look forward to each year. I know when I open a Lady Georgie book that all the boxes will be ticked. Great characters, witty dialogue, fascinating history, intriguing settings, and a story that keeps me reading into the night/morning. Humor, history, mystery. I'm in reader heaven! Rhys Bowen writes like King Midas transformed; everything is gold.

For those multitude of fans who already follow the adventures and misadventures of Lady Georgie, you know that the books usually start with Georgie being between living suitable living arrangements and direction for her life. Unfortunately, as a part of the royal family, even if 35th removed from the crown, she has certain restrictions on what is acceptable and not for her path in life. In Malice at the Palace, Georgie has returned from her Hollywood adventure in America and is temporarily staying at her friend Belinda's Mews Cottage. But, Belinda unexpectantly returns and Georgie must find new digs. Discovering her brother Binky and his family are in residence in London, it appears that Georgie will have to move in with them, something she and her sister-in-law Fig both would like to avoid. And, as is often the case with Lady Georgie, the Queen's wishes intercede, and Georgie finds herself living at Kensington Palace as a companion for Prince George's bride-to-be, Princess Marina of Greece. With the wedding two weeks away, Georgie is to be Marina's guide and escort in London, showing off the best of the city and shopping for last minute trousseau items. In spite of the palace's haunted history, Georgie is looking forward to landing someplace where she doesn't have to worry about having no money.

Of course, with Lady Georgie, nothing ever goes in a straight line order. No sooner does Princess Marina touch down on English soil than a body turns up, discovered by Georgie right outside Kensington Palace. With Georgie practically stumbling upon the body when she's alone, the first order of business becomes secrecy, keeping the news from the Princess and the public. Georgie once again finds herself in the middle of a murder investigation, albeit one in which she must pretend doesn't exist. The royal family must be protected at all costs, and Georgie fears that cost may include the murderer getting away with the crime, as the murder victim is one of Prince George's former dalliances. But, Georgie is nothing if not persistent, and she is quite willing to do her own investigating, which can have illuminating results, but can also lead to deadly danger. And where is Darcy, the love of her life? Her exasperation with her beau is at its all-time high, and a crossroads of which direction the relationship will take is all too evident.

There is so much to love about this latest Lady Georgie book, and I feel like I say that about each one, which only means that each book offers a freshness of story that is captivating. The combination of mystery and history makes the story especially interesting to me, and the inclusion of the wedding of Prince George and Marina, with the sidebars of Prince David and Mrs. Simpson are seamlessly included in the fictional murder story. Recommending Malice at the Palace is to recommend a pleasure of a treasure.


Sunday, March 13, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 4

When you think about all of the books and short stories eligible and worthy of a Bouchercon Anthony Award, it makes you realize just how special the winning titles of the awards are.  Hearing one's name called and walking up to the podium to receive an Anthony has to be an overwhelmingly emotional moment for an author.  And, it is emotional for the readers who are fans of the books and authors, too.  The awards ceremony is one big mushy love fest, and to experience it is to understand that reading is actually a shared adventure.  Nominating five titles for each category of the Anthony Awards is a privilege and responsibility that gives readers a voice in honoring their favorites.  So, I continue with these posts of my reviews for some of the many eligible titles and hope that it helps in filling out your nomination ballot.  I'm not campaigning for any particular titles, but, of course, my reviews speak for themselves when I'm especially enamored.

The four books and reviews for consideration today are Little Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day from Seventh Street Books (eligible for Best Paperback Original); Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King from Bantam (eligible for Best Novel); Night Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron from William Morrow (eligible for Best Novel); and Entry Island by Peter May from Quercus (eligible for Best Novel, published in U.S. in 2015, Britain was earlier).

Little Pretty ThingsLittle Pretty Things by Lori Rader-Day

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Can success or failure in high school continue to define a person ten years down the road? In Lori Rader-Day’s latest novel, Little Pretty Things, Juliet Townsend seems forever stuck in the fallout from coming in second, never the winner or the one who receives the accolades and the rewards of being first. Juliet has settled for less because she has never had more. Working in a one-star motel on the edge of her small town Midway, Juliet herself admits that “(She) hadn’t moved on.” It was typical of Midway, where people seem to fit the name, where people acquiesced instead of chasing dreams. Juliet’s one piece of salvation is her “little pretty things,” which she keeps hidden away.

But, the past can often prove to be a catalyst as well as a prison. When Juliet’s best friend from high school, Madeline Bell, shows up at the Mid-Night Motel, Juliet is less than thrilled to be reunited with the person who beat her in every track race throughout high school and kept Juliet from a coveted scholarship to a brighter future. Maddy is everything Juliet is not—well-dressed, well-traveled, polished, perfect face and hair, and wearing an enormous diamond engagement ring. Maddy had escaped Midway, and hadn’t been in touch in the intervening decade. Maddy wants to reconnect with Juliet and talk to her about “some things,” but Juliet brushes her off. And then, Juliet finds Maddy dead, murdered. Realizing that she is high on the suspect list of who killed Maddy, Juliet must revisit her and Maddy’s past to uncover long kept secrets with far-reaching effects.

Little Pretty Things is my first Lori Rader-Day read, and I can hardly wait to go back and read The Black Hour, her award-winning debut. Her writing is brilliantly suspenseful, and she makes even the most ordinary of characters interesting. Little Pretty Things is a mystery, a self examination, a journey through time, and a cautionary tale. I was indeed fortunate to receive an ARC through Goodreads, and I can guarantee this book is going to collect nominations and awards, too.

Dreaming Spies (Mary Russell, #13)Dreaming Spies by Laurie R. King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Years ago I came upon a mystery series by Laurie R. King featuring Sherlock Holmes and a young girl who was his neighbor in Sussex, where Holmes was keeping bees. This first book entitled The Beekeeper's Apprentice was one of those books that it seems I'd been waiting my whole life to read. I fell head over heels in love with King's Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell. Following them through their adventures, including being married, has been one of my greatest reading pleasures. Each book in the series has been a return to a world in which I can expect to experience adventure, intelligent detecting, wit, and a constant quest for knowledge. I come away from each reading having been privy to an exciting story written by an amazing author whose every sentence has purpose in extricating the essential truth from the quagmire of subterfuge. And, of course, Russell and Holmes, with their wit and skills, are the most capable of guides through said quagmire.

In the 13th book of the Mary Russell narrated series, Russell and Holmes have returned to Sussex in March 1925 from their many travels to find a Japanese rock in their garden. It is not the only thing from Japan that will turn up at this time in their lives and take them back to thoughts of the year before when they spent a brief, yet intense time in that country. In April of 1924, Russell and Holmes had just finished a case in India (an adventure told in The Game) and we join them on a ship in Bombay headed for Japan. Neither has been to Japan, so it will be a learning experience for both of them this time, not just Russell. On board, Russell makes the acquaintance of a young Japanese woman, Haruki San, who agrees to tutor the pair in the Japanese language and customs. Another passenger catches Holmes' notice, and although the gentleman is an Earl, the Earl of Darley, Holmes is familiar with Darley as a suspected blackmailer, one Holmes would very much like to expose. As the voyage spreads out over three weeks, the undertones of things not being as they seem increase daily. Russell and Holmes even encounter a ninja.

Upon arriving in Japan, things become first more clouded and then an immersion into the culture brings clarity. Of course, clarity doesn't always mean immediate resolution. Haruki San continues to play an important part in guiding the detectives on their Japanese journey, on a journey that will take them along the Nakasendo Road of which the Haiku poet Basho wrote, giving Russell a close appreciation of the Japanese poet and the beauty of the poetry form and the land of which it spoke. With each chapter in the book beginning with a haiku, my fascination with that poetry has also grown. The journey introduces the couple to green tea, eating octopus, sleeping on tatami floors and bedding, public baths, and a person of future infamy to the world. The Prince Regent Hirohito, who would some years later become Emperor Hirohito, is in 1924 a young man with a problem requiring the assistance of Holmes and Russell. With international relations and a country's welfare at stake, there is nothing for it but for the husband and wife team to do all they can to solve a mystery and avoid international disaster. Some things, however, take longer than one expects for final resolution.

It was a thrill for me to receive an ARC from Random House of Dreaming Spies, as I had been a fan for so long of this series. I gain so much from reading the Russell and Holmes books. A great story, delight in witty dialogue, the pleasure of feeding my inner Anglophile, and the learning of historical elements and countries that enrich my reading all around. Laurie R. King is an author that never disappoints me, and I am at the ready whenever I'm asked to recommend a series with the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes adventures.

Night Night, Sleep TightNight Night, Sleep Tight by Hallie Ephron

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hallie Ephron’s book Night Night, Sleep Tight delivers consuming drama and spellbinding suspense in a story that has its beginnings in the glittering Hollywood atmosphere of the early 1960s. A murder in 1985 sparks the revealing of secrets that have been bottled up for two decades, secrets that shaped lives and destroyed relationships. The author was herself a child of these Hollywood days, with parents who were script writers. The kernel incident of this fictional story is the true life event of Lana Turner’s daughter shooting and killing Lana’s boyfriend in their Beverly Hills home. Hallie’s childhood home was near the place of this tragedy, so it is with complete authenticity that the time and place of the story is imparted to the reader. How Hallie Ephron takes the real life kernel and develops it into a layered story with threads of imagination spinning purpose and direction is brilliant. She knows how to make the fantastic real and put the reader right in the middle of the setting and story. I always feel so connected to the characters and their plights when I read a book by Hallie. It’s no surprise that this author has written a non-fiction book on how to write mysteries.

Deidre Unger is returning to her childhood home of Beverly Hills to help her father, a once successful Hollywood script writer, ready his house to be sold. With her parents long ago divorced and her older brother rather sketchy in his responsibilities, this task has fallen to Deidre. It’s 1985 and twenty years past her nightmarish accident that left her crippled, and returning to the scene is anything but pleasurable. It becomes even less so when Deidre arrives and finds her father floating dead in his swimming pool. As the police dig deeper into the “accident,” it is soon ruled murder, and Deidre is being questioned closely about the timing of her arrival. Appointed in her father’s will as his literary executor, Deidre begins to uncover puzzling information about the past and the night that saw glamorous actress “Bunny” Nicol’s boyfriend murdered by her teenage daughter, Deidre’s friend Joelen. Deidre had been in the Nicol’s house that night, but her memory is hazy due to a car accident she was in that same night, an accident which left her life forever altered. That the long ago night and her father’s death could be connected in any way seems implausible to Deidre, but therein lies the story of greed, secrecy, and betrayal that is so intriguing.

Start early in the day on this book, or plan to stay up late. You will want to keep reading straight to the end, as the pages practically turn themselves in the story’s well-structured flow.

Entry IslandEntry Island by Peter  May

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Peter May's The Lewis Trilogy books rate among my favorite reads in the past few years, so it is with great anticipation of enjoyment that I began Entry Island. I was not disappointed. Peter May is simply a master at telling generational stories, with the connections to past and present being one of the most fascinating mysteries to decipher. There is the intriguing murder mystery, too, but it is a deliciously layered one with the events of the past coming into play. And, those fans of The Lewis Trilogy will be well pleased that the mystery of Entry Island in the Gulf of St. Lawrence has its beginnings on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. So, blackhouses and windy hilltops and sandy coves in a previous century are part of the present-day story.

Entry Island is a remote island in the Magdalen Island chain in the Gulf of St. Lawrence, and a murder has occurred on this island, where crime is unheard of and doors always left unlocked. Detective Sime Mackenzie of the Montreal Surete has been assigned to the team traveling to the islands because of his fluency in both English and French. Entry Island is English speaking in a country where English and French languages have claimed different and often adjoining areas. It will be Sime's job to interview the widow of the slain man in a case that on the surface appears to have an easy solution, that of wife killing husband. But complications arise in the very makeup of the team sent to investigate, as Sime's ex-wife is the crime scene investigator. It is the breakup of their marriage that has produced a less than full functioning Sime, a Sime beset by chronic insomnia.

From the very moment that Sime meets Kirsty Cowell, the victim's wife, a surreal sense of deja-vue colors his part in the investigation. He knows that he has seen this woman before, but he has never been to Entry Island before, and Kirsty Cowell has never been off of Entry Island. Kirsty's recounting of the attack that left her husband dead is of a knife-wielding intruder clad in dark clothing and a ski mask first trying to kill her and her husband rushing in to fight off the assailant. James Cowell is stabbed three times and the killer runs off into the night. With no evidence of a third person and no murder weapon, the attention focuses on the wife as the main suspect, and information starts leaking out about the Cowells' marriage being in trouble. With James Cowell having been a most wealthy man, the Surete team thinks it has an open and shut case. But, Sime isn't convinced that Kirsty is guilty, and he begins to have dreams in his brief periods of sleep that come from another century and his great-great-great grandfather's journals that seem to bear relevance in a peculiar way to the current circumstances. The dark atmosphere of the storm laden weather mirrors the darkness that Sime must sort through if he is to find a definitive answer to both this murder and his strange connection to it. The path to that answer also includes a look at the historically accurate clearing of the Hebrides in the 19th century, where lords of the land drove people from their blackhouses and onto ships headed for Canada.

Peter May is a brilliant writer, creating atmosphere and story that creep into your mind and under your skin until you truly feel a vested stake in the outcome, too. May's books are complex, layered accounts of people grappling with a past and unable to proceed with the present until coming to terms with that past. The characters, the settings, the flow of story are all done with the touch of master storyteller. Reading Peter May books is always a thrilling experience.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Part 3

If you've been following my posts this week, and I hope you have, you'll know that I'm featuring reviews of books I've read that are eligible for the Bouchercon Anthony Awards nominations.  With so many amazing books and stories published in 2015, it's hard to narrow down the choices to five nominations for each category.  I am providing these reviews and mentions of the books I've read to help jog your memory about books you've already read or to encourage you to read some new ones before the April 30th deadline for Anthony nominations.  All those attending Bouchercon can participate in this nominating, so please take advantage of supporting your favorite authors and books by filling out the nomination ballot that you should have received in your email.  If you did not receive a ballot, there is contact information on the Bouchercon 2016 FB page    

Today's four books and authors I offer for your consideration are The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny from Minotaur Books (eligible for Best Novel), The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye from G.P. Putnam's Sons (eligible for Best Novel), Burnt River by Karin Salvalaggio from Minotaur Books (eligible for Best Novel), and The Edge of Dreams by Rhys Bowen from Minotaur Books (eligible for Best Novel). 

The Nature of the Beast (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #11)The Nature of the Beast by Louise Penny

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

How does Louise Penny continue to make each book in the Armand Gamache series so thrilling? The answer lies in her brilliant storytelling, her fascinating characters, and a setting that has become home to all the multitude of fans who imagine themselves sitting in the Bistro in Three Pines. The story lines are complex, but not confusing. Penny trusts the intelligence of her readers, and they are rewarded with deep pockets of a story that could have world altering effects. That The Nature of the Beast has its origins in fact, an actual historical happening, was a surprise to me, and I wasn't aware of its historical connection until after reading the book. What Louise Penny was able to do with that obscure piece of fact reinforces what an amazing weaver of stories she is. Her ability to combine the best and worst of human beings into a single tale turns the fantastic into the plausible. And nobody is better than Penny at dissecting and revealing the emotions of characters so bare-faced and tangible.

Armand Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie have retired to Three Pines, the village that offers peace and sanity from the insanity and violence to which Gamache dealt with in the Surete. It is a place where adults and children can explore their beautiful surroundings in an isolated haven. It is where nine-year-old Laurent Lepage runs through the forest and reports back to the villagers his findings of mythical and extinct creatures roaming freely. Much akin to the boy who cried wolf, nobody pays Laurent's stories any mind, including the last one about a giant gun with a monster atop it. And, then, Laurent goes missing, is found in the woods dead, and is determined to be a murder victim. His death leads quickly to the discovery of the giant gun and monster atop it, too. Laurent had been truthful in his last story from the woods. Now, the new Chief Inspector, Isabelle Lacoste, and Gamache's son-in-law, Jean-Guy Beauvoir, must investigate the boy's murder and uncover whether it is tied to the mass weapon hiding in the hills behind Three Pines. As is so often the case with a murder, the answers lie in the past, and finding those answers will once again bring Gamache back into a world he had hoped to leave behind. What is especially heinous about Laurent's murder is that it puts the whole village of Three Pines under suspicion. Who knew about the gun or the men who created it? Who has had secrets for decades that must now come out if the killing is to stop? Just when you think you've gotten through the layers of subterfuge and horror, there is yet another layer that ensnares you.

Louise Penny fans will enjoy this dark tale of secrets with great appreciation for the masterful writing that fully engages and never disappoints. The eleventh book in the Armand Gamache series is the work of an author who cares deeply for her characters and her readers, and we, the readers, benefit greatly from that care. 

The Fatal Flame (Timothy Wilde Mysteries, #3)The Fatal Flame by Lyndsay Faye

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Gripping! First word that comes to mind to describe Lyndsay Faye's The Fatal Flame, the third and last installment of the Timothy Wilde series. Nobody can enfold you into the reality of New York City in the late 1840s like the brilliant Ms. Faye. It's a complete immersion in which one can see, feel, hear, and taste the city where the police department is a newly minted endeavor and where people must meet the harshness of life head-on. And, young Copper Star Timothy Wilde must at last deal with his demons and fears, facing truth and trying to survive its harshness. Timothy's life has been defined by fire, and it is fire by which he finds himself surrounded in this story. Can fire that has crippled him free him, or will it at last destroy him?

In the spring of 1848, New York City is spilling over with people and poverty, with more immigrants arriving daily and finding their promise land yet another hardship in their struggles to survive. Timothy is involved with an investigation to obliterate one danger to young Irish girls who are met as they soon as they depart their ship and hoodwinked into prostitution by an insidious purveyor of fresh flesh to the ever hungry market for such. While in pursuit of this particular evil, Timothy is pulled into another troubling investigation by his larger-than-life brother Valentine. Someone is threatening to set fires to occupied buildings belonging to the 8th Ward's alderman, owner of a major textile company and many other properties. When an actual fire does occur, killing two women, it becomes imperative that Timothy uncover the many layers of deceit and power play before more deaths. Of course, brother Valentine, chooses this time to challenge said alderman in the upcoming election, which proves dangerous for anyone with ties to Valentine or Timothy. Throw into the mix a woman's rights activist, our dear Bird Daly coming of age, Timothy's precious Mercy Underhill showing up again, Timothy's landlady and her affection, and the power players of Tammany Hall taking an interest in the Wildes. It's definitely a melting pot of disastrous proportions.

Now, how do you keep a book of 456 pages gripping? Well, first you get Lyndsay Faye to write it. The attention to detail, the exquisite pacing of the story, the captivating characters, the ensconcing setting, and the historical significance. Gripped you will be. Oh, and then there is even the relevance to today's history, looking at the beginning practices of the NYPD, which were often brutal and tortuous, and comparing the fear that certain groups of people had of the police to our present-day situation of police abuse of power. Well, it makes for an interesting discovery of how things began and how they are now. Of course, the whole book is one fascinating historical adventure after another, and as I mentioned, Lyndsay's attention to detail is well researched and well written. The snippets of newspaper reports on events of that time appear at the beginning of each chapter, and I found these to be parts I marked as readily with my post-its as other parts of the story. I'm sorry that this amazing series has come to an end, but it has gone out with a bang for sure. My nerves can now relax, as I no longer have to guess the fates of my friends/characters, and even though not everyone and everything turned out as I wanted, I will forever consider this series a favorite.

Burnt RiverBurnt River by Karin Salvalaggio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

When you've read the first book in a series and loved it, there is great anticipation and some worry about the second book and its continued excellence. Last year, Bone Dust White by Karin Salvalaggio was the author's debut novel, a fact that I found extraordinary due to its complex array of story and characters. The main character, Detective Macy Greeley, is eight months pregnant and unmarried when the story begins. Who starts the story of someone when she's eight months pregnant? Well, Karin Salvalaggio does and does it brilliantly. I stated at the time that Macy Greeley is a promise of layers to come. So, we come to book #2, Burnt River, and Macy, with her flaws, strengths, and struggles becomes more whole, more solid, more fantastic to the readers. Second book jitters for the reader evaporate. Like its title suggests, this book (and this series) is on fire.

We catch up with Macy eighteen months after the birth of her son, Luke. She has been sent by her boss, State Police Captain Ray Davidson, to Wilmington Creek in northern Montana where a veteran of the Afghanistan wars has been murdered. Macy isn't happy to be leaving her home in Helena and her son, and her personal relationship with Davidson continues to be a tangled web of promises and let downs. However, if Maggie is confused about her personal life, she is the consummate state police detective, dedicated to uncovering the intricacies of murder. John Dalton, the recently returned Afghanistan veteran, seems an unlikely victim of a dark alley homicide, but secrets can obscure motives, and John had secrets that his sister Jessie and friends Dylan and Tyler are desperately trying keep hidden. With the area experiencing an especially harsh heat wave and wildfires flaming, Police Chief Aiden Marsh already has his hands full, but he proves invaluable to Macy in her pursuit of local knowledge and connections. As the heat intensifies from the temperature, the wildfires, and the investigation, Macy starts piecing together confusion into answers, but will she arrive at those answers in time to prevent more loss.

Thank you, Karin Salvalaggio for providing me with a book that I didn't want to end and ensuring that the Macy Greeley series is the real thing in outstanding mystery fiction. The only request I have now is to please write book #3 like a bat out of hell. Please! 

The Edge of Dreams (Molly Murphy Mysteries, #14)The Edge of Dreams by Rhys Bowen

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Edge of Dreams kept me on the edge of my seat in constant anticipation. I spent the whole book looking over my shoulder for the next danger or villainous act. How great is that! Rhys Bowen has given us a story that does exactly what a mystery/suspense book is supposed to do, keep us on that edge where we are afraid of what might happen next, but we must know. Every time I read a Molly Murphy mystery, I wonder just how Rhys can make each book so fresh, so titillating, so un-put-downable. She is simply and deeply one of the best at her craft. The characters, the plot, the setting, the themes draw the reader into the world of the early 1900s, 1905 in this particular tale, and absolutely captivate from beginning to end. After finishing this book, you will have to re-acclimate to the present day, and you will do so reluctantly.

In Molly's latest adventure or as is often the case, misadventure, she is only a few months back from Paris and her amazing murder solving there. She and husband Daniel, a New York City police captain, are moving back into their home on Patchin Place in Greenwich Village. It has been mostly restored from the fire that devastated it and Molly's family before her Paris trip. Molly is thrilled to be back on Patchin Place, across from her dear friends Gus and Sid, even if it means that Molly's mother-in-law will be staying for a bit. A most welcome surprise is the arrival of Bridie, the young girl who accompanied Molly to America from Ireland, with Daniel's mother. The extra help is needed, as Molly and her one-year-old son Liam have just survived a train crash, which has left Molly with cracked ribs and a substantial bump on the head. Liam is unscathed from the ordeal, and his rambunctious activity is much more manageable with Bridie around. Daniel, who is working on what appears to be a serial murder case, is grateful to have Molly and Liam in good hands while Molly recuperates.

Sid and Gus, as usual, are involved in a new interest that becomes crucial to both Daniel's case and Molly's survival. Dream analysis is a new area of study, and Gus has recently studied it some with Dr. Sigmund Freud in Europe. Gus is eager to pursue this interest in America, but America is somewhat behind in the studies of the mind. Molly, having grown up with the Irish tales of dream significance and the sixth sense, is open to this new line of inquiry into the human psyche, and she develops a personal interest when a recurring dream leaves her worried. Before long, there is the inevitable collision of Molly's world and Daniel's case. Daniel has come to appreciate Molly's detective skills, even if he doesn't want her to resume her detective career. The murderer whom Daniel seeks is a new kind of monster, killing in what seems a randomness and senselessness among the average, unassuming population of a simple-minded woman, a judge's wife, and a tutor's mother. But, as Molly and Daniel have too often discovered, there are few coincidences where murder is concerned and links don't always pop out to announce themselves. Dream analysis, hard digging into connections, and dangerous surprises will carry Molly and the reader from random to related with a flow of non-stop action and unrelenting pursuit.

Thank you, Rhys Bowen for another great addition to the Molly Murphy series. You deliver with every book, and I always think that the current one is my favorite until, of course, the next one. To read a series in which each entry is a favorite is the best of reading pleasure and the most masterful of the art of writing.




Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews, Part 2

In this second addition to my review of various authors and books eligible for the Bouchercon Anthony Awards, nominations for which are due on April 30th from Bouchercon attendees, I thought it might be helpful to remind those nominating of the different categories.  These categories include the following: Best Novel, Best First Novel, Best Paperback Original, Best Critical or Nonfiction Book, Best Short Story, Best Anthology or Collection, Best Young Adult Novel, and Best Crime Fiction Audiobook.  And, remember that to be eligible for this year's (2016) Anthony, these titles must have a first time publication date of 2015 for North America.  There are instances, especially some British titles that have an earlier publication date for that country, but if their first publication date in North America is 2015, then they are eligible.  So, here are four more reviews of eligible books for the current Anthony nomination ballot.  They include What You See by Hank Phillippi Ryan from Forge Books (eligible for Best Novel), Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal from Bantam (eligible for Best Paperback Original), The Child Garden by Catriona McPherson from Midnight Ink (eligible for Best Novel), and A Killing at the Creek by Nancy Allen.

What You See (Jane Ryland, #4)What You See by Hank Phillippi Ryan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Author Hank Phillippi Ryan consistently wins awards for her writing--the Agatha, the Anthony, the Macavity, the Daphne du Maurier, and the Mary Higgins Clark awards. She has also won awards as the on-air investigative reporter for Boston's NBC affiliate--33 Emmys and 13 Edward R. Murrows, as well as others. So, you really don't have to take my word for it that Hank is brilliant, and her writing reflects that. However, that won't stop me from bragging on this favorite author who provides me with some of my best reading every year. She masterfully sets up plots and characters that will engage you in the perfect timing and complexity of connections. You won't get lost in these layers, except in the best possible way of relishing their relevance. What You See is the fourth book in the Jane Ryland series set in Boston, and it will please mightily the established fans of the series, and it will have first time readers racing back to the previous three novels.

In What You See, Jane Ryland is between jobs, after quitting her newspaper reporter's position due to the paper's lack of ethics, which Jane couldn't live with. She is in the middle of an interview with television station Channel 2 when a story breaks in front of City Hall, a stabbing. As no one else is available at the station, the news director sends Jane, an on-the-spot try-out. With Jane trying to work out the whole work conflict with boyfriend Detective Jake Brogan, it's a mixed blessing. The scene at City Hall is frantic with the stabbing victim pronounced dead and bystanders being detained for possible eye witness accounts or cellphone video/pictures. It's both a plethora of possibility and a dearth of decipherability. Finding the proverbial needle in the haystack. Jake and his partner Paul DeLuca are already on the scene giving out assignments and trying to keep control when Jane arrives on the fringes of the activity. A young man who has renamed himself Bobby Land and is hoping to make a name for himself as a photographer latches onto Jane and steers her toward an alley where Jake and DeLuca have engaged with two men, one claiming to have captured the killer and the supposed suspect unconscious from being beaten. Jane and Jake inevitably meet up in this alley, and the old question of maintaining a relationship with conflicting interests is back in play. And, in the middle of it all, Jane receives a call from her sister informing Jane that the nine-year-old daughter of her fiancé is missing with her step-father, with just days to go before the wedding.

Then, it gets complicated. Neither the murder victim or the injured man in the alley have any ID on them, making motive and solving the case that much harder. Jane is juggling trying to establish a toe-hold with Channel 2 while her family situation escalates into a possible kidnapping of young Gracie by the stepdad. Jake is finding a murder in broad daylight in front of City Hall is full of challenges and directions of interest that have far reaching connections and consequences. And, how do Jane and Jake fit in a relationship in two worlds at odds with one another? The answers will take readers on a thrilling, great paced trek of family secrets, merciless ambition, and deceitful maneuverings.

Thanks, Hank Phillippi Ryan for another absorbing story featuring Jane Ryland. What You See is a vision of great writing and entertainment.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante (Maggie Hope, #5)Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante by Susan Elia MacNeal

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There is lots going on in Susan Elia MacNeal's fifth Maggie Hope book, but then, it is December 1941, only weeks after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States has entered this second war to end all wars. Maggie Hope has traveled to Washington, D.C. with Prime Minster Winston Churchill and his two aides, Maggie's close friend David Green and Maggie's old/new boyfriend John Sterling, on a mission to shore up America's support for the war and ensure that President Roosevelt is committed to a campaign in Europe first and foremost. Although Maggie has become a highly skilled spy, she is posing as Churchill's secretary on this trip, a trip that brings her back to the country in which she was raised by her aunt. Born to British parents, whose twisted history has been revealed in previous books, Maggie was spirited out of England as a baby to be raised by an aunt who could give her a stable environment. So, it is with much excitement that this British/American/British young woman embraces the nation's capital.

MacNeal has captured the personalities and machinations of this historic meeting between Roosevelt and Churchill with the aplomb of the proverbial fly on the wall. A meeting of such importance required the social graces as well as the diplomatic skills, and the author brings both the seriousness and the entertainment aspects of the White House during this time brilliantly to life. Diplomacy and social graces were indeed in play together when during the Children's Hour, Roosevelt's cocktail hour, the President and the Prime Minister had quite different ideas about the perfect martini. Descriptions of the interior of the White House reflect the keeping up appearances of the Presidency part of the building as opposed to the family's quarters, where the shabbiness of the previous lean, economic years is evident. Eleanor Roosevelt plays a prominent role in this book (hence, Mrs. Roosevelt's Confidante), and the development of her as an historical character with the grace and dutiful First Lady and as a passionate, compassionate social activist was achieved by carefully distributed dialogue and interactions with Maggie.

The Churchill party has only just arrived when Maggie becomes entrenched in the problems of Mrs. Roosevelt, as it appears someone is trying to drag the First Lady into a scandalous situation involving murder and accusations directed at Eleanor's decency. When the temporary secretary for Mrs. Roosevelt fails to appear for work and Maggie and Mrs. Roosevelt find the young woman dead in the woman's apartment, Maggie knows that not only is the First Lady's reputation at stake, but that a scandal of this proportion would damage the President's effectiveness and efforts to get Americans behind their entrance into the war. Maggie must now use her code-breaking, analytical, and even physical skills of espionage to uncover who is behind the attack on Mrs. Roosevelt. Churchill, realizing the importance of what's at stake, releases Maggie from his schedule to concentrate on Mrs. Roosevelt's and, in essence, America's must-solve problem.

There are other subplots weaving in and out of Maggie's activities. As author MacNeal usually does with great finesse, she brings in fascinating back story, this time the story of the impending execution of a young black man in Virginia. Mrs. Roosevelt is involved in trying to stop the execution, and, thus, Maggie becomes involved in it also. And, as usual, this story, which is based on actual events, connects to the larger story, with the feelings of Southerners in American being a thin line that President Roosevelt must walk in order to keep the South on the side of America's involvement in the war. It's an ugly look at politics, which, unfortunately, isn't a thing of the past today. Maggie's and John's relationship is at a tipping point during this trip, too. Whether or not they can overcome their pasts, which have left deep emotional scarring, is the unspoken question that must be answered. There is a most unexpected character in the book that brings Hollywood into the novel, as Walt Disney is gearing his company to make war-time movies of support for the country.

This novel is so rich with historical matter and allusions that, as a fan of historical fiction, I was thrilled. It is Susan Elia MacNeal's particular genius that blends these fascinating facts with a story of captivating consequence.

The Child GardenThe Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Catriona McPherson is a multi-talented author, first gaining a wide following with her Dandy Gilver series, and, while still carrying on that entertaining line of books, she has racked up numerous awards in the last few years with her suspenseful, thrilling standalone novels. Her fourth standalone, The Child Garden, is just out and already receiving high praise, and I expect it to garner award attention, too. Nobody sets up a an atmospheric thriller better than Catriona, and she then weaves into this perfect setting a story with chilling twists and turns, populated with characters who may or may not be trustworthy. As a reader, you want to know the answers as much as the main character who is desperately trying to gain these answers before more death or bloodshed. I always seem to become completely ensconced in that character in Catriona's novels who is unraveling the lies and deceits to get to the person who perpetuates evil and murder.

In The Child Garden, Gloria Harkness is a single,divorced mother living in an isolated area of Scottish countryside, inhabiting a house aptly named Rough House on a neglected estate, where a care home also is located. The care home is a residence for Gloria's son afflicted with PKAN and the elderly woman, Mrs. Drume, who owns the estate, including Rough House. Gloria's life is uneventful with a routine of going to work as a registrar, registering births, weddings, and deaths; visiting her son and Mrs. Drume in the care home; and reading books. In exchange for paying no rent, Gloria has agreed to take care of Mrs. Drume's senior dog and to rock the "rocking stone" in the backyard of Rough House twelve times a day to keep what her elderly landlady says is the devil imprisoned within. Thus has life continued for Gloria Harkness over the past ten years.

On the perfect dark and stormy night, Gloria's life is turned upside down. A chance recognition by a grade school friend results in that friend knocking on her door that moonless evening, and as she opens the door to Stephen "Stig" Tarrant, she is letting in danger and evil. Her life and the lives of those she knows will never be the same. Stig Tarrant is being chased by a past from 28 years ago when he was one of twelve students at a private school named Eden. Eden occupied the large estate house where the care home now operates. In the one and only year the school existed, a young boy lost his life there, and the children who attended school at Eden, including Stig, have had unkind fates ever since. Now, someone has set up Stig to look like the murderer of one of his old classmates, or that's what Gloria has chosen to believe when she agrees to help Stig. As Gloria investigates the lives of the other students and tries to piece together just what happened that tragic night that one student died on the grounds of the school, she uncovers far too many coincidences and encounters lie after lie, some from Stig himself. There are plenty of suspects as to who's behind the nefarious doings of past and present. Even the Devil is high on the list.

Catriona McPherson has once again given readers an on-the-edge-of-your-seat mystery thriller to fray the nerves and tax the brain. It is unpredictable, but never unfairly so. Readers will enjoy every creepy moment and probably won't mind that it haunts them afterward. 

A Killing at the Creek: An Ozarks MysteryA Killing at the Creek: An Ozarks Mystery by Nancy Allen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I don't normally start with the second book in a thus-far two book series, but A Killing at the Creek was recommended to me, and Nancy Allen and this book appeared on a favorite blog, so I jumped into the sequel first. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel with the setting of the Ozarks being a new one for me. It's always interesting to explore new areas through novel reading, and Allen now has me hooked on the Ozarks and this series. I'll be ordering the first book after I finish my review of the first.

The main character of this story is Elsie Arnold, an assistant prosecutor in McCown County, Missouri. She's highly adept at her job, but not so much at her personal life. Struggling with the head prosecutor, Madeline Thompson, who seems to throw obstacles in Elsie's career track often and with malice of forethought, Elsie is hoping for a big case in which Madeline can't ignore the younger attorney's competence. And, then a rare murder case lands in McCown County, and Elsie manages to attach herself as a co-counsel, next to 2nd chair and newcomer, chief assistant Chuck Harris. Also involved in the investigation and case is Elsie's current amour, Chief Detective Bob Ashlock. The accused is not what Elsie expected in her first murder case, as the person charged with cutting a middle-aged woman's throat is a fifteen-year-old boy. And, the victim had been driving a bright yellow school bus, which the boy kept driving after the body was dumped. Though the boy is found on the bloody bus, he claims he is innocent of the murder. So, Elsie has all she can handle in determining whether the prosecution office has the right perpetrator, and when Chuck Harris loads Elsie down with more and more responsibility in the case, she must prove herself indefatigable in the face of the burden.

Author Nancy Allen has created an intriguing series, and I'm delighted to have found her at the beginning of it. I'll be reading The Code of the Hills, first book in the series, very soon, and I'll be waiting for the next installment with heightened anticipation.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Anthony Awards, Nominee Considerations, Reviews Post 1

The Anthony Awards are given out at Bouchercon World Mystery Conference.  For those of us who have experienced the wonder of this conference, we know how exciting it is to see authors rewarded for their hard work and talent.  And, what's especially fun and satisfying for readers is that if we're attending Bouchercon, we get to be part of the nominating and voting process.  It's a privilege and responsibility that requires careful consideration.  Attendees can nominate five books for each category on their nominating ballots, and with all the great works for each year, five doesn't seem nearly enough.  But, five is the limit, and so we think back over the eligible books, books from the previous year, that we've read and diligently fill out and send in our ballot.  For the 2016 Bouchercon to be held in September in New Orleans (already dancing to the beat), the Anthony nomination ballots are due April 30th.  

There are so many amazing recommendations for this ballot, and the word is circulating on social media about what books are eligible (original publication date in U.S. must be 2015) in what category, and this information is extremely helpful to those filling out their ballots.  As is typical of the mystery/crime community, sharing information and resources is a natural part of loving this genre.  So, a list is started and others add on, trying to ensure all authors get their due consideration.  I've decided to use my blog to further get the word out on the authors I've read or am reading for these nominations.  It is but a small piece of the information available, but as I pointed out, with everyone sharing information, the chances are that no one will be left out.   

So, I am going to post reviews of books that are up for consideration in hopes that if you haven't read the book, you still have time to do so and give it some thought on your Anthony nomination ballot.  These reviews are not necessarily campaigns for your vote, just ones I want to make sure readers don't miss.  Today's reviews include Anne Cleeland's Murder in Hindsight from Kensington (eligible for Best Novel), Elly Griffith's The Ghost Fields from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (eligible for Best Novel), Jennifer Kincheloe's The Secret Life of Anna Blanc from Seventh Street Books (eligible for Best First Novel), and James Ziskins' Stone Cold Dead from Seventh Street Books (eligible for Best Paperback Original). 

Murder in Hindsight (Scotland Yard, #3)Murder in Hindsight by Anne Cleeland
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There are those book series with which I’m so besotted that a new book in the series has me fairly dancing to begin. Of course, the down side is that the book only has a countable number of pages. So it began when I received my advanced reader’s copy of Anne Cleeland’s latest New Scotland Yard Mystery starring Chief Inspector Michael Acton and Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle, Murder in Hindsight. Euphoria upon opening the cover and reading this fascinating story and dreading the end, where you long for just one more scene, one more glimpse at one of mystery’s most unique duos.

Murder in Hindsight presents Detective Sergeant Kathleen Doyle with a real connect-the-dots case. Trying to ease Chief Inspector Acton’s worries over his trouble prone wife, she has taken up the job of reviewing cold cases. But, Doyle becomes involved despite her best intentions and her husband’s over protectiveness in an apparent serial murder case. Someone is meting out justice that didn’t get served in the courtroom by putting a bullet in the guilty party’s head, and the murder victims are all related to different cold cases. Acton is also on the scene to investigate, but he has his own set of problems to solve, which involve a reporter whose intentions go far beyond getting the latest scoop. Doyle slowly discovers Acton’s perilous position that has him dodging scandal and ruin. Unwittingly, Doyle becomes entwined in the conspiracy against Acton as she begins communications with a man who, after he rescues her from an attack, proves to be an associate of a criminal serving time because of Acton. Doyle must figure out who she can trust if she is to stop the vigilante killings and keep Acton’s secrets, of which he has many, from destroying him and their life together. Doyle’s strong sense of loyalty and intuition will serve her well in her tasks.

There are few series that have engaged me to the point that Anne Cleeland’s New Scotland Yard Mysteries. Cleeland has the ability to bring characters to your heart and bind you to them. Kathleen Doyle is so full of wit and devotion to the people she loves that she continues to delight and charm in each book, making Acton’s obsession with her completely reasonable. Lord Michael Acton never disappoints in his commitment to Doyle and to a system of justice that serves up the guilty to their just desserts. Doyle and Acton have such a complete understanding of one another that the reader will develop strong protective instincts of his/her own. The supporting characters of the ever irritating DS Isabel Munoz and Doyle’s could-have-been boyfriend, now friend, DS Thomas Williams add so much to the narrative and the life of Doyle. The stories are so intricately plotted and layered that the action is always moving forward at just the right pace.

The Ghost Fields (Ruth Galloway, #7)The Ghost Fields by Elly Griffiths
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

2013 was one of my best reading years ever. It was the year that I discovered Elly Griffiths' Ruth Galloway series and got to read the first five Ruth Galloway novels one right after the other. It was a blissful reading spring that year. But, once you're up to speed in a series, there is the yearly wait for the next book, and in a favorite series such as this one by Elly Griffiths, it's a hard wait. Once again, it was worth the wait. The Ghost Fields brought to life those characters I missed so much. Archeologist/professor/ Dr.Ruth Galloway, DCI Harry Nelson, Cathbad the Druid, Ruth's daughter Kate, DS Judy Johnson, DS David Clough/Cloughie, American academic/TV presenter Frank Barker, and even Phil Trent, Ruth's weasel boss. These characters have been developed with skilled care by the author, and it is little wonder that they have become like family to readers of the series.

When the remains of a man, later to be identified as those of a member of a prominent family named Blackstock, are unearthed inside an American WWII plane in Norfolk , Dr. Ruth Galloway is called in by DCI Harry Nelson to help discover the chain of events leading to the dead man's death and subsequent placement in the plane, as her first pronouncement is that the victim had been shot in the head and couldn't possibly be the pilot. Thus begins an investigation into the death of Fred Blackstock, originally thought to have died as a part of an American flight crew in the waters off of Norfolk. The connection to what are called the "ghost fields" in the area is a step back into the days of WWII when there were American airfields established in Norfolk.

DCI Nelson has his work cut out for him in dealing with the Blackstock family members who remain at Blackstock Manor, as buried secrets of missing family members and order of inheritance must be sorted. To further frustrate Nelson is the arrival of a television company that is doing a film on the American ghost fields with the focus being on Fred Blackstock who early in his life relocated to America and ironically ended up dying so near his British ancestral home as a part of the American forces. As well as the professional frustration, there is the added personal distraction with the American academic Frank Barker, who will narrate the film. Frank and Ruth have a past together, but before that Nelson and Ruth had a past, and there are a lot of emotions running amok. When another present day murder occurs, the urgency to solve the mysteries of the past is full on.

Griffiths gives us the intensity that always accompanies her stories, as dark secrets come undone and twists of fates surface. There is never a lull in the flow of action and suspense. The author masterfully lets the reader know that danger is right around the corner, but we are wonderfully surprised with it when it strikes. The interplay of the characters and the growth of relationships and understandings throughout the series is a thing of beauty to watch. Ruth Galloway is strong and competent, but she is human, and human have their frailties, too. She is one of my absolute favorite fictional characters. This book in the series is rather a crossroads for Ruth's personal life, and readers will be grateful for Ruth confronting some of her feelings for others.

Fans of Elly Griffiths and this series are going to be most thrilled with this well-plotted mystery that answers so many questions on so many fronts.

The Secret Life of Anna BlancThe Secret Life of Anna Blanc by Jennifer Kincheloe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think it's a fair assessment that most readers enjoy learning, and fiction readers are some of the most curious. So, when a book gives me a great story connected to a fascinating time in history that I haven't read much about, I'm one happy reader. I do admit a fondness for turn of the century, 20th, settings, but I had no experience with the Los Angeles Police Department of 1907 and the fact that women did work there, as matrons. I wasn't sure about the place setting at first, as Los Angeles doesn't immediately get my reading juices bubbling, but author Jennifer Kincheloe won me over with her deft descriptions and constant adventure running through the scenery. From the seedy prostitution establishments to the main character Anna Blanc's mansion residence, it was all so interesting and authentic, due to the author's meticulous research. I often felt as if I were sitting watching a play with the dress, scenery, characters, and extras all on cue, even the cats.

Anna Blanc is the privileged daughter of a well-known Los Angeles banker, and we first see her eloping with a somewhat dandy of a man, hoping to escape the confines of her strict father and excited about learning the ways of womanhood. Her attempt at liberation is thwarted, and her father has her returned home to round-the-clock supervision. Of course, Anna is a most clever girl, and she is able to slip into a women's vote rally, where she meets a police matron and becomes interested in finding out more about police work. Anna is quite spoiled and naive, but she is also highly intelligent and resourceful, and she is definitely bored with being a socialite. Her father has hired a brute of a minder for her, but
her minder is a most greedy woman, so they come to an understanding. This understanding allows Anna to become involved with the LAPD of 1907. She enters into this new world as a series of young prostitutes have been murdered. It is these murders that will take Anna to places no debutante would ever dream of going, but Anna is an exception to so much of her expected life. Her secret life, while fulfilling and exciting, threatens to turn her whole life upside down if her father and fiance discover her subterfuge.

The characters in The Secret Life of Anna Blanc are marvelous, and so they deserve a mention of their own. Anna is at first defined by the restrictive world in which she lives, so she appears rather superficial and self-centered in the beginning. But, Kincheloe is brilliant at character development, and Anna grows into her own, discovering along with the reader just how smart and strong she is. The men in her life--her original intended, her father, her fiance, and the police officers with whom she works--are a varied and fascinating lot and run the gambit from scoundrel to hero. Anna's best friend is a young woman who believes strongly in her role as a society woman in 1907 and tries hard to understand Anna's unconventional ways. The prostitutes with whom Anna comes into contact are a captivating group of women with a common goal of trying to survive a world that can be unkind to women without a man to help her. Lulu, the madam of one establishment is wonderfully colorful and plays an important part in the story. All the characters help to depict both a time when the roles of men and women were clearly defined and when the entry into the Twentieth Century was bringing changes.

The Secret Life of Anna Blanc is Jennifer Kincheloe's debut novel, and it is a remarkable one. Full of history, wit, humor, tragedy, it promises to kick off this author's career with a force of success. I was fortunate to receive a copy of the book from the author at the 2015 Bouchercon, and it is one of the best I scored.

Stone Cold Dead (Ellie Stone Mysteries #3)Stone Cold Dead by James W. Ziskin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Starting with #3 in a series is always a risk that you will feel behind on the characters and sometimes confused. Well, I felt right in the game with the amazing Ellie Stone, newspaper reporter in New Holland, New York in 1960. OK, I just have to say it. I absolutely love Ellie Stone. She is smart and sassy and curious. In the men's world of the 1960s, she holds her own, both with her work and her personal life. With an eye for detail that others miss, she makes an outstanding reporter and also a great detective, although the latter is spurred by curiosity and not vocation. She also knows how to hold her whiskey and get around in the romance department.

Stone Cold Dead begins in January of 1961 when the mother of fifteen-year-old Darleen Hicks asks Ellie to look into the disappearance of Darleen, who has been missing since before Christmas. Darleen was supposed to be on the school bus, but she never got home. Ellie promises the mother that she will do what she can, and since Ellie has a high level of curiosity, she digs and digs deeply into the disappearance of this young girl. The official police line of thinking is that Darleen has just run off, but Ellie starts discovering information that makes her doubt that solution, or at least feel the need to explore other scenarios. There is no lack of people who are connected to Darleen and seem to be withholding information that could shed some unfavorable light on themselves or others. Teachers, friends, family, and neighbors. They all seem to have pieces that Ellie needs to figure out where Darleen is, and since Ellie is relentless as an investigator, she will leave no (yes I have to say it) stone unturned.

Stone Cold Dead has made me a fan of Ellie Stone and James Ziskin. Ziskin successfully meets the challenge of writing a story set in the 1960 time frame, blending in references to the time period with Ellie's taste in music, brands, events, people, and the limitations of communication, which is of some importance. Ziskin provides fascinating plot and characters, and the witty dialogue that Ellie engages in is still bringing a smile to my face. I can't wait to read the first two in this series, starting after I finish this review. Now.