Thursday, May 31, 2018

June Brings Summer and Books

It's June, and I get to say a line from one of my favorite musicals, Carousel.  June is bustin' out all over is a perfect lead into the new books this month, which seem to be popping out in glorious plenty.  Below is a list of books I'm most looking forward to this month.  Below the list are the descriptions and some "reading room remarks" about six of the books.

Ellie Stone by James Ziskin (June 5th)

The Word is Murder: A Novel by Anthony Horowitz (June 5th)

The Betel Nut Tree Mystery by Ovidia Yu (June 7th Kindle, Oct. 16th Print)

Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King (June 12th)

Jar of Hearts by Jennifer Hillier (June 12th)

Lying in Wait: A Novel by Liz Nugent (June 12th)

Murder at the Grand Raj Palace (Baby Ganesh Agency Investigation #4) by Vaseem Khan (June 12th)    

Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris (June 19th)

Salt Lane (Alexandra Cupidi) by William Shaw (June 26th)

A Steep Price (The Tracy Crosswhite Series) by Robert Dugoni (June 26th)

August 1962. A suspicious fire claims a tumbledown foaling barn on the grounds of the once-proud Tempesta Stud Farm, halfway between New Holland and Saratoga Springs, NY. The blaze, one of several in recent years at the abandoned farm, barely prompts a shrug from the local sheriff. That is until "girl reporter" Ellie Stone, first on the scene, uncovers a singed length of racing silk in the rubble of the barn. And it's wrapped around the neck of one of two charred bodies buried in the ashes. A bullet between the eyes of one of the victims confirms it's murder, and the police suspect gamblers. Ellie digs deeper.

The double murder, committed on a ghostly stud farm in the dead of night, leads Ellie down a haunted path, just a stone's throw from the glamour of Saratoga Springs, to a place where dangerous men don't like to lose. Unraveling secrets from the past--crushing failure and heartless betrayal--she's learning that arson can be cold revenge.

Reading Room Remarks:  The Ellie Stone series has been a favorite of mine since book one, No Stone Unturned.  Jim Ziskin gets the voice of the 60s and Ellie Stone right on target.   A Stone's Throw is book #6 in a series that flawlessly mixes history, mystery, and crime together with the gifted writing of a master storyteller.  I always seem to think of Jim and his books as a smooth jazz, and that's my happy place.

One bright spring morning in London, Diana Cowper – the wealthy mother of a famous actor - enters a funeral parlor. She is there to plan her own service.

Six hours later she is found dead, strangled with a curtain cord in her own home.

Enter disgraced police detective Daniel Hawthorne, a brilliant, eccentric investigator who’s as quick with an insult as he is to crack a case. Hawthorne needs a ghost writer to document his life; a Watson to his Holmes. He chooses Anthony Horowitz.

Drawn in against his will, Horowitz soon finds himself a the center of a story he cannot control. Hawthorne is brusque, temperamental and annoying but even so his latest case with its many twists and turns proves irresistible. The writer and the detective form an unusual partnership. At the same time, it soon becomes clear that Hawthorne is hiding some dark secrets of his own.

Reading Room Remarks: After reading Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz last year, I have been excitedly looking forward to this new book.  It looks like The Word is Murder will be another outside-the-box delight.

What we came to think of as the betel nut affair began in the middle of a tropical thunderstorm in December 1937 . . .

Singapore is agog with the news of King Edward VIII's abdication to marry American heiress Wallis Simson. Chen Su Lin, now Chief Inspector Le Froy's secretarial assistant in Singapore's newly formed detective unit, still dreams of becoming a journalist and hopes to cover the story when the Hon Victor Glossop announces he is marrying an American widow of his own, Mrs Nicole Covington, in the Colony. But things go horribly wrong when Victor Glossop is found dead, his body covered in bizarre symbols and soaked in betel nut juice.

The beautiful, highly-strung Nicole claims it's her fault he's dead . . . just like the others. And when investigations into her past reveal a dead lover, as well as a husband, the case against her appears to be stacking up. Begrudgingly on Le Froy's part, Su Lin agrees to chaperon Nicole at the Farquhar Hotel, intending to get the truth out of her somehow. But as she uncovers secrets and further deaths occur, Su Lin realises she may not be able to save Nicole's life - or even her own.

Reading Room Remarks:  Ovidia Yu brings Singapore alive for readers with this second series, featuring Su Lin, a young amateur sleuth and aspiring journalist.  The first book in this series is The Frangipani Tree Mystery.  I'm just getting to this series, but I know I will love it as much as I do Ovidia Yu's Aunty Lee Mysteries.  Charm is a big part of this author's characters, but don't let that fool you into thinking that these female protagonists aren't strong as steel, too.  June's release is for the e-book.  Print format will be out in October.

With Mrs. Hudson gone from their lives and domestic chaos building, the last thing Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, need is to help an old friend with her mad and missing aunt.

Lady Vivian Beaconsfield has spent most of her adult life in one asylum after another, since the loss of her brother and father in the Great War. And although her mental state seemed to be improving, she’s now disappeared after an outing from Bethlem Royal Hospital . . . better known as Bedlam.

Russell wants nothing to do with the case—but she can’t say no. And at least it will get her away from the challenges of housework and back to the familiar business of investigation. To track down the vanished woman, she brings to the fore her deductive instincts and talent for subterfuge—and of course enlists her husband’s legendary prowess. Together, Russell and Holmes travel from the grim confines of Bedlam to the winding canals and sun-drenched Lido cabarets of Venice—only to find the foreboding shadow of Benito Mussolini darkening the fate of a city, an era, and a tormented English lady of privilege.

Reading Room Remarks:  One of my most memorable reading experiences was the discovery of the Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes series by Lauri R. King in reading The Beekeeper's Apprentice, first novel in the series.  Catching up in the series at that time meant reading five books one after the other, a reading dream come true.  Now, with the fifteenth full-length book, I'm as eager as ever to dive in and spend time with two of my favorite people, uh, I mean, characters.

When she was sixteen years old, Angela Wong―one of the most popular girls in school―disappeared without a trace. Nobody ever suspected that her best friend, Georgina Shaw, now an executive and rising star at her Seattle pharmaceutical company, was involved in any way. Certainly not Kaiser Brody, who was close with both girls back in high school.

But fourteen years later, Angela Wong's remains are discovered in the woods near Geo's childhood home. And Kaiser―now a detective with Seattle PD―finally learns the truth: Angela was a victim of Calvin James. The same Calvin James who murdered at least three other women.

To the authorities, Calvin is a serial killer. But to Geo, he's something else entirely. Back in high school, Calvin was Geo's first love. Turbulent and often volatile, their relationship bordered on obsession from the moment they met right up until the night Angela was killed.

For fourteen years, Geo knew what happened to Angela and told no one. For fourteen years, she carried the secret of Angela's death until Geo was arrested and sent to prison.

While everyone thinks they finally know the truth, there are dark secrets buried deep. And what happened that fateful night is more complex and more chilling than anyone really knows. Now the obsessive past catches up with the deadly present when new bodies begin to turn up, killed in the exact same manner as Angela Wong.

How far will someone go to bury her secrets and hide her grief? How long can you get away with a lie? How long can you live with it? Find out in Jennifer Hillier's Jar of Hearts.

Reading Room Remarks:  There are times in my reading life when I realize that I have missed out on reading an amazing author, and Jennifer Hillier falls into this area of regret.  I do plan on addressing that misstep by reading Jar of Hearts, a book that is buzzing all over the place.  Another book of hers that I am determined to go back and read is the thriller Wonderland.  Of course, I realize that reading these two will create the need to catch up on all her books.  

Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi is a recent transfer from the London metro police to the rugged Kentish countryside. She's done little to ingratiate herself with her new colleagues, who find her too brash, urban, and--to make matters worse, she investigated her first partner, a veteran detective, and had him arrested on murder charges. Now assigned the brash young Constable Jill Ferriter to look after, she's facing another bizarre case: a woman found floating in local marsh land, dead of no apparent cause.

The case gets even stranger when the detectives contact the victim's next of kin, her son, a high-powered graphic designer living in London. Adopted at the age of two, he'd never known his mother, he tells the detectives, until a homeless woman knocked on his door, claiming to be his mother, just the night before: at the same time her body was being dredged from the water.

Juggling the case, her aging mother, her teenage daughter, and the loneliness of country life, Detective Cupidi must discover who the woman really was, who killed her, and how she managed to reconnect with her long lost son, apparently from beyond the grave. 
Reading Room Remarks:  Last year I read The Birdwatcher by William Shaw and was fascinated by the harsh landscape of the isolated Kentish countryside.  It is not a land for the weak, and Sergeant Alexandra Cupidi, who was introduced in The Birdwatcher, seems up to the challenge of living and working there in spite of her personal struggles.  I'm looking forward to finding out how Shaw develops Cupidi as the main character and the mysteries that must be solved along the lonely Kentish coast.

Monday, May 28, 2018

Paper Ghosts by Julia Heaberlin: Reading Room Review

When the protagonist of this novel was twelve, her nineteen-year-old sister vanished on her way to a baby-sitting job. No trace has ever been found of Rachel, and now at 24, Grace is determined to find the answers she’s been digging at for the half of her life lived without her sister. She is wholly committed to proving without a doubt that former famous photographer Carl Louis Feldman killed Rachel and knows where she is buried. Sounds reasonable so far, but proving Carl’s guilt is beyond anything normal or even sane. Grace has decided that the only way she will get at the truth is to take Carl on a road trip. Carl, who was tried and acquitted for another young woman’s murder, also with no body found, is living in a half-way house due to his diagnosis of dementia. Once her years of research led her to Carl, Grace patiently pretended to be his daughter so that she could convince the landlady to allow Carl to go on a ten-day vacation with his supposed daughter. It is hardly a vacation Grace has in mind. Instead, it is a trip to the locations of several cold cases where young women vanished and were presumed dead, cases that coincided with Carl’s locations for photographs he’d taken. Although Carl denies Grace is his daughter, the landlady assumes his dementia is causing the denial, and permission is granted. The road trip to hell begins.

Grace has prepared well for this trip to prove Carl not only her sister’s murderer, but a serial killer. She has taken out the money needed for motels, with two rooms a night, and for Carl’s list of “conditions.” The conditions run from eating at Dairy Queen to a shovel, and the list is added to as the trip continues. Odd demands from an odd and potentially dangerous man. He quickly shows signs of regained physical agility and strength that he claimed as lost in the halfway house. His mind and memory also improve, although dementia is present. Grace’s financial preparations may have been well thought out, but her ability to handle Carl will be tested from day one. He has an uncanny ability to maneuver his presence, or one might describe it as “scare the shit out of one,” Grace and reader alike. But, Grace is sure that visiting the sites of these cold cases and using old photographs of his will shake things loose in Carl’s brain and cause him to incriminate himself. She is willing to risk her life to discover how her sister’s life ended and where her remains lie. The journey takes her to places of terror and tragedy, places that aren’t marked on her organized road map but places she must go to learn the truth.

Texas is a big state, and it’s a long slow burn of a ride and story. Not a tale for the impatient, the reader must commit to a gradual unfolding of the truth and connecting of the dots, but it’s worth the wait. And, if it grabs you like it did me, the wait really isn’t that long, as I read it pretty much in one sitting. It’s a crazy premise for a book, but it’s crazy good. From the outstanding cover to the unexpected ending, Julia Heaberlin has created a story of psychological thrilling, cat and mouse between Grace and Carl and who has the final control. The inclusion of the black and white photos throughout the book enriches the foggy atmosphere of mind and time, and the descriptions of photos by Carl provide insight into his artistry and the places and people he photographed. The author took on a task of precarious proportion in the vehicle used to tell this tale, and she succeeded with flying colors.

Friday, May 25, 2018

What You Want to See by Kristen Lepionka: Reading Room Review

What You Want to See is Kristen Lepionka’s second novel and second in the series of private investigator Roxane Weary. Having fallen hard for P.I. Weary in the first book, The Last Place You Look, I opened the second story with elevated expectations, but also a niggling fear. Following up a great debut is no easy task. It became clear in the first few pages of book #2 that this is a series of sustaining substance. Kristi’s writing genius is no fluke; it’s genuine and thrilling. Sophomore slump is nowhere in sight.

After an emotionally and physically exhausting first case, Roxane Weary was able to get some more work from the publicity. But, publicity is wearing thin, and Roxane needs some cash flow, so she takes on a simple case of a man wondering if his lady love is straying. Arthur Ungless, owner of a printing shop, hires Roxane to follow his fiancée, Marin Strasser, to either get the goods on her or ease his mind about being cheated on. Easy peasy, but no.

Roxane is a magnet for the complicated, as demonstrated in her personal life. Torn between her dead father’s last partner in the police department, Tom, and longtime love interest, Catherine, nobody can accuse Roxane of being dull. Of course, the sometimes too much drinking doesn’t help. But, when Marin Strasser is found shot on a Columbus side street, sobering thoughts are called for. Roxane’s client, Arthur Ungless is looking rather good as the prime suspect, but being familiar with the more twisted scheme of cases, Roxane is certain that the case isn’t as straightforward as the police think. She is sure of Arthur’s innocence and ready to take on Marin’s family, the Columbus cops(including Tom), and the local mafia to prove it. Of course, there is the matter of the bounced check that Arthur paid her with to straighten out.

Kristi Lepionka can write. Who chooses the setting to be Columbus, Ohio? Well, an author who can bring fast, thrilling action and multi-layered storytelling to the page with a complex main character you’d follow to any setting, that’s who. Roxane Weary is a troubled character, but she’s finding a balance, being more grounded and less drunk than in the first book and making better decisions in her personal life. I love that Lepionka has given Roxane a sense of humor and some sass, as it adds strength to her already capable self. I’m so pleased with how Roxane’s bisexuality is portrayed, too. It’s not something that I’ve read about in many characters, and I find its seamless integration into the story refreshing. There are no billboards here announcing it; it just flows naturally, like it should.

And, speaking of characters, I highly recommend reading the first book of this series so you can appreciate the carry-over of connections made from that story line. In What You Want to See there is more of Roxane’s family dynamics, and Roxane is still struggling with her dead father’s secrets and their relationship. Tom and Catherine are both back, but Roxane is less of a mess about them, which bodes well for her future. And, Roxane even finds some time to help a teenage girl she encountered in her horrific first case.

Kristen Lepionka has entered the building, and she has proved she will be a continuing source of great sleuthing for readers with each new show. Readers of Kristi Belcamino’s Gia Santella will be instant fans of Roxane Weary.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Anthony Award Nominations for 2018

I am so excited to share the nominations for the 2018 Anthony Awards.  It's gratifying to see some of my choices making the list.  There are so many deserving authors and mystery/crime community members for these awards, and I wish they all could be nominated and win.  It's going to be a special night in September when I am sitting at the awards ceremony at Bouchercon to hear the single name called who has been selected from so many.  Here are the nominees and the work for which they are nominated.

Best Novel:

The Late Show by Michael Connelly
Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz 
Bluebird, Bluebird by Attica Locke
Glass Houses by Louise Penny
The Force by Don Winslow

Best First Novel:

Hollywood Homicide by Kellye Garrett
She Rides Shotgun by Jordan Harper
The Dry by Jane Harper
Ragged; or, The Loveliest Lies of All by Christopher Irvin
The Last Place You Look by Kristen Lepionka

Best Paperback Original:

Uncorking a Lie by Nadine Nettmann
Bad Boy Boogie by Thomas Pluck
What We Reckon by Eryk Pruitt
The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day
Cast the First Stone by James W. Ziskin

Bill Crider Award for Best Novel in a Series:

Give Up the Dead (Jay Porter #3) by Joe Clifford
Two Kinds of Truth (Harry Bosch #20) by Michael Connelly
Y is for Yesterday (Kinsey Millhone #25) by Sue Grafton
Glass Houses (Armand Gamache #13) by Louise Penny
Dangerous Ends (Pete Fernandez #3) by Alex Segura

Best Short Story:

The Trial of Madame Pelletier by Susanna Calkins from Malice Domestic 12: Mystery Most Historical
God’s Gonna Cut You Down by Jen Conley from Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash
My Side of the Matter by Hilary Davidson from Killing Malmon
Whose Wine Is It Anyway by Barb Goffman from 50 Shades of Cabernet
The Night They Burned Miss Dixie’s Place by Debra Goldstein from Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, May/June 2017
A Necessary Ingredient by Art Taylor from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea

Best Anthology:    

Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash, Joe Clifford, editor
Killing Malmon, Dan & Kate Malmon, editors
Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea, Andrew McAleer & Paul D. Marks, editors
Passport to Murder, Bouchercon Anthology 2017, John McFetridge, editor
The Obama Inheritance: Fifteen Stories of Conspiracy Noir, Gary Phillips, editor

Best Critical/Nonfiction Book:

From Holmes to Sherlock: The Story of the Men and Women Who Created an Icon by Mattias Boström
The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books by Martin Edwards
Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann
Chester B. Himes: A Biography by Lawrence P. Jackson
Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction by Jessica Lourey


Best Online Content: 

Writer Types Podcast  
Do Some Damage: An Inside Look at Crime Fiction 
Jungle Red Writers 
Dru’s Book Musings 
BOLO Books

Author Guest Post, Tracee de Hahn: The Importance of Place (Switzerland!)

Author Tracee de Hahn is a guest on the Reading Room today.  She is author of the new Agnes Luthi mystery/crime series, an immediate favorite of mine.  The series debuted last year with Swiss Vendetta and quickly set the pace for exciting adventure and malicious murder in the beautiful setting of Switzerland.  A Well-Timed Murder was released in February of this year, and continues the excellence of the first novel.  My reviews of both books can be found at


                                         Springtime in Switzerland!
                                             Tracee de Hahn 

As readers and writers we’ve probably all heard the question: how important is place in the book? Since I started my professional life as an architect, the answer is always: incredibly important. I like to think that the story couldn't happen without that exact place. After all, how many people live in a château set on the edge of a deep lake where an ice storm can cut them off from help? That’s certainly what happened in Agnes Lüthi’s first adventure, Swiss Vendetta.

What about the death of a watchmaker in a valley filled with watchmakers (dare we say jealous watchmakers?). This won’t happen in just any valley in the world. It can only happen in Switzerland (and in A Well-Timed Murder).

Since the Agnes Lüthi series is set in Switzerland, where I’ve been fortunate to spend many years, I think constantly about the importance of place. Now that spring has arrived, and appears to want to stay, I’m thinking about Switzerland in the context of the seasons. A Well-Timed Murder lets Agnes leave behind the desperate cold of a cataclysmic ice storm and enjoy the prospect of warmer weather. Farmers start to think about releasing cows from their winter barns, and eventually driving them up into the high summer pastures. Unfortunately for Agnes, this also means muddy fields where evidence is diluted by rain. At the same time, the smoke from a wood burning stove might also be evidence! Thank goodness there’s still a bit of a chill in the air.

My husband is Swiss and in the years we lived there, and when we return for our annual visit, we try to stay true to seasonal delights. However, there are a few heresies. I can’t visit without going to the Castle of Gruyeres, and since the cheese is produced in the village at the bottom of the fortress we have to indulge in a fondue. Hot melted cheese in July? Why not (just don’t tell any Swiss friends).

Agnes’s world centers on her village of a few hundred families and her work in Lausanne. Her village is typical of the French speaking part of the country, nestled in the hills that rise from Lac Léman (also known as Lake Geneva), and populated with a mix of traditional wood chalets complete with window boxes and red geraniums, more modern stucco structures, and perhaps a few VERY modern poured-in-place concrete buildings. As much as the Swiss cherish their history, they are on the cutting edge of contemporary architecture, using exquisite concrete, wood and, of course, large windows to enjoy the ever-present spectacular views.

Agnes’s work takes her across the country in pursuit of criminals. Lausanne, where I’ve spent most of my time, is an enchanting truly Swiss city set on steep hills facing the French alps and the lake. In A Well-Timed Murder Agnes ventures to Basel and the outward face of Switzerland – that of watchmaking. There’s nothing like the protection of tradition to rile people to murder.

So, when the question is posed: Does place matter? I can only say absolutely, yes! 

                                              Fondue at the Castle of Gruyeres

Bio Info for Tracee:
Tracee de Hahn was born in Missouri and grew up in Kentucky, later spending several years in Europe. Her time in Switzerland was the inspiration for the Agnes Lüthi mystery series published by St. Martin’s Press / Minotaur Books. The first book, Swiss Vendetta, published in 2017, was followed by A Well-Timed Murder which Publisher’s Weekly calls “an intriguing sequel…. Dynamic setting and fascinating glimpse into the Swiss watchmaking world.” Learn more about Tracee at She is on social media at FB TraceedeHahnWriter; Twitter LuthiMysteries; Instagram TraceedeHahn; and Pinterest LuthiMysteries.