Tuesday, September 11, 2012

BBAW Day Two - Interview Swap

I had the pleasure of interviewing The Little Red Reviewer, also known as Andrea, for the BBAW interview swap! You can read Andrea's interview with me on her page (permalink to come). You review a lot of science fiction and fantasy, but started as a sci fi reader. What elements of each genre are you drawn to? What was the spur for you to start reading fantasy?

I think I'm most drawn to the impossibleness of it all, or at least the seemingly impossibleness. I read a lot of space opera, that takes place in colonies around our solar system, or on far flung planets that we've colonized or terraformed. Maybe in 50 or a hundred generations that could be possible, but it won't be happening in my lifetime, so to me, it's impossible. Fantasy too - dragons and magic are completely impossible, but I find that fascinating!

It took forever for me to start reading fantasy because I thought all fantasy was Lord of the Rings style fantasy, with quests and dwarves and princesses and evil sorcerers. I didn't want to read anything labeled fantasy because the traditional quest based high fantasy just didn't interested me. But wait, I like fairy tale and mythology retellings, didn I? I liked Neil Gaiman, didn't I? isn't that stuff closer to fantasy than science fiction? My husband convinced me to read some Michael Moorcock and some Steven Brust, two masters of darker fantasy starring antiheroes. It was love at first read.

since sci fi/fantasy was embraced by mainstream culture, it seems there's a popular monster of the moment: the almost endless fascination with vampires, the zombie obsession. Do you have a favorite? Love or hate the popular incarnations?

I haven't really gotten into the zombie craze, and other than enjoying a few seasons of True Blood I haven't really gotten into much of the pop culture urban fantasy stuff. I prefer my monsters, zombies and vampires, to be just that: monsters. Horrific creatures to be run from, not towards, creatures we should biologically be fearful of. Some recent Vampire books that I've enjoyed are Anno Dracula by Kim Newman, and Twelve by Jasper Kent, and both are quite scary. Jim Hines's recent Libriomancer pokes fun at some of the newer popular incarnations, but I haven't read enough of the pop culture stuff to get a lot of his jokes!

Using the T-word for a moment here, Twilight brought vampires to a larger audience and knock-off titles abound. Now we see zombies everywhere. What are your thoughts on sci fi/fantasy in popular culture? Bringing it to a wider audience, watering it down and making it insipid, or both?

There is an infinite amount of flavors of science fiction and fantasy. some of it is literary, so of it is dark and creepy, some of it is humorous or satirical, and some of it is on the lighter side. Everyone is going to enjoy different things, so I'm just happy there is such a huge variety of titles and genres and subgenres available. There was nothing like this kind of variety when I was younger. And hey, if someone is reading Twilight today, maybe next year they'll be interested in some Kim Newman, right?

What's your favorite recent read?

I really enjoyed Phil and Kaja Foglio's most recent Girl Genius novel Agatha H and the Clockwork Princess. Their Girl Genius series started out as a webcomic, which then became a printed comic, and now the authors are doing novelizations. A novelization of a comic book? that sounds like a recipe for disaster, doesn't it? But they do it brilliantly. It's a gaslight romance adventure story, about mad scientists and crazy inventions. In the comic, there is a lot of physical humor and visual gags. in the novels (they've written two so far), there is a ton more world building and characterization, and it's funny and a little tragic and a little scary and quite romantic. if you're a fan of steampunk, I can't recommend Girl Genius enough!

I'm stealing your e-reader question: love 'em or hate 'em?

ehhhh. . . . I'm not a fan. I'm one of those super old fashioned people who has a fetish for physical books. The feel, the weight, the feel of the paper, the rise of ink, the quality of the binding, the different cover art on different printings, even the typos. I could really go on and on. And packing an entire suitcase of books for a 2 week vacation? that's not an extra suitcase, it's a badge of honor! Books don't need batteries, aren't affected by sun glare, don't need me to give my credit card information or my e-mail address. They can be passed around, lent out, traded in, borrowed, autographed, thrown across the room if they suck, sometimes dropped in the bathtub. Physical books live their own life, bear their own scars. Sometimes, in the darkened, dusty corners of a used bookstore, you can hear them tell you their stories.

Monday, September 10, 2012

BBAW Day One: Favorite Book Blogs

Book Blogger Appreciation Week is here! What? You didn't know that was a thing? My Friend Amy started this annual celebration of book blogging a few years ago, and I'm participating this year. That means BBAW-related posts all week, including giveaways, an interview swap, and more fun. In addition to the official BBAW posts, I'll also (I hope) be posting at least one review per day this week (something I'd like to make a permanent habit, actually). To see the full list of participants in this year's BBAW (as well as the giveaways), visit the official BBAW page.

The first day's topic is: Appreciation! There are no awards this year, but it can still be hard to navigate the huge universe of book blogging. Share with your readers some of the blogs you enjoy reading daily and why.

Lesa's Book Critiques: Lesa reviews everything, but especially mysteries, which hold a dear place in my heart. She hosts fabulous giveaways for mysteries I want to read, and she always seems to know what's going on in the publishing world.

Presenting Lenore: Lenore Appelhans has been reviewing YA well for ages, and she's my go-to blogger (and now, author, with a novel coming out in January) for all things YA. Her Dystopian August event fascinates even me, and I only reluctantly read dystopian novels.

Jen Robinson's Book Page: Jen reviews children's books and is also a great source for news and commentary related to children's books.

I use LibraryThing and GoodReads as a source for book reviews, and I've actually been out of the book blogging loop a bit. This event is a great way for me to become reacquainted with favorite book blogs and introduced to new ones.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

STRANGER IN THE ROOM - review and giveaway!

STRANGER IN THE ROOM by Amanda Kyle Williams: The second novel in a series is critical; after all, a good first novel could be a fluke. The more I like the first in a series, the more I hope the second lives up to its potential, and I am pleased to say that Amanda Kyle Williams more than delivers with her second Keye Street thriller, STRANGER IN THE ROOM. If you missed THE STRANGER YOU SEEK, Keye is a disgraced FBI profiler-turned-P.I., her brilliant career derailed by alcoholism, who gets pulled in as an APD consultant when a serial killer terrorizes Atlanta. Keye is funny but competent, deeply flawed, and self-aware. She's as funny as early Stephanie Plum, but in more intense thrillers (think Karin Slaughter, early Patricia Cornwell). It's an addictive combination. Thrillers are often relentless (which is the point, of course -- to keep the reader turning pages) in gore, action, and suspense, but in a twist on the usual thriller formula, Williams has used her heroine's abundant flaws to inject substantial humor into her books. The suspense is still intense; humor simply provides another layer of enjoyment.

Atlanta is practically a character in STRANGER IN THE ROOM. Having made it through a scorching summer, lines like "Atlanta's smoldering summer had dropped down around us like a burning building" really resonate with me. Keye observes of her private investigation business, "Missing persons, surveillance, bond enforcement, and process serving keeps the cash flowing when business slows to a crawl over the winter holidays. But when Atlanta starts to heat up and the glaring southern sun sets our bloodstreams ablaze, when the clothes get skimpy and overworked servers stagger out with trays of frosty pitchers at packed pavement cafes, my phone gets busy." Details of locations and mouth-watering descriptions of restaurant offerings (more on this later) add to the authenticity. Keye struggles with sobriety, and Williams treats alcoholism with great sensitivity and understanding, even as Keye cracks jokes about it.

STRANGER IN THE ROOM starts out with Keye's troubled cousin, Miki, asking for help; she's being stalked. Keye isn't sure how much of Miki's account to believe, but when a body turns up in Miki's house, Keye is convinced. Miki is possibly more screwed-up than Keye. "'Are you all right?' she asked, then went on without giving me time to answer. 'Oh, right. The alcohol thing. What's the big deal, anyway? I won't let you get wasted. Just order a fucking drink.' 'That's the worst idea I've heard all day.' She reached into her bag and withdrew a tiny glass vial with a black cap. 'I've got some coke. Would a line help?' That's my Miki, always thinking of others." Meanwhile, APD Lieutenant Rauser has asked for Keye's insight in a serial killer case. These two mysteries make up the main plot, with Keye's private investigation business providing the subplots. One is a bail bonds case that provides quality comic relief (and by "comic relief," I mean, "uncontrollable laughter"), and the other takes Keye up to rural Big Knob, where she investigates odd happenings at a crematorium. The Big Knob case introduces one of my favorite characters in any book in any genre: the politely racist Mrs. Stargell. In a less nuanced novel, Mrs. Stargell would have been a one-dimensional character to hate, but Williams rounds her out nicely, and she steals every scene she's in. I kind of hope future cases take Keye back to Big Knob.

Keye's supporting cast is fantastic. Williams is skilled at crafting complex characters, no matter how few words they have in the book. Keye's relationship with Rauser continues to develop in interesting and unexpected ways. He's a great cop: "'Listen to me, people,' Rauser snapped. 'All that DNA shit, it's gonna be great in court. But it's good old-fashioned police work that closes cases. Don't ever forget that.'" But he has a goofy side, too: "Rauser's hand went to his weapon, then slid away when we saw the gray tabby from next door pulling himself up and over the fence. He balanced on top for a couple of seconds, then jumped to the ground and sauntered over to the patch of neglected garden. He dug around, sniffed, turned a few circles, sniffed, dug, then laid back his ears and did his business. 'Little bastard,' Rauser growled, watching the cat with Wile E. Coyote eyes. 'Fucker's looking right at us.' I had to bite my lip and look away. Rauser had unintentionally built a giant cat box in his yard." Her coworker, stoner savant Neil, is hilarious and strangely competent. He and Keye exchange great childish banter that brings out Keye's silly side. "Neil had his electronic devices out, and he was balancing a hotel coffee mug. 'This is going to be one of those three-hour tour things, isn't it? Big Knob's the Minnow and you're Ginger and I'm the professor and we're never getting off the island.' 'You see me as Ginger? Really?' I glanced at myself in the rearview."

I'm tempted to quote all the passages I marked that made me laugh out loud (and, in one case, literally slap my knee), but I don't want to spoil the joy for new readers. I'm also tempted to quote all the passages about food (seriously, don't read Williams on an empty stomach!), but I'll just give one example: "She grew poblano peppers in her own garden and stuffed them with cheese and cubed acorn squash she'd sauteed in garlic. She skewered fresh peaches on cinnamon sticks and bathed them in bourbon and honey on the grill until their meat was sweet and smoky. She filled tiny pastry cups with goat cheese and homemade lime curd and glass pitchers with sweet iced tea and fresh thyme. Southern cooking gets a bad rap. But when it's done right, it's a beautiful thing." Besides their other attributes, I think Williams's books could be the foundation for a spectacular cookbook.

STRANGER IN THE ROOM stands well on its own, but I can't possibly recommend skipping THE STRANGER YOU SEEK. Do yourself a favor and read both. Quoting extensively in a review is the highest compliment for me: it means the writing is so good, it's best to let it speak for itself.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title courtesy of the publisher and purchased my own hardcover edition.

Giveaway: Oh, look! I purchased an extra copy of STRANGER IN THE ROOM in honor of Book Blogger Appreciation Week! Want to win? Leave a comment on this post with some way to contact you, and I'll draw a winner next Monday, September 17. Contest open worldwide. For extra entries (one per action - leave a comment with a link): post a link to this contest on your blog, tweet it, otherwise publicly share it.


Reading With Lilah: Amy and the Missing Puppy

AMY AND THE MISSING PUPPY by Callie Barkley (Critter Club): I've been requesting more children's books to review since Lilah's interest in chapter books has grown. I read this one to her at bedtime, and it was a hit. She immediately asked me to put it on her wishlist for when it comes out in January (we read an e-galley on my (non-color) Kindle, and she would love to see the illustrations in all their glory. AMY AND THE MISSING PUPPY is billed for ages 5-7, and with Lilah at 5 1/2 or so and obsessed with animals, it seemed perfect. And so it was! During spring break, Amy is helping out at her mom's veterinary clinic. One day, mean old Mrs. Sullivan brings in her puppy, Rufus, who later goes missing! Amy follows clues (with the help of her friends and lessons gleaned from Nancy Drew books) to locate the missing puppy and, along the way, learns that she may have misjudged Mrs. Sullivan. This adventure introduces the girls' Critter Club, which helps animals.

It's hard to think of a more perfect fit for a child who loves both animals and mysteries than AMY AND THE MISSING PUPPY. As a mystery, it's very well-done; Amy follows clues and uses solid reasoning to help find the puppy. As a story about a group of friends, it's also successful: Amy and her friends are a genial, cooperative group, each with her own interests, but adept at compromise. The only odd note in a book billed for ages 5-7: it opens with the girls playing MASH to find out the name of the boy they'll marry, which seemed odd to me. It's the only age-inappropriate note in an otherwise spot-on adventure. The values espoused in the book are admirable: don't judge a book by its cover; helping others; working together. My daughter and I enjoyed this book.

Available January 1 from Little Simon.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

Friday, August 31, 2012

The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone

Okay, I'm pretty sure Allison is going to keel over from surprise when she sees that I FINALLY posted something to this blog! I told her I would eventually get around to it. And look, I did. :-)

A mom of a good friend of my oldest daughter contacted me at the beginning of the summer and asked if we might be interested in doing a book club with the girls this summer. I wholeheartedly replied YES! And it turns out her younger daughter (the same age as my younger daughter was participating as well). At first, I was thinking the books we picked would be books our incoming third graders would read themselves. But once she sent the book choices to me, it was apparent the books would be above level and we would read aloud to them. This actually worked to our advantage because the younger girls (incoming first graders) would hear the story as well and could participate easily. The first book we read was ELLA ENCHANTED (I will fully review this book in a separate post). And the second book we read was The Sixty-Eight Rooms by Marianne Malone.

Having the museum background that I have, and having visited the Art Institute of Chicago probably close to 20 times in my life, I suggested this book for the girls to read. Mostly, because I was DYING to read it! I believe the first time I visited the Art Institute I was probably about 12 or so--about the main character's age--and I remember LOVING the Thorne Rooms. And ironically, I don't remember the last time I looked at them when I visited the museum.

In the story, two sixth graders, Ruthie and Jack visit the Art Institute on a field trip and happen to meet a nice museum guard while visiting Gallery 11, the Thorne rooms. The Thorne rooms are 68 rooms created by Mrs. James Ward Thorne between 1932 and 1940. Ruthie is fascinated by the rooms and wishes she could shrink down and visit them personally. Not long after she thinks this, she and Jack find a mysterious key laying on the floor of a corridor while the guard is giving them a tour. She magically shrinks down and is able to enter the rooms! This begins a grand adventure where Ruthie and Jack visit pre-revolutionary France and Topsfield, Massachusetts during the Salem Witch trials. They are able to meet real characters from history on their journey and discover part of the truth behind the key and its magical tie to the Thorne rooms.

This was an absolutely FANTASTIC read for both my first and third graders. They were completely engaged the entire story. They wanted to keep reading to hear more. We got MINIATURE ROOMS: THE THORNE ROOMS OF THE ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO by Fannia Weingartner from the library. That way when Ruthie and Jack visited various rooms we could look through the library book and see exactly what they were talking about. Now, I'm sure you can google images of the rooms as well, but there is something about NOT using a computer to see them that appeals to me. 
All the girls in the book club as well as the moms LOVED THE SIXTY-EIGHT ROOMS. It created great discussion about foreshadowing and character development. Also, history, art and museums. I cannot recommend this book highly enough! And although it is very nicely wrapped up in the end, there are several things unanswered. And in this case, it is fabulous that there are more answers to be found because the author turned this into a series! We can't wait to read STEALING MAGIC, the second book in the series.

Anyone who loved the Magic Tree house books and the way they tie in history in fiction will love to read this as an older child. And I guarantee you will be planning a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago to see the rooms in person! We're heading there over Christmas break this year!

Source Disclosure: We purchased this book for our personal library.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Picture Book Thursday: Lemonade in Winter

LEMONADE IN WINTER: a book about two kids counting money by Emily Jenkins, illustrated by G. Brian Karas. Holly usually does Picture Book Thursday, but Random House sent me an e-galley of this title, and Lilah and I enjoyed it so much I'm posting a review. It is freezing outside when Pauline decides to open a lemonade stand. No, make that lemonade, limeade, and lemon-limeade! Her little brother, John-John eagerly joins in, while their parents warn that no one will be outside in this weather. Pauline and John-John are undeterred, and head to the store after ransacking the couch cushions for quarters. They come up with twenty-four quarters, enough for lemons, limes, sugar, and cups. A lovely illustration lays this out visually, with the quarters needed for each item beside that item. They get to work and set up their stand...and no one is outside. They try a number of strategies to attract customers, including a cute little song that is repeated on several pages. They are not bothered by the dearth of customers and appear to be having the time of their lives as they happily bellow out their lemonade song, John-John does cartwheels, and they reduce the price in a lemonade sale. Once the lemonade, limeade, and lemon-limeade run out, they total their earnings, and Pauline is dismayed to realize that they spent more than they earned! John-John helps her find the bright side to this entrepreneurial failure, and the story ends with Pauline's very concise, entertaining explanation of American currency for John-John.

I read this with my five-year-old daughter, and we both loved it. We loved the soft, muted illustrations, which include sly details like John-John assembling puzzle pieces under the table before the children head outside. I have tried to get my child interested in the values of coins, to no avail, but she sat rapt through Pauline's explanation (in which she says that nickels are confusing and she wishes they were purple or something). The story is utterly positive, from the moment the kids start their project in spite of their parents' gentle warnings that winter is not the best time to sell lemonade, and the looks of joy on their faces as they attempt to lure customers are priceless. The entrepreneurial spirit, the brother-sister joint project, the creativity the children display at their stand (rewarded by their bemused neighbors), and the lesson that profit isn't the highest value would have made for a wonderful story even without the clear, engaging math lesson! Seriously, my child has shown zero interest in the value of coins, but she was hanging on every word as Pauline explained it to her little brother. Available September 11. I recommend pulling it out on a cold, snowy day when the children are getting cabin fever!

Source disclosure: I received access to an early electronic edition of this title from Random House Children's Books.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Plucky Heroine and Gothic Creepiness? Yes, please.

CHARLOTTE MARKHAM AND THE HOUSE OF DARKLING by Michael Boccacino: Charlotte Markham is the widowed governess at Everton, home of the handsome widower Mr. Darrow and his two sons. When Nanny Prum is murdered, Charlotte takes on a greater role in the boys' lives. She reluctantly agrees to take the children through the fog to the mysterious House of Darkling, where their dead mother reads them strange bedtime stories and a host of mysterious creatures is revealed.

Charlotte is not simply a pawn in this game; she reasons out whether it's better for the children to see their mother or not, and she considers the complex reasons for her fascination with the House of Darkling. After all, she has lost family members, too; if Mrs. Darrow can reappear, why not Charlotte's parents or husband? The more she learns about this strange place, the more wary she becomes, until she finds herself in a contest of wills with the master of the House of Darkling, and if she is not equal to the challenge, more innocent humans will die.

Boccacino invokes a delightfully chilling air of Victorian Gothic creepiness throughout the novel, but what I enjoyed most was that he constantly surprised me. This is an homage to Victorian horror, but it is not constrained by those conventions; rather, Boccacino gives his boundless imagination free rein. The creatures we meet in The Ending, the land where the House of Darkling is situated, are extraordinary. For example: "It was about the same size and shape as a grapefruit, but before he could get a good look at it, he glanced up at me, clearly frightened, sensing that something was wrong. The fruit quivered, and with a wet, tearing sound it began to unroll from the inside out, the air laced with the scent of peaches as the thing in his hands untwisted its arms and legs from the pulpy interior of its body and wrenched its head free from it's shell. A baby's face blinked at us with pale blue eyes as Paul dropped it on the ground with a look of utter terror, backing away, his gaze transfixed on the thing as it fell onto its back, protected by what was formerly the leathery skin of the fruit." You don't see that every day, even in horror novels.

Charlotte herself is not a meek Victorian governess. That she is a widow sets her apart from the usual virginal girls in that role. Beyond that, she is conscious of her longing for Mr. Darrow and its impact on her decisions. Her formidable nature is hinted at in her discipline of two unruly boys: "'It's nothing to me if you want to kill one another,' I told them. 'I imagine that it would be much easier to care for one child as opposed to two. But I daresay your father would be furious with whichever one of you murders the other. If violence and murder are the methods you choose to use when dealing with family, then we can only surmise the tactics you might use when dealing with your peers would be that much worse. We would be forced to lock you away in the attic for the good of the village. I don't believe that such an existence would be a very pleasant one, but then it's not up to me to make your decisions for you.'" Her humor and assertiveness translate surprisingly well to a life-or-death struggle with otherworldly beings. I would have liked to have seen more of Charlotte's inner thoughts with regard to her dead husband and to Mr. Darrow. Her inclinations aren't very clearly drawn out; one moment, she wonders if her husband could come back from the dead, and the next she is daydreaming about the next Mrs. Darrow. It's a bit of a muddle, but the creepy atmosphere, snappy dialogue, and surprising otherworldly elements more than make up for this deficiency.

Highly recommended to any reader who enjoys creative horror or Victorian gothic settings.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, August 06, 2012

Giveaway of Live Through This

Head on over to Mindi Scott's blog, where she is giving away an advance copy of her second book, LIVE THROUGH THIS...along with a stuffed giraffe and a mystery gift.

Friday, August 03, 2012


SCONE ISLAND by Frederick Ramsay: I don't ordinarily pick up a mystery series in the middle (or in this case, on the eighth book), but I have been known to when the subject of a particular entry intrigues me. In this case, the allure was an island off the coast of Maine. Since I've been fascinated with Maine most of my life (despite the entirety of my Maine-related knowledge having been gleaned from Stephen King novels and episodes of MURDER SHE WROTE), a mystery set on a remote Maine island sounded fantastic. And parts of it were, so perhaps I shouldn't complain.

There is good stuff here, in the eighth entry in the Ike Schwartz series (which begins with ARTSCAPE). Ike and his probably-future-fiancee Ruth have a delightful rapport, with witty noir-inspired banter that is a joy to read. You can hear Bogart, except when so many sentences end with "See?" - and then you hear Jimmy Stewart. Either way, it's fast-paced and funny. Here's an early slice:

"Is it just me or has the whole world gone nuts?"
"A little of both, I think. If I had to choose, I'd go with the world, but that's only my take. So, the problem is what? The eggs too cold, too runny? Coffee is...what? Too strong, too weak, too sour, too hot, what? Or is it the company? What's the problem, Goldilocks?"
"Not you, Schwartz, and not breakfast. Breakfast always smells good, even when it isn't. The eggs are...yellow and the coffee is brown. What more could I possibly expect from a cop who cooks?"

The tight-knit community is well-drawn, too, and descriptions of the landscape evocative. The problem is that the plot is half bad spy novel and half cozy mystery. I like spy novels, and I like cozy mysteries, but the mash-up doesn't do it for me. Ike is a current sheriff and former CIA agent, so his involvement in a murder investigation while on vacation is plausible by cozy mystery standards. But the spy bit just doesn't ring true. I have to wonder if Ramsay's spy-related research extended only to James Bond films, and maybe Mission: Impossible. The snappy dialogue that works so well between Ike and Ruth is entirely implausible between the CIA guys. The backstory that is slowly revealed is not only convoluted and overly drawn out - it's boring. I couldn't bring myself to care about the spy plotline, which was unfortunate since that took up the biggest chunk of pages. Ike and Ruth, I loved. Ike and Ruth on Maine island, I loved. Ike and Ruth and a murky spy operation type thing with too many players and too little logic...not as fun. A murder on an island is basically a locked-room mystery waiting to be told, but Ramsay dragged us off the island and into the CIA too frequently to be immersed.

I marked several passages where the spy nonsense is particularly ridiculous, but it feels mean to just start plopping them into the review. I liked Ike and Ruth enough to look into the first book in the series, but if every entry has this spy stuff in it (and I love spy stuff - I've read every John LeCarre), I'm not interested. I would enjoy Ike and Ruth in a real cozy mystery, especially a locked-room one in such a compelling locale.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley from the publisher through Netgalley.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Netgalley Knockout

August 1-31 has been designated as Netgalley Knockout month by Goldilox and the Three Weres. I've been making progress on my collection of e-galleys, but it seemed a fun event to be a part of.

My TBR e-galleys (by publication date - * denotes already published; ** denotes pub date in August; *** denotes pub date in September):

Update: As I finish reading a galley, I will put the title in bold.

*Racing the Devil by Jaden Terrell
*Dead Anyway by Chris Knopf
*Rust by Julie Mars
*Make It Stay by Joan Frank
*Isaac by Ivan G. Goldman
*Zombie by J.R. Angelella
*My Dead Friend Sarah by Peter Rosch
*The Ghosts of Belfast by Stuart Neville
*American Boy by Larry Watson
*Patricide by Joyce Carol Oates
**Scone Island by Frederick Ramsay
**The Templeton Twins Have an Idea by Ellis Weiner
**The Hollow Man by Oliver Harris
**Bones Are Forever by Kathy Reichs
**The Uninvited by Heather Graham
***White Forest by Adam McOmber
***Something Red by Douglas Nicholas
***The Infects by Sean Beaudoin
The Icarus Project by Laura Quimby
The Goldberg Variations by Susan Isaacs
The Dalai Lama's Cat by David Michie
Live by Night by Dennis Lehane
Becoming Holmes by Shane Peacock
An Unattended Death by Victoria Jenkins
Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth
The Evolution of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin
The Girl on the Cliff by Lucinda Riley
Make Believe by Ed Ifkovic
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver
An Extraordinary Theory of Objects by Stephanie LaCava
Spilt Milk by Chico Buarque
Seven Locks by Christine Wade
Ashenden by Elizabeth Wilhide
Daddy Love by Joyce Carol Oates
A Killer in the Wind by Andrew Klavan
A Study in Revenge by Kieran Shields
Yesterday's Sun by Amanda Brooke

I also have physical galleys of Munster's Case by Hakan Nesser and The Map of Lost Memories by Kim Fay. I have finished reading, but have not yet reviewed, e-galleys of The Stranger In The Room by Amanda Kyle Williams and Charlotte Markham and the House of Darkling by Michael Boccacino. I plan to post those reviews this week. Many of my e-galleys have publication dates in the fall and winter, so I'm not planning a wild attempt to read them all. I would like to make it through all the already-published ones, as well as those to be published in August.

Edited to add the galleys that have come in since posting.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Inside the Minds of Linkoping, Sweden

MIDWINTER BLOOD by Mons Kallentoft: "The cold stinks." "Maybe. But it still doesn't seem to have any smell, does it?" I have been on quite a Nordic crime fiction kick lately (along with everyone else), so the publication of Kallentoft's MIDWINTER BLOOD in English (as the first of four novels following Superintendent Malin Fors of the Linkoping police) was exciting for me. While all Nordic crime fiction speaks of cold and isolation, MIDWINTER BLOOD adds another dimension that sets it apart: insight into nearly every character's thoughts, even the dead ones.

It is cold. Bitterly cold. The cold rises from the pages to make the hottest summer afternoon seem chilly. February in Linkoping is always cold, but this winter is extraordinary. Malin Fors is melancholy, musing on her lost relationship, struggling with her daughter's teenage years, dealing with increasingly difficult aging parents. And now with a mutilated corpse hanging from a tree. A professor at the university contacts the police when the scene reminds him of a midwinter pagan sacrifice, which means the killer may not be finished. The escalating mystery is very well-done, with unexpected twists and challenges. The dead man was an obese man who lived on the fringes of Linkoping, but not as an accepted part of it. Was the motive personal, or was he chosen at random, or because of his marginalization, for a ritual?

The dead man thinks, "In a way, it's nice hanging up here." This is not a typical sentence for a thriller, and this is not a typical thriller. The gorgeous language not only describes the cold and unravels the threads of the mystery: it also gives us insight into the character's inner lives. At first, I was not sure the constant interruption of action to share character thoughts (especially of minor or dead characters) was going to work at all for me, but I soon settled into the style and found it illuminating. Fors delves into small-town rumors and innuendo, the torment of the dead man at the hands of cruel teenagers, a strangely isolated family that clings together, and the reader sees their actions and hears their words, but also witnesses their thoughts and feelings. The result is like no other crime novel.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this novel courtesy of the publisher.

Waiting on Wednesday: Jasper Fforde

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

It feels like I'm always waiting for Jasper Fforde. I'll be waiting a looooooong time for the follow-up to his amazing dystopia SHADES OF GREY (no relation to the fifty), but I don't have much longer to wait for the next Thursday Next novel. I've been madly addicted to this series for years. The first introduction to the genre-defying adventures of the intrepid Thursday is in THE EYRE AFFAIR. This is one of my favorite books. I advise against starting this series in the middle - pick up THE EYRE AFFAIR, and if it's too weird for you, well, the series only gets weirder (in delightful ways). THE WOMAN WHO DIED A LOT is the seventh such adventure and, as usual, I can barely wait.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012


Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

I'm currently reading THE STRANGER IN THE ROOM by Amanda Kyle Williams, the follow-up to last summer's THE STRANGER YOU SEEK. Williams manages a thoroughly entertaining balance between suspense and humor. The following teaser obviously highlights the humor:

"He robbed a Seven Eleven with dried nasal mucus?"


"Clerk gave him three hundred from the register," Tyrone told me. "Which just proves nobody wants a booger touching them."

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer staples

There are always writers I think of as my summer constants. They invariably release a new book (usually in a series) every summer, and these round out my beach reading. I have no idea what the beach will be like this summer without a new Stephanie Plum release by Janet Evanovich (she's releasing in the fall this year). One of these (fairly recently discovered for me) is Karin Slaughter, and I just read her new novel, CRIMINAL, being unable to wait until I was at an actual beach to do so. Amanda Kyle Williams is another new one for me (her first novel, THE STRANGER YOU SEEK, was published last summer). Once upon a time, Patricia Cornwell was another. What are your favorite beach staples?

CRIMINAL by Karin Slaughter: Her recent mysteries, featuring Will Trent of the GBI, are set in Atlanta, which is loads of fun for me. My only complaint about her books is that the violence is so extreme. More creative and horrifying torture methods than I'm really looking for. Doesn't anyone just shoot or stab or strangle without some sick, seriously disturbing abuse? But this is not usually a huge part of the narrative, so I read her anyway for the depiction of Atlanta, the excellent mysteries, and the believable, interesting cops.

Many series start to lose steam and eventually plod along formulaically, but CRIMINAL is Slaughter's best to date. Will Trent has a troubled past and an odd relationship with Amanda, and Slaughter hasn't rushed to share every detail of his background. This installment is particularly revelatory as far as Will goes, but it's unexpectedly enlightening concerning the racist/sexist history of Atlanta, particularly in the police world. Slaughter has clearly done her research on both the legal/organizational details and the general atmosphere and attitudes of the time.

"The federal Law Enforcement Assistance Association grant that had created the Atlanta police sex crimes division required all teams to be comprised of three-officer units that were racially and sexually integrated. These rules were seldom followed, because white women could not ride alone with black men, black women - at least the ones who wanted to keep their reputations - did not want to ride with black men, and none of the blacks wanted to ride with any man who was white."

That matter-of-fact paragraph sets the tone for a divided police department in which female police officers are laughed at, groped, and sent into danger as a prank. Seeing Amanda in this context gives the reader a full picture of her that we've never had before. Suddenly her tough-as-nails don't-give-a-shit attitude is completely understandable. She's a character who has always intrigued me, but I never thought I would find her sympathetic. Amanda's partner, Evelyn, is married with a child, which adds another dimension to the treatment of women:

"Bill and I agreed that we shouldn't keep a loaded gun in the house because of the baby."

Words clogged Amanda's throat. She screamed, "Your gun isn't loaded!"

"Well..." Evelyn dug her fingers into the back of her hair. "It worked out, right?" She let out a strained laugh. "Sure, it worked out. We're both fine. We're both just fine." She looked down at the pimp again.

Evelyn's decision to return to the force after having a baby is viewed as utterly bizarre. Slaughter works in other details about attitudes toward women in 1970s Atlanta that are not specific to policing: Women can't open checking accounts, apply for a credit card, or even rent an apartment without cosigning by a husband or father.

The racial division in the forcibly integrated police force is equally fascinating/horrifying:

There were pockets all over the city where the radios had little or no reception, but that wasn't the problem. A black officer was calling for backup, which meant the white officers were blocking the transmission by clicking the buttons on their mics. In the next hour, a white officer would call for help and the blacks would do the same. And then someone with the Atlanta Journal or Constitution would write an article wondering about the recent spike in crime."

It's a wonder that any crimes were solved in this era at all. The 1970s murders are only solved because Amanda and Evelyn ignore the harassment and abuse from the male officers in charge and place themselves in danger to seek out the culprit. Amanda's father would have kept her in line, but he has been temporarily relieved of his lofty position due to racially fueled politics. He has been in the force since Klan affiliation had been compulsory for all Atlanta Police Department members. Amanda is conflicted about carrying on her investigation with Evelyn, but the fact that the murder victims are girls and no one else cares about them spurs her on. The 1970s investigation is told in parallel with a related present-day murder investigation, and the mystery is complex and interesting. Will and Amanda's relationship is finally explained, and the revelations make me more eager to read the next installment in the series.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Waiting on... Wednesday: Zadie Smith

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking the Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating. This week's pre-publication "can't-wait-to-read" selection is:

NW by Zadie Smith

The opening paragraph, published at The Millions:

The fat sun stalls by the phone masts. Anti-climb paint turns sulphurous on school gates and lampposts. In Willesden people go barefoot, the streets turn European, there is a mania for eating outside. She keeps to the shade. Redheaded. On the radio: I am the sole author of the dictionary that defines me. A good line—write it out on the back of a magazine. In a hammock, in the garden of a basement flat. Fenced in, on all sides.

Publication date: September 4, 2012. It's marked on the calendar.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers! I'm currently reading CRIMINAL by Karin Slaughter. I find Teaser Tuesdays more challenging now that many of my reads are on the Kindle! No more flipping through pages. So I pick a random number and use the "Go to page" feature. This novel moves between a series of disappearances in the 1970s and present-day crimes. This excerpt is from the 1970s storyline:

"The federal Law Enforcement Assistance Association grant that had created the Atlanta police sex crimes division required all teams to be comprised of three-officer units that were racially and sexually integrated. These rules were seldom followed, because white women could not ride alone with black men, black women - at least the ones who wanted to keep their reputations - did not want to ride with black men, and none of the blacks wanted to ride with any man who was white."


THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: While the note from Julian Carax suggests that the three books in the series (THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and THE ANGEL'S GAME having preceded THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN), I have no idea what a newcomer to the series would make of THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN as a standalone novel. My recommendation is to read the first two novels first, as THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN refers back to the events portrayed therein. If you've read the first two books about the Cemetary of Forgotten Books, I see no reason why you wouldn't enjoy the third (and the fourth, which I can barely wait for). When I say that THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN is more of the same, I mean it in a positive way: THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and THE ANGEL'S GAME were sensuous feasts of words and atmosphere that I found immensely enjoyable, and THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN was equally diverting.

In this installment, Ruiz Zafon explores the history of Fermin, with Carax telling us in the prologue: "I have always known that one day I would return to these streets to tell the story of the man who lost his soul and his names among the shadows of a Barcelona trapped in a time of ashes and silence." If you find that sentence seductive, the novels of Ruiz Zafon will appeal to you; if you find it overwritten and melodramatic, you probably ought to skip this series entirely. I was immediately drawn back into post-WWII Barcelona, which Ruiz Zafon evokes so beautifully. The story begins in 1957, just before Christmas, with Sempere & Sons bookshop financially strapped. Fermin has an idea for drumming up business: "Perhaps if by chance I was seen arranging the shop window in my underpants, some lady in need of strong literary emotions would be drawn in and inspired to party with a bit of hard cash. According to expert opinion, the future of literature depends on women and as God is my witness the female is yet to be born who can resist the primal allure of this stupendous physique." Sempere decides to go the more traditional route of a nativity scene, and customers begin to trickle in. Among them is a mysterious stranger who buys the most expensive book in the store and leaves it as a gift for Fermin. This is the trigger for Fermin to tell Daniel Sempere his own story: beginning with his time in prison during WWII and revealing connections between Fermin and Daniel.

My only complaint about this novel is that it was too short. Having read it on the Kindle, I had to look it up to find out that it is apparently 416 pages long, but it breezed by in little more than a night of reading. Fermin's story is gripping and the dribbles of information relating to Daniel's mother, David Martin, and the mysterious stranger are well-paced. Fermin's usual cynicism and humor lighten up the narrative, and the ending is satisfying, although clearly setting the reader up for the fourth book.

I found THE PRISONER OF HEAVEN engrossing and delightful, and I recommend this book to fans of THE SHADOW OF THE WIND and THE ANGEL'S GAME.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this book courtesy of the publisher.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The buzz about ARCs

There has been much talk around the book blogosphere lately about ARCs, as there usually is after BEA. Complaints about ARC-hoggers, who run around getting as many free books as they can, questions over who should receive ARCs, issues about what should happen to ARCs after the book is in publication (hint: not eBay, people!). I thought that Presenting Lenore's post was a good rational discussion.

My relationship with ARCs: I only request those that I really want to read, and should Holly and I ever make good on our pledge to go to BEA with On My Bookshelf business cards, I think I'd do the same thing there: prioritize my desperately wanted titles and try to snag advance copies of those. I also tend to stick to requests for the genres I commonly review: literary fiction, middle-grade and YA fantasy, mysteries. I am less likely to request a nonfiction title, since I think of myself primarily as a fiction blogger, but I have reviewed ARCs of nonfiction books that tell a good (but true) story. ARCs are a tool that publishers use for marketing/publicity. Different publishers see them slightly differently. Some keep ARCs close, handing them out only to media outlets (including bloggers) that have huge followings and rejecting requests from less-prominent bloggers. Others see them as a part of word-of-mouth marketing and happily distribute them to anyone who seems willing to post a review on Amazon. As far as when to post reviews, I follow the publisher's request, which is usually to hold reviews until the day of publication. I will blog/Facebook about the book as I read it, though. I copy my review on amazon, on Facebook, Twitter, goodreads, and LibraryThing.

I'm really not interested in debates over whether or not bloggers should get copies of ARCs: that's up to the publisher. Each publisher has a vision for where bloggers and ARCs fit into their marketing, and sometimes my requests are rejected. I end up buying the book (and posting a review) anyway, but I miss the chance to be a part of the early buzz (or even to be blurbed).

When I love an ARC, I will buy a finished copy of the book. Especially now that e-galleys are becoming very common, I want a hard copy for my library, to take to a signing, or to lend to friends. I tend to donate ARCs I wasn't as crazy about to library sales. I don't list them on eBay (so tacky).

How do you decide which ARCs to request? Any personal policies on dealing with ARCs?

Saturday, July 07, 2012

It's not you...it's me?

ADVENT by James Treadwell: I love fantasy. I re-read LORD OF THE RINGS every couple of years. I excel at suspension of disbelief and immersing myself in alternate worlds. So I expected to fall in love with ADVENT, the first in a trilogy that weaves together the Faust legend, Greek mythology including the always-fascinating Cassandra, and Celtic folklore, all propelled by a confused teenager who has always conversed with people who aren't there. It may be that in the context of the entire trilogy, ADVENT makes sense, but as a novel in its own right, it was a sprawling (though often beautifully written) mess with frustrating pacing. Perhaps my expectations were too high.

Gavin, the teenaged boy sent to live with his nutty aunt at the mysterious estate of Pendurra, is a likable child, poised to learn more about his gifts in a classic coming-of-age fantasy arc. This part of the story was engaging. Gavin has been told his entire childhood that the people who are most real to him are imaginary, so he has a distrust of adults. When his aunt, always a favorite and the one most interested in and accepting of his strangeness, fails to pick him up at the train station, a batty professor gives him a lift to Pendurra, and she is the first person he has encountered who shares his visions. Their interactions are some of the best moments in the novel. As they approach the mysterious estate, Gavin describes it beautifully:

"Beneath them, a pair of rough stone posts flanked a driveway leading off into wooded blackness. Beside the driveway, a little way beyond the gateposts, was a house. Hester Lightfoot had cut off the engine and was getting out. Still slightly dizzy, Gavin followed. A gusting wind blew about. There was nothing to hinder it. In all directions, the land fell away gently. Gav thought he knew now what it had been like for the first man on the moon, his foot touching down on the rim of another world, suspended in empty space. He saw a word carved in the nearer gatepost: Pendurra."

This is typical of the expansive, evocative language Treadwell uses in descriptions from Gav's point of view, and one of the book's highlights. It is less successful in the sections from the sixteenth century. The "greatest magus in the world" (as he is referred to in practically every mention of him) is bombastic and not terribly interesting. Once I'd ascertained that not much essential was conveyed through his ramblings, I began skimming these parts and was happier for it. Pendurra through Gav's eyes is mysterious, magical, downright creepy. He meets the odd child who lives there, Marina, and learns odd tidbits about the estate: a river where Marina sees a woman, a chapel housing water with healing powers, and Marina herself: oddly innocent and unaware of the outside world.

Besides the annoying ramblings of "the greatest magus in the world" (early on, I began rolling my eyes whenever I read that phrase), the compelling story of Gavin discovering the truth about Pendurra and about himself is interrupted by large chunks of backstory dumped into the narrative and interrupting the action. I can only imagine that the author delighted in his world-building and couldn't bear to keep it from the reader, but glimpses of backstory worked directly into the narrative would have been far less disruptive, repetitive, and redundant. At one point, in the midst of the book's climax, the reader's interest is derailed by page after page of an internal history lesson, much of which could have been inferred with the inclusion of the few actually relevant details in the narrative. More than halfway through the novel, we begin reading passages from the point of view of Horace, a tangential character and friend to Marina, which add absolutely nothing except to distract from the story. The points of view of random people from the neighboring village, a confused priest, and a journalist staying at the inn are thrown in for good measure. But Gavin is really the only fully-formed character. Marina is vague and out of touch with reality (I wanted to smack her when she dithers as Gav is trying to save her life) and we don't learn much about the professor or Marina's father.

The less said about the ending, the better. It's no doubt the perfect set-up for book two, but when the end finally comes (and it's a long time coming - at 65% of the way through the book (according to my Kindle), the climax begins, but the endless exposition and unnecessary point of view switching bogs it down) it is abrupt and feels entirely contrived, with a previously unknown character the sudden focus. I am sure the next book centers on this girl, but I don't see myself sticking around to find out how the trilogy weaves together all these threads. I'm not sure to whom I would recommend this book. Die-hard fantasy fans with a high tolerance for exposition? Ultimately, the promise of the book's beautiful language and compelling coming-of-age story wasn't realized for me, and I was relieved to see the last page.

Source disclosure: I received an e-galley of this title from the publisher.

Friday, July 06, 2012

When work comes home with you

FALLEN ANGELS by Connie Dial: Captain Josie Corsino is a good detective who has turned into a good supervisor: "She hadn't been to roll call for a few weeks, and she knew the uniformed patrol officers liked to have her there so they could find out what was going on in their division, especially on mornings like this. Besides, a few minutes with them always left her energized. Half an hour later, she had answered every question she could about the morning's events and made a mental list of all the officers' complaints, including those problems she couldn't solve. It was important to make contact because their lives were tied to her." Out of the trenches since promotion, she stays connected to her subordinates, but a challenging case calling into question whom she can trust will push her further into danger than any captain should be. When a troubled young actress is found murdered in a well-known party house, Josie faces pressure from above to keep a councilman's son out of it, though he is at least indirectly involved. Hints of corruption leave her with few officers above or below her rank to trust, and she skirts the edges of procedure to solve the murder with its tentacles reaching into organized crime, off-duty cops, and local politics before those involved can undertake a cover-up.

Josie has been promoted as high as she wants to be: "Any rank above captain had nothing important to do except create meaningless projects and audits, or find other ways to annoy cops with real jobs." Her personal life is falling apart, her husband going through a midlife crisis and her twenty-two-year-old son tangentially involved in her current investigation. She can trust almost no one at work or even at home. Her balance of family and police work makes her a compelling character, and when the two come into conflict, her resolution rings true.

Dial uses her extensive experience in the LAPD to inform and ground this novel and give the fictional department a well-rounded feel. I've enjoyed her Detective Mike Turner novels, INTERNAL AFFAIRS and THE BROKEN BLUE LINE, and Josie, as a captain and as a woman balancing family and police life, brings a fresh perspective.

Source disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

A thriller that sends up the thriller genre

POTBOILER by Jesse Kellerman: I haven't read Jesse Kellerman's previous novels, which appear to be complex thrillers, but based on the cleverness he demonstrates in POTBOILER, I'm very interested in reading more of his work. POTBOILER cannot be easily categorized. It's an affectionate parody of the thriller genre, but it functions equally well as a thriller in its own right. However ridiculous and implausible the twists and turns, this novel kept me chuckling at Kellerman's gentle mocking of his own genre while at the same time biting my nails in anticipation. I couldn't help but laugh at myself and how swept up in the absurd action I became.

Arthur Pfefferkorn is a college professor with one critically acclaimed novel far, far in his past. He's avoided his oldest friend, William de Vallee, for years, jealous of his wife and his bestselling oeuvre of thrillers while contemptuous of the non-literary genre. When de Vallee disappears and is declared dead, Pfefferkorn takes a reckless step that pulls him into a world of international intrigue, conspiracy, and double crosses. To rescue de Vallee's widow (with whom he is still in love), he takes on a shadowy assignment from a questionable government agency and ventures into Zlabia, an utterly absurd nation divided into two entirely different cultures. Zlabia is a hoot, and it's to Kellerman's credit that I remained engaged in the action despite the ridiculous aspects of Zlabian politics.

To point out the cleverest twists would be to spoil the unfolding plot. This is a book I will recommend to everyone I know just so I can talk about it with someone and say, "Wasn't it perfect when Pfefferkorn said X and then Y happened later?!" A devoted thriller fan who sees nothing amusing in the conventions of the genre will not enjoy this book, but anyone who read, say, THE DA VINCI CODE and rolled her eyes at the stilted prose and pat descriptions (while frantically turning the pages to see what happens next) will adore POTBOILER. I am even willing to confess my secret addiction to Clive Cussler's Dirk Pitt novels to illustrate my qualifications in making this recommendation. The over-the-top writing drives me a little crazy and the stereotypes and predictable elements required of the genre make me roll my eyes; yet, I can't not read them.

When Pfefferkorn finally reads a de Vallee novel, he is contemptuous:

"The thirty-third installment in a series, the novel featured special agent Richard "Dick" Stapp, a brilliant, physically invincible figure formerly in the employ of a shadowy but never-named government arm whose apparent sole purpose was to furnish story lines for thrillers. Pfefferkorn recognized the formula easily enough. Stapp, supposedly in retirement, finds himself drawn into an elaborate conspiracy involving one or more of the following: an assassination, a terrorist strike, a missing child, or the theft of highly sensitive documents that, if made public, could lead to full-blown nuclear engagement. His involvement in the case often begins against his will. I've had it with this rotten business he is fond of avowing. Who in real life, Pfefferkorn wondered, avowed anything?"

This over-the-top language turns up in elements of POTBOILER that highlight its absurdity, as in the fabulous description of a character's mustache: "Pfefferkorn could not tell his age, due to a full eighty percent of his face being hidden behind the largest, bushiest, most aggressively expansionist moustache Pfefferkorn had ever seen. It was a a with submoustaches that in turn had sub-submoustaches, each of which might be said to be deserving of its own area code. It was a moustache that vexed profoundly questions of waxing, a moustache the merest glimpse of which might spur female musk oxen to ovulate. It was a moustache that would have driven Nietzsche mad with envy, had he not been mad already. If the three most copiously flowing waterfalls in the world, Niagara, Victoria, and Iguazu Falls, were somehow united, and their combined outputs rendered in facial hair, this man's moustache would not have been an inaccurate model, save that this man's moustache also challenged traditional notions of gravity by growing outward, upward, and laterally. It was an impressive moustache and Pfefferkorn was impressed."

Pfefferkorn is fond of coming up with outlandish ideas and wondering if they might be good premises for a novel. Naturally, these wild plot developments turn up in the Zlabian intrigue. Throughout commentary on the Zlabian hit show The Poem, It Is Bad! and the magical disguising power of mustaches, the overly complicated plot unfolds with precision in ways that are both predictable and unexpected. This is a masterful satire of the thriller genre, but at the same time, a fantastic thriller. It might be the ultimate beach read.

Source disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer program.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

If you're going to read one police procedural...

THE BROKEN BLUE LINE by Connie Dial: I read Dial's first novel, INTERNAL AFFAIRS, back in 2009, and was blown away by the authenticity Dial's experience as an LAPD veteran brings to a police procedural. THE BROKEN BLUE LINE (2010) is the follow-up, tracking Detective Mike Turner as he once again takes on corrupt cops in an Internal Affairs investigation. A cop on disability may be handling illegal weapons, and Turner and his team are brought in to close the case.

Turner is a tough, uncompromising cop who doesn't tolerate corruption in the ranks. He has a very noir feel, and Dial's language sometimes pays homage to the hard-bitten detectives of classic mysteries, with language like "He could feel his heart beating faster. The chase had started. In every surveillance, the prey always thought he could hide, outsmart the hunter, but he couldn't. Turner was confident that he and Miller were too good at this. They would slip and dodge until they followed Cullen and his partner to whatever it was Cullen was trying to hide." The noir mood isn't intrusive or satirical, just a nod to tough-as-nails cops and detectives in decades of novels and stories. In keeping with tradition, Turner's personal life is a disaster. He drinks too much and suffers horrible nightmares, and his sometime girlfriend moves back in to complicate things. His elderly neighbor moving in and his beloved but flatulent dog give him a complex, human feel.

Dial's work is filled with the details of police investigations and bureaucracy, seamlessly integrated into a gripping mystery. "Turner had taken the best notes all day, so he became the case agent - meaning he became the primary detective on the case and would be stuck doing the daily logs and all the legwork." Besides the day-to-day revelations, the bureaucracy is fascinating. Although Internal Affairs handles surveillance on dirty cops, there is a question of whether the case should be kicked to Robbery Homicide. While bureaucracy is not generally the most exciting part of a novel, Dial's knowledge of the LAPD's inner workings makes the "which department gets the case" discussion genuinely interesting. The case is a potential land mine, but it's also a potential career-maker, and Turner's bosses decide to keep it.

In Dial's world, and one assumes in the real world, no two cops are alike. Some are good people, just doing their jobs, but some are opportunistic and honorless. They use the job to get what they want. Some stick closely to procedure; others are loose cannons. This is true in patrol cops and upper management, men and women.

I've probably overused the word "authenticity," but really, Dial's experience and her ability to convey it in fiction set her novel apart from your usual police procedural. Like its predecessor, THE BROKEN BLUE LINE is an inside look at the LAPD and its police officers, and Dial doesn't shy away from criticism.

Read my review of INTERNAL AFFAIRS here.

Source disclosure: I received a review copy from the publisher.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012


I don't think Allison posted this already (although she added a handy dandy link in the sidebar on the right!). But we now have a Facebook page for this blog to make updates and comments even easier! So if you follow this blog and would like to have even more interaction on book related topics please head on over and "like" our facebook page!

Click here to head to Facebook!

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Kane Chronicles wrap it up

THE SERPENT'S SHADOW by Rick Riordan: I was swept up in Riordan's Percy Jackson series, and I began the Kane Chronicles (starting with THE RED PYRAMID) with a certain amount of skepticism. Really, Riordan had a hit series with Greek mythology and now he's trying to replicate his success with Egyptian mythology? I take it back. Any mythology he wants to tackle will be well-served by his complex characters and their strong voices. The Kane Chronicles are similar to the Percy Jackson series in the immersion in an old mythology that happens to be true in the real world, but Sadie and Carter are far from pale imitations of Percy and his friends.

I recommend, as with any series, starting at the beginning. A reader picking up THE SERPENT'S SHADOW without having read the previous two books won't be completely lost, but the character and plot development unfold throughout the trilogy. Summarizing the plot of the final chapter will spoil the first two books, so I'll just conclude by saying that I was not disappointed in how Riordan wrapped up the various plot and character threads. As a trilogy, the series is both internally consistent and satisfying, and I recommend it to fans of juvenile fantasy.

Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Need a summer read?

DEATH IN A WINE DARK SEA by Lisa King is a fantastic mystery featuring an irrepressible female sleuth who is reluctantly drawn into a murder investigation. When we meet Jean Applequist, it is with these words: "Jean Applequist loved having sex on boats but had never managed it on this particular vessel, even though she'd been aboard several times." With this, King establishes her heroine as wildly different from the bland amateur-sleuth mystery heroines I'm used to, and Jean is a breath of fresh air in an often stale subgenre. Jean is on this particular boat for the wedding of her best friend, Diane, to Martin Wingo, whom Jean despises. When he ends up overboard before the cake is cut, Jean isn't exactly sad to see the end of him, but her loyalty to Diane wins out when Diane begs her to look into the death. Accompanied by the much younger Zeppo, Jean begins poking around, finding no end of viable suspects, and realizing that Martin was even more despicable than she had thought.

The suspects and supporting characters are well-developed and complex, but the real gem is Jean. She may be the first feminist amateur sleuth, though I haven't done research to be sure. While many amateur sleuths blunder about and wander stupidly into danger, needing rescue, Jean knows her own mind and makes her own plans. She is refreshingly smart and resourceful, and she knows when to ask for help. She and Zeppo play off each other beautifully. Zeppo could be a caricature (horny younger man), but in King's capable hands, he is a rich, thoroughly imagined, interesting man. Jean's friend (and self-defense instructor) Roman and the hilariously complex Ivan are other standouts.

King evokes San Francisco through the fog, the food and wine, the scenery. It's a great locale for a mystery, and Jean's day job as a writer for a wine magazine brings in fun tidbits about wine while her love of mystery novels adds its own dimension. The mystery itself is superb; the cast of suspects is large and interesting, and the solution to the mystery unexpected and satisfying. I would certainly follow Jean to future installments of a mystery series.

Source disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program. I enjoyed it enough to buy my own copy.

Friday, June 29, 2012

A Little Cozy

IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER by Julia Spencer-Fleming: The opening line of this reissued trade paperback is snappy: "It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby." In the small New York town of Miller's Kill, former Army helicopter pilot and current Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson is pulled into a murder mystery when she finds a baby on the steps of the church with a note indicating that his birth parents want the childless Burnses (Clare's parishioners) to adopt him. She takes on the role of advocate and counselor for the Burnses, bringing her into conflict with Chief of Police Russ Van Alstyne. When the young mother is found brutally murdered, Clare's position as priest to many key players makes her helpful to the investigation. Naturally, Russ and Clare find a mutual attraction, but it's complicated by the existence of Russ's wife, though the marriage is struggling. The chemistry between Clare and Russ is fantastic, and her struggles with her faith (and status as a priest) and her sexuality are compelling and sympathetic, while Russ's agonizing over his failing marriage and attraction to such a compatible woman is grounded and realistic.

Clare is more nuanced than your standard cozy heroine. The military background and calling to priesthood certainly set her apart. She is also the first female priest in a parish that is not entirely on board with modern church doctrine, but she has a sense of humor about it.

"Can you tell me what happened, um..." What was he supposed to call her? "Mother?" "I go by Reverend, Chief. Ms. is fine, too." "Oh. Sorry. I never met a woman priest before." "We're just like the men priests, except we're willing to pull over and ask directions."

The abandoned baby inspires her to work on outreach and support for unwed mothers, an unpopular notion with the vestry. She also decides to ride along with Russ, in order to get a feel for the town and its problems. A thin excuse for a non-police officer to involve herself in an investigation, but that's standard in cozy mysteries. Also standard is the frustrating "too stupid to live heroine syndrome," which prompts female sleuths of all persuasions to wander off into danger without a weapon or a cell phone or letting anyone know where they've gone. But these are minor quibbles, and really, they're annoyances of the genre. The mystery is interesting and has plenty of suspects and twists and turns, but the complex relationship between Russ and Clare is what prompted me to download the next book in the series (A FOUNTAIN FILLED WITH BLOOD), and, one after the other, to read all the books in the series (six more after BLEAK MIDWINTER).

The bitter cold in Millers Kill is the perfect antidote to the summer heat.

Source disclosure: I received a review copy of this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program.

Thursday, June 28, 2012


THE SISTERS GRIMM: THE COUNCIL OF MIRRORS by Michael Buckley concludes the nine-book series featuring sisters Sabrina and Daphne, descendants of one of the Brothers Grimm, who took all the fairy tale characters to America, established a town called Ferryport Landing to house them, and added a magical barrier to keep them safe. When some of the characters decide they want to escape the barrier, war breaks out, and Sabrina and Daphne must act to save their family and all of Ferryport Landing.

I can't give a plot summary of this book without spoiling the eight books that precede it, so let me just say that it's a satisfying ending. All the loose ends are wrapped up, but not in a by-the-numbers checklist sort of way. There are surprises and sacrifices and a prophecy to shake things up. Sabrina and Daphne conduct themselves in accordance with their established character traits, but eight books' worth of character growth is far from thrown out the window. I realize that, as an adult, I don't require epilogues (and might even prefer them left out), but had I read this series as a child, I would have been delighted with Buckley's addenda.

The series begins with book one, THE FAIRY TALE DETECTIVES, in which the orphaned girls are sent to live with the eccentric Granny Relda, and is great fun for fans of fractured fairy tales. Sabrina and Daphne are resourceful female leads and very believable as sisters. Puck adds comic relief through his pranks, which are usually disgusting. The girls grow into their legacy consistently throughout the series, but certainly act their ages (eleven and seven). I highly recommend starting with the first instead of jumping into the series at the end or in the middle.

Source disclosure: I purchased this series.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teaser Tuesdays - DEATH IN A WINE DARK SEA

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading.
Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

My teaser is from DEATH IN A WINE DARK SEA by Lisa King: "Zeppo sighed. 'Weasel. Most people would find that insulting. But I'll think of it as a term of endearment, coming from you.'" (p. 83)

Monday, June 18, 2012


THE EXTRAORDINARY OF NICHOLAS BENEDICT by Trenton Lee Stewart makes a compelling stand-alone novel, but for readers of THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY and its sequels, this prequel is a real treat. We meet Nicholas at the age of nine, when he is already an old pro at adjusting to life in a new orphanage, as his narcolepsy and night terrors tax an institution's patience. He joins 'Child's End, ruled by a pack of bullies called the Spiders, and makes a single friend, John. He is locked in his room at night, kept busy with chores, and can't spend all his time in the glorious library, but Nicholas, with his ingenuity and photographic memory, manages to circumvent the rules and avoid the Spiders' sworn punishment. Fortunately for Nicholas, the orphanage has a secret: the Rothschilds, who had lived in 'Child's End, left journals hinting at a hidden treasure and a missing inheritance. The orphanage's director is seeking the same things in order to save the orphanage, but without Nicholas's extraordinary talents.

Nicholas's ingenuity and the friendships he develops are a genuine pleasure to read about. His attempts to outwit both adults and children are not always successful, but when they are, they are great fun as they unfold. Nicholas balances daily life in an orphanage with the novel's big mystery, and developments and resolution of both are satisfying.

Nicholas is charming and his voice perfectly balanced between a child's worries and the thought processes of a genius. The politics at the orphanage are believable (for a time, his friend John, sick of being shunned, turns his back on Nicholas) and the bullies sufficiently threatening. Most importantly for a prequel, this book gives us the foundation for Nicholas's future character and exploits. An excellent standalone, but will be most loved by readers of the series. Source disclosure: I purchased this book.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

THE GIRL BELOW by Bianca Zander

THE GIRL BELOW is an extraordinary first novel suffused with a creepy surrealism that makes the pages turn themselves. The main character, Suki Piper, is twenty-eight years old when she returns to London after over a decade in New Zealand, where she sought her absent father following her mother's death. There is no magical reunion, but Suki remains there, working and sharing a flat. By the time she returns to London, her roots there have all but dried up, and she crashes, increasingly unwelcome, on an old friend's couch. A visit to her childhood flat folds her into the family of Pippa, her old babysitter, whose ailing mother, Peggy, needs care. Pippa also hopes that Suki will be a good influence on her surly teenaged son, Caleb. Suki has her own demons: surreal experiences that might be hallucinations or might be time travel. She continues to be pulled back into a horrifying time in her childhood involving a debauched party thrown by her parents and a visit to a creepy WWII bunker. She shares these hauntings/visions/time travels with Caleb and is dismayed when they follow her to Greece, where she has joined Pippa at Peggy's deathbed. Zander shifts easily between Suki's childhood, her time in New Zealand, and the present. Suki is a fascinating character, a woman vaguely haunted by her past and unable to grasp her present. Her jobs are meaningless, her friends superficial, her boyfriends hopeless. She stays in New Zealand despite her father's rejection of her, even running errands for him and his new wife just to feel a part of something. Her hard-partying life doesn't fill the void she has felt since that mysterious incident at the age of eight, and she drifts into Pippa's family without really meaning to: Pippa pulls her in and Suki doesn't resist. Pippa's brother, Harold, offers a look at her future: "The thought of ending up like his when I was in my forties, still stewing over what my parents had or hadn't done to me as a child, was dismal, and it struck me that there had to be a cut-off point, where it all stopped being their fault and became my own" (p. 198, uncorrected proof). This is the point of crisis that Suki has reached, and it is not clear at first whether her visits to the past will stop her drifting, heal old wounds, and prevent her ending up like Harold. Zander uses, to great effect, several images from Suki's childhood to evoke dread. Every time the Wendy tent appears, or she hears the scraping of the bunker hatch, is chilling. Even the hot sun in Greece can't dispel the Gothic gloom. Eventually the threads come together to suggest a future for Suki, but be warned: if you like every little thing tied up in a neat bow in the last chapter, you may find the ending unsatisfying. Since the novel deals extensively with the unreliability of memory, I closed the book (which I could not put down and thus read in one sitting) feeling as though Suki's journey had been told in a complete and beautiful way. I highly recommend this novel. Source disclosure: I received an uncorrected proof through LibraryThing's Early Reviewer Program.