Thursday, January 31, 2013

Proof of Guilt - Charles Todd

Yes, mysteries are one of my favourite genres. But, I only recently started reading Charles Todd's books - I have become quite fond of the Bess Crawford novels. This newest book, Proof of Guilt, is the latest (#15)entry in the Inspector Rutledge series.

Inspector Rutledge of Scotland Yard is called in to investigate a body apparently hit and dragged by a car in a well to do neighbourhood. There is no identification on the victim, only a watch. But that watch yields enough clues to determine that the dead man isn't the owner. The rightful owner is the head of a world renowned winery - and he's gone missing.

Rutledge is plunged into a complicated myriad of suspects, additional missing persons, and more bodies. Things are complicated by his new Acting Chief Superintendent who is determined to 'solve' the case from his desk and seems to thwart many of Rutledge's investigative avenues.

WWI has ended, but the effects of that conflict still affect the present. Ian Rutledge is carrying around the guilt of a having to shoot a fellow soldier for dereliction of duty during the war. But that soldier hasn't left - Rutledge hears the voice of dead Hamish often - giving him further food for thought in his investigations or warning him of danger.

" As he turned toward London, Hamish was there, just behind his shoulder, as he always was. Just as they had watched the enemy, night after night at the Front. But now the young Scot was not the trusted corporal intent on keeping men alive and fighting as efficiently as possible. Now he was the voice of guilt and turmoil, the vivid reminder that Rutledge himself was not yet whole."

I've really come to enjoy reading this time period lately - especially in the mystery vein. What I quite enjoy are the social niceties that must be observed, the tone, the sense of duty and loyalty that are as much a part of the story as the crime. And the crime, although horrific, is never blatantly described in full gory detail. Instead, investigation in undertaken in interviews, inquiries and possible conjectures until the pieces finally fall in place and Rutledge has his 'proof of guilt'.

I enjoyed Proof of Guilt, but I did find the number of possibilities and characters a bit overwhelming. Late addition clues seemed a tad too precipitous in cases. There was an bit of business not dealt with in the final chapter that I would have liked to seen tied up. All in all, a good read, but I think I prefer Bess's stories.  Read an excerpt of Proof of Guilt.

Simon Prebble is the narrator for the audio version of this title. He has a wonderfully rich, resonant voice that is quite pleasant and easy to listen to. His pacing matches the time period of the books and Rutledge's thinking as well. Prebble is another of my favourite voice actors. Listen to an excerpt of Proof of Guilt.

Charles and Caroline Todd are a mother and son writing team who live on the east coast of the United States. You can find them on Facebook.

See what others on the TLC book tour thought. Full schedule can be found here.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Over the Counter #148

What book caught my eye this week as it passed over the library counter and under my scanner. Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky. A biography that looked really good - I love them, but don't read enough of them.

From the publisher Doubleday Books:

"In the tradition of Kitchen Confidential and Waiter Rant, a rollicking, eye-opening, fantastically indiscreet memoir of a life spent (and misspent) in the hotel industry.

Jacob Tomsky never intended to go into the hotel business. As a new college graduate, armed only with a philosophy degree and a singular lack of career direction, he became a valet parker for a large luxury hotel in New Orleans. Yet, rising fast through the ranks, he ended up working in “hospitality” for more than a decade, doing everything from supervising the housekeeping department to manning the front desk at an upscale Manhattan hotel. He’s checked you in, checked you out, separated your white panties from the white bed sheets, parked your car, tasted your room-service meals, cleaned your toilet, denied you a late checkout, given you a wake-up call, eaten M&Ms out of your minibar, laughed at your jokes, and taken your money. In Heads in Beds he pulls back the curtain to expose the crazy and compelling reality of a multi-billion-dollar industry we think we know.

Heads in Beds is a funny, authentic, and irreverent chronicle of the highs and lows of hotel life, told by a keenly observant insider who’s seen it all. Prepare to be amused, shocked, and amazed as he spills the unwritten code of the bellhops, the antics that go on in the valet parking garage, the housekeeping department’s dirty little secrets—not to mention the shameless activities of the guests, who are rarely on their best behavior. Prepare to be moved, too, by his candor about what it’s like to toil in a highly demanding service industry at the luxury level, where people expect to get what they pay for (and often a whole lot more). Employees are poorly paid and frequently abused by coworkers and guests alike, and maintaining a semblance of sanity is a daily challenge.

Along his journey Tomsky also reveals the secrets of the industry, offering easy ways to get what you need from your hotel without any hassle. This book (and a timely proffered twenty-dollar bill) will help you score late checkouts and upgrades, get free stuff galore, and make that pay-per-view charge magically disappear. Thanks to him you’ll know how to get the very best service from any business that makes its money from putting heads in beds. Or, at the very least, you will keep the bellmen from taking your luggage into the camera-free back office and bashing it against the wall repeatedly."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catchy your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Speaking From Among the Bones - Alan Bradley

Ahh, there's nothing better than settling in for the day with a new book by a favourite author. And that's how I spent a recent Sunday -  on the couch beneath a sunny window enjoying the latest adventures of Alan Bradley's eleven year old sleuth - Flavia de Luce. Speaking From Among the Bones is the fifth book in this absolutely delightful series.

It's 1951. Flavia, her sisters and her father live at Buckshaw, the crumbling family home in the hamlet of Bishop's Lacey, England. Young Flavia seems to have a propensity for finding dead bodies.

"In the recent past, there had been a number of murders in Bishop's Lacey: fascinating murders in which I had rendered my assistance to Inspector Hewitt of the Hinley Constabulary. In my mind, I ticked off the victims on my fingers: Horace Bonepenny, Rupert Porson, Brookie Harewood, Phyllis Wyvern.....One more corpse and I'd have a full hand."

The congregation of Saint Tancred's church is quite excited, and no one more than Flavia. It's the 500th anniversary of the Saint's death and the tomb beneath the church is being opened. But as the crypt is opened, it seems that Flavia has her full hand after all - the body of the missing church organist is found on top of the tomb. And of course, Flavia must investigate.

As always, Bradley has concocted a good mystery. But truly, it's the irrepressible Flavia that is the draw for me. I fell in love with her from the opening pages of the first book. As the series has progressed, so have the lives of the de Luces. This eleven year old, poison concocting, lock picking, ,brilliant. imaginative little girl was such a novelty to me in the first book. (And quite frankly took me back the days when I too carried around a little notebook, 'solved' mysteries and spied on family members.) But as the series has progressed, Bradley has taken things a step further and given the lives of the de Luces much more depth.

Flavia is the youngest of the three sisters. The older two do their best to antagonise Flavia. She is actually quite a lonely little girl, with her best friends being the old family retainer Dogger and Gladys - her trusty bicycle. Gladys is always part of the investigative forays.

"I parked Gladys on the north side of Cassandra Cottlestone's tomb and gave her leather seat a pat. The silver glint of her handlebars reminded me of a frightened horse showing the whites of its eyes. 'Keep a sharp lookout,' I whispered. 'I'll be right back."

The bicycle is also dear to Flavia because it once belonged to her mother Harriet. Harriet had left Buckshaw when Flavia was very small and Flavia is longing to know more about her. Bradley has teasingly released a little more of this story in every new book and drops a bombshell in Speaking From Among the Bones. There are other changes afoot as well - the lives of the de Luces are about to change.

I love how Flavia's mind works. How could you not be engaged by a character who "whenever I'm a little blue I think about cyanide whose color so perfectly reflects my mood. It is pleasant to think that the manioc plant which grows in Brazil, contains enormous quantities of the stuff in it's thirty-pound roots, all of which, unfortunately, is washed away before the residue is use to make our daily tapioca."

Absolutely, positively recommended! If you haven't read any of this series yet, I encourage you to start at the beginning. For established Flavia fans - you won't be disappointed. And like me, you'll be counting down the days until the sixth book is released! Join the Flavia de Luce fan club.

Monday, January 28, 2013

The Death of Bees - Lisa O'Donnell

"Eugene Doyle. Born 19 June 1972. Died 17 December 2010, aged thirty-eight. Isabel Ann Macdonald. Born 24 May 1974. Died 18 December 2010, aged thirty-six.

Today is Christmas Eve. Today is my birthday. Today I am fifteen. Today I buried my parents in the backyard. Neither of them were beloved."

The opening prologue of Lisa O'Donnell's  book The Death of Bees hooked me right away. Aren't you wondering? Where can the story go after such a beginning? Well, O'Donnell takes it place I wouldn't have imagined......

Marnie and her sister Nelly live on a housing estate in Glasgow. With the death of their parents Marnie is determined to keep herself and the younger Nelly together. So she lies - if anyone asks, their parents have gone to Turkey for a bit. It's not that much of a stretch - the girls have been left to fend for themselves many times as Gene and Izzy drink, smoke and party their lives away. But, Lennie, the lonely old man next door does notice. He begins to help them, feeding them and providing a clean, warm place for them to stay. But the questions start coming from all sides - teachers, friends and more. And Lennie helps the girls by lying as well. Until......

The story is told in chapters alternating through the three main characters. The same events are seen very differently in some cases. O'Donnell's characters are wonderful. Marnie is tough, resilient, brilliant but tiring of holding it all together. Nelly is wounded in many ways and seeks solace in her own world, often speaking as though she's in an old movie. Lennie too, is wounded by the world, having endured his own hardships. But the three together are able to find pockets of happiness and joy together and - dare I say it - the family that each has been yearning for. Until.....

As I crept nearer to the end of the book, I accepted my fate - I was going to be up very late that night - there was no way I could possibly put it down without knowing the outcome. O'Donnell manipulates the reader magnificently. We are given subtle insights into the girls' past with each of their narratives that only intensifies the need to know more (and the rapid turning of just one more page) Their situation is appalling, but there is that little glimmer that maybe, just maybe it will be okay. (precipitating more rapid page turning)

I absolutely adored this book.  Every year there a few books that stand out for me, ones that I immediately think of when someone says 'Can you recommend a good read? Definitely - The Death of Bees. Read an excerpt.

"Lisa O’Donnell was the winner of The Orange Prize for New Screenwriters with her screenplay The Wedding Gift in 2000. Lisa was also nominated for the Dennis Potter New Writers Award in the same year. She moved to Los Angeles with her family in 2006, penning her first novel The Death of Bees in 2010. Published to critical acclaim by Windmill Books in 2012, The Death of Bees will be published in the US by Harper Collins January 2013." You can find Lisa O'Donnell on Facebook and on Twitter.  

See what others on the TLC tour thought. Full schedule can be found here.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Absent One - Jussi Adler-Olsen

I read the first book of Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q series (Keeper of Lost Causes - my review) and just knew I would be in a for another fantastic read with the second book - The Absent One.

Department Q is the division of the Copenhagen P.D. dedicated to the resolution of cold cases. The staff is not large - it is only Detective Carl Morck and his assistant Assad. The characters and their interplay are a big reason I am so enamoured of this series. 

Carl is struggling with some demons, but he is a brilliant detective. He has trouble tolerating other staff and really other people in general.  Except Assad. We don't know much about the enigmatic Assad - although in this book Adler-Olsen lets us see a little more behind the ever smiling, tea bearing façade Assad wears. A new member is added to Dept. Q in this book - Rose - just as much as a (brilliant) misfit as the other two. And just as prickly as Carl.

In The Absent One, it is a closed case that lands on Carl's desk. If the case is closed, why is the file here? Who left it? And that's enough to spark the interest of Carl - especially when he's told to leave it be.

The case is the murder of a brother and a sister twenty years ago. A student at a wealthy boarding school confessed to the murders and is still in jail. As Carl digs deeper, he finds that the other students in the student's circle of friends have gone on to positions of wealth and power. But, there are whispers of violence around them. And the one female in the group is living on the streets, hiding from the police and her past.

Enough to whet your appetite? Good - because this is another excellent tale from the Department Q files. Adler-Olsen has imagined a frighteningly creepy plot - gentle readers be warned, there is a fair amount of violence. My interest was grabbed from the first page and held to the last.

Adler-Olsen has just released the fifth book in the Department Q series in Denmark. This reader will be eagerly awaiting the release of number three - A Conspiracy of Faith - to North American markets - due out in May 2013. Carl's life is taking some unexpected turns and I really want to know more about the mysterious Assad. An excellent series and definitely recommended. Read an excerpt of The Absent One.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Over the Counter #147

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? It's retro and vintage this week! First up was The Retro Cookbook from the Australian Women's Weekly Magazine. (One of my own favourite cookbooks is one from the forties!)

From the Bauer Publishing Group:

"Step back in time to the fabulous fifties when the kitchen was a woman's domain and salmon mousse was the height of sophistication.
Featuring pages and recipes from original 1950s AWW cookbooks, this wonderful new titles traces our culinary journey from then to now, contrasting recipes from an era when the dinner party reigned supreme to the wonderful contemporary recipes we all like to cook and share today. As well, you will find iconic pages and advertisements from the mid 20th century which remind us just how far our cooking choices and meal-making skills have come."

Next up was Ad Boy: Vintage Advertising with Character by Warren Dotz and Masud Husain.

From Ten Speed Press:

"More than 450 American ad characters, industry icons, and product personalities hailing from the 1950s, '60s, and '70s pack the pages of this vibrant, vintage collection.

The postwar economic boom launched a generation of charming, cheeky, and relentlessly cheerful critters and characters that found their way into our homes--and our hearts--in print, on television, and on packaging. Some took detours that reflected the times (Elsie the Cow was sent into outer space in 1958). Some were fashion victims who survived (remember hippy Hush Puppies, circa 1969?). And some are no longer with us (the Frito Bandito was finally brought to justice in 1971). These endearingly offbeat characters are as fresh and entertaining today as they were creatively inspired in decades past."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catchy your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Passage - Justin Cronin

I usually listen to at least one audio book a week, either on the way back and forth to work or when I can't sleep. Last week found me up to date with audio review copies, so I went searching on my library's download site for something to listen to. Now, I had bought The Passage when it came out, but hadn't yet got around to reading it. (probably one of the last readers around who hasn't!)  But, I thought I would give the first few chapters of the audio version a try.

OH WOW! I am soooo hooked. It's a large tome - there are 29 chapters of roughly 70 minutes each and I'm just starting number 20, so this will be a partial review.

Why am I 'oh wowing'? Well, I love post apocalyptic fiction and Justin Cronin has woven an amazing, riveting tale.

A secret US government agency is experimenting at a hidden facility with a virus found in the jungle. They're experimenting on convicts and those that won't be missed. One of those is Amy, a six year old girl. Something goes dreadfully wrong and all hell breaks loose - literally. The experiment has spawned 'virals' - something akin to a vampire. Before the virals decimate the population, a group of healthy children are spirited away to a self contained colony for safe keeping.....and almost 100 years later, the descendants are still there - waiting for the military to come back. But it is someone else that shows up and shatters the calm - Amy is at the front gate.

Cronin's imagining of the direction a self contained, self ruling society would take was fascinating. The social hierarchy and the life they have carved out was brought to life with much detail. But, it is the cast of characters that jumped off the page - there are many, each with their own personalities, secrets and reasons. Cronin manipulates the reader/listener wonderfully - there are cliff hangers, mysteries, action and the ever present question of what is going to happen next. For Cronin keeps you on your toes - no character is safe and I honestly couldn't predict where the story was going to go. It reminded me of one of my fave books of all time - Stephen King's The Stand.

The Passage was read by one of the best narrators around- (and the deciding factor in choosing to listen to the rest of the book) - Scott Brick. He has the most wonderfully expressive reading voice, capturing the tension, the emotions and the feel of an author's words perfectly. He truly makes a book come 'alive'.

Gotta run - off to work and another chapter on the way. (And you can bet I'll be listening to the second book in this trilogy -  The Twelve -  as well!) Listen to an excerpt of The Passage. You can find Justin Cronin on Facebook and on Twitter.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Lion is In - Delia Ephron

I'm always interested in the origins of a book - how do writers come up with their ideas? Does something specific spark that first line? In Delia Ephron's case the answer is yes......

"This book happened because of an anxiety attack. I was worried about something… something that I knew wasn’t going to be resolved for a while, and I thought how can I ever get through this? And that night when I went to sleep, I had a dream. A most vivid dream about three women and a lion. When I woke up, I wondered for a second if what I dreamed was real. Then I knew it was my next novel."

Lana and Tracee (who is wearing a wedding dress) pull over to the side of the road with a flat tire. And along comes Rita, calmly walking down the side of the highway, on her way to - well, she doesn't really know where. Rita helps fix the tire and accepts a ride to wherever the young women are headed. The trip ends in North Carolina when the old Mustang breaks down again. Between the three of them, they have little money, no clothes, no anything. So, they break into a shabby looking roadhouse for the night. And discover that the name of the bar - The Lion - is, in fact reality based - there is a huge old lion in a cage inside. And so begins The Lion is In.

I was engaged right away - I wanted to know the reasons behind that wedding dress and the older woman walking alone on a highway. A lion in a bar promised quirky and Ephron delivered on that promise.

Each of the characters (including the supporting cast)is flawed or wounded to a certain degree. But they're all trying to find their footing and break away from what's holding them back. And segue to the lion - Marcel -yes, that's his name - though caged, is the catalyst and the impetus that sets them free.

The Lion is In was a quick, fun read for me. Yes, you have to suspend disbelief a few times, but if you're in the mood for a heartwarming, feel-good read, this is a good bet. Nothing too deep, although I did like Tim's Theory of One. " All you need is one person to make a difference in your life. You can have the world's most awful life....but if one person believes in you, you'll be okay."

Delia Ephron is also a screenwriter - remember that movie - You've Got Mail? The Lion is In has the same feel - lots of off-centre, quirky characters (Tim is a favourite), odd situations and the hope that it will all work out in the end. I could easily see this book being made into a movie.

Read an excerpt of The Lion is In. Book clubs - there is a reading group guide available as well.

You can find Delia Ephron on Facebook and on Twitter.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Over the Counter #146

What books caught my eyes this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner?  Books about reading and writing ....

First up was My Bookstore - Writers Celebrate Their Favorite Places to Browse, Read and Shop. Edited by Ronald Rice and Booksellers Across America.

From the publisher Workman Books:

"In this enthusiastic, heartfelt, and sometimes humorous ode to bookshops and booksellers, 84 known authors pay tribute to the brick-and-mortar stores they love and often call their second homes.

In My Bookstore our greatest authors write about the pleasure, guidance, and support that their favorite bookstores and booksellers have given them over the years. The relationship between a writer and his or her local store and staff can last for years or even decades. Often it's the author's local store that supported him during the early days of his career, that continues to introduce and hand-sell her work to new readers, and that serves as the anchor for the community in which he lives and works.

My Bookstore collects the essays, stories, odes and words of gratitude and praise for stores across the country in 81 pieces written by our most beloved authors. It's a joyful, industry-wide celebration of our bricks-and-mortar stores and a clarion call to readers everywhere at a time when the value and importance of these stores should be shouted from the rooftops.

Perfectly charming line drawings by Leif Parsons illustrate each storefront and other distinguishing features of the shops." (And due to space constraints I won't list the names of the 84 contributors.)

And on to the writing part - next up was H-Unit: A Story of Writing and Redemption Behind the Wall of San Quentin by Keith and Kent Zimmerman.

From Turner Publishing:

"The bold account of launching an innovative creative writing class inside San Quentin and the journey of hardship, inspiration, & redemption of its members, from New York Times bestselling authors.

San Quentin State Prison would be an unlikely place to look for writing talent. But Keith and Kent Zimmerman, twin brothers and New York Times bestselling co-authors of Operation Family Secrets, have found creative passion, a range of gritty, authentic voices, and a path to hope and redemption behind the guarded walls of the prison’s H-Unit—through a creative writing course they founded almost a decade ago. H-Unit: A Story of Writing and Redemption Behind the Walls of San Quentin is the dramatic account of hope and purpose that explores Keith and Kent’s experience teaching the class and their students’ experience in the Literary Throwdown writing competition. Seen from the inside, H-Unit is written in an authentic voice and tells the story of real-life characters, from the recidivous “Big Bob” to the incorrigible “Midget Porn,” whose lives are transformed by the written word."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catchy your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Mandarin Gate - Eliot Pattison

Every once in a while it's good to step out of my reading comfort zone and pick up something different. The something different this time was Eliot Pattison's latest book Mandarin Gate.

This is the seventh book featuring Pattison's recurring character Shan Tao Yun. Shan was once an Police Inspector in Beijing, but was too good at his job. Corrupt officials sent him to one of the harshest work camps where he was taken under the wing of a Tibetan monk. Shan has embraced their philosophy and way of life. Newly released, he now labours as a ditch inspector for the Chinese government, but in Tibet.

When a local abbess and two unidentified male bodies are discovered in an old convent, Shan finds it hard to not use his old investigative skills. Shan's immediate concern is to protect the local Tibetans. There are numerous suspects to consider - a wandering monk, an American journalist, a German photographer, a local gang, bounty hunters, corrupt officials, those sent to 'pioneer' camps and many more.

What an absolutely riveting read this was on so many levels. Pattison makes a strong political and social statement with Mandarin Gate. The plight of the Tibetan people at the hands of the Chinese government is not simply a plotting device, but the state of things as they truly (and sadly) are. I learned so much by reading this book - the customs and mores of the people, the philosophy of Buddhism, the rituals and much more. All this plus a complex plot, filled with a rich and varied cast of supporting characters. But most of all, I enjoyed discovering Shan. He is such a wonderful character - smart, stoic and and staying true to the path he has chosen for his life.

Mandarin Gate was a compelling combination of commentary and crime. And a darn good read.

Read an excerpt of Mandarin Gate.  You can find Eliot Pattison on Facebook.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Cover of Snow - Jenny Milchman

Cover of Snow is Jenny Milchman's debut novel.

Nora Hamilton followed her husband back to the small New York town he grew up in so he could follow in his father's footsteps - serving on the local police force. She's found work as a house restorer and believes they are blissfully happy. Until she wakes up one morning and finds that Brendan has killed himself. Why? What could have driven him to such an act? Nora is determined to find out. But his police force family seem just as determined to 'let things be'. And as Nora digs into the past, the resistance grows.

Milchman has all the right elements in place for a good mystery and her opening premise was great. You can feel the 'but' coming can't you? But, somehow, Cover of Snow just felt wooden, awkward and unbelievable to me.

The narrative often  jumps from one scene to another, leaving me flipping backwards to see if I missed a page. (I hadn't) I never really felt that the characters were real. Although we should feel for Nora after her loss, I didn't. She finds herself in one dangerous situation after another, but I didn't feel the tension or danger I wanted to. The rest of the cast of characters are somewhat clichéd - the omnipotent police chief, the brutal cops, the nosy reporter with a history, the nasty mother in law, the autistic mechanic who speaks in rhyme. A clue or needed information is usually conveniently and clumsily offered up just when needed.  Nora's beautiful, happy sister Teggie seems to have been included as a platform for Nora's emotional baggage to be discussed. "You sound just like Dad" Other than that, she really didn't serve a purpose in the story. The reason behind the name Teggie was an odd aside. And the cop named Lurcquer was a bit much as well - all I could think of every time was lurker - and yes he lurks and pops up when needed.

I found it hard to believe that after twenty five years of a police force's tyranny, one plucky house restorer brings it all down. I kept reading as I wanted to see the ending, but found it strangely anti-climatic after so much drama.

Milchman does do a great job with describing her settings. I could feel the cold in upstate New York. I liked the cover art as well.

I picked up Cover of Snow based on the positive cover blurbs of many of my favourite authors - Harlan Coben, Lee Child etc. and the publisher's comparison to Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Sadly, it just didn't live up to those expectations for me. Have a look - read an excerpt of Cover of Snow.

You can find Jenny Milchman on Twitter and on Facebook.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Kinsey and Me: Stories - Sue Grafton

I read my first Sue Grafton book over twenty years ago. We had just moved to a small town and of course one of the first places I visited was the local library. It was housed on the main floor of an old house on Main Street at that time. The collection was small, but the enthusiasm of the librarian evident. I asked her if she could suggest a good read, nothing too heavy as I had a newborn and long reading periods were non-existent and oh, I did like mysteries.....Well, you guessed it - she put A is for Alibi (originally published in 1982) in my hand - and a fan was born. I've read every one since and am looking forward to W is for ?, due out later this year.

This 'alphabet' series features private eye Kinsey Millhone who lives and works in Santa Teresa, California. The books are set in the 1980's, so our sleuth uses 'old fashioned' methods to solve her cases. I can open the latest book and feel like I'm catching up with a familiar friend.  Kinsey is wry and witty. She's a darn good sleuth and a really nice person. Grafton always comes up with a plausible plot that keeps me interested from first page to last.

Kinsey and Me was originally released in 1992 with a limited run of 326 copies. This newest version is just released.

The book is divided into two parts - the first half is a collection of Kinsey stories and the smaller second half is a set of stories featuring Kit Blue.

What made reading these special was the foreword where Grafton explains writer's craft - specifically that of a detective short story. It was really interesting to see the method behind the result.

"For me, the mystery short story is appealing for two reasons. One, I can utilize ideas that are clever, but too quirky or slight to support the extended trajectory of the novel. And two, I complete a manuscript in two weeks as opposed to the longer gestation and delivery time required of a novel. The short story allows me to shift gears. Like an invitation to go outside and play, the shorter form offers a refreshing change of pace."

Some of the Kinsey stories I had come across before in various anthologies. But I enjoyed each one thoroughly. They were like a little Kinsey microcosm, offering the reader a glance and a taste of this iconic character.

But, it was the introductions that really made this book personal. Grafton offers up Kinsey as her alter ego - "The person I might have been had I not married young and had children." We become privy to the similarities between the fictional Kinsey's life and Sue Grafton's.

The Kit Blue stories were new to me and I think they affected me the most. "If Kinsey Millhone is my alter ego, Kit Blue is simply a younger version of me." Sue Grafton's parents were both alcoholics. The Kit stories were written ten years after the death of Grafton's mother. " way of coming to terms with my grief for her." They are raw, powerful and real, filled with overwhelming emotion and honesty. These are the stories that stayed with the longest.

I really enjoyed Kinsey and Me - an opportunity to visit with a familiar character, but also a chance to learn more about a favourite author.

"It amuses me that I invented someone who has gone on to support me. It amuses her, I'm sure, that she will live in the world long after I am gone. I trust that you will enjoy her companionship as I have." Indeed we do, Sue, indeed we do.

Read an excerpt of Kinsey and Me.  You can find Sue Grafton on Facebook.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Over the Counter #145

What books caught my eye this week as they passed over the library counter and under my scanner? Well, I'm sure many of us made the resolution to find happiness or purpose this year, so these two books jumped out this week....

First up was Hell-Bent by Benjamin Lorr. Subtitled: Obsession, Pain, and the Search for Something Like Transcendence in Competitive Yoga.

From the publisher St. Martin's Press:

"Author Benjamin Lorr wandered into a yoga studio—and fell down a rabbit hole. Hell-Bent explores a fascinating, often surreal world at the extremes of American yoga. Benjamin Lorr walked into his first yoga studio on a whim, overweight and curious, and quickly found the yoga reinventing his life. He was studying Bikram Yoga (or “hot yoga”) when a run-in with a master and competitive yoga champion led him into an obsessive subculture—a group of yogis for whom eight hours of practice a day in 110- degree heat was just the beginning.

So begins a journey. Populated by athletic prodigies, wide-eyed celebrities, legitimate medical miracles, and predatory hucksters, it’s a nation-spanning trip—from the jam-packed studios of New York to the athletic performance labs of the University of Oregon to the stage at the National Yoga Asana Championship, where Lorr competes for glory.

The culmination of two years of research, and featuring hundreds of interviews with yogis, scientists, doctors, and scholars, Hell-Bent is a wild exploration. A look at the science behind a controversial practice, a story of greed, narcissism, and corruption, and a mind-bending tale of personal transformation, it is a book that will not only challenge your conception of yoga, but will change the way you view the fragile, inspirational limits of the human body itself."

And Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin. Subtitled: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life.

From the publisher Doubleday:

"In the spirit of her blockbuster #1 New York Times bestseller The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin embarks on a new project to make home a happier place.

One Sunday afternoon, as she unloaded the dishwasher, Gretchen Rubin felt hit by a wave of homesickness. Homesick—why? She was standing right in her own kitchen. She felt homesick, she realized, with love for home itself. “Of all the elements of a happy life,” she thought, “my home is the most important.” In a flash, she decided to undertake a new happiness project, and this time, to focus on home.

And what did she want from her home? A place that calmed her, and energized her. A place that, by making her feel safe, would free her to take risks. Also, while Rubin wanted to be happier at home, she wanted to appreciate how much happiness was there already.

So, starting in September (the new January), Rubin dedicated a school year—September through May—to making her home a place of greater simplicity, comfort, and love.

In The Happiness Project, she worked out general theories of happiness. Here she goes deeper on factors that matter for home, such as possessions, marriage, time, and parenthood. How can she control the cubicle in her pocket? How might she spotlight her family’s treasured possessions? And it really was time to replace that dud toaster.

Each month, Rubin tackles a different theme as she experiments with concrete, manageable resolutions—and this time, she coaxes her family to try some resolutions, as well.

With her signature blend of memoir, science, philosophy, and experimentation, Rubin’s passion for her subject jumps off the page, and reading just a few chapters of this book will inspire readers to find more happiness in their own lives."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catchy your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

A Question of Identity - Susan Hill

I first 'discovered' Susan Hill about this time last year when I read The Betraul of Trust - the sixth in her Simon Serrailler Crime novels. (my review). I was really looking forward to her latest - A Question of Identity - and I wasn't disappointed!

A Question of Identity opens with an italicized paragraph that hints at a dark mind and darker things to come....deliciously creepy.

"It's like your brain's bursting. It doesn't happen all at once, it builds up. And then your brain's going to burst until you do something about it. You do it. You have to do it. Then it's all right again for a bit, 'til it starts again."

The book opens with a murder trial from 2002 - three elderly women have been horrifically murdered in their homes, strangled with a piece of electrical cord. The verdict is not what was expected.

Cut to present day and DCI Simon Serrailler, who works in Lafferton, an English town not far from London. And a new murder to investigate - an elderly woman has been killed in her home - strangled with a length of electrical cord........

What makes this series a stand out for me? Hill successfully combines a riveting and clever mystery with characters that I'm genuinely interested in.  Both plot lines are done equally well. Those new to the series may have a wee bit of difficulty getting to know everyone at first, but will quickly become engrossed in their personal stories. Simon, his sister Cat and her family, the elder Serailler and his wife as well as the supporting cast from the station. Hill explores everyday life with a keen and discerning eye - sibling rivalry, depression, domestic abuse and more are all touched upon and examined realistically.

Back to the crime - at the opening of every chapter we are privy to more and more of the killer's thoughts. His violence and madness is escalating.  I was able to suss out who the killer was midway, but it certainly didn't detract from my enjoyment of this book. Instead, it really heightened the tension.

The crime is solved by the end, but the lives of Simon et al are far from settled - I can't wait to see what direction Hill takes in the next book.

I love British procedurals and this author is one of the best. Truly, if you're looking for an intelligent mystery series, pick up Susan Hill. Read an excerpt of A Question of Identity. You can find Susan Hill on Twitter.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Coming Soon to a Book Near You #2

I'm always fascinated by book trailers - the compacting of a full novel into a minute or two, the choice of what plot parts to showcase, the choice of music and more. I've decided to showcase more of these trailers this year and Coming Soon to a Book Near You will become a semi regular feature on A Bookworm's World. My criteria? It will be a book I'd like to read. First up this year then is......

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio. Release date - May 28/13.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Intercept - Dick Wolf

You may not immediately recognize Dick Wolf's name, but I'm sure you know the name of the hit television show he created - Law and Order. Wolf has now turned his talents to fiction and his first book The Intercept  is newly released. It's the first in a series featuring NYPD Detective Jeremy Fisk.

It's happened before - a terrorist on a plane, bent on blowing it and everyone aboard to kingdom come....but this time six passengers aboard the plane manage to thwart his plans. They take him down with no casualties. Jeremy Fisk works for the Intelligence Division of the NYPD and is called in as the plane lands. Although the outcome was favourable, Fisk still has a bad feeling. There was no bomb, just a detonator....and there's one passenger on the plane who disappears before he can be questioned.

The six passengers? Instant heroes and celebrities. Fisk's partner Krina is tasked with shepherding The Six as they've come to be known. Fisk? He's chasing down leads that disappear and change two steps ahead of every move he makes.

Wolf has made great use of his TV talents. The Intercept has the feel of a television series written to hook you and keep you watching - or reading as the case may be. The plotting is excellent- believable and frightening. Although the terrorism angle is nothing new, I didn't see Wolf's twist coming. I found the 'marketing' of the heroes fascinating (and an interesting social commentary). The lead characters are well written and likable. The pacing of the book keeps you hanging on for just another chapter...and another. Or, in my case another disc. I chose to listen to this book. Peter Ganim was the narrator. He was a great choice - he's got a strong, tough, gritty voice that just says 'cop'. He easily conveys the tension and drama with his deep voice.

Fans of 24, Vince Flynn and Nelson DeMille will love Jeremy Fisk. And this reader would definitely read/listen to the next in the series. Listen to an excerpt of The Intercept. Or read an excerpt of The Intercept.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Immortal - Dean Crawford

I quite enjoyed Dean Crawford's debut novel Covenant (my review) so I happily picked up his second book Immortal.

Officer Enrico Zamora is called to a gunfight in the desert of New Mexico. The man is using an old musket shooter - is he part of a re-enactment group?  Zamora is forced to kill the man to save the tourists he's holding at bay. His body is delivered to Medical Investigator Lillian Cruz. What she finds is stunning. He has smallpox scars and a musket ball buried deep in one of his bones. But, the man's body is literally aging before her eyes, disintegrating rapidly. Lillian quickly takes samples and sends her assistant off to the state crime lab with them. And that's the last anyone sees of Lillian - she's gone missing. But the lab results do come back - "Carbon dating, along with estimates of bone regrowth around the ball prior to extraction, confirms that the wound was sustained approximately one hundred forty years ago."

Crawford brings back his protagonists Warner and Lopez. They've pooled their talents and formed a company that does some fugitive recovery and some discreet sideline work for Ethan's old contacts in one of the letter agencies. And this is a case that requires their talents. Could this man really have been 140 years old? Are there others like him? Where is Lillian? Who took her?

Sound far-fetched? Well, yes and no. Crawford actually provides lots of references that had me hopping onto Google to see if they were indeed fact based. And yes, they were - 250 million year old bacteria was revived in a lab in New Mexico. Crawford's story also includes a villain who preaches the need for eugenics - the desire to control the earth's population. This character's diatribe is also very much fact based (and quite frightening to read about). Crawford has really done his research.

But he has couched this research in a fast paced thriller that was perfect escapist reading for the three days I spent nursing a miserable cold. The characters are a bit clichéd - the evil old man after the secret to eternal youth, corrupt official, the secret society pulling strings from their lofty perch. And yes, so are Warner and Lopez to a degree as well. At the end of Covenant, I see I wrote that I hoped Lopez would be carried into future books. Well, my opinion has changed. I actually found I didn't like her very much by the end of this book. So, Ethan feel free to dump her - Zamora might make a better partner. But, all in all, an entertaining read.

Recommended for those who love mysteries, history, conspiracies and adventure. Fans of James Rollins would enjoy Dean Crawford.  Read Chapter One of Immortal.  You can find Dean Crawford on Twitter and on Facebook.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Over the Counter #144

What book caught my eye this week as it passed over the library counter and under my scanner? An absolutely stunning coffee table book - To the Arctic. Photographs by Florian Schulz. Foreword by Sylvia Earle.

From the publisher Braided River:

"Now available from award-winning photographer Florian Schulz, To The Arctic is the official companion book to To The Arctic 3D, an upcoming IMAX film from MacGillivray Freeman Films. To The Arctic follows the seasons in the Arctic, revealing the dramatic landscape and unique wildlife found there. The book features stunning photographs that showcase the broad variety of life in the Arctic - from expansive landscape panoramas, to the marvels of the underwater world. Intimate images of a mother polar bear and her two young cubs show the family's life on the shrinking pack ice."

And at the other end of the world. Lost Antarctica by James McClintock. Subtitled: Adventures in a Disappearing Land.

From the publisher Palgrave MacMillan:

"The bitter cold and three months a year without sunlight make Antarctica virtually uninhabitable for humans. Yet a world of extraordinary wildlife persists in these harsh conditions, including leopard seals, giant squid, 50-foot algae, sea spiders, coral, multicolored sea stars, and giant predatory worms. Now, as temperatures rise, this fragile ecosystem is under attack. In this closely observed account, one of the world’s foremost experts on Antarctica gives us a highly original and distinctive look at a world that we're losing."

(Over the Counter is a regular feature at A Bookworm's World. I've sadly come to the realization that I cannot physically read every book that catches my interest as it crosses over my counter at the library. But...I can mention them and maybe one of them will catchy your eye as well. See if your local library has them on their shelves!)

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Gun Machine - Warren Ellis

No, I haven't got it backwards...the title of Warren Ellis's latest novel is Gun Machine.

And it was a great book to start off the New Year with a bang. The opening line hooked me...

..."On playing back the 911 recording, it'd seem that Mrs. Stegman was more concerned that the man outside her apartment door was naked than that he had a big shotgun."

Detective John Tallow is sent to investigate and what he finds is more that anyone could have imagined. One of the apartments in the building is full of guns. Not piles of guns, but meticulously displayed and mounted guns, all in a unfathomable pattern. And when the techs start testing the guns they find something even more unthinkable. Each of the guns has been used in an unsolved murder, starting over twenty years ago.

Tallow is one of those burned out but brilliant characters I love to discover. "You're at the age where the rush of the job has passed and the grind of the job is taken in stride, and this is the time when you're wondering if it wouldn't be so bad if you just stopped giving much of a shit and rolled along doing as little as possible."

Just as intriguing were the pair of supporting characters in the cast - Bat and Scarly - brilliant Crime Scene Unit Investigators, but misfits themselves. Yes, they were a bit over the top, but I really enjoyed them.

But, it seems that the higher up really don't want the case solved - roadblocks appear in Tallow's path and the owner of the guns has Tallow in his sights....

Ellis has penned a unique entry in the crime scene genre - the characters really grabbed me and I hope he plans to employ them again. The killer was truly psychotic - his view of the world past and present was a technique I quite liked. The killer's views of old Manhattan sent me off to Google to see if it was all true or not. (It was) The plotting is imaginative, conspiratorial and multi-layered - more involved than I initially thought it would be. Ellis has a dark sense of humour that he allows to peek out through some of the dialogue. Be warned - there are some dark spots - the police chatter on the scanner is disturbing. My only complaint would be that the ending happened too quickly for me.
Ellis is the author of a number of graphic novels and I could see this book being easily written in that format as well. It had a bit of a noir, off-beat feel to it.

Again, I hope Ellis reprises this cast in a future book - I'd love to read another John Tallow story.

Read an excerpt of Gun Machine. You can find Warren Ellis on Twitter.