Monday, July 28, 2014

Endangered - Jean Love Cush

My review of Endangered first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it today with their permission.
First line: "Before the sound of the sirens... Four boys were hanging out on Fortieth Street."

Malik Williams follows his mom’s lessons to the “t” when police close in on he and his friends hanging out on the street corner one afternoon. His friends flee, but Malik raises his hands and obeys orders only to be man-handled, thrown in the cruiser and hauled off to jail, accused of murder.

While Philadelphia law mandates a teen accused of murder be sent to the adult jail, a bomb-threat at the facility forces the arresting officer to book Malik at the juvenile detention center. This positions Malik perfectly for human rights attorney Roger Whitford’s cause: exposing the criminal justice system’s racism.

Whitford’s plan is to have the African-American teen male declared “endangered” by extending the Endangered Species Act. He believes they are in danger of extinction because of the biases against them. This defense ignites a flurry of reactions and puts Malik and his mother Janae in a national spotlight.

A quick, engaging story, Endangered presents a serious social injustice through an empathetic character’s plight. The language is straightforward and easily accessible for readers from a young adult level up.

The simplification of an issue as complex as this may give doubting readers a window for debate, and a greater challenge would have been making the argument from a less sympathetic character’s circumstances. However, debut novelist Jean Love Cush still manages to drive home the mortifying inequality plaguing the system.

A stark reminder of the human inside the skin, regardless of color, Endangered has the potential to open up discussions that are long overdue.

Endangered is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780062316233) from Amistad.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Five on Friday - Megan Abbott

Happy Friday, friends. I'm getting back on track after my trip to Wyoming and plan to get the blog back on track this weekend as well. Fingers crossed.

But what we've managed to keep flowing is the Five on Friday and I'm especially excited today to welcome an incredibly talented woman and a super nice person. Megan Abbott is one of those folks you wonder where all the dark comes from because her disposition is just so bright and kind. But the dark lurks somewhere. It's earned her amazing recognition, including an Edgar award. Her last book, Dare Me, is headed to the big screen and this month her new book, The Fever, came out. I'm very excited about reading it. Have you picked it up yet? Whether you have or not, I'm sure you're going to enjoy her Five on Friday today. And if you haven't, get out this weekend and find a copy!

Here's Megan!

This crew may look familiar to you! Megan is, of course to the far right.

1. When I was a kid, my favorite thing to get in my trick-or-treat bag was a Whatchamacallit bar, which may not even exist anymore. But it was the trifecta because it had chocolate, peanut butter-flavored crisp and caramel. And I don’t think it came in minis, so it meant you were getting a full candy bar.

2. My five favorite movies of all time are: It changes a lot, but these five are perennials, either because they changed the way I think about movies, or life, or because they give me such joy: Raging Bull, Manhattan, In a Lonely Place, Double Indemnity and Sweet Smell of Success.

3. If I could swap lives with anyone in the world for 24 hours, I would choose David Lynch’s closest friend. Seeing interviews with him, or watching him cook, I have a feeling, despite the darkness of his movies, I’d have a marvelous time.

4. The most beautiful place I’ve ever visited is  the kudzu-overrun corners of Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s stately and modest homestead in Oxford, Mississippi. Especially at the magic hour.

5. The #1 item on my bucket list right now is to go to Mexico. I’ve never been, haven’t had a vacation in a long time, and I’ve always wanted to go and have a real adventure.

I'm wondering if Megan's answer to #5 has anything to do with Gregg Hurwitz's upcoming novel, Don't Look Back. Megan blurbed it. And if she wants that kind of adventure, I think I just discovered the dark in her. ;-)

So many thanks to Megan for taking time out with us. And thanks to all of you for coming back even when I'm treading water to keep up. Next week look for some review catch-up as well as fun stuff about my trip to Wyoming and Longmire Days! Happy Reading!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Five on Friday - Lisa Unger

Happy Friday all. Today Longmire Days kicks off and I spent yesterday roaming around Buffalo, Wyoming--the basis for Durant in the Walt Longmire books. I had breakfast at the Busy Bee, peeked in the Occidental Hotel and visited Crazy Woman Canyon. There will be more pictures after my trip, but here's a fun one for you this Friday, the counter at The Busy Bee

And while I'm out fighting all the Longmire fans at this weekends festivities, I have a new Five on Friday for you. Lisa Unger is no stranger to the blog, and I'm thrilled to have her back.

Lisa is the New York Times bestselling author of the Lydia Strong and Ridley Jones novels as well as three novels set in her fictional town called The Hollows and three standalones. The most recent Hollows book, In the Blood, comes out in paperback on Tuesday. And in Lisa's near future, she's going to delve into the YA fantasy realm. You can read more about that on her website. But now let me wander off to the Longmire festivities and let Lisa take over the Five on Friday hot seat!

The most bizarre place I ever found inspiration for a story was my own mailbox! I received a mailer, which featured an advertisement on one side and, on the other, an age-graduated photograph of a missing child. I was struck with the idea that someone might be lost and never found. Then I had this thought: What if I looked at this flier and recognized myself? That was the germ for BEAUTIFUL LIES.

The last book I recommended to someone was Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. It is one of my very favorite books about the craft. Lamott writes eloquently about process, the journey, and the emotional truths of the writing life. I find inspiration whenever I pick it up.

My biggest pet peeve is people who put their seats all the way back on the airplane. I understand that some people are tall, and that airplane seats are uncomfortable. However, the very least you can do is look behind and ask if it’s all right. I consider it an allegory for a larger issue. If everyone had a little more consideration for others, the world would be a better place.

A superstition or ritual I have to observe when I write is: I have absolutely no superstitions or rituals to observe when I write. I think those things are just excuses not to write, as if to say: “If conditions are not perfect I can’t do what I intended to do today.” There are too many real world distractions internal and external, too many obstacles to finding that creative head space. Why set yourself up for failure by imposing more conditions?

The #1 item on my bucket list right now is: I don’t really have a “bucket list,” mainly because the whole idea of it is depressing. I live pretty close to my truth and my husband Jeffrey and I are intrepid travelers and explorers, so when there’s something I want to do, I generally do it. But, I will say that Asia is a big gap in my travel experiences. And my fantasy trip right now is taking the Orient Express from Singapore to Bangkok. I’ll let you know when we book it!

Many thanks to Lisa for joining us today for Five on Friday! I'm in agreement with Lisa on the airplane seat thing. And, the Orient Express sounds very exciting...and idea-provoking. Thanks to you all for being patient with me as I got ready for this trip. More fun details to come. You can watch the Facebook and Twitter accounts, for live-ish updates from Buffalo. In the mean time, happy reading my friends!!

Friday, July 11, 2014

Five on Friday - Paul Doiron

Happy Friday friends! I've been busy, busy, busy preparing for our trip to Wyoming and Longmire Days. I'm looking forward to sharing our experience with you. I'll post to Facebook and Twitter as my cell reception permits and possibly post a picture or two here, but the big recap will come once we return.

I'm a bit behind on things for the blog, including the contest from May, but rest assured that's coming and the winner will be well compensated for his/her wait. I also have some other bookish events to share with you: our Young Authors Conference and my trip to Printers Row, that's still coming too.

In the mean time, I hope you're enjoying some good summer reading. Pop Culture Nerd shared our picks for the July Nerdy Special List. While my pick for July wasn't a crime novel, it may very well take the top spot in my favorites list this year. It's at the top right now anyway. We'll see what the rest of the year brings.

For contests this week check out:

Friday Reads. They have The Good Suicides by Antonio Hill and All the Devils by Harry Shannon to give away.

Criminal Element. They have a digital copy of Linda Castillo's newest novel The Dead Will Tell. The also have the That's All She Wrote sweepstakes going on. That's your chance to win books by 6 female writers.

Pop Culture Nerd. She has a snazzy giveaway going on for Deborah Harkness' The Book of Life

And as always, be sure to swing by my friend Lesa's blog where she'll be holding her weekly giveaway as well.

Before we get to our fantastic Five on Friday guest, I have a favor to ask of everyone. This Sunday is Brad Parks' birthday. In Monterey he had everyone at Left Coast Crime sing to me. While I can't put together that kind of deal (and believe me--no one wants ME singing to them; I think the government classifies that as torture), I would love it if you found him on Facebook, Twitter or stopped by his website and emailed him to wish him a happy birthday. You can be sincere, you can give him a hard time--he's 40--or you can just say you're doing me a favor. But I'd love for you to wish him a happy birthday in some way, shape or form.

O.k. on to our esteemed guest for Five on Friday! Paul Doiron has been making quite a splash with his Mike Bowditch series of crime novels, which have managed to snag just about every crime award nomination available. The first in the series, The Poacher's Son, won him the Barry and the Strand Critics Award for best first novel (not to mention an Edgar nom). The fifth book in the series, The Bone Orchard, comes out on Tuesday.

Paul served as editor in chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine for eight years before leaving to write full time. He's a Registered Maine Guide, so if you're ever up that way and want to do some fly-fishing, Paul's your man.

Most importantly, if you've been wondering how Paul pronounces his surname, he gives an excellent lesson here.

I always get excited when authors especially get the essence of Five on Friday. Paul is in with that crowd. I'm super excited about his answers and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did. Here's a little peek into the award winning crime writer, Paul Doiron:

If I could tell my 16-year-old self one piece of advice, knowing what I know now, it would be “Learn to dance, Paul. I mean, really dance. You will never have trouble getting a date again.”

The best gift I ever received was a slightly shopworn first edition of Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms. The opening chapter is my favorite start to any book.

One thing I have no tolerance for is enemies of science in general, and deniers of global warming in particular.

If I won the lottery tomorrow, the first thing I would do would be buy up as much of the Maine North Woods as possible to protect it from development.

The most daring thing I ever tried (to date) was quit my job as the Editor in Chief of Down East: The Magazine of Maine, which I’d held for eight years, in order to write full-time.

The #1 item on my bucket list right now is fly fish the hell out of New Zealand.
I'm sharing Paul's no tolerance sentiment. He's obviously a passionate man of the land, which also comes out in his writing.  I'm thrilled that he could be a part of Five on Friday today and I hope we'll see him back on the blog in the future. I'm certain you'll hear more about his books here at least.

Many thanks to Paul and many thanks to all of you for stopping by to enjoy Paul's submission today. Be sure to check out his website; you can find him on Twitter and also on Facebook. If you're new to his work and want to test drive it, there's a free short story, "The Bear Trap," available over at the Criminal Element site.

Have a wonderful weekend, enjoy good books and happy reading!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

A Better World - Marcus Sakey
First line: "Cold liquid splashing across his face brought Kevin Temple back to himself."

Last year Marcus Sakey rocked my reading experience with his book Brilliance. This year the follow-up, A Better World, continues the exploration of a world filled with "brilliants"--the percentage of the population that are born with an extreme abilities in a specific area. Some brilliants are good with numbers, some with art, others with organization. In the case of Nick Cooper his gift lies in the realm of pattern identification.

In book two, Nick is serving as an advisor to the President of the United States when a domestic terrorist group of extremist brilliants takes control of three major U.S. cities in retaliation for legislation passed to limit the rights of brilliants. They are cutting off the cities' supplies by assassinating the truckers bringing food and necessities. Soon the grocery store shelves are empty, power is going down and people are resorting to violence.

The Secretary of Defense is prepared to declare war on the entire brilliant population in order to stop the terrorists. Nick has an alternate solution, but can he make it happen and can he do it before a new era of civil war erupts?

Sakey's world building skills are as adept as his ability to construct heart-pounding thrillers. The seamless way he has merged the reality of the present with his not-so-hard-to-fathom science fictional world will make readers do a double take of their own environments. They may also start stock-piling canned goods in their basements and pantries.

The action of the plot is constant, intense and fast-paced. The characters are meticulously developed and absolutely fascinating. A brilliant assassin out to kill Nick has such a wildly terrifying ability, I found myself thinking, "how does Sakey come up with this stuff?!?"

With Brilliance, it's far more than the exciting plot ride or the grand characters. My love of the book goes beyond the incredible world. What makes Brilliance a book I feel could be the next American classic is the mix of these things with the forceful undertones of universal themes like tolerance and war and advancement/technology and utopia. A Better World falls right into that same path, building on those ideas, furthering the world, exploring the characters more deeply, and of course, rocking the action. The richness of the layers that make up this series gives everyone something to enjoy. And it's a series to re-read because that same richness ensures you aren't going to get it all the first time around. There are more delicious treasures to uncover with each subsequent read.

In addition to the grand story, A Better World is peppered with sign art, which works to yank the fictional world firmly into the reader's reality. Each sign is distinct and unique. The one shown here is hand drawn and opens Chapter 14. It's a sign hanging in the Army-Navy surplus store window:

While you can read A Better World without having experienced Brilliance, I wouldn't recommend it. This is a closely knit saga and understanding the story in its entirety makes the reading experience that much more powerful. You've heard the term "earworm"? Well Marcus Sakey's Brilliance series is a brain worm. And once it works its way into your thoughts, you'll find yourself thinking and looking at everything in a whole new light. It doesn't go away quietly. But then again, you won't want it to.

If you haven't picked up your own copy of A Better World, yet, here's a short excerpt you can check out.

A Better World is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 978-1477823941) from Thomas & Mercer. It's also available as an unabridged audio (ISBN: 978-1491525272), narrated by Luke Daniels, from (appropriately) Brilliance Audio.

Monday, July 7, 2014

All Day and a Night - Alafair Burke
First line: "What would people think if they could overhear their own conversations?"

Alafair Burke returns to her Ellie Hatcher series in her tenth novel. All Day and a Night marks the fifth outing for Ellie and crew and it's a whopper.

A psychologist is murdered using the same signature as Anthony Amaro, a serial killer sitting in jail, and questions arise as to the convicted man's guilt. On the defense's side, celebrity attorney Linda Moreland kicks into gear to not only prove Amaro's innocence but to prove police corruption and open up an even bigger can of worms. To help her with these lofty ambitions, she recruits a promising young attorney who also happens to be the half-sister of one of Amaro's victims.

On the State's side, Max Donovan puts Ellie in an awkward and potentially volatile situation when he makes Ellie and her partner, J.J. Rogan, a "fresh look" team for the Anthony Amaro case. They're charged with going back over the evidence, witnesses, testimony, etc., to either shore up Amaro's guilt or find the evidence that proves his innocence. As they, begrudgingly, start to dig, questions and uncertainties find their way to the surface, and a killer may find his way back to the streets.

I know that Alafair Burke is one of my favorite writers in this genre. Sometimes I think I say that reflexively now without thinking through why it is so. But sitting down last weekend with All Day and a Night reminded me in vivid color and surround sound, exactly why it is so. I was entranced. I did not want to put this book down--you might even say I read it all day and a night (o.k., sorry, groan). The plot was captivating, creative and authentic. Burke brings in cop-house banter and relationships that are engaging, entertaining and believable. In an early scene Ellie and J.J. have an exchange with another detective, John Shannon, that seems pretty run-of-the-mill when the reader first encounters it. The fact that it comes across as run-of-the-mill reinforces that authenticity. It flows, it doesn't seem forced or artificial in any way. Just a few colleagues taking fun jabs at one another. But the other important factor here--that doesn't become clear until later--is that this scene sets the stage for the value of trust and respect between the detectives, not just between partners, but beyond that.

So while Burke's plot is highly engaging--she has the action, the red herrings, the well-timed twists--she also has nuance and depth building all along the way. Look for it also in the evolution of Ellie and Max's relationship through the course of this novel.

I've written many times about Burke's strength in building characters. Ellie still reigns as my favorite female in crime fiction. Burke's other series regulars are just as strong. But one of the standout characters for me in All Day and a Night is Mona, a.k.a. Jane Emily Winston. A former prostitute and now the den mother, of sorts, at Vibrations:

"Physically petite, she came across larger than her frame thanks to a getup fit for a drag queen: blue-black hair piled high on her head, thick layers of colorful makeup, and a floor-length chiffon gown in bright turquoise."

Mona plays a small role in the novel, but leaves a strong and lasting impression. She's the sort of character you hope will show up in future bit roles and maybe even get something more substantial in the future. But in All Day and a Night, Mona is evidence that every character is vital in a Burke novel.

And while I'm quite certain I've written about dialogue in Burke's books before, it bears repeating. She's the queen. Even with some highly regarded best-selling authors, I find myself thinking, "that just sounds weird; who would talk like that?" But that's never the case with an Alafair Burke novel. Instead I find myself laughing or contemplating or feeling a little teary because not only can I imagine people talking like that, I've probably heard things similar in everyday conversations. And more than anything, it isn't something that draws undue attention to itself. It flows so beautifully and naturally that you have to stop and evaluate a page closely before you see the reason for your absorption. Burke is meticulous with her use of slang and dialect and idiom. This conversation between Ellie and J.J. illustrates that organic nature of Burke's dialogue:

"'I think he's holding something back from us. I know I put more stock in Harris's statement than you, but you have to admit that any decent cop would have done something with a cellmate willing to report on a suspected serial killer.'

'Or maybe he didn't give credence to a drug dealer willing to say whatever about whoever to cut his own time.'

'Whomever,' she corrected. 'Whatever about whomever.'

'How about 'whoever corrects my grammar again can walk back to the hotel'? Look, I didn't say Sullivan was a good cop, or even competent. I'm asking you why you think he's hiding something.'"

Cop partners talking out their evidence and maintaining their characters--witty repartee casually thrown in that simply flows with the discussion. Few dialogue tags are needed because the exchanges are clear. And I love that she doesn't shy away from a tag like "corrected." The word choice is far more effective than "said" would have been.

And as in the excerpt above, there's such a genuineness to Burke's exceptional use of humor. She finds the funny and ludicrous in the everyday:

"She pulled her fleet car next to an SUV with a bumper sticker boasting: 'My Kid Beat Up Your Honor Student.' Call it stereotyping, but she suspected the driver would not be winning any knowledge-based contests this evening."

She also brings out the humor in the police officers. While crime novels are dark given the nature of their content, we also know that police use humor as a coping mechanism. So when that's missing from the representation of law enforcement, so is a factor of realism. All Day and a Night doesn't lack for realism.

Burke's work is a regular go-to for me on recommendations. She is a stand-out in this field and my time spent reading an Alafair Burke novel continues to be a treasure.

All Day and a Night is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0062208385) from Harper. It is also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1483004822) narrated by Andi Arndt from HarperCollins Audio and Blackstone Audio.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Red Room - Ridley Pearson

My review of The Red Room by Ridley Pearson first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today with their permission. You can also check out my interview with Ridley Pearson from Shelf Awareness where we talk further about The Red Room and other aspects of his writing career.
First line: "Two men await a delivery van."

The Red Room, Ridley Pearson’s third installment in the Risk Agent thriller series, embodies the consummate elements of both a thriller and a mystery. Contractors John Knox and Grace Chu travel to Turkey to broker the sale of a priceless art sculpture. The real goal, however, is to be in the same room with the buyer—an Iranian academic—for five minutes. Neither knows why they need to be in the room and this leads them to investigate on their own. The more the duo learns the less they understand and the greater liabilities they become. In a high-intensity race for their lives, John Knox and Grace Chu can trust only each other and hope they make the right choices.

Pearson tightly constructed the action and pacing of this novel to elicit an urgent energy. He offers the readers only the insight Knox and Chu uncover, so the disorientation and mystery surrounding the events are as real for the audience as the characters.

In addition, Pearson offers up a stunning backdrop with Istanbul. The setting is elegantly woven into the plot to accentuate and propel the story’s themes and issues, not simply paint a pretty picture.

As exceptional as these elements are in the novel, they pale in comparison to the book’s true treasure, the dynamic characters. From the protagonists down to the lowliest of supporting characters, each exhibits dimension and fulfills a vital role in the book.

The Red Room may be full of questions and ambiguities, but one thing’s for certain; it’s an outstanding reading experience.

The Red Room is available in hardcover (ISBN:9780399163746) from Putnam and as an unabridged audio (ISBN: 9781480533509) narrated by Todd Haberkorn from Brilliance. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Those Who Wish Me Dead - Michael Koryta
First line: "On the last day of Jace Wilson's life, the thirteen-year-old stood on a quarry ledge staring at cool, still water and finally understood something his mother had told him years before: Trouble might come for you when you showed fear, but trouble doubled-down when you lied about it."

For Michael Kortya's tenth novel, he takes to the mountains of Montana with Ethan Serbin, a wilderness survival instructor. Ethan and his wife, Allison have made their home in these mountains. Each summer Ethan takes on a small group of at-risk boys for his survival camp, but this year there's a special challenge.

Jace Wilson is a young boy who found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time; he witnessed a gruesome murder and now the killers are after him. In an attempted to keep the young boy safe, he's being placed in witness protection under a new identity. Jamie Bennett, a former US Marshall and present private contractor, wants Ethan to accept Jace into the summer camp under his new identity. She doesn't believe she can keep him safe and thinks hiding in the mountains is the best option. The catch, however, is Ethan and Allison cannot know which boy in the group is Jace.

Ethan accepts Jace, but when the killers find their way to the mountains, Montana will never be the same.

Further exploring his obvious love and respect of nature, Kortya brings the beauty of Montana and the rage of the environment alive in this red-hot adventure, giving the setting it's own character role. By mixing the conflict of man (the killers) with the conflict of nature (a raging forest fire), he's able to elevate his plot with a rich, heart-pounding complexity that is dependent on this setting.

A sub-plot weaves its way into the novel through Hannah Faber, a fire-fighter trying to escape her  haunting past in a secluded lookout tower. While Faber could likely have been a whole story in herself, she simultaneously helps make Jace's escape attempt believable and flushes out his character, a terrified child.

Koryta's villains--brothers--are as fascinating a duo as his protagonist. As Allison describes them, "They speak strangely...not accents but just they way they talk. Like they're alone in the world. Like it was built here for the two of them and they're the lords over it." Their lack of empathy is chilling but their bond to each other is so strong it's almost visible.

I did find myself wondering why Ethan and Allison were informed about Jace's presence at all or if they were to be informed why they were then kept in the dark about his exact identity, but that question was quickly lost in the intensity of the story.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is further evidence of Koryta's versatility and strength as a writer. While elements, like nature, are becoming trademark in his work, he's consistently raising the bar in his character development, plot construction, pacing and suspense. Much like the fire that rages through the Montana mountains of this novel, Koryta is blazing a trail that doesn't stay safely on one straight path. Where he'll go next is a mystery, but one as exciting as the stories he tells.

Those Who Wish Me Dead is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780316122559) from Little, Brown and as a downloadable, unabridged audiobook narrated by Robert Petkoff from Hachette Audio.


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