Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Long and Faraway Gone - Lou Berney

My review of Lou Berney's The Long and Faraway Gone first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. I am posting it here today with their permission. If you missed my interview with Lou, be sure to check it out here.

First line: "In summer, season of the Hollywood blockbuster, Bingham got to work at eight in the morning and didn't leave until long after midnight."

The Long and Faraway Gone is Lou Berney's third novel, a standalone that deviates dramatically in genre, tone and style from his first two caper novels featuring Shake Bouchon. By trading Shake's madcap humor and exotic locales for a dark, psychologically suspenseful crime story set in Oklahoma City, Berney proves his writing skills reach long and far.

Wyatt Rivers and Julianna Rosales both experienced traumas during the summer of 1986. Wyatt has spent his life running from that past, while Julianna desperately searches for answers, agitating sleeping dogs best left alone. When his job forces him to return to his hometown twenty-five years later, Wyatt's pulled back into the violent tragedy he tried so hard to escape. Meanwhile, Julianna learns recently released felon may be the key to all her questions. She'll go to any length to find out, even if it puts her life at risk.

The dark, ominous tone, coupled with convincingly creepy and immoral suspects makes The Long and Faraway Gone an intensely spine-chilling mystery. But more than that, it's an emotional dissection of crime and those impacted by violent losses. Berney's compassion for each character makes an entire cast of delectably authentic and dimensional people.

Some elements of Berney's style remain the same. Dialogue continues to flow naturally, reflecting character and setting. A strong sense of place triggers vivid imagery. And his subtle, well-placed humor cinches the novel's realism. Readers who haven't discovered Lou Berney yet should take this golden opportunity to get acquainted. Those who have will certainly relish this story-telling gem.


The Long and Faraway Gone is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 9780062292438) from William Morrow.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Anthonys Information

Hi all, just a quick post to pass along some important information from the Bouchercon organizers for anyone who attended Bouchercon 2014 in Long Beach or is already registered for Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh:


To all Bouchercon attendees: 

If you were registered for the Long Beach Bouchercon last year, or the one upcoming in Raleigh, you will be receiving ballots Saturday, Feb 28 to nominate books and stories for the 2015 Anthonys to be awarded in Raleigh in October. They are trying something new, and testing the process for future Bouchercons, using a survey site called Survey Monkey to send and collate the nominations. Those who have attended past Bouchercons may be familiar with the surveys you received afterwards. (Some of you may have opted out of Surveys, and if so, you won’t receive the ballot unless you opt back in.) However, the links to the ballots are being sent via email, and emails being what they are, it will be inevitable that many won’t receive them because of spam filters, firewalls and other reasons. So if you can set your emails and servers to allow mail from Survey Monkey (www.surveymonkey.com) or Bouchercon or Anthony Ballots, or just check your spam traps, that will hopefully cut down on undelivered ballots. If you want some further info, and a sneak peak at the ballot worksheet, check out http://www.bouchercon.info/process.html . Remember, you are all members of Bouchercon, and the success of the Anthonys, being a fan-based award, are directly related to your participation.

Happy Nominating!...and Thank you.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Hush Hush - Laura Lippman

First line: "Transcript of interview with CAROLYN SANDERS, March 3."

Hush Hush marks Laura Lippman's return to her beloved Baltimore private eye, Tess Monaghan. And boy what a return this is.

Now juggling a rambunctious toddler, a household that includes three dogs, and her investigative career, Tess is pulled somewhat begrudgingly into a security consulting job. Tyner's client, Melisandre Dawes,  stood trial twelve years ago for killing her infant daughter but was found not guilty by reason of temporary insanity. After her release from the medical facility she was sent to for treatment, she left the country, her ex-husband and her two other daughters. Now she's returned in hopes of reuniting with the children she abandoned and making a documentary about herself.

Not everyone is happy about her return--she's been receiving threatening notes--so Tyner wants Tess and her partner Sandy Sanchez to evaluate the security of Melisandre's new apartment. Agreeing partly for the money and partly for her family ties to Tyner--he's married to her aunt--Tess agrees to go over the situation but wants to make it perfectly clear that they are having no part of Melisandre's movie and they are not security consultants by trade.

Tess wants to meet with Tyner and Melisandre then wash her hands of the whole deal, but a series of events leading up to new murder, in which Melisandre is the prime suspect, continue to pull Tess and Sandy back into the thick of a mad woman's life of drama.

While the issues dealing with child murder are often hot buttons for readers, Lippman treats this case with careful reverence. Tess's constant reflection on her own struggles as a mother tie her uncomfortably to this woman she simply cannot understand. She considers her actions but decides it's safer to just not think about it: "Of course it was crazy, but what did crazy mean?" In addition, Lippman has included a personal stalker for Tess. Someone is leaving her notes. Notes that start out relatively harmless but progress to judging her parenting skills, which in turn make Tess question her fitness as a mother. She contrasts her disorganized, exhausted skills to Crow's seemingly effortless approach. While most mother's don't have an anonymous stalker, they can likely empathize with Tess, whether receiving "advice" or flat out criticism in their own experiences. Putting on a strong mask in front of those people is much easier than controlling the self-doubt that permeates thoughts and fears.

While it is only a few sentences, Sandy's reaction to Melisandre's crime is also powerful. A former police detective he says, "it's the kind of thing--Guys who could make jokes about anything, they didn't joke about that. Cases like that, they can really screw you up." Horrendous crimes like the one Melisandre Dawes commits can affect so many people on different levels, and Lippman looks at several of those levels in this novel.

Equally engaging are the two daughters left behind by Melisandre. Alanna and Ruby weren't much more than toddlers when their mother murdered their baby sister.  Now teenagers, each has dealt with their multiple losses in different ways. Additional secrets seep out as the book progresses, but both girls are sympathetic characters and trying to envision their lives is an emotional element of the story.

Lippman is exceptional with complex, gripping characters who illicit a host of strong responses from readers: compassion, revulsion, adoration, empathy. Stimulating internal dialogue for the audience makes a rewarding reading experience. And Lippman delivers more than just stellar characters.

The plot of the novel is authentic and riveting. The twists and suspense make for a thrilling read that's still grounded in reality. It's a bit of a thief, though. Readers are likely to find hours missing unexplainably once they sit down with this books. Tess Monaghan is a Baltimore fixture, but this novel could be set almost anywhere given the storyline. Horror stories about filicide aren't relegated to a geographic area and Lippman does a exemplary job of touching her reader, regardless of age or gender or race or any other categorizing factor--this is a human story.

Whether you're a long time Tess Monaghan fan or you've never read the series before, Hush Hush can be read and enjoyed by any number of kinds of readers and on many different levels. It's books like Hush Hush that remind us all of our commonalities and human connections.

Tess Monaghan is back, and that's a very good thing.

Hush Hush is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780062369758) from William Morrow. It is also available as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9780062372352), narrated by Jan Maxwell, from Harper Audio.

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Check out the Tess is Back microsite where you can listen to excerpts, see Baltimore locales from the series, learn about the characters and best of all, enter to win digital audio or ebook prizes from the series.

Hopefully you already know you can find Laura Lippman on Facebook and Twitter, but if not, connect with her there or her website.

My review today kicks off the TLC book tour for Hush Hush. Check out the schedule of blogs and see what others have to say about the book.

Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Night is the Hunter - Steven Gore

First line: "Ray McMullin, standing waist deep in chest waders, leaning hard into the current, his rod bent against the steelhead's run, wasn't a fisherman."

Steven Gore's third Harlan Donnally novel is steeped in explosive issues, and Gore's approach indicates he isn't shying away from blasting one or two off in the course of this plot. Whether you've read either of the previous two Harlan Donnally's or not, you'll want to pick up Night is the Hunter.

Two decades ago, Judge Ray McMullin cut his teeth on a gangland murder case. It was the first and last capital case he presided over, but he proved to the world that he was capable of "pulling the trigger." When Israel Dominguez was found guilty of of first degree murder, McMullin sentenced him to death. Now the execution date is nearing with no realistic appeal options left, and McMullin is questioning his decision while Dominguez continues to profess his innocence.

McMullin, still convinced Dominguez is ultimately guilty, asks ex-cop Donnally to look into the twenty-year-old crime in an effort to reassure himself he made the right call on the death sentence.  Investigating the case takes Donnally into the battle lands of the Norteño and the Sureño gangs where he uncovers disturbing evidence in Dominguez case and discovers clues to a murder that's a lot more personal.

The first land mine of an issue, and probably the most obvious from the plot description, is that of capital punishment. Gore explores it from several different angles, flushing out the shades of gray in a controversy many paint as black or white. Sneaking in around the edges of this main theme comes questions of the prison system as well as police discrimination. An especially powerful scene occurs early in the novel when Donnally encounters an ex-gang member. While he's talking to the former Norteño member a pair of active duty officers stop to check out what's going on. One of the cop's comments upset Donnally:

"Donnally felt a flush of annoyance at the cop's descent into crook slang. By accommodating himself to the lawlessness it implied, it legitimized the criminal way of life. It made it seem that the criminal world was the entire world, not the badlands, and that the police weren't representatives of the law, but only of power. Using the language of the gangsters made the police department into just another gang."

Gore does not portray the entire profession in this light, but he doesn't deny the existence of this mentality either.

Whether readers end up agreeing with depiction of the legal system, Gore offers a tremendous amount to consider in timely, rich and controversial themes. Excellent fodder for book discussion groups.

Additionally Night is the Hunter provides readers with a slew of fascinating characters. Donnally's interaction with his father in a subplot of the novel leaves readers with an Escher-ist feeling--what exactly am I seeing here? what is real?--and Judge McMullin elicits strong empathy. The attorney who represented Israel Dominguez, Paul Ordloff, is complex and artfully developed. But most of all, Donnally humanizes--without excusing--the gangs and the people associated with them. His portrayal  of these feuding factions is one of the novel's greatest strengths.

Finally, Night is the Hunter is an addictive, fast-paced, engaging read. It's a thriller. The plot is tight, it offers excellent twists and it keeps the reader braced for what's around the next page. This one's a must for crime fans.

Night is the Hunter is available in trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0062025098) from William Morrow. My review is a part of the TLC Book Tour for the novel. You can find a complete list of blogs reviewing the book as part of the tour and see what others have to say about it at the TLC website. You can learn more about Steven Gore at his website and follow his Facebook page.


Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work with them does not obligate me to a specific kind of review. The reviews are still my own opinions and reflect only my thoughts on the novels. If you care to read more, you can find more information on my Disclosure page.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry - Gabrielle Zevin

First line: "On the ferry from Hyannis to Alice Island, Amelia Loman paints her nails yellow and, while waiting for them to dry, skims her predecessor's notes."

Scott Brick provides an incredible narration for Gabrielle Zevin's beautiful story of A.J. Fikry, a widowed bookseller who unexpectedly finds himself taking on the role of father when an infant girl is left in his bookshop.

Fikry, a bit persnickety by nature anyway, has been further hardened by the tragic death of his wife. His people skills are rough around the edges to say the least--his wife always provided the smoothing--and he has a tendency toward book snobbery. Not the best combination for a bookseller, but he squeaks by knowing he has in his possession a valuable copy of Tamerlane--an early collection of poems by Edgar Allen Poe. It will provide him a comfortable retirement when he's ready to give up his bookstore.

One night in a drunken state of self-pity, Fikry removes the Tamerlane from its locked case and toasts the book until he passes out into oblivion. When he wakes the next morning, the apartment above the bookstore is spotless and the Tamerlane is gone.  Horror number one introduces Fikry to the island's police chief, Lambiase.

Shortly after the fervor from the theft of Tamerlane dies down, an infant is left in Fikry's bookshop with a note asking Fikry to take care of the little girl. Her mother no longer can, but she wants her daughter to grow up around books. Horror number two introduces Fikry to Maya. And when Maya's mother is found dead from suicide, Fikry can't bring himself to let the small girl go off into the unknown of the child welfare system, so he sets the adoption process in motion and becomes a single father.

Finally horror number three comes when Fikry is stuck with nothing else to read but a memoir called The Late Bloomer, a book he berated the sales rep for even suggesting to him. When he discovers that he actually likes the book--a la horror #3--Amelia Loman enters his life.

A small mystery in the theft of Tamerlane exists in The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, but the novel is actually a love story. A love story in many different dimensions and levels. It's funny and serious and sad and extraordinary. Scott Brick not only captures all of that but he adds the color of perfect performance to it. Listeners will hear the softening of Fikry's heart and the expanding of his mind.

The pacing of the narration creates the atmosphere and the setting. Alice Island is remote and sparsely populated. The slow and deliberate reading from Brick embodies that casual, unhurried way of life for the islanders.

Each character has a distinct sound, and dialogue is especially enjoyable since it is both written eloquently and performed authentically. Even Fikry's thoughts are satisfying. His rather humorous reaction to his texting: "(He is only slightly mortified by that exclamation point.)" Or an observation I've often made about the mystery aisle of bookstores, "He looks across the spines, which are, for the most part, black and red with all capitalized fonts in slivers and whites."

Zevin fills the novel with references to all kinds of books, through chapter titles, recommendations in the bookshop and letters Fikry writers to Maya as well as myriad other ways she finds to sneak in allusions. Her love of books and her characters' love of books are treated with a reverence by Brick that further enhances the novel's dedication to reading.

I picked up The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry because several friends recommended it, and for that I'm grateful. I would not have wanted to miss this one. But I'm especially glad I opted to listen to the audiobook version. I believe it penetrated my soul a bit deeper with Scott Brick's wonderfully insightful interpretation.

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry is available in hardcover (ISBN:  978-1616203214) or trade paperback (ISBN: 978-1616204518) from Algonquin Books. The unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 978-1622313532), narrated by Scott Brick, is available on CD or as a download from Highbridge.

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