Friday, September 26, 2014

Horrorstör - Grady Hendrix

Hi all, happy Friday. I have to regroup on the Five on Friday, so please pardon this short hiatus while I line up some more fun authors. In the meantime, my review of the creative and fun Horrorstör by Grady Hendrix first appeared this week as a starred review in Shelf Awareness for Readers. It's appearing here today with their permission.

First line: "It was dawn, and the zombies were stumbling through the parking lot, streaming toward the massive beige box at the far end."

It’s something out of a whacky dream, jolting the sleeper awake with a racing heart and sweaty palms—being trapped in a mammoth furniture retail store after closing when all the lights go out. Not being able to find your way in the maze of home furnishings and storage solutions. And then creepy things start happening…

In Horrorstör, Grady Hendrix’s debut novel, the nightmare happens in the Cleveland, Ohio, Orsk furniture super-store. A building that has the unfortunate location of the old Cuyahoga Panopticon.

Each morning the employees come in to find bizarre damage not present when they left the night before. The employee entrance is broken, the escalator runs the wrong direction and employees receive text messages from an unknown caller, simply reading, “help.”

Basil, the deputy store manager, is determined to solve the mystery of the nightly vandalism. He’s recruited Amy and Ruth Anne to work an overnight shift with him, making regular rounds of the store in hopes of nabbing the culprit before he—or she—can strike again.

Hendrix’s parody offers social commentary on retail structure in a satirically humorous tone. Horrorstör is bound like a catalog: each chapter is a piece of creatively named furniture accompanied by an image of the flat-pack item, and the book includes a map of the store with directions on how to visit Orsk’s labyrinthine showroom.

In the vein of a classic Scooby Doo ghost story but set inside a modern retail environment, Hendrix brings nightmares to life with wildly fun and outrageously inventive style.

Horrorstör is available in paperback (ISBN: 9781594745263) from Quirk Books. There is an unabridged audio version (ISBN: 9781483049809), narrated by Tai Sammons and Bronson Pinchot, from Blackstone Audio. But I honestly have to advocate for the print version in this case because the packaging of the book is so much fun and that can't be recreated in an audio. If you want to listen, get the print book and follow along!

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Chit-chatting with Steve Hockensmith

O.k. this interview is mega overdue. Steve was so prompt about getting it back to me and I've just run into one delay after another. But I'm determined not to leave my computer tonight until it is all ready for you guys to enjoy.

Regular readers know that Steve Hockensmith is the author of the Holmes on the Range mystery series. I've reviewed many of Steve's books in this series as well as some of his short story collections. All of his work is smart, funny and enjoyable. Since the Amlingmeyer Brothers had their last hoorah with Minotaur books in The World's Greatest Sleuth, Steve's been up to some other fun writing. He wrote a couple of Jane Austen zombie stories (Dawn of the Dreadfuls and Dreadfully Ever After)--and landed on the New York Times bestseller list, wrote a handful of kids books (the Nick & Tesla series)--the fourth of which comes out October 7th, and now he's dipping into the tarot world with the Tarot Mystery series.

Awhile back I reviewed (and loved) Steve's first book in the Tarot Mystery series, The White Magic Five and Dime. The whole concept of the tarot cards was fascinating to me, and especially the view the book takes. So, I had to ask questions. I think it's in my DNA.

Q. Why tarot? What initiated the idea to integrate it into your new series?
Steve: White Magic Five & Dime has travelled a long and very winding road. Seven or eight years ago, my friend Lisa Falco – who’s a very talented amateur tarot reader – told me about an idea she had for a book. It would be about a professional tarot reader and her relationships with her clients and how the cards affect their lives. I immediately said, “Make it a mystery and you’ve got yourself a cozy series!” A few years later, Jason Rekulak, the publisher of Quirk Books, asked me if I had any ideas I wanted to pitch him. I always have lots of ideas, so I pulled together a list for him. I think I had nine originally, and being a guy who likes nice round numbers I thought 10 would be even better. So I went to Lisa and said, “Do you ever think you’d do anything with that tarot idea? Because if not, maybe we could do it together.” Lisa said sure, I threw the idea on the list and of course that was the one Jason liked best. Once Jason and I started kicking the premise around, it gained a lot of new flavor – that’s how the back story about con artists got pulled in – and the book took on a slightly grittier, less-cozy vibe. Quirk is really strong on design and packaging, so it was clear that the cards themselves would be integrated into the look of the book somehow. Everyone was super-excited about the concept. Then…well, “creative differences,” as they say. Jason and I reached an impasse. After a lot of back and forth, we accepted that we couldn’t get around it, and Quirk cancelled the contract. Which left me and Lisa with a high-concept, design-heavy, cozy-ish but not really cozy, occult-ish but not really occult mystery. Tough sell. I kind of drifted around with the project for a while, and at one point I was even thinking of self-publishing it. But then Terri Bischoff at Midnight Ink rode to the rescue, and this summer the book was finally published looking and feeling exactly like what I’d envisioned.

(My aside: what Steve comments on here--"high-concept, design-heavy, cozy-ish but not really cozy, occult-ish but not really occult mystery"--is part of what made it so appealing to me. It may not be easily packaged and labeled, but it's different. It's not the same old-same old. And for me, as a read, that's fun!)

Q. Have you had a tarot reading done yourself?
Steve: Back in the day (meaning “when I was young” – sigh), I would go to tarot readers from time to time as a gag. It was a fun thing to do in New Orleans, which I used to visit a lot. The readers were usually flamboyant people who said ridiculous things with the utmost sincerity, which can be a pretty entertaining combination. I only did one reading in Chicago, where I lived at the time, but it was an eye-opening experience. Some friends and I went into this dinky, dark little fortune-telling place on Belmont Avenue, and the vibe was totally different than what I’d experienced in New Orleans. The woman who ran the place was just obviously, unabashedly evil. One by one, she took us to the back room and gave us each the same reading. Your girlfriend’s not to be trusted. You’re going to have money problems. You need to come back and let me guide you through the dark times ahead. Oh – and don’t tell your friends what I said. This is just between you and me. So for a long time, it’s safe to say, I didn’t have the highest opinion of tarot reading. But Lisa changed that. She’s the furthest thing you could get from a flighty or manipulative person. She’s very down to earth, very genuine, very intelligent. I’d known her for years before I had any idea she did tarot readings. Because she is who she is, when she first offered to read for me I said yes with an open mind. And thanks to that – and Lisa – I’ve developed a new respect for the tarot. Or its potential in the right hands, anyway. I’m a skeptical, scientifically minded person by nature, but ...well, there’s something there.

Q. Each chapter opens with an excerpt from the fictional Infinite Roads to Knowing. There’s a combination of humor and wisdom in those sections. Do they reflect your own beliefs about tarot?
Steve: Absolutely. In those parts of the book you see the collision that’s happening not just in the story but in my mind: spiritualism and cynicism smashing into each other.

Here's an example of the opening of a chapter. The Magician card opens the second chapter:

It reads:

"'He's called the Magician,' you say, 'but what the heck is he doing? Where's the rabbit coming out of the hat? Where's the MAGIC?' Hey, just because you can't see it doesn't mean it's not there. Are powers surrounding you right now, influencing and perhaps even controlling you, that YOU can't see? Well, duh."

Q. What’s the most fascinating thing you learned about tarot in the process of writing the book?
Steve: The most fascinating and surprising thing I learned is that tarot cards actually aren’t that old. They’ve only been used for fortune telling for something like 300 years. Certain folks seem to assume (or like to pretend) that the cards are tied into some kind of ancient mystical tradition, but that’s not the case. The cards have been used to play pinochle longer than they’ve been used for divination.

Q.  You are also writing a female protagonist in this series. Have you had to make adjustments for that or do you feel it’s no different from writing male characters?
Steve: This was a big part of my disagreement with Jason, actually. He thought that the first-person narration in the book didn’t feel female enough. It was too sardonic and jokey. To him, it just sounded like a variation on me. Which was fair, because it is a variation on me. A female variation. I know that there are world-weary, wise-cracking women out there, because I’ve met a bunch and they’ve been some of my favorite people in the world. When I was trying to find another publisher for the book, I was told more than once that the narrator wasn’t likable enough. But to be honest, whenever someone said “likable,” in my head I heard “bland.” Alanis is an edgy broad. Hurrah for edgy broads!

(Again, my aside: of course I'm not a professional acquiring editor, but I completely disagreed with the notion that Alanis wasn't likable enough. I adored Alanis, felt she was a fresh face in mystery. I also thought she was very authentic. Had she been different, she would have been a harder sell for me. Maybe not impossible, but as I learned her back story, I couldn't imagine her being anything else.)

Q. You have a co-writer for this series—Lisa Falco—and you’re also co-writing a middle grade series with Bob Pflugfelder. How do the two experiences compare?
Steve: On the surface, the collaborations seem similar. In both cases, my partner provides the expertise – on tarot reading in Lisa’s case and on building homemade gadgets in Science Bob’s case – while I’ve done all the writing. But the process for the two series is actually quite different because the projects Science Bob comes up with determine the flow of the plot while the tarot readings Lisa supplies don’t. There’s a ton of back and forth with Science Bob (and our editor, Rick Chillot) while I’m trying to map out a new Nick and Tesla book. It can be an immensely frustrating process because it’s so hard to identify strong gadget ideas that can be woven gracefully (or even not-so-gracefully) into a storyline. With The White Magic Five & Dime, I just outlined a mystery (which is challenging enough already), then told Lisa about the readings in the book and what I needed them to reflect. Easy! There’s been an interesting shift, however, in that Lisa’s taken over more of the writing on the second tarot novel and she’s going to do even more on the third. I’ll have to watch out, because if I let that trend continue I’m going to make myself redundant!

Q. And building on that question, how does writing with someone else compare to writing solo?
Steve: It’s funny. I’m suddenly doing all these tag-team series – there’s yet another that’s being pitched at the moment that might or might not see the light of day – but in the past I always swore I wouldn’t do a collaboration. I didn’t think I’d enjoy it. And to be completely honest, it doesn’t always make things easier. But it has made some really fun projects possible, so I’m happy to stick with it for now. A part of me is really itching to do something solo again, though….

Q. Shifting gears a bit here to your middle grade books, Nick and Tesla, how has the experience been writing for kids?
Steve: Great! Once we get beyond planning the books and I can simply write them, they’re a blast. I’m really lucky, because the series simply fell into my lap one day. A few months after Quirk cancelled the contract for The White Magic Five & Dime, Jason Rekulak came back to me and said, “We’ve got an idea for a series of kids’ books, and I think you’d be the perfect writer for it.” Which was one of the nicest, most gracious things anyone’s ever done for me in this crazy biz. I’d taken a few stabs at writing middle-grade novels before that, but the results hadn’t been very satisfying. Once I started writing Nick and Tesla, though, it was just easy breezy cream-cheesy all the way.

Q. And whereto from here? More Alanis, correct?
Steve: Indeedy! The sequel to The White Magic Five & Dime, Fool Me Once, should be out next summer. Then there’ll be a third book a year after that. I’m also wrapping up a fifth Nick and Tesla book, and there might be more. Plus there’s that other project in development – it’s another series for kids – and I’m also anxious to write a sixth Holmes on the Range novel (which I’ll probably self publish) and I want to play around with some short stories, too. I’ve never been so busy. I keep trying to squeeze in a nervous breakdown, but I just don’t have the time anymore.

Many thanks to Steve for taking time to answer my questions and quell my curiosity. I know he's super busy these days, so his time is at a premium. I hope you've enjoyed today's chat and if you haven't read Steve's work yet, make haste. You have plenty to choose from and they're all superb.

Oh and a quick reminder, this is Banned Books Week. Show your support and speak out against banning and challenging books.

Happy reading, my friends!

**Steve's author photo taken by Cecily Hunt

Monday, September 22, 2014

Angry Optimist - Lisa Rogak

Most folks know I'm a big fan of Jon Stewart, so I was excited to get to read this biography about him for Shelf Awareness. My review appeared in the September 9th issue of Shelf for Readers and is appearing here today with their permission.

First line: "When Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz was born on November 28, 1962, in New York City to Donald and Marian Leibowitz toward the end of the huge postwar baby boom, he began a typical middle-class American childhood that was unremarkable for the time, and apparently very much strived for by the majority of people in the United States."

“‘We feel a frustration with the way politics are handled and the way politics are handled within the media…The appeal of doing the show is that it’s cathartic,’” says Jon Stewart about his hugely popular Daily Show that broke new ground in the world of comedy talk shows when he took the reigns in 1999.

Lisa Rogak adds to her list of biographies that include the likes of Stephen Colbert and Stephen King by highlighting Stewart’s bumpy rise to this catharsis. She touches on his family life, but Angry Optimist focuses primarily on Stewart’s career in comedy, from the side jobs that supported him, to his stand-up career, TV, movies, books and even hosting the Oscars.

Including both humorous and serious insights from colleagues, Rogak pulls back The Daily Show curtain to reveal exhausting writing schedules, dogs in the office, interns fetching food and props, and people who aren’t quite as enamored with Jon Stewart. Giving voice to his naysayers allows Rogak to explore a broader view of the “high-functioning hermit” rarely seen in public outside of work.

As Rogak retells, Stewart learned a lesson early in his career, “‘this whole life is a journey. There is no such thing as made it.’” The future is uncertain, but Stewart has undoubtedly left his signature on the world of comedy. Angry Optimist’s astute illustration of just how he accomplished that—making humor about things that matter to him—is a must not only for Jon Stewart fans, but comedy fans everywhere.

The Angry Optimist: The Life and Times of Jon Stewart is available in hardcover (ISBN:  9781250014443) from Thomas Dunne Books and as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781494555559), narrated by Cassandra Campbell, from Tantor Audio.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy - Karen Abbott

First line: "In the town of Martinsburg on the lower tip of the Valley, a seventeen-year-old rebel named Belle Boyd sat by the windows of her wood-frame home, waiting for the war to come to her."

When I visited the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C. last year, I first came across the idea of female spies in the Civil War. I suppose if I had thought more on the subject, I would have seen it as natural--"of course women would have functioned as spies." But since the thought had never crossed my mind, it fascinated me to read about it in the museum. So, when I heard about Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy--this true story female spies in the Civil War, I was excited to check it out.

Karen Abbott looks at four women: Belle Boyd and Rose O'Neal Greenhow--both rebel spies--Emma Edmonds and Elizabeth Van Lew--Union spies.

Emma began living under the disguise of a man before the war as a way to escape her father. So once the war started, she enlisted. It was her small stature that led to her recruitment as a spy.

Elizabeth Van Lew was a Southern abolitionist. She was able to make use of her money and place in society to establish a significant spy ring in the Richmond area.

Belle and Rose both used their feminine charms to benefit their espionage efforts. Rose's location near the Union capital enabled her to wield her talents on politicians and high-ranking officers, gleaning important information to pass along. Alan Pinkerton decided Rose was so much of a threat, he had her and her young daughter imprisoned.

What I found most surprising in my reactions to this book was how I perceived each of the women. The two women supporting the Confederate efforts seduced men for their information. They were forceful and blunt, with seemingly no compassion for the enemy. And I found myself disliking them, hoping they would be caught and stopped.

Whereas the two women supporting the Union were gentle and polite. Where Belle shoots a Union soldier in her home, Emma nurses a Rebel soldier as he dies.  Before Emma was a spy, she worked as a nurse, tending to the wounded. Elizabeth arranged to visit the Confederate prisons and tend to the Union prisoners. There was a visible kindness in both their characters and I was rooting for them.

That difference made me question my biases toward women even today. But I also had to wonder if, subconsciously, who the women were fighting for also influenced that. Would I have felt more tolerant of Rose if she was using her feminine wiles for the Union? A psychologist might have fun analyzing that.

But aside from my quirky reactions, the perspective of the war and correlating information that comes out as Abbott tells the stories of these four women is intriguing and a bit awe-inspiring. I was surprised at the number of women who successfully disguised themselves as men and fought in the war. As Abbott lays out why they were able to do this without discovery, it made me wonder if it would then be harder or easier now to do something similar. Of course women can already serve in our armed forces, but would today's technologies hinder or help if someone was replicating this deceit?

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy doesn't exactly read like a novel since the four women are not connected to each other, but readers will still find themselves caught up in the lives of these fascinating female spies all the same. The atmosphere of the war envelopes the reader and the photographs throughout the book enhance the feeling of being in the nineteenth century and knowing the big players in the game.

Whether you're interested in spies, American history, war history or the Civil War specifically, you'll find a lot to engage with in this book. But anyone who has a fascination with the evolution of women's roles in America will be especially intrigued by Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy. It's a hefty read at over 500 pages, but the pages will go by quickly because of the suspense connected to these women and their actions in one of the most important events of our nation's history.

Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0062092892) from Harper. There is also an unabridged audio (ISBN: 978-1483005126), narrated by Karen White, from HarperAudio and Blackstone Audio.

My review today is a part of the TLC Book Tours blog tour. You can check out what other readers had to say about Liar, Temptress, Soldier, Spy by visiting the tour site at TLC.

Disclosure: I do some contractual work for one of the owners of TLC Blog Tours. My work does not involve this tour or any other tour I would agree to be a part of here at the blog. Nor does my work with them 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.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Guest Review: Blue Mind

Today I'm excited to have a guest review from my friend Lauren. She's extremely smart and well-read, and I've been trying to encourage her to share those thoughts with the world. She is doing that today regarding a book that motivated her to write. Please welcome Lauren and her review of BLUE MIND: The Surprising Science That Shows How Being Near, In, On, or Under Water Can Make You Happier, Healthier, More Connected, and Better at What You Do (Quite a mouthful!):

I was raised on and in the water: swimming, sailing, bodysurfing, you name it. To this day, when driving home I feel a weight lift from my shoulders as I hit the final turn that takes me along the water. I’ve always known a connection to water is my thing, I had no idea it was a thing. A thing with some pretty spectacular science behind it.

I woke up to the science of water's impact when I spied a book with a beautiful splash of vibrant blue water on the cover and was immediately attracted to it (Blue Mind at work!). Blue Mind's subtitle highlights the book's theory that the science and study of our love of water has:

significant real-world applications -- for health, travel, real estate, creativity, childhood development, urban planning, the treatment of addiction and trauma, conservation, business, politics, religion, architecture, and more.

In Blue Mind, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols explores these applications from two fronts: head and heart. The heart part may be obvious to water lovers, though I have found it fascinating to be more mindful of my connection with water since reading the book. The brain part is intellectually challenging, but you will shine at your next cocktail party as you drop facts about the prefrontal cortex, evolutionary biology, and neruoimaging.

Put simply, Blue Mind is "a mildly meditative state characterized by calm...and a sense of general happiness..inspired by water and elements associated with water." It can be contrasted with Red Mind, "an edgy high, characterized by stress, anxiety, fear, and maybe even a little bit of anger and despair."

Red Mind's physiological stress responses evolved to help us survive; essential tools for escaping predators, and finding and fighting for food and mates. We need Red Mind. But today, the many non-life-threatening stressors we face in daily living activate the same biological responses. We're "drowning in a sea of overstimulation." Stress hormones keep us in an agitated state. The answer? Finding a way to reach a Blue Mind state. Finding water.

It makes sense that our need and ability to sense and locate near water is hardwired into our DNA. But that doesn't completely explain our emotional attachment to water. Why does nature, water in particular, make us happy?

"Time and time again, researchers have discovered that proximity to water strengthens the positive effects that environment has upon well-being." Scientifically speaking, Blue Mind is filled with fascinating studies correlating well-being with water. The highest increase in happiness in outdoor environments occurred in people near water. In fact, just being able to see nature has incredible benefits, and the "best" nature has water in it.

Even indirect exposure to water has been shown to help patients recuperate faster. In one study, heart patients were shown one of three scenes on panel at the foot of the bed: a forest, open water, or an abstract/blank. Patients looking at the nature panels needed less pain meds and had lower anxiety levels. Even more fascinating, improvements were significantly greater in patients looking at water than those looking at the forest. Simply looking at pictures of water causes our brains to shift to Blue Mind mode.

On the heart side of the Blue Mind equation, Dr. Nichols presents countless examples of the therapeutic impact of water on what ails us: addiction, autism, and PTSD to name a few. Particularly impactful is the story of an injured veteran who traveled to California to take part in Operation Surf, a surf camp specifically designed for veterans. He later disclosed he had come simply to cross surfing off his bucket list, at which point he intended to return home and kill himself. Surfing not only changed his life, it saved his life.

Could that veteran have discovered and been saved by knitting? Perhaps. But he was saved by water. The "[g] oal [of attaining Blue Mind] is not to turn people into surfers, but to change brain chemistry. The chemicals that respond to activities like surfing have positive effects on how people deal with depression, anxiety, stress, and other mental health issues." Heart and science.

What, ultimately, is the point of Blue Mind, other than encouraging us to all get in and near the water, to find our Blue Mind? Based on past experience, the author hopes increased awareness might also awaken our social responsibilities. Hopefully, "the recognition...transforms our sense of responsibility and renovates our list of priorities. Greater self-understanding leads to better choices that lead to a better future - choices that preserve the natural world and increase the chance for more access to the Blue Mind." Dr. Nichols wishes us all water. Read Blue Mind and see if you don't feel the same.

Blue Mind is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0316252089 from Little, Brown & Co.  It is also available as an unabridged audio, narrated by the author, from Hachette Audio.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Five on Friday - Julia Keller

Happy Friday my reading friends! I hope your week has been grand. I'm still trying to get use to the fact that it's September already. Good golly who stole August?

I don't have a lot of odds and ends today because I've been pretty entrenched in work and some projects I'm doing around my house, but I did want to share this creative idea with you. Coincidentally, I just pulled out a bunch of t-shirts I really don't wear and was going to get rid of them, but now I'm going to give this a try this weekend. Might be something fun to do with bookish tees?

Also, just a little non-crime related tidbit. Today is the 20th Anniversary of MUTTS. For those who don't know, this is my absolute favorite comic strip. I adore Mooch, Earl and gang and idolize their creator, Patrick McDonnell. He does so much for animals through his work. So happy anniversary to the MUTTS strip. Here's to the next 20 years!

This week's contest rundown:

Criminal Element has a chance for you to win Lindsay Faye's Seven for a Secret and they have the "Thrillers and Killers" sweepstakes that could bag you a six-book take.

Friday Reads has a chance for you to win Thomas H Cook's A Dancer in the Dust.

And finally, my friend Lesa has a Linda Castillo giveaway--two titles from her Kate Burkholder series.

Now on to our special guest today. I'm always excited when we have a new face at the blog and today's is that of Julia Keller. Julia started her writing career in journalism (and worked in Columbus, Ohio for awhile!). She earned a Pulitzer Prize for her in the newspaper world and then moved on to crime novels, where she snatched up a Barry Award for her first book, A Killing in the Hills, which introduced Bell Elkins. The newest book of the series, Summer of the Dead, came out in August and Julia made time for us today.

So, please help me give a warm welcome to Julia Keller!

Adoption day for Julia and her new pup!

The last book I recommended to someone was “A Partial History of Lost Causes” (2012) by Jennifer Dubois. I stumbled across this blazingly brilliant novel quite by accident, after giving a reading last year at Anderson’s Bookstore in Naperville, Ill. I read it in what felt like a single astonished gulp. Now I fling copies at friends and strangers alike, murmuring, “You MUST read this.” It’s about a young woman dying from a chronic illness and a Russian chess prodigy determined to unseat Putin. Among the pressing questions dealt with in this heartbreaking, unforgettable narrative: How do you fight on, when you know it’s hopeless?

A superstition or ritual I have to observe when I write is Coffee. I must have a mug of black coffee at my elbow at all times. It must be searingly, center-of-the-sun hot, so hot that it transforms the tender skin on the roof of my mouth into dangling shreds of gloriously singed flesh.

My favorite toppings on a pizza are Pepperoni and sausage. Get those veggies out of here! A pox on your pineapple, your green pepper, your spinach! When it comes to pizza, I’m like the fellow in the film “The Quiet Man,” who, when asked if he wants water in his whiskey, says, “When I drinks water, I drinks water. When I drinks whiskey, I drinks whiskey.” When I eat pizza, I eat pepperoni and sausage. When I eat salads, I eat—wait. I don’t eat salads.

My favorite t-shirt is...What a great question! Every t-shirt tells a story. It’s a tie between a t-shirt I bought at a truck stop a few years ago—bright red, with a silhouette of a coal miner in a hard hat with a head lamp crawling along on all fours, with the caption, “I’ve Got Friends In Low Places”—and a green one that I purchased in New York some years ago at a tiny independent bookstore tucked away in some cubbyhole that probably rents for a billion dollars a month or thereabouts. It’s a woodcut of a lithe boxer with his dukes up. The caption reads, “Fight For Your Independents!” and below that, “New York.” The store is surely out of business by now, replaced by Forever 21.

The #1 item on my bucket list right now is to make a bucket list. Really. I’ve never had such a list, per se, and routinely snickered at those who do—but recently the serious illness of a friend has caused me to re-think my supercilious (and denial-infused) attitude. I have the usual travel destinations that beckon—Scotland, for instance, as homage to great Scottish novelists such as Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Denise Mina and Louise Welch—and the languages I’d like to learn, with Russian leading the pack, but mainly the emerging Bucketeers are not splashy or dramatic and instead are rather corny and homespun: To be a better cook. To learn to drive a manual-transmission car. To build my own bookshelves. (Planks straddling cinder blocks don’t count.)

O.k. Julia is ranking up near the top in best Five on Friday responses! And if her coffee response doesn't make you want to read her writing, I don't know what would! Thank you so much to Julia for these fun insights into her character. I hope you all enjoyed it as much as I did. And I certainly hope we see Julia back on the blog again. You can connect with Julia on Facebook and learn more about her and her books at her website.

Have a super weekend my friends! I'll see you back here next week. Happy Reading!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The Iron Sickle - Martin Limón

My review of Martin Limón's The Iron Sickle first appeared in Shelf Awareness for Readers. It is appearing here today with their permission.
First line: "The man with the iron sickle entered Yongsan Compound on a Monday morning in the middle of October at approximately zero seven forty-five."

An unusually tall Korean man with a deformed lip walks into the US Army Claims Office in Seoul, requests to see the civilian boss and slices the man’s throat with an iron sickle concealed inside his overcoat. The murderer escapes amid the pandemonium of the crime’s discovery. Then when the mysterious, sickle-wielding Korean assassinates an American MP off the Army compound and escapes, the stakes skyrocket.

CID agents Sueño and Bascom are left off the case until Korean National Police Inspector Gil Kwon-up, a.k.a. Mr. Kill, specifically requests them for the joint investigation. The maverick partners dig into the evidence, but what they uncover is certain to make them enemies on all sides and, very possibly, the next targets for the man with the iron sickle.

The Iron Sickle engages its readers by blending Korean history, lore and geography with a tightly developed crime plot. Limón’s descriptions of war horrors are memorably disturbing without being gratuitously graphic. And Sueño and Bascom are a fascinating protagonist pair who inject occasional humor but still maintain the levity of the novel’s subject matter.

The plot includes several characters from prior novels, allowing regular series readers a bit more insight into the relationships previously forged; however, first time readers should have no trouble following the story on its own merits.

Limón includes Korean language with translation throughout the text, which at times seems a bit arbitrary, so some readers may find themselves momentarily pulled out of the story, but the momentum of the plot will certainly right their course.

The Iron Sickle is available in hardcover and as an unabridged audiobook, narrated by Timothy Andrés Pabon, from Blackstone Audio.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Five on Friday - Alex Segura

Happy Friday, friends! I hope today finds you happy, healthy and stocked up on good reading material. It is, after all, a holiday weekend, which means extra time for reading, right?

A couple odds and ends to share with you quickly. First I was sad to see this. While I'm certain Longmire will be able to find a new home, it was unfortunate that Warner and A&E couldn't come to a mutual agreement.

Next, I wanted to let you know that starting next week, Mondays will be dedicated to non-crime fiction books and topics. Since I'm reviewing a lot more non-crime fiction for Shelf Awareness and there have been other books I'm interested in come to my attention recently, I wanted to have a day specifically for that kind of coverage. It may be that I need another blog altogether for that content, but for right now I want to try one day a week on here. Keeping up with just this blog is work enough! But, I hope you'll check out those posts as well as the crime fiction stuff. However, if you're a purist and don't want to venture outside the realm, you now know Mondays will be different content.

For those anticipating the Gone Girl movie. Here's a new trailer.

Craig Sisterson who runs the Crime Watch blog down under invited me to participate in his "First Taste" series. I got to pick a series character and write about my first reading experience with him/her. I chose Walt Longmire--what can I say, he sent me the request while I was in Wyoming, so of course it was my first thought. Anyway, you can read my contribution to his series here.

I do believe that's it for my odds and ends this week. Now let me do a rundown of contests/sweepstakes. I have a couple extras this week so here you go:

Win and advanced copy of Consumed by David Cronenberg from Simon & Schuster.

Win admission for an early screening of Dennis Lehane's upcoming The Drop. The screenings are in Chicago, Boston, Houston, San Francisco, New York and Washington DC, so if you're not in one of those areas, sorry--neither am I if it makes you feel any better.

At Criminal Element this week you can find the "Thrillers and Killers" sweepstakes. Seven books in that prize bundle!

And since I'm writing this before Lesa is posting her new contest, I don't have the details, but be sure to stop over to her site and see what fun she has in store this week!

And now on to our Five on Friday. Alex Segura published his first novel, Silent City, but he's not new to the publishing industry. He's also been involved in the comic side of publishing for some time. In fact, he wrote the Archie Meets Kiss storyline and graphic novel. I've had a couple of splendid opportunities to meet Alex in person and he's been reading at some NYC Noir at the Bar events. Sadly I haven't been at those, I just see the pictures afterward *sob*.

So, if you would be so kind as to help me, let's welcome Alex Segura!

Better not mess with Alex. He's got friends in capes!
1. The last book I recommended to someone was: I was just talking to a friend of mine over email about Megan Abbott. He was asking if he should check out THE FEVER, her new novel, to which I responded: “YOU SHOULD READ ALL HER BOOKS.” She’s that good. You can’t go wrong. I suggested Megan’s work because I’ve never been let down by her writing – she’s so deftly brought the noir sensibility to modern storytelling I’m in awe of her work. Her prose is masterful and I’m jealous of anyone reading her work for the first time. I’ve also been loving anything Kelly Braffet writes, and I suggest her to anyone looking for a good read.

2. My biggest pet peeve is: I get really grumpy when people are rude – to me, strangers, etc. My commute to work is a bit long, so I get to see a wide range of people on my way there and it really runs the gamut. I just think the world would be a better place if more people opened doors for each other, or offered up their seats or didn’t cut in line. Commuting is a weird microcosm for the world, I think. You get people at their best and worst together.

3. My favorite toppings on a pizza are: Pizza is a rare treat for me, being vegan, so if I find a place with a vegan pizza option, I’m very happy. So, I guess by default my favorite topping has become any kind of cheese/dairy alternative. Exciting, right?

4. My favorite t-shirt is: I have this LCD Soundsystem shirt I bought while at one of their final shows at Terminal 5 in NYC – a terrible venue, but they put on an amazing show. The shirt itself is pretty neat looking and extremely comfortable – a rare combo for a band show shirt.

The #1 item on my bucket list right now is: I’d really like to visit Cuba, which is where my parents were born. It’s such a part of my personal and cultural history, and I want to spend some real time there and explore where my parents and grandparents grew up. It also strikes me as a great setting for a crime novel, so maybe I can chalk it all up to research! 

Exactly! Research and a tax write-off. Creative thinking on Alex's part! And I'm on the exact same page as Alex about rudeness. I, however, have no commute. So now when I have to venture out of my hobbit hole, I'm acutely aware of rudeness all around.

Thanks so much to Alex for taking time out with us. You can learn more about Alex at his website and find all his social media links there. But I'm going to personally recommend you follow Alex on Twitter where I know first-hand that he's enjoyable to interact with.  

Have a wonderful holiday weekend, my friends. Happy reading!


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