Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Brilliance - Marcus Sakey

First line: "(Excerpted from the New York Times, The Opinion Pages, December 12, 1986) Lately much has been made of Dr. Eugene Bryce and his study of the so-called "brilliants," that percentage of children born since 1980 with exceptional abilities."

Take a dash of Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, mix a pinch of Huxley's Brave New World and mix thoroughly with Marcus Sakey's distinct voice, view and style and you'll come out with the hauntingly wonderful beginning of a trilogy.

Sakey blurs the genre lines of science fiction and crime fiction in the story of Nick Cooper, an agent with the Department of Analysis and Response (DAR). The government agency was created as a reaction to the proliferation of children born with "exceptional abilities," a.k.a. "brilliants," a.k.a. "abnorms," a.k.a. "twists." One such individual shut down the entire stock exchange because of his ability with numbers and data. But all brilliants don't have the same talents or the same level of talents.

Nick Cooper is an oddity in the DAR. He is a level one brilliant. He's gifted with pattern identification, and his job is to investigate other brilliants, prevent them from wreaking havoc on the world. Number one on the DAR's most wanted list is John Smith, a vigilante brilliant responsible for numerous violent attacks and many deaths. Smith repeatedly slips through Cooper's hands, so when a bomb explodes in the newly opened Stock Exchange, killing over 1100 people and terrifying the country, Cooper sees this as his opportunity to go rogue and infiltrate Smith's organization.

As Cooper learns more and more about the world of the brilliants--a world he's been on the outside of despite his own classification--and as he moves closer to John Smith, the ideals he's held so highly all of his life begin to lose their strength. Differentiating between the good guys and the bad guys is becoming impossible and Cooper knows he can never return to the life he once knew. His only option is to go forward and forge a new path, but first he has to fight for his life.

If you listen to parents of young children, they all want their children to be exceptional. "Mikey is so smart, he can..." "The other day Jane did....she's going to be famous some day, I just know it." Marcus Sakey has taken that parental dream and run with it, much the way Aldous Huxley did in his utopian Brave New World. What if these children were all brilliant. Would everything be wonderful? What if we're being too short-sighted and overlooking terrible things that could result?

Present social issues also poke their heads up symbolically throughout Brilliance, and Sakey forces his readers to take note of their own behaviors as they compare with what's going on in the novel:

"It wouldn't be long before it got out that the bombing was John Smith's work. And in America's overwrought state, most people wouldn't make the distinction between abnorms and abnorm terrorists."

While Brilliance is a brave new world for Sakey, it also retains many elements of his trademark style. The imagery in his writing is vivid, tattooing scenes and characters into readers' minds:

"Cooper walked, slow and steady, four-four time in a world gone off measure."

"We're lifeguards at the gene pool."

His humor seeps in at surprisingly wonderful times:

'The view from on high is divine, my son.' Behind the voice came the buzz of rotors. At the elevation the airship was flying, it was nothing but a darker gray spot against a bright gray sky. 'God is good.'
Cooper smiled and pressed the transmit button. 'Peace be with you.'
'And also with you. But woe betide the sorry shitbird who tries to run, lest we hurl a thunderbolt.'

And most of all, Sakey continues to write engaging stories. Brilliance is timeless and may very well be the next American classic. It is ambitious, intense and thought-provoking. Weighing in at almost 500 pages, it flew by and I wasn't ready for it to end. The saving grace came in the last line (don't worry, it isn't a spoiler): "END OF BOOK ONE." So I'll end with, "OMG I can't wait for Book Two!"

Brilliance is available from Thomas & Mercer in paperback (ISBN: 9781611099690) and fittingly enough from Brilliance Audio as an unabridged audiobook (ISBN: 9781480504639), narrated by Luke Daniels.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Loyalty - Ingrid Thoft

First line: "This was her punishment."

Ingrid Thoft has come on to the crime fiction scene in grand style with Loyalty. She introduces, Fina Ludlow, a fiesty new P.I. who battles to prove herself in a testosterone-rich environment. Her father and brothers are all lawyers in the family law practice. Fina is the company's in-house investigator. Typically her work revolves around the cases her family takes on, but when she's called in to investigate the disappearance of her sister-in-law, the stakes become much more personal.

As she follows the clues of the case, Fina finds herself in the hospital, an interrogation room and an ugly skeleton closet. Her "loyalty" will be tested like never before, and loyalty to one will ultimately mean disloyalty to another. Coming out of this case unscathed doesn't seem possible.

The only thing I don't like about Fina Ludlow is her ability to eat junk all the time and not need to work out 12 hours a day. She has charisma and flare. She may be a disappointment to her mother, but Fina is comfortable in her own skin; she doesn't need her mother's approval. Witty, smart and spirited, this is a character I'm going to look forward to seeing again.

Thoft has created a compelling plot around her dynamic P.I., weaving various elements in and out to keep the readers on their toes and turning pages.

As a debut, Loyalty isn't without some minor hiccups. The editing could have been a bit stronger, tightening up the narrative with things like the repeated focus on what characters were wearing in each scene or blocks of text describing the layout of a room. The dialogue is strong throughout the book but every once in awhile an awkward line pulls the reader out of the flow of the conversation. The fact that the dialogue is so good overall makes those awkward lines that much more blatant. But as a baseline measurement, Loyalty is going to give Thoft a high bar to maintain.

Loyalty is the beginning of what I anticipate will be a strong series in the crime fiction world. It will vie for a place on my favorite debut's list this year and I'm looking forward to more from Ingrid Thoft!

Loyalty is available in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0399162121) from Putnam. Loyalty is also available as a Penguin Audio unabridged audiobook download, narrated by Rebecca Soler.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Five on Friday: Steve Hockensmith

Happy Friday all! I've had a crazy busy week and I'm looking forward to the weekend (except for mowing the lawn, anyone have a teen I could borrow?). Hope you are too.

I was fascinated by this infographic this week that shows what "species" of reader you are. I guess I ultimately fit best in the "It's Complicated" species, but I fit the characteristics of "The Hoarder" and "The Underliner and Scribbler" in the Compulsive Family. "The Audiobook Listener" in the Situational Family, "The (sometimes way too dogmatic) Evangelist" in the Social Family, and "The All-the-Timer" in the Free Range Family. Where do you fit?

This week's contest round-up:

Criminal Element has a chance for you to win David Rosenfelt's UNLEASHED as well as his DOGTRIPPING.

Lesa has a funny contest this week...humorous funny that is. Deborah Coonts and Lisa Lutz are up for grabs in that contest. Ooooooorrrrr, rather their books are up for grabs. I don't think either woman would appreciate Lesa giving her away. ;-)

Friday Reads and Crimespree Magazine are giving away a slew of books by Mark Billingham.

And finally, the James Lee Burke Facebook page has a hot, hot giveaway. Win his latest, LIGHT OF THE WORLD, plus the audiobook version!

O.k. now on to the fun stuff! I'm excited to welcome Steve Hockensmith today for Five on Friday. You regulars know how much I've enjoyed his Holmes on the Range series. I was sad to see it end...or at least take a temporary hiatus. I'm still hoping for their return. And they did return in a way for me this summer. I listened to the Dear Mr. Holmes collection on audio...more about that to come soon!

Anyway, Steve will also have a new series coming out this fall for middle graders. It's mystery combined with science and I'm so psyched to check this out for my nephew! The first book is called Nick and Tesla's High Voltage Danger Lab!

Steve still holds the distinction of writing the BEST book inscription ever to me. It's really going to be difficult to top! Hmmmm, maybe we need to have a post about book inscriptions...sorry, ADD kicking in...back on track.

Please help me welcome a most wonderful writer and person, Mr. Steve Hockensmith!

They match!

If I could tell my 16-year-old self one piece of advice, knowing what I know now, it would be: Learn about computers. No, wait! Invest in Apple. No, wait! Don’t date [NAME WITHHELD] your sophomore year of college. No, wait! Don’t date anyone in college at all except [NAME WITHHELD] (but don’t dump her so callously) and [NAME WITHHELD] (but stay classy when she dumps you). No, wait! In 20 years when you’re talking to that screener guy from The Late Show with Craig Ferguson and he asks you about the time you weren’t allowed to look David Duchovny in the eye, don’t clam up and ruin your chance to....

You know what? I should just leave the poor kid alone. He’s going to make a lot more mistakes than I could fix with one little piece of advice.

A skill I’ve always wanted to have, but don’t is: Musicianship. If I had the slightest bit of musical talent, instead of being a writer I’d probably be the bass player in a Steely Dan tribute band. (I said “If I only had the slightest bit of musical talent,” remember. If I had a lot of musical talent, I’d have gone solo by now.)

My idea of the perfect ice cream sundae includes: Filet mignon, a side of pommes frites, a glass of cabernet, and a six-figure publishing contract. (I’m not really into ice cream.)

The most daring thing I ever tried (to date) was: Being a musician. It was daring because (A) it’s always a risk to try doing something creative and (B) I had absolutely no talent (see above). The second most daring thing I ever tried was being a writer. Fortunately, that time the risk paid off.

The #1 item on my bucket list right now is: Survive. Which is kind of a funny thing to have on your “To Do Before I Die” list. But it’s my number-one priority right now, and anything else would seem sort of frivolous. I’ve got kids to raise, bills to pay, deadlines to meet, and a dog to walk. I’m going to run off and bungee jump from a helicopter over the Grand Canyon or have a glass of wine on the Champs-Élysées? No way. There’ll be time for all that when I’m dead.

You know quite a few people in this series have mentioned wanting some sort of musical skill. I wonder if we went and asked a bunch of musicians what skill they'd like if their responses would be writing or storytelling skills? I don't know about this not into ice cream business, though, Steve. How is that possible? Just kidding of course!

I'm off to mow the lawn. You all have a great weekend and happy reading!

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Reconstructing Amelia - Kimberly McCreight

My review of the audiobook of Reconstruction Amelia was originally written for Shelf Awareness but was unable to run. However, it's definitely able to appear here. Hope you enjoy!

First line: "Because there are 176 definitions for the word loser on urbandictionary.com."

Kate Baron is in the middle of a high-powered meeting for her law firm when she receives a call that her daughter Amelia has been suspended from her private prep school for cheating. Kate needs to come and pick up Amelia immediately.

Certainly there must be a mistake as Amelia is a perfect student; she’d never cheat. But when Kate arrives at the school, she never has a chance to ask. Amelia is dead and the police believe she jumped from the school’s roof, committing suicide. Kate almost comes to terms with the suicide when she receives an anonymous text message, “Amelia didn’t jump.”

In her debut novel, Kimberly McCreight aims high by exploring the volatility of teenage relationships. As the book’s narrator, Khristine Hvam is tasked with expressing every emotion of the young female spectrum. From the cocky, self-assured, and extremely overindulged Zadie to the book’s title character, smart, athletic, play-by-rules Amelia, Hvam keys into the teen psyche as though she’s still in high school herself.

Interspersed between the chapters from Amelia’s perspective, McCreight offers the perspective of Kate. Changing gears, Hvam climbs into the role of desperate, grieving mother, allowing listeners to intimately experience every parent’s worst nightmare.

Hvam never loses sight of the intensity of the plot. Carefully balancing the roles of mother and daughter, Hvam convinces her audience that smart girls can make stupid choices, while she jolts listeners with the horrors teens are capable of inflicting on one another.

Heart-breakingly disturbing, this audiobook’s haunting narration will echo long past “the end.”

Reconstructing Amelia is available as an unabridged audio from Harper Audio (ISBN: 9780062237590) and in hardcover (ISBN: 9780062225436) from Harper.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Spring and Summer Events

I've sort of fallen behind in my event recaps. I've collected some fun video and pictures, so I think it's time to give you a run down on where all I've been this spring and summer.

Following Left Coast Crime, I made a drive up to Ann Arbor to see Brad Parks at Aunt Agatha's Bookshop. He talked about concealed carry permits, struggling to make things up and how his daughter christens a new book. In addition, he performed for the crowd both of his famous....er, notorious...serenades:

And his reading was also quite entertaining!

In May, I took a trip to Columbus to see Carla Buckley. She was appearing at The McConnell Art Center, a beautiful facility, prior to the Ohioana Book Festival. Carla spoke about both her debut novel, The Things That Keep Us Here and this year's highly successful follow-up, Invisible.

Nice backdrop for Carla, right?

Carla shared how she decided on the ideas for each book and how the subjects terrified her personally. There were several aspiring authors present, so she answered questions about her writing process and schedule. She discovered a great problem when she had a guest and was trying to write...it simply didn't work; she felt obligated to tend to her guest. So she started going to the library, which turned out to work very well for Carla. She's since moved out of Ohio, so I hope she's found a great replacement library near her new home!

Also in May I met Tim Green. I didn't have to travel far for this event. If you're a regular blog reader you'll remember me talking about the Young Author's Program that takes place in Lorain County each year. I've helped with the author the past two years and again this year. You may know Tim from his adult legal thrillers (although it's been several years since he published one of those) or from his time on the football field, but Tim was coming to talk to the Lorain County young'uns because he also writes sports stories for young readers.

During an open house, Tim signed books for his young fans!

Tim's enthusiasm with the kids was electric. He was all over the stage, animated and energetic. He told them stories about how hard he had to work to be a professional football player, how hard he had to work to be a writer and a lawyer. But in the end, he emphasized that all of that takes a back seat to how people treat each other.

Tim started his presentation in a jacket.

The kids laughed at his antics, ewwwww'd at his story of vomiting and wanted to know when he would write a soccer book. It was a highly successful Young Author's Conference.

By the end of his presentation, though, the jacket was gone...too hot!

June brought about my first trip to Nashville, TN, to visit friend and blog reader, Chris. We visited the Nashville Zoo (my favorite thing to see when visiting a new city) and a new-to-me mystery bookstore, Mysteries and More.

We drove into downtown Nashville where I almost got us in an accident when I squealed out loud because I saw Tootsies Lounge, which I had just recently encountered in Whistling Past the Graveyard (yes, I get a little goofy when I see landmarks from my books). We didn't go in; seeing it from the outside was sufficient for me.


But the great highlight was attending Craig Johnson's signing and meeting Rhonda, another friend and blog reader, in person for the first time. Here we are altogether. We didn't have near enough time to hang out together, but it was still a highlight of my year to be with these two special friends.

Books bring people together!

I did, however, manage to call Chris by ANOTHER friend's name and was thereafter the butt of all the jokes...from Craig, too. I don't even know who my friends are!

But in all seriousness, Craig's event was very enjoyable. I heard some old stories but some new ones as well. It was heartwarming to hear how the entire cast of Longmire showed up for his Santa Fe event. Robert Taylor had to film that day, but in the midst of the event the audience got all excited...through the windows behind Craig, Taylor had pulled up in the truck from the show and was waving to everyone.

Craig explained that he knew Robert Taylor was the right for the role of Walt
because he was the only one who removed his hat during the audition!

Craig also admitted his wife informed him that he falls in love with each of his female characters. He acknowledged that she was right! All the women in Walt's life serve as a pride of lionesses, each responsible for her part in Walt's upkeep.

July involved a trip to Washington D.C. Last time I visited the Crime and Punishment Museum and this time it was the International Spy Museum. The museum was fascinating, but I have vowed never to visit D.C. during a holiday again. Oh my goodness the people. [Begin public service announcement] And please folks, if you have children under the age of say 4, they don't understand the museum and they don't want to be in those crowds anymore than anyone else. However, they ARE more likely to throw a temper tantrum in the crowd. Please reconsider taking them, for your sanity and the sanity of all those around you. [End of public service announcement]

The museum was full of fun facts and displays, all the cool gadgets and paraphernalia--like a "dog doo transmitter" (honest to God). It was also rather interesting to learn that the Bond car from Goldfinger inspired intelligence agencies to incorporate similar features into their high security vehicles. There were displays about hot air balloons, homing pigeons, Pinterton (his logo inspired the term Private Eye), female spies and The Red Orchestra. I was fascinated with The Red Orchestra because they were a Russian spy ring that used codes based on obscure works of fiction. Smarties!!

And of course the special event at the museum was the James Bond Villains exhibit. I'm not a big Bond junkie, but I did find it fascinating that Ian Fleming described Bond as a compound of all the secret agents and commando types he had met during the war. And that he chose the name James Bond from the author of the 1947 Field Guide of Birds of the West Indies because he thought it was the dullest name he'd ever heard.

Sorry no pictures from the museum because I followed the rules that said, "no photography in the museum." Evidently I could have taken my camera as there were quite a few others there snapping away. Ah well.

And finally, this month I was able to see Hank Phillippi Ryan here in Cleveland. She was here for a library/Sisters in Crime event that kicked off with an interview of Hank.

It's a small world: Hank's interviewer was my instructor for
American Lit in a summer course I took one year!

She spoke about how her first idea for a book came from a spam email that she received at the age of 55. And as she began to develop Charlotte McNally, Hank gave her protagonist the same concerns she was facing: a woman married to her job, successful but worried about what happens when "the camera didn't love her anymore."

With The Other Woman, Hank's most recent, and incredibly successful, novel came from an idea Hank had that just seemed too big for Charlie. And it came from a line Hank read in PEOPLE Magazine, "You can choose your sins, you can't choose your consequences." However, she assured the audience that there will be more in the Charlotte McNally series.

Since the event was sponsored by the Sisters in Crime of NE Ohio, there were plenty of aspiring writers in the audience, so questions about her process ran rampant during the Q&A session. Hank imparted this little nugget for everyone: "There's no secret way to writing. There's only the way that works for you."

Yes, it has been quite a busy and wonderful summer. And of course I'm still super excited because the grand finale is coming next month with Gregg Hurwitz's visit to the Strongsville Library. I'm very hyped to share with you about his new book, but that will come later. And of course I'll share with you about the event, for everyone who's too far away to join us. PLUS, I'm going to have a extra special surprise from the event. Stay tuned! Remember if you're planning to attend the event, you need to register. It is free but they need to know how many people will be there.

Hope you enjoyed the pictures and tidbits from my summer of events. Have a super Tuesday and happy reading!

Friday, July 19, 2013

Five on Friday - Marcus Sakey

Wow! It's Friday again. That week seemed to fly by, didn't it? And here we are past the mid-point of July. Yee gads!

So the hot topic this week was J.K. Rowling writing a crime novel under a pseudonym. I'm still trying to figure out why all the fuss. I mean, we don't have enough to worry about, we have to act silly about something like that? Good gracious!

I say we should talk about contests instead. Yes?

Here's one for the Faye Kellerman fans.

I think I have to enter this week's Friday Reads contest! They have James Lee Burke's new book THE LIGHT OF THE WORLD and Lisa Lutz's newest Spellman book THE LAST WORD.

Criminal Element has a chance for you to win a copy of David Gordon's MYSTERY GIRL. 

And last but never least, Lesa Holstine has an Ann Cleeves giveaway this week.  Remember Lesa's contest run each week until Friday at 6 Central, so don't lollygag if you want in on this week's contest!

As you can probably tell, I'm rushing to get to today's Five on Friday guest. I'm so excited to have Marcus Sakey back on the blog and more importantly, I'm so thrilled to be reading his new book right now. BRILLIANCE came out this past Tuesday and I'm completely engrossed in it right now. You'll definitely hear more about it next week.

For the veterans here on the blog, you've heard me singing Marcus' praises for years. His writing is incredible; he knows how to thrill his audience. He also likes to thrill himself with grand adventures and daring stunts so I'm looking forward to his bucket list answer. Marcus has a great sense of humor and is a terribly nice guy to boot. So please help me welcome one of crime fiction's true gems, Mr. Marcus Sakey!

1. If I could tell my 16-year-old self one piece of advice, knowing what I know now, it would be: Cut your hair. You look ridiculous.

2. One thing I have no tolerance for is being cut off. It drives me insane when people think they know where I’m going with a sentence. Even if you’re right, for chrissakes, a little courtesy.

3. A skill I’ve always wanted to have, but don’t is dancing. I love music, and man oh man would I love to be able to move to it. But I look like an epileptic squirrel on the dance floor. Mind you, that doesn’t stop me.

4. When I’m feeling under the weather, I order Thai food, cover it with Indian Ghost Peppers, close the curtains, and watch sci-fi. Nothing like sweating and gasping and sucking down water in the dark as I watch Firefly for the 179th time.

5. The #1 item on my bucket list right now is to teach my daughter to climb. She’s only sixteen months old, but she’s already got a knack for it, and scales every surface in reach.

Marcus' next trip up Mt. Ranier will be with 'lil Sakey tagging close behind. Or who knows, she may surpass him.  And I do think this is a daring bucket list item because if anything should happen to Little Miss Sakey, I'm pretty sure Marcus' wife will inflict stunning pain on him.

Many thanks to Marcus. He's an individual always on the go, always busy, so I thrilled he could find some time for Five on Friday. And I hate to post and run, but I have to get back to BRILLIANCE, y'all! Have a super weekend and happy reading!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

The Inside Scoop on Narrator Pete Larkin

I am thrilled to be able to share a more in depth interview today with Pete Larkin. He was so kind as to participate in Five on Friday AND answer some additional questions for me. As you know from my previous reviews of the Duane Swierczynski's Charlie Hardie trilogy (Fun and Games, Hell and Gone, Point and Shoot) I'm a big fan of Pete's work.

Pete even provided something a little different for us. He answered my questions on a sound file, so not only will you get to know the answers to my questions, but you'll get to hear them straight from Pete himself! I hope you enjoy this inside look into the man behind Charlie Hardie's voice! And away we go....

1. You started your career in radio, but now your resume includes announcing for the NY Mets, theater, and of course audiobook narration. How did your career evolve in those directions?

2. I’ve had several narrators who started out as stage actors tell me how challenging audiobooks are because they no longer have their body language and movement to help in expression. But you started in radio where you also lacked those visual cues. Do you find that narrating is more in tune with radio or is it still a challenge in that way?

3. As a narrator, you have done a lot of non-fiction, including political books. Do you ever find challenges in the content of the books or is it just another day at the office, and you don’t really need to necessarily feel a connection with the material?

4. You mentioned in another interview that fiction is harder to narrate than non-fiction because you’re maintaining the characters throughout the life of the book. So how do you prepare for those books?

5. Do you communicate at all with the authors?

6. Is there anything in narrating a book that you absolutely dread? Like you see it in the text and just think, “oh no!”

7. Is there something you always wished you could narrate but haven’t had the chance to do so?

8. Tell us a little about the book that’s been your biggest challenge to date.

9. And what’s been the most rewarding to date? 

10. Do you listen to audiobooks yourself or do you want to go home and the end of the day and be completely away from “work”?

11. What’s the last book you recommended to someone else?

12. Is there anything you wish more people knew about audiobook narrators and what they do?

13. I’m a big crime fiction fan and we’ve discussed your narration of Duane Swiercynski’s Charlie Hardie trilogy. How was your experience narrating those books?

14. You’ve also done work on some recordings that included multiple narrators. When you’re doing a book with multiple narrators do you record with the other narrators or is some tech guru splicing everything together after people have individually recorded?

15. Last question, promise…there is quite a bit of musical experience in your background as well: singing, playing the guitar or bongos, performing in musicals. Where did that interest come from and have you ever had an opportunity to use it in narration?

Many, many thanks to Pete Larkin for his time, his candid responses and this fun format. I hope you enjoyed learning more about a great audiobook narrator today! Another audio Pete narrated that you may be interested in checking out is The Manual of Detection (for which he won an Earphone Award!). Happy listening everyone!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Point and Shoot - Duane Swierczynski

My review of the audiobook of Point and Shoot first appeared in Shelf Awareness. I am reprinting it here with their permission. And tomorrow I will have an interview with the narrator, Pete Larkin. If you missed his Five on Friday last week, you can check it out here.

First line: "A twenty-three-year-old hungover intern with a broken heart saved the day."

Pete Larkin returns to narrate Point and Shoot, the final segment of Duane Swierczynski’s Charlie Hardie trilogy. From the very onset, Larkin’s reading grabs the readers up and takes them along on Swierczynski’s wacky sci-fi/crime/comic ride.

The degree to which Swierczynski builds on each book is such that this trilogy is best read or listened to in order. Doing so on audio will not only help readers to understand the plot fully, but they also will understand the overall excellence in Larkin’s portrayal of it.

This third outing opens with Charlie in a satellite in space. His job is to guard the satellite for a year and the trade-off is his family’s safety. So when a man who looks exactly like Charlie and claims to be there to rescue him breaches the satellite, Charlie has to decide if he should chance teaming up with this doppelganger or “point and shoot.”

Swierczynski created a delicate balance with his Charlie Hardie series. Tipped one direction or the other, the blend of science fiction, crime fiction and comedy would come across as utterly absurd. Instead it’s engaging and entertaining even while the readers and listeners know it’s completely impossible. That in turn creates a thin tightrope for Pete Larkin to walk. Simply emphasizing something differently or missing humor could upset that balance. But Larkin walks that rope with style and panache, maybe even juggling flaming batons.

Down to the smallest details, like Swierczynski’s choice of movie quotes to open each chapter, Pete Larkin connects with the story, so his listeners can, too.

Point and Shoot is available as an unabridged download from Hachette Audio. It's also available to libraries through AudioGo, so you may be able to find a copy through your library.  The trade paperback (ISBN: 978-0316133302) is available from Mulholland Books.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Green-Eyed Lady - Chuck Greaves

My review of Green-Eyed Lady first appeared in Shelf Awareness. I am reprinting it here with their permission.

First line: "Even now in vivid hindsight, he could not recall which he'd noticed first: her crumpled shape on the blacktop or her voice echoing across the nearly empty parking lot."

When a California candidate for U.S. Senate is caught with his pants down, he turns to Jack MacTaggart for help—legal help that is.

Warren Burkett, known womanizer and former L.A. mayor, is in the middle of his bid for Senate when he unwittingly helps a woman steal a high-priced painting. Burkett hires MacTaggart to help him not only in court but also to find the “green-eyed lady” who vanished with the art, leaving Burkett to take the fall. The case gets sticky when the “green-eyed lady” is found dead from an apparent suicide and the painting is seen hanging in Burkett’s opponent’s home.

As clues are delivered to MacTaggart on Etch-A-Sketches, he enlists the help of his partner Marta Suarez, his office secretary Bernie Catalano and Officer Regan Fife of the Sierra Madre police department. They race the clock and the L.A. County District Attorney in an effort to solve the mystery before a possible murderer is elected to the U.S. Senate.

Green-Eyed Lady, the follow-up to Chuck Greaves’ debut Hush Money, is a light-hearted, funny legal mystery. It integrates legal process without weighing down the plot and channels Greaves’ inner Hitchcock.

The characters comprising Greaves’ cast are quirky and convincing, from the tax-evading accountant to the candidate’s brother-in-law, “whose position at Archer Properties seemed to be vice president of Union Affairs and Cement Footwear.”

Whether readers have experienced Chuck Greaves before or not, Green-Eyed Lady promises an engaging reading experience. It is a riotous campaign in the all-too-real world of political antics.

Green-Eyed Lady is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9781250005243) from Minotaur Books. It is also available as an unabridged audio (ISBN: 9781482101409), narrated by Dan Butler, from AudioGo

Friday, July 12, 2013

Five on Friday - Pete Larkin

Happy Friday all! We made it again! I hope you have some great reading on tap for the weekend. I'm embroiled in a great Swedish crime novel. August looks like it's going to have some real winners in the crime fiction book release category! I'm already thinking I'm going to have a hard time making my Nerdy Special List pick for August.

I still have a bunch of reviews to catch up on here, so hopefully I'll get several written this weekend, but rest assured, they are coming. Another one to add to the YA list as well. Did you check out my review of GAME yesterday? It's been awhile since I was a YA myself but I tried to think if my former students would have enjoyed the book. I think so...

I'm not going to ramble on anymore, sorry about that. I will share our contest round-up:

Pop Culture Nerd has a nice giveaway of a book and tote going on over at her blog.

Friday Reads and Crimespree Magazine are giving away Death in Breslau and Footprints in the Sand this week.

Lesa has a "Crime fighting under Communism" giveaway going on. Remember, you have to get your entries in today by 6:00 CT!

Criminal Element is giving away the shirt off their back...the bowling shirt that is.

As for me, I have a fun new Five on Friday for you. Pete Larkin narrates Duane Swierczynski's Charlie Hardie trilogy. I honestly don't think anyone could have done a better job bringing Hardie to life, as soon as I heard it I thought, "this IS Charlie Hardie." I won't give you too much more background on Pete because I have a more comprehensive interview to share with you next week, as well as my review of the final audiobook of the trilogy, but today, it is my great pleasure to welcome Pete Larkin to the Five on Friday hot seat.

If I could tell my 16-year old self anything, it would be not to worry too much about things, don't be afraid to take chances, and, above all, don't sweat the small stuff. I would tell my younger self to venture large. If you want to be an actor, TRY IT. The worst thing is that you might fail. If you want to be a politician, give it a shot. The bottom line is that SOMEONE has to do those things; it might as well be you.

The best gift I ever received was, hands-down, the arrival of my daughter. She'll be 23 years old soon, and I simply cannot conceive of life without her. Everyone tells you how wonderful children are, etc. But NO ONE tells you how funny they are. You laugh all the time. She is the joy of my life.

One thing I have no tolerance for is a lack of empathy, the complete IN-ability to put yourself in someone else's shoes. If we, as a people, could get better at that, it would cure a whole host of ills. Racism and poverty would be eradicated, if ONLY we could imagine ourselves living OTHER lives.

A skill I've always wanted to have, but don't... I've always wanted to be able to play baseball better than I can, which can only be described as OK. This kind of syncs up with Question #1, about taking chances, because, if I had it to do over again, I'd work harder at baseball, practice all the time, and take a REAL shot at it. Oh, well...suppose I DID have a baseball career. I'm old enough now, that I would be finished with my career, and I wouldn't have played during the "big money" era. You just can't win.

Bucket List Question I guess one thing I've always wanted to do (and STILL want to do), is sell my house, buy an RV, and go touring around the US, Canada and South America for a good long while, maybe 5 years. This has been a desire of mine for as long as I can remember. It seems that, whenever I've been on vacation, I always "just miss" something. The locals would say, "Oh, what a shame you couldn't be here next week. That's when we do the annual...What a shame you JUST missed it." Traveling in an RV, with total freedom to come and go would cure that.

You know Pete hit a big chord with me on the lack of empathy response! Love it. However, I'll leave the traveling around in an RV to him. ;-)

Many thanks to Pete for making time to play in the sandbox with us today. I'm always so honored by the wonderful and thoughtful...sometimes funny...often revealing responses we get for Five on Friday. Thanks for sharing a little part of you today, Pete!

And thanks to everyone for stopping by. Be sure to stop back next week for an interview with Pete Larkin as well as more reviews and ALWAYS book fun! Happy Reading, friends!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Game - Barry Lyga

One of the blog goals I had set for myself this year was to read YA crime fiction in the mix of my regular crime fiction to give more diversity to the genre representation (was that wordy enough or what?). At first I was having trouble finding some YA I was willing to read--paranormal seems to be all the rage in YA these days. But I've found some I'm excited to share with you and today is the first of those. Read on...

First line: "She had screamed, but she had not cried."

Barry Lyga's Game is the sequel to I Hunt Killers. I missed I Hunt Killers the first time around, but it didn't keep me from understanding and enjoying Game.

Jasper "Jazz" Dent is the son of Billy Dent, one of the most notorious serial killers in the world. The seventeen-year-old boy lives with his paternal grandmother who is suffering from dementia and most days is a threat to herself. So when a NYC police detective shows up at his door asking for Jazz's help with the Hat-Dog murders, Jazz is resistant. Not only does he not want to get caught up in more murder and carnage, but he can't leave his grandmother alone in their small Southern town of Lobo's Nod. The detective is persistent. He believes that Jazz's knowledge of serial killers--from growing up under the tutelage of his father--is exactly what the NYPD needs to find the Hat-Dog killer.

Jazz's resistance is short-lived. The need to prove that he isn't his father, that killing isn't genetic, wins out. Jazz recruits the help of his Aunt Samantha, Billy's sister, and his best friend Howie to take care of Grandma while Jazz heads off to NYC with his girlfriend Connie.

The unabridged audiobook of Game is narrated by Charlie Thurston who does a stellar job of balancing the seriousness of a serial killer with the humor that Lyga peppers throughout. The humor doesn't diminish the authenticity of the plot, rather it enhances the authenticity of the characters. Lyga is writing about teenagers after all. And he does so without condescension.

Thurston's job as narrator is a challenging one as he volleys back and forth between the teenage issues and the adult world of crime--his careful blending of the two makes for an engaging story. And his representation of Howie is probably my favorite. Lyga has created a supporting character rich enough to take the lead himself, at times even overshadowing his protagonist, which is not at all a bad thing. Howie is both endearing and hysterically funny! Thurston nails that combination.

The relationship between Jazz and Howie is also a major strength of this series. Two outcasts of different sorts using their unique strengths and talents to compliment the other's.

There are a few elements of the novel that felt awkward to me, but I wasn't sure if these were overall awkward or if they're awkward from an adult perspective, not so much from a YA perspective. Jazz's dream scenes were one of these times as well as the teenagers' mentality that they were "adults" once they turned eighteen. Several times Connie tells her parents that she will be eighteen in a matter of months and can do whatever she wants. For Jazz, as an orphan of sorts, this makes sense. But for Connie, it isn't as straight forward. At least, it wasn't straight forward in MY house as a teenage. If I was still living under my parents' roof, then it didn't matter if I was eight or eighteen. I still had to live by their rules. So, the parents' reaction to her demands didn't exactly ring true to me. Teens, however, will likely connect with the feeling.

Lyga's grip on the teenage dialogue is strong, and Thurston enhances it even more. From humor to sarcasm to teen angst, the duo creates a smooth and natural sound.

The overall production of Game is excellent. The focus stays on the story with no distracting breaths, edits or other outside noises. It's an engaging, suspenseful novel that listeners of all ages can enjoy, whether they are familiar with I Hunt Killers or not.

Game is available as an unabridged audio download from Hachette Audio and in hardcover (ISBN: 978-0316125871) from Little, Brown Books for Young Readers.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Redeemer - Jo Nesbø

I'm on a little bit of an audiobook role here as I play catch-up with reviews. My review of The Redeemer was part of last week's audiobook-focused Shelf Awareness issue. It is appearing here now with their permission.

First line: "She was fourteen years old and sure that if she shut her eyes tight and concentrated she could see the stars through the roof."

In the United States, several narrators have read Jo Nesbø’s Harry Hole series. The Redeemer, book six in the series, is the first time John Lee gives voice to the damaged Oslo police detective. His narration, however, sounds as though he’s known the series intimately from the start.

While Lee’s style may sound abrupt at first, the rhythm quickly blends into the story and becomes an afterthought as listeners find themselves caught up in the action of the investigation.

Detective Hole is after the killer of a Salvation Army worker. Despite the murder happening in a crowded street, no one can identify the shooter; even worse, he’s not finished. Harry must find him and prevent him from killing again.

Hole’s role is a challenge in the various layers Nesbø created throughout the series, but Lee has a firm grip on the strata. Hole’s paradoxical characteristics of compassion and apathy blend seamlessly in Lee’s calm, laid back approach to the detective. And while the action of the plot is fast and intense, Lee keeps the pace in line with Hole’s character.

Nesbø works a very dark sense of humor into this series, which is not lost on Lee. His depiction of Hole with an unloaded weapon in a standoff with the murderer is both suspenseful and humorous.

Nesbø fans accustomed to Robin Sachs’ previous narrations may find the change a bit jolting, but John Lee has given voice to an exceptional interpretation of The Redeemer.

The Redeemer is available as an unabridged audio (ISBN: 9780307917546) from Random House Audio. It is available in hardcover (ISBN: 9780307595850) from Knopf (translated by Don Bartlett).

Friday, July 5, 2013

Five on Friday - Chuck Greaves

Happy Friday friends!! I hope you had a great holiday. I was fortunate enough to spend my holiday with both family and friends as well as books! Who could ask for more?

As I've been traveling, some fun stuff has been going on, so I'll send out belated congrats to the 2013 Macavity nominees.

Pop Culture Nerd has the July Nerdy Special List up and I have a recommendation for an impressive crime fiction debut. Be sure to check that out if you haven't already.

Since I'm short on time this week, I'll get right to the contest links:

FridayReads has Karin Slaughter's new book, UNSEEN, as well as Antonio Hill's THE SUMMER OF DEAD TOYS.


Criminal Element has a Superhero prize pack giveaway.

Now on to our Five on Friday guest. Today I'm happy to welcome Chuck Greaves to the feature. I had the pleasure of reading Chuck's work for the first time this year. You'll hear more about Green-Eyed Lady soon. My dad is enjoying the book now as well. I also saw Chuck in person at the Left Coast Crime where I learned he owns a vineyard and is a former attorney. Now he's writing books as both Chuck Greaves and C. Joseph Greaves. 

The fictional character that most reflects my personality is Archie Goodwin, from the Nero Wolfe mystery novels. I cut my teeth on Rex Stout, and I think Archie’s combination of street smarts, integrity, and wry humor struck a chord with my teenage self that resonates to this day in the first-person voice of my series protagonist, Jack MacTaggart.

A place I’ve never visited but would like to is, assuming Keira Knightley’s dressing room is off limits, I’d have to say New Zealand. I’ve yet to meet the person who’s gone there and returned disappointed. Not, I assume, unlike Keira Knightley’s dressing room.

When I read a book, I absolutely hate it when a writer shows a tin ear for dialogue. Elmore Leonard should be required reading for every mystery author. Make that every author, period.

Happiness is landing on your feet. I spent twenty-five stressful years as a trial lawyer in Los Angeles, and I’d still be there today if I hadn’t closed my eyes and made a leap of faith. I resigned my partnership, sold my home, and vowed to write a novel. Seven years later, I’m working on number four. As I tell my workshop students, the road to a finished novel begins with a commitment.

The No. 1 item on my bucket list right now is to put a book on the New York Times bestseller list. Both Hush Money and Hard Twisted were critically acclaimed, but neither achieved the requisite escape velocity. With Green-Eyed Lady, I’m hoping the third time is a charm!

Thanks to Chuck for taking time to participate in our Five on Friday feature. I hope you all have a wonderful weekend filled with great books. Happy Reading, friends!

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy - Peter Carlson

First line: "Soon the Great Battle would begin and Browne and Richardson were determined not to miss it."

This is a rarity for me, a non-fiction audiobook. But the top sounded intriguing--I've always been fascinated by the Civil War--so I decided to give it a try. I'm super glad I did...here's why!

Junius Browne and Albert Richardson were war correspondents for the New York Tribune during the Civil War. However, at the Battle of Vicksburg they were captured with Union Troops. They were first imprisoned at Libby Prison in Richmond, VA, where they were pardoned and set to be included in a regular troop exchange. However, between the fact that Brown and Richardson were employed by one of the most outspoken anti-slavery papers in the North and the halting of troop exchanges (the South wouldn't agree to include Negros in the exchanges so the North refused to exchange at all), their freedom did not materialize.

They were ultimately shipped from Libby Prison to Salisbury Prison where they witnessed horrible living conditions due to lack of food and space. The prison was housing far more people than it's capacity.

With some plotting and planning Browne and Richardson managed to escape. Once out they  undertook an amazing odyssey, assisted by slaves and pro-Unionists. Their story is one of determination and courage, and not solely their own. The stories of those whom they met along the way are as amazing as the reporters'.

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy reads very much like a work of fiction. It's suspenseful and dramatic, at times comedic. So those who dislike the formality of non-fiction may still enjoy this adventurous escape tale. Danny Campbell narrates the HighBridge audio, often helping listeners to forget it isn't a fictitious story. His reading, while not especially dramatic, does help to meld some of the sections of factual background and prevent them from weighing down the book.

I found the factoids that pepper the story to be as fascinating as the overall story of Junius and Albert.  There are details about weaponry, about uniforms and food and the roles people had in the prisons. There is the "apple brandy" offered to the escapees when they find safe homes to hide in temporarily. Or the mules they rode with corn sacks for saddles. And the incredible generosity of an African-American who gave Browne his hat because Browne didn't have anything to cover his head. Campbell never minimizes these little gems in his narration. They may only be a sentence or a phrase of mention, but Campbell's awareness of them helps to leave a lasting impression on the listener.

The HighBridge production is a solid one, leaving out distracting noises such as Campbell's inhalations. Let's face it, we all need to breathe as we read, but often those breaths between words can be distracting as a listener. This production ensures no one is distracted from the voyage of it's title subjects.

I did find the conclusion of the book to be a bit longer than it needed to be, but this may be attributable to my predominately fiction reading (and crime novels at that!). The excitement of the escape comes to a close but the book continues on for over another disc with additional information about life after: publications, families, etc. For me it took away from the momentum that had been created by the odyssey tale and was maybe better left to other history books, like maybe biographies.

All in all, I am very glad I picked up this audiobook. It provided a perspective of the War I hadn't heard before; it provided tidbits of factoids that piqued my curiosities; and it made for an exciting listen.

Junius and Albert's Adventures in the Confederacy: A Civil War Odyssey is available unabridged (ISBN: 978-1622311682) from HighBridge Audio (8 discs for 10 1/2 hours) or in hardcover (ISBN: 9781610391542) from Public Affairs.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Stranger - Camilla Läckberg

Hi folks, sorry for the recent radio silence. I'm in the midst of a trip, but still wanted to get a review up. My review of The Stranger was part of an audiobook-focused edition of Shelf Awareness this week. It's appearing now here with their permission.

First line: "What he remembered most was her perfume."

In the fourth installment of Camilla Läckberg’s Fjällbacka Mystery series, Detective Patrik Hedstrom has his hands full with two murders and a reality TV show in town, not to mention his upcoming nuptials and a newborn daughter.

A gay shop owner who never touches alcohol wraps her car around a tree one night after a fight with her partner. What appears to be an accident quickly changes when the evidence comes back from her autopsy.

The second murder involves one of the contestants on the reality show. The producers secretly rejoice for the publicity and law enforcement battles for some semblance of sanity in their efforts to solve the case.

Simon Vance confidently takes the role of narrator for The Stranger, volleying between such characters as the grounded, principled protagonist, Patrik, his frazzled, fiancé, Erica, and a passel of dysfunctional youths starring in a reality show called The Bar. Vance portrays each convincingly, even the baby whose contributions amount to giggling and crying.

Vance’s greatest strength in this recording, however, is his ability to set the situational tones. The mortifying absurdity of prioritizing television ratings over human life strikes the listener as strongly as the hate generated by homophobia. These dark tones contrast the happy chaos of a house filled with children, laughter and the anticipation of a wedding.

As Läckberg slowly constructs the suspense, Vance saves the more dramatic tones for the climax, opting for a sense of enticement in the build-up. This approach helps readers forget Vance is even there, they’re simply caught up in Läckberg’s dark Swedish mystery.

The Stranger is available as an unabridged audio (ISBN: 9781611746266) from High Bridge Audio. It is also available in hardcover (ISBN:  9781605984254) from Pegasus.

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