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Do you all have that list of authors in your head that you’d like to read, when given the moment?  Well, due to a couple strong recommendations (I wish I could elaborate on the source – if it was you please say so!), author Kate Atkinson was always on my radar as someone to pick up.  Serendipitously I stumbled across her novel, CASE HISTORIES, in the bargain bin at B&N (ok, maybe it wasn’t serendipity as much as it was escaping the cold and being a *great* shopper).

So yesterday, my last day of a very long though not-as-relaxing-as-one-may-think Christmas vacation, I sat down to read it and couldn’t put it down. Oh I tried – I had to unpack, clean up, wash dishes, dry my hair – but in between every small task I glanced longingly at book – and quit trying to be productive until I finished it.

Officially classified as a detective/crime novel, I found it more to be a sweeping drama than a mystery.   The flap copy says: “private detective Jackson Brodie—ex-cop, ex-husband and weekend dad—takes on three cases involving past crimes that occurred in and around London…” – but it doesn’t factor in the hints Atkinson drops throughout the novel, and the intertwining of the individual stories and the unanticipated interaction between characters.  I think only a very talented author can successfully write a novel weaving this many story lines together (not to mention the alternating point of views), and she does without missing a beat.

I’ve already ordered her next two novels featuring Jackson Brodie – for which my expectations are very, very high.  I get the feeling Atkinson won’t disappoint!

My second author discovery, who has also been on my TBR list, is another female author based in the mystery/thriller genre: Laura Lippman.

Obviously I love the alliteration of her name and when I came across the shiny jacket of her latest, I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE (my mom used to call me a crow due to my affinity for anything that shimmers in the light), I couldn’t resist.

I had expected I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE to be more action-packed and thrilling, but similar to CASE HISTORIES above, this book had a psychological depth that surprised me.

Told from the perspective of the Eliza Benedict, a wife and mother who overcame her terrifying kidnapping as a teenager.  She was the only victim of Walter to escape his entrapment alive.  Already dealing with a sullen teenager and a young child, a letter from her captor and his approaching execution puts her hidden past back to the forefront.

I’m happy I finally had the opportunity to experience both authors.  Kate Atkinson immediately left me wanting more and I’ll definitely make more room on my bookshelf for Lippman – I’ve been told that many of her books are more traditional thrillers with a repeating character that I’d love to try.

Any authors you recently “met” that you can’t wait to read again?  Or, any shiny covers attract you lately?

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Well I guess it’s not technically a genre, and I’m on the tailend of this book buzz, but I’ve only recently read ROOM and STILL MISSING and am all kidnapped-out.

Getting kidnapped has always been an irrational fear of mine – I shudder at the sight of vans without windows (STILL MISSING really reminded me of this issue) and I used to practice lying very still in my childhood bed, hoping the burglar creeping through my window wouldn’t notice my form.  Obviously my fears haven’t happened yet (knocked on wood) though these two novels brought them back to the surface!

Both books were told from unique perspectives:  As I’m sure you’ve gleaned from the many reviews of ROOM, the entire book is told from the perspective of one very intelligent but very sheltered five-year old boy, who has spent his whole life trapped in a single room with his abducted mother.  It really is a story pulled from the headlines – and the fact that it’s fiction doesn’t make it less traumatizing. This was a book I hesitate to say I enjoyed reading because Emma Donoghue is such a talented writer that you actually were inside the head of Jack yet still aware of Ma’s world and knowledge and experience, and it was a tough place to be.  But this was an impactful read that I will definitely continue to recommend.  In fact, I read this on my Kindle and really missed the physical book when all I wanted to do was send it to a friend for a mini-bookclub discussion.

STILL MISSING was the much-buzzed about debut this spring that I found languishing on my boyfriend’s bookshelf where I had left it.  The unique point of view in this story was how it was told mainly through the victim’s (Annie) meeting with her therapist.  I really wanted to like this book, and didn’t hate it… but can’t say I would recommend it.  The language and violence and character’s turned me off, and I found the twist at the end appalling and rather unbelievable. I like flawed characters, but this was a little too much.  I don’t want to spoil it, but I did call my mom just to hear her exclaim “I can’t believe she did that! That’s terrible! This wasn’t a true story right?” which made it all right in the world.   Though I do commend this young author – she made the NYT bestseller list and I’m proud of her even if this effort wasn’t my favorite – I’ll pick up her next and hope the people are nicer!

 Now that I’ve shared my abduction genre I can fully head back to the deep South for my Southern Reading fun! All your suggestions were great and my pile is as long as the kudzu.

Have I mentioned that I enjoy reading about different lifestyles/religions?  Polygamy, harems, leprechauns, eskimos and the like fascinate me (no disrespect intended).  A little closer to home are the Amish.

I grew up in a small town in rural Michigan.  With few stoplights, very little ethnic diversity (no edible sushi or falafel), one high-school (except for the “academy” to which you were sent if kicked out of public school or pregnant), but there was uniqueness since we had an Amish population.  We would pass them driving in their buggys, or visit nearby Indiana for a pie or the spontaneous quilt purchase (thanks, Mom).

It’s always been a fascinating lifestyle to me (when I visited Lancaster, PA with some new friends from NYC, I was determined to interact with the Amish, hence photograph below), and I’ve been searching for some good fiction on the topic.  I tried Mennonite In A Little Black Dress but it wasn’t different enough (the family used a computer!?).  I read the Beverly Lewis series, but they were a little too preachy for me.  Thanks to a review in People magazine and a friend at Macmillan, I arrived at the Kate Burkholder series by Linda Castillo.

As the rain came down yesterday evening, my shopping plans were swept away in the tsunami-like conditions,  so I excitedly pulled the first book in the series, SWORN TO SILENCE, from my overflowing TBR shelf.  This novel introduces the reader to Painters Mill, Ohio; a small, idyllic town with an English and Plain community.  Kate Burkholder is no Kay Scarpetta (though she is  a welcome edition to my fictional female badasses), wielding several advanced degrees as she solves crimes, but the first female Police Chief in the town she grew up in, when she was born Amish.

Me determined to capture the Amish experience while visiting PA

This is an intense thriller in which Castillo successfully weaves several intricate plots without losing the greater thread.  Burkholder is a very likable character, facing her own personal demons from a time, lifestyle and family she left behind, while trying to solve graphic and disturbing murders.  The supporting characters are well developed without overshadowing the protagonist.  The snowy setting and graphic murders remind me of the Finland depicted in James Thompson’s SNOW ANGELS (which I reviewed here), while the tying in of Amish life fascinates me.

I agree with the starred reviews awarded by Kirkus and Booklist when this book was first published, and I’m excited to begin the newly released PRAY FOR SILENCE during the next storm.  This thriller really made me appreciate my pretty lamp and air conditioner (aka use of electricity) as I was absorbed in the world of Painters Mill, Ohio.  I’m really interested in researching a weekend on an Amish farm to experience the lifestyle firsthand, anyone want to join?

Although many argue that there’s a lack of women authors acknowledged in the literary world, I’m consistently surprised, impressed and intrigued by the women protagonists kicking ass in the mystery and thriller genre, written well by authors of both genders.

From the talented hand of Sue Grafton, private investigator Kinsey Millhone has had many bestselling mysteries and is starring in Grafton’s 21st, U IS FOR UNDERTOW out 12/1/09.  There’s also V.I. Warshawski written by Sara Paretsky, the Women’s Murder Club series from James Patterson, and I’ve also discovered many strong female characters on both sides of the law in John Sandford’s titles.  I’ve found the mystery genre is especially generous with women in important roles (CERTAIN PREY, my favorite Sandford title, features a hit-woman) instead of simply being the victim.

Kay Scarpetta?

One of the most iconic and recognizable female characters is Kay Scarpetta, penned by the renowned Patricia Cornwell.  Cornwell’s latest, THE SCARPETTA FACTOR, hit the NYT bestseller at #2 (behind only Dan Brown).  For those rare readers unfamiliar with the series I urge you to give them a try (and I have found they’re not necessary to read in order); not only are they tantalizing and smart mysteries but you’ll want to be ahead of the media storm when, drumroll please, Angelina Jolie appears on the big screen as Kay Scarpetta (watch Cornwell share this information on Good Morning America).

Because I enjoy Scarpetta’s character, when shopping for a new mystery I found the following quote from James Patterson:

“Karen Vail is as compelling a character as any created by Patricia Cornwell, or yours truly…”

I bit it hook, line and sinker and proudly walked away from the register clutching THE 7th VICTIM by Alan Jacobson in my hands.

Some may say my standards were set too high by the Cornwell quote, but whatever the reason my disappointment was genuine.  Karen Vail is supposedly a profiler (comparable to Benton), so I find it either too far fetched, or just doubt her skills, that she would be completely clueless as to the background of her own immediate family.  Additionally, I understand we as readers are supposed to connect with “flawed characters” – but she was too unrelatable.

Also, I enjoy mysteries with some clues to keep the pages turning and not just assumptions, hints and lucky guessing.  This book offered very little to the reader by way of the serial killings taking place and seemed to focus much more on the personal life and happenings of Karen Vail.

Bottom Line: Scarpetta gets a blackberry in her latest, and while SCARPETTA FACTOR may not be my favorite Cornwell title, it’s worth reading.  While I suggest avoiding THE 7TH VICTIM for reading purposes, I think the book is very high quality as it’s been keeping my big heavy window open for the last three weeks with hardly a divet in the board of this repurposed hardcover.

**Mark your calendars to join me this Tuesday, November 24, as I guest blog about mysteries (and working on some of the biggest names in the genre) on Meritious Mysteries! **

It appears I need to change my gmail signature from “Visit my digital book nook, obsessed over & updated regularly: http://www.novelwhore.wordpress.com” to read more along the lines of:

“Visit my digital book nook, obsessed over regularly, but rarely updated, though every time I write I really enjoy it, so keep on visiting until it  gets more exciting.”

And, like the headline suggests, I am going to re-post my article from http://www.beneaththecover.com right now, since not only does it take  minimal effort since it’s already written, but I’m able to justify to myself that my blog is now updated!  So, for all you readers that I really do appreciate, here’s my latest column:

HANDLE WITH CARE

What are books, exactly—treasured artifacts to be displayed behind glass, or objects to be enjoyed and devoured, like a good meal?

I know that no book I actually enjoy leaves the experience unscathed. For the lucky few that I enjoy, I’ll refer back to the content often, dog-eared pages in my wake. While stories offer escape within the language, for the books I reread I get taken back to where I was the first time, whether it be via the stains of soy sauce from unsuccessfully trying to read while enjoying sushi, or the sand that spills out as remnants of a long-forgotten vacation.

Obviously, with that description in mind, you can see that the books on my shelf may never make it into a museum exhibition of classics preserved in immaculate conditions. But what are books for if not to be loved, smelled, handled, and passed around? To me, the print medium is so important—though after lugging home a complete manuscript to read this evening (even with double-sided printing, 204 sheets is heavy!), my shoulder disagrees and would prefer a Kindle copy.

I admit that so much of my fervor for print comes from its history. I didn’t stay up past my bedtime with a computer screen under my bedspread, but a flashlight, as I stealthily flipped pages. I get a special thrill from going back to my parents’ house and seeing the children’s books I wrote my name in, using my “best hand writing” in 4th grade. While it took me a while to get to this rather obvious realization, it came with the help of journalist and author Allison Hoover Bartlett.

Her upcoming book (available from Riverhead Books next month, September 2009), The Man Who Loved Books Too Much, tracks an unrepentant book thief and the “bibliodick” determined to take him down. It’s a story of passion and addiction, and has made me compulsively check all the books sold out of boxes on the streets of NYC for rare 1st editions awaiting discovery.

In this true tale about catching a wily 1st edition book thief, books are believed to be treasures, investments, or a drug, pacifying a need. While I admit it would be nice to have that 1st edition of Gone with the Wind standing proudly on my shelf (actually, it would be behind glass, it’s so rare!), I don’t need an intact dust jacket to accompany it that’s worth far beyond the cover price. The content and history between the pages is enough for me.

And the stuff within the pages may be enough for you, too. On the publishing blog GalleyCat.com, Ron Hogan thoughtfully deciphered a recent survey from the Pepsi Optimism Project citing the “optimism booster” cited by more respondents than any other—88 percent—was “books.”

As Bartlett notes towards the end of her book, “[Books] root us in something larger than ourselves, something real. For this reason, I am sure that hardbound books will survive, even long after e-books have become popular . . . I can’t help think that our connection to books is still, after all these centuries, as important as it is intangible.

So while I may want that Kindle for the sake of my poor shoulders, I don’t think I’ll give up my search for the elusive and meaningful hardcover finds, including a Margaret Mitchell 1st edition.

Sundays are notoriously unproductive (is this true across the board or just for my roomies and I?), typically spent lolling around in front of the Lifetime Movie Channel or, weather permitting, relaxing on the pool deck, rejuvenating from what was undoubtedly a raucous weekend.  So it makes me proud to say that yesterday, I accomplished quite the feat: one sushi meal with Char at RA, one Lifetime movie (the disturbing & sad Natalee Holloway one), three cups of tea and two books!

Quite unintentionally, both books I read dealt with ghosts/spirits/other-worldly forms of energy.  The protagonist in Joshilyn Jackson’s The Girl Who Stopped Swimming saw the ghost come to her of the young girl who drowned in the pool while Ronlyn Domingue writes a captivating tale from the ghost’s perspective in The Mercy of Thin Air.

girlwhostoppedswimmingThe Girl Who Stopped Swimming is Jackson’s third novel, following Gods in Alabama and Between, Georgia.  Having read them all, I’ve come to realize that Jackson employs a formula in each: Takes place in the South, involves a family secret, poor relatives and a young woman.  While these traits are shared, each book is individual, offering a different story and secret to be uncovered.

The secret in The Girl Who Stopped Swimming begins to unravel once Laurel finds the body of her daughter’s tween friend floating in her pool.  After enlisting her free-spirited sister, Thalia, to help, Laurel discovers more than she had anticipated about her marriage, her daughter, DeLop (the oppressed town of impoverished relatives), the murder in her past and even about herself.  An enlightening novel that makes the reader question happiness and wonder about their own ghosts, outside their line of vision.

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B+
  • Title: The Girl Who Stopped Swimming
  • Author: Joshilyn Jackson
  • Publisher: Grand Central Publishing (Hachette)

mercyofthinairHard to believe The Mercy of Thin Air is Domingue’s first novel.  Written with such insight and conviction, even a non-believer like myself questions reality.  Told in first person by the intelligent and vivacious Raziela Nolan after her tragic death at the turning point of her life, it tells the story of love that doesn’t die with the body.

Even though Razi dies in 1929 at the age of 22, the story carries the characters up into the 21st century, as she stays “between” – invisible to mortals but remaining on Earth. Her  tale is intertwined with the love story of a couple struggling through their relationship and hidden past, whose lives intersect with the one Razi left behind.  Interesting subplots abound: Razi’s dedication to educating women on their reproductive options when this knowledge was illegal (apparently in the 1920s pregnancy was the only job women were expected to do), the growth and development of independent women, the relationships with other souls in “between” and the life of her great love.

Both The Girl Who Stopped Swimming and The Mercy of Thin Air are more than love stories, though I do feel they appeal to women readers much more than men.  I consider myself to be grounded in reality and both these books made me more open to the presence of those we can’t see.  The next time I feel a cold draft or smell a scent that seems out of place I may have to smile, wondering if possibly a spirit is sharing in my experience. Who is to say otherwise?

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: A-
  • Title: The Mercy of Thin Air
  • Author: Ronlyn Domingue
  • Publisher: Atria Books (Simon & Schuster)

I do, however, suggest you read these books at least a few days apart.  I had a hard time sleeping last night imagining the spirits hovering around my bed!

Sometimes the life of a drug lord seems a little like the mob – dangerous and violent, but sexy in that easy-money sort of way.  I don’t have the heart for it – I can’t take the pictures of the starving children in Africa that come up on those religious commercials, much less personally contributing to addicts (is that a logical chain of thought?).  Not to mention drugs, weapons and police scare me… But they do make for a good story, as long as the violence and danger stay on the page, unlike the Mexican Cartels currently doing their best to wreak havoc in the States…

Elizabeth Lowell had no idea how current her fictional novel, The Wrong Hostage, would seem right now, with news outlets daily covering the influx of drugs and violence from Mexico and the issues going on within the drug world down there.

Published as the second book within her “St. Kilda” series (of which I’ve

How I like to picture MX

How I like to picture MX

never read the first), The Wrong Hostage takes place during a harrowing weekend in which California Judge Grace Silva is forced to go toe-to-toe with the feared Mexican drug lord, Hector Rivas Osuna, in order to rescue her 15-year-old son.  Held hostage against money Silva’s ex-husband owes, she takes action.  Instead of wasting time in tracking down her lousy ex, missing for weeks, she calls the super-secret St. Kilda firm, known only to her due to a brief, passionate love affair with an operative… If you’re a fan of the “Romantic Suspense” genre, I bet you can guess this operative is also, ta-da, the son’s real father.

Through scary roads in Mexico, being witness to cold-hearted murder within the drug community (reminiscent of the Chicago Mob: https://novelwhore.wordpress.com/2009/03/18/operation-gambat-when-corruption-was-king-of-chicago/) and all the while reigniting  long-lost passion, this is a fast-paced novel that leaves your heart in your throat as you just wish the family to be reunited, frolicking on a white-sand beach and off the drug-ridden streets of Tijuana.

Crazily enough, I read this novel last year and as quickly as I finished the last page it left my thoughts, just to spring to mind as I was reading The New York Times two days ago:  “More than 7,000 people [in Mexico], most of them connected to the drug trade or law enforcement, have died since January 2008. Many of the victims were tortured. Beheadings have become common.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/03/23/us/23border.html?_r=1&pagewanted=2&em.

There are numerous additional articles covering home invasions and kidnappings in the United States, all related to the Mexican drug trade, making me wonder if a situation like Lowell portrayed in The Wrong Hostage happened to an ordinary family unconnected with underground, all-powerful rescue rings (do these even exist in real life?), what would happen?  Would the news even be publicized, or would one family be in unbearable private pain?

It’s scary when what I would consider to be outlandish fiction comes alive in the newspaper.  While I enjoyed reading this book throughout its 406 pages, I don’t like the reading of individual newspaper articles that don’t always have the same caliber of ending (trying not to give anything aware, being sly).

Give this book a try if you like action, suspense, guns and violence with an undercurrent of sexual tension, but skip it if you would rather not take a behind-the-scenes peek at what may be happening as we speak.

And I even love Mexico – Cancun vacation, anyone!?

  • NovelWhore’s Grade: B
  • Title: The Wrong Hostage
  • Author: Elizabeth Lowell
  • Publisher: Avon

Below is an interesting article about the latest venture in the publishing world, a partnership with James Patterson (who I think is a B-list author at best, I am often surprised by how well his mediocre thrillers perform), Borders and RandomHouse.

An interesting concept given that all 29 participating “guest” authors undoubtebly have a unique writing style, I am curious as to how well the chapters will mesh.

While much more a promotional idea than a money-making venture (or so I would assume), the companies and individuals involved seem to be enjoying free publicity, so I wonder if their only goal has already been achieved…

patterson-chain-thrillerFull Article:

It was about a year ago that Pandora—the first community-sourced thriller from book collaboration site WEbook—was officially released. Pandora features the work of 17 different authors, and now a similar project from Random House and Borders Australia aims to combine the work of 29 authors in what it calls the world’s first chain novel. Best-selling crime author James Patterson will write the first and last chapters of AirBorne, a 30-chapter thriller that will be released one chapter at a time beginning next month. For those in between, Borders and Random House held a contest to find 28 writers who could each create a fast-paced and thrilling chapter in less than 750 words. The contest closed on Sunday, and now judges are in the process of selecting the winners, each of whom will receive a copy of the finished book; one lucky author will also get a one-on-one master class by phone with Patterson himself. Once completed, AirBorne will be released one chapter at a time beginning on 20 March. Readers will be able to download each chapter electronically, but the final book will be published in print only for participants in the competition, according to digitalOZ. Meanwhile, one aspiring collaborator’s entry is posted online. Though clearly being held primarily for promotional purposes, the AirBorne competition makes smart use of Generation C’s wild enthusiasm for creating content of every kind. As the saying goes, the pen is mightier than the sword—or, in this case, the mass-market ad campaign! 😉

Website: http://www.borders.com.au/chain-thriller/

Contact: http://www.borders.com.au/customer-enquiry-form.asp

Source:  Springwise, February, 18, 2009

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