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Monday, November 30, 2009

You Tell Me!

It is the last day of the month - where has the year gone?  This month just seemed to fly by.  I wanted to give you, the mystery readers, a chance to share the books you have read over the last 30 days and give a thumbs up if you recommend them or a thumbs down if you don't recommend it.   All of the mystery realm, crime fiction and suspense we want to here about.

So leave a comment - share with us the title, author and your thumbs up or down.  So you guys have the helm...
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Thursday, November 26, 2009

Review: Sand Sharks by Margaret Maron

Copyright: Aug 2009 (Grand Central Publishing); 304 pgs.
Series: #15 in Deborah Knott Mysteries
Sensuality: N/A
Mystery sub-genre: Amateur Sleuth
Main Character: North Caroline District Judge Deborah Knott
Setting: conference at Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina
Winner of any awards: Series has won Edgar and Anthony awards
Obtained book through: Library

Judge Deborah Knot has only been married seven months and finds herself adjusting not only to married relationship dynamics but also to a stepson come to live with the newlyweds. Deborah looks forward to a little time away while at a judge’s conference at idyllic Wrightsville Beach. The first night before the conference most of the judges have arrived and have dinner together. The first inkling that Judge Jeffreys is not liked comes during the dinner when Deborah’s cousin Reid won’t even join her at her table because of Judge Jeffreys’ presence. After dinner Deborah finds the body of Judge Jeffreys.

“I turned to Reid and said ‘So why didn’t you come over and speak to Fitz and Martha? He’s retiring this fall?’

Reid’s dad, Brix Junior, was a close friend of the Fitzhumes and they had known Reid since he was a little boy.

‘I’ll catch’em later. He downed the rest of his drink in one long swallow. ‘No way I’m going over while that asshole’s there.’

‘And which asshole would that be?’ I asked.

‘Jeffreys.’ He spat out the name like an expletive.

Once we were in the car, I could see Chelsea Ann’s face in the rearview mirror. ‘Did you just twinkle at that Edwards guy?’ I asked. “You did, You twinkled at him.’

As the uniformed officer lowered the tape at the exit of the parking lot and signaled for us to drive through, Chelsea Ann grinned and said, “So?’

Rosemary sighed and laid her head against the seat. ‘I thought you said that a chest for you new entry hall was the only thing you intended to bring back from the beach this year.’

Chelsea Ann gave her sister a reassuring pat on the arm. ‘I haven’t loaded him in my trunk,’ she said. ‘Yet.’”
As Deborah easily asks questions of her fellow judges and passes along relevant information to the local investigating detective, Gary Edwards, she finds that Judge Jeffreys was corrupt and a bad judge leaving a plethora of suspects. Was it another judge or somebody who suffered due to his bad judicial decisions? There are many characters involved in the story with the setting being a conference, so fair warning – read when you can give the novel attention with few interruptions.

Deborah is a reasonable and thoughtful main character who shows an internal strength I appreciated. The large cast of characters I felt was handled aptly and I was able to keep the relationships clear. This book’s strong point is the rich layering of setting and a sense of history. I had not read any prior Deborah Knott mysteries and I felt immediately a part of her world. The many personal histories are carefully doled out to enfold the reader.

The story is told primarily from Deborah’s viewpoint with the exception of a few chapters told from detective Edwards or Detective Wall’s viewpoint. Thus the reader is along for the ride figuring out what happened and the motive for the murder with a few miscalculations as everything is pieced together. Once the culprit is revealed it didn’t seem like there were enough clues to point the reader in that direction, so there was no satisfaction in having a fair chance to figure out whodunit. Overall a great story with a writing style I enjoyed. I am looking forward to reading more from this author for she is a good story weaver.
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Monday, November 23, 2009

Mystery Book Awards

It is amazing and a bit overwhelming how many awards there exist for mystery and crime fiction novels.  Below is a list of the awards I put together for your information.  I would love your input on any of the books listed.

Edgar Winners

◊ Best Novel Blue Heaven: Blue Heaven by C. J. Box
◊ Best First Novel by an American Author: The Foreigner by Francie Lin
◊ Best Paperback Original: China Lake by Meg Gardiner
◊ Best Motion Picture Screenplay: In Bruges by Martin McDonagh
◊ Grand Masters: James Lee Burke and Sue Grafton

CWA Dagger Awards
◊ Gold: A Whispered Name by William Broderick
◊ Steel: The Last Child by John Hart
◊ New Author: Echoes from the Dead by Johan Theorin

Nero Award (presented Dec of each year)
◊ Winner: Anatomy of Fear by Jonathan Santlofer

The Shamus Award
◊ Best PI Hardcover: Empty Ever After by Reed Farrel Coleman (Moe Prager)
◊ Best First PI Novel: In the Heat by Ian Vasquez (Miles Young)
◊ Best PI Paperback Original: Snow Blind by Lori Armstrong (Julie Collins)

The Arthur Ellis Award (Canadian Award)
◊ Best Novel: Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay
◊ Best First Novel: Buffalo Jump by Howard Shrier
◊ Best Juvenile: War Brothers by Sharon E. McKay

The Anthony Awards
◊ Best Novel: The Brass Verdict by Michael Connelly (Little, Brown and Company)
◊ Best First Novel: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Knopf)
◊ Best Paperback Original: State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy (Berkley)

Private Eye Novel Contest
◊ Winner: Shots on Goal by Michael Ayoob

The Macavity Award
◊ Best Mystery Novel: Where Memories Lie by Deborah Crombie (William Morrow)
◊ Best First Mystery Novel: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Knopf)

The Agatha Award (2009 not awarded yet)
◊ Best Novel: The Cruelest Month by Louise Penny (St. Martin's Minotaur)
◊ Best First Novel: Death of a Cozy Writer by G. M. Malliet (Midnight Ink)
◊ Best Children's/Young Adult: The Crossroads by Chris Grabenstein (Random House Children's Books)

The Best Traditional Mystery Novel Contest
◊ Winner: The End Game by Gerri Ferris Finger

The Benjamin Franklin Mystery Award
◊ Winner: Head Wounds by Chris Knopf (Permanent Press)

The Dashiell Hammett Award
2008 (awarded 2009)
◊ Winner: The Turnaround by George Pelecanos (Little, Brown)

The Dillys Award (Independent Mystery Booksellers Association)
◊ Winner: Trigger City by Sean Chercover

The Spotted Owl Award
◊ Best Novel: Executive Privilege by Phillip Margolin (HarperCollins)

The Barry Award
◊ Best Novel: Draining Lake by Arnaldur Indridason (St. Martin's Minotaur)
◊ Best First Novel: Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central)
◊ Best Thriller: The Deceived by Brett Battles (Delacorte)
◊ Best British Crime Novel: The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (Knopf)
◊ Best Paperback Original: State of the Onion by Julie Hyzy (Berkley Prime Crime)

The Los Angeles Times Book Awards
◊ Winner: Envy the Night by Michael Koryta (St. Martin's Minotaur)

The Gumshoe Awards
◊ Best Mystery: The Tin Roof Blowdown by James Lee Burke
◊ Best Thriller: The Watchman by Robert Crais
◊ Best First Novel: Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover

Best Books Award
◊ Mystery / Suspense: Wyatt's Revenge by H. Terrell Griffin (Oceanview Publishing)
◊ Thriller / Adventure: Dead Air by Deborah Shlian and Linda Reid (Oceanview Publishing)

So dear readers, have you read any of these books?  Please leave a comment on how you liked it, what was the strong point of the book and did you agree with the quality being of such a caliber to win the award.  I look forward to reading your comments.
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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Review: Hail to the Chef by Julie Hyzy

Time to get into the upcoming holiday - Thanksgiving. 
What better way than to read a mystery set during Thanksgiving at the White House!

Copyright: Dec 2008 (Berkely);336 pgs.
Series: #2 in White House Chef Mysteries
Sensuality: N/A
Mystery sub-genre: Cozy
Main Character: Olivia Paras, White House Executive Chef
Setting: Thanksgiving at the White House in Washington D.C.
Part of a Challenge: Fall/Winter Mystery Reading Challenge
Winner of any awards: 1st book in series won several awards
Obtained book through: Library

Amidst the flurry of activity that is the holidays at the White House, there is murder ruining the festivities. Join the new Executive Chef Olivia (Ollie) as she juggles the harried preparations for Thanksgiving and the following holiday season in the White House kitchen peppered with bomb scares and a splash of murder. Mix in some personality conflicts among the staff and you have the recipe for this original second entry in the series.

The book starts out with a bomb scare and Ollie being hustled along with the first lady into a bomb shelter. The story continues from there with the first lady under pressure to sell her share of a company by the other three owners, Ollie discovering an actual bomb, the Chief Electrician getting electrocuted and the president's nephew committing suicide. Ollie feels both the deaths are not what they seem.

The main character, Ollie, is spunky and caring. The first lady is portrayed sympathetically. Ollie’s kitchen staff comes to life including the cranky and negative Bucky, the supportive Cyan and newcomer Agda who speaks limited English but sure can cook. Other White House staffers populate the story including snarling electrician Curly, and the chief of security pit-bullish Gavin, even the temperamental pastry chef Marcel creating its own tight community with the White House.

Here we join Chief of Security with Ollie:
"There are people who things happen to. And whether you consider it a blessing or a curse, you appear to be one of them." He turned to face me. "I read your dossier."

I winced

"Don’t be embarrassed," he said. "It's not that you have a black cloud over your head – it’s that you have the ability to see and to sense things better than most.” He wagged his head from side to side. “I’m not talking about ESP or clairvoyance, although maybe describing it as a sixth sense is apt. You have a great deal of intelligence and an acute awareness – more than most people – which allows you to notice things out of place. And you have the curiosity to find out why."

"It's a curse, all right."

"I disagree. We hire people with your talents every day."
All the plot lines and subplots nicely wrap up and the sleuthing is done believably through Ollie’s natural observation skills for the most part. While the "bad guy" may not come as a surprise in the end it is nicely handled and working out the details has a few surprises. Descriptions are good without running on which I imagine is a challenge when the setting is the White House – kudos there. Pacing kept me reading. Granted, some people may not care for the kitchen operations included in the story –those people might feel the story isn’t as fast-paced as they might like. But for a cozy mystery I thought it was on par. Oh and there are recipes at the end which many cozy readers love.

For your convenience, you may purchase a copy here.

Until Monday's Musings I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Author Interview: Juliet Blackwell

Today we have the accomplished author Juliet Blackwell's interview that she graciously agreed to do.  You can read the review I did of her last book "Secondhand Spirit" here.  Enjoy finding our more about this wonderful author.  Ms Blackwell also writes the Art Lovers Mystery series with her sister under the pseudonym of Hailey Lind.

You had written several books in a collaborative fashion with your sister, what are the good and bad sides to joint writing efforts?

The good part is always having someone to bounce ideas off of, and to tell you when you’re off track. My sister and I are good friends with a similar sense of humor, so sometimes when the mood’s right we really get each other laughing and coming up with ideas. The bad part is the constant need to re-write, and re-write again, since it’s so important to keep a single, unified “voice” in the narration. Plus, writing on my own means I get to go off on whatever tangent I like, or have the romance go the direction I want, without having to argue with my sister. Unlike me, of course, she can be so unreasonable…;-)

I loved Lily Ivory in Secondhand Spirits as well as Annie Kincaid in the Art Lover's series, what is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?

For me, developing character is the easiest—and most exciting-- part of writing. I love imagining the characters in different scenarios, how they would react, that sort of thing. I usually list their favorite food and drink, funny quirks, a few things like that on a piece of paper I keep for each one, but beyond that I just let them develop organically. I’m always shocked at how characters seem to fix themselves, and then tell me exactly what they would or wouldn’t do in a situation. Many’s the time I’ve had to change a storyline because my character simply wouldn’t do what I had planned for them to do. Sounds a little crazy, but it’s true.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (use a strict 3 act structure or not and little/alot of detail) before sitting down and writing?

I have to turn in an outline to my editor before writing, which forces me to think through certain plot points and storylines. But other than that, I’m more of an organic writer – I like to be taken by surprise by my own writing. If I try to stick too closely to an outline or formula, I find I get bored. And if I’m bored, I’m willing to bet my readers will be bored.

How do you find time for writing - what works for you?

This is a tough one. The simple answer is that there’s never enough time for writing. Just as there’s never enough time for so many things in our modern lives. But since writing is a priority for me, I make time. Most days I get up at four in the morning, believe it or not. I hate it (I am so NOT a morning person!) but it’s the only way I can find a couple of completely quiet hours to work without interruption. I also don’t watch television, which gives me extra time in the evenings. I never do more housework than absolutely necessary, and the garden has to get by with a minimum of intervention. I have a teenage son, so he takes priority over my writing, but otherwise the writing has to come before fun time with friends and that sort of thing. I try to keep some balance in my life, and do cherish my good friends, but by and large I guard my writing time jealously.

For your mystery series' there is a lot of detailed information - how much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?

I love research. I was trained as an anthropologist, and one of the reasons I love being a writer is that it gives me an excuse to read about interesting things every day! I just finished the fourth Art Lover’s book, Arsenic and Old Paint, and I learned all sorts of gruesome things about poisons, and also lots of details about bats.

I read constantly, and obviously use the internet for research. But I also do a lot of walking around neighborhoods where I set my stories, and I’ve interviewed FBI agents and bounty hunters and parole agents and medical examiners. With the Witchcraft series, I studied the history of the famous witch hunts in Europe and Salem, and about the persistence of witchcraft in parts of the modern world, especially in rural areas of Africa and Latin America. I also interviewed witches one-on-one, and attended coven meetings. And I get to do it all in the name of work!

As to how much…obviously, a writer can only include a small fraction of her or his research in the actual books – otherwise you run the risk of boring your reader. I usually do some research prior to writing, which gives me a lot of ideas. Then I research as I go along –sometimes it’s as simple as looking something up on Google, or sometimes it’s something I have to make time for (such as interviewing or walking the streets).

I read once that a romance writer would put on sexy lingere to prepare for writing - do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?

I really love writing in my office – boring, right? But I live in a beautiful old house full of ghosts, beautiful light, and wavy-glass windows, so it puts me in the mood for magic and art. I look out onto the hills of Oakland – which are truly beautiful, by the way. Very European looking. And my neighbor’s black cat, who just happens to be named Oscar (and I didn’t even know him when I named Lily’s familiar Oscar!) won’t leave me alone. He’s convinced I’ll fall for his feline ways…and he’s right. Having a black cat around makes writing about witches seem just right.

I also have a rather fierce –but cute—looking gargoyle who overhangs my computer monitor – he always makes me think I’m in the company of Oscar from the book.

Do you have any secrets to success for editing?

Hmm, that’s a tough one. I write my first draft with great verve and make myself turn off my internal editor – I want the story to flow without restraint—but that means that I have to do some serious re-writes and thorough editing once that first draft is done. For that, I think Stephen King said it best: you have to be willing to kill your darlings. Be tough on yourself – no matter how much you love a scene or iteration, if it doesn’t work for the story, cut it. Don’t give too much backstory, let the story unwind bit by bit to keep the reader intrigued. Use lots of dialogue to move the story along, and make sure you have a good mix of action, dialogue, and description throughout.

In this technology driven world there is more and more pressure on authors to use social media (blog book tours, twitter, facebook etc.) but what do you feel is the payoff for the amount of time invested as opposed to traditional methods such as brick and mortar book tours?

Wow, you really do ask the tough questions! I don’t know what the payoff is, and I wish I did. It’s so frustrating to spend so much time and energy in an arena that is so far removed from the ultimate goal –to sell books and introduce new readers to one’s work. So far no one has been able to show what the connection is, though as you say writers are expected to maintain a presence on the web. The only direct benefit I can see is that I get a lot of email from readers, and I imagine few of them would have taken the time and energy to write the old fashioned way.

I enjoy visiting bookstores, but obviously it’s expensive. My publisher doesn’t have the money to pay for my tour, so I do it on my own dime – however, I know so many great authors now that we often tour together, sharing expenses and making everything much more fun. It’s always a pleasure to meet booksellers and librarians face-to-face, and to interact with readers and fans. The only downside is that it’s truly exhausting, and does take away from writing – I always say “I’ll write in the evenings in the hotel”, but I usually wind up going out to dinner and drinks instead!

What is the "tipping point" where an author can support themselves from their writing? Is there a recognizable point at which you can dedicate yourself full time to writing books and not worry about a day job again?

I don’t know that there’s any one “tipping point” – the downside about being a published author is that unless you’re a HUGE name, you’re always having to look down the road to what’s next. Will I have a contract next year? Will it be enough to live on? Should I be changing genres? Supplementing my income? Maybe I should get a job at Peet’s Coffee….

Much of it, obviously, depends on your personal situation and expectations. I’ve been a professional artist for years, and before that I was a social worker, and before that an anthropologist. So frankly, I’ve never made much money! My demands are low, I live with housemates to share expenses, so I don’t need as much as other people might. I’d much rather have an interesting, rewarding career than a new car or fancy vacations…and I’m lucky, because my ex-husband is able to pay for our son’s school and important, mundane, things like his health insurance and new shoes.

A lot of authors supplement their writing wages through freelancing non-fiction, teaching classes, or sympathetic spouses. But I’m not sure that many of us are able to “not worry about a day job again” ever!

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?

Wow – in this case there are far too many answers to your question. I adore Richard Russo – his Empire Falls is a masterpiece in interweaving the story of individuals, families, and a whole town, as well as handling flashbacks and historical information. Nick Hornby is a master of using “voice” to establish character, almost without using description at all – try About a Boy or A Long Way Down. My friend Sophie Littefield’s debut novel, A Bad Day for Sorry, is another example of a strong, clear voice of character. Elizabeth Peter’s novels are wonderful examples of storytelling beyond a lot of modern conventions – she can write an entire mystery novel without actually killing anyone. Amazing.

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?

I did go to a conference – the Willamette Valley Writers’ Conference in Portland, Oregon—and credit that wonderful event with meeting agents and editors for the very first time. I didn’t get an actual agent from that event, but I did learn what it was they were looking for, as well as important things like how to write a decent query letter. After that, I did a lot of research on the web for lists of agents, as well as looking through Jeff Herman’s guide to publishers. I had a goal of sending out 100 letters, hoping for a ten percent return. I only got up to 38, but out of that we received three offers for Feint of Art, which was later nominated for an Agatha.

Now I am President of our Northern California chapter of Sisters in Crime, and a member of Mystery Writers of America, so I realize there was a whole lot of support out there that I was unaware of – our Sisters in Crime chapter has ushered many aspiring authors through the process, recommending them to our agents and helping with the query letter process. Several are now published authors! Look around you for writers’ groups – they’re wonderful and willing to help!

Tell us about your upcoming book! What aspect of the new book did you particularly enjoy?

My next book will be A Cast-off Coven, the second in the Witchcraft Mystery Series (June 2010). I really enjoyed writing about the characters I established in the first book, plus adding in a few more. I researched a lot about ghosts for this book, and found some fascinating tidbits about the different way people view spectral beings. I also researched demons – a scary lot.

Arsenic and Old Paint will also be out next summer, either August or September. This will be the fourth in the Annie Kincaid Art Lover’s Mystery series, and it was so much fun to research – I spent a lot of time in Chinatown looking into rumors of underground chambers and tunnels. I also particularly enjoyed writing this one, because I got to come back to characters that I love, and which I haven’t been able to write about lately.

THANK YOU so much Juliet for this interview.  I am certainly looking forward to your next books with much anticipation!
Until Thursday and our next book review, I wish you dear readers many mysterious moments.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Special Announcement: Carnival Coming!

Introducting the Mystery and Crime Fiction Blog Carnival

I have taken a huge plunge here by deciding to run a Blog Carnival dedicated
to Mystery/Crime Fiction/Suspense books and the craft of writing them. 

 Do you review mystery, crime fiction, or suspense books?

Do you have author interviews that discuss writing mystery or crime fiction?

Do you blog on fiction writing advice?

Join us for this Carnival.

What is a blog carnival?  blog carnivals are where someone takes the time to find really good blog posts on a given topic, and then puts all those posts together in a blog post called a "carnival". 

This carnival takes your submissions and presents them in a monthly carnival.  Imagine one place to go each month for book reviews on Mystery, Crime Fiction and Suspense books as well as author interviews and writing tips and advice.

Blog carnivals are a great way for bloggers to recognize each other's efforts, organize blog posts around important topics - like the Mystery Genre, and improve the overall level of conversation in the blogosphere. The fact that carnivals are edited (and usually annotated) collections of links lets them serve as "magazines" within the blogosphere.

Categories under this blog carnival include:

Police Procedural Book Review

Private Investigator Book Review

Amateur Sleuth Book Review

Cozy Mystery Book Review

Suspense Fiction Book Review

Author Interview

Writing tips and advice

This Carnival will take place the first Monday of each month. 

Submission deadline is the last Friday of each month.

Please submit links to recent articles (within the last 3 months) to keep the information fresh.
Also, your links should point to actual articles not archive lists, indexes or about pages.
Submit your blog entry here now

Spread the word far and wide!!!
Mystery lovers celebrate.

Post a widget on your blog for this carnival here

Join the Mailing list to receive a reminder email 
to submit to the Carnival

join our mailing list
* indicates required

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Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: The Fall Hunt by Joanne Clarey

Copyright: 2008 (Alabaster Books); pgs. 244
Series: #3 in Hummingbird Falls mysteries
Sensuality: N/A
Obtained book through:  Library
Main Character: Ellie Hastings, retired schoolteacher and her mutt Buddy
Setting: Mountain village of Hummingbird Falls, a tourist town with only 800 residents
Part of Challenge: Fall/Winter Mystery Reading Challenge

This mystery starts with a bang as Ellie Hastings enters a bank in the middle of a robbery. She is still suffering Post Traumatic Stress as fall starts turning to winter and the hunting season gears up. Ellie has been obsessing over a detail during the robbery that she knows is important but just can’t remember. All the while the bank robbers are still on the loose.

Then a very fateful day dawns when everything will be brought to light. Ellie is walking in the woods surrounding her cabin when she is struck from behind, falls and hits her head on a rock. Awakening she discovers a dead body and fights a concussion to get help as a quick moving blizzard descends on the area. A policeman patrolling the mountainous areas for illegal hunters goes missing and a search party is organized, a group of three greenhorn hunters lost in the sudden storm struggle to survive and a near starving bear known as Old Scar Face all play into the drama that unfolds.

Here is an excerpt displaying the writing style and how the author even makes a bear part of the unfolding drama:
“His shaggy winter hair was slightly silvered, mangy and crusted in places. A long scar from a tangle with another bear replaced the fur on the side of his face, giving him an odd twisted look. Those who had sighted him over the years nicknamed him Old Scar Face.

This fall had been hard on him. His preferred foods, nuts, acorns, fruit, insects, and greens, were scarce due to limited rainfall, and he failed to add the optimal amounts of fat necessary to hold him through the long months of hibernation, soon to come. Because of his age and injuries, Old Scar Face arrived late at his usual feeding spots and didn’t fill his hungry stomach. The old blueberry fields he once commanded were picked clean by the time he arrived. Competitiors had already consumed the cherries, blackberries, acorns and apples he depended upon to push his fat content to its fullest extent and ready him for hibernation. Other bears and deer, squirrels, chipmonks, birds, fox, mice, and all types of insects had benefited from the food which would have kept Old Scar Face from starving.”
The small town is populated with realistic and interesting characters making you wish to visit Hummingbirds Falls or perhaps even move there. The writing draws you in as you follow the different plot lines told from different characters viewpoints all adeptly handled. The mysteries are not so much for the reader to solve. There really are no suspects presented for you to consider. The bank robbers' identity is not given any clues leading up to the big reveal, the reader finds out when Ellie is telling the police Chief and it is a bit disappointing if you like solving the puzzle.   I have not read the others in the series so this may be part of how this story is told and not a characteristic of all the books in the series.

This book’s strongest point is the community and the writing and less so presenting a puzzle for the reader to discover which suspect is the culprit. This doesn’t make it necessarily an inferior story, but the reader should be prepared to enjoy the story and not match wits with the author. No list of suspects being paraded made the last part of the book feel rushed a bit, because I was expecting a few clues to chew on and instead, bam here is the big reveal.  So please keep that in mind, but consider Joanne Clarey's Hummingbird Falls Mystery Series (other titles include The Mysteries of Hummingbird Falls and Riddled to Death.)  I look forward to reading another for the storytelling value and will see if a stronger "traditional" mystery is contained in them.

Until the next "Musings" on Monday, I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Monday, November 9, 2009

Author Interview: Dolores Stewart Riccio

I am very honored to post my first author interview with the phenomenal Dolores Stewart Riccio.  You may read my review of her last book "The Divine Circle of Ladies Playing with Fire" here.  She has a new book due out soon and I will be reviewing it at the first opportunity.  Enjoy this peek into Dolores' writing world.

What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character tell you about him/herself as you write?
Fiction grows out of one’s lifetime of experiences, so although none of the Circle ladies is a specific person I have known (including myself), I’ve taken bits and pieces from many friends, relatives, colleagues, etc. and combined them into five new characters. At least that’s how it started. Now the five ladies have become so real to me, they are only and always themselves. I can guess how they will react in different situations, but sometimes I really don’t know what they’re going to do next. That makes the writing so much more interesting to me. And then there are a few special characters who seem to emerge out of nowhere as a complete surprise—because they are like no one I’ve ever known. Such a character was Freddie, who knocked on Cass’s door in Charmed Circle and “spoke” for herself ever after. I have never known anyone like Freddie. Finally, there are minor characters who often start with a name. Until I get the “right” name, somehow I don’t quite “see” the character. So I collect evocative names for future reference.
I love Cassandra, Fiona, Deidre, Heather and Phillipa. With a series and recurring characters, is it easier to write those characters?
Yes, as I’ve mentioned, they’ve become real people to me, and as soon as I turn on my computer, they come to life—talk to each other, come up with ideas, get into trouble etc.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (use a strict 3 act structure or not and little/a lot of detail) before sitting down and writing?
No, never. I’d find that rather dull, to plod through 350 pages to a preconceived conclusion. Of course, I do know all the threads have to pull together and the ending should seem somehow inevitable—and if that doesn’t happen, there will be some major rewriting to do. Authors who write like I do, without advance plotting, are probably relying on their subconscious to do the work. I know I like to think about what might happen next right before going to sleep—because there will be ideas waiting for me in the morning.

How do you find time for writing - what works for you?
The advice I like to give writers, who complain that they can’t find time to write, is “do it first.” This is also the advice I give myself, but don’t always follow. I try to write every day, including holidays and my birthday, but can usually only manage a few hours before I have to go do something for someone. I marvel at women authors who start early in the morning and write on and on until dinnertime. I assume there’s a household staff on call?

For your mystery series' there is some detailed information (Greenpeace, environmental issues, herbs etc.) - how much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?
I love research. (For one thing, it’s easier than writing.) I probably spend hours tracking down any little detail about which I’m not sure. I can’t seem to go on with the story until I nail down the factual base. Bless Google and other search engines; they have made my research so much easier!

I read that a romance writer would put on sexy lingerie to prepare for writing - do you have anything special you do before writing, particular music or a special room/location that helps you get in the zone and write?
Not usually. With one exception. While I was writing a novel that featured a ghost named Lily, I would always put a dab of lily perfume on my wrists before writing.

Can you recommend a fiction book that provides a great example of the writing craft to dissect and learn from?
Anything by Jane Austen.

How did you get your first break towards getting published? Was it sending in a query or meeting an agent at a writing conference etc?
There’s persistence—and then there’s luck. My first Circle novel, Circle of Five, was turned down by 125 agents. At that point, I began sending directly to publishers—those few who would read manuscripts that didn’t come from agents. I went right down a list of 30 such publishers that was written up in Writer’s Digest magazine. When I got to the fifth one, Kensington, it just happened that the editorial board had recently decided to begin offering Wiccan fiction. So my ms. got to the right desk at the right moment—finally. An editor named Ann called me up and said, “I love your book.” By then I’d written a sequel, Charmed Circle, so Kensington bought both of them.

Tell us about your upcoming book! What aspect of the new book did you particularly enjoy?
In my new Circle book—which will be “out” within the month—the ladies take a cruise to Bermuda to “get away from it all.” I have taken that cruise, and I did enjoy re-living it. I can’t tell you my favorite scene, however, because it would give too much away. I will just say that “Fiona saves the day.”

Thank you so much Dolores!!  Great interview.  I am looking forward to the your next book.

Until Thursday's book review I wish you many mysterious moments.

This interview was featured on "Just Write Blog Carnival"
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Thursday, November 5, 2009

Review: Murder Inside the Beltway by Margaret Truman

Margaret Truman was the only daughter of President Harry Truman. She used her knowledge of national politics and Washington D.C. to write the Capital Crimes novel series. Ms. Truman died January of 2008 and this is her twenty-fourth and last book in the series.  Since this past Tuesday was election day, even if for local issues this year, I thought it would be apropos to see how easily politics can be criminal!

The novel opens with the murder scene of high-paid prostitute Rosalie Curzon (savagely beaten then strangled). Her murder creates a quiet panic among her high-powered clients when the local police discover she had videotaped her clients and the police start systematically investigating each of them. But early on there is a suspicion that one videotape may be missing.

The story is told primarily from young detective Matt Jackson's viewpoint as he deals with his demeaning and racist superior - a twenty-three year veteran, Walt Hatcher. A secondary plotline is Matt and his coworker, Mary Hall are romantically entangled and Walt can't stand a mixed couple so the pressure is on. Walt Hatcher's view point gets several chapters to get us into his anger-filled, often drunk and physically ill head.

Rosalie Curzon's murder soon becomes intertwined with a bitter presidential campaign between incumbent President Burton Pyle and his "shoe-in" opponent Robert Colgate. When the daughter of Robert Colgate's closest advisor and Washington power player is kidnapped things begin to spin out of control. Was there a video tape of opponent Colgate with the murdered call girl and what is it worth in a bitter campaign struggle? Will Detective Matt Jackson's education in Sociology help in unearthing information to solve the tangle of vice and dirty politics to save the kidnapped girl. Margaret Truman proves she knows how vile politics can be when power is the ultimate motive.

Detective Jackson and his racist boss are the most fully realized characters. Mary Hall could have been fleshed out a bit more, she was a likable character but didn't seem to come to life enough. Robert Colgate is painted as a hypocritical smooth politician, which speaks so much to our political scandal-filled time that it works in spite of its cliché status. Walt Hatcher is finely portrayed as the angry and hardened boss who is facing failing health, which he may have brought on himself. Colgate's political advisor, Jerry Rollins, is given several chapters which highlight the intricacies of Washington politics. Even Robert Colgate's wife gets a few chapters that give us a peek into how hard presidential campaigns are on the spouses - and how the wives have secrets too.

The end has a surprise twist, for the murderer is not as obvious as the reader may think. The climax is well done and will stick with you a while. The plot is nicely layered and even the wrap up gives a few surprises. All in all a solid police procedural mystery with just enough grit and grime without feeling like you wallowed in the gutter yourself.

Obtained book through: Library

For your convenience, you may purchase a copy here.

Part of the Book Blog Carnival

Until next Monday I wish you many mysterious moments.
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Monday, November 2, 2009

NaNoWriMo and Young Readers Day

To everybody participating in National Novel Writing Mon (NaNoWriMo), I wish you well.  Here is my contribution to your efforts, Write or Die.  Write or Die is a web application that encourages writing by punishing the tendency to avoid writing. Start typing in the box. As long as you keep typing, you're fine, but once you stop typing, you have a grace period of a certain number of seconds and then there are consequences.  You set which mode you want to write in: 
Gentle Mode: A certain amount of time after you stop writing, a box will pop up, gently reminding you to continue writing.

Normal Mode: If you persistently avoid writing, you will be played a most unpleasant sound. The sound will stop if and only if you continue to write.
Kamikaze Mode: Keep Writing or Your Work Will Unwrite Itself

These consequences will persist until your preset conditions have been met (that is, your time is up or you've written you wordcount goal or both)

There is a desktop version with more features that you can download for $10.00. 
Now for Young Readers Day!

November 8 is Young Readers Day as well as the holidays are fast approaching. Do you plan on giving some mystery books as gifts to the young people in your life? Let’s take a look at a popular Juvenile Detective series, the Three Investigators by creator Robert Arthur (other authors were William Arden, Nick West, M. V. Carey and Marc Brandel). The Three Investigators are three young high school students named Jupiter Jones, Pete Crenshaw and Bob Andrews

Jupiter is a former child actor and orphan living with his aunt and uncle and the brains of the group. Pete Crenshaw is the jock who does stake outs. Bob Andrews is the bookworm who excels at research. Jupiter’s Aunt and Uncle own a salvage yard which hides an old trailer hidden under strategically placed junk with secret entrances to the boy’s detective business headquarters. The three boys are younger, don’t drive and lack resources like the Hardy Boys of Nancy Drew but they are cleaver and diligent employing observation skills and their wits.

The series started in 1964 stopped in 1990, was re-released in 2005 and has a fan base in Germany, Poland, Italy, France, Pakistan, Vietnam, Thailan, Indonesia and probably more I have missed. In some of those countries, they have published more books in the series than the US has. shows you the artist who created the book covers and sketches for the series.

I grew up reading these mysteries (even as a girl I followed the three boy’s adventures avidly). They are fun and inventive. I have kept for nearly thirty years an old copy of The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints inspite of multiple moves and life challenges. This maybe a series you could introduce your child to.

Books in the series:

1. The Secret of Terror Castle
2. The Mystery of the Stuttering Parrot
3. The Mystery of the Whispering Mummy
4. The Mystery of the Green Ghost
5. The Mystery of theVanishing Treasure
6. The Secret of Skeleton Island
7. The Mystery of the Fiery Eye
8. The Mystery of the Silver Spider
9. The Mystery of the Screaming Clock
10. The Mystery of the Moaning Cave
11. The Mystery of the Talking Skull
12. The Mystery of the Laughing Shadow
13. The Secret of the Crooked Cat
14. The Mystery of the Coughing Dragon
15. The Mystery of the Flaming Footprints
16. The Mystery of the Nervous Lion

17. The Mystery of the Singing Serpent
18. The Mystery of the Shrinking House
19. The Secret of Phantom Lake
20. The Mystery of Monster Mountain
21. The Secret of the Haunted Mirror
22. The Mystery of the Dead Man's Riddle
23. The Mystery of the Invisible Dog
24. The Mystery of Death Trap Mine
25. The Mystery of the Dancing Devil
26. The Mystery of the Headless Horse
27. The Mystery of the Magic Circle
28. The Mystery of the Deadly Double
29. The Mystery of the Sinister Scarecrow
30. The Secret of Shark Reef
31. The Mystery of the Scar-Faced Beggar
32. The Mystery of the Blazing Cliffs
33. The Mystery of the Purple Pirate
34. The Mystery of the Wandering Cave Man
35. The Mystery of the Kidnapped Whale
36. The Mystery of the Missing Mermaid
37. The Mystery of the Two-Toed Pigeon
38. The Mystery of the Smashing Glass
39. The Mystery of the Trail of Terror
40. The Mystery of the Rogues' Reunion
41. The Mystery of the Creep-Show Crooks
42. The Mystery of Wreckers' Rock
43. The Mystery of the Cranky Collector

Do you know of a children’s or young adult mystery series? We know of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys – probably the oldest running mystery series' around. But what else is out there for parents to introduce their young mystery readers to? Please leave comments of recommendations to help in gift giving and encourage not only the reading habit but the mystery bug too!

Until Thursday when we review another book, I wish you many mysterious moments.
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