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Monday, March 31, 2014

Blog Carnival News & Springtime!

I must apologize to those who have attempted to submit entries to the Mystery and Crime Fiction Blog Carnival.  For over 4 years I have used a blog carnival service, but it apparently - and suddenly - has ceased to exist.  I thought when I got the "temporarily down" page that it was just...temporary.  I guess it is permanently down.

Therefore, I have taken matters into my own hands and will collect carnival entries via this form (click here).  You may also find the form on the page tab above titled "Blog Carnival Submission" for easy access anytime.

I apologize for any inconvenience this has caused and ask you to be patient as we change to this routine. I am expecting the next blog carnival will make up for the two month absence. 

Although nothing can replace the awesome Mystery and Crime Fiction Blog Carnival, here is a little something to help encourage springtime and provide a festive touch.

Paper Wreath
Learn how to make these three pretty wreaths from dyed book pages. Click here for full instructions.

Wreath Made of Book Pages
Upcycle book pages with a statement piece for your screened-in door or indoor area of your home. Frilly punched edges make the wreath feel dainty, but it's hearty enough to last for many springs ahead.  Click here for full instructions.

Have a fantastic week everyone!

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Review - Murder at Westminster Abbey

I snatched up the first in this series, Murder at Hatfield House, as soon as I saw the book (click here for review).  I was anxious for the next book to finally be released, and I can't wait to share it with you.  

Author: Amanda Carmack

Copyright: April 2014 (NAL) 304 pgs

Series: 2nd in Elizabethan Mysteries series

Sensuality: n/a

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical Suspense

Main Characters: Kate Haywood, 18 year old musician in the employ of newly crowned Queen Elizabeth I

Setting: 1559, London England

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

London is a big change from country life for Kate, and the brazen ambition and gossip in the new queen's court is a treacherous mine-field.  Kate finds a friend in Lady Mary Everley.  Kate gets word that her old friend Rob from the traveling acting troop needs her help.  Rob's paramour, a fair red-head like the Queen, has been killed and he will likely be blamed. Then Mary, who is also a fair red-head is murdered in Westminster Abbey.  Kate ends up on a killer's trail trying to find the killer's identity before the Queen is the next target.  All this while navigating the court politics to see if there is a traitor close to Queen.  Kate has her hands full and finds herself in danger more than once.  Kate will also learn more about her deceased mother in this book.

Kate is kind, but her naivety is giving way to worldly wisdom in this addition to the series.  Her bravery carries her through once again, with her deeply ingrained sense of justice.  Her loneliness is touched on, now that she is getting older yet in the Queen's court, which is considered a demanding career more than a job.  Queen Elizabeth turns to Kate, knowing her loyalty, to assist in understanding the currents at court.  Queen Elizabeth is shown to be steely and shrewd, with a sense of loyalty as well.  Rob is a scoundrel with a good heart.  Hard working Anthony is in London to apprentice as a lawyer and finds he still cares for Kate deeply.

London is well displayed as Kate investigates, with the streets and alleys taking on their own life.  Even the castle with multitudes of political maneuvering is palpable.  The plot idea is a fascinating one and captured me while the pacing kept me turning pages. A great combination of tension and intrigue.  The climax was another nail-biting intoxicating ride and the wrap-up drops a bomb-shell on Kate that had me wanting the next book immediately. 

Another stellar book for this series that is exceeding expectations. 

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Left Coast Crime Award Nominees & Winners 2014

The Left Coast Crime Awards are given annually, voted on by Left Coast Crime attendees. The awards will be presented on March 22, 2014, at the Portola Hotel & Spa in Monterey, California. Here are the nominees:

Lefty Award for Most Humorous Mystery
  °      The Hen of the Baskervilles by Donna Andrews
  °      The Fame Thief by Timothy Hallinan
  °      The Last Word by Lisa Lutz
  °      The Good Cop by Brad Parks - Winner
  °      Dying for a Daiquiri by Cindy Sample

Bruce Alexander Memorial Mystery Award
(best historical mystery, covering events before 1960)
  °      Heirs and Graces by Rhys Bowen
  °      His Majesty's Hope by Susan Elia MacNeal
  °      Dandy Gilver and a Bothersome Number of Corpses by Catriona McPherson - Winner
  °      Murder as a Fine Art by David Morrell
  °      Covenant with Hell by Priscilla Royal
  °      Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear

The Squid
(best mystery set within the United States)
  °      W Is for Wasted by Sue Grafton
  °      Purgatory Key by Darrell James
  °      Ordinary Grace by William Kent Krueger - Winner
  °      The Wrong Girl by Hank Phillippi Ryan
  °      A Killing at Cotton Hill by Terry Shames

The Calamari
(best mystery set anywhere else in the world)
  °      Murder Below Montparnasse by Cara Black
  °      Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann
  °      As She Left It by Catriona McPherson
  °      How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny - Winner
  °      Mykonos After Midnight by Jeffrey Siger

Sadly I have not read any of these, but several are on my TBR shelf.  How about you, read any of these?  Which do you recommend?

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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Review - Zero-Degree Murder

It may be the first stirrings of spring, but this book is in the depths of winter.  This is the first book in a new series focusing on Search and Rescue operations.  I read the book cover blurb and knew I had to read it.  Usually it takes me several days, sometimes a full week to read a book.  Not this one, 24 hours only because I just could not put it down. 

Copyright: January 2014 (Berkley) 304 pgs

Series: 1st in Search and Rescue Mystery

Sensuality: adult situations, some violence, language scatter throughout

Mystery Sub-genre: Thriller

Main Characters: Gracie Kinkaid -- rescue expert 

Setting: Modern day, San Rafael Wilderness

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

Gracie is a a volunteer for Timber Creek Search and Rescue.  It is the Thanksgiving holiday and she is one of only three to answer a rescue call.  There are four hikers missing in the San Rafael Wilderness of Southern California -- and one is a famous movie actor so there is intense pressure to find them.  Gracie is paired with a self-absorbed Search and Rescue volunteer, Cashman, who is more interested in getting an autograph when they find the famous actor than in finding all four.  Gracie is the experienced tracker, and she finds blood on the trail indicating something suspicious happened to the hikers.  They locate one hiker, the heart-throb actor Rob Christian, who is injured but has bits of memory involving an attack and blood.  But before they are able to locate any of the remaining lost hikers, an early blizzard settles in and Gracie is on her own to save any surviving hikers and hide from a killer while warding off hypothermia for both her and Rob.

There are a few sections told from the woman hiker as she hides from the killer, and a few from the killer as well.

Gracie Kinkaid has some emotional damage and isn't your typical woman.  She loves being out in the wilderness and surviving.  She comes with some baggage, but not too much.  Ralph Hunter is a senior Search and Rescue team member who reminds you of a traditional gentleman with modern ideas.  He is in the command trailer providing the rescue team's communication and support.  Steve Cashman is the blundering dolt who feels nobody respects him.  He is an enemy to the rescue efforts in his own right.  Rob Christian is the mega-star actor who will not be pampered in this rescue and he must toughen up.

Timber Creek County and San Rafael Wilderness area are vividly rendered highlighting the wild and dangerous alongside the breathtaking.  The wilderness is the primary setting for most of the book and it was so well done that I believe I got chilled. 

The plot is simple but quite effective with tension and suspense built upon as the story develops.  There aren't any slow spots and once you are a chapter in, you are hooked.  The climax was white knuckle excitement and the wrap up was bittersweet. 

This was an intense and riveting debut perfectly drawn and executed.  This should be a great series if this first offering is any indication. 

Rating:  Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend.

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Thursday, March 13, 2014

Review - Fatal Enquiry

This is my introduction to Barker and Llewellyn mysteries. I regret it taking so long to discover this series, for it has all the ingredients to become an enduring classic.

Author: Will Thomas

Copyright: May 2014 (Minotaur Books) 304 pgs

Series: 6th in Barker and Llewellyn series

Sensuality: Some violence (not very graphic)

Mystery Sub-genre: Historical police procedural

Main Characters: Private enquiry agent Cyrus Barker and his apprentice, Thomas Llewellyn

Setting: 1886 London

Obtained Through: Publisher for an honest review

Sherlock had Moriarity and Cyrus Barker has his arch-nemesis Sebastian Nightwine.  But Cyrus Barker had exposed Nightwine a few years beforehand and never expected to see or hear of him again.  But the British government has forgiven his criminal past and welcomed him back to London.  Nightwine has a plan that would expand the British empire and the government has taken the bait.  

In the first chapter the action starts and quickly Barker and Llewellyn are wanted fugitives when Nightwine begins his revenge.  The indomitable Cyrus Barker and loyal apprentice Thomas must figure out what Nightwine's deal with the government is really all about and prevent a tragic government blunder while dodging arrest. Oh, and avoid the assassin out to kill them. The story is told from Llewellyn's point of view with a witty voice that lightens the tale. 

Thomas Llewellyn is bookish, yet he is the right hand person to London's premier enquiry agent (private investigator).  He knows life is good for him, and he has a level head with a humorous outlook.  He never takes himself very seriously and is very loyal.  He makes a great view point character.  Cyrus Barker is a solemn, sober-minded man of larger-than-life background and determination with a splash of action hero.  Inspector Terence Poole of Scotland Yard is Barker's friend who risks his career.  Jacob Maccabee, Barker's grouchy servant who occasionally let's some of his inner man and emotions show - the man who wanted to be the apprentice, who will risk his life to help stop Nightwine.  Jenkins is their office clerk who may be suited to filing, but jumps in to assist Barker without a thought.  Soho Vic is one of Barker's informants, or "watchers", who is a young Fagan running a gang.  I want to see more of this character.  Then there is Sofia Ilyanova, an angelic vision who gets under Thomas' skin, but whose motives are suspect throughout the book.

Victorian London is presented as more than a historical travelog as Barker and Llewellyn hide out in various parts of the vast city.  The Masons of London are utilized differently than is usual and it makes a nice touch.  The plot is part PI and part Suspense with plenty of action.  The climax isn't a standard killer reveal, since the reader is made aware of who the "bad guy" is.  It is rather a showdown.  The wrap-up leaves a little hint that one little aspect of this story may come back to haunt Barker and Llewellyn later.

I was surprised by the dramatic quick pace combined by a unique, even charming, narrative voice.  This has joined my list of "must reads."

Rating: Near Perfect - Buy two copies: one for you and one for a friend. 


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Monday, March 10, 2014

Author interview: Kate Parker

Today we have the author of the new Victorian Bookshop mystery series.  I reviewed the debut book, The Vanishing Thief (click here.)  Please welcome Ms. Kate Parker to our little piece of the blogosphere with comments.

Why do you write?
Do you love it or love having done it? What motivates you?

I write because I feel compelled to create stories. It's not unlike the compulsion people feel to run marathons or to do anything else where effort needs to be put in every day to get the result they want. I enjoy writing and I enjoy finding out what I can do with words.

What is your routine when you're facing your next novel?  Do you start your next mystery with the killer, the victim or a plot idea?

I start with a bit of a scene. It involves a location, a couple of characters interacting, and a sliver of dialog that makes me wonder: what comes next, why are they there, and what happened to get them there.

Do you outline the plot or some variation of that (a little/a lot of detail, a strict 3 act structure etc.) before sitting down and writing?

No. I suppose my outline is my first draft. It's only half the length of the finished work and has all sorts of problems I have to straighten out in subsequent drafts. I start on page one of the first draft and keep going until I finish with very little rewriting.

What do you and Georgia Fenchurch have in common? How are you different?

She's just turning 30, has violet eyes, a swan-like neck, and a mass of reddish curls. I'd love to say I have all that in common with her, but I'd be lying. She's also more adventurous and outspoken than I am. More self-reliant. Georgia is the person I'd like to be, but then I'd never remain tied to my computer to create her stories. Perhaps it's just as well we have little in common.

Georgia Fenchurch is a refreshing character, and the rest of the crew is great as well.  What is your process for developing a character? Do you use pictures, a worksheet or just let the character(s) tell you about him/herself as you write?  How do you handle minor characters?

For me, characters develop as I work through the various drafts of a story. I get a mental image of them in the first draft, but sometimes their names change in subsequent drafts because the first thing I name them doesn't fit. I'll often get through several drafts before I discover a character is missing who should be doing various things throughout the story. Then I'll need to think about it until I can see the character and hear him or her.

I remember once hearing a writer say that every character, even minor ones, are the central character in their own story. I've found it helpful to imagine all of my characters, even the minor ones, with some of their opinions and likes and talents to make their appearance on the page more lifelike.

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 have to have quiet to write. Any sound is a distraction to me, so I have a room at home where I always work.

What is your work schedule like when you're writing and how long does it take you to write a book?

I'm a morning person, so I like to write in the morning as soon as I have breakfast with my husband. I'll write until it's time to go swimming or I have to run errands. Then once I get home in the afternoon, I'll get some more writing done until my brain says "that's enough" and I stop for the day. I suppose it takes about six months of actually working on a book to create it, but there are pauses in the process between some drafts while 1) I have to let it sit so I can come back to it with fresh eyes and 2)my critique partners are reading it and getting back with their suggestions. During those breaks, I'll work on another story.

How much research goes into your work and do you complete that up front or "just enough" as you go?

I've been fascinated by the late Victorian period for ages, so I have a wealth of research built up. But I've found I'm always looking something up or checking a fact or a spelling or the date of a Underground station opening.

What in your background prepared you to write mysteries?

I've been reading mysteries since elementary school. They've always been my favorites, and we had shelves of them at home. I still have some of my mother's 25 cent Agatha Christie paperbacks. A comparable book today would be $6.99. I've tried writing historical romance, and I can't do it. Somebody's dead on the ballroom floor by the third chapter.

In literature (not your own) who is your favorite mystery/suspense character?

There are so many of them. Sherlock Holmes, Poirot, Miss Marple, Lord Peter Wimsey and Campion from the older works. Margaret Frazer's Joliffe, Simon Brett's Carole and Jude, Candace Robb's Archer, and Caroline Roe's blind physician Isaac from more modern works.

Which author has influenced or inspired you the most?

The list is too long to even try to put here, but two authors we lost last year that I'd like to bring back to life so they could write more stories for us would be Robert Barnard and Margaret Frazer.

How did you get your first break to getting published? Was it at a writer's conference or mailing a query letter?

I had been pounding my head against  the wall for years, getting better and better rejection letters and finaling in RWA's Golden Heart contest three times in four years. My husband told me to change up  what I was writing or I'd never get published. I took the historical romance I'd just finished and reworked it as a cozy mystery.

A couple of months later, I entered the "American Author" contest at the Washington Romance Writers retreat where the first 250 words of unpublished manuscripts are read to three editors. When they read mine, the three editors said it had everything it needed. An agent I was interested in was in the audience, and she later asked me to send a partial. I did, and the next day she asked me to send the full manuscript. The next day she signed me. Three months later, we had a contract with Berkley.

Everything happened quickly, but this was after twelve years of constant effort.

What's the one thing a reader has said that you've never forgotten and perhaps found startling?

Every time someone tells me they loved The Vanishing Thief and do they really have to wait until August to read the next installment (The Counterfeit Lady), I'm amazed. There's nothing more gratifying to a fiction writer than to hear that someone enjoyed their story. I created something other people get pleasure from. For me, that's priceless.

If your Victorian Bookshop mysteries were to be made into a movie, who would you cast in your top character's roles?

I loved Jennifer Chastain in Zero Dark Thirty, so I'd have her play Georgia. The Duke of Blackford. How about Benedict Cumberbatch? Seeing him in Sherlock, I can see him playing an imperious duke.

Tell us about your next book in the series - or next project?  What is your biggest challenge with it?

The second book in the Victorian Bookshop Mystery Series is
The Counterfeit Lady, coming out August 5, 2014. It's been through copy edits and is all ready to go, so I'm done with all the challenges for that story. I think the biggest challenge was coming up with the title. I want something that really connects to the story, but follows the adjective noun pattern I began with The Vanishing Thief.

Do you have a newsletter or blog for readers to stay informed of your news?

No newsletter or blog. I'm pretty active on Facebook and I have a website
I'm also on the blog about once a month.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

THANK YOU Ms. Parker for your interview.  Your path to getting published is interesting.  It sounds like you were meant to write mysteries, and I am happy for that.

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Thursday, March 6, 2014

Review - The 9th Girl

My first Tami Hoag book and there was no problem picking up with the fourth book in the series.  Modern family dynamics and school bullying are exposed in this offering around a young girl's brutal murder.

Author: Tami Hoag

Copyright: April 2013 (Dutton Adult) 417 pgs

Series: 4th in Kovac/Liska Investigation series

Sensuality: violence, language

Mystery Sub-genre: Police Procedural

Main Characters: Police Detectives Nikki Liska and Sam Kovac

Setting: Modern day, Minneapolis

Obtained Through: Publisher for honest review

It is a cold New Year's Eve as party-goers are clogging traffic.  In the middle of traffic a car hits a pothole, its trunk springs open and out tumbles the body of horribly mutilated girl - forever traumatizing the driver in the stretch Hummer who plows into her.  Because the young girl's face has been eaten away with acid, she is quickly dubbed "Zombie Doe" with her resemblance to a zombie's horrific face becoming fodder for sensational news.  Besides finding out her identity, the immediate question becomes, is this the ninth victim of Doc Holiday.  Doc Holiday is a notorious Midwestern serial killer who mutilates and murders young female victims on holidays.  Once Liska and Kovac check all high schools for any absent students, they begin to piece together who the girl was.  Penny Gray, a troubled yet talented girl who was still reeling from her father's death after battling cancer.  Penny (known simply as "Gray") attended the same exclusive school, Performance Scholastic Institute, "a prestigious private school for academically and artistically gifted students," as Liska's son Kyle.  Positive identification takes a while since her remains are in such bad shape, but they investigate her life and find the estranged mother Julia is engaged to Penny's prior therapist Michael Warner.  Michael's seemingly picture perfect daughter Christina also attends PSI and had a volatile relationship with Gray including an altercation the night she was last seen alive.  

The investigation becomes two pronged, the majority of the resources headed by Kovac are proceeding as though "Gray" is the ninth victim of Doc Holiday, while Liska and one other agent dig into Gray's sad existence to see if somebody who knew her brutally murdered her.  The school apparently has a bad case of bullying and the storyline goes into the nightmare for kids caught in that torture.  Kyle, Nikki Liska's fifteen-year-old son, gets several chapters from his point of view showing the brutality of the teen bullying.  There are a few brief sections from Doc Holiday's viewpoint as well.

There is a lot of character development for Nikki with her home life.  Nikki Liska is a single mom trying to balance a time-intensive and emotionally demanding job with raising two teen boys.  She is a deeply caring police officer, but the home pressures with Kyle are nearly breaking her. Sam Kovac (nicknamed Kojak) is a policeman married to his job whose family is his fellow officers.  He could easily become too jaded and stereotypical, but manages to remain caring, but caustic.  Kyle is an introverted teen trying to do what is right while being the recipient of bullying.  His character provides insight into the vicious cycle of bullying.  Penny Gray, our troubled teen and promising poet victim has a powerful presence in the story and the reader comes to know and care about her postmortem.  Sonya Porter, hip blogger to youth and freelance journalist is the niece of a police detective and the breakout character.  She is utilized to reach the teens and try to get information through social media and contacts about the victim.  Sonya was so interesting that I hope she is featured in another book, or even stars in her own novel. 

Minneapolis and Performance Scholastic Institute are each brought to life with just enough good and bad.  The story didn't really get interesting for awhile as the investigation was mired down with Nikki's personal life.  Perhaps the teen drama could have been trimmed down a little to keep the pacing up.  Although the teen angst was somewhat insightful, those sections tended to interrupt the flow just as I was beginning to get drawn into the case.  I thought I had the killer figured out, but a twist at the end totally caught me off guard.  Kudos there.  There are essentially two climatic conclusions for the two storylines. Both exciting and satisfying.

Rating: Excellent - Loved it! Buy it now and put this author on your watch list if you haven't already.

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Monday, March 3, 2014

Giveaway of MISSING YOU

This month there will be no Mystery and Crime Fiction Blog Carnival since there were not enough submissions. 

Let's make next month's Carnival even better.  Submit your blog entry for next month's Carnival here: ( Spread the word far and wide!!!

But we do have a giveaway:  one copy of Harlan Coben's most recent book (release date is March 18th).

Entry for giveaway lasts until March 8th, 6:00 p.m. (MST).  U.S.  entries only please.
The publisher will ship the book to the winner.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.

I will accept entries for this giveaway until Saturday March 8th, 2013.    I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.

IF you are a member of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.  BECOME a member of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

If you mention this and provide a link on your Facebook or Twitter to share with friends, please note that in the comments and you will get an addition entry!

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