Friday, November 29, 2013

Thankfully Reading Weekend: Challenge Accepted (kind-of)

     The Thankfully Reading Weekend is upon us; a weekend spent reading instead of becoming a part of the
craziness that has become the post-Thanksgiving weekend. I learned about the event, the brainchild of Jenn at Jenn's Bookshelves, first on Twitter. It sounded like a great way to quietly protest the materialism of the weekend and a fun way to get motivated to read. It is my understanding that there are no rules or requirements for participating in the Thankfully Reading Weekend; it can mean something different to everyone participating. Some will simply read, and post periodic updates; some will post pictures; others will sponsor challenges.
     So far I've been doing some reading (currently King and Maxwell by David Baldacci) and posted a picture or two. Now, I'm accepting a challenge issued by my friend Jen Forbus at Jen's Book Thoughts. Well, I'm kind of accepting it, with a minor bending of a rule.
     Jen's challenge is to recommend a new(er) author based on the work of a more established author. For example, if you like Michael Connelly, you'll love Wes Albers (Black & White). She has provided a list of great authors on which to base a recommendation. Right away I thought of a newer author I'd like to recommend, but the author I thought of as a comparison was not on Jen's list. And that is where my rule bending has come in. Sorry if I ruined your challenge Jen!

If you like Carl Hiaasen... 

Author Carl Hiaasen
     Carl Hiaasen was one of the first few authors that led me to the crime fiction genre. The book was Skin Tight, and I still think it is one of his best. I like Hiaasen because  his books are mysteries, but are also funny. His characters seem pretty normal at first, but as the story progresses, they get wacky and complex. For example, one recurring character is a former Florida governor who got tired of the politics, the stress, and the way Florida, in his view, was being ruined. So he took to the swamps, lives off the land, and, in his way, helps to keep Florida unmolested. Another is a man who lost an arm, and replaced it with a weed eater! In the mix of mystery and comedy, there is usually an underlying environmental message about the natural beauty of Florida and the state's commercialization (read: destruction). 

Author Lou Berney'll love Lou Berney  

Lou Berney is the author of Gutshot Straight and Whiplash River. I read Gutshot Straight a few months ago, and look forward to Whiplash River. The book stars Shake Bouchon, recently released from prison, eager to start a clean life. But he barely gets outside the prison gates when he is picked up by an old friend offering him work. One more job, he tells himself. But of course it doesn't turn out that way, and Shake leads us through an adventure spanning two continents, an ensemble of characters that rival Hiaasen's best, and an ending that kept me wanting more.      
     So, if you like Carl Hiaasen, give Lou Berney a try. I don't think you'll be disappointed!

     Whatever you do for your post-Thanksgiving weekend, I hope you enjoy it. And reading a few hours can only make it better.

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Monday, November 25, 2013

BOOK REVIEW: White Fire by Preston & Child

      "Knocking over his chair in his agitation, one hand to his forehead, the man staggered from the room, nearly upsetting a waiter's tray of delicacies. And as he vanished in the direction of the gentlemen's toilet area, his face displayed a perfect expression of revulsion. 
     The last two sentences of the Prologue of White Fire, the latest novel by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, describes the exit of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle after his dinner companion, Oscar Wilde, tells him about an event in Roaring Fork, Colorado, that he learned of while on his US tour in the late 1880's. A story so gruesome, so vile and disturbing, that he could not bring himself to commit it to paper. But would Conan Doyle? And why would it matter in a Twenty-First Century thriller? 
     Chapter One begins in the present day, with criminal justice student
Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
Corrie Swanson working to find a thesis acceptable to her hard to please adviser at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, a retired NYPD Detective who was a, "strikingly handsome man with salt-and-pepper hair, wonderful teeth, trim and fit, a good dresser, articulate, soft-spoken, intelligent, and successful. Everything he did, he did well, and as a result he was an accomplished asshole indeed." Finally, and not without some deceit, Corrie's third thesis idea was approved: she would spend winter break studying the bones of miners killed in the late 1880's, presumably by a grizzly bear. She was off to Roaring Fork, Colorado, to start her research. 

     With its mining days behind it, Roaring Fork was now populated by the super rich. Being a millionaire wasn't good enough; it took a few hundred million dollars to be noticed. Corrie immediately set out to work examining the bones of the a miner, but after she got one quick peek, she was suddenly and inexplicably refused access. That peek showed her enough to know that the dead miner was not killed by a grizzly bear, but likely murdered. And she was intent not only to prove it, but to prove who the killers were, over one hundred thirty years later. Whoever revoked her access to the bones didn't want her to solve the century old mystery, and will stop at nothing to stop her.

     White Fire is the thirteenth in the series co-written by Preston and  Child featuring the mysterious FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast, "...his scultped, albaster, so blond it was almost white...eyes of such pale gray-blue that, even across the room, he looked almost like an alien." It was my second read of the series, following Still Life with Crows
     There were similarities between the two books. Like Still Life, there is a mystery that appears surreal, crimes so heinous it must be a monster or ghost that is the guilty party. But other than a reader's inferences, Preston and Child never took the books in the direction of the paranormal. Instead, Special Agent Pendergast, with deduction skills matched only by Sherlock Holmes, solves the mystery with worldly explanation.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

     White Fire is well balanced between compelling characters, a good, multi-layered plot, and thrills that kept coming. I enjoyed the injection of literary history about Sherlock Holmes and his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. And, while I won't include any spoilers, the ending, and the solution to many of the book's mysteries, made a social statement about our power elite, environment, and how the two are still often connected to the sins of the Nineteenth Century. 

Child, Lincoln and Preston, Douglas. White Fire. Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 
  • ISBN-13: 978-1455525836

Review copy provided courtesy of Grand Central Publishing. No payment was made for this review.

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Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Bouchercon 2013 and Murder & Mayhem in Muskego


This fall I've had the opportunity to attend two Crime Fiction book conferences. The first was Bouchercon 2013 in Albany, New York; the second was Murder and Mayhem in Muskego, Wisconsin. I'm relatively new to these events, and and wanted to share a little about my experiences at each.

     Bouchercon is an annual event named after Anthony Boucher. It is held in a different city each year. My first experience was in 2012, when the event was in my hometown, Cleveland. However, I was only able to attend one day. This year it was in Albany, New York at the Empire Plaza, from Thursday, September 19th through Sunday, September 22nd.
    Bouchercon consists of hundreds of authors, bloggers and reviewers, publishers, editors, publicists, fans, and anyone else who has anything to do with crime fiction. The days are usually dominated by author panels, four to five authors and a moderator, and the subjects vary. Most evenings there is usually a large reception for all attendees and smaller gatherings by invitation, hosted privately. One of the most notable events at Bouchercon is the voting and awarding of the Anthony Awards. All registered attendees have an opportunity to vote for previously nominated books and authors.

     Murder and Mayhem in Muskego is a shorter event and attendees are generally from the Milwaukee Attendance is limited to fewer than 300, and of course there are fewer authors. As a result, there is much more time to meet and talk with authors. Although there was a "green room", many authors mingled with the fans, even watching the panels they weren't involved in.
area. It was held on Saturday, November 9 at the Muskego Public Library, with an smaller evening reception the night before. This year, some great authors were there: Michael Koryta, Marcia Clark, Dana Cameron, Megan Abbott, Tom Schreck, Marcus Sakey, Gregg Hurwitz, Reed Farrel Coleman, Chris F. Holm, Sean Doolittle, and many more. A great group.
     The best part about Murder and Mayhem was having a chance to meet, in person, all the great people from Crimespree Magazine, especially Jon and Ruth Jordan. They've kindly published a few of my reviews, and I'm looking forward to contributing many more.

     Both events had author panels, which generally consisted of four to five authors and a moderator. Both also had author discussions, that included two authors kind of interviewing each other. There was also a lot of time to meet great new people who share a love of crime fiction.
     But the events were very different, mostly because of the difference in size. I found Murder and Mayhem much more pleasant because it was a smaller venue, smaller crowd, and a lower author to attendee ratio. It would make for a great first book conference for anyone considering one.
     One thing that is certain about Bouchercon, Murder and Mayhem, and every other crime fiction event I've attended: the community is one of the kindest and most welcoming groups of people I've had an opportunity to spend time with.
     Now, off to read a book!

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