31 August 2009

Book Banter -- Trunk Music

Title: Trunk Music (Harry Bosch #5)
Author: Michael Connelly
Length: 464 pages
Genre: Mystery
Plot Basics: LAPD Detective Harry Bosch is back on the job after being suspended and is ready to close a big case. When a small time movie producer shows up dead in the trunk of his Rolls Royce, it looks like the kind of case Bosch wants, complete with ties to the Mafia. Bosch follows a set of clues to Las Vegas where he reconnects with his former girlfriend, disgraced FBI agent Eleanor Wish. Eleanor reveals a key piece of information about the case that makes Bosch realize that who murdered the movie producer could be much closer to home.
Banter Points: This was a great, solid procedural type mystery with a great misdirection built into the story. Also, given the events that Harry takes on in "The Last Coyote" it was good to see him reconnect with Eleanor Wish and have a bit more emotion still than in some of the early Bosch books. Harry's new lieutenant also seems like a neat character and Word Nerd's hoping that she shows up in a few more of the Bosch books.
Bummer Points: Not a true bummer, but Word Nerd feels like she's never going to get through Connelly's backlist and get caught up to the point where she's reading the new ones as they come out!
Word Nerd Recommendation: Not the strongest Bosch book she's read, but a good entry in a series that continues to deliver.

27 August 2009

Bouchercon Guest Blogger #6 -- Vicki Lane

Bouchercon being a national event, draws attendees from all over. Today's author-- Vicki Lane -- will leave the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains in October to come to Indianapolis. And today she reflects on her earlier experiences with Bouchercon.

My First Bouchercon, by Vicki Lane

“You’ll want to sign up for Bouchercon . . .”

“What’s Bouchercon?”
I came to writing late – I was 62 when my first book was published. And though I’d read mysteries all my life, beginning, of course, with Nancy Drew, I’d never known about mystery conferences. But after being told by Those Who Knew that this was important, I signed up for Bouchercon 2005 – in Chicago.

A big city. Yikes. Taxis. Tall buildings. Maybe even gangsters. I am so very much not a big city sort of a person. Since 1975 I’ve lived on a farm in the mountains of North Carolina and the idea of Chicago kind of scared me. But I went and it was glorious.

The thriller writer John Ramsey Miller (whom I’d met earlier at a local book fair) and his wife– aware of how lost this country mouse was feeling – took me under their wing and whisked me off to the Bantam Dell cocktail party, to the Art Museum, out to dinner.

For the first time I met in person my editor, the redoubtable Kate Miciak who shaped the careers of legends like Sue Grafton and Elizabeth George . . . saw my first Blackberry . . . and at the Bantam Dell cocktail party goggled at biggies like Lee Child, Laurie King, Karin Slaughter . . .

I was on a panel of other newbies – it went by in a pleasant blur – and I went to as many other presentations as I could. I think the most memorable was watching Jonathon King interview Harlan Coben -- the funniest and best interview I’ve ever heard. I bought some Coben books, stood in line in the bookroom to get them signed . . . and lost my heart to him when he wrote in one “You rock!” (I know, I know, -- he says that to everyone. But just for the moment it felt . . . kind of special.)

Since then I’ve been to two more Bcons, feeling a little less uneasy each time, a little more as if I belong. And this time – oh this time – my fourth book, In a Dark Season, is an Anthony Nominee for Best Paperback Original! Maybe I really do belong.
That first Bouchercon changed my mind about big cities and opened up a whole new world to me. I’m getting better at talking to people I don’t know, introducing myself to strangers, walking up to authors I’ve admired for years and telling them so. It’s what these cons are for – readers and writers connecting with one another -- and I’m delighted I’ll be there, wearing both hats.

I’ll be wearing my Southern writer’s hat (a tractor cap?) for my panel assignment on Thursday, at 1:30. The panel is “SOUTHERN VOICES: What’s special about Southern mysteries? “ Our moderator, the always funny Cathy Pickens , will attempt to keep T. Lynn Ocean, A. Scott Pearson, Deborah Sharp, and me in line.

You all come say hi, okay?

For more about Vicki Lane, check out her website and her blog.

26 August 2009

Book Banter -- On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

Title: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness (Wingfeather Saga, bk 1)
Author: Andrew Peterson
Genre: fantasy
Length: 279 pages
Plot Basics: In the town of Glipwood, the Igiby family -- one-legged, ex-pirate grandfather Podo, his calm and collected daughter Nia and her three children, Janner, Tink and Leeli -- live a simple life under the shadow of the rule of the Fangs of Dang. But when the famous Dragon Day festival rolls around again, the three children are granted a chance to explore the town alone and enjoy the day. Leeli goes missing (after her trusty dog Tink) setting off a series of encounters between the Igiby children and the Fangs and starting them down a path that will change their lives forever.
Banter Points: Word Nerd first picked this book up back when it came out. And she never read it... it seemed too silly, too much for kids at the time. But then she got herself lined up for the blog tour about Andrew Peterson's second book, the sequel to Dark Sea (Come back on Sept. 14!) and she figured she'd better read the first one.

And she's really glad she did. Peterson, in addition to being one of Word Nerd's favorite singer/songwriters, has an ear for storytelling and creating an engaging world and endearing characters. The Igiby children are resourceful and emotional and creative and still ring true to being children. Moreover, Peterson infuses the book with tongue-twister names, side-splitting footnotes and a litany of strange creatures (from toothy cows to cave blats) that make the book endearing.
Bummer Points: This is Word Nerd's pet peeve, but she was really bummed when suddenly, in the middle of the book, there were a couple of chapters from the POV of the commander of the Fangs. While it helped set up some of the big reveal at the end, Word Nerd bets there would have been another way to do that without breaking away from the POVs of the Igiby children.
Word Nerd Recommendation: This is a great read-aloud book for parents and kids. After reading the Chronicles of Narnia and before Harry Potter or the Lord of the Rings, the Wingfeather Saga should get a place in the list of "great fantasy books that capture kids' imagination." And for grown-up kids, it's a heart-warming read that makes you remember what make believing is all about.

25 August 2009

Bouchecon Guest Blogger #5 -- Mike Befeler

This week's guest blogger -- Mike Befeler -- shows us that murder and mysteries aren't just for the young...

I want to thank Bethany for inviting me to participate in this guest blog in preparation for the Bouchercon conference in October. I write the Paul Jacobson Geezer-lit Mystery series which includes two published novels, Retirement Homes Are Murder and Living With Your Kids Is Murder.

I write about older characters—what I refer to as POWs, not “prisoners of war” but “persons of wisdom.” This is the fastest growing part of our populations and rather than ignoring older people, I encourage everyone to find the wisdom that exists within the ranks of our older citizens.

My novels were inspired by people I met when my mom and stepfather lived in a retirement home. My main character, Paul Jacobson, is a crotchety gentleman in his mid-eighties who suffers from short-term memory loss. Even though he can’t remember yesterday, he becomes an amateur sleuth and has a romance with a young chick in her seventies.

Paul is a crime magnet as well as being an older-chick magnet and gets in all sorts of trouble with the law, first in Hawaii and then in Colorado. With the assistance of his granddaughter, Jennifer, he solves a number of mysteries, and after first being a suspect, helps the police bring the perpetrators to justice.

Under Paul’s gruff exterior beats a heart of gold. He overcomes the effects of his short-term memory loss and continues to lead a successful and exciting life.

After retiring from the computer data storage industry in 2007, I’m now writing full time and also volunteering in organizations helping seniors. In Boulder County, Colorado, where I live, I’m on a Countywide Leadership Council and on the Aging Advisory Council that reviews funding requests from organizations providing services to seniors. I also attended a citizens’ police academy and volunteer for police training role-playing exercises. I have been giving a presentation at retirement communities and service organizations titled, “Aging and Other Minor Inconveniences,” that promotes a positive image of aging through humor and examples from my writing.

Writing about older characters presents the challenge of overcoming typical stereotypes. I enjoy portraying quirky characters who provide models for what we all can become as we grow older—vital, involved, humorous, alive people.

As Paul says, he may have been dealt a crapola hand that includes a memory that resets like the clock on a microwave when the power goes out, but he still gets up every morning to live his life to the fullest.

Mike Befeler Author of Retirement Homes Are Murder and Living With Your Kids Is Murder "It's hard to beat a team that includes a wisecracking old fart and a straight-talking young sprout, and Befeler's second geezer-lit entry delivers"-Kirkus Review

24 August 2009

Book Banter -- The Amateurs

Title: The Amateurs
Author: Marcus Sakey
Genre: mystery/thriller
Length: 378 pages
Plot Basics: Four friends -- Alex, Mitch, Jenn and Ian -- all feel like their lives are stuck in a rut, save for their Thursday nights when they meet for drinks at the bar where Alex works and dream and play games like Ready Go (For example: What would you do if you won the lottery? Ready? Go.) When Alex is asked by his criminally-connected boss to serve as muscle during some kind of shady deal, the four hatch a plan that will shake up their lives. Rather than see the money turned over for a drug deal, they will rob the boss and use the money to move beyond their current circumstances. Of course, the foursome knows nothing about how to be criminals and the people on the other end of the robbery are quite good at it, forcing them out of their humdrum lives in ways they would never have imagined.
Banter Points: There are few other authors that Word Nerd reads who have the same keen sense of pacing as Marcus Sakey does. It's more than just a plot that keeps the reader turning pages to find out what happens next, but when to kick the story up a notch, when to give the reader the briefest respite from the intensity of the story, when to shock them. And that's all while writing darn believable people with stories of their own that make them feel like people you know. Sakey delivers another all-around winner with The Amateurs.
Bummer Points: This isn't necessarily a bummer, but Word Nerd really wants to see Sakey try something really different. All of his books so far have been great, hard to put down stories. But at their core, they all feature regular people going up against savvy criminals. Sakey's clearly found a niche that works and that he does well, but Word Nerd wonders what would happen if the formula was shaken a bit.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Great crime fiction. Sakey's other books have all ended up in Word Nerd's Top 10 books for the year list and it's a strong, strong possibility that this one will be there as well.

21 August 2009

Book Banter -- The Intuitionist

Title: The Intuitionist
Author: Colson Whitehead
Genre: literary fiction
Length: ~250 pages
Plot Basics: Lila Mae Watson is the first black woman elevator inspector in the City. She also belongs to a new school of elevator inspection -- Intuitionism, a spooky ability to step into an elevator and know what's wrong with it. But when an elevator she recently expected goes into free fall, Lila Mae has to enter a shadowy world of politics, mobsters and missing journals to clear her name.
Banter Points: Word Nerd read this one because it was her book club pick for the month, and it turned out to be a good one. The elevator inspection theme gives the book a little bit of a "Brave New World" type sci-fi feel, but it's not so heavy-handed that non-sci-fi readers would be overwhelmed by it. Also, while the concept of elevator inspectors sounds a little bizarre, the book is about elevators the same way Watership Down is about rabbit -- they are a well-used vehicle for telling a story about a person and progress and politics and class.
Bummer Points: The copy of this book that Word Nerd checked out from her library had an "African American" sticker slapped on the spine and she found this somewhat odd. The story was great... no bummers there...but she didn't know what to make of this sticker. Was it a warning so that she knew it was written by a black man and featured black characters? Was it so that black readers could find it? She just found it sad that a piece of literature was so labeled when the points Whitehead made about race and class were valid for any reader.
Word Nerd Recommendation: It's not a new book, but it's a great book for book clubs or reports for high school/college students. Or anyone looking for something thought-provoking.

20 August 2009

Bouchercon Guest Blogger #4 -- Camille Minichino/Margaret Grace

It's one woman with two names -- and while she deals in miniatures, she's sharing her big thoughts on Bouchercon with us today. Take it away Camille. Or Margaret.

Elementary in Indianapolis
By Camille Minichino/Margaret Grace

Only about 2 months and I'll be in Indianapolis! There are so many attractions to be excited about. The famous Motorway. The impressive Monument. The Indianapolis Museum of Art, the fifth largest in the country. And I'm picturing myself navigating that amazing network of skywalks I've seen photos of. (Can you say, "shopping?")

Let's not forget the seventeen hundred or so readers and authors I'll meet at Bouchercon. And all the book dealers. And walking around talking about Rex Stout's "Some Buried Caesar," feeling very literary.

This year's program promises many new and interesting features. I'm looking forward to sessions designed around group discussions and conversations, an author's bazaar with free books for attendees, and (my favorite) a crafts room.

I'll have a chance to demonstrate the craft I write about: miniatures. "Mourning in Miniature," the 4th in my miniature mystery series will be out by then (released date October 6). If you've ever wondered what could go wrong at a 30-year high school reunion, it's all here!

In the crafts room we'll have a "make it and take it" session where attendees can make a simple mini or two on the spot and take them home. Here's a sample of what I'm planning: mini vases (beads) of flowers (colored foam). The photo shows the scale, with many mini vases surrounding a life size vase that's about 3 inches in diameter.

I've donated a miniature scene to the Charity Auction, always a very satisfying endeavor. A preview is shown: a reading corner with mini versions of some of our favorite books!

There are a lot of parallels between making a miniature scene and writing a novel. In each case I'm creating a model of reality, a fictional world where things can be easier and often make more sense than in the life-size world. In the world of dollhouses, the bathrooms never need cleaning, and the whole house can be recarpeted in less than an hour. In my (cozy) mystery novels, the sleuth and her loved ones always survive and justice is always served.

What could be more satisfying?

I'll also be sneaking away from the conference for 2 other Indianapolis attractions, but the IRS need not worry, since they're "work" related. First, I'm eager to see the Dillinger exhibit at the Indiana State Library. (What? He didn't look like Johnny Depp?)

And I can't miss the Museum of Miniature Houses in nearby Carmel. I hope a native will tell me how to pronounce this. CarMEL, as the town in California? Or CARmel, as with camel or (almost) the chewy candy? The museum has more than 50 miniature houses and room boxes. The website displays some of them at http://www.museumofminiatures.org/photogallery.html. I know I'll leave with a camera and notebook full of ideas, for books in the miniature mystery series and for mini projects at my home crafts table.

My passions for crime fiction and miniatures will come together in the Hoosier State. I can hardly wait!

By the way, Camille/Margaret, it's CARmel, just like the candy.

18 August 2009

Bouchercon Guest Blogger #3 -- Julie Kramer

This pre-Bouchercon mystery author bloggers thing has gotten such a great response, Word Nerd is moving this feature from one day a week to two days a week! Twice the pre-convention fun! Twice the inside look at writing from a slew of authors! So, Thursday will be another author, but kicking off the Tuesday schedule is Julie Kramer, who you can also catch this Thursday at the Mystery Company in Carmel.

Not only am I going to Bouchercon in Indianapolis this fall, but I'm coming to the Mystery Company in Carmel on August 20 at 7 pm to speak, sign and rub elbows with owner Jim Huang. Though I'm a Minnesota author, I'm going to get to know Indiana pretty well over the next four years because this Friday I'm dropping my son off at Notre Dame.
But instead of maternal gushing, let me tell you about myself and my books.
I'm a career television news producer recently turned novelist. Often, when I was writing news, I found myself thinking life would be easier I wasn't bound by facts. But when I tried to write fiction, I found myself wishing I had some facts. Because making things up felt like cheating. But once I worked through that quandary, I found news to be an excellent background for writing novels.

For example, I've interviewed hundreds of people, many on the best or worst day of their lives. And I think that helped give me an ear for dialogue.

And of course, every day of our working lives, journalists have rubbed in our faces the fact that truth is stranger than fiction. And I think that gives us the chutzpah to press farther in character and plot development than might initially feel believable. For those of you who insist fiction is stranger...well, let's take a woman out to kill a rival for her lover's affection. Say she has to drive across the country for the deed, so to save time let's put diapers on her. And why not make her an astronaut while we're at it? See what I mean?

My debut, STALKING SUSAN (just re-released in paperback and an Anthony nominee for Best First Novel) was inspired by a couple of cold cases I covered a decade ago. Two women, both named Susan were strangled on the same day, two years apart. In my novel, I invented a TV reporter who discovers a serial killer targeting women named Susan. Last summer, as I did book promotion, I always mentioned the victims and reminded folks that the cases remain unsolved 25 years later. You see, journalists like closure in our stories, so I hoped to shake loose a few long buried tips. But instead of calling the police with leads, people called to say, "When are you going to catch that Susan killer?" So the homicides were assigned to the St. Paul Cold Case Unit, which recently announced that new forensics tests on the old evidence have found DNA. That DNA shows that both women had different killers. So instead of a serial killer, two people have gotten away with murder for a quarter of a century. And now the cops are closer to solving the cases then they've ever been.

For my latest book, MISSING MARK, I didn't want to write back to back serial killers (although now I'm told they sell very well.) Because I've covered numerous missing people, I wanted to share with readers how newsrooms decide which cases get publicity and which don't. It can be a provocative discussion. So my TV reporter answers a want ad reading "Wedding Dress For Sale: Never Worn" and finds a jilted bride who doesn't know whether her groom got cold feet or is a cold case himself.

New authors are always insecure, so when People Magazine recently gave MISSING MARK a rave - "Smart dialogue and a fleet pace make this second outing in Kramer's fledgling series a crowd-pleaser" - that gave me a big boost in author confidence. Now I'm looking forward to Bouchercon with a big smile on my face, unless you think crime writers are better off sporting a scowl.

17 August 2009

Book Banter -- The Poet

Title: The Poet
Author: Michael Connelly
Genre: Mystery
Length: 598 pages
Plot Basics: Jack McEvoy is an ace reporter for the Rocky Mountain News, crafting his beat around getting the story of murders, the victims and their families. But when his twin brother, Sean, commits suicide, Jack becomes part of his own reporting. His doggedness with the case reveals startling information that lands Jack with the FBI and a nationwide manhunt for a serial killer obsessed with police officers and detectives. As the FBI closes in on the killer, known as the Poet, and Jack gets closer to the story of his career, the danger to him becomes very real.
Banter Points: Word Nerd started reading Connelly a few months ago to gear up for Bouchercon, reading his famous Harry Bosch series. After four of those, she's sold on Harry as a character, but sticking with publication order, picks up the Poet next, even though it jumps characters. And is she glad she did. Word Nerd was blown away by this one -- tight plot, vivid characters, spot-on pacing that kept her turning pages. Given her past career, Word Nerd doesn't normally like books with reporters as main characters, but Jack McEvoy is perfect, owing, no doubt, to Connelly's own background in newspapers.
Bummer Points: Word Nerd wishes more Connelly's backlist that she's still working through was Jack McEvoy instead of Harry Bosch.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Not ready to commit to another long series of mysteries? Skip right to this one. Perfect as a standalone read.

13 August 2009

Bouchercon Guest Blogger #2 -- Debbi Mack

Welcome to the second installment of the Bouchercon guest bloggers series. Next up on the tour: Debbi Mack.

How I (Accidentally) Became a (Sort of) Short Story Writer
by Debbi Mack

You know, when I started making serious efforts to write and publish fiction, I intended to be a novelist.

The first novel I wrote was a hardboiled mystery featuring a lawyer-sleuth named Stephanie Ann "Sam" McRae. After it was critiqued by another author, who said, "I like it. This is publishable," I sent queries out to every agent I could. Got a few nibbles, even one request for the full manuscript—but no offers. Mostly what I got were rejections.

While I was doing all this, I got an idea for another Sam McRae novel. So I went to work on that. Finished it, sent it round to agents—and got more rejections. Not even nibbles this time.

As for short stories, I'd always heard they were HARD to write, that your story had to be told in the fewest words possible, resonate with readers in a profound, unforgettable way and end with a terribly clever twist. Sounded really hard! Plus how many markets were there for short story crime fiction? Let's see . . . one . . . two . . . (Are you counting the same two magazines I am? Yeah, I thought so.) Not a lot of markets, in any case.

Even so, I dashed off a short story for a contest. Didn't win, but placed third. Not bad, I thought. Maybe even something worth cleaning up and submitting elsewhere.

Then, the Chesapeake Chapter of Sisters in Crime took blind submissions for its first anthology, CHESAPEAKE CRIMES. So I revised the story a bit and submitted it. And—what do you know—my first acceptance!

So, I started thinking—hey, maybe I should do a few more of these. So (in between novels, which I continued to write and pitch) I worked on several more short stories. I submitted to CHESAPEAKE CRIMES 2, but didn't make the cut that time. Oh, well, can't win them all.

Still there are many benefits to writing short stories, even if you want to be a novelist.

First, they're short. So even though that makes them tougher to write in some respects, it also means it won't take you forever to finish one.

Second, they can be a great way to break into publishing. After CHESAPEAKE CRIMES, I could finally say I was a published crime fiction writer. A big step, in my opinion.

Third, if you publish a few short stories now and then, it's a good way to keep your name out there between books. So even if some time lapses between novels (like, for some of us, several years?), you can claim active status as a fiction author by adding more short stories to your resume.

As a result, when a short story idea would hit me (and that's usually the way it felt—like it came to me in a flash), I'd sit down and start typing. Just get it down, see if it went anywhere. I've done this five or six times now—followed through and finished five. Of this number, three have been chosen to be published. And I'd like to polish up the others and submit those, too.

Meanwhile, I did finally find a publisher who accepted that second Sam McRae story, which was published as my first novel, IDENTITY CRISIS. I've written a third one and have lots more ideas for a series.

Now, three published short stories are, at best, a good start to a short story writing career. Nonetheless, it's occurred to me that my ratio of short stories to novels either published or pending same is 3-to-1 at this point. Which makes me primarily a short story writer—I guess.

And I sort of blundered my way into the whole thing.

I have to say I've learned several things from this. First, I actually enjoy writing short stories. They're fast, they're fun, they're challenging—I feel like I've really accomplished something when I write one.

Second, there's no money in short story writing. The markets are limited—two major crime fiction magazines, perhaps a few other less-obvious publications, some online ezines, the occasional open anthology and other than that, it's invite only, folks. And the pay? Well . . .

Third, I will do anything to be able to say I'm a published crime fiction writer, including writing short stories for a limited market and lousy pay.

And, if that's not devotion, what is?

Debbi Mack's novel, IDENTITY CRISIS, is a hardboiled mystery featuring female lawyer Sam McRae in a complex case of murder and identity theft. The novel was recently reissued in print and as an e-book. She's written other Sam McRae stories and would like to publish a whole series of them—when she finds a new publisher, that is. Her short stories have appeared in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES and BackAlleyWebzine.com. Debbi will have a short story in CHESAPEAKE CRIMES 4 to be published by Wildside Press in March 2010. Meanwhile, she keeps on writing more novels and, of course, short stories.

11 August 2009

Book Banter -- Killer Summer

Title: Killer Summer
Author: Ridley Pearson
Genre: suspense/thriller
Length: ~370 pages
Plot Basics: Sun Valley, Idaho -- Sheriff Walt Fleming's on alert because of a prestigious wine auction happening at a high-end resort. As a group of thieves try for the wine, Walt realizes that the wine theft is a cover-up for a more serious crime: kidnapping. Only the plot goes awry and his nephew is caught up in the kidnappers plan. Walt has only a few hours to foil the plot and rescue his nephew before the FBI is called in and Walt doesn't trust them to keep his nephew safe.
Banter Points: Halfway through the book, the action really picked up and reminded Word Nerd of the other Ridley Pearson books she's read. Pearson writes great action sequences that keeps the plot moving and keeps the reader turning pages.
Bummer Points: Overall, Word Nerd found this title disappointing. She was excited for the chance to review a Pearson book because her past experience (The Seizing of Yankee Green Mall, the Peter and Starcatchers books) was good. But, she hadn't read of the other Walt Fleming books, but was figuring that wouldn't matter and she was reading an ARC of this title. Word Nerd felt for the first 100 pages at least that she suffered from character whiplash in Pearson's super-short chapters, bouncing from one to the next and never getting a feel for any of them. Ditto with plot. She gets it that it's supposed to feel unbalanced, but when the wine heist came up out of nowhere, Word Nerd felt really stupid. Also stupid was thinking she could drop in on the middle of the series -- but unlike some series, she has no interest in going back and filling in the gaps. She really has to wonder just how advanced this ARC really was and hopes that perhaps some substantive changes were made between this version and the version now on shelves.
Word Nerd Recommendation: Based on the ARC, skip it. Go back to Pearson's earlier titles.

07 August 2009

Book Banter -- The Last Coyote

Title: The Last Coyote (Harry Bosch, bk. 4)

Author: Michael Connelly

Genre: mystery

Length: ~400 pages

Plot Basics: LAPD detective Harry Bosch is on a forced leave from the department after attacking his supervisor. Required to go to counseling, Bosch starts delving into his psych and why he's a cop. What comes to the forefront is the need to solve his own mother's brutal murder. Harry takes on the investigation off the books, endangering his career, his friends and himself. As the case progresses, it becomes clear that the murder was never solved for a reason and Harry stirs up trouble everywhere he goes.

Banter Points: This might be Word Nerd's favorite of the Harry Bosch books so far. Bosch has always been a rich character, but this book takes him to a new level. It's neat to see a character forced into so much introspection with a plot to go along with it. The book is still the high action expected from a Harry Bosch story, but it's got great depth too.

Bummer Points: Word Nerd just didn't like the girl who becomes Harry's new squeeze in this one. There's no good reason for it...other than Word Nerd was still rooting for Sylvia.

Word Nerd Recommendation: Word Nerd wishes she had more time to get more of Connelly's books read before Bouchercon. As it is, she's really glad that the convention got her to pick up this great series of mysteries instead of just keeping them on the someday list. If you like mysteries and haven't read these, the question is, "What are you waiting for?"

06 August 2009

Bouchercon Guest Blogger #1 -- Beth Groundwater

Since Bouchercon is coming to Indianapolis in a few months and since Word Nerd is in Indianapoils and attending Bouchercon, she decided to allow some Bouchercon-bound authors to take over her blog in the coming weeks.

Kicking things off this week is Beth Groundwater. Take it away Beth...

Many thanks to Bethany for inviting me to submit a guest article to her blog prior to my appearance at the Bouchercon conference in Indianapolis.

My mystery books feature a Colorado Springs gift basket designer as an amateur sleuth who solves murders that fall in her lap (literally, in the first book!). The first book, A Real Basket Case, was released March, 2007 and was nominated for a 2007 Best First Novel Agatha Award (named for Agatha Christie). To Hell in a Handbasket, the second in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series, was released May 15th this year. Claire has a part-time gift basket business in the basement of her home and puts together different types of gift baskets in the books.

I’d love to answer any questions you have about what it’s like to write a craft-based mystery series, so please submit them in a comment here. To whet your appetite, here’s a favorite gift basket recipe that I hope you’ll enjoy and use for someone who adores all things mysterious.

Recipe for a Mystery Lover's Gift Basket
Color scheme: black, red, and either white or gray
Container: black-painted basket, bucket or box, with a lid or handle sticking up, from which you hang fake spider webbing
Stuffing: dried Spanish moss or red-dyed tissue paper, shreds, or wood shavings
- A Real Basket Case and/or To Hell in a Handbasket mystery books
- CD of eerie music such as Mystery Movie Scores or Mystery Sound Effects
- Pocket-sized mystery party game or travel Clue game
- Movie DVD: Clue, Mousetrap, an Alfred Hitchcock or Sherlock Holmes movie, or a movie collection (Mystery Classics: 50 Movie Pack)
- Chocolate or bubble gum coins or other mystery-related chocolate shapes such as blood drops, knives, or guns (see http://www.chocolatepen.com/pieces.html for a sample vendor)
- And a selection from the following list:
-- Magnifying glass
-- Pair of play handcuffs and/or sheriff's badge
-- Rubber knife
-- Glasses, nose, mustache disguise
-- Skull-shaped/logo item(s): tea-light candle holder, squeeze ball, notepad, drinking cup (see the Halloween collection at http://www.orientaltrading.com/)
-- Bottle of stage blood from a costume or makeup supply store, or make your own (see chemistry.about.com/cs/howtos/ht/fakeblood.htm)

Unlike my amateur sleuth, Claire Hanover, I do not have a gift basket business of my own. My business is writing mystery novels! I live in Colorado Springs, where I defend my garden from marauding mule deer and wild rabbits and try to avoid getting black-and-blue on Colorado’s black and blue ski slopes. I have loved to read since I was a child and savor those monthly meetings with my Book Club, and not just for the gossip and wine. For more information about me and my books, and to sign up for my email newsletter and enter a contest for free mystery books, go to: http://bethgroundwater.com/.

04 August 2009

Book Banter -- The Historian

Title: The Historian
Author: Elizabeth Kostova
Length: 676 pages
Genre: Literary horror
Plot Basics: A girl grows up under the shadow of her father's research in Vlad Tepes, the man behind the Vlad the Impaler/Vlad Dracula legends. When her father disappears one night, she takes off after him in a mad-cap pursuit to find him before Dracula does. As she travels, she reads her father's diaries and letters about his hunt for the Dracula years early, through eastern Europe during the height of the Cold War.
Banter Points: This was a refreshing break from the current pop culture vampire fiction. Even though Kostova's tome is only a few years old, it reads like Stoker's Dracula, with letters and diaries and documents providing the foundation for the story. And, like Stoker, Dracula is a bad guy... not the book's love interest. Additionally, Kostova's own historical research figures in prominently and smoothly to this book -- it's hard to tell where the legend leaves off and her imagination begins.
Bummer Points: The only drawback to this book is its length. Because it's so long, it takes the plot a little while to really ramp up and get going. Additionally, there are parts of it that read almost more like a history book than a novel when the background gets really thick.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you like quiet horror, and history this is a must-read. This is another top contender for Word Nerd's top ten books list this year.

03 August 2009

Book Banter -- Fade to Blue

Title: Fade to Blue
Author: Sean Beaudoin
Genre: YA
Length: 190 pages
Plot Basics: Sophie Blue is a hardcore Goth-girl whose paranoia that somebody's out to get her might just be real. Of course, there was that time she got hit by an ice cream truck... Now, a year later, Sophie is trying to find her dad who mysteriously disappeared, motivate her comic-book loving brother and deal with her breakdown suffering mom, all while working on her Suicide-Bunny-esque drawings and nursing her crush for Aaron Agar. Sophie's paranoia isn't misplaced -- that ice cream truck is still out to get her and she got to figure out what's real and what isn't about her town and her life.
Banter Points: Fade to Blue was an interesting premise -- a little bit Matrix, a little bit Veronica Mars, a little bit Quantum Leap. It also had this unique feature of a mini comic book halfway through that was important to the plot and moving the story ahead. Also, while Word Nerd isn't always a fan of chapters leaping between different characters POV (particularly the switch between multiple first person POV), it really worked for this book. She'd say more about this, but it might get into spoiler land, so she'll refrain.
Bummer Points: As a whole though, Fade to Blue just didn't work for Word Nerd. There could be lots of reasons -- she was reading it outside while staffing a golf outing, she was put off by the f-bombs (not expecting those) and the snarkiness of the characters, the cast of high school student characters felt stereotypical, Word Nerd's not a teenager, she was getting sunburned while reading it outside at a golf outing... Whatever the case, Word Nerd was disappointed that she was disappointed. The book looks cool, it's got neat plot twists, but Word Nerd just wasn't captivated by it.
Word Nerd Recommendation: If you are a teen reader and you're done with Gossip Girl and over Twilight, Beaudoin's story is original and worth an afternoon if you like sci-fi. Grown-ups, this a YA that doesn't cross over well.