Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Review : Briarpatch

Briarpatch by Ross Thomas. Penguin Books, 1985.

[Source: Purchased]

1985 Edgar Award Winner for Best Novel

Briarpatch opens with the death of Detective Felicity Dill. Her brother, Ben Dill, journeys home for the funeral and to find out why his sister died. A twisted web of politics, policing and crime quickly surround Dill. He is employed by a Senator who happens to have business in Dill’s home town and is the childhood friend of the criminal who is the subject of that business. While he navigates this dicey terrain, Dill teams up with his sister’s friend and lawyer to manipulate events towards a remarkable conclusion, trusting no one else to find his sister’s killer.

Though written in 1984, there is very little to date this novel. The same story could easily occur today. The only thing that took me out of the story was wondering why it was called Briarpatch, but that eventually comes out though late in the book. In researching the author after the fact, I found that Thomas is known for thrillers with a political twist. He is clearly a master at unmasking the world of professional politics as well as weaving believable and suspenseful crime stories. Ross Thomas wrote 20 standalone crime thrillers and an additional five series novels using the pseudonym Oliver Bleeck. His first novel, The Cold War Swap, won the 1967 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

I would definitely recommend Briarpatch to readers of crime fiction, especially if you enjoy a splash of politics in your crime.

Related post:
Reading challenge : Edgar Awards

Amazon Associate link:
The Cold War Swap

Friday, August 26, 2011

Weekly wrap-up: number thirty-three

The weekly wrap-up is my way of keeping my loyal readers informed of my bookish activities and holding myself to my bookish obligations. The questions may change slightly depending on the week.

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: Briarpatch by Ross Thomas

Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: It is the next book on my Edgar Awards Reading Challenge reading list.

Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: Blood of the Reich by William Dietrich

Q: What do you plan to read next and why do you want to read it?
A: Well, I was planning on reading either The Messenger of Athens by Anne Zouroudi or A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan. However, a friend lent me a copy of Don't Breathe a Word a couple of months back and is slightly miffed I haven't read it yet. So it wins!

Q: What bookish plans do you have?
A: I may swing by the local Borders to see what the sales look like. Otherwise, it's a slow time for bookish events in Indianapolis.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Review : Blood of the Reich

Blood of the Reich by William Dietrich. Harper, 2011.

[Source: Publisher]

Blood of the Reich follows two parallel stories, one that begins in 1938 with a Nazi expedition to Tibet and the other with a single, cubicle-dwelling woman in present day Seattle. The Nazis are searching for ultimate power in the form of the legendary city of Shambhala. Benjamin Hood, a museum curator and adventurer, races the clock to stop them on orders from the American government thus setting up a battle between good and evil.

This quest for Shambhala reaches out from the past to touch the life of Rominy Pickett. What starts as a completely normal day for Rominy quickly becomes the adventure of a lifetime when a mysterious journalist saves her from a car bomb. Rominy is adopted, but her unknown family history ties her to the events of 1938 and may hold the key to solving the mystery of Shambhala.

William Dietrich’s historical thriller seems well-researched and is definitely imaginative. The expressions of Nazi philosophy were both disturbing and fascinating. Dietrich makes them sound almost logical but with a hint of madness. Though I found myself slightly more interested in Rominy’s fate, both storylines were well-executed and came together artfully. I knew more than Rominy early on in the story and am relatively sure Dietrich meant for that to be the case. There were still surprises along the way though, and I stayed up past my bedtime to finish the last fifty pages.

I’m happy to have been introduced to this author and will definitely be reading more of his work. If you are a fan of historical mysteries and thrillers, I highly recommend Blood of the Reich.

Amazon Associate link:
Blood of the Reich

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Review : LaBrava

LaBrava by Elmore Leonard. [read from Three Complete Novels, Wings Books, 1992]

[Source: Purchased]

1984 Edgar Award Winner for Best Novel

LaBrava is completely different than the one other Elmore Leonard book I’ve read, Djibouti, and more typical of what I expected from him. The title comes from the main character’s name, Joe LaBrava, a former Secret Service agent now living in Miami. Thanks to his friend Maurice, he meets his first childhood love, screen actress Jean Shaw. Unfortunately, this also introduces him to Richard Nobles, a thug who seems to have his eyes set on Jean. LaBrava sets out to save Shaw and quickly finds himself in the middle of what could be a big screen story.

Leonard’s writing is clean and precise. He doesn’t give you much more than the essentials and creates believable characters that are all flawed but still likeable when they are supposed to be the good guys. I’m never a fan of overly flowery prose so I like this about Leonard. I can’t say much more about it without ruining it for you. After reading LaBrava, I would read more of his books. If you are a Leonard fan, I recommend you read LaBrava.

Amazon Associate link:

Monday, August 22, 2011

Review : L.A. Noire

L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories. Mulholland Books, 2011.

[Source: Purchased]

L.A. Noire is a collection of short stories all based on the new Rockstar Games video game of the same name. There are some major authors here -- Megan Abbott, Lawrence Block, Joe R. Lansdale, Joyce Carol Oates, Francine Prose, Jonathan Santlofer, Duane Swierczynski, and Andrew Vachss. I’ve read most of these authors before, so I was excited about this collection. All the stories are set in 1947 Los Angeles, the perfect noir setting with movie stars, gangsters, and crimes like the Black Dahlia murder all around.

Most of the stories in L.A. Noire are good, but my favorites were "See the Woman" by Lawrence Block and "Naked Angel" by Joe R. Lansdale. In Block’s story, a retired cop recounts a story of his early days on the force that shows the dark side of being a police officer. Lansdale follow a beat cop as he unravels the truth behind a series of murders and almost ends up a victim himself. Both were wonderful, page-turning stories.

Megan Abbott’s story was a bit too dark for me and there was one other that I couldn’t get through, but, on the whole, L.A. Noire was definitely worth the read. It’s also a brilliant tie-in with the game. I hope it will introduce a brand new audience to these fabulous authors and the noir genre. I would definitely recommend this collection to any noir or mystery fan. L.A. Noire is a quick read that packs quite a punch.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number thirty-two

The weekly wrap-up is my way of keeping my loyal readers informed of my bookish activities and holding myself to my bookish obligations. The questions may change slightly depending on the week.

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: Blood of the Reich by William Dietrich

Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I received a copy for review, and historical thrillers are right up my alley.

Q: What have you read since the last weekly wrap-up?
A: Long Gone by Alafair BurkeLaBrava by Elmore Leonard, and L.A. Noire: The Collected Stories

Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: Briar Patch by Ross Thomas

Q: Why do you want to read it?
A: It's the next up in my Edgar Awards Reading Challenge queue.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: I bought a couple of issues of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern just because I think it's a cool publication. Also purchased: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, The Suspect by L.R. Wright

Q: What bookish events are in your future?
A: The Indianapolis Book Festival is this weekend, and I'm hoping I have the opportunity to go. If you're in the area, check it out! The more support they get, the better the event will get. It's from 10am to 6pm at University Park in downtown Indy.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bookish event : Printers Row Lit Fest 2011

On Saturday, June 4, 2011, I made my annual pilgrimage to the Printers Row Lit Fest. Though I seem to buy less each year, I still love going because of the opportunity to see some great authors. This year's schedule was pretty late coming out, so I'm sure I missed some great authors purely because I didn't have time to research all the names. Fortunately, there were a couple that really jumped out at me - Eleanor Brown and Marcus Sakey.

I began the day listening to Elizabeth Stuckey-French, author of The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady, and Eleanor Brown, author of The Weird Sisters. While the moderator left something to be desired, these two amazing women made it an enjoyable event. After hearing Stuckey-French talk about Radioactive Lady, I’m definitely adding it to my TBR list.

Much of the time was spent discussing point of view. The moderator and several audience members were really interested in Brown’s choice to use the 1st person plural point of view in The Weird Sisters. Eleanor talked about how she’s always been interested in how stories are told. She asked herself why people don’t use 1st person plural. Then she did it and found’s hard. However, for The Weird Sisters, she likes how it highlighted that you can’t escape your family. She told us that the “we” of The Weird Sisters is always all three of the sisters.

Stuckey-French talked about her difficulty in developing Radioactive Lady. In fact, one of her friends told her after reading a draft, I love your characters but you need a new plot. Ouch. The book really took off for her once she started writing Marylou Ahearn’s character. Previously, the story had been told from Dr. Spriggs’ point of view. Radioactive Lady is in 3rd person with different characters taking the lead from chapter to chapter. Stuckey-French said she didn’t use first person because she worried that the characters would sound too much alike.

Another interesting part of the conversation was the reaction of both authors to V.S. Naipaul’s recent comments about female authors. While completely dismissing the idea that men are better authors than women, Brown said male and female authors are treated differently. She brought up the disparity in reviews that was a major topic around the time Franzen’s The Corrections came out. Eleanor also pointed out that we don’t have to criticize male authors to celebrate female authors more.

Afterwards, I finally got to meet Eleanor Brown and have her sign a copy of The Weird Sisters. (Sorry for the blurry picture!)

After some browsing and a yummy lunch at Flaco’s Tacos, I got a book signed by Pete Hamill. Unfortunately, I couldn’t bring myself to sit in a sweltering tent for an hour to hear him speak beforehand.

Then it was time for the walk over to the Harold Washington Library Center to see Chicago-based authors Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover. I was excited to see that copies of The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes were on sale despite the release date being a few days away. Thanks Dutton for letting this happen!

Sakey and Chercover began with the story of their first booksigning, which took place in Kokomo, Indiana. It was a bit of a comedy of errors as they forgot the time change, lost their radio promotion, and sat trapped by a strange man obsessed by serial killers. Fun times. Marcus Sakey has come a long way from that signing with major Hollywood names optioning two of his books. Ben Affleck has the rights to The Blade Itself and Tobey Maguire the rights to Good People.

Sakey talked about how The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes grew out of a quote by Satchel Paige, who said “How old would you be if you didn’t know how old you are?” It gave Sakey the idea of asking the question “Who would you be if you didn’t know who you are?” Chercover jumped in to say that the theme of identity runs through all of Sakey’s works.

Marcus Sakey has a different sort of project on his plate right now -- writing and hosting a new show for the Travel Channel called “Hidden Cities.” Sakey will travel to different cities to investigate the impact of crime and chronicle specific crimes. The first episode looks at Chicago and three famous events/people: the 1968 Democratic Convention riots, John Dillinger, and H.H. Holmes, the serial killer featured in Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City. I’m looking forward to checking this show out.

Both authors will be at Bouchercon this year. If you’re going to be there too, go see them!

I had my brand new copy of The Two Deaths of Daniel Hayes signed afterwards.

That was the end of my day at the Printers Row Lit Fest. A light rain had set in by that point, and I was ready for a rest!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Reading challenge : Edgar Awards : Update six

image courtesy of Jeff Babbitt
My recent reading / blogging slump has also affected my progress on this challenge. Since my last post in June, I'd only read and reviewed one Edgar Awards title, Billingsgate Shoal, until this week. I just finished up LaBrava by Elmore Leonard last night. I hope to get my review up in the next couple of weeks.

In my last post, I mentioned picking up some Edgars books at the closing of my local Borders. Since then, of course, all Borders are closing down, which is a real shame in my opinion. My only hope is that it will drive business to one of the few independent bookstores in my area.

Anyway, two new reviews were submitted on the June post. Veggimomof2 reviewed Coming Back by Marcia Muller, who has received the Edgar's Grand Master award. Monica shared her review of Reality Check by Peter Abrahams, the 2010 Best Young Adult winner.

If you haven't been linking up your reviews, links to do so are in the right sidebar and on the Edgar Awards Reading Challenge page. Use the Mr. Linky below to share your reviews for July and August. Please be sure to give the direct link to your post rather than the link to your blog. For those of you without blogs, feel free to post your update/review in the comments.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Indie Lit Awards : Nominations open soon!

What are the Independent Literary Awards you ask?

The Independent Literary Awards are given to books that have been recommended and voted on by independent literary bloggers. Nominations are open to all readers, and are then voted upon by a panel of bloggers who are proficient in the genre they represent. Each panel is led by a Director who oversees the integrity of the process.

Nomination Guidelines:
  • Books nominated must have a 2011 release date.
  • You may nominate a book that has already been listed (the books with the most nominations will be what we add to the Long List).
  • You may nominate books in more than one genre, up to 5 per genre.
  • Nominations are open to all readers who do not make their income through the sales of books (i.e. not authors, publishers, or publicists) — hence “independent” from the publishing industry.
  • Nominations are open midnight PST September 1, 2011 – 11:59 PST December 31, 2011.
The nomination period is coming up quick. I'm leading the judges panel for the mystery genre, so I hope you all will go to the Independent Literary Awards website and submit your nominations!

The other genres covered by the Indie Lit Awards are:
Literary Fiction
Speculative Fiction

I'm looking forward to seeing your nominations!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Review : Billingsgate Shoal

Billingsgate Shoal by Rick Boyer. Warner Books, 1985. (Originally published 1982)

[Source: Purchased]

1983 Edgar Award Winner for Best Novel

Billingsgate Shoal is the first in Boyer's Doc Adams series. The book opens with Adams observing a strange boat stuck on Billingsgate Shoal. He later sees it coming into port and sends a scuba-diving family friend to check it out. The scuba diver later turns up dead in the water. Adams, thinking it is somehow tied to the boat, feel guilty. There begins his quest to find out the truth about the boat and, hopefully, to assuage his own guilt.

While the story of Billingsgate Shoal is a good one, I had a hard time believing in Doc Adams as a character. I mean how likely is it that a dental surgeon will stumble into a mystery of this size and complexity and make it through the other side. And then to go on to solve a series of mysteries? I just couldn’t get my head around it. It also just didn’t seem up to par with the other Edgar Award-winning novels I’ve read this year. Quite honestly, reading this book is partly to blame for my recent reading slump.

In reading Edgar Award-winning mysteries this year, I’ve found a few series that I would be happy to continue reading. Unfortunately, Boyer’s Doc Adams series doesn’t make this list. Of all the Edgar books I’ve reviewed, I am least likely to recommend it to others.

Amazon affiliate link:
Billingsgate Shoal

Friday, August 12, 2011

Weekly wrap-up : number thirty-one

The weekly wrap-up is my way of keeping my loyal readers informed of my bookish activities and holding myself to my bookish obligations. The questions may change slightly depending on the week.

I was in a bit of a reading and blogging slump for awhile, but the book I'm reading right now is helping get me back on track. I'm hoping to get back to the stack of reviews I have to write and start making some real progress on my giant TBR pile.

Q: What are you reading right now?
A: Spycatcher by Matthew Dunn

Q: Why are you reading it? Business? Pleasure? For review?
A: I received a copy for review, but I'm also getting a lot of pleasure out of it.

Q: What was the last thing you read?
A: One Day by David Nicholls

Q: What do you plan to read next?
A: I need to get an Edgar Awards Reading Challenge book in, so it should be La Brava by Elmore Leonard. However, I think one of the reasons I got burnt out was because I was planning my reading out weeks in advance. I just got overwhelmed. I need to be able to pick what strikes me rather than forcing myself to read something I don't feel like reading. So...we'll see.

Q: What books did you acquire?
A: I've accumulated a few books since my last post, but am most excited to read Hell and Gone by Duane Swierczynski. I read the first in this trilogy and loved it! I also purchased a copy of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, a childhood favorite that I didn't own. I'm looking forward to reading it soon.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

2011 second quarter favorite

I'm a little (okay, more than a little) late in posting my second quarter favorite, but better late than never! I decided to spotlight my favorite book of each quarter this year partially to let you know my clear favorites and partially to help me pick my favorite book of the year when 2011 comes to a close. In 2Q 2011, I read 20 books.

It was really difficult for me to choose just one book, but I'm going to declare my favorite read for the second quarter of 2011 as...

The Ridge by Michael Koryta

Like I said, this was hard. There were a few books that I really loved in the second quarter, but The Ridge really took my breath away. Michael Koryta has really grown as writer in the last few years. I can't wait to see what he comes up with next.

In case you're curious, my runners-up were (links to reviews):
Fun and Games by Duane Swierczynski
Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff
The Cypress House by Michael Koryta

Related post:

Amazon Associate link: