Thursday, December 13, 2018

A Year of Books

By Catriona.

I always start the year with good intentions: I'm going to write down everything I've read and make a note of what books are eligible for the various awards I get to nominate for - Leftys, Agathas and Anthonys. Usually, it all falls apart sometime in the summer. This year, for no reason I can find, I stuck with it. Here are the results.

Read: 68
crime fiction: 42
other fiction: 12
biography: 5
other non-fiction: 9

And I've managed to compose a top five. In no particular order:

Anna Quindlen's Black and Blue (1998) is a word-perfect heart-stopper about a woman escaping an abusive marriage to a policeman. It's full of love, compassion (for everyone), hope and horror and kept me up late into the night. The line that keeps coming back to me is Officer Benedetto saying to his bleeding wife: "What ya gonna do, Fran? Call the police?" This book might have taken a couple of weeks off my life, by making my blood boil, but it was worth it;

Another chuckle-fest - wait though, it might have its dark side but the warmth of these characters is irresistible - was Midnight At The Bright Ideas Bookstore, by Matthew Sullivan. (Eligible for debut nominations, by the way.) I didn't know Colorado had grungy bits (I've only been to Fort Collins) but that's where this biblio-mystery is set, in the welcoming disorder of the titular bookstore and in the tangled life of Lydia Smith, who works there. Clues in books, secrets in the past, peril in the present - this is a square, fair-play puzzle and absolutely compelling.

Late to the party? Moi? When you're reading the collector's edition with fan art and book-club notes, you know you've missed your chance to look cool. Eh. The Hate You Give by Angie Thomas (2017) deserves every bit of the hoopla it's getting. The plot is - tragically - ripped from the headlines, concerning as it does an unarmed black teen shot by a white cop during a (probably baseless) traffic stop.

The narrator is Starr Carter, a triumph of a character. She's believably insecure and conflicted, a refreshing change from the glib sassy feisty girl heroine that clogs up some YA. I loved her. I missed her when the book was finished. And, while I don't know how Starr would read to someone who's living a real version of her fictional life, she taught this heap of middle-aged white privilege a sharp lesson and did it with a lot of charm.

The fourth of my top five reads of the year is Kristen Lepionka's The Last Place You Look (2017). Ohhhhh, it's good. You think you've read enough PIs with sad lives, poor judgement and drinking problems? Wrong. You need to make the acquaintance of the splendidly-named Roxanne Weary, as she mourns her father, completely fails to stay away from bad influences and cracks open the coldest of cold cases in the shadow of death row. I can't remember the last time I finished a book and immediately drove to a bookshop to buy the sequel, but suffice to say What You Want To See is just as good (and eligible for all the 2019 awards).

My last choice is a stretch for a crimewriters' blog. Trevor Noah's memoir Born A Crime (2016) title-aside, isn't really in the genre. On the other hand, there's kidnap, petty theft, some of the most bumbling efforts at extortion you'll ever see, and the big crime itself, so I'm claiming it.

Noah's account of his early life in the near totalitarianism of that racist regime is . . . hilarious. Really. It's heartbreaking too, of course. And warm, and infuriating, and inspiring and, I'm ashamed to say, informative. I thought I knew about apartheid. I was a student, singing and marching and voting to change the name of the cafeteria, while it went through its death throes. And sitting all day in February 1990, watching that shot of that hot dusty road, waiting for the first glimpse of Nelson Mandela in my lifetime is something I'll never forget. Turns out, though, I had no clue. Or - maybe, and I prefer this explanation - it's just that Noah is a talented writer who brings the past to life in new ways. Yeah let's go with that, eh?!

So there you have it. There's something for everyone in my top five, I reckon. Happy holidays and happy reading.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

For your Cathy Ace

End of year recommendations - always tough, and I haven't read as much as I'd hoped this year. I've decided the best thing to do is to list those books which have stuck out for me, and try to help you understand what they are like. Not everything is everyone's cup of tea - but, whatever you read, enjoy the Festive Season, and thanks for your support, Cathy  

For juveniles: CHASE – Get Ready To Run by Linwood Barclay
This book won the Crime Writers of Canada’s Arthur Ellis Award for best Juvenile/YA book in 2018, and it’s great fun! Here’s what the judges said about it – they speak more eloquently than I could:
The plot is inventive and captivating from the opening chapter where the reader is taken into the mind of a dog as Chipper, the Border Collie, escapes from a top secret, scientific facility. This is a highly imaginative but believable story exploring the potential of cyber crime using a dog to mask the nefarious goals of his handlers. The book has strong boy and girl characters with the girl, atypically, being the computer expert and the boy expressing well the emotions and difficulties of being an orphan. It quietly introduces an emerging boy girl relationship suitable for the juvenile age group. The author employs age appropriate language and uses humour to temper the more frightening aspects of the story.

For those who enjoy an escapist adventure with wit, whimsy and dead bodies: A SPOT OF TOIL AND TROUBLE by Catriona McPherson

I’m catching up with my TBR pile and, although Catriona has a new book out in the Dandy Gilver series, I just read this one!  GREAT FUN!

Scotland, 1934.
Aristocratic private detective Dandy Gilver arrives at Castle Bewer, at midsummer, to solve the tangled mystery of a missing man, a lost ruby and a family curse.
The Bewer family's latest wheeze to keep the wolf from the door is turning the castle keep into a theatre. While a motley band of players rehearse Macbeth, the Bewers themselves prepare lectures, their faithful servants set up a tearoom, and the guest wings fill with rich American ladies.
Meanwhile, Dandy and her sidekick Alec Osborne begin to unravel the many secrets of the Bewers and find that, despite the witches, murders and ghosts onstage, it's behind the scenes where the darkest deeds are done.

A lone man on a lonely road? PAST TENSE by Lee Child

I settle into a Lee Child Reacher book with a certainty that I’ll enjoy it! This one is an instant CLASSIC!

Jack Reacher hits the pavement and sticks out his thumb. He plans to follow the sun on an epic trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn’t get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been: the town where his father was born. He thinks, What’s one extra day? He takes the detour.
At the same moment, in the same isolated area, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians had been on their way to New York City to sell a treasure. Now they’re stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. The owners seem almost too friendly. It’s a strange place, but it’s all there is.
The next morning, in the city clerk’s office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He’s told no one named Reacher ever lived in town. He’s always known his father left and never returned, but now Reacher wonders, Was he ever there in the first place?
As Reacher explores his father’s life, and as the Canadians face lethal dangers, strands of different stories begin to merge. Then Reacher makes a shocking discovery: The present can be tough, but the past can be tense . . . and deadly.

Fancy some dark deeds and damaged souls? DAMAGED by Martina Cole

Martina Cole never disappoints, so if you want Brit Grit at its best, this is for you!

DCI Kate Burrows might be retired, but when the bodies of missing schoolgirls start turning up in Grantley, she's the first person DCI Annie Carr calls for help.
Life for Kate and ex-gangster Patrick Kelly is thrown into chaos when his long lost son turns up out of the blue, bringing trouble with him. This new case could be just what Kate needs.
But as the body count grows, Kate and Annie face a race against the clock.
Without any clear leads, can they stop the killer before another schoolgirl dies?

I'd be honoured of you'd consider reading my work. You can find out all about it here:

I have a new book coming out on January 9th (PRE-ORDER now!) - and it's a bit different for me! Here are a couple of blurbs from two fellow Criminal Minds:

"A close-knit community in a quaint Welsh village in an area of outstanding beauty. Sounds cozy. But Cathy Ace's stunning new standalone, THE WRONG BOY, is about as cozy as a cornered snake. Told in a rising chorus of authentic voices, the story is deft and disturbing, creepingly claustrophobic, and with a grip that tightens to a choke-hold before its shattering conclusion."  Catriona McPherson, multi-award-winning author of ‘Go To My Grave’ 

“Drenched in Welsh atmosphere, forbidding weather, and mysterious folklore, THE WRONG BOY is a gem of a thriller that bewitches right up to the twisted ending you won’t see coming. Masterful plotting and characters so real, you’ll swear you know them. Ace is a master portraitist.” James W Ziskin, multi-award-winning author of The Ellie Stone Mysteries

Find out more: CLICK HERE

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Books, Books and more....

It’s that time of year: Time for those of us in Criminal Minds to recommend some favorite books—either to buy as gifts for others, or as a gift to yourself to sneak off to read when family threatens to overwhelm you, or to unwind after the holidays. Here’s what I, Terry Shames, recommend:

At the top of my list is always Timothy Hallinan. His Night Town is this year’s offering in the Junior Bender series, and it’s one of the best books I read this year. As usual, it’s witty with a backdrop of Junior’s philosophical musings.

Last year Steven Cooper introduced his detective Alex Mill and his psychic friend Gus Parker. I don’t usually go in for paranormal mysteries, but Gus is a treasure, annoyed because people assume he can “go psychic” any old time. Instead it’s a frustrating and elusive gift. Dig Your Grave is the latest, and a terrific, beautifully written book.

Rhys Bowen surprised and delighted her readers last year when she deviated from her two series to write a standalone historical novel,  In Farleigh Field, which was nominated for an Edgar. This year she not only produced another Lady Georgie mystery, Four Funerals and Maybe a Wedding, but also another historical mystery, The Tuscan Child.  Everything she writes is infused with humor and is also meticulously researched. I highly recommend her books.

I’m delighted that Patricia Smiley has come out with another in her Pacific Homicide police procedural series. I haven’t read The Second Goodbye, but can’t wait to, because it has gotten rave reviews and I really like her Detective, Davie Richards.

Same with Matt Coyle, whose contemporary take on noir mysteries gets better with every book. He has sneaked his way past Michael Connelly in my estimate. Wrong Light just came out and it will go to the top of my TBR stack.

I’m sure Lou Berney will be on everyone’s list, for good reason. November Road is a treasure, one of those books that haunt you long after you’ve read it.

What’s with those Southern California writers? They seem to be hogging my attention. Here’s another one my list. Lisa Brackmann’s Black Swan Rising is as chilling a book as you’ll read in this political climate. Author Kim Fay put it best, “…captures the heat of our country’s moral and civic battles.”

I always enjoyed Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver series—it’s funny as hell. Then McPherson set out to take the psychological suspense novel to another level. And she is a master of it. Go To My Grave is a chilling read. I highly recommend it.

Sunburn, by Laura Lipmann, has captured a lot of attention this year, and for good reason. It’s the perfect thriller. Just when you think you’ve figured out what’s up, there’s another twist.

In a different genre, George Weir has written a fascinating alternate reality book, Neptune’ Forge, about an ill-fated expedition to the South Pole. I was lucky enough to read it as an ARC and I think it’s his best book yet, which is saying something since George writes about a book a month.
For a look at the cover, go to:

I read a debut novel this year that I really liked, Lissa Redmond’s A Cold Day in Hell. With twenty-two years as a detective in Buffalo, New York under her belt, Redmond knows how police business works and she knows how to write about it. I have great expectations for this series.

My list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning my pal Melissa Lenhardt’s newest, Heresy, a feminist historical novel of the old west. Since I haven’t had a chance to read it, I’ll have to rely on the New York Times, which called it, “(Lendhardt’s unapologetically baddass western…There will be shootouts and standoffs. There will be rotgut whiskey and weary horses. There will be cattle rustlers and scores to settle. The only difference is that women get all the action. It’s about time.”

So many more that I read an enjoyed. Quick mention of a few: Danny Gardner’s A Negro and an Ofay, James Anderson’s Lullaby Road, Lori Rader-Day’s Under a Dark Sky.

Do not take this as a definitive list. It’s just a few that I read and enjoyed, or am looking forward to. So many books, so little time….