Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2011

It's been another great year of short stories by the best mystery has to offer. Throughout the year I like to keep track of the stories that stood out from the crowd so to speak. Here's a list of the stories I enjoyed the most in 2011:

January/February: First place tie: "The Writing Workshop by Janice Law and "Archie's Escape" by William F. Smith

Runners-up: "The Karnikov Card" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch, "The Alchemist" by R. T. Lawton, and "The Gun Also Rises" by Jeffrey Cohen.

March: My absolute favorite story this month was the Mystery Classic by Jack Ritchie. "The Cardula Detective Agency" first appeared in AHMM in March, 1977. I'll have to look up the other stories in the series because I enjoyed this one so much.

Other stories that I enjoyed for March include: "Catchphrase" by Neil Schofield, "The Pain of Others" by Blake Crouch, and "Small Favors" by Steve Lindley.

April: First place goes to John R. Corrigan's short story "Shooter" which had a great twist ending.

Runners-up: "Lost in a Strange Neighborhood" by Elaine Menge and "Sweet Thing Going" by Percy Spurlark Parker.

May: "Pawns" by Janet E. Irvin was my favorite this month.

Runners-up: "Death in Rehab" by B. K. Stevens and "Bankasaurus Rex" by David Dietrich.

June: My favorite for this month was "What Schedule F Told" by Martha Lufkin

Runners-up: "Natural Defenses" by David Hagerty and "Dark Horizons" by Rex Burns.

July/August Double issue: "Comedy Ann" by Dan Warthman

Runners-up: "Effleman the Psychic" by Kevin Mims, "The Real Celebrities" by Michael Mallory, "Change the Ending" by Terence Faherty, and "The Fact" by Alan Gordon.

September: My favorite short story of the year so far is "Thicker Than Blood" by Doug Allyn; absolutely excellent.

Runner-up: "A New Pair of Pants" by Jas. R. Petrin. I also really enjoyed the Mystery Classic feature for this month, "The Day of the Bullet" by Stanley Ellin. I'll have to check out more of his work.

October: There were only five stories featured this month; of which my favorites were "Swimming in Fog" by John C. Boland and "Labor Day" by R. T. Lawton.

November: Of the six stories featured this month, my two favorites were "The Burning Grounds" by Shelley Costa and "Meltdown" by John H. Dirckx.

December: This issue also had only six stories. My favorites were "No Fences" by Eve Fischer, "First Death on Mars" by Joe Calabrese, and "Plain Reckless" by Scott Mackay.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Book Review: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

✰✰✰✰✰ The magic of Christmas has come to Buckshaw, and Flavia is devising a plan to catch Father Christmas in the act of delivering Christmas gifts. However, she gets distracted from her mission and finds herself surrounded by chaos when a film company arrives at the estate. With the rest of the family conveniently occupied with other activities, Flavia finds herself acting as a one person welcoming party and befriends the one and only Phyllis Wyvern, a very famous actress of film.

At the urging of the vicar, Phyllis and her co-star Desmond Duncan agree to perform an act from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to help with raising funds for the church roof. Buckshaw becomes the unlikely backdrop for the play, and nearly the whole village of Bishop's Lacey is gathered at the de Luce family estate for the performance. Meanwhile, a blizzard blows into town and strands everyone at the estate. When someone ends up murdered in the dead of night, everyone suddenly becomes a suspect. Can Flavia and the police discover who the culprit is before someone else ends up dead or hurt? Pick up the fourth installment of the Flavia de Luce mysteries to find out.

The Bottom Line: The sleuthing antics of amateur chemist Flavia de Luce are always a fun read. This installment is full of excitement with the added festivities of Christmas. Although Flavia can be wise beyond her years at times, we see the little girl shine through in her plot to capture Father Christmas. I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel is a fast paced read that will get you in the mood for the holidays. The mystery takes more than a few interesting twists and turns in this house party style whodunit. Very highly recommended for both adult and young adult fans of cozy mysteries.

Details: I Am Half-Sick of Shadows: A Flavia de Luce Novel by Alan Bradley. Hardcover published by Delacorte Press (an imprint of Random House Publishing Group) in 2011. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-385-34401-2 Note: I received an advance uncorrected proof from Random House in exchange for a review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Book Review: The Orphan of Awkward Falls by Keith Graves

✰✰✰✰½ The Cravitz family moves around a lot, and it's with some trepidation that thirteen year old Josephine finds herself in Awkward Falls, a small town in northern Canada. After all, who wants to live in an small, old town that smells like sauerkraut? It isn't long before Josephine stumbles upon a mystery in the gloomy house next door.

The current occupant, Thaddeus, is a boy who conducts his own mad scientist type experiments and resurrects dead pets while he waits for his parents to return. But the story gets even weirder. Awkward Falls is soon on the alert when cannibal Fetid Stenchley escapes from the Asylum for the Dangerously Insane. Years ago Thaddeus' grandfather was murdered by Stenchley, who worked as a lab assistant. Now that Stenchley is on the loose, he has nowhere to go but to the only place he knows as home.

With time running out and danger around every corner, Josephine, Thaddeus, an automaton, and a talking cat must join forces to solve the mystery of Thaddeus' lineage and escape from Stenchley's evil plans. The Orphan of Awkward Falls is a fun and entertaining adventure filled with action. In addition to the darkness of the story, I especially enjoyed the contrast between Josephine's healthy vegan lifestyle and Thaddeus' candy filled one - clever!

The Bottom Line: This quirky mystery is full of gruesome fun. With the peculiar characters and the themes of friendship and family, Keith Graves' first novel is a winner. It's the perfect read for teens who love books that are a bit unusual with some gore thrown in for good measure. Graves' black and white illustrations are fantastically dark and add to the story. In fact, the book cleverly begins and ends with the illustrations rather than text. This quick paced read is highly recommended for teens in grades 8 and up as well as for adults who like reading something just a little different and morbid. Note: According to the publisher, this book is recommended for kids ages 8 to 12. However, due to some of the gore and violence depicted in a few scenes, it might not be suitable for younger kids who are a bit squeamish or sensitive.

Details: The Orphan of Awkward Falls by Keith Graves. Hardcover published by Chronicle Books LLC in 2011. 256 p. ISBN: 9780811878142 Note: I received a complimentary copy from Chronicle Books in exchange for a review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewer program at LibraryThing.