Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2012

While I enjoy reading books, there's something to be said about a well-written short story. A short story that leaves you breathless is like a work of art, and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine offers some of the very best. Indeed, 2012 was a fantastic year for short stories. Here's a summary of stories that I enjoyed the most:

January/February: My favorite short story featured in this double issue was "Old Cedar" by D. A. McGuire. This story fascinated me, and I learned about disappointment rooms.

Second Place: "No Uncertain Terms" by C. J. Harper. 

Runners-up: "Pandora's Box" by Kristine Kathryn Rusch,  "Calculus for Blondes" by John H. Dirckx, "The Penthouse View" by Joseph S. Walker, and "Last Call" by Wayne J. Gardiner.

March: I enjoyed Christopher Welch's short story, "The Art of the Pyramid" featuring art gallery owner Toby Bridgman. I also enjoyed reading "Sheltered Assets" by Doug Levin, "Property Lines" by Mario Milosevic, and "A Family Trade" by Brendan DuBois.

April: This month featured one of my favorite short story writers, Stephen Ross. His story, "Pueri Alleynienses," is my favorite for this month; I loved the ending.

Other stories I enjoyed in this issue included: "All Prayers Are Answered" by Eric Rutter and "Caretaker" by Brendan DuBois. It was a great issue.

May: I really enjoyed fashion consultant Shauna Washington's first publication, "Fashioned for Murder." I'd like to read more stories featuring Stacey Deshay.

This month I also enjoyed: "Carry-On" by Wayne J. Gardiner, "Shanks Commences" by Robert Lopresti, "Wind Power" by Eve Fisher, and "Mr. Crockett and the Bear" by Evan Lewis.

June: My two favorite stories for this issue were: "Thea's First Husband" by B. K. Stevens and "Last Supper" by Jane K. Cleland.

July/August: My favorite story in this double issue was "Death on the Range" by Elaine Menge. I also enjoyed "Ghost Negligence" by John Shepphird and the Black Orchid Novella Award winner "Inner Fire" by Jolie McLarren Swann (a.k.a. James Lincoln Warren).

September: This month's top pick was Dee Long's short story "Fool's Gold." I also enjoyed the Mystery Classic "Night at the Inn" by Georgette Heyer; I'll have to check out more of her short story mysteries in the future.

October: I really enjoyed reading "Frank" by Steve Hockensmith; it was a very clever story. I also enjoyed "Mad Dog" by Jas. R. Petrin.

November: My favorite this month was "Strangle Vine" by Shelley Costa. Also, one of my favorite characters was back this month; Cyrus Auburn solved another mystery in "Window of Time" by John H. Dirckx. I enjoyed Steven Gore's short story, "Defender of Justice," too.

December: Every story included in this issue was a hit with me. It's so difficult to choose a favorite, but "Jake Says Hello" by Terrie Farley Moran is one that I'd like to read again.

2012 was a great year for short stories; it's so difficult to pick a favorite. I enjoyed the return of some of my favorite characters like Cyrus Auburn, Spade and Paladin. However, it was also a pleasure to read the first stories of several new writers as well. I'm looking forward to 2013; I hope it is filled with just as many wonderful stories as this year!

P.S. In case you were wondering, of all the great stories that appeared in AHMM this year, my very favorite  was "Frank" by Steve Hockensmith!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Book Review: 'Becoming Holmes' by Shane Peacock

✰✰✰½ The Boy Sherlock Holmes is growing up, but growing up isn't easy. The year is 1870, and the place is London. Holmes finds the world rapidly changing around him. He has just suffered the loss of his father, and the great author Charles Dickens has died. Irene Doyle now lives in America, and Beatrice Leckie has found another suitor.

At 16, Holmes suffers from bouts of melancholy. He struggles as he searches to find himself and define a role for his future. So he is only too happy when he reconnects with his older brother, Mycroft. However, it is during one of these visits that Holmes spies Grimsby, who is now employed by the government and uses the alias Ronald Loveland. Suddenly Holmes realizes that only Malefactor can be behind this. As people start to turn up dead and another is blackmailed, Holmes resolves to get to the bottom of it.

Meanwhile, Holmes is still living at Sigerson Bell's apothecary. Bell has been his mentor in recent years, but Holmes knows this chapter of his life may soon come to a close as well. Bell is very ill, but despite his limitations, he continues to guide Holmes to adulthood. It is with Bell's help that Holmes begins to using disguises in order get around London unnoticed. Soon Holmes finds himself being catapulted through a series of events that will shape him into Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's famous character. Before this case is solved Holmes will have tied up many loose ends with people from his past and will have found his mission in life.

The Bottom Line: As the last book in the series, Becoming Holmes is both an end and a beginning. Although the first few chapters start slowly, the pace picks up quickly. The Boy Sherlock Holmes has grown up along with his readers. I've enjoyed reading along as the character of Holmes has faced many trials and tribulations that have molded him into the character created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. This final installment is dark and moody and filled with teenage angst which young adults can relate to. The adventure includes many twists and turns and a surprise ending that I didn't see coming. Both young adult and adult mystery fans will enjoy the last case of the Boy Sherlock Holmes. The Boy Sherlock Holmes series is a great introduction for those interested in reading the classic Sherlock Holmes mysteries.

Details: Becoming Homes: The Boy Sherlock Holmes, His Final Case by Shane Peacock. Hardcover published by Tundra Books in 2012. 264 p. ISBN: 978-1770492325 NOTE: I received a complimentary copy from Tundra Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Book Review: 'The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks' by Rebecca Skloot

✰✰✰✰ The cells are known around the world simply as HeLa (pronounced hee-lah). HeLa refers to cells that were taken without consent and grown. While other cell samples died, hers thrived; no one knows why. Over the years billions of these cells have been produced and sold. Companies have turned the production of these cells into a multi-billion-dollar industry. Research in viruses, cloning, and gene mapping depend on HeLa cells. Additionally, HeLa cells have been used to develop the polio vaccine, have lead to important advances in cancer research, and have been sent into space. Today HeLa cells are invaluable to medical research.

But where did these cells come from? More importantly…who was the "donor" of the HeLa cells? For decades her identity remained a mystery. The researcher who first grew the cells threw journalists seeking her identity off the trail by creating a pseudonym. Thus the code name HeLa was thought to stand for Helen Lane. But that wasn’t her real name. The woman inside whose tormented body these aggressive cancer cells resided was named Henrietta Lacks. This is the story of her life and the contribution her unknowing “donation” has made to medicine and the world. Finally, Henrietta’s painful story is finally told with the sensitivity, dignity, and compassion she deserved in life, but didn’t receive.

The Bottom Line:
 Debut author Rebecca Skloot has masterfully braided together a story that incorporates multiple time periods and narratives. Skloot doesn’t sugarcoat anything; instead she uses the language of each person in their native dialects to construct a book that you will remember long after you have finished reading. 

Written in short chapters, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is a surprisingly quick read. The book not only covers the biography of Henrietta Lacks, but informs the reader about medical ethics and cell research. Additionally, I found the author’s quest for information with Henrietta’s daughter Deborah compelling as well. Highly recommended for anyone interested in medical ethics, scientific discovery, and biographies. Also, highly recommended for book clubs.

Book Club Notes:
 My book club recently met to discuss this book. It was a lively discussion. In general we thought the book was both readable and discussible for anyone interested in the story; a science or medical background is not required to appreciate this book. Thus, I highly recommend this title for book clubs.

Additionally, as a discussion facilitator, I appreciated the ample amount of resources available about the book for discussion groups. Visit Rebecca Skloot’s website to download the complete reader’s guide in PDF format which includes information about the book and the author, discussion questions, a timeline, and list of characters. You can also access Skloot’s website for Book Special Features like more photos and videos.

Finally, you can find additional discussion questions at UW-Madison’s Go Big Read Program or check out the information at Random House.

 The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot. Paperback published by Broadway Paperbacks in 2011. 400 p. ISBN: 978-1-4000-5218-9

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2012

So many stories, so little time. Another year has passed, and it's been filled with many great mystery stories from some of my favorite authors including Doug Allyn, Simon Brett, N.J. Cooper, William Link, Tom Piccirilli, and Dave Zeltserman. In order to keep track of the stories I've enjoyed the most, I keep a list throughout the year so that I can make a selection for the EQMM Readers Award.

January: My favorite story for this issue was the very first story of the year: "Sonny Taylor: A Nontraditional Man" by Dan Warthman.

I also enjoyed Lee Goldberg's "Mr. Monk and the Open House" and James Powell's "The Fellowship of the Peach-Stone Ring," which was a fun Christmas story. The Passport to Crime selection, "Marta" by Rubem Fonseca was excellent as well.

February: I had two favorite stories for this month: "Floating Ant" by Brian Muir and "Out There" by Zoe Beck, which was in the Passport to Crime section. Both were excellent stories.

Other stories I enjoyed included: "Phaedra" by Kenneth Mark Hoover, "Sally the Bookworm" by William Link, and "Premeditation" by Victoria Weisfeld.

March/April: This was a double issue! My favorite story was "So Near Any Time Always" by Joyce Carol Oates. "Just Another Saturday Night" by William Link came in as a close second.

Runners-up: "Family Place" by John C. Boland, "Wrecked" by Therese Greenwood, "Rural Legend" by Tom Savage, and "The Parson and the Heiress" by Judith Cutler

May: This month my favorite pick was a tie between "No Flowers" by Martin Edwards and "Marsh Island" by Lina Zeldovich. I also enjoyed reading "The Girl Who Fished With a Worm" by Harry Groome and "A Nice Neighbourhood" by Kate Ellis.

June:  "Mr. Monk and the Talking Car" by Lee Goldberg was a fun read this month. I also enjoyed "One Soul at a Time" by Dana Cameron and "The Ritual of Mr. Tarplee" by Simon Brett.

July: "Cruel Coast" by Scott Mackay was my favorite story in this issue. Other stories that I enjoyed included: "Drowned in a Sea of Dreams" by Donald Olson, "Diagnosis Death" by N.J. Cooper, and Grant O'Neill's first story, "The Malibu Waltz."

August: J.L. Strickland's first story "Amazing Grace, Sorta" was a hit with me. I hope to read more from this author soon. I also enjoyed "Gunpowder Alley" by Bill Pronzini and "The Street Ends at the Cemetery" by Clark Howard.

September/October: The story that stood apart from the rest in this double issue was Jonathan Santlofer's "The Muse." It had just the right blend of mystery and creepiness. Other stories I enjoyed included "The Strange Architecture of Destiny" by  Eliécer Cárdenas in the Passport to Crime section, "Never Enough" by Ralph Ellis. Also, I enjoyed the return of Brynn Bonner's character Session Seabolt in "Final Vinyl."

November: This month's best story was Tom Piccirilli's "The Void It Often Brings With It." Other stories of note include: "The Charles Dickens Mystery" by W. Edward Blain, "Good Intentions" by Michael Z. Lewin, and "The Closet," a first story by Jenny Milchman.

December: "Mariel" by David Dean was my favorite story in this issue. It's definitely one that I'll read again. This month I also enjoyed "Dead Men's Socks" by David Hewson, "Karen Ovenhouse and the Ruin Snooper" by Peter Turnbull, and Stewart Brown's first story, " Dial Country Code 91 + M for Murder."

And so now for my choice of best story of the year..."So Near Any Time Always" by Joyce Carol Oates. This story spoke to me in many ways, and I have thought of it many times throughout the year. Second place goes to "Just Another Saturday Night" by William Link. For third place I had a difficult time deciding between several excellent stories, but in the end my choice is "Mariel" by David Dean. And that wraps it up for another fantastic year. I can't wait to see what's in store for 2013!