Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Book Review: 'A Fatal Grace' by Louise Penny

✰✰✰✰½ CC de Poitiers is an arrogant, self-centered, and cold-hearted woman. CC believes that her philosophy of life and self-published book, Li Bien, will soon make her a household name. She also believes that she is on the path to great success. She even had the gall to purchase the old Hadley residence in Three Pines. Unfortunately, she’s managed to alienate just about every single resident of the sleepy little hamlet and is about to become the latest murder victim. When CC is electrocuted in full view of all the spectators at a curling match on Boxing Day, no one sheds a tear.

Meanwhile, Chief Inspector Gamache had planned to spend Boxing Day with his wife, Reine-Marie, reviewing case files of unsolved murders. Hoping to bring new insight to the cases, once a year Gamache exchanged files with his counterpart at the Montreal Metropolitan Police. One case in particular catches his wife’s eye: the murder of a vagrant just before Christmas. Reine-Marie convinces Gamache to look into the case with the hopes of at least finding the bag lady’s name. With this mystery already on his mind, Gamache and his team arrive in Three Pines to investigate CC’s death. They have their work cut out for them as there are no witnesses. Gamache and his team will have to gently pry out the clues little by little as they uncover one of the town’s darkest secrets.

The Bottom Line: Author Louise Penny does it again by delivering a riveting literary mystery full of twists and turns and a surprise ending. A Fatal Grace is an excellent follow-up to A Still Life. It drew me in from the very beginning and wouldn’t let go. All of my favorite characters (and one not so favorite: Yvette Nichol) return as Penny takes the reader deeper into the secrets of this sleepy little town to uncover another layer of mystery and intrigue. All-in-all, the second book in the series is even better than the first. The eccentric characters have more depth and the writing is breathtaking. Penny makes the reader feel as if they are right there in Three Pines battling the elements and trying to solve the mystery with Gamache and his team. Highly recommended for fans of mysteries, cozies, and literary fiction. Penny keeps the reader guessing until the very end.

Details: A Fatal Grace: A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel by Louise Penny. Paperback published by Minotaur Books in 2006. 320 p. ISBN: 978-0-312-54116-3

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine: A Year in Review 2013

2013 has been a stellar year for short stories. It takes a special gift to be able to craft short stories that captivate the reader, and EQMM is full of stories that will grab your attention. The following list features stories that I would highly recommend:

January: This issue features several holiday related stories, but my favorite this month was "There Are Roads in the Water" by Trina Corey. It is a haunting, sad, and lovely tale that I think about now and then. My second favorite for this month was a first story by law student Christopher Reece called "The Auction." The writing was clever and lighthearted.

February: My favorite story was "Never Forget Me" by Penny Hancock. I also enjoyed "One of Those Plans-the-Perfect-Crime-but-Then-Something-Goes-Teddibly,-Teddibly-Wrong Stories by Eric Cline and "Promissory Notes" by Tim L. Williams. Also, this issue featured 3 Sherlock Holmes pastiches of which my favorite was Terence Faherty's "A Scandal in Bohemia."

March/April Double Issue: "The Care and Feeding of Houseplants" by Art Taylor was my favorite of this issue. Readers fascinated with botany (and especially poisonous plants), should definitely check out this story. I also enjoyed reading "Restraint" by Alison Gaylin. This story is short and sweet...just like revenge. Other noteworthy stories in this issue include "The Playlist" by Geoffrey Thorne and  "Neighbors" by Bill Pronzini.

May: This issue featured many stories that I really enjoyed, but Sue Pike's short story, "This is the Last Time," was my favorite. The main character is a child who is left alone in a hotel room in a strange country. The boy has quite an imagination, but sometimes the line between imagination and reality gets blurred. I also enjoyed "Writer's Block" by Penny Hancock; it was very succinct and believable. "The Beauty with the Million-Dollar Brains" by Robert S. Levinson and "Extra Fries" by Michael Z. Lewin were entertaining as well. Finally, be sure to check out the Passport to Crime feature; Medeiros e Albuquerque's story "Crime Unpunished" is worth the read.

June: In this issue Doug Allyn takes readers back to the Civil War in "Blaze of Glory." Meanwhile, Marilyn Todd takes us back to the wild west in "The Wickedest Town in the West." I also enjoyed "The Devil You Know" by David Dean and "Confession" by Bill Pronzini.

July: Every story in this fabulous issue was a winner; it was difficult to pick a favorite. Nevertheless, the story I keep thinking about is "The Cemetery Man" by Bill Pronzini. I also found Nina George's story set in Africa, "The Game of Her Life," haunting and memorable.

August: The last story in this issue was the first one I read and my favorite for this month; it is Sandi Ault's "Wild Justice." I'll have to check out her novels in the near future. Other stories I enjoyed this month included: "Ghost Writer" by Val McDermid, "The Weight" by Steve Hamilton, and the Passport to Crime story, "The Locked House of Pythagoras" by Soji Shimada.

September/October Double Issue: Being a social media junkie myself, I enjoyed Janice Law's short story, "Connected." It was clever and fun. I also enjoyed David Dean's story, "In A Dark Manner." After reading "Mariel" last year, I've become quite a fan of Dean's work. Other stories that caught my attention included: "Collector's Find" by V.S. Kemanis, "Borrowed Time" by Doug Allyn, and the Passport to Crime story, "Mummy Darling" by Maurizio de Giovanni. Also, be sure to check out Kevin Mims' poem, "Cereal Killer," on the last page; I absolutely loved it. All-in-all this was a fabulous issue.

November: Growing up I spent a lot of time in Madison, WI so I really connected with Kris Nelscott's story, "Sob Sisters." Also, I could identify with the characters in Charlaine Harris' story, "Small Kingdoms." Having taught high school for several years, the school environment does sometimes seem like it's own little world. Reading "Darkness in the City of Light" by Hilary Davidson was enjoyable as well.

December: I loved the futuristic setting of Edward D. Hoch's short story, "The Wolfram Hunters." I'm glad his stories are still included in EQMM from time to time. I also enjoyed "Party Girls" by Jonathan Santlofer, "Jack and the Devil" by David Dean, "The Cove" by D. A. McGuire, and "Literally Dead" by Dale C. Andrews.

Having read every single story this year, it was a challenge to pick my favorite for the entire year. However, my vote for the EQMM Readers Award Ballot went to "Wild Justice" by Sandi Ault. It has been a fantastic year for short stories, and I hope 2014 will be just as great! 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Book Review: 'Behind the Shattered Glass' by Tasha Alexander

✰✰✰½ Lady Emily is just settling into married life and enjoying being a new mom, when the peace of country estate life is shattered by a murder. On a warm autumn evening the new Marquess of Montagu, Archibald Scolfield, staggered through the French doors and died on the library floor. The family is stunned, and Lady Emily is thrown into a new mystery to solve. Having just arrived the day before, the dead Marquess didn't have time to make enemies or did he? His cousin, Matilda, stood to gain the most from his death, but when Archibald's engagement to an American heiress comes to light, so do other family secrets.

With a zeal for finding clues, Lady Emily wastes no time in getting involved. It seems that Archibald was popular with women from all stations in life, and left a trail of broken hearts behind where ever he went. When an unknown relative arrives to claim the Montagu title, the plot thickens. Meanwhile, Colin's friend, Lord Flyte, has taken a fancy to one of the maids causing jealousy and strife amongst the servants. Lady Emily must not only solve the mystery and help her friend Matilda, but she must continue to oversee managing the busy country estate as well.

The Bottom Line: This installment is Book 8 in the series; however, it is the first book in the series that I have read. While it has received mixed reviews elsewhere, I found the story to be fun and fanciful. It's a quick and entertaining read that's perfect for the weekend. I enjoyed the period details and descriptions of country estate life. Lady Emily is spunky and forward thinking. Each chapter includes an upstairs part and a downstairs part, which I enjoyed as well. Fans of historical mysteries and Downton Abbey will enjoy this novel. There was also quite a bit of romance in this book.

Details: Behind the Shattered Glass: A Lady Emily Mystery by Tasha Alexander. Hardcover published by Minotaur Books in 2013. 304 p. ISBN: 978-1250024701 NOTE: I received an Advance Reading Copy from Minotaur Books in exchange for an honest review. This was made possible by the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing.