Friday, December 22, 2017

Friday Cozy Mystery Review: Stowed Away by Barbara Ross

From the publisher:

It’s June in Busman’s Harbor, Maine, and Julia Snowden and her family are working hard to get their authentic Maine clambake business ready for summer. Preparations must be put on hold, however, when a mysterious yacht drops anchor in the harbor—and delivers an unexpected dose of murder . . .

When Julia’s old prep school rival Wyatt Jayne invites her to dinner on board her billionaire fiancĂ©’s decked-out yacht, Julia arrives to find a sumptuous table set for two—and the yachtsman dead in his chair. Suspicion quickly falls on Wyatt, and Julia’s quest to dredge up the truth leads her into the murky private world of a mega-rich recluse who may not have been all that he seemed . . .

My thoughts:

I'm such a fan of the Maine Clambake Mystery series, and this book (the sixth in the series) did not disappoint. The story starts with Julia and her family--characters that are such a joy to visit with every book--deciding if they'll renovate or restore the family home on Morrow Island, all while preparing for the clambake season.

Old school 'friend' Wyatt is there to help with the renovation assessment, along with her wealthy, reclusive boyfriend who is nearby on his yacht. It takes a while before there is a crime, but it's clear later that there were a lot of characters to introduce and clues to plant. There something of a twist at the end which I saw coming, but Ross still pulls it off. This felt very much like an Agatha Christie mystery to me, which is a big compliment.

Great mystery, and this sixth book shows how a cozy mystery doesn't have to be repetitive. Barbara Ross has to be one of my favorite cozy mystery authors: she keeps the story and characters intelligent, but manages to create that cozy context readers come back for.

If you're not familiar with the series, I highly recommend starting with the first book, Clammed Up.

**NetGalley provided advanced copy for review**

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Picture book review: Vincent Can't Sleep by Barb Rosenstock, illustrated by Mary Grandpre

From the Publisher:

Vincent can't sleep . . .
out, out, out he runs!
flying through the garden--marigold, geranium, blackberry, raspberry--
past the church with its tall steeple, down rolling hills and sandy paths meant for sheep,
He dives at last into the velvety, violet heath, snuggles under a blanket of sapphire sky,
and looks up, up, up . . . to visit with the stars.
Vincent van Gogh often found himself unable to sleep and wandered under starlit skies. Those nighttime experiences provided the inspiration for many of his paintings, including his most famous, The Starry Night. Van Gogh sold only one painting in his lifetime--but he continued to pursue his unique vision, and ultimately became one of the most beloved artists of all time. 

My thoughts:

I'm from the Netherlands, so I'm intimately familiar with Vincent van Gogh, his art, his story and struggles as an artist, and his life. I was a bit skeptical that it would all translate into a children's book, never mind a picture book...

But the author did a brilliant job, connecting his insomnia (recognizable when you're a kid), his story as a child and then a grown man, a struggling artist, and his brilliant talent. There are some darker elements in the book (if you're familiar with Van Gogh's history), but they're brought in a way that works for the audience, I think. The illustrations are great as well.

At the back of the book, there's a short history, that would make this a great teaching tool. Highly recommend.

**Review of a Goodreads Giveaway copy**

Friday, December 15, 2017

For Bill Crider

The internet is a cool place, especially for someone like me, who spends a fair amount of time in their home office. The web and my online friends act like a virtual watercooler, for us to catch up, have a laugh, share book recommendations.

I have these kind of virtual watercooler pals all over the world, many of whom I'll never meet. People I admire, whose writing I enjoy, and often people who lift me up.

Bill Crider is one of those guys. He's an author I respect (love his Dan Rhodes mysteries, latest here to the left), someone I look to for book recommendations, and he's a fellow cat person--if you know him on Facebook, you'll be familiar with his photos of the VBKs (Very Bad Kittens).

Bill is in hospice care by now, which you may know if you hang around my virtual watercooler. It's strange to miss a friend you've never met. Yet I do.

Bill mentioned he regrets not having time to review Alive in Shape and Color, an anthology edited by Lawrence Block, so I thought I'd take that torch from him, to come in the next few weeks.

Fellow online friends have reviews, thoughts, etc. you can find on author Patricia Abbott's blog.

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Thursday Teen Book Review: This Is Not A Love Letter by Kim Purcell

Release date: Jan. 30, 2018

From the Publisher:

One week. That's all Jessie said. A one-week break to get some perspective before graduation, before she and her boyfriend, Chris, would have to make all the big, scary decisions about their future--decisions they had been fighting about for weeks.  
Then, Chris vanishes. The police think he's run away, but Jessie doesn't believe it. Chris is popular and good-looking, about to head off to college on a full-ride baseball scholarship. And he disappeared while going for a run along the river--the same place where some boys from the rival high school beat him up just three weeks ago. Chris is one of the only black kids in a depressed paper mill town, and Jessie is terrified of what might have happened.  
As the police are spurred to reluctant action, Jessie and others speak up about the harassment Chris experienced and the danger he could be in. But there are people in Jessie's town who are infuriated by the suggestion that a boy like Chris would be a target of violence. They smear Chris's character and Jessie begins receiving frightening threats. 
Every Friday since they started dating, Chris has written Jessie a love letter. Now Jessie is writing Chris a letter of her own to tell him everything that's happening while he's gone. As Jessie searches for answers, she must face her fears, her guilt, and a past more complicated than she would like to admit.  

My thoughts: 
The writing in this book is superb--from the first pages, instead of telling you the story in some over-the-top, grab-your-attention way, the author drops you in the middle of the action. Jessie's boyfriend Chris has gone missing, and we follow her like a fly on the wall in the hours that follow: in the chaos, the finger-pointing, the immediate sense that everyone has something to hide.

The story delves deep into teen drama in a way that is very accurate: the harassment of a black boy in a predominantly white town, the girl backstabbing, the complexity of teen relationships. Jessie feels guilty in a way we can all relate too, as she looks back at her relationship with Chris and what she might've done different. The love letter angle didn't do much for me, but I could see teen readers enjoying it.

In the end, the book delves deep into mental illness in a very teen-centric way--somewhat dramatically, but I think very appropriately so considering how the story ends. I spend a lot of time with teens who deal with mental illness, and I'd highly recommend this book to anyone dealing with this type of tragedy, which is difficult to understand.

**NetGalley provided review copy for honest review**

Friday, December 1, 2017

December Is for Reading

I'll save you from clichéd exclamations about how the year just flew by, but... It really did. 2017 was a good one. I'm resolving to smell the roses a bit more in 2018, with tempus fugit so much and all.

But the year isn't over yet! December is usually about wrapping up projects for the year for me, but this time, I finished edits (on TIMEFIX, my new YA project) just in time for the month to end. I guess you could say instead of NaNoWriMo, I did NaNoEditMo, or something.

In the Reading Department

I've been doing a TON of reading, partly because of work-related stuff, partly for fun. I try to read outside the box every once in a while, but I usually find my way back to mysteries. Mysteries rule, y'all.

In the for-adults department, I recently read I Let You Go by Clare Mckintosh, and was thoroughly swept away. It starts of a bit winding-y (that's code for slow-ish with digressions), but stick around for the big plot twist. I felt it coming, though I didn't predict the whole thing.

If you like mysteries with a big gotcha at the end, this is your book.

In YA, I read Lamar Giles's Overturned. I love his writing, and this book did not disappoint.

If you have a teen reader who thinks (s)he knows it all and loves crime fiction/TV, this is the book. You know, in case you still have some holiday shopping left to do.

I've been reading lots of picture books lately, what with the negative news stories out there and stuff. Picture books remind me there's still some levity in the world, and that we have to stay positive for the next generation *steps off soap box*.

Most recently, I read Sam & Eva by Debbie Ridpath Ohi, which is such an uplifting book about creating art, collaboration, and seeing the world from someone else's perspective. I highly recommend it for all ages.

She's also on Instagram, creating art out of broken crayons. Inspiring, to say the least.

Mystery TV

It was the last season of Longmire on Netflix! I'll miss this out-west series, mostly because there is so little (er... make that almost nothing) reflecting the west as I know it on TV. I will say, this show regularly ruffled my feminist feathers, but I stuck around anyway. Recommend it, if you like a cowboy story every once in a while. I think we need a female Longmire next...

For Writers

For those of you who survived NaNoWriMo: congrats! I'm always impressed by the gutsy folk who dare attempt it. I think I would need some sort of month-long retreat to pull it off...

On that note: author Rachel Delaney Craft wrote a post for the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers blog on how to pull off a one day writer's retreat. Pretty brilliant idea; I think I might steal it in the new year.

For a Laugh

Check out the story of Max the Cat who loves the library, but the library banned him. As illustrator Erin McGuire already noted on Twitter, this is so waiting to be a story...

Have a great little bitty rest of 2017, and I'll see you in January!

Follow along with the MIDNIGHT AT THE BARCLAY HOTEL blog tour!

I'm so excited for the Aug. 25th release if MIDNIGHT AT THE BARCLAY HOTEL...!  If you want to join the fun, follow along with the bl...