Friday, December 19, 2014

Dark Triumph by Robin LaFevers

  • ISBN-10: 0547628382 - Hardcover $17.99
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers; First Edition edition (April 2, 2013), 400 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of Netgalley and the publisher.

The blurb:
Sybella's duty as Death's assassin in 15th-century France forces 
her return home to the personal hell that she had finally escaped. 
Love and romance, history and magic, vengeance and salvation 
converge in this thrilling sequel to Grave Mercy.
Sybella arrives at the convent’s doorstep half mad with grief 
and despair. Those that serve Death are only too happy to 
offer her refuge—but at a price. The convent views Sybella, 
naturally skilled in the arts of both death and seduction, as 
one of their most dangerous weapons. But those assassin's 
skills are little comfort when the convent returns her to a life 
that nearly drove her mad. And while Sybella is a weapon of 
justice wrought by the god of Death himself, He must give 
her a reason to live. When she discovers an unexpected ally 
imprisoned in the dungeons, will a daughter of Death find 
something other than vengeance to live for?

Dark Triumph continues the series begun with Grave Mercy and introduces us
to a new assassin, Sybella. Sybella comes from an aristocratic family but her
father is dangerous, unstable, and one of the most powerful men in the Kingdom.
He's also just as likely to harm her as to help her. 

The convent has given her the skills to work against him and his men, but it has 
also required her to return to the lion's den, supposedly to serve the god of Death.
She's given little assistance as she takes on one of the most dangerous assignments
possible.  She digs deep into herself and must find a way to make alliances, perhaps
draw strength and help from her old friends in the convent. Her goal is to save the 
innocent, even if she sacrifices herself in the process.

Fortunately, Sybella remembers her own strength and doesn't sacrifice herself
unnecessarily.  Her wit and strength make her one of the more likeable heroines
in a long time - and I'm looking forward to finding her in subsequent books by
Robin LaFevers.

About the Author:
Robin LaFevers was raised on a steady diet of fairy tales, 
Bulfinch's Mythology, and nineteenth-century poetry. It is not 
surprising that she grew up to be a hopeless romantic. She 
was lucky enough to find her one true love, and is living 
happily ever after with him in the foothills of Southern 
California. Visit her website at

Thursday, November 6, 2014

No Safe Houses by Linwood Barclay

The blurb:
Seven years ago, Terry Archer and his family, who first appeared in No Time for Goodbye, experienced a horrific ordeal that almost cost them their lives.  Today, the echoes of that fateful night are still audible.  Terry's wife, Cynthia, is living separate from her husband and daughter after her own personal demons threatened to ruin her relationship with them permanently.  Their daughter, Grace, is rebelling, against her parents' seemingly endless overprotection.  Terry is just trying to keep his family together. And the entire town is reeling from the senseless murder of two elderly locals.

But when Grace foolishly follows her delinquent boyfriend into a strange house, the Archers must do more than stay together.  They must stay alive.  Because now they have all been unwillingly drawn into the shadowy depths of their seemingly idyllic hometown.

For there, they will be reconnected with the man who saved their lives seven years ago, but who still remains a ruthless, unrepentant criminal.  They will encounter killers for hire working all sides. And they will learn that there are some things people value much more than money, and will do anything to get.

Caught in a labyrinth between family loyalty and ultimate betrayal, Terry must find a way to extricate his family from a lethal situation he still doesn't fully comprehend.  All he knows is that to live, he may have to do the unthinkable.

I read No Safe House without having read No Time for Goodbye or any of Linwood Barclay's earlier novels.  I enjoyed it thoroughly and feel that the past relationships were well explained in the later book. 

Terry Archer's wife Cynthia had lived through a massacre. She'd long felt guilty for not having been able to save her family and she's nervous that her daughter might make the same wrong choices that she'd made. Unfortunately, Cynthia isn't able to communicate her anxiety and she ends up hurting her daughter and moves out of the house.  The daughter, Grace, is acting out and follows her boyfriend into a dangerous situation.  

Terry, Cynthia and Grace reach out to Cynthia's old friend Vince for help. Vince had been Cynthia's "delinquent boyfriend" when she was young but he's since progressed to become a well known and highly feared man.   Vince has problems of his own both in the family and health department.   Vince, Terry, Cynthia and even Grace work together to get out of the growing danger.

Fast paced, complicated, and deeply engaging, I thoroughly enjoyed No Safe House.
  • ISBN-10: 0451414209 - Hardcover $25.95
  • Publisher: NAL Hardcover; 1ST edition (August 5, 2014), 464 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Linwood Barclay is the New York Times #1 international bestselling author of eleven critically acclaimed  novels, including A Tap on the Window, Trust Your Eyes, which has been optioned for film, Never Look Away which has been option for television and No Time for Goodbye.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials by Ovidia Yu

The blurb:
Rosie “Aunty” Lee, the feisty widow, amateur sleuth, and proprietor of Singapore’s best-loved home cooking restaurant, is back in another delectable, witty mystery involving scandal and murder among the city’s elite.
Few know more about what goes on in Singapore than Aunty Lee. When a scandal over illegal organ donation involving prominent citizens makes news, she already has a list of suspects. There’s no time to snoop, though—Aunty Lee’s Delights is catering a brunch for local socialites Henry and Mabel Sung at their opulent house.
Rumor has it that the Sung’s fortune is in trouble, and Aunty Lee wonders if the gossip is true. But soon after arriving at the Sung’s house, her curiosity turns to suspicion. Why is a storage house she discovers locked? What is the couple arguing about behind closed doors? Where is the guest of honor who never showed up?
Then, Mabel Sung and her son Leonard are found dead. The authorities blame it on Aunty Lee’s special stewed chicken with buah keluak, a local black nut that can be poisonous if cooked improperly. Aunty Lee has never carelessly prepared a dish. She’s certain the deaths are murder—and that they’re somehow linked to the organ donor scandal.
To save her business and her reputation, she’s got to prove it—and unmask a dangerous killer whose next victim may just be Aunty Lee.

I'd read Ovidia Yu's first Aunty Lee mystery and immediately fell in love with the cast of characters in her Singaporean mystery series.

We have Aunty Lee, a wealthy Tai Tai, widow and second wife of a wealthy Chinese merchant. Her stepson and daughter-in-law are annoyingly mercenary and quite crass with their requests for money and advances on their inheritance. Aunty Lee's patience and kindness towards them make her a sympathetic character. But Aunty Lee's generosity come through in other ways - the way that she treats her Filipina assistant, Nina, and the people that come to her restaurant. In many ways, Aunty Lee reminds me of Agatha Christie's Miss Jane Marple - she understands what makes people tick, she's always willing to help out, she's recognized by all as a bit of a busybody.

The Aunty Lee series also makes good use of Singapore as a location - for those of us who haven't visited Singapore in years, it's fun to read about the food, the culture, and the location.

While Ovidia Yu's murder mysteries aren't as complex as Agatha Christie's, Aunty Lee's Deadly Specials is a fun read and a satisfying second novel in the series. I'm looking forward to the next installment of the Aunty Lee books.

  • ISBN-10: 0062338323 - Paperback $14.00
  • Publisher: William Morrow Paperbacks; Original edition (September 30, 2014), 384 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

About the Author:
Ovidia Yu is one of Singapore's best-known and most acclaimed writers. She has had more than thirty plays produced and is also the author of a number of mysteries. She received a Fulbright Fellowship to the University of Iowa's International Writers Program and has been a writing fellow at the National University of Singapore.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Jackaby by William Ritter

The blurb:

Newly arrived in New Fiddleham, New England, 1892, and in need of a job, Abigail Rook meets R. F. Jackaby, an investigator of the unexplained with a keen eye for the extraordinary--including the ability to see supernatural beings. Abigail has a gift for noticing ordinary but important details, which makes her perfect for the position of Jackaby’s assistant. On her first day, Abigail finds herself in the midst of a thrilling case: A serial killer is on the loose. The police are convinced it’s an ordinary villain, but Jackaby is certain it’s a nonhuman creature, whose existence the police--with the exception of a handsome young detective named Charlie Cane--deny.

Jackaby's story is told from the point of view of Abigail Rook, a young and educated English girl. who decided to leave school in search for an education through archeological digs.  Her father is a palentologist but recommended that she finish her schooling and find a husband to care for her.  Instead, Abigail absconded with her tuition money to join an archeological dig which went bankrupt.  Abigail then decided to try her luck in America where she meets young Jackaby, a self proclaimed detective with the ability to find and see supernatural creatures.

Jackaby is young, arrogant, disturbingly observant - much like a young American Sherlock Holmes dedicated to reason and science which he uses to explain illusions and supernatural phenomena.  Rook is funny, spirited, and equally observant; she's an excellent foil for Jackaby and a valuable assistant.  "Jackaby sees things more extraordinary still, the things that no one else sees.  But Rook - Rook notices mailboxes and wastebaskets and . . . and people.  One who can see the ordinary is extraordinary indeed."  So,  Rook is hired as Jackaby's assistant.

As a Sherlock Holmes type character, Jackaby does get a lot of teasing from Abigail Rook, Chief Inspector Marlowe, and the people that he encounters.  While Jackaby does get respect, the ribbing he suffers adds to the fun. 

The murder mystery that makes up Jackaby's main case comes with a strange map, a banshee, goblins, and other supernatural creatures.  Still, the detective skills used to find and interpret the clues are based in reason.  

ISBN-10: 1616203536 - Hardcover $16.95
Publisher: Algonquin Young Readers (September 16, 2014), 304 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and NetGalley.

About the Author, courtesy of Amazon:
Reports of William Ritter's birthplace are unreliable and varied, placing his hometown either in a series of mysterious Catacombs in Malta or in a nondescript town in Oregon. His parents, it can be confirmed, raised him to value intelligence, creativity, and individuality. When reading aloud, they always did the voices.

At the University of Oregon, William made questionable choices, including willfully selecting classes for the interesting stories they promised, rather than for any practical application. When he wasn’t frivolously playing with words, he earned credits in such meaningful courses as Trampoline, Juggling, and Seventeenth Century Italian Longsword. These dubious decisions notwithstanding, he regrets nothing and now holds degrees in English and education with certificates in creative writing and folklore.

He currently teaches high school language arts, including reading and writing, mythology and heroes. He is a proud husband and father. When reading aloud, he always does the voices.

Jackaby is his first novel. It was born in the middle of the night and written on two different hemispheres. It has survived typhoons and hurricanes and was fostered into publication through the patient care of many hands.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence (The Mysteries of Maisie Hitchins #1) by Holly Webb

The Case of the Stolen Sixpence by Holly Webb
  • Age Range: 9 - 12 years
  • Grade Level: 4 - 7
  • ISBN-10: 0544339282 - Hardcover $14.99
  • Publisher: HMH Books for Young Readers (September 2, 2014), 176 pages.
  • Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Maisie Hitchins is a noticing sort of person.  That's why she's convinced she would make an excellent detective if she ever got the chance!  But instead of detecting, she's usually polishing the banisters at her grandmother's boarding house or fetching fish for the lodgers' dinner.  Maisie is willing to bet that her idol, Detective Gilbert Carrington, never fetches his own fish.

So when Maisie discovers and abandoned, half-drowned puppy in an alley, she takes on the crime as her very first case.  On top of bringing the person behind the troubles of her new canine sidekick, Eddie, to justice, Maisie is intrigued by recent thefts at the butcher shop.  With Eddie as her faithful assistant, Maisie seizes her clue notebook and searches the streets of London for the evidence she needs to crack both cases -- and maybe, just maybe, become a real detective herself.

Twelve-year old Maisie Hitchins lives at 31 Albion Street, London, in a boarding house run by her grandmother. Though Holly Webb doesn't specify that they live during the Victorian era, people rely on horses and carriages to get around and snack on aniseed balls, lavender lace, and sugared violets. Maisie's smart, curious, and dreams of being a detective, like her hero Detective Gilbert Carrington (who is much like Shelock Holmes).

When Maisie comes across a nearly drowned puppy in a sack, she undertakes to find the perpetrator of the deed. Her beloved puppy makes off with George, the butcher's delivery boy's sausages, and Maisie feels responsible when George loses his job. Though George was fired when he was found with a "marked" sixpence and not because of the sausages, Maisie resolves not to rest until the true culprit is found.

Maisie is helped by two lodgers with unusual expertise. Disguises, acting, careful detective work and her new puppy help Maisie solve the puzzles. This first detective adventure with Maisie Hitchins is funny and sure to appeal to young mystery lovers.

About the Author:
Holly Webb is a former children's book editor who has written more than 60 books for children published in the United Kingdom.  Webb lives in Berkshire, England, with her husband, three boys, and two cats.  This is her first book with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.  Learn more about Holly Webb at

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Poached by Stuart Gibbs

ISBN-10: 1442467770 - Hardcover $15.99
Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers; 1ST edition (April 8, 2014), 336 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Kazoo the Koala is missing!  And Teddy Fitzroy is the primary suspect.  The only way Teddy can clear his name is to crack the case and bring Kazoo back home to Funjungle where he belongs, all while steering clear of Vance the bully. Otherwise, Teddy will be shipped off to juvie as a convicted koala-napper.

I wish Stuart Gibbs's books had been around when I was growing up.

Teddy Fitzroy lives with his parents in FunJungle, a commercial zoo and amusement park. His mother is a biologist who works with primates and his father is a wild animal photographer. Teddy's in the local public middle school and often finds himself bullied. One awful day, he's forced to prank FunJungle and drop body parts in the shark tank. He later finds himself accused of the larger crime of having made away with the zoo's single koala bear. The animal is on a 6 month loan to FunJungle and its disappearance is dangerous both for Teddy and the koala.

FunJungle's head of security, Madge, has fixated on Teddy as the main culprit. The only way that he'll be able to clear his name is if he finds the actual thief.

Set amidst wild animals in a zoo and told from 12-year old Teddy's point of view, Poached is a fun, mad caper.

About the Author:
A few interesting things that Stuart Gibbs has done:
Worked at a zoo;   Researched capybaras (the world's largest rodents); Climbed Mount Kilimanjaro; Faced down a charging elephant; Ice-climbed a glacier in Patagonia; Visited the cockpit of the Space Shuttle Atlantis; Helped rescue sixteen children from drowning off the coast of Israel; Written a few movies that actually got made (See Spot Run; Repli-Kate; Showdown); Worked on a few animated movies (Anastasia; Open Season 3; Mickey, Donald, Goofy: The Three Musketeers).

He is currently at work on some more books. "Space Case," a mystery set on the first moon base, will be out in September 2014. "Evil Spy School" will be out in spring, 2015. And the third book in the FunJungle series will be out some time in 2015.

You can learn more about what Stuart is up to at

Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

ISBN-10: 0812994787 - Hardcover $26.00
Publisher: Random House (July 1, 2014), 512 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and the Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
Celebrated brain surgeon Thomas Eapen has been sitting on his porch, talking to dead relatives. At least that is the story his wife, Kamala, prone to exaggeration, tells their daughter, Amina, a photographer living in Seattle.

Reluctantly Amina returns home and finds a situation that is far more complicated than her mother let on, with roots in a trip the family, including Amina’s rebellious brother Akhil, took to India twenty years earlier. Confronted by Thomas’s unwillingness to explain himself, strange looks from the hospital staff, and a series of puzzling items buried in her mother’s garden, Amina soon realizes that the only way she can help her father is by coming to terms with her family’s painful past. In doing so, she must reckon with the ghosts that haunt all of the Eapens.

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing delivers a hilarious and moving story of three generations of an Indian (South Asian) family. Mira Jacob delivers complex characters, nuanced relationships, and an engrossing story.

The book opens with Amina Eapen, single professional photographer working on weddings and celebrations, learns from her mother Kamala that her brain surgeon father Thomas has been acting strange. Thomas has apparently been seeing and speaking to dead family members and seems even more distracted than usual. Amina finds replacement photographers for her assignments and leaves her comfortable life for what she expected would be one week.

But as Amina learns more details of her parents' changed behavior, she finds that she's unable to return to her old job and life - at least until things normalize. Her close family friend, a.k.a. "cousin" Dimples, is a go-getter, beautiful and works at an art gallery. Dimples is used to getting her way and has no qualms about taking advantage of Amina. But even in her most manipulative, Dimples is still a sympathetic character.

Throughout the novel, even the most difficult and temperamental characters are easy to sympathize with and to love. Mira Jacob gives us a beautiful and sympathetic immigrant story from multiple points of view: the perspective of the parents left behind in the homeland who long for their successful doctor son Thomas to return and the resentful and overlooked younger brother who lives with the widowed mother in the family home, the successful Thomas who has decided to make a home in Albuquerque with his Indian wife Kamala and their young children, the brilliant children who adjust, with differing degrees of success, to their lives in their privileged part of America.

About the Author:

Mira Jacob is the author of the novel, The Sleepwalker’s Guide to Dancing (Random House).
She is the co-founder of the much-loved Pete’s Reading Series in Brooklyn, where she spent 13 years bringing literary fiction, non-fiction, and poetry to the city’s sweetest stage. Previously, she directed editorial content for various websites, co-authored shoe impresario Kenneth Cole’s autobiography, and wrote VH-1’s Pop-Up Video.
Her writing has been published in books, magazines, on television, and across the web. She has appeared on national and local television and radio, and has taught writing to students of all ages in New York, New Mexico, and Barcelona.

She lives in Brooklyn with her husband, documentary filmmaker Jed Rothstein, and their son.  Learn more about Mira Jacob on her website at


Friday, August 1, 2014

Mortal Bonds (A Jason Stafford novel) by Michael Sears

Mortal Bonds by Michael Sears

ISBN-10: 0399158677 - Hardcover $26.95
Publisher: Putnam Adult; First Edition edition (October 1, 2013), 352 pages.
Review copy courtesy of the publisher and Amazon Vine Reviewers Program.

The blurb:
William von Becker ran one of the largest privately held investment banks in North America, until the bottom fell out, and the whole edifice was demonstrated to be a fraud.

After von Becker dies in prison, financial investigator Jason Stafford is hired by his family. There is still a lot of missing money out there, he’s told, and they want Stafford to find it before the Feds do—and certain other parties, some of whom are nowhere near as scrupulous in their methods. Bad things start happening to the people Stafford talks to. Soon bad things are happening to him as well.

Making it worse, his treacherous ex-wife has come to town, ostensibly to visit their young son. Stafford suspects there’s more to it than that, but even he has no idea how much that visit is about to change all their lives—and send him off to the next chapter of his life.

I hadn't read Michael Sears' earlier Jason Stafford novel and you needn't have had done so to lose yourself completely in Mortal Bonds.

Jason Stafford is a quant/financial genius who made a killing on Wall Street. Unfortunately, some of his money was well earned but a significant part of it came from securities fraud. After a stint in jail, he's worked to rehabilitate himself and his reputation. He's worked with the FBI and the SEC to help identify financial fraud in the past and he hires out his talents to the private sector. Corporations will call on him to find if money is being diverted and where it might be, how to prevent fraud, etc. Jason gets a call and a helicopter ride to a meeting with the matriarch of a Madoff like family. The family is publicly scorned and is the subject of civil suits, death threats and an extensive investigation by the SEC and FBI. Jason's asked to find roughly $1B which has gone missing ostensibly for the family to return to the government to rehabilitate the family name and to allow them to keep their investment business in play. His compensation will be a consulting fee of $1M per year for the rest of his life as well as an upfront payment of a reasonable sum (that will not draw the attention of Jason's creditors).

Jason's uniquely suited for the task as his skills and his network allow him to gather and evaluate information in ways not available to government investigators. So we follow him to opulent rooms in secret clubs in Manhattan, the offices of big money, to the homes of longtime and loyal employees, to private banks in Switzerland and to unexpected danger.

Fascinatingly complex, Mortal Bonds is one of the best financial thrillers I've read in a long time.

About the Author:

Michael Sears spent over twenty years on Wall Street, rising to become a managing director at Paine Webber and Jeffries & Co., before leaving the business in 2005. He lives in Sea Cliff, New York.

Monday, July 21, 2014

ThrillerFest IX Debut Authors - Interview with Jenny Milchman, author of Cover of Snow & Ruin Falls

Today's debut author is  Jenny Milchman.  After reading her books and hearing about her journey to publication makes one realize that if you want to write and if you have a story to tell, you have to keep at it.  This is something that the published authors - speakers, panelists, and members of the audience alike - emphasize.
By the time that Jenny Milchman's debut novel, Cover of Snow, was published, she had actually written 8 novels.  And when Cover of Snow came out in January 2013,  Jenny and her family embarked on what Shelf Awareness has described as "the world's longest book tour."  It sounds like it must have been a glorious trip, meeting booksellers and fans.  The book itself gathered much attention and love from readers - Cover of Snow was chosen as an Indie Next and Target Pick and received nominations for the Mary Higgins Clark and Barry Award.   Jenny's second novel, Ruin Falls, came out on April 22, 2014 and she's now in the middle of a four month book tour with her family.

Jenny's willingness to take the time to interact with her readers goes hand in hand with her support of independent bookstores.  Jenny founded the Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day.

Cover of Snow and Ruin Falls are standalone novels with no overlap in characters but each have as a heroine an ordinary woman,  who had been deeply reliant on her husband and reasonably satisfied with her life until things go awry.   And when things start to go bad, they do so spectacularly and quickly.   Nearly overtaken by events, the heroines fight back and in doing so they dig deep, reach back into themselves to confront their demons.

Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman
  • ISBN-10: 0345534212 Hardcover $26 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (January 15, 2013), 336 pages.
  • ISBN-10: 0345534220 Paperback $15
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (December 31, 2013), 336 pages.
  • Booklist's description:
  • This superlative dark, wintry debut is set in a small town in upstate New York. Nora Hamilton oversleeps one morning to find that her husband, Brendan, has hung himself. Nora is bereft, and she struggles to reconcile Brendan’s suicide with their seemingly happy life together and with his job as a cop in his hometown. Her mother-in-law, a cold, forbidding woman, blames Nora, who tries talking to his partner, a cop who was also Brendan’s best friend, but he advises her to move on with her life. Nora can’t move on, not without some answers, and as she starts digging, she uncovers secrets about her husband and the town, the kind of secrets that people will do anything, including murder, to cover up. The ravages of winter impede her progress, but she plows on, determined to learn why Brendan never confided in her, but the answers prove more shocking than anything she might have imagined. These well-defined characters take us on an emotional roller-coaster ride through the darkest night, with blinding twists and occasionally fatal turns. This is a richly woven story that not only looks at the devastating effects of suicide but also examines life in a small town and explores the complexity of marriage. Fans of Nancy Pickard, Margaret Maron, and C. J. Box will be delighted to find this new author. 


Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman
  • ISBN-10: 0345549074 - Hardcover $26.00
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books; First Edition edition (April 22, 2014), 352 pages.

The blurb:
Liz Daniels has every reason to be happy about setting off on a rare family vacation, leaving behind her remote home in the Adirondack Mountains for a while. Instead, she feels uneasy. Her children, eight-year-old Reid and six-year-old Ally, have met their paternal grandparents only a handful of times. But Liz’s husband, Paul, has decided that, despite a strained relationship with his mother and father, they should visit the farm in western New York where he spent his childhood.

On their way to the farm, the family stops at a hotel for the night. In the morning, when Liz goes to check on her sleeping children, all her anxiety comes roaring back: Ally and Reed are nowhere to be found. Blind panic slides into ice-cold terror as the hours tick by without anyone finding a trace of the kids. Soon, Paul and Liz are being interviewed by police, an Amber Alert is issued, and detectives are called in.

Frantic worry and helplessness threaten to overtake Liz’s mind—but in a sudden, gut-wrenching instant she realizes that it was no stranger who slipped into the hotel room that night. Someone she trusted completely has betrayed her. Though she knows that Ally and Reid are safe, Liz will stop at nothing to find them and get them back. From her guarded in-laws’ unwelcoming farmhouse to the deep woods of her own hometown, Liz follows the threads of a terrible secret to uncover a hidden world created from dreams and haunted by nightmares.

Jenny opened up about Cover of Snow and Ruin Falls, her life as a writer, and her involvement in ThrillerFest.  The interview was conducted over the phone - any errors are mine in the transcription.  Now, please welcome, Jenny Milchman!

Q: Could you share the journey to publication?  What is it like going on these extended book tours - it sounds exhausting. 

JM: Cover of Snow is the 1st published and 8th novel I'd written. By the time that the book was sold, I'd worked with 3 different agents.  Another author had read it as an unpublished manuscript and reached out to have it read by her editor.  

JM: I wrote the 8 novels in 11 years.  The first 6 years I worked as psychotherapist and completed everything except my dissertation. I'd practiced without the doctorate. Then I had two kids and stayed at home with them and writing the books really kept me going.   I would lose myself in a new story. The stories were such a joy to write - the process of creating the character who is going to overcome odds and restore justice to her life is powerful.  I love it. Creating a new character kept me going through those years of rejection.  

JM: After landed with the right editor, my publisher and editor were very excited that writing a book a year worked for me.  So I was able to have my second novel come out the year later. The book tours don’t feel grueling.  It is so much fun to be on the road and meet people that I'd gotten to know,   to see plenty of ITW and Facebook friends becoming real.  People you only tweet at becoming real - it's been a magical experience. 

Ruin Falls had been written and was being edited on the road.  I can’t write on the road but editing is manageable. 

Q:  Had you heard of ITW before you’d become an author?  How did you feel when they’d asked you to join?

ITW has become one of the biggest parts of begin a writer for me.  I didn’t know about it until Cover of Snow had sold. Carla Buckley reached out to me when she saw the Cover of Snow. Even though I had written her a fan letter I hadn’t known about the ITW connection. 

Q: I’ve attended the breakfasts where the Debut Authors are introduced.  I find it to be one of the highlights of ThrillerFest.  As Chair of the ITW Debut Authors Program, what else goes on behind the scenes?  How has the ITW Debut Author program helped or made a difference for you?

JM: It’s beautiful.  One funny thing that happened, last year we had 29 debuts. the maximum that we could ever have. I had been instructed that everyone was to talk 1 minute and no more and each speaker had to keep to schedule. It was the first year I was organizing it.  I didn’t know how good a job I had done, but we were on schedule.  When it was my turn,  I said I could talk 15 minutes about my own book.  (Smile.)

JM: The story that I think of and share most often is that of Lisa Price who wrote a dystopian novel that my daughter loved. It was her fifth ThrillerFest and she made good on her promise to herself that one day she would be sitting be up there. Sometimes it takes a long time for a dream to come true but it does come true.

JM: One of my huge literary heroes it’s not even normally what I read, the Reacher series.  I talk about Lee Child more than about myself.  I realize that what I love about Reacher is that he’s a purveyor of justice. We’ve done a Skype chat with Lee Child, signings and talks with Doug Preston at The Mystery Bookshop. MJ Rose has stood beside me at my own book launch.   The community and support is unparalleled.

Q:Tell us about Cover of Snow  and/or Ruin Falls.
JM: The protagonists’ journey of discovery.  The women tend to be so lost at the start - and then they slowly find their bearings and make sense of what’s actually happening.

JM: When I spoke about loving to go to the story and the cathartic experience, the heroines start very small and weak at the beginning. They have different reasons and they’re good reasons that they have these holes in their own lives and that they didn't come into adulthood equipped to handle things. They dig deep to find that part of themselves and to balance the scales of justice.  The feeling that justice can prevail m - a woman becoming strong and taking the reins of her own life or reacher killing whomever needs killing.

Q: Favorite book/author as a child?  Who did you read?  Which authors or books do you pre-order? Influences?

JM:  "Kujo" if any novel influenced Cover of Snow. Kujo is about a series of dominoes.  If one was not in a row it would not have fallen the way it did.  25 years ago, if things hadn’t lined up, we wouldn’t have reached the result that it had.  A real master, a character who plays a role even for one page you won’t forget one person.

JM: The author who helped me, not thrillers or mysteries or horrors,Nancy Pickrd.  She’s been a big influence on me as an adult writer - the kindness and generosity you see in her characters and story with that kind of strength and richness. 

Q: What’s on your night stand?

JM: I just finished Those Who Wish Me Dead by Micheal Koryta. It’s a thriller about a little boy who becomes a witness to something no one has ever walked away from before.  

Q:  Independent bookstores have been described as germinating nurseries for writers.  Can you tell us a bit about your current book tour?  Are you making any stops in July in NYC? 

JM:  I love independent bookstores.  Take Your Child to a Bookstore day. The magic for me is when the virtual meets the real.  In a world when we can walk into a space inhabited by books. The healthy ecology of bookstores,  the conversations that take place can’t take place online.  Bookstore meets fan in writer world. The brick and mortar experience has to be treasured and we have to support the people that are keeping it alive.

Q: What are you working on now? 

JM: Editing  Night Falls which is coming out in 2015. When we get back to NY state and the kids get back to school I’m excited to write the next one. 

JM: I don’t outline but because of the [tight] schedule. An idea and/or character comes to me.  This comes to me and the months before, I jot down notes, dialogue, and a sense of turning point but nothing organized.  When I'm writing, I'm living the story as if it were happening.  One reason that writing is painful is I write as if it’s real, it is real.  When the first readers say it could happen this way, etc.  

Q: Advice for writers just starting out?

JM: This is a big part of ITW it’s what we do. We’re there for brand new writers.  For those just starting out,  it’s a better time than ever. There are more ways to bring one's work to readers. You know that the traditional publishing system saved me from myself. Writers starting out need to be aware all the time, need to make sure their work is as good as it can get.  Then the writing world and the reader world is going to embrace them. Educate themselves on the best way to publish, to know the best way for them and for their work.  And to never give up.

JM: Hank Philippe Ryan talked about  the Never Know day, the day before she and her husband met, the day before she sold her first book.  If you celebrate that, you’ll have the strength to keep writing. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

ThrillerFest Debut Authors of 2013-2014: Interview with Kelly Parsons, MD, Author of Doing Harm


ThrillerFest IX is going on from July 8-12, 2014 in NYC. Sponsored by International Thriller Writers (ITW), ThrillerFest starts out with writing seminars (CraftFest) and a chance to meet with agents (PitchFest) and leads into discussions about writing, books, trends (ThrillerFest) and a chance to meet and socialize with famous authors, aspiring writers, industry professionals, agents and fans of the genre. On Saturday mornings, ITW hosts a special Debut Authors Breakfast to recognize, celebrate and introduce the newest members of that year's class of published authors.  

For those of us who love reading thrillers, the chance to hear some of our favorite writers talk about their craft and what moves them is a wonderful experience. My favorite part of ThrillerFest is the Debut Authors Breakfast. A morning dedicated to hearing the stories of newly published authors and of their journeys to publication and seeing the warmth and generosity with which the more senior and authors try to encourage and help them navigate the pitfalls of publishing, what's not to love? 

This year, through the help of ThrillerFest organizer Kimberly Howe, Anthony Franze, and Jenny Milchman, I was able to interview a few of the authors in the ITW's debut class of 2013-2014.
First up is Dr. Kelly Parsons whose thriller Doing Harm was released last Feb. 4, 2014.

Doing Harm by Kelly Parsons
ISBN  978-1-250-03347-5  Hardcover $25.99
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press (February 4, 2014), 368 pages.

The blurb:
Chief Resident Steve Mitchell is the quintessential surgeon:  ambitious, intelligent, confident.  Charged with molding a group of medical trainees into doctors, and in line for a coveted job, Steve has a bright future.  But then a patient mysteriously dies, and it quickly becomes clear that a killer is loose in his hospital.  A killer set on playing a deadly game with Steve.  A killer holding information that could ruin his career and his marriage. Now, alone and under a cloud of suspicion, Steve must discover a way to outsmart his opponent and save the killer's next victim before the cycle repeats itself again and again....

The book opens with
"My patient is dying.
And it's all my fault." 

We follow as Steve Mitchell describes the scene as the code team tries to unsuccessfully revive the patient. One of the top surgical residents faces what seems to be his first patient death.   Prior to this, he'd been a rising star at the hospital and may be offered a permanent post.  

Steve's more of a doctor's doctor - he doesn't empathize with patients and dislikes having to interact with them but if you were faced an operation, you'd want him to be in charge.  The patient death rattles him and leads to an internal investigation.   One thing follows another and somehow a life that seemed so orderly and perfect is ready to implode. Steve Mitchell's quick decline and loss of prospects is unnerving.  

Parsons puts Steve Mitchell through the wringer so well, it reminded me of Scott Turow's writing.  You have a highly paid and well respected professional at the top of his game suddenly undone by a seemingly unlucky chain of events.  During Walter Walker's talk on Writing From the Professions yesterday, someone mentioned that they were drawn to medical and legal thrillers because she felt that aside from the mystery and suspense aspect, she felt that she was learning something from these books as well.  In  Doing Harm Kelly Parson weaves in a larger point of view that goes beyond the story of Dr. Steve Mitchell.  I'm not the only one that thinks that Doing Harm stands out among medical thrillers, author Stephen King tweeted:

DOING HARM, by Kelly Parsons: best damn medical thriller I've read in 25 years. Terrifying OR scenes, characters with real texture.

How's that for a recommendation?

I'd like to share my interview with author Kelly Parsons, MD:

Q: You must be very busy with your work as professor of surgery at UC San Diego and with your young family.  How did carve out the time to write?  How long have you been writing?

KP:  I work at a university hospital as medical school faculty.  At a university, you work very hard but you have a bit more flexibility in structuring your time and dividing up your responsibilities during the day.  In terms of finding the time to do write, it’s not something I stopped to think about until I published the book.  

KP:  Writing's a passion - I'd find time and make time. It usually means getting up at 5 am, writing before everyone else gets up and gets going,  weekends, and whenever I have a spare moment. I write during vacations.  So, really, I write anytime I can find the time to squeeze it in. There’s more time than we think it is.   I’m passionate about writing.

KP:  I’ve been writing since I was a kid. As a resident I started taking notes and writing the material that became the book which took 6 years.   I f
ound an agent and took 2 years to sell the book.  

Q: Had you heard of ITW before you’d become an author?  

KP: I didn’t know about it. It would have been nice to have known about the community.  

KP: After I had sold the manuscript, my agent told me about ITW.  I joined.  There's another level as a debut author.  Once the book came out I changed your status.

KP: I’ve just become part of the community. It’s great to be part of this community of similar interests, who give support and feedback, and share common passions.  I’m looking forward to meeting a lot persons during ThrillerFest.

Q: Who have been influences or inspiration?  Who are you reading?

KP: Scott Turow a practicing attorney even as he was a writer.  I get inspiration from the fact that Michael Crichton practiced medicine.   John Grisham is a practicing attorney.  I’d like to speak with him.  

KP: In terms of who I read, I try to read everybody and everything I can get my hands on. I’m always striving to make myself better and to become a better writer.  Only by reading different genres and types of prose and narrative structures do I get that exposure that can make me a better writer.  

Dr Sleep by Stephen KingAmerican Gods by Neil GaimenCryptonomicon and Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson  Snowcrash cyberpunk is clearly known for being a writer in that genre.  Steel crash.  Fusion of historical fiction and thriller.  WWII and presentThe Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

KP:  For nonfiction, I just finished Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital by Sheri Fink.  I'm about to read Michael Lewis's Flash Boys.   You have to try to expose yourself to different writing. 

Q: What are you working on now?  Will steve mitchell be back? 

KP:  I'm working on my second novel.  I've a two-book deal with St. Martin's.  It’s also medical thriller. Set in a hospital in San Diego and involves biotech.

Q:  Independent bookstores have been described as germinating nurseries for writers.  Do you go on book tours?   Blog interviews?

KP:  All of the above.  As a debut author, it’s very hard to break in and to have your work noticed by a very crowded marketplace. I go to independent bookstores in the west coast and some panels and compliments of ITW I participated in a panel on "The Birth of a Thriller" in April in Florida. That was wonderful, a great opportunity.

KP:  If you love reading, please support your local independent bookstore.  They  are such an important part of the community. Not just for book lovers but for communities in general.  I was at my local independent recently and there was a group of teenage girls just sitting in a circle in the YA section.  Sitting quietly talking.  That’s exactly what a bookstore is about.  Kids sitting, sharing ideas and hanging out.  

Q: Last words for aspiring writers?

KP:  Keep writing.  Follow your passion.  Write when you can.  Read when you can.  I hadn’t imagined that it would come this far.  I wrote because I  had to write.  I had an inner voice to write and am glad I did it. 

KP: A plug for ITW, I wish I had known about the community earlier in the process.  I am thrilled to have the opportunity to meet and gather with them.  I’m looking to ThrillerFest.

Thank you to Kelly Parsons for taking the time to talk and for sharing your insights.  Congratulations on Doing Harm!