Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thriller Writer CJ Lyons Goes YA: BROKEN

Well known for her Lucy Guardino FBI thrillers (like Snake Skin), CJ Lyons is also a physician -- and she brings her expertise front and center in her newest book, BROKEN, written for the young adult (YA) market.

BROKEN opens as Scarlet Killian begs for a chance to stay in school for a whole day -- it's her first day there, it's high school, and she's stunned by what the in-person version is of friends, boys, class discussions, even hallway bullies.

And it's easy to bully Scarlet, as she tugs with her a heavy machine called an AED -- an automatic external defibrillator. It's to restart her heart, as needed. Scarlet has a diagnosis of "Long QT Syndrome." To the other kids, though, she figures she is just "the girl who almost died."

In fast-paced thriller mode, Lyons provides multiple threats to student lives for her gutsy protagonist to sort out. If you're a Jodi Picoult fan, you'll know the twist pretty early. But if you haven't yet read Picoult's medico-legal thrillers, BROKEN will open new terrain for you. Racing alongside Scarlet, you can discover why she's at risk -- and why a simple day at school has pushed her chances of death way higher.

Full disclosure: I like Scarlet so much that I peeked at the ending ahead of time, just to make sure the worst wasn't finally going to happen (whatever you consider the worst to be). See if you can read it straight through, instead.

Singapore Mystery: AUNTY LEE'S DELIGHTS, Ovidia Yu

Reading the Scandinavians lately? Or returning to a secret stash of the warmer (in every sense) Venetian mysteries from Donna Leon? Preparing for the Anglo-Saxon year-end holidays by exploring the bottom book shelf for a British police pair or even a classic Agatha Christie?

Here's a treat to indulge that "international mysteries" wanderlust while also savoring a well-plotted, clever traditional mystery: AUNTY LEE'S DELIGHTS from Ovidia Yu.

No translators involved -- Singapore is an Asian island-nation where the four official languages are English, Malay, Tamil, and Chinese, and author Yu writes in her native language, English, with delicious tidbits of words and customs that may be new to American readers. And she braids her lively sense of humor, love for Singapore, and lifelong experience with mysteries as she brings Aunty Lee to the case of a murdered young woman found at a nearby resort.
"Now they are finding bodies on the beach! I tell you, that place is bad luck! Do you know it used to be called Pulau Blakang Mati? That means 'Island of Death.' Before your time, of course, but everyone in Singapore will remember. Crazy, right? Go and build a tourist resort in a placed called Island of Death."
That's Aunty Lee expounding to her assistant Nina, as the two of them prepare a feast for their small café-style restaurant, where they provide "good traditional Peranakan food" and the sauces and special items that Aunty Lee used to sell from home. Now, though, with the latest modern equipment, and Nina's help (especially with Internet searches!), Aunty Lee can keep up with a more demanding business.

Mystery readers will recognize the device of a dinner, a murder, and sorting through the couples and singles on hand to eat and drink, to figure out motive, means, and opportunity -- while Yu's quick pace and richly detailed storytelling keep the magic of Singapore up front, along with the delight of Aunty Lee herself, a woman both determined and curious -- characterized by kiasu, or "fear of losing out." Whatever is happening, Aunty Lee wants to know all about it, and won't let go of her newly adopted role of pushing the police and the possible killer to a steamy revelation.

Grab a copy for relief from the pressures of holiday prep, or to explore someplace you might never see in person (or plan to visit!), and for the fun of meeting Aunty Lee and Nina. Better eat something before you start, though, or the culinary delights involved may have your stomach growling as you read! A good pick for a gift, too. Light, lively, and delicious.

PS - There's an enjoyable interview with Yu -- well known in Singapore for her more than 30 plays, as well as TV presence, and a highly published mystery author in India, too -- at Jungle Red. Fun to get acquainted with the author and the start of "Aunty Lee" as Lucy Burdette asks the questions.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

New Amateur Sleuth, Maine Mysteries: CLAMMED UP by Barbara Ross

It's always exciting to catch the first book of a new mystery series and realize it's the start of years of enjoyment ahead -- and Barbara Ross's CLAMMED UP is a prize. A paperback original via Kensington (whose expanding line of mysteries is varied and challenging), CLAMMED UP features Julia Snowden, recently returned to her family's "Maine clambake" business in the midst of a crisis.

Snowden, with her venture capital expertise, is a reluctant return to the rocky coast and its rugged beauty. Her intent is to rescue the family tourist-dependent operation and get back to her real life. A quick financial arrangement with the local banker, some energy into staffing and marketing, and she should be able to set her sister, mother, and brother-in-law back on their feet.

But as her first commercial event of the season begins, a catered wedding on her family's photogenic island, the mood is quickly shattered by the discovery of a corpse -- of the best man from the wedding. Snowden's schedule for the business rescue dies at the same moment. Ross provides a completely convincing reason for Julia to turn sleuth -- time is against her, and the stakes are personal and irreplaceable. Crime on the island? The police aren't going to clear things for the next scheduled event right away, and that's deadly for the family finances.
"It's just ... I keep wondering why the island? Whoever took him there, killed him, and hung him up went to a lot of trouble. Why go through all that? What was the point?"

Jamie's blond brows rose, providing an even better view of his sky-blue eyes ...

"Just tell me this," I persisted. "How long do you think we'll be shut down?"

That did get me a look of sympathy, which scared me more than his just-the-facts-ma'am persona. "Julia, I'm sorry. I'm sure Lieutenant Binder told you it will take as long as it takes."
If you haven't run across the term "clambake," you'll enjoy discovering its components, from lobsters to clams to traditional side dishes, as well as the logistics of the feast. And if you're already a connoisseur, the menu -- and recipes included at the back of the book -- will be a great reminder of the tastes of the Maine coast.

Julia Snowden is an intriguing protagonist, scrappy and smart and finding life and love on the Down East coast to be more than she's prepared for. I devoured the book and enjoyed knowing there's already a sequel on the way.  Enjoyable author website, too: