30.3.14

YOUNG ADULT CONTEST

The Guide to Literary Agents (GLA), which runs contests giving unpublished writers a chance to connect with agents or publishers, is hosting a Young Adult "Dear Lucky Agent" Contest. The contest closes April 9, 2014, so is not suitable for those of you just starting out. Getting noticed by an agent or publisher is difficult at the best of times, but if you're confident your manuscript will stand serious expert scrutiny, go to http://tinyurl.com/pcmopmq and get the skinny straight from the editor's mouth. And good luck!

BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE MUSEUM, by Kate Atkinson

You know how it is when you finish a book and you just want to exhale and let your heart slow down to its normal rhythm? This is that kind of book. It's a must-read for anyone who adores seethingly complex stories of multi-generational, totally dysfunctional families as told by a member, in this case young Ruby (very young, actually: she begins the narrative the instant she is conceived, which ought to give you an idea of how very off-beat and quirky this novel is). Set in York, England beginning in the early 1900s and careening through nearly the entire century, the story focuses (more or less) on the daughters of Bunty and George Lennox as well as the women who come before. Funny, tragic, candid, hilarious, heart-breaking...this is a marvelous emotional roller-coaster of a book. A 5. Perfect for a book group.

28.3.14

DANDY GILVER & THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOOD STAINS, by Catriona McPherson

2/series. For a series that is no-nonsense mystery (no knitting circles, scone bakers, antiques dealers, or basket weavers, thank you very much), you cannot do better than this series set in Edinburgh in 1926. The mystery is all; what a pleasant change! Consummate upper-class Scotswoman (or is she a Brit?) Dandelion Gilver goes downscale as she pretends to be a lady's maid in order to protect a woman who thinks her husband wants to kill her. Hard to believe the wealthy, charming Pip Balfour has sinister designs on Lollie. When the murder does occur (and with a promptness most amazing), the victim is not the expected one. Oh, now I have a real problem. Any more and I may spoil the read...so, no more. Intricate, witty, just convoluted enough, the very original ending will startle you (well, it did me). A 5.

26.3.14

THE SPYMISTRESS, by Jennifer Chiaverini

We so often get novels of the British or French Civil war, but our own American Civil War gets short shrift. This novel helps to correct that imbalance, as it portrays a genuine historical figure: Elizabeth Van Lew, a Richmond heiress turned Union spy. Civil War buffs will be thrilled to get their hands on this.
Born to wealth and privilege to a slave-holding family, Lizzie was horrified when the southern states left the Union. The saga of her tireless work in support of Union aims was brave in a time when such bravery could be severely punished. No spoilers, so I'll say no more. For a fine recounting of a heroic life, this should be on your reading list. It could also make an excellent book for a reading group. It's a 4.
www.jenniferchiaverini.com

LAST NIGHT AT THE LOBSTER, by Stewart O'Nan

A deceptive title of a small-appearing book that is so very big in scope. O'Nan, one of the high-energy instructors at the Writers in Paradise workshop at St. Petersburg FL's Eckerd College, spent nearly a year of researching and then writing this little gem. What's the mystifying title about? The very last night of business at a New England Red Lobster Restaurant as seen through the eyes of the manager, Manny DeLeon. Full of regrets and dashed hopes, O'Nan manages to infuse the hopelessness and angst of Manny and his not-so-loyal employees while giving a full-blown portrayal of both the faithful manager, the unfaithful boyfriend (both are Manny), and his employees. And a blizzard. Fact? Fiction? Who cares, it's a perfect read. Give it a 5, you'll probably become a devotee of this master of the telling detail and his sensitive and searching take on these unnoticed worlds.
www.stewart-onan.com

24.3.14

THE DOCTOR AND THE DIVA, by Adrienne McDonnell

Opera and child bearing - how could they have anything in common? A first novel (published, of course) ought to have more errors in it than this delightful tale has! Based on diaries and stories about the author's ancestor, the tale is smoothly written, full of fascinating characters and unusual settings, emotionally satisfying, historically compelling, with arcane facts that will keep you interested if the love and compulsion don't. The diva in question, Erika von Kessler, married to a wealthy Bostonian who is obsessed with making her pregnant (to the point where he checks her underwear!), visits Dr. Ravell, who has developed a reputation for success with barren women (at this point - 1902 - nobody thinks a man could possibly be the problem). The story twists and turns, children die and are born, people go to Europe and Caribbean islands and South America, Erika's marriage tottters...and her career? You'll enjoy finding out what happens. This is a 5.

22.3.14

STREET SMART, by Tara Taylor Quinn

Contemporary suspense/romance set in Las Vegas, where Francseca Witting has gone to track down her little sister, run away two years previously. What Francesca, still recovering from her own tragedy, finds is not at all what she anticipated. Click here for more. . .

20.3.14

THE 100-YEAR-OLD MAN who climbed out the windoe and Disappeared, by Jonas Jonasson

A delicious send-up, funny and human and ridiculous and true. Just like life, and you should be so lucky as to have one even close to the story's hero varied experiences. Allan Karlsson, on his one hundredth birthday, steps out of his room in the highly-restrictive nursing home and "goes walkabout". Switching from what Allan gets up to in his wanderings (think mayhem, millions, and a fugitive elephant) and what Allan got up to decades ago in his wanderings (think Stalin, Chairman Mao, the atom bomb, and Harry S. Truman). A one-of-a-kind book perfect for a birthday gift for your favorite elderly uncle. It's a 4.
www.jonasjonasson.com

18.3.14

BLACK FRIDAYS, by Michael Sears



Few debut novels have a more sure first-person voice than this one; author Sears has the Wall Street chops to make his character’s attitudes and motivations flawless. Jason Stafford, ex-Wall Street wonder boy, ex-con (one thing led directly to the next), has paid his debt to society. Now he wants to get on with his life, maybe reconnect with his wife, absolutely with his autistic son, AKA Kid. Jason’s offered a simple job for a lotta bucks: checking trading history of a murdered broker. But first, he's got to go see the Kid; he breaks his parole to get to his son in Louisiana. No spoilers, you’ll have to read this fast-paced and well-plotted book to find out what happens when the law appears, when more deaths happen, and…. It’s a 4+ and the first, hopefully, of many more.

16.3.14

THE QUALITY OF MERCY, by Barry Unsworth



Most of Unsworth’s tales are dark, with characters I’ve found to be less than sympathetic, but The Quality of Mercy, set in England in 1767, it involves a slave-ship owner bent on revenge, a coal mine owner bent on pleasure, a fugitive Irish fiddler, two slavery abolitionists (one male, one female, and why is he surprised she has a mind of her own?) with varied agendas, and a small mining village near Durham. Unsworth, a Booker Prize winner, is unsurpassed at the casually chilling detail, the seemingly disparate threads of an intricate plot, and bringing major issues down to understandable, though not always likeable, size. The same is true of his characters, some of which are so flawed they could be used as psychiatric teaching devices. This is a 5, the perfect rainy weekend read from a writer known for his meticulously-researched and -written historical novels. The book could be considered a sdequel to A Sacred Hunger, written twenty years before.

14.3.14

QUEEN OF THE SOUTH, by Arturo Perez-Reverte



Normally, the epic tale of the fortunes of a Mexican drug empress wouldn’t find much favor with me, but this prize-winning Spanish author had me hooked in the first ten pages. Teresa Mendoza, girlfriend of a daredevil drug-smuggler, must flee when her lover is murdered during a drug run. Mexican drug culture required the death of the victim’s entire family down to the children, and Teresa is at the top of the clean-up list. In Spain, where she hides out, she is imprisoned and her cell-mate is a wealthy accessory to murder that has a powerful secret. The rest of this lengthy, dense story will keep you up nights, right to the violent ending. Not for the very faint of heart, but the impeccable quality of the writing, the story line, the depth of knowledge of this shadowy world we think we know about, all will keep you on the edge of your seat. A 5. And don't miss Perez-Reverte's historical tales, reviewed in other posts on this blog.

12.3.14

PIRATE KING, by Laurie R. King



11/Mary Russell series. Great fun! Further adventures of the incredicly intrepid Mary Russell and her husband, Sherlock Holmes, this time Mary going it (almost) alone as assistant to a movie crew in Lisbon and Salé, on Morocco’s Atlantic coast. The latter was home to the original Salé Rovers, fearsome 15th century pirates who led many captured Christians into slavery or worse. A few dark moments are relieved by King’s usual impeccable writing and plotting, as well as her ability to evoke an era and place in flawless style.  And, from personal experience, I know she has “walked the walk” in the narrow-laned Salé medina.
How King has made Mary Russell a believable spouse to the cerebral Sherlock Holmes is simply amazing. Flawless! Read these in order; don't deny yourself the pleasure of the entire series  A 5.

HEIRS AND GRACES, by Rhys Bowen

7/series. Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 35th in line for the throne, is on another romp, this one at a magnificent stately pile where the selfish, rude and ungracious lord of the manor has "not done his duty": married and produced at least one heir. Frankly, women are not his idea of a fun time.Click here for more on this delightful read. . .

10.3.14

BROKEN MUSIC, by Marjorie Eccles



Is this a cozy? I think of the Hamish MacBeth or Agatha Raisin stories as cozies. Eccles is a step beyond those, a master at timing, and compelling characters. Here, she gives us a heart-wrenching post-Great War tale of love, manipulation and deceit. Set in the Black Country of western England, populated with clearly-drawn, interesting characters, the story starts with the return of a former police investigator who is determined to re-open the murder of a young women on the day the war started back in 1914. He sets in motion a train of stunning events that weave past into the present, and will keep you up late until you've read the last word. A marvelous 5.

8.3.14

LAST NIGHT AT THE LBOSTER, by Stewart

HOSTAGE, by Robert Crais



If you have not found your way to Robert Crais's suspense and crimje novels, you are missing one of reading's great treats. This guy creates tense, nibble-your-knuckles novels you won;t be able to put down. Jeff Talley, once an LAPD Hostage Negotiator, has burned out and gone to a less demanding job. Then three out-of-control young men hole up inside the home of an accountant, holding the man and his two children hostage…and Talley is plunged back into a world that once nearly destroyed him, and now could destroy both him and his family. Crais is adept at portraying psychos; the one in this book will have you checking the locks on your doors. Crais also does heroes, the reluctant kind, and Talley, a man who failed to talk down a man holding his own children hostage, a perfect foil for his antagonist. A 5, and a very tense read.

6.3.14

ROYAL BLOOD, by Rhys Bowen



4/series. Yet another light-hearted murder mystery starring the engaging 34th heir in line for the British throne, Lady Georgiana Rannoch, who's sent to Transylvania for a wedding of an old school mate who claims to remember her fondly. That’s not Georgie’s  recollection, however. And what else is wrong with this picture? Are there really vampires crawling up the outside of the forbidding castle Bran? Who is flitting in and out of rooms? And is that blood running down the bride’s chin? A great beach read: it’s a 4, lots of fun, excellently plotted, and a unique and gutsy heroine.
www.rhysbowen.com

4.3.14

THE BUTTERFLY CABINET, by Bernie McGill



I confess I need a fair amount of action to keep me interested in a novel, which is why this beautifully written tale of cruelty and regret - much of it in the form of flashbacks that were short on action - took me a long time to get through. In  1891, a child dies, and the mother – who believed in serious punishment for even minor infractions – is convicted of murder and goes to prison. Part of the story is Harriet Ormond’s chilling diaries from various prisons. The rest is told by Harriet’s housemaid, Maddie, now dying, in 1968. Very Irish, very tragic. A 3.5, you may think it’s worth a lot more.

3.3.14

THE PURSUIT OF ALICE THRIFT, by Elinor Lipman

Delightful. Not exactly a romance, the studious, serious, intellectual Boston Surgery Resident Alice Thrift recounts her own story of being romanced by the flim-flam man of all times, fudge salesman Ray Russo. Oh, you think, I've read those. Not like this, you haven't. At ocne funny and tragic, serious and (for Alice, at least) light-hearted, this inside look at her wanna-be boyfriend is absolutely perfect. From the moment Russo shows up wanting a nose job, to the perfect climax (no pun), this is a marvelous read. I give it a 5, and am going out for more Elinor Lipman.
www.elinorlipman.com

THE UNPLEASANTNESS AT THE BELLONA CLUB, by Dorothy L.Sayers



Lord Peter Wimsey’s crypt-like London club encourages a death-like calm. And then one death-like calm turns out to be genuine: ninety year-old Fentiman is dead in his chair, and has been for quite a while, says Dr. Penberthy. Why, then, is his rigor so odd? And what of Fentiman’s surly heir, the shell-shocked George, and his ominously hearty brother Robert? Can anyone lay hands on the elusive Oliver? Wimsey, in magnificent fashion, pulls it all together, and you’ll enjoy every minute of it. A perfect evocation of an era we’ll never know: a 5 by the incomparable Sayers.

2.3.14

GIVE ROMANCE A CHANCE!

This post contains rather explicit language. But not, of course, over the top. Still, reading it aloud to your pre-teen is not advised unless you are extraordinarily open-minded.
I've only recently decided to explore the romance genre; after all, there are thousands of perfectly good not-romances out there, and I personally like a good murder or thriller above all things (you'll find a page of them elsewhere in this blog). Romances are, by reputation, simplistic and poorly-written, nicknamed "heaving bosom" by many. And why not? Take a look at the covers. Is anything more titillating (pardon the pun) than the pictures on the average romance? A partly-clothed, 38 triple D, swooning woman whose long, flowing hair only partly covers the inexplicably naked chest (with a six pack McConnaghey would kill for) of one of the world's most handsome men?
But wait. . .there's more. Read on if you like, and look at the bottom of the post for a list - evolving, I add to it from time to time - of some romance authors you might enjoy. Click here for more. . .

1.3.14

THE REAVERS, by George MacDonald Fraser




A ridiculously fun read from the inventive author of the Flashman series. Sadly, this is the last of Fraser's tales; he died in 2008. But this is a great last work, fittingly manic and wacky in the one-of-a-kind Fraser style, full of witchcraft, nubile maidens and confused but handsome heroes, evil fiendish bad guys, and a lot of eye of newt. All set in the 17th century in the Scottish border country where lawlessness was a given, and might was the only right. It's a big, disorderly, laugh-a-page 4.