Monday, March 31, 2008

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin

This is the first book I've read recently that I have been so excited to tell you about. This is a fantastic mystery set in 12th century England. A series of gruesome murders of children have occurred in Cambridgeshire and the villagers believe the Jews are to blame. As a result, the Jews have been secured in the castle for their protection against the angry mob of villagers. King Henry II is anxious to have this matter resolved, as the Jews provide him with a large source of income. The king sends to the renowned medical school in Salerno for a master of the art of death (like a modern-day medical examiner), but what he gets is a mistress of the art of death-Vesuvia Adelia Rachel Ortese Aguilar, or Adelia. As Adelia examines the bodies of the murdered children, she finds that she is facing an evil and cunning murderer. Along with her guardian, an Arab named Mansur, her partner Simon of Naples, the local tax collector Rowley Picot and a young local boy named Ulf, the group sets out to track down the murderer.

I thoroughly enjoyed this well written mystery with its likable cast of characters. Adelia is a stubborn, intelligent, independent woman, who reminds me of Elizabeth Peters' Amelia Peabody. The descriptions of the methods of practicing medicine in the 12th century are interesting, as are the obstacles Adelia faces as a woman practicing medicine during this time. With many mystery novels, I find I can usually guess the killer well before the end, but with this one I was guessing until the very end. She even throws in an unexpected twist. I also appreciated that despite being in love, Adelia chooses her career over marriage, which in the 12th century was not very common. I'm definitely looking forward to Adelia's next adventure, The Serpent's Tale, which was just released earlier this year.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Maguire is back!

I don't know how I missed this, but Gregory Maguire finally has another book coming this fall. A Lion Among Men will be the third book in his Wicked series. This one will tell the life story of the Lion, and will answer questions that were left open at the end of Wicked. I absolutely love Gregory Maguire-his novels are so imaginative and entertaining. If you've only read Wicked, you are missing out. Confessions of an Ugly Stepsister is one of my favorites. I can't wait!

Thursday, March 27, 2008

And the nominees are....

Quite a few book award nominations have been announced recently.

The Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction is one of the United Kingdom's most prestigious literary prizes, awarded annually for the best original full-length novel by a female author of any nationality, written in English and published in the UK in the preceding year. The winner of the prize receives £30,000. The nominees are (seven of the novels are by first-time novelists):

The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
The Room of Lost Things by Stella Duffy
The Keep by Jennifer Egan
The Gathering by Anne Enright
The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant
The Master Bedroom by Tessa Hadley
Fault Lines by Nancy Huston
Sorry by Gail Jones
The Outcast by Sadie Jones
The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam by Lauren Liebenberg
When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson
In the Dark by Deborah Moggach
Mistress by Anita Nair
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill
The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak
The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer
The End of Mr. Y by Scarlett Thomas
Monster Love by Carol Topolski
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Lottery by Patricia Wood

The Thriller Awards are awarded by the International Thriller Writers. The nominees are:

No Time For Goodbye by Linwood Barclay
The Watchman by Robert Crais
The Ghost by Robert Harris
The Crime Writer by Gregg Hurwitz
Trouble by Jesse Kellerman

Interred With Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell
Big City, Bad Blood by Sean Chercover
From the Depths by Gerry Doyle
Volk's Game by Brent Ghelfi
Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill

The Last Nightingale by Anthony Flacco
A Thousand Bones by P.J. Parrish
The Midnight Road by Tom Piccirilli
The Queen of Bedlam by Robert McCammon
Shattered by Jay Bonansinga

The Hugo Awards are given every year for the best science fiction or fantasy work of the previous year. The nominees for best novel are:

The Yiddish Policeman's Union by Michael Chabon
Brasyl by Ian McDonald
Rollback by Robert J. Sawyer
The Last Colony by John Scalzi
Halting State by Charles Stross

The Arthur C. Clarke Award is a British award given for the best science fiction novel first published in the United Kingdom during the previous year. The Arthur C. Clarke award nominees are:

The Red Men by Matthew de Abaitua
The H-Bomb Girl by Stephen Baxter
The Carhullan Army by Sarah Hall
The Raw Shark Texts by Steven Hall
The Execution Channel by Ken MacLeod
Black Man by Richard Morgan - Gollancz

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

All the latest....

A rare, signed 1937 1st edition of The Hobbit was sold last week in London for around $120,000. I wish I had that kind of money to spend on a book.

Borders has posted losses in the last 7 of 8 quarters and is contemplating selling the company, or parts of it. Barnes and Noble COO Mitchell Klipper said in the year end conference call that while they have not been approached by Borders, Barnes and Noble would look at the possibility of acquiring their rival.

And speaking of Barnes and Noble....they have launched a new website called Quamut. Want to brush up on your French phrases? Learn to play Whist? Start a garden? Latin for "how-to," the site provides basic how-to instructions on just about anything. Content can be viewed for free on the website, or you can print out a PDF version for a small charge. One topic is highlighted every day and the PDF can be downloaded and printed for free on that day. It's quite handy.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Last week was a terrible week

I have been remiss in not mentioning the death of the great science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke. Clarke died last week on March 19th at the age of 90 in his home in Sri Lanka. He is probably most well known for his novel 2001: A Space Odyssey, which was made into a film.

Director and screenwriter Anthony Minghella also died last week on March 18th at the age of 54 from complications with cancer. Minghella won an Oscar for Best Director for The English Patient. Most recently he was working on adapting Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency for television.

Andrew Britton, a 27-year old spy novelist, also died last week on March 18th from an undiagnosed heart condition. His most recent novel, The Invisible, was just released earlier this month.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Author Visits!

Joshua Ferris, author of Then We Came to the End, will be signing his book at the Borders on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on April 3rd at 7pm. This book provides a humorous look at life in corporate America.

Alexander McCall Smith will be signing his latest book, The Miracle at Speedy Motors (the next in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series), at the Borders on Michigan Avenue in Chicago on April 18th at 7pm. His website says the next in the 44 Scotland Street series: The World According to Bertie will be coming soon! Yay!

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad

Shortly after the fall of the Taliban in 2001, journalist Asne Seierstad went to Afghanistan. There she met Shah Mohammad Rais (called Sultan Khan in the book), a well-known and successful bookseller in Kabul. Intending to observe and record the customs and traditions of the Afghan people, Seierstad lived with the Rais family for several months and provides an intimate look at the lives of the family members. She attends a family wedding, makes a religious pilgrimage with one of Rais' sons, observes a marriage arrangement, and experiments with wearing a burkha. Most striking to Seierstad is the oppression that Afghan women are forced to live under, even after the end of the Taliban. A young girl is beaten for speaking with a boy. A young bride is murdered by her own family for an alleged affair. Rais, who initially seems to be very liberal, becomes the stereotypical Middle Eastern man when he takes a second, younger wife. As the head of his family, he rules with authority and his wives, sister and other female relatives must defer to his rule in all things. Not surprisingly, Rais is unhappy with Seierstad's portrayal of him. He claims that the book has ruined his life and he has sent his family away from Afghanistan for fear of being attacked by those who are offended by the portrayal of Afghans. He has threatened legal action against Seierstad, although I don't believe any suits have been filed yet. In response, Rais has published his own version of the story, titled Once Upon a Time There Was a Bookseller from Kabul.

Unfortunately, this book fell short of my expectations. After reading books like The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, the fanaticism of the Taliban and the treatment of the women didn't surprise me, so there was no feeling of shock. None of the family members are very likable, including the women, so I didn't really care about any of them. There are some interesting bits about the ease of crossing the Pakistani border, preparations for a typical Afghan wedding and Rais' book business. But basically I just didn't feel like I was getting anything new from this.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Anatomy of Deception by Lawrence Goldstone

In the late 19th century, Dr. Ephraim Carroll is studying medicine at a Philadelphia hospital under the talented professor, Dr. William Osler. When the body of an unknown young woman is brought into the morgue, both Dr. Osler and another student, Dr. George Turk are startled but seem to recognize her. When Dr. Turk dies of what seems to be cholera, but is later confirmed to be arsenic poisoning, Carroll believes there may be a connection between the woman in the morgue and Turk. As he begins investigating, Carroll uncovers Turk's dark dealings, his connection to the woman and the secrets of a well-respected physician.

Goldstone captures the essence of 19th century Philadelphia and creates an intriguing mystery filled with interesting characters. What I didn't know when I read this, is that Dr. William Osler was a real doctor. Goldstone came up with the idea for this story while conducting research for another book. He discovered that Dr. Osler wrote and published "The Inner History of the Johns Hopkins Hospital" which was not opened until 50 years after his death. In it, Osler reveals a secret of a very well-known and well-respected colleague, which becomes the basis for this story. A great read!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Author Visits!!

Christopher Rice will be promoting his new book, Blind Fall, at the Barnes & Noble at Old Orchard on March 29th at 3pm. Christopher, the son of Anne Rice, does not writer horror novels like his mother. Blind Fall, his fourth novel, is a military thriller.

Amy Bloom will be discussing and signing her book, Away, at the Newberry Library in Chicago on March 25th at 6:30 pm. Tickets are $8.

Friday, March 14, 2008

All the latest...

Harry Potter alert: The LA Times reported that the 7th and final Harry Potter film will actually be split into 2 films. Because there is too much to capture in one film, Part 1 will be released in November 2010 and Part 2 will be released in May 2o11. The 6th movie, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince is due to be released this November 21st!

Last summer I posted an article from the Washington Post about Alexander McCall Smith's popular series The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency being adapted for the big screen and in theaters by Christmas. Obviously that didn't happen. Variety recently reported that HBO has picked this up as a series. A 2 hour pilot has already been filmed and 13 more episodes are planned. Not sure when we can expect to see it. I may have to start subscribing to HBO again.

Speaking of HBO...Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney will star in a 7 part mini-series based on David McCullough's Pulitzer prize winning book, John Adams, which will debut on HBO on March 16th at 8pm. Aarrgghh! Why did I cancel HBO??

J. R. R. Tolkien's grandson Simon Tolkien will be publishing a book titled The Inheritance about an aging police inspector who travels from England to France to delve into a possible WWII crime, hoping to save an upper-class student who is set to hand for murdering his father. A far cry from Middle Earth, but it sounds like a good story.

Publisher's Weekly reports that Jenna Blum has a deal for her second novel, The Stormchasers. "Set against a lonely, majestic Midwestern backdrop, the book follows twins whose genetic double helix includes a love of big weather. As Charles, a professional stormchaser, and Katrina, a weathergirl, also struggle with a shared secret—a terrible event caused by Charles’s bipolarity—Blum explores the issue of how much we owe our siblings, and at what cost to ourselves." Blum's first novel, Those Who Save Us, was wonderful and made for a great book discussion at the library, so I'm looking forward to her next story.

John Le Carre's next novel, A Most Wanted Man, about intelligence agencies operating in the war on terror, will be published in October.

Keep your ears open for what is being called the "Israeli Kite Runner." Every Home Needs a Balcony by Rina Frank has sold over 100,000 copies in Israel and will be published soon in the U. S. The novel tells the story of a Jewish girl who grows up poor in Haifa in the 1950's, then her life as an adult living in Spain after the tragic loss of her sister.

USA Today is reporting that Amazon's Kindle is temporarily sold-out due to heavy demand. Now, I suppose it's entirely possible that they did not anticipate how many people would want the Kindle (although Amazon won't reveal how many have already been sold) and just didn't make enough. Or, they could be pulling an evil trick like Ninetendo is doing with the Wii: make only a few so they sell out quickly, which creates hype and everyone goes crazy to get one. I do not believe for one second that Nintendo still can't keep up with the demand for the Wii. It's just a scheme to make us all want one. (Albeit a good scheme-I really want that Wii.) So, maybe Amazon is taking a lesson from Nintendo here.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Jewel Trader of Pegu by Jeffrey Hantover

In the late 16th century, a young Jew travels from the Venetian ghetto to the Burmese kingdom of Pegu to acquire jewels for his uncle's business. Through a series of letters to his cousin, we experience Abraham's journey. Initially, the exotic landscape and the strange customs and beliefs of the locals seem uncivilized to Abraham. He is also expected to participate in a local ritual which he considers abhorrent and sinful. But away from the dreary ghetto for the first time, he is no longer singled out and ridiculed for being a Jew and is able to come and go as he pleases, and Abraham experiences true freedom for the first time. As he begins to appreciate the locals and their culture, Abraham finds love with a young local woman. As his time in Pegu draws to an end, Abraham is torn between returning to Venice with the woman he loves, where he will return to the confines of the ghetto and his wife will be shunned, or staying in Pegu, where they will be free to live without judgement. This is a great story of a man who finds freedom and love in an unexpected place. The story unfolds gradually through the letters to his cousin, and at the end of each letter I was anxious for the next one. The lush descriptions bring the exotic landscape and people to life, making this a pleasure to read.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Remember Me? by Sophie Kinsella

On the evening before her father's funeral, Lexi Smart goes out for drinks with her best friends. After having one too many, she falls and hits her head. When she wakes up, three years have passed and Lexi can't remember any of it. She has changed from a dumpy, frizzy-haired snaggletooth to a slim, beautiful woman with a successful career and a wealthy husband. As she discovers more about her life, she learns that she is no longer the person she once was. Although her life seems perfect on the outside, she has lost her friends and her husband is an obsessive neat freak who doesn't allow carbs in the house. As she tries to piece together the puzzle of her new life, Lexi is determined to uncover the reasons for her drastic changes and get her old life back. I enjoyed this one, as I do all of Kinsella's books. They are fun, light-hearted, quick reads. The one thing that bugged me was the mother. Is it just me, or does it seem like all the mothers in chick lit are portrayed as flighty and self-absorbed? I know it makes for a good laugh, but it's getting a little stale.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Seduction of the Crimson Rose

Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation series has been a favorite of mine since it was first released in 2005 (see my review of her last novel at the Cozy Library). Her latest, the fourth in the series, The Seduction of the Crimson Rose, does not disappoint.

Eloise Kelly has been feverishly trying to complete the research for her dissertation on spies during the Napoleonic Wars. When last we saw her, she had unmasked the identity of England's elusive spy, the Pink Carnation. However, the identity of the notorious French spy, the Black Tulip, continues to evade her. On a hunch, she decides to examine the archives of Lord Vaughn, an aristocrat who aided the Pink Carnation. While examining his papers, we are whisked back to 1803 England. In an attempt to trap the Tulip, the Pink Carnation asks Lord Vaughn to enlist the help of Mary Alsworthy. Mary is to pose as a willing accomplice to the Tulip in order to identify and capture him. Forced to work together, Mary and Vaughn dislike each other immensely. Both are arrogant, cynical and stubborn. But their dislike quickly turns to desire and the two fall in love. When the Tulip gives Mary a mission to test her loyalty, she discovers that the Tulip is after Vaughn. After Vaughn's long-lost wife mysteriously reappears, Mary suspects she may be in league with the Tulip and attempts to uncover the plot.

All of Willig's novels follow this formula: a man and woman who dislike each other are forced to work together. Their dislike sparks a chemistry between the two and eventually they fall in love. Despite the predictable outcomes, I absolutely love this series! Charming, fun, excellent dialogue, vivid descriptions of historical England-I can never put these books down! Now that the Black Tulip has been unmasked, I hope Eloise Kelly and the Pink Carnation will be back for new adventures!

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Memoir Fraud

One would think that after the fiasco with James Frey's A Million Little Pieces a few years ago publishers would be more diligent in verifying the backgrounds of writers. Apparently not. Just in the last week two authors have admitted that their memoirs were complete fiction.

The first, Misha Defonseca, author of Misha: A Mémoire of the Holocaust Years, which was translated into 18 languages and adapted for the French feature film Surviving With Wolves, admitted that the story is completely false. She said, "The story is mine. It is not actually reality, but my reality, my way of surviving."

Margaret B. Jones, author of Love and Consequences, which was published last week about her life as a half-white, half-Native American girl growing up in South-Central Los Angeles as a foster child among gang-bangers, also admitted her story is completely false. She said "I thought it was my opportunity to put a voice to people who people don’t listen to...I was in a position where at one point people said you should speak for us because nobody else is going to let us in to talk."

While this is completely reprehensible on the part of the authors, I can't help but put a certain amount of blame on these publishers. If they are publishing a memoir, shouldn't they have some sort of responsibility to verify that the works they publish are truthful? Their negligence is insulting to consumers and insulting to the people who actually lived through these difficult situations. In the case of Margaret Jones, it seems like a simple background check would have unmasked the deception. What makes this worse is that there are honest people who write wonderful, moving, truthful memoirs, but because of writers (and publishers) like this, a shadow of doubt will always fall over their work.

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Waking Brigid

I don't normally read fantasy, but I read a good review of Waking Brigid by Francis Clark and it sounded like it could be good. It's not fantasy in the sense that there are elves or fairies or it takes place in another world, but there is a paranormal element to it, so I guess I call that fantasy. Anyway, the story takes place in Savannah just after the Civil War. A prominent citizen is admitted to the psychiatric ward, and one night, after what seems to be a psychotic episode, he dies. After examining what seems to be a suicide, the doctor determines that the death was a murder. But with no one else in the room with him, it seems there are supernatural forces at work. The doctor alerts the bishop, who calls in a group of priests and nuns who are magicians, trained to deal with exorcisms and other dark forces. The group discovers that they are facing a powerful demon that has been summoned by a group of prominent Savannah citizens. Brigid is a local nun who was born with magical powers but suppressed them when she was sent to the church at age 7. When the group of magicians learn of Brigid's natural powers, they request her assistance and the powers that she has suppressed for so many years begin to wake. After several of the magicians are killed, it will take all of Brigid's strength to battle the powerful demon. Despite the paranormal element, I found that I actually enjoyed this book. When the demon was first introduced, I was a little put off and I kept thinking there would be a logical explanation for the first murder, but there isn't, so you just have to go with it. Magicians within the Catholic church, the history of witchcraft in Ireland and the local Voudou circle are all compelling aspects of this story that kept me hooked.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Those Crazy Tudors

The film adaptation of Philippa Gregory's The Other Boleyn Girl was released this weekend to mixed reviews. Personally, I enjoyed it. The acting was great, the costumes were sumptuous, the scenery and settings were fantastic and although it deviated from the book in several places and condensed the events down in short amount of time, I thought it was pretty good. I'm a huge fan of historical fiction novels (and movies) and whenever I finish a good novel, like The Other Boleyn Girl, I want to know how much of it is based on fact. I want to know more about these fascinating people and their unbelievable lives. Fortunately, Bookmarks magazine is just in time with a list of recommended reading (both fiction and nonfiction) on the Tudors.

For nonfiction try:
The Extravagant Life of Henry by Carolly Erikson
Henry VIII: The King and His Court and The Six Wives of Henry VIII by Alison Weir
The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives
The Perfect Prince: The Mystery of Perkin Warbeck and His Quest for the Throne of England by Anne Wroe
Queen Elizabeth I by J. E. Neale
The Armada and Catherine of Aragon by Garrett Mattingly
Henry VIII: The Mask of Royalty and A Tudor Tragedy: The Life and Times of Catherine Howard by Lacey Baldwin Smith

For fiction try:
The Secret Lion: The Spymaster Chronicles, Book 1 by C. W. Gortner
Dear Heart, How Like You This? by Wendy Dunn
Murder Most Royal: The Story of Anne Boleyn and Catherine Howard by Jean Plaidy
The Autobiography of Henry VIII by Margaret George

I would add Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir. I am also interested in reading Jane Boleyn: The True Story of the Infamous Lady Rochford by Julia Fox about Jane Parker, George Boleyn's wife who reportedly told the king Anne was having an incestuous relationship with her brother.

Who is your favorite novelist supporting for President?

With the election heating up, I think it's interesting to see which candidates are endorsed by celebrities. One of my favorite blogs, Nonfiction Readers Anonymous, has posted a link to a website that lists campaign contributions, which can be searched by name, city or occupation. A search by occupation for "novelist" shows that $36,811 was donated by people who described themselves as novelists, with $14,770 to Republican candidates and $22,041 to Democrats. There are several other well-known authors that contributed, but did not come up under novelists, which you can see compiled here.