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A Ride in the Blistering Sun

A Lady Cyclist's Guide to KashgarArdent convictions entwined with bewitching messages of faith can be a stormy mix, especially when boundaries blur and cultures clash. Two British sisters face this predicament. Their efforts to help establish a Christian mission in rural China extract a high price in Suzanne Joinson's impressive, multi-layered debut novel, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar.  

 

The story begins in 1923 in the ancient Silk Road city of Kashgar, where new missionaries Lizzie and Eva English join their aloof, determined leader, Millicent Frost. While Lizzie appears passionate, Eva is suspicious of religious conversion and is basically along for the ride, literally. Traveling with her trusty BSA lady's roadster bicycle, Eva hopes to publish her guidebook, A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar. Meanwhile, another story unfolds in present day London. Frieda Blakeman is feeling alone and dislocated in her life when she meets a homeless man from Yemen who appears one day sleeping outside her door. Their eventual friendship leads the pair to an abandoned flat Frieda has inherited and to a minefield of family history. 

 

Joinson's alternating narrative style sets the stage for what is to come. The parallel storylines share symbolism and metaphors that link together the characters' connection to their world and the ability to escape that connection. It is no coincidence that birds feature prominently in both stories as a symbolic "sense of freedom" or that Eva's bicycle is a "shield and my method of escape."     

 

Drawing on her considerable travel experiences, Joinson transports her readers to an exotic locale, rich with authentic voices and evocative prose. Readers of Barbara Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible) and Paul Theroux (The Great Railway Bazaar) may enjoy this tale of the traditions and challenges of a world at large.

Cynthia

 
 

The World’s Greatest Crime Fiction Writer?

TakenAccording to The Huffington Post, it’s Robert Crais. You can judge for yourself with Taken, the most recent in his Joe Pike/Elvis Cole series. Taken features a multinational cast of bad guys who buy, sell, and steal one another's kidnapped victims. When professional kidnappers capture a college-age couple who venture into the desert south of Palm Springs near the Mexican border, the young woman's mother hires Cole to find them. Initially, Mom thinks it’s a hoax to get at her money, but Cole quickly realizes that it’s for real and the danger is serious.

 

Through a series of undercover efforts, Cole, Pike, and their sidekick Jon Stone begin to unravel the power balance controlling this web of cartels. As they move to infiltrate the smugglers’ group, Cole himself becomes a kidnap victim. Pike and Stone must find a way to use his capture to aid their investigation and bring justice to the victims. This quickly moving story and realistically sharp dialog will keep readers up past their bedtime. Fans of Crais as well as general mystery readers will enjoy this latest effort. For series newcomers, it is not critical to start with the first title. Crais himself even recommends starting with a title in the middle of the series: L.A. Requiem. The good news is once you’ve polished this one off, there are 14 others waiting in the stacks.

 

While the titles in this series would make a fabulous fit for the big screen, to date Crais refuses to sell the rights to Cole, Pike, and his other recurring characters, preferring to allow his readers to keep their own personal conceptions of the characters.

Maureen

 
 

Summer Thrills

Summer Thrills

posted by:
May 23, 2012 - 4:01am

Thriller 3: Love is MurderAre you looking for a thrill this summer? Love is Murder is a new anthology of romantic suspense short stories that haven’t been published anywhere else. This volume, which is edited by Sandra Brown, will be released in time for summer, and it’s a great way to try out some new thriller writers who you may not already know. The anthology brings readers a mix of stories written by some of today’s best known writers along with some up-and-comers. Some of the authors included in the anthology are Allison Brennan, Heather Graham, Carla Neggers, Brenda Novak, and Lee Child.

 

Love is Murder is the third anthology produced exclusively by members of the International Thriller Writers, a group of authors who write fiction and nonfiction that is broadly categorized as thrillers or suspense. The organization’s goal is to promote and recognize the thriller genre, and its membership is a who’s who of bestselling authors.

 

This anthology is being published in time for the International Thriller Writers’ annual ThrillerFest. This year, the event will take place July 11-14 in New York City.  ThrillerFest is a four day celebration of thriller books, the writers who create them, and the fans who love them. The event will feature Lee Child, Jack Higgins, John Sandford, Catherine Coulter, and many more! All of the details on the event are available here

Beth

 
 

Jennifer Lawrence Takes on Southern Gothic

SerenaFew audiences can think of The Hunger Games without picturing Jennifer Lawrence, the talented young actress who portrays Katniss Everdeen and who also earned an Oscar nomination for her performance in the 2010 film version of Daniel Woodrell’s novel Winter’s Bone.  So what’s next for the famous “girl on fire?”  According to Entertainment Weekly, Lawrence will soon be starring in yet another page-to-screen adaptation, this time as the title character in Ron Rash’s 2008 thriller, Serena

 

Set in Depression-era North Carolina, Rash’s story introduces us to newlyweds George and Serena Pemberton as they stake their claim to a lumber empire deep in the Appalachian Mountains.  The two rule over their territory like feudal lords and Serena quickly proves herself to be a survivor in the harsh wilderness, an equal to any of the men.  But after Serena learns she cannot bear children, she unleashes a murderous plot against George’s illegitimate son to secure her power and plunges into madness rivaling that of Lady Macbeth.  Hauntingly written, this is a gothic tale of greed and corruption driven by an unforgettable female character.  Jennifer Lawrence is definitely no stranger to visceral leading roles, but Serena promises to be a dark and exciting departure from the good-hearted protagonists the actress usually plays.    

  

Serena was a finalist for the 2009 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and is a highly recommended pick for fans of Cormac McCarthy and Charles Frazier.  While the film adaptation (co-starring Bradley Cooper) doesn’t hit theaters until 2013, you can check out your copy of Serena today!    

Alex

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Mysticism, Opium, and Titanic

The House of Velvet and GlassHave you ever wondered what it must have been like to stroll through the elaborately appointed rooms of the Titanic on its maiden voyage, or dine alongside extravagantly dressed women and some of the wealthiest people in the world? Did you ever consider what Old Shanghai may have been like for a crew of sailors after months at sea, or speculate about one of its infamous opium dens?  What about envisioning how it must have felt to be alive during the early days of the twentieth century in affluent Boston, where social standards defined every aspect of your life?  The House of Velvet and Glass by Katherine Howe is a masterfully woven tale that encompasses all of these settings and more. 

 

The story is set in the years preceding World War I and revolves around lives of the Allston family.  The mother and youngest daughter have perished on Titanic’s ill-fated crossing 3 years previous, and the eldest daughter Sibyl continues to struggle with their loss.  Her mother’s death has forced her into the role of family caretaker.  She and her father are residing in the family’s brownstone in Boston’s wealthy  Back Bay region when her younger brother abruptly returns home from school under mysterious circumstances.  Sibyl has taken to attending séances hoping to contact her Mother, seeking both comfort and advice regarding her brother.

 

This story moves between different time periods, telling the back story of Mr. Allston when he was a young sailor and the account of the Titanic passengers.  Howe effectively weaves all of these plots into a complete, cohesive, and interesting story. Her thorough descriptions and authentic flare make each scene come to life.  No details are spared in this enchanting historical novel that will capture your imagination and your heart.

Jeanne

 
 

Fiction Award Nominees

Fiction Award Nominees

posted by:
May 21, 2012 - 5:01am

Lost Memory of SkinThe Forgotten WaltzSwamplandia!The nominees for the inaugural Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction were recently announced.  This award recognizes books written for adults that were published in the U.S. in the previous year.   The three finalists deal with varied and unique topics, but each has a strong emotional current running throughout.

 

In Lost Memory of Skin, Russell Banks turns a magnifying glass toward the outcasts of society.  A “community” of convicted sex offenders has sprung up on a causeway at the edge of the city limits in South Florida.  These men are caught in the grey area of the legal system; they cannot reside within 2500 feet of any gathering place for children but they must live within the city according to the conditions of their parole.  Never one to shy away from the morally complex, Banks presents these men sympathetically and challenges the reader to reexamine his/her own moral code.  Lost Memory of Skin was a 2012 Pen/Faulkner Award finalist. 

 

Sparsely written and often surprising, The Forgotten Waltz is a novel set in Ireland that deals with the emotional taboo of extramarital affairs.  A chance meeting leads Gina and Sean into a passionate affair that takes years to arrive at a crescendo. Booker Prize winner Anne Enright takes an unapologetic look at love, marriage, infidelity and secrets.  Enright’s writing is non-linear and poetic.  Musical metaphors abound in the witty dance that is The Forgotten Waltz, which was shortlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize.

 

Swamplandia! by debut author Karen Russell is the story of Ava Bigtree, a thirteen-year-old alligator wrestler at her family’s animal park in the Florida Everglades.  The struggle to save the park after the death of her mother rests squarely on Ava’s shoulders, as the other members of the family withdraw to battle their own personal demons.  Whimsical, beautiful language anchors this magical tale to a place somewhere between imagination and reality.  Swamplandia! was a finalist for the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Sam

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An Amusing State of Cluelessness

An Amusing State of Cluelessness

posted by:
May 19, 2012 - 10:42am

A Surrey State of AffairsShe has a daughter on a reality show called Dungeon.  Her Lithuanian maid just does not understand what it means to properly look after a house.  And for some reason, her match- making skills amongst her fellow church bell ringers do not seem to be working. 

 

So begins A Surrey State of Affairs by Ceri Radford.  Constance Harding has lived a perfect sort of sheltered existence as a British housewife in Surrey, but lately modern-day life has not cooperated with her. She is forced to start a blog (suggested by her thoughtful son as an alternative to sharing everything with only him) and give daily updates to the World Wide Web about life as she sees it. 

 

Get ready to relive 2008 day by day!  Constance is a faithful blogger, even when her beloved parrot almost flies away.  She struggles to find the perfect conservative woman for her son, puzzles about why her daughter wasn’t excited about her 19th birthday party (who wouldn’t like a magician or fairy cakes?) and continuously thinks up reasons for her husband’s erratic behavior.  Her interpretation of life and events stays humorous and fresh, and it is all part of the charm of this clueless fifty-something narrator who is about to experience one big dose of reality from the modern world.

 

This amusing book is perfect for a light weekend or vacation read.  It’s entertaining and straightforward.  Fans of Alexander McCall Smith and Winifred Watson will love this delightful story.  

Melanie

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A Ray of Hope

A Ray of Hope

posted by:
May 18, 2012 - 5:01am

The Testament of Jessie LambBiological terrorism, precarious scientific boundaries, and the personal cost of saving the human race intersect in Jane Rogers' heartfelt dystopian novel, The Testament of Jessie Lamb.  Set in Manchester, England somewhere in the near future, Maternal Death Syndrome is a reality; the ubiquitous rogue virus is killing pregnant women around the world.

 

Trying to be a normal teenager in these times is impossible for 16-year-old Jessie Lamb, whose  "testament" or diary opens the story.  Idealistic, determined and enlightened by her scientist father, Jessie wants only to live on the planet in a less greedy, destructive way.  She and her activist friends ponder whether the virus is really payoff for human-engendered ills, like global warming and the oil shortage.  When she learns from her father that a new vaccine enables young women (called "sleeping beauties") to give birth to healthy children she decides to volunteer. Unfortunately for Jessie, it also means entering into a coma and never waking up, something her father will not allow.

 

Rogers' writing, evocative and straight forward, raises the specters of medical research, self-sacrifice and the fine line between being delusional, a naive martyr, or courageous heroine.  Alternating between her journal entries and events leading up to her decision, Jessie's voice is authentic and poignant. Rogers take the time to develop complicated characters in Jessie and her father.

Long-listed for the 2011 Man Booker Prize, Rogers' first foray into science fiction recently earned her the UK's Arthur C. Clarke award.  Like Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go or Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, Rogers' work is a compelling read for literary dystopia fans.  Teen fiction readers will also find plenty to like here.

Cynthia

 
 

Edith Wharton Meets Page Six

Edith Wharton Meets Page Six

posted by:
May 15, 2012 - 5:01am

GossipIn Gossip, Beth Gutcheon tackles the wily world of female friendships developed over four decades. The main players meet at Miss Pratt’s School in the 1960s where Lovie Walker is the poor scholarship student from Maine struggling to fit in.  Avis Metcalf is the daughter of distant yet wealthy New York parents, and Dinah Wainwright is loud, proud, and confident.  Lovie remains friendly with both following graduation, but Dinah is resentful of Avis due to a perceived insult.   

 

Lovie is the owner of a swanky dress shop on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and floats on the edge of the high society circle in which Dinah and Avis are entrenched.   Lovie also embarks on what becomes a decades-long relationship with an older, married man who loves her but refuses to leave his wife.  Dinah and Avis both marry and have children. Dinah's marriage produces two sons but falls apart following her husband’s infidelity while Avis slowly distances herself from her alcoholic husband.  The ladies continue working, lunching, and shopping and deal with the passage of time.  Things come to a head when Dinah’s son (and Lovie’s godson) Nick falls in love with Avis's daughter Grace.  Dinah, still angry at Avis, tries to usurp her role in Grace’s life and put a wedge between mother and daughter. 

 

Lovie serves as an engaging narrator and many of the novel’s most important incidents are revealed to her second-hand.   She hears things through another friend or listens to chatter in a doctor’s office, at a restaurant, and especially in her shop.  This is the gossip of the novel’s title and the gossip that ends up controlling all of these ladies’ lives as confidences are broken or secrets are not shared.  Years pass, complications ensue, and beloved characters die. Gutcheon is an expert at conveying the passage of time and weaving significant cultural events into the fabric of the story while still maintaining her strong characters.   These ladies and their tragedies and triumphs will stay with you long after you finish the last page.    

Maureen

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Three Wise Men?

Three Wise Men?

posted by:
May 14, 2012 - 9:05am

Unholy NightMost people know the biblical tale of the birth of Jesus, including the visitation of the baby by three wise men.  Very little is known about these men, not even their names.  Seth Grahame-Smith has taken these undeveloped characters and given them life in Unholy Night.  Warning: history is toyed with and turned upside-down by Grahame-Smith’s wickedly twisted mind.  This is not your typical bible story. 

 

The leader of the trio is Balthazar, an infamous thief and murderer, who finds himself in King Herod’s dungeon with two other criminals awaiting execution.  The three men execute a daring escape disguised as holy men, and as they run for their lives they encounter a young couple with a newborn baby in a stable in Bethlehem.   Soon discovering that they share a mutual enemy in Herod, an unlikely pact is formed and the group sets off across the desert toward Egypt.  Along the way they meet Roman soldiers and zombies, magic and miracles, friends and betrayers.   Other historical figures surface throughout, such as John the Baptist and Pontius Pilate, but it is on Balthazar and his hidden past that the story focuses.

 

Grahame-Smith is the best-selling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and both the novel and the screenplay Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.  He has also written Tim Burton’s new film Dark Shadows.  The audiobook version is masterfully read by Peter Berkrot, winner of an AudioFile Earphones Award.   

Sam