With the arrival of the winter holiday season comes a much mocked tradition: the dreaded holiday newsletter. Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney is a novel that explores the consequences when a truthful account of a family’s past year unintentionally hits the presses.
Angela Gillespie is weary. She lives on an expansive sheep ranch in Australia’s isolated outback with husband Nick and young son Ig. In order to bring in extra money, she takes in bed and breakfast guests. When the time comes to write her annual cheery Christmas email which depicts her family as a cross between “the Waltons and the Von Trapps,” the words just won’t come. Her marriage is strained, the family farm is failing, Ig’s imaginary friend is becoming all too real and her three grown daughters are returning home with their lives in shambles. But wait, there’s more — Nick’s tart-tongued Aunt Celia is coming for an extended stay and Angela’s beset with debilitating headaches. Sitting at the computer, she dashes off a stream of consciousness letter intended to let off steam. Instead of deleting the rough draft, which details the failings of each Gillespie, she gets distracted…and Nick and Ig think they are being helpful when they click “send.”
While her husband and children are reeling from the realization that Angela doesn’t think their lives are peachy keen, she is in an auto accident which leaves her with an unusual form of amnesia known as confabulation. She no longer recognizes her own family, but thinks her “real” life consists of a long-ago boyfriend as her husband and one perfect daughter. Can Angela’s family band together behind a woman who now thinks she’s a guest in her own home? Like fellow Aussie writers Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) and Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project), McInerney is an engaging and droll storyteller in Hello from the Gillespies.
Historic St. Pancras Station dwells at the heart of the latest Deborah Crombie British police procedural, To Dwell in Darkness.
During the International Festivities at St. Pancras, the protest group Save London’s History hopes to gain a little notoriety. Despite careful planning, the intended detonation of a harmless smoke bomb sparks a conflagration from a phosphorous grenade. Superintendent Duncan Kincaid will be hard pressed to identify the perpetrator, much less discover who wanted him dead. After eliminating the possibility of terrorism, Kincaid concentrates on the members of the protest group, who have organized to prevent the destruction of various historical sites.
Unfortunately, Kincaid has more on his mind than the investigation. His former superior at Scotland Yard has left the country under uncertain circumstances, and Kincaid is transferred to the London borough of Camden. While he doesn’t lose rank, it’s definitely a demotion from leading an elite murder squad at Scotland Yard. Kincaid is also left wondering if the recent promotion of his wife Gemma James is a palliative to prevent his protest. Then Kincaid discovers just how vulnerable his family can be.
Simultaneously, Inspector Gemma James is investigating electronics shop clerk Dillon Underwood for kidnapping, raping and murdering 12-year-old Mercy Johnson. Determined to build a case, Gemma is thwarted by the serial stalker, who clearly knows how to avoid leaving evidence.
Deborah Crombie is a master at weaving the intricate details of an investigation with the family life built by Duncan and Gemma. Well-drawn, solid characters bring authenticity and honesty to her work. Crombie based one of the characters on actual events involving an undercover agent who was betrayed by his fellow officers. Historical details of the train station pepper the narrative, but don’t overwhelm. For anyone who appreciates a literary mystery, Deborah Crombie is sure to please readers of Louise Penney, Elizabeth George and Peter Robinson.
Have you ever wondered if you are using a word correctly? Or what exactly a split infinitive is anyway? In Bad English: A History of Linguistic Aggravation, author Ammon Shea sets out to explore and explain how English has evolved and why we use (or misuse) certain conventions in our language. Told with a great mix of insight and humor, Shea’s topics include semantics, grammar and even the evolution of certain common words.
For instance, in the chapter “221 Words that Were Once Frowned Upon,” Shea explains how people were advised by Frank Vizetelly in 1906 that the word ‘kid’ was “a common vulgarism for ‘child’ and as such one the use of which can not [sic] be too severely condemned.” Alfred Ayres told his readers in 1894 that “there are many persons who think it in questionable taste to use thanks for thank you.” While modern readers may be surprised to discover that certain words we use today were once considered improper, it does make one wonder which words we currently use will evolve to mean something very different in the future.
Whether you are interested in the evolution of English or just enjoy absurdity, Shea’s book offers plenty of both. One of the funnier parts may be the Shakespeare quote or rap music lyrics quiz which is not as easy as it sounds!
Shelley Coriell continues her Apostles series with The Buried, a thriller built around a deadly game of cat and mouse. “It’s cold. And dark. I can’t breathe.” That’s what prosecutor Grace Courtemanche hears when she answers a call from a young woman who claims to be buried alive. Grace finds help in the form of Theodore “Hatch” Hatcher, her ex-husband and a member of an elite team of FBI agents. As Grace and Hatch try to find the woman at the other end of the call, they soon realize that they are caught at the center of a deadly game, and this is only Round One. Coriell’s Apostles series will appeal to both thriller and romance readers. It’s a perfect read for fans of Catherine Coulter, Tami Hoag and Elizabeth Lowell.
Coriell recently answered some questions for Between the Covers readers. Learn more about the maverick FBI agents who make up the Apostles and get her secret recipe for a kale salad that will wow your family this fall.
Between the Covers: This series revolves around an elite team of FBI agents nicknamed the Apostles. Tell us a little bit about them.
Shelley Coriell: Led by Parker Lord, a legendary FBI agent now wheelchair bound, the Apostles are an elite group of FBI agents who aren’t afraid to work outside the box and at times outside the law. They take on America’s vilest criminals, using the most powerful weapons known to mankind, the human mind…and heart. They aren’t good at following rules, and every Apostle I’ve met so far has either quit or been fired from the FBI before being personally recruited by Parker for his Special Criminal Investigative Unit. Parker Lord on his team: “Apostles? There’s nothing holy about us. We’re a little maverick and a lot broken, but in the end, we get justice right.”
BTC: Each member of the team has a unique area of expertise. How do the characters’ specialties impact your approach to the story? Do you do additional research to get into the right mindset?
SC: Each Apostle’s specialty is at the heart of each story. In The Buried, Agent Hatch Hatcher is a crisis negotiator and master communicator, so his book is very much about connecting with others. The Broken, book one in the Apostles series, features a criminal profiler or “head guy”, so that book is more of a puzzling who-done-it. As an author, I love the variety and scope of story possibilities with such a team.
As for research, I enrolled in a thirteen-week citizens’ police academy before writing a single word in the Apostles series and have a retired FBI agent I turn to with agency questions. I read law enforcement textbooks and do online research. After researching online how to make and disarm bombs for book three in the Apostles series, I’m sure I’m on some kind of government watch list.
BTC: The Buried opens with a young woman who has been buried alive. You’ve admitted that this is also one of your own fears. What is it about the idea of being buried alive that makes so terrifying? Did writing The Buried help you get over your fear or did it make it worse?
SC: Some people have anxiety dreams about forgetting their locker combinations or showing up for work without any pants. Growing up, I took anxiety dreams to the extreme and had reoccurring nightmares about being buried alive. I was terrified of not being able to breathe, perhaps because when it comes to human needs, air is primal and universal, even more so than food and water when looking at the amount of time we can live while being deprived of each.
While I no longer have dreams of being buried alive, this book certainly made me more cognizant of and grateful for the mundane task of breathing. While writing The Buried I woke up one night and was acutely aware of my husband breathing next to me. I remember placing my hand on his chest and feeling his chest rise. It was a surprisingly powerful but peaceful moment for me.
BTC: One of my favorite characters in this novel is Allegheny Blue, a very determined elderly hound who Grace frequently claims is “not her dog.” Was he inspired by any real canines in your life?
SC: Both Allegheny Blue and Ida Red were snatched straight from my childhood. My dad, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, raised hounds, and Blue, his 120-pound blue tick hound with paws the size of salad plates was a family favorite. Blue had a beautiful bellow, low and melodic, and I used to sneak him inside the house on cold nights and let him sleep by the fireplace. The bear-grease concoction Grace uses to doctor the pads of Blue’s torn paws is the same ointment my dad made for his dogs.
BTC: What’s next for the Apostles?
SC: Evie’s story, The Blind, which comes out in the summer of 2015. Evie Jimenez is the Apostles’ bombs and weapons specialist. She’s fiery, passionate and not afraid of things that go boom. In The Blind Evie travels to the gritty, eclectic Arts District of downtown Los Angeles where she teams up with a buttoned-up billionaire/art philanthropist to track down a serial bomber who uses bombs and live models to create masterful art that lives...and dies.
BTC: What is the best book you’ve read recently? What authors are on your personal must-read list?
SC: Jandy Nelson’s young adult novel, I’ll Give You the Sun. It’s the only book I read this year where I ceased being an author studying the craft of writing and simply lost myself in a good story. These days I read a good deal of narrative nonfiction, but in the fiction world, I like most authors named Sarah. Strange but true. I’m a huge fan of Sarah Dunant, Sarah Addison Allen and Sarah Dessen. Beyond the Sarahs, my go-to authors are Alice Hoffman, Lisa Gardner, Elizabeth Wein, Mary Pearson, Jeffery Deaver and Harlan Coben.
BTC: You’re a self-proclaimed foodie and a kale aficionado. Do you have a go-to kale dish to convert disbelievers?
SC: Even those with hardened hearts have fallen for my Fall Kale Salad. The secret is massaging raw kale with olive oil before adding the vinaigrette. It mellows the kale, which allows the other flavors to shine. I love serving this dish for the holidays. It’s so colorful and bursting with fall flavors.
Shelley Coriell's Fall Kale Salad
3-4 side servings
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey or agave nectar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch kale, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roasted and salted pepitas
1/4 cup goat cheese
Heat two tablespoons olive oil and sauté shallots until soft. Add garlic, cranberries, red wine vinegar, honey and lemon juice and heat through.
Put kale into large bowl and massage with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Add shallot mixture to kale along with pepitas. Top with crumbled goat cheese.
Most anyone with a passing interest in space exploration was wowed by Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield while he was commander of the International Space Station (ISS) in 2012 and 2013. Hadfield drew a large following, adeptly using social media to reinvigorate awareness of astronomy and the importance of understanding our place in the larger universe. Now back to earth and an adjunct professor of aviation at the University of Waterloo, his latest book is full of mesmerizing photos from space titled You Are Here: Around the World in 92 Minutes.
Hadfield explains in the introduction that the ISS fully orbits the Earth in 92 minutes, essentially 16 times a day. While he was mostly tasked with scientific responsibilities, over time he was able to take about 45,000 photographs of the wonders down below. While he was unable to capture every shot he desired, as time went on he learned to better compose his images so they became more obviously the work of a photographer rather than mere satellite images. And as he moves from continent to continent in organizing the photos, the incredible topography of our planet comes into focus.
To make the photos come to life, the author/photographer sprinkles humor and his obvious sense of wonder and joy in the captions. Small icons included with some images hint at what Hadfield was seeing in the photo, such as how a dental x-ray is mimicked in the unusual features of a Western Australian coastline. A sense of awe at the size of our planet and the diversity of the Earth’s environment is felt quickly while poring over the glossy pages of this fast read. And those who want more of the same can check out this BCPL interview with local astronaut Reid Wiseman or follow his tweets and posts from the ISS.
The Detroit art scene goes horribly awry in Lauren Beukes’ new novel Broken Monsters. When the top half of a boy is found fused to the bottom half of a deer, Detective Gabriella Versado knows that more trouble will be on its way. Versado is a single parent of a teenage daughter named Layla who spends her free time catfishing online predators in hopes of serving them vigilante justice. Added to the mix is the charismatic Jonno, destined to become a YouTube sensation, willing to do almost anything to film a good story. Versado understands that the disturbing tableau created by this killer is only the beginning, and that she is dealing with a madman destined to strike again. What she doesn’t know is that the killer is haunted by dreams that are quickly spinning toward a grim reality.
South African author Beukes sets this story around the burgeoning Detroit art scene, where abandoned buildings are reclaimed and rebuilt into underground galleries. She is good at creating memorable characters, like the scavenger TK who knows the streets of Detroit well and can often sense when danger is lurking nearby. The story involves several main characters whose lives eventually intertwine and race toward an unforgettable ending. She builds suspense slowly, throwing in creepy details that blossom into all-out horror. Her previous novel, The Shining Girls, also features a killer with a paranormal bent, and readers who enjoy this one will want to read her first. Readers who enjoy this novel may want to try novels by Chelsea Cain or Gillian Flynn.
If you know the name Inigo Montoya, the secret to a nice MLT and never to go against a Sicilian when death is on the line, this book is for you. Cary Elwes takes readers behind the scenes of the cult classic movie The Princess Bride in As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride. Elwes, who played the film’s hero Westley, was a fan of William Goldman’s novel long before he auditioned for the film. When he was approached about the role, he was thrilled. After meeting with Goldman and director Rob Reiner, Elwes was offered the part, and he became part of the 1987 movie which also featured Robin Wright, Mandy Patinkin, Peter Falk, Billy Crystal, Fred Savage, Wallace Shawn and Andre the Giant.
Moderately successful in theaters, The Princess Bride wasn’t the blockbuster that the studio hoped it would be. However, when the movie was released on video it truly found its audience. As home video collections became popular, VHS copies of The Princess Bride started selling better than anyone could have expected, and the movie’s popularity took on a life of its own.
In As You Wish, Elwes brings fans behind-the-scenes photos and stories told by the film’s cast. Elwes depicts the joy of making this film that has endured and captured the imagination of so many fans. Elwes recently called the book “the quintessential making-of memoir.” As You Wish is a must-read for fans of The Princess Bride, and it will definitely lead to re-watching this beloved movie.
Two little boys growing up in America; one an urban Jersey boy, the other raised in the small towns of the deep South. Both are African-American, poor, with strong, determined mothers and absentee fathers, each a young witness to violence. Both are identified as highly intelligent and both went to college and graduated. One became a reporter and appears on network television news shows; the other is dead, murdered. Journalist Charles Blow tells his own story in Fire Shut Up in My Bones: A Memoir while Jeff Hobbs memorializes the life of his Yale roommate in the bestselling The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League.
Charles Blow looks to be sitting in the catbird seat. Op-ed columnist for The New York Times and a commentator on CNN, he is a man who projects confidence and success. His memoir, however, reveals a rural Louisiana childhood of poverty where he saw conflict settled with weapons and one of the greatest insults a boy could endure was to be a called a “punk,” meaning homosexual. Blow was twice the victim of sexual abuse by older male relatives, leaving him wondering what it was about himself that attracted predators. Fire Shut Up In My Bones is Blow’s sensitive and introspective reflection on how his past created his present.
Young Robert Peace idolized his father, a man who seemed to know everyone in Newark’s rough suburbs. Convicted of killing two women, Peace’s father was incarcerated when Peace was in first grade. Rob’s mother Jackie worked in institutional kitchens to afford a private education for her son, determined that Rob would escape the ghetto. Indeed he did, landing a fully funded spot at Yale thanks to his prodigious intellect, focused hard work and leadership qualities. The quick and sad version of Peace’s story is after college, he gradually drifted back to his old neighborhood and slid into the criminal activity leading to his murder. Hobbs chooses to honor his friend fairly by writing The Short and Tragic Life which presents Peace as a complex man who struggled under the weight of opposing expectations and experiences.
This fall, Maryland author Gary Krist will take readers into a little-known chapter of New Orleans history with his new book Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans. Krist brings to light the social and political struggles that New Orleans faced at the turn of the 20th century. Focusing on events from 1890 through 1920, Krist tells a tale of vice, politics, economic development, crime, jazz, racism and murder. The most shocking thing about this story is that it’s all true! This engrossing book is a must-read for anyone who enjoyed Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair that Changed America.
Krist recently answered some questions about Empire of Sin for Between the Covers. Read on to learn more about the city’s politics, its remarkable residents and the Axman, a serial murderer who terrorized New Orleans for 18 months.
Between the Covers: Why New Orleans? Was it the story or the city that first captured your interest?
Gary Krist: It’s hard to separate story from city, but I’d say it was a desire to write about New Orleans that first attracted me. For an urban historian, New Orleans is a particularly attractive subject, primarily because of its unique history. As a place with French and Catholic roots, it has a culture very different from that of other American cities. (My favorite observation about New Orleans is that it was the first major American metropolis to build an opera house but the last to install a sewer system.) So it was fascinating for me to see how this unique place weathered the great transition to modernity in this era.
BTC: I suspect that many of our readers don’t know a lot about this chapter in New Orleans history. Will you describe the social and political climate of the city at the turn of the 20th century?
GK: The last decades of the 19th century were difficult for New Orleans. The city’s prosperous antebellum days were long past; years of civil war and reconstruction had been hard on the local economy, and the city had become hopelessly backward in terms of urban development (hence that much-delayed sewer system). Northern capital investment was desperately needed to modernize the city’s infrastructure, but Northern capitalists were reluctant to invest in a place with such a bad reputation for vice and crime. So the city’s “better half” decided that it was time to clean up New Orleans, which meant doing battle with the city’s long-entrenched underworlds of vice and crime. Basically, they wanted to make New Orleans “respectable”—and that was going to be quite a job.
BTC: During this time, a red-light district called Storyville was created in New Orleans. Tell us a little bit about its development.
GK: Interestingly, Storyville began as part of this clean-up campaign. Reformers knew that abolishing prostitution entirely would not be feasible in a city like New Orleans, so they tried instead to isolate and regulate the trade. An alderman named Sidney Story identified a particular 18-block neighborhood and wrote an ordinance making prostitution illegal everywhere EXCEPT in this one, out-of-the-way area. Reformers figured that this would be a good way of lowering the profile of vice in the city. But the plan backfired, and Storyville (as the district came to be called, much to Alderman Story’s annoyance) soon was making New Orleans world-famous as a virtual supermarket of sin. And when reformers decided that they needed to close the district after all, it turned out that Storyville was a lot harder to kill than it had been to create.
BTC: Another notable thread of the story is the Axman murders, a series of grisly murders that took place from 1918-1919 and remain unsolved. What impact did these events have on the city?
GK: The Axman appeared at a critical time, just when the champions of respectability thought they had won their battle for New Orleans. Storyville had finally been closed in 1917, and the city’s crime problem seemed to be under control at last. But then an anonymous murderer dramatically upended this sense of victory with a series of bloody nighttime ax attacks that terrorized the city for 18 months. With each succeeding murder, panicked New Orleanians became increasingly paranoid and irrational. Then an open letter—purportedly from the Axman himself—appeared in The Times-Picayune, claiming that the murderer was a devil from hell with a liking for the new jazz music. He threatened to kill again on St. Joseph’s Night, promising only to spare any household in which jazz was being played. And, well, I don’t want to reveal too much, but you can just imagine what a night of music and dancing took place in New Orleans that night.
BTC: Empire of Sin is filled with unbelievable characters, and the most amazing thing is that they were all real people. Do you have a favorite? Which person in this book will stick with the reader the longest?
GK: Oh, I could probably name a dozen—like Josie Arlington, the wealthy brothel madam who for decades kept her sinful life a secret from her beloved niece; or Buddy Bolden, the almost-legendary cornetist who is credited with being the inventor of jazz music; or Tom Anderson, the poor kid from the rough Irish Channel neighborhood who rose to become one of the most powerful (and strangely likeable) vice lords in the country. But my favorite character is probably Louis Armstrong, who grew up in the hardest and most degrading circumstances imaginable, but whose unfailing good-heartedness and matchless musical gift allowed him to rise above his harsh childhood to become one of the great artists of the century.
BTC: What is the most shocking thing that you learned in your research?
GK: Some of the beliefs of the so-called reformers shocked me. For instance, one of the leaders of the anti-Storyville campaign was a woman named Jean Gordon. She was firmly convinced that she was on the side of virtue, but as with many self-styled moral champions, her idea of “virtue” was often distorted by class and racial prejudice. So while she fought hard for female suffrage and child labor regulation, she also lent her support to the rise of Jim Crow discrimination and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans. Even worse, she held some astounding beliefs about eugenics, advocating for the forced sterilization of children who showed signs of a future in crime, prostitution or alcoholism. “Took Lucille Decoux to the Women’s Dispensary July 17 [for an appendectomy],” Jean once wrote in her diary. “This was an excellent opportunity to have her sterilized…and thus end any feeble-minded progeny coming from Lucille.”
BTC: What are you working on next?
GK: My fascination with cities in the early 20th century hasn’t gone away, so I’m working on a book about Los Angeles in roughly this same time period. The book will center on the Hollywood of the silent-film era and weave in a few other elements. But the idea is still taking shape in my mind, so it’s probably too early to talk about it.
What happens after happily ever after? Mystery author P. D. James reimagines the futures of the characters from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in Death Comes to Pemberley. Six years after Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage, a shocking event rocks the residents of Pemberley. On the night before their annual ball, Elizabeth’s sister Lydia appears at Pemberley hysterically screaming that Mr. Wickham has been murdered. Upon investigation, it is actually Captain Denny who is dead, but in an even more shocking turn of events, the most logical suspect is none other than Wickham! Austen fans are well-acquainted with Wickham’s past misdeeds, but could he really be capable of murder?
Death Comes to Pemberley is a well-crafted mystery written in a tone similar to Austen’s own, making this a perfect companion to the classic novel. The audiobook read by Rosalyn Landor will whisk you away to the 19th century. James seeds the story with plausible suspects and a few red herrings, but in the end all questions are answered and readers are given a glimpse into the Darcys’ future.
The novel has been adapted into a miniseries that will soon air on PBS. The miniseries will begin on October 26 and will be released on DVD later that week.