As sumptuous and richly textured as the Renaissance age she resurrects, Blood and Beauty’s descriptive language beguiles the reader from the start, sweeping away the veils of a half a millennium to reveal the all too human nature of some of the papacy’s most notorious players: Rodrigo, Cesare and Lucrezia Borgia. From her first foray into the conclave of cardinals at the book’s opening, author Sarah Dunant hooks the reader, sparing none of the earthy details of Rodrigo’s physical surroundings and fostering no sense of reverence for the chasm of time separating the modern reader from historical figures. Instead, Blood and Beauty reads as though we are joining the author on the scene of a current event, as breathless with anticipation as the citizens waiting outside on that sweltering summer’s day.
Thoroughly researched, Dunant’s narration often lends the flavor of the objective journalist, parsing through the rumors and mystique of the Borgia legacy to hint at another layer of truth behind the real people and events as they bloomed to life. The scope of Durant’s task is ambitious. Contemporary and historical accounts of the Borgias suggest so intricate a web of deceit, power lust and manipulation that a sensationalist approach might all too easily have suggested itself to a writer.
Instead, Dunant refrains from judgment in her analysis, casting a more sympathetic portrayal of Lucrezia, and skillfully demonstrating the transformation of a teenage Cesare from a youth to the hardened, brutal character who would later inspire Machiavelli. The resulting multi-layered personalities prompt an altogether more subtle, nuanced interpretation of the infamous Borgia clan, rendering their story that much more compelling.
Recommended for those readers who favor a certain historicity in their narratives. Fans of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and any number of Sharon Kay Penman’s works will be drawn to Blood and Beauty.
Always eagerly anticipated, Great Britain’s Man Booker Prize for Fiction committee announced its 2013 Long List on July 23. The Man Booker is widely considered Britain’s most prestigious literary award and has such a devoted following that one can lay odds with a bookie on the winner. The Long List will be whittled down to six selections in September with the winner declared on October 10, 2013.
The books and authors on the Long List are often an eclectic bunch and this year is no exception. Ireland’s Colm Toibin is named for his The Testament of Mary, a very short novel written in the first person from the perspective of the grieving and bitter mother of the crucified Jesus Christ. Zen Buddhist priest Ruth Ozeki, who divides her time between British Columbia and New York City, made the list for A Tale for the Time Being, in which a Canadian woman finds the diary of a bullied Japanese teen washed up on the Pacific shore. The story unfolds as the diary entries are read.
We Need New Names: A Novel is Zimbabwean author NoViolet Bulawayo’s contribution to the list. Preteen Darling, her home destroyed and father gone, lives with her mother in the shantytown of Paradise. She and her friends play games inspired by the violence of the post-colonial Mugabe regime until Darling is shipped to America to live in “Destroyed”, Michigan with her aunt’s family. Bulawayo writes “there is no journey without a price”, and Darling’s journey from comfortable home to Paradise, then from Paradise to America all comes at a cost.
In her captivating new novel The Husband’s Secret, Australian author Liane Moriarty examines the nature of secrets through the lives of three women connected by an elementary school. Everyone thinks Cecelia has the perfect life. She has a profitable Tupperware sales business, a loving husband and three beautiful daughters. She is the president of her daughters’ school’s Parents and Friends Association. One day, she finds a letter hidden in a box of old tax papers. It is from her husband John-Paul, and it says that she should open it upon his death. When she asks him about the letter, John-Paul says that it’s nothing, but Cecelia can’t stop thinking about it. She eventually opens the letter, and nothing in her world can ever be the same.
Tess’s life is turned upside-down when her husband and cousin Felicity reveal that they have fallen in love. Betrayed by the two people who she trusts most, Tess immediately leaves to stay with her mother in Sydney, enrolling her young son at St. Angela's Primary School. That’s where she reconnects with her ex-boyfriend Connor, who is now a teacher there.
Rachel’s life was destroyed when her teenage daughter Janie was murdered in 1984. She has always believed that Connor, the last person to see Janie alive, was the murderer. Now, she is the school secretary at St. Angela’s, and it kills her to see Connor going on with his life as if nothing has happened.
The Husband’s Secret is charming, witty and unforgettable. Author Emily Giffin calls it “a story reading groups will devour. A knockout!" Secrets swirl throughout the novel, and the reader soon understands that the stories of these three women are irrevocably intertwined. Each of the characters learns that once you know the truth, you can never go back to not knowing it. This novel is a page-turner, and it will stay in your mind long after you finish reading the last page.
Bestselling crime writer Elmore Leonard passed away today at age 87 following a stroke earlier this month. Leonard’s remarkable publishing career spanned six decades. His initial works were westerns, and the first of these was published in 1953. His most recent book, Raylan, featuring one of his most popular characters, was released in 2012.
Leonard’s colorful characters, strong dialogue and gritty, realistic settings quickly caught the eye of Hollywood. Twenty-six of Leonard's novels and short stories have been adapted for movies and television. Among his best-known works which made it to the big screen are Get Shorty, Out of Sight, Hombre and Rum Punch, which was filmed as Jackie Brown. Several of Leonard's short stories were also made into popular movies, including 3:10 to Yuma and The Tall T. The current FX series Justified is based on short stories and novels featuring Leonard’s enduring character Raylan Givens, a deputy U.S. Marshal.
While maintaining a popular readership, Leonard also received critical acclaim. In November, Leonard received a Medal for Distinguished Contribution from the National Book Foundation. Other honors include a Peabody Award for the television show Justified, a Grand Master Edgar Award and a PEN Lifetime Achievement Award.
Check out some of the titles available in a variety of formats by this legendary author.
John Milliken Thompson, author of The Reservoir, now brings us Love and Lament, a Southern historical drama told from the point of view of idealistic Mary Bet, the youngest of the troubled Hartsoe family’s nine children. Due the woeful succession of deaths on the Hartsoe homestead, Mary Bet grows up believing her lineage is cursed. Her innocent mind makes sense of the losses by assuming that it is God’s punishment for her own sins, despite that they are slight offenses to everyone’s eyes but her own.
Against the landscape of pastoral North Carolina undergoing industrialization from the late 1800s through World War I, Mary Bet struggles to make a life for herself. She is a fresh and likable soul through whose eyes we see a pastiche of townsfolk. There are her dueling grandfathers whose ancient property feud comes to a scuffle over a poker game. And there is the illegal distillery worker who has to ruin his own batch of mash during a late-night booze raid on which she has tagged along as honorary second deputy.
Although grief, atonement and the misfortunes of love are deeply intertwined in the episodic trials and tribulations of its brave heroine, joy, wit and laughter are skillfully sewn into this Southern saga. The tumult of Reconstruction is evident at the ballots, in the work place and throughout the social order of the land. Thompson’s research and talent of narrative make this a perfect pick for fans of accurate historical fiction.
Sylvie Mason’s family life is anything but ordinary. Her parents earn a living exorcising tormented souls and traveling the country giving lectures on these experiences. Her older sister Rose rebels at every opportunity, and has a serious mean streak. There is also a possessed Raggedy Ann doll caged in her basement. Things aren’t any easier at school where Sylvie faces constant ridicule from classmates as a result of the bizarre stories circulating regarding her parents. Then tragedy strikes one stormy night when her father and mother are gunned down in their church, which is where Help for the Haunted by John Searles begins. These senseless murders set the tone for this cryptic and eerie novel.
The story is presented from two different perspectives with chapters alternating in time between present day, and life in the Mason household before the murders. Searles authentically captures Sylvie’s 14-year-old voice throughout the course of the novel, from her frustration with her sister and worry for her mother, to her overwhelming desire to say what people want to hear. This character driven story is also swathed with shadow and uncertainty as unexplained events keep the element of mystery growing. Searles joins the esteemed company of Laura Lippman and Martha Grimes in setting his suspenseful and creepy novel in a Baltimore County community. Readers will appreciate the many local Dundalk references and landmarks, which punctuate the story and lend it an air of authenticity. The mystery of what really occurred on the night of the murders drives the story to an exciting and astonishing conclusion. Help for the Haunted is a fascinating novel that puts a different spin on the traditional ghost story.
Something very wrong was happening to patients at various hospitals in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Mysterious deaths and a higher than usual number of unexplained incidents followed nurse Charlie Cullen as he hopscotched from one hospital to the next. In The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder, Charles Graeber relays a chilling, true crime account of a board-certified nurse who killed an unknown number of the hospitals’ most vulnerable patients over the span of 16 years. More disturbing was the hospitals’ handling of it. Although Cullen had been dismissed or summarily fired from jobs, he never seemed to have problems finding another position. Fearful of appearing incompetent or risking internal investigation, hospitals did not report missing drugs or unusual deaths. Cullen was often allowed to resign with the promise that incidents would not show up on his record. Even when police investigators became involved in 2003, one of the hospitals blatantly lied about their ability to access data showing which drugs were requested by which nurses.
The Good Nurse is the result of six years of research by Graeber, including interviews with a now- imprisoned Cullen. Through these interviews, plus police records and court documents, Graeber reconstructs Cullen’s violent family history and the convoluted methods he used to manipulate the hospitals’ drug-dispensing systems in order to kill patients with overdoses. He gives readers insight into a complex man who could just as easily build rapport with co-workers and woo women as he could mercilessly kill the sick and infirm. The total number of victims will never be known, although Graeber describes him as “perhaps the most prolific serial killer in American history,” with estimates as high as 300 deaths. True crime and medical thriller readers shouldn’t miss this story of a “good nurse” with deadly intentions, and the detectives who were in a race against time to arrest him before he killed again.
This murder mystery is a true whodunit with murder served up as the main course, while romance and comedy are definitely delectable side dishes in this new series, Rules of Murder, by Julianna Deering. Deering takes a foray into the past with Rules of Murder, which takes place in 1932 and is set in a quaint countryside town in Hampshire, U.K.
The novel opens to Drew Farthering returning to his extravagant manor house after a long vacation with his friend Nick. Drew returns home to find that his mother and stepfather are entertaining guests for this weekend including his stepfather’s beautiful niece, Madeline. It’s during the festivities that they find two people dead on the property.
Drew, being a fan of murder mystery books, is eager to see if he can uncover the plot behind the murders using Ronald Knox’s “Ten Commandments for Mystery Writers.” He soon discovers that he isn’t the only one interested in deciphering the mystery as Madeline inserts herself into the investigation. The two “detectives” make a connection at the party that blossoms as they work together to uncover the murderer.
This book felt like a combination of The Great Gatsby and a Sherlock Holmes mystery. The mystery will keep you guessing until the end though; the reader is given enough information to take a stab at uncovering the murderer, if they read carefully. There are touches of fact mixed in with the fiction that add to the realism of the book. If you enjoy Agatha Christie, this book may be for you.
Eleven-year-old Fin is an orphan placed in the guardianship of his glamorous 24-year-old half sister, Lady. Cathleen Schine’s delightfully urbane comedy of manners, Fin & Lady, is set in 1964 as the unlikely duo becomes a family and moves to a brownstone in Greenwich Village. Fin’s only memory of Lady is from a trip to Capri six years earlier where he traveled with his parents to bring Lady home following her turn as a runaway bride.
Lady is long on charm and personality, but short on peace and quiet. Her days are never quiet (unless she is hung over), and she embraces a wide array of activities such as entertaining lavishly, cheering on the Mets and participating in burgeoning political movements. While she is obsessed with retaining her freedom, she still has a compelling desire to be loved and a traditional need to marry. To that end, she tasks Fin with the job of finding her a husband. Lady’s trio of ardent suitors includes Tyler, the lawyer she left at the altar, Jack, a preppy jock and Fin’s favorite — Biffi, a Hungarian immigrant. Lady keeps them each in her life, but none captures her heart.
As Fin adapts to life in the big city and living with his sometimes ditzy, but always devoted sister, it becomes less clear which of the two siblings is truly taking care of the other. Schine has once again created a humorous and heartwarming story with this tale of a brother and sister struggling with life and love. The identity of the narrator is artfully concealed, and that disclosure puts the finishing touches on the family’s remarkable history. This is a nostalgic coming-of-age story set during a tumultuous time amidst the vivid backdrops of bustling New York City and romantic Capri.
Never trust a stranger with a flat tire. Never park more than six spaces from your destination. Never be stranded. In Koethi Zan’s debut thriller The Never List, Sarah and her best friend Jennifer became obsessed with creating what they called the Never List after they were in a car accident when they were 12. The list was their own guide to avoiding anything that might lead them into danger. Throughout their teen years, they studied statistics and filled notebooks with rules to help them avoid situations that might make them vulnerable. Even though the girls were vigilant about following their rules, the unthinkable happened, and they were abducted. Sarah never saw Jennifer again.
Ten years later, Sarah has a new identity. She rarely leaves her New York City apartment, choosing to remain in her safe haven whenever possible. When she learns that her sadistic captor is up for parole, she becomes obsessed with understanding the clues that she thinks he has hidden in his recent letters. This sends Sarah on a journey to try to find evidence that will keep him in jail. The Never List is a gripping psychological thriller. Sarah’s terror is palpable in the first-person narrative. Zan slowly doles out the details of the kidnapping as the book progresses, leaving the reader breathlessly awaiting the next piece of the puzzle.
Although it was written over two years ago, this novel contains eerie similarities to the Ariel Castro case, in which he kidnapped and held his victims for more than a decade. Zan was shocked by the parallels. She addressed the astonishing coincidence in this recent interview.