Author Christopher Beha explores the unrealistic nature of reality television and the unintentional consequences of releasing a sex tape in his new novel Arts & Entertainments. Handsome Eddie Hartley hung his dreams on becoming a famous actor after he left high school but didn't have the talent to back it up. Now, working as a drama teacher in the same Catholic high school he attended, he is desperately trying to make ends meet. His wife longs to have a baby, but their only hope lies in an expensive in vitro fertilization procedure that Eddie can ill afford. But when a sleazy media producer comes to him looking for dirt on a now famous ex-girlfriend, Eddie realizes that the old sex tape on his hard drive could be the answer to his prayers.
Arts & Entertainments is a contemporary look at today’s media-obsessed culture, and anyone who likes to keep up with the Kardashians will quickly take to this novel. Eddie is a sympathetic anti-hero, not looking for fame but trying to make a quick buck and, although his decisions are rash and never in his best interest, we can’t help but care about him. Eddie’s struggle is monumental. What he had hoped to gain is suddenly lost and he's back at square one. But Eddie never gives up hope and, even at his worst, the reader will continue to cheer him on. Arts & Entertainments is a modern character study that is full of heart and belongs on everyone’s summer reading list.
The Shetland archipelago in North East Scotland becomes a hotbed of murder in Dead Water by Ann Cleeves. Jerry Markham returns to his hometown to investigate the potential plan to bring green living to the area through tidal energy and windmills. Not everyone in Shetland supports this plan, and soon Jerry is found dead. Inspector Jimmy Perez is still reeling from the murder of his fiancée, so the free-spirited vegan Detective Inspector Willow Reeves is brought in to supervise the investigation. Soon the body of another man is discovered, and answers are not forthcoming. Jimmy may have to put his mourning aside and help Willow solve this baffling case.
Ann Cleeves is a prolific writer, and two of her series have been turned into successful televised programs on the BBC. Dead Water is written in a traditional style and is a solid police procedural complete with red herrings and enough suspects to keep the reader guessing. The chilly, overcast Shetland area provides a great atmosphere for a mystery, and the remote area ensures that the detectives will need to work with brain power rather than with expensive lab equipment or forensics. Jimmy Perez and Sandy Wilson are great recurring characters from the Shetland Island Mysteries series that readers will love to see again. Willow Reeves makes a nice addition to the series and hopefully will return to Shetland again.
The audio edition is read by Kenny Blyth, and readers looking for an authentic Scottish accent to carry them through this novel need look no further. New readers to the series may want to start with the first novel, Raven Black. If you enjoy Ann Cleeves be sure to try another Scottish favorite, Ian Rankin!
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia is a tale of suspense set in a withering old hotel and featuring some of the most delightful characters to grace the pages of a work of fiction this year. The novel literally starts off with a bang, and once the reader enters the hotel, they better be prepared to stay.
In 1982, room 712, a young girl witnesses a horrible murder-suicide that will affect her for the rest of her life. Fast forward to 1997. The Bellweather Hotel hosts a statewide high school music festival which attracts some rather curious characters. Rabbit Hatmaker, a bassoon player, and his sister Alice, destined for stardom, arrive with their gun-toting chaperone, Natalie. There they encounter Viola, the stern and horrible program coordinator, and the foul-mouthed Scottish conductor, Fisher Brodie. When Alice returns to her room to discover her roommate has committed suicide, she immediately goes for help. But the body disappears, and it soon becomes apparent that 712 is an unlucky room, and that the past may be haunting the present.
There are several things to love about Racculia’s novel. All of the characters in Bellweather Rhapsody are complex and interesting with a very detailed backstories. She weaves their stories together, and as the characters bump into one another, the sparks begin to fly. The Bellweather Hotel is described in such detail that the rooms of the hotel become almost characters in their own right. Readers who enjoy novels with a strong sense of place will not be disappointed. Embedded in the story are several mysteries that keep the reader involved. The characters become intertwined with one another leading to an ultimately satisfying conclusion. Racculia captures the intensity of a musical competition where no matter the circumstances, the show must go on. This summer, make it a point to check into the Bellweather, a visit you won’t soon forget.
The local farmer’s market has come alive with the colors and flavors of seasonal vegetables, so now is a great time to dive into The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Vegetable Cookbook and add more greens to your table.
Fans will remember Brent Ridge and Josh Kilmer-Purcell as the two NYC executives who gave up their jobs, purchased a goat farm in Sharon Springs, New York, and became successful reality TV celebrities on The Fabulous Beekman Boys and The Amazing Race. The cookbooks are certainly popular. Food & Wine magazine rated the The Beekman 1802 Heirloom Dessert Cookbook as one of the best of 2013. Brent and Josh include personal anecdotes in the introduction to many of the recipes and have added beautiful color photographs of many of the dishes and photographs of life on the Beekman farm. Recipes have a classic feel, feature easy-to-find ingredients and are simple enough for cooks with little kitchen experience. Imagine the delight when you show up at the next company picnic with a chocolate beet cake or a multi-hued tomato tart!
Between the Covers posed some questions to Brent and Josh about the cookbook:
Between the Covers: The cookbook is divided into four “seasons” of recipes. Which season inspires you the most to make creative dishes?
Brent and Josh: Our entire company is based around seasonal living, so we draw inspiration from and try to make the most of what each season offers. It's not fair to choose favorites.
BTC: In the introduction, you encourage the reader to use the cookbook as an heirloom that could inspire future generations of cooks. What is an heirloom recipe?
B&J: An heirloom recipe is one that is made so frequently in your family that it has its own folklore and mythology built around it. In order to become an heirloom, we think a recipe has to be delicious, easy to make and include readily available ingredients. These are the types of foods that we find comfort in.
BTC: Can you tell us about any family member that inspired you to work with food?
B&J: Brent takes a lot of inspiration from his grandmother and great-grandmother who managed to put delicious meals on the table even in the hard-environs of the West Virginia coal mining communities. Josh's uncle, an ex-pat living in the south of France, taught him that technique is secondary to having the best, freshest ingredients.
BTC: Can you tell us a bit about the test process that takes you from an idea to a finished, polished recipe?
B&J: We cook dinner every single night that we are at the farm. Most of the recipes for all of our books have their origins in these meals. We harvest what is ready to be harvested and then ask ourselves, "What can we do with this?"
BTC: How do you divide your kitchen duties?
B&J: Brent is the creative thinker. Josh is the master of execution.
BTC: Do you have any words of encouragement for kitchen novices who really want to start eating fresher at home?
B&J: Think of your trip to the market as a grand adventure. Choose one new fresh ingredient each week and learn how to make it shine in something you cook.
If you would like to meet Brent and Josh, they will be appearing at the Baltimore Book Festival on Saturday, September 27 at 5 p.m.
For more information about the Beekman boys, read The Bucolic Plague: How Two Manhattanites Became Gentleman Farmers by Josh Kilmer-Purcell.
Malla Nunn and Kwei Quartey present two African mysteries that are sure to thrill the armchair traveler looking for a suspenseful police investigation.
Racism and police corruption during Apartheid in Johannesburg, South Africa are the subjects Nunn tackles in her novel, Present Darkness. Emmanuel Cooper is a flawed detective who rose from the mean streets of Sophiatown to enter the police force and must hide the fact that he is in an illegal relationship with a woman of color. When a European couple is found severely beaten in their home and the main suspect is a Zulu named Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of Cooper’s friend and colleague, Cooper is cautioned strongly not to investigate. Cooper as he ignores the direct order of his supervisor in order to save the son of a man to whom he owes his life. Nunn’s exploration of this difficult time in South African history is compelling, and her thoughtful prose creates a chilling atmosphere that is sure to enthrall the reader until the novel’s heart-stopping conclusion.
In Murder at Cape Three Points, Quartey introduces the reader to Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, who works in Accra on the coast of Ghana. Late one night, a canoe is found drifting near an off-shore oil rig. In the canoe are the bodies of the Smith-Aidoos, an influential, highly educated couple. Darko digs deeper and uncovers corrupt real estate deals and bribery, all threatening to the local fishing trade and seeming to stem from the oil industry. With a growing list of suspects and a tenacious family member looking for results, Darko must put all of his skills to the test. Quartey has a more traditional approach to crime solving, and fans of police procedurals will enjoy this novel.
Both writers excel at detailed descriptions of their respective countries and will appeal to readers who love visiting an exotic locale. Readers who enjoy these selections can find earlier novels in the series from both authors. Those who like the African setting and are longing for more should try Michael Stanley and Deon Meyer.
Sebastian St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is back to solve another baffling historical mystery in Why Kings Confess by C. S. Harris. The French Revolution is over, and Napoleon seems poised to usurp the French throne from the Bourbons. A secret delegation of royalists has been dispatched to England to try and make peace with the British monarchy. French physician Damion Pelletan is discovered in a back alley, his body mutilated and his companion, Alexi Sauvage, badly injured. Sauvage, a woman trained as a physician but unable to practice in England or France due solely to her gender. Sebastian knows Alexi from an unfortunate encounter in the past, but quickly realizes that he must leave the past behind, investigate the murder and find her attacker. Soon he will become embroiled in a hotbed of political intrigue and conspiracy as he encounters the tale of the “Lost Dauphin.” Is it true that there is a surviving male heir to the throne of France, spirited away under the cover of darkness years before? With concerns for his wife Hero and their unborn child, Sebastian plunges forward, using his preternatural gifts of sight and hearing to try and piece together this rather difficult and dangerous puzzle.
C. S. Harris is the pen name for Candice Proctor, who earned both an MA and PhD in history. This is apparent in Why Kings Confess, the ninth title in the Sebastian St. Cyr series. Regency England plays an important role in the novel, and there is rich historical detail that will enlighten and educate the reader as well as keep them entertained. The mystery itself is complex, with several suspects and plot twists that will delight anyone interested in a traditional whodunit. The audio edition, narrated by Davina Porter, is particularly well done, as her narration brings the text to life. The series, beginning with the novel What Angels Fear, is also available for download as an e-book.
In The Lady of Sorrows by Anne Zouroudi, the reader is reacquainted with the enigmatic investigator Hermes Diaktoros in the fourth novel in the Seven Deadly Sins mystery series. Throughout the four novels, Hermes has remained very much a mystery. The reader knows he doesn't work for the police, but instead for a “higher authority.” He has an unstoppable need to see that justice is served, but not always in the legal sense of the word. He also has an uncanny timing that allows him to show up just when a murder is about to be committed. In the latest installment, Hermes arrives by boat to the island or Kalkos where he takes a particular interest in the painting of a Madonna that is rumored to have miraculous powers. The arrival of the Madonna also spawned a tradition of icon painters on the island, and it is rumored that when the elder painter dies, he can pass on the talent to his son by the touch of his hand. Hermes is not convinced that divine intervention is involved, especially when he begins to question the authenticity of the famous painting itself. Soon, the island’s resident icon painter is dead by an apparent poisoning, and Hermes realizes that sins run deep on the isle of Kalkos.
Zouroudi writes mysteries in the classic tradition, and readers who enjoy an interesting detective and an involved mystery will find much to love here. The author spends careful time on the suspects, delving into their hidden desires and motives. She pays careful attention to the unraveling of the mystery to pique the interest of any curious reader. She writes with a thoughtful style, and there is often a philosophical or ethical undercurrent to the mystery that becomes heartbreaking in the final solution. Readers may want to begin with The Messenger of Athens, the first in the series. Fans of Agatha Christie or Josephine Tey will be thrilled to find a contemporary author that captures their genius. Also available on e-book.
Enter the world of professional ballet in Maggie Shipstead’s Astonish Me. In 1975, a young dancer named Joan is completely taken with the celebrated Russian dancer Arslan Rusakov, so much so that when Arslan contacts Joan to help him defect from his native country, Joan is happy to oblige. Although Joan longs to eventually dance with Arslan, she quickly realizes she is not in his league and will spend her career regulated to the corps de ballet in an American company. Joan finally decides to leave the company to settle down with Jacob, a scholarly boy who has adored her since high school and together they raise their son Harry. Joan eventually teaches dance in California, and soon garners the attention of a young dancer named Chloe, who will become her protégé. Harry also acquires an interest in dance, and Joan and Jacob realize that they have turned Harry into the next great dancer. This will have lasting effects on the future of their family.
Shipstead is gifted at creating compelling characters who will suffer longing and loss throughout the course of the novel. The situations are realistic and detailed, and the reader will get to know the lives of Jacob, Joan and Harry intimately throughout the course of the novel. There is enough information about professional ballet to keep the reader interested, but it is not overwhelming, and a novice to the world of dance will still be entertained. Shipstead won the L.A. Times Book Prize for First Fiction and the Dylan Thomas Prize for her debut novel Seating Arrangements. The audio version of the title is read by actress Rebecca Lowman who gives life to the characters with a delightful reading. Astonish Me will appeal to Shipstead’s current fans as well as attract new readers who are looking for an interesting character-driven novel.
Travel to the French department of Dordogne and meet the delightful Police Chief Bruno Courreges in the novel The Resistance Man by Martin Walker. Bruno spends his time in St. Denis pining over one lost love while trying to maintain the affections of a new girlfriend. He finds solace in food, wine and the adorations of a rambunctious puppy named Balzac, but his free time is often cut short by deadly events. Bruno is pulled into planning the funeral for a veteran of the French Resistance, one who has some curious currency that may have come from a wartime train robbery. There have also been a string of robberies across the French countryside, including the home of a former British spymaster, and residents are looking to Bruno to get results. An antique dealer is found battered to death and the contents of his van stolen, it appears to have some connection with the thefts. When the main suspect turns out to be the man’s former lover who is now on the run, Bruno has to put all of his skills to the test to track down the killer.
Martin Walker is the senior director for the Global Business Policy Council and the editor-in-chief emeritus of United Press International, and uses skills acquired from these positions to craft quite a story in the sixth installment of the Bruno Chief of Police series. Combining French politics, international affairs and gastronomical delights, Walker creates an intriguing world where events beginning in the French countryside often extend to the entire European continent. Readers wanting to start with the first novel of the series will want to read Bruno, Chief of Police first. Readers who enjoy the French setting should also try Claude Izner or Fred Vargas.