The Mangle Street Murders is the first in the Gower Street Detective series by M. R. C. Kasasian. London before the turn of the century could be a dismal place. Luckily, London has personal detective Sidney Grice. Grice is pompous, arrogant, irascible and overly fond of drinking a perfectly brewed cup of tea. He will take anyone’s case for a price. March Middleton has lost her immediate family and is sent to live with Sidney Grice as his ward. March is kinder and gentler than the great detective and is keen on getting involved in his cases. When a woman of limited means comes to Sidney’s office to hire him to clear the name of her son-in-law, Sidney and March find themselves with a curious mystery that becomes more complicated at every turn. Sidney is unwilling to allow a woman to take part in an investigation, but March holds fast and quickly begins to assist with the case. Will March’s kind demeanor be able to withstand the arrogance held by Sidney Grice?
Grice is an even ruder version of the famous Sherlock Holmes, and Kasasian pokes fun at the famous detective with this similar character. March becomes the female Watson and, as the story is told through her narrative, she holds her own as an interesting and compelling character. The mystery itself is well thought out and complex enough to keep any mystery lover guessing. Kasasian is good at detailing life in 1880s London, and readers who enjoy a mystery rich in historical detail will not be disappointed.
Lisa Scottoline’s new novel, Keep Quiet, is a tension-filled thriller that will also spark great conversation at your next book club meeting. In an attempt to repair his strained relationship with his teenage son Ryan, Jake Whitmore reluctantly agrees to let Ryan drive home, despite the fact that it’s late and Ryan has a restricted learner’s permit. While Ryan is driving, he hits a pedestrian, and Jake finds himself forced to make a difficult choice to protect his son from the life-altering consequences of a moment of distraction. When they are blackmailed by a witness, their secret begins to unravel. Jake desperately tries to protect his family from the fall-out of the accident as the situation careens out of control. Like William Landay’s Defending Jacob, the story hinges on a parent’s love for his son and how far he will go to protect his child.
Scottoline recently agreed to answer some questions for Between the Covers readers. She shares more about her inspiration and demystifies her writing process.
Can you tell us a little about what inspired you to write Keep Quiet?
Many authors are inspired by what-if questions, and that’s what inspired this book. I live in the suburbs, and like everybody else, I drive around way too much and there's always one street that I drive down that has a blind curve, which drives me crazy. Sometimes I grumble that somebody should fix this, but most of the time I worry that if I turn the corner I could hit somebody if I'm not careful, [or my daughter could]. And there you have it!
One of the central questions in the novel is how far a parent will go to keep his child safe. What is it about that idea that makes it so compelling?
I'm a single mother, and being a parent is the most important and best part of my life, even in a life as blessed as mine. I adore my daughter Francesca. Raising her has always been a question of trying to strike a balance between letting her find her own wings, but at the same time being a loving and responsible parent, which can often mean protecting her–perhaps too much. This theme is the beating heart of Keep Quiet. I love it as a theme because it's a question that every parent has no matter what the age of their child. It's the kind of question that keeps moms, like me, up at night, so I knew it would make for a compelling novel.
Was it a challenge for you to write about this complex father-son relationship?
It was something of a challenge because the main character is a father, not a mother, but I think it's really important for writers to stretch and go out of their comfort zone sometimes. I was extremely close to my late father. I can tell you at any point in the day what he would have been thinking about, so I channeled his good heart and poured that into the character of the great father in this novel.
Will you share a little about your writing process? Do you write every day? Who is your sounding board?
I'm happy to talk about the creative process because I want to demystify it and perhaps encourage others to take a shot at their own writing, whether it's fiction or nonfiction. My personal motto is one that I borrowed from Nike, which is “just do it,” because I don't think you need a degree to become a writer, but in many cases, you just need to overcome your own self-doubts and insecurities. So just do it. That's what I do, for over 20 books now, and over 20 years. I write 2,000 words a day, sometimes I'm lucky enough to finish that by 6 o'clock at night, yet other times I won't finish until midnight. I don't have an outline, I just go with whatever the characters would logically do next. I happen to think that is what gives my novels a fast pace and logical narrative as well as, I hope, being hard to put down!
Some of your fiction readers may not realize that you also co-author the “Chick Wit” column in the Philadelphia Inquirer with your daughter Francesca Serritella. Have a Nice Guilt Trip, the fifth collection of those essays, will be released this summer. What are the best and worst parts of working with your daughter?
I love working with my daughter, and there are no worst parts. It's important to note, however, that I do not edit her in any fashion for those humorous essays, nor does she edit me. We both write about whatever topic we want, which, I think, are topics that relate to women of all ages. Then we put them together in a book. I love it because the reviews of these books are so wonderful, many calling them reminiscent of Erma Bombeck, which is, I think, a huge honor and compliment.
What was the last book that you stayed up late at night to read?
I really enjoyed Delia Ephron's Sister Mother Husband Dog, which is a moving and charming memoir.
Leila Meacham’s Somerset is a stirring family saga covering 150 years in the lives of the Toliver and Warwick families who are looking to make their way in the newly formed communities in Texas. Simon Toliver is determined to free himself from his South Carolina family and build his dream plantation in Texas. He is forced into a relationship with Jessica Wyndham, whose abolitionist leanings have made her a persona non grata in South Carolina. The two begin a perilous journey that will determine their future. Meacham’s story begins in the antebellum period as the plantation begins to grow and prosper, but threats of war are on the horizon. Simon and Jessica must find a way to protect their homes and families. Meacham creates memorable characters like Jessica’s best friend Tippy, a slave whom Jessica is determined to free.
Meacham wrote this novel as prequel to her first novel, Roses. Roses covers the history of the Somerset plantation from the years 1914 through 1985, introducing readers to the heirs of the Toliver and Warwick fortunes. Somerset begins in 1835 and sets the stage for all that is to come.
Leila Meacham is a new heavy hitter in the family saga, and Somerset is no exception. Grand and sweeping, it is full of tidbits of Texas history and rich with compelling characters that bring plenty of drama, action and romance. Teresa DeBerry reads the novel on the audio recording with such an authentic Texan drawl that the reader will be transported directly to the antebellum south. Fans of Belva Plain or Barbara Taylor Bradford are sure to find something to love in this novel.
Easter Quillby is a caregiver despite her tender age of 12. She takes care of her little sister Ruby as well as her pill-addicted mother, who mostly wanders around in a fog when she’s not passed out. Brady Weller is a disgraced ex-police detective who works for his ex-brother-in-law installing home security systems. Mostly alienated from his ex-wife and daughter, Weller volunteers as a court-appointed guardian ad litem. Finally, meet Pruitt: He’s a bodybuilding, former minor league baseball player recently released from prison, and he’s also a facially disfigured psychotic contract killer. (Is there any other kind?) Easter, Brady and Pruitt take turns narrating author Wiley Cash’s new novel, This Dark Road to Mercy.
Easter and Ruby end up in a children’s group home after their mother dies from an overdose. Weller is assigned to look after the girls’ interests. Easter’s master plan for life, which is college and a career as an FBI agent all the while raising her sister, is at risk when she overhears her foster mother discussing the sisters’ maternal grandparents’ plan to move the girls to Alaska to live with them. When Wade, the girls’ sad sack estranged father, himself a washed-out pitcher, shows up in the middle of the night toting a gym bag filled with ill-gotten gains, Easter impulsively grabs her sister and they take off with not-so-dear-old Dad ... only to find that Weller, Pruitt and the FBI are all in hot pursuit.
Set against the backdrop of the 1998 Sammy Sosa/Mark McGwire race to break Roger Maris’ home run record, Cash explores the unbreakable ties of family and the sins from the past, just as he did in his first novel, A Land More Kind Than Home. Easter’s voice is especially engaging as she tells her story with a clear-eyed realism. This Dark Road to Mercy will leave the reader rooting for the Quillby sisters and hoping for a grand slam ending.
Ishmael Beah writes as though he is guided by a kaleidoscope of imagery. The old man's hair was not gray; it was the "color of stagnant clouds." Such is the pleasure of reading this Sierra Leone-born author, who recently published his first novel, Radiance of Tomorrow, about the aftermath of civil war in his home country. The book, part fable/part allegory, is really several individuals’ stories set in the village of Imperi. It is about the redemptive nature of those who have suffered heartbreak few can imagine and the human need to renew, rebuild and rejuvenate.
Imperi is a devastated, desolate place since the war. Villagers are now making their way back, past the rows of human skulls that line their path. They bring with them memories. They bring physical scars as well, like those borne by Sila and his two children, whose hands were cut off by a 16-year-old boy soldier now living among them. They crave a return to the old ways, like Bockarie and Benjamin, two teachers at the center of the story who find it difficult to inspire students when conditions are so poor. Fortunately, there are storytellers, like the elder Mama Kadie, whose evening tales swaddle those listening in the tentative celebration of tomorrow. As more villagers return, we learn of their pasts. Insidious corruption from both within and outside of the government complicates matters.
Beah, a former child soldier who wrote about his experiences in A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier, was influenced by the tradition of oral storytelling as a young boy. "I bring a lot of that oral tradition to my writing and I try to let it seep into the words." His evocative narrative, conveyed in the third person, borrows from his native Mende as well as other languages. It is lyrical prose that invites readers to slow down and drift into a world Beah knows all too well.
Photographer Rebecca Winter became a feminist icon, celebrated artist and a wealthy woman thanks to her “Kitchen Counter” collection of domestic photographs. In Still Life with Bread Crumbs (also the name of Rebecca’s most famous photograph), Anna Quindlen confronts the challenges involved with aging – financial decline, parental infirmities, career relevance and love.
Rebecca, now 60 years old and long-divorced, is dealing with dwindling finances, supporting her elderly parents and supplementing her grown son’s income. These obligations are coupled with a drastic reduction in income and force her to sublet her cherished Manhattan apartment and rent a small country cabin in a town where everyone soon knows her name. Almost immediately, she is faced with decidedly nonurban issues such as raccoons in the attic and a lack of power outlets. Local roofer Jim Bates offers assistance with her home and also secures her a paying gig photographing birds. When not sitting in a tree stand with Jim, Rebecca embraces the nature around her and slowly feels her creative spark returning.
Quindlen’s nonlinear narrative infuses Rebecca’s tale with a fresh pace as the depth of her story is uncovered layer by layer. Her past has shaped the woman she is today and the reader gets glimpses of key events that had a profound impact on her evolution. In moving to the country, she has physically distanced herself from friends and family and embarks on a soul-searching journey. While she may no longer be the same woman who snapped those famous photographs, she is still vibrant and willing to embrace second chances. Quindlen once again delivers with this beautifully written, insightful novel of one woman embarking on a new phase of life filled with professional rejuvenation and unexpected love.
A heavily and densely woven debut novel by author Laura McHugh, The Weight of Blood oozes mystery, secrets and pain like a long-festering wound. Told primarily from the perspective of Lila, a young mother burdened by her past, the story is paralleled by Lila’s now 17-year-old daughter Lucy’s story. Lila disappeared when Lucy was just a baby, and she always wondered what really happened the day her mother was last seen holding a gun and heading toward a cave deep in the Ozark Mountains. When Lucy’s childhood friend, Sheri, disappears and is found dismembered a year later, old secrets and suspicions begin to surface as Lucy works to uncover the truth.
Lucy lives with her father who is often away for days at a time working out of town. Even when he returns home he is still only half there, the other half still consumed by the pain of losing his young wife so many years ago. Lucy has an intimate support network of pseudo-family members, her mother’s once-best-friend and her daughter, a grandmotherly figure who lives nearby in the woods and her father’s brother Crete who is fiercely protective of Lucy, treating her like his own daughter.
In a small town, where heritage is held to the highest of standards and outsiders are always kept at arm’s length, there are no limits to what someone will do for the sake of family. The events that unravel through Lila’s and later into Lucy’s stories attest to the lengths one will go for family.
Actor B. J. Novak’s first collection of short stories, One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories, shows that he is more than just another Hollywood star writing a book. Best known for his acting and writing roles on The Office, Novak brings the same sort of absurd humor to his collection of over 60 short stories. The stories range in length and subject — some only a few lines, others pages long — and while some stories are entirely new, others are retellings of stories readers know well.
One More Thing begins with “The Rematch,” a continuation of the fable, “The Tortoise and the Hare,” told from the Hare’s perspective in the years after the race that ruined his reputation. From retold fables to dating stories like “All You Have to Do” and “Missed Connection: Grocery Spill at 21st and 6th 2:30 p.m. on Wednesday,” the collection is varied, and sure to keep the reader laughing. In “All You Have to Do,” a man informs readers that in order to find love, all you have to do is wear a red T-shirt each day, then go to the Missed Connections website and find out who liked you that day. In the second “Missed Connection,” a woman is searching for a man in a red T-shirt after they met outside of Trader Joe’s and spent the night together.
As an actor, Novak uses his connections to get his famous friends to voice characters on the audiobook version. From his Office co-stars Jenna Fischer, Mindy Kaling and Rainn Wilson to Oscar-winner Emma Thompson to pop star Katy Perry, the wonderfully performed audiobook version adds to the hilarity of Novak’s off the wall stories. Fans of humor books filled with pop culture references and unique stories won’t want to miss Novak’s One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories.
The science fiction genre has been on the decline for quite some time, but with the rise of innovative, mind-bending authors like Ann Leckie that might be about to change. Leckie has set imaginations afire, garnered a constellation of outstanding reviews and received a recent nomination for a 2013 Nebula Award for her debut novel, Ancillary Justice.
Ancillary Justice is set in a far future in an interplanetary empire known as the Radch. The Radchii utilize humans, massive ships and space stations connected by a vast network of artificial intelligence and the Ancillaries. Ancillaries are formerly living humans that have been transformed into part of the collective mind of their ships or stations. No longer human but also not fully machine, they are the Borg with more humanity and better fashion sense. Breq, the book’s protagonist, used to be an Ancillary of the starship Justice of Toren. Something happened to the ship, and she is the last surviving piece with all of the ship’s memories and no individual identity of her own. Breq is on a quest for vengeance for the death of her favorite human officer. The story is told in both Breq’s present and flashbacks that tell of the events leading up to the loss of the Justice of Toren. These flashbacks allow the brilliance of the work to shine through.
With a narrator that is a ship consisting of hundreds of parts, you often seem to get point of views from dozens of perspectives, but they are all from the same character. It is no accident that the Radchii have no sense of gender. Throughout the book, Breq refers to everyone as "she," and it is only through the conversations of others that we get any sense of gender identity. As Breq’s story unfolds and you see a multifaceted Artificial Intelligence developing a split personality and hiding secrets from itself, you develop a true appreciation for what Leckie has accomplished.
A world on the verge of unimagined changes in identity, technology and biological change, Ancillary Justice delivers a window into our future and how the definition of being human might be more malleable than we think.
Whether you are an avid fan of Downton Abbey or just someone who enjoys a bit of humor involving cats, you are sure to enjoy Chris Kelly’s Downton Tabby: A Parody. In this book, you will be introduced to the aristocratic upstairs cats, whose day consists of grooming, sleeping, being fed and, of course, loafing around on expensive furniture in an adorable manner. There are also the downstairs cats — mostly named Emma — whose lots in life are to work in servitude to the upstairs cats. After all, this is England in the early 1900s. Their choices in life are really rather limited: serve, be served or be murdered by Jack the Ripper. Given those options, if one were not fortunate enough to be a proper kitty of breeding, a life of service is better than no life at all.
Following the general story line of the Downton Abbey television show, you will enjoy the trials and tribulations, the prides and the prejudices as well as the sense and the sensibilities of the felines of Downton Tabby. Learn how to keep a secret, the secret language of the tail, codes of conduct for both upstairs and downstairs cats and the art of arguing with someone who has deeply held beliefs.
Heavily illustrated, one of the gems of this book for cat lovers is the photos of cats dressed as characters from Downton Abbey reenacting scenes from the television show. A cheeky romp, this short book is an entertaining quick read. Who knows, you may even learn a bit about history, too!