Archive for January, 2008

Something to Read – Websites – Mysteries and More

Monday, January 28th, 2008

Something to Read – Websites – Mysteries and More

I was looking up websites about Mystery books to recommend to Harford County Public Library customers now our new Mystery book group is starting up in Bel Air.

I found this one specifically about Mystery, plus resources on other genres too:

The Mystery Reader
For fans of mysteries here are reviews of current books divided into subgenres, including police procedurals, cozies, thrillers, etc.

What Should I Read Next?
Enter a book you like and the database of real readers’ recommendations will suggest something to read next.

Bookspot is a free resource center that simplifies the search for the best book-related content on the Web. Featured sites are hand-selected by editors and organized into intuitive categories, such as bestseller lists, genres, book reviews, electronic texts, book news and more. BookSpot is maintained by StartSpot Mediaworks, Inc. The Wall Street Journal said, “Are you looking for a book to tuck into your beach bag? BookSpot is a hub for online book reviews, reading lists and bookstores.”

BookPage monthly general interest book review, BookPage covers the best in new releases. In the past 15+ years, BookPage has interviewed everyone from John Grisham to Norman Mailer, and typically reviews up to 100 of each month’s new fiction, nonfiction, business, children’s, spoken word audio, and how-to books. The tone is upbeat and literate, focusing on bestsellers as well as new discoveries.

You can find these, and more websites recommending books at Something to Read – Websites on the Recommended Booklists on ReadersPlace.

Annette Vallon: a novel of the French Revolution by James Tipton

Friday, January 25th, 2008

It seems I have been reading quite a lot of historical fiction lately. Unlike the books I recommended a few days ago, Annette Vallon is not an historical mystery but a straightforward historical novel – a work of fiction that evokes or recreates the past. Quite often these fictional works take for their characters real people who actually lived at the time. Sometimes a novelist takes for the main character a notable historical figure and puts words into their mouths and motives into their heads. Since these kinds of historical novels are usually based on meticulous historical research, it could be argued that this kind of reanimation of people who have lived and died and can no longer defend themselves is as legitimate as the work of a biographer. Another approach to historical fiction is to create the main character from imagination and to set him or her among minor characters who actually lived. A compromise is to make your main character a minor figure from the past about whom little is known, as is the case with Annette Vallon.

History records that Annette Vallon (1766-1841) met English poet William Wordsworth when he spent a year in France on the eve of the French Revolution. Annette became his lover and muse and bore him a daughter, Caroline (1792). Wordworth left France as the Revolution became more repressive and violent, returning to see his daughter years later, even after having proposed marriage to an Englishwoman.

In this fictional account, Annette is a headstrong, spoiled, and convention-breaking daughter of a rich doctor who has the temerity to enter into an unconventional “marriage” with William. When William’s foreign status and outspoken politics place him in danger, Annette risks her life to assist him in escaping the Loire region where she lives. In this region there is much popular resistance to the Jacobins, who are Paris-based and are stripping the country of food and conscripts for the army. Annette becomes a legendary resistance leader and helps many refugees from the civil war. The bulk of the second part of the book is about this resistance. I found it exciting reading. There was a lot to think about in the way the ideals of the Revolution degenerated into tyranny, bigotry, fear, and violence.

Conversation Starters
“Tipton’s descriptions, à la Tracy Chevalier, of how masterpieces are created alternate with the spirited heroine’s adventures, making for an uneasy balance…”
“Annette—and those who help her along the way—are believable in their struggles through the best and the worst of times.”
One reviewer called the book “vibrant and alluring.” Would you agree?
Annette refuses to be married unless it is for passion. She says she has been spoiled by the novels of Rousseau. Find out about Rousseau.
The novel is narrated in hind-sight by the 50-year-old Annette. Did you like this device?
What did you think of Annette’s mother?
Do you think it is fair to take a real person’s life and fictionalize it?

This is a very good review from the Philadelphia Inquirer

Further Reading
Wordsworth: the Poetic Life by John L. Mahoney
Other novels on the artist life by Tracy Chevalier and Sarah Dunant

Blogging fo a Good Book

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

Here is another blog to help you find something good to read:

Blogging for a Good Book: a Suggestion a Day from Williamsburg Regional Library

The reviewers just use their first names, though I suspect they are the Regional Library’s staff. The nice thing about this blog is that they have categorized the books reviewed. The categories are listed all down the right sidebar; so, that if you liked Nature Writing, for instance, you could click on that category and see reviews for more books.

Just a slight drawback for me – the recommendations are for all kinds of books, including books for children and young adults. I enjoy reading all kinds of things, but mostly I prefer books written for adults, so I have to be careful to check the level before I try and get the book.

New Book Group Blog

Thursday, January 24th, 2008

If you are reading this, you are at least somewhat familiar with the blogging phenomenon. According to Wikipedia: “As of December 2007, blog search engine Technorati was tracking more than 112 million blogs.” Quite a few of those blogs provide, as does this one, commentary or news on the subject of book clubs or reading groups. I heard a couple of weeks ago about a new one sponsored by American Library Association Publishing and found on Booklist Online, and I thought I would let you know about it. You might want to bookmark it, or set up a feed, as it looks like a fresh new source of reading and book group meeting ideas.


Enjoy a new (free!) one-stop book group resource from Booklist Online, “Book Group Buzz.” This blog will entertain you as it keeps you up to date on all things book group. A corps of bloggers posts about books that worked well (or books that bombed), and provides organizational tips and read-alike insights. The blog also points you to Web sites that offer book club ideas, reading guides, and other helpful resources. Catch the Book Group Buzz

Finding Today’s Best Sellers

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

I was looking at my bookmarked list of favorite readers’ websites today and was reminded that there are several best seller lists online, where you can check what is currently popular at any given moment. These lists are a great place to go if you are looking for something new and timely to read.

Just in case you have forgotten them, here they are: Best Sellers These lists are based on sales at over 400 independent bookstores across the country.

New York Times Expanded Best Seller List Get all the lists: hardcover fiction, paperback fiction, hardcover nonfiction, paperback nonfiction, hardcover advice, paperback advice, and children’s books. Note: Free Registration is required for the complete lists.

USA Today’s Top 150 Best Selling Books List Based on sales from the previous week, this list shows the top sellers in all formats together.

What Angels Fear by C. S. Harris

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2008

What Angels Fear combines the elements of historical fiction, mystery, and romance all in one fast-paced, suspenseful package. Set in England in 1811, the book is rich in the details of daily life and the political intrigue of the time. The story is summed up by Publishers Weekly like this: “When Sebastian Alistair St. Cyr, Viscount Devlin, is accused of the rape and murder of actress Rachel York, mistress to various members of Spencer Perceval’s wobbly Tory cabinet, Sebastian goes “on the lam,” in the words of young Tom, his adopted companion and faithful servant, and must spend frantic days in clever disguises chasing “across London and back.” Uncanny powers of sight and hearing help him to identify several suspects, including Hugh Gordon, Rachel’s fellow actor and ex-lover; shadowy French émigré Leo Pierrepoint; and even his own wayward nephew, Bayard Wilcox, who had been stalking the victim for weeks. Also implicated is portrait painter Giorgio Donatelli, for whom Rachel often posed nude, whose current patron, Lord Fairchild, is expected to be the next prime minister. Waiting in the wings to rule over this gathering chaos is dissolute Prince George (aka Prinny), soon to become regent for his incompetent father, George III.”

Conversation Starters and Things you might like about the book
Many readers will like the quick start and the fast pace. In the Prologue, atmosphere is established right away with the terror of a fog-shrouded evening in a deserted church. The first chapter begins with a duel. Character is established through action. Much is left to be inferred.
The book is rich in historical detail, especially graphic depictions of poverty in the slums of London. Some readers have been jarred by the characters’ motives and sensibilities – they found them to be anachronistic and they detected also some errors in judicial procedures.
The main character is very likeable – he is an outsider, independent, iconoclastic, physically powerful and adept, well-liked by his friends, moral, heroic, and conflicted.
Humor is provided by St. Cyr’s self-deprecation and by the cheeky character of his side-kick, Tom.
Suspense is provided by the dangers St Cyr faces in the pursuit of the murderer and in his flight from Bow Street. There is suspense in the mystery as it unfolds and the plot is pleasingly complex. The gothic and convoluted turns of the plot are set believably in the political unrest of the times.
Romance is a very powerful element of the book and is provided by the lovely and mysterious actress Kat Boleyn. While Romance is very important, the book never becomes sentimental nor loses its pace.

Other books like this
Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn
Petty Treason: a Sarah Tolerance Novel by Madeleine E. Robins
Covent Garden Mystery by Ashley Gardner
The Egyptian Coffin by Jane Jakeman

Old Flames by John Lawton

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

“I don’t know about Freddie Troy, ” said my husband as he finished the last page of Old Flames by John Lawton, a book I had finished just the week before, “he’s selfish, unprincipled, completely unpredictable, violent, and snobbish.” I agree, I said, as I reached for the next book in the series, “I don’t know how he has survived in Scotland Yard this long or why he has any friends.” Despite this dismay at Freddie’s lamentable character, we both have grown almost to like him and to be deeply interested in other books in the series which might explain more about how he got to be this way.

Old Flames is set in Britain in 1956. In the depths of the Cold War, Nikita Krushchev is in London on a state visit. Because Chief Inspector Freddie Troy, chief of the murder squad at Scotland Yard is fluent in Russian he is assigned to be a bodyguard to Krushchev, and also to spy on him. Troy is the son of a Russian emigre, a former Anarchist and founder of a national newspaper chain. He is an influential policeman and also a friend to many leaders in government and politics. Right from the start it is obvious Special Branch are not being straight with Troy. MI6 have been warned to keep at arms length from Krushchev’s visit, but it seems clear they are involved in some way when the Soviets accuse Britain of sending a frogman to spy on their ship docked at Portsmouth. Later a navy diver is found dead and mutilated in the harbor. Troy is involved in investigating the death when the man’s supposed widow denies that the body can be her husband’s. As Troy discovers layer upon layer of conspiracy reaching right into the heart of MI6 and back into his own past, it seems he only has to uncover a lead before his contact is murdered. Meanwhile, another source of danger threatens Troy as he attempts to aid an old lover now fleeing the KGB.

This story is based on a time in Britain when several infamous spies in the British Establishment were uncovered after years of betraying not only their country but their class. Fans of John LeCarre and Len Deighton will recognize the pervading sense of austerity, despair, and distrust, and the secret world based on country houses, clubs, and a crumbling class system. Just as Deighton’s Bernard Samson is conscious of the tradition of the Secret Services handed down to him by the legendary agent who was his father, Troy is conscious always of the traditions of his own family. Old Flames is an interesting examination of the nature of belonging and betrayal.

Other books like this:

The Spy Who Came in From the Cold by John Le Carre

Charity by Len Deighton

Judas Factor by Ted Allbeury

Christopher’s Ghosts: a Paul Christopher Novel by Charles McCarry

The novels of Alan Furst and Daniel Silva bring the spy novel into the post-Cold war era.

Edgar Nominees Announced – Mystery fans take note

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2008

Nominations for the 2008 Edgar Awards, sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America, are now listed online at the Mystery Writers of America Website.

Winners will be unveiled at the Edgar Awards banquet, to be held Thursday, May 1, in New York City.
You will be able to find full descriptions of the books on my list on ReadersPlace.
“Mystery Writers of America is the premier organization for mystery writers, professionals allied to the crime writing field, aspiring crime writers, and those who are devoted to the genre. MWA is dedicated to promoting higher regard for crime writing and recognition and respect for those who write within the genre… Membership is open to the public…” (MWA home page)

Mystery fans, don’t forget the Mystery program at Bel Air branch on Wednesday evening: A Look at Detective Fiction. It starts at 7 PM. Call 410-638-3151 for details.

The Memory of Running by Ron McLarty

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

Actor Ron McLarty’s first novel was well-received back in 2005, and in general the Abingdon Lite at Night book group enjoyed reading it. Only one reader wasn’t too keen but this was because it was not the kind of book she would normally read. It does deal with some serious issues such as schizophrenia, alcoholism, and violence in American society, but above and beyond that it is a heartwarming and inspiring story of a man who goes on a quest to claim his sister’s body, and finds himself in the process. Smithy Ide is a very overweight, alcoholic, chain-smoking Vietnam vet, socially inept, in a boring job, living alone. He discovers that his sister has died and is in a funeral home in Los Angeles. Without any planning or forethought he takes off on his old bicycle one day and his ride becomes a road trip across America from Rhode Island to Los Angeles. He meets a variety of characters on the way, some good, some bad, loses weight and quits his bad habits. He also rediscovers his childhood neighbor, Norma. This is a wonderful story, although you have to grant that the author has used some artistic license. It is doubtful that a man in Smithy’s shape could just set off and ride so far without some serious health problems, but give McLarty the benefit of the doubt and read this book.

Ron McLarty’s new novel, Traveler, was released on 1/22/07.
A film version of The Memory of Running may be made in 2009.

You will find a good review of this book at and a book group reading guide is available at

Dilys Award Nominees, Plus Bel Air Mystery Book Group

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008

I saw this piece of news in an online newsletter I subscribe to, Shelf Awareness, yesterday’s edition (Jan 15). I thought the news would be of special interest, since many of our readers are Mystery fans.
Nominees for the Dilys Award have been announced. This is an award sponsored by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association, recognizing the book that member bookstores most enjoyed handselling. Nominees are:
* Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen Find this book in our catalog.
* Thunder Bay by William Kent Krueger Find this book in our catalog.
* The Spellman Files by Lisa Lutz Find this book in our catalog.
* Silent in the Grave by Deanna Raybourn Find this book in our catalog.
* The Blade Itself by Marcus Sakey Find this book in our catalog.
The winner will be announced March 6-9.
For more information, visit IMBA’s website
Mystery fans, did you also know that the Bel Air branch of Harford County Public Library is right at this moment planning to start a Mystery book group? It’s called Mysterious Minds.
The first meeting will be Wednesday, February 6, 2008 at 7 PM in the Bel Air meeting room. Call for more information: 410-638-3151