Archive for May, 2008

The Baltimore Sun Read Street

Thursday, May 29th, 2008

The Abingdon Lite at Night book group is featured on the Baltimore Sun online reader’s site, Read Street, today. This site is dedicated to the readers of Baltimore and beyond. It includes news, events and information about book groups around the greater Baltimore area. To check out the site, go to
To go straight to the book clubs go to

The Abingdon group is currently reading Still Life with Elephant by Judy Reene Singer which we will be discussing on Monday, June 23rd at 6:30 pm. We are very casual and sociable and welcome new faces, so please come and join us.

A few of the group are pictured here, still in our winter clothes, with hot chocolate and cookies.

Contact authors through our online book clubs with Author Buzz

Tuesday, May 27th, 2008

Many of our readers have said that they would often like to learn more about, or even contact an author, particularly if he or she is the author of a book club book they are reading. As you know, at Harford County Public Library’s Readers Place you can find all sorts of online book clubs to sign up for and get a chapter a day delivered to you by e-mail, together with all sorts of extra features. One of those extras is Author Buzz.

Author Buzz is a great way for readers to talk with authors, discover new authors, and find new titles. Readers can click on the link included in their Online Book Club emails and it brings them to Author Buzz. Once at Author Buzz, they will see the featured author for that week. As well as providing information about the author, each feature provides a way for patrons to communicate with him or her if they would like to learn more. It’s really fun, because it is rare for readers to have direct access to authors, and the authors also offer prizes that can be won each week!

Click here to see what’s new at AuthorBuzz this week.

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: a shocking murder and the undoing of a great Victorian detective by Kate Summerscale

Thursday, May 22nd, 2008

Do you like a classical murder mystery set in an English country house? What’s more, do you prefer your murder to be set in the Victorian era, when in upper and middle class homes complex and rigid social conventions only too often bred secrets and perversions behind closed doors? If you do, The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher should be just the thing for you; despite the fact that it is not a fictional tale at all, but a true story that took place in England in an upper class country home in Wiltshire in 1860.

Ms. Summerscale, a journalist and former literary editor, has written an enthralling true crime story that encompasses all the details that fans of true crime stories find essential: the crime, the suspects’ actions, the police investigations, blunders, and breakthroughs, and also the detailed proceedings of the various court hearings. At the same time, she has managed to pen a story that draws you in with its narrative style and does not get bogged down in the detail. The book is very well crafted and leads the reader on, not only through the details of the case, but also through Ms. Summerscale’s argument. She argues that this case was the real case that gave rise to the conventions and popularity of country house murder fiction continuing today. Many of the real details of the case appeared in fiction in the years that followed; for example, the case influenced tales like The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins. Mr. Whicher, one of the founding eight members of the Detective force at Scotland Yard, was the original popular heroic detective, and was interviewed and quoted by Charles Dickens. Like the fictional Cuff in The Moonstone, Whicher embodied for the public the archetype intuitive, intellectual detective, who caught criminals by using his powerful observation of people and clues. When Whicher’s long career was substantially ruined by this case in Wiltshire, there arose a further era of detective fiction where the detective is seen as either crass and inept, or as a dark influence, a lower-class intruder into the sanctity and secrets of the middle class home.

This book can be enjoyed on many levels. You can appreciate Ms. Summerscales’ scholarship in the infinite details of mid-Victorian English culture that she lays out for us, and in her deep knowledge of the crime fiction of the era and also of Scotland Yard and the judicial system. She writes perceptively of the people involved in the case, so that you soon begin to see that all the characters involved in the case are full of secrets. Ms. Summerscale compares this case to classical murder mysteries where everyone is a suspect with things to hide. The detective has to sift through all the secrets and see which suspect is hiding the fact that he or she is a murderer. In this case in Wiltshire, the person convicted may or may not have been the culprit. You will have to read the book to find out!

Three Bags Full a sheep detective story by Leonie Swann

Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

The Abingdon Book Group read Leonie Swann’s first novel, Three Bags Full, and had mixed reactions. Many thought this story, which features a whole assortment of characters, some sheep, some human, to be rather confusing. Yet others liked it even so. I initially read the book last year and enjoyed it more when I reread it before the discussion. There are 19 sheep in the story, but Ms. Swann does make things easier for the reader by providing a list of the names and their temperaments on the back cover of her book, as well as on an inside page prior to the story. Some parts of the book are a little slow, and there are frequent literary allusions that readers may or may not understand. Despite all of these things, however, this is a delightful and charming book. The main thread of the story deals with the shepherd, George, whom the sheep discover lying dead in the meadow with a spade stuck though him. The sheep determine that justice must be served and it is up to them to discover the murderer and expose him or her. The sheep give some wonderful insights into the behavior of the local humans and this is where some of the comedy arises as they mistake things that they hear and do not completely understand. One of the characters blames Satan for the murder, but to the sheep, Satan is an old donkey in the next field & they cannot understand why he would be the murderer. There is a sub-plot concerning an event from several years back, and more puzzlement when a mystery woman arrives in the village. Set in a small Irish community, Leonie Swann has captured the essence of the location and has some lovely descriptions of the countryside. All in all this is an enjoyable book, but not one you can rush through.
As Ian Sansom wrote in his article of July 22, 2006 in the Guardian newspaper (UK), Three Bags Full “is without a doubt the best sheep detective novel you’re going to read this year.”

From Booklist
*Starred Review* A completely original, sparklingly inventive, cleverly written story, first published in Germany, about a flock of Irish sheep who vow to solve the murder of their shepherd, George. George has always treated the flock like humans, reading to them, feeding them the best fodder, protecting them from the local butcher, acknowledging their individual personalities, and even promising to take them to Europe. Imagine the flock’s shock when George is found dead in their meadow with a spade stuck in his chest! Led by Miss Maple, the smartest of them all, the sheep decide they must find out who killed George (depriving them of the best–and only–shepherd they’ve ever had). How they finally achieve this ambitious goal makes for a quirky, humorous, lively, weird, surprisingly dark yet joyous tale that shows how a disparate set of sheepy personalities can work together for the greater good. Although the plot meanders a bit, readers willing to accept the premise will find themselves engaged–rooting for the sheep, marveling at the ingenuity of the author, or simply enjoying the madcap story. Good fun and a fine first novel from a promising new writer. Emily Melton
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Awards Round Up – Nebulas and Stokers

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Last month I posted a message about the Nebula Award nominees. Rather belatedly, here is a link to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America website, where the winners are listed.

Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Presented the Nebula Awards® for 2007 at the Omni Austin Hotel Downtown in Austin, Texas on April 26, 2008.

Novel: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon
Novella: “Fountain of Age” by Nancy Kress
Novelette: “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate” by Ted Chiang
Short Story: “Always” by Karen Joy Fowler
Script: Pan’s Labyrinth by Guillermo del Toro

Stoker Awards
Each year, the Horror Writer’s Association presents the Bram Stoker Awards for Superior Achievement, named in honor of Bram Stoker, author of the seminal horror work, Dracula. Click here for information about the awards and this year’s winners announced March 30, 2008.

Novel: The Missing by Sarah Langan
First Novel: Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill
Long Fiction: Afterward, There Will Be A Hallway by Gary Braunbeck
Short Fiction: “The Gentle Brush of Wings ” by David Niall Wilson
Fiction Collection: (Tie)Proverbs for Monsters by Michael A. Arnzen and 5 Stories by Peter Straub
Anthology: Five Strokes to Midnight edited by Gary Braunbeck and Hank Schwaeble
Nonfiction: THE CRYPTOPEDIA: A Dictionary of the Weird, Strange & Downright Bizarre by Jonathan Maberry & David F. Kramer
Poetry Collection: (Tie)Being Full of Light, Insubstantial by Linda Addison and Vectors: A Week in the Death of a Planet by Charlee Jacob & Marge Simon
Lifetime Achievement Award: John Carpenter, Robert Weinberg
Richard Laymon President’s Award: Mark Worthen, Stephen Dorato, Christopher Fulbright

The Cruellest Month: a Three Pines Mystery by Louise Penny by

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Find this book in our catalog.

I have just put this book down and can recommend it as an absorbing fast read. It should appeal to fans of cozy mysteries, who will recognize lots of the elements they have come to love: a small, closed community, somewhat out of time and certainly eccentric; a group of friends and neighbors, apparently well-known to each other, but all with something to hide from their pasts, which gradually comes out under the stress of a murder investigation. The location and the lifestyle is apparently idyllic, yet always there is something evil under the surface like a canker in a rose. The Cruellest Month received a Starred Review from Publishers Weekly, and this is how they described the book: “Chief Insp. Armand Gamache and his team investigate another bizarre crime in the tiny Québec village of Three Pines in Penny’s expertly plotted third cozy (after 2007′s A Fatal Grace). As the townspeople gather in the abandoned and perhaps haunted Hadley house for a séance with a visiting psychic, Madeleine Favreau collapses, apparently dead of fright. No one has a harsh word to say about Madeleine, but Gamache knows there’s more to the case than meets the eye. Complicating his inquiry are the repercussions of Gamache having accused his popular superior at the Sûreté du Québec of heinous crimes in a previous case. Fearing there might be a mole on his team, Gamache works not only to solve the murder but to clear his name. Arthur Ellis Award–winner Penny paints a vivid picture of the French-Canadian village, its inhabitants and a determined detective who will strike many Agatha Christie fans as a 21st-century version of Hercule Poirot.”
All of these elements are there, and yet I thought that there was a great deal more complexity to the book. I saw similarities to the novels of P.D. James, and even Ruth Rendell. The book delves very deeply into the nature of love, loyalty, and jealousy. Chief Inspector Gamache is a very complicated and engaging hero. More complex and less of a caricature than Poirot, he has issues with his own past, as does James’ Commander Adam Dalgleish, and the single-mindedness and secretiveness of Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley. He commands the loyalty of his team just as Inspector Maigret used to. At the same time, like these other detectives before him, he is gentle and sensitive with those who need his care and also supremely moral.
The icing on the top of this layer cake of a book is that at times it is extremely funny. Louise Penny pulls this off, I think, because she is such an acute observer of people. I had a little bit of discomfort with the ending, perhaps because I felt that after everything that went before it was a bit rushed and pat, perhaps because Penny was leaving room for a sequel. This book is part of a series though it can be read alone with no problem. Penny skilfully fills in the background without giving everything away. I just have to go back and read the earlier books to find out what went on in the Hadley house the last time Gamache visited Three Pines!

Edgar Awards announced May 1, 2008

Friday, May 2nd, 2008

The 62nd Annual Edgar® Awards banquet was held on Thursday May 1, 2008 at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in New York City.

Click here for the official Mystery Writers of America blog from the awards ceremony.

Best Novel winner: DOWN RIVER by John Hart. Find this book in our catalog
Summary from our catalog: “Adam Chase has a violent streak, and not without reason. As a boy in Rowan County, he saw things that no child should see, suffered wounds that cut to the core and scarred him. The trauma left him passionate and misunderstood – a fighter. After being narrowly acquitted of a murder charge, Adam is hounded out of the only home he’s ever known, exiled for a sin he did not commit. For five long years he disappears, fading into the faceless gray of New York City. Now he’s back and nobody knows why – not his family or the cops, not the enemies he left behind. But Adam has his reasons.” “Within hours of his return, he is accosted and beaten, confronted by his and the woman he still holds dear. No one knows what to make of Adam’s return, but when bodies start turning up, the small town rises against him, and Adam again finds himself embroiled in the fight of his life – not just to prove his own innocence, but to reclaim the only life he’s ever wanted.”

Best First Novel winner: IN THE WOODS by Tana French. Find this book in our catalog
Summary from our catalog: “As dusk approaches a small Dublin suburb in the summer of 1984, mothers begin to call their children home from play. But on this warm evening, three children do not return from the dark and silent wood. When the police arrive, they find only one child, gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers, and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours.” “Twenty years later, the found boy, Rob Ryan, is a detective on the Dublin Murder squad and keeps his past a secret. But when a twelve-year-old girl is found murdered in the same wood, he and Detective Cassie Maddox – his partner and closest friend – find themselves investigating a case chillingly similar to the previous unsolved mystery. Now, with only snippets of long-buried memories to guide him, Ryan has the chance to uncover both the mystery of the case before him and that of his own shadowy past.”

Best Paperback Original winner: winner: QUEENPIN by Megan Abbott. Find this book in our catalog
Summary from our catalog: A young woman hired to keep the books at a down-at-the-heels nightclub is taken under the wing of the infamous Gloria Denton, a mob luminary who reigned during the Golden Era of Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. Notoriously cunning and ruthless, Gloria shows her eager young protegee the ropes, ushering her into a glittering demimonde of late-night casinos, racetracks, betting parlors, inside heists, and big, big money. Suddenly, the world is at her feet – as long as she doesn’t take any chances, like falling for the wrong guy. As the roulette wheel turns, both mentor and protegee scramble to stay one step ahead of their bosses and each other.”

The Grandmaster Award: Bill Pronzini

Best Fact Crime winner: RECLAIMING HISTORY: THE ASSASSINATION OF JOHN F. KENNEDY by Vincent Bugliosi. Find this book in our catalog