Friday, December 30, 2011


Just received this email from Chronicle Books.  Refreshing and inspiring indeed!

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


I try to give every book the same consideration, particularly when it's in the review pile.  As a (wannabe) writer myself, I can understand the toil that an author went through.  I respect that.  But there are still some books, that no matter how much I should have liked, and thought I would enjoy, I just can't get excited about it.  It stinks.  It's a disappointment to me as an expectant reader, and I'm sure as an author and publisher.

But with a New Year quickly approaching, I feel it is as good a time as any to slough off some of the titles that have straggled on my nightstand...


I loved Taylor's previous work, Bright Young People, about high society in 1920s in London.  That book was nonfiction.  Ask Alice once again draws on Taylor's encyclopedic knowledge of the era but in novel form.  The heroine, naive but learning, goes from beguiled to ingenue to jaded.  
The opening pages of the book, told from Alice's point-of-view, were completely riveting.  Once Taylor introduces a London character who has a pigpen in his back garden, the whole thing falls apart.  The narrative voice loses its way.  Even when we return to Alice on the London stage, Taylor cannot regain the balance or the verve of the early pages.
To his credit, Taylor is an excellent descriptive writer.  His sentences are well-formed and packed with elegance.  In this case, it is the over-arching story that is weak. 

Hardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: Pegasus Books
Language: English ISBN-10: 1605980862


Here again is a book from one of my favorite authors.  The Mercury Visions of Louis Daguerre left me in tears and The Beautiful Miscellaneous was quite touching.  My penchant for his writing coupled with my downright obsession with the 1893 World's Fair should have been a no-brainer.  

What was lacking here was Smith's usually extraordinary narrating characters.  Rather than feeling their adventuresome spirit in the vivid colors of the South Pacific, it reads more like a monochrome manual for gathering archaeological samples.  I desperately wanted to like this book, but I just can't recommend it.  

Paperback: 480 pages
Publisher: Washington Square Press
Language: English ISBN-10: 1439198861

by Catherine E. McKinley

Indigo is my favorite color; it always has been.  It was the color of my bridesmaids' dresses and plenty of decor at my wedding.  I'm also always a fan of books that take a small idea or item and uncover vast histories about it.  I thought this is what I would find between the covers here -- a surprising and insightful look at a stunningly beautiful color.

Indigo is less a history and more a personal diary.  The author embarks on a journey to Africa in order to discover more about indigo, but she is sparing in her details about the history that brings her there.  Rather than intertwining the old and the new, the old becomes abandoned for her own adventures.  There were also glaring historical errors like her mention of "the invention of the cotton gin in 1974," (page 4) that made it hard to enjoy.

Hardcover: 256 pp

Size: 5.5 x 8.25 in
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1608195058


In all cases, I sincerely wish to thank the publicists for providing the review copies.  I hope they will not find me unfair in my assessments.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

A Very Merry Christmas

Wishing you a very merry Christmas, and hoping there are many book under your tree this year!

Thanks for reading.

Friday, December 23, 2011


Christmas hustle and bustle got you harried?  Want to win something? For yourself?  You don't have to tell... just leave a comment below and  you'll be entered to win a copy of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES, out in paperback this December 27.  Easier than reciting a magic spell!

Here's a bit about the book:

- Set in real, storied and historic places on the campus of Oxford University, England.
- It debuted at # 2 on the New York Times bestseller list and was published in 34 countries.
- Warner Brothers has acquired screen rights to A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES and its sequels.
- A second installment in the All Souls Trilogy, Shadow of Night, is due out in summer 2012.
- Read about the author and her works here:


Here's a bit about the giveaway:
- To enter, leave a comment on this post with A) Your First Name & B) Your Email in the following format  [email (at) domain (dot) com.
- Winner will be chosen via  Entries must be posted on December 30, no later than 5:00pm EST.
- Prize is one paperback copy of A DISCOVERY OF WITCHES by Deborah Harkness.
- Prize will be mailed directly to the winner from the publisher.

Good luck!!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011


Volume 1
by hitRECord & Joseph Gordon-Levitt

This book is pure joy.  Short, succinct thoughts and ideas with curious and thoughtful illustrations are compiled in this small tome.  But don't let the size deceive you; as William Blake wrote, "One thought fills immensity."

Some stories garner a chuckle.  Some make you feel like you've been stabbed in the heart.  Others simply remind you to stop and smell the roses.  None are overly sentimental; rather these make up a sort of Poor Richard's Almanack for modern life.  

It's a collective of collaborations from - one you will find yourself visiting over and over. Self-described as: "HITRECORD is an open collaborative production company, and this website iswhere we make things together. Writers, musicians, filmmakers, video editors, animators, illustrators, photographers, photo-shoppers... Wanna work with us? I direct our community in a variety of collaborations. When one of our productions makes money, we split the profits 50/50 between the company and the contributing artists."

But don't just take my (or even their) word for it.  Let these "excerpts" speak for themselves. 

I truly can't wait for volume 2.  And am already skulking around their site, hoping for more modern wisdom with a wry smile.

Many thanks to Joel at !t Books (HarperCollins) for the review copy.

ISBN: 9780062121660
ISBN10: 0062121669
Imprint: It Books
On Sale: 12/6/2011
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 4 x 6
Pages: 88; $14.99
Ages: 18 and Up

Monday, December 19, 2011

REVIEW: THE VICES by Lawrence Douglas

Ah, the holiday season... Time to gather with family and surround oneself with warm, comforting memories. 

Or, more realistically, subdue rising anxieties about the perfect meal, dodging insults about your housekeeping abilities, the way you are bringing up the kids, avoiding this year's taboo topic, and desperately hoping your gift will meet with a less-whithering gaze this year.  It's when we set aside our normal, (mostly) functioning lives to invite dysfunction in for a couple of days. Now, it's not all that bad, really, but everyone has had some sort of awkward dinner to attend, perhaps at the new girlfriend's parents' house.  From the outside observer, it makes for some hilarious schadenfreude.  

For this narrator, he remembers his friend and colleague Oliver Vice as an aloof, strangely wealthy philosopher type.  After Oliver's disappearance over the rails of the Queen Mary 2, the reminiscences attempt to piece together an enigmatic character.  Oliver is at one fearless and shy, dapper and stunted.  

The Vices reads like a prose version of an Edward Albee play.  In fact, more than one scene could be out of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  However, I must disagree with some of the "advance praise" quotes.  While I found the book very engaging and was anxious to keep reading it, I did not find it terribly funny.  It's not "widely comic" nor does it imbue a "bright sense of humor."  I say this not as a slight on the book; it's very well-written.  I just wish to dispel any expectation of chuckles along the way for any future reader.  I think I would have enjoyed it all the more had I not been expecting it to get funny.  

Any humor that is to be gleaned from its pages comes from the most uncomfortable awkwardness of the characters.  The Vice Family Christmas Dinner is not something I would want to attend.  It was so vividly drawn I found myself wincing for their transgressions.  

Additionally, the Vices' backstory, which is woven into the narrator's search for the family's true identity, is quite interesting.  So much identity was lost -- deliberately and accidentally -- during great migrations of people in the 20th century.  Unfortunately, this trail is not fully-formed by the author and the final pages of the book peter out.  

Imperfect though I found it, it makes for an enjoyable read.  Book clubs should consider it as a choice for their readers.  There is plenty to be pondered and discussed.  

Many, many thanks to OTHER PRESS for the review copy.  


Format: Trade Paperback, 352 pages
On Sale: August 16, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-59051-415-3 (1-59051-415-7)

Friday, December 9, 2011


It's called the "bystander effect" and its real.  It's been proven time and again by psychologists.  And it has been under discussion again with the Penn State scandal.  (Read about it here from NPR) Most people think they would intervene if they saw a crime happening in front of them.  They would either step in, or at least call the police or an ambulance.  The truth is, as humans, it's not that cut and dry.  The more witnesses there are, the less likely it is that someone will come forward.  Why?  Everyone assumes that someone else will pick up the phone.  The mind makes excuses.  

In 1964, this bystander effect cost a young woman her life.

Based on the true events surrounding the attack of Kitty Genovese, Ryan David Jahn explores the by stander effect, creating scenarios for each of the neighbors who did nothing.  Each chapter changes point-of-view, showing what each character was doing, instead of helping Kitty.  Failing marriages, draft papers, corrupt cops and an ailing mother all lurk behind the windows, safely inside.  

Kitty Genovese
Jahn creates a set of very believable characters and the book begins quite strongly.  But as the story progresses, it devolves into repetitive, spiraling narratives about selfish and shallow people. The only threads that kept me slogging through the mid-pages were that of Frank and Erin and Patrick and his mother.  It finds its footing once again as the threads come together once again in the final chapters.  Most effective is the first-person narrative of Kitty.  Her inner thoughts of terror and determination for survival is gripping, and is the strength of the book.  Even as it is a novel to be read for itself, hopefully, it will remind its readers of the importance of stepping in, speaking up and making a difference.


Many thanks to Penguin for the review copy.

ISBN 9780143118961 | 288 pages | 31 May 2011 | Penguin | 5.15 x 7.87in | 18 - AND UP

Thursday, December 8, 2011


I adore this book.  It's a completely individual way to tell a story.  It's a novel masquerading as a scrapbook -- or perhaps it's the other way around.  Author Caroline Preston says of taking on this project, "I spent an unhealthy portion of my childhood rooting around in the boiling-or-freezing attic of my parent's house in Lake Forest, Illinois.  My mother could be called a tidy pack rat —keeping many generations worth of diaries, letters, clippings, dresses and weird souvenirs in neatly labeled trunks and boxes."  

She could be talking about me.  With family in rural Illinois and a grandmother who has been a wonderful archivist, I have spent untold hours staring at pictures of ancestor's I never knew.  My cousin Rachael and I also frequent the many antique shops in small towns -- not to mention the treasure troves we find in old barns and sheds.  I've got piles and stacks and boxes of my own now.  Postcards and driver's licenses from people I don't know.  

One of my prized finds.
Preston takes actual pieces of vintage ephemera and constructs a story about a young girl who's growing up during the fabulous Roaring 20s.  Frankie Pratt lands a scholarship at Vassar, rubs elbows with wealthy socialites, gets a broken heart, dances the Charleston, and lives it up in Art Deco Manhattan and expatriate Paris.

Page 116
Preston's narrator is sweet, naive but not useless.  She is reminiscent of Cassandra from Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle.  She chooses experience over caution, but she's not spoiled or reckless.  Simply a smart girl who wants to get the most out of life.  And her scrapbook makes her even more endearing to the reader.  

Page 180
Preston's collection is even more impressive when you learn that it's all real. She created an actual scrapbook of actual items that she found.  Preston recalls, "In all I collected over 600 pieces of original 1920's ephemera.  Some I found in my own stash of vintage paper, the rest I tracked down and bought from dozens of antique stores and hundreds of eBay sellers."  And she did a beautiful job. 

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt reads, in parts, a bit like a young adult book but not enough to be only read as such.  It's completely enjoyable for any age.  The items found on the pages enlighten the reader about a past era.  Frankie Pratt is a lively voice from the past.  

Many thanks to Heather at HarperCollins for the review copy.


ISBN: 9780061966903
Imprint: Ecco 
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 6 x 9
Pages: 240; $25.99

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


It's going to be impossible to review this book without comparing it to the works of PG Wodehouse.  The writings share a number of attributes -- silly surnames, ridiculous situations, and even more unlikely solutions.  Barrister Horace Rumpole tells stories from the first person, much like Bertie and Mr. Mulliner, but his are from the Old Bailey and its environs.  And instead of focusing on the theft of cow creamers and fickle romances, Rumpole must use his wits to set free ne'er-do-wells who (probably) didn't commit the crime they are on trial for.

Somewhat jaded, Rumpole has seen it all at this point.  He is little fazed by the cluelessness  of dregs of society or the incredible antics of the Ministers of Parliament.  His nonchalant narrative makes the stories all the more entertaining for a lay audience.  One needn't be a student of the law to get caught up in the tales of the court anymore than you need to have a country house to want to go Bunburying.  I will admit, however, that my maniacal watching of Law & Order: UK hasn't hurt any with some of the vocabulary.

Unlike Bertie Wooster, Rumpole is actually trying to better his world, one client at a time.  He doesn't think of himself first, or rely on a Jeeves to get him out of a scrape.  Rumpole takes on injustice when everything stacked against him.  He thrives on it.  He's a bit like Wile E. Coyote, except his traps actually work.  While other barristers and solicitors are content with a deposition, Rumpole finds the one tiny detail that unravels an entire case.

Reading Rumpole is a sheer delight.  The stories are lithe and funny.  Mortimer has drawn imperfect, realistic characters for us to watch from the gallery.  Or better yet, beside him at a pub, sharing a pint and stories of "that time when...".

A great many thanks to Meghan at Viking for the review copy.

ISBN 9780670023066 | 528 pages | 10 Nov 2011 | Viking Adult | 5.98 x 9.01in | 18 - AND UP 

Monday, December 5, 2011


I became a fan of Bradford Morrow somewhat late in the game. He's been writing, teaching and winning awards for sometime now.  Yet I only I read, loved and reviewed The Diviner's Tale last year, but I could barely wait to read more by him.  I was thrilled when I was sent an advance copy of his book of short stories, The Uninnocent.  

Working in a different format than his last novel, Morrow is freed from structure.  It's actually quite surprising how his voice changes from tale to tale.  While not really modern Gothic or supernatural, like The Diviner's Tale, these stories are incredibly dark.  Most are told in the first person, making the psychological insight all the more disturbing.  These are creatures who suffer from an extreme form of desperation, yet remind us how fine that line is for all of us.

From O. Henry's Full House (1952)

Lush is like a modern version of an O. Henry story. It recalls The Gift of the Magi and The Last Leaf, though in a completely different and dysfunctional way.  My favorite might be the eponymous tale in which a child recalls seeing the ghost of his brother.  The narrator speaks with simplicity.  He captures how a child speaks before he thinks, not restrained by the embarrassments that we acquire as we age.  And it is this naivete that makes his story even more unsettling.  Ellie's Idea is strangely amusing, but not all of the stories leave one satisfied.  This collection is not for the squeamish, and should probably be read in the daylight hours and in small doses.  But I mean that as a compliment.  Morrow draws you into the characters' minds, gets you dizzy, then leaves you to find your own way home.  It's well done and enjoyable; just be sure to drop some breadcrumbs along the way.


Many thanks to Claiborne at Pegasus Books for the advance copy.

ISBN 978-1-60598-265-6
Size 6 x 9
272 pages
December 5, 2011

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

GUEST POST: China Mieville's Embassytown, by Tracy

Tracy is one of the smartest people I know.  Really.  She has a degree in biochem and recently began practicing law.  She can do math AND she is a wonderful writer.  She is a dear, nerdy friend and I was thrilled when she asked to write a guest post.

I recently had the opportunity to meet China Miéville at a book reading/signing for his new book, and I was so excited I put orange juice instead of milk in my coffee that morning.  So I asked Meaghan if I could guest blog, to try to explain what it is about Mr. Miéville's writing that could drive me to sabotage my own coffee (though, as a tea drinking Brit, I have not ruled out the possibility his books contain anti-coffee subliminal messages).

China Mieville is an antidote to the familiar.  A Miéville novel tells a story that has not been told before.  It will not be another new twist on an old plot, not entertaining in the way it is entertaining to come across a musician on an often traveled street.  The first few steps may seem familiar—a detective with a murder to solve, a scientist with a missing specimen, the arrival of a spaceship—and then: nothing.  A clean slate.  A world so other the only points of reference are the words on the page.

Embassytown, Miéville's most recent release, contains the memoirs of Avice, a human colonist born on a distant planet, who as a child becomes a figure of speech, a simile, in the native Ariekei's unique language.  A self proclaimed floaker, she nevertheless tries to save the Ariekei, and the humans, after an outsider's use of the Ariekei language upsets the biological balance of the planet.

Kraken takes place in a London populated by dissident gods, where crime overlaps with faith, on the eve of an apocalypse.  When confronted with the protagonist's disbelief, another character puts the protagonist, and the reader, in their place.  “I know, I know.  Mad beliefs like that, eh?  Must be some metaphor, right?  Must mean something else?  What an awfully arrogant thing.  What if faiths are exactly what they are?  And mean exactly what they say?”  

The City and the City is a murder mystery spanning two cities which share a border unlike any other, where every stray step or wayward glance is prosecuted by an all-seeing power with unquestioned and indeterminate authority.

Often Miéville's words themselves are other, an obvious necessity to describe new concepts and ideas.  Grosstopically describes geographic proximity across invisible yet impassable boarders.  Space without time is named the immer (a German word for “always” which dovetails with English in ways that make any language lover swoon). Floaking well... you get the idea.  Acute attention is required to understand the story, and it is like using an old muscle, but it is also like undoing what has been done, traveling back to a time in childhood when the intoxicating newness of every story stretched the membrane of reality ever thinner and made the world proportionally bigger with every word. 

I will let you decide how Miéville's words are like a drug and how they are not like a drug, but  any of these three books will give you something which is exhilarating and mind altering and addicting in all the best ways.

In my copy of
Kraken, Mr. Miéville inscribed “Honored to have ruined your coffee.”  Whether his words drove me to general distraction, or he employed a more directed manipulation of language, I am grateful to Mr. Miéville for showing me that at thirty years old I can still experience the pure enchantment of discovery, even at the expense of my everyday routine.

Tracy with author China Mieville

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops

As someone who grew up on episodes of Cheers and lived in a colonial-era tavern and inn, I suppose I might have been somewhat predisposed to be enamored by the subject.  But if you stop to consider, I think most people are.  The gathering of community is something we all need and create.  

This is a fascinating social history of our relatively young country.  And with all we have been though as a nation, one thing that has been a constant is the bar -- even when they were banned.  Not just as a place to imbibe, but a place to gather.  Revolutions and crimes alike have been planned in them.  The Salem Witch Trials just may have been started because of one. 

The Green Dragon Tavern, the cradle of the Boston Tea Party
Sismondo brings into focus the history of America's founding, growing pains and social reforms through the lens of the community tavern.  She reminds us that a pioneer town was likely to have tavern before it had a church or courthouse.  The bar was pressed into many civic uses, but it was also the hub of the people.  It was a place to get warm, to see friends, to hear the news and to grumble about life.  

The book traces, in relatively chronological order, the evolution of the bar as meeting place from the Puritans to Colonialists, early temperance movements in the literary sphere,  political machines, speakeasies, the repeal of Prohibition, dessert cocktails and more.  

It's quite stunning, actually, to look at ourselves as a nation, in the mirror of a backbar.


Many thanks to the folks at Oxford University Press for the review copy.

America Walks into a Bar
A Spirited History of Taverns and Saloons, Speakeasies and Grog Shops
Christine Sismondo
ISBN13: 9780199734955
ISBN10: 019973495X
Hardback, 336 pages

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


An Autobiography

As much as I love biographies, I'm often hesitant about autobiographies.  Everyone has an interesting story -- that doesn't meant they know how to tell it.  There is no doubt Dame Agatha Christie knew how to tell a story.  Hundreds of them.  But her best may be her own.

She begins at the beginning (sort of) and tells a roughly chronological series of events.  In fact, her fanciful meanderings are part of what makes the book so endearing.  Her descriptions of late Victorian / early Edwardian society are not only priceless anthropologically, but an absolute joy to read.  The tone is light and joyful, as a small child might tell her grandmother about the fairies at the bottom of the garden.  Indeed, her young life was rather ethereal.  One of those English upbringings that one wonders if it actually ever existed.  Imagination was encouraged to run rampant and adventure was to be met head-on. 

Her observations on life itself, too, are absolute gems.  One could extract an entire philosophy from her thoughts.   While recalling her studies in Paris, she muses, "It seems to me that teaching can only be satisfactory if it awakens some response in you.  Mere information is no good, it gives you nothing more than you had before."  Or her recollections of Christmas as a child.  "After the pleasurable inertia of Christmas afternoon - pleasurable, that is, for the elders: the younger ones read books, looked at their presents, ate more chocolates and so on -- there was a terrific tea with a great idea Christmas cake as well as everything else, and finally a supper of cold turkey and hot mince pies.  About nine o'clock there was the Christmas tree, with more presents hanging on it.  A splendid day, and one to be remembered till next year, when Christmas came again."  These and other memories of dances, parties, traveling to Egypt with her husband archaeologist and trips with grandchildren are an entirely enjoyable read.  In fact, one doesn't need to be a fan of Agatha Christie or even mysteries to enjoy it.  

My review copy does not include the audio disc of Agatha's actual voice dictating her memoir.  I can only imagine it, too, is nostalgic and lovely.

In honor of this reissue from HarperCollins, we have teamed up to host a giveaway in honor of Dame Christie.  

I've got a great little prize pack:  A copy of Cards on the Table, a delightful little Hercule Poirot murder mystery surrounding a game of bridge in a strange scenario; a pack of Agatha Christie bookmarks; and a black and red Agatha Christie totebag.  (This image is not to scale -- obviously.)

So, do you want to win?  Leave a comment below with your NAME, EMAIL (at) DOT COM, and why you think you would be a good detective.  This giveaway is open to anyone with a US mailing address.  Have your comment posted before Friday, November 18, 2011 at 10:00 p.m. EST to be entered.  Winning entry will be chosen by  

A huge thanks to Danielle at HarperCollins for the great gifts and the review copy of An Autobiography


ISBN: 9780062073594
ISBN10: 0062073591
Imprint: Harper 
On Sale: 11/22/2011
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 6 x 9
Pages: 544; $29.99; Ages: 18 and Up

Monday, October 31, 2011


Can't get enough of ghoulish stories?  Neither can I!  Which means I have even more creepy titles to suggest for Halloween -- and any chilly, fall night best spent by the fire.

How about something easy to get into and tough to put down?  Try MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN by Ransom Riggs.  It's a very fun read and interspersed with strange photographs.

Can't get enough of salacious mysteries?  Try THE CRADLE IN THE GRAVE by Sophie Hannah.  Frighteningly realistic police procedural.

Read my entire review here. 

A strange disappearance and a race to find the truth are the object of the entirely-true, bone-chilling tale of THE LOST CYCLIST by David Herlihy.

Or try something in the realm of the impossible made entirely plausible in a collection of short stories by Ben Loory.  STORIES FOR THE NIGHTTIME AND SOME FOR THE DAY is unlike anything else.

Science, too, can be terrifying, when we take a look at how far we've come.  Check out MEDICAL MUSES: HYSTERIA IN 19TH CENTURY PARIS by Asti Hustvedt and learn about some of the first studied ideas about sanity. 

Friday, October 21, 2011


The First Victorian Railway Killing

I'm a sucker for these sorts of books.  In fact, when I received the review copy, my husband joked, "Well, someone said, 'Let's write a book for you!'"  It has so many themes I love: mystery, the Victorian era, trains, and a murder trial.  AND it's British.  

Drawn from the annals of the Old Bailey and newspaper accounts, it traces the murder of one Mr. Thomas Briggs, an older but successful business man who was traveling home via the rail. Among many of the mysterious circumstances are the seeming lack of motive, the sort timespan in which the crime could have been committed and the loss of a hat (In fact, in Britain, this book was titled Mr. Briggs' Hat).  Even more intriguing is the setting.  The British Victorians had a love/hate relationship with crime even then.  As a society, they were obsessed to the last, bloody detail of the darkest side of human nature -- while at the same time obsessed with repressing and destroyed every shred of it within. 

Favored suspect Franz Muller
The book is very well researched and chock full of quotes from eyewitnesses and reports.  Yet all of this studiousness makes it feel at times a bit more academic than a mystery to be solved.  Between an inquest, an extradition and two trials, some of the information begins to feel redundant, if complete.  The author also chooses to italicize the quotes she uses, rather than surround them with quotation marks.  Rather than getting used to it, I found it increasingly distracting.  Still I read happily to the end, devouring the gripping tale of the crime and investigation itself. 

Murder in a First-Class Carriage explores a completely fascinating chapter of Victorian crime that has been lost to time somehow.  I am admittedly obsessed with this idea and often read from The Old Bailey Online for a voyeuristic peek into the past.  This book brings one of those many, dusty stories back to life.


Many thanks to Kate at Overlook Press for the review copy.

Murder in the First-Class Carriage
By Kate Colquhoun 
352 pages
ISBN 13: 978-1-59020-675-1
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Release Date: October 27, 2011

Monday, October 17, 2011


Normally I take a photo of the book itself with some sort of set or prop relating to the story.  This one is a bit different -- and quite special.

While traveling in England, my husband and I made sure to stop at 221b Baker St in London.  There is a fabulous Sherlock museum that is quite hands on and is full of fun details.  I took dozens of pictures there but it wasn't until I was looking at them at home that I noticed something peculiar. Framed and hung on Sherlock's bedroom wall are photographs of various criminals (I think).  Among them is picture of Frank Muller, associated with the crime highlighted in this book.  He hangs almost exactly center of this photo.

Can you identify any of the other ne-er-do-wells pictured?

My review of Murder in the First-Class Carriage: The First Victorian Railway Killing goes live 10/21/11.  The book will be available in the US on 10/27/11 from Overlook Press.

Friday, October 14, 2011


October is my favorite month.  It always has been, even when I lived in different parts of the country.  Of course, it's no coincidence that October means Halloween for me.  Scary stories, chocolate, costumes - what's not to love!  So, as the days grow shorter and cooler, here are some suggestions for the change in weather.  I'll read a creepy story any time of the year, but these titles make you want to curl up with a strange, mysterious or frightening book.

Steampunk!  An Anthology of Fantastically Rich and Strange Stories
Edited by Kelly Link & Gavin Grant

This book from Candlewick Press is a collection of short stories with Steampunk-ish themes.  Each tale is by a different author who approach the genre a bit differently.  This makes the book a great way to discover new authors and ideas.  The only downside, really, is that if you really love a story or writer, it can be a bit of a tease.  It's kind of amazing to see how many imaginary worlds, just in touch with reality, are inspired by these writers.   Far less important but just as enjoyable are the small illustrations that adorn the pages and change with each story.

One of my favorite tales in the collection is The Ghost of Cwmlech Manor by Delia Sherman.  It marries beautifully the advanced mechanisms of the genre with a romantic ghost story.  I was also drawn to The Summer People which is set a surreal-yet-somehow-believable world of an Appalachia with small clockwork fairy-like creatures.  

Read samples and learn more:

Believing is Seeing: Observations on the Mysteries of Photography
By Errol Morris

For the more academically-minded but still interested in a something illuminating, check out this handsome compilation of essays by Errol Morris.  While most items have been published elsewhere as serial entries, this brings them all together on large, well-designed pages with great reproductions of the photographs that are examined.

These series of articles investigate the veracity not only of photographs but also our perceptions of them.  Since the birth of the medium, there has been an association of truth with photograph.  Morris expounds on how the camera can lie through technical means like perspective and parallax as well as a choices made by the photographer.  

The best of the series is one called "Whose Father Was He?" in which he retraced an investigation around a photograph of three children found on the body of a Civil War solider.  

Reproduction of the photo
This photograph was reprinted in dozens of newspapers at the time, trying to identify the children.  Morris tracks the story with the determination of a bloodhound, all the while ruminating on why this particular story of tragedy to captured a nation.  

Other essays, while in depth, delve into the abstruse and seem distracted.  Indeed, every once in awhile Morris seems to be tooting his own horn rather than letting the photography and ideas lead him.

Read up on Morris and his other projects here:

Many thanks to the folks at Candlewick Press and The Penguin Press for the review copies.


ALSO, watch for my upcoming review of MURDER ON THE FIRST-CLASS CARRIAGE: THE FIRST VICTORIAN RAILWAY KILLING by Kate Colquhoun.  It goes live 10/21.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

REVISIT: A SECRET GIFT - Coming Soon to Paperback

Read my review of this amazing book here.  It's out soon in paperback.  A must-give for the Thanksgiving season. 

The mysterious benefactor of "A Secret Gift"

Thursday, September 29, 2011


I loved this book.  I loved reading it, the story, the cover art, the photo insets, almost everything about it.  It's probably blasphemous for me to say, but I enjoyed it more than The Great Gatsby.

Set in a post-Depression Manhattan, it follows the trials and triumphs of a small group of friends (and sometimes lovers) in a glittering, Art-Deco New York City. Katey Kontent (yes, the name is a bit self-conscious, but so is Katey) is the narrator of the tale and is far from content.  She works as a secretary in a very respectable firm and finds fun where she can with her friend Eve Ross.   Both of their fates take a turn on New Year's Eve in a dark jazz club -- the night when Tinker Grey comes into their lives.

The overall theme is that life is an adventure unwritten, and not every turning reveals good fortune.  When a shattering accident affects all in their small but close-knit group, it sends each shard of their relationship in multiple directions.  

Publicity postcard for Rules of Civility
Rules of Civility refers to George Washington's book of the same name in which he laid out guidelines for keeping polite company.  Tinker sometimes references it, though often ironically.  This book instead creates its own witticisms and aphorisms.  There are too many to recount, but a favorite, early on, is "Learning dance steps was the sorry Saturday night pursuit of every boardinghouse girl in America."  And I couldn't agree more with this sentiment: "No matter how much you think of yourself, no matter how long you've lived in Hollywood or Hyde Park, a brown Bentley is going to catch your eye.  There couldn't be more than a few hundred of them in the world and every aspect is designed with envy in mind."
Fashion photo by Hoyningen-Heune, 1938
Towles sets out a very metered pace and in a structured narrative.  It spans exactly one year, told in flashback.  Interestingly, Towles manages to withhold "how it all ends" despite the fact that he begins at the end.  Effectively, it shows the reader how "naive" we are, just as Katey is.  Also quite effective are the photographs by Walker Evans that mark sections of the book.  This series of subway candids reminds us easily read body language and facial expression is, particularly when our guard is down.  Washington's Rules of Civility do not apply here.

As a setting - time and place - it is incredibly well-researched, but comfortably so.  It doesn't feel forced or sound like it is name-dropping for effect.  There is only one portion of one chapter that falls flat.  The rest is as effervescent as a newly popped bottle of champagne.

Many thanks to the folks at Viking/Penguin for the review copy.

Book: Hardcover 
5.98 x 9.01in 
352 pages 
ISBN 9780670022694 
26 Jul 2011
Viking Adult
18 - AND UP