Friday, August 26, 2011


Hannah's tireless cops are on the case again in her newest procedural novel.  Strangely enough, its publication rather coincides with the real life of Casey Anthony.  Never one to shy away from difficult subject matter, Hannah, through her characters, explores the emotional and societal impacts of such an unthinkable crime.

The main action surrounds the making of an investigative journalism documentary about mothers who had been convicted of killing their children - only to be acquitted with later evidence.  Its executive producer and mastermind quits his job at the BBC rather abruptly, leaving heroine Fliss Benson with the reins.  As she begins to sift through the files and interviews, she uncovers questionable statements, missing evidence and doubtful witnesses.  All the while, MPS is on the case, tracking down the murderer of one of these acquitted women.  The two narratives run like the two hypothetical trains at 60 and 70 mph, destined to collide in St. Louis.  Or in this case Notting Hill. 

The original BBC building, Regents Street, London.
Author Sophie Hannah's strength, as always, lies in her dialogue.  It truly informs her entire story.  Her characters all have different voices and thought patterns.  Their vocabulary and speech patterns are unique.  I couldn't tell you what Fliss Benson looks like, or even if Hannah gives a physical description, but I could tell you what she would say, think, or do in any situation.  Each of the police officers varies.  They range from lovesick to crass to solitary.  It is these characters that engross the reader.  The "whodunit" aspect becomes secondary.  It is hardly a surprise then that Hannah's stories has been adapted into a mini-series called "Case Sensitive" on Britain's ITV1.  I can only hope it will run in America as well.

This storyline is nowhere near as graphic as The Truth-Teller's Lie, but the subject matter is quite unsettling.  Its immediacy is part of what makes it so gripping, but readers should be warned that it pulls no punches.  Readers should also know that Hannah does her utmost to explore every possible point-of-view.  She tries to shed light on the grey areas of guilt and innocence, public scrutiny and private grief.  Only the murderer is a villain  (and even that character is somewhat sympathetic).  Everyone else is portrayed as conflicted, confused and struggling -- imperfect.  It reminds the reader that a trial can prove only a sliver of truth, while the rest is unseen.


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

ISBN 9781101543733 | 480 pages | 30 Aug 2011 | Penguin | 18 - AND UP 

Visit Sophie Hannah's site.

Friday, August 19, 2011


I am unhappy to report that the strongest element about this book is the cover art.  It hearkens back to the wonderful Great Western Rail (and other) posters of the 1920s and 30s in England -- the Golden Age of Travel.  The contents, I'm afraid, do not. 

The story is set in 1920, just as England sputters into a recovery after the First World War.  The main protagonist, Laurence Bartram survived his days in France but returns to an empty home.  His wife and son died while he was away.  With little to anchor him, he receives a letter from the sister of an old friend.  She asks him to help discover the cause of her brother's sudden suicide -- or perhaps uncover something more sinister.  

Trafalgar Square, London, 1920.
Unfortunately, the plot drags on for far too long.  It has none of the suspense that can sustain a drawn out storyline.  The reader simply has to plod along with Bartram, looking over his shoulder  while he traces various threads.  It's one gloomy parlor interview after another.  

Bartram himself is not a terribly compelling character.  Sad and sympathetic, but not engaging.  The only brightly drawn character is his friend Charles.  Clearly modeled after one of London's Bright Young People, he actually brings to life a sliver of the times.  And it's not just the fact that Charles' outlook is more positive.  He is the only one with a palpable personality.

The "villain" is silly and the discovery of the villain even more so.  It seems as if Speller wrote herself into a corner and had to create loopholes and surprise characters to make her shifty plot work.  As it is, it makes little sense, and by the end the reader really couldn't care any less.  Even if I wanted to read a melodrama, this was hardly an engrossing example of it.  

But don't just take my word for it.  You can read an excerpt here.  You can also view the trailer here.


A sincere thanks to the folks at HMH Books for the review copy. 

ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547511696 ; $26.00
ISBN-10: 0547511698
Hardcover ; 448 pages
Publication Date: 07/04/2011
Trim Size: 5.50 x 8.25 

It's rare for me to not like a book, but when I do find something that's not to my liking, I normally set it aside.  I did not do that here.  I read it cover to cover in order to give it a fair shake.  

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Poe's New Life

If you don't already, you should follow @Edgar_Allan_Poe on Twitter.  Whomever is behind this icon's, well, icon, is an unknown but they know their Poe.  And they have a wicked sense of humor to boot.  Occasionally, this user will host an #askpoe forum, which is generally quite amusing.

I'm not going to lie -- my heart did a little flip when Poe (shh... don't remind me he's dead) answered one of my queries.

Dead for 162 years and still making the girls swoon.  At least bookish ones like me.


The Epic Tale of an American Adventurer and His Mysterious Disappearance

This is a completely unexpected story of the early days of cycling -- and the dwindling days of worldwide adventure.  The heady days of Stanley and Livingstone, Darwin and the Beagle, and the Royal Geographic Society were past, but an entire generation still itched for a chance to make their mark and see foreign lands.  In the late 1890s, cycling became the rage among the youth of America.  Popular among casual and hardcore athletes alike, it made distances shorter, healthful living easier and invoked a sense of danger.  Adventurers saw an opportunity -- see the world over the handlebars of a cycle.

This book is divided into two sections.  The first focuses on the era, the sport of cycling and the heroes of the new fad sweeping the nation.  It's a well-researched snapshot of the times -- the battle between "ordinary" and "safety" cycles, cycling clubs, competitive magazines and advertisers, and adventurous spirits.

The second section traces the ill-fated Frank Lenz in his attempt to circle the globe on a safety bicycle (excepting the oceans and other impassable sections, of course).  His determination captured the affections of the general public and he became a household name.  When the story became about Lenz's disappearance, it seemed everyone had an opinion.

William Sachtleben and Thomas Allen
At times, the first half seems to move slowly.  The groundwork laid in the initial pages does become important to the second half, but it's hard to know that.  It would have helped to drop a hint of the second half at the outset so the reader is looking for the two tales to merge.

The book compiles dozens of telegrams, letters, memos, transcripts and articles and pieces together the story of Lenz, and his would-be rescuer Sachtleben.  The research is extremely impressive, particularly due to the number of sources, many of them foreign governments that no longer exist.  

The Lost Cyclist is a great read for anyone who has wanderlust, with a touch of Orientalism.  It truly finds a story worth telling from a time gone by.  You may even find yourself feeling nostalgic for time you never lived in.

Many thanks to the folks at HMH Books for the review copy.

ISBN-13/EAN: 9780547521985 ; $14.95
ISBN-10: 0547521987
Trade Paperback ; 368 pages
Publication Date: 05/04/2011
Trim Size: 5.31 x 8.00 

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

REVIEW: THE LANTERN by Deborah Lawrenson

This is yet another recent book that cements my assumption that Provence is enchanting.  Of course, in my fantasy, there is significantly less murder and suspicion than in this book (or Death at Chateau Bremont). Still, I too dream of a run down but livable field stone farmhouse, with an aging orchard and lavender fields, stretching out behind it.  My chief responsibilities would be writing, reading, wandering and gardening.  My ideas don't vary much from the main narrator.  Eve escapes from a barely rewarding career to a storybook villa in the countryside of France.  But a cloud shadows her sunny outlook when her boyfriend begins acting suspiciously.

An abandoned home in Provence /
The book switches between two narrators, whose stories slowly meet in the middle.  Firstly, the main, modern-day narrator deals with her growing doubts about her boyfriend's honesty.  Her efforts to gain any insight from him only drive them apart, so she resorts to her own research -- neighbors, newspapers, gossip -- and learns that he was married before, to a woman named Rachel.  She struggles between calming her racing imagination and her fears that she might be the next woman in his life to disappear. 

The second narrator, as it quickly becomes clear, is a woman who lived in the same cluster of buildings about 60 or so years previously.  Her family ran the farm as best they were able, despite one daughter's blindness, a son's familial betrayal, and a father's sudden death.  This narrative is rife with vivid descriptions of Provence's scents and sights -- particularly as the sisters embark on a lavender and perfume venture.  

The book is certainly engaging and will make you want to keep reading.  At times the switching between narratives is a bit distracting, especially when it is too frequent.  While it bears certain resemblances to the great Rebecca, I do wish the author had not so blatantly referred to it within the story.   She even calls herself out in the naming of Rachel - another of Du Maurier's lesser-known characters.  It would have best been addressed (if at all) in an author's note, explaining her fondness for the Du Maurier's stories. 

All in all, it is a solid novel and an enjoyable read.  Those who enjoy a modern gothic tale will want to check this one out.


Thank you to the kind folks at HarperCollins for the review copy. 

Author Deborah Lawrenson's site

ISBN: 9780062049698
ISBN10: 0062049690
Imprint: Harper 
On Sale: 8/9/2011
Format: Hardcover
Trimsize: 6 x 9
Pages: 400, $25.99, Ages: 18 and Up