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"