Still Life with Book Maven

Twitter Book Club: “Utopia, Texas”

December 11th, 2012

Greetings, all. It’s been a while. If I seem to say that a lot, well, it’s because I’ve been busy in the past year with a book, a startup, an injury, and a career change, which makes my life sound quite incorrectly like a Peter Greenaway film.

But enough about me for right now. Today I’m here to introduce a great giveaway for a great book launch. If you’ve followed #fridayreads for a while on Twitter, you may remember our earlier 2012 Twitter Book Club with the Greenleaf Book Group for Widow’s Might by Sandra Brannan. We had a wonderful time, and the good folks at Greenleaf have asked me to host a new Twitter Book Club in January for Utopia, Texas by Michael Glasscock.

We’ll have the Twitter Book Club on January 14th–but first, I have to get books to all of you eager readers out there! The first 20 people to leave comments on this post will be sent free copies of the book. Here’s the caveat: You must agree to show up at the appointed hour on January 14th (usually 9 p.m. Eastern time, so that we can accommodate folks from as many time zones as possible) and participate in the Twitter Book Club, hashtag #utopiatexas.

If you have any questions, feel free to email me: TheBookMaven at gmail dot com. Many thanks for your interest!

My Year in Books: 2011

December 31st, 2011
There are about 185 books on this list; I need to add a few more. I’ll continue to format/update through tomorrow, but I wanted to at least put the list up today. At the request of several friends and colleagues, I’ll also try to give brief annotations for each book, but if my fingers seize up from typing you’ll know why…

A few caveats:
–These are not in chronological or ranked order; I simply drew on my memory, notes, bookshelves, tweets, blog entries, and more. However, it is accurate to the point that I read each and every book on this list–some with better attention and/or comprehension than others.
–I read a lot of galleys and ARCs. Some of these books won’t be available for sale until early-to-mid 2012. This is also why I often forget that I’ve read something. If you know I’ve read something (we’ve discussed it, etc.) and I’ve left it off of this list, let me know.
–As possible, I’ve used Indiebound links. However, for a few titles this wasn’t possible even after numerous tries and configurations of search terms. In those cases, I’ve reverted to publisher pages.
–I have pretty “catholic-with-a-small-c” reading taste, as I believe is evident from this list. However, there are areas in which I’d love to improve. If you have suggestions for me, please send them! Since I’m gently retiring my moniker of The Book Maven, the best email address to use is bethannekellypatrick at gmail dot com.

An Everlasting Meal by Tamar Adler -- Foodies, locavores, read this book. You’ll learn how to turn every kitchen move into choreography.
The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz – A surprisingly delightful Holmesian romp that will satisfy Irregulars as well as readers of steampunk.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes – Childhood demons return and eke revenge in this elegant examination of how our pasts haunt us.
The Next One to Fall by Hilary Davidson — A thriller set in Peru; great travel deets, as well as believable and readable dialogue between protagonist Lily and her BFF Jack.
The Outermost House by Henry Beston — A classic of naturalism, set on Cape Cod. Although Beston’s tiny two-room Fo’castle was destroyed in 1974, his vista remains.
Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore Belle Epoque hijinks from the author of Fool. This one is all about the color blue; will be released in April 2012.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson — An imperfect but powerful bio of man who was same. I’ve said before that it reads like several books in one: biography, corporate history, and even business how to.
Cleopatra by Stacey Schiff — A perfect and powerful bio of a woman who was the latter. Schiff brings Cleopatra’s world to life, rather than simply detailing her chronology.
The Swerve by Stephen Greenblatt — So good you may forget you learned anything. Subtitle is “How the World Became Modern,” and guess what? It all starts with…a book.
Exley by Brock Clarke — A boy works through family dysfunction via A Fan’s Notes.
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan — Dystopian inversion of The Scarlet Letter.
Other People We Married by Emma Straub — Freshly brewed short stories.
Zone One by Colson Whitehead — Zombies, yes, but the real action is emotional.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern — Steampunkish big-top nostalgia–and evil.
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan — Three generations of women, one summer house.
Room by Emma Donahue — Conceit so clever people overlooked second half’s power.
Dirty Minds by Kayt Sukel — Early 2012 nonfic about the brain and desire.
Believing the Lie by Elizabeth George — Thomas Lynley is back, and so is Sgt. Havers.
The Astral by Kate Christensen — A man takes a Brooklyn walk–that’s all? Yes.  A+
Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson — Lost upstate NY kids in 80s NYC.
The Outlaw Album by Daniel Woodrell — Read Winter’s Bone. then this. SHIVER.
Open City by Teju Cole — So amazing, such a feat, just read it right now, mkay?
The Corn Maiden by Joyce Carol Oates Worth it just for “A Hole in the Head.”
So Much Pretty by Cara Hoffman – You’ll never look at NY dairy farms the same…
The Heroine’s Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore – Grrrrl authorrrr power, and fun.
Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch – Wholly different. Lovely.
420 Characters by Lou Beach – What’s in a Facebook status update? Author Beach knows each one could be an entire story, so he’s written them. Unforgettable, whimsical.
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure – I’ve wearied of stunt memoirs, but McClure’s heartfelt and book wise attempts to recreate experiences Laura Ingalls Wilder had during her life slew me.
A Cupboard Full of Coats by Yvvette Edwards – Edwards was one of my favorite author interviews of 2011, and her Booker Prize-short-listed novel of domestic violence and its legacy will show you why.
Vaclav and Lena by Hilary Tanner – Deceptively adorable at first, this debut novel sweeps you in to Russian-emigre Brooklyn and doesn’t let you out until you’ve finished riding an emotional roller coaster.
Bright’s Passage by Josh Ritter
11/22/63 by Stephen King
1Q84 by Haruki Murakami
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James
Dominance by Will Lavender
Adrenaline by Jeff Abbott
Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer
Enjoy Every Sandwich by Lee Lipsenthal
The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje
Aging as a Spiritual Practice by Lewis Richmond
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
What It Is Like to Go to War by Karl Marlantes
The Tiger’s Wife by Tea Obreht
Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton
Bossypants by Tina Fey
Is Everyone Hanging out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling
We the Animals by Justin Torres
Lost Memory of Skin by Russell Banks
The Lovers’ Dictionary by David Levitan
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larsen
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt
Say Her Name by Francisco Goldman
Stone Arabia by Dana Spiotta
The Stranger’s Child by Alan Hollinghurst
Swamplandia! by Karen Russell
Hitch-22 by Christopher Hitchens
Cocktail Hour under the Tree of Forgetfulness by Alexandra Fuller
The Memory Chalet by Tony Judt
Sing You Home by Jodi Picoult
Rin Tin Tin by Susan Orlean
Love at First Bark by Julie Klam
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright
Making Babies by Anne Engirt
Birds of Paradise by Diana Abu-Jaber
Queen of America by Luis Urrea
The Prague Cemetery by Umberto Eco
The Magician King by Lev Grossman
The Foreigners by Maxine Swann
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
I Am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley
Odd Bits by Jennifer McIagan
The Paris Wife by Paula McLain
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry
A Good Hard Look by Ann Napolitano
The Troubled Man by Henning Mankell
Tigerlily’s Orchids by Ruth Rendell
The Vault by Ruth Rendell
The Keeper of Lost Causes by Jussi Adler-Olsson
2222 by Anne Holt
The Leopard by Jo Nesbo
The Preacher by Camilla Lackberg
The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
Habibi by Craig Thompson
Townie by Andre Dubus III
West of Here by Jonathan Evans
Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
The Tragedy of Arthur by Arthur Phillips
Galore by Michael Crummey
Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks
The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta
As Always, Julia by Joan Reardon
The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen
State of Wonder by Ann Patchett
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
Emily, Alone by Stewart O’Nan
The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
My American Unhappiness by Dean Bakopoulos
A Covert Affair by Jennet Conant
The Return of Captain John Emmett by Elizabeth Speller
Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
The Snowman by Jo Nesbo
Tides of War by Stella Tilyard
A Trick of the Light by Louise Penney
There But for The by Ali Smith
I Married You for Happiness by Lily Tuck
Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie,
Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron
Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber
The Mistress Contract by She
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker
The Last Werewolf by Glenn Duncan
Girls in White Dresses by Jennifer Close
Swim Back to Me by Ann Packer
Minding Frankie by Maeve Binchy
Life by Keith Richards
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
Swing Low by Miriam Toews
Satori by Don Winslow
The Sentimentalists by Joanna Skibsrud
The Maid by Kimberly Cutter
The Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow
Leeches by David Albahari
The Hangman’s Daughter by Oliver Poetsch
Wait for Me by Deborah Devonshire
American Dervish by Ayad Akhtar
You Know When the Men Are Gone by Siobhan Fallon
Lola, California by Edie Meidav
The Visible Man by Chuck Klosterman
Untold Story by Monica Ali
The Inverted Forest by John Dalton
In Caddis Wood by Mary F. Rockcastle
The Good and the Ghastly by James Boice
Children of Fire by Ursula Hegi
The Little Bride by Anna Solomon
Snuff by Terry Pratchett
The Mistress’s Revenge by Tamar Cohen
Daughters in Law by Joanna Trollope
After the Party by Lisa Jewell
How to Live by Sarah Bakewell
Enough about Love by Herve Le Tellier
Lamb by Bonnie Nadzam
The Glitter Scene by Monica Fagerholm
The Coffins of Little Hope by Timothy Schaffert
You Believers by Jane Bradley
Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward
Doc by Mary Doria Russell
Lucky Break by Esther Freud
Please Ignore Vera Dietz by A.S. King
The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Let’s Take the Long Way Home by Gail Caldwell
Among the Mad by Jacqueline Winspear
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
The Illumination by Kevin Brockmeier
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross
The Evolution of Bruno Littlemore by Benjamin Hale
Paris to the Past by Ina Caro
Beijing Welcomes You by Tom Scocca
Clover Adams by Natalie Dykstra
The Taker by Alma Katsu
Make the Bread, Buy the Butter by Jennifer Reese
Canada by Richard Ford
2030 by Albert Brooks
The World We Found by Thrity Umrigar
Heidegger’s Glasses by Thaisa Frank
The Revisionists by Thomas Mullen
Deliriously Happy: And Other Bad Thoughts  by Larry Doyle
Ali in Wonderland by Ali Wentworth
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones – I was sorry not to see this book on more year-end lists, because it’s breakout material in content: about the “secret children” of bigamists, and what happens when families collide.
Game of Secrets by Dawn Tripp – A quiet novel that I believe should have a much wider readership due to its pitch-perfect handling of working-class New Englanders.
The Curfew by Jesse Ball – A spare and scary fable set in a dystopian Euro-scape in which a father’s attempts to protect his daughter cannot surmount Fascist society.
The Year of the Gadlfy by Jennifer Miller
The Crossing Places by Elly Griffiths
The Janus Stone by Elly Griffiths
The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths
A Room Full of Bones by Elly Griffiths
Marriage Confidential by Pamela Haag
The American Heiress by Daisy Goodwin
22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

FridayReads: Full Disclosure from @TheBookMaven

November 21st, 2011
UPDATE: As most of you will have seen by now, I’ve been trying to approve all comments on this post as quickly as I’ve been able to get to them.
I have two comments that were negative that I’m holding because they come from Twitter followers who wrote particularly thoughtful responses, and I’d like to write back to them for some clarification before posting their words.
However, one particularly snarky comment from a person I don’t know said “It’s adorable that your first paragraph is an ad.” I guess that it could be read that way. My intent was to make sure that I got the info people wanted up front.
Thank you all for your comments and feedback. I’m going to get this post up on and out via our Twitter feed today (as another person suggested), and continue to think about how best to move forward with this business–a business that I hope brings joy to some.
It’s been a difficult few days, and I’m not sure how to begin this post, but the main point I want to make is: I do not have “squirrelly ethics,” as one blogger wrote about me. I don’t believe in calling anyone names, or attaching judgmental tags to anyone’s behaviors. That’s why the kerfuffle last week about FridayReads and its monetization  is so disheartening to me. Here is the FridayReads web site, and here is the FridayReads email address: FridayReads1 at gmail dot com. If you’d like more information about our rates or about how we do business with publishers, please drop us a line.

Over the years I’ve worked in publishing, I’ve bounced around a lot. I started out at a print magazine, and later was hired by AOL to launch their Books channel.  Like many others, I was eventually laid off, and I moved on to blogging for Publishers Weekly. I I spent time at and left when the message board I hosted was heading for extinction. WETA-PBS and I tried an internet series, and while it got some great guests, it never got a great audience.

You get the picture. These days–the 21st century–publishing is like Whack-a-Mole. Sometimes you hit, sometimes you miss, and you never really know exactly why or how.

Last Friday, when people who hadn’t been aware that I accept money from publishers to promote books via the #fridayreads hashtag on Twitter (and Facebook, and tumblr) learned that I do, some were disheartened. I understand why. It sometimes seems as if everything good in this world has some sort of business angle attached to it, and nothing is “free.”

Here is why I call #fridayreads “a hashtag and a business.” If you participate in the meme, there is no collecting of your information. Yes, we archive tweets–but your Twitter name can lead everywhere (as mine does) or nowhere (spambots, anyone?). We’re not trying to find you  when you participate in the meme. We’re just growing a community and sharing our love of reading. At times while I’ve worked on this–before and after turning it into a small business–I’ve tweeted too much about it, and when I’ve become aware of that fact, I’ve tried to change the amount of tweeting that I do.

Publishers realize the value of having access to the #fridayreads community, as well as to my large group of Twitter followers. They want to be sure avid readers know about certain titles they are releasing. The original #fridayreads giveaways were done with books from my shelves (not even galleys or ARCs I received, but books I’d bought and paid for myself). After a few months, publishers and authors and agents began approaching me and asking to get their books promoted. My then-business team (read: my agent and my husband) encouraged me to ask for a fee to do so.

The main thought behind asking for a fee was not so that I could become rich or so that I could manipulate unknowing readers. It was because if I didn’t start asking for a fee, I was opening myself to a different kind of blame, the “Why isn’t my book good enough for YOU?” game. At the time I began accepting fees for #fridayreads promotions (in March 2011), the hashtag had already grown to more than 5,000 regular participants.

I spent nearly two years building #fridayreads for free, counting each week’s participants by hand, and loving every second of it.

I was so excited earlier this year when publishers responded positively when my agent (acting as my sales lead) and I approached them with #fridayreads packages. I thought that the regular offer of interesting books sent directly to readers (many of you know that I am not particularly good about getting things into the mail) would be welcomed. This expanded to the other services Fridayreads offers:  Twitter Book Tours (those live chats I host from time to time with authors), Twitter Book Clubs (which are mostly for fiction), and last week, the first (hopefully not the only) FridayReads Live event, in which a book titled Enjoy Every Sandwich: How to Live Each Day as if It Were Your Last was discussed around a table at Housing Works Bookstore as well as online at the #everysandwich hashtag.

When the money started coming in, I realized I needed to disclose this somewhere, and began working on a web site that would have a fully loaded FAQ (many thanks, Intern Leslie!) so that anyone–tweeters, bloggers, publishers, authors–could understand how my small business operated.

What I did not choose to do was to label each and every promotional post as an “ad,” because those posts are not written by the publishers. Were they “advertorial?” Technically, yes. Should I have labeled them as “promo?” Perhaps (I’m still turning this around in my head). Did I mean to deceive anyone into believing that #fridayreads was just a big happy group of readers? Of course not.

Here’s the thing: I have some decisions to make about how #fridayreads is perceived, labeled, and promoted–and I welcome your input,. The #fridayreads book-loving community will decide whether and how to participate. I may have made some mistakes–but there’s no mistaking the real passion about reading that we share.

UPDATED: A FridayReads LIVE Twitter Book Tour Event: “Enjoy Every Sandwich” by Lee Lipsenthal, MD

November 16th, 2011

On Thursday, November 17th at 7:30 p.m. ET, Rebecca Joines Schinsky and I will be hosting the first-ever FridayReads Live event. We will be discussing a new title from Crown Publishing: Enjoy Every Sandwich: Living Each Day As If It Were Your Lastby Lee Lipsenthal, MD.  It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the book, or not–come join us!

If you’re able to join us in person, come to Housing Works Bookstore at 126 Crosby Street (just south of Houston) between 7pm and 9pm, where Rebecca and I will be on our computers to host a Twitter Book Tour chat. Thanks to the good folks at Crown Publishing, we will have wine, beer, and sandwiches available. Meet me, Rebecca Schinsky, Iris Blasi, Erin Cox, and others as we chat, quaff, nibble…and tweet.

If you’re able to join us online, please connect with us online via Twitter by using the hashtag #EverySandwich. The easiest way to do this is to go to and log in using your Twitter name. Then enter the hashtag in the empty field at the top of the page and start reading and/or tweeting. (Tweetchat automatically adds the hashtag for you, so there’s no need to worry about watching the length of your tweets. If you “go over,” it will tell you “Too Long.”) If you don’t have a Twitter account, you should be able to track the #EverySandwich via Twitter’s search function here:!/search/%23everysandwich

Before the chat, we encourage you to view the trailer for the book We’ll be publishing a new blog post tomorrow with some suggested questions about the book/things to consider/bits of inspiration, so please watch for that, too.

If you have any questions at all, please email me: TheBookMaven at gmail dot com.

FridayReads EXTRA Giveaways

September 23rd, 2011

Desperate times call for desperate measures, they say.

I really want FridayReads to hit 8K this week.

IF WE HIT 8K–and only if we do–I will give away three extra prizes.

Here they are:

1. A set of three slipcased, signed Indiespensables titles: Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, State of Wonder by Ann Patchett, and The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern.

2. One $150 gift certificate to One More Page bookstore, my local indie. Don’t worry, they’ll be happy to take your online or phone order, wherever you live. They will special order anything you like.

3. A mega-set of Boots the Chemist bath goodies from Target, all full-size products, including three bath milks, three body butters, three body washes, and three hand lotions, plus an assortment of sponges, scrubbers, and other treats.

Interested in winning one of these prizes? Share YOUR FridayReads on Twitter or Facebook or tumblr–and tell a friend or three! Everyone who shares is eligible. For more information about FridayReads, check out our web site.

Thanks for your time and help, readers!

Club Read 2011 Book Blogger Challenge

September 14th, 2011

Club Read 2011 is brought to you by the fine folks at SIBA/NAIBA and Book Club Girl, and it’s a 24-hour readers’ wonderland being held on October 15-16 in Huddleston, Virginia at The Mariner’s Landing Resort and Conference Center. A dozen authors (Adriana Trigiani! Gretchen Rubin! Greg Olear! MORE!) will join a few more dozen readers of all sorts to talk about books, reading, and other passionate pursuits (think cooking, crafts, games, and fitness, to mention a few).

NOTA BENE: FridayReads is a proud sponsor of Club Read 2011–which is why I am providing this blog entry for all.


ONE free ticket (a $499 value that covers ALL meals and lodging and events on the program! The only things you have to pay for are your travel expenses, and any shopping crimes you commit) will be awarded to the blogger who accumulates the most over 5,000 points by 9.30.11.

Time period of this challenge is September 15-September 30, 2011

  • One tweet about #ClubRead = 50 points
  • One Facebook post about #ClubRead = 200 points (cannot be same as a tweet; has to have more substance)
  • One blog post about Club Read (WITH TAG) = 500 points
  • One verified recommendation that results in ticket sale = 2,000 points

For more about Club Read, click here.

For more about the Club Read schedule, click here.

For a list of authors attending, click here.

Drop a link to your blog post in the linky below!

What I Did on My Summer Vacation (Hint: Books Were Involved)

September 6th, 2011

Yes, summer technically ends on September 21st, but we all know it really is officially over when the sun sets on Labor Day each year. Instead of “Wilkommen, Bienvenue, Welcome,” it’s all “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, did you remember to pack the towels from the outdoor shower?”

OK, well at least that’s what I heard from Mr. Bethanne yesterday as we untangled dog leads from tote bags and vacuumed sand out of the car after a week on Cape Cod.

All good things, like summer and vacations, must come to an end. For the past few months I’ve been busy helping Shelf Awareness—our wonderful industry information source—to launch a version of its bookseller email newsletter for readers. It’s been a lot of fun, and in particular, I’ve loved getting the chance to work alongside my colleagues Robin Lenz and John Mutter.

I’m moving on, now, although not so very far. I’ll still be contributing the feature I developed, “Further Reading,” to each issue, and I’ll also continue to write author interviews and book reviews in Shelf Awareness for Readers. If you have any questions about this new publication, you can direct them to editor in chief John Mutter:

My own dance card is happily filling up with new projects. Next week I’ll be at the 2011 Southern Independent Booksellers Association (SIBA) Conference, talking with some of the country’s best booksellers about social media with my partner in business and crime, Rebecca Joines Schinsky of The Book Lady’s Blog. We’ll also be talking up October’s Club Read retreat (can’t wait to be there with Book Club Girl Jennifer Hart!).

Of course, one of the things we’ll also discuss at both places is FridayReads, a burgeoning community of passionate readers that is also a business supported by the publishing industry (for more information on that business and on how you can take part, contact business development director Erin Cox). If you’re reading this and don’t know anything about FridayReads, check out the Twitter hashtag #fridayreads, the Facebook page (#1 on Technorati’s Best Facebook Pages for Readers!), or the FridayReads web site.

Should you be interested in talking with me for an interview about social media (here’s an example) or books (here’s an example), or to discuss a project with me, you can reach me here:

Further Reading – THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler

July 13th, 2011

International crime fiction has been all the rage recently with the now famous Millennium Trilogy, featuring the titles The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Girl Who Played with Fire, and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, but Stieg Larsson isn’t the only crime author that will make it big internationally. The newest sensation is The Hypnotist by an author named Lars Kepler, sort of. You see, Lars Kepler is actually the pen name of two writers, husband and wife Alexander and Alexandra Coelho Ahndoril, who had already made names for themselves as writers in Sweden and wanted a new identity for their crime fiction. They developed the pseudonym as a tribute to Steig Larsson and a scientist named Johannes Kepler. The crime fiction that’s coming out of Sweden right now is excellent. It’s such an interesting trend in current literature, but what about crime fiction from other countries? In this Further Reading, I’ll highlight some recently published translated crime fiction from around the world.

Blood on the Saddle by Rafael Reig – Reig, a well-known author in Spain, has finally had one of this crime novels translated into English. Blood on the Saddle is about Carlos Clot, a private eye who is hired to investigate three separate incidents. He must find a runaway, a cheating husband, and a character who has gone missing from a novel. And that’s when things start to get a little strange. The reader realizes that Blood in the Saddle is set in a Madrid that is not quite like the current Madrid. This is the kind of novel that boldly combines all genres and ends up with something truly unique.

The Eye of Jade: A Mei Wang Mystery by Diane Wei Liang - This mystery, set in the 1990s, is the first in a planned series by Chinese ex-pat Diane Wei Liang. Being a private eye is an illegal practice in China, so when Mei Wang sets up her detective agency, it’s safe to say her family isn’t pleased. A family friend, Uncle Chen, offers her first chance at a job: finding a missing jade that disappeared during the Cultural Revolution. This novel exposes China to Western readers who might be unfamiliar with what it is like to live in modern China, but at the same time is, at its heart, a really great crime novel.

Double Blank by Yasmina Khadra - Double Blank is the second series in Yasmina Khadra’s Inspector Llob series, a collection of crime novels set in Algeria. Once again we have an author who used a pseudonym, but this time a male soldier who chose to write as a woman to avoid strict military censorship that he surely would have faced for his brutally honest portrayal of life in Algeria. When the primary suspects of the murders in Double Blank, a group of fundamentalist Muslim men, start becoming the victims, this crime becomes something very different from what Inspector Llob originally thought.

Further Reading – Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan

July 6th, 2011

Maine, J. Courtney Sullivan’s followup novel after her bestseller Commencement, is an amazing family drama, set on the beach in Maine, that examines the lives of three generations of Kelleher women. There is the cold matriarch Alice, her daughter Kathleen, her daughter-in-law Anne Marie, and Kathleen’s daughter Maggie. What Maine does so brilliantly is the changes from one generation to the next and the ways in which each woman views the others. The preconceptions we build up as readers are slowly deconstructed with each new perspective. Alice was a woman who did not have many choices in life, especially in terms of childbearing or career. She wanted to be an artist, to live in Paris, to do all the things she dreamed about doing, but life got in the way. Kathleen is a recovering alcoholic who has finally followed her dream, across the country to California, where she owns a farm with her boyfriend. Her daughter Maggie relentlessly tries to please everyone, eventually realizing that she has to make herself happy. Anne Marie, perceived as perfect in every way, has to come to terms with this family that she has tried so hard to fit into but that she has never really connected with, despite her relationship with Alice.

Maine perfectly examines what it is like to be a part of a large Irish-Catholic family and this identity is central to this story, along with the novel’s setting on the Maine coast. For this Further Reading, I wanted to highlight other family sagas that have, at their core, a cultural identity and strong sense of place. What connects all of these stories is the fact that, despite their distinct cultural differences, anyone can connect to the characters.

A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth - In post-colonial India in 1950, four families represent a microcosm of Indian society, especially Lata Mehra as she decides between pleasing her family and marrying the Muslim man she loves.

Lyrics Alley by Leila Aboulela - Set in northern Sudan right before independence, Lyrics Alley is the story of the Abuzeid family. Like Lata, Nur is conflicted about maintaining his culture and embracing Western ideals. Lyrics Alley is a story that focuses entirely on one family, stuck in the middle of a changing world, but their story is a universal one of faith, love, and culture.

The Complete Essex County by Jeff LemireEssex County is a family saga that is set in a fictional Canadian county. Like the other novels in this Further Reading, the setting is integral to the story, especially since this is a graphic novel that relies on a strong sense of place and space to tell the history of one Canadian family. The story begins with the youngest member of this family, Lester, who lives with his uncle after his mother’s death. From there, the story slowly unfolds backwards and forwards in time as the true story of this family is revealed.

Further Reading – Untold Story by Monica Ali

June 30th, 2011

There are certain events that live on in all of us. Everyone remembers exactly where they were when the world changed. It’s natural to want to look back and think, “What if….” What if it had been different? What if it had never happened at all? Monica Ali does that in her new novel Untold Story with the death of Princess Diana. July 1, 2011 marks what would be the 50th birthday of Princess Di, and in Untold Story, she lives to see it. What kind of woman would she be?

There are plenty of world events that cause us to sit back and think about how drastically they changed our world. In all of these novels, something about our world or our history is different. All three authors answer that important question: “What if?”

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K. DickThis is one of the more famous examples of an alternative history, since The Man in the High Castle won the Hugo Award in 1963. In 1933, a man assassinates Franklin D. Roosevelt, which means the United States is never brought out of the depression and, because of isolationist policy by the president who replaces him, the US never enters WWII. Without the help of the American army, the Allies are defeated by the Axis powers. Pearl Harbor results in the destruction of the Navy and results in Japan taking over the West Coast, creating the Pacific States of America. Though the differences between our world and this alternative reality are clear from the beginning, the history is revealed slowly. Though I gave you the basics here, this is a richly detailed story that examines how drastically different our culture would be if the Axis had won.

The Daughter of Time by Josephine TeyWhat if Richard III is not the evil man that history has made him out to be? When Inspector Alan Grant sees a painting of the monarch, he simply cannot believe that a man with such a kind face could be so evil. So Grant decides to solve the mystery of who Richard III really was and who really killed his nephews, if not Richard III himself.

The Black Tower by Louis BayardThis book takes several real people from the years following the French Revolution and posits that Louis XVII of France, son of King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette, didn’t die as is claimed in 1795, but escaped his prison. With Eugène François Vidocq, the infamous criminal-turned-first private detective, as the narrator, this historical fiction tale is full of mystery and intrigue.