Archive for the ‘Further Reading’ Category

Further Reading – THE HYPNOTIST by Lars Kepler

Wednesday, 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

Wednesday, 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

Thursday, 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.

Further Reading – Centuries of June

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Centuries of June, the newest novel by author Keith Donohue, is about a man named Jack who has just woken up on his bathroom floor and he’s trying to figure out exactly what happened and how he ended up there. To help him figure it out, 8 women from throughout history visit him and add their own explanation to the story, in which Jack usually represents some other disappointing man in history. Finally, the eighth visitor is his wife. Centuries of June is a funny novel that tells the story of one man through history, reiterating the old idea that history just keeps on repeating itself.

But Centuries of June isn’t the only novel that uses this technique. For this Further Reading, I’ll look at three books that use history and alternative history to tell a modern story.

Man in the Dark by Paul Auster – In this slim novel, Paul Auster uses an alternative dream world, where the United States is involved in another Civil War, to symbolize the internal struggle of main character and car accident victim August Brill. In August’s alternative US, the the World Trade Center still stands and the 2000 election results in a secession that leads to the second Civil War.

Flight by Sherman AlexieI know I’ve already talked about Flight in Further Reading, but this was too good of a connection to pass up. Previously I talked about how Sherman Alexie uses his controversial narrator Zits to explore inequalities in the world, but this time I’d like to focus on the alternative realities. Much like the protagonist of Centuries of June, Zits finds himself transported back in time to inhabit the lives of terrible men throughout history.

The Company Novels by Kage Baker - These are some of the post popular science fiction novels, especially for cross-over readers, because they incorporate rich historical and literary details. The main character of this series is Mendoza, a botanist cyborg that was born during the Spanish Inquisition. Essentially, in the future, the Company has developed a way to make humans immortal, but it results in the humans being more or less machines. Though most people in the future do not want to become immortal, they travel throughout history to find people in need (like Mendoza, who is about to be executed in Spain), people who would be willing to devote their life to service in the Company. Those cyborgs have to find and preserve valuable artifacts from the past. In Mendoza’s case, she finds plants that will eventually go extinct and preserves them for the Company. They’re richly detailed, complex and satisfying novels.

Further Reading – Vaclav & Lena by Haley Tanner

Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

The immigrant story: a ubiquitous part of world literature. Vaclav & Lena, the newest addition to this theme from Haley Tanner, is a delightful spin on the coming-of-age tale. Vaclav and Lena are both Russian immigrants living in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Though Vaclav speaks English well, he meets Lena in an ESL class when they are 10 and 9 years old. Vaclav’s mother, Rasia, gives quiet, shy Lena a home away from home until she mysteriously disappears from their lives. Every night Vaclav says good night to Lena, but he does not learn the truth of her disappearance until Lena’s 17th birthday.

It’s part mystery, part story of immigration, part tale of love and friendship, but a completely wonderful addition to the canon of immigration literature. All of the novels in this Further Reading offer their own unique take.

Little Bee by Chris CleaveLittle Bee has such a memorable book jacket description that it would be a shame to write a different one: “We don’t want to tell you much about this book. It is a truly special story and we don’t want to spoil it. Nevertheless, you need to know something, so we will just say this: it is extremely funny, but the African beach scene is horrific. The story starts there, but the book doesn’t. And it’s what happens afterward that is most important. Once you read it, you’ll want to tell everyone about it. When you do, please don’t tell them what happens either. The magic is in how it unfolds.” So don’t let me spoil it for you, just know that it fits very well into this Further Reading theme.

Leche by R. Zamora LinmarkThis is a reverse-immigration story. The main character Vince returns to the Phillipines after living in the US for 13 years and is re-introduced to his birthplace by a quirky cast of characters. The story is humorous and satirical, but still has heart and depth.

Some Dream for Fools by Faïza GuèneFaïza Guène has been hailed as one of the best new voices in French literature. She writes about Algerian immigrants in France and as a French-born woman of Algerian descent, Guène has an impressive insight to the culture of immigration. Though the translation of Some Dream for Fools is not always fluid and seems to be overly literal, Ahlème’s perspective wry perspective is worth the read.

Further Reading – Caleb’s Crossing

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

Geraldine Brooks’s most recent novel, Caleb’s Crossing does what Brooks does best: takes a very specific time period and cast of characters and breathes life into them. In this novel, the narrator is young Bethia in the mid-1600′s Martha’s Vineyard who befriends the local Native American chieftain’s son Caleb. As Bethia’s Puritan world clashes with the Wampanoag way of life, Bethia’s father begins tutoring Caleb. When he eventually goes to Cambridge, Bethia follows as an indentured servant and watches as Caleb achieves something that she can only dream of: a college education.

Caleb’s Crossing is about many things, from the culture clash of seventeenth century Martha’s Vineyard, to Bethia’s desire to be as educated as any man, to Caleb’s journey to be the first Native American to graduate from Harvard. There is no doubt that Geraldine Brooks is an excellent storyteller, capable of filling any historical shoes, but for this Further Reading, I wanted to focus on books that are written by contemporary Native Americans about Native American life.

Though the Native American “culture” is often talked about, the reality is that Native American covers a multitude of cultures and communities throughout North and South America. This post features two novels by well-known Native American authors and hopefully one collection that will introduce you to a wide range of different Native American storytellers from different parts of the US.

Ceremony and The Turquoise Ledge: A Memoir by Leslie Marmon Silko – Ceremony is perhaps Leslie Marmon Silko’s most well-known and most critically acclaimed novel and for good reason. The story is about Tayo, a Vietnam veteran of mixed Native American ancestry who numbs the pain associated with his service with alcohol. Though I originally wanted to include only fiction for this Further Reading, I decided that I couldn’t pass up a mention of The Turquoise Ledge, Silko’s most recently published book, which is a memoir detailing the influence traditional Native American storytelling has had on her writing and life. It’s very much worth the read and written in a style reminiscent of Silko’s fiction.

Flight by Sherman Alexie – Sherman Alexie is probably one of the other most well-known Native American authors in the US, but Flight is probably his least-known and least-liked book. Despite the fact that it was poorly received, Flight remains one of my favorite Alexie novels, though it probably could have been a little bit longer. Flight is about a young boy named Zits, who in a fit of frustration decides to blow up a bank. When he detonates the bomb, however, he does not die; instead he inhabits the body of famous men throughout history. Zits is not necessarily a likable character, but you feel for him and everything he has gone through, and his insights are well worth it.

Trickster – Edited by Matt Dembicki – In Trickster, Native American writers and storytellers are partnered with comic artists to create a collection of short comics based on traditional folklore. What is wonderful about this collection is that the writers of the stories are from all different Native American communities and cultures, showing different perspectives on a common theme throughout Native American folklore: the trickster.

Further Reading: The Free World by David Bezmozgis

Thursday, March 31st, 2011

The Free World by David Bezmozgis is an impressive, sweeping first novel about three generations of Russian Jews and all the different places that life takes them. The Krasnasky family must stay in Italy for a time with other Jewish Russian refugees to receive their visas to move to Canada, the US or Australia. Samuil, Polina and their two sons Alec and Karl and their story are moving and complex.

For today’s Further Reading we want to feature other books that have a similar sweeping family saga.

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich - Louise Erdrich has become famous for her Native American family sagas, but her 2009 Pulitzer Prize nominated novel The Plague of Doves is just a stunning example of how wonderful Erdrich’s eye is for the interactions of families. This drama doubles as a mystery, but solving the mystery is not at the core of this story, instead is the way family, race and culture all intertwine to impact our lives.

Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides – Like The Free World, Middlesex is a story of immigration and exile, but extends that theme to include the feeling of being a foreigner in your own body. Calliope, later known as Cal, has always felt like there was something different and wrong about his body. Middlesex is Cal telling his story, of his personal transformation from woman to man, but also of his family’s transition from Greek to American.

Brick Lane by Monica Ali – Brick Lane examines the cultural transition from small, Bangladeshi village to fast-moving London through the eyes of Nazneen, a young woman who has just married a man twenty years her senior.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese - Cutting for Stone is another family epic that crosses time and country. Marion and Shiva Stone are twin brothers who grow up in Ethiopia among rumors of revolution.

Further Reading – Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Recently released, Started Early, Took My Dog comes from acclaimed author Kate Atkinson, who wrote When Will There Be Good News. This novel follows the star of many her other novels, detective Jackson Brodie, but also follows the story of Tracy Waterhouse, who suddenly becomes the mother to a young girl after a surprising event.

Kate Atkinson is known for her mysteries with a strong sense of place. Atkinson herself is from Edinburgh and all of her novels take place in the UK. This week for Further Reading, you can find other mysteries that have a similar strong relationship with their UK setting.

Faithful Place by Tana FrenchFaithful Place, the highly anticipated new “Dublin murder squad” novel by Tana French was released last summer. French’s novels often follow different characters for each novel, which makes them seem like stand-alone stories, but the characters are often interconnected. They take place across the UK, but generally with a focus on Dublin and Irish citizens.

Slip of the Knife by Denise Mina – Paddy Meehan, the heroine of Slip of the Knife is woken up by the police one night to tell her that her exboyfriend has been murdered one of her s. My favorite quote about Denise Mina: “if you don’t read crime novels, Mina is your reason to change” (Rocky Mountain News, quoted at

The Complaints by Ian RankinWe’re cheating a little by recommending The Complaints by Ian Rankin as further reading because it isn’t out yet, but Ian Rankin is one of the best mystery writers in the UK today and we couldn’t pass up recommending him and his newest novel. “The complaints” are essentially officers who investigate other cops; needless to say, they aren’t very popular. When Malcolm Fox, an officer who investigates dirty cops, is assigned a particularly difficult case, he will go deeper into the corruption of the police force than ever before.

Further Reading – A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness was released last month to an exciting amount of praise. The novel follows a young Oxford scholar named Diana Bishop who, while she is doing research, finds an alchemy manuscript. Diana happens to come from a long line of witches, but she’s not necessarily willing to go down the same path, so she returns the manuscript to the stacks without another thought. Except it’s never that simple, is it? Something about the manuscript is attracting the very underworld that Diana wants to avoid.

Harkness, a history professor at the University of Southern California, brings all of her knowledge and understanding to the table, creating a one of a kind book that combines our modern world and the occult.

So you’ve just finished A Discovery of Witches or your itching to get your hands on a copy, but want something to read right now? Check out these other titles that remind us of all that is amazing about A Discovery of Witches.

The Heretic’s Daughter and The Wolves of Andover by Kathleen Kent – While Harkness’s book is focused on the occult and the magical, Kathleen Kent’s novels are focused on the history of “witches” in the US. Kent herself is a descendant of Martha Carrier, one of the first women executed for being a witch in Salem, Massachusetts. The Heretic’s Daughter tells the story of the events that took place in Salem through the eyes of Martha’s daughter. The Wolves of Andover is another historical tale that follows another generation of Carrier men and women.

The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston – The Witch’s Daughter combines the best of both The Heretic’s Daughter and A Discovery of Witches. The novel takes place both in 17th century and modern England. In 1628, the witchfinder of Wessex manages to hang a real witch. In modern England, Elizabeth begins teaching a teenager what it means to be a Hedge Witch. Interested in finding out what that is? You’ll have to read the book!

The Diviner’s Tale by Bradford Morrow – Part murder mystery, part exploration of divination, The Diviner’s Tale is sure to keep you on your toes. Cassandra Brooks is walking through the woods one day when she discovers a woman hanging by a tree. She returns to town and tells the police, but when they go back to search for the girl, she is no where to be found. The next day, a young girl who has been missing turns up in the exact location, alive. She also happens to look just like the girl Cassandra saw.

Further Reading – Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

When putting together the Further Reading, it was difficult to decide where to put Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt. While one of the main characters in this book is a talking dog, the most important part of this book is not the dog himself, but what he represents:  depression. Affecting the lives of both Winston Churchill and librarian Esther Hammerhaus, depression and suicide take the form of a black dog, just as Churchill described figuratively in his writing.

This collection of  memoirs and essays look at the beast that is depression and how it affects those who suffer from the illness and those who are close to its victims.

Darkness Visible by William Styron, author of Sophie’s Choice, is a pioneer in memoirs and non-fiction about depression by so clearly and painfully describing the details of depression.

Half in Love by Linda Gray Sexton  is a memoir in the tradition of Darkness Visible, but with the additional element of Sexton’s role as mother and as a daughter to poet Anne Sexton, who succeeded in committing suicide after many attempts. The legacy of suicide, the fact that you are much more likely to suffer from depression and suicidal thoughts, is very real and Linda writes beautifully and honestly about what it is like to be under the spell of depression.

Unholy Ghosts, edited by Nell Casey, is a collection of essays by authors about depression that offers perspectives similar to that of Sexton’s and Styron’s, but also from family members of those who are depressed, including Styron’s wife.