When we visited the Book Expo America conference last week, one thing we heard over and over is that publishers think that “Scotland is the new Sweden.” Anyone who’s been paying attention to trends in mystery novel publishing probably knows what that means, but in case you don’t, mysteries set in Sweden have been hot properties ever since the break-out success of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That trend may finally be waning slightly, and publishers have turned their eyes toward another cold, bleak country as the setting for mystery stories…Scotland! If you’d like to get ahead of the trend, here are some authors who’ve been publishing mysteries set in Scotland already.
Bolton, S. J. Sacrifice.
Jardine, Quintin. Skinner’s Rules.
MacBride, Stuart. Cold Granite.
McClean, Russel. The Good Son.
McDermid, Val. The Distant Echo.
Mina, Denise. Garnethill.
Rankin, Ian. Knots and Crosses.
When Gabriella Mondini recieves a letter from her physician father saying that he has decided not to come home from his travels, Gabriella, a rare female doctor in 16th century Venice, decides to venture across Europe to retrieve him. Not only does Gabriella rely on him to support her professional membership in the physicians' guild, but she suspects that something must be terribly wrong for her father to abandon her family in such a way. Accompanied by her servants, Olmina and Lorenzo, she follows the geographic clues of her father's correspondance from the past ten years from village to village.
The journey places Gabrielle in dangerous situations and the fact that she is a woman and a doctor only complicates things further. She also discovers more and more about her father, strange information that might explain why he has vansihed. This lyrical debut novel from O'Melveny presents a unique female character historical fiction and mystery fans are sure to appreciate.
De Robertis’s second novel (after The Invisible Mountain, 2009) tackles head-on the lingering traumas left behind by Argentina’s state-sponsored regime of terror during the 1970s and ‘80s. In the opening pages, 22-year-old college student Perla, left home alone by vacationing parents, finds a naked man in her living room. He is dripping wet, smelling of rotting fish and seawater, and she can find no possible way he could have entered the home. Oddly, she is unafraid, though she knows perhaps she should be. As the rest of the novel unfolds, Perla and the naked man both reflect on their lives up to this point. Perla’s father, a man she loves with all the loyalty an only daughter can muster, is also a Naval officer and thus, one of the men responsible for the kidnappings and torture Argentina’s government perpetrated against its own citizens. She knows she should hate him, but cannot quite bring herself to do so. Her lover, an investigative journalist, has recently broached to her the idea that she herself was stolen as an infant from one of los desaparecidos—the disappeared. Rejecting the idea, she fled his arms and retreated home—only to be confronted by the naked wet man. That man, meanwhile, is finding his own memories returned to him slowly. In life, he was himself one of los desaparecidos, taken from his pregnant young wife and tortured mercilessly before being thrown from a plane into the ocean along with countless others. Why he has returned from the waters now, and why he has arrived in this home with this young woman, is something they must discover together.
With Perla, De Robertis has fully embraced the tradition of magical realism so representative of Central and South American literature. Lyrical even when describing the most horrific of torments endured by los desaparecidos, De Robertis’s novel is powerful and affecting in its clear-eyed examination of the lasting impacts of the dictatorship upon both the victims and also the perpetrators of its many horrors.
Jenny Lawson, best known for her side-splittingly funny, irreverent blog at thebloggess.com, delivers more of the same here, in her (mostly true) memoir. Jenny grew up poor in rural Texas, the daughter of a taxidermist father whose idea of a good joke was making puppets out of roadkill. An outsider who later struggled with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and now rheumatoid arthritis, she recounts the trials and tribulations of her life in a no-holds-barred, double-barreled, profanity-laden manner.
Readers of her popular blog will already be familiar with the way in which, in Jenny’s hands, the simplest of stories become extended digressions into the labyrinthine twistings of her often bizarre thinking process . Anyone looking for a straight-forward memoir should look elsewhere, but those who share Jenny’s twisted sense of humor and irreverent outlook on life will find themselves belly laughing out loud and garnering strange looks from those around them.
If you're looking for a 2012 well-written literary read that is a) not depressing b) easy to read and c) thoroughly enjoyable, look no further. If you have never picked up a book by Penelope Lively before, this is a good place to start. And if you have--well, you won't be disappointed. This book is about how people's lives influence one another...the changes that occur after a woman is mugged of her purse and injured. Imagine a rippling effect, if you will. It's a good book for anyone who thinks that his or her actions don't matter--because this book proves that they do! Actually, it's a great book for everyone. Penelope Lively is a spectacular British writer who has many years of writing under her belt, and she just keeps getting better.
Let me start by saying that I am a big fan of medical essays, so I pretty much knew that I would enjoy this book before I started reading it. But I had not read Groopman before (other than a few of his essays in The New Yorker) so my mind was open to dislike it. Well, all the great reviews couldn’t be wrong! And they weren’t. It is a very good book. What is particularly interesting about this collection is Groopman’s focus on the relationship between doctor and patient and how a doctor’s perceptions can influence the quality of care a patient receives. For example, in one essay, Groopman writes about an athletic and attractive man who goes to the ER because he has pain and shortness of breath, but he is turned away without receiving the treatment he needs because the doctor treating him views him in such a positive light and is unable to see past the patient's robust facade. If you enjoy reading books by Oliver Sacks or Atul Gawande, you will want to read this book as well. Groopman writes in a similarly engaging style and, like the others, addresses fascinating medical issues. Additionally, this book will give you ideas on how to become a better patient and communicate in ways that help doctors move past their preconceived notions that they may have about you and your health.
P.D. James takes on life after Pride and Prejudice in her newest book, delighting mystery and Jane Austen fans alike. On the eve of Pemberley’s annual Lady Anne’s Ball, six years after their marriage, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy’s household is brutally disrupted by a hysterical uninvited guest, Lizzie’s sister, Lydia. She claims that her husband, Lt. George Wickham has been murdered by his friend Capt. Martin Denny in the woods. But upon investigation, it seems that the opposite is true and the inhabitants of Pemberley must cancel the ball and mount a murder investigation in its stead.
Infused with Lizzie’s signature wit, the plot explores the secrets, pasts and hidden agendas of the characters. And It’s no surprise that Mr. and Mrs. Darcy are fantastic sleuths. James does a wonderful job capturing Austen’s style while also adding a little life to the familiar; a winning take on the classic.
Vincent Van Gogh’s unusual suicide—he shot himself in the chest shortly after finishing a painting, then walked a mile to a doctor’s house—provides the catalyst for revelations about the origins of the painter’s madness in this humorous and layered novel. Lucien Lessard, baker in the Montmartre neighborhood of Paris, has grown up around some of the greatest painters of the age, including Monet, Pissarro, Renoir, and Manet. An aspiring painter himself, Lucien finds that his painting takes fire when his true love, the mysterious and beautiful Juliette, brings him a special tube of ultramarine blue paint from a strange paint dealer known only as the Colorman. As it turns out, Van Gogh also bought his blue from the Colorman, as did most, if not all, of the other famous painters in Paris at the time. And all of those painters also conducted mad, passionate, and ultimately doomed relationships with beautiful women at the same time. Lucien, beginning to piece this together, joins forces with his friend “the little gentleman,” the painter Toulouse-Lautrec—who, as it turns out, has also bought blue paint from the Colorman and also lost his true love, Carmen. They must discover the secret of the Colorman and the secret of the sacred blue before they, too, end up dead.
Humorous as Moore’s books always are, Sacre Bleu, like Lamb and Fool, also contains a wealth of rich historical detail, clearly the product of meticulous reseach and a deep interest in the material. The painters are all portrayed as vividly as their paintings, and fin de siecle Paris is evoked realistically and colorfully.
Kunzru’s assured novel wanders back and forth in time, following several groups of the lost as they seek something more or better for themselves. Where their stories all collide eventually is the Pinnacles, three fingers of stone projecting up out of the Mojave Desert. Among the wide cast of characters are Fray Garces, a half-insane Jesuit missionary intent on conveting the natives; Deighton, a scarred and arrogant ethnologist attempting to study the culture of the native tribes before it is lost entirely; dissolute British rock star Nicky Capaldi; the members of a hippie commune, including their “Guide,” Judy; and several others. But the core of the novel is formed by the experiences of Jaz, an assimilated American Sikh; his white American wife Lisa; and their four-year-old son Raj, who has autism. When Raj vanishes in the desert, near the Pinnacles, Jaz and Lisa become the center of a media storm. Kunzru’s portait of their marriage is nuanced and insightful; his descriptions of Jaz and his family’s life as immigrants always slightly out of step with American culture even more so.
Complex, layered, lively, and intelligent, Kunzru has crafted an astute and piercing portrait of humanity’s continual quest for meaning—whether through religion, science, drugs, computer programming, or extraterrestrial life—amid the chaos of every day life.
Childless middle-aged couple Jack and Mabel take advantage of the cheap land deals to buy a homestead in Alaska in the 1920s. Dreaming of a new start, a life of meaningful labor and simple pleasure, the couple instead find a punishing and brutal land with interminable winters and bug-ridden summers. Mabel contemplates suicide as Jack nearly kills himself to get the planting done. In a fit of playfulness one cold winter evening, however, Jack and Mabel build themselves a girl from the year’s first snow and decorate her with a scarf and mittens. In the morning, the scarf and mittens are gone and the couple begin to spot a real young girl in the woods around their cabin—a girl none of their neighbors have seen, or know about. And she is wearing the scarf and mittens. Mabel convinces herself that their love and longing brought the snow-girl to life as happened in a Russian fairy tale she read as a child, but Jack suspects the reality to be darker than Mabel’s magical tale. As the years pass, the girl, Faina, becomes as a daughter to the couple—but as Mabel knows, the fairy tale of the snow child never has a happily-ever-after ending.
Told in spare but poetic language, the novel dances artfully around the question of Faina’s origins—magical, or not? But the real stand-out in the novel is Ivey’s description of Alaska, a landscape both punishing and spectacular—and humanity’s relationship with a place so wild. Recommended for fans of historical fiction and minor magical realism.