Jun 30, 2009

Teaser Tuesdays: Drawing in the Dust by Zoe Klein

TEASER TUESDAYS is a weekly meme hosted by Should Be Reading. Choose two sentences at random from your current read, and add the author and title for readers.
Here are my two sentences:

"Have you seen them?" I called up to Walid.

"The ghosts?" he asks.
from p. 61 of Drawing in the Dust by Zoe Klein, an historical mystery published by Pocket Books, 2009.

Who and where am I?

I am an American archaeologist excavating an ancient site in Israel. A young Arab couple has asked me to explore underneath their house, which they say is haunted by the spirits of two lovers.

Here is my review of the book: Drawing in the Dust.

Book provided by the publisher for my objective review.

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Jun 29, 2009

The Angel's Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon: a comment

I skimmed over the Los Angeles Times' review of The Angel's Game, that much touted second book by Carlos Ruiz Zafon of The Shadow of the Wind fame.

But I didn't read too closely as I want to make up my own mind about the book.

I found the setting of the first chapter familiar and contemporary - the inside of a newsroom, with a typical scenario of young wannabee writers trying to avoid jaded reporters. I decided to continue reading the book though I missed the Baroque setting and brooding atmosphere of old Barcelona in The Shadow of the Wind.

I guess that kind of atmosphere is to come, as the Devil comes by later to tempt young writer David Martin (and he doesn't even have a Spanish name!)

In any case, if you are not planning to read that thick, heavy tome, here's a substitute, a nice review by Nick Owchar, today's LA Times: The Angel's Game.

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Book Review: The Devlin Diary and Author Interview with Christi Phillips



Christi Phillips of San Francisco, author of "The Devlin Diary," has her blog tour today, June 29, organized by Pocket Books Blog Tour. Christi is also author of "The Rossetti Letter," an historical mystery set in 17th century Venice which has been translated into six other languages.

Welcome, Christi. We're glad to hear more about your second historical mystery, "The Devlin Diary," and its setting in the politics of 17th century England.



Interview

Q: How and why did you choose this particular incident in history - the 1670 secret treaty between the English and French kings - to write a book?

Christi: I knew that The Devlin Diary would be set in England, because Claire Donovan, the main character in the present-day story, has moved to Cambridge to teach at Trinity College. Even before I began the novel, I was pretty sure I wanted to set it during the Restoration. It was such an intriguing time, especially in comparison to the Puritanical decade that preceded it. The Restoration era—which begins in 1660 and ends in 1685, essentially the reign of Charles II—can be thought of as the 1960s of the seventeenth century. Both eras ushered in sweeping social changes, a heightened creativity in the arts and sciences, and greater freedom for women. There was also lots of sex, drinking, drugs, and really, really bad behavior, which makes for great stories.

Then I read about the secret treaty in Antonia Fraser’s remarkable biography of Charles II, Royal Charles, and felt that it had the same sort of dramatic possibilities that the Spanish Conspiracy against Venice had provided for The Rossetti Letter. It was a real event that involved people at the highest levels of government and yet was still somewhat shrouded in mystery, so that I felt comfortable constructing a story that included fictional characters along with the real ones.

Q: I was impressed by the amount of research it took to write the novel. Could you tell us a little about what it required and the time you spent?

Christi: Primarily, it involved reading a great many books. This wasn’t really by choice; there just aren’t many other ways to learn about the seventeenth century. I spent six to eight months reading and outlining the story, then went to London and Cambridge for two weeks to tour the sites I would be writing about.There’s very little of seventeenth-century London left, but I found two small museums that were enormously helpful: The Old Operating Theatre in Southwark, and the Dennis Severs House near Spitalfields Market. At the first, you can learn about early medicine and the apothecary’s art; the second is a recreation of an eighteenth-century house in one of the most historic areas of London. I highly recommend both.

I also went to Trinity College, Cambridge. I was graciously shown around the college, allowed to lunch with the fellows at High Table, and generously provided with insider information about the college, which I share in The Devlin Diary.

Q: This is your second novel. How would you categorize/describe your two novels? Could you tell us about your background and your decision to become a writer ?

Christi: They aren’t easy to categorize, are they? When pressed for time, I call them historical mysteries. While not completely accurate, I think both The Rossetti Letter and The Devlin Diary will appeal to people who like historical fiction and people who like mysteries, so it’s a good working description.

As a child, I loved books and read voraciously (still do). I never really made a decision to be a writer, but by the time I was ten or so, I felt that I was one. So I wrote. Throughout my teens I wrote terrible poetry; in my twenties I wrote bad short stories. I didn’t write anything even remotely decent until I was thirty. I’m almost entirely self-taught. I’ve taken only one writing class, and I’ve never had a mentor. Happily, I had good friends who read what I wrote and commented on it.

I was very fortunate in that my friends were always kind and encouraging (even when, in my opinion, there was little reason to be). Although I don’t think I would have been daunted much by criticism; my need to write was too strong. I simply kept working at it until I got better at it, and could serve as my own best (or worst, depending on the day) critic.

Thanks for the interview, Christi. (See my book review of The Devlin Diary in the post below.)

You can visit Christi Phillips at http://www.christi-phillips.com

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Jun 28, 2009

Book Review: The Devlin Diary by Christi Phillips

Book Review
I gave five stars to this wonderfully interesting historical mystery written by Christi Phillips, whose blog tour will be June 29, sponsored by Sarah Reidy of Pocket Book Blog Tours.

Background of the novel
In 1672 London, Hannah Devlin continues her father's profession of treating and healing the sick, even though women physicians are frowned on in those days and not sanctioned by the Royal College of Physicians. Her life changes when she is summoned to court to secretly treat the king's mistress, Louise de Keroualle.

Plot summary
Hannah keeps a coded diary of the strange and devious events that she witnesses and discovers while she is there. Her diary reveals secrets that involve Charles Stuart, the king, and his beloved sister, Princess Henriette-Anne. It is rumored that Henriette-Anne died in extreme pain, poisoned by her husband, the Duc d'Orleans, brother of King Louis XIV of France, or by his lover. If this is true, why has King Charles remained totally silent on this issue?

Claire Donovan, a visiting lecturer in history at Trinity College, Cambridge in 2008 tries to find the 17th century diary and the answers. However, Claire is not the only one interested in the diary. And at least one other person in 2008 is desperate enough to want to kill to suppress the information in the Devlin diary.

My Comments
I enjoyed the skillful storytelling and plot - royal intrigue and realistic characters from 17th century London, and from Cambridge, England in 2008. I was impressed by the double story line, of Hannah in the 1670s and Claire in 2008 -and how their separate stories were interwoven into a seamless plot. History and mystery, plus women's rights in academia and in the world of science - these themes and topics grabbed and held my interest.

Book provided by the publisher, for my objective review.


Author Interview: See Interview with Christi Phillips

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Blog Tour: J. P. Daly, romance novelist

Welcome to Jennifer P. Daly, author of Black Hole: A Novel, a romance published in 2008.

"Jenna" is here on the sixth stop of her book tour to tell us about her novel, a book about a stay-at-home mom whose life changes when her husband mysteriously disappears on a trip overseas.

The author has a B.S. in written communications, works for a software company, and has two young sons. Black Hole: A Novel was written on a dare and begun in 2007. Jenna has also written children's stories.

Interview

Q: Can you tell us how you chose the title of your novel?
Jenna: The title originally was "Unexpected." But as I wrote I realized that black hole references kept coming up. One of her sons was fascinated by them, and her life drops into an emotional one. It clicked. There are so many things science does not know about them - that cannot be explained - yet.

Q: Did you use personal experience to write the novel - about a stay-at-home mom who has to return to the workplace?
Jenna: I was out of the workforce for 2.5 years with my younger son, so, although my experience was shorter than the character in the book, yes. I remember coming to work the first day in 2005 and wondering, "Can I do this," and thinking someone was going to find out I was some sort of big fat faker. It never happened.

After a month, juggling the kids and a career felt oddly familiar (I had done it from 1999-2002 with one child). I had intended to go back when my son was three. My brain needed more stimulation than I got as a full-time mom and I had always worked. I intensely disliked feeling dependent on anyone, even for that short time.

Q: Do you plan to write another book with Allison as the main character?
Jenna: No, Allison's story is "done." The sequel is about another character in Black Hole: A Novel. I realized halfway into it, I had a sequel and wrote the first chapter of the second book while working on the first one! The sequel has no title yet, and I am about 100 pages into it. The beginning and ending are finished. That's the same way I wrote the first one - and then I filled in the middle.

The only way to explain how I write is I get entire chapters in my head, sometimes out of order. I write them, and then figure out where they go.

Q: What is your favorite genre of books?
Jenna: Genre can be a bit limiting. I have never liked mysteries. Which is odd since I like movies like that. I remember reading a few mystery books that had so many characters I could not keep them straight, I had to back up and re-read sections. That can be frustrating.

If I had to, I'd say contemporary fiction (rather than historical, fantasy, etc) and self help. Genre does not really matter as long as they are stories in which a character discovers something about themselves, someone else, or the world, that changes them forever, yet they also entertain the reader. I finished reading "Broken for You" and "Lucky" and felt like something in me had shifted, in a good way.

Q: Anything else you would like to add?
Jenna: Yes. Black Hole: A Novel was an odd experience. I never thought to myself, I think I’ll take a stab at writing a novel and self publish it. Instead, I started it after a friend dared me. When I complained about my job being to restricting writing-wise, she insisted I could write about anything. I told her my creative skills had died when I took on corporate copy writing. "Okay," she said, "Write two pages about a woman in an elevator." I did in less than 15 minutes. She read them, handed them back, and asked with a grin, "Then what happened?" 400 pages later…

The oddest part? After the book was done, I realized things in it happened to me, AFTER I wrote about them. I think every time I pick the book up I find another one. That's something I cannot explain.
Please visit my Website at http://www.dalybookstore.com to learn more about me and my book.

Thanks for visiting, Jenna.

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Jun 25, 2009


"Now that summer is here (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), what is the most “Summery” book you can think of? The one that captures the essence of summer for you?"


I'm now reading Songs of Blue and Gold by Deborah Lawrenson, set on the Greek island of Corfu, a sunny island full of bays, beaches, and rocky cliffs.

I also plan to read something more hot, Killer Summer by Ridley Pearson, a thriller set in Sun Valley, Idaho.

I plan to review both books in July!

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Jun 23, 2009

Andean Express by Juan de Recacoechea, book review


Teaser Tuesday meme courtesy of MizB at Should Be Reading. Grab your current read. Let the book fall open to a random page. Share two “teaser” sentences from that page, plus the title and author of the book. Please avoid spoilers!
Andean Express
"He didn't know her very well, but from their few conversations on the train, he concluded that she was going through tough times. Marrying a guy she hated, who'd had a lot to do with her father's death, had clearly been a mistake that was affecting her deeply." (p. 71)
Who is the main character? 
I'm a young high school graduate spending 48 hours on a train from La Paz, Bolivia going through the high Andean plateau to Arica, Chile on the coastline, to join my parents. During the trip, I become unwittingly entangled in the lives of several passengers, including a girl in an arranged marriage.

Review: Reminds me of other train trips such as Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. This is also a murder mystery, described as in the style of "classic noir."

I give this mystery novel 3 1/2 stars, maybe four if I could have read it in the original Spanish! Some things are often lost in translation! The train ride from the bowl of the city of La Paz up to the rim, across the stark and dry plateau, and then down to the coastline of Chile was the highlight of the book for me. Descriptions of the scenery, the sunsets, the people, and the few lonely homesteads on the plateau, were very interesting. I once flew over the Andes on the way from Brazil back to the U.S. and often wondered what it was like down below. 

Also, relationships among mestizos, Indians, and Europeans in Bolivia are revealed on board the Andean Express. Granted this train ride was set some 40 years ago, I believe, and there is a hint in the novel about pending social change by a new political party.

The plot followed the general scheme of Murder on the Orient Express and other mystery train rides, but this "noir" novel is not a traditional mystery.  Alderete has married a young woman from the upper social classes in Bolivia. It's an arranged marriage. Alderete is hated by close to a dozen people on the train, including his reluctant bride. A young high school graduate traveling to Chile to meet his parents witnesses the interactions and is used as an unwitting pawn in the developments. 

Noir and mystery lovers, and armchair travelers, will enjoy Andean Express. 

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Sunday Salon: Japanese Authors and a Mystery

  Klara and the Sun   by Kazuo Ishiguro. Intellect having "heart" Klara and the Sun was easy to read for a literary novel of suc...