Cozy Winners

Anybody who loves a good cozy mystery should check out the Agatha Award fiction winners!

The Agatha Awards celebrate mysteries written in the traditional style. This translates to more atmosphere and less of the graphic scenes you may find in a Noir or True Crime novel.

Fiction Winners (written in 2009):

Best Novel: A Brutal Telling by Louise Penny (Minotaur Books)

Best First Novel: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley (Delacorte Press)

Recent Fiction Award Winners

In the past month or so, a few big awards have been announced in fiction in various genres. Paul Harding’s debut novel Tinkers won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for fiction. A New England clock repairer lies on his deathbed. The novel intertwines his final thoughts, with the memories of the death of his father, with an intricate look at life and death. Many star reviews for this eloquently written work. Apparently the book was rejected several times from publishers before being picked up.

John Hart’s The Last Child, won the 2010 Edgar Award for best novel, presented by the Mystery Writers of America. (This is the second Edgar in a row for Hart, as he also won it in 2008 for Down River.) In The Last Child, 12 year old Alyssa goes missing in rural North Carolina, and her twin brother Johnny is determined to find her. His family fell apart after the disappearance, a local officer is trying to solve the case, a year later another girl goes missing, and Johnny is convinced it was the same perpetrator. A well written stunner of a case.

The Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America awarded the 2009 Nebula Award for best novel to Paolo Bacigalupi for The Windup Girl. This debut novel is a tale of Bioterrorism in a post-petroleum future Thailand. Calories become currency and bio-terrorism becomes a tool for corporate profit. Star reviews are all over the place for this book.
AwardsAwards

BBC Historical Drama: Part 3

Part 3 - Charles Dickens

Lately, I've been reading a lot of historical fiction based in England. With images from those books/novels in mind, I started checking out different historical dramas, the best of which I've seen are from BBC. Step into the 1800s and get involved of the lives of two Martin Chuzzlewits, Lady Deadlock, Thomas Gradgrind, and Noddy Boffin.

Martin Chuzzlewit described as an “opulent narrative feast” is the story of two Martin Chuzzlewits, one a elderly wealthy gentleman that despises his scheming relatives that hope to win his fortune, the other; his grandson, a well-meaning egoistic youth that has fallen in love with his Grandfather’s ward.

Bleak House is said to be one of Dickens best adaptations, following the life of Lady Deadlock, a faithful and dutiful wife whose secret is about to be discovered which leads to blackmail, murder, and a tragic death.

Thomas Gradgrind, father of Louisa and Tom, teaches them to live with reason and practicality instead of emotion and imagination, which in turn makes Louisa cold and distant yet yearn for love and Tom a drunk and a gambler. Will Thomas realize that what he preaches to his children may eventually lead them to their downfall? This is the story of Hard Times.

Our Mutual Friend is a dark and involved yet romantic portrayal of how lives are affected and transformed after the heir to a large garbage made fortune drowns.

AADL also owns several miniseries based off of better known works of Charles Dickens, such as Oliver Twist, Great Expectations, David Copperfield, Little Dorrit, Old Curiosity Shop, and of course A Tale of Two Cities.

The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby is one Dickens series we have on DVD that was not made by BBC.

A few Dickens novels turned miniseries that we do not have on DVD, but do have in print are: Pickwick Papers, Dombey and Son and Barnaby Rudge

If you’ve missed previous parts of my BBC Historical Drama blog, you can find them here: Part 1, Part 2.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #208

Winner of the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize, Miguel Syjuco's impressive debut Ilustrado*** (see definition) is most worthy of the buzz.

The panel of judges proclaimed it "brilliantly conceived and stylishly executed, ...ceaselessly entertaining, frequently raunchy, and effervescent with humor".

It begins with a body. On a clear day in winter, the battered corpse of Crispin Salvador is pulled from the Hudson River. Gone is the controversial lion of Philippine literature as well as is the only manuscript of his final book, a work meant to rescue him from obscurity by exposing the crimes of the Filipino ruling families.

Miguel, his student and only friend, embarks on a literary archeological dig - through Crispin's poetry, interviews, novels, polemics, and memoirs. The result is a rich and dramatic family saga, tracing 150 years of history of The Philippines. To our great surprise, the story bring us full circle to young Miguel.

"Exuberant and wise, wildly funny and deeply moving, Ilustrado explores the hidden truths that haunt every family. It is a daring and inventive debut by a new writer of astonishing talent."

Born in 1976 in Makati, Miguel Syjuco lived in many cities of the world since his undergraduate days at Ateneo de Manila University. With a master’s at Columbia University, PhD at the University of Adelaide (Australia), he currently lives in Montreal. He had worked in many jobs, from editor of a dotcom, bartender, apartment painter to powerseller of ladies’ designer handbags on eBay until February 2009 when he focused full time on his writing.

Readalike: Homecoming* by Bernhard Schlink - another epistolary novel about history, identity, deception, and discovery.

*** = starred reviews

Happy birthday, Lois Duncan!

Today marks the birthday of American novelist Lois Duncan.

Perhaps best known for her teen suspense and mystery fiction, Duncan has also held a more lighthearted pen in such works as the children's book Hotel for Dogs (perhaps better known for the screen adaptation) and a picture book called Songs of the Circus.

However, her teen novels were her biggest hit, and they are quite entrancing. My favorites include few of the ones not adapted for the screen--Gallows Hill and Down a Dark Hall. Gallows Hill features Sarah, a girl who is suspected by her peers of being a witch, which leads her into an investigation of the Salem Witch Trials. Down a Dark Hall tells the story of a young girl named Kit and her eerie encounters at a new boarding school.

One story of Duncan's that might sound more familiar would be Killing Mr. Griffin, the tale of high school students who kidnap their English teacher, which was made into a TV movie in 1997.

The most well-known may also be the least best example of her work. I Know What You Did Last Summer was turned into a movie, but Duncan had no part in the creation of the film, and actually did not like the final product.

Perhaps most representative is the true story of Lois Duncan's search for her own daughter's killer, Who Killed My Daughter?.

Crime and Mystery TV From Across The Pond

When you watch British television, it's easy to imagine the English countryside, dotted with small villages, where mysteries and random acts of crime are constantly happening. If you are a fan of this genre, head to the library and check out our wide selection of TV DVDs. Visit a county where grisly murders seem to be a norm in the Midsomer Murders series. Watch the adventures of a housewife turned detective in Hetty Wainthropp Investigates. For a British detective drama series, try Chief Christopher Foyle in Foyle's War, Jaguar driving Inspector Morse, the popular Wire In the Blood series, or Inspector Jack Frost in A Touch of Frost. For a mix of english gardening and detective investigation, check out the ladies in Rosemary & Thyme. Fans of mystery novels adapted into TV can look for the Campion series or our selection of Agatha Christie DVDs.
All of these shows and many many more can be browsed here.

Inspector MorseInspector Morse

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #207

“A heartbreaking affair, an unsolved murder, an explosive romance: Welcome to summer on the Cape”. Beach read, you think? Oh, but Holly LeCraw’s The Swimming Pool** is much, much more. (Not to be confused with the equally scintillating French film of the same title.)

Jed McClatchey is puzzled by a bathing suit hidden in a closet at the family’ summer home at Mashantum. He remembers seeing it seven years ago on Marcella Atkinson, lounging around their pool. He was a college student then and she, part of his parent’s country club set, was exotic, beautiful and everyone’s secret crush.

In the intervening years, Jed and Callie, his sister suffered unspeakable losses : their mother was murdered and their father Cecil, a prime suspect, died without being charged. On impulse, Jed tracks down the divorced Marcella, and sets in motion the rippling effect that will shatter the fragile veneer of stability for both families, exposing a complex web of secrets and betrayal.

This "astonishingly well-crafted, completely compelling” debut is at once intense, gripping and passionate. You won’t stop until you get to the stunning conclusion.

May we also suggest: The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand for the summer colony setting and illicit romance; and Summer People by Marge Piercy for the psychological drama and character study.

For more beach reads this coming season, stay tuned.

** = Starred reviews

An Instance of the Fingerpost

An Instance of the Fingerpost

“We are all capable of the most monstrous evil when convinced that we are right and it was an age when the madness of conviction held all tightly in its grasp.”

At nearly 700 pages, reading An Instance of the Fingerpost, by Iain Pears, takes some commitment, but it is well worth the journey. Pears weaves a complex, sprawling, convoluted tale of politics, passion, betrayal, faith and scientific zeal, and, of course, murder. Set in the turbulent era of Restoration England (1660s), with its attendant political, intellectual and religious strife, it captures all the uncertainty, suspicion and speculation of the time. It is, in the end, an exploration of the very nature of perception and truth.

The plot pivots around the question of who poisoned an Oxford fellow. Four narrators, with differing degrees of reliability, each take turns relaying their account of the event and all the intricate history which surrounds it. All four accounts are completely different, but are given as full and honest disclosures, and are believed to be true by each teller, even while each is laboring under his own hidden and heart-wrenching history. The web of secrets surrounding the murder becomes more tangled with each tale. An “instance of the fingerpost”, from a quote by Francis Bacon, is that piece of truth which suddenly, fully and finally sheds light on opposing and uncertain conclusions and decisively reveals the object of the quest for understanding. With the fourth narrator, the veils of misperception and deceit lift and we have the fingerpost promised in the title.

Written with finely-wrought, eloquent language and revealing all the danger, turmoil and devotion of the human heart, this is a story that does not disappoint.

A Trio of Outstanding Historical Mysteries by Rennie Airth

River of Darkness 3

Detective John Madden survived the trenches of World War I and returns to Scotland Yard after the war with dark forces pulling at him. Having lost his young wife and baby daughter in the influenza epidemic, he is broken and alone. But he has a gift for reading the criminal mind and when a serial killer is loose in the villages of Sussex, Madden immerses himself in the pursuit of the crazed killer. River of Darkness is a superb police procedural, with strong, well-realized characters. Not a whodunnit – the identity of the killer is known to the reader early on – the book probes the nature of violence and the effect of war on the human psyche and the culture of England. Along the way, Madden finds another chance for love with the village doctor, Helen. This book is absolutely captivating, and you will be so glad there are more.

The second Madden story, The Blood-Dimmed Tide, is set eleven years later, in 1932, when another killer is targeting young teens in the rural communities of Surrey. Madden, with a new family, has left the force, become a farmer and healed the memories of his tortured past. But his great talent for discerning the complex patterns and motivations of the killer’s activity, and Madden’s proximity to the murdered children, make him indispensible in resolving the case, and his old friend, Chief Inspector Sinclair, draws him into the investigation.

In 1944, the third of the series, Dead of Winter, rounds out the trilogy, this time with a series of seemingly unrelated murders in London, beginning with the Polish ”land girl” who had been working on Madden’s farm. Again, Madden and Sinclair join forces. All three books capture with piercing detail the psychology of serial murder, as well as the life and times of England between the Wars and the very close friendships between Madden and his old comrades in the Yard. Airth has hinted that this might be the last of the series, but he has certainly left the door wide open for another. We can only hope.

The Man From Beijing, by Henning Mankell

A stand alone suspense thriller from the Swedish author that brought us the best-selling Kurt Wallander detective series. Book reviews (both good and bad) are popping up all over the place.

Henning Mankell’s latest epic, The Man From Beijing, begins in Sweden with a mass murder in a remote village. After local officials begin looking into it, Judge Birgitta Roslin learns she is connected to one of the victims and yearns to solve the mystery, which involves delving into her own past. The book cuts to 1863 where three Chinese brothers are kidnapped and forced into work. The connection between one of the brothers, the murder in Sweden years later, and the man from Beijing is quite interesting, and as Birgitta to tries to unravel the historical mess that is before her, she is unaware of the connection. Sweden, China, Africa, Colonialism, Mao, the Communist Party, and secret family diaries all help bridge gap.

Mankell weaves the stories in an enjoyable fashion. The reader gets lost in each era and works along with Birgitta to learn where that lone red ribbon that was found at the crime scene came from. It’s a great thriller, as far as thrillers go, but it’s no Kurt Wallander book. Mankell, we love you anyway, we don’t mind if you stick with more Wallander and less ground-breaking.

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