Sunday, July 18, 2010

Interview with Lisa Scottoline

From --

Up close with a best-selling author --

By: Sarah McNab --
April 15, 2010 --

This past Saturday, I went to meet local author and national best-seller Lisa Scottoline at one of the last stops on her promotional tour for her latest novel, "Think Twice."

Scottoline was the first author I have ever met who is on the New York Times' Best-Seller List - OK, she's the only author I have ever met. The experience was so much fun (and not at all intimidating like I thought it would be).

They say write what you know, and that's exactly what Scottoline does.

As a Philly native, she sets her books in the city.

In addition to her 17 novels, Scottoline has a hilarious and brilliantly written column, "Chick Wit," which appears in The Philadelphia Inquirer on Sundays. Since I am an aspiring journalist and writer, who better for me to talk to than someone who is so successful in the field?

We got to the Barnes & Noble where she was appearing nice and early. Actually, two and a half hours early because of a miscommunication, but we were able to get our admission wristbands early.

I was number 102, and plenty of people came in the hours afterward, so that should give you an idea of how many people, mainly women, came to see her.

As we waited, I had no idea what to expect. I thought she might say a few words, sign a few books and then be whisked away by a security team to some fancy dinner for famous people.

In reality, Scottoline was the complete opposite.

She came out right on time, led by two of her little dogs on leashes. Anyone who reads her column knows she is an avid animal lover, so it was fun to see some of the pets she writes about. She spoke for about an hour about how excited she was to be there, about her writing process and really just about her life.

She was so open to sharing anything and so down to earth that she seemed like an old friend.

Part of her appeal to women is how relatable she is. When asked how she gets the ideas for her column, Scottoline says: "I write with the assumption that my life is like your life."

Another positive about her writing philosophy is that she is all about empowering women. She writes about strong female main characters in her books and about the strong women in her life. She even shared one of her favorite quotes, which is from Eleanor Roosevelt, with us: "A woman is like a teabag. You never know how strong she is until she is in hot water."

After she spoke, we got to meet her individually. She took the time to really talk to each person and make them feel important and special for coming. And she also said, "My mother raised me right and taught me that when you come to someone's house, you bring saturated fats," so she brought Tastykakes for everyone.

When it was my turn, she gave me a big hug, we had a mini photo shoot with the surrounding cameras and I asked her if she has any advice on being a successful writer.

So, all reality panelists and aspiring writers, listen up.

Her advice was, "Just go for it."

In fact, she encourages everyone to write and believes that everyone has a book in them.

She even has an outstanding offer to fans who write a manuscript that she will pass it along to her editors!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Review of House Rules by Jodi Picoult

From Express Advocate Wyong --

Friday book review - House Rules by Jodi Picoult --

By: Mandi McIntosh --
16 Apr 10 --

JODI Picoult novels debut at No.1 on bookseller charts around the country when they are released.

She is a huge name in women’s fiction and her audiences are very familiar with her style and content. Readers expect to have different voices telling the story. We expect a definite moral dilemma and we also expect a twist at the end.

I was a little disappointed by her 2009 novel Handle With Care but this new novel feels like a return to the form her audiences love.

Picoult’s new novel is titled House Rules and follows a mother with two sons. Her eldest son, Jacob, has Aspergers, a high functioning form of autism. Family life is shaped by a need to keep Jacob happy and safe.

Jacob is obsessed with forensics and loves to watch CSI-style shows to solve the cases. He is 18 but still very much dependent on his school and mother for keeping his routines in place.

The action in this novel is propelled by the death of Jacob’s social skills tutor and we are drawn in to try and ascertain whether Jacob, or perhaps his younger brother Theo, may have been at fault.

This novel has strong voices with the chapters alternating between different characters telling their stories, and Picoult has, as always, done her homework.

The insights into the emotions of the family, and in particular the brother, Theo, show just how difficult and all-consuming it can be to have a family member like Jacob.

The ending in this one wasn’t a huge surprise, but there were a couple of ways it could have gone. This is a novel for Picoult fans, but also a good start if you haven’t tried one of her novels before

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Interview with Elizabeth Kostova

From Dallas Morning News --

'Swan Thieves' author Elizabeth Kostova brings her flair for the artistic to Dallas Museum of Art --

By Joy Tipping --
April 14, 2010 --

Her gift, it turned out, was writing. She found a way to combine the two interests in her latest novel, the best-selling The Swan Thieves, which came out in January. It deals with a mystery involving both a contemporary painter and a group of 19th-century Impressionist artists.

Kostova wraps up her book tour with an appearance Friday at the Dallas Museum of Art as part of its Arts & Letters Live series.

In a recent phone conversation, Kostova, 45, said that although she's done other things to support herself, she's been a passionate writer since she was 8 or 9.

"My first things were just imitations of books I'd read as a child. I'd tinker around with them."

By the time she was 14 or 15, she had decided on writing as a career. That was, coincidentally, about the same time she quit painting.

"I loved it, and I had moved up into oil painting. ... I realized I never had the real gift for it. But I love color, I loved the smell of the oil paints, I had colors I liked best. And I had some memory of the feel of painting."

All that came in handy when she started writing The Swan Thieves. The book tells the story of a modern-day painter named Robert Oliver who attacks a painting depicting the mythical encounter of Leda and the swan (Zeus in disguise). Oliver is committed to a mental institution, where he refuses to tell anyone why he struck at the painting. The book's narrator, a psychiatrist charged with solving the mystery, begins to unweave the threads by talking to the various women in Oliver's life – although he finds that the most important one may have been dead for more than a century.

For both technical and emotional insight, Kostova says, she drew on information from artistically talented family members and friends who were professional visual artists.

"I pestered them with questions, followed them on landscaping expeditions, learned how they make the decisions that go into a painting," she says.

Although she didn't want the book to center around anything supernatural, she says, it nevertheless evolved into something with "a strong feeling of haunting by the past, someone caught between two worlds in something almost like possession."

As the daughter of a professor, Kostova grew up mostly in Connecticut but also spent time in other U.S. states and in the former Yugoslavia. Her first book, The Historian, is an updated Dracula tale set partially in Eastern Europe, and she clearly has a fondness for the region. That affection, and her desire to help fellow authors, led to the formation of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation for Creative Writing (, where you can read about it in English or Bulgarian). The foundation supports seminars and competitions, public readings and lectures, and opportunities for writers to work in Bulgaria.

As for what's next in her own writing career, Kostova says she's started a new novel that's still in its infancy. She demurs when asked about the subject matter: "Part of it is that it's really raw right now, and things change a lot as you work on them. But I also feel like if you talk about it too much, it loses its energy."

Review of A Question of Belief by Donna Leon

From The Independent (UK) --

A Question of Belief, By Donna Leon --

Reviewed by Barry Forshaw --
15 April 2010 --

Donna Leon's elegant crime novels enjoy great success in various translations throughout the world. But, ironically, there is one country where they are not rendered into the native tongue: Italy, the stamping ground of her wily Commissario Brunetti. The reason? Italy is also the adopted country of Leon herself, an American expat who feels that the endemic corruption her copper encounters would seem provocative from an incomer.

Not that she's any more confrontational than native crime writers in Italy when it comes to the government of Berlusconi. As well as government scandals, Italy is in the throes of another brouhaha involving years of cover-up: the problems of the Catholic Church. Intriguingly, Leon's 19th Brunetti novel, A Question of Belief, folds into its plot both topical elements: corruption involving supernatural belief, and a self-serving establishment bending the law to its own ends.

Venice is suffering a heat wave, and Brunetti is yearning to leave for the mountains. His colleague Vianello has no thoughts of escape; his aunt, obsessed with the supernatural, is withdrawing massive amounts of money from the family coffers. Vianello asks Brunetti for permission to investigate, and discovers that the recipient is one Stefano Gorini. Who is this man? At the same time, Brunetti learns that there are discrepancies at the courthouse concerning Judge Luisa Coltellini and an usher, Fontana.

While Brunetti is on holiday, Fontana is savagely murdered. Does his death have something to do with double-dealing at the courthouse and alleged misconduct on the bench, where case postponements are being used to cover up sleaze? In 1940s Hollywood, censorship forced film-makers to use nuance to convey to adult audiences what was going on. In some ways, Leon uses the same strategy: multi-lingual Italians do read her books. On the surface, this is another entry in a reliable series. But it also obliquely addresses the issues of legal gerrymandering, faith and corruption that bedevil Leon's adopted country.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Review of The Mapping of Love and Death by Jacqueline Winspear

From USA Today --

Jacqueline Winspear's 'Mapping of Love and Death' doesn't disappoint --

By Deirdre Donahue --
04/14/2010 --

Sometimes when you adore a series, you're terrified to crack open the next installment, fearing disappointment. Fortunately, Jacqueline Winspear's fans can rest easy. Her new Maisie Dobbs mystery, The Mapping of Love and Death, the seventh in the series, is excellent.

Begun in 2003, Winspear's series centers on Dobbs both as a character and as a symbol of the seismic upheavals — social, cultural, economic — that World War I caused in Britain. Dobbs, who comes from London slums, starts off as a maid in a great house. Her thirst for knowledge eventually lands her at Cambridge University.

She leaves that haven to volunteer as a battlefront nurse in France. The war exposes her to love and to soul-searing carnage. Marked forever, Dobbs trains as an investigator/psychologist, setting up shop in Depression-era London.

Mapping centers on an American family who have come to London after the remains of their missing soldier son, a trained cartographer, are found in France in 1932, two decades after the war. Also recovered: his diary and love letters from an unknown woman.

As Dobbs unravels the dead soldier's past, her creator brings the story to a satisfying conclusion. But the real pleasure is Winspear's insights into human beings and history.

Most moving is the way Winspear, a Brit living in California, captures the doomed young man's yearning for the sun as he sits in the mud of the Somme.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Review of House Rules by Jodi Picoult

From JG-TC Online (Illinois) --

Book Review: 'House Rules,' By Jodi Picoult --

By: Juanita Sherwood --
April 12, 2010 --

Many of Jodi Picoult’s recent books have featured societal issues. This one is no different: it deals with a form of autism, Asperger’s Syndrome, which is a higher functioning form on the autism spectrum.

Jacob Hunt is the young man who has Aspergers; he is 18 years old, a senior in high school.

Jacob has suffered from autistic difficulties since he was a toddler. His mother has videos that show him as a normal youngster, but then he suddenly changed. She feels that these changes came about near the time he received some of his vaccinations, although neither she nor medical science could prove this theory.

He is a brilliant young man who has intensely focused on various subjects over the years. When he was younger it was dogs, then dinosaurs, and now it is crime scene investigation.

Jacob’s family consists of his mother and his younger brother, Theo. His parents divorced when Jacob began manifesting signs of autism around the age of 3, shortly after Theo was born.

Since he left, his father has had little to do with the boys and their mother except to send monthly support checks.

Emma, the mother, has learned techniques for dealing with Jacob both at home and in public when he has a “meltdown.” He is now the size of an adult, and sometimes physical restraint, which she used to employ when he was younger, is difficult, but she frequently is still able to apply it.

Jacob has difficulty expressing himself verbally in terms that most people use daily. He takes things literally, not understanding idioms or visual clues from others. He needs routine, and what that is disrupted, he can have a “meltdown.”

He has an IEP, an individual education plan, at school. Part of that plan is that he and other autistic teens have a timeout room that they can go to when their senses are overloaded. There he calmed himself using techniques that he had been taught.

Since he has difficulty interacting with his peers, his mother has hired Jess Ogilvy, a graduate student, to tutor him regarding social skills. Jess has been working with Jacob for several months, and he has made progress, albeit slowly. He has not been cured by any means, but he is gaining a few skills.

Jess is housesitting for a professor from her university when she turns up missing. Her boyfriend, Mark Macguire, is suspected of foul play at first, but he is “unarrested” when the police finally discover her body, and the blame turns to Jacob.

When he is arrested for Jess’s murder, he is stupefied by all of the things surrounding the arrest: being questioned by police, being held in jail, being restrained, and being separated from his family. He knows he didn’t do it, but he can’t convince the authorities of that fact.

He eventually goes to trial for Jess’s murder, and his attorney wants to use an insanity defense, feeling that that is the only hope Jacob has of being found not guilty.

Accommodations are made for Jacob’s disability in the courtroom, but the trial is difficult for all involved, especially the judge and prosecutor….

This book gives an empathetic picture of a family dealing with autism, even those with a less severe diagnosis.

At times, it seems that Picoult has overdone illustrating the effects of Asperger’s, making the book drag a bit. The chapters, narrated by characters in the story, are quite short, but it is not a fast read.

Whether or not dealing directly with autism, both parents and educators might want to give this book consideration.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Review of The Shadow of Your Smile by Mary Higgins Clark

From Oklahoma's NewsOK --

Book Review: Secrets of faith, fortune interplay
Suspense: Best-selling author offers twists

By: Betty Lytle --
April 11, 2010 --

"The Shadow of Your Smile” (Simon & Schuster, $25) by Mary Higgins Clark is a fast-paced suspense novel that draws the reader in with the first few pages and doesn’t let go until the climatic ending.

Olivia Morrow, 82, has kept a family secret all her life. Her deceased cousin, Sister Catherine, a nun, is about to be beatified. Before she entered the convent, Catherine had conceived a child. The man who fathered the child, Alexander Gannon, invented orthopedic devices that made him a fortune. Catherine’s granddaughter is Dr. Monica Farrell, a pediatrician in a New York City hospital. Should Olivia reveal this secret, Monica would be entitled to her rightful inheritance. But if she tells, the information could jeopardize Catherine’s beatification.

Catherine is being considered for beatification because she was founder of several children’s hospitals and because of her work with children. Michael O’Keefe, a 5-year-old diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, was deemed beyond hope. His mother organized a prayer crusade to Sister Catherine, and Michael’s cancer disappeared. The boy was Monica’s patient. Though skeptical of prayer’s power to heal, she agrees to testify at the beatification hearing that his recovery is beyond medical knowledge and likely a miracle.

Monica learns from a limo driver, the father of one of her patients, that an elderly passenger, Olivia Morrow, told him she knew Monica’s birth grandmother. Monica’s father, who was adopted, spent nearly his whole life searching for his birth parents. Monica calls Olivia and arranges to see her the next day. But when Monica gets there, Olivia is dead.

This is a great story, in bookstores Tuesday, with many twists and turns that mystery fans should enjoy.