Monday, April 19, 2010

Interview with Jodi Picoult

From Forbes --

No Rules For Jodi Picoult --

By: Stephanie Dahle --
03.15.10 --

Jodi Picoult is one of the world's most prolific bestselling authors. Over the last 18 years, she has turned out 17 novels--three of which were turned into television movies and another, My Sister's Keeper, starring Cameron Diaz and Abigail Breslin, opened in theaters last summer.

Picoult's fans have come to expect dark and controversial scenarios that detail some of the worst that could happen to families: a medical emancipation battle between a 13-year-old who is expected to donate a kidney to her sister dying from leukemia and her parents; the murder of a newborn child born to an out-of-wedlock Amish mother; a teenage couple's murder-suicide pact.

Not this time. House Rules, Picoult's latest novel, involves a far more common family situation: autism. Approximately 1 in every 110 children currently has autism spectrum disorders. House Rules follows the fictional life of Jacob, a highly functioning boy with Asperger Syndrome, and his single mom, Emma. Hyper-intelligent and obsessed with crime scene forensics, Jacob becomes a suspect in the death of his young tutor. Picoult's novel chews on the question: How can Jacob interact with police, judges and the other upholders of the law when his autism prevents him from fully engaging in the outside world?

It's these intricate dilemmas that allow readers to grapple with life's mysterious questions--and have, in turn, earned Picoult praise from a large audience. She even has her own Apple iPhone app, which enables devoted readers to find out when Picoult is in their area via GPS tracking, and provides Picoult's own music playlist to play at their book-club meetings.

ForbesWoman spoke with Picoult as she prepared to embark on her book tour across America, Europe and Africa.

ForbesWoman: You profile an autistic boy in House Rules, and your next novel deals with being gay in today's world. How do you choose what to focus on?

Jodi Picoult: It's usually a "what if" question that I really can't answer and that keeps coming back to me; that I worry about before I go to bed at night and wake up thinking about. And if I keep thinking about, it's probably a good idea for a book.

I think the reason it feels so timely is because the things that I worry about are the same thing everybody worries about.

Before publishing, you actually had an autistic young woman with Asperger Syndrome read the sections of your book written from Jacob's perspective. Why was the important for you?

Even though I don't write nonfiction, it's critically important for me to get it right. So many people help me and open their lives up to me while I'm doing research for a book. If I weren't going to do my homework and try hard to get the voice or the conditions accurate, I would not be doing my job well. I feel a real personal responsibility to get it right so that I really honor the people who have gone out of the way to help me.

Are your books chick lit? Women's fiction? Literature?

I wouldn't call them women's books because 49% of my fan mail comes from men. My demographic ranges in age from teenagers all the way up to people in their 90s and up. I do think that I do cross genres--I would just call it moral and ethical fiction.

You have a demanding schedule: publishing a book every year and having three teenage children, ages 14, 16 and 18. How do you balance motherhood with writing?

I never had a choice. My first book was published when my first son was born. I kept writing, and I kept having babies. I was alternating books and babies for a while. Finally, I stopped having babies and just had books.

I've really patterned my writing in between the moments when they needed me, when I didn't have very much time. Even now, when I do have a lot more time, I still function that way. If there's a time when I'm sitting down to write, I sit down and write.

Do you have any assistants?

No. I would never hire a research assistant because one of the most fun parts of the writing is the research, and I learn so much that informs my writing when I'm doing the research.

I read and answer all my own fan mail. I go to the post office, and I get books from people who want them signed, repack them in envelopes and send them back out.

I think it is really important to remember where you came from and to thank the people who got you there. I'm not writing back a long missive to people who write me a fan letter, but I am listening to what they say and writing back a response. It means an awful lot to them and it means a lot to me that out of all the books in the world, they're picking up mine. I think it's really my responsibility to be able to say thank you personally.

Have you had a mentor? What impact did it have on your writing?

My mentor is Mary Morris, who was my mentor at college. She is a wonderful writer. I wouldn't be here without her.

I really thought I was a good writer when I got to Princeton, and she reminded me that I was not nearly as good as I thought I was. She almost had to cut me down so I could build myself back up. The way she did it was to give me the tools that I needed to learn how to edit myself, to be my own best editor and tell the best story. If not her for, I wouldn't be doing what I am doing today.

What advice do you give to young writers today?

Write. Do it every day if you can. Carve out a piece of time. Don't answer the phone, don't answer your mother and don't answer your e-mail. Just write.

If you can, you need to take a writing workshop course because that's the only way you'll learn how to give and get criticism. You don't need to keep taking them, you don't need an MFA, a creative writing degree, but you do need a workshop course.

When you get stuck, and you think you're writing the worst story that was ever created on the planet, most people stop at that point and throw it away. Don't let yourself stop. Go all the way through to the end, or you'll never know if you can go all the way through to the end. When you get to the end, then you can decide if you want to scrap it or fix it. You really need to get to that point to prove you yourself that you can finish something.

A lot of your books have a religious or spiritual component. Where does that come from?

There's a big difference between religious and spiritual, and that's what I tend to address. I not by any stretch of the imagination call myself religious, but I stand up on the side of belief--the right to believe in anything, even nonbelief. I think my problem with organized religion is that it says there is only one right way to do this, which is why I will constantly take them to task and will continue to do that in my books.

Your next book deals with being gay and gay rights today.

What's really cool is that I do believe I might be the first mainstream writer to attack this issue, gay rights. That's amazing me to me, but I'm glad I'm doing it. There's a real sense that gay rights is a political issue and not a personal one. I think it's about people, which is why I want to write the book.

What makes it unique is my belief that people that are against gay rights are the ones that forget that it's about people and who haven't really heard the voice of someone who is trying to do what most of us take for granted.

The main character in the book is a music therapist and a musician. In addition to the narratives of the different characters, the book is going to be packaged with a CD of original music that is theoretically written by this woman. You will literally get to hear her and hear what's important to her through her music, in addition to through her words.

I want you to hear her voice. Hear her pour out her heart to you and then be able to say, "You should not get this right." Let's see if you can still do that.

I hear this book might have an ending that is unusual in your novels?

It is a downright bona fide happy ending! My readers won't know what's happened to me.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz, a Review

From San Jose Mercury News --

It's a Mystery: 'Strike Again' spells the last for Lutz's whacked-out family series --

By Roberta Alexander --
03/14/2010 --

Gripping characters stride across the landscape this month, making for good mystery reading.

"The Spellmans Strike Again" by Lisa Lutz (Simon & Schuster, $25, 388 pages). The Spellmans do not run your ordinary private investigation business. Members of this San Francisco family interfere endlessly with each other's lives.

This fourth and final book is funny, troubling and addictive. If you don't think about what life in such a family would be like, you can skip the "troubling" aspect.

There's Isabel, a 32-year-old recovering delinquent, her unemployed attorney brother David and her teenage sister Rae. Their mother's mission appears to be getting rid of Izzy's boyfriends.

The crux of this book is not the plot, which deals with improper convictions and a shady PI competitor, but this lunatic clan, with its mandatory Sunday dinners, its missing antique doorknobs and Rae's refusal to ride the bus.

There is no way to describe what happens here, but finding out is a lot of fun.

And kudos to Lutz for quitting while she's ahead. Plenty of fine series fizzle when they go on too long.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Review of The Spellmans Strike Again by Lisa Lutz

From The Advocate (Baton Rouge, LA) --

Fans of quirky series will be happy with new Spellmans book --

Mar 14, 2010 --

By Lisa Lutz
Simon & Schuster, $25; 388 pp.

Lisa Lutz is back with her fourth account of the quirky Spellman family, who have a private investigation business in San Francisco and live their work so thoroughly that they follow, tape-record, videotape and blackmail each other routinely. The average “stalker” is way out of their league: Think having Mike Hammer or Sam Spade for an uncle. Early in the series Lutz coined the term “recreational surveillance” to describe this irresistible impulse.

In The Spellmans Strike Again, Albert and Olivia, father and mother, are worrying about the loss of their retirement investments in the stock market and about the object of obsession each of their children has chosen. Only son David, an attorney known for squaring the papers on his desk, is courting Maggie Mason, an attorney known for carrying partially eaten baked goods in her pockets. Elder daughter Isabel, incipient alcoholic but in line to take over the business, is shacking up with Connor O’Sullivan, a loutish rugby-playing Irish bartender who comps her drinks. Younger daughter Rae, still in high school but since childhood the very definition of “recalcitrant,” haunts Henry Stone, a San Francisco police inspector who once dated Isabel and is so compulsively neat that he vacuums as guests eat potato chips.

As usual for Lutz, the plot is merely the scenery through which her screwy characters run amok. Here, Maggie Mason is engaged in pro bono work for convicts whose claims of innocence appear to have merit. Helping out, Rae and Isabel each adopt a case, with dueling T-shirts reading “FREE SCHMIDT” and “JUSTICE 4 MERRI-WEATHER” which they foist on any and all. Isabel is also investigating the case of a wayward butler/valet and trying to take down another private investigator, Rick Harkey, former homicide detective, now competitor of the Spellmans and always rumored corrupt.

Albert and Olivia are being intrusive, as expected, and secretive, thus suspicious. David and Henry are trying to be responsible — and tidy — but are so outnumbered.

The real fun and the reason these books have sold so well while acquiring a cult following is the personality of Isabel, who has been working cases for Spellman Investigations for 20 years, starting at age 12. Once a happy vandal, petty thief, breaker of rules for sport and all-around subversive, she now calls herself a “recovering delinquent.”

But which of those two words is paramount when the reaction to her planning is almost invariably, “Why is it that all your propositions are either illegal, ethically questionable, or at the very least offensive?” And when told, “Err on the conservative side,” she replies reflexively, “Don’t worry. I’ll err as usual.”

Isabel wonders, “Sometimes I can barely keep track of the galaxy of investigations, deceit, turmoil, clashes, and chaos that I travel through every day.” She recognizes the source: “And so, once again, there I was, sleep deprived, trapped with family, waiting for the nightmare to come to an end. My life in a nutshell.” At 32, this wise-ass has become wise. She even has a philosophy: “Over the course of a lifetime, people change, but not as much as you’d think. Nobody really grows up. At least that’s my theory; you can have your own.”

Isabel is either hard and sarcastic or brittle and poignant. If you think the former, you won’t enjoy the Spellman books, and you won’t like Lisa Lutz. If you think the latter, like me, you’ll want something good to happen for Isabel, and you’ll get your wish.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Review of Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

From Winston-Salem Journal --

Book Review: Dark dregs make for bad, bleak reading --

By Steven B. Beach --
March 14, 2010 --

DARK PLACES. By Gillian Flynn. Shaye Areheart Books. 245 pages. $24.

It takes nerve to try selling a work of fiction when your protagonist is unlikeable; doubly so when the offensive character is female. The lack of sympathy conflicts with the reasons for which most people read fiction. But that is exactly what Gillian Flynn has done with Dark Places. This novel is a figurative train wreck from Page One -- and it's a wreck that just keeps on happening.

Libby Day describes herself as "…deeply unlovable…. Draw a picture of my soul, and it'd be a scribble with fangs." Dark Places is a voyeuristic viewing of damaged goods.

At age 7, Libby lost fingers and toes to frostbite when she escaped into the snow as her mother and sisters were stabbed, shot, strangled and mutilated with an ax. Because of her eyewitness testimonty, her brother, Ben, has been in prison all his adult life for the murders. She understandably wants nothing to do with him. Libby is an angry, unfocused, solitary kleptomaniac supported by donations amassed from well-wishers after the murders. But the money is running out.

Enter the Kill Club, a group of real-life murder-mystery aficionados who contend that Ben is innocent, and who are willing to pay Libby to seek answers from those intimately connected with the murders. Since she can't imagine reporting to a job in which she'd be expected to actually work, she takes full advantage of the offer -- even though it means confronting her past and spending time among people, some she'd rather not meet and some she'd rather never see again.

The book is written as two separate stories shuffled together like a deck of cards. Readers will alternate between the third-person limited viewpoints of three key players in 1985 and Libby's current-time, first-person narrative. The doling out of details forms a disturbing picture of events explaining actions and motives but few redeeming qualities of any characters.

Morbid curiosity kept me turning pages in the first half of this book. By the second half, I had become invested enough in this well-developed mystery to keep reading because I wanted to know how it worked out.

My difficulty with this story stemmed not from any perceived lack of expertise on the author's part, but in whom and what I was reading about. The characters are, almost without exception, the dregs of society: losers, drunks, liars and scoundrels. Couple that with the bleak setting of small-town life in depressed farm country where everything has gone wrong, then add enough angst to put Pollyanna on Prozac, thrill-kill mutilation of farm animals and sex scenes that invariably involve children, and you'll have an accurate depiction of this story. Precious little happiness can be found in Dark Places.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Review of House Rules by Jodi Picoult

From The Palestine Telegraph --

Jodi Picoult knows `Rules' of engaging readers --

By: Eng.k.almallahi --
13 March 2010 --

World, March 13, 2010 (Pal Telegraph,AP)- "House Rules" (Atria, 353 pages, $28), by Jodi Picoult: Jodi Picoult knows her audience. She tends to write family dramas that tug at the heartstrings. Her books have short chapters, usually written from the perspective of the main characters, and often have a surprise ending.

Her latest book, "House Rules," sticks to this winning formula.

The story focuses on Emma, a single mom with two teenage boys. Her older son is Jacob, 18, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

Jacob takes comments at face value, hates the color orange and schedules his days around his favorite TV procedural crime show. He has memorized dialogue from movies to insert into conversation when needed.

When Emma confronts Jacob about an altercation with a teacher, he responds, "You can't handle the truth," a line from Jack Nicholson's 1992 film "A Few Good Men."

Emma has rearranged her life to care for Jacob. She prepares meals according to the colors he likes. On Monday, he eats green foods. On Tuesday, the color of the food is red, and so on. She can barely afford the bills for his medications and supplements.

The other family member affected by Jacob's condition is 15-year-old Theo, who is tired of making allowances for his brother. Theo desperately wants to live a normal life with a normal family. He dreams of having two parents, a big house and a brother who doesn't have special needs.

Then the family is turned upside-down. Jacob's tutor is found murdered, and he is accused of killing her. Emma can no longer shield him from life's harsh realities.

"House Rules" is a compelling mystery with heart. It won't disappoint Picoult's fans, and it should keep new readers engaged.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Review of Hardball by Sara Paretsky

From Blogcritics Books --

Book Review Hardball By Sara Paretsky --

By: Lynn Voedisch --
Mar 12, 2010 --

Sara Paretsky is one of our great living crime fiction treasures. Having penned such taut mysteries as Deadlock, Indemnity Only, Burn Marks and (my favorite) Guardian Angel , she established herself as a star of the gumshoe set. Even a movie, V.I. Warshawski starring Kathleen Turner, was based on her novels. But it was roundly (and correctly) panned. Even Paretsky doesn't want to talk about it. It doesn't detract from her literary legacy.

However, just as Paretsky was riding high, she suddenly took a bizarre turn, infusing her novels with heavy themes of social injustice. The themes became more than background and readers felt they were being lectured. The Holocaust, the homeless, the prison system, enough! Where was plucky detective "Vic" Warshawsky when readers needed her, zooming around Chicago in a variety of beat-up cars, living on the edge of poverty, but still solving the case?

Paretsky tried magical realism (while lecturing readers about homelessness) with Ghost Country, an enormous flop, then was absorbed in self-analysis in the painful Bleeding Kansas, about her puritanical upbringing. Still no mysteries. Many figured another talent had been lost.

Hardball marked her triumphant return to the murder-and-mayhem business, and V.I. Warshawsky is back. The novel is a true return to style, yet it also allows her to delve into racial wrongs of the past without sermonizing. Paretsky, a transplant to Chicago, really delves into Chicago of the 1960s, when Dr. Martin Luther King, came to visit, and the "white ethnics," as they were called, started a riot at Marquette Park on the South Side. Without having lived through it, she presents an amazingly accurate picture of the times, with agonized lakefront liberals wringing their hands and trying to do right, while poorer whites worried about their jobs and being forced out of their neighborhoods.

V.I. is summoned by a dying relative to find the identity of a black kid who disappeared during those riots and must delve into some neighborhoods that — to this day — are no place for Caucasians to tread. Plucky Washawsky does anyway, and, as always, earns a lot of disfavor among the populace. Plus, she's also not getting any information. A jailed gangbanger just plays her for a fool, and her client's sister starts claiming that she's a fraud.

However, things start adding up quickly when Warshawksy opens a trunk once packed by her late father, a former Chicago cop. In it is a major-league-style baseball studded with nails — a lethal thing. What's it doing there? Her father played slow-pitch softball with the guys. Some contentious conversations with her prickly uncle leave her wondering if her father was completely in the right on the day of the Marquette Park riots, and for the first time she begins to doubt her hero father. After interviewing several retired cops who look to have gone crooked, she becomes more convinced that her dad wasn't all goodness and light.

Her father's possession of the hardball turns out to be much more than admission of his guilt, it's the key to corruption throughout the police department. Meant to be hurled at King's head, it killed a young girl instead. Now someone locked it up in Warshawsky's trunk to hide the whole sordid mess from view.

The social ramifications are highly resonant today, when police beatings of suspects often appear in newspaper reports. Hardball sheds light on a subject no one wants to look at but hides in ugly corners — probably in every city.

The plot is elegantly constructed, and, as always, the characters glow, especially the black South Siders, who slowly let Vic into their lives.

This one hits it out of the park.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Interview with Sara Paretsky

From Telegraph (UK)--

Sara Paretsky: Interview --

By Jake Kerridge --
12 Mar 2010 --

As her new crime novel hits the streets, Sara Paretsky tells Jake Kerridge about her headstrong heroine, VI Warshawski

Over the course of 13 novels about the ball-breaking private investigator V I Warshawski, there’s barely a square inch of her adopted Chicago that Sara Paretsky hasn’t written about. But she finds her excursions round the city somewhat circumscribed these days.

“I used to take people and show them the house I based V I’s childhood home on,” she tells me, “but the last time I did that I took a French camera crew. We were surrounded suddenly by a gang who wanted to take their video equipment. It used to be that if you showed up with a video camera, even the toughest kids would want to be filmed and get on television, but now… A change for the worse in America!” she adds, adopting the tone of Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’s Kansan cousin, before collapsing into giggles.

From the smart hotel lounge we’re sitting in, we can see the garden walls of Buckingham Palace, so it’s a slightly incongruous location in which to hear Paretsky’s jaunty tales about dodging drug dealers every time she takes her dog to the park back home. She is noticeably less jolly when talking about another group she considers to be a public menace: the police.

“I have an African-American woman friend who was waiting at a bus stop recently. Suddenly a squad car pulled up and she was flung to the ground, her hands pinned behind her, because a filling station had been held up six blocks away, supposedly by a black man, and she was the first black person they saw. I don’t have any African-American friends who don’t have similar stories.” You can tell when Paretsky is getting angry as her voice becomes lower and her speech more deliberate; the effect is slightly frightening.

But as she has pointed out, Chicago is a dangerous city and like many a middle-class white woman who disapproves of their methods, she knows that she relies on the police to protect her. It was mulling over her conflicted feelings on the subject that inspired Hardball, the latest Warshawski novel. Hired to trace a black man who has been missing for 40 years, V I uncovers evidence of extensive torture of black suspects by the Chicago police across decades. Could it be in the public interest for law officials and politicians to collude in hushing the matter up – as some have been accused of in recent high-profile, real-life cases?

The mystery turns out to be tied up with the Marquette Park riots of 1966, when Martin Luther King took part in a march to protest against the sardine-like conditions in which segregationist housing legislation forced black people to live, provoking an angry response from white working-class Chicagoans who feared encroachment on their territory. The author researched this period by living through it: King’s appearance in Chicago coincided with the arrival of the 19-year-old Sara Paretsky, finally escaped from her “oppressive” childhood home in Kansas and eager to get involved in community work.

“I don’t know how much of my generation’s hitting the streets was idealism and how much was, ‘ah, we don’t want to go to south-east Asia and get shot at’. But we did feel in the Sixties that we could make things so different, we could end this discrimination.” She worries about what will happen now that the baby boomers are getting too old to keep fighting. “It was kids who pushed for the civil rights movement. The ‘millen gen’ kids will say we do it differently now, we do it on the internet. Well, I’m sorry, blogs don’t change things.”

Paretsky’s novels have become steadily more politically engaged since Warshawski’s debut, Indemnity Only, in 1982, although she says her work has always been concerned with feminism. “What really galvanised me into writing was reading Chandler. In six of his seven novels the main villain is a woman who presents herself sexually.” So she came up with V I, a woman who has plenty of sex, not because she wants to exert power over men but because she actually likes them. “If I hadn’t had that chip on my shoulder I might never had gotten going.”

Having created one of fiction’s first female private eyes, she won more acclaim for her work promoting recognition of the novels of female crime writers and for withstanding the vilification of male authors who caricatured her as a man-hater. One almost feels sorry for them: this petite, elegantly dressed 62-year-old is a formidable opponent. The only time during our conversation when she doesn’t argue convincingly is when she tries to present herself as one of nature’s wishy-washies.

“I’m the sort of person who compromises constantly. I talk a good fight but I don’t fight the fight often. And I think that the voice that’s always in my head condemning me for these shortcomings ends up being V I’s voice. If somebody says: ‘Oh, help,’ she just drops what she’s doing and goes and helps them.”

A headstrong female knight-errant with a weakness for shoes and handbags: V I is a character so appealing that Paretsky has sold more than 10 million copies of her books worldwide. Readers write to commiserate with V I over the violence her creator inflicts on her; although in Hardball an encounter with a Molotov cocktail leaves her badly burned and almost blinded, she’s had worse days. “But women my age really love the fact that she’s out there able to be so physical when we’re all so useless.”

Not all her correspondents are concerned about V I’s welfare. “I got this weird letter from a man in the National Rifle Association who said I make so many mistakes about the use of firearms that I am clearly a Communist who wants to remove firearms from American hands because I was encouraging people to misuse them.” Her most famous fan, Bill Clinton, corresponds with her too, having begun by sending her a six-page handwritten reply to a letter she wrote about Bosnia.

“I wrote to Bush, too, saying very politely, get over yourself on abortion, and then got a letter back saying the President is so glad you share his beliefs and he’s sent you this photo suitable for framing. That was a good way to get me to stop writing.”

Her enthusiasm for Obama is sincere but qualified. “I wanted Obama to be like FDR, to be bold, take many chances, try many things, but he’s not that kind of person. Also, although FDR faced enormous opposition, it wasn’t like this very ideologically driven Republican rump. A lot of what’s driving the opposition is coded racism. He has less manoeuvring room than he would if he was white.”

Like her books, Paretsky is deeply gloomy and very funny. Those who think reading crime novels that tackle political issues is like being forced to eat broccoli with your Big Mac may not be pleased to learn that her next novel deals with Iraq; but in the past she has brought a light touch to books that have addressed 9/11 and the Holocaust.

“I’m not writing to add to people’s pain; I just hope I can make them laugh, too. My husband reads my early drafts and I sit there in the next room. It’s only when he starts laughing that I think, OK, it’s OK.”

‘Hardball’ is published by Hodder & Stoughton at £12.99

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A Review of Jodi Picoult’s House Rules

From San Francisco Chronicle --

Jodi Picoult knows `Rules' of engaging readers --

By Alicia Rancilio --
March 12, 2010 --

"House Rules" (Atria, 353 pages, $28), by Jodi Picoult: Jodi Picoult knows her audience. She tends to write family dramas that tug at the heartstrings. Her books have short chapters, usually written from the perspective of the main characters, and often have a surprise ending.

Her latest book, "House Rules," sticks to this winning formula.

The story focuses on Emma, a single mom with two teenage boys. Her older son is Jacob, 18, who has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism.

Jacob takes comments at face value, hates the color orange and schedules his days around his favorite TV procedural crime show. He has memorized dialogue from movies to insert into conversation when needed.

When Emma confronts Jacob about an altercation with a teacher, he responds, "You can't handle the truth," a line from Jack Nicholson's 1992 film "A Few Good Men."

Emma has rearranged her life to care for Jacob. She prepares meals according to the colors he likes. On Monday, he eats green foods. On Tuesday, the color of the food is red, and so on. She can barely afford the bills for his medications and supplements.

The other family member affected by Jacob's condition is 15-year-old Theo, who is tired of making allowances for his brother. Theo desperately wants to live a normal life with a normal family. He dreams of having two parents, a big house and a brother who doesn't have special needs.

Then the family is turned upside-down. Jacob's tutor is found murdered, and he is accused of killing her. Emma can no longer shield him from life's harsh realities.

"House Rules" is a compelling mystery with heart. It won't disappoint Picoult's fans, and it should keep new readers engaged.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Review of The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

From The New York Times --

Fiction Chronicle --

By Jan Stuart --
Published: March 11, 2010 --

By Elizabeth Kostova.
Little, Brown, $26.99.

Writing novels about artists and their creative urges is as thorny as making biopics about writers and the interior process of putting words on a page. Such is the lesson of this stultifying romantic why-dunit from the author of “The Historian,” in which a psychiatrist (regrettably) named Marlow takes on the puzzling case of an artist arrested for attempting to slash a painting in the National Gallery of Art. Was it professional jealousy or a crime of passion? Violating every professional boundary in pursuit of an answer, Marlow proves a perfect match for his felonious patient, Robert Oliver, a ­commitment-challenged flake with a penchant for women who gravitate toward any wall within head-banging distance. Among them are Oliver’s ex-wife, Kate, and ex-lover, Mary, who provide two of the several narrative voices, which range in style from 19th-century epistolary to the sort of robotic art commentary suggestive of a tour guide tethered for life to the French Impressionist wing. Almost every­one in Kostova’s insular universe is a painter or a collector, and they have much to say about the books’ fictive canvases, variously described over the course of 500-plus pages as “incredible,” “extraordinary,” “remarkable” and “superb.” Absorbing so much blather about paintings you’ll never see is like slogging through a scrapbook of social columns recounting parties to which you’ve never been invited.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Interview with Kathy Reichs

From Politics Daily --

'Bones' Inspiration Kathy Reichs Inspires Girls in Science --

by Mary C. Curtis --
Posted: 03/9/10 --

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – We occasionally like to highlight accomplished women on WomanUp, even when their busy and organized schedules leave us feeling dizzy and a bit envious. I caught up with Kathy Reichs – forensic anthropologist, academic, best-selling author and inspiration for a hit television show – before her talk at a Book and Author dinner at Queens University of Charlotte.

Reichs and her family live here, where she is on the faculty at University of North Carolina at Charlotte. But she spends a lot of time traveling – to Montreal, where she is a consultant for the Laboratoire de Sciences Judiciaires et de Médecine Légale for the province of Québec – and on the day after Monday night's event, to California, where the TV show "Bones" is filming the first script she's written.

The show's title character is based on both Reichs and Temperance Brennan, star of her books. On the show, Temperance is a forensic anthropologist who solves crimes during the day and writes novels in her free time – books whose heroine is named Kathy Reichs. Got it?

As a producer, the real Reichs reads every script – for the science, mostly, she told me before her talk. She gets a kick out of all the e-mails and notes she from girls and young women interested in following her in a field that had few female role models when she started. An unscientific survey confirmed many girls count "Bones" among their favorite TV shows because Reichs stand-in Emily Deschanel is brainy, not just because co-star David Boreanaz is cute. Reichs said she deconstructs the sexy plot lines with young fans to point out the science. "Did you know that part was chemistry?" she says to them. "And that was physics?"

Reichs said her TV self is "younger." Reichs is funnier, her banter breezy and sharp -- or as breezy and sharp as you can be while describing sifting through skeletal remains. She explained how the bones of victims told her a serial killer in Canada was either a butcher or an orthopedic surgeon, or "perhaps it was both," she said she joked at a gathering of orthopedic surgeons.

The fictional cases can't compare to what she's handled in real life, though. Reichs testified at the United Nations tribunal on genocide in Rwanda and helped exhume a mass grave in Guatemala. Her hardest assignment, "physically and psychologically," she said, was identifying remains found at Ground Zero after 9/11, "13-hour shifts, digging through rubble. Everybody was fragile and wanted to help."

As though to prove her point that she doesn't believe in writer's block, Reichs is working on a young adult series with her 31-year-old son, a "recovering attorney." Her latest book is "206 Bones," named for the number in the human body; "Spider Bones" is due in August.

And, she said, no one calls her "Bones" -- "more like doc."

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Interview with Linda Fairstein


'Hell Gate' author Linda Fairstein finds mystery in Gracie Mansion, home of New York's mayor --

By: Gina Salamone --
March 7th 2010 --

From skulls surfacing in City Hall Park to a body turning up behind Gracie Mansion, some scandalous scenes take place at local landmarks in "Hell Gate."

Author Linda Fairstein didn't have to delve too deep for inspiration for the legal thriller, which hits shelves Tuesday. Many sites and characters were plucked from New York City's news and her own experiences.

Fairstein, 62, headed the sex- crimes unit of the Manhattan DA's office from 1976 to 2002. "Hell Gate" marks the 12th book in her successful crime series about fictional prosecutor Alexandra Cooper.

In the latest novel, Gracie Mansion serves as the center of a murder investigation when a body is found in a well there.
While there's no real well on the upper East Side home's grounds, the body of a man with a knife wound was found in Carl Schurz Park outside Gracie Mansion in 2004, and other crimes occur in the park from time to time.

Fairstein herself has attended many functions at the mansion, the mayor's official residence (though Mayor Bloomberg chooses not to live there).

"It had a history and physical beauty that fascinated me, when you consider that it was built 200 years ago as a summer home when this part of the island was not populated," she says. "People took a boat ride 5 miles away to get away from the congestion and the disease in lower Manhattan. So it was one spot on my list of places to get to" in the books.

The house overlooks Hell Gate, the narrow East River strait that separates Astoria from Randalls Island. Its rough waters are difficult to navigate because of strong tidal flows.

As cops and Cooper canvass the house for clues in the book's murder case, they marvel at the mansion's history. It was built in 1799. Mayor Robert Wagner's wife, Susan, added a new west wing that was completed in 1966.

Inside, stairs lead up to the Blue Ballroom. "This is the huge entertaining space that is the new wing," Fairstein says. "It's just an incredibly gracious and beautiful, entertaining space. That's the way most New Yorkers would come into the house."

In the book, police search the state bedroom upstairs. "Nelson Mandela has stayed in there," Fairstein says. "If you look out over the river, I think you see every borough, except Staten Island, from the second floor of the house."

The home's library is where Cooper and the detectives have their first discussion about the murder.

In the book, a detective mentions all the financial help Bloomberg has anonymously donated to restore the home and track down some of its original furniture. In reality, the mayor has been just as generous.

"The dining room has furniture that has been found and restored," Fairstein says. "The mirror in there has an eagle with a ball and chain in its claws. It's the symbol of the revolution, as the eagle is lifting the ball and chain of oppression from British rule."

The cannonball on display in the mansion's parlor is more than ornamental. "The house was destroyed during the Revolutionary War by cannon fire from Willets Point in Queens and one of the cannonballs was found. So that literally sits in the yellow room, which is a big entertaining parlor," says the author.

Gracie isn't the only mansion that plays a part in "Hell Gate." Hamilton Grange in Harlem and the Morris-Jumel Mansion, which has had reports of being haunted, also appear.

"While I was doing my research, the head of the Gracie Mansion Conservancy told me that there were three, and only three, Federal Period wooden mansions that still exist in Manhattan," Fairstein explains. "So that led me to the other two. Then my research led me to this link among the three of them that involved a murder case from 1800. And that was almost uncanny - that there really was a crime that connected the owners of the three homes."

If that's not shocking enough, few New Yorkers know of the bodies that were buried in City Hall Park and just north of it.

In "Hell Gate," Cooper trips while leaving the building and finds herself face to face with a jawbone in the ditch by a path.

It's not too far-fetched. In 1991, a building project revealed remains of 427 bodies beneath a parking lot about two blocks north of City Hall. They are believed to be part of a long-lost African burial ground. And in 1999, a renovation of City Hall Park turned up Colonial burials — though their history is unclear.

"I don't think, at this moment, you'll see skulls and femurs there," Fairstein admits. "But they're around."

It's not only well-known buildings that show up in "Hell Gate," but the city's far-reaching neighborhoods like Douglaston, Queens. Cooper's favorite restaurants — like Primola on the upper East Side — are Fairstein's, too.

"A lot of out-of-towners will walk in and say, 'Does Linda Fairstein really eat here?' " the author says. "What's her favorite drink? So it's fun for the restaurant owners. And it's fun for me. The mix of real with fictional has always been one of the things that makes me smile when I write."