Sunday, June 13, 2010

Interview with Val Mcdermid

From Scotsman --

Interview: It can be murder, but Val McDermid's love of Raith is no mystery --

By Aidan Smith --
10 April 2010 --

Best-selling author's father was the Stark's Park scout who discovered Jim Baxter, and ensured his daughter became a fan

STARK'S Park is one of the world's great football grounds viewable from a train. Head north up the East Coast Main Line and the last you glimpse of it is the stand paid for by blood, guts, torture, dismemberment and ever more elaborate death.

But when the hard-up and grateful Raith Rovers offered to call the structure The Val McDermid Stand in recognition of her sponsorship, the ten million-selling crime writer and Rovers fanatic declined. "So it's known as The McDermid Stand in memory of my father," she says. "Being an internationally-renowned cultural icon is all well and good, ha ha, but in Kirkcaldy I'll always be Jim McDermid's lassie."

Jim McDermid was turnstile manager for Rovers and, more significantly, a scout. Crucially, he was the one who found Jim Baxter. His daughter would have been just a babe when he made the dramatic discovery, but as soon as she was old enough, she'd accompany him on his talent-spotting rounds.

"I'd be four or five and Dad would get this plank of wood he always kept in the boot of the car and place it by the side of the pitch," she says. "It stopped us sinking into the mud as we stood in the biting east wind and freezing rain watching Crossgates Primrose, Ladybank Thistle and the rest – teams mostly made up of miners who were experiencing the tremendous joy of not being underground. They'd spend all afternoon kicking great lumps out of each other."

You can tell she's a writer, can't you? Colourful description, social background, emphasis on the most romantic of club-names, nice juxtaposition of 'Primrose' and 'mud' – and of course Crossgates were Baxter's team. Rovers, because of her father who died in 1987, are McDermid's team and she'll be cutting short her customary Bahaman holiday after the completion of yet another book to be at Hampden tomorrow.

She thinks they've got "a wee glimmer of a chance" in their Scottish Cup semi-final against Dundee United although she admits this is based on the kind of evidence that would get her crimebusting heroine, psychological profiler Carol Jordan, laughed out of court.

"I never remember my dreams and I can't stand people who start sentences with: 'I had the most amazing dream last night ... ' Now, you probably won't believe this, but I had the most amazing dream last night and what's more I remember it. I dreamt the Rovers won 2-1."

I tell her I believe her because a made-up dream would have been over-egged with highly suspect detail, such as the nature of the injuries reducing Raith to eight men, the number of opposition players beaten twice in the dribble leading to the equaliser, the velocity of the overhead-kick winner, and so on. And I guess that's the mark of a good writer: knowing when to embellish, and when 2-1 is just enough.

Today we're not in the Bahamas or Kirkcaldy but in Stockport, just outside Manchester, enjoying a spot of lunch. McDermid is a large, jolly 54-year-old with spiky silver hair, a radical feminist and just as radical socialist, who, when asked by the waitress what size of wine glass she'd like, quips: "Do I look the sort of person who ever orders a small anything?" She spends two days a week here to be with nine-year-old Cameron, the son conceived with a previous lesbian partner through artificial insemination. The rest of the time she's in Alnmouth in Northumberland with Kelly Smith who she calls "the wife".

Tentatively, I ask how all of this goes down at Raith but there's no need for coyness with McDermid, who says: "If I ever worry about being an old, fat lezza – which by the way I don't – then I'm pretty confident the attitude of the Rovers would be: 'Aye, but you're our old, fat lezza.'"

At school in Stockport, young Cameron plays dodgeball in a Rovers strip. "He likes to say that Man U are his second team," she laughs. Smith has also been indoctrinated in Rovers' ways, and while the American publisher's first team remain baseball's Detroit Tigers, she was with McDermid for the derby with East Fife when Cameron got to lead out Raith as their mascot.

"That was a very proud day," says the writer, "and a pretty hilarious one as well. The wee man got to keep the ref's pound coin and was interviewed in the centre circle. Cameron introduced himself and said he was from Manchester; the Stark's announcer said: 'So you've come here to see how fitba should be played.' Then the announcer asked who he'd brought to the game and Cameron – bless him, uttering words never before used at the Rovers – said: 'My mum and my step-mum.'"

Any reaction from the away end? "Well, if you're wondering if they jeered, then no. East Fife are from Methil, don't forget, and they're slow on the uptake there. By the time they'd worked out our domestic arrangements the moment to hurl abuse was gone."

McDermid has written 26 books, and the Carol Jordan titles have been turned into the hit ITV series Wire in the Blood starring Robson Green. The 27th will be called The Cost of Everything and concerns a series of deaths dating back 20 years. "The question is, are they the work of a psychopathic serial killer or is this person just someone around whom bad things happen?" The title is a Deacon Blue song, as is every chapter heading, the Scots rockers' leader Ricky Ross being more generous than Paul Weller, who refused McDermid permission to use Jam songs in her book The Distant Echo.

The restaurant is a favourite haunt, and the maitre d' has just passed on a request from another regular, a professor in medical history, who wants McDermid to talk to his students. She's happy to oblige, just as long as it's understood her talent is writerly imagination. "Some folk get the wrong idea. Recently I had to tell these clinical psychologists: 'No no, I make this stuff up.'"

The excitable newspapers which ask her to write profiles of murderers, such as Gianni Versace's killer, can get similarly confused, but McDermid admits there's been the odd unnerving moment when a real-life crime has echoed one she's dreamed up. If she inhabits a world positioned between fact and fiction, though, maybe the same can be said for Raith.

There's the celebrity patronage, something which can provoke sneers from the terraces' hodden rank-and-file, and Rovers are the team of Gordon Brown and, improbably, almost the whole of Scotland's senior whodunnit fraternity when you include Ian Rankin. There's the legend: "And they'll be dancing in the streets of Raith tonight!" Even more improbably, Raith were once shipwrecked. And what are the team supposed to be this season – fact or fiction? First Division plodders or Scottish Cup fantasists?

McDermid details her credentials. "I cannot remember a time when football, and the Rovers, weren't a huge part of growing up in Kirkcaldy. We lived across the road from the library, which was definitely a bigger influence on my life, but every Saturday night I'd be sent round to the corner shop for the Evening Telegraph sports final so Dad could read about the Rovers and, of course, our rivals.

"I asked him why Dunfermline were known as 'The Pars'. He said: 'Well, darlin', it's short for 'Paraplegics' 'cause that's how they play.' He also told me that the tank traps on Kirkcaldy beach were there specifically to stop Hitler getting his hands on the linoleum he craved and I believed that one for quite a long time."

McDermid still believes in football rivalry. "I've no time for slab-faced sectarianism but a little bit of responsible hatred is necessary for the cohesion of the whole." It was right and proper, she says, that when East Fife-supporting Jack Vettriano was asked to help Raith in their hour of need, he said he'd only give money to see them go bust.

Her oldest memories of Stark's Park are of restricted views ("My dad had to put me down whenever he wanted to wave and yell, which was quite often") and the perishing cold which only became slightly more bearable when she learned to let the gravy in a Pillans pie run down her sleeve. Perhaps not surprisingly, she struggles to nominate a favourite player from childhood.

"My early relationship with the Rovers was unusual. I didn't share experiences with kids my age because on match-days I'd be hanging on to Dad while he chatted with Bert Herdman, the manager, or Rankin Grimshaw, the chairman. And of course I was a girl. I did give Dad the satisfaction of buying me football boots – from Brown's Bazaar in Kirkcaldy – when I started playing hockey for the school. I was the goalie so I needed the protection of the re-enforced toecaps. I remember him saying: 'I'm the only man in the whole of Fife whose daughter wants fitba boots for Christmas.'

"He wasn't very successful at tempting my mother to games – she got soaked to the skin at Alloa once and never went back. In fact, when she was invited to Stark's Park for the stand dedication, that was her first time inside the ground. Dad would have loved to have been a footballer, I'm sure, only the TB he contracted during the war put paid to that." But did he wish his only child had been a son? "No, I was never dragged along to the Rovers – I loved it."

Perhaps because she grew up an outsider ("There were no lesbians in 1960s Fife"), McDermid never got frustrated by Raith's inability to be all-conquering. "You need a sense of humour to be a Rovers fan, though – same with being a Fifer. Only Fife would try to persuade tourists to walk a coastal path which goes through Methil Docks and past the slurry-burning Levenmouth Power Station!"

Work commitments prevented McDermid from being in the crowd for the 1994 League Cup triumph over Celtic ("I listened on the car radio. When the winning penalty was scored I burst into tears and almost drove off the M62"). But on the tenth anniversary of the club's greatest day, and with Raith threatened with extinction, she answered the call.

Or rather the wife did. "Kelly said: 'This guy Gordon Brown was on the phone.' I presumed she meant the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Whatever you say about Gordon – and I could say a lot about how he's awkward and unspinnable but that's what people claimed they wanted after Tony Blair; and how we must have short memories if we're seriously thinking about voting for the posh, smug gits again – it's beyond dispute that he's a Rovers man. I don't think he's happier than when he's watching a game with his boys either side of him. Our own fathers were good friends from the BBs. He told me it was time for everyone with the Rovers in their hearts to help save them."

Her sponsorship of the old north stand, rumoured to be six figures, is initially for two years though she hopes the arrangement will continue beyond that. "When Gordon asked me to get involved, I wasn't sure I belonged – but I've really been made to feel part of things. You'll probably want to cue the violins here, but, in a community that has been kicked in the teeth so many times in recent years, the Raith story is a heartwarming one about a family club that people still care deeply about."

The novelist much preoccupied with death has helped resuscitate Raith, but she gives all of the credit to everyone else including manager John McGlynn ("He's done a fantastic job, totally changing the culture and showing the team how to have pride in themselves") and Ally Gourlay, chairman of the ex-players' association.

McDermid tries to make it back for half a dozen games a season and these days she sits in the directors' box. "They're the same seats as in the main stand, separated by a small concrete wall, so the luxury is relative." And what does the famous crime writer get from her football team? Oh, just about everything.

There's mother-son bonding, humour ("After we beat Aberdeen, the Dons fans spotted the team coach and sang: 'Can you play for us instead?'"), and the reassurance that, like the smell of lino, Raith never leaves you. An old school friend is Hampden-bound after getting in touch from Saudi Arabia via Facebook and she's even bumped into Rovers fans in the Bahamas. "I was in a restaurant when this guy started complaining to the waiter. I turned round, pointed to the club crest on his shirt and right away he dropped the American accent. Would you believe that his mum and mine play cards together?"

It takes all sorts to follow Raith, as the murder-obsessed old, fat lezza who's good friends with the last Prime Minister would confirm, although McDermid likes being just another face in the crowd. "Sometimes I'll be asked if I'm the one who writes 'they books'. But, you know, Dad never let on to me he'd discovered Jim Baxter. Years later when I found out by myself he said: 'Oh him? Aye he wisnae bad.' That's very Fife. We don't like to make a fuss."

First rule of Fife Club: no dancing in the streets? If Raith win tomorrow, let's see if that holds.

Interview with Jodi Picoult

From The Wire (NH) --

Looking autism in the eye --

By: Matt Kanner --
06 April 2010 --

Best-selling author and N.H. resident Jodi Picoult discusses her latest novel at The Music Hall

After a grueling national tour in support of her new best-selling book, Jodi Picoult was elated to be back in her home state.

“It is so nice to be in New Hampshire again,” she told the crowd at The Music Hall in Portsmouth, where she participated in the Writers on a New England Stage series on March 31.

At the time of her visit, Picoult’s new novel “House Rules” sat atop the New York Times bestseller list for fiction. Topping the list for nonfiction, coincidentally, was “The Big Short,” the latest book from Michael Lewis, who will take The Music Hall’s stage on Wednesday, April 7.

This isn’t the first time Picoult has authored a bestseller. At the age of 43, she has already published 17 novels, several of which have been made into TV movies. Her 2003 hit novel “My Sister’s Keeper” was made into a major motion picture last year starring Cameron Diaz and Alec Baldwin. She has also authored several issues of the “Wonder Woman” comic book series for DC Comics.

“House Rules” tells the story of Jacob Hunt, a teenager with Asperger’s Syndrome. Jacob is phenomenally intelligent, but he struggles to express himself socially. And, like many kids with Asperger’s, he has a specific passion—in Jacob’s case, forensic analysis and crime scene investigation. Tipped off by his police scanner, he begins showing up at crime scenes and offering pointers to the cops. But the tables turn when Jacob, himself, becomes a murder suspect.

Picoult, who is known for plotlines that revolve around controversial social issues, said she chose to write about Asperger’s because it’s an often misunderstood condition that affects countless families, including her own. “Like many people, I’ve had autism touch my family personally,” she said in an onstage interview with Virginia Prescott, host of New Hampshire Public Radio’s “Word of Mouth.”

Asperger’s is on the high-functioning end of the autistic spectrum and manifests itself in a variety of ways. Picoult spoke of her cousin David, who grew up with the syndrome and now lives in a group home. He is prone to destructive tantrums, which, at over six feet tall and 250 pounds, often draw attention from police.

Like many of Picoult’s novels, “House Rules” is written from the perspective of several different narrators. At The Music Hall, Picoult read a section of the book with narration from Jacob, his mother Emma and a police detective named Rich.

Getting into the head of a teenage boy with Asperger’s was a challenge Picoult did not take lightly. She researched prodigiously on the topic, interviewing and surveying dozens of people with Asperger’s and their families. She also studied ongoing debates about what causes Asperger’s and how best to treat it.

“I literally wound up with hundreds of pages of research,” she told Prescott.

Some of the stories Picoult heard from real people made it into her book, and a woman with Asperger’s read over the final manuscript to verify its accuracy.

Still, although Picoult has heard positive feedback from thousands of fans, some people have criticized her fictional portrayal of Asperger’s. But if Picoult weren’t confident with the accuracy of her work, she said, she never would have published it.

“Jacob is a compilation of a lot of real kids, and every kid with Asperger’s is different,” she said. “You can’t please everybody all the time, but I can tell you that if the book is out there, I stand by it.”

Picoult does exhaustive research for all her books. She has no assistant and does all the work herself. During her research for “House Rules,” she even attended an autopsy, which she said was “fun.” For her 2003 novel “Second Chance,” which involves supernatural forces, she visited haunted buildings with a team of “ghost hunters” and witnessed some truly spooky happenings.

Picoult is no stranger to writing about murky and often contentious issues. The Hanover resident, who has three kids of her own, has written about teen suicide, date rape, bulimia, the death penalty, school bullying and stem cell research, among other things. Her forthcoming novel “Sing You Home,” due out in 2011, will deal with embryo donation and gay rights.

Prescott asked Picoult how she has managed to sell millions of books in a country where most people are uncomfortable discussing the types of social issues she addresses.

“I think it’s because I try very hard not to preach to you,” Picoult said. “I really think that my opinion is no better than yours.” Instead of telling readers what to think, she added, she attempts to illustrate all sides of the argument.

Part of the price of tremendous commercial success is that Picoult does not receive much esteem from the highbrow literary community. Like some past regional authors to participate in Writers on a New England Stage, including Stephen King and Dan Brown, she’s considered more of a commercial writer than a literary writer.

Picoult said going the commercial route was a deliberate choice. Although she will likely never win a National Book Award in the United States, she said, reaching a wide audience is more important than garnering personal accolades, and she’s encouraged by the support of fans who have been touched by her work.

Also like King, Picoult is not always completely satisfied with the film interpretations of her books. Many fans of “My Sister’s Keeper” were disappointed that the film version dramatically changed the ending.

Picoult said she had no control over the screen adaptation. She said having one of your books made into a movie is like having someone else raise your baby. “Sometimes you find out that your baby grew up with crack whores, and that’s just the way it is,” she said to immense laughter.

Picoult’s work has been tagged with a reputation for appealing mainly to women—a theory supported by the predominantly female audience at The Music Hall. But Picoult thinks she is equally popular among men. She started tracking all the emails she receives from fans (she gets about 250 per day and responds to every one). “Forty-nine percent of them came from men, so hah!” she said.

Why, then, were there so many more ladies than men in the audience?

“That’s because women need a night out,” Picoult said to applause.

Jodi Picoult’s appearance at The Music Hall will air on New Hampshire Public Radio during “Word of Mouth” on Thursday, April 8 at noon. For more information on Writers on a New England Stage, a collaboration between The Music Hall, NHPR, RiverRun Bookstore and Yankee Magazine, visit

Friday, June 11, 2010

Review of The Shadow of Your Smile by Mary Higgins Clark

From Blogcritics Books --

Book Review: Shadow of Your Smile by Mary Higgins Clark --

By: Sahar --
Apr 06, 2010 --

I have been a fan of Mary Higgins Clark for many years now, and a new book release is always cause for celebration. In Shadow of Your Smile, her newest one, Mary Higgins Clark manages yet again to flawlessly weave a story that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last page.

Monica Farell's father spent his life searching for his biological parents, but to no avail; he passed away without ever finding them. Thirty-one year-old Monica isn't particularly concerned with her biological heritage; after all, her own family is everything she could have asked for. On top of that, the demands of her job as a beloved and successful pediatrician don't leave much time for anything else.

But her biological heritage catches up with her. Her biological grandmother, Catherine, told only a handful of people about her pregnancy, which occurred right before she entered a convent to become a nun. Since that fateful day, Catherine and most of the secret holders have passed on. The only secret holder left is Olivia, Catherine's cousin and adoptive sister. Olivia has in her possession letters proving the latter is Monica's grandmother. She has kept this knowledge safe throughout her life but now, the 82 year-old is on her deathbed. Faced with at best two to three weeks, she has to decide: will she share what she knows with Monica, or take it with her to the grave?

The situation is delicate for many reasons. Telling Monica who she really is entails Olivia betraying Catherine’s wishes by revealing the story behind Monica’s ancestry. As a nun, Catherine has served the cause of children as a nun during most of her life and is being considered for beatification by the Catholic Church when a four-year-old boy diagnosed with terminal brain cancer is miraculously cured after his desperate mother organized a prayer crusade to Catherine. Curiously enough, this little boy's pediatrician is none other than Monica Farell. While there have been rumours of this child before, Catherine's good name had, up to then, kept the gossips at bay.

There is also the fact that Monica Farell would stand to inherit all of her grandfather's holdings — or whatever is left of them. After his adventure with Catherine, Alex Gannon became a internationally renown doctor, a scientist at the cutting edge of his field and the inventor of numerous hip & knee prosthetic replacements. Alex Gannon knew about the child Catherine carried and gave away, but was never able to find out the identity of said child. However, in the hopes that, one day, his fortune would return to his rightful heir, a stipulation in his will and testament clearly states that were his biological child ever to be found, the Gannon fortune will go to it or it's descendants.

But while Alex Gannon and his direct biological descents are hardworking, honest people, the inheritors of his estate certainly are not. Alex Gannon's nephews have been squandering their uncle's fortune, and there is almost nothing left of it. Greg and Peter Gannon hid their inclination towards extravagance with philanthropy, but their carefully constructed public image is falling apart. Thankfully, no one knows about Gannon's biological child and the one who did know had no intention of sharing the information — until Olivia found out she was dying.

Unfortunately, Olivia confides in the wrong person. Since there is no money left, and since their public image would be ruined were the truth to come out, neither nephew wants anyone to come poking around in their finances — something that would certainly happen were Monica to be identified as Alex Gannon's descendant.

How do you solve a problem like Monica? You get rid of both the cause and the source, i.e. Monica and Olivia — permanently.

It's not for nothing that Mary Higgins Clark is known as the Queen of Mystery. The author of twenty-eight previous suspense novels, all of which have been best-sellers, she once again delivers a flawless book that bit by bit builds tension, bringing together a collection of people who would have otherwise never met. And the years have been kind to her writing, as its quality been steadily increasing. Not only has the level of intricacy of her stories increases, but the number of themes covered in her stories has also been increasing. In Shadow of Your Smile, Monica struggles with the seeming conflicting concepts of religion and science, in particular medical science, as well as the definition of what one's identity is and entails.

Another great piece of literature, a great travel companion that is bound to make summertime traveling a lot easier, since you won't notice the time passing while you read it.

Just make sure you don't miss your flight.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Q & A with Jodi Picoult

From Autism Support Network --

Q&A with bestselling novelist Jodi Picoult --

By: Katherine Olson --
April 4, 2010 --

Q:House Rules follows the struggle of a single mother, her AS son Jacob and her neurotypical son Theo, as they navigate a murder mystery involving Jacob’s beloved friend and tutor. What has been your personal experience with autism? How does it relate to Jacob’s struggle to communicate, such as when he is questioned at the police station in such an aggressive way that it causes a meltdown?

A:Today, everyone has experience with autism. I have a cousin who, when he was young, was found to be profoundly autistic. Police were once called in, with allegations of child abuse. Law enforcement often doesn’t know how to question, or how to deal with autism.

Q:What are some of the rules or prejudices you feel might be broken by parents, educators in order to better reach AS kids like Jacob?

A: For teachers: Don’t assume that a child who thinks “different” is “lesser than.” Instead of teaching to the group, realize that there are multiple ways a child might learn. For parents: Don’t be such an advocate for your child that you forget who you used to be. For researchers: Stop the semantics war regarding autism and vaccines. No, science has not proved causality. But there is a difference between “connection” and “causality.” Vaccines may not cause autism but perhaps it’s worth researching whether, in certain kids, they trigger underlying genetic or mitochondrial issues which then blossom into autistic behavior.

Q: You seem to have perfected Jacob’s voice. How did you nail it?

A: I began my research at a Pennsylvania school for autistic children and interviewed six AS kids and their parents, individually. I also had 40 other teens with AS fill out questionnaires, which gave me hundreds of pages of research. These kids were blisteringly bright, and open when there isn’t social interaction concerned. I also asked one particularly bright girl with AS, who is a great writer, to read through Jacob’s narrative. Because of her incredible attention to detail, I have 100% faith in the validity of Jacob’s narrative.

Q: How has the AS and autism community reacted to your research for this book, and the story itself?

A: I have heard from so many parents thanking me for raising awareness about autism through my fiction. I only hope that when they read the book they find their experiences validated. And for those who don’t have a personal connection to autism, I hope the book can open their eyes a bit and spread a little more tolerance of children who are different.

5 Facts you don’t know about Jodi Picoult

I have two miniature donkeys

I have been skydiving.

I can’t stand custard or crème brûlée.

I met my husband when we were both on the crew team in college (I was the coxswain, he was the stroke of the boat).

In my spare time, I’ve written six original children’s musicals that have been performed to raise over $40K for charity.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Review of House Rules by Jodi Picoult

From Winnipeg Free Press --

Picoult page-turner about autism takes breath away --

By: Anne Katz --
3/04/2010 --

Jodi Picoult's new novel will demand your undivided attention.

House Rules
By Jodi Picoult
Simon & Schuster, 557 pages, $32

American commercial novelist Jodi Picoult is a prodigious writer, with almost a book a year since 1992.

She is immensely popular; her last three debuted in first place on the New York Times bestseller list; and this one has already made No. 1 on McNally Robinson's Winnipeg list.

Three of her novels (The Pact, Plain Truth and The Tenth Circle) have been made into TV movies and one (My Sister's Keeper) made it to the big screen with Cameron Diaz in the lead role.

Her books usually focus on a family with a big issue -- a child with a rare and devastating illness -- and involve a court case involved where one parent tries desperately to find a solution to the problem and the other parent is opposed to this strategy.

In House Rules, Picoult tackles the topical issue of autism spectrum disorder by telling the story of an 18-year-old man with Asperger's Syndrome, a high functioning form of autism.

This is a big book, and a real page turner. While Picoult counts women as her fan base, this novel will appeal to men as well.

It is the ideal read as cottage season starts. But be careful, you won't be cleaning and organizing once you read the first page.

Jacob lives with his mother Emma, who has given up pretty much her whole life, including her husband who couldn't cope with the demands of this brilliant but extremely challenging child.

Emma has a younger son, Theo, who at 16 is profoundly affected by the accommodations they all have to make to live with Jacob.

Emma has a set of house rules that she expects her sons to abide by: clean up your own messes; tell the truth; and take care of your brother because he's the only one you've got.

One of Jacob's eccentricities is that he is extremely literal with no ability to grasp nuance or subtlety, and these three rules which he abides by almost slavishly form the focus of the story.

A young woman who tutors Jacob in social skills goes missing, and this small family is drawn into a maelstrom when her body is found and Jacob is charged with her murder.

He has all the signs of guilt -- an inability to look one in the eye, as well as an obsessive interest in forensic science and crime scene re-enactments. Was he involved in some way in her death?

Picoult tells the story through the voices of Emma, Jacob (who has an appealingly wry sense of humour), Theo, a police officer investigating the case, and the young, likely unqualified, lawyer Emma hires. Their voices are clear and distinct and the story moves along at a fast pace.

Like all Picoult's novels, House Rules is well-researched and she provides an intimate and detailed understanding of the issue at hand.

In this case, we learn about autism spectrum disorder and the fascinating presentation of Asperger's Syndrome. We also see a vivid example of the deep love parents hold for their children in all their perfection and with all their flaws.

Picoult provides the prerequisite court case and a twist at the end that some readers will see coming. But for those who don't, it may take your breath away for an instant.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Review of 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton

From Blogcritics --

Book Review: 31 Hours by Masha Hamilton --

By: Gordon Hauptfleisch --
Mar 29, 2010 --

“Tomorrow Jonas’s day belonged to a greater cause. Tomorrow he would be pure energy, a spark and a flash, a name on a million lips. But today he was just Jonas, Manhattan Jonas, Upper West Side Jonas, young man Jonas…”

Those hours between being Manhattan Jonas and being on a million lips – those tightly stretched 31 Hours, to be precise – did not so much belong to a greater cause as belong to the actions of a foolish and immature young 21-year old who deceives himself and many others that he is a sensitive and impressionable martyr and not the monster he truly is. Yes, he is overwhelmed by his rage and passion over the world’s injustices, to the point of irrationality (“We’re all terrorists… Every single one of us…”); despite the subtle and ever less-and-less sparsely set signs of mental instability (“He feels like something’s missing, like the world is immoral and only he sees it”); and, protestations aside, his proneness to violence and all-out destruction (“He wanted, after all this, nothing short of the collapse of Rome").

And yes, this man of peace, faith, and understanding — intent to make a statement to a hardened and hypocritical populace in his new role as an Islamic suicide bomber – will be strapping on a vest of explosives, leaving his safe-house beneath the Brooklyn Bridge, and entering the New York City subway system with six others to right the world’s wrongs by taking his life and as many other innocent others as he can.

As author Masha Hamilton skillfully interweaves the sequence of events and the telling of the tale from various perspectives, 31 Hours belongs just as much – if not more so — to Jonas’ mother Carol Meitzner from the start, from her woman’s intuitive premonition when she woke up and “sat fully upright, an inhale caught in her chest,” her mind “filled with Jonas. Her son. Her wild-haired precious.” She had been concerned about his erratic moods and depression, and realizes she had not heard from Jonas in several days. It’s a worry that translates into action as Carol initiates a game plan of sorts, journeying through the city on a mission, contacting family and friends, in down times reflecting on the inner-life of her only son, splendidly explicated in Hamilton’s nuanced, scalpel-sharp,and inspired prose:

Ever since adolescence, Jonas had suffered from periods of overcast internal weather. He asked for so much from life. He demanded the stripping away of the skin; he insisted on seeing all the way to the muscles and veins, but if those muscles seemed insubstantial, the veins too paltry to carry the essential rush of blood, he was disappointed as an old man finished with his days. At those times, when he spoke, he voice would catch on some random word, as if everything was about to be too much for him. Sometimes, in those depression periods, she felt Jonas was lost to her, wandering alone in a bitter night, carrying only a flashlight with a beam too hesitant and shallow to guide him home.

Carol, in addition to contacting the authorities – who identifies Jonas as a home-grown terrorist who had traveled to Pakistan for special training — calls upon others who know the “real” Jonas: her ex-husband, Jake; Jonas's girlfriend, Vic, a dancer whose longtime friendship with Jonas recently turned to love; and Vic's younger sister, Mara, who feels she must carry the burdens of a broken family on her shoulders. Also in the mix is Sonny Hirt, a personable homeless man with a sixth sense that provides him with portent of impending tragedy while he spends life underground in the subway, a crossroads of humanity in which we come to know the full bearing a terrorist attack on the subway systems would cause.

It is all the more remarkable that Hamilton not only balances these secondary characterizations, subplots, and back stories in a craftsman-like manner, but that she seamlessly integrates them within the main plot as back-of-my-mind narrative embellishments, all the more humanizing the warts-and-all world that, by extension, Jonas would wipe out with "Something significant. The Gandhi alternative seemed grandiose and improbable in the current day. This was an age of sanctioned violence — air strikes, not hunger strikes."

Perceptive and cohesive throughout, 31 Hours makes for tautly-building suspense as each chapter’s changing viewpoint centers on closing in on Jonas' whereabouts and narrowing in on his progress as he tries to widen the gap from being “just Jonas, Manhattan Jonas, Upper West Side Jonas, young man Jonas..." After all, amid the pulse-pounding and heartrending moments evoked, he has some "sanctioned violence" to attend to — if he isn't stopped first.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Interview with Deborah Crombie

From The Journal News (New York) --

Writer Deborah Crombie is obsessed with her characters --

By Connie Ogle --
March 28, 2010 --

Some suspense novelists grow weary of reprising their characters in book after book and seek respite by writing stand-alone novels. Deborah Crombie's fans needn't worry.

"I hear writers say they are bored and that they would like to do something else, but I don't feel that way at all," says the creator of the Duncan Kincaid/Gemma James mystery series, which follows the personal and professional lives of two Scotland Yard investigators in London. "I miss them when I'm in between books doing research. I always want to be back with them, back in their lives."

Crombie, who lives with her husband in McKinney, Texas, sounds as if she could happily talk about Duncan and Gemma for a long time. She likes them that much, though she admits that Gemma's young son Toby is "lots of fun, but if I had to live with this kid, I would kill him."

Solving crimes and domestic disasters plays a part in Crombie's works, with the domestic issues as important as whodunnit. The relationship between Duncan and Gemma has deepened in the 13 novels: Crombie's latest book, "Necessary as Blood" (Morrow, $24.99) involves not only the disappearance of a young mother and the murder of her solicitor husband but also a big development in the lives of the couple. The two finally joined households in "And Justice There Is None."

The menage now includes two dogs and a cat, given that animal lover Crombie has two cats and two German shepherds. (You can see photos at

"I have a soft spot for cocker spaniels, too," she admits, "which is why Gemma has Geordie, her cocker. But I sneak some shepherds into the books, too."

Q: When you began the series, was there criticism about you being "an American who writes about England"?

A: Not as much as I thought there would be. Martha Grimes was already published, and so was Elizabeth George. ... I don't know if I would have had the nerve to do it otherwise. I've wanted to write since I was a teenager. I was not an English major. I was a biology major. But I took a creative writing class that kept me from writing for about 10 years. The teacher hadn't published anything but would tell you what was wrong with what you wrote and persistent in telling you that you have to write what you know. I think that's true in a sense. You need depths of research to learn about your subject, and you need to create authenticity, but if you take it literally, nobody would write anything! We'd have no science fiction, no historical novels, no women writing from men's viewpoints. And I thought, "I don't want to write a story about a girl growing up in suburban Dallas!" I loved English crime fiction.

Q: When did you settle down and write your first book?

A: When my daughter was born in 1983 I was working on a master's in humanities, not because I wanted to teach but because I had grad-school syndrome. I quit because I couldn't juggle everything. ... But when she was 4 or 5 my ex-husband and I made a trip to Yorkshire and stayed at the place that becomes the time share in "A Share in Death." I thought, "Wouldn't that be a fun place to set an updated country-house mystery?" I thought, "I need a detective," and went from there.

Q: Were you thinking in terms of writing a series?

A: Yes, because that's what I like to read. I had very specific things in mind for the characters. Not in terms of the story arc — I didn't know that when I started — but I had specific things in mind for the people. I was tired of emotionally damaged characters. I wanted to write about people who were police officers because they were good at it, not because they were alcoholics or their fathers were serial murderers. I wanted people I could identify with and who readers could identify with. And with Gemma, in particular, I had a small child at the time. I had functioned like a single mother though I was married, and I wanted to write about a character who was dealing with those things and still cared about her job and wanted to do well at it. I wanted the characters to be different in background and class so you would have those irritants in the relationship.

Q: Did you worry about breaking the cardinal rule of fictional relationships when you brought Duncan and Gemma together as a couple?

A: That was a deliberate decision from the first book. I don't want to write static characters. You knew Inspector Morse was never going to get sober, and if he loved a woman she'd be the victim or the murderer. I want to write about characters who have real lives. People said about Duncan and Gemma's relationship, "You can't get them together. You'll kill the series!" But people move on. Relationships evolve.

I seldom get letters from people about the crime in the books. About 95 percent of my e-mail is about Duncan and Gemma and what's going to happen with them. Obviously something hits the reader about them as much as it does me.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Review of The Last Illusion by Rhys Bowen

From Hollywood Today --

Books: The Last Illusion --

By Gabrielle Pantera --
March 27th, 2010 --

In this Molly Murphy Mystery, a female sleuth is hired to protect the life of master illusionist and man of danger Harry Houdini **** 4 Stars

HOLLYWOOD, CA (Hollywood Today) 3/27/2010 – “Harry Houdini was in a league of his own,” says The Last Illusion author Rhys Bowen. “He inflicted terrible bodily harm on himself while performing his escapes. Many of Houdini’s illusions have never been improved upon in the past hundred years.”

The Last Illusion, a Molly Murphy Mystery, features New York private investigator and Irish immigrant Molly Murphy on her way to see a trio of illusionists headlined by Harry Houdini. Houdini has just returned from Europe, and Murphy looks forward to the show and a pleasant evening with her fiancé, police captain Daniel Sullivan. Unfortunately, Houdini won’t perform that night. Signor Scarpelli’s saw-a-lady-in-half trick goes horribly wrong. His assistant dies. Is it an accident or murder?

When the body of Scarpelli’s assistant disappears, there are more questions then answers. Houdini’s wife Bess asks Molly to keep Houdini safe. She thinks someone is actually after Houdini. But, how can Molly keep the master illusionist safe when he puts his life in danger every night?

“I’d long wanted Molly to meet Houdini because he was such an iconic figure of his time,’ says Bowen. “I read every biography, talked to members of the Magic Circle, and watched him perform in some very old movies,”

“It was such a pivotal decade, starting with the death of Queen Victoria and everything her age stood for…decorum, meek little women, security, the family and ending with the Titanic, invention of radio and first rumblings of WW1,” says Bowen. “The mass migrations to the U.S. meant that America would be changed forever. Setting my book in New York City gives me a chance to show the melting pot in action.”

There are currently no plans to adapt the The Last Illusion for the screen. However, Bowen’s bookConstable Evans series has been optioned for TV and Her Royal Spyness has been optioned for a film. Her Royal Spyness is a Bowen mystery series that features Lady Georgiana as the sleuth.

“I am almost finished with the next Molly Murphy book, called tentatively Bless the Bride,” says Bowen. “It takes place in New York’s Chinatown. The history of the Chinese in America makes for fascinating reading.”

“For those who have read my other Molly Murphy books, this one reads more like a thriller,” says Bowen. “It’s definitely a nail-biting page-turner as Molly enters the world of illusionists and international espionage.”

This is Rhys Bowen’s ninth Molly Murphy mystery. Her characters are charming and witty. The level of historical detail is perfectly in balance with the story. Bowen brings the time and her characters to life. Another Mystery by Bowen not to be missed by mystery lovers.

Rhys Bowen was born in the city of Bath, England. She currently lives in Marin County, California. She’s written 22 mysteries. Bowen has won both the Agatha and Anthony Awards for mystery writing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Review of Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain

From --

Book Review: Books at center of murder tale --

By: Terry Peters --
March 26, 2010 --

- Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain, Minotaur Books, 308 pages, $31.99.

A roadside washroom yields a horrifying surprise to a young family that brings the police racing to the scene.

As the discovered organ is removed, more body parts surface and then the recognition of a graffiti covered wall's significance leads to one conclusion, the Beauty Killer is back.

Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer whose beauty has brought her a legion of followers, is still at large.

The last encounter between her and detective Archie Sheridan, head of the Beauty Killer Task Force, left the damaged Portland police officer at death's door. Addicted to painkillers, estranged from his family, psychologically battered, Sheridan has checked into a psych ward. But Lowell's heart shaped graffiti is enough to pull him back to the chase as inevitably as his own hand is drawn to trace the same shaped scar that she carved in his chest.

Chelsea Cain is in top form as this third novel rips into the night with the same intensity of her debut, Heartsick.

Her characters continue to evolve, ready to surprise us and keep our attention. With Gretchen Lowell, Cain has created one of the most memorable and dangerous killers in modern fiction.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Interview with Jodi Picoult

From KKTV (Southern Colorado) --

My Interview with Jodi Picoult --

By: Leslie Fichera --
Mar 26, 2010 --

There are times when you just think, I love my job! This was one of those times for me. I got to sit down and interview my very favorite author, Jodi Picoult. It was my version of meeting a celebrity and I was nervous! I had to be a one-man band (meaning I was the reporter and photographer) ... not to mention my actual job at KKTV is Web director, so although I write a lot, it had been a while since I'd picked up a camera and done my own story.

Anyway, I really liked Jodi. She was very nice and also very straight forward and funny! She made the auidience laugh a lot during her lecture and I really enjoyed listening to her speak. I was only allowed to tape the first 5 minutes of her lecture (not her rule!), but once I turned my camera off, I sat and listened to the whole lecture. It was so interesting!

Here's the story I wrote about the interview with Jodi... I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed interviewing her and writing it!

She's one of the most well-known and intriguing authors of our day. Her name tops the bestseller list 17 times over. Jodi Picoult is an outstanding writer and a strong-willed woman who dares to write about topics that force us all to challenge our beliefs, question our convictions and ponder a world that could very well be our own, if just in another life.

As an avid Picoult reader, I jumped at the chance to sit down with her while she was in Denver on tour to promote her newest book, out just this month, House Rules.

I wondered, we all know she has the ability to create dramatic and heart-wrenching stories on paper, but, where do the story ideas come from? What's behind her first-person narratives? How does she feel about her outstanding success? What's her favorite of her own novels?

In short, what's her story?

I started with what's probably the most common question for Picoult... where does she get the ideas for her dramatic and controversial books? Centered around topics like a teenager with Asperger's Syndrome who's accused of murder ("House Rules"), a death row inmate who wants to donate his heart to the sister of his victim ("Change of Heart") or an Amish girl who finds herself unmarried and pregnant ("Plain Truth"), is it her imagination or are these real-life experiences?

"My ideas come from the 'what if?' questions that I can't answer. It's the stuff that keeps me up at night," Jodi says. But Picoult says none of her books are completely made up.

"I've been doing this for 19 years now and I have never just say down at my computer and started making stuff up. In fact, sometimes research takes me longer than the physical act of writing the novel. Well, why do I even bother? I think fiction is a tight rope. I think it's my job to whisk you away from your everyday life and to somehow take you to a different place. In order to do that, I have to make characters and situations that reign extremely true, and because of that I have found myself doing some pretty remarkable things in the name of research. I have observed open heart surgery, I have spent time in jail, I got to leave at the end of the night but I did spend time in jail... I have studied with craft, I've shadowed police chiefs, I've lived with the Amish. If I haven't done it, I'm sure I'm getting there sooner of later. It makes for some really interesting work days," Picoult told the crowd of almost 1,000 at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts in Denver.

If you haven’t read any of Picoult’s books yet, well, that gives you a taste of the topics. Whether it’s religion, politics, sex, abortion, scandal, the death penalty or violence, Picoult says the controversial topics are no mistake. She says she feels strongly about her beliefs but she hopes the reader will never know it. She says if she’s done her job well as an author then she’s researched and represented both sides of any argument and her own beliefs should never be evident.

Specifically with “House Rules,” Picoult says she wanted to highlight a breakdown in our country's legal system when someone like Jacob Hunt, the book's main character who is diagnosed with Autism, finds himself accused of murder. His "Aspie" tendencies, the inability to look people in the eye, nervous twitches, lack of empathy and monotone voice, look an awful lot like guilt.
“You see that total breakdown in the legal system when you don’t communicate a certain way and that was really what I was driving at.”

“House Rules” hit bookstores on March 2, and debuted at #1 on the New York Times bestseller list.

Picoult says the story idea was also partly personal; her 30-year-old cousin is autistic so she’s seen firsthand how it affects families. She says the center of the problem in our society is a simple lack of understanding. And that’s what “House Rules” is all about. That led me to my next question… how do you go about writing a first-person narrative through the voice of someone with Asperger’s syndrome? Picoult says she visited with autistic children and talked to families who live this life every day.

“I have to say I’ve been doing this for almost 19 years and Jacob is one of my favorite narrators. It was great to write like him and really stick my mind inside his. There’s a beautiful logic to Aspergers that we don’t usually think about because neuro-typical people just don’t think that way. But to think differently is not to think lesser than.”

Personally, my favorite part of her writing is that style of first person narratives. She weaves and builds characters in a way that makes us all understand them. No matter what the character or extraordinary situation, we empathize with each of them because we get into their thoughts and see it through their eyes.

“One of the things that makes me different is that I’m really hard to pigeonhole. I have people that come up to me and say you’re my favorite mystery writer or they say you’re my favorite women’s fiction writer, you’re my favorite courtroom thriller writer. I’m not any one of those, I’m sort of a mix of all of them. If I had to pick a genre, which I really hate doing, I would say it’s moral and ethical fiction because it really addresses big problems that we usually don’t want to talk about but somehow get easier to talk about when you’re following a fictional family’s excursion through that topic. And that’s something that I think does make me unique.”

Speaking of that “courtroom thriller” title- If you’ve read a lot, or all of her books (like me), you’ve probably noticed a trend: the majority of the stories go to trial. You’d think Picoult must have a law degree with the accuracy and diligence in which she writes. Picoult just chalks it up to research. She says she likes the effect a court case has on a story.

“A trial is a really natural dramatic conclusion. You have a great big build up and there’s some kind of resolution.” Although Jodi laughed as she admitted the “resolutions” are not always what you expect.

Now, I would never dare give away an ending to one of her books because they always pack a punch (Oh, and also because she told the audience during the question and answer portion of her lecture later that night that if their question gave away the ending of a book, she’d kill them – no joke). So I’m keeping my mouth shut, but I will say the endings are my favorite part of her books. Sometimes it’s left open for interpretation and sometimes it’s a huge twist. Either way on the last few pages of every one of her books, I find myself covering up the rest of the page so as not to be tempted to spoil the ending!

Picoult’s thoughts about her books’ dramatic conclusions? “I think the ends leave you with more questions. But that’s what life is. Life doesn’t wrap up in a nice tiny little bow.”

One of her books most well-known for the ending is "My Sister’s Keeper", published in 2004 and picked up as a major motion picture in 2009. It was her first book to be published in 40 languages and has sold millions of copies worldwide. Its global appeal is what Picoult said made it ripe for the picking as a movie, but she emphasizes that she feels the book, not the movie, was the jumping point for her career. (Picoult is also extremely candid about her disappointment in the way the director, Nick Cassavetes, decided to end the movie). To summarize her thoughts: why change a good thing?

As a fan, I agree, and so do many of the fellow Picoult readers I’ve spoken to. Jodi’s face lights up when I ask her about her fans. “I have a really huge demographic and that’s really a big compliment I think. I’m really proud of that.” And her fan base might surprise you… Picoult smiled as she told me, “49% of my fan mail comes from men. Which is a great thing, I love that. And they take away very different things from the books than the women do and I really appreciate the comments that they have and the way that they chose to read the books.”

So what are the days like for a bestselling author? Picoult is on book tours about three months out of the year. The other nine months, almost like clockwork she says, she’s writing a book. She’s on a pace of writing about one book a year. Picoult says she has a strict schedule for herself. Her days start with a 5 a.m. wake-up call and a three-mile walk with her best friend. She then gets her three teenage kids ready for school and out the door. At 7:30 a.m., she sits down at her desk to answer all of her fan mail (yes, the REAL Jodi Picoult answered you!). Then it’s on to the writing, rarely breaking for lunch (except when her husband, Tim, surprises her) until 3:30 p.m., when she says suddenly, she becomes a mom again.

Her methods seem to be working well for his 17-time bestselling author. So could she, or would she, answer my most burning question?

Of the 17 books you’ve written, do you have a favorite?

“I do have a favorite novel. It’s Second Glance. And I have my reasons for it being a favorite. It involved the great research I did, the fact that as a writer it was really hard to put it together, it has characters I know you’ve never seen in fiction and it has a historical plot that is real and that most people don’t even realize ever happened in America. So for all those reasons, it’s like this wonderful constellation of what made it a great act of writing for me. And I’m really proud of the way it came out. I’ve always said you can have a different favorite as long as it’s still one of my books.”

Jodi says a lot of people tell her their favorite book is the first one they read. I say my favorite changes every time I finish another one of her books. So what’s my next favorite? Picoult has already finished her next novel. Here’s a special sneak peak for all of you fans: “Sing You Home” will tell the story of Zoe and will follow suit with Picoult’s controversies by focusing on embryo donation and gay rights in America.

Picoult promises it won’t disappoint, but we’ll have to wait until March 2011 to read it. I don’t know about you, but I’ll be first in line!