Friday, 27 December 2013

Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

Hardback:  Identical twins Kate and Violet are about as unlike as two peas from the same pod can be.

Except in one respect - they share a hidden gift they call 'the Senses', a special kind of intuition that can allow them to see things that are yet to come.

After Kate inadvertently reveals their secret when they are thirteen years old, they are set on diverging paths into their adult lives.

Twenty years later, Kate is a suburban housewife who suppresses her premonitions in the hope of leading a normal family life, while Violet lives alone and works as a psychic medium.

Then one day Violet ignites a media storm by predicting a major earthquake in the St Louis area where they live.

As the day Violet has announced for the earthquake draws nearer, the sisters must grapple with the legacy of the past, the confusion of the present and the unsettling glimpses they both have of the future.

Funny, haunting and thought-provoking, Sisterland is a book about the obligation we have toward others and the responsibility we take for ourselves.

It is also a mesmerizing novel of family and identity, loyalty and deception, and the delicate line between truth and belief.

About the author:  Curtis Sittenfeld is the author of the word-of-mouth bestseller American Wife (2008) which was longlisted for the Orange Prize, as was her first novel, Prep (2005), a New York Times bestseller.  It was followed by The Man of My Dreams (2006).  Sisterland (2013) is her latest book.  Her books are translated into twenty-five languages.  She is also the author of an e-book called A Regular Couple (2012), available exclusively for Kindle.  She is married, with two young children.

Rating:  5/5

Thursday, 26 December 2013

Death Angel by Linda Fairstein

Hardback:  In New York's Central Park, Assistant DA Alex Cooper and Detective Mike Chapman race to track down a serial killer before yet another young woman is found dead.  Is the body in the Ramble the first victim of a deranged psychopath or could other missing women be connected to this savage attack?

The enormous urban park, a sanctuary in the middle of the city for thousands of New Yorkers and tourists who fill it every day, may very well become a hunting ground at night for a killer with a twisted mind.

Death Angel (2013) is the fifteenth and the latest book in the excellent Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper series.

About the author:  Like Assistant DA Alexandra Cooper, Linda Fairstein was once a top New York City prosecutor.  She is one of America's foremost legal experts on crimes of violence against women and children.  For three decades, she served in the office of the New York County District Attorney, where she was Chief of the Sex Crimes Prosecution Unit.

In 2010, she was presented with the Silver Bullet Award from the International Thriller Writers Association.  Fairstein's Alexandra Cooper novels have been translated into more than a dozen languages and have debuted on the Sunday Times and the New York Times bestseller lists, among others.  She lives in Manhattan and on Martha's Vineyard.  Follow her on Twitter @LindaFairstein.

The next and sixteenth book in the Assistant DA Alex Cooper series, Terminal City, will be out in June 2014.  Hurray!

Rating:  5/5

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Merry Christmas To All

The Virgin today brings into the world the Eternal.  And the earth offers a cave to the inaccessible.  The angels and shepherds praise him and the magi advance with the star.  For you are born for us, Little Child, God Eternal. - Kontakion of Romanos the Melodist.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Prisonomics: Behind Bars in Britain's Failing Prisons by Vicky Pryce

Hardback:  In March 2013, Vicky Pryce was sentenced to eight months in prison for accepting her ex-husband's penalty points on her driving licence some ten years earlier.

After a very public trial, she was sent first to the notorious Holloway and then to East Sutton Park, an open prison in Kent.

Inside, she kept a diary documenting her views and experiences;  from this diary, Prisonomics was born.

Faced with the realities of life behind bars and inspired by the stories of the women she met, Pryce began to research the injustices she found within the prison system.

In this informed and important critique, she draws upon her years of experience in economics to call for radical reform and seeks to change how we look at crime and punishment.

Prisonomics (2013) is not only a personal account of Pryce's experience in prison.  It is also a compelling analysis of both the economic and the very human cost of keeping women behind bars.

As Pryce wrote in her Introduction (excerpts), "Combining my prison diary with various data sources and interviews with individuals and organisations engaged with the prison service or campaigns for penal reform, this book has tried to put as much evidence together as possible to show that in fact the system is broken and a major rethink needs to take place."

"It is absurd that as crime goes down we put more people in jail at a huge cost to society when money is tight and there is a public deficit to deal with.  From a strictly economic and public expenditure point of view, the Ministry of Justice bangs too many up but delivers far fewer bangs for the taxpayer's buck than the equivalent ministries in better-run countries."

"Prison is the wrong sentence for a large number of offences.  The women I met had rarely, if ever, caused serious damage to others and pose no threat to society.  The custodial sentences mostly male judges enjoy imposing do not act as deterrents for crime;  if anything they increase the chance of those released reoffending."

"There is also overwhelming evidence that the children of prisoners suffer from being separated from their parents, and those who lose contact entirely or end up in care have a much higher chance of offending themselves than children who stay close to their families, particularly, but not exclusively, to their mothers.  The despair of many of the women I met in my brief stay in prison was heartbreaking."

"Throughout this book, I try to give some pointers on how money could be saved through different sentencing guidelines, more community service, more mental health and other support, by keeping families together or at least in touch with each other and, crucially for the economy as a whole, by providing more and better education in and out of prison to improve further chances of employment."

"But this book really belongs to the amazing women I met in Holloway and East Sutton Park."

About the author:  Vicky Pryce is an economist and commentator.  Following a number of positions in the banking and oil sectors, she worked as senior managing director at FTI Consulting;  was the director general for economics at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS);  was a partner and chief economist at KPMG;  and was the joint head of the UK Government Economics Service.  In 2000, she co-founded the Good Corporation to promote corporate social responsibility.  Pryce is the author of several publications, including Greekonomics (2012) and Restarting Britain (2011).  She lives in south London and has five children.

The Sunday Before Christmas

Friday, 20 December 2013

Darker Than Night (True Crime) by Tom Henderson

Darker Than Night (2006) is the true story of a brutal double homicide of two deer hunters from the Detroit area in the woods of northern Michigan in 1985, the surprising developments that shone light on the case eighteen years after the events unfolded, and the quest for justice.

Paperback:  On a cold snowy night in November 1985, two men begged for their lives.

Two friends, Brian Ognjan of St Clair Shores and David Tyll of Troy.

They were only twenty seven years old.

They left their suburban Detroit homes for a weekend of deer hunting at the Tyll family cabin near White Cloud, a small town on the western side of the state.

They never arrived.  They were never seen or heard of again.  It was scary.

Their families and police suspected foul play.

For eighteen years, no one could prove a thing and their killers went free.

It made no sense.  How?  Why?  Where were they?

Then, a relentless investigator got a witness to talk, and a horrifying and chilling story emerged.

In 2003, this bizarre case hit the glare of the criminal justice system as prosecutors charged two brothers, Raymond and Donald Duvall, with murder.

With no bodies ever found, the case hinged on the testimony of one terrified witness who saw a bloody scene unfold and who was still nearly too frightened to talk.

Later, more than half a dozen witnesses cited terror and threats as factors in not coming forward sooner with information.

Now, the truth behind an 18-year-old mystery is revealed against the backdrop of an unusual, electrifyingly dramatic trial.

Raymond and Donald Duvall bragged to friends that they killed their victims, chopped up their bodies and fed them to pigs.

Even though several witnesses told police that others might have been present that night in 1985 when Ognjan and Tyll lost their lives, only the Duvall brothers were arrested, tried and convicted for the crime.

After a seven day trial and 120 minutes of deliberation, the jury found both brothers guilty of two counts of first-degree premeditated murder.

Nine days short of the eighteenth anniversary of Ognjan and Tyll's disappearance, the killers were brought into the courtroom for sentencing.

After the victims' impact statements, the presiding judge sentenced the brothers to life imprisonment without parole.

Raymond is currently incarcerated at the Newberry Correctional Facility and his younger brother, Donald, is detained at the Chippewa Correctional Facility in Michigan.

"It won't bring my son back, but it will help," said Arthur Tyll.  "It's about time somebody paid for it.  It's kind of justice but they owe me eighteen years and a son, and they can't give me that.  I was glad to see them cuffed and I can't wait to see them in chains."

Helen Ognjan, in the early stages of Alzheimer's, said softly after the verdict, "I'm glad, I'm just glad."  Brian Ognjan was her only child.

Sadly, neither Tyll nor Ognjan's remains were ever found.

What of the motive?  There was no motive.  It started as an argument which escalated into a beating and ended in a brutal and barbaric crime and "completely unjustified by any circumstance imaginable."

In her closing arguments, the prosecuting attorney said, "There is no understanding of the whys of Ognjan and Tyll's death, because it's pure evil, and there is no understanding of pure evil, only recognition of what it is."

After all, how can there be enough justice for the ruthless and senseless obliteration of two human lives?

About the author:  Tom Henderson was a copywriter and sportswriter for the Detroit Free Press in the 1970s, covering the University of Michigan football team and the Red Wings hockey team.  He began a weekly running column for the Detroit News in the 1980s that ran for nearly 20 years, and also regularly profiled high-tech companies for the paper's business section.  In the 1990s, he was senior editor of a monthly publication called Corporate Detroit.  His first true-crime book, A Deadly Affair, was published by St Martin's Paperbacks in 2001, the same year he helped launch a website,, and a print magazine, Small Times Magazine, both based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and devoted to micro- and nanotechnologies.  His second true-crime book, Blood Justice, was published in 2004.  A veteran of 40 marathons, he has coached the American Diabetes Association's marathon fundraising team and is a frequent contributor to Runner's World Magazine and Running Times Magazine.  He covers banking, finance, accounting, venture capital and technology for a weekly business publication, Crain's Detroit Business, and teaches feature writing in the journalism department at Wayne State University.  Darker Than Night is his third true-crime book and his fourth, published in 2009, is Afraid Of The Dark.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Paperback:  On one of the most important days of her husband's presidency, Alice Blackwell considers the strange and unlikely path that has led them to the White House.

Thrust into a position she did not seek - one of power and influence, privilege and responsibility - Alice must face contradictions years in the making:  how can she at once love and fundamentally disagree with her husband?

How complicit has she been in the trajectory of her own life?

American Wife is a beautifully written novel that weaves race, class, wealth and fate into a brilliant tapestry - a novel in which the unexpected becomes inevitable, and the pleasures and pain of intimacy and love are laid bare.

Curtis Sittenfeld wrote that American Wife is a work of fiction loosely inspired by the life of an American first lady, Laura Bush.  Her husband, his parents, and certain prominent members of his administration are recognisable but ultimately, American Wife is a work of fiction.

About the author:  Curtis Sittenfeld is the gifted author of two previous novels, Prep (2005), which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in the Best Novel category in 2006, and The Man of My Dreams (2006).  Her third novel, American Wife (2008), was also shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction in the Best Novel category in 2009.  She is married and lives in the USA.  Her latest and fourth novel, Sisterland, (2013) is out now.  For more information about the author and her novels, please go to her website.  The author is on Twitter.

Curtis Sittenfeld talked about American Wife following its publication in 2008:

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 15 December 2013

The Gods Of Guilt (Mickey Haller, Book 5) by Michael Connelly

Chapter Two:  "Your father always called the jurors the 'gods of guilt.'  You remember that?"

"Yep.  Because they decide guilty or not guilty..."

Hardback:  Mickey Haller gets the text, "Call me ASAP - 187", and the California penal code for murder immediately gets his attention.

Murder cases have the highest stakes and the biggest paydays and they always mean Haller has to be at the top of his game.

When Mickey learns that the victim was his own former client, a prostitute he thought he had rescued and put on the straight and narrow, he knows he is on the hook for this one.

He soon finds out that Gloria Dayton was back in LA and back in the life.

Far from saving her, Mickey may have been the one who set her on the road that led to her death.

Suddenly Mickey's not just trying to get his client off a murder charge;  haunted by the ghosts of his own past, and with his own guilt or redemption on the line, he desperately needs to find out who Gloria really was and who, ultimately, was responsible for her death.

About the author:  Michael Connelly is the author of twenty-five previous novels including the Number One New York Times betsellers The Black Box, The Drop, The Fifth Witness, The Reversal, The Scarecrow, The Brass Verdict and The Lincoln Lawyer, as well as the bestselling Harry Bosch series of novels.  He is a former newspaper reporter who has won numerous awards for his journalism and his novels.  He spends his time in California and Florida.  Book sixteen of the Harry Bosch series, The Black Box (2012), won the world's most lucrative crime fiction award, the RBA International Prize for Crime Writing, worth 125 000.

Below is the official trailer of The Gods of Guilt (2013) by Hachette Book Group and Michael Connelly talking about his latest Mickey Haller book.  Both videos and more information can be found on his official website:

Rating:  5/5

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Britannia's Daughters: Women of the British Empire by Joanna Trollope

Paperback:  In Britannia's Daughters (sec edn 2006), bestselling novelist Joanna Trollope examines the contribution of women in building and sustaining the British Empire.

Drawing on a vast range of sources, including diaries and letters home, she provides a panoramic picture of the countless women who departed Britain for India, Australia, the Far East, Canada and Africa - often in search of opportunities unavailable at home.

"Some left England quite frankly in pursuit of a husband, some to earn a living or a status denied them at home, some - more as time went on - to accompany and support men in the lonely, difficult and responsible business of setting up and maintaining colonial rule;  some went because missionary zeal was so much part of the Victorian religious attitude and found themselves nursing and teaching with equipment and in conditions that would not be contemplated today;  and some, commonly those with private means, went out to explore the world quite literally, travelling astounding distances and bringing back with them anthropological information and botanical specimens which contributed significantly to the scientific research of the day."

Englishwomen people this (non-fiction) book as they peopled the Empire - their astonishing courage and endurance, their remarkable personal stories vividly and enthrallingly recaptured.

About the author:  Joanna Trollope was born in December 1943.  She is the eldest of three, the mother of two daughters and the stepmother of two stepsons - and now a grandmother.  Joanna went to school in Surrey and then to Oxford.  After a spell in the Foreign Office, she became a teacher before becoming a full time writer.  She first wrote historical novels under the name Caroline Harvey, then Britannia's Daughters (1983), followed by her contemporary works of fiction, several of which have been televised.  The Choir (1988) was her first contemporary novel and The Rector's Wife (1991), her first number one bestseller, made her into a household name.  Joanna was awarded the OBE in the 1996 Queen's Birthday Honours List, for services to literature.

She has a huge commitment to people:  "I mind more and more about people, especially vulnerable and disadvantaged ones."  She supports The Gloucestershire Community Foundation, The March Foundation, for Dementia, RNIB (especially the Right to Read Campaign), the Meningitis Trust, Mulberry Bush School and Breast Cancer Care.  When she considers what has happened to her career in the last ten years, she often thinks, as her friend Jilly Cooper once said, "You'd believe it, wouldn't you, if it happened to someone else."

Friday, 6 December 2013

E-Story: On Father's Day (True Crime) by Megan Norris

Kindle:  On Father's Day (2013) is a heartbreaking account of Love and Loss.

When newly separated mum, Cindy Gambino, dropped her boys, Jai, 10, Tyler, 7, and Bailey, 2, off to spend Father's Day 2005 with her estranged husband, she had no idea she would never see them alive again.

Now, the 'triple dam drowning mum', who was the true target of Robert Farquharson's festering rage, relives the unspeakable revenge which shocked Australia, and left her with the legacy of life-long suffering - her punishment for ending their marriage.

"...When fathers deliberately kill their children, it is often because they are angry with their former partners for leaving the relationship.  The father may appear to love his children and may not have been violent toward them...The act of killing them appears to be directed against the mother as the ultimate form of punishment."  

"In researching cases where fathers kill their children after separating from their partners, I have come to understand their behaviour as part of the broader social problem of violence against women...There is a widespread perception that fathers are driven to act violently because the Family Law process too often deprives them of access, causing them enormous distress."  

"But in many instances, fathers have actually killed their children during access visits...Cindy Gambino's story is important because we understand so little about these cases..."

"This book provides vital information for those who deal with family separation and violence - police, lawyers, judges, mental health workers, mediators, family violence support workers and those who conduct men's behaviour change programs...Indeed, the whole community can benefit from reading this book."

(italics - excerpt from the Foreword) Dr Deborah Kirkwood, Researcher, Domestic Violence Resource Centre of Victoria and Adjunct Research Fellow, Monash University.

If you are a victim of domestic violence or you know someone who is, we urge you to speak up.

Support is available for anyone who may be distressed by calling (Australia) Lifeline on 131 114, Mensline on 1300 789 978, Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or SANE Australia on 1800 18 SANE (7263) (Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm).

In emergency situations or immediate danger, call Police on 000.

For confidential help and referral in Australia, call the National Sexual Assault, Family and Domestic Violence Counselling Line on 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732).

Children/young people needing help should call Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800.

Dr Ann O'Neill's organisation, Angelhands, provides support and assistance to those who have been affected by homicide or serious violence.  Phone 08 9272 2242.

About the author:  Megan Norris is a UK-trained journalist who has spent the past thirty years specialising in court reporting.  The author of three books, two of them true crime, Megan first met Cindy Gambino in 2007, when she secured and wrote Cindy's story for a national Australian women's magazine.  For the past six years, Megan has continued to report on Cindy's heartbreaking journey, both in the courts and behind the scenes, and to see at first hand the lifelong suffering inflicted upon her by her ex-husband's revenge crime.  A former winner of the EVA awards for best Australian magazine feature tackling violence against women, Megan has a special interest in women and children as victims of crime.  She lives in Melbourne with her husband and their two sons.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

The Last Lawyer by John Temple

The Last Lawyer (2009) is the true story of a tireless legal samaritan and his warfare on the injustice of capital punishment and his fight to save death row inmates.

Hardback:  The Last Lawyer is the true, inside story of how an idealistic legal genius and his diverse band of investigators and fellow attorneys fought to overturn a client's final sentence.

Ken Rose has handled more capital appeals cases than almost any other attorney in the United States.  The Last Lawyer chronicles Rose's decade-long defense of Levon Bo Jones, a North Carolina farmhand convicted of a 1987 murder.  Rose called this his most frustrating case in twenty-five years, and it was one that received scant attention from judges or journalists.

The Jones case bares the thorniest issues surrounding capital punishment.  Initially, inadequate legal counsel, mental retardation, mental illness and sketchy witness testimony stymied Jones's cause.  Yet, for many years, Rose's advocacy gained no traction, and Bo Jones came within three days of his execution.

The book follows Rose through a decade of setbacks and small triumphs as he gradually unearthed the evidence he hoped would save his client's life.  At the same time, Rose also single-handedly built a nonprofit law firm that became a major force in the death penalty debate raging across the South.

The Last Lawyer offers unprecedented access to the inner workings of a capital defense team.  Based on four-and-a-half years of behind-the-scenes reporting by a journalism professor and nonfiction author, it tells the unforgettable story of a lawyer's fight for justice.

About the author:  John Temple is an associate professor of journalism and associate dean at West Virginia University.  He is the author of Deadhouse:  Life in a Coroner's Office (2005).  His new book project is related to prescription drug abuse - it offers news and research about the impact of prescription drugs in America.

Other books of interest:  Merrilyn Thomas, Life on Death Row:  One Man's Fight Against Racism and The Death Penalty (Paladin, 1991).

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Sense And Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

Hardback:  Two sisters could hardly be more different.

Elinor Dashwood, an architecture student, values patience and reliability.  Her impulsive sister, Marianne, takes after their mother Belle and is fiery and creative, filling the house with her dramas and guitar playing, while dreaming of going to art school.

But when their father, Henry Dashwood, dies suddenly, his whole family finds itself forced out of Norland Park, their beloved home for twenty years.  Without the comfort of status, their values are severely put to the test.

Can Elinor remain stoic and restrained knowing that the man she really likes has already been ensnared by another girl?

Will Marianne's faith in a one and only lifetime love be shaken by meeting the hottest boy in the county, John Willoughby?

And in a world where social media and its opinions are the controlling forces at play, can love ever triumph over conventions and disapproval?

With her wit and eye for social nuance, Joanna Trollope casts Sense and Sensibility (2013) in a fresh new light to re-tell a wonder coming-of-age story about young love and heartbreak, and how when it comes to money especially, some things never change.

About the author:  Joanna Trollope is the author of seventeen highly acclaimed contemporary bestselling novels including, most recently, The Other Family (2010), Daughters-in-Law (2011) and The Soldier's Wife (2012).  She has also written a study of women in the British Empire, Britannia's Daughters (1983), and ten historical novels published under the pseudonym Caroline Harvey.  Joanna was appointed OBE in the 1996 Queen's Birthday Honours List and was the Chair of Judges for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012.  Fans of Joanna Trollope will be pleased to know that she will be releasing a new book, Balancing Act, in 2014.

Joanna Trollope's much-anticipated contemporary reworking of Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility (1811) launched The Austen Project.  "It is hugely exciting to attempt the reworking of one of the best novels written by one of our greatest novelists.  This is a project which requires consummate respect above all else;  not an emulation, but a tribute," said the author.

The Austen Project is a major new series of six novels teaming up authors of global literary significance with Jane Austen's six complete works.  The project continues with Val McDermid's twenty-first century version of Northanger Abbey in spring 2014 and Curtis Sittenfeld's Pride and Prejudice in autumn 2014.  Alexander McCall Smith will be reworking Emma.  The names of the other two writers and further news will be announced later this year.

Rating:  5/5

Sunday, 1 December 2013

Captive: The Story of the Cleveland Abductions by Allan Hall

Paperback:  One monster, three women, ten years in captivity.

22 August 2002:  21-year-old Michelle Knight disappears walking home.

21 April 2003:  Amanda Berry goes missing the day before her seventeenth birthday.

2 April 2004:  14-year-old Gina DeJesus fails to come home from school.

For over a decade, these girls remained undetected in a house just three miles from the block where they all went missing, held captive by a terrifying sexual predator.

Tortured, starved and raped, kept in chains, Michelle, Amanda and Gina fell victim to the dark obsessions that drove Ariel Castro to kidnap and enslave them.

In his Prologue, the author wrote, "In this book, all aspects of the horrors endured by the Cleveland captives are explored, while the key figure, Castor, remains centre stage.  The world wants to know what made his dark heart beat.  Who formed him?  What motivated him?  What petty fortunes of life forced his soul to morph into the twisted, terrible thing it became?"

"Ultimately, there was a happy ending of sorts.  His victims survived.  They will heal.  They will, it is hoped, find love and happiness in a world they thought had forsaken them.  They, not Castro, are the victors."

Based on exclusive interviews with witnesses, psychologists, family and police, Captive:  The Story of the Cleveland Abductions (2013) is an unflinching record of a truly shocking crime in a very ordinary neighbourhood.

Captive is the first and only book (I know of) that is related to the Cleveland abductions but there is news that Michelle's memoir is going to be published in April 2014.

"I want to give every victim of violence a new outlook on life," said Michelle, "we shall define ourselves not as victims but as victors, and this will lead us to peace."

Amanda and Gina are also working on their book with Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporters Mary Jordan and Kevin Sullivan but no date has been announced for their book yet.

About the author:  Allan Hall was a New York correspondent for ten years, first for the Sun and later for the Daily Mirror.  He has spent the last fifteen years covering German-speaking Europe for newspapers, including The Times and the Mail on Sunday.  He is the author of some twenty previous books on crime and the paranormal, including the Penguin best-seller Monster (2008), an investigation into the life and crimes of Josef Fritzl, and Girl in the Cellar:  The Natascha Kampusch Story (2006).  He lives and works in Berlin.