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Books To Watch Out For publishes monthly e-letters celebrating books on various topics. Each issue includes new book announcements, brief reviews, commentary, news and, yes, good book gossip.
More Books for Women
covers the finest in thinking women's reading, plus mysteries, non-sexist children's books, and news from women's publishing. Written by the owners and staff at Women & Children First, and friends.
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covers both lesbian books and the whole range of books lesbians like to read. It covers news of both the women in print movement and mainstream publishing. Written and compiled by Carol Seajay.
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announces and reviews new books by and about gay men as well as other books of interest and gay publishing news. Written and compiled by Richard Labonte.
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Books for Women
- July / August 2006 -
Volume 2 Number 7
Welcome to this issue of More Books for Women. Summer is a great time to get caught up with reading,
so we bring you many new books for both adults and kids of all ages,
fresh glimpses at some classic favorites,
a few new takes on books we've covered before, and a look at a newly released mystery
by both Mary Ellen Kavanaugh, a non-mystery reader, and by our Crime Scene columnist, Nan Cinnater.
So, as Mary Ellen deliciously describes below,
we hope you'll be inspired to find a
shady tree, a tall glass of iced tea, and any of the books listed herein to create a
summer reading oasis for yourself. Enjoy!
New Feminist Imprint From an Unexpected Source
Suspect Thoughts Press has announced the creation of two new imprints, one
of which will publish “furiously feminist fiction - and not.” Publishers Greg
Wharton and Ian Phillips created the She Devil Press imprint to allow them
to publish and promote books that are not “conventionally queer,” in a way
that will increase the imprint’s titles in the literary marketplace. (Their
other new imprint, Three Roads, will offer “an alternative to the conventional”;
Three Roads’ first release will be Some Phantom - No Time Flat: Two Novellas
by Steven Beachy.)
Suspect Thoughts is known in the publishing
world as a predominantly queer press, so any non-queer titles they
publish under the Suspect Thoughts name can get lost if the buyers
for bookstores assume that all of their titles are queer.
This happened with their fourth Suspect Thoughts title,
by Jennifer Natalya Fink, which Wharton says is one of the best
books he's read ($16.95, 0971084688).
She Devil will release two books in the fall/winter season: V, the
second novel by Jennifer Natalya Fink and Girl on a Stick by Kathleen
Bryson, author of Mush (Diva Books). The “and not” in their tagline
refers to the possibility that She Devil may publish genres other than fiction
in the future, though the titles will all be furiously feminist.
BTWOF applauds Greg and Ian for not only making a commitment
to publish literature by women but for flying the feminist flag high. In a
society where even publishers that publish decidedly feminist books shy away
from the "F word," these two gay men embrace the mantle for both
themselves and their new imprint. Let's see the world accuse them of being
Ann Christophersen is reading...
I fell in love with Lorrie Moore’s
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital
before I read a word. I heard a review of it on an NPR book show Susan Stamberg
was hosting: an independent bookseller was rhapsodic in her recommendation
of it as one of her favorite books. I was so taken with her words and sentiment
I hurried to my local bookstore (Women & Children First) and went home
to read. A few hours later I realized my earlier feelings were but an adolescent
crush compared with what I was experiencing now. This poetically spare, generous,
insightful novel reminded me at once of Alice McDermott (who has a terrific
new book, After This, coming out in September, which I’ll review then).
Their styles differ in some respects, but their attention to craft, precision
of language, respect for their characters’ complexity, and ability to hold
a reader absolutely still and attentive in their artistic grasp are comparable.
Who Will Run the Frog Hospital opens with the main character as an
adult in Paris on vacation with her husband. Their relationship, though relaxed
in the ways of couples who have been together awhile, also contains an edge
of discontent captured by the narrator’s comment that ”the affectionate farce
I make of him ignores the ways I feel his lack of love for me.” A certain
sense of adventure and “wildness” she associates with childhood leads her
to remember herself as a 15-year-old girl, and most of the rest of the narrative
is about that former self and the close ties between her and her best friend,
Sils. The subtle ways in which the strength of her devotion to Sils can never
be replicated and how the relationship between the two friends comment on
the adult marriage form the heart of the matter for me. I have only rarely
enjoyed the development of an idea as much as I did in this book. I can’t
wait to read Lorrie Moore’s other books. Vintage, $12.95, 1400033829.
The Girl Who Played Go, by Shan Sa, is another economical novel, but
more in the style of J.M Coetzee (Disgrace) than Lorrie Moore. There
is virtually no metaphorical language, and the story is told in two voices
in alternating, very short chapters. One voice is that of a high-school age
Chinese girl living in Manchuria in 1935 when the Japanese are invading her
country. The other is that of a soldier in the Japanese army. The girl is
a great character, in many respects: she’s smart, defiant of Chinese marriage
conventions, and dedicated to her awakening sexual self. She is attracted
to two boys who are key players in the developing Chinese resistance but doesn’t
have a clue about the seriousness of their political involvement or how she
will become tragically entangled in it. In contrast, the Japanese soldier
is more mature and absolutely in thrall to Japanese military convention and
the glory of Empire. The two narratives’ lines begin to develop totally separate
from each other, but as they progress they begin to have overlapping features
until finally the two characters meet and are dramatically affected by each
other and the war. The way the game of Go is explained and used throughout
the novel is fascinating, and I found the book to be extremely interesting.
I highly recommend it. Vintage, $13.95, 1400032288.
Linda Bubon recommends...
A great choice for summer reading is a paperback original,
Summer of My
Amazing Luck by Miriam Toews, the author of A Complicated Kindness.
By turns funny and touching, the novel is narrated by 18-year-old Lucy, a
single mother “on the dole” (living in subsidized housing) in Winnipeg. Lucy
is still grieving her charming, and, in her memories, loving and creative
mother who was murdered on the highway several years before. Her father, sunk
in his own grief, has turned Lucy out to live off the system. Lucy is determined
to learn to be tough from the other single moms, an interesting, heroic, and
diverse lot, but instead learns to be tender, tolerant, and resourceful. To
break up the hellish monotony of the wettest and hottest summer in Winnipeg’s
history, Lucy and her best friend Lish, a wonderful, rebellious and self-assertive
hippie mother of four daughters, take a road trip that completes Lucy’s transformation
from whiny brat to delightful adult. Toews has a knack for capturing the highs
and lows of adolescence, with its lesson-learning repetitiveness, streaks
of hilarity, moments of self-pity and absorption, and a few good parties.
Oh, and it has a fabulous ending - most impressive in a young writer. Counterpoint,
Looking for Alibrandi by Australian writer Melina Marchetta
is technically a young adult novel, I want to recommend it as great summer
reading for adults. Its young heroine, Josie, is in her last year of high
school with all its attendant pressures and possibilities. She’s been raised
by a single mom who fell from grace in her strict Italian family when she
had Josie. Josie loves her grandmother but can’t understand why she still
holds the teen pregnancy against her mother. In the course of the novel, all
kinds of deep family secrets are revealed, and issues of class and nationality
(Italian immigrant vs. native Aussies) are thoroughly and realistically explored.
I love the way Marchetta treats women’s sexuality and vulnerability, and I
think this would be a great book for older teens to use in discussing issues
of class and race in a non-American culture. Random House, $8.95, 0375836942.
Tish Hayes suggests...
Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora
is an extraordinary and important collection of voices from around the world
that complicate and enlarge Iranian identity. Although the work in the collection
is not often overtly political, editor Persis Karim has chosen poetry, stories,
and essays that challenge the image of Iran that is created from news stories
and politics to create an anthology that breaks down boundaries and stereotypes.
Most of the selections are by unknown writers, but the quality of writing
found here is impressive and the collection is a pleasure to read. University
of Arkansas Press, $24.95 paper, 1557288208.
While I don’t typically indulge in “beach reading,” I love a fantasy novel
that requires little more of me than to sit back and enjoy the story.
Majesty’s Dragon by Naomi Novik is by far the most pleasurable reading
I’ve done in ages. We begin this novel in the aftermath of a skirmish between
an English and French ship during the Napoleonic War. The prize for the victorious
English captain? A dragon egg on the verge of hatching! Not a happy situation
for the English navy, but because dragons are critical to the war effort,
they have no choice but to make do. From here, the novel for me soon becomes
all about the love story between the Captain Will Laurence and his male dragon
Temeraire. The battles and adventures they embark on keep the plot moving
quickly along, but the quiet moments between Laurence and Temeraire as they
read together, nap together, fly and hunt together, and disclose their mutual
love and respect for each other made this a novel I couldn’t put down. Of
course, now I feel like living in a world without dragons might be too difficult
to bear. Luckily I have two more books in the Temeraire series to keep me
occupied: Throne of Jade and Black Powder War. Once I’m done
with those though, I think my cats are getting little dragon costumes. Del
Rey, $7.50, 0345481283.
Angelique Grandone is enjoying...
I must admit that I am the last person to pick up a football memoir,
but Esera Tuaolo's
Alone in the Trenches: My Life as a Gay Man in the NFL
is an inspiration. A child of Samoan parents, raised on a banana plantation
in Hawaii in a dirt-floored hut, with an adolescence marked by physical and
sexual abuse and early excellence on the football field, Esera went on to
college and then NFL fame. All this, while hiding the big secret of his homosexuality.
What comes across very clearly is his integrity and strength of character
in the face of such overwhelming homophobia in the NFL - and fear. While it
often feels it has become much easier to be gay in our modern world, Tuaolo
reminds us that there are still vast fields of bigotry left to conquer. With
his humility, generosity, and what is reputed to be a pretty spectacular singing
voice, Esera Tuaolo is doing just that. Co-written with John Rosengren. Sourcebooks,
Intelligent, engaging, and incredibly accessible,
Black Bodies and
Quantum Cats: Tales from the Annals of Physics collects Jennifer Ouellette's
“This Month in Physics History” columns in American Physical Society News.
In thirty-eight bite-sized morsels, she takes on the history and nature of
physics via pop culture and literature. What the book lacks in depth (the
pieces are pretty brief considering the ginormity of the topics she's covering)
it makes up for with its wry blend of humor and awe. Ouellette clearly has
a reverence for physics and writing, making her the perfect candidate to explain
it all to those of us who slept through physics because we'd been up all night
reading Virginia Woolf. If only our professors had used Jeanette Winterson's
Gut Symmetries to explain string theory! Or The X-Men to elaborate
on electromagnetism! Suddenly science is fascinating again. Penguin, $15,
Catherine Jacquet raves about...
I was immediately drawn to Jodi Picoult’s
My Sister’s Keeper by the
storyline alone - Anna, thirteen, has spent her life as a donor for her sister
who suffers from leukemia. As a perfect genetic match and her sister’s only
source for relief from her terminal illness, Anna is indeed her sister’s keeper.
Picoult’s treatment of the subject does not disappoint. She kept me
at the edge of my seat, or perhaps more appropriately I should say she kept
me in my seat - I was so engrossed in the novel one day while riding
the El that I missed my stop! From the first few chapters when Anna decides
to sue her parents for medical emancipation, the reader is taken on an incredible
adventure through one family’s struggle with terminal illness. Picoult crafts
a realistic and honest picture using multiple narrators - brilliantly evoking
the whirlwind of emotions from all angles. From the mother who will do anything
to save her eldest daughter’s life to the destructive rebel son, Picoult’s
cast of characters breathe life into a story that revolves around the emotions
of dealing with death. This book is a must read! Washington Square Press,
Melissa Fraterrigo is a champion of figurative language in her collection
of short stories,
The Longest Pregnancy. If you’ve ever needed an example
of how writing is truly an art, this book answers the call. Fraterrigo uses
language in fresh and innovative ways. As I read, I was drawn equally to the
stories and the way she crafts her words - using language that is concise
yet extremely vivid. Her cast of characters and storylines are compelling.
While the stories themselves border a world of fantasy, they are relevant
and realistic. Before reading Fraterrigo’s work I was not a big fan of the
short story. Thanks to this collection, I am converted. Livingston Press,
Kathie Bergquist's Lesbotronic Summer Picks
I've been in school until recently and therefore have fallen a little behind
with new book releases. With my return to working in the fabulous feminist
bookstore world, I was eager to catch up on what I had missed. These may not
be the newest titles but just in case you may have missed them too, I offer
them up here.
One of the books I am most enthusiastic about right now is Alison Bechdel's
Fun Home. I love the fact that Bechdel has been getting so much mainstream
media attention lately, and she certainly deserves it. Every time I page through
a copy I am more blown away than before by what Bechdel has accomplished here,
and how the graphics, the dialogue, and the narrative all build layer upon
layer of meaning and resonance to each panel. The result is a fascinating
and deeply affecting pearl of genius.
I hand sell this book like mad, though I frequently hear resistance
from people who balk at the graphic novel format. To these resisters I say,
"People, I am one of you!" I have never really been drawn to the
graphic novel format and even find myself smugly regarding it as somehow less-than-literature
(a sentiment that will not win me many friends younger than myself, I'll readily
admit). Fun Home, as I tell all my customers, is beyond "good,"
it is great, in a major-literary-award type of way. I anticipate it will also
spur new interest in Bechdel's Dykes to Watch Out For series, which
is great in its own right, especially if it turns a more mainstream audience
onto the day-to-day, non L Word realities of lesbian life (and the
struggles of feminist bookstores!). Fun Home, Houghton Mifflin, $19.95
Another book I have been hand selling a lot lately is Helen Humphreys’ book,
Wild Dogs (which was co-winner of the Lambda Literary Award
for Best Lesbian Fiction). This novel, newly out in paperback, is about a
group of people who meet at the edge of the woods every night in order to
lure their once domestic dogs away from the wild-dog pack they have joined.
At the root of the story is the relationship between the book’s primary narrator,
Alice, and Rachel, a wolf researcher, which mirrors the story’s themes of
wildness and domesticity in this haunting and poetic novel. W.W. Norton, $13.95,
I also enjoyed reading Katia Noyes'
about a young San Francisco squatter who, upon receiving the shocking
news about her best gal pal and partner-in-crime’s sudden death, embarks on
a road trip into the heart of America. Ostensibly she is going to meet a friend
with an offer of work in the cornfields of Nebraska, but really she is in
search of a bit of family history and her "belonging“ place. The ensuing
journey involves Christian punk rockers, large farm equipment, occasional
sex and drugs, grand theft auto, armed robbery, and lots of pie in this sweet-tough
novel that is surprisingly philosophical about questions of identity - what
makes us who we are and what determines our place in the world. Alyson, $14.95,
Next up on my stacks:
The Days of Good Looks: The Prose and Poetry and Cheryl Clarke
Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks, and
Other Outlaws, by Kate Bornstein
Olivia, the reissue of Dorothy Strachey's book by Cleis Press
Mary Ellen Kavanaugh is reading...
When My Sisters’ Words still existed, I had two customers who
collected black and white postcards with images of women. For a few years
running, they would bring in their collection for display at the store and
talk to us about the popularity of postcards as a means of communication between
women in the years when the postal service was expanding and private telephones
were still somewhat rare. They got me hooked on these vintage postcards, so
Painted Ladies, edited by Nick Hedges, came across my desk at
work, I was all over it! Painted Ladies (which is what these postcards
are known as) is a collection of fascinating postcards images from the early
twentieth century - photographed in black and white, the cards were hand colored
by thousands of unknown women in their studios, making hand-tinting one of
the most popular art forms of the day. The postcards come from across the
globe, and the images range from the lovely (strong individual women dressed
in the popular clothing of the day) to the disturbing (colonialized women).
Great coffeetable book! Dewi Lewis Publishing, $30 hardcover, 1904587186.
I didn’t think much about this title when I picked up
Pardonable Lies by Jacqueline Winspear. I just knew
I was missing the detective Maisie Dobbs (Maisie Dobbs
and Birds of a Feather), and was delighted to find the
third book in the series available in paperback. (In September,
look for the fourth, Messenger of Truth, in hardcover.)
I am not a big mystery reader, so I cannot compare either the
detective herself or the story to other mysteries, but I can tell
you these are good reads, especially if you are a fan of historical
fiction and strong women characters. Our heroine, Maisie, is a
psychologist and detective living in London in early twentieth
century. This episode takes place in both London and France in
1930. The women in this book are clearly drawn, engaging, and
smart - whether they are thirteen or seventy - and you’ll be intrigued
by each of them. Filled with secret passages, hidden journals
written in code, and a clue buried under a tree, the story raises
questions about half truths and secrets and questions of what
we tell people when the truth will be deeply hurtful. I read this
over a swelteringly hot summer weekend, sitting under a tree,
iced tea nearby, and the whole experience took me back about forty
years when I’d enjoy the same with Nancy Drew. What a delight!
Picador. $14, 0312426216.
Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping by Judith Levine is just the
kind of nonfiction book I like to read - interesting sociological observations
by a well-schooled yet accessible feminist writer (think Nickel & Dimed).
Here, Levine (Harmful To Minors: The Perils of Protecting Children from
Sex) recounts her year of not shopping. She and her partner Paul live
half time in Vermont and half time in Park Slope (Brooklyn) and are each self-employed.
While they do not have tremendous amounts of expendable income, they do find
themselves to consume far more than they’d imagined. Levine extends the concept
of consuming beyond what the marketplace would say and also considers environmental
consumption. The couple take advantage of knowing rural Vermonters who intrinsically
live lightly on the land as well as their membership in a small group based
on Volunteer Simplicity in NYC. They struggle with the dailiness of decisions
about consumption, such as what to give a niece for a graduation present and
are undone individually and collectively by things that surprise them. Levine
talks about the impact of consumerism on our sense of self and the questions
that arise when we stop consuming. “It’s no wonder we’re confused. All our
lives, we’ve been operating in the market system. This year we withdrew to
its margins in order to observe its workings. But we remain in the gears of
the machine, and our personal transactions remain lubricated by the familiarity
of its rules.” Interestingly, while I was reading this, I was housesitting
for folks who have considerably more income than I do. I enjoyed their air-conditioning,
gourmet food, big screen TV with 200-some channels, WiFi internet service,
and the Egyptian cotton sheets and bath towels. While I would not choose to
purchase most of those things, I did end up coveting some of them. And I found
things on the TV (I don’t watch at home) that I somehow cannot stop thinking
about. It was most helpful to have the author along on this little venture
with me as I found myself wanting things I’d previously not even been aware
of - her research, showing up in just the right places, helped me think about
questions of need and desire. Needless to say, the questions raised in the
book are questions of luxury. Those who struggle to keep roof overhead and
food on the table are likely not struggling with what it means to forego season
tickets to theatre - not a criticism of the book, just a reality check. I
like a book that engages me in this way - even if, or perhaps, especially
if it makes me squirm. Free Press, $25 hardcover, 0743269357.
Recommendations from Linda Bubon
Two great new YA adventures should captivate the most blasé ten- to fourteen-year-olds
(and totally held my attention as well).
Gideon the Cutpurse (Simon
& Schuster, $17.95 hardcover, 1416915257) by Linda Buckley-Archer is a
believable time travel novel set in the contemporary and 1763 English countryside.
It stars two very likable children with distinct personalities: Peter, a rich
city boy with workaholic parents, and Kate, a country girl in a large family.
When they find themselves alone in 1763 and realize they must work together
to find the thief who holds the key to their return to the present, they begin
to adjust to each other’s quirks and appreciate each other’s strengths. This
is a smart, compelling book that girls and boys will like equally. I guess
I’ve caught the pirates bug currently raging with the release of the new movie,
but Kai Meyer’s
Pirate Curse (McElderry Books, $15.95 hardcover, 1416924213)
is a rollicking adventure-fantasy about girl and boy “polliwogs,” kids who
have the ability to walk on water. Sure to appeal to boys and girls, I have
to applaud this effort not to assume that adventures are “boy stories.”
I must mention another YA, this one from Milkweed, a small press with an
impressive collection of original and sensitive novels for middle-schoolers
and young adults. I really enjoyed
Runt by V. M. Caldwell. Runt, the
main character is a loner who has come to live in a trailer with his sister
and her tough boyfriend. The last thing he’s looking for is a friend, especially
a funny, smart-mouthed, weird-looking kid in a wheelchair. But Mitch won’t
stop pushing Runt to connect, and Runt comes to realize that Mitch’s problems
are far more serious than his own. Very touching, very real. Milkweed Editions,
(For another young adult novel, see Linda’s review of Looking
for Alibrandi above.)
Speaking of touching and real,
A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy
Lee-Tai is a beautiful, gentle, and heartfelt story about one little girl’s
adjustment in an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II.
While a shameful episode in American twentieth-century history, the internment
of innocent Japanese Americans needs to be explained to children along with
the slaughter of Native Americans, the enslavement of African Americans, and
discrimination against women. We perpetuate injustice when we shield children
from the ugly facts of our history. And how better to sensitize children to
the pain of racial intolerance than by sharing a personal, touching story
of someone their own age? When Mari attends art class at the camp, her teacher
understands her initial reluctance to draw. I love that Mari’s parents, artists
themselves, encourage her to wait for her muse to speak. Making friends helps
her initial despair and loneliness abate, and the reader shares Mari’s hope
that sunflowers will grow in the desert soil. Without softening the inexplicable
unfairness of internment, Amy Lee-Tai has created a lovely, hopeful story.
Felicia Hoshiro’s watercolors capture the golden desert sun and the faces
of people forced to accept the unacceptable. Children’s Book Press, $16.95,
It’s back-to-school time in August, and some pre-schoolers have an especially
hard time letting go of Mom.
Mommy in My Pocket by Carol Hunt Senderak,
with charming watercolors by Hiroe Nakata, is sure to be a help. A sweet little
bunny uses her imagination to think of having mommy in her pocket with her
as she goes through her day at school. Perfect for two- to three-year-olds.
Hyperiaon, $12.99 hardcover, 0786855967.
Recommendations from Angelique Grandone
The Boy Who Loved Words by Roni Schotter, the writing is so tantalizing,
the words so delicious, that this book is hard to resist! With lush and whimsical
illustrations by renowned illustrator Giselle Potter, this charming picture
book takes us through the life of Selig, a boy in love with words. He fills
his pockets with slips of paper on which he has written words that he loves:
genuine, aflutter, hubbub, and chockablock (to name a few). A consummate collector,
Selig's pockets soon overflow (confounding his father! worrying his mother!),
and he sets off on an adventure to find a use for all of these "wonderful
words!" Precocious and clever, with a romantic twist at the end, this
book would be a great gift for any precocious elementary schooler (7-10) with
a voracious appetite for new words and an appreciation for a well-drawn picture.
Or you can just keep it for yourself! Random House, $16.95 hardcover, 0375836012.
I have been an admirer of Cynthia Rylant for many years (Something Permanent,
The Relatives Came, Cat Heaven) so I feel like I can
speak with a certain authority when I say that her latest,
Stars Will Still
Shine, stands out as one of her best picture books. The rhythmic lull
of the simple text is evocative and reassuring, making it a great book for
two- to four-year-olds at storytime as well as bedtime. In addition, Tiphanie
Beeke's vibrant illustrations depict multicultural families and friends enjoying
life's simple pleasures: running through a tall grass field, eating ice cream
at the beach, and curling up on the couch with a good story book. This book
is utterly charming. HarperCollins, $15.99 hardcover, 0060546395.
By Nan Cinnater
There's nothing better than a big pile of new mysteries by your bed, except
possibly for a big pile of new paperback mysteries. Sometimes, considerations
like price and trendiness aside, you just want a paperback - a book you can
read in the bathtub or at the beach without worrying about it, a book that's
easy to carry on the subway and read one-handed in line at the bank. So here's
a whole bunch of paperbacks, most of them new, all of them worth your time
and a relatively small amount of money.
Don't be fooled by the light tone and the cute/condescending
subtitle of Ayelet Waldman's series, dubbed "Mommy Track Mysteries."
Both writer and heroine are smart, sensitive, and compassionate, with some
serious "Mommy-centered” politics. The first in the series, Nursery
Crimes (Berkley, $6.99, 042518000X), was a witty, well-plotted debut which
introduced former public defender turned full-time mom and sometime sleuth
Juliet Appelbaum. In
The Cradle Robbers (Berkley, $7.99, 0425206173),
sixth in the series, the perennially breast-feeding heroine now has three
kids and a budding business as a private investigator, in partnership with
Al, a former cop. The case involves motherhood in prison, specifically what
happens to the children of women prisoners who give birth while incarcerated.
Juliet's search for one prisoner's baby leads her to a scary foster care agency
called the Lambs of the Lord. In Waldman's new hardcover,
Sheep (Berkley, $22.95, 0425210189), Juliet's client is an African American
transsexual whose sister was murdered. Literary gossip bonus: Waldman, herself
a former public defender, is married to Michael Chabon (author of one of my
all-time favorite novels, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay,
as well as a great Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The Final Solution). This
gives an extra kick to the in-jokes about Juliet's writer husband, a grown-up
slacker who collects superhero action figures.
I'm always of two minds about the Maisie Dobbs novels by Jacqueline Winspear
- almost equally annoyed by the New Age-y attention to body language, centeredness,
etc., and charmed and fascinated by the authentic period details. Ultimately,
however, charm and fascination win out. The heroine of two previous books,
Maisie Dobbs and Birds of a Feather (both Penguin,
$14, reviewed in MBW4), Maisie is a self-described "psychologist
and investigator," irrevocably stamped by her experiences as a nurse
in WWI. In the latest paperback,
Pardonable Lies (Picador. $14, 0312426216),
set in 1930, Maisie has three interrelated cases. She wants to exonerate a
thirteen-year-old prostitute accused of murdering her pimp, and she is asked
to verify the deaths and/or find the graves of two British aviators killed
in France. The latter cases bring her in contact with the spiritualist movement
that flourished after the war. All three cases disturb Maisie's barely sleeping
demons, including the loss of her mother at a young age, as well as the tragedies
she witnessed in the war. Circumstances also drive a wedge between Maisie
and her eccentric mentor, Maurice Blanche. The mysteries are ingeniously connected
and neatly solved (with one exception, which was a little woo-woo for me),
and I'm now looking forward to Winspear's new hardcover, Messenger of Truth
(Henry Holt, $24, 0805078983, due in September).
With such a skeptical attitude toward occult elements, I am obviously not
the ideal reader for the Marie Laveau mystery series by African
American Jewell Parker Rhodes. First in the series is
Voodoo Season (Washington Square, $14, 0743483286). The
real 19th century New Orleans voodoo queen Marie Laveau was the
subject of Rhodes' novel, Voodoo Dreams (Picador, $14, 0312119313).
Voodoo Season introduces Laveau's fictional
21st century descendant, also named Marie Laveau. This Marie is
an emergency room resident in New Orleans, who delivers a dead girl's
baby and is moved to find out the child's origins. Filled with visions
and magical elements and a fairly respectful attitude toward voodoo,
this is a rich mixture of suspense and sensuality not unlike Anne
Rice. An excellent brew, if that's your cup of tea.
Everything changed in New Orleans in 2005, and it takes a certain willing
suspension of that awareness for a reader to get immersed in the old atmosphere.
Sacrament of Lies by Elizabeth Dewberry, written before Katrina
loomed on the horizon, something is rotten in the state of Louisiana. Grayson
Guillory suspects that her manic-depressive mother was murdered by her father,
the charismatic governor of Louisiana and presidential wannabe. The death
appeared to be suicide via pills and alcohol, and Grayson even helped to cover
it up. But Grayson's mother left behind a videotape claiming there was a plot
to kill her. Since everyone in Grayson's life - including her husband, a speechwriter
- is under the sway of her powerful father, she has no one to turn to. The
result is Hamlet's dilemma played out by a contemporary female hero. Can Grayson
trust her paranoid, possibly delusional mother? Can she trust herself? This
is powerful stuff (hey, it worked for Will), elegantly written and mesmerizing
to read. BlueHen Books/Berkley, $13, 0425188612.
To Darkness and to Death by Julia Spencer-Fleming (0312988877) is
the fourth in a series about Clare Fergusson, an Episcopal priest in a tiny
town in upstate New York. A former Army pilot, Clare is tougher than you might
expect - and so is the series, with strong action sequences and an unconsummated
romance between Clare and the very married chief of police. Beginning with
a search-and-rescue call to find a missing woman, the novel unfolds in one
cold November day, cross-cutting among many characters and leading inexorably
to an explosive conclusion. This is a must for fans of the series and for
those who like a dark, intelligent thriller. Traditional mystery fans will
prefer the first in the series, In the Bleak Midwinter (0312986769).
Both St. Martin's/Minotaur, $6.99.
At Risk, author Stella Rimington (who was real-life director general
of MI5) introduces intelligence officer Liz Carlisle, battling people-smugglers
and Islamic terrorists in Great Britain. Rimington's style is crisp and compelling
and her plotting, of course, extremely plausible. Vintage/Black Lizard, $6.99,
Bone Harvest is a strongly atmospheric police procedural
involving a gruesome past crime. Wisconsin Deputy Sheriff Claire Watkins thinks
she's dealing with small-time vandalism when pesticides are stolen from the
local farmers' co-op; but pesticides are lethal, and gradually the terror
mounts. Fawcett, $6.99, 0345462238.
Deadly Slipper by Michelle Wan (Vintage/Black Lizard, $13.95, 1400079527)
combines intriguing details about orchid hunting with rich atmosphere of the
Dordogne in rural France. And, according to The Washington Post's Book
World, it has "a humdinger of a central plot conceit: In this mystery,
the only witness to a decades-old crime is a flower." Wan brings back
her thoughtful heroine Mara Dunn in
The Orchid Shroud. Doubleday, $23.95,
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for Books To Watch Out For
© 2006 Books To Watch Out For
Graphics © Judy Horacek
Books To Watch Out For
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