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Friday, December 18, 2009

December 18, 2009

The following reviews, interviews and features began running on on Friday, December 18th.

The titles below are discussed in the Newsletter Opener, which can be read

THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

Reviews and Excerpts
BREATHLESS by Dean Koontz (Thriller)
New York Times bestselling author Dean Koontz delivers a thrilling novel of suspense and adventure, as the lives of strangers converge around a mystery unfolding high in the Colorado mountains --- and the balance of the world begins to tilt. Reviewed by Judy Gigstad and excerpted.

LA’S ORCHESTRA SAVES THE WORLD by Alexander McCall Smith (Historical Fiction)
Comfortable little novellas are Alexander McCall Smith’s stock in trade. Most famous for his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series and his insightful and bemusing Edinburgh stories about 44 Scotland Street and Isabel Dalhousie, LA’S ORCHESTRA SAVES THE WORLD is a stand-alone title taking place in a new era and setting. Reviewed by Roz Shea and excerpted.
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here to see the reading group guide for LA’S ORCHESTRA SAVES THE WORLD.

THE GIRL NEXT DOOR by Elizabeth Noble (Fiction)
When Eve's husband is transferred to New York, they leave Britain. In their new home, an apartment building on the Upper East Side, Eve is lonely until she meets her elderly neighbor, Violet, while all around her the inhabitants of the building lead lives that prove engrossing to readers of this satisfying novel. Reviewed by Terry Miller Shannon and excerpted.

LITERARY LIFE: A Second Memoir, by Larry McMurtry (Memoir)
As a six-year-old boy in Texas, Larry McMurtry had never read or even seen a book. But after devouring a box of books received from a friend, a life of reading, writing and devotion to books was born. LITERARY LIFE, the second of a three-part memoir, is a conversation with readers that shares the joys of a life in literature. Reviewed by Stuart Shiffman.

TOO MUCH MONEY by Dominick Dunne (Fiction)
Dominick Dunne must have known this would be his last book, for he goes out with a bang, as does his character society writer Gus Bailey. In TOO MUCH MONEY, Gus pursues a story that ultimately costs him dearly, but it could have been worse. If not for Dunne’s death in 2009, it would’ve seemed possible that we’d see this protagonist in more precarious positions. Reviewed by Kate Ayers.

AMERICAN SKETCHES: Great Leaders, Creative Thinkers, and Heroes of a Hurricane, by Walter Isaacson (History/Biography/Current Affairs)
In a career that has spanned more than a generation and has taken him from his early days as a city hall beat reporter in his native New Orleans to the pinnacle of American journalism, Walter Isaacson has occupied a unique vantage point from which to observe this period of American history. In this wide-ranging anthology, he demonstrates much of what is praiseworthy about American journalism at its best. Reviewed by Harvey Freedenberg.

POPS: A Life of Louis Armstrong, by Terry Teachout (Biography)
Wall Street Journal arts columnist Terry Teachout has drawn on a cache of important new sources unavailable to previous Louis Armstrong biographers, including hundreds of private recordings of backstage and after-hours conversations that Armstrong made throughout the second half of his life, to craft a sweeping new narrative biography of this towering figure. Reviewed by Mark Shinn.

PAUL MCCARTNEY: A Life, by Peter Ames Carlin (Biography)
Peter Ames Carlin examines Paul McCartney's entire life, casting new light not just on the Beatles era, but also on his years with Wings and his 30-year relationship with his first wife, Linda. He takes us on a journey through a tumultuous couple of decades in which Paul struck out on his own as a solo artist, reached the top of the charts with a new band, and once again drew hundreds of thousands of screaming fans to his concerts. Reviewed by Ron Kaplan.

MAKERS by Cory Doctorow (Science Fiction)
Perhaps more treatise than novel, MAKERS is an incredibly ambitious portrayal of the economic ecosystems and creative boom-and-bust cycles to come. While it may be a bit easy to write Doctorow off, flipping through the newspaper offers enough anecdotal evidence to scare you into reading this account of the near future. Reviewed by Max Falkowitz.

FAMILY ALBUM by Penelope Lively (Fiction)
All Alison ever wanted was a blissful childhood for her six children, with summers at the beach and birthday parties on the lawn at their family home. But beneath its postcard sheen, the picture is clouded by a distant father, Alison's inexplicable emotional outbursts, and long-repressed secrets that no one dares mention. Reviewed by Jana Siciliano

THE DEVIL’S ALPHABET by Daryl Gregory (Fantasy)
Switchcreek, Tennessee was a small, ordinary town until a strange disease began transforming the residents into three new distinct branches of humanity. When Paxton Martin, a former resident and survivor of the transformations, returns for the funeral of a childhood friend, he finds a town greatly changed and seething with secrets. Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski.

FACES OF THE GONE by Brad Parks (Mystery)
Four bodies, each with a single bullet wound in the back of the head. That’s the front-page news facing Carter Ross, investigative reporter with the Newark Eagle-Examiner. Immediately dispatched to the scene, Carter learns that the four victims --- an exotic dancer, a drug dealer, a hustler and a mama’s boy --- came from different parts of the city and didn’t seem to know one another.Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub.

THE MURDERED HOUSE by Pierre Magnan (Mystery)
At the turn of the century in Upper Provence, a family is violently massacred. The sole survivor of the tragedy is a three-week-old baby. Twenty years later, the orphaned survivor returns home to avenge his family’s killers. Then unexpected secrets set in motion a dreadful unveiling of the past. Reviewed by Norah Piehl.

Author Interview
Janice Y. K. Lee
In this interview with's Norah Piehl, Janice Y. K. Lee discusses the slow evolution of her debut novel, THE PIANO TEACHER, from its origins as a short story and explains some of the challenges she faced in creating characters with backgrounds differing greatly from her own. She also describes the research she performed to accurately capture life in post-World War II Hong Kong, reflects on the struggles of balancing her writing career with her home life as a mother of four, and shares some of her favorite contemporary novelists.

Author Talk
Elizabeth Noble
In this interview, Elizabeth Noble --- author of THE READING GROUP, THE FRIENDSHIP TEST, ALPHABET WEEKENDS and THINGS I WANT MY DAUGHTERS TO KNOW --- compares her own experiences of moving to New York City with those of Eve, the protagonist of her newly released THE GIRL NEXT DOOR, and explains how much of her own life and personality went into creating that character. She also reflects on how her writing style and abilities have evolved over the course of her five novels, shares some of her current reads, and discusses the two upcoming books she's working on.


THE HELP is our first ever Book of the Year. Our main reason for selecting it: it was just a wonderful book. It was the book I have been thinking about since I read an advance copy last December; I found myself reaching for it between present opening, dinner preparations and other holiday festivities that month. It's worthy of this moniker because when people finished it, they wanted others to read it --- and thus they talked about it. Yes, there was a core group who loved this book from the start, but that circle has grown wider and wider as more and more people talk about it. A good book will do that.

I truly think it will become a classic. There are so many books that do not hold up on re-reading years later; I think this one will. Congratulations to everyone who made this book a success --- the author, editor and everyone else at the publishing house who championed it. And also to the readers who loved it and embraced it and made others want to read it as well.

For the final contest of our Holiday Basket of Cheer feature, we bring you our special End-of-the-Year Celebration. We’re giving away all 12 of our “ Bets On” titles, Carol Fitzgerald’s very favorite books from 2009. They include 31 HOURS by Masha Hamilton, CRAZY FOR THE STORM: A Memoir of Survival by Norman Ollestad, THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett, HOTEL ON THE CORNER OF BITTER AND SWEET by Jamie Ford, HOW SHALL I TELL THE DOG?: And Other Final Musings by Miles Kington, THE PHOTOGRAPHER: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert, Didier Lefèvre and Frederic Lemercier, RAINWATER by Sandra Brown, A RELIABLE WIFE by Robert Goolrick, ROOFTOPS OF TEHRAN by Mahbod Seraji, SHELTER ME by Juliette Fay, STILL ALICE by Lisa Genova and THE WEIGHT OF SILENCE by Heather Gudenkauf.

Need ideas for holiday gift-giving (and getting)? Check out these "reader perfect" suggestions in 14 categories. There's something for everyone on your list. Let the shopping begin! Staff Picks
Before ringing in the new year, we at The Book Report Network reflect on some of our favorite books published for the first time in 2009. Though it was difficult to narrow down, each staff member chose up to five books that he or she enjoyed the most this year. Take a look and see if any of our selections match yours --- and which titles you may want to consider reading in the future. Reviewer Picks
Recently we asked our reviewers to provide us with a list of some of their favorite books from 2009. Included is a mix of fiction and nonfiction titles, all published this year. Take a moment to read these varied lists of titles and see if you agree with their selections! Please note that due to personal and professional commitments, some reviewers were not able to participate in this feature.

Author Interviews of 2009
As 2009 comes to a close, we invite you to take a look at the author interviews that were featured throughout the year on This is a great way to catch up on the discussions you may have missed --- and to re-read what some of your favorite authors had to say about their books.

Debut Suspense Thriller Author Spotlight
THE SCULPTOR by Gregory Funaro (Thriller)
Dr. Catherine Hildebrant, professor of art history at Brown University, is trying to get her life back on track. Known in academic circles not only as one of the world’s foremost scholars on Michelangelo, she is also the author of a controversial book on his sculptures. Living alone, counting the days until her divorce is final, Cathy is awakened one morning by FBI agent Sam Markham. It seems someone has murdered missing Boston Rebels wide receiver Tommy Campbell, preserved his body, and painted and posed him in the figure of one of Michelangelo’s statues.
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here to read more about Gregory Funaro.
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here to read more about THE SCULPTOR.

One To Watch Author Spotlight
Father Steve Sibille has come home to the bayou to take charge of St. Pete’s church. Among his challenges are teenybopper altar girls, insomnia-curing confessions, and alarmingly alluring congregant Vicky Carrier. Then there’s Miss Rita, an irrepressible centenarian with a taste for whiskey, cracklins, and sticking her nose in other people’s business.
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here to read more about Ken Wheaton.
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Women’s Fiction Author Spotlight
NOT MY DAUGHTER by Barbara Delinsky (Fiction)
Barbara Delinsky explores the bonds between mothers and daughters in this topical, explosive novel as a high school principal struggles with the news that her daughter and friends are pregnant.
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here to read Barbara Delinsky’s bibliography.
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here to read an excerpt from NOT MY DAUGHTER.

Suspense Thriller Author Spotlight
BURN by Ted Dekker and Erin Healy (Suspense)
The past Janeal thought had burned away is rising from the ashes.

Years ago, the Gypsy Kumpania where Janeal Mikkado lived was attacked by outsiders. With her best friend about to be consumed by a fire, Janeal had two options: try to save her friend --- at serious risk to her own life --- or disappear with the million dollars that she had just discovered...

But the past is quickly coming back to haunt her. Both the best friend and the boyfriend that she was sure were dead have reappeared in her life, as has someone who knows about the money. There's a debt to be paid for the money she found, but there's an even greater debt she must face--and if the chaff isn't burned from her own heart, it will consume her.
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here to read an excerpt from BURN.

WATCHLIST: A Serial Thriller by Jeffery Deaver and Others (Thriller)
From International Thriller Writers comes WATCHLIST: two powerful novellas featuring the same thrilling cast of characters in one major suspenseful package. THE CHOPIN MANUSCRIPT and THE COPPER BRACELET are collaborations of some of the world’s greatest thriller writers, including Lee Child, Joseph Finder, Lisa Scottoline, and Jeffery Deaver, who conceived the characters and set the plots in motion. The other authors each wrote a chapter and Deaver then completed what he started, bringing both novellas to their startling conclusions.
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here to read a third excerpt from WATCHLIST.

Romantic Suspense Author Spotlight
DYING SCREAM by Mary Burton (Romantic Suspense)
Mary Burton takes readers down the horrific path of an affluent family’s dark past where well-hidden secrets unveil a series of grisly crimes, forcing a widow and a detective to explore a twisted, forbidden love that someone will kill for, again and again.
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here to read a second excerpt from DYING SCREAM.

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