Thursday, November 28, 2013

Books I'm Thankful For This Year

This Thanksgiving, I'm feeling very thankful to have The Poisoned Pen in my neighborhood, and also for discovering so many new (to me) and wonderful books this year. I wanted to share a few of them with you, I hope you enjoy them as much as I did.  Many of them are available in-store (and signed), or via special order.  This holiday weekend, remember to shop independent, shop local!

Happy Holidays!


The Art Forger: A Novel, B.A. Shapiro (Algonquin Books, 2013)
If you liked this: Elizabeth Kostova

The Black Widow Club, Hilary Davidson (Beast Books, 2013) 
(This collection of short stories will be available in print next week - currently only in ebook format.)

Mr Churchill's Secretary, Susan Elia Macneal (Bantam, 2012)
(Three books in the series: Princess Elizabeth's Spy, His Majesty's Hope.)
If you like this: Rebecca Cantrell, Kathryn Miller Haines.

The Coroner's Lunch, Collin Cotterill (Soho Crime, 2004)
(Nine books in the Doctor Siri Paiboun mystery series.) 
If you like this: Tarquin Hall, Shamini Flint


The Ashford Affair, Lauren Willig (St. Martin's Press, 2013)
If you like this: A Spear of Summer Grass, Deanna Raybourn

The Lavender Garden, Lucinda Riley (Atria Books, 2013) 
If you like this: Susanna Kearsley, Mary Stewart


Amber House, Kelly Moore, Larkin Reed and Tucker Reed (Arthur A. Levine Books, 2013)
If you like this: Mindee Arnett, Victoria Schwab

(Six books in the Enola Holmes Mystery series: The Case of the Left-Handed Lady, The Case of the Bizarre Bouquet, The Case of the Peculiar Pink Fan, The Case of the Cryptic Crinoline, The Case of the Gypsy Goodbye.)
If you like this:  Michael Robertson (Baker Street Letters series)

The Raven Boys, Maggie Stiefvater (Scholastic, 2012)
(Two books in the Raven Cycle series: The Dream Thieves.)
If you like this: Sarah Rees Brennan (Lynburn Legacy series)

Ruby Red, Kerstin Gier and Anthea Bell (Henry Holt, 2011)
(Three books in The Ruby Red Trilogy: Sapphire Blue, Emerald Green.)
If you like this: Gail Carriger (Finishing School series)

Theodosia and the Serpents of Chaos, R.L. LaFevers (HMH Books For Young Readers, 2008)
(Four books in the Theodosia series: Theodosia and the Staff of Osiris, Theodosia and the Eyes of Horus, Theodosia and the Last Pharaoh.)
If you like this: Elizabeth Peters (Amelia Peabody series)


Lexicon, Maxx Barry (Penguin Press, 2013)
If you like this: The Rook, Daniel O'Malley & Brilliance, Marcus Sakey (2013 favorites!)

London Falling, Paul Cornell (Tor, 2013)
If you like this: Ben Aaronovitch, Jim Butcher

The Thinking Woman's Guide to Real Magic, Emily Croy Barker (Pamela Dorman Books, 2013)


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Review of The Chalice by Nancy Bilyeau

Bilyeau’s first book, The Crown, brought us the determined but na├»ve Joanna Stafford, Dominican nun and daughter of a disgraced aristocratic family, during Henry VIII’s reign. In The Chalice Henry’s dissolution of the monasteries has sent a more experienced but no less stubborn Joanna out into the secular world where she’s trying to build a quiet life as a weaver of tapestries. A mysterious prophecy and those who would like to use it to further their power and political desires drag her unwittingly into a bizarre plot against the king and his plans to undermine “the true faith” in England. The most powerful people in England once again tug and pull at Joanna, alternately threatening her life (and those she loves) and courting her as an essential element to their plans. Joanna’s devotion to the Catholic Church and her abhorrence of Henry’s destruction of the cloistered life make her willing to participate to a certain extent—a dangerous vulnerability as it turns out—but she becomes entangled in acts that she never anticipated and that violate her deepest beliefs. Faith, its value, and the willingness of supposedly true believers to exploit faith for their own ends, become intriguing, multi-faceted themes in this book. Bilyeau continues from her first book the subtle, complex development of Joanna’s character and combines that with a fast-paced, unexpected plot to hold the reader’s interest on every page. From mystical prophets to court intrigue to the challenges of romance and love amidst those who had once sworn themselves to chastity, The Chalice is writ large across England and the Continent as history and supernatural mysticism combine in this compelling thriller.

This review first appeared in The Historical Novels Review Issue 64 May 2013. 

For other reviews, information about Judith Starkston's novel, Hand of Fire, set during the Trojan War, as well as background history articles on ancient women, food, and daily life, go to Judith can be followed on Facebook and Twitter

The Chalice can be bought online at The Poisoned Pen

Monday, November 11, 2013

We Are Water by Wally Lamb

Lamb, Wally. We Are Water Signed (Harper $29.99).
“Lamb combines complex characters and an intricate plot with an array of contemporary topics and timeless issues in this engrossing novel. A wife and mother leaves her family to pursue an artistic career and an unconventional relationship. A husband and father abruptly abandons his longtime profession as a psychologist. Their children wonder at these transformations but hide secrets of their own. As the plot develops and the narrative shifts among characters, secrets are revealed and motives become clear to the reader. Essentially, Lamb addresses the longstanding question of whether anyone can really know the truth of another person. The answer is a resounding ‘no.’”—November Indie Next Pick.

Wally Lamb and store owner Barbara Peters

Monday, November 4, 2013

Arizona Historical Novel Society News

Upcoming Dates:

book cover image Teatime for the Firefly by Shona Patel Poisoned Pen  February 8, 1-4 pm Shona Patel, a visual presentation on the historical backdrop of her novel Teatime for the Firefly, set in India on the Assam tea plantations.

book cover image Woman at the Well by Ann Chamberlin Poisoned PenApril 5, 1-4 pm Ann Chamberlin on a history of sex and contraception. Ann writes about the ancient Middle East, early Islam, the Ottoman Empire and Merlin. Her two most recent books are Woman at the Well and The Sword of God. 

For directions and other information about AZ HNS go to Judith's website at

Wrap Up of November Meeting:

book cover image Shadow on the Crown Patricia Bracewell Poisoned Pen Our November meeting featured Patricia Bracewell. Her novel, Shadow on the Crown, brings the little known English Queen Emma back from undeserved obscurity. Emma of Normandy, who ruled when Vikings still raided the English shores and the Anglo-Saxons were kings, remains in the historical record only in bits and pieces. Patricia talked to us about how she took those fragments and built them into her book and the long, hard slog to persuade a publisher that any queen who wasn't a Tudor would sell. Shadow on the Crown has more than proved her right. Definitely a book to read! We hope we'll see Patricia again next time she comes in from the Bay Area.

American Guest of Honor:  J.A. Jance
International Guest of Honor: Edward Marston
Lifetime Achievement: Jeffery Deaver
Toastmaster: Simon Wood
YA Guest of Honor: Eoin Colfer
Fan Guest of Honor: Al Abramson
Come Early. Stay Late: Preliminary Schedule starts with programming and tours on Tuesday, November 11 and runs through Sunday, November 16. 

Join Bouchercon 2014: Murder at the Beach, in beautiful downtown Long Beach, California, November 13-16, 2014!
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The murderous lineup is led by Guests of Honor who are rapidly being joined by the cream of the crime-crop.

Register Now for Bouchercon 2014!
Like us on Facebook! Follow us on Twitter!

Send inquiries to Ingrid Willis, Chair

Mars on a one-way ticket November 20th, 7:30 pm

Dr. Paul Davies is a friend of the Poisoned Pen and a continuing partner with us on literary, educational and cultural events.  This is sure to be a thought provoking evening where 'sci-fi meets sci-fact'!
The Land of Dreams by Vidar Sundstol, (University of Minnesota Press, $24.95).
Staff Book Review

This is the first submission in the Minnesota Trilogy, written by the award-winning, Norwegian author and translated by the esteemed Tiina Nunnally.  The setting is the northern part of Minnesota by Lake Superior and the small surrounding communities. The area is populated by Scandinavian immigrants inter-twined with the Native Americans. Lance Hansen, a U.S. Forest Service officer finds a badly wounded visitor and his brutally murdered traveling companion. Both have come from Norway to explore the area. Little is known about them, personally, but they have been observed to be pleasant and enjoying themselves on this trek. Because of jurisdiction requirements, the FBI is brought in, as well as a detective from Norway. Much of Lance's life is wrapped up in the genealogy and history of the area. He's been studying a 100-year old murder which gradually provides clues to the current crime, suggesting his estranged brother may have been involved. The tale is rich with history and environmental descriptions which add to the story. The author and his wife lived on Lake Superior for two years, adding authenticity. I recommend it to anyone who enjoys good writing, a strong sense of place and an interesting mix of characters.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am Swedish and my last place of residence was Duluth, MN. Needless to way, there was some nostalgia but, more importantly, a reminder of the fury of blizzards and Lake Superior, which made me re-think another location.

K. Shaver

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

“The Panopticon” is the title of a daring first novel by Scottish poet Jenni Fagan, and it describes a halfway house/rehab facility from whose center the administrators can look into the living quarters – including the bathrooms – of every youthful inhabitant, male and female. The story’s central character, Anais, is an angry, sexually-active 15-year-old juvenile delinquent who clings to her eroding humanity while completely mistrusting the adult world after dozens of failed foster home assignments and the murder of a prostitute mother-figure by a customer. To her, the  Panopticon is simply a continuation of the “experiments” the authorities (and life) have always put her through, trying to break her will. She has been sent to this detention home deep in the woods after allegedly beating a  policewoman bad enough to put her in a coma.  Anais, who is usually stoked on whatever drugs are available – and in the Panopticon, the drugs are freely shared via windows and shoestrings – cannot remember the beating despite frequent police interrogations. But the truth is almost irrelevant, since Anais is such a nasty habitual offender that the authorities seem willing to hold her responsible for the policewoman’s condition in retribution for her other offenses. Anais finds her natural “family” at the Panopticon. The lost children who inhabit the facility bond to survive, much like those in “Lord of the Flies,” or “A Separate Peace,” but with more sexual agility, and fiercely protect their own against administrators, guests, and outsiders whom they encounter when allowed out on tightly-scheduled free time. The authentic Scottish dialect is not at all hard to follow, and the writing is snappy, gritty, and profane, with humor often softening the nearly-unceasing misery facing these children . Fagan leads us into all the dark and personal places where her characters live, and we watch them as they abuse themselves and others, casually turn from one drug to another, and curse the irresistible life in which they seem forever trapped, without giving thought to the consequences of their actions or their futures, for they cannot imagine living long enough for either to be meaningful.  The book is alternately depressing, sad, and joyful. You will come away from “The Panopticon” desperately wishing someone would “save” Anais, but frustrated at her own inability to keep the demons at bay.

reviewed by: Lawrence A. Katz