Tag Archives: Touchstone Books

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Astor Place Vintage (kindle)

A preview-review of Astor Place Village: A Novel by Stephanie Lehmann, which will be released by Touchstone Books on Tuesday, June 11, 2013.

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Unchain My Heart

Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol by Gyles Brandreth (Touchstone, $16.00, 327 pages)

Oscar Wilde (nook book)

Have you every read a work of historical fiction that was oddly engaging, painfully true to the era and to the place depicted? Regardless of whether your answer is “Yes,” or “No,” Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol will easily surpass any read of this genre. Aside from some quotes and references to plays, poems and books by Wilde, this reader began the book with a blank slate as to the man or his life. The thought of a man as well-known and quoted as Wilde spending two years in a dark and dank prison was hard to imagine.

The particular time portrayed in author Gyles Brandreth’s mystery novel is the period that Oscar Wilde served in a British prison, or gaol. His crime was notorious behavior, late 19th century code for engaging in a gay lifestyle. The import of the sentence, two years at hard labor while housed in solitary confinement, is brought to the reader’s consciousness through a graphic narrative by Wilde as he experiences sentencing, intake, daily humiliation and threats at the hands of the prison warders (guards) and governor (warden).

While the first chapters are rather dreary, the story line begins to take shape and a remarkable tale makes it easier to accept the harshness of Wilde’s circumstances. Another literary figure, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is blended into the mysterious deaths that take place in the prison. Yes, there are a few sympathetic characters for balance and to move the plot along. Yes, I did check on the internet for the real story behind Wilde’s time in prison. Remarkably, some of the facts are as bizarre as the fiction that is blended into the story.

Well recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher. Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol was released on May 14, 2013. “Intelligent, amusing and entertaining.” Alexander McCall Smith

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Oscar Wilde (alternate)

A review of the just-released Oscar Wilde and the Murders at Reading Gaol by Gyles Brandreth.

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An Innocent Man

500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars by Kurt Eichenwald (Touchstone, $30.00, 611 pages)

Amazing.   Bush believed that he could establish a new legal system, and then declared his order exempt from judicial review?   Had anyone in the White House even read the Constitution?”

This is a stunningly good, and often sad and depressing, account of the first 500 days of the Bush administration’s response to 9/11.   As detailed in this book, a number of innocent persons were labeled as dangerous terrorists and were either tortured or lost their lives.   However, author Eichenwald seems to be both sympathetic to, and critical of, the people who worked in the White House and in the U.S. intelligence system.

“My God, they’re arguing that the president can do whatever he wants.”

The Bush White House was guided, during these 500 days, by a Berkeley law professor who incredibly advised that, “…we do have the right to violate international law.”   John Woo, a Republican lawyer in the Office of Legal Counsel, asserted that the executive’s power was virtually unbounded; a latter-day acceptance of Richard Nixon’s version of an imperial presidency beyond the review of the courts and Congress.   Fortunately for this country, a number of other government lawyers were fully prepared to take on Woo.   And they did.   One noted of Woo’s position:  “Adopting these standards would invite enemies to torture American soldiers.”

“The call ended without a resolution of their conundrum and with both men befuddled by the difficulty of nailing down Arar’s terrorist leanings.   Neither considered the obvious explanation – the evidence didn’t exist because Arar was an innocent man.”

These were days when fear and hatred led to a trampling of individual human rights; a national tragedy was exploited by extremists.   Let’s hope this account prevents us from repeating such a misguided and unfortunate chapter in our nation’s history.

Highly recommended.

Joseph Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “A page turner…  Jaw-dropping…  It crackles.”   The Washington Post500 Days (3d)

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Coming Up Next…

A review of 500 Days: Secrets and Lies in the Terror Wars by Kurt Eichenwald.500 Days (nook book)

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10 Questions

This is the continuation of our interview with Nora McFarland, author of A Bad Day’s Work: A Lilly Hawkins Mystery.

6.  Ruta Arellano (RA):  The ending of Going to the Bad left Lilly in a state of closure with regard to family secrets.   Will there be future books featuring Lilly Hawkins, Rod and her newly-discovered cousin Jack?

There’s at least one more book I want very much to write.   Lilly needed to come to terms with some of her family baggage in order to move forward in her personal life.   Now that she’s done that, there’s a very important day in her future that I’d love to center a book around.   I won’t get into specifics, but that day is set up at the end of Going to the Bad.

7.  RA:  There are notable class distinctions among the various families whose lives and pasts intersect for Lilly in Going to the Bad.   Are they indicative of your take on Bakersfield?   Does the somewhat isolated location of Bakersfield foster those distinctions?

I believe those kinds of class distinctions exist everywhere in our society, but it’s true that things have gotten much worse in Bakersfield over the last five years.   California’s Central Valley has been especially hard hit by the recession and housing crisis.   Double digit unemployment is the norm there and in some cities it reaches as high as thirty percent.   The real estate market was insanely inflated so the correction has been very painful.   Almost everyone I know there has suffered in some way.   Several of my friends lost their homes and jobs.

8.  RA:  The dedication of the KJAY news team to cover events as they unfold is pronounced in Going to the Bad.   Is this because one of their own is at the center of the story?

It’s always difficult when someone who works in news becomes a part of the story.   I like to believe that the KJAY news team would be just as dedicated, regardless of Lilly’s connection.   Where the real difference lies is in the rules Lilly breaks in her pursuit of the truth.   She trespasses, steals, and lies in order to discover who shot her uncle.   No decent journalist would ever do anything like that.   It would be unethical and could even give those that the journalist is trying to expose a weapon to discredit the investigation.

9.  RA:  Lilly has size 10 feet.   Why have you provided her with them?   Is this a metaphor for her earthy, grounded attitude?

I originally intended it as a quirky character trait, but in later drafts of the first book I began to think of it as a metaphor for Lilly’s awkward social skills.   At one point Uncle Bud looks down at her big feet and says that the family always hoped she’d grow into them, but it doesn’t look like she did.

In later books, as Lilly matured, I started to see her big feet as an asset.   She can kick in doors and be tougher because she’s got these giant boots.   It you want to take the metaphor a step further you could say that she’s taken what was once a weakness and made herself stronger.

10.  RA:  On a personal note – Did you encounter Chris Curle at CNN, who has a personality that’s bigger than life?

I didn’t, but my husband Jeff Ofgang did.   He worked with Chris and her husband Don Farmer back when CNN was in its old building on Techwood Avenue.

Thank you to author Nora McFarland!   You can see the first part of this interview here:

https://josephsreviews.wordpress.com/2012/08/06/the-authors-perspective-5/

Joseph Arellano

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Stairway to Heaven

No Rest for the Dead: A Novel by Sandra Brown, R. L. Stine, Alexander McCall Smith, J. A. Jance, Diana Gabeldon, Jeffrey Deaver, Lisa Scottoline, John Lescoart, Kathy Reichs, Raymond Khoury, et al. (Touchstone, $15.00, 286 pages)

Twenty-Six Writers.   One Mystery.

“The lineup of writers who have contributed to this mystery is akin to the Murderer’s Row of the 1927 New York Yankees.   There is not a weak spot in the bunch.”   David Baldacci

Can there by synergy when it comes to writing?   If 26 well-known and admired mystery writers collaborate on one story, can it be as good as, or better than, the work  of just one of them?   That’s the question behind the creation of No Rest for the Dead.   Each chapter or segment was written by one of the twenty-six writers or a combination of them.

The book includes police reports of the crime in question (by Kathy Reichs) and journal entries by the cop who would not let go of an old death penalty case (by Andrew F. Gulli).   The tragedy was that a wife who was the mother of two young children was executed for the murder of her husband, and the policeman had serious doubts he ignored at the time of the initial investigation.

While there are no obvious disconnects among the chapters, there are perspective shifts and slight changes in attitude as each writer adds his or her voice to the mix.   The tone may go from cunning to bullying or from scene description to dialogue.   For example, Faye Kellerman’s penchant for details marks her contribution and Lisa Scottoline’s snappy, terse dialogue is present in hers.

The typical plot elements include super locations in San Francisco that are accurately described and a sinister observer who is designated by an alternate font/typeface.   He/she is puzzling but not quite menacing.   Moreover, there are shifts from characters that are clearly cerebral to ones who are driven by emotions and actions.

Readers of Joseph’s Reviews may have noted that this reviewer is quite fond of the mystery genre.   Several of the authors who contributed to this book have provided a bedtime lights out that stretched into the early hours of the morning because their stories truly kept this reader engaged up to the final page.   Now, together, they provide a bit of magic!

Highly recommended.

Ruta Arellano

A review copy was provided by the publisher.   “…except for funds allocated to author payments, all of our profits from (this book) are going to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.”   Lamia J. Gulli

No Rest for the Dead was released as a trade paperback book on July 3, 2012.

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