Thursday, August 25, 2011

Beds and Mona Lisas

Bed by David Whitehouse
Mal Ede, a child of untamed manners and unbounded curiosity, is the eccentric eldest son of an otherwise typical middle-class family. But as the wonders of childhood fade into the responsibilities of adulthood, Mal's spirits fade too. On his twenty-fifth birthday, disillusioned, Mal goes to bed--back to his childhood bed--and never emerges again. Narrated by Mal's shy, diligent younger brother, Bed details Mal's subsequent extreme and increasingly grotesque transformation: immobility and a gargantuan appetite combine, over the course of two decades, to make him the fattest man in the world. Despite his seclusion and his refusal to explain his motivations, Mal's condition earns him worldwide notoriety and a cult of followers convinced he is making an important statement about modern life. But Mal's actions will also change the lives of his haunted parents, his brother and the woman they both love, Lou.

Stealing Mona Lisa by Carson Morton
The charming Eduardo de Valfierno makes a very respectable living in Argentina fleecing the nouveau riche--they pay him to steal valuable pieces of art, and Valfierno sells them flawless forgeries instead. But when Eduardo meets the beautiful Mrs. Hart on his latest con job, he takes a risk that forces him back to the city he loved and left behind: Paris. There he assembles his team of con artists for their final and most ambitious theft, on that will enable them to leave the game forever: the Mona Lisa. When a member of the team turns up missing, and Mr. Hart shows up in Paris, Valfierno and his crew must stay one step ahead of a relentless police inspector, endure a devastating flood, and conquer their own doubts to keep the priceless painting in play--and survive. Based on the actual theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre in 1911.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Mystery, Murder, and Hauntings

Instruments of Darkness by Imogen Robertson
In the year 1790, Harriet Westerman, the unconventional mistress of a country manor in Sussex, finds a dead man on her grounds with a ring bearing the crest of Thornleigh Hall in his pocket. For years, Mrs. Westerman has sensed the menace of the hall, home of a once-great family that has been reduced to an ailing invalid, his whorish wife, and his alcoholic second son--a man haunted by his years spent as a redcoat in the Revolutionary War. She recruits a reclusive local anatomist named Gabriel Crowther to help her find the murderer. The same day, Alexander Adams is slain by an unknown killer in his London music shop, leaving his young children orphaned. His death will lead back to Sussex, and to an explosive secret that has already destroyed one family and threatened many others.

Collecting Cooper by Paul Cleave
People are disappearing in Christchurch. Cooper Riley, a psychology professor, doesn't make it to work one day. Emma Green, one of his students, doesn't make it home. When ex-cop Theodore Tate is released from a four-month prison stint, he's asked by Green's father to help find Emma. After all, Tate was in jail for nearly killing her in a DUI accident the year before, so he owes him. Big time. What neither of them knows is that a former mental patient is holding people prisoner as part of his growing collection of serial killer souvenirs. Now he has acquired the ultimate collector's item--an actual killer. Meanwhile, clues keep pulling Tate back to Grover Hills, the mental institution that closed down three years ago. Very bad things happened there. Those who managed to survive would prefer keeping their memories buried. Tate has no choice but to unearth Grover Hills' dark past if there is any chance of finding Emma Green and Cooper Riley alive.

Graveminder by Melissa Marr
Rebekkah Barrow never forgot the attention her grandmother Maylene bestowed upon the dead of Claysville, the small town where Bek spent her adolescence. There wasn't a funeral that Maylene didn't attend, and at each one Rebekkah watched as Maylene performed the same unusual ritual: She took three sips from a silver flask and spoke three words "Sleep well, and stay where I put you." Now Maylene is dead, and Bek must go back to the place she left a decade earlier. She soon discovers that Claysville is not just the sleepy town she remembers, and that Maylene had good reason for her odd traditions. It turns out that in Claysville the worlds of the living and the dead are dangerously connected; beneath the town lies a shadowy, lawless land ruled by an enigmatic Charles, aka Mr. D. If the dead are not properly cared for, they will come back to satiate themselves with food, drink, and stories from the land of the living. Only the Graveminder, by tradition a Barrow woman, and her Undertaker--in this case Byron Montgomery, with whom Bek shares a complicated past--can set things right once the dead begin to walk.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Bets, Tears, and Manuscripts

Bet Me by Jennifer Crusie
Minerva Dobbs knows that happily-ever-after is a fairy tale, especially with a man who asked her to dinner to win a bet, even if he is gorgeous and successful Calvin Morrisey. Cal knows commitment is impossible, especially with a woman as cranky as Min Dobbs, even if she does wear great shoes and keeps him on his toes. When they say good-bye at the end of their evening, they cut their losses and agree to never see each other again. But Fate has other plans...

The Sweetness of Tears by Nafisa Haji
When faith and facts collide, Jo March--a young woman born into an Evangelical Christian dynasty--wrestles with questions about who she is and how she fits into the weave of her faithful family. Chasing loose threads that she hopes will lead to the truth, Jo sets off on an unlikely quest across boundaries of language and religion, through chasms of sectarian divides in the Muslim world. Against the backdrop of the War on Terror--traveling from California to Chicago, Pakistan to Iraq--she delves deeply into the past. She encounters relatives, often for the first time, whose histories are intricately intertwined with her own...only to learn that true spiritual devotion is a broken field riddled with doubt and that nothing is ever as it seems.

Tony and Susan by Austin Wright
Fifteen years ago, Susan Morrow left her first husband, Edward Sheffield. One day, comfortable in her home, with her children, and in her second marriage, she receives a parcel entirely out of the blue. It contains the manuscript of her ex-husband's first novel. He writes asking her to read the book; she was always his best critic, he says. As Susan reads, she is drawn into the fictional life of Tony Hastings, a math professor driving his family to their summer house in Maine. And as we read with her, we too become lost in Sheffield's thriller. As the Hasting's family's ordinary, civilized lives are disastrously, violently sent off course, Susan is plunged back into the past, forced to confront the darkness that inhabits her, and driven to name the fear that gnaws at her future and will change her life.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Kitchen

Don't Kill the Birthday Girl: Tales for an Allergic Life by Sandra Beasley
Like twelve million other Americans, Sandra Beasley suffers from food allergies. Her allergies -- severe and lifelong -- include dairy, eggs, soy, beef, shrimp, pine nuts, cucumbers, cantaloupe, honeydew, mango, macadamias, pistachios, cashews, swordfish, and mustard. Add to that mold, dust, grass and tree pollen, cigarette smoke, dogs, rabbits, horses, and wool, and it's no wonder Sandra felt she had to live her life as "Allergy Girl." When butter is deadly and eggs can make your throat swell shut, cupcakes and other treats of childhood are out of the question -- and so Sandra's mother used to warm guests against a toxic, frosting-tinged kiss with "Don't Kill the Birthday Girl!"

Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris by Lauren Shockey
At the French Culinary Institute, Lauren Shockey learned to salt food properly, cook fearlessly over high heat, and knock back beers like a pro. But she also discovered that her real culinary eduction wouldn't begin until she actually worked in a restaurant. After a somewhat disappointing apprenticeship in the French city of Toulouse, Shockey hatched a plan for her dream year: to apprentice in four high-end restaurants around the world. She started in her hometown of New York City under the famed chef Wylie Dufresne at the molecular gastronomy hotspot wd-50, then traveled to Vietnam, Israel, and back to France.