Friday, December 25, 2009


based on sales...

1. Twilight, Stephenie Meyer
2. The Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown
3. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
4. New Moon, Stephenie Meyer
5. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
6. Harry Potter and the Half- Blood Prince, J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
7. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
8. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre
9. Eclipse, Stephenie Meyer
10. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J.K. Rowling, art by Mary GrandPre

Source: USA TODAY Best-Selling Books list; analysis by Anthony DeBarros

For more interesting facts about the book industry during the past decade, check out Decade in books: Writers work magic, delivery has transformed

Friday, December 18, 2009



THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett: 1960's Mississippi is explored through the lives of the black maids who were good enough to raise the white children of their employers, but not good enough to use their bathrooms. A word-of-mouth, bestselling debut and my pick for the best book of the year. Once or twice a year a book like this comes out, if we are lucky. In the same class as Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein, and well, you get the idea.

HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY by Audrey Niffenegger: Niffenegger is just a great storyteller, and she keeps turning my preconceived notions upside down. I don't generally care for ghost stories, at least not since I was a kid, but this book - a ghost story in its simplest incantation - kept me mesmerized.

VERY VALENTINE by Adriana Trigiani
: A new series opener with all the winning elements Trigiani is known for; a warm, loving yet rambunctious Italian family, a strong woman finding out just how strong she is, and a touch of romance and laughter.

THE STEPMOTHER by Carrie Adams
: Memorable story about family relationships, second marriages, stepchildren, and friendship with humor and pathos.

THE FIXER UPPER by Mary Kay Andrews: A fun read about unemployment and a broken heart...if such a thing is possible, Mary Kay Andrews is the one to pull it off, and she does.


THE LAST CHILD by John Hart: An unforgettable story about a 14 year old boy's search for his missing twin sister. Southern fiction hasn't been this good for me in years.

BEAT THE REAPER by Josh Bazell: A medical thriller that is simply shocking, with black humor and footnotes. And it works beautifully in this first novel, which will hit theaters, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, sometime in 2010.

THE SCARECROW by Michael Connelly: Connelly brings back Jack McEvoy (The Poet) in this pageturner about the demise of newspapers, Internet security run amok and a serial killer.

LOOK AGAIN by Lisa Scottoline: Scottoline stepped out of the legal genre and moved to an intriguing tale of a journalist whose adopted child may not be legally hers...but does she really want to find out?

DIE FOR YOU by Lisa Unger
: When her husband goes missing, Isabel is determined to find him, even though he isn't who she thought he was in this complex and fast moving novel of suspense.

THE RELIABLE WIFE by Robert Goolrick
: A mail order bride takes center stage in this gothic, twisted, and riveting debut.

THE GIRL SHE USED TO BE by David Cristofano: A remarkable first novel based on a clever premise; a young woman who grew up in the Witness Protection Program wants out, which proves to be not the best decision.

VANISHED by Joseph Finder: First book of a new series featuring ex-Special Forces private investigator Nick Heller, a dynamic, interesting character in a tightly woven tale of suspense.

ALEX CROSS'S TRIAL by James Patterson & Richard DiLallo: This historical thriller set at the turn of the last century while the Klu Klux Klan ruled small town Mississippi and lynchings abounded is not typical Patterson fare, but much, much richer.


THE LINEUP: The World's Greatest Crime Writers Tell the Inside Story of Their Greatest Detectives, edited by Otto Penzler: A must read for all mystery fans who have the least bit of curiosity about how their favorite characters were created.

KNIVES AT DAWN: America's Quest for Culinary Glory at the Legendary Bocuse d'Or Competition by Andrew Friedman: Who knew a cooking competition could be so enthralling? In Friedman's hands, it is fascinating, fast reading.


A16: FOOD & WINE by Nate Appleman & Shelley Lindgren: A16 is Appleman's restaurant in San Francisco, and after reading through this book I'm convinced it would be worth the trip to eat there.

Friday, December 11, 2009

More best books list from Chicago & LA

Chicago Tribune — Favorite Fiction

Chicago Tribune — Favorite Nonfiction

L.A. Times — Fiction Favorites

L.A. Times — Mystery Favorites

L.A. Times — Nonfiction Favorites

L.A. Times — Science Fiction Favorites

Barnes & Noble Best books of 2009

The Best Books of 2009: Editors' Picks

Not only haven't I read any of their top fiction picks, I haven't heard of most of them. What is going on in the book business? Are obscure books better than popular ones? Really??

Amazon best books of 2009

I always find the dichotomy between the editors' picks and customers intriguing. Check out both lists: Best Books of 2009
Editors' Picks: Top 100 Books
Our annual Best of the Year debates, often contentious, were the easiest and most amicable we've ever had, at least when it came to our top pick. The nearly unanimous choice: Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, a rich and moving novel of New York City in the '70s, told in ten distinctive voices from all corners of the city whose lives connect and divide against the backdrop of Philippe Petit's audaciously graceful tightrope walk between the Twin Towers.

Customers' Bestsellers: Top 100 Books
Everybody knows what our bestselling book of 2009 was: The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown's long-awaited follow-up to The Da Vinci Code. But the race was closer than you might think: following Brown on our year-ending list are three books from authors with their own radio platforms, political talkers on the right Mark R. Levin and Glenn Beck and comedian-turned-radio-host Steve Harvey, and then the word-of-mouth fiction breakout of the year, Kathryn Stockett's The Help, which has earned over 900 five-star reviews from Amazon customers.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, in partnership with Penguin Group (USA) and CreateSpace, is pleased to announce the third annual Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, the international competition seeking the next popular novel. For the first time, the competition will award two grand prizes: one for General Fiction and one for Young Adult Fiction. The 2010 competition will also now be open to novels that have previously been self-published. Each winner will receive a publishing contract with Penguin, which includes a $15,000 advance.

Congratulations to last year's Breakthrough Novel Award winner, James King, whose winning novel, Bill Warrington's Last Chance, will be published by Viking in August 2010. Bill Loehfelm's Fresh Kills, the 2008 winner, is now available in paperback.

The Breakthrough Novel Award brings together talented writers, reviewers, and publishing experts to find and develop new voices in fiction. If you're an author with an unpublished or previously self-published novel waiting to be discovered, visit CreateSpace to learn more about the next Breakthrough Novel Award and sign up for regular updates on the contest. Open submissions for manuscripts will begin on January 25, 2010 through February 7, 2010.

See the official contest rules for more information on how to enter.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009


“Penguin Classics on Air,” a half-hour radio series devoted to the discussion and exploration of some of Penguin Classics’ more than 1500 titles, debuts this week on Sirius XM Book Radio (Sirius #117, XM #163). Written and produced entirely by Penguin employees, the show will air twice a week, on Mondays from 3:00pm to 3:30pm and on Thursdays from 11:30pm to midnight.

“Penguin Classics on Air” is hosted by Penguin Classics Editorial Director Elda Rotor, along with Associate Publisher Stephen Morrison and Senior Director of Academic Marketing Alan Walker. The show features in-depth conversations with scholars and experts about various topics including Austenmania, the enduring appeal of vampires in literature, the philosophers everyone should (and can) read, and books that have sparked revolutions. This week’s episode, “Why We Love Jane Austen,” talks about what it means to be a Janeite, how etiquette was different in Austen’s time, and why spoofs like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies are so popular right now. The shows will roll out over the next ten weeks in the following order:

Why We Love Jane Austen: Elda Rotor interviews Jane Austen scholar Juliette Wells, about Austenmania, what it means to be a Janeite, etiquette in Austen’s time, and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Alan Walker, introduces listeners to Excellent Women by Barbara Pym on “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” And Stephen Morrison offers up the opening to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in his segment, “First Pages.”

The Noli: Jose Rizal and the Novel that Sparked the Philippine Revolution: Elda Rotor interviews Rowena Jiminez about a Jose Rizal/Noli Me Tangere community read-a-thon organized through her nonprofit group Bagon Luturang Pinoy, and speaks with Harold Augenbraum, the translator of the Penguin Classics edition of this classic. Alan Walker introduces listeners to The Power and the Glory by Graham Greene on “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” And Stephen Morrison offers up the opening to Jose Rizal’s Noli Me Tangere in “First Pages.”

A Hero of Our Time: The First Major Russian Novel?: Elda Rotor introduces Penguin Classics editor John Siciliano and his interview with Natasha Randall, translator of Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time, about the invention of Russian roulette, the beauty of the Caucuses, the misery of a Russian soldier, and the inherent danger of dueling. Alan Walker introduces readers to First Love by Ivan Turgenev on “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” Stephen Morrison offers up the opening to Lermontov’s A Hero of Our Time in his segment, “First Pages.”

Scholem Aleichem: Yiddish Classics by the Creator of Tevye from “Fiddler on the Roof”: Elda Rotor introduces Penguin Classics editor John Siciliano and his interview with Aliza Shevrin, translator of Tevye the Dairyman and Motl the Cantor’s Son, as well as Wandering Stars, about the life and works of Scholem Aleichem, the difference between Fiddler on the Roof and Tevye the Dairyman, Yiddish humor, life, and culture from Russia to the Lower East Side, and what to do with five daughters. Alan Walker recommends Kristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath by Sigrid Undset on “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” And Stephen Morrison offers up the opening to Aleichem’s Tevye The Dairyman in “First Pages.”

The Birth of Knickerbocker: Washington Irving’s A History of New York: Elda Rotor interviews Betsy Bradley, the introducer and editor of Washington Irving’s A History of New York, Irving’s popular first book is an early nineteenth century satirical novel of colonial New Amsterdam. It follows the fictional historian Diedrich Knickerbocker as he narrates the development of New York cultural life—from the creation of the doughnut to the creation of Wall Street. Alan Walker introduces listeners to The Emigrants by Gilbert Imlay in “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” Stephen Morrison offers up the opening to Washington Irving’s beloved story “Rip Van Winkle.” in his segment, “First Pages.”

· Who Would Have Thought It?: The First Novel by a Mexican American

Elda Rotor interviews Amelia Maria de la Luz Montes, the editor and introducer of Who Would Have Thought It? about this major rediscovery of a little known Mexican-American author. Alan Walker introduces listeners to Summer by Edith Wharton on “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” Stephen Morrison offers up the opening to Maria Amparo Ruiz de Burton’s Who Would Have Thought It? in his segment, “First Pages.”

· Tolstoy’s Final Year: Jay Parini and Last Steps

Elda Rotor interviews author Jay Parini about Leo Tolstoy’s late writings and the film production based on Parini’s novel, The Last Station, which stars James McAvoy, Paul Giamatti, Helen Mirren, and Christopher Plummer. Alan Walker introduces listeners to Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko on “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” Stephen Morrison offers up the opening to Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina in his segment, “First Pages.”

· Vampires on Paper: The Enduring Appeal of Vampires in Literature

Elda Rotor interviews Twilight expert Donna Freitas about the appeal of Stephanie Meyer’s vampire series and how it compares to Emily Bronte’s enduring classic Wuthering Heights. Elda then speaks with Dacre Stoker, a direct descendent of Bram Stoker, and Ian Holt, authors of Dracula: The Un-Dead, who explain why Dracula and other vampires are such popular characters in literature. Alan Walker introducers listeners to The Magician by W. Somerset Maugham on “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” Stephen Morrison offers up the opening to Bram Stoker’s Dracula in his segment, “First Pages.”

· Philosophy is Easy: The Philosophers Everyone Should (and Can) Read

Stephen Morrison interviews “the philosophy guys,” Thomas Cathcart and Daniel Klein, author of The New York Times bestseller Plato and Platypus Walk into a Bar…and gets a hilarious run-down of the four (it’s an arbitrary number) most important (really!) philosophers in the history of philosophy. Alan Walker introduces listeners to Voltaire’s Candide on “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” Then Stephen offers up the opening to Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling in his segment, “First Pages.”

· Gosta Berling: The Swedish Gone with the Wind

John Siciliano of Penguin Classics interviews translator Paul Norlen and introducer George C. Schoolfield about The Saga of Gosta Berling, written by Selma Lagerlof, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. Alan Walker introduces Hunger by Knut Hamsun on “Reading the Classics from A to Z.” Stephen Morrison reads from the opening to Selma Lagerlof’s The Saga of Gosta Berling in his segment, “First Pages.”

“Penguin Classics on Air” is part of Penguin Group (USA)’s “From the Publisher’s Office” an online network where readers can watch, listen and read content that has been created, recorded, and produced entirely by Penguin employees.


Penguin Group (USA) has launched its own online network called “From the Publisher’s Office,” with three channels featuring nine series of book entertainment for adults, young adults and children. The network will feature several episodic online series, including “YA Central,” “Project Paranormal,” “Penguin Storytime” and “Tarcher Talks,” and audio series such as “Penguin Classics on Air,” “Business Beat” and “A Cup of Poetry.” All of the programming is original and customized for a wide range of audiences, and new episodes will be produced each publishing season. The network is now live on the Penguin Group (USA) website at

For over sixty years, Penguin has been the leading Classics publisher in the English-speaking world, providing readers with a global bookshelf of the best works from around the world and across history, genres, and disciplines. We focus on bringing together the best of the past and the future, using cutting edge design and production as well as embracing the digital age to create unforgettable editions of treasured literature. Penguin Classics is timeless and trend-setting. Whether you love our familiar black spine series, our Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions, or our Penguin Enriched eBook Classics, we bring the writer to the reader in every format available.

Monday, December 07, 2009

FSB Holiday Giveaway!

FSB Associates wanted me to share this with BookBitch readers...

We at FSB Associates want to do our share to support books and the publishing industry. In the spirit of the holiday season, and support for, we will be conducting a 3-Day Holiday Giveaway!

For three days only, December 8th, 9th, and 10th, we will be giving away a limited quantity of books to randomly selected winners! The official entry begins at 12pm (eastern) on each day. Here is our schedule of events:

Day 1. Lost Symbol Fans! If you have read and loved Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol, enter to win this companion pack! The pack features The Masonic Myth by Jay Kinney and Decoding the Lost Symbol by Simon Cox. We have 3 packs to giveaway!

Day 2. Celebrity Chef Mary Ann Esposito, has 5 signed copies of her latest cookbook to be given away: Ciao Italia: Five Ingredient Favorites. Check out Mary Ann's tips for holiday cooking here!

Day 3. 3 copies of Quirk Classics' bestselling literary monster mash-up, Sense & Sensibility & Sea Monsters signed by co-author Ben Winters! Also included: the Deluxe hardcover edition of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, co-authored by Seth Grahame-Smith! Learn more about the books, and discover the next monster mash-up at

Anyone within the continental US is eligible to enter. Entries made on a specific day after 12pm (eastern time) will only be eligible for that day's giveaway, so visit often! To enter for your chance to win, simply click here! Spread the word to your friends by forwarding this message.

We would also like to wish each and every one of you a very happy holiday season.


FICTION including...
Lark and Termite By Jayne Anne Phillips

A World of Trouble: The White House and the Middle East – from the Cold War to the War on Terror By Patrick Tyler

Simply the best nonfiction

also from the Boston Globe

By Edward M. Kennedy

LAST LION: The Fall and Rise of Ted Kennedy
By the Team at The Boston Globe
Edited by Peter S. Canellos

By David Finkel

FLANNERY: A Life of Flannery O’Connor
By Brad Gooch

THE FIRST TYCOON The Epic Life of Cornelius Vanderbilt
By T.J. Stiles

THE WILDERNESS WARRIOR Theodore Roosevelt and the Crusade for America
By Douglas Brinkley

FORDLANDIA: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford’s Forgotten Jungle City
By Greg Grandin

FOLLOWING THE WATER: A Hydromancer’s Notebook
By David M. Carroll

Simply the best fiction

from the Boston Globe

By Hilary Mantel

By Iliya Troyanov

By Barry Unsworth

By Amit Chaudhuri

By Santiago Roncagliolo

By M.J. Hyland

By William Trevor

By Kurt Vonnegut

By J.G. Ballard

By Alice Munro

By Robert Wilson

By Walter Mosley

Thursday, December 03, 2009


The lists begin with the New York Times, none of which I've read!

10 best books of 2009
"after so many years, and so many lists, you might think the task of choosing the 10 Best Books would get easier. If only. The sublime story collections alone created agonies of indecision. So did the superb literary biographies we read--and deeply admired. But in the end the decisions had to be made."


* Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It by Maile Meloy (Riverhead)
* Chronic City by Jonathan Lethem (Doubleday)
* A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore (Knopf)
* Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel by Jeannette Walls (Scribner)
* A Short History of Women by Kate Walbert (Scribner)


* The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes (Pantheon)
* The Good Soldiers by David Finkel (Sarah Crichton Books/FSG)
* Lit: A Memoir by Mary Karr (Harper)
* Lords of Finance: The Bankers Who Broke the World by Liaquat Ahamed (Penguin)
* Raymond Carver: A Writer's Life by Carol Sklenicka (Scribner)

Bad Sex in Fiction Award

Dec. 1 (Bloomberg) -- Jonathan Littell won the Bad Sex in Fiction Award, the U.K.’s “most dreaded literary prize,” for his depiction of the sadomasochistic encounters between twin siblings in his World War II novel, “The Kindly Ones.”

The judges cited Littell for one incestuous scene that unfolds on the bed of a guillotine and another that invokes the myth of Cyclops, “whose single eye never blinks.” These marred what the judges called an impressive work.

“It is in part a work of genius,” the judges said in an e-mailed statement about the novel, which won the Prix Goncourt, France’s top book prize, in 2006.

Yet Littell clinched the Bad Sex award with one “mythologically inspired passage” and another that compared a sexual climax to “a jolt that emptied my head like a spoon scraping the inside of a soft-boiled egg.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009


If you missed this book when it first came out, now is your chance to buy the newly issued paperback of Hot, Flat & Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution - And How it Can Renew America by Thomas Friedman.

Friedman has updated and revised the book, which they are calling Version 2.0. Friedman has some excerpts from the first two chapters and an audio preview on his website, as well as a book discussion guide.

As we delve into the holiday season of excess, it is a very good time to read this book.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Miami Book Fair 2009

I spent the day in Miami, hobnobbing with authors, librarians, booksellers, and of course readers. The weather was beautiful, but the pickings were slim. There were a lot of authors I wasn't familiar with, which is sometimes a nice way of finding new authors, but instead I went with authors somewhat more familiar.

We didn't get down there until after 10; I wasn't willing to get up before 7 on my day off to see Al Gore. I heard the room was packed so I'm sure I wasn't missed. Just wandering the street fair I ran into Carol Fitzgerald from The Book Report Network, owner of,,, and several other excellent, book related websites. She promised to email me the titles of two upcoming St. Martins/Minotaur books that sounded fabulous.

My first panel of the day featured funny thriller writers Paul Levine (pictured top) and Jeff Lindsay (pictured bottom.) Richard Belzer was scheduled to be with them but was a no-show. No great loss though, Levine and Lindsay were, as always, very entertaining. They were introduced by Chauncey Mabe, the long time book editor of the Sun Sentinel who informed us that he was no longer in that position, but was now a freelance writer. Note to self: check into that story...

Paul Levine opened by telling the audience that he was sure he was speaking for everyone in the room when he said, "Jeff, you are a sick puppy." Lindsay is the author of the Dexter series, the lovable serial killer that kills other serial killers that has since been made into the hit TV show on Showtime.

Levine then spoke a little about the Miami he remembered - he was a practicing lawyer for 17 years before going Hollywood and writing for TV shows, Jag and Lassiter, among others. He spoke about his latest book, Illegal, which is a really good thriller about a boy and his mother trying to move to the US from Mexico, illegally of course, and they get separated. It's a really good story and very suspenseful. Levine spoke about the opening, saying it "opens with something a lot of lawyers do; a lawyer trying to bribe a judge."

Lindsay spoke next, opening with "So much time, so little to say." Every time I see him I am reminded that he once tried his hand at stand-up comedy - lots of one liners. People got to ask questions at the end, and someone asked him if the Michael C. Hall character got into his head when he was trying to write the book. He says it doesn't affect him; he tries to keep away from Hollywood as much as possible. He doesn't write for the show and there are some discrepancies between the books and the show. One in particular he found confusing - the character Vince Masuoka in the book became Vince Masuka in the TV show. He wondered why Hollywood made Vince lose his "o".

One of the most interesting questions came from a librarian. She asked whether Dexter's name came from "dexterous", meaning left handed, and "sinister", meaning right handed. Lindsay was stunned, saying it was only the second time he's ever been asked this. She was correct - he said the book's original title was the "Left Hand of God".

After the mystery panel, it was time for politics so we headed over to see Taylor Branch. His new book, The Clinton Tapes: Wrestling History with the President offers unprecedented access to a sitting president. Branch spoke about how he met Clinton when they roomed together during the McGovern campaign in the 1970s. Branch decided he was too "cynical for politics" and became a journalist, but Clinton realized he had a gift for politics. Years later, Branch was invited to an inaugural party for newly elected President Clinton at Katherine Graham's house, where Clinton greeted him by saying in amazement, "Can you believe this?"

Shortly after that, Branch was summoned to the White House. Clinton told Branch that he was interested in recording history in the making, and asked Branch if he would be interested in helping. Branch said he was amazed at how idealistic Clinton still was, after twenty years in politics. Branch agreed, and they began meeting on a regular basis, usually late at night and in secret. Clinton would talk about whatever was going on, and Branch recorded it, asking questions along the way. Clinton offered almost unlimited access to a sitting president, all of it on the record, which was quite extraordinary. Branch says the book is not a biography, that he was too close to the subject and too close in time to create such a book. Instead, he views it as a "first hand record of being with a sitting president," recording his thoughts on events while they were happening.

Branch told some great stories. I especially loved the one about how President Clinton was awakened one night at 3:30 in the morning by the secret service. Apparently Boris Yeltsin was visiting and staying at Blair House, but he had "escaped" and was standing on the lawn, drunk and in his underwear, yelling for a pizza. The secret service wanted to know what to do. Suffice it to say Yeltsin got his pizza. He also talked about how Clinton had been invited to go to Japan for some conference, but refused to go because Chelsea had her junior year midterm exams, and he didn't want to leave her during that stressful time.

Branch also told a hilarious story about how there was some sort of summit, and Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush all ended up staying over at the White House. It was the first time ever that four presidents sat down and had breakfast together in the White House. It was a quiet meal, they didn't have much to say to one another until the subject of Ross Perot came up. It turned out that the one thing they all had in common was that they all hated Perot, especially Bush! They shared Perot stories all morning long.

Someone asked Branch if he wondered if Clinton was telling the truth, or just being a "storyteller", trying to make his own history. Branch pointed out that Clinton would have had to have been clairvoyant to do that, he was speaking on events as they happened, and would have no way of knowing how things would spin out later on. Being the Bill Clinton fan that I am, I was completely captivated and bought the book. I have to say that Branch seemed genuinely delighted to sign every book put in front of him. He shook hands, chatted, and was just his amiable self.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta was scheduled next for the hall where C-Span was recording all day for BookTV. However, he had cancelled, and Mike Farrell had agreed to fill in for him. At the closing of the Branch segment, it was announced that Farrell had cancelled as he had a death in the family the day before. So there was a gap in the schedule, just in time for lunch.

After lunch we headed back to see Gwen Ifill. She is always so calm and laidback on NPR, but was quite feisty and charming at this event. She spoke about her career, how she started in print journalism until Tim Russert dared her to do TV full time. She acquiesced, and was on NBC for years with her good friend and mentor, Russert. She is thrilled with her move to PBS however, and was asked about today's TV journalists. She said she feels like she needs to be just a conduit of the news, and that too many people prefer to use the media to just "confirm conclusions they've already reached."

Ifill also spoke about moderating the debate during the election, and even made reference to Queen Latifa - which was my first thought when I saw her on the schedule at the fair. She took a lot of flack about her, at the time, upcoming book, The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama, but she was protected from it as she prepared for the debate. The book didn't come out until long after the election, and she was vindicated when it did - it is not a biography of Obama. It is a book about black men in politics, and Obama is just one of several including Newark, N.J. Mayor Cory Booker, Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts and the Reverend Jesse Jackson. Ifill says "the good thing about writing about race - something is always happening."

Something that is dear to Ifill's heart is The History Makers Project. This is a website that archives interviews of famous African Americans as a way to preserve their history. Ifill has done several interviews, including Quincy Jones and Eartha Kitt, shortly before she passed away.

Wally Lamb was scheduled after Ifill, but I'd seen him before and didn't care to see him again. The only other author I would have liked to see was John Hodgeman, but he wasn't scheduled until 5, which would have had me driving around Miami (and frankly, not the nicest part of Miami) after dark, so I passed.

Friday, November 13, 2009


Events have been going on every night, but for me the fair is the street fair, which begins tomorrow.

Many of the world’s top authors are already confirmed for this year’s Fair. These include Sherman Alexie, Margaret Atwood, Roy Blount Jr., Robert Olen Butler, Meg Cabot, Alan Cheuse, Susie Essman, Mary Karr, Mike Farrell, Nobel Laureate and former Vice President Al Gore, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Barbara Kingsolver, Jonathan Lethem, Jacquelyn Mitchard, Ralph Nader, Richard Powers, Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk, Francine Prose, Ruth Reichl, Senator Bob Graham, Wally Lamb, musician and performer Iggy Pop, Melvin Van Peebles, Jeannette Walls and many others.

Confirmed Spanish-language authors include Roberto Ampuero, José María Aznar, Carmen Posadas, Alvaro Vargas-Llosa, Boris Izaguirre, Angela Becerra, Juanita Castro, Edmundo Paz-Soldán, Jorge Ramos, Fabiola Santiago, Jaime Bayly and others.

Please visit for the complete list of authors and the schedule.

Hope to see you there!

Monday, November 09, 2009

Win books in a bag

Travel around the globe without leaving home...Enter to win an Elliott Lucca Casares Drawstring bag filled with HarperCollins books!

Monday, October 26, 2009, and Facebook Collaborate for Book Club Webcast

Next Monday,, and Facebook will present a live Oprah's Book Club webcast for the current selection, Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan (Back Bay). During the 90-minute event, readers will be able to submit questions for the author and may be featured during the live discussion. The proceedings will be streamed live simultaneously from's video player on Additionally, will utilize Facebook Connect, which will allow users to comment through their Facebook profiles without leaving the live webcast.

Thursday, October 22, 2009


SleuthFest 2010, “Lights! Camera! Write!”, will be held in the Deerfield Beach Hilton in north Broward County from Thursday, February 25 through Sunday, February 28. The hotel sits just off I-95 and features beautifully renovated rooms and FREE parking. Driving or flying, you can't beat the rate and location. And don’t forget, this is South Florida in the Winter—sun, more sun, and beaches.

David Morrell and Stephen J. Cannell are our Guests of Honor. David Morrell is the award-winning author of First Blood, the novel in which Rambo was created. That "father" of all modern action novels was published in 1972 while Morrell was a professor in the English department at the University of Iowa. He taught there from 1970 to 1986, simultaneously writing other novels, many of them national bestsellers, such as The Brotherhood of the Rose (the basis for a highly rated NBC miniseries starring Robert Mitchum). Eventually wearying of two professions, he gave up his tenure in order to write full time. Stephen J. Cannell is the bestselling author of twelve novels, including the critically acclaimed Shane Scully series, which includes Three Shirt Deal, White Sister, Cold Hit, Vertical Coffin, Hollywood Tough, The Viking Funeral, and The Tin Collectors. The newest installment, On The Grind, was published by St. Martin’s Press in January 2009. In addition, Cannell is the author of At First Sight, Runaway Heart, The Devil’s Workshop, Riding the Snake, King Con, Final Victim, and The Plan.

Come in on Thursday for a line up not equaled by any conference in the country. We have instructors who can teach anyone anything they didn't know about writing or the writing business. That evening, the Sleuthfest 101 Dinner will take place, as well as our annual Reader’s Corner.

Friday and Saturday will be filled with talented , including P J Parrish, Paul Levine, James W. Hall, Les Standiford, C J Lyons, Elaine Viets, Diana Snell, John DuFresne, and N. M. Kelby.

Our Friday luncheon speaker will be David Morrell, who on Friday evening, will introduce a showing of “Rambo”, and speak about how what’s on the page does or does not end up on the screen.

Saturday’s luncheon speaker is Stephen J. Cannell, along with our annual Author Auction. That evening is the Agents and Editors Cocktail party, including the silent auction results and the crowning of the new Flamango 2010.

On Sunday morning, we'll have a special treat. You'll have to attend to find out what it is.

As proof we're always improving SleuthFest, we're sponsoring the Short Story Contest again this year. The feedback last year was all positive, especially from the winner whose story was published in the SleuthFest program. And, she's attending SF 2010 as our guest this year. You could be the lucky winner this year.

There's more info at the web site ( and we'll be adding right up to the last moment. So check the site now and check back often. Registration is up on the website, as well as a link for room reservations. Be sure to click on the Sleuthfest 2010 link, and if you reserve your rooms over the phone, be sure to mention you are attending SleuthFest 2010, in order to get our great room rates.

We’re looking forward to seeing you at Sleuthfest 2010.

Saturday, October 17, 2009


The Itch of the Unanswered Question

My great-grandmother was haunted by a mystery for the last 30 years of her life, after her son Anthony, my great-uncle, disappeared during World War II. He was a gunner on a B-17 bomber that vanished without a trace in bad weather over the Mediterranean.

“Someday,” the old woman insisted to the end of her life, “Anthony will come walking through that door.”

He never did, of course. And I believe my great-grandmother would have found more peace if Anthony had been proven dead, rather than linger as an unanswered question.
Storytellers have been exploiting the power of the unanswered question for thousands of years. The lure of an unsolved mystery is embedded in human nature. We can’t stop thinking about them. The unanswered question is like a maddening itch that you just can’t reach. We’re programmed to seek them out, to investigate, to stamp out riddles, to scratch that itch.

In writing my own books, I learned from a master, the late Donald E. Westlake, that the sooner the novel poses the unanswered question, the quicker the reader is hooked. That’s why in my new novel, LOOT THE MOON, the reader joins a carjacking in progress on Page 1.

The Law & Order TV franchise has perfected the formula. Twenty seconds after the show’s trademark two-note intro (dun-DUNT!) some bystander discovers a body, and I’m hooked. These shows are more addictive than slot machines with caffeine drips.

In that spirit, here are three great mysteries that have been solved in my lifetime:

The Wreck of the Titanic.

The books the made the biggest impressions on me when I was a kid were the Hardy Boys adventures and Clive Cussler’s thriller “Raise the Titanic!” The liner than sank in 1912 was still missing when I read Cussler’s book in the late 1970s. I read whatever nonfiction I could find on the search for the ship. I was about to go off to college when Robert Ballard found the wreck in 1985. I was more excited that the Titanic mystery had been solved than I was about my first day at school.

What happened to Anastasia?

I learned of the controversy over the fate of the youngest daughter of Russian Czar Nicholas II in 1978 from an episode of “In Search Of,” the schlocky pseudo-documentary series narrated by Leonard Nimoy. Was Anastasia murdered with the rest of her family? Or did she survive, grow up under the name Anna Anderson, and move to Virginia?

DNA tests in the 1990s would prove that Anderson, who died in 1984, was an imposter. She was really a Polish factory worker with mental problems. I was sad that she wasn’t the real Anastasia, but glad that the mystery had been solved.

Who was Deep Throat?

The identity of the secret source for the Washington Post’s Watergate coverage was the great journalistic riddle of our times. After hiding the secret for more than 30 years, former FBI agent W. Mark Felt admitted in 2005 that he was Deep Throat. For journalists and political junkies, the Holy Grail of itches had been scratched.

So, what great mysteries am I missing?

Mark Arsenault is a Shamus-nominated mystery writer, a journalist, a runner, hiker, political junkie and eBay fanatic who collects memorabilia from the 1939 New York World’s Fair. His new novel is LOOT THE MOON, the second book in the Billy Povich series that began with GRAVEWRITER, a noir thriller praised for a fusion of suspense, humor and human tenderness. With 20 years of experience as a print reporter, Arsenault is one of those weird cranks who still prefers to read the news on paper. His Web site is:

Thursday, September 17, 2009

2009 Nation Book Festival fast approaching!

Just wanted to give out some updates on the National Book Festival. It's Saturday, September 26th in Washington DC and will be featuring fabulous authors like Baldacci, Grisham, Picoult, Alvarez, Blue, Burns, and Irving. Sadly, I can't go but I can get text messages updating me on all the events and so can you. By texting BOOK to 61399, book lovers can receive text updates and news for the Festival straight to their mobile device.

Also, the LOC has been releasing some great new podcast interviews with some of this year’s participating authors. Podcasts, images, author schedule and other goodies at

Finally, LOC is also tweeting away at @librarycongress, as well, and planning to host an NBF Tweet Up on the National Mall.

pictured: John Irving

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Keeping it Clean in the Middle Ages

By Jeri Westerson

My medieval mystery series is styled a “medieval noir;” hard-boiled detective fiction set in the middle ages. The second in the series, SERPENT IN THE THORNS (featuring my ex-knight turned detective, Crispin Guest), will be in bookstores on September 29th.

Back in the day before I was published and I was trying to peddle my own brand of medieval mysteries to agents, I came upon an astonishing bias. One agent rejected my manuscript because she couldn’t get past the notion that my protagonist would be intimate with someone with all that “lack of hygiene.” She said it made her skin crawl.


But she wasn’t the only one. Seems that if you aren’t a regular reader of things medieval, you are stuck in the rut of thinking that medievals never bathed or brushed their teeth. In which case, I might agree with that agent that rejected it. In a word, “Eww.”

So what about it? Without indoor plumbing were medieval people stinkier? Were they, in fact, the Great Unwashed?

Well, no. They rather enjoyed bathing. While it’s true that the average person did not have the servants to provide for heated water to be hauled into a tub for a full immersion bath (and these were great occasions for noshing. Think of sipping wine with nibblies as you sit in your Jacuzzi), there were certainly bath houses for this purpose, which also served as a social meeting place. Both men and women. And yes, naked! Because they were religious people, we tend to give them a Victorian sense of their bodies, but this was not true. They had a pragmatic approach. And though no woman would dream of wearing a gown at calf-length, they weren’t afraid to bare a little. Everyone was certainly aware of bodily functions. And anatomy.

In England, the City of Bath was built because of the natural hot springs. Bath was considered a very holy place by the early Celtic people. Think about it. It’s bloody cold in England and here is hot water simply bubbling out of the ground. It’s a miracle! Hallelujah! The Romans added buildings and the innovation of pipes to fill many bath spaces at once.

But even if you didn’t travel to Bath, there were streams and rivers and a good old-fashioned bucket in which to wash yourself. In the winter when fuel was scarce and heating water for the purpose of spit baths would be wasteful, it was done cold. Brr.

Teeth were brushed with fingers, hazel sprigs, or cloth rubbed across the teeth. Bad breath was certainly noticed so the chewing of parsley and other herbs might be used to sweeten the breath.

Deodorants were not invented yet, but for wealthier patrons, there were perfumes and flower water to staunch some of the smellier aspects of life.

Foul odors were associated with evil and evil-doing and preventing them or masking them was important in society, though the lowlier you were the harder this was, foisting an unfair disadvantage on the poorer classes.

In the opposite end of the spectrum is the sweet-smelling, often attributed to the saintly person, their “odor of sanctity.” Indeed, a few saints were said to give off a sweet smell to show to the world their holiness. Incense in churches sweetens. Garlic does not.

So the next time you read about medieval protagonists in a clinch, remember that they might be hot and bothered, but they also probably did their best to smell good and stay clean.

You can read more about SERPENT IN THE THORNS on Jeri’s website; or read her blog about history and mystery at

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Guest Blogger: DAVID MORRELL

Rising Above it All: How Rambo's Creator Earned His Pilot's License
By David Morrell,
Author of The Shimmer

Readers familiar with my fiction know how much I love doing research. For Testament, I enrolled in an outdoor wilderness survival course and lived above timberline in the Wyoming mountains for 30 days. For The Protector, I spent a week at the Bill Scott raceway in West Virginia, learning offensive-defensive driving maneuvers, such as the 180-degree spins you see in the movies. I once broke my collarbone in a two-day knife-fighting class designed for military and law enforcement personnel.

Two years ago, I began the longest research project of my career. I was preparing to write a novel called The Shimmer, a fictional dramatization of the mysterious lights that appear on many nights outside the small town of Marfa in west Texas. When the first settlers passed through that area in the 1800s, they saw the lights, and people have been drawn to those lights ever since, including James Dean who became fascinated by them when he filmed his final movie Giant near Marfa in 1955.

The lights float, bob, and weave. They combine and change colors. They seem far away and yet so close that people think they can reach out and touch them. In the 1970s, the citizens of Marfa organized what they called a Ghost Light Hunt and pursued the lights, using horses, vehicles, and an airplane, but the lights had no difficulty eluding them.

Because an airplane was used, I decided to include one in The Shimmer. I'd never written about a pilot, and the idea of trying something new always appeals to me. The dramatic possibilities were intriguing. But a minute's thought warned me about the monumental task I was planning. As a novelist version of a Method actor, I couldn't just cram an airplane into my novel. First, I would need to learn how airplanes worked so that real pilots wouldn't be annoyed by inaccuracies. Real pilots. That's when I realized that it wouldn't be enough to learn how airplanes worked. I would need to take pilot training.

I live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Our small airport has a flight school: Sierra Aviation. I made an appointment with one of the instructors, Larry Haight, who took me up in a Cessna 172 on what's called a "discovery" flight. The idea was to "discover" whether I enjoyed the sensation of being in the cockpit and peering several thousand feet down at the ground. Flying in a small aircraft is a much more immediate and visceral experience than sitting in the cabin of a commercial airliner. Even in a Cessna, the canopy is huge compared to the tiny windows on an airliner. The horizon stretches forever.

It turned out that I more than enjoyed the experience. It was exhilarating and fulfilling. I realized that this was something I wanted to do not only for research but also to broaden my life. As a consequence, I eventually earned my private pilot's license and bought a 2003 172SP. The plane was based near Dallas, and my longest cross-country flight to date (600 miles) involved piloting it from there to Santa Fe. Truly, nothing can equal controlling an aircraft, making it do safely whatever I want while seeing the world as if I were an eagle.

In The Shimmer, I wanted the main character's attitude toward flying ("getting above it all") to help develop the book's theme. The following passage shows what I mean. You only need to know that Dan Page is a police officer. When I started pilot training, I figured that one day I'd be relaxing in the sky, listening to an iPod and glancing dreamily around. As we learn in this section, the actuality is quite different and more substantial.

"Non-pilots often assumed that the appeal of flying involved appreciating the scenery. But Page had become a pilot because he enjoyed the sensation of moving in three dimensions. The truth was that maintaining altitude and speed while staying on course, monitoring radio transmissions, and comparing a sectional map to actual features on the ground required so much concentration that a pilot had little time for sightseeing.

"There was another element to flying, though. It helped Page not to think about the terrible pain people inflicted on one another. He'd seen too many lives destroyed by guns, knives, beer bottles, screwdrivers, baseball bats, and even a nail gun. Six months earlier, he'd been the first officer to arrive at the scene of a car accident in which a drunken driver had hit an oncoming vehicle and killed five children along with the woman who was taking them to a birthday party. There'd been so much blood that Page still had nightmares about it.

"His friends thought he was joking when he said that the reward of flying was 'getting above it all,' but he was serious. The various activities involved in controlling an aircraft shut out what he was determined not to remember.

"That helped Page now. His confusion, his urgency, his need to have answers -- on the ground, these emotions had thrown him off balance, but once he was in the air, the discipline of controlling the Cessna forced him to feel as level as the aircraft. In the calm sky, amid the monotonous, muffled drone of the engine, the plane created a floating sensation. He welcomed it yet couldn't help dreading what he might discover on the ground. "

At one point a character asks Page, how high he intends to fly.

"Enough to get above everything," he answers.

"Sounds like the way to run a life."

That's an important lesson I learned from flying.

©2009 David Morrell, author of The Shimmer

Author Bio: David Morrell, author of The Shimmer, is the award-winning author of numerous New York Times bestsellers, including Creepers and Scavenger. Co-founder of the International Thriller Writers organization and author of the classic Brotherhood of the Rose spy trilogy, Morrell is considered by many to be the father of the modern action novel.

For more information please visit

Learn more about The Shimmer at

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Win a signed Level 26: Dark Origins book jacket!

Anthony Zuiker, creator of CSI-franchise and the author of Level 26: Dark Origins is giving away 500 hand-signed book jackets to people who pre-order the book now on, created by Web serial pioneers EQAL (lonelygirl15, Harper’s Globe), is the online counterpart to the upcoming 'digi-novel' thriller Level 26: Dark Origins. The site is now live and features daily blog posts by Anthony Zuiker, who gives a unique insider look to his experiences in the entertainment industry.

The entry is simple: pre-order the book online, email the proof of purchase to, and readers will receive a limited-edition, hand-signed book jacket from Anthony. Simple as that.

Good luck!

Friday, August 07, 2009

No Blurb from Blago

One of my favorite authors, David Ellis, has a new book coming out September 3. THE HIDDEN MAN is the first book of a series, and it's terrific. I'm not the only one who thinks so; it got a starred review from Publisher's Weekly too. But a certain ex-governor is refusing to blurb the book...

Impeachment trial believed to have soured relationship with House Prosecutor

Chicago, IL (AP)--Former Governor Rod Blagojevich (D-IL), fresh off a media campaign to promote himself and influence his potential jury pool, has thus far refused to provide a favorable review of THE HIDDEN MAN, the new novel by the man who convicted him in the Illinois Senate, House Prosecutor David Ellis.
"I'm sure he'd like a blurb," said Mr. Blagojevich. "But you just don't give it away for nothing."

Reached for comment, David Ellis expressed "disappointment" at the former governor's silence. "A blurb from him would have been f***ing golden," he conceded.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Guest Blogger: JEFF ABBOTT

Which Comes First?
By Jeff Abbott

It is the literary version of egg and chicken.

One of the questions I get asked the most as a writer is “which comes first, plot or character”? And I have to say I admire those writers who are so consistent in their answers that it’s always one or the other. I love their certainty how one element must pop the neurons of the brain first. My brain doesn’t work that way, though. I’ve had books grow from a seed of either: a character I can’t shake or a plot that promises to intrigue.

With Panic, I thought of the book while in the shower (no laughs as to why I might be “panicking” in the shower), and its plot could be summed up in one sentence: what if everything in your life was a lie? It’s not exactly a plot, it’s a premise, but that is the first step. I thought first, well, that’s an interesting question, what would the ramifications be? And for the next day or so I doodled, thinking out what the emotional ramifications, at a most basic human level, would be of a lifetime of deception. But at that point, it’s just brainstorming with no spine: the next question toward a book is saying who would be in this situation, and how does he or she get into this mess? To whom does this horror happen? And I decided the hero of this story would be a younger-than-typical suspense protagonist, a documentary filmmaker, someone dedicated to telling the truth about difficult subjects—until he must face the truth of a lifetime of lies. At that point, character begins to drive plot: a hero like Evan Casher is going to react to situations in his own way, guided by his own personality and his limited life experience as a 24-year old film maker who has been cocooned by his family. His choices as a hero drive the plot.

An opposite effect occurred with my next book, Fear. The character of Miles Kendrick came into my head full-blown: a good, decent man who blamed himself for the death of his closest friend, and was beset by the demons of post-traumatic stress disorder, to the point that his dead friend haunts most of his waking moments. I wrote down a lot of notes about Miles, unsure how to use him in a story. He would not let me go. Then asking myself a simple dramatic question opened the doors to a plot: what would be Miles’s greatest wish? To be mentally whole again. What if a new medicine offered this wish, but said medicine was worth billions to a pharmaceutical—and people were willing to kill to get the formula? From there, I knew the kind of action that Miles—haunted by his friend, hunted by killers—would have to take, and the book’s plot, born from the heart of Miles’s character, drove forward.

With my latest book, Trust Me, plot and character nearly arrived together. I thought first of writing a book where a young character, his father murdered in a random bombing, tries to answer the unanswerable: why do people commit evil acts? At the same time, I thought of a new kind of character for suspense fiction: a psychological profiler of extremists. (There have been so many profilers in books and film who solve serial killings, but I wanted to drive onto new ground.) Luke Dantry is determined to find a way to identify and stop the next Timothy McVeigh, the next Unabomber, the next suicide bomber. So he would come into conflict, somehow, with people on the verge of turning to terrorism and violence.

The avenue for him came from research. Facebook and Twitter aren’t the only sites having explosive growth: there are now over 50,000 sites tied to extremist and terrorist content. 50,000 videos—showing everything from indoctrination speeches to how to forge documents to how to build a bomb—have been uploaded to the web. These sites provide a place for the socialization that is so critical to extremism to blossom. McVeigh wandered the country for three years, talking with fellow extremists, hardening his positions, until he parked the Ryder truck in front of the Murrah building. Now extremist groups need not worry about establishing cells in distant cities—they only need the web site to reach those who feel marginalized and powerless.

Luke, working undercover, goes after these groups. He thinks he’s safe: until he’s kidnapped and it’s clear that the people he has targeted have now targeted him. Every element of the plot is driven by Luke’s character: he’s a quiet academic, ill-equipped for a violent world, but driven by a burning need to stop the kind of pointless violence that killed his dad. Every choice in the book is influenced by who he is.

I don’t think it matters if plot or character arrive first in a writer’s brain; I think it matters far more that they arrive together at the end of the story, seamlessly joined, walking (or preferably running) in lockstep.

Jeff Abbott’s eleven suspense novels include the national bestsellers Panic, Fear, and Collision. He is a three-time nominee for the Edgar Award and a two-time nominee for the Anthony Award. Two of his novels are in development at major film studios. Abbott lives in Austin , Texas , with his family.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009


POPE JOAN is one of my favorite books, so I am delighted to share some info about the upcoming movie, along with a contest to walk the red carpet at the opening.

Walk the Pope Joan Red Carpet with Donna Woolfolk Cross!

Join the author of Pope Joan and her family as they walk the red carpet on the night of the Pope Joan movie premiere!

Includes two tickets to the movie premiere, plus round trip airfare for two from any location in the continental United States or Canada, and one night hotel accommodation for you to share with your guest.

Simply buy a new, Three Rivers Press/Crown Publishing paperback edition of Pope Joan by August 9 and send the author the original receipt. In August, she'll pick randomly from the pile of receipts to select someone and their guest to join her at the U.S. movie premiere in the fall (exact date still to be determined). All the details are here --

Take advantage of this offer by August 9th!

Here's the link to the movie info from Imdb

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

THE DEFECTOR by Daniel Silva

Silva's latest is out! Here is an excerpt to get you in the mood for the rest --





Pyotr Luzhkov was about to be killed, and for that he was grateful.

It was late October, but autumn was already a memory. It had been brief and unsightly, an old babushka hurriedly removing a threadbare frock. Now this: leaden skies, arctic cold, windblown snow. The opening shot of Russia’s winter without end.

Pyotr Luzhkov, shirtless, barefoot, hands bound behind his back, was scarcely aware of the cold. In fact, at that moment he would have been hard-pressed to recall his name. He believed he was being led by two men through a birch forest but could not be certain. It made sense they were in a forest. That was the place Russians liked to do their blood work. Kurapaty, Bykivnia, Katyn, Butovo . . . Always in the forests. Luzhkov was about to join a great Russian tradition. Luzhkov was about to be granted a death in the trees.

There was another Russian custom when it came to killing: the intentional infliction of pain. Pyotr Luzhkov had been forced to scale mountains of pain. They had broken his fingers and his thumbs. They had broken his arms and his ribs. They had broken his nose and his jaw. They had beaten him even when he was unconscious. They had beaten him because they had been told to. They had beaten him because they were Russians. The only time they had stopped was when they were drinking vodka. When the vodka was gone, they had beaten him even harder.

Now he was on the final leg of his journey, the long walk to a grave with no marker. Russians had a term for it: vyshaya mera, the highest form of punishment. Usually, it was reserved for traitors, but Pyotr Luzhkov had betrayed no one. He had been duped by his master’s wife, and his master had lost everything because of it. Someone had to pay. Eventually, everyone would pay.

He could see his master now, standing alone amid the matchstick trunks of the birch trees. Black leather coat, silver hair, head like a tank turret. He was looking down at the large-caliber pistol in his hand. Luzhkov had to give him credit. There weren’t many oligarchs who had the stomach to do their own killing. But then there weren’t many oligarchs like him.

The grave had already been dug. Luzhkov’s master was inspecting it carefully, as if calculating whether it was big enough to hold a body. As Luzhkov was forced to kneel, he could smell the distinctive cologne. Sandalwood and smoke. The smell of power. The smell of the devil.

The devil gave him one more blow to the side of his face. Luzhkov didn’t feel it. Then the devil placed the gun to the back of Luzhkov’s head and bade him a pleasant evening. Luzhkov saw a pink flash of his own blood. Then darkness. He was finally dead. And for that he was grateful.




The murder of Pyotr Luzhkov went largely unnoticed. No one mourned him; no women wore black for him. No Russian police officers investigated his death, and no Russian newspapers bothered to report it. Not in Moscow. Not in St. Petersburg. And surely not in the Russian city sometimes referred to as London. Had word of Luzhkov’s demise reached Bristol Mews, home of Colonel Grigori Bulganov, the Russian defector and dissident, he would not have been surprised, though he would have felt a pang of guilt. If Grigori hadn’t locked poor Pyotr in Ivan Kharkov’s personal safe, the bodyguard might still be alive.

Among the lords of Thames House and Vauxhall Cross, the riverfront headquarters of MI5 and MI6, Grigori Bulganov had always been a source of much fascination and considerable debate. Opinion was diverse, but then it usually was when the two services were forced to take positions on the same issue. He was a gift from the gods, sang his backers. He was a mixed bag at best, muttered his detractors. One wit from the top floor of Thames House famously described him as the defector Downing Street needed like a leaky roof—as if London, now home to more than a quarter million Russian citizens, had a spare room for another malcontent bent on making trouble for the Kremlin. The MI5 man had gone on the record with his prophecy that one day they would all regret the decision to grant Grigori Bulganov asylum and a British passport. But even he was surprised by the speed with which that day came.

A former colonel in the counterintelligence division of the Russian Federal Security Service, better known as the FSB, Grigori Bulganov had washed ashore late the previous summer, the unexpected by-product of a multinational intelligence operation against one Ivan Kharkov, Russian oligarch and international arms dealer. Only a handful of British officials were told the true extent of Grigori’s involvement in the case. Fewer still knew that, if not for his actions, an entire team of Israeli operatives might have been killed on Russian soil. Like the KGB defectors who came before him, Grigori vanished for a time into a world of safe houses and isolated country estates. A joint Anglo-American team hammered at him day and night, first on the structure of Ivan’s arms-trafficking network, for which Grigori had shamefully worked as a paid agent, then on the tradecraft of his former service. The British interrogators found him charming; the Americans less so. They insisted on fl uttering him, which in Agencyspeak meant subjecting him to a lie-detector test. He passed with flying colors.

When the debriefers had had their fill, and it came time to decide just what to do with him, the bloodhounds of internal security conducted highly secret reviews and issued their recommendations, also in secret. In the end, it was deemed that Grigori, though reviled by his former comrades, faced no serious threat. Even the once-feared Ivan Kharkov, who was licking his wounds in Russia, was deemed incapable of concerted action. The defector made three requests: he wanted to keep his name, to reside in London, and to have no overt security. Hiding in plain sight, he argued, would give him the most protection from his enemies. MI5 readily agreed to his demands, especially the third. Security details required money, and the human resources could be put to better use elsewhere, namely against Britain’s homegrown jihadist extremists. They bought him a lovely mews cottage in a backwater of Maida Vale, arranged a generous monthly stipend, and made a onetime deposit in a City bank that would surely have caused a scandal if the amount ever became public. An MI5 lawyer quietly negotiated a book deal with a respected London publisher. The size of the advance raised eyebrows among the senior staff of both services, most of whom were working on books of their own—in secret, of course.

For a time it seemed Grigori would turn out to be the rarest of birds in the intelligence world: a case without complications. Fluent in English, he took to life in London like a freed prisoner trying to make up for lost time. He frequented the theater and toured the museums. Poetry readings, ballet, chamber music: he did them all. He settled into work on his book and once a week lunched with his editor, who happened to be a porcelain-skinned beauty of thirty-two. The only thing missing in his life was chess. His MI5 minder suggested he join the Central London Chess Club, a venerable institution founded by a group of civil servants during the First World War. His application form was a masterpiece of ambiguity. It supplied no address, no home telephone, no mobile, and no e-mail. His occupation was described as “translation services,” his employer as “self.” Asked to list any hobbies or outside interests, he had written “chess.”

But no high-profile case is ever entirely free of controversy— and the old hands warned they had never met a defector, especially a Russian defector, who didn’t lose a wheel from time to time. Grigori’s came off the day the British prime minister announced a major terrorist plot had been disrupted. It seemed al-Qaeda had planned to simultaneously shoot down several jetliners using Russian-made antiaircraft missiles—missiles they had acquired from Grigori’s former patron, Ivan Kharkov. Within twenty-four hours, Grigori was seated before the cameras of the BBC, claiming he had played a major role in the affair. In the days and weeks that followed, he would remain a fixture on television, in Britain and elsewhere. His celebrity status now cemented, he began to move in Russian émigré circles and cavort with Russian dissidents of every stripe. Seduced by the sudden attention, he used his newfound fame as a platform to make wild accusations against his old service and against the Russian president, whom he characterized as a Hitler in the making. When the Kremlin responded with uncomfortable noises about Russians plotting a coup on British soil, Grigori’s minder suggested he tone things down. So, too, did his editor, who wanted to save something for the book.

Grudgingly, the defector lowered his profile, but only by a little. Rather than pick fights with the Kremlin, he focused his considerable energy on his forthcoming book and on his chess. That winter he entered the annual club tournament and moved effortlessly through his bracket—like a Russian tank through the streets of Prague, grumbled one of his victims. In the semifinals, he defeated the defending champion without breaking a sweat. Victory in the finals appeared inevitable.

On the afternoon of the championship, he lunched in Soho with a reporter from Vanity Fair magazine. Returning to Maida Vale, he purchased a house plant from the Clifton Nurseries and collected a parcel of shirts from his laundry in Elgin Avenue. After a brief nap, a prematch ritual, he showered and dressed for battle, departing his mews cottage a few minutes before six.

All of which explains why Grigori Bulganov, defector and dissident, was walking along London’s Harrow Road at 6:12 p.m., on the second Tuesday of January. For reasons that would be made clear later, he was moving at a faster pace than normal. As for chess, it was by then the last thing on his mind.

THE MATCH was scheduled for half past six at the club’s usual venue, the Lower Vestry House of St. George’s Church in Bloomsbury. Simon Finch, Grigori’s opponent, arrived at a quarter past. Shaking the rainwater from his oilskin coat, he squinted at a trio of notices tacked to the bulletin board in the foyer. One forbade smoking, another warned against blocking the corridor in case of fire, and a third, hung by Finch himself, pleaded with all those who used the premises to recycle their rubbish. In the words of George Mercer, club captain and six-time club champion, Finch was “a Camden Town crusty,” bedecked with all the required political convictions of his tribe. Free Palestine. Free Tibet. Stop the Genocide in Darfur. End the War in Iraq. Recycle or Die. The only cause Finch didn’t seem to believe in was work. He described himself as “a social activist and freelance journalist,” which Clive Atherton, the club’s reactionary treasurer, accurately translated as “layabout and sponge.” But even Clive was the first to admit that Finch possessed the loveliest of games: fl owing, artistic, instinctive, and ruthless as a snake. “Simon’s costly education wasn’t a total waste,” Clive was fond of saying. “Just misapplied.”

His surname was a misnomer, for Finch was long and languid, with limp brown hair that hung nearly to his shoulders and wirerimmed spectacles that magnified the resolute gaze of a revolutionary. To the bulletin board he added a fourth item now—a fawning letter from the Regent Hall Church thanking the club for hosting the first annual Salvation Army chess tournament for the homeless—then he drifted down the narrow corridor to the makeshift cloakroom, where he hung his coat on the rollaway rack. In the kitchenette, he deposited twenty pence in a giant piggy bank and drew a cup of tepid coffee from a silver canister marked CHESS CLUB. Young Tom Blakemore—a misnomer as well, for Young Tom was eighty-five in the shade—bumped into him as he was coming out. Finch seemed not to notice. Interviewed later by a man from MI5, Young Tom said he had taken no offense. After all, not a single member of the club gave Finch even an outside chance of winning the cup. “He looked like a man being led to the gallows,” said Young Tom. “The only thing missing was the black hood.”

Finch entered the storage cabinet and from a row of sagging shelves collected a board, a box of pieces, an analog tournament clock, and a score sheet. Coffee in one hand, match supplies carefully balanced in the other, he entered the vestry’s main room. It had walls the color of mustard and four grimy windows: three peering onto the pavements of Little Russell Street and a fourth squinting into the courtyard. On one wall, below a small crucifix, was the tournament bracket. One match remained to be played: S. FINCH VS. G. BULGANOV.

Finch turned and surveyed the room. Six trestle tables had been erected for the evening’s play, one reserved for the championship, the rest for ordinary matches—“friendlies,” in the parlance of the club. A devout atheist, Finch chose the spot farthest from the crucifix and methodically prepared for the contest. He checked the tip of his pencil and wrote the date and the board number on the score sheet. He closed his eyes and saw the match as he hoped it would unfold. Then, fifteen minutes after taking his seat, he looked up at the clock: 6:42. Grigori was late. Odd, thought Finch. The Russian was never late.

Finch began moving pieces in his mind—saw a king lying on its side in resignation, saw Grigori hanging his head in shame—and he watched the relentless march of the clock.

6:45 . . . 6:51 . . . 6:58 . . .

Where are you, Grigori? he thought. Where the hell are you?

ULTIMATELY, Finch’s role would be minor and, in the opinion of all involved, mercifully brief. There were some who wanted to have a closer look at a few of his more deplorable political associations. There were others who refused to touch him, having rightly judged Finch to be a man who would relish nothing more than a good public spat with the security services. In the end, however, it would be determined his only crime was one of sportsmanship. Because at precisely 7:05 p.m.—the time recorded in his own hand on the official score sheet—he exercised his right to claim victory by forfeiture, thus becoming the first player in club story to win the championship without moving a single piece. It was a dubious honor, one the chess players of British intelligence would never quite forgive.

Ari Shamron, the legendary Israeli spymaster, would later say that never before had so much blood fl owed from so humble a beginning. But even Shamron, who was guilty of the occasional rhetorical flourish, knew the remark was far from accurate. For the events that followed had their true origins not in Grigori’s disappearance but in a feud of Shamron’s own making. Grigori, he would confide to his most devoted acolytes, was but a shot over our complacent bow. A signal fire on a distant watchtower. And the bait used to lure Gabriel into the open.

By the following evening, the score sheet was in the possession of MI5, along with the entire tournament logbook. The Americans were informed of Grigori’s disappearance twenty-four hours later, but, for reasons never fully explained, British intelligence waited four long days before getting around to telling the Israelis. Shamron, who had fought in Israel’s war of independence and loathed the British to this day, found the delay predictable. Within minutes he was on the phone to Uzi Navot giving him marching orders. Navot reluctantly obeyed. It was what Navot did best.

Sunday, July 19, 2009


Sun Valley, Idaho - playground of the wealthy and politically connected - is home to an annual wine auction that attracts high rollers from across the country, and Blaine County sheriff Walt Fleming must ensure it goes on without a hitch. The world's most elite wine connoisseurs have descended on Sun Valley to taste and bid on the world's best wines, including three bottles said to have been a gift from Thomas Jefferson to John Adams. With sky-high prices all but guaranteed for these historic items, it's no wonder a group of thieves is out to steal them. Walt is responsible for all the security for the glitzy event, the safety of the dignitaries, the auction site, and the wines themselves.

Walt is enjoying a rare afternoon of freedom, fly-fishing with his nephew Kevin, when a passing truck catches his eye - and his suspicions throw him headlong into the discovery of a complicated plan to steal the rare wine.
When a bomb explodes just as the auction revs up, the investigation explodes as well, pulling Walt in a dozen different directions. He is caught in the middle of a heist of epic proportions - and not the heist he had prepared for - orchestrated by the ingenious mind of Christopher Cantell, a man who seems to have prepared for everything, including the way Walt's own sheriff's office will react.

"In Sheriff Fleming, Pearson has created a likable, sympathetic protagonist, forever challenged by ferocious weather, a feisty citizenry, and feral criminal minds." - Booklist (starred review) on Killer View

To win a Penguin tote bag with one signed copy of Ridley Pearson's KILLER SUMMER and two unsigned paperback editions of the previous two books in the series, KILLER WEEKEND and KILLER VIEW, please send an email to with "KILLER SUMMER" as the subject. You must include your snail mail address in your email. All entries must be received by July 31, 2009. Three (3) names will be drawn from all qualified entries and notified via email. Each name drawn will receive the free Penguin tote bag with a signed copy of KILLER SUMMER, two unsigned paperback editions of the previous two books in the series, KILLER WEEKEND and KILLER VIEW, all by Ridley Pearson, courtesy of Penguin. This contest is open to all adults over 18 years of age in the United States and Canada. One entry per email address, please. Your email address will not be shared or sold to anyone. All entries, including names, e-mail addresses, and mailing addresses, will be purged after winners are notified.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

ITW Announces the 2009 Thriller Awards Winners!

ITW Announces the 2009 Thriller Awards Winners!
By Joe Moore

On the evening of Saturday, July 11th, 2009, the International Thriller Writers announced the winners of their literary awards at a gala celebration in New York City.

ThrillerMaster Award: David Morrell
In recognition of his vast body of work and influence in the field of literature

Silver Bullet Award: Brad Meltzer
For contributions to the advancement of literacy

Silver Bullet Corporate Award: Dollar General Literacy Foundation
For longstanding support of literacy and education

Best Thriller of the Year:
THE BODIES LEFT BEHIND by Jeffery Deaver (Simon & Schuster)

Best First Novel:
CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith (Grand Central Publishing)

Best Short Story:
THE EDGE OF SEVENTEEN by Alexandra Sokoloff (in Darker Mask)

Congratulations to the winners and all the nominees. For a complete list of the nominated authors including previous year's winners and nominees, click here.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

2009 National Book Festival

The Library of Congress announced yesterday the list of authors who will be attending this year’s National Book Festival on September 26, 2009.

Bestselling authors David Baldacci, John Grisham, John Irving, Lois Lowry, Jodi Picoult, Judy Blume, Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Julia Alvarez, Ken Burns, Gwen Ifill – and even celebrity chef Paula Deen – will be among scores of authors presenting at the 2009 National Book Festival, which is organized and sponsored by the Library of Congress. A complete listing of the authors by pavilion below.

Now in its ninth year, this popular event celebrating the joys of reading and lifelong literacy will be held on Saturday, Sept. 26, 2009, on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., between 7th and 14th Streets from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (rain or shine). The event, for which the Honorary Chairs are President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, is free and open to the public.

What: 2009 National Book Festival:

Where: National Mall (between 7th and 14th Streets), Washington, DC

When: Saturday, September 26, 2009 10 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. (rain or shine)

Authors slated to make presentations at the 2009 National Book Festival include:

Children’s authors

Holly Black and Tony DiTerlizzi, Kate DiCamillo, Shannon Hale, Craig Hatkoff, Lois Lowry, Megan McDonald, Sharon Robinson and Kadir Nelson, Charles Santore, Jon Scieszka, David Shannon and Mo Willems

Teens & Children authors

Judy Blume, Pat Carman, Paula Deen, Carmen Agra Deedy, Liz Kessler, Jeff Kinney, Rick Riordan, James L. Swanson and Jacqueline Woodson

History & Biography authors

Douglas Brinkley and David A. Taylor, Ken Burns and Dayton Duncan, Kirstin Downey, Haynes Johnson and Dan Balz, Gwen Ifill, Sue Monk Kidd and Ann Taylor Kidd, Mark Kurlansky, Jon Meacham, Rickey Minor, Asar Nafisi, Annette Gordon-Reed, Simon Schama and Patricia Sullivan

Fiction & Fantasy authors

Sabiha Al Khemir, Julia Alvarez, Junot Diaz, John Grisham, John Irving, Katherine Neville, Jodi Picoult, Nicholas Sparks, Jeannette Walls, Colson Whitehead and David Wroblewski

Mysteries & Thrillers authors

David Baldacci, Lee Child, Mary Jane Clark, Michael Connelly, Craig Johnson and Walter Mosley

Poetry & Prose authors

Edward Hirsch, Jane Hirshfield, student winners in the Poetry Out Loud competition and Kay Ryan, Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress

Monday, July 06, 2009

Book Club Hustlers

Interesting piece from the Daily Beast --

"Enterprising fiction writers are marketing themselves to book groups in person, by phone, and over Skype to boost sales. Meet the new breed of literary types on the make..."

Daily Beast

Saturday, July 04, 2009

For Jane Green fans!

The Penguin Group would like to invite you to join bestselling author Jane Green for a chat about her newest novel, Dune Road, on Monday, July 6th at 2 PM EST. You can join the chat by visiting The Water Cooler at the scheduled time.

Dune Road is the story of life in an exclusive beach town after the tourists have left for the summer and the eccentric (and moneyed) community sticks around—from the bestselling author of The Beach House. Warm, witty and gloriously observed, Dune Road is Jane Green at her best, full of brilliant insights into challenges that come with forging a new life.

The chat, which is the first in what will be a monthly feature in the newly launched “From the Publisher’s Office” network on the Penguin website, will allow readers to ask questions of the author, after having had the first three chapters of the book serialized on the site. The reading experience will be rounded out with a complete Readers Group Guide once the chat has been completed. If you can’t take part, all chats will be archived on the site, so check back at any time.

We’ll also be letting participants in on a special offer to express our thanks for taking part in the chat.

I can make it, I'm at work then but I'd love to hear about it if you do go!

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Win a copy of BAD MOTHER!

BAD MOTHER: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities, and Occasional Moments of Grace by Ayelet Waldman

In the tradition of recent hits like The Bitch in the House and Perfect Madness comes a hilarious and controversial book that every woman will have an opinion about, written by America’s most outrageous writer.

In our mothers’ day there were good mothers, neglectful mothers, and occasionally great mothers.

Today we have only Bad Mothers.

If you work, you’re neglectful; if you stay home, you’re smothering. If you discipline, you’re buying them a spot on the shrink’s couch; if you let them run wild, they will be into drugs by seventh grade. If you buy organic, you’re spending their college fund; if you don’t, you’re risking all sorts of allergies and illnesses.

Is it any wonder so many women refer to themselves at one time or another as “a bad mother”? Ayelet Waldman says it’s time for women to get over it and get on with it, in a book that is sure to spark the same level of controversy as her now legendary “Modern Love” piece, in which she confessed to loving her husband more than her children.

Covering topics as diverse as the hysteria of competitive parenting (Whose toddler can recite the planets in order from the sun?), the relentless pursuits of the Bad Mother police, balancing the work-family dynamic, and the bane of every mother’s existence (homework, that is), Bad Mother illuminates the anxieties that riddle motherhood today, while providing women with the encouragement they need to give themselves a break.


To win your own copy of BAD MOTHER, please send an email to with "BAD MOTHER" as the subject. You must include your snail mail address in your email. All entries must be received by June 18, 2009. Five (5) names will be drawn from all qualified entries and notified via email. Each name drawn will receive a free copy of BAD MOTHER by Ayelet Waldman, courtesy of Doubleday. This contest is open to all adults over 18 years of age in the United States. One entry per email address, please. Your email address will not be shared or sold to anyone. All entries, including names, e-mail addresses, and mailing addresses, will be purged after winners are notified.

Ayelet Waldman is the author of Bad Mother: A Chronicle of Maternal Crimes, Minor Calamities and Occasional Moments of Grace , Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, Daughter's Keeper and the Mommy-Track Mysteries. Her personal essays have been published in a wide variety of newspapers and magazine, including The New York Times, the Guardian, the San Francisco Chronicle, Elle Magazine, Vogue, Allure, Cookie, Child, Parenting, Real Simple, Health and Her radio commentaries have appeared on "All Things Considered" and "The California Report."

Ayelet's missives also appear on Facebook and Twitter.

Her books are published throughout the world, in countries as disparate as England and Thailand, the Netherlands and China, Russia and Israel.

The film version of Love and Other Impossible Pursuits is now in post-production, with Don Roos as screenwriter and director, Natalie Portman in the lead role, and Lisa Kudrow and Scott Cohen also starring.

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