Thursday, March 31, 2011

Baseball Season Opens Today (A Note from Dave)

The baseball season opens today and I thought I would share this photograph with our loyal Kingdom Books customers and blog readers. The photograph was given to me sometime in the late 1960s and was rescued from Al's Barbershop, which was directly across from The New Haven Railroad Station in
Connecticut, after the building burned to the ground, destroying a bar, a hotel, and the barbershop. The owner of the barbershop gave some sports photographs to my dad, who was a Station Master for the New York, New Haven & Hartford Railroad, and the barbershop was an old-fashioned shop where I received my first hair cut. Sorry to my Boston Red Sox friends but the photograph is of Frank Crosetti, Tony Lazzeri, and Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees. It was remarkable that a few photographs survived the fire.
[A note from Beth: Watch for reviews of April-release books, beginning late this evening. We all have our signs of the seasons!]

Friday, March 25, 2011

Espionage Surprise: Charles Cumming, THE TRINITY SIX

American cover design
The publisher description of THE TRINITY SIX, fourth book from British Secret Service recruit-turned-novelist Charles Cumming, gave me the impression of something along the lines of John LeCarré or Charles McCarry -- a sixth member of the infamous Cambridge spy ring that included Kim Philby is discovered, long after the fact, and Sam Gaddis is out to reveal the truth.

But I was mistaken: Sam Gaddis is an academic, a struggling professor of history whose books on Russian politics haven't earned him enough to meet the mortgage payments and child support. And THE TRINITY SIX is the all-too-believable tale of how his need for "funds" pushes him into research based on the leftover files of two women: his long-time journalist friend Charlotte Berg, abruptly dead of a heart attack after attempting to enlist Sam in her project, and wacky eccentric Katye Levette, whose daughter Holly, a lovely actress, for some odd reason adopts Sam romantically while endowing him with boxes of her deceased mother's apparently insignificant papers.

Soon Sam finds himself struggling to pry some truth out of an aging man in a nursing home who claims to have know the sixth double agent. But while he's stumbling along the academic trail, other people connected to the old man's story are being killed, and by the time Sam realizes he's digging up dangerous material, the threat level for his own life -- and that of his distant little daughter -- has risen way above orange, blazing into red.

Rather than an classic espionage novel, Cumming provides a highly believable example of what could happen to any one of us if we pushed just a bit too hard to find out the truth about a political past maneuver. And if Sam's a hair too easily accepting of women who admire and assist him (a James Bond who lives in the next apartment building, without the special car?), he's entirely real in terms of his terror, grief, shock, and rabbit-like running, while insisting that people tell him what really happened -- and is happening now.

I found the book's start to be slow, but more believable because of it; Sam Gaddis faces the frustrations of any researcher, and anyone trying to get a cunning and attention-seeking elder to quit playing around and 'fess up. THE TRINITY SIX is a delicious read, confirming a growing reputation for Cumming, whose third book, Typhoon, also won acclaim.

British cover
I'm posting both the US and British cover designs here; this is one of the rare occasions when I think the American version came through at least as well. Thanks also to St. Martin's Press, you can read an excerpt from the book at the publisher's website. The author's site is also worth a visit.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Julia Spencer-Fleming: ONE WAS A SOLDIER -- A Must-Read

Get used to feeling uncomfortable, threatened, and scared. Julia Spencer-Fleming's new and long-awaited book, ONE WAS A SOLDIER, is scheduled for April 12 release. Those who've read her complex series featuring Episcopal priest Clare Fergusson and upstate New York police chief Russ Van Alstyne already know how deftly Spencer-Fleming braids together small-town life and serious crime, as well as the sacrifices people make in order to stay loyal to what they value. Through the earlier six books of this series -- which began with In the Bleak Midwinter -- Clare and Russ have also struggled with their love for each other, and in this volume, the two are headed toward a scheduled wedding at last.

But with Clare's fierce-toothed case of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as she arrives home from a tour as a helicopter pilot in Iraq -- she's a major in the National Guard -- and the buried landmines in Russ's police team, there's reason to doubt that the wedding will ever take place. Even the crimes taking place in Millers Kill, from gruesome deaths to malicious fraud, pit the two lovers against each other.

Spencer-Fleming develops a compelling picture of the ways war and death cast their shadows into the lives that continue -- but are never the same -- afterward. And even the simplest deceptions, like that of the doctor who assumes he can keep his own issues hidden ("Nobody can know about this."), have desperate and costly ramifications. Honoring her commitments to community, faith, fellow soldiers, and her heart is going to cost Clare dearly.

Yes, you'll enjoy this book more if you've at least read the volume before it, I Shall Not Want. But if you don't have time now for the earlier work, grab this book when it arrives in April, and make a commitment to yourself to catch up on the others later. It's a series worth reading and re-reading, from an author who knows how to raise the stakes and pay the price. You'll shelve ONE WAS A SOLDIER next to mysteries by Charles Todd and Jacqueline Winspear, for the insight, the psychological complexity, and the deft use of suspense and crime to drive a plot that never lets go.

Kristin Hannah, NIGHT ROAD: Death and Heartache

Is NIGHT ROAD a mystery? Perhaps. There's a death, and a trial. Aspects of how Lexi Baill's actions put her through being tried for the death of a very close friend stay shadowed until nearly the end of the book.

And this is a compelling read in terms of emotions. Lexi, struggling under the disadvantages of being in state systems after the death of her addicted mother, would give almost anything to the beautiful siblings Mia and Zach, whose beautiful and attentive mom comes cautiously to accept Lexi's gifts to her children. But these three teens, at last caught up in powerful tides of love and loyalty, have no idea how hard life can become.

Smoothly written, evocative of both the Northwest and the tensions of American life, NIGHT ROAD explores most of all the paths of what can and cannot be forgiven. If you're looking for a "beach read" that challenges the emotions, this could be your book. It's been released earlier than planned (it came out this week). Author Kristin Hannah, who writes vividly of her terrain of both the heart and the landscape, tours widely and interacts with readers; see her website. This is her 19th book.

Don't get it for your mystery shelves; get this one for the heartache and the possibility of healing.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Layers of Love and Law: Jodi Picoult's SING YOU HOME

Jodi Picoult is now touring for her new book SING YOU HOME -- with a friend. Long-time collaborator Ellen Wilber, with whom Picoult worked on local musical productions, is traveling with her this time. We attended the first event for the book, on March 1 in Hanover, just "down the hill" from Picoult's home.

SING YOU HOME tackles a rapidly changing area of social structure, law, and medicine, as Zoe Baxter recovers from a broken heart -- a ten-year marriage without a live baby, followed by a divorce -- and discovers she can still love again. Her new beloved is another woman, and the two of them long to have children. Zoe and her ex-husband were enmeshed in in vitro fertilization, and three of the unused embryos are frozen, waiting for a chance to grow. Why not with Zoe and Vanessa?

For Zoe's husband Max, whose own recovery has led through alcohol abuse and into an evangelical Christian church, there are compelling reasons to refuse permission to Zoe for this. Wrestling with forms of love and loyalty, as well as with social standards, law, and even the definition of life, Picoult takes the three adults through powerful crises and changes.

Ellen Wilber
Readers of Picoult's earlier work -- like My Sister's Keeper, Nineteen Minutes, The Tenth Circle, Keeping Faith -- will find this familiar turf. What's new this time is the voice of Zoe Baxter: Picoult wrote lyrics for songs that evoke Baxter's situation, from wanting a baby to grief and more -- and her friend Ellen Wilber put them to music. A CD of the songs is bound into each copy of the hardcover book, Wilber is bringing her guitar on tour with Picoult, sharing the songs as they travel. "I really wanted this book to come with a CD of original music, because I really wanted the readers to hear the voice of someone who is going through this," Picoult explained.

Here's wishing you a Picoult event near you; check the list on her website. And if you can't get there in person, we've got a couple of books signed by both Picoult and Wilber available.

Answers to the most common questions that Picoult fields: (a) She writes five days per week, from 7:30 or 8 a.m. to 3:20; (b) her husband Tim ("chief of staff") makes it possible to weave this career with their family; (c) she doesn't write sequels but does miss her characters, so some of them reappear occasionally.

A poignant sidetrack to this book: While Picoult was writing its heartfelt exploration of what it means to be gay and loving in today's America, her son Kyle "came out" to her and Tim; she wasn't surprised, but is touched by the timing. "Your job as a mom is to love them best," she pronounces; the only part NOT okay is to say to your child, "You are not who I wanted you to be." That's not a problem for her and Tim -- they are clearly proud of all three of their children, and happy with who they are.

Next from Picoult: an exploration of dying with dignity, bundled with the lives of wolves, in her 2012 book Lone Wolf.