Great Reads

Just a Thought -- Scotland is the New Sweden?


When we visited the Book Expo America conference last week, one thing we heard over and over is that publishers think that “Scotland is the new Sweden.” Anyone who’s been paying attention to trends in mystery novel publishing probably knows what that means, but in case you don’t, mysteries set in Sweden have been hot properties ever since the break-out success of Stieg Larsson’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. That trend may finally be waning slightly, and publishers have turned their eyes toward another cold, bleak country as the setting for mystery stories…Scotland! If you’d like to get ahead of the trend, here are some authors who’ve been publishing mysteries set in Scotland already.


Bolton, S. J.  Sacrifice.

Jardine, Quintin. Skinner’s Rules.

MacBride, Stuart.  Cold Granite.

McClean, Russel. The Good Son.

McDermid, Val. The Distant Echo.

Mina, Denise.  Garnethill.

Rankin, Ian.  Knots and Crosses.

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O'Melveny, Regina. The Book of Madness and Cures.

When Gabriella Mondini recieves a letter from her physician father saying that he has decided not to come home from his travels, Gabriella, a rare female doctor in 16th century Venice, decides to venture across Europe to retrieve him. Not only does Gabriella rely on him to support her professional membership in the physicians' guild, but she suspects that something must be terribly wrong for her father to abandon her family in such a way. Accompanied by her servants, Olmina and Lorenzo, she follows the geographic clues of her father's correspondance from the past ten years from village to village.

The journey places Gabrielle in dangerous situations and the fact that she is a woman and a doctor only complicates things further. She also discovers more and more about her father, strange information that might explain why  he has vansihed. This lyrical debut novel from O'Melveny presents a unique female character historical fiction and mystery fans are sure to appreciate.


De Robertis, Carolina. Perla

De Robertis’s second novel (after The Invisible Mountain, 2009) tackles head-on the lingering traumas left behind by Argentina’s state-sponsored regime of terror during the 1970s and ‘80s.  In the opening pages, 22-year-old college student Perla, left home alone by vacationing parents, finds a naked man in her living room.  He is dripping wet, smelling of rotting fish and seawater, and she can find no possible way he could have entered the home. Oddly, she is unafraid, though she knows perhaps she should be.  As the rest of the novel unfolds, Perla and the naked man both reflect on their lives up to this point.  Perla’s father, a man she loves with all the loyalty an only daughter can muster, is also a Naval officer and thus, one of the men responsible for the kidnappings and torture Argentina’s government perpetrated against its own citizens. She knows she should hate him, but cannot quite bring herself to do so. Her lover, an investigative journalist, has recently broached to her the idea that she herself was stolen as an infant from one of los desaparecidos­—the disappeared.  Rejecting the idea, she fled his arms and retreated home—only to be confronted by the naked wet man.  That man, meanwhile, is finding his own memories returned to him slowly. In life, he was himself one of los desaparecidos, taken from his pregnant young wife and tortured mercilessly before being thrown from a plane into the ocean along with countless others.  Why he has returned from the waters now, and why he has arrived in this home with this young woman, is something they must discover together.

With Perla, De Robertis has fully embraced the tradition of magical realism so representative of Central and South American literature.  Lyrical even when describing the most horrific of torments endured by los desaparecidos, De Robertis’s novel is powerful and affecting in its clear-eyed examination of the lasting impacts of the dictatorship upon both the victims and also the perpetrators of its many horrors.

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Lawson, Jenny. Let’s Pretend This Never Happened: (a mostly true memoir)

Jenny Lawson, best known for her side-splittingly funny, irreverent blog at, delivers more of the same here, in her (mostly true) memoir.  Jenny grew up poor in rural Texas, the daughter of a taxidermist father whose idea of a good joke was making puppets out of roadkill.  An outsider who later struggled with eating disorders, anxiety, depression, and now rheumatoid arthritis, she recounts the trials and tribulations of her life in a no-holds-barred, double-barreled, profanity-laden manner.

Readers of  her popular blog will already be familiar with the way in which, in Jenny’s hands, the simplest of stories become extended digressions into the labyrinthine twistings of her often bizarre thinking process . Anyone looking for a straight-forward memoir should look elsewhere, but those who share Jenny’s twisted sense of humor and irreverent outlook on life will find themselves belly laughing out loud and garnering strange looks from those around them.

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Lively, Penelope. How It All Began

If you're looking for a 2012 well-written literary read that is a) not depressing b) easy to read and c) thoroughly enjoyable, look no further.  If you have never picked up a book by Penelope Lively before, this is a good place to start.  And if you have--well, you won't be disappointed.  This book is about how people's lives influence one another...the changes that occur after a woman is mugged of her purse and injured.  Imagine a rippling effect, if you will.  It's a good book for anyone who thinks that his or her actions don't matter--because this book proves that they do!  Actually, it's a great book for everyone.  Penelope Lively is a spectacular British writer who has many years of writing under her belt, and she just keeps getting better.

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