Book Review – Fatal Fortune

 

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Fatal Fortune
A review by Catherine H. Armstrong

As an avid reader, one of my favorite things in the world is a book that’s part of a larger series with repeating characters. Picking up where the last book left off always feels like visiting old friends, and it’s always fun to check in with the gang to see what’s new. It’s no surprise, then, that I was excited to get my hands on the newest Abby Cooper mystery, this one entitled Fatal Fortune.

In this twelfth installment of the Psychic Eye series, Abby finds herself defending the reputation of her best friend Cassidy against what can only be described as damning evidence. Cassidy is caught on surveillance footage killing a man in cold blood. But, as Cassidy tells Abby, “It’s not how it looks.”

When even Cassidy’s FBI husband doubts her innocence, it’s up to Abby to feel out the ether and use her intuitive abilities to find Cassidy and clear her name…even if it puts her own life and freedoms at risk.

Fans of Laurie’s Psychic Eye series are sure to love this latest edition. It’s fast-paced and has the reader sitting on the edge of his seat throughout every page. The twists and turns keep the reader guessing, and it’s truly not until the last few pages are turned that the reader fully grasps the complexity of planning that casts suspicion on Cassidy in the first place.

New readers to this series can rest assured that they can pick up in the middle and not feel the gaping holes of missing background information that often accompanies a book in the midst of a larger series. One of the things Laurie does best is bring a new reader up to date on the characters without boring long-time fans with what feels like extraneous information. She gives exactly enough information to refresh the memories of old readers while bringing new readers up to date.

Fatal Fortune is definitely a good read and one I’d recommend to both longtime fans of this series and those unfamiliar with it. It’s simply a great summer read!

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Author Spotlight – Tina Seskis

by Catherine H. Armstrong

17404760Yesterday our blog featured a book review of the debut novel by Tina Seskis, One Step Too Far – a gripping story about one woman’s loss and her journey toward redemption.  As a reader (and maybe even more as a mother), I loved the story so much that I contacted the author and asked for a Q&A interview for this blog.  She graciously accepted and I’ve had more fun these last few days with the back and forth e-mails with this amazing author. 

Tina’s book officially hit the bookshelves this past Monday and is currently on-order at the Rochester Public Library.  It is also available at amazon.com in traditional and e-book formats. While you wait for your opportunity to get your hands on a copy of this wonderful story, I hope you enjoy this Q&A with the author, Tina Seskis.

Tina close-up B copyTina Seskis – Author of One Step Too Far

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Q:  I read somewhere that you never intended to be a writer and have your work published. What changed for you and why did you take that first big leap?

A:  During one of my many career breaks(!) I decided to take a couple of months out and have a go at everything I ever wanted to do (my husband is very long-suffering), so for fun I joined a writing group, acting classes (my drama teacher said I had no potential by the way), took up yoga and tennis again, joined a choir, you get the picture.  But the two hours’ writing class was the absolute highlight of my week, although funnily enough I didn’t write at all outside of that.  And then 3 years ago we were on holiday in Venice and out of nowhere I got the idea for One Step Too Far’s big “twist” and I thought, that would make a great novel, so when I got home I started writing it down on my laptop, in between working and being a mother.

Q:  I understand that there is a backstory behind the writing of “One Step Too Far.” Can you tell us a little about it?

A:  Around the same time I’d been getting worried about my mum, who had started having pains in her legs and inexplicably losing mobility (the doctors thought she had Vitamin D deficiency), and she was getting a bit depressed about it, so to give her something else to think about I’d send her chapters to read.  So often I’d be writing in front of the telly and then propped up in bed at two in the morning so I’d have something to send her the next day.  Sadly my mum died a few days after I finished the first draft, just two months later, of cancer as it turned out.

Q:  How difficult was it for you to find someone willing to take a chance on you and see this book published? Did you find the process easy? Grueling? Exactly as you expected?

A:  I didn’t get someone to take a chance.  I sent the book out to agents in the days after my mum died (I had all this nervous energy before the funeral that I didn’t know what to do with) and the only response I got was a couple of standard rejection letters.  Then I forgot about the book for a year, until a friend of mine recommended me to The Literary Consultancy, and I paid them to read my manuscript to tell me whether it was any good or not – because if it was rubbish I didn’t want to waste time trying to get it published, it would just have remained something private that I’d written for my mum.  And TLC liked it so much they became the match-maker between myself and agents, and six or seven agents were personally offered it, one after the other, and in the meantime I wrote my second book – and then two and a half years later I still hadn’t got an agent for either book, let alone a publisher, and I looked at the publishing model and how much it had changed and decided I could do it myself.  So in January of this year I set up my own publishing company and had just two goals – make the book as good as it could be, and get it out to as many people as possible online to try to drive word of mouth.  And here it is now.

Q:  Are any of the characters in One Step Too Far based upon people in your real life? If so, can you talk about that a little bit? Maybe give examples?

A:  It sounds corny but Ben is based on my husband, he’s infuriatingly too good to be true too, and without giving too much away the very final ending is the one my mum wanted.  Many of the characters are mixes of people I’ve come across, especially the housemates, the people from advertising and the father, and some of the scenarios really happened to me (think the parachuting scene and I’m ashamed to say the lemon tart, but in my defense I was very young).  But no, no-one else is real.  I’ve always been fascinated by people, and I ALWAYS read the newspaper articles entitled things like “My husband left me for a man who used to be a woman,” so I tried to make all the characters believable because they were based on truth (and without doubt truth is stranger than fiction).

Q:  If you could go back and change any one thing about your novel, what would it be and why?

A:  Well obviously my own personal circumstances, but regarding the novel I got so much brilliantly candid feedback over the years and I was still changing it right at final typesetting proof stage.  A friend’s husband told me about a month ago he didn’t like the way Angel’s story ended, and I realized I didn’t either – so I changed it!  A lot of reviewers online said one aspect of the ending was a bit callous and I agreed with them so I changed that a little too.  And then lots of people said the end was rushed but I didn’t agree so I ignored that comment!  I was also told that I HAD to have the novel copy-edited and I did try to get a couple of people to do it, but I didn’t like having my words messed with, so against all advice (and to save money!) I did all the copy-editing and proof-reading myself (I’d never thought of myself as a control freak before…).  The only thing I’d forgotten about until too late is that I wrote a couple of chapters from Emily’s perspective once the mystery was revealed that I took out and I can’t even remember why now, so if there’s the chance to do a reprint I might look at putting those back in.

Q:  As a reader, there were so many twists and turns to the book that literally made my jaw drop open while reading. I’m wondering whether – as the writer – did you “know” those twists and turns were going to happen (i.e. did you have an outline that you were following) or did they just sort of develop and take you, as the writer, by surprise as well?

A:  I knew the big twist, but how I was going to get there I didn’t really know, I just got the ideas as I wrote them, which made some of the chapter endings a bit of a surprise to me too.  And what with the pace I was writing at I didn’t have too much time for plot development.  A few months ago I read Stephen King’s quite brilliant book On Writing and it seems like that’s how he does it too, so that made me feel a bit better.

Q:  Can you tell us a little about “how” you write. That is to say, do you have specific habits that you follow when you’re writing?

A:  One Step Too Far I literally wrote anywhere and everywhere.  If I didn’t have my laptop with me and found myself waiting for a bus or in the hospital I’d just start writing long-hand to carry on the story.  If I was writing watching the telly I’d often find something someone said would go into the book.  I’d write whilst hanging out with my friends in the garden with our children.  I don’t have a desk – just a shelf with our Mac on where I do all my “work,” but I never use that to write.  These days I write on an ipad with a wireless keyboard, as it turns on instantly and the story is always where I just left it, and I can follow the sunshine (when we get it!) around the house and sit where I fancy, often with my dog curled up next to me.

Q:  Are there any books or authors in your own life who have influenced your writing? If so, in what way(s)?

A:  I was obsessed with Agatha Christie as a child and she’s probably my biggest influence in terms of how I write, as I love twists – I read that she never knew who the murderer was until the end and I thought no wonder I could never guess.  When I was younger I also devoured the likes of Jilly Cooper and Harold Robbins for the brilliance of their page-turning ability.  But throughout my life I have always loved books that are really well-written – Salman Rushdie is probably my favourite modern author for his genius with words.  And I’m embarrassed to say that lately I’ve hardly read at all.

Q:  Besides the love of a story well-told, is there anything you’d like your readers to take away from this book? Any deep message or theme that you hope will resonate with them?

A:  I think the novel is ultimately a story about love and redemption.  I’d just like people to be a bit kinder to each other, and understand that everyone has their problems and insecurities, and be more forgiving of them.  As I’m finding out, people can be very quick to judge!

Q:  Do you have any future projects in the works and, if so, can you tell us a little about them?

A:  I’ve already written my second novel, A Serpentine Affair, which I’m enormously fond of, and which I will be dedicating to my six best friends from University in the hope that they won’t hate me forever!!  I got stuck on my third novel (working title Collision, as it’s the coming together of the story of a character from each of the first two novels) in November, and after a bit of a miserable Christmas on 2nd January I decided to give writing a break and have a go at getting One Step Too Far out there, as otherwise our finances dictated I’d have had to go and get another job in marketing…

Q:  Is there anything else you’d like to share with reader? Anything specific you’d like them to know about you, your writing, this book, etc?

A:  I can’t think of anything else for now!  Thank you for being the hosts of my first ever Q and A, and to Cathie for her feedback and support in the process.

From the Friends of the Rochester Public Library – and myself, personally – we send our deepest appreciation to Tina Seskis for her time. We wish her great success on this new novel and I am personally looking forward to reading much more from her in the future! ~  CHA

Author Interview – Valerie Nieman

Valerie Nieman, awardwinning author

Valerie is an award winning writer, most recently for Blood Clay (2012 Eric Hoffer Award winner for excellence in independent publishing; finalist for the 2012 John Gardner Prize in Fiction; short-listed for 2012 Montaigne Medal honoring thought-provoking books, and long-listed for the SIBA awards. She is a writer, poet, teacher and editor whose work emerges from her Appalachian roots. Her work has garnered critical praise and reader raves. Fidelities is a collection of short stories, Wake Wake Wake is a poetry collection. She is the poetry editor for Prime Number magazine.

Do you remember the last time you said to someone: you really must read this book now? and that book was?  The Lord of Misrule, by Jaimy Gordon, whom I got to know many, many years ago when she visited the Kestrel conference in West Virginia. The book still resides beside my bed. But someday soon. Another was Hustle by Jason Skipper, a fellow Press 53 author. It was a great, gritty coming-of-age book.

Are you part of a book club?  I am not a member of a book club, although I love visiting with them! It was very exciting to join your book club via Skype, and I later did a conference call with one in South Carolina. I’ve met with book clubs in office parks and libraries and in an elegant old home in Greensboro, where I tried my best to handle the delicate gold-rimmed china without incident.

What is your favorite line from a book? These are very difficult questions, you know!

‘As you love me, Buck, as you love me, was what he whispered.’ The Call of the Wild.

A recent book you bought just for the cover?  I haven’t done that recently, though among my favorite covers on recent reads: a black-and-white photograph of a stunned and muddy boy on Miracle Boy by Pinckney Benedict, and the embossed dust jacket on Journal of a UFO Investigator by David Halperin – it looks and feels just like the heavy ball-point-pen doodles a high school student would carve into the cover of his notebook.

Have you heard any good books lately? Driving? in an airplane? Did you choose the reader of your book? Did you like the audio version of your book? (I assume you have an audio book here – I haven’t looked this us and depend on my library for most of the audio!) I haven’t listened to audio books, as I tend to be the one driving or walking, and I must pay attention or there will be disaster. I did not have an audio version for Blood Clay. It would be wonderful to have an audio version of my new novel, which has a first-person female narrator who is 16 years old. Maggie would have a strong, alto voice, not one that has been shaped to coaxing boys.

Do you have a genre to beach read? (we held a discussion on beach reads, and nearly everyone brought mysteries)  I enjoy historical fiction and science fiction: both transport me to other places and times, nourishing my mind as the water and sun do my body. And I like to read books about the place itself, either history or natural history.

Do you have a favorite literary adaptation on TV or film? Is there something coming out you can’t wait to see?  I like to read the book first, because if I see the film first, those images are so strong.  I’ve been impressed again and again by Clint Eastwood’s adaptations.  I’m excited about a movie version of The Martian Chronicles.

What book is on your nightstand? on your coffeetable? On my nightstand: House of Sand and Fog by Andre Dubus III. Beside the nightstand, which is a tiny folding table: Waxwings by Daniel Nathan Terry, The Cove by Ron Rash, Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon, The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Coal Black Horse by Robert Olmstead, Carry Each His Burden by James Goertel, The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady by Elizabeth Stuckey-French, Goliath by Susan Woodring. I’m woefully behind in my reading and just bought three more books yesterday. On the coffee table ? Sailing and Our State magazines, a hand-bound book of poems by Nhat Hanh with Zen paintings by Vo-Dinh, and Because the Cat Purrs: How We Relate to Other Species and Why It Mattersby Janet Lembke.

Paper or electronic? Do you take notes? I have a few e-books on my phone but do not have a dedicated e-reader. I still prefer paper, because I like the feel and smell and heft of a book in hand.

Do you read plays or poetry for pleasure? I read a lot of poetry as poetry editor for Prime Number magazine, so I am always seeing new work. That’s exciting. I also read poetry every day, through daily e-poetry services and by visiting magazine websites, or just picking up one of the many books of poetry I have around my home and office.

Have you memorized any poems? I may have the world’s worst memory. The poem that comes most fully to mind is Acquainted with the Night by Robert Frost, one of his elegant dark poems.

Is music important to your writing? (do you listen to music when you write? when you read? do you incorporate songs into your work that have ‘hidden’ meaning? or help set the tone?) I don’t listen to music while I write or read. I think I may have some brain disorder, because I really don’t multitask well. If I have music on, I get caught up in the music and can’t write. I already noted that I don’t listen to audio books because I would be a hazard to myself and others. The only book where music has been important was Survivors, where the main character writes songs and rewrites the words to popular tunes.

What were your most cherished books as a child? Do you have a favorite character or hero / heroine from one of those books? Black Beauty, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Huck Finn, Tales from Shakespeare, Tennyson’s Idylls of the King, stories by Poe and Jack London, A Girl of the Limberlost.  A book called Ocelot that I chose as my reward for working in the elementary school library. I read a lot of natural history and science, Silent Spring, and then became caught up in Lord of the Ringsand science fiction: Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Ursula LeGuin.

Favorite characters? I always treasured girls and women who refused to play by the rules of gender, often somewhat secondary characters. Eowyn LOTR, for example, who is strong and devoted and passionate and brave.

Is there one book you wish all children would read? Whatever book they choose, as long as they read!

Is there one book you would like adults to read? Perhaps the same answer…as I teach college now, I see with depressing regularity that students do not read, and that includes creative writing students. When I am trying to illustrate a point about plot or character, I generally use examples from films and television shows as they have become the canon of our time.

If you could require the president to read one book, what would it be? Past presidents?  I’d hope that every president has a well-worn and much-annotated volume of the Riverside Shakespeare, like the one on my shelf. All the lessons are there: pride, compassion, ambition, folly, self-sacrifice, arrogance, love, honor, deceit, bravery.

And The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. DON’T PANIC!

If you could meet any writer dead or alive, who would it be? what would you want to know? (ok, you can make it two or a dinner table!) I sure would have loved an evening with Ray Bradbury, recently departed. His vibrant, graceful stories expanded my universe. Among the living, Margaret Atwood. I have loved her work: A Handmaid’s Tale, her short story The Bog Man to a poem about eating lima beans with her fingers!

Is there one book you wish someone else would write?  Whatever book is the one that demands to be written, and that the writer creates without regard to what the market says.

Do you tend to keep books, lend them out or give them away?  I tend to keep books. I seldom will sell a book, though I give books to students when I think they should have them. I say that I am ‘lending’ them but seldom get them back. I hope that Rumi and the Breece Pancake stories and others have remained important in the lives of those students.

Do you have a favourite question that you are often asked about your writing? a favourite question that was only asked once.  I do like your question about recommended reading for the president.  I’m generally asked about what I read as a child, and sometimes I expand on that quite a bit. I grew up in the country and read what was at hand, a bookcase full of old books that included classic poetry, the complete Mark Twain (and I’ve read every word, sometimes many times over), and the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica. I still have both full sets, carried from place to place in New York State, West Virginia, and North Carolina. I suppose that if I ever do move onto a boat in my old age, those volumes will have to find a home ashore.

Any guilty reading pleasures? I will read nearly anything. I can read a guidebook to birds or insects or rocks or whatever until it comes apart.

Thanks Helen for these wonderful questions, and the opportunity to be part of your blog and library presence. My next novel is all but done. I am finishing the last chapter, and then will do a read-through and mark it up for revision. The working title Backwater, which is not good at all, but I hope to find a title somewhere in the text. Then it’s off to find an agent and publisher. Press 53, a wonderful small press that published Blood Clay and my poetry collection, Wake Wake Wake, has decided to focus on short story and poetry collections only.

Book Review – Unbroken


Unbroken
Laura Hillenbrand
A Review by Catherine H. Armstrong

Years ago when I was just a college student and was in the early stages of getting to know my husband’s grandparents, I’d sit for hours on hot summer days and listen to my future grandfather-in-law talk about his experiences in WWII. Granndad had been a POW during WWII, and had been imprisoned in a German prisoner of war camp.  It was interesting to me at the time, but it was so far removed from my young adult life that I didn’t realize the gift I was being given by his telling me his stories.  What I do remember from his many stories – what has stayed with me these last 20+ years – is his saying, “Thank God I was in a German camp.  Thank God I wasn’t in a Japanese POW camp.”  Until recently, I never understood what he meant.  I never understood how he could be thankful to have been captured by the Germans, rather than by the Japanese.  That simple statement has haunted me for years, and yet it has never occurred to me to ask the most basic question…why?  What was so much worse in the Japanese POW camps that one would be actually thankful to’ve been found by the Germans instead?

And now I know.

Unbroken is the story of survival.  While the overall story focuses on one man in particular, Louis Zamperini, and his remarkable survival on the open ocean before being captured and held for years in a Japanese prisoner of war camp, it’s more than just the story of one man.  Unbroken is the story of the strength of the human spirit. It’s the story, I’m sure, that many of the WWII soldiers who were captured by the Japanese could tell; the story of the atrocities they endured, and then the nightmares that haunted them for years to come.  It’s the story of an entire generation, and it has opened my eyes to a better understanding of how and why my parents and grandparents behaved and thought the way they did.

Laura Hillenbrand, Author

Unbroken is that rare work of non-fiction that reads like a novel, drawing the reader so deeply into the lives of the characters that one completely forgets that he’s reading a true story.  Unlike many non-fiction writers, Laura Hillenbrand has a gift for personalizing the individual’s story and drawing the reader in with the facts, without overwhelming him with trivia.  Truly an exceptional read and one I would strongly recommend.

This book is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional and large-print format, and through the library’s digital collection for e-books and audio players.  For more information about this book or the author, visit the author’s website by following this link.

Book Review – Citizen Vince

Citizen Vince
Jess Walter
by Sam Hedrick, Guest Contributor

To vote or not to vote- is this a question you’ve considered recently? With the election season in high gear, the nature of voting in our society takes on more immediate meaning. There are those who choose not to vote, dismissively assuming their single vote doesn’t matter. There are those who cast their votes for third-party candidates with little or no chance of succeeding as a protest against the “powers that be.”  Finally there are others who are so passionate about the process that they become intimately involved; ringing doorbells, making phone calls until late in the evening to marshal support, even losing friends in heated debates over the perceived qualities, or lack thereof, in the newest crop of candidates.

Jefferson said, “Those who don’t vote get the government they deserve.” The question put forth by Jess Walters in Citizen Vince is this:  would voting be more important to you if your voting rights – or responsibility to vote – was taken from you?

Vince Camden had never voted. Never really thought about it much. Most of his life had been consumed living on the streets of New Jersey, selling stolen credit cards purchased from crooked mailmen and just getting by. That was before he turned State’s evidence on his wise guy bosses, and the Witness Protection program hooked him up with a job at the “Donut Make You Hungry” shop in Spokane.  Late night poker games with lowlifes and hookers, his credit card sales and selling pot hidden in jelly jars full of commemorative Mt. St. Helen’s volcanic ash, make for what passes as a decent living. Looking over his shoulder takes up most of the time he has left. He’s popular and successful in his dysfunctional little circle of friends and associates; a big city fish in a small town pond.

It’s 1980, right in the middle of the Reagan/Carter election cycle, when he runs into what might be the love of his life. Well, love’s a pretty strong word. Certainly a better prospect than his neurotic ex-working girl squeeze. Kelly is blonde, gorgeous, classy; a donut shop regular who comes for coffee and two chapters of her latest novel on her morning break. Finding an opening, Vince breaks the ice by engaging her about their shared literary interests. After her initial aloofness, he finds she’s interested in politics, something he’s never really considered seriously, much less cast a ballot. Elections are rigged, voting is for suckers. Out of politeness as much as anything, Kelly invites Vince to a rally to hear Michael Reagan give a stump speech for his dad while throwing some support to Kelly’s lawyer boyfriend, who happens to be running for the state legislature. A desire to keep on Kelly’s radar finds Vince in an extended philosophical political discussion with Kelly’s lawyer friend, which in turn sparks a dawning interest in the election process.

Meanwhile, Vince’s past isn’t satisfied to simply stay buried. Old scores settle hard, and there are debts that have come due. Is it possible to actually forge a new future without shaking the past? Are there any second acts in an American life? Vince finds himself in a position that calls for hard choices that will have long-term implications and consequences that he may not be able to live with. He finds himself on the fence trying to decide whether to continue his reign as the “one-eyed king in the land of the blind”; or crawl into the daylight, searching for the promise of a better life that provides a chance to stand upright as a citizen, casting a vote that might free him from the moral ambiguity of his past. Is it possible to escape your past and redeem yourself to the point you can face a brave new future?

I liked this book for a variety of reasons. First, I was intrigued by the characters. Neon lights, half-lit alleys, all-night poker games and sporting women make for a colorful backdrop. Setting it in the recent past made it familiar and somewhat nostalgic at the same time. By using his criminality and the specter of his past catching up with him, Walter allows you to lead yourself into territory that is almost cliche, but then throws in the twist. His interest in the election, the perception that, while the candidates might be flawed, the process is vital take it in a new direction. Vince is forced to look on the things he thought he understood with fresh eyes, finding beauty and truth where he least expected it, as well as the dark decay below what seemed pristine at first glance. There’s plenty of intrigue and suspense to drive the story and keep the reader turning pages, but the subtext left me thinking about much bigger issues. To quote Franklin, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

Citizen Vince is available at the Rochester Public Library in traditional format and audio CD.  For more information on this book, visit the author’s website by following this link.

Author Spotlight – Anne Holt

       

Anne Holt

An Author Spotlight by Helen McIver

Anne Holt is a prolific author whose books – especially those shown above – will haunt me for some time to come.  A Norwegian crime writer and lawyer, specializing in murder and mayhem in Norway, Holt has written more than fifteen novels and is well known in Scandanavia and Europe.  In fact, you might have heard of her on NPR and PBS after the bombings in July 2011.

If you like Henning Mankell, Maj Sjowall/Per Wahloo, Karin Fossum , Jo Nesbo, Helene Tursten or  Kerstin Ekman, then these are your next thrillers!

Johanne Vik (researcher, profiler) and Adam Stubo (homicide detective) are the two protagonists in one of her series, each with personal baggage and both  with intricate stories. This psychological series is nasty, but compelling; neither as dark nor drastic as the Dragon Tattoo series, and also more plausible. Or perhaps these thrillers are more familiar to me, for this is like reading British mysteries that are set in a different culture.

Scottish crime writer Val McDermid once commented that Holt “…reveals how truly dark it gets in Scandanavia….” Many of her books seem to have the perfect murder:  there are no clues, but it is the attention to detail and persistence of these characters that makes all the difference. I found the mysteries to be complex, detailed (some might say slow moving) but intellectually challenging and interesting. Holt has done her homework, and has varied experiences which contribute to the realism of the story and the accurate portrayal of everyday life in Norway, where there is a lot of social commentary about the very real problems of socialism, racism, discrimination and violent crime, in Scandinavia and Europe.

Many of Holt’s novels are available through the Rochester Public Library and SELCO.  For more information about this author, visit the Simon and Schuster website dedicated to her works by following this link.

Anne Holt discusses her novel, 1222