Iris Blasi

It was not suicide. Of that, 17-year-old Jesse Matson is certain. He is positive his father wouldn't have killed himself while on their hunting trip in the wintry woods of Minnesota. He remains convinced even when the town sheriff rules that the gunshot wound Harold Matson suffered was self-inflicted. A visit from his late father – a gruesome figure who emerges from the lake a few days after his death with a face “like a burned-out building, blackened at the windows and caved in on itself” – and the ghost's declaration that “I didn't want to leave, Jesse,” is, in many ways, the final nail in the coffin: Jesse vows to find his father's killer and exact revenge.

“Who do you think you are, anyway? Hamlet?” Jesse's friend asks him after hearing of the visit from beyond the grave. “Next thing, Jesse, you'll be telling me your old man was murdered and your uncle's the one that did it.” Exactly. The novel's title, Undiscovered Country (taken from one of the Danish prince's soliloquies), isn't the only thing Lin Enger, brother of well-known novelist Leif Enger, borrows from Hamlet in his graceful rumination on the ties that bind. The likely culprit? Jesse's uncle, Clay, who had courted Jesse's mom back in high school before his older brother swooped in and made her his bride. Jesse's love interest? An Ophelia-esque girl from the wrong side of the tracks.

The story is told a decade after the shooting by an adult Jesse wanting to explain his version of what happened to his little brother Magnus. Jesse, now a college English teacher, narrates carefully, with the stark, parsed cadences that come from trying to tell a story so painful it rails against words. “I inserted my finger into the nine hold, spun the dial clockwise and watched it spin back around. Then I dialed one, twice, quickly,” Jesse says of his 911 call after discovering his father dead. The telling is deliberate, so that the listener will make no mistake in the hearing. Though the ending – despite a last-minute twist – is hardly a surprise, Enger's glistening prose, set so gently on the frozen lakes of Minnesota, will have readers shivering in their boots.

Iris Blasi is a writer and editor in New York City.

It was not suicide. Of that, 17-year-old Jesse Matson is certain. He is positive his father wouldn't have killed himself while on their hunting trip in the wintry woods of Minnesota. He remains convinced even when the town sheriff rules that the gunshot wound Harold Matson suffered was self-inflicted. A visit from his late father […]

Lisa Lutz never anticipated writing a book. An aspiring screenwriter, she began the script for a mob farce in 1991 at age 21, and quit her day job the moment Hollywood producers came calling. But it was more than a decade and 25 revisions later that the film, Plan B, starring Diane Keaton, Paul Sorvino and Natasha Lyonne, was actually made. Following a West Coast premiere set for September 11, 2001, the movie had a week-long limited release after which with the exception of a few small film festivals it was rarely shown in the United States.

But that's OK, because Lutz herself gives two thumbs down to the final product.  "I don't recommend anyone watching the version that is out right now,"  she says. "I enjoyed to an extent how funny and silly it was. But [for this] to be my life's work? That felt so insane."  Her dream of writing a Hollywood movie had been realized, but Lutz was smarting from her bumpy road to the big screen. "Nothing went well,"  she says of the process.  "We started to call the production 'the curse of Plan B.' "   Somewhere around rewrite number six, the producers decided to cut a secondary character on which a major plot point hung, and Lutz's story caved in on itself. The finale of the writing process was a fax from the producers demanding that a lead character die by being eaten by an alligator. Lutz made the change, but was distraught that the story was no longer hers. "It's really hard to have something you worked that hard on be massacred,"  she says.

Soured on Tinseltown, Lutz vowed never to write a script again, instead holing up in a relative's 200-year-old house in upstate New York in the dead of winter in 2004. Six months later, she emerged from hibernation with a first draft of what was to become her first novel.

"I think I wrote a better novel than I ever wrote a screenplay,"  she says. The first in a planned series, The Spellman Files tells the story of Isabelle Spellman, a tough-talking 28-year-old (described by another character as "Dirty Harry meets Nancy Drew") who works for her eccentric family's P.I. business. Investigating others is their formal objective, but the family including alcoholic gambler Uncle Ray and Izzy's 14-year-old sister Rae (who is known to snap incriminating photos of family members to use as blackmail) regularly probe each other's lives as well. This comes to a head when Izzy starts dating nice-guy dentist Daniel and can't go on a date without turning around to find her mother hot on her tail.

"The truth was, I never doubted for a moment that my parents loved me,"  Izzy says of this parental over-involvement.  "But love in my family has a bite to it and sometimes you get tired of icing all those tooth marks."   To save her sanity, Izzy wants out of the P.I. dynasty. Her parents agree to let her go, as long as she completes a final assignment. As Izzy tries to solve the near-impossible 12-year-old missing persons case, Rae suddenly disappears, leading Izzy to reevaluate her priorities and put her skills to the ultimate test: finding her little sister.

Lutz didn't have to look far for research. While writing Plan B, she did a two-year stint working for a private investigator, and the tricks of the trade she picked up (such as smashing the taillights of car you're following to make it easier to spot a tactic Izzy employs on a regular basis) populate the novel. Though these details are drawn from real life, Lutz is adamant that her family is nothing like the meddlesome Spellmans. And as for Izzy? "Izzy has my sense of humor, because I don't think I could write in a totally different sense of humor,"  Lutz says.  "But I'm no taillight-smashing vandal."

The Spellman Files has been optioned by Paramount, but Lutz swears she won't play a major role in the film's production. Instead, she's wrapping up the Spellman sequel, planning her next novel, thinking about writing a play and reflecting on the lessons she learned from her ill-fated Hollywood foray.

"People think you can get what you want if you just keep trying. But the moment I tried something different and approached it from a different way, I got what I wanted,"  she says of her open-mindedness about writing form.

Then she pauses for a moment. "I think it's luck, too,"  she says. "I do think I got very lucky this time around."

Lisa Lutz never anticipated writing a book. An aspiring screenwriter, she began the script for a mob farce in 1991 at age 21, and quit her day job the moment Hollywood producers came calling. But it was more than a decade and 25 revisions later that the film, Plan B, starring Diane Keaton, Paul Sorvino […]

Four children turn up murdered in 12th-century Cambridge, England, and the restless Catholic townspeople immediately pin the blame on local Jews. As the Jews flee to the safety of the castle, King Henry II seeking the truth as much as the return of his Jewish citizens to their tax-paying status hires a highly recommended investigator from the Salerno School of Medicine in Sicily to uncover the true killer. Enter Adelia, the so-called mistress of the art of death, who is not at all what Henry had been expecting. Whereas in Sicily, women attend medical school (Adelia studied a rudimentary form of forensic science, dissecting dead pigs in a Salerno lab), in England a female doctor would be labeled a witch. Adelia must keep her real identity under wraps, posing as the assistant to her own Muslim manservant while he acts as the doctor. Meanwhile, Adelia sets about her real work, mining the bodies of the murdered children for clues about their killer. Her task is made no easier by the fact that everyone is a suspect, including the handsome tax collector, Sir Rowley, whom the previously nun-like Adelia seems to be falling for. An overly formal narrative voice makes for a slow start, as antiquated speech and archaic vocabulary provide multiple stumbling blocks for readers trying to orient themselves in the medieval landscape. Those who trudge through the stilted first quarter of the book, however, will be handsomely rewarded for their efforts. Author Ariana Franklin's in-depth research (she is the author of historical novels and biographies under her real name, Diana Norman) produces a gripping narrative with meticulous detail about everything from the topography of Cambridge to race relations to medical conventions of the era. The issue of religious warfare strikes a particularly modern chord. When Adelia asks Rowley just what the Crusades are achieving, he responds, They're inspiring such a hatred amongst Arabs who used to hate each other that they're combining the greatest force against Christianity the world has ever seen. It's called Islam. Iris Blasi is a writer in New York City.

Four children turn up murdered in 12th-century Cambridge, England, and the restless Catholic townspeople immediately pin the blame on local Jews. As the Jews flee to the safety of the castle, King Henry II seeking the truth as much as the return of his Jewish citizens to their tax-paying status hires a highly recommended investigator […]

A young, hungry assistant pays her dues while working for a near-impossible boss with a psychotic streak. Sound familiar? Yes, the easiest way to summarize Debra Ginsberg's Blind Submission would be to call it The Devil Wears Prada set in the book publishing world, but this debut novel's sharp writing and intriguing mystery elements turn what could be the same old story into something fresh and new.

Angel Robinson is completely happy living and breathing books in her job at an independent San Francisco bookstore. Then, slow business forces the store to close, leaving Angel unemployed. Encouraged by her novelist boyfriend, Angel successfully applies to be the new assistant to powerhouse literary agent Lucy Fiamma.

Angel quickly finds herself both fascinated with and overwhelmed by this new world. Lucy compliments Angel when she rescues a sexy Italian memoirist's manuscript from the slush pile, but she also leaves impossible to-do lists and creates an atmosphere of instability with her fickle ways. And there's the added drama of an anonymous writer submitting chapters of a novel one at a time. Angel is intrigued by this nameless scribe's work, until the tale starts to eerily resemble Angel's own life. Is someone spying on her? Her boss, her boyfriend and her co-workers all become suspects as Angel attempts to learn the identity of this mysterious writer.

The shell of the story is hardly novel (is the potential pay-off of a demanding entry-level job worth the sacrifice to sanity and relationships?), but the suspenseful who-wrote-it sets the novel apart from other so-called assistant lit Angel has bigger problems than fetching a complicated Starbucks order. Memoirist Ginsberg (Waiting, Raising Blaze and About My Sisters) clearly knows the ins-and-outs of the publishing world, and Blind Submission offers an engaging look at the backstabbing that takes place behind the books. Iris Blasi is a writer in New York City.

A young, hungry assistant pays her dues while working for a near-impossible boss with a psychotic streak. Sound familiar? Yes, the easiest way to summarize Debra Ginsberg's Blind Submission would be to call it The Devil Wears Prada set in the book publishing world, but this debut novel's sharp writing and intriguing mystery elements turn […]

Someone is killing little girls in Wind Gap, Missouri. Hoping to scoop the bigger newspapers, an editor at the Chicago Daily Post sends reporter Camille Preaker to the tiny town to cover the story. Wind Gap just happens to be Camille's hometown, the very place she left the first chance she got and never looked back. After her return, Camille slowly comes to realize that the murders and her own hidden horrors are more closely tied than she could have imagined.

It's hard to describe this bone-chilling debut by Gillian Flynn (lead TV critic for Entertainment Weekly) without resorting to language that could be found in a horror movie trailer: haunting, shocking and skin-crawlingly creepy are all apt terms. But the story and the characters inhabiting it are anything but clichéd. Camille's hard-edged hypochondriac mother and her manipulative, beautiful much-younger stepsister occupy central roles, but just as intriguing are the Kansas City cop called in to assist on the case and John Keene, the brother of the most recent victim, whose open grieving makes many see him as a prime suspect. Camille herself is the most fascinating of the bunch. She has spent a lifetime trying to numb her pain by carving words into her body. Her left wrist bears the scar of "weary," while her back reads "spiteful" and "tangle," and her chest is branded with "blossom," "dosage" and "bottle." Camille literally ran out of room on her body before turning for help, and she now medicates her urge to cut with heavy doses of bourbon. Bringing the killer to light may be just the thing to liberate her own spirit.

Sharp Objects is incredibly disturbing, but Flynn's powerful prose shines a light on the beauty that can rise out of dysfunction. With this novel's perfectly picked, sinister details (the killer is plucking his victims' baby teeth) and well-established pacing, readers will find themselves helplessly hurtling towards the haunting conclusion.

Iris Blasi is a writer in New York City.

Someone is killing little girls in Wind Gap, Missouri. Hoping to scoop the bigger newspapers, an editor at the Chicago Daily Post sends reporter Camille Preaker to the tiny town to cover the story. Wind Gap just happens to be Camille's hometown, the very place she left the first chance she got and never looked […]

As a newly minted med-school grad, Shelley Green finds herself installed at a pediatric practice on Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side in the hilarious 24-Karat Kids. She quickly finds her lifelong desire to heal at odds with the lifestyles of the newly rich and not-necessarily famous as weekends in the Hamptons and invitations to cocktail parties make her fiancŽ (and her old life) pale in comparison. Seduced by her new lifestyle (complete with a plush apartment and a hot heir-to-a-fortune boyfriend) and physically transformed by the demands of her job from an overweight girl from Queens to a sleek, sophisticated and sought-after physician, Shelley initially revels in her quick jaunt up the social ladder, but comes to realize that things on Park Avenue are rarely as perfect as they seem.

Real-life top doc Judy Goldstein and fiction writer Sebastian Stuart (The Mentor) make a fair pair. In this Nanny Diaries for the med set, they poke fun at the absurdity of modern hyper-parenting from a mother who needs to be taught to use a vacuum after being told that it would soothe her colicky baby, to an ex-actress seeking a nose job for her infant. For readers looking for a laugh, this is just what the doctor ordered.

As a newly minted med-school grad, Shelley Green finds herself installed at a pediatric practice on Manhattan's wealthy Upper East Side in the hilarious 24-Karat Kids. She quickly finds her lifelong desire to heal at odds with the lifestyles of the newly rich and not-necessarily famous as weekends in the Hamptons and invitations to cocktail […]

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