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about Fiona Hill 2015-03-14 10:43:44

These are all Regency Romances that I wrote and published early in my writing career. They were recently republished as e-books by Diversion Books and are now available (in lovely e-editions as well as print-on-demand) from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, iTunes, Google, Kobo and directly from Diversion Books (or via the "Regencies" tab on my author website, www.EllenPall.com).

I had not read any of them since I wrote them, many a full forty years ago, but a friend recently recommended "The Country Gentleman," and I have to say I enjoyed it! The books strive to be drawing-room comedies as much as romances. At the time I wrote them, the only other authors of that genre were Gorgette Heyer--who originated the form--and Clare Darcy.

My own favorites are The Country Gentleman and The Stanbroke Girls. Admittedly, I am not an unbiased source.

Forty years later,
Ellen Pall
WhichBookFirst.com Originator and Editor

about Karl Ove Knausgaard 2014-09-01 12:22:29

I had never heard of Knausgaard until the English translation of "My Struggle" was recently (2014) greeted with ecstatic reviews in the American press. I'm only 100 pages into Book 1, but even if it stopped right here, I now believe it really is as extraordinary as reviewers have proclaimed it to be. It is also engaging, not nearly as difficult to approach as I expected. Myself, I read the first page and put it down a few times before daring to dive in. Don't let the opening put you off. Give it a dozen pages and see where you are.

about Gillian Flynn 2013-01-08 09:06:24

So far I've only read "Gone Girl." It was a terrific first book to read, completely engaging, beautifully paced and plotted and with a sharp eye for social detail and extraordinary intelligence. Also, despite the reviews, not grisly at all, which I appreciated.

about Pat Conroy 2011-08-02 07:42:48

From DebbiesIdea editor: I'm afraid I accidentally removed one or two comments from this page this morning, while attempting to delete appx 1,000 messages left overnight by a robot/program that hacked into the system. If I deleted your post, please forgive me and post again! Thank you for your patience.

about Marilynne Robinson 2011-05-08 07:06:43

I just reread "Housekeeping" after a gap of some 30 years. It is just as engaging and beautiful as I remembered but much, much sadder. I suspect what has happened in the meantime to influence this is that I have become a parent. I do recommend it as an introduction to the (all too scant) writings of Marilynne Robinson, but I'm also aware that I never got into "Gilead" as others have. (Full confession: I just plain put it down after 50 pp. or so.) For that reason, I suggest trying "Housekeeping" first, but moving swiftly on to "Gilead" if it doesn't grab you.

about R.J. Anderson 2011-03-08 07:58:29

Can a writer whose young imagination fed on C.S. Lewis and Ursula LeGuin be less than readworthy? More info at the author's website,

about David Mitchell 2010-12-26 22:14:05

Mitchell is well known for reinventing himself as a writer with each book, so it's harder than usual to suggest the "right" place to start. I first read "Black Swan Green," which is a quiet, intense, bildingsroman about a sensitive 13-year-old boy. I liked it a lot but then lost track of Mitchell (somehow sleeping through the huge brouhaha about "Cloud Atlas," which I now look forward to reading) until taking up "The Ten Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet." This is a terrific, absorbing historical novel set in a Dutch trading outpost in Nagasaki Bay in 1799. The characters are engaging and often arresting and though it begins sedately enough, the story becomes progressively more involving until it is almost an adventure tale. I can't say quite where it's best to start reading Mitchell, but I do recommend starting--and if you don't care for the first one you try, go on to another.

about Jennifer Egan 2010-08-02 22:02:51

Jennifer Egan is a terrific writer, with a tough, precise grasp of every sentence. Her most polished book, I think, is "The Keep," a suspenseful, funny, frightening book that is compulsively readable. "Look at Me" is more accessible, though, less tightly plotted but still carefully controlled and complex. It concerns a model whose face is destroyed by an accident. I would recommend starting with "Look at Me," then going on to "The Keep." "A Visit From the Goon Squad" is also arresting and pungent, but it's written in the form of stories that shift from one generation to the next and one group of characters to an adjacent one, with the result that that the reader must work to see the mural these pieces of mosaic are gradually forming. It's bravura writing, with unforgettable characters and scenes, but to me less absorbing than a more traditional novel.

about Ian Martin 2010-06-08 15:58:09

Pop-splat is the third novel by South African novelist Ian Martin. It is about a 21st century Hamlet who ends up murdering his mother and uncle.

about Kathryn Stockett 2010-02-25 08:10:29

Obviously you gotta start reading Stockett with "The Help," because it is her first book. Now that that's out of the way, this is very engaging novel and one that I think conjures with uncanny accuracy the social and attitudes of a time 7 years before the author was even born. The self-satisfied condescension of the white ladies of Jackson Mississippi in 1962 rings true to me (old enough at the time and white enough to be growing up with a black "maid" in the house, albeit in New York). As for the other side of the story--how true it is to the experience of the employes--I'd love to know more from people qualified to say. To me, it seems that Stockett creates some convincing characters in that world but also some very one-dimensional and unconvincing ones. There are other flaws as well--heart in the right place, plot and plausibility not always--but it is extremely good in a lot of ways, and a very worthwhile book to read.

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Title Comments

about My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard 2014-09-01 12:22:48

I had never heard of Knausgaard until the English translation of "My Struggle" was recently (2014) greeted with ecstatic reviews in the American press. I'm only 100 pages into Book 1, but even if it stopped right here, I now believe it really is as extraordinary as reviewers have proclaimed it to be. It is also engaging, not nearly as difficult to approach as I expected. Myself, I read the first page and put it down a few times before daring to dive in. Don't let the opening put you off. Give it a dozen pages and see where you are.

about The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson 2010-02-26 19:26:35

So now that I've read "The Girl With Dragon Tattoo,"--or at least 3/4 of it and the last few pages--I can say that the Swedish title, "Men Who Hate Women," should have been "Men Who Hate Women and Men Who Write About Men Who Hate Women." Ech!

There's no denying that Larsson has a nice, easy way with characters, but... nah, I've written a couple of mysteries myself, I'm not going to "spoil" this one for those who want to read it. But send me an email (editor@DebbiesIdea.com) when you're done and let's talk about its construction.

about Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys 2009-09-08 08:14:37

I agree Sargasso is the most enthralling of her works, a sustained act of imagination in a way that the others are not. As for the others, though--depressing, yes. Murky, no. I whipped spellbound through "After Leaving Mr. Mackenzie," "Sleep It Off, Lady" and "Good Morning Midnight." Admittedly, this happened during one of the darker periods of my life, but how grateful I was then for her company.

about Corpse de Ballet by Ellen Pall 2007-03-11 13:02:54

"Lovingly crafted, classically modeled, fascinatingly set...a real treat. Pall has written a literate, wryly funny, sharp-eyed story."
--BOOKNEWS from The Poisoned Pen

"Sleek and sophisticated...The witty dialog and insightful handling of talent and ego add verve and dash to the theatrical mystery familiar to the readers of Ngaio Marsh."
--www.crimepays.com, Partners Picks


Terpsichore, the ancient Greek goddess of dance, must be smiling down from her home on Mt. Helicon at Pall's (Back East) splendid first entry in this cleverly themed series with its insights into the egos, jealousies, pains and passions of a Manhattan ballet company. Juliet Bodine, a successful writer of Regency novels and ex-professor of English literature at Barnard, puts aside her own deadlines to give literary advice to her longtime friend, Ruth Renswick, choreographer for the Jansch Ballet Company of New York, who is creating a new ballet based on Charles Dickens's Great Expectations. A ballet fan herself, Juliet is fascinated by the personalities of the company and the process of creating a new production. When a lead dancer dies suddenly, she's convinced it was murder, but her old Harvard friend, police detective Murray Landis, concludes the death was a suicide. Case closed, but not for Juliet. From the executive director to the lowliest member of the corps, the characters come alive through Juliet's astute observations and the extremely well-crafted dialogue. Vivid settings capture summer in New York, and one can almost feel the heat and steam of the ballet studio. Both mystery fans and ardent balletomanes will be left with great expectations and eager anticipation for the next in the series.

about Slightly Abridged by Ellen Pall 2007-03-11 13:00:57

From Publishers Weekly:

"Great expectations have been fulfilled! The second book in Pall’s Nine muses series, this one inspired by Erato, the muse of love poetry, and again starring New York romance writer Juliet Bodine, is sure to please fans of Corpse de Ballet (2001). Ada Case Caffrey, a spry octogenarian who enjoys reading her own erotic verse at poetry slams, shows Juliet some recently discovered manuscript pages from the memoirs of Regency London’s most infamous courtesan, Harriette Wilson. The sheets contain a hitherto unknown couplet attributed to Byron. Juliet refers Ada to Dennis Daignault, a rare books dealer whom she has been dating. But Ada never returns from her meeting with Dennis, and Juliet files a missing persons report. When Ada turns up strangled and stuffed under a car on Riverside Drive, Juliet finds herself a likely suspect in a homicide investigation. Despite the erotic theme, nothing here would make a maiden aunt blush. Pitch-perfect dialogue furthers the wonderfully intricate plot. Juliet’s recollections of her first conversation with Ada, and of Ada’s verses, lead to the dramatic denouement to a fully satisfying mystery." (Apr. 7) - February 24, 2003

"Slam Dunk" from The Washington Post

"Mystery reviewers, like other readers, sometimes check out jacket blurbs when deciding which new books to take on. Blurbs alone aren't make-or-break -- they get maybe 25 points on the University of Michigan admissions scale -- but they can spur a reviewer on to a closer look and, on rare occasions, lead to a "not to my taste" instant rejection.

Mistakes can be made. I set aside Slightly Abridged (St. Martin's Minotaur, $23.95) when I noted that author Ellen Pall's first mystery, Corpse de Ballet, had been praised by just two publications, and one was Romantic Times. Not for me, I thought.

Wrong. A second look -- which came when the early chapters of a crime-fiction bigfoot's new work proved disappointing -- got me hooked right away on a delightful new series by a writer who comes across as a sort of sprightly Ruth Rendell. Pall may have been noticed by Romantic Times because her amateur sleuth, Juliet Bodine, is a popular writer of Regency romances. There's nothing either gauzy or overwrought about Bodine herself, however; she is a witty, canny young New Yorker whose involvements with men are entirely and rather sweetly up-to-date.

Working under her pseudonym, Angelica Kestrel-Haven, on "A Christian Gentleman," Bodine is caught in a no-inspiration funk, and she is blocked. She is afraid she might even have to quit writing and "find a job teaching English literature, probably at some small college with a sense of humor." Then Ada Case Caffrey arrives. She is an 84-year-old fan from upstate New York who wants Bodine's help with appraising and possibly selling a manuscript fragment found in a secret compartment in a bedpost. The author of the pages appears to be Harriette Wilson, a Regency-era courtesan with a taste for extortion and connections to Lord Byron, whose verse to her she quotes in the unearthed memoir section.

Imperious and manipulative, Caffrey is a funny, self-dramatizing old bohemian who takes the New York downtown poetry-slam scene by storm with her erotic verses -- until, that is, she turns up strangled in a garbage bag along Riverside Drive, her manuscript gone. Caffrey was such a wonderfully insufferable piece of work that her death jars Bodine out of her blank-page panic and also recharges her off-again-on-again, sort-of romance with NYPD detective Murray Landis.

Both New Yorkers to the bone, Bodine and Landis are amusingly out of their element when the murder investigation takes them to the Adirondacks hamlet where Caffrey was involved with both a theatrical group, the Adirondactors, and radical environmentalists. The variegated range of suspects in New York and Espyville is to Bodine like "a Chinese finger puzzle, one of those tubes of braided straw that constrict more tightly around one's fingers the more one pulls away. The only route of escape was to move into the puzzle, deeper into the trap. Like turning into a skid. Or developing a character." - by Richard Lipez © 2003 The Washington Post Company

about Back East by Ellen Pall 2007-03-11 12:58:38

"Precise, shrewd, and brightly amusing." Kirkus

"Moving story spiked by arid wit...surprise follows surprise in the life of a heroine one cares about and wishes well." Publishers Weekly

"Vivid characters coupled with a tightly structured plot make this novel a pleasurable and moving experience...an enhancing addition to most fiction collections." Library Journal

about Among the Ginzburgs by Ellen Pall 2007-03-11 12:56:38

Extremely readable... [Examines] with absolute acuity the ever expanding and contracting familial pull of brothers and sisters, husbands and wives."
Wendy Wasserstein, The New York Times Book Review

"The sentences uttered by these literary descendants of Salinger's Glass family are good enough to eat. So are the sentences that describe them."
Anna Shapiro, The New Yorker

about Jade Phoenix by Syd Goldsmith 2007-03-10 07:59:22

From a review by Michael Turton, in The View From Taiwan:

Jade Phoenix, a finalist for a literary prize, is the first novel by former US diplomat Syd Goldsmith. The book is set in Taipei and Washington, DC, during the 1970s, and tells the stories of two disparate men, American student and journalist Nick Malter, and Taiwanese millionaire Ko-sa Ong, who form a deep friendship across vast cultural and political gulfs, and their love for the same woman, Jade Phoenix. The story plays out against the background of the recognition of China, the derecognition of Taiwan, and the rise of the Taiwanese independence movement.

The great strength of Goldsmith's story lies in its rich depiction of the realities of Taiwan during the heyday of KMT rule. Goldsmith, who knows many of the historical persons who appear as characters in the book, both real and fictionalized, is able to leverage his vast knowledge of the island to produce a book that is not only historically informed but also culturally accurate. Angel's discovery that Nick is "cheating" on her, or Ko-sa's demolition of his marriage trying to get a son, are prime examples of the way Goldsmith uses culturally-driven misunderstandings to propel the story.

In many novels of other cultures, one experiences the Other through the eyes of the hero who moves to the exotic culture and brokers the reader's understanding of it. Goldsmith refuses to fall into that trap, for he brings Ko-sa back to the US, so that the reader may experience his own culture as the Other seen through the eyes of Ko-sa. Nor does Goldsmith create an idealized picture of either culture in an attempt to play one off the other - just as Nick suffers injustices and confusions in Taiwan, so does Ko-sa in America.

This is an entertaining and educational book, a magnificent journey into a turbulent time, filled with interesting characters, fascinating history, and told in bluff, rapid prose that never gets in the reader's way. I hope a copy of it finds its way into your hands soon.

From Albry Montalbano's review of
"So Many Books, So Little Time: A Year of Passionate Reading,"

published in "Literary Review," Spring, 2004

"I have a New Year's plan: I'm setting out to read a book a week for the next year and write a diary of the experience," writes Sara Nelson in her memoir So Many Books, So Little Time. But this book is much more than what she intended it to be. It reads like a memoir including interracial marriage, sibling rivalry, teaching an eight-year-old to hit a baseball, erotic literature, all these seemingly disparate elements of Nelson's life brought to bear on the art of choosing the next good read. By the end, Nelson admits, "[ ... ] for every moment that was exhilarating, there was one that was frustrating. For every reading experience that was edifying, there was one that was elusive. And just as I thought I had a handle on what I was doing and how important it all was, I realized I was as clueless as ever." But what a great read the year made for the rest of us.

Excerpts from other reviews:

Library Journal, starred review, September 15, 2003
...a fitting conclusion to a work that will make readers run to the shelf to discover which book beckons next. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Time Out New York, October 16-23, 2003
...Nelson is a charming companion... --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

St. Petersburg Times, December 2, 2003
Book clubs...will find this...memoir a handy reading guide, while...book junkies will devour every page. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

People, November 24, 2003
[Nelson's] passion for the page shines throughout. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Ben Izzy is a storyteller who one day awoke from surgery for thyroid cancer unable to speak. This book tells that story in a way that both harnesses his storytelling gifts and movingly (and humorously, and enchantingly) conveys the grim reality of that turn of events. With a thousand opportunities for sappiness, it isn't sappy. Nor is it reductionist. It's a unique book, and quite wonderful.

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