Stuck. That's what Nora Webster is since her beloved husband Maurice died. With four children, the 40-year-old widow is mindful of the hole in their lives while trying to eke out their existence in the small Irish town where everyone knows your business. Set 40 years ago amidst Ireland’s religious unrest, Colm Tóibín’s newest novel, Nora Webster, is a quiet and eloquent study of the power of transformative grief and the new way of living that only Nora and her family can define.
Protective and no nonsense, Nora knows it's now her role to run a household that includes two growing boys and two daughters on the brink of adulthood. Through the careful, keen observations of family and friends, we get to know and sympathize with Tóibín's stubborn and private protagonist. While people swirl around her, Nora can only ponder the course her life has taken, the decisions she has made, the actions she has regretted. She is not the only one grieving. All the while her children, especially her boys, Conor and Donal, wait with unmet needs. When she does unwittingly nudge toward a passion that stirs her, contentment is slow to insert itself.
A recurring Man Booker Prize finalist, Tóibín is the author of six previous novels including the provocative Testament of Mary. Here he offers up the richest of character portraits in Nora and her family while smoothly glancing the social, religious and political issues of the day. Complicated and contemplative, reflective and fluent, Tóibín probes Nora's mind with a subtle psychological deftness until we, too, feel as intimate with her as those in her orbit. It is confident, undramatic prose that takes us to Enniscorthy, Tóibín’s birthplace, and to the solitary effort of learning to live again. Fans of this highly regarded contemporary writer will not have to wait too long for his next book; On Elizabeth Bishop is due out next April.
Once, Bell Elkins dreamed of escaping her West Virginia hometown of Ackers Gap, with its looming mountains and desperate poverty. But after living in the highest corporate echelons of Washington, D.C., Bell realizes that pursuing justice for the rich and powerful provides little professional satisfaction. Instead, she returns home to become the county prosecutor for Rathune County. Bell is forced to deal with the aftermath of her traumatic upbringing in Julia Keller’s latest novel, Summer of the Dead.
Bell’s older sister, Shirley, has been paroled from prison after serving a 30-year sentence for killing their father to prevent him from sexually molesting Bell. Through one horrifically violent act, Shirley gives Bell a chance at a decent life. Bell knows she owes Shirley, but her sister is angry and out of control.
While trying to heal her damaged relationship with her sister, Bell has two murders to solve. In one, an old man everyone liked was inexplicably bludgeoned to death in his driveway. In the other, a middle-aged man was killed while walking in the woods at night. There are few clues, and no obvious reasons. What little information is available leads Bell to the home of a retired coal miner and his daughter, Lindy. Lindy struggles to protect her damaged, sometimes violent parent by re-creating the mine her dad finds so familiar and comforting in the basement of their ramshackle home. As her father descends ever-deeper into dementia, Lindy discovers long-held secrets that reach into surprising places, proving that while everyone may know your name in a small town, that doesn’t mean they know you.
Julia Keller was a reporter and editor for the Chicago Tribune for 12 years, where she won the Pulitzer Prize. She was born and raised in West Virginia, and her immediate experience brings authenticity to her sense of place and characters. The first Bell Elkins novel, A Killing in the Hills won the Barry Award for best first novel. Readers who enjoy strong female characters or a rural setting will especially enjoy this series.
Two young women connected through a painting and distanced by time are at the heart of Kristy Cambron's debut historical novel, The Butterfly and the Violin. In 1942, Adele Von Bron is the darling of Vienna society, an accomplished violinist and the doted-upon daughter of a high-ranking military officer. Her privileged upbringing keeps her removed from the Nazi killing squads until she meets Vladimir, a fellow musician and merchant's son. Eventually the couple's sympathies toward the Jews land them in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Adele is imprisoned to be "reeducated," and her beloved violin becomes her lifeline when she is conscripted to play in the Women's Orchestra of Auschwitz.
Seventy years later, Manhattan art gallery owner Sera James is haunted by the one last link to her father. It is a painting she remembers from childhood of a beautiful Auschwitz prisoner, violin in hand. Escaping her own disappointing past, she embarks on a singular quest to find the girl with the penetrating blue eyes and learn her story. When Sera's journey takes her to California to the one other person equally absorbed with finding the painting, her life is about to change. The wealthy, handsome William Hanover may be just the person Sera needs to realize more than just one dream.
Cambron, who admits to being fascinated with World War II, brings to bear the human need to create art even among the battered landscape of war. With a double narrative and shifting points of view, she captures the historical breadth of the time period with an inspirational tone. Her research included a moving interview with an Auschwitz-Birkenau survivor. "The experience added such a note of realism to Adele's story that I almost felt as if she was real, that she'd actually been there and fought to survive alongside the rest of the souls in that horrible place," Cambron recalled. Her second book in the new Hidden Masterpiece series, A Sparrow in Terezin, is due out next April.
Acclaimed novelist and short story writer J. California Cooper has died at the age of 82. The award-winning writer’s well-known works include the novels Family and Some People, Some Other Place and the short story collection Homemade Love.
Cooper led a storied life herself which included a variety of jobs such as manicurist and Alaskan pipeline teamster before realizing her dream of being a professional writer. Throughout her varied employment, she was constantly writing and achieved success initially as a playwright. But it wasn’t until Pulitzer Prize winning author Alice Walker attended one of her plays and encouraged Cooper to try her hand at novels and short stories that Cooper’s writing path changed course.
Walker was a catalyst in Cooper’s career but her unpretentious and informal storytelling style helped her develop legions of devoted fans including new readers who continue to find her work relevant and enjoyable. One such aficionado is National Book Award-winning poet Nikki Giovanni, who has called Cooper "my favorite storyteller." Cooper was also critically praised and awards bestowed upon her include the James Baldwin Writing Award and the Literary Lion Award from the American Library Association.
Maryland author Laura Kaye’s new novella Hard to Hold On To recently hit both The New York Times and USA Today bestsellers lists. The novella gives readers a time-out from the pulse-pounding action and suspense found in the rest of her Hard Ink series. This story really delves into the heart of this band of brothers and focuses on the emotional trauma caused on the horrific day when their special forces team was ambushed, leaving only five survivors. Edward “Easy” Cantrell is silently dealing with the life-threatening emotional fallout of their experiences. He bonds with Jenna Dean, a young woman who has recently faced a trauma herself, and they begin to help each other heal, finding that each is stronger when they are together.
Kaye recently took the time to answer some questions for our Between the Covers readers. Learn more about the important issue that she wants to raise awareness about and where you can see her at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend.
Between the Covers: Tell us about your Hard Ink series in one sentence.
Laura Kaye: Hard Ink is a sexy, suspenseful series about the surviving members of an Army Special Forces unit fighting to regain their stolen honor after being kicked out of the military under suspicious circumstances.
BTC: Edward “Easy” Cantrell, the hero of your new novella Hard to Hold On To, is dealing with some very serious issues, including PTSD and survivors’ guilt. Why did you feel that this story needed to be told? What kind of feedback have you gotten from readers so far?
LK: Easy’s story needed to be told because it reflects the very real experiences with which so many veterans are grappling. Twenty-two veterans die of suicide every day. That’s a mind-boggling statistic. Here’s another: Forty-five percent of veterans say they know another vet who has attempted or died from suicide. The feedback to the book has been amazing and overwhelming—I have been honored to have been contacted by so many people who have had an Edward “Easy” Cantrell in their real lives. The fact that they’ve shared those very personal and often heart-breaking stories with me and said how much it meant to them to have awareness brought to the issue is one of the most meaningful things I’ve experienced as a writer.
BTC: You chose to donate the proceeds from the first two weeks’ sales of this novella to the Wounded Warrior Project. Why is this issue so important to you?
LK: It’s important to me because I just felt like I needed to do more than raise awareness. Suicide is a little-discussed epidemic among veterans, and that absolutely breaks my heart. I worked for the military for eight years as associate professor of history at the U.S. Naval Academy, so I hold a real fondness for the men and women who serve our country.
BTC: Hard to Come By will be published in November. What can readers expect for the Hard Ink guys?
LK: In Hard to Come By, the Hard Ink men face their greatest challenges and losses yet! Things will really come to a head in the suspense storyline, alone with a super sexy romance between Derek “Marz” DiMarzio and his heroine, Emilie Garza.
BTC: As a reader, what book can’t you wait to get your hands on?
LK: The answer to that question is almost always the next Black Dagger Brotherhood book by J.R. Ward. Also, almost anything by Tessa Bailey.
BTC: You’ll be at the Baltimore Book Festival this weekend. What are you looking forward to the most either as an author or a reader?
LK: Yes! I will appear on multiple discussion panels at the Maryland Romance Writers stage at this year’s BBF! I absolutely love getting to meet readers, answer their questions and spend time with my writer friends. A whole weekend devoted to books—what could be better?
Nature preservationist and Sierra Club founder John Muir is considered the father of the United States National Parks system, thanks to his influence over President Teddy Roosevelt. Muir’s philosophy permeates author Garth Stein’s newest novel, A Sudden Light, which pits the Riddell family members against each other alongside the backdrop of a fortune built of trees.
The year is 1990. Thirteen-year-old Trevor Riddell’s parents are bankrupt, their marriage crumbling under the strain. In a last ditch effort to lure back his wife, Trevor’s dad Jones hauls Trevor to the Pacific Northwest where demoralized Jones hopes to reunite with his estranged sister and their father while tapping into his family’s enormous wealth. Trevor finds himself on the Riddell’s vast estate populated with old growth woods, living in a decaying timber mansion and becoming acquainted with his disconcertingly sexy aunt and a grandfather succumbing to dementia. Grandpa Samuel hears his dead wife dancing in the ballroom at night; Jones and Aunt Serena’s conversations have a disturbing subtext which leaves Trevor unsettled. As Trevor begins to explore the manor, he uncovers (with a little help from a long dead uncle) evidence of a tragic family history which reaches back to his great-great grandfather, Elijah, a lumber baron, businessman and eventual philanthropist.
Stein is the author of the bestselling book The Art of Racing in the Rain, in which the story is told from the perspective of a dog. In A Sudden Light, trees and the notion of preserving undeveloped land are mute characters whose looming presence shape the Riddells’ fate over generations. Stein has surely written another book club favorite with this modern gothic coming-of-age story.
When Amy Elliott Dunne goes missing on the day of her fifth wedding anniversary, suspicion immediately falls on her husband Nick. Everyone knows that in these cases it’s always the husband, right? With unpredictable characters and a plot worthy of Hitchcock, Gillian Flynn’s runaway bestselling novel Gone Girl has captivated audiences since it was published in 2012, and it’s gaining a whole new audience as a film based on the novel comes to theaters on October 3. The movie, starring Ben Affleck, Rosamund Pike, Neil Patrick Harris, Casey Wilson and Tyler Perry, is already one of the most buzzed about of the year, and its haunting trailer makes it clear why.
Reports about changes in the plot and the ending of the movie have worried fans. While Flynn told Entertainment Weekly, “There was something thrilling about taking this piece of work that I’d spent about two years painstakingly putting together with all its eight million LEGO pieces and take a hammer to it and bash it apart and reassemble it into a movie” earlier this year, fans of the book shouldn’t be worried. She later assured readers that “the mood, tone and spirit of the book are very much intact. I've been very involved in the film and loved it.” We’ll all just have to wait and see.
By this point, many readers have already raced through Gone Girl. Here are a few dark and twisty thrillers for readers who enjoyed it. Mary Kubica’s debut thriller The Good Girl, about the abduction of the 24-year-old daughter of a prominent Chicago family, is a page-turner with plenty of plot twists and turns. A.S.A. Harrison’s The Silent Wife is a gripping psychological thriller about the dissolution of a couple’s relationship. Sabine Durrant’s Under Your Skin is a dark thrill-ride featuring a potentially unreliable narrator, a troubled marriage and a murder case playing out in the media. For more suggestions, check out this list of 10 Gone Girl readalikes to tide you over until the movie’s release.
Thirty years ago, mankind gained access to virtually unlimited space. By means of a small box containing a potato, people could step "West" or "East" into an unknown number of alternate Earths where humankind had never evolved. Given open spaces, mankind did what mankind has always done, and colonized millions of other worlds. They weren't nearly enough.
Willis Linsay disappeared 30 years ago after releasing humanity into the Long Earth. No one knows where he's been, or what he's been looking for all that time, but now he's back and dragging his daughter along to Mars. For Mars, it turns out, also has an infinite number of alternate worlds, and one of them might just hold a whole new gateway to the universe. Back on the Long Earth, Captain Maggie Kauffman has been sent on an entirely new exploration, all the way out to Earth 200 million. Joshua Valiente, the Long Earth's oldest explorer, has set out to find a new kind of people who may be humanity's future.
The third book in the Terry Pratchett Long Earth series, The Long Mars' weakness is its plot, which feels like the set up for a bigger story. While there may be a functional double climax, most of the story is exploratory ramble, but that exploratory ramble remains absolutely stunning. Every world in the Long Earth and a few in the Long Mars developed in radically different ways. The alternate world premise may be fantasy, but every world of the Long Earth has real science behind it. Here, an entirely different evolutionary pathway, there a different sociological slant on civilization. It's possible to learn more about climate science in in a single passage of The Long Mars than an entire high school science course, and be entertained besides by Terry Pratchett's arch commentary.
When Mort Foxman died, he had one request: He wanted his family to sit shiva. So the Foxman family gathers to mourn Mort, bringing all four siblings to their childhood home for seven days. During that time, old grudges reemerge, new dramas arise and secrets come to light in Jonathan Tropper’s smart and darkly comic novel This Is Where I Leave You.
In addition to the loss of his father, Judd’s life is falling apart after he walked into his bedroom to find his wife having sex with his boss. His older brother Paul, who still blames Judd for the accident that ended his promising baseball career, is struggling with fertility problems with his wife Alice who is desperate to have a baby. Their sister Wendy has a distant, strained relationship with her workaholic husband Barry and still has feelings for her childhood sweetheart Horry. Youngest brother Phillip, who is known as the family screw-up, surprises everyone when he shows and introduces them to his much older life coach/fiancée. The novel is told from Judd’s perspective, and his laugh-out-loud funny, honest observations are a perfect counterpoint to the serious and sometimes heartbreaking issues that the characters in this dysfunctional family face.
This Is Where I Leave You will be in theaters on September 19. The movie’s stellar ensemble cast includes Jason Bateman, Tina Fey, Corey Stoll, Adam Driver, Jane Fonda, Connie Britton, Dax Shepard, Kathryn Hahn and Rose Byrne. The screenplay was adapted by Tropper, so fans can rest assured that the movie will reflect the spirit (and some of the great one-liners!) of the novel.
Lauren Oliver, bestselling author of popular teen novels Before I Fall and the Delirium Trilogy, makes her leap into the adult literary scene with Rooms, a haunting story narrated by two ghosts. After Richard Walker dies, his embittered ex-wife and two children arrive at his mansion to claim their inheritance. But the house also comes with two ghosts, Alice and Sandra, who are deeply rooted to the house. As their connection unfolds, so too does the Walker family’s woes in this gripping novel about secrets, lies and family. Oliver recently spoke with Between the Covers on Rooms, shopping and more.
Between the Covers: Rooms is an imaginative and gripping tale of the living and the dead, and you tell the stories from both worlds seamlessly and realistically. What was your inspiration? Do you believe in ghosts?
Lauren Oliver: Thank you! I don’t think I believe in ghosts in the traditional sense. Then again, I’m not actively a disbeliever, and several of my novels for younger readers deal with visions of the afterlife. So I’d certainly say it’s an area of deep curiosity. Mortality in general, and the meaning we make of life, really interests me, maybe because I wasn’t raised in any particular religion and had to kind of untangle that stuff for myself.
BTC: Alice and Sandra, the resident ghosts, are the narrators of this spellbinding story. What drove this creative decision? Was it challenging to create ghostly characters with such distinct voices?
LO: It was immensely challenging, not because I knew they had to have distinct voices and characteristics but because of their physical limitations. They’re really spectators. They’re almost incapable of interacting with or influencing the central action. So in that way there’s something theatrical about the novel–it’s as if Alice and Sandra are watching a play. Initially, I was inspired by the idea not of ghosts per se but of a house that absorbs and can reflect back memories–I wanted to render a literal depiction of a “memory palace,” which is a pneumonic device for storing information.
BTC: The remaining Walkers – Caroline, Minna and Trenton – are the epitome of dysfunctional. Why put these three troubled characters in the same house as the ghosts? What was it about Trenton that made him the only human who senses the ghosts?
LO: Well, truly highly functional people with no issues to explore probably don’t belong as protagonists in a novel, since novels are really about character development and character collisions and crises. To be honest, although the Walkers are certainly a troubled family, they don’t seem hugely more troubled than other families I know. So maybe I just know a lot of dysfunctional families! And in Trenton’s case, I think that his interaction with and attraction to death makes him able to perceive the ghosts where the other family members can’t.
BTC: The structure of this novel is so unique in that each section takes place in a different room of the house. What was the intent behind this? How difficult was this to craft and execute?
LO: The book was really inspired by the concept of memory palaces. I wanted to explore the idea that we are not just shaped by the things we own but that in some ways the shaping is reciprocal; our homes become mirrors of our emotional states just as we buy and keep objects that we hope will transform us, on some level, emotionally. The structure was very difficult from a practical standpoint because all of the drama of a particular section had to be extremely contained, which of course limits what you can depict in terms of action. But it was a welcomed challenge.
BTC: Do you look forward to the possibility of movie/TV adaptations of your work or dread the loss of control of your work? Imagine you’re in charge of the world – or at least Hollywood. Who would you cast in the movie version of Rooms?
LO: I think it’s a little bit of both. I would welcome and embrace the possibility to do a good film or TV adaptation with the right people on board. Rooms would definitely be a challenge for Hollywood, because of its narrative structure. But if it ever does go, I hope Meryl Streep plays Alice!
BTC: You’ve had such great success as a teen and middle grade author. What prompted you to tackle writing for an adult audience? Did your writing process change with the different readership?
LO: For me, it’s all about character and story. Certain stories demand to be told in a certain way, for a certain audience. Rooms is in some ways a deeply domestic drama–it’s contained, it’s set in one place, and it’s about families and marriages and parents and children and the way all of these can fail us. So it was patently adult, from the time I began to write it. That said, I didn’t deliberately set down to write an adult book. My ultimate goal as a writer, however, would be to build a flexible enough career that I can work in all three genres, for all three audiences.
BTC: I totally support your disapproval of bananas and practical shoes. What was the last great pair of shoes you purchased?
LO: Oh my goodness. You know what? I just realized it’s been months since I bought any great shoes. I really need to go shopping! In late spring I bought a pair of Yves Saint Laurent studded ballet flats, which are actually quite practical despite my averred preference for high heels. I need to go buy a pair of Giuseppe Zanottis, stat!
BTC: What can readers expect next?
LO: In the spring of 2015, I have a new young adult release called Vanishing Girls, and in the fall I launch the first in a new middle grade series. And right now I’m working on a new adult book. So…lots to come!