Lauren Willig’s new stand-alone novel The Ashford Affair is a departure from her well-known Pink Carnation series. The story, which the Library Journal says combines an “Out of Africa sensibility with a Downton Abbey cast,” takes readers from the English countryside before World War I to 1920s Kenya and 1990s New York City. Clementine “Clemmie” Evans is a successful, overworked attorney whose personal life is a mess. As Clemmie’s ninety-nine-year-old grandmother Addie nears the end of her life, Clemmie stumbles upon a secret from Addie’s past. A family member hints to Clemmie that there may be more to the story than meets the eye, and Clemmie begins to investigate Addie’s life story. Addie grew up in England on her uncle’s estate as a poor orphan taken in by her rich family. Addie and her effervescent cousin Bea grew up to be best friends and close confidants, but with time came change. As Clemmie learns about Addie’s past, it begins to influence her own future. The Ashford Affair is a multi-layered love story that will enchant fans of Kate Morton.
What are the odds that two authors would leave behind their popular series and write stand-alone novels set in the same place in the same time? While at a conference, Willig met her friend Deanna Raybourn for cocktails. When the discussion turned to their work, both were surprised to discover that their latest projects were set in 1920s Kenya. Raybourn’s new novel, A Spear of Summer Grass, is the story of Delilah Drummond, a socialite whose family banishes her to Kenya to avoid a scandal. Delilah quickly connects with a group of British ex-pats, but a murder within her group forces Delilah to make an important choice. These two novels are a perfect pairing for a literary getaway.
In her haunting debut novel, author Helene Wecker unfurls an intricately-blended tapestry of Arabian and Jewish folklore, set against the backdrop of turn-of-the-century New York. The Golem and the Jinni combines elements of Syrian mythology and Kabbalistic tradition, rendering a remarkably poignant story of the unlikely friendship between two souls out of time and place.
Chava has just arrived in New York and, like many new immigrants, she is alone and friendless. Yet Chava has left no homeland to come to America. She has no family keepsakes or mementos. She is a golem, a magical being made of clay and bound to serve. Brought to waking life aboard a ship bound for America, Chava had little time to know her master, who did not survive the voyage. Now, with the help of a rabbi who recognizes her true nature, Chava struggles to find a place and purpose in this strange land. It has been a thousand years since Ahmad last tasted freedom. A jinni, Ahmad is an elemental creature born of fire. For centuries he roamed the Syrian Desert, his home and source of strength. In his youth, his curiosity about humans often led him to trail after caravans and wandering Bedouins. However, even a fire jinni can fly too close to the sun. When he awakens in a New York tinsmith’s shop, all he can remember of his last encounter with humans is the face of the wizard who imprisoned him. Adrift among people who cannot possibly comprehend his plight, Ahmad searches restlessly for a meaning to the mystery behind his capture.
Within the pages of this alluring story, the commonplace rubs shoulders with the fantastical. Freedom of will can become as much a burden to those who hold it as it is a necessity to those deprived. Friendship, redemption and acts of sacrifice often appear from unexpected quarters. This novel is recommended for fans of historical fiction and fantasy.
Since its launch in 1996, the London-based Orange Prize has recognized the achievements of women authors around the world. Organized partly in response to a perceived bias weighted towards male-authored books receiving literary awards, this prize is judged by a committee of women, issues long and short lists of book contenders and ends with one grand winner. As it undergoes a change in sponsorship this year, the 2013 prize is known as The Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The 2013 short list was announced on April 16, and includes several titles familiar to Between the Covers readers. Probably the least surprising title to appear on the list is Hilary Mantel’s Bring Up the Bodies. The second in a planned trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, it focuses on the final year of Anne Boleyn’s life and has been heaped with awards and accolades including the Man Booker Prize and the New York Times’ Top Ten Books of 2012. Previous Orange winner and American author Barbara Kingsolver is also named for her book, Flight Behavior. A financially strapped southern family is ready to sell their land to a strip-mining company until they find an immense roost of migratory butterflies has unexpectedly made their mountain a home. New to the prize scene is author Maria Semple, honored for Where’d You Go, Bernadette? A comically satirical look at Seattle and privilege, wife and mother Bernadette has disappeared and it may be up to her daughter to find her.
Another Orange Prize winner, Zadie Smith, is back on the list for her book NW. Described as a “story of a city,” Smith writes about friends from northwest London and examines their progress, or lack thereof, on the ladder of social climbing and upward mobility. The final short-listers are Life After Life by Britain’s Kate Atkinson and A.M. Homes’ May We Be Forgiven. Garnering glowing reviews, Atkinson’s tale begins in pre-WWI England and is centered around a character who dies repeatedly only to return to live her same life again with the ability to alter her choices. DC native Homes introduces the brothers Silver. First-born George’s life is the definition of success--fame, money, a lovely wife and prep school children; younger Harold is a history professor at a community college who moves in on George’s family when George starts to unravel, triggering a calamitous series of events. The complete long list of nominated books can be found on the Women’s Prize website and the winner will be announced on June 5, 2013.
The American Library Association has announced the shortlists for the second annual Carnegie Medal. Named after business magnate and renowned Gilded Age philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who provided a portion of his considerable wealth to the building and promotion of libraries nationwide, these two medals honor the best of the previous year in adult fiction and nonfiction categories. The three nominees in the fiction category are all heavy-hitters: Richard Ford, for Canada, his sprawling novel set both in the wilderness of Montana and north of the border starting in the 1950s; Louise Erdrich's The Round House, a novel that touches on moral and legal issues set in the Ojibwe community, which has already won the National Book Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a collection of short stories examining the world of relationships, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz.
The nonfiction shortlist also features three strong candidates: The Mansion of Happiness: a History of Life and Death, by Jill Lepore, which takes on the methods we use to examine the big questions of what our mortal time means; National Book Award-winner Timothy Egan for his biography Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, the portraitist of so many Native Americans; and David Quammen's Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, which investigates the zoonotic microbes that move from animals to humans, such as rabies and ebola. The winners for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced in Chicago on June 30 at the American Library Association annual conference.
Fantasy fans have much to celebrate when Joe Abercrombie releases a new book and they will not be disappointed with his latest novel, Red Country. Leave it up to Abercrombie to pull off a successful mash-up of a fantasy and a western. Red Country is fun, bloody and action-packed. His latest will be celebrated by the most ardent Abercrombie fans and is sure to create a new fanbase to add to his legion. While Red Country is a stand- alone novel, fans will recognize several characters from this First Law series. At the center of Red Country is Shy South, a tough-as-nails heroine who is seeking vengeance. Her home has been burned, her brother and sister stolen. She sets off to rescue her siblings and is accompanied by Lamb, her timid stepfather who seems to have a mysterious past.
Red Country has everything Abercrombie fans have come to expect: deeply-flawed characters, bloody action, realistic dialogue and lots of black humor. Added to this, the novel also succeeds as a Western, complete with frontier towns, a gold rush, a few duels and more than a few ghosts. Abercrombie is often compared to George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame. He now stands on his own as one of the freshest, most unique voices in fantasy. Together with his First Law trilogy, Red Country is a perfect introduction to readers who have not yet tried Abercrombie’s version of fantasy. Highly recommended for fans of George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss.
Taiye Selasi’s debut novel, Ghana Must Go, begins with an end. Sai family patriarch Kweku lies in the dewy grass before dawn, slowly dying in his garden amidst a riot of African color and beauty. Get up, call for help, the reader wants to shout at this Hopkins-educated physician; instead, Kweku passively waits for his heart to stop beating.
Selasi’s title refers to the forced expulsion of Ghanaians from neighboring Nigeria as well as to the distinctive, cheap carryall bags in which they stuffed their belongings. Dr. Kweku Sai is from Ghana and his wife Fola is Nigerian. They meet in Pennsylvania where he is completing surgical training and she is in law school. They marry, have four intelligent and driven children, move to Boston, and continue to rack up professional and personal accomplishments. The Sai family epitomizes immigrant success until one unjust and cataclysmic event causes the foundation of the family to crumble and collapse. Written in three sections, “Gone,” “Going,” and lastly “Go,” Selasi allows her characters to reveal the insecurities which enabled their family bonds to stretch, break, and perhaps reform. Recollections, some of which are poignant and others shocking, are integral to understanding each of the family members.
This is a story of Africa and of America, of third world attainment and stellar achievements by anyone’s first world standards, and of a family unraveled and lives destroyed. It is a story of putting one foot in front of the other when one foot is in Africa and the other foot stateside. It is a story of leaving and of rebuilding. With its image-rich prose, acidic observations, and perceptive take on family relationships, Ghana Must Go is also very much a story to enjoy.
Jennifer McMahon’s latest novel, The One I Left Behind, begins in 1985. Reggie is thirteen years old and a murderer is terrorizing her hometown of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. The serial killer, nicknamed Neptune by the local police and press, is kidnapping and murdering women, leaving their bodies to be found by local police days later. The fourth and final victim is Reggie’s mother Vera. Unlike the other three women, Vera’s body is never found. For years the case is left unsolved, leaving Reggie with no closure.
Twenty five years later in 2010, a woman is found at a homeless shelter and identified as Vera. Vera’s reappearance forces Reggie to face emotions she hasn’t dealt with in years. At the same time, it reopens the unsolved Neptune murder cases, and creates new questions—why was Vera allowed to live, and where has she been all these years? Reggie brings her ailing mother back to their hometown to stay somewhere familiar in hopes that it will make her more comfortable. As the residents of Brighton Falls learn that Vera is alive and in town, the desire to learn the identity of Neptune is renewed. When another woman is kidnapped, Reggie realizes that Neptune has returned and takes matters into her own hands, investigating the murders and new disappearance on her own.
Switching back and forth between Reggie’s childhood, the present, and excerpts from a book about the Neptune serial killer, The One I Left Behind gives readers multiple sides to this mystery, taking readers along for Reggie’s search for the truth about her mother’s disappearance. The One I Left Behind is a thrilling mystery that readers won’t be able to put down.
Elizabeth Strout is adept at creating flawed, ordinary characters mired in a changing, unforgiving world, and instilling in them traits that all can recognize. In her latest novel, The Burgess Boys, the highly regarded writer returns to a small town in Maine with an observant, tragic-comic story of a family as burdened by its past as it is overwhelmed by its messy present. Clearly, navigating life and the human condition is never easy.
For Jim and Bob Burgess it is also complicated by family ties. Both New York attorneys, the middle-aged brothers fled long ago from down-on-its-luck Shirley Falls, where now Somali immigrants are changing the face of their hometown. Their divorced sister, Susan, has remained. When her lonely teenage son, Zach, is accused of a hate crime involving a Somali mosque, the brothers reluctantly return to Shirley Falls to obviate the legal crisis. It's hard to tell who is under more stress: the Mainers and immigrants who fret over what Zach's crime means for the community they now share, or the Burgess siblings who continue to define themselves by past demons. Jim, a celebrated defense lawyer with a big house and pretty wife, is revered by his siblings despite acting like a jerk to his younger brother. Nice guy Bob, who works for Legal Aid, drinks way too much. Scarring everyone is a long buried family tragedy that continues to ooze close to the surface.
Strout, whose last novel was the Pulitzer Prize-winning Olive Kitteridge, has again drawn with polished prose emotionally untidy characters whose seemingly unremarkable lives yield the hallmark of human character. With a reflective tone and pitch-perfect dialogue, Strout's fluid storytelling yields a simple, yet difficult message: connections matter.
The disappearance of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Amity Gaige’s latest book, Schroder, is a kidnapping tale with a twist: it’s told from the perspective of the kidnapper, who is also the child’s father. Eric Kennedy is writing to his estranged wife from prison, explaining why he abducted their daughter Meadow and chronicling the time he spent on the run with her. His story becomes a broader reflection of his life and his misguided decisions and deceptions.
When Eric feels he’s being unfairly treated in divorce proceedings, he drives off with his daughter during one of his custody visits. Through the course of the story, the reader learns the history of Eric, who was born Erik Schroder in East Berlin. He and his father emigrated to the United States under murky circumstances, and Erik originally used the name Eric Kennedy to gain admission to a summer camp. The name sticks, staying with him into adulthood, although modern technology and identity tracking make it increasingly difficult for him to maintain a false persona. Gaige does an excellent job building two contrasting main characters: Meadow is an incredibly perceptive yet wholly innocent six-year-old, while Eric is a deeply flawed adult who puts his daughter’s safety at risk multiple times. There is a train wreck feel to the story as he makes one poor decision after another.
Gaige drew inspiration for this story from the famous case of Clark Rockefeller, whose multiple false identities were discovered after he kidnapped his daughter in 2008. The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal is an account of that story. In Schroder, Gaige manages to show that Eric is not a terrible person, just a “bad choicer”, as she refers to him in an interview with NPR.
Jennie Shortridge’s contemporary novel, Love Water Memory, takes the reader into the unsettled and uncomfortable mind of a woman suffering from dissociative fugue. In this uncommon condition, often caused by a traumatic experience, a person instantly develops a complete amnesia. As the book opens, Lucie is found wading in the waters of San Francisco Bay, hundreds of miles from the Seattle home she shares with her fiancé Grady.
Short chapters using the alternating narrations of Lucie, Grady, and Lucie’s estranged aunt Helen make for a compelling read. Grady, an engineer at Boeing with a dark past of his own tries his best to understand Lucie’s condition. With the help of his large Native American family, Lucie attempts to reconnect with the world that she has utterly forgotten. There are no easy answers; Lucie and Grady are only weeks from their planned wedding, but no longer truly know each other. Helen is the only family Lucie has, and the story of her connection and estrangement from Lucie ties many threads together. Grady’s point of view, as a person trying to understand an amnesiac, provides a good counterpoint to Lucie’s own thoughts. The theme of water flows through the book from the initial rescue of the wading Lucie, Grady’s connection to swimming and his own childhood tragedy, and the surfeit of tears shed during the reconnection process. Successful in taking a baffling medical condition and making it the focus of the novel, Love Water Memory is a look into a world few people ever experience.