Aminatta Forna sets her newest novel, The Hired Man, in a rural Croatian village in the summer of 2007. As she did in her Commonwealth Writer’s Prize-winning book The Memory of Love, Forna again examines people living in the aftermath of conflict and the insidious influence of violence which lingers long after the war has ended.
Duro Kolak is a middle-age man; small, quiet Gost is his hometown. He lives alone since the rest of his family, like many of the villagers, has moved away. Duro picks up odd jobs, hunts with his dogs, Kos and Zeka, and occasionally visits the pub. Change comes to Gost in the form of an English family who buy a shabby vacant house as a summer retreat and a real estate investment. Duro knows the house well, as it belonged to childhood friends, and he offers to help Laura and her teenage children repair the house. Duro also becomes the family’s guide to insular Croatian culture.
Forna, through Duro, alternates the contemporary story of Duro, Laura’s family, and the house restoration with the tangled back story of Duro and the Pavić family who were the previous owners of Laura’s vacation home. Duro’s reminiscing begins with his friends Krešimir and Anka Pavić with whom he swims and shoots pigeons. Idyllic memories these are not, and as the roof is repaired and an exterior mural uncovered on the Pavićs’ old home, the reader is gradually led into the dark dynamics of altered friendships, a Gost before and during the disintegration of a country and the horror of ethnic cleansing.
Forna paces this elegiac work deliberately, allowing the two storylines to slowly coalesce into a narrative of love and war and a search for the truth. The Hired Man is a beautiful and brutal tale, built on the rotten foundation of war crimes barely plastered over by the new peacetime.
National Book Award winner and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Alice McDermott’s first novel in seven years was definitely worth the wait. Someone is a thoughtful and heartbreaking look at one extraordinarily ordinary woman. Marie is first introduced to readers as a child of the 1930s, living amongst the Irish-American population of Brooklyn, awaiting the return of her beloved father from work. In this simple sketch, McDermott is able to immediately detail Marie’s community and family. In a non-linear framework, the stories which make Marie’s life are slowly pieced together much like mosaics in a stained glass window.
Marie lives with her brother Gabe and their parents in a Brooklyn brownstone. Gabe is destined for the seminary and Marie is hoping for a life as a wife and mother. Her only worry is that she will end up alone because of her plainness and quiet nature. Marie’s keen observations and vulnerability reveal the internal life of a fascinating woman. From her brother’s eventual loss of faith to her first heartbreak, from her parents’ deaths to the changing nature of her neighborhood, the reader is invited to experience with Marie the impact everyday events have on a life.
Someone was one of 10 titles selected by five judges for this year’s National Book Award long list. This marks another major achievement for one of this country’s finest writers. In McDermott’s hands, this seemingly innocuous and unimportant woman’s life is drawn as a powerful portrait highlighting the fact that each of us has a story to share. This remarkable book is a beautifully written celebration of family, community and history. Readers will long remember and cherish this heartfelt tale which quietly encourages self-reflection, understanding and empathy.
The Beltway Sniper. The Green River Killer. The Boston Strangler. Great unease prevails in a community when there is a cold-blooded killer on the loose. Police work tirelessly and civilians are extra cautious about venturing out. But what happens when the investigation drags on without anyone being apprehended and the number of victims continues to climb? This is the story in Joyce Maynard’s latest book, After Her, a novel as much about a serial killer as it is about the complicated relationships between parents, children and siblings. When sisters Rachel and Patty are teenagers, women begin turning up dead in the mountainous area just beyond their home in northern California. The killer, dubbed the “Sunset Strangler” because of his method and time of day he kills his victims, always seems to be one step ahead of law enforcement. The sisters’ father is the local detective assigned to solve the case, and his spirits and physical health decline as the killer continues to elude capture. Eventually, public opinion turns against him, and he is removed from the case, leaving an unfinished chapter in his career. Thirty years later, his daughter Rachel is still trying to make sense — and make peace — with her now-deceased father’s professional and personal struggles.
Maynard crafts a story that is family saga, history lesson and murder mystery melded together. There is suspense, but also poignant moments showcasing the lasting bonds of family. Ultimately, in order to find the missing piece of the puzzle, Rachel must confront unexpected secrets of her father’s past. Maynard based After Her on the real-life case of the Trailside Killer, and the investigating detective and his family. On her website you can watch a trailer for the book with interviews with the real-life sisters behind the story.
Maryland romance author Laura Kaye is launching her new Hard Ink series this month with Hard As It Gets. Becca Merritt is desperate. Her brother Charlie is missing. Before he disappeared, Charlie sent her a message that said, “Find Rixey, the Colonel’s team, Hard Ink Tattoo.” With no other options, Becca goes to Hard Ink Tattoo and finds Nick Rixey, a former member of her father’s Special Forces team. Nick has no interest in helping the Merritt family. After Colonel Merritt betrayed Nick’s team, they were ambushed, and the survivors’ military careers were destroyed. Despite his feelings about Becca’s family, Nick decides to start checking up on her. He gets drawn into the intrigue when he saves her from an intruder who breaks into her house. Soon, Nick is working with Becca and reassembling his old team to help her find Charlie and save him from an organized crime ring.
Set in Baltimore, Hard As It Gets is a strong start to Kaye’s gritty new romantic suspense series, which will continue to follow the men of Hard Ink as they uncover the truth about the incident that destroyed their military careers. Filled with plenty of action and some steamy love scenes, this series and the hard-edged men of Hard Ink will appeal to readers who like Maya Banks’ KGI series or Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights Inc. novels.
Earlier this year, Kaye’s unlikely path to writing romance novels was the subject of a fascinating Huffington Post article. After sustaining a traumatic brain injury from an everyday accident, Kaye developed Post Concussion Syndrome. She began experiencing behavioral changes, one of which was newfound creative ability. Though she had never written fiction before, she wrote a 450 page novel in only 11 weeks! Kaye’s unlikely injury was a twist of fate that led her to this unexpected new career.
Literary fans of something old and something new now have an opportunity to see, in person, the art masterpieces at the heart of two respected writers' novels. Tracy Chevalier's hugely successful Girl with a Pearl Earring and Donna Tartt's eagerly anticipated new novel, The Goldfinch, feature paintings by Dutch masters now on temporary display in the United States. Johannes Vermeer's beloved "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and Carel Fabritius's exquisite "Goldfinch" are currently part of a 15-painting exhibition on loan to the Frick Collection in New York until January 19.
Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier's second novel, is about Vermeer's 16-year-old housemaid who becomes the subject of his painting. It was greeted with popular and critical success following its publication in 1999. In addition to some 4 million copies sold, the book was turned into a movie.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's sweeping new novel, is part suspense thriller, part coming-of-age novel. It centers on a young man named Theo, whose life is changed forever following a bomb attack at a New York museum that leaves his mother dead and him in possession of a rare Fabritius painting.
Now at the final American venue of a global tour, the paintings are traveling for only the second time in 30 years as the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague undergoes an extensive two-year renovation. Here is your opportunity to get up close and personal with the paintings behind the stories. Visit the Frick Collection for more information.
Jo Baker’s engaging new novel Longbourn focuses on the life of housemaid Sarah and her fellow servants for a behind-the-scenes retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Fans of Austen’s novel will be intrigued by the lives of the underclass in Regency England, no less intriguing and dramatic than those of the gentry they serve.
Sarah, orphaned and raised almost as a daughter to housekeeper Mrs. Hill, fills her days from early morning to late night with the strenuous labor it takes to run a country household. Baker fills her novel with detailed accounts of the housemaid’s chores, from emptying the chamber pots to heading to town in the rain and cold to purchase ornamental roses to decorate the Bennet girls’ shoes. Readers will learn fascinating period housekeeping hints, like the fact that cold tea leaves sprinkled on floors will bind with dust, hair and insects, making sweeping easier.
Even as she supports the sisters in their complicated courtships, she dreams of a life of her own. She becomes flustered in her dealings with Mr. Bingley’s handsome, flirtatious footman Ptolemy, the man charged with delivering letters. His goal is to open a tobacco shop one day. Mysterious James Smith, the newly arrived servant with hazel eyes and a secret cache of seashells, intrigues her as he lightens her daily work burdens and takes an interest in her. Sarah wonders “Could she one day have what she wanted, rather than rely on the glow of other people’s happiness to keep her warm?” Longbourn is a book to savor almost as much as its inspiration.
Fannie Flagg’s new novel The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion will remind readers of why they originally fell in love with her writing. The story’s wit, wisdom and colorful cast of characters are utterly captivating.
Having just survived her three daughters’ four weddings in less than two years, Sookie Poole is ready to enjoy some peace at last. She is looking forward to spending her days tending her birdfeeders, relaxing, traveling with her long-suffering husband Earle and caring for her eccentric mother Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Her biggest concern these days is that one day she will go crazy like all the Simmonses do. There’s a fine line between eccentric and crazy, and in the Simmons family they all end up in the Pleasant Hill Sanitarium eventually. Then, Sookie receives a certified letter and learns a shocking family secret. She begins to search for answers and learns much more about Lenore’s past. Layers of the story unfold and Flagg takes readers back to 1943, Fritzi Jurdabralinski and the women who ran the Phillips 66 gas station in Pulaski, Wisconsin.
This story is a perfect fit for readers who enjoy novels by Adriana Trigiani, Rebecca Wells and Ann B. Ross. The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is an absolute delight. Like Flagg’s bestselling Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café, this story moves between past and present, telling a family’s story with effervescent humor and irresistible Southern charm.
Marta has stopped taking her pills. After years of following a routine the way her husband and mother-in-law expect her to, she wants to do something differently and see what happens. She desperately misses her adult son who recently announced his engagement and fears losing him forever. Emma Chapman’s debut novel, How to Be a Good Wife, sends readers down a path of uncertainty where every move Marta makes leads to more questions and even less answers. When her husband dispenses her medication to her, she hides them underneath her tongue, then sneaks them into a grate in the floor. Her days become strange as she frequently finds herself in rooms she doesn’t remember entering, feeling as if she has lost pockets of time and seeing a young, dirty, blonde girl named Elise who seems very, very real. When it appears as if Marta has attempted to abduct a little girl in broad daylight, her family has her committed to a psychiatric facility.
Chapman’s story is unnerving and readers are just as in the dark as Marta. As tiny sprinkles of light begin to open up the secrets of her hazy past, the possible truth of how she came to be Mrs. Marta Bjornstad is shockingly incomprehensible.
Best-selling author of medical and political thrillers Michael Palmer has passed away at the age of 71. First published in 1982, his debut novel The Sisterhood dealt with the controversial subject of euthanasia. Palmer went on to write close to 20 novels, the last of which, Resistant, is scheduled to be published in May of 2014.
Born in Massachusetts, he graduated from Wesleyan University, as had fellow medical thriller author Robin Cook. Upon reading Cook’s runaway hit Coma, Palmer decided that he too could write novels of the same style. After attending medical school in Cleveland, Palmer worked as a physician in the Boston area for a number of years before writing took more and more of his time. Even after a decades-long career as a New York Times best-selling author, he continued to work part-time with the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program. His sons Daniel and Matthew have continued the Palmer family writing legacy with novels of their own.
Maryland author Charles Belfoure’s debut novel The Paris Architect is gaining the attention of readers across the country. In 1942, Parisian architect Lucien Bernard is largely indifferent to what is happening to Jews in Occupied France. When he is asked to create a hiding place for the Jewish friend of a wealthy businessman, he can’t resist either the challenge or the compensation, so he agrees. Despite the danger, he begins designing places for others to hide from the Gestapo. His ingenious designs embed hidden cubbyholes into the architectural features of buildings. When one of his hiding places fails, he can no longer ignore the reality of the situation. Over the course of the novel, the horror of what is happening to Jews in his city becomes very real and personal to Lucien.
NPR’s Alan Cheuse compares this story to novels by Alan Furst. The historical and architectural details bring the story to life. This fast-paced World War II thriller leaves readers wondering how we would have reacted in the same situation, which makes it a good choice for book clubs. Discussion questions and additional information about Belfoure’s inspiration are also included in the book. The Paris Architect will appeal to readers who enjoyed Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and City of Women by David R. Gillham.
Belfoure, who lives in Westminster, wrote a fascinating series of posts about this novel for The Jewish Book Council blog. He will appear at several upcoming local events to promote his novel. A full list is available here.