Some reading experiences are meant to be savored. Jess Walter creates one in Beautiful Ruins, which begins in 1962 at Hotel Adequate View on the Italian coastline. Pasquale Tursi, who runs the hotel, is captivated by the blond woman who arrives at his hotel. She turns out to be a dying American actress, and thus begins a novel that sweeps over decades and contains a cast of captivating characters, all “beautiful ruins” in their own right. In the present day we meet Michael Dean, a film producer who has recently returned to favor with the popularity of a reality television show, and his long suffering assistant Claire Silver, who is in the process of discovering another line of work. Next comes Shane Wheeler who wants to make a pitch to Michael Dean with a screenplay about the Donner party. Other characters include a would-be novelist, a failed musician and a famous film actor. These lives are woven together in an unusual style that includes chapters of novels, film treatments and even a play.
The characters Jess Walter creates are completely realized and finely detailed. The story captures the imagination and you can’t help but care for this motley crew as they try to create something that matters, only to find themselves failing and falling and further affecting all the other lives around them. Although the characters seem separated at the beginning of the novel, the stories begin to intertwine and blend, leading to an incredible crescendo. Thoroughly discussable, this novel is perfect for book groups. Beautiful Ruins will pull you in, capture your heart and will make you reflect on your own life choices.
Books about children in the foster care system tend to be a largely grim bunch. Fiction or fact, they are often filled with requisite accounts of, at best, benign neglect and frequently tell a far more horrifying tale. In her debut novel, Y, author Marjorie Celona explores the concept of family ties that bind both by blood and by choice.
The headline reads “Abandoned Infant: Police Promise No Charges” after a newborn baby is found in the early morning on the steps of the YMCA. The revolving door of foster families grinds into motion as baby Shandi gets shuffled about, her name changed to Shannon and her arm broken by a foster father. As a preschooler, Shannon lands in the loving home of single mother Miranda and her daughter Lydia-Rose who is the same age as Shannon. Miranda’s home is modest and her income small, yet she is determined to form a family which includes loving Shannon as her daughter, as Lydia-Rose’s sister.
Could the story end here? Instead, Celona goes on to explore the effects of abandonment and subsequent feelings of alienation on Shannon as she grows up in Miranda’s home. At the same time, she alternates Shannon’s story with that of her parents and grandparents, revealing the trajectory of events which led up to the morning at the Y. Celona uses Shannon as an omniscient narrator and allows her to completely relate her own story; this includes her search for her “real” parents. At the same time, she is recounting her biological family’s history, chronicling incidents occurring long before her birth. Ultimately, Shannon must figure out what constitutes “family” for her. For more about growing up in the foster care system, try Janet Fitch’s White Oleander or Ashley Rhodes-Courter’s biography, Three Little Words.
Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice remains one of the most popular and imitated classics although it has been two hundred years since its publication on January 29, 2013. Syrie James offers an intriguing addition to the many modern Jane Austen homages with The Missing Manuscript of Jane Austen, which presents a story-within-a-story, both of which will delight ardent fans.
Librarian Samantha McDonough is travelling in Oxford when she stumbles across a letter in an old book of poetry. The letter is from Jane Austen to her sister Cassandra, and describes a manuscript Jane had lost while visiting an estate named Greenbriar in 1802. A missing Jane manuscript could be monumental and Samantha immediately begins researching. Her investigation leads her to the now-crumbling Greenbriar and its owner Anthony Whittaker. The two discover the pages in a secret compartment and begin reading The Stanhopes along with the reader. This purported Austen story introduces Rebecca Stanhope and her rector father, both snubbed by polite society because of a fabricated gambling charge. As Rebecca attempts to restore her father’s good name and discover the nefarious person spreading the lies, she encounters love. James does an excellent job of recreating Austen’s voice and setting and weaving two compelling stories. As the Stanhopes strive to regain their respectable position, Samantha and Anthony are caught up in their growing attraction, yet disagree on how to handle this invaluable treasure.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Jane should be pleased as punch, although it is doubtful that she would ever surrender to such vanity. Syrie James is one of a multitude of authors, including P.D. James and Colleen McCullough, who have entries in the Jane Austen assembly. From spunky Bridget Jones to Colin Firth’s (as Mr. Darcy) unforgettable lake scene, Pride and Prejudice remains a touchstone for modern storytelling.
Dog owners will tell you that their dogs are much more than just pets. They are important, beloved members of the family. Two new books examine that love between humans and their canines. For many years, Alison Pace, author of a new book of essays called You Tell Your Dog First, was a dog person without a dog. Then she moved into a dog-friendly apartment building in New York City and found the love of her life—a West Highland white terrier named Carlie. In these essays, Pace shares the ups and downs of her life as a single writer in New York City. She quickly sees that she connects to the world differently once Carlie becomes part of her life. Together, Alison and Carlie weather bad dates and a cancer scare, and they meet some interesting new friends at the park. Pace, who typically writes romantic fiction featuring lovable canine sidekicks, brings warmth and humor to the essays and makes us all long for a loyal pal like Carlie.
Following the success of their popular blog A Letter to my Dog, Robin Layton, Kimi Culp, and Lisa Erspamer compiled a new book called A Letter to My Dog: Notes to Our Best Friends.The book is a collection of photographs of dogs along with letters to the pooches from their humans. Letters from celebrities like Tony Bennett, Oprah Winfrey, Kristin Chenoweth, Chelsea Handler and Robin Roberts are funny, sad, quirky, and relatable. A Letter to My Dog is sure to warm the hearts of dog lovers everywhere.
From the time he became the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic in 1927, Charles Lindbergh has been a source of national fascination. In her new book, The Aviator’s Wife, historical novelist Melanie Benjamin turns the spotlight on the woman behind the man. Anne Morrow Lindbergh is a fascinating persona in her own right, the first American woman to earn a first class glider pilot’s license, in order to become her husband’s co-pilot and navigator. Told in the first person, the novel begins with the couple’s brief, whirlwind courtship—romantic to Anne but perfunctory to Charles.
Anne is immediately smitten, and although he is less than attentive to her emotional needs, Charles’ prowess in the bedroom keeps her interest. She respects his keen intellect and career ambitions, while all the while wishing he was less distant. The Aviator’s Wife follows the couple through the highs and lows of their complicated marriage. Benjamin chronicles in detail perhaps their greatest tragedy, the infamous kidnapping of their firstborn, Charlie. She captures Anne’s paralyzing grief at the loss of her beloved son, and her sense of hope and helplessness as investigators attempted to find the boy.
Love, determination, convention, and duty ultimately fueled their marriage for 45 years. Although first and foremost a wife and mother of five more children, Anne managed to carve her own identity as a writer and feminist. Benjamin also illustrates Anne’s affair with her physician, sparked when she was hospitalized for gallbladder surgery. Charles never visited his lonely, ailing wife during this difficult time. And although Anne found her own respite, she is shocked and saddened to learn of her husband’s own indiscretions over the years. Well-written and engrossing, this historical novel proves to be an enjoyable, thought-provoking read.
Janis Thomas introduces readers to a memorable, modern mom in Something New. Ellen Ivers has it all: a model husband in Jonah, three beautiful children, a comfortable home, even a lovable dog. She also has a few extra pounds, no career, and a life of boredom. At forty-two Ellen is questioning her life of carpooling, kids’ parties, and after-school activities. Her life is in a rut and she’s let herself go physically and emotionally. When her cousin challenges her to enter a blogging contest sponsored by Ladies Living Well Journal, Ellen is initially hesitant. It’s been years since she wrote professionally and she questions what to write about and who would really be interested in her life as a housewife. At the same time, she meets sexy cop Ben Campbell who is clearly interested in her-- and as more than a friend. His words, “If you don’t try something new, you might as well just stop” motivate Ellen to enter the contest and initiate a self-refurbishment plan.
Ellen begins blogging, exercising, and taking time with her appearance. Her blog posts attract increasing numbers of readers and her treadmill time is really paying off. Jonah is not entirely pleased about the new Ellen and cracks in their marriage start to widen. Ellen is thrilled with her appearance and delighted that her relationship with the married Ben has moved beyond simple flirtation. But just as her confidence and newfound career are on the rise, her family life starts to unravel. The journey Ellen faces is familiar and important, but Thomas peppers the story with laugh-out-loud moments amidst the real life situations. Ellen is a funny, honest, and recognizable character who ultimately must choose what it is that will deliver the fulfillment she has been seeking.
In addition to being one of BBC’s most popular series of all time, Downton Abbey has inspired a new publishing trend. This winter and spring, publishers will release a crop of new books set in Edwardian England. One of the most anticipated of these novels has been Fay Weldon’s trilogy-starter Habits of the House. At the turn of the 20th century, the Earl of Dilberne’s estate is in dire financial straits. He plans to save the family fortune by marrying his son Arthur off to a Chicago heiress named Minnie O'Brien, but both Arthur and Minnie have secrets that might jeopardize the engagement. Weldon, who wrote the pilot episode of the original Upstairs, Downstairs, brings the time period and its social conventions to life effortlessly.
T. J. Brown’s Summerset Abbey is a story about three young women in an upper-class household. Rowena and Victoria were raised along with Prudence, their late governess’s daughter. Rowena and Victoria’s father is the second son of an Earl, but class never mattered in their bohemian household. The three girls have been like sisters throughout their lives. When Rowena and Victoria’s father dies, the girls must move to their uncle’s home, Summerset Abbey, which is run much more traditionally. All three are forced to confront class for the first time when Prudence must become Rowena and Victoria’s maid. Romance and drama abound in this story, but a shocking family secret jeopardizes the girls’ bond. Summerset Abbey is the first novel in a captivating new trilogy.
In these stories, place is often as important as the characters. Elizabeth Wilhide’s debut novel Ashenden follows an English country house through its various inhabitants over 240 years of its history. The house becomes the main character in the upstairs and downstairs dramas that play out in it. Wildhide’s extensive knowledge of architecture and design give Ashenden a unique twist all its own.
Lady Eliza Sumner is a determined woman bent on recovering her fortune, her family name, and her dignity in A Change of Fortune by Jen Turano. Some slight obstacles include a lack of money, family, friends, and a loss of faith. After her father’s death, Eliza’s inheritance was stolen by his trusted manager and his wife, Eliza’s former governess. The despicable duo has fled to America where they are masquerading as British aristocracy. Eliza, with little more than enough money to pay for her way across the pond, arrives in New York with the intent of recovering her wealth and returning to London in a blaze of glory. She takes a post as governess to a wealthy family and begins plotting.
When Eliza’s employer presses her into attending a dinner party, a disguised Eliza (complete with padding and eyeglasses) meets the fabulous Beckett brothers – Zayne and Hamilton. Hamilton is an eligible widower who blames himself for his wife’s death and is devoted to his two children. Because of the failure of his first marriage, he has sworn off women and marriage. However, Eliza and he learn that they share a common enemy and find themselves thrown together repeatedly in their efforts to recover her fortune and save his business. Eliza and Hamilton aren’t without friends who try to help their cause, including Agatha, an opinionated suffragette who happens to be the eldest daughter of Eliza’s employers, Arabella, sister to the Beckett brothers, and Theodore Wilder, a dashing detective.
This debut inspirational historical romance is packed with humor, interesting characters, and a fast-moving plot. This is the first in the Ladies of Distinction series and will appeal to fans of Deeanne Gist and Cathy Marie Hake. For more fun with this zany crew, look for A Most Peculiar Circumstance in June where readers will be delightfully reacquainted with Theodore Wilder and Arabella Beckett.
Delight in the guilty pleasure of peering into the lives of others? The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell offers an intimate series of autobiographical shorts that divulge the frustrations of Bell as an artist, and as a single observer in a hectic world. From being overshadowed by her filmmaker boyfriend in France, to her brief paranoia of becoming John Cheever, to building a tent around her apartment’s radiator for a cheap alternative to Bikram yoga, you never know where Bell’s eccentricities are going next.
Heads or Tails by Lilli Carré is a visually whimsical array of stories and concepts executed with colorful design and incredible lines. Carré creates eerie realms where a man falls in love with a tree, a woman’s doppelganger suddenly appears at her favorite bar, and a chance encounter leaves a man alone and being stared down by a plush animal. Moments of indecision and social awkwardness are poignantly interrupted by mysterious silences of nature, animals, and the grace in absurdity.
Glyn Dillon’s filmic masterpiece, The Nao of Brown, is equal parts psychological thriller and part surrealist meditation. Beautiful Nao Brown is a young, part-time employee at an eccentric toyshop who struggles with loneliness, love, and… compulsive violent thoughts about harming those around her. Her road to enlightenment begins when a burly yet contemplative washing machine repairman, who uncannily resembles her cherished Japanese character “Ichi,” shows up. This absorbing tale of self-discovery is humorous, artistically imaginative, and will stay with you long after you’ve put it down.
Friends and bestselling historical romance authors Julia Quinn, Eloisa James, and Connie Brockway have teamed up to bring readers The Lady Most Willing: A Novel in Three Parts, the story of an outrageous kidnapping plot that leads to four unlikely romances. Although romance authors frequently collaborate on collections of novellas, Quinn, James, and Brockway decided to try something a little different. Each wrote a part of a story that would become one cohesive novel. The result was their first shared novel The Lady Most Likely: A Novel in Three Parts. The trio enjoyed that project so much that they decided to try it again. When Brockway suggested a plot inspired by one of her favorite movies, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, The Lady Most Willing was born.
Laird Taran Ferguson wants his nephews to marry and produce heirs to secure the family line, so he hatches a drunken plan to kidnap eligible young ladies for them to marry. What could possibly go wrong? He and his men decide to capture three young heiresses, Lady Cecily Tarleton and sisters Fiona and Marilla Chisholm, from a ball at Bellemere Castle. During the raid, Taran’s men are confused about one of the ladies’ identity, and Catriona Burns is mistakenly taken, too. The inept kidnappers steal a carriage for their getaway, and The Duke of Bretton, who was sleeping off a substantial amount of brandy in his carriage, is also inadvertently abducted. The whole group is brought to Finovair Castle where they are snowed in together, and fate and love soon intervene. This witty, warm romance is the perfect antidote for a chilly winter night.