On a peaceful summer evening in the town of West Table, Missouri, the quiet of the night was shattered by a thunderous explosion. In 1929, the Arbor Dance Hall blew apart with a force that flattened the two story buildings adjacent to it, with a blast that was felt in the next town some 20 miles away. Forty-two people lost their lives and countless others suffered terrible injuries from either the fire or having been blown from the building. The devastation wrought by the dance hall explosion had an impact on every resident of the town. Daniel Woodrell’s new novel The Maid’s Version recounts many of their stories.
The mystery of what caused the explosion and who was responsible was never discovered. Could it have been mob related? Was it the evil deed of a band of Gypsies? Was it just a tragic accident or possibly something more ominous the town leaders wanted covered up? This literary novel is comprised of numerous small chapters, frequently describing the circumstances of individuals who ended up at the dance that fateful Saturday night. Interspersed throughout the minor character vignettes is the story of Alma DeGeer Dunahew, a woman who believes she knows the truth.
This remarkable tale is a fictionalized account of an event that occurred on April 13, 1928 in the Ozark Mountains of Missouri. Woodrell believably captures the historical and cultural characteristics of the inhabitants of the Ozarks. It is the author’s skillful narration that will mesmerize the reader and bind them to this powerful yet tragic tale.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones is older in Mad about the Boy, but in many ways, she’s still the same old Bridget. Bridget Jones: Mad about the Boy, returns to Fielding’s beloved heroine, Bridget. Readers haven’t seen her since The Edge of Reason, which was published in 1999. Fielding revealed before the novel’s release that Mark Darcy, Bridget’s long-time love, had died five years before the new book begins. Now, in her fifties, Bridget is balancing children, social media and a new much younger boyfriend.
Longtime Bridget Jones fans will enjoy seeing their favorite characters pop up again in the latest novel. Bridget’s friends Tom and Jude make reappearances, and along with new friend Talitha, they help Bridget recover from the loss of Mark and look for love again. Daniel Cleaver, Bridget’s former boss and one-time love interest, returns as an emergency babysitter for Bridget, and while slightly more mature, seems to have changed very little since the earlier books. Bridget’s children, Billy and Mabel, bring a different sort of humor to the series, as do the parents and teachers at their school.
Bridget’s initial flirtations with 29-year-old Roxster via Twitter will remind readers of her days as a thirty-something looking for love in London. Now her romantic mishaps come in a new form as technology has changed, but Bridget still brings her unique brand of awkward to the situation. Told in Bridget’s diary format with the new addition of tweets and emails, readers will enjoy seeing her all grown up and dealing with new challenges, like motherhood, writing a screenplay and getting a second chance at love.
In the spring of 1885, New York socialite Beret Osmundsen is devastated to learn of the death of her estranged younger sister, Lillie. In Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas, Beret’s investigation into her sister’s death takes her from New York to Denver, from dazzling penthouses to seamy brothels.
Beret’s aunt and uncle share the news of Lillie’s death, but not the tragic details of her last days. Upon arriving in Denver, Beret learns that Lillie was working as a prostitute in a high-end brothel – the site of her murder. Beret is focused on tracking down Lillie’s murderer and avenging her sister’s death. She quickly encounters Detective Mick McCauley who is assigned to the case and looks to work with him in solving this tragedy. Mick, however, doesn’t need any assistance and initially tries to quell her involvement. But never underestimate the power of a sister’s love or the thirst for justice.
As Beret and Mick are forced together, they develop a mutual respect. Their growing bond will intrigue readers as the duo find themselves transported from the seedy tenderloin district to a high society peopled with the wealthiest and most influential. As she forges ahead in her determination to see the truth uncovered, Beret must deal with uncooperative and suspicious relatives, cope with the incivility of high society and come to terms with the fact that she never really knew her sister. Complicating things further are another murder and a growing number of potential suspects. Dallas does an excellent job of recreating nineteenth century Denver, crafting a well-paced mystery and creating a promising chemistry between Mick and Beret, which will have readers looking forward to their next rendezvous.
Charles Palliser, in Rustication, unravels a late 19th century mystery through the uneasy journal entries penned by Richard Shenstone, a 17-year-old opium addict who struggles daily with carnal appetites. Richard, after an abrupt suspension from college, seeks out residency in the drearily neglected English mansion where his mother and older sister reside after the death of their debt-ridden father. However, to much surprise, his early homecoming is unpleasantly received. Not only does he feel unwelcomed, he is refused any information regarding the sudden death in the family or their lack of funds.
Coinciding with his arrival, livestock vivisection begins and vulgar letters are sent to several neighbors which accuse, damn and threaten their recipients. Richard soon crosses paths with peculiar characters that become cagier with every encounter, from vicious socialites to a brutish dogfighter. At the center of much gossip is an earl’s nephew who is both an eligible bachelor and next in line to receive his uncle’s fortune.
Alone in his attempts to make sense of the town’s secrets, Richard feverishly recounts his daily thoughts and conversations. However, his fickle opiate love affair interrupts his stream of recollections. As the crimes increase and worsen, he finds himself as the prime suspect and is determined to discover the identity of the true murderer.
Readers will recognize this marshy bleak town from Palliser’s other Victorian novel, The Quincunx, but will find themselves intrigued as the jarring plot peels away like sour onionskin.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the legions of Jane Austen fans are devoted to the woman and protective of her literary canon. The Austen Project is treading into this revered territory with the unveiling of a major new series of six authors reimagining all six of Austen’s major works. The project launches with Joanna Trollope, often favorably compared with Austen, and her retelling of Austen’s first published work, Sense and Sensibility.
Trollope presents the Dashwood sisters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, who, along with their mother, are all coping with grief and a dramatic reversal of fortunes following the death of their father. They have been removed from the family estate by the nefarious schemes of their brother’s wife, Fanny. A relative offers a small home on his estate, but they still must adjust to life with no money, no inheritance and no beloved father. As they slowly come to terms with their new situation, the two elder girls embark on relationships. Sensible Elinor is enamored with Edward, Fanny’s brother, who may be playing the field. Beautiful Marianne falls for local hottie and bad boy John Willoughby. While the storylines remain the same, Trollope successfully uses modern accoutrements to give weight to the girls’ struggles. Tidbits of gossip are texted and scandals are revealed via viral videos adding contemporary realism to this timeless coming-of-age story. Another universal truth – when it comes to money and love, some things never change. This comedy of manners will appeal to Trollope fans, Austen devotees and romance readers.
Look for future titles in this exciting series to include Val McDermid’s reworking of Northanger Abbey and Curtis Sittenfeld’s take on Pride and Prejudice, both scheduled for publication in 2014. Learn more about the Austen Project here.
During an interview following Kurt Cobain’s suicide in 1994, his mother remarked, "Now he's gone and joined that stupid club. I told him not to join that stupid club." Journalists began referring to “the curse of the 27 Club” when writing about the surprisingly large group of musicians whose lives were all cut tragically short when they were 27 years old. Howard Sounes explores this sad coincidence in 27: A History of the 27 Club Through the Lives of Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison, Kurt Cobain and Amy Winehouse.
While Sounes lists 50 musicians who died at age 27, he examines the facts surrounding the lives and deaths of the six most iconic in his book. He calls the idea of the 27 Club a media construct and maintains that their deaths at the same age are merely a coincidence. In reality, the common factors in their lives were difficult childhoods, addiction, personality disorders, self-destructive behavior and a fast rise to fame during their early 20s. Given these circumstances, Sounes argues that the fact that each died at such a young age was not surprising. This book is an antidote to the media hype and Internet mythology surrounding the 27 Club. The author brings a measured examination of these stars’ lives and tragic deaths.
Sounes recently recounted the events of the final hours of some of these musicians’ lives in this Rolling Stone feature.
Fifty years ago the country was rocked by the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. His life and tragic death remain a cultural touchstone, and today's anniversary has resulted in a proliferation of published titles on the subject. Three of these new entries shed light on the man, the assassination and his enduring legacy.
Award-winning author James Swanson thoroughly documents the day Kennedy was killed in End of Days: The Assassination of John F. Kennedy. From the Kennedys’ Texas train trip, to the shooting in Dealey Plaza, to the aftermath awash with confusion, Swanson does not miss a detail. The narrative unfolds hour-by-hour, and the reader is immediately caught up in this riveting account which defines all of the major players, from Jack and Jackie to Lee Harvey Oswald and Jack Ruby. The research is remarkable, and the accompanying photographs add heft to this absorbing and important account.
Dallas 1963 by Bill Minutaglio and Steven Davis offers a different take on the assassination by focusing on the city which will become inextricably linked with President Kennedy. In a fascinating study, they describe the sociological and political forces which collided to create a tinderbox of activism, along with the colorful characters who stirred the political pot. Included are profiles of oil baron H. L. Hunt, Dallas Morning News publisher Ted Dealey and provocative congressman Bruce Alger.
Parkland by Vincent Bugliosi is a companion to the film of the same name produced by Tom Hanks, released earlier this fall and now available on DVD. Parkland focuses on the aftermath of the assassination by following key players in the hours and days following the shooting. The group of individuals includes the doctors and nurses at Parkland Hospital, the chief of the Dallas Secret Service and Abraham Zapruder, the cameraman who captured perhaps the most examined footage in history. Bugliosi, also the author of Helter Skelter, successfully delivers a richly detailed narrative of this circle of men and women involved in the historic tragedy of November 22, 1963.
Winners of the 64th annual National Book Awards were announced last night at a black-tie dinner held at Cipriani Wall Street. This morning, the literary world is abuzz about James McBride’s win in the Fiction category for his novel The Good Lord Bird. With a strong list of finalists, many considered McBride’s novel to be an underdog. McBride seemed shocked by the win. He shared that writing the novel became an escape for him during a difficult season of his life. McBride also expressed his pleasure about the win, remarking, “Had Rachel Kushner or Jhumpa Lahiri or Thomas Pynchon or George Saunders won tonight, I wouldn’t have felt bad because they are fine writers, but it sure is nice to get it.”
Mary Szybist was presented with the Poetry Award for Incarnadine: Poems, her second collection of poetry. The award for Young People’s Literature was given to Cynthia Kadohata for her novel The Thing About Luck. George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America won the award for Nonfiction.
Congratulations to all the winners!
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.