Cynthia Wolfe Boynton

People are bound to be drawn to a novel written by Herman Melville’s great-great-great-granddaughter. But while author Liza Klaussmann’s literary roots may initially attract some readers to Tigers in Red Weather, her literary abilities will keep them riveted.

Tigers in Red Weather is one of the most anticipated novels of the summer season, and rightly so. The prose is crisp, plot enticing and pacing masterful. Told from the points of view of five engaging characters whose names, privilege and circumstances can be compared to those in The Great Gatsby, the dialogue and storyline here are as compelling as the sense of promise cousins Nick (a female) and Helena feel at the novel’s start.

It’s September 1945. Nick and Helena have just spent another summer on Martha’s Vineyard, lounging in the sun and hosting harborside gin parties at Tiger House in Edgartown, the family home their grandfather designed. Love, however, is about to change their lives. Nick’s husband is returning home from war, and Helena is moving to California to marry an insurance salesman. But not all lives turned out as planned, and there’s often a fine line between love and loathing. In Tigers in Red Weather, self-loathing and a loathing of others (some justified, some not), lead to infidelity, cruelty, drug abuse and the slow, painful unraveling of Nick and Helena’s once-solid family. Matters come to a head when Nick and Helena’s teenaged children discover a Portuguese maid murdered on the beach near Tiger House—her skull cracked open and her neck black from being strangled. Who is responsible?

Spanning more than 20 years and two generations, Tigers in Red Weather is a richly crafted story in which the setting is as much a character as those who inhabit it. A longtime journalist for the New York Times and winner of Barnard College’s Howard M. Teichmann Prize for creative writing, Klaussmann has created an exquisite and evocative story of family secrets that leaves the reader exhausted, exhilarated and, in tiger fashion, roaring for more.

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Read an interview with Liza Klaussmann for Tigers in Red Weather.

People are bound to be drawn to a novel written by Herman Melville’s great-great-great-granddaughter. But while author Liza Klaussmann’s literary roots may initially attract some readers to Tigers in Red Weather, her literary abilities will keep them riveted. Tigers in Red Weather is one of the most anticipated novels of the summer season, and rightly […]

International excitement over Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in June coupled with the current popularity of the television show “Downton Abbey” and, really, all things British, make this the ideal time for the release of Juliet Nicholson's Abdication.

It's the first novel written by the British historian and, like the 2011 Academy Award winner The King's Speech, it is set in 1936 England and involves King Edward VIII's love affair with married American Wallis Simpson. However, the novel has less to do with the royals themselves than with the lives they touch.

Edward, Wallis and the scandal their relationship caused serve as the backdrop for Abdication, which focuses on three characters: 19-year-old May Thomas, who grew up on a Barbados sugar plantation and has come to work as a secretary for Conservative Party official Sir Philip Blunt; Blunt's goddaughter and Wallis' school friend Evangeline Nettlefold; and the handsome and idealistic Julian Richardson, a recent Oxford graduate who both May and Evangeline are attracted to.

The granddaughter of famed British poet and novelist Vita Sackville-West and daughter of British author and politician Nigel Nicholson, Juliet Nicholson does an exquisite job bringing her engaging characters to life. She provides the details and backgrounds that show not just who May, Evangeline and Julian are, but how and why they're impacted by—and react the way they do to—the unease felt in Britain over King Edward's increasingly public personal life, as well as to the corresponding unease felt in Britain and throughout the world over the rise of German leader Adolf Hitler.

The author of three works of nonfiction about Britain in the early 1900s, Nicholson has used her vast knowledge of the time and its people to create a compelling story that takes readers from the bustling, crowded streets of London to the stately, luxurious gardens where Edward and Wallis host cocktail and dinner parties. In Abdication, even some of the homes and buildings have personalities as real as the people who inhabit them, though not all are likeable. The balding, overweight Evangeline is more grating than gracious, but interacting with people like her is part of real life, which Abdication does not shy away from. The novel is more focused on real life than idealized love.

Those hoping for an intimate, bedroom view of Edward and Wallis' relationship (factual or fictional) will not find it here. What they will find, however, are strong characters, a strong plot and a most enjoyable way to brush up on British history.

International excitement over Queen Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee in June coupled with the current popularity of the television show “Downton Abbey” and, really, all things British, make this the ideal time for the release of Juliet Nicholson's Abdication. It's the first novel written by the British historian and, like the 2011 Academy Award winner The […]

Difficult to read, but impossible to put down—this is perhaps the best way to describe Melanie Thorne’s debut, Hand Me Down. Like Janet Finch’s 1999 bestseller White Oleander, this is a raw and all too realistic story about a California teen forced to move from house to house—and often from bad situation to worse—after her well-intentioned but self-centered mother makes a life-changing choice.

In Hand Me Down, 14-year-old Liz is forced to leave home after her mother marries a convicted sex offender. Like White Oleander’s Astrid, Liz is a likable, sensitive and courageous narrator, forced into maturity too soon. However, this is no copycat debut. Hand Me Down is based on many of Thorne’s own life experiences, including the fact that her mother did, indeed, marry a sex offender, which led to Thorne and her younger sister moving apart.

Like Thorne, Liz has a little sister, Jaime, and Liz has grown up trying to protect her—first from their violent, alcoholic father and then from their mother’s new husband who, on more than one occasion, has let Liz know he’s interested in getting to know his stepdaughters more intimately. Even after Liz and Jaime are separated—living not just in different homes, but in different states—Liz continues to try to protect Jaime. It’s a situation that leads to heartache for both Liz and the reader, who by this time is so thoroughly drawn in by Thorne’s honest prose and dialogue that it becomes difficult to put the book aside.

Thorne said she wrote Hand Me Down to help herself heal; to show that “parents, even good ones, screw up”; and to encourage others struggling with family pain and forgiveness to share their stories. No doubt, Hand Me Down will inspire conversations. The situations and people Liz encounters are all believable. Even the more surreal characters (like Christian conservative Aunt Deborah) and events (Liz and Jaime trying to talk their drunk father out of buying a beer from a gas station on their way to Christmas Eve dinner) are those that readers vividly see and experience right along with Liz, thanks to Thorne’s sharp storytelling.

Hand Me Down is Thorne’s first novel. Despite a somewhat predictable (but much wished-for) ending, it hopefully will not be her last.

Difficult to read, but impossible to put down—this is perhaps the best way to describe Melanie Thorne’s debut, Hand Me Down. Like Janet Finch’s 1999 bestseller White Oleander, this is a raw and all too realistic story about a California teen forced to move from house to house—and often from bad situation to worse—after her […]

A slim narrative with much of the story told through letters written by and to widow and lifelong Parisian Rose Bazelet, Tatiana de Rosnay’s The House I Loved is a tale as dark and haunting as the Edgar Allan Poe stories full of ghastly secrets that Rose so admires.

Readers learn early on that Rose has a ghastly secret of her own—and it’s not just that she’s hiding in the cellar of her beloved, three-story home on the rue Childebert while Emperor Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte and Baron Georges-Eugene Haussman tear Paris down rue by rue in order to rebuild a modern city.

Replacing interweaving streets and medieval buildings with straight boulevards and modern facades appalls Rose. Even though her home is in the path of destruction, she refuses to leave, relying on a ragpicker to bring her food, water and coal to keep warm. Also sustaining her are memories, as revealed in the letters she writes to her dead husband.

Fans of de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key will not find the same kind of compelling, page-turning urgency in The House I Loved. Its pace is slow—meandering even, like the walks Rose used to take along the Seine on warm summer evenings. However, the details de Rosnay provides allow readers not only to see Rose in her fine silk bonnets, but to feel her emotions.

A slim narrative with much of the story told through letters written by and to widow and lifelong Parisian Rose Bazelet, Tatiana de Rosnay’s The House I Loved is a tale as dark and haunting as the Edgar Allan Poe stories full of ghastly secrets that Rose so admires. Readers learn early on that Rose […]

You don’t have to be a fan of archeology, the supernatural or the American Southwest to enjoy Come In and Cover Me, a smart, engrossing ghost story about 37-year-old Santa Fe archeologist Ren Taylor, whose discoveries are sometimes guided by the spirits of the ancient people who once lived where Ren digs.

Winner of Barnes & Noble’s Discover Award for her first novel, The Well and the Mine, Gin Phillips has created a story as haunting, compelling and lyrical as Ren’s relationship with her brother Scott, who died when Ren was 12. Scott announces his midnight, ghostly visits by softly singing Bring Springsteen or humming Bob Dylan—music that brings Ren back to happier times, before Scott was killed and her parents’ marriage fell apart.

But this connection with the past brings more than good memories. With what she believes is Scott’s help, Ren sees a female spirit that leads her to unearth a stunning set of prehistoric bowls and a huge archeological find. The bowls seem to be the work of the Mimbres Indian tribe, who were known for their simple geometric designs and vanished in New Mexico around the start of the 12th century. Convinced that the bowls are connected to the spirit who guided her to them, Ren becomes determined to piece together the story of the artist’s life, shard by shard.

When fellow archeologist Silas Cooper believes he has discovered more bowls made by this artist, Ren rushes to the site. She and Silas quickly become more than colleagues, but as their relationship grows, so does Ren’s ability to connect with the dead and the spirits related to her Mimbres artist. And not surprisingly for Ren or the reader, Ren soon learns that she must choose between the ghosts or Silas; the past or the present.

Despite a somewhat predictable plot, Come In and Cover Me is a moving, well-crafted story brought to life through believable characters, vivid details and honest prose. Phillips has provided the reader with a true find—an ending surprising, satisfying and memorable novel that illustrates the power of good storytelling.

You don’t have to be a fan of archeology, the supernatural or the American Southwest to enjoy Come In and Cover Me, a smart, engrossing ghost story about 37-year-old Santa Fe archeologist Ren Taylor, whose discoveries are sometimes guided by the spirits of the ancient people who once lived where Ren digs. Winner of Barnes […]

Only someone who has actually served as a wartime diplomat in northern Afghanistan could craft a novel as heartbreaking, real and compelling as Patricia McArdle’s Farishta. Winner of Amazon’s 2010 Breakthrough Novel Award, Farishta is the story of 47-year-old American foreign service officer Angela Morgan, who 21 years earlier lost both her husband and her unborn baby when the U.S. Embassy in Beirut was bombed. Still in mourning and suffering from PTSD, Angela has reached a dead end in both her personal and professional lives. An emotional wreck, she is given a choice by her U.S. State Department superiors: retire early or accept an assignment at an isolated British Army compound in the dangerous—and devastatingly poor—Balkh province of Afghanistan, where she will be the only woman and only American.

Angela’s reluctant acceptance takes her, along with readers, to a place few see: a stark area of Afghanistan where women are imprisoned for “marriage crimes,” families burn garbage for cooking fuel and archaeologists fight as hard as soldiers to save 2,000-year-old Hellenistic treasures.

New York City native and Marine Corps brat McArdle uses her more than 30 years in the U.S. diplomatic corps to bring Angela to life. Other characters equally vivid and engaging are Rahim, the Afghan translator who in many ways becomes the child Angela never had; Nilofar, a young, fearless law student who through her own work battling for Afghan women’s rights helps Angela find a new sense of purpose; and Mark Davies, a handsome British intelligence officer who helps Angela rediscover her spirit and her heart.

In the Dari language spoken in northern Afghanistan, the name Angela means “farishta” or “angel.” For many of the Afghan women and children in this novel, Angela becomes an unexpected angel. McArdle is also a real “farishta” for Afghanistan, as she demonstrates that even though the need for international military aid is coming to an end, the need for international human aid has just begun. Farishta is a fabulous debut novel, as readable as it is relevant.

Read an interview with Patricia McArdle about Farishta.

Only someone who has actually served as a wartime diplomat in northern Afghanistan could craft a novel as heartbreaking, real and compelling as Patricia McArdle’s Farishta. Winner of Amazon’s 2010 Breakthrough Novel Award, Farishta is the story of 47-year-old American foreign service officer Angela Morgan, who 21 years earlier lost both her husband and her […]

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