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In her new novel Half a Heart, Rosellen Brown uses the experiences of one woman to examine the dual themes of motherhood and race. Brown, noted author of Before and After and Civil Wars allows the reader a deep look at the interior terrain of Miriam Vener, a beleaguered woman confronting the responsibilities of parenting and the challenges of racial prejudice.

A former civil rights activist, Miriam has seen her life change in many ways some subtle, some obvious. When she was a young woman involved in the intense Mississippi civil rights campaigns of the 1960s, Miriam possessed a liberal, humanist outlook that opened her to a forbidden affair with a black professor at a local college. That controversial liaison produced a daughter who is relinquished to her father after a heated child custody dispute.

Now 18 years later, Miriam is married to a wealthy ophthalmologist in the upper-middle-class suburbs of Houston, with children and an aging mother preoccupied with death. The staid, comfortable life of affluence has sparked feelings of ambivalence and tension, fostering her desire to reconnect with the daughter she gave up years before. The novel soars as Miriam seeks out her African-American daughter, Veronica, who is a troubling mix of sensitivity, intelligence, conflicting emotions, and racial pride. Brown pulls no punches in her insights into the character of these two women separated by both race and class. Veronica wants to make her mother pay dearly for her long absence from her life, and some of the book’s most potent scenes occur when the pair clash in their emotional tug of war.

Through her reunion with her daughter, Miriam gets to reassess her roles as mother, wife, and former activist, as well as examine the themes of identity, intimacy, and femininity. While Brown’s astute observations about the value of wealth and influence are noteworthy, her views on love and race are especially fascinating. Describing the courtship between Eljay and Miriam during the perilous times of the civil rights movement, she writes: She was amazed at what she saw: that, no part of them forbidden, they were beautiful together, they were remaking the whole ugly world, and yes, he was right, she had not failed to notice their differences. It would be easy to be overwhelmed by the novel’s complex themes and its many heart-wrenching scenes and miss the book’s low-key humanity and gentle honesty.

The resolution of the novel’s overlapping conflicts is handled with delicacy, care, and precision. This is the power and grace of Brown’s most introspective, accomplished work to date.

In her new novel Half a Heart, Rosellen Brown uses the experiences of one woman to examine the dual themes of motherhood and race. Brown, noted author of Before and After and Civil Wars allows the reader a deep look at the interior terrain of Miriam Vener, a beleaguered woman confronting the responsibilities of parenting […]
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Paul Evans, the best-selling author of the phenomenally successful The Christmas Box trilogy, has created yet another masterpiece. The Looking Glass, Evans’s seventh book, is poised to join the runaway success of his past work.

Set in the town of Bethel, Utah, during the pioneering days of the late 1800s, The Looking Glass is the fascinating love story of Hunter Bell and Quaye MacGandley and the struggles they undergo on the way to finding that love.

Bell, a former Presbyterian minister-turned-gambler, has spent most of his adult life running; he ran from his ministry to escape the never-ceasing memory of his wife’s tragic death and the young daughter he had to leave behind in Pennsylvania. Once a refugee from frontier justice, Bell is seemingly content to live out a solitary life in the rugged mountains above Bethel. Until, that is, during a blinding blizzard, he rescues a beautiful Irish maiden who turns his empty world upside-down.

As a young woman, Quaye MacGandley was sold into marital slavery during the Irish potato famine and brought to America against her will, finally ending up in Bethel. Abused and thrown out into a raging Utah snowstorm by her brutal husband, Quaye struggles to escape this tragic life.

Surrounded by a hungry pack of wolves, she is mercifully rescued by Hunter Bell, who nurses her back to health. His tender ministrations help to heal her wounds, but can they heal her broken heart? And, in turn, can Hunter open his heart to his own greatest fear: that he might love again? This beautiful tale of Hunter and Quaye is an inspiring, heartwarming story of how two wounded people help restore each other through the unending power of love and understanding. Written in short, simple chapters, Richard Evans skillfully creates yet another memorable cast of endearing characters who will touch lives worldwide.

A consummate storyteller, Evans’s work reflects a message of hope, love, and faith. Truly magical in content, The Looking Glass will delight and entertain new readers, and inspire and encourage Evans’s established legions of loyal fans. ¦ Sharon Galligar Chance is a book reviewer from Wichita Falls, Texas.

Paul Evans, the best-selling author of the phenomenally successful The Christmas Box trilogy, has created yet another masterpiece. The Looking Glass, Evans’s seventh book, is poised to join the runaway success of his past work. Set in the town of Bethel, Utah, during the pioneering days of the late 1800s, The Looking Glass is the […]
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The Wholeness of a Broken Heart is the kind of book that makes you want to curl up and be left in solitude so that you can become fully immersed in the lives of its inhabitants. The story is told in the words of four generations of Jewish women, from the great-grandmother Channa, born in Koretz, Poland, in 1880, to the great-granddaughter Hannah, for whom she is named, living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in l989. Although the story focuses on particular generations of Jewish mothers and daughters, it transcends these cultural boundaries to include women’s relationships in all cultures.

The story centers around Hannah and her relationship with her mother, which was intensely intimate until a casual comment catapulted them into irreparable separation. Hannah struggles with this loss, relying on the comfort and insight of her grandmother to help her survive. As we go back and forth through time, we discover the secrets and events that make this family of women both weak and strong, passive and domineering, depressed and joyful.

The stories involve you in the ties that bind these women together and the struggles that drive them apart. Katie Singer’s style is engaging, and the tales are colorfully laced with the Yiddish language, which makes for a poignant expression of the lessons and emotions that are passed down through the generations. These Yiddish expressions create a special intimacy not typically found in modern life, where we so often lack the right words to convey our feelings. The title itself comes from an old Yiddish proverb, Es is nitto a gantsere zach vi ah tsiprochene harts, There’s nothing more whole than a broken heart. This book, however, makes one’s heart full with the knowledge that love and family, while often the cause of much heartache, are ultimately the very things that make us whole again. Lorraine Rose is a writer and psychotherapist in Washington, D.

C.

The Wholeness of a Broken Heart is the kind of book that makes you want to curl up and be left in solitude so that you can become fully immersed in the lives of its inhabitants. The story is told in the words of four generations of Jewish women, from the great-grandmother Channa, born in […]
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So what makes a novel a Christian novel? There's no quick answer. The four novels considered here are but a small taste of the wide variety now available in Christian fiction. Each fills the category's basic requirements: good and evil are clearly defined, and characters are tested by real-world temptations and aware of what their choices mean in religious terms.

For suspense fans
Sinner is part of author Ted Dekker's Paradise series, which, along with the Circle Trilogy and the Lost Books, makes up his Books of History Chronicles. Dekker describes them as "circular, not linear," and has created a world readers can really dive into. This fast-paced tale is a thriller involving characters with very special powers, a series of lynchings and a constitutional amendment limiting free speech in order to prevent hate crimes. One of the amendment's results is the National Tolerance Act, which "opens the doors to laws that could make the teachings of Christ a hate crime" because they include claiming that Christ "is the only way to enter the Kingdom, [implying] that another's path is wrong."

Dekker is especially adept at examining the way people can be seduced into thinking that their talents give them rights others don't deserve. Sinner is thought-provoking; it left me feeling uncomfortable, but that may have been Dekker's intention.

The dangers of tolerance are also part of the plot of James David Jordan's Forsaken. Former Secret Service agent Taylor Pasbury, a woman who is haunted by her loss-laden past and who drinks and avoids relationships, gets a big client for her new security firm: televangelist Simon Mason, who's been getting threats from Muslim extremists and is especially concerned about the safety of his daughter and only child. Simon, too, has had a large personal loss to shoulder in the death of his wife, but his faith has buttressed him. Taylor is drawn to Simon, who is not without flaws and secrets, and who can be extraordinarily thick when it comes to women.

Simon's faith is tested in a terrible way when his daughter is kidnapped. The drama then moves to another stage, and some last-minute surprises are sprung. Forsaken is a highly readable book, and Taylor is a character who is worth another visit—Jordan is hard at work on the sequel, Double-Cross.

Traditional romance
Cathy Marie Hake's Whirlwind is well named: it's a traditional historical romance that moves from England to Texas without a hitch. After Millicent Fairweather loses the two little girls she's been nanny to for years when their father unaccountably decides to send them to boarding school, she sets off for America with her sister and brother-in-law. When widower Daniel Clark discovers his young son's nursemaid has fled the ship, Millicent finds herself employed. Millicent is something of a super nanny who soon wins over her young charge and, unbeknownst to her, his father. Although they end up marrying for the sake of appearances, each is hiding romantic feelings for the other. This is classic Christian fiction: the characters are devout, and it is common for them to talk with and about God. It is tempting to complain about the too-neat ending, or to find Daniel too perfect. But this frothy tale will entertain fans of inspirational fiction and romance.

Women's fiction
In Heavenly Places, the affluent African-American residents of P.G. County, Maryland, also talk to God regularly, even the not-entirely-saved Treva Langston. In Kimberly Cash Tate's charming debut, Treva has reluctantly returned to the place where she unhappily grew up and the mother who caused her misery. She can't find a new job (she was a lawyer in the Washington, D.C., area), and now has to stay at home with her three daughters, something she's never done. Treva can't get out of joining her sister's prayer group for stay-at-home mothers, but she doesn't feel at home with the women in the group.

Readers will identify with Treva, berate her for her lack of appreciation for her husband (who is on a level with Whirlwind's Daniel in terms of perfection) and her inability to see how great her daughters are, all the while admiring her for her honesty. Treva is not guilty of wanting it all, because she only wanted the career, not the children; and like most of us she's never had it all because something has always had to be sacrificed in order for her to have something else. In the end, she finds balance and discovers what Heavenly Places are.

So what makes a novel a Christian novel? There's no quick answer. The four novels considered here are but a small taste of the wide variety now available in Christian fiction. Each fills the category's basic requirements: good and evil are clearly defined, and characters are tested by real-world temptations and aware of what their […]
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Who doesn't like food and love, together or apart? Together, they are magic, and whether it began with Chocolat or Like Water for Chocolate, "foodie fiction" is hot. Three new choices are showcased below: all centered on a female character at or near 40, all tending toward the literary rather than strictly romance or chick lit. Each one is a sensual exploration of foods simple and complex, homey and exotic, and above all, slow. Slow food allows time for the invocation of vivid and luxuriant metaphors (a food is said to be something else: a particular feeling, wet autumn leaves, a magnolia petal, a lover's lower lip, the smell of a mahogany desk and so on). Some descriptions are so inventive they verge on outright cross-sensory synesthesia. And be forewarned—each of these novels will make you very, very hungry.

A pinch of humor

Nancy Spiller's Entertaining Disasters is aptly titled. The double entendre captures the plight of the unnamed narrator to a tee. A freelance food writer, she makes it her business, literally, to orchestrate exquisite dinner parties and record every detail for newspaper and magazine articles. Unfortunately, her journalistic output belongs not under "Style" or "Living" or "Food," but firmly under "Fiction." She makes it all up. Why? Because, without exception, every dinner party she has actually sponsored was an unmitigated disaster from start to finish. As a result, her social anxieties have escalated into party paralysis. So, for 10 years she has conducted only imaginary gatherings: sparkling dinner parties peopled by an anonymous and utterly fictitious roster of L.A.'s most beautiful.

Until now. Suddenly, her editor, who has no inkling of her secret, invites himself to her next soiree. Since he's a busy man, the first available date is five months off, which gives our narrator nearly half a year to obsess about one dinner party. Her borderline stream-of-consciousness, tangential terror splits into fascinating diversions about food and food history, and ultimately, about herself. Her past gradually emerges, pulled from silence by a smell, a taste, a touch or a memory of a particular ingredient. Now, at midlife, she is ready to examine the list of her own ingredients: who she is and what she wants.


A dash of romance

The central character of The Lost Recipe for Happiness, by Barbara O'Neal, is also starting over. Elena Alvarez arrives in Aspen poised for the professional opportunity of a lifetime: her own kitchen in an upscale, new restaurant. Poised, that is, with a broken body, a broken family and a string of broken relationships behind her. Thirty-seven, unmarried with no children, she is deservedly proud of her decades of slow, hard work up the kitchen ladder from slave to sous to chef.

Elena has been rebuilding her life since she was a teenager, when a horrific accident killed her boyfriend and several family members. Elena alone survived—albeit with horrific injuries—and she remains haunted by her past. So much so, perhaps, that she is in danger of missing a different opportunity: the possibility of true love. The unlikely candidate is Julian Liswood, who is not only a four-time-divorced hotshot film director, but her new boss, as well. The story alternates between third-person viewpoints of these two, and as the intricacies of each is revealed, the plot thickens quicker than a béchamel sauce. A nice touch is the bit of magic realism O'Neal (aka novelist Barbara Samuel) throws into the mix, giving Elena a bit of ghostly guidance and a sixth sense that serves her well.


Mix with friendship

In The School of Essential Ingredients, by Erica Bauermeister, eight people are brought together in a monthly cooking class with an intuitive and slightly mysterious chef, Lillian. With the exception of one couple, all are strangers to one another and to a certain degree, to themselves. Lillian's slow but startling method of instruction spills over into their inner lives, gently nudging each to explore what needs to be examined. Along the way, of course, they cook. True to Lillian's style, they cook without written recipes, guided by senses, memory and instinct.

Perhaps the most satisfying character study is the glimpse of Lillian's own genesis as a chef, and her earliest attempts in the kitchen. As a damaged child, she begins with little more than sheer will. With patient, methodical, focused experimentation (and a little help from a Wise Woman archetype), she begins what can be described as a journey of faith. Transforming basic ingredients into new works becomes a type of spirituality, a religion. With it, she saves her own mother, finds her own calling and masters her profession. Delicious.

 

Joanna Brichetto is trying to slow down.

Who doesn't like food and love, together or apart? Together, they are magic, and whether it began with Chocolat or Like Water for Chocolate, "foodie fiction" is hot. Three new choices are showcased below: all centered on a female character at or near 40, all tending toward the literary rather than strictly romance or chick […]

Reading in the summertime has a different pace. Life slows down as the weather heats up, leaving readers with more time to savor a special book. Whether you’re heading to the beach, cooling off in the mountains or simply relaxing at home, add one of these recommendations to your summer reading list.

A MASTER OF APPALACHIAN FICTION
Author Sharyn McCrumb has forged a successful career by dipping her pen into the inkwell of Appalachian culture and conveying the region’s stories to the rest of the world. A resident of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains herself, McCrumb has the unique ability to paint mythic portraits from the past and present of the people who call this region home.

Her latest offering, The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, skewers folks who distort the truth, notably big-city journalists who have arrived in 1930s rural Virginia to cover a murder trial. The case makes headlines only because it contains sensational elements sure to sell papers: A beautiful, educated young teacher is on trial for killing her coal-miner father.

McCrumb introduces two veteran journalists, Rose Hanelon and Henry Jernigan, as well as their accompanying photographer Shade Baker, as the vultures that promptly descend upon Wise County as soon as the accused, Erma Morton, is booked for the crime. Instead of communicating the facts, these three will relay whatever headlines are most likely to increase the paper’s circulation. In Rose’s own words: “What you emphasized and what you omitted told the viewers what they ought to think of the subject.”

There is one honest, fledgling writer in the ranks of gawkers as the court case unfolds. Newbie reporter Carl Jenkins struggles with separating fact from opinion as he tries to make a name for himself.

Readers may recognize Jenkins’ young cousin, mountain psychic Nora Bonesteel—introduced in McCrumb’s beloved Appalachian Ballad books—who arrives at Carl’s urging to help forecast the trial’s outcome.

McCrumb demonstrates her usual mastery of historical detail and pointed description of place in The Devil Amongst the Lawyers, a finely spun tale where neither guilt nor innocence is evident until the final page is turned.

—Lizza Connor Bowen

A LOVABLE HEROINE FROM ISAACS
Does anyone create more likeable characters than best-selling author Susan Isaacs?

I thought my favorite Isaacs heroine was a toss-up between feisty Amy Lincoln, the investigative reporter in Any Place I Hang My Hat, and suburban amateur detective Judith Singer of Compromising Positions and Long Time No See. But now, after reading Isaacs’ latest, As Husbands Go, there’s a new contender.

Susie B. Anthony Rabinowitz Gersten lives on Long Island with her four-year-old triplets and husband Jonah, a successful plastic surgeon, doting father and devoted husband—which makes it kind of strange when he turns up murdered in the apartment of Manhattan call girl Dorinda Dillon, stabbed in the chest with a pair of scissors.

Anxious to solve the high-profile case, detectives quickly determine that Dorinda is the culprit. She’s arrested and charged, but Susie can’t shake the feeling that everyone—police, prosecutors, her own family—is missing some piece of the puzzle. To make matters worse, her high-society mother-in-law has suddenly become Susie’s biggest critic, accusing her of pressuring Jonah to work too hard to maintain their comfortable lifestyle. And neighbors are gleefully (but not subtly) whispering about this unexpected turn of events for what seemed like the perfect family.

With her usual keen eye for detail and humor, Isaacs takes a hard look at the sometimes impenetrable, often absurd social politics of upscale New York. Susie is a winning heroine: wry, smart and self-deprecating. Fast-paced and immensely satisfying, As Husbands Go is a novel about a woman trying to prove that her charmed life was no fairy tale, and in the process learning a lot about herself.

—Amy Scribner

ANOTHER BINCHY WORTH WATCHING
If nice guys always finish last, then David, the hero of Chris Binchy’s American debut, Five Days Apart, is doomed from the start. Sweet and unassuming, he has navigated his college social life by hiding behind his gregarious friend, Alex, an immature heartbreaker who never seems to take anything seriously. Then, at a party just before graduation, David is struck by a woman in a way he never has been before, and he turns to Alex for romantic help. But Alex is as smooth as David is awkward, so he inevitably moves in on Camille himself, leaving David devastated.

David graduates from college and outwardly does everything he should—he gets a job in a bank, earns praise from his superiors and becomes a grown-up. But he can’t forget Camille, and eschews any attempt to get over her or meet anyone else. Meanwhile, Alex and Camille have moved in together, though Alex is sputtering through his stalled college career and can’t seem to make any real commitment either to her or to himself. David isolates himself, from the world and particularly from Alex, and the demise of their lifelong friendship and David’s staggering loneliness is detailed with particular insight.

Binchy—a bestseller in Ireland and the nephew of beloved author Maeve Binchy—tackles the age-old issues of love, friendship, loneliness and ambition with a surprisingly nuanced hand. There are some flaws here—the story is so simple and timeless that it doesn’t always feel completely fresh, and David’s total social paralysis undermines his narrative sympathy at times. But where Binchy excels is his subtle commentary on this new generation, clearly stunted by an unparalleled amount of choice. The ways in which David and Alex treat their freedom—and friendship—is fascinating, far beyond their conflict with Camille, and their dilemma makes this perceptive debut stand out from America’s lackluster lad lit scene.

—Rebecca Shapiro

A LIGHT, DREAMY READ
Francesca, Louise Shaffer’s heroine in Looking for a Love Story, won the publishing jackpot. Yesterday she was an unheard-of writer. Today she is a best-selling author. Now the publisher is panting for a sequel, but when Francesca fires up her laptop, she is met with radio silence. For months. And as that sound of silence becomes all-consuming, her very handsome husband moves out (or on). The only thing sticking by her side is her dutiful dog, Annie, and the few extra pounds inertia brings to someone frozen in fear of failure.

And it is Annie who jumpstarts this tale. After all, a dog that lives in a Manhattan condo must be walked. And fed. So income must come from somewhere, even if the dog’s owner has writer’s block.

After several ill-fated attempts, Francesca finally lands a freelance writing assignment with “Chicky,” an old woman who wants to tell the story of her 1920s vaudevillian forebears. To Francesca, it sounds a bit lame, but a job is a job. Then for some inexplicable reason the characters start to get into Francesca’s blood. Words flow effortlessly onto the page. But Chicky holds a mighty big secret that sets the stage for life lessons that will smack Francesca right between the eyes and, to her delight, squelch that radio silence.

A story all tied up in a pretty bow? No, but you’ll find several real love stories from the past and present smoothly braided together in this light, dreamy read.

—Dee Ann Grand

AN ESSAY COLLECTION WORTH SHARING
No one would call Sloane Crosley’s first essay collection, I Was Told There’d Be Cake, juvenile, but her second effort, How Did You Get This Number, is decidedly more grown-up. It matures, say, from a fabric scrunchie to a sleek hair clasp without losing any of the can-you-believe-this-is-actually-happening-to-me moments. Crosley, who lives in New York City and is developing her first book as an HBO series, writes like your enviably witty, completely chic friend who also swears like a sailor when relaying a story.

Crosley begins her essays with captivating leads, the first sentences telling stories of their own. In “Light Pollution,” a small anecdote flourishes and crescendos, taking the reader from an Alaskan car-trip musing to a baby bear’s shocking mercy killing. “An Abbreviated Catalog of Tongues” details her family’s escapades with pets—from a stingray named Herb to a blind bichon frise to a series of birds that died mysterious deaths. And finally, the collection’s title comes from “Off the Back of a Truck,” in which Crosley has a perfect working relationship with a dishonest furniture store worker and a not-so-perfect relationship with a handsome writer named Ben.

Crosley writes like a student of literature, figuring out along the way which techniques work, which words are funny and how seemingly separate storylines parallel. She seems to unravel the morals to her own stories aloud, while the reader almost embarrassingly listens in. Her stories are joyful and nostalgic, but above all, they are really funny. Her new essay collection, like the last one, should be taken on trains and planes, read on the beach, shared and enjoyed. Crosley is going to be around for awhile; best to get on board now and say you knew her back when she bought furniture off the black market and played charades with Portuguese circus clowns in Lisbon.

—Katie Lewis

ANOTHER HIT FROM WEINER
Jennifer Weiner's Fly Away Home opens with a scandal: a philandering senator caught with a much-younger mistress. But after the familiar headlines fade, a broken family flounders in their wake.

Weiner creates realistic characters in the senator’s wife, Sylvie, and daughters Lizzie and Diana, all central to this story of unraveling and rebuilding relationships. Sylvie, who has long abandoned her personal ambitions to buoy her husband’s political aspirations, faces her newfound independence with a mix of joy and trepidation. She finally has the opportunity to pursue interests like cooking, dating and mothering the daughters she overlooked while trying to be the perfect politician’s wife, but she finds that freedom isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be.

Meanwhile, Lizzie and Diana are dealing with their own set of problems: Lizzie, a recovering addict, tries to prove to her family that she’s not a lifetime screw-up. However, she gets herself into a predicament that could grease the hinges for a relapse. Diana, a successful doctor, wife and mother, struggles to maintain a pristine exterior while her own loveless marriage deteriorates.

While the subject matter is heavy, Fly Away Home isn’t a downer. Weiner’s light touch, especially evident in Diana’s sarcastic dialogue as well as with the amusing Selma, Sylvie’s Jewish, feminist mother who never lacks an opinion, makes this a quick and engaging summer read.

—Lizza Connor Bowen

FOR THE MUSIC GEEK IN ALL OF US
In 1995, Nick Hornby gave a gift to music geeks everywhere with High Fidelity, a charming novel with a hero who somehow knew all the same obscure B-sides that they did. In 2007, music journalist Rob Sheffield picked up where Hornby left off with his heartbreaking memoir, Love is a Mix Tape, about, in equal parts, Nirvana and the crippling loss of his young wife, Renee. Now Sheffield is back with the same encyclopedic knowledge of pop music and touching, resonant prose in Talking to Girls About Duran Duran, this time tackling two profoundly painful topics—adolescence and the 1980s.

Growing up a nerdy Catholic boy in a Boston suburb, Sheffield turned to music for the same reasons as everyone else: to fit in, and to be able to talk to girls. He doesn’t really achieve either goal, as a hilariously awkward conversation with one potential conquest attests—she assures him that while he is sadly destined to remain a geek for life, thus giving him no chance with her, one day he will meet “others like him.” It’s an oddly poignant moment, and pinpoints what’s so special about Sheffield’s writing—sheer recognition, for anyone who has ever felt a little bit different.

Amid Sheffield’s adolescent angst, too, is incredible, almost stream-of-consciousness commentary on 1980s music, from total one-hit wonders to the phenomena of David Bowie, Boy George and, of course, Duran Duran. The minutiae of his musical mantras can feel overwrought at times, overwhelming the seemingly effortless charm of his childhood stories, from an idyllic summer job as an ice-cream man to his awe for and helplessness in the face of three younger sisters. But fans will appreciate his total nerddom and value his impressive knowledge of and, above all, raw emotional response to music.

—Rebecca Shapiro

Reading in the summertime has a different pace. Life slows down as the weather heats up, leaving readers with more time to savor a special book. Whether you’re heading to the beach, cooling off in the mountains or simply relaxing at home, add one of these recommendations to your summer reading list. A MASTER OF […]
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With more and more new writers getting published each month, it’s sometimes daunting to decide which newly minted authors to add to your reading list. From historical novels to literary fiction to mysteries that will keep you up all night, here’s a look at the best debut fiction of the season.

SUSPENSEFUL FAMILY DRAMA

The basic plot of The Swimming Pool sounds like a soap opera: A devoted wife and mother of two is murdered. Shortly after, her husband—a suspect—dies in a car accident. Seven years later, the son of the dead couple has a steamy affair. His lover? The woman who was his late father’s mistress.

Under Holly LeCraw’s spell, what could have been pure pulp is instead a passionate and suspenseful family drama and murder mystery, set during the sultry summertime of Cape Cod. LeCraw skillfully alternates between past and present, allowing the reader to observe Marcella Atkinson’s affair with Cecil McClatchey; the consequences it has on both her family and his; and her later relationship with Jed, Cecil’s son.

The aftermath of betrayal and the cost of passion loom large in the story’s background. Did Marcella and Cecil’s affair cause the death of Cecil’s wife, Betsy? Was Marcella’s temporary happiness with Cecil worth disrupting the lives of her family? Is it possible to find happiness after horrific events?

Although LeCraw’s descriptive prose is sensual and worth savoring, readers will whip through The Swimming Pool, eager to find out what really happened on the night of Betsy’s murder. At the novel’s conclusion, they’ll relish the fact that LeCraw is a debut author—how thrilling it is to anticipate what she’ll come up with next.

—Eliza Borné

BEHIND THE FREAK SHOW

To the modern thrill-seeker, the main event of P.T. Barnum’s Circus may be the strangely trained animals or death-defying stunts. The original circus, however, began with a much humbler lineup, as “A Museum of Curiosities” in New York City in the mid-1800s.

In The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno, readers get an inside peek at the lives behind the freak show, home to skeleton men, oversized beasts and bearded women. But the performers in Barnum’s sideshow are real people, complete with genuine struggles, emotions, ambitions and love lives. The story’s protagonist, Fortuno, or “Barthy,” is one such multifaceted character.

After meeting a new addition to the cast, Mrs. Iell Adams, Barthy’s tiny world is widened by his own curiosity. Intrigued by her alluring look, he begins to question his own “talent,” asking himself for the first time if he has chosen his life or if it has chosen him.

Trudging through his doubt, he follows the impulses of his newfound feelings, sometimes to his own detriment, and often leaving others in the wake of his decisions. Beginning as a troubled soul who rarely stopped to dwell on the past or realize the implications of the present, Barthy emerges transformed by the twists and turns of his true self-discovery.

Bryson’s writing invites readers directly onto the showroom floor with her apt descriptions of the culture surrounding the Museum life. She’s done her digging—and it’s clear in her detailed portrait of the complexities and conflicts of a life behind glass. This is an apropos end-of-summer pick for the historian and/or the endlessly curious. Whether or not they’re familiar with Barnum and his enterprise, readers will find much to appreciate in this story about the life-transforming power of love.

—Cory Bordonaro

THE DEPTHS OF LIFE AND DEATH

One of the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease is the tangling of the fibers used for sending and receiving neural messages, particularly in the regions of the brain associated with memory. As one of the leading researchers into the biological prevention of Alzheimer’s, Victor Aaron can identify all the signs of the disease with textbook precision, but it is only upon losing his wife in a car accident that he truly begins to understand the fickle and fleeting nature of memory.

In Rosecrans Baldwin’s You Lost Me There, Victor has memorialized his marriage as picture-perfect, but when he stumbles upon his wife’s private reflections on their relationship, recorded for their therapist, he begins to realize just how incompatible his own perceptions of the relationship are relative to his wife’s. As he delves deeper into Sarah’s recollections, Victor finds himself increasingly overcome with grief as he struggles to reconcile his memories of their grand romance. With the dawning understanding that “you never know what lurks beneath people, even when they’re perfect on paper,” Victor finds he must mourn Sarah all over again.

Unrestrained yet elegant, You Lost Me There is a powerful meditation on the all-consuming nature of grief and the power of memory as both redeemer and destroyer. A novel of contradictions, it plumbs the depths of life and death, sense and sentimentality, youth and maturity—all while tackling the big quandary of how we can hold on to the past while moving forward. This is a novel for which all the romantic intellectuals of the world will rejoice, as Baldwin proves there can be such a thing as a cerebral author who writes with his heart.

—Stephenie Harrison

SECRETS OF A SCOTTISH TOWN

The post-WWII town featured in A.D. Scott’s enjoyable novel is not a happy place. The weather in this Scottish Highlands village is often dismal and the people are hidebound, which leads too often to downtrodden women, mistreated children and a reflexive distrust of strangers. Then a little boy dies. At first it’s assumed that his death was accidental, but the town is gripped by horror as it’s revealed that the child was murdered. Who could have done such a thing?

The crime is of special interest to the staff of the Highland Gazette: Joanne, the typist, married to a brute who beats both her and their children; Rob, the charming cub reporter; McAllister, the editor-in-chief; and McLeod, “the subeditor and all-around fusspot know-it-all.” As the mystery of the boy’s death grows more tangled and frustrating, it’s McAllister who finds a possible clue to solving the crime in a secret trauma he’s been nursing for years.

Scott shows us that many in the town have secrets. Some are trivial, like the secrets children keep to stay out of trouble. But some are monstrous. Scott not only captures the townsfolk’s insularity and way of speaking, but writes beautifully about the natural world that surrounds them.

Written with humor, compassion and a fine sense of tragedy, A Small Death in the Great Glen is the first in a series by this promising new author.

—Arlene McKanic

THE MULTICULTURAL EXPERIENCE

Shoko was eight years old when American bombs fell on Nagasaki; she and her family experienced the repercussions from that day throughout their lives. Her younger brother Taro grew up hating all Americans, so when Shoko decides to try to “better” herself by marrying an American GI, Taro vows he will never speak to her again.

After relocating to the States with her new husband, Shoko struggles to become an American. She is aided by a book given to her by her mother when she left Japan, How to Be an American Housewife, but still finds it difficult to fit in. Margaret Dilloway, whose own mother was Japanese, writes perceptively about the neighbors who never visit, the classmates of Shoko’s daughter, Sue, who laugh about her mother’s accent, and PTA meetings where Shoko is painfully out of place.

Years later, in San Diego, Shoko has a weak heart, and knows she may die before she has the necessary operation to repair it. She longs to visit Japan once again and reconcile with Taro—“the only one who knew me, the real Shoko.” She asks Sue (now a divorced mother of precocious 12-year-old Helena) to go to Japan in her place—to try and find her uncle Taro. Sue agrees to go, Helena in tow; their journey becomes a revelation, in a myriad of ways. Sue learns things about her mother’s culture she had never heard of, finds cousins she never knew she had and comes to realize how much her Japanese roots really mean to her—and to Helena.

In this emotionally rich debut, Dilloway delves into all familial relationships: mother-daughter, father-son, husband-wife and sister-brother—each one both complicated and enriched by the added ingredient of the multicultural experience. Readers will easily relate to her touching, often humorous story of the way unbreakable family ties can stretch over decades, and from one generation to another.

—Deb Donovan

A ROAD TRIP WORTH THE RIDE

Bill Warrington, a cantankerous old man with Alzheimer’s disease, believes he has one last shot at something. But as the story unfolds, we see that every character has one last chance to drop the baggage from their angry past. All that is a bit iffy, however, since the key to bringing about a happy ending depends on a crusty grandfather on the brink of forgetting what he was trying to achieve in the first place.

Enter Bill’s granddaughter, April, a typical teenager looking for any chance to escape her tightly wound mother. And escape she does after yet another argument at home followed by a bit of luck. As it happens, Bill is ready to hit the road for one last hurrah in his ancient Impala.

In April’s eyes, this road trip’s purpose is to fulfill her dream of making it to California to become a rock star. But Bill has a secret or two. His plans for this trip are to reunite his feuding sons and his domineering daughter, April’s mother. But as the odometer miles add up, it becomes clear to April that Bill may not be able to pull off this shenanigan with his mental stamina fading faster every day. And how is a 15-year-old, alone and far from home, supposed to handle this deteriorating geezer while helping him achieve a highly unlikely reconciliation?

Bill Warrington’s Last Chance turns out to be quite a ride for all the characters involved—and it proves that taking a chance may not turn out exactly as you had planned, but it’s darn worth a try.

—Dee Ann Grand

 

A BUOYANT BEACH READ WITH HEART

Susanna Daniel’s Stiltsville is rooted in a community of stilt houses towering above Biscayne Bay, Florida, where the author spent much of her childhood. Daniel masterfully evokes the sticky Miami heat and refreshing ocean breezes, but there is so much more to these pages than fetching seaside images. Daniel’s characters are emotionally complex and so believable that Stiltsville almost reads as a memoir rather than a work of fiction.

The book’s beating heart is Frances Ellerby, whom readers follow on a moving journey that hits all the milestones: marriage, parenthood, trying illness, burial of loved ones and the highs and lows in between. Frances shares the spotlight with her attorney husband Dennis, only daughter Margo and son-in-law—with whom she chaffs—Stuart. On the periphery are Dennis’ parents and sister, characters that aid in relaying a story of unwavering familial support and friendship.

Daniel strikes a perfect balance of wit, weakness and tenderness in Stiltsville. As Frances raises a daughter, contemplates infidelity and cares for an ailing husband, her values are challenged and ultimately defined. It is not as light as other beach reads on the market, but Stiltsville emerges wonderfully buoyant.

—Lizza Connor Bowen
 

 

With more and more new writers getting published each month, it’s sometimes daunting to decide which newly minted authors to add to your reading list. From historical novels to literary fiction to mysteries that will keep you up all night, here’s a look at the best debut fiction of the season. SUSPENSEFUL FAMILY DRAMA The basic plot […]
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In the spirit of the season, we have gathered a group of new novels that delightfully explore the elusive nature of love. If you’re looking for fresh insights concerning the inscrutable ways of Cupid, then peruse the books below. Here’s to true love!

A VERY LITERARY ROMANCE
Fans of old-fashioned amour will cozy up to Love Letters. The novel’s leading lady, Laura Horsley, is a bibliophile to the bone. When her bookstore closes and she finds herself out of a job, she impulsively joins the organizing committee of a literary festival. A misunderstanding leads the committee to believe that she has inside connections to Dermot Flynn, a celebrated writer notorious for his love of privacy. Laura, who has adored Dermot’s work since her university days, is dispatched to Ireland to sign him up for the festival. Can she charm the reclusive author into participating? It’s an incredible mission, and one that seems doomed to fail when Laura finally meets the difficult Dermot. Wrestling with his latest work, he’s moody and gruff, yet Laura finds him irresistible, and as she tries to commit him to the festival, the events that transpire defy her wildest fantasies of fandom. With Laura, British author Katie Fforde has created a spirited heroine the reader can’t help rooting for, and she spins her adventures into an unforgettable story. This hilarious romance will convince the harshest cynic that love conquers all.

DATING IN THE DIGITAL AGE
A shrewd depiction of romance in an era of instant connection, Teresa Medeiros’ Goodnight, Tweetheart demonstrates the ways in which courting via computer can expedite seduction—but also trick the heart and muddle the mind. So it goes for the story’s central character, novelist Abby Donovan. Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Abby’s a writer with serious aspirations. How, then, to account for her addiction to Twitter, the famous social networking site that’s a bit, well, frivolous?

Led to the website by her publicist, Abby intends, at first, to tweet only for promotional purposes, but business gives way to romance when she connects with the bookish “MarkBaynard,” a charmer who can pack poetry into the briefest tweet. As the two forge an online relationship, Abby finds it increasingly difficult to concentrate on her work. Her story unfolds, in part, through tweets and direct messages, as she compulsively corresponds with a guy who seems, onscreen, like Mr. Right. But how much does Abby really know about Mark? The mysteries and questions Medeiros puts into play are timeless, and they give extra depth to this cleverly crafted tale.

L’AMOUR PARISIAN
A poet, food critic and radio personality, Hervé Le Tellier is known in France as a Renaissance man. His 15th book, a piece of chic, contemporary fiction called Enough About Love, chronicles the turbulent romantic lives of a group of well-to-do Parisians. Elegant, accomplished and on the brink of 40, Anna has a solid marriage and a pair of adorable children. Yet when she meets Yves, an offbeat writer, she’s more than a little intrigued. Likewise, Louise—a successful lawyer, wife and mother—experiences sparks with Thomas, who happens to be Anna’s psychiatrist.

Blindsided by emotion, the lives of all four lovers are transformed virtually overnight. This provocative novel unfolds in brief chapters, each of which offers the perspective of a different character, creating a richly textured mosaic of incident and emotion. For Anna and Louise, the comforts of family are threatened by surprising and potent passion. It’s a classic battle—sudden desire versus the long-cultivated bonds of monogamy—and Le Tellier uses the conflict to explore the difficult decisions that so often accompany love. A wise and witty writer, he brings Parisian flair to this tale of romantic entanglement.

LOVE WITHOUT LIMITS
A sensitive rendering of a remarkable friendship, The Intimates, Ralph Sassone’s accomplished debut novel, examines love in its many varied forms and the demands it makes on the human heart. Kindred spirits, Robbie and Maize gravitate toward each other in high school, but romance fails to blossom between them. Instead, they become steadfast friends, attending the same college and supporting each other as they enter the “real world.” Both struggle to make sense of adolescence even as they embark upon adulthood. Maize—at heart a sensitive writer-type—goes into real estate in New York City but finds the experience, to put it mildly, disillusioning. Meanwhile, Robbie, who has vague designs on the publishing industry, explores romantic relationships with men.

Although Robbie and Maize are driven by desires that change with time and experience, their special intimacy—a passionate yet platonic tie—endures. With authenticity and an eye for the subtle machinations that can make or break relationships, Sassone has produced a moving, often funny novel that beautifully reflects the complexities of love.

In the spirit of the season, we have gathered a group of new novels that delightfully explore the elusive nature of love. If you’re looking for fresh insights concerning the inscrutable ways of Cupid, then peruse the books below. Here’s to true love! A VERY LITERARY ROMANCEFans of old-fashioned amour will cozy up to Love […]
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Do you prefer your fiction pulse-pounding, heart-wrenching, sprinkled with belly laughs or loaded with hairpin twists and turns? These new inspirational fiction titles offer something for everyone and are sure to deliver.

As if the complicated emotional relationships between animals and humans weren’t enough to stir the soul, Neil Abramson adds a harrowing twist of legal suspense to his moving first novel. Hauntingly told through the voice of a dead woman, Unsaid finds former veterinarian Helena caught between this world and the next as she watches her loved ones and worries about a dark secret she’s taken to the grave. Her widower, David, is still struggling to get back to his law practice, deal with his grief and find a way to care for the many rescue animals (all with their own issues) that Helena had nurtured. 

But David is forced into action when Cindy, a chimpanzee Helena had loved, suddenly becomes the target of a dangerous lab experiment. It is up to David to save Cindy through a harrowing legal battle that (unbeknownst to him) could release Helena from her sad purgatory. Unsaid explores the miracle of sentience in humans and animals, and every character in this story makes heartbreaking mistakes. This compassionate and suspenseful story will remind you to savor every moment of every meaningful relationship you may ever be blessed with—whether human or animal.

LOVE AND MARRIAGE

Whether you’ve read the previous five Bug Man novels by Tim Downs or not, Nick of Time will show you just who Nick Polchak, aka the Bug Man, really is deep down inside. Though Nick is a forensic entomologist who studies insects from murder victims’ remains, this time he faces a much more precarious situation: He’s getting married. And never has Nick Polchak ever been more out of his element. Dead bodies and bugs? No problem. Wedding cake and honeymoon decisions? Run! And whether consciously or unconsciously, he does run—or rather, accepts an invitation from the Vidocq society to attend a forensic specialists meeting just a few days before the wedding ceremony.

Alena Savard, the bride-to-be and a trainer of cadaver dogs, is none too happy about Nick’s sudden departure. Then Nick and Alena, along with several other interesting folks—most of whom are forensic professionals who relish solving dead-end crimes—suddenly find themselves fearing for their lives. Downs uses plenty of humor to expose the quirks of these odd characters. In fact, Bug Man fans might be in for a jolt at the story’s close when the day arrives for Nick and Alena to tie the knot. 

END OF DAYS

Tim LaHaye’s best-selling Left Behind series cast him as an expert on prophetic fiction. The second entry in the End Series, written by Lahaye and Craig Parshall, Thunder of Heaven, does not disappoint. Political squabbling, governments and agencies butting heads, an angry Mother Nature, global warming and unemployment aren’t only today’s top news headlines—they are the bones of this knockdown, drag-out tale that grips readers from the start. 

Almost anyone can identify with Deborah Jordan as she sits in a plane on a tarmac awaiting departure. The hassle of security, boarding and cramped seating just isn’t fun. But unbeknownst to her, her plane—along with several others in other cities departing at the same time—is part of a coordinated attack on America. From there, the pace doesn’t let up until the last page as all the members of the Jordan family do their dead level best to thwart the destruction of our country, in spite of the politically driven media, inept government, soulless terrorists, global threats and enormous personal sacrifice.

A MOTHER’S HOPE

Mark Schultz, an award-winning Christian music artist, has touched millions of hearts with his song “Letters from War.” The song tells an unforgettable story, reminding listeners of the sacrifices our military men and women make for our freedom and the unwavering courage of their families. Now, writing with Travis Thrasher, Schultz has expanded that song into a novel that follows the emotional journey of one soldier’s family, friends and community. Readers get to know one military mother, Beth, who refuses to give up hope even after two years of not knowing whether her son James is being held prisoner, wounded or dead. She finds strength in her faith, continuing to pray and write letters to her son, even as well-meaning friends say hurtful things. The ripple effect of how one missing soldier can change the lives of so many people is vividly portrayed in Letters from War. But most powerful throughout the story is Beth, who continues to give to her family and to her community even though her heart is fighting despair. 

A true master at storytelling, whether in song or in prose, Schultz has written a tale that will bring a tear and lift your spirit, all while honoring the service of our military families. 

 

Do you prefer your fiction pulse-pounding, heart-wrenching, sprinkled with belly laughs or loaded with hairpin twists and turns? These new inspirational fiction titles offer something for everyone and are sure to deliver. As if the complicated emotional relationships between animals and humans weren’t enough to stir the soul, Neil Abramson adds a harrowing twist of […]
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Everyone has a different opinion of Valentine's Day. It's a groan-worthy Hallmark holiday. The most romantic day of the year. An occasion to watch bad romantic comedies with friends. An excuse to eat an entire box of Russell Stover candies.

No matter how you feel, you can probably agree that books that celebrate love—whether pulse-pounding romantic love, obsessive love, familial love or love between friends—are books to cherish. In honor of Valentine's Day, we want to share our nine favorite literary love stories of the early 2000s. Now grab a hunk of chocolate and keep reading . . .

Bel Canto (2001)

Would any list of love stories be complete without this novel? The relationships in a group of terrorists and hostages sound anything but sexy—but trust me that this unusual cast will have you crying and sighing after about 30 minutes of reading. Bonus: You'll find yourself in love with opera after author Ann Patchett has cast her spell.
Read more in BookPage.

The Time Traveler's Wife (2003)

Audrey Niffenegger's story of Henry (a punk-loving, time traveling librarian) and Clare (an artist) has become a contemporary classic. It's clever, heart-breaking and romantic—and I envy the reader who hasn't discovered it yet.
Read more in BookPage.

The History of Love (2005)

"Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl, and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering." Need I say more about Nicole Krauss's wonderful book?
Read more in BookPage.

The Myth of You & Me (2005)

Leah Stewart's graceful story attempts to answer this central question: Can a friendship ever be mended once the bonds of trust have been shattered? This is one of our favorite novels about the complicated love between friends.
Read more in BookPage.

Snow Flower and the Secret Fan (2005)

Lisa See writes beautifully about two girls in 19th-century China who build a friendship that exceeds even their love for their own families.
Read more in BookPage.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007) 

Junot Díaz's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel addresses teenage love, obsessive love, unrequited love and more. It's hip, high-energy and hysterical.
Read more in BookPage.

The Post-Birthday World (2007)

Lionel Shriver's cleverly constructed novel (think Sliding Doors) is about passionate love, comfortable love and the love that could have been. If you love to ask "What if?" this book is for you.
Read more in BookPage.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society (2008)

This delightful novel about the people of the Channel Island of Guernsey includes a tender love story that will make your heart flutter. Even better, the novel itself is practically an ode to booklovers. (And the way author Annie Barrows finished the book for her dying aunt Mary Ann Shaffer is lovely, too.)
Read more in BookPage.

My Abandonment (2009)

This pick falls into the "unconventional" category of love stories, but we think Peter Rock's spare, haunting novel is one of the most fascinating stories of parent/child love published in recent years.
Read more in BookPage.

Everyone has a different opinion of Valentine's Day. It's a groan-worthy Hallmark holiday. The most romantic day of the year. An occasion to watch bad romantic comedies with friends. An excuse to eat an entire box of Russell Stover candies. No matter how you feel, you can probably agree that books that celebrate love—whether pulse-pounding […]
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Amy Tan's new book, The Bonesetter's Daughter, is full of mystery, suspense, superstition and magic. It is a novel as layered as the bone-filled caves outside Peking, and the clues are as shrouded in dust and history as any ancient archaeological dig.

Ruth Liu is a writer sandwiched between the man she lives with, his daughters and her aging mother. She is also in a race to discover the true story of her mother, LuLing Liu Young, before Alzheimer's disease masks her mother's memories completely. She lives with her boyfriend and his two daughters, ghostwrites self-help books, and manages all the details of her mother's life. She is so busy she almost misses the signs of dementia her mother displays: paranoia, forgetfulness, confusion, anger and depression.

But it is easy to see why Ruth might miss these signs. Her mother has been a paranoid, superstitious, angry woman all her life, convinced that she is living under a curse caused by the suicide and lack of burial of her beloved mute and disfigured nursemaid, Precious Auntie. This character is at the heart of Tan's novel. Who is Precious Auntie? What is her true story?

Ruth believes the answers are in a document, written in perfect Chinese calligraphy by LuLing, that Ruth finds in her mother's house. She does not have the skill or time to translate each of the painstaking characters and hires someone else to sift through the document, much as she is hired to work on other authors' words. The gentleman she hires presents Ruth with the story, told in the words of LuLing and Precious Auntie. The many accounts overlap, contradict and challenge each other, and it is the reader, through Ruth, who has the job of excavating the truth.

Precious Auntie is the daughter of a bonesetter, an important medical profession in her part of China. Part orthopedist and part herb doctor, the bonesetter treats patients with the ground-up bones found in the caves around the village of Immortal Heart. These bones are eventually identified by scientists as "Peking Man," the remains of early humans who lived half a million years ago. Peking Man turns out to be a composite of many bones from many humans, just as the story Ruth so desperately wants to understand is a composite of all the stories told to Ruth through family lore and the written tale from LuLing.

There are many parts to this mystery: Who is LuLing's real mother? What is her name? Why was Precious Aunt's face so horribly disfigured? What stories are lies, told to protect someone else? What happened to Peking Man? Superstitions, curses, oracles, ghosts and spirits all are part of the world Tan spins for us, a world that eventually brings us back to the future and to the superstitions that guide all of us, whether we live in the year 2001 or 801.

The Bonesetter's Daughter is a stirring reminder of the power of love, secrets and family stories. Family histories, even when they have been reinvented and rearranged, have the power to explain, inform and allow forgiveness. As we age and face our own mortality, we might remember the wise words of Precious Auntie, "After all . . . what is the past but what we choose to remember."

 

Robin Smith is a teacher in Nashville.

Amy Tan's new book, The Bonesetter's Daughter, is full of mystery, suspense, superstition and magic. It is a novel as layered as the bone-filled caves outside Peking, and the clues are as shrouded in dust and history as any ancient archaeological dig. Ruth Liu is a writer sandwiched between the man she lives with, his […]
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Prepare to lose sleep, skip meals and ignore your e-mail. Anita Shreve's new novel, The Last Time They Met, will keep you turning its pages into the unwholesome hours of the night, even though you know you should put it down and hit the pillow. Shreve's reckless and heroic central character, Thomas Janes, has been in love with Linda Fallon all his life. Though they parted in the wake of a terrible car accident when both were high school seniors, Linda keeps showing up in Thomas' life at crucial moments.

They reconnect in Kenya where Linda is a Peace Corps volunteer. Unhappy in his marriage, Thomas rekindles their romance, but ends it when his wife announces she is pregnant.

Linda turns up in his life again at a poetry conference when both characters are well into middle age. Like Thomas, she has become a distinguished poet, a fitting vocation for two people who first met 35 years earlier in a high school poetry class. Now that he is divorced and she is widowed, will they finally find happiness with each other? Or will some unforeseen disaster separate them again? The reader learns the answer in the first hundred pages of the novel. From there, the narrative moves backward to their encounter in Africa, then on to their teenage love affair. It's not the first fictional experiment in reverse chronology. But it is Shreve's storytelling genius that keeps the suspense building, even after she seems to have given away the ending. The reader correctly senses, in some subterranean way, that secrets surrounding Thomas' and Linda's obsessive desire will be unfolded only at the end, when both characters are 17.

In this novel Shreve not only captures our universal hunger for a lifetime passion that will give meaning and continuity to our fragmentary and discontinuous lives, she also flawlessly captures the longing to retrieve something that was lost in early youth. And she does this while driving toward a jolting conclusion that forces the reader to reinterpret everything he has just read.

While the popular appeal of The Last Time They Met will probably send it straight to the bestseller list, its literary merits, especially the extraordinary use of unreliable narration, will make it a talked about book in literary circles for years to come.

Lynn Hamilton writes from Tybee Island, Georgia.

Prepare to lose sleep, skip meals and ignore your e-mail. Anita Shreve's new novel, The Last Time They Met, will keep you turning its pages into the unwholesome hours of the night, even though you know you should put it down and hit the pillow. Shreve's reckless and heroic central character, Thomas Janes, has been […]
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The Betrayal of the Blood Lily continues Lauren Willig’s best-selling Pink Carnation series. The author, a Harvard law school graduate, has made good use of her additional degree in history to brilliantly create 19th-century British heroines and heroes.

Lady Penelope Deveraux Staines, a rebel at heart, is forced into marriage to avoid a scandal, and then whisked off to India by her husband. It quickly becomes apparent that Lord Staines is many things—but he is neither faithful, honorable nor courageous. Since Lady Penelope is all of the above, the marriage quickly grows strained and difficult.

While her husband eagerly embraces the more decadent and debauched aspects of their new surroundings, Penelope is entranced by the lush and wildly exotic India countryside. The strictures of London society had chafed her independent heart, but the beautiful yet dangerous land surrounding Hyderabad calls to her very soul. So, too, does the handsome and equally dangerous Captain Alex Reid. Thrown together when Alex is assigned to transport Penelope and her husband to Hyderabad, the two are first wary and suspicious of each other. But neither can deny the irresistible pull of attraction.

Adding even more intrigue to the journey, Penelope has information regarding a spy known as the Marigold. After several unsuccessful attempts on her life, Alex knows the beautiful redhead is in serious peril. The two must combine all their intelligence and knowledge of human nature if they are to survive, and soon, they’re working together to unravel the complex threads of political and militant forces—a net of French spies, espionage and danger that draws tighter about them each day.

As in the other Pink Carnation novels, this historical storyline is framed by a modern-day one, as American scholar Eloise researches Penelope’s adventures with the help of a dashing Brit. Both plotlines keep readers entertained with ever-heightening emotional stakes. The Betrayal of the Blood Lily will delight readers with its vivid historical detail, deeply honorable characters fighting against truly wicked villains and a plot filled with baffling mystery and heart-pounding danger.

Lois Faye Dyer writes from her home in Port Orchard, Washington.

The Betrayal of the Blood Lily continues Lauren Willig’s best-selling Pink Carnation series. The author, a Harvard law school graduate, has made good use of her additional degree in history to brilliantly create 19th-century British heroines and heroes. Lady Penelope Deveraux Staines, a rebel at heart, is forced into marriage to avoid a scandal, and […]

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