Wednesday, January 6, 2016

New Books on the Horizon

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
Pulitzer-prize winning author Elizabeth Strout (Olive Kittredge, The Burgess Boys) is back with her latest book and it is a sure winner, especially if you are looking for a book club choice that will illicit the most conversation.  I only wish Strout had started writing years ago, so that we would have a plethora of choices from her; she is that talented.  Her writing is sparse, unadorned with wasteful adjectives and descriptive phrases.  Strout ensures her characters communicate clearly, and disconcertingly, always seem to be speaking straight into the reader's own mind. The main protagonist, Lucy Barton, is a writer herself who looks back on a time she spent in the hospital when her estranged mother comes to visit.  The mother then stays for five straight days, never sleeping and never leaving Lucy's side,  implying a close bond, but it is far more complicated than that.  As our narrator relates their conversations, Lucy also pops in and out of time in her own life and her own complex relationships with friends, husband, and daughters.  This is a stark look at Lucy's life, both past and present and is a compulsively readable novel.  I love that Strout stops the story at page 191, sticking to the sparseness of Lucy's Midwestern roots and her own writing style.  It is another masterpiece by one of my favorite authors; a book club would be enriched through the reading and discussion of this novel. (Published Jan. 5, 2016)

Eleanor by Jason Gurley
I first picked this book up due its fascinating cover, as well as the plot focus on twins, a deadly combination.  I had no idea the fantastical world Gurley would create.  As he pulls us through different decades, we meet Eleanor, a tragically sad woman living on the coast of Oregon with an older husband and a small daughter.  Next, we meet Esme and Eleanor, six year old twins destined for tragedy.  Yet, as Eleanor begins her teen years, she is violently pulled into another dimension of time, where trapped souls attempt to rewrite history.  I know - sounds weird - but it is magical, imaginative, and utterly engrossing.  As Eleanor tries to heal her family and avert past tragedies, we see the memories of the past, we enter their dreamworld, and we ultimately see the redemption that lies ahead.  I read this book obsessively, and loved the back story of how it came to print.  (Gurley had been writing this book for fifteen years, and Powell's, the huge independent bookstore in Portland, OR, was entranced with it and pushed hard to get it widely published after first publishing it independently).  I hope that more people discover this new author; he writes beautifully, creatively, and powerfully. (Published Jan 12, 2016)

Free Men by Katy Simpson Smith
The latest book by best-selling author of The Story of Land and Sea, I was not originally 'all in' for this one; as much as I love historical fiction, post-revolutionary war is not usually my thing. It takes place in 1788, colonial times in the south, focusing on the manhunt for three fugitives following a vicious murder and robbery.  However, once I became engrossed in the four main characters - their lives, their pasts, their motivations and sorrows - I continuously read to the final page.  Le Clerc, the Frenchman who hunts the three suspects, is an amateur sociologist, so we see much of life through his eyes.  As the three men begin to tell their story, we also start to see Smith's thematic motif, constantly questioning what freedom truly is to each individual.  Bob, the escaped slave, chooses to leave behind a wife and two daughters to seek his freedom; Cat, a white man wrapped so deeply in sorrow and tragedy that freedom for him means an absence of relationships; and Istillicha, the Creek native who seeks freedom through revenge and a return of his family's honor.  Beautifully written, this would give a book club many thought-provoking questions to discuss. (Published Feb. 16, 2016)

Be Frank with Me by Julia Johnson
This book is a delightful mix of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the NightWhere'd You Go, Bernadette, Wonder, and The Rosie Project.  Yet, Julia Johnson has created her own unique story with a fresh new voice in her debut novel.  In other words, I LOVED this book!  It begins with Alice, the young computer-geeky, plain girl who travels to Los Angeles to corral the recluse writer to finish her next great American novel. Sent by her aged publishing boss, Alice has no idea what is in store for her in the ritzy Bel-Air mansion, where not only M.M. Banning resides after writing her one-hit wonder, but also Frank, her nine-year old son.  Frank...where do I begin?  First, he dresses odd, as in top hat and tails when the occasion demands, or perhaps aviator cap and googles? Maybe safari gear?  He has specific rules:  Only Frank touches Frank's things, don't touch him unless asked, he only drives in taxis with his mother, etc.  He knows every minute detail of every old movie ever made.  He also has no friends, is bullied at school, and is a wretchedly sad child dying for his mother's attention. In other words, Frank is complicated.  This book is a roller coaster of a fabulous ride; the worst part is when you turn the last page.  Do not miss this book. (Published Feb. 2, 2016)

The Widow by Fiona Barton
Haven't we all wondered about the wives of the serial killers, once they are caught?  How did she not know?  What attracted her to that man and kept her in the marriage? Did she ever suspect?  Why did she stay?  In Fiona Barton's debut novel (previous job was reporter for British newspapers), these questions are answered.  The story begins with Glen Taylor's death, smushed by stepping in front of a bus (yes, cliche but rather darkly humorous).  The press jumps all over the widow, Jean Taylor, as the couple has been in the news for years, with Glen suspected of a child's kidnapping and disappearance. Barton moves seamless between time periods, as we get to know Jean, the widow.  We see Jean's insecurities, her emotional outbursts, her vulnerability, as well as her own pathology.  The supporting cast is a strong one as well: a nosy reporter pulled between doing what is right and her job as a media vulture; the police detective who is obsessed with the case of Baby Bella and in constant trouble with his superiors about his inability to let it go; and of course, Glen, the strange husband who bounces between bullying his wife and groveling to his own parents.  This is a tightly drawn mystery that will keep you reading until the final chapter.  (Published Feb. 16, 2016)

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