For nearly 20 years, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction has been honoring the contributions of women writers around the world for their extraordinary contributions to contemporary fiction. This year’s winner, announced on Wednesday, June 3, is How to be Both by Ali Smith.
Prize judges describe the winning book as a story of “grief, love, sexuality and shape-shifting identity.” Two separate narratives, entitled Camera and Eye, take place 500 years apart with a glorious painted fresco as the link to both. Camera is the story of George(ia), a contemporary English teen who is thinking over exchanges with her mother who has since died. Eye tells of Francescho, an Italian girl, also motherless, masquerading as a boy in order to gain entrance as a painter in the 15 century art world. Smith says her inspiration to write How to be Both came from viewing Renaissance artist Francesco del Cossa’s beautiful works.
The shortlist of nominees included beloved local author Anne Tyler’s A Spool of Blue Thread, which follows a Baltimore family as its younger generations cope with their aging parents. A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie combines Ottoman Empire history, archaeology, a treasure hunt and romance against the backdrop of World War I. Rachel Cusk was nominated for Outline, a book of revelatory conversations between a woman and an assortment of people who cross her path while she is teaching a writing class in Greece. Rounding out the shortlist are two titles which appeared earlier on Between the Covers: The Bees by Laline Paull, which immerses the reader in an imaginative, totalitarian honeybee hive society; and Sarah Water’s The Paying Guest, which explores the effects of societal constraints on women, resulting in a crime of forbidden passion in post-World War II England.
Don’t judge this book by its simple cover; the stories contained within Arthur Bradford’s collection Turtleface and Beyond are highly original and situationally hilarious. Turtleface and Beyond features a series of stories starring Georgie, a hapless, lackadaisical fellow who seems to be a magnet for the bizarre.
In the titular "Turtleface," Georgie is canoeing down a lazy river with his friend Otto and their girlfriends, when Otto spies an imposing cliff and wants to leap from it. Against Georgie's advice, Otto scrambles up the mountainside and dives into the river below, where his face meets a meandering turtle. Georgie is racked with guilt not because of Otto's foolish accident, but because the turtle's shell is fissured.
"Lost Limbs" is the story of Georgie's unrequited interest in Lenore, a woman with a prosthetic arm. Lenore interprets Georgie’s lack of interest in her prosthesis as self-absorbed and ignoble, but poor Georgie didn’t even realize her arm was fake until their second date. Lenore breaks things off with Georgie, who is content with her decision until months later when he gets his leg caught in a wood chipper. As his calf is mangled in the machine, his first thought is, "Hm, I should call that lovely girl with the fake hand."
Georgie works the graveyard shift in an attorney’s library in "217-Pound Dog," where he meets Jim Tewilliger, a partner at the firm whose life is beginning to unravel. Sensing Georgie's kind nature, Jim asks him for help acquiring some marijuana. Georgie senses Jim is a man in need of a rare kind of help, so he acquiesces. Jim's behavior around the office becomes increasingly erratic, and Georgie, left vouching for him in a whirlwind of unfinished work and fast food wrappers, wonders what his acquaintance’s endgame entails.
Arthur Bradford’s imagination illuminates Georgie’s misadventures in Turtleface and Beyond, a collection genre lovers will find funny, laconic and clever.
The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s romance inspired the scrumptious The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan. Indeed, in their forward, they thank the royal couple for having the second royal baby right when their novel hits the shelves!
In this enjoyable glimpse at the improbable path from American coed to princess, fashion bloggers (Go Fug Yourself) Cocks and Morgan replace William with Nicholas and exchange American Rebecca “Bex” Porter for Kate. The novel opens with Bex, anticipating their wedding, retelling their story and reflecting on the sacrifices this love affair has already demanded and the future pressures she anticipates.
Bex was the practical twin, unlike her sister Lacey, who never met a love story she didn’t embrace. But when Bex goes to Oxford and finds herself in the same dorm as the charming and handsome Prince Nicholas, a fast friendship quickly turns to romance. Dating the future king of England is glamorous, complete with ritzy trips and dinners at Kensington Palace. While she truly loves Nick, at times the accompanying baggage is overwhelming. Between the phony friends, prickly family members, competitive ex-girlfriends and ubiquitous tabloids, Bex struggles with the burden of royal perfection. This witty unmasking of life behind the palace gates is an entertaining romance with a dynamic yet relatable couple. The equally diverting supporting cast, from school friends to snarky royals, are all sharply drawn and intrinsic to the story. And never fear, Prince Harry is definitely in attendance in the form of Nick’s dashing yet disreputable brother Freddie, while paparazzi favorite Pippa is easily discernable in Bex’s slightly self-centered twin Lacey. This happily-ever-after boasts a strong sense of humor and just a dash of reality to create a picture perfect contemporary fairy tale.
Two lives, seemingly unrelated, converge in unforeseen circumstances in Lou Berney’s The Long and Faraway Gone. Two events haunt their victims: the brutal murder of six movie theater employees, and the disappearance of a beautiful young woman. The ghosts from the past simply will not let go of the living.
Wyatt, the only survivor of the movie theater massacre, escapes Oklahoma City through his work, moving from one state to the next. Infamous for that single event, Wyatt changes his name and becomes a private investigator. A favor for a friend will start him on a path to the past to confront the one question that was never answered: Why was he spared?
Julianna worshipped her older sister, Genevieve, who took her to the fair and then disappeared forever. Genevieve left Julianna with $10 to buy food and told her she would be back in 15 minutes. In many ways, the now-37-year-old Julianna is still sitting on the bench at the fair waiting for her sister to return. Julianna is willing to sacrifice her career, her security and even her life to discover what happened to her sister that day.
As Wyatt works to discover the identity of a vandal determined to destroy his client’s business, he also uncovers the layers of denial that have dominated his life. As Julianna risks her sanity to uncover her sister’s fate, she must explore the demons that drove Genevieve to leave her that night.
Told in alternating voices, Berney twists his tale of obsession and corruption, of power and greed. Thoughtful, complex and absorbing, this character-driven novel is sure to please fans of intrigue. Berney’s unique plotting intertwines the characters’ stories deftly, proving that we can touch one another’s lives in wholly unexpected ways.
There are few tragedies capable of eliciting tears from a man in his early 30s. The death of a beloved pet, the dissolution of a marriage, maybe; or more realistically, the death of a beloved Xbox, the dissolution of a favorite band. In Adam Rapp’s Know Your Beholder, narrator and central character Francis Falbo bears his soul while marinating in his overlord’s bathrobe and cultivating his newly sprouted beard.
In snowy Pollard, Illinois, Francis Falbo’s rising indie rock band, The Third Policeman, feels the heat of rapid ascension and cinders into nothingness almost exactly as his wife Sheila Ann abandons him for another man. With nothing going for him other than a few new bristles encroaching on his face, he moves into the attic of his childhood home, which his father bequeathed to him before uprooting and fleeing to Florida after the death of his wife. Clad in a bathrobe and two pairs of thermal pajamas which eventually graft to his skin, Francis decides to become an amateur landlord and converts the spacious dwelling into a couple of apartments. He assembles a colorful cast of tenants, including a family of former circus performers looking to settle down, an ice-fishing enthusiast with an incredibly rotund stomach and his ex wife’s burnout brother.
Francis chronicles his woes day by day on an old typewriter and gradually realizes he has become agoraphobic, but he disguises his fear as a personality quirk as he accomplishes various landlording tasks like collecting rent and unclogging sinks. As winter passes, the Falbo house embraces the thaw and collectively hopes the spring will bring reprieve to their lives bereft of happiness.
Know Your Beholder is about overcoming heartbreak and is perfectly balanced, with the weight of tragedy elevating wry and witty humor laced with culturally relevant references to the indie music, art and literary scenes.
The excitement of the art scene in 1860s Paris is the lush setting for Maureen Gibbon’s new novel Paris Red. When we meet 17-year-old Victorine, she is wearing bright green boots to set her apart from all the other women walking down the street. It is a fashion choice that pays off, as she gains the attention of a mysterious stranger.
The stranger reveals that he is an important artist, and he strikes up a flirtation with both Victorine and her roommate, Nise. Victorine feels compelled to choose between her best friend, who she feels as close to as a sister, and this charming artist. But once she models for the artist, she knows her future is secured. She becomes not only his lover, but his most important muse.
Jealousy and financial insecurity mars their relationship, but within the confines of the artist’s cramped studio, Victorine is secure that they are creating art that will provoke and shock the outside world. So moved, she begins to paint on her own, at first timid, but then confident in her own talent.
The mysterious artist is none other than Edouard Manet, one of the most celebrated artists of the 19thcentury. His work is considered to have given birth to modern art. Victorine Meurent is the face in many of his celebrated works, most notably his controversial masterpiece Olympia.
Fans of Tracy Chevalier’s Girl with a Pearl Earring and Susan Vreeland’s Girl in Hyacinth Blue, books that tell the story behind legendary great art, will find this book a sensual treat.
When a novel depicts a brief period of time, the pacing becomes just as crucial as the plot and the characters of the story. Hannah Pittard’s new novel Reunion takes place in the mourning period between a death and subsequent viewing. During those emotional few days, readers witness genuine exchanges between siblings who revert to old tendencies as soon as they’re in the same room together.
En route to Chicago via plane, Kate Pulaski checks her phone and discovers her estranged father Stan has killed himself. Her older siblings Elliot and Nell are pausing their busy lives to fly to Georgia to be with Sasha, Stan’s fifth wife, and their daughter Mindy. Kate is baffled by how quickly her brother and sister have booked their flights, and is forced onto another flight by her husband Peter — right before he tells her he wants a divorce. Kate remembers an affair she had and isn’t surprised by her husband’s scorn, but the timing couldn’t be worse. Wondering how any of her siblings, half-siblings or mothers-in-law could possibly want to mourn Stan’s death, Kate tries in vain to bolster her head and her heart for a tumultuous next couple of days. Days spent drinking far too much wine and attempting to read into familial relationships that she barely knew existed — what else is there to do at a family reunion predicated on a suicide?
Hannah Pittard opens and nurses complex relations between her cast of lovingly crafted and completely human characters, illustrating that a sense of familiarity — with people, places or things — can cause people to take an introspective look at what they’ve become and where they’re headed. Coming-of-age fans will find lots to like in Reunion, as will teens and new adults who enjoy relationship-centric stories.
Good news for thriller fans! Two new novels will have readers on the edge of their seats with gripping suspense, shattering secrets and women in peril who will do anything to stay alive.
NPR correspondent Mary Louise Kelly shares a story about fear, family secrets and one woman's hunt for answers in The Bullet. Caroline Cashion, a professor at Georgetown University, is stunned when an MRI reveals that she has a bullet lodged in her skull. Her parents finally admit that she was adopted at the age of 3 following her biological parents’ murders. Caroline was present at the crime, and in fact was struck by the same bullet that killed her mother. Doctors could not remove the bullet without risking Caroline’s death. Thirty-four years later, Caroline returns to her hometown to learn about her parents and their horrific deaths. But Caroline is in danger. The killer was never caught and the bullet in her head is the only evidence that can identify him. This fast-paced thriller, complete with a touch of romance, is perfect for fans of Lisa Gardner or Tess Gerritsen.
Susan Crawford’s The Pocket Wife introduces readers to Dana Catrell who suffers from bipolar disorder. Married to Peter, she is shocked when their neighbor Celia is brutally murdered. Upon learning that she was the last person to see Celia alive at a booze-fueled lunch marred by an argument over incriminating pictures of Peter, Dana threatens to descend into mania. Her husband is behaving oddly, and Detective Jack Moss is a frequent and persistent visitor. This is the story of a wounded woman teetering on the edge of sanity, determined to recover her memory and find the truth. But when Dana uncovers some of Celia’s secrets, she starts receiving threatening notes which Peter believes are self-authored. Alternating chapters follow Jack and his investigation and Dana, whose reliability is questionable and whose voice evolves with her changing mental state. The engaging characters add to this electrifying combination of solid mystery and fast-paced psychological thriller.
In Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule, Jennifer Chiaverini proves once again that she is an amazing writer of historical fiction. She manages to capture the feeling of a particular era and also give her characters authentic voices. This time her subjects are Julia Dent Grant, wife of Ulysses S. Grant, and Jule Dent, lady’s maid and slave of Mrs. Grant.
Chiaverini’s story spans the years before, during and after the Civil War and is told from both Julia Grant’s and Jule’s points of view. We witness young Julia and Jule growing up together on the Dent plantation in Missouri where they seem to be best friends. However, their relationship quickly changes as the girls become young women and Julia begins to treat Jule more like a servant and less like a friend. Throughout the many years they spend together, Julia never seems aware of how much Jule would like to be her own woman, to make her own decisions and to be free. As Chiaverini portrays her, Julia believes that slaves are happy with their lot in life. When Jule expresses her desire to be a free woman, Julia is incredulous, saying to her, “You had a roof over your head and plenty to eat,” as if these are valid reasons for Jule to remain enslaved. Even after marrying Ulysses Grant, whose Ohio family are abolitionists, Julia still cannot believe that freeing slaves is a good idea.
Whether or not Julia Grant took quite so long to comprehend the evils of slavery, Chiaverini uses her as a representation of what many slaveholders of the day may have felt. After the Civil War ended and all slaves were freed, these newly emancipated people faced a very uncertain future as demonstrated by Jule. She struggles to make her own way in the world, and although it is not an easy path, she reflects that at least she now is free to choose which path to take.
Another great thing that Chiaverini does in her book is include the titles of the sources she used to research her subjects so the reader can find out more about Julia, Jule and the other historical characters that are referenced. As the 150th anniversary of the Civil War draws to a close, this book is a great way to understand how the events during that time period effected both famous and everyday people’s lives.
Jessica Knoll's new adult fiction novel Luckiest Girl Alive is set in the same area where she grew up. Her protagonist also has the same profession Knoll used to hold. It’s probably because of this that her book is so rich with description and such vivid imagery.
TifAni grew up with a mother who always wanted what was best for her, but not necessarily what would make her happy. When in college she met her best friend Nell, who showed her how to manipulate people to get what was in her best interest. It was a combination of these two figures that helped TifAni create the “perfect” life for herself.
It was during high school that TifAni experienced a severe trauma. In order to distance herself from her past, TifAni changed her name to Ani when she went to college. Ani has always tried to fill her gaping emotional gap with possessions and prestige. After college, Ani went on to have a prominent job at a well-known women's magazine, a fiancé with old money and starves herself into a coveted size zero. Despite how perfect her life may seem to someone on the outside, nothing can smother the pain left by her teenage trauma.
This character driven account of one woman's desire to get all she's ever wanted is disturbingly candid. As you follow the bread crumbs through the story, you slowly gather more details of what TifAni went through as a troubled teen – and just when you think you've figured her out, she throws you a curve.