In the spring of 1885, New York socialite Beret Osmundsen is devastated to learn of the death of her estranged younger sister, Lillie. In Fallen Women by Sandra Dallas, Beret’s investigation into her sister’s death takes her from New York to Denver, from dazzling penthouses to seamy brothels.
Beret’s aunt and uncle share the news of Lillie’s death, but not the tragic details of her last days. Upon arriving in Denver, Beret learns that Lillie was working as a prostitute in a high-end brothel – the site of her murder. Beret is focused on tracking down Lillie’s murderer and avenging her sister’s death. She quickly encounters Detective Mick McCauley who is assigned to the case and looks to work with him in solving this tragedy. Mick, however, doesn’t need any assistance and initially tries to quell her involvement. But never underestimate the power of a sister’s love or the thirst for justice.
As Beret and Mick are forced together, they develop a mutual respect. Their growing bond will intrigue readers as the duo find themselves transported from the seedy tenderloin district to a high society peopled with the wealthiest and most influential. As she forges ahead in her determination to see the truth uncovered, Beret must deal with uncooperative and suspicious relatives, cope with the incivility of high society and come to terms with the fact that she never really knew her sister. Complicating things further are another murder and a growing number of potential suspects. Dallas does an excellent job of recreating nineteenth century Denver, crafting a well-paced mystery and creating a promising chemistry between Mick and Beret, which will have readers looking forward to their next rendezvous.
Charles Palliser, in Rustication, unravels a late 19th century mystery through the uneasy journal entries penned by Richard Shenstone, a 17-year-old opium addict who struggles daily with carnal appetites. Richard, after an abrupt suspension from college, seeks out residency in the drearily neglected English mansion where his mother and older sister reside after the death of their debt-ridden father. However, to much surprise, his early homecoming is unpleasantly received. Not only does he feel unwelcomed, he is refused any information regarding the sudden death in the family or their lack of funds.
Coinciding with his arrival, livestock vivisection begins and vulgar letters are sent to several neighbors which accuse, damn and threaten their recipients. Richard soon crosses paths with peculiar characters that become cagier with every encounter, from vicious socialites to a brutish dogfighter. At the center of much gossip is an earl’s nephew who is both an eligible bachelor and next in line to receive his uncle’s fortune.
Alone in his attempts to make sense of the town’s secrets, Richard feverishly recounts his daily thoughts and conversations. However, his fickle opiate love affair interrupts his stream of recollections. As the crimes increase and worsen, he finds himself as the prime suspect and is determined to discover the identity of the true murderer.
Readers will recognize this marshy bleak town from Palliser’s other Victorian novel, The Quincunx, but will find themselves intrigued as the jarring plot peels away like sour onionskin.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that the legions of Jane Austen fans are devoted to the woman and protective of her literary canon. The Austen Project is treading into this revered territory with the unveiling of a major new series of six authors reimagining all six of Austen’s major works. The project launches with Joanna Trollope, often favorably compared with Austen, and her retelling of Austen’s first published work, Sense and Sensibility.
Trollope presents the Dashwood sisters, Elinor, Marianne and Margaret, who, along with their mother, are all coping with grief and a dramatic reversal of fortunes following the death of their father. They have been removed from the family estate by the nefarious schemes of their brother’s wife, Fanny. A relative offers a small home on his estate, but they still must adjust to life with no money, no inheritance and no beloved father. As they slowly come to terms with their new situation, the two elder girls embark on relationships. Sensible Elinor is enamored with Edward, Fanny’s brother, who may be playing the field. Beautiful Marianne falls for local hottie and bad boy John Willoughby. While the storylines remain the same, Trollope successfully uses modern accoutrements to give weight to the girls’ struggles. Tidbits of gossip are texted and scandals are revealed via viral videos adding contemporary realism to this timeless coming-of-age story. Another universal truth – when it comes to money and love, some things never change. This comedy of manners will appeal to Trollope fans, Austen devotees and romance readers.
Look for future titles in this exciting series to include Val McDermid’s reworking of Northanger Abbey and Curtis Sittenfeld’s take on Pride and Prejudice, both scheduled for publication in 2014. Learn more about the Austen Project here.
Winners of the 64th annual National Book Awards were announced last night at a black-tie dinner held at Cipriani Wall Street. This morning, the literary world is abuzz about James McBride’s win in the Fiction category for his novel The Good Lord Bird. With a strong list of finalists, many considered McBride’s novel to be an underdog. McBride seemed shocked by the win. He shared that writing the novel became an escape for him during a difficult season of his life. McBride also expressed his pleasure about the win, remarking, “Had Rachel Kushner or Jhumpa Lahiri or Thomas Pynchon or George Saunders won tonight, I wouldn’t have felt bad because they are fine writers, but it sure is nice to get it.”
Mary Szybist was presented with the Poetry Award for Incarnadine: Poems, her second collection of poetry. The award for Young People’s Literature was given to Cynthia Kadohata for her novel The Thing About Luck. George Packer’s The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America won the award for Nonfiction.
Congratulations to all the winners!
Aminatta Forna sets her newest novel, The Hired Man, in a rural Croatian village in the summer of 2007. As she did in her Commonwealth Writer’s Prize-winning book The Memory of Love, Forna again examines people living in the aftermath of conflict and the insidious influence of violence which lingers long after the war has ended.
Duro Kolak is a middle-age man; small, quiet Gost is his hometown. He lives alone since the rest of his family, like many of the villagers, has moved away. Duro picks up odd jobs, hunts with his dogs, Kos and Zeka, and occasionally visits the pub. Change comes to Gost in the form of an English family who buy a shabby vacant house as a summer retreat and a real estate investment. Duro knows the house well, as it belonged to childhood friends, and he offers to help Laura and her teenage children repair the house. Duro also becomes the family’s guide to insular Croatian culture.
Forna, through Duro, alternates the contemporary story of Duro, Laura’s family, and the house restoration with the tangled back story of Duro and the Pavić family who were the previous owners of Laura’s vacation home. Duro’s reminiscing begins with his friends Krešimir and Anka Pavić with whom he swims and shoots pigeons. Idyllic memories these are not, and as the roof is repaired and an exterior mural uncovered on the Pavićs’ old home, the reader is gradually led into the dark dynamics of altered friendships, a Gost before and during the disintegration of a country and the horror of ethnic cleansing.
Forna paces this elegiac work deliberately, allowing the two storylines to slowly coalesce into a narrative of love and war and a search for the truth. The Hired Man is a beautiful and brutal tale, built on the rotten foundation of war crimes barely plastered over by the new peacetime.
National Book Award winner and three-time Pulitzer Prize finalist Alice McDermott’s first novel in seven years was definitely worth the wait. Someone is a thoughtful and heartbreaking look at one extraordinarily ordinary woman. Marie is first introduced to readers as a child of the 1930s, living amongst the Irish-American population of Brooklyn, awaiting the return of her beloved father from work. In this simple sketch, McDermott is able to immediately detail Marie’s community and family. In a non-linear framework, the stories which make Marie’s life are slowly pieced together much like mosaics in a stained glass window.
Marie lives with her brother Gabe and their parents in a Brooklyn brownstone. Gabe is destined for the seminary and Marie is hoping for a life as a wife and mother. Her only worry is that she will end up alone because of her plainness and quiet nature. Marie’s keen observations and vulnerability reveal the internal life of a fascinating woman. From her brother’s eventual loss of faith to her first heartbreak, from her parents’ deaths to the changing nature of her neighborhood, the reader is invited to experience with Marie the impact everyday events have on a life.
Someone was one of 10 titles selected by five judges for this year’s National Book Award long list. This marks another major achievement for one of this country’s finest writers. In McDermott’s hands, this seemingly innocuous and unimportant woman’s life is drawn as a powerful portrait highlighting the fact that each of us has a story to share. This remarkable book is a beautifully written celebration of family, community and history. Readers will long remember and cherish this heartfelt tale which quietly encourages self-reflection, understanding and empathy.
The Beltway Sniper. The Green River Killer. The Boston Strangler. Great unease prevails in a community when there is a cold-blooded killer on the loose. Police work tirelessly and civilians are extra cautious about venturing out. But what happens when the investigation drags on without anyone being apprehended and the number of victims continues to climb? This is the story in Joyce Maynard’s latest book, After Her, a novel as much about a serial killer as it is about the complicated relationships between parents, children and siblings. When sisters Rachel and Patty are teenagers, women begin turning up dead in the mountainous area just beyond their home in northern California. The killer, dubbed the “Sunset Strangler” because of his method and time of day he kills his victims, always seems to be one step ahead of law enforcement. The sisters’ father is the local detective assigned to solve the case, and his spirits and physical health decline as the killer continues to elude capture. Eventually, public opinion turns against him, and he is removed from the case, leaving an unfinished chapter in his career. Thirty years later, his daughter Rachel is still trying to make sense — and make peace — with her now-deceased father’s professional and personal struggles.
Maynard crafts a story that is family saga, history lesson and murder mystery melded together. There is suspense, but also poignant moments showcasing the lasting bonds of family. Ultimately, in order to find the missing piece of the puzzle, Rachel must confront unexpected secrets of her father’s past. Maynard based After Her on the real-life case of the Trailside Killer, and the investigating detective and his family. On her website you can watch a trailer for the book with interviews with the real-life sisters behind the story.
Maryland romance author Laura Kaye is launching her new Hard Ink series this month with Hard As It Gets. Becca Merritt is desperate. Her brother Charlie is missing. Before he disappeared, Charlie sent her a message that said, “Find Rixey, the Colonel’s team, Hard Ink Tattoo.” With no other options, Becca goes to Hard Ink Tattoo and finds Nick Rixey, a former member of her father’s Special Forces team. Nick has no interest in helping the Merritt family. After Colonel Merritt betrayed Nick’s team, they were ambushed, and the survivors’ military careers were destroyed. Despite his feelings about Becca’s family, Nick decides to start checking up on her. He gets drawn into the intrigue when he saves her from an intruder who breaks into her house. Soon, Nick is working with Becca and reassembling his old team to help her find Charlie and save him from an organized crime ring.
Set in Baltimore, Hard As It Gets is a strong start to Kaye’s gritty new romantic suspense series, which will continue to follow the men of Hard Ink as they uncover the truth about the incident that destroyed their military careers. Filled with plenty of action and some steamy love scenes, this series and the hard-edged men of Hard Ink will appeal to readers who like Maya Banks’ KGI series or Julie Ann Walker’s Black Knights Inc. novels.
Earlier this year, Kaye’s unlikely path to writing romance novels was the subject of a fascinating Huffington Post article. After sustaining a traumatic brain injury from an everyday accident, Kaye developed Post Concussion Syndrome. She began experiencing behavioral changes, one of which was newfound creative ability. Though she had never written fiction before, she wrote a 450 page novel in only 11 weeks! Kaye’s unlikely injury was a twist of fate that led her to this unexpected new career.
Literary fans of something old and something new now have an opportunity to see, in person, the art masterpieces at the heart of two respected writers' novels. Tracy Chevalier's hugely successful Girl with a Pearl Earring and Donna Tartt's eagerly anticipated new novel, The Goldfinch, feature paintings by Dutch masters now on temporary display in the United States. Johannes Vermeer's beloved "Girl with a Pearl Earring" and Carel Fabritius's exquisite "Goldfinch" are currently part of a 15-painting exhibition on loan to the Frick Collection in New York until January 19.
Girl with the Pearl Earring, Chevalier's second novel, is about Vermeer's 16-year-old housemaid who becomes the subject of his painting. It was greeted with popular and critical success following its publication in 1999. In addition to some 4 million copies sold, the book was turned into a movie.
The Goldfinch, Donna Tartt's sweeping new novel, is part suspense thriller, part coming-of-age novel. It centers on a young man named Theo, whose life is changed forever following a bomb attack at a New York museum that leaves his mother dead and him in possession of a rare Fabritius painting.
Now at the final American venue of a global tour, the paintings are traveling for only the second time in 30 years as the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in The Hague undergoes an extensive two-year renovation. Here is your opportunity to get up close and personal with the paintings behind the stories. Visit the Frick Collection for more information.
Jo Baker’s engaging new novel Longbourn focuses on the life of housemaid Sarah and her fellow servants for a behind-the-scenes retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Fans of Austen’s novel will be intrigued by the lives of the underclass in Regency England, no less intriguing and dramatic than those of the gentry they serve.
Sarah, orphaned and raised almost as a daughter to housekeeper Mrs. Hill, fills her days from early morning to late night with the strenuous labor it takes to run a country household. Baker fills her novel with detailed accounts of the housemaid’s chores, from emptying the chamber pots to heading to town in the rain and cold to purchase ornamental roses to decorate the Bennet girls’ shoes. Readers will learn fascinating period housekeeping hints, like the fact that cold tea leaves sprinkled on floors will bind with dust, hair and insects, making sweeping easier.
Even as she supports the sisters in their complicated courtships, she dreams of a life of her own. She becomes flustered in her dealings with Mr. Bingley’s handsome, flirtatious footman Ptolemy, the man charged with delivering letters. His goal is to open a tobacco shop one day. Mysterious James Smith, the newly arrived servant with hazel eyes and a secret cache of seashells, intrigues her as he lightens her daily work burdens and takes an interest in her. Sarah wonders “Could she one day have what she wanted, rather than rely on the glow of other people’s happiness to keep her warm?” Longbourn is a book to savor almost as much as its inspiration.