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.
Fannie Flagg’s new novel The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion will remind readers of why they originally fell in love with her writing. The story’s wit, wisdom and colorful cast of characters are utterly captivating.
Having just survived her three daughters’ four weddings in less than two years, Sookie Poole is ready to enjoy some peace at last. She is looking forward to spending her days tending her birdfeeders, relaxing, traveling with her long-suffering husband Earle and caring for her eccentric mother Lenore Simmons Krackenberry. Her biggest concern these days is that one day she will go crazy like all the Simmonses do. There’s a fine line between eccentric and crazy, and in the Simmons family they all end up in the Pleasant Hill Sanitarium eventually. Then, Sookie receives a certified letter and learns a shocking family secret. She begins to search for answers and learns much more about Lenore’s past. Layers of the story unfold and Flagg takes readers back to 1943, Fritzi Jurdabralinski and the women who ran the Phillips 66 gas station in Pulaski, Wisconsin.
This story is a perfect fit for readers who enjoy novels by Adriana Trigiani, Rebecca Wells and Ann B. Ross. The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion is an absolute delight. Like Flagg’s bestselling Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Café, this story moves between past and present, telling a family’s story with effervescent humor and irresistible Southern charm.
Marta has stopped taking her pills. After years of following a routine the way her husband and mother-in-law expect her to, she wants to do something differently and see what happens. She desperately misses her adult son who recently announced his engagement and fears losing him forever. Emma Chapman’s debut novel, How to Be a Good Wife, sends readers down a path of uncertainty where every move Marta makes leads to more questions and even less answers. When her husband dispenses her medication to her, she hides them underneath her tongue, then sneaks them into a grate in the floor. Her days become strange as she frequently finds herself in rooms she doesn’t remember entering, feeling as if she has lost pockets of time and seeing a young, dirty, blonde girl named Elise who seems very, very real. When it appears as if Marta has attempted to abduct a little girl in broad daylight, her family has her committed to a psychiatric facility.
Chapman’s story is unnerving and readers are just as in the dark as Marta. As tiny sprinkles of light begin to open up the secrets of her hazy past, the possible truth of how she came to be Mrs. Marta Bjornstad is shockingly incomprehensible.
Best-selling author of medical and political thrillers Michael Palmer has passed away at the age of 71. First published in 1982, his debut novel The Sisterhood dealt with the controversial subject of euthanasia. Palmer went on to write close to 20 novels, the last of which, Resistant, is scheduled to be published in May of 2014.
Born in Massachusetts, he graduated from Wesleyan University, as had fellow medical thriller author Robin Cook. Upon reading Cook’s runaway hit Coma, Palmer decided that he too could write novels of the same style. After attending medical school in Cleveland, Palmer worked as a physician in the Boston area for a number of years before writing took more and more of his time. Even after a decades-long career as a New York Times best-selling author, he continued to work part-time with the Massachusetts Medical Society’s physician health program. His sons Daniel and Matthew have continued the Palmer family writing legacy with novels of their own.
Maryland author Charles Belfoure’s debut novel The Paris Architect is gaining the attention of readers across the country. In 1942, Parisian architect Lucien Bernard is largely indifferent to what is happening to Jews in Occupied France. When he is asked to create a hiding place for the Jewish friend of a wealthy businessman, he can’t resist either the challenge or the compensation, so he agrees. Despite the danger, he begins designing places for others to hide from the Gestapo. His ingenious designs embed hidden cubbyholes into the architectural features of buildings. When one of his hiding places fails, he can no longer ignore the reality of the situation. Over the course of the novel, the horror of what is happening to Jews in his city becomes very real and personal to Lucien.
NPR’s Alan Cheuse compares this story to novels by Alan Furst. The historical and architectural details bring the story to life. This fast-paced World War II thriller leaves readers wondering how we would have reacted in the same situation, which makes it a good choice for book clubs. Discussion questions and additional information about Belfoure’s inspiration are also included in the book. The Paris Architect will appeal to readers who enjoyed Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay and City of Women by David R. Gillham.
Belfoure, who lives in Westminster, wrote a fascinating series of posts about this novel for The Jewish Book Council blog. He will appear at several upcoming local events to promote his novel. A full list is available here.
Marvel Comics has issued the Ender’s Game graphic novel just in time for the movie. Based on the Hugo- and Nebula-awards winning classic science fiction novel by Orson Scott Card. The story follows Andrew "Ender" Wiggin as he enters battle school at 6 years old. Earth barely survived an invasion from the Formics, an insect-like alien race. Genetically bread to be a prodigy, Ender shows his aptitude for military strategy through his remarkable results in both the combat and mind games presented to him by Earth Command. Rising through the ranks and entering Command School at an accelerated pace, Ender learns to rely on no one but himself and his own instincts, regardless of the rules. Can Ender save humanity from the impending war with the "Buggers"?
This graphic novel is a compilation of the Ender’s Game: Battle School #s 1-5 and Ender’s Game: Command School #s 1-5 comics originally released monthly by Marvel beginning in October 2008. While the graphic novel format does not go into as much depth as the novel, it does stays true to the story. The movie adaptation, starring Harrison Ford, will be in theaters November 1.
Dianne Dixon’s second novel, The Book of Someday, links three seemingly unrelated characters in an intriguing story of betrayal, love, loss and maternal protection. Livvi is a successful author with an abusive past. She has recurring nightmares about a woman in a silver dress, but has no idea why or what the dreams mean. Recently, she has fallen in love for the first time but is confused by her boyfriend’s evasiveness and family secrets.
Micah is a talented photographer who has recently found out she has breast cancer. As a result, she is on a cross-country journey to try to make amends for past wrongs.
AnnaLee is a housewife with a young daughter. Her husband loves her, but he is a disappointment to her career-wise and their financial struggles have further strained their marriage.
Told from the alternating perspectives of these three characters, Dixon slowly peels back the layers of the story to reveal the interconnectedness. There is also introspection and self-discovery as each woman matures and better understands the gray areas of their past and present relationships with others.
Dixon is a screenwriter and employs brisk writing, succinct dialogue and concise descriptions to create context and keep the story moving forward. The complex characters and plot twists contribute to a dramatic tale which will keep readers up late at night to unravel the mystery. Fans of Jodi Picoult or Kristin Hannah will appreciate the unique ending, which answers some questions but doesn’t tie everything up too neatly. Highly recommended as a book club selection, or as a good couch read on a chilly fall day.
Amanda Knox is back in the news again with her retrial underway, and Cartwheel by Jennifer duBois couldn’t have come at a better time. duBois maintains that her book isn’t an actual account of Knox’s experience, but the story was inspired by the case.
Much like Knox, Lily studies abroad for a semester, though her experience is in Argentina and not Italy. Lily and another student, Katy, live with a host family. Initially, Lily is enthralled with her new surroundings in Buenos Aires as she goes to class and people-watches at cafés, but eventually she becomes bored and takes on a job at a local bar. After Katy is found stabbed to death, Lily, a coworker and her boyfriend are all implicated in the murder, and Lily is taken to jail.
The story is told from the perspectives of several key characters. The reader first sees Lily’s point of view as she arrives in Buenos Aires and starts to explore her new surroundings. The perspective then changes to her parents, the prosecuting attorney and Lily’s boyfriend, Sebastian.
Readers will feel like jurors at Lily’s trial. The conclusion to this story is more resolute than Knox’s, but the reader is still left to make up his or her own mind, and no two readers will have the same experience. Interested in a reading about the real Amanda Knox? Checkout her new memoir titled Waiting to be Heard.
For three years, 10 months and 12 days, Regina LeClaire was held captive, the sex slave of a sadistic madman. It was only a bizarre twist of fate that led to her liberation and return to her family. Now, almost seven years later, she continues to see her therapist weekly to help cope with the post-traumatic stress and daily fears that keep her imprisoned in a self-imposed isolation. Everything changes, though, when 12-year-old Tilly Cavanaugh is rescued after being trapped for 13 months in a similar type of hell. Tilly’s parents ask Reeve, as she is now known, to help their daughter readjust to life outside of captivity. There is a significant difference between these two situations, however. Unbeknownst to anyone, Tilly had more than one abuser. The man she dubbed “Mister Monster” is still out there and she knows he is watching.
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton is a gritty, suspenseful story that is as unsettling as it is spellbinding. The reader is, at turns, in awe of Reeve’s courage as she relives her past to help Tilly, and frightened as the villain continues his surveillance of his recently freed prize. Notable author Chevy Stevens summed it up best when she stated, “The Edge of Normal is a heart-pounding thrill ride that had me holding my breath to the very end. With a compelling, tough-as-nails heroine and a truly terrifying villain, this is a book you won’t soon forget.”
This is Norton’s debut fiction novel, and it has already garnered the Royal Palm Literary Award. Norton has previously had success as a true crime writer with The New York Times bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box which was co-written with Christine McGuire. This horrific account of a woman kept in a box under her captor’s bed except when brought out to be tortured has become required reading for the FBI Behavioral Sciences Unit and obviously inspired some aspects of The Edge of Normal. Though not a novel for the faint of heart, this is an excellently written story that has all the markings of another bestseller for Ms. Norton.