Yesterday, New Zealander Eleanor Catton was announced as the winner of the 2013 Man Booker Prize, Britain’s highest literary accolade, for her second novel, The Luminaries. At 28, Catton is the youngest author to be honored with this award, and her book, at 832 pages, is the wordiest winner.
The Luminaries is the story of interwoven lives set during the New Zealand gold rush of 1866. Prostitute Anna is arrested the day that three men with connections to her disappear from the same coastal New Zealand town. Catton’s remarkable web of unsolved crimes and mysteries creates an intricate plot with memorable characters. The Luminaries is rich in historical and geographical detail yet delivers this haunting story within a story in a contemporary tone.
Other titles on the shortlist this year include A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki, Harvest by Jim Crace, The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri, The Testament of Mary by Colm Toibin and We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo.
Earlier this year the Man Booker Prize Foundation stirred up controversy when it announced that the field of eligible candidates will be broadened going forward. The prize will now be eligible to writers from any country, including the United States, as long as the book is published in English and in the United Kingdom.
Montana Moore is a flight attendant with the dream of finding and marrying her perfect man in David Talbert’s Baggage Claim. After witnessing her mother’s fourth marriage and her younger sister’s surprise engagement, Montana seems destined to always be the bridesmaid.
While weighed down with baggage from past relationships, Montana remains an incurable romantic with her head in the frothy clouds of the friendly skies. She is determined not to show up to her sister’s engagement party dateless and deal with the pity and scorn of her family. Her resolution leads her to concoct a crazy husband-finding plan over the course of 30 days and 30,000 miles. Potential suitors include a young music producer, a respected pastor and a city councilman with sights on higher political office. This romantic quest is filled with laughs, life lessons and Montana’s ultimate realization that love may have been close to home the whole time.
David Talbert is a Morgan State University graduate and a highly respected playwright. He has written and directed 14 nationally acclaimed touring productions that have earned him 24 NAACP nominations and wins for Best Playwright of the Year and the prestigious Trailblazer Award. Talbert also received the New York Literary Award for Best Playwright of the Year. With the film adaptation of Baggage Claim, Talbert is the first African American filmmaker to adapt and direct his own novel. The film boasts an all-star cast that includes Taye Diggs, Paula Patton and Djimon Honsou, and is in theaters now. Check out the trailer for a sneak peek at this entertaining ensemble.
Canadian master of the short story Alice Munro has been named the winner of the 2013 Nobel Prize in Literature by the Swedish Academy. Only the 13th woman in the history of the award to win, Munro has been one of the rumored front-runners in recent years, and prior to the announcement had been running second by oddsmakers Ladbrooke’s, slightly behind Japanese writer Haruki Murakami. The first from her country to win the award, she is also the first North American to win the Nobel Prize in Literature since Toni Morrison in 1993.
Munro, 82, won the Man Booker International Prize in 2009, and has won the Governor General’s Award for Fiction and the Giller Prize on multiple occasions. Her signature style of writing often evokes small-town life in Ontario and other parts of Canada, often viewed through the observational lens of ordinary women with extraordinary stories to be told. Often covering the emotional and literary depth of novels, her realistic short stories develop characters, setting and plot using an economy of words and pages.
Earlier this year, Munro announced her retirement from writing. The Nobel Prize in Literature will be presented in Stockholm on December 10.
Memories are powerful entities. Sometimes they are strong enough to send us running from all that we fear and love straight into the unknown. Jacqueline has escaped from her painful past in Liberia by traveling across the shores of Northern Africa and Greece in Alexander Maksik’s second novel, A Marker to Measure Drift. Quiet, introspective and even explosively revealing, Jacqueline’s haunting past slowly unfolds throughout the novel as she tries to find the courage to face her tragic losses one by one. With each revelation that surfaces, we learn more about Jacqueline and how she has come to be a lonely, homeless woman drifting from place to place.
A Marker to Measure Drift examines how life can suddenly change without warning because of the violent actions of others, especially for Jacqueline as she was catapulted from her life of luxury to sleeping in a cave with only a handful of possessions and her memories to keep her company. How do you lose everything and everyone but still find the strength to go forward? How do you trust and open up to someone again? How do you forgive yourself for being alive when your loved ones are not? These are the questions Jacqueline asks herself over and over, until finally, she finds her answers. Readers of Michael Ondaatje, author of The English Patient, and Chris Bohjalian, author of The Sandcastle Girls, will find themselves immersed in Maksik’s evocative storytelling.
Punk-rock bassist and Soto Zen monk Brad Warner’s There Is No God and He Is Always with You: A Search for God in Odd Places takes its title from a well-known Zen Buddhist quotation. Warner believes that it “expresses the Zen Buddhist approach to the matter of God very succinctly.” As he explores the question of what God means to Buddhists and what non-Buddhists can learn from Zen teachings, Warner addresses spiritual and practical considerations through his experiences.
Having recently traveled the world doing book tours, spiritual retreats, and lectures, the author considers the roles of the body and mind and how people of various religious and cultural backgrounds conceptualize them. He travels to the Holy Land and meets and stays with an elderly Palestinian peace activist who owns a hostel that only takes donations. Warner also finds himself teaching and learning in places where Zen Buddhism is quite unknown, such as in Mexico and Northern Ireland. In one section, he discusses how Buddhism rejects the common Western perception of the body and mind as separate. The opposite, in fact, is a core belief of Buddhists, as the Heart Sutra explains there is no division between body and mind.
A good choice as a beginning-to-intermediate look at how Zen Buddhism and Western traditions can complement and contrast, Warner’s conversational musings are accessible to anyone wanting to think about his or her own spiritual background and understanding. Readers of comparative religion authors such as Karen Armstrong and Thich Nhat Hanh will find much to consider in this thought-provoking book.
Many people know Alison Sweeney from her work hosting NBC’s The Biggest Loser and her long-running role as Sami Brady on Days of Our Lives. Recently, she took on a new challenge and wrote The Star Attraction, her debut novel. Sophie Atwater is a self-confessed workaholic. She loves her job as a publicist at a well-respected Los Angeles firm. When she is chosen for the highly sought-after job of representing A-list actor Billy Fox, Sophie is thrilled, but soon her interactions with Billy take a flirty turn that puts her relationship with her long-term boyfriend Jacob in jeopardy. After she’s caught in an ill-advised make-out session with Billy, Sophie’s life and career fall apart. She has to decide what she really wants for her life and take charge to get it.
Sweeney’s insider knowledge of life in Hollywood is evident in the story. Sophie has a clear and distinct voice, and reading her story feels like gossiping with a friend. With a wry sense of humor, The Star Attraction is a fun, fast read that will remind readers of classic chick lit novels like Lauren Weisberger’s The Devil Wears Prada.
Days of Our Lives fans also won’t want to miss Days of Our Lives Better Living: Cast Secrets for a Healthier, Balanced Life by Greg Meng and Eddie Campbell. Featuring plenty of color photos of the cast, this book includes recipes, fitness tips, fashion advice and lifestyle solutions from your favorite Days stars.
Every busy, overwhelmed parent’s nightmare comes true in Just What Kind of Mother Are You?, the debut novel by British author Paula Daly. Lisa Kallisto is a busy, overworked and harried kennel operator. She is married to Joe, a taxi driver, and has three young children. Half paying attention to Sally, their 13-year-old daughter, Lisa agrees to host Sally’s friend Lucinda for the night. But due to a series of events, Lucinda goes missing and Lisa quickly realizes that she is ultimately responsible. Compounding the situation is that Lisa and Kate, Lucinda’s mother, are best friends. A tension-filled gathering at Kate’s home pits family against family and neighbor against neighbor, as the small town attempts to find Lucinda and bring her home safely.
Daly writes from various perspectives: from Lisa’s, that of Detective Constable Joanne Aspinall, and from a third-person narrator observing an ominous man who follows schoolgirls from a distance. A former physiotherapist, the author writes of the economically unstable area of England’s Lake District. Bucolic in appearance, the area can be fraught with unexpected booms and busts, turning families upside down generation to generation. In an interview, Daly credits Stephen King’s seminal nonfiction book On Writing for pushing her to become a novelist.
Equal parts thriller, a meditation on the bounds of friendship, a maze of placing and accepting blame, and a contemporary look at class divisions in northern England, this page-turner will leave you breathless up to its unexpected conclusion.
REDRUM! After 36 years, Stephen King revisits Danny Torrance, the protagonist of The Shining, in his new novel Doctor Sleep. After surviving the horrors of that terrible winter at the Overlook Hotel, Dan grew up and battled his own personal demons. Like his father, Dan became an alcoholic, but he has been sober for 10 years. Now middle-age, he uses his abilities to help his hospice patients at the end of their lives, earning him the moniker Doctor Sleep. Dan’s path crosses with a 12-year-old named Abra whose shining is even stronger than his own. He must protect her from a group called True Knot, who torture children like her and eat their shining. The Shining is one of King’s best-known and most beloved novels, and King delivers in this long-awaited sequel as only he can!
King fans have even more to celebrate this fall because King’s debut novel Carrie is coming to theaters in October. In this classic horror novel, Carrie is a teenage outcast with telekinetic abilities who seeks revenge against the popular classmates who humiliate her at prom. The new film adaptation starring Chloë Grace Moretz and Julianne Moore is billed as more faithful to the novel than the previous version. To celebrate the release of the film, a new audiobook edition is now available. This exciting new recording is read by Sissy Spacek, who starred in the 1976 film, and it’s a special treat for King’s long-time fans.
A cozy New England hamlet definitely needs some mystery and dark secrets to make life interesting, and Karen Brown delivers with The Longings of Wayward Girls. In the summer of 1979, Sadie is a 12-year-old girl with a big imagination, a flair for the dramatic and just enough boredom to lead her into trouble. She also physically resembles another neighborhood girl who disappeared five years prior, a coincidence that will continue to haunt her into adulthood. Sadie and her best friend play a trick on Francie, a younger neighbor, leaving her a series of letters supposedly written by a boy from an earlier era. Francie’s letters back to the imaginary person become darker and more telling of trouble at home, but Sadie and her friend are not mature enough to understand this. Soon after, Francie becomes the second girl in the neighborhood to disappear, and Sadie and her friend harbor guilt over her disappearance. Twenty-four years later, Sadie is living the quintessential stay-at-home mother existence in her hometown. Yet she remains haunted by her dysfunctional family history, a recent stillbirth and her own lack of professional accomplishments, not to mention the long-ago unsolved disappearances of the two girls.
In some ways, this is a typical suburban drama about families with underlying issues: Sadie’s alcoholic, suicidal mother; Francie’s abusive father; another neighbor’s odd obsession with Christmas displays. Yet Brown fine tunes the characters and brings enough details about suburban living into the writing to authenticate the scenes. The characters are not always likeable, but their past traumas and upbringings do provide a modicum of explanation for their current actions and personalities. Those who enjoy authors like Jennifer McMahon or Heather Gudenkauf will become intrigued with this community brimming with past and present secrets.
For Celia Cassill, life since her husband's premature death has been about keeping what's important close to her. Her memories, her grief, her personal space are hers alone. The young widow in Amy Grace Loyd's graceful debut, The Affairs of Others, goes about her days like a figure in a dollhouse, her life compartmentalized in the converted Brooklyn brownstone she purchased after her husband died.
Celia has carefully chosen the tenants who rent her three apartments based on their ability to respect each other's privacy and mind their own business. "There is a certain consonance of character I look for," she tells George, an English teacher who wants to sublet his rooms to a recently divorced middle-age woman named Hope. Celia reluctantly agrees. Soon Hope's problems seep into her landlord's guarded milieu and Celia finds herself increasingly drawn into the attractive woman's orbit. It's not long before the lives of her other tenants ignite her curiosity as well, like the mismatched couple whose relationship is on the rocks and the elderly ferry captain who suddenly wanders off. Celia begins tiptoeing around their messy lives as she reevaluates her own through trial and error, sex and violence.
Loyd, the former literary editor at Playboy magazine, exposes with elegant, spare prose grief’s manifestation and its tentacle-like reach. “Certain grief trumps others,” Celia says in her somber, observant voice that resonates with the intimate knowledge of dying. Readers of Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking or Lily Tuck's I Married You for Happiness will recognize lost and found joy in this accomplished first effort.