Thursday, June 19, 2008

The 2008 List: New(ish) Fiction

Ahab's Wife or the Star-Gazer by Sena Jeter Naslund. “I didn’t see this on your list and it’s one of my favorite books!!”

The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein. “I know it's a Starbucks book, but I am really enjoying it. It’s fiction, narrated by a dog.”

The Attack by Yasmina Khadra. Go to Amazon to find out more, but here’s a bit: “Amin Jaafari, an Israeli-Arab, is a contented man. Happily married and a respected surgeon, he has chosen to heal, not to fight. Suddenly his world explodes. His beloved wife is killed in a suicide bombing, and the police believe she was the bomber. Drowning in grief, Jaafari attempts to make sense of what he finds impossible to believe.”

The Best Day of Someone Else’s Life by Kerry Reichs. Gotta plug the local authors! (Kerry’s a Washington lawyer). Looks like chick lit with an “always the bridesmaid…” theme, and supposedly some deeper messages than the average product of the genre.

Blessings by Anna Quindlen. “…low-brow but is engaging and has big themes.” (This one is almost an “old favorite.” I think it was published in 2003.

Body of Lies by David Ignatius. No, not another book bashing the Bush Administration, but a post-9/11 spy thriller novel by the Washington Post columnist that many of us know and read.

The Commoner by John Burnham Schwartz. “Interesting fictional account of the life of Empress Michiko. I love this type of story, romance, contemporary and historical fiction of a fascinating culture all in one. Well written too!”

The Devil in the Junior League by Linda Francis Lee. “Good non-thinking book for the beach. Southerners, in particular, will appreciate this. ‘No diamonds before 6 p.m.’”

Family Matters by Rohiton Mistry. The author of A Fine Balance (which was an Oprah book club selection) tells the story of a multi-generational Parsi (small Indian minority) family in Bombay dealing with love lost, fortunes unrealized and death and changes. Really good, especially if you are interested in ethnic stories, India, etc. This is also a borderline “old favorite” – written in 2003.

Good Grief by Lolly Winston “It was an entertaining book about a woman's first year as a widow and how she fell apart and came back together. It was fiction, but, as widow myself, I appreciated her sense of humor and insight that must have come from other widows!”

Hunting and Gathering by Anna Gavalda. “Such a totally happy, deeply satisfying read if one wants to believe the world is ultimately a good place. Characters are very real, and for all their strangeness they are very compelling and you root hard for them through the last line.”

Ideas of Heaven by Joan Silber. “This ‘Ring of Stories’ delighted me with its clever links and layered meanings. It’s an inquiry into spiritual and sexual longing—how people use the two for similar ends—or not. The language is gorgeous and inspiring. My book club loved it.”

Inheritance by Natalie Danford. “Italy (Urbino, no doubt, was the draw for me, as it's an incredibly beautiful Tuscan village with masses of interesting history). World War II. Family secrets. A friend of a friend wrote this book, her first, and it's a gem and a quick read.”

The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. “Reading it right now and really like it!” It’s about an American widow who goes to China to find out whether a child there was fathered by her late husband.

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland. “France. Historical novel that chronicles the backdrop to this famous Renoir painting. A fun read for those who liked Girl With A Pearl Earring or Madame X (of the same ilk as this book).”

Mango Season by Amulya Malladi “India. Arranged marriages. Culture clash. Coming of Age. An Indian woman I met at a party recommended this book to me after we had a long discussion about arranged marriages in different cultures (fyi, she claims India has the highest success rate....).”

A Model Student: A Tale of Coeds and Cover Girls by Robin Hazelwood. “A brilliantly written beach read because robin is Yale grad so smart and so funny and it was a great story.” It’s fiction about a 17-year-old who is a model while also a student at Columbia University. Great look at the world of modeling.

A Most Uncommon Degree of Popularity By Kathleen Gilles Seidel. “Funny book about private school life in Washington, DC. I think it may be based on a fictional Maret [a Washington, DC private school]. Lots of familiar things here!” (I note that this author has written many other books.)

The Nightwatch by Sarah Waters. “This is a mesmerizing story of young people in Britain during the Second World War. Ingeniously told backward, it takes characters where they are and answers the most intriguing of questions: How did they get here? Satisfying to the last line, Nightwatch jolts the reader with domestic front reality and all that women did while men—most of them—were fighting. Waters is known as a lesbian writer, but this does her a great disservice (shame on me for letting the label slip out again). She ranks among the greatest of stylists, and her use of historical detail is beautiful.

No Angel by Penny Vincenzi. This is the first in a trilogy about the Lytton family. I first heard this author mentioned in this article, which offers some other authors and titles, too. It looks like a fun, engaging series, though I haven’t read them yet. The first one can be hard to come by, but you can always try the Book Depository, which offers free shipping on books still in print in Britain. (Nasty exchange rate, of course, but anything for a good book, right?)

Now You See Him by Eli Gottleib. From Publisher’s Weekly: “A mesmerizing blend of suspense and long-buried family secrets, Gottlieb's second novel (after 1997's The Boy Who Went Away) culminates in shocking revelations that rock a quiet upstate New York town. Nick Framingham is still reeling from the recent death of his childhood best friend, the writer Rob Castor, who committed suicide after killing his ex-girlfriend in Manhattan. Nick's own marriage to his college sweetheart, Lucy, begins to unravel as he struggles to understand what drove Rob to murder. Rekindling an old relationship with his first love, Belinda, Rob's volatile and beautiful sister, Nick begins to retrace not only Rob's last days but also their shared childhood, looking for clues to explain his friend's actions.”

The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers “This definitely goes into the ‘Books That Changed My Life’ column. I first heard of it from the Post’s Michael Dirda—always a trusted source!--though what I came away with exceeded his praise. Vickers is British, with a background in literature and psychotherapy. In this story, she examines a patient/therapist relationship, how their sharing changes each, while tying in Caravaggio’s life, as well as scripture—an unlikely addition to this most secular world—with thought-provoking and heartbreaking results. I adored this book, have the marked up hardcover to prove it, and did a fair amount of weeping. Yes, too heavy for the beach...”

Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. “Sparse and powerful.”

The Piano Tuner by Daniel Mason. A historic fiction about a British Army officer living in Burma who sends for a Piano Tuner from London. Story revolves around the officer, the Shan rebellion, life in a British Colony and independence while the officer searches for love

Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett. “I am into historical fictions so skip this if you are not, but it is about Sir Thomas Moore and his family and it is very engaging. Decidedly low-brow.”

Run by Ann Patchett. “It's a story about family -- who's in a family? Why? What are the boundaries and edges of what makes up a family? Stunning.”

Secret History of the Pink Carnation by Lauren Willig. TOTAL trash and kind of silly, but still fun. It’s billed as historical fiction, but I think it would be better categorized as historical romance/farcical caper. The back of the book says it’s a “genre bender,” and I think it is, but maybe not in the way the author intended. There’s probably more wrong history than right in it, with all kinds of anachronistic slang, etc. But I flew right through it and enjoyed it with only slight shame for having done so. It’s one a few similar books by this author.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka. From New Yorker: “In this comic first novel, two estranged sisters living in England discover that their addled elderly father, a Ukrainian war refugee and expert on tractors, is planning to marry a young, enormous-breasted woman who sees his modest pension as her ticket to capitalist comfort. The sisters put aside their differences, and embark on a spirited campaign to save him from boil-in-the-bag dinners, slovenly housekeeping, and such extravagant purchases as a broken-down Rolls-Royce. In the midst of these machinations—which include long-winded letters to solicitors, venomous gossip, and all-out spying—Lewycka stealthily reveals how the depredations of the past century dictate what a family can bear.”

Snow Flower & The Secret Fan by Lisa See. “China. 19thc. Friendship. Historical novel with a bit of suspense. Engrossing read.”

Songs without Words by Ann Packer. “Follow-up novel by the author of Dive from Clausen's Pier (which I loved). Have not read this but loved her first book.” {not out yet, but available for pre-order.}

Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri. This got a couple of votes: “Almost as good as her first book of short stories.” “(short stories this time, subtle prose masks rich, intricate family relations)”

The View from Castle Rock by Alice Munro. For those of you who like Geraldine Brooks, you can see what she has to say on Munro in the Amazon link. Nobody’s shelf is complete without Alice Munro, and this title is her latest, though any one of her books will satisfy. She writes long, novel-like stories, life stories that leave you enlightened and entertained and in awe of the everyday folk of rural Canada. She’s in some ways reminiscent of our early to mid-century Southern writers, but she digs deeper, shows us the startling and disturbing secrets of everyone around us. The first piece in The View from Castle Rock will win over only the most persistent as she lays out much of her complex family history, but the rest are vintage Munro.

The Wedding Officer by Anthony Capella “ Total Junk Read - Reading anything by Capella will make you very hungry and leave you with a strong desire to move to Italy (I also recommend his first novel, The Food of Love). The story takes place in Italy in WWII, and based on a tiny bit of truth. But mostly it's a love story with a focus on food and cooking. A wee bit smutty as well (Amazon describes it as ‘sensuous’).”

World Without End by Ken Follett. The sequel to the Pillars of the Earth.

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