Reading Recommendations · Beyond Bestsellers: Notable New Fiction Titles (February 2014)
Only a few books reach the top of the fiction bestseller charts, but there are many more terrific new titles available at the Library. Here are some recent favorites.
It is indeed a literary gem when a few short pages carry as much weight as an entire novel. Every one of the short stories in Banks’ sixth collection offers the resonance and satisfaction of a narrative five times its size. In the title story, the family dog refuses to agree to the custody arrangements in a divorce. The first story, about a former marine, packs a closing wallop. In “Blue” a Ford Escape ironically provides anything but escape. These plus nine other tales make up an impressive anthology from a much heralded American writer.
Romance writer Brockway never disappoints, and once again has a 5-star hit with the star-crossed couple of Avery Quinn and Giles Dalton. Avery, indulged by Giles’ dead father, has discovered a comet and plans to register her find with the Royal Astronomical Society. Since girls aren’t allowed, Avery coerces Giles into taking her, masquerading as a man, into London and introducing her as his protégé. Giles has a secret past that catches up with him and puts Avery at risk, causing each of them to realize how much they belong together.
Selected by Danish crime fiction fans as the Danish Crime Novel of the Decade, The Dinosaur Feather exploits the world of academia and its quirky characters. While a bit verbose for the American audience, the premise is intriguing. Dr. Lars Helland is dead – likely (of course) murdered in some extremely clever way - and there are myriads of suspects from neglected grad students who need approval of their dissertations to the academic rivals whose theories counter Helland’s research. It’s clear that Helland was mutually disliked, even by his own family.
This character study won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it has been praised by critics who all agree that every paragraph is a treasure. The minimal plot centers on 22-year-old Christopher Westall’s trip to Bhutan, just following his mother’s death. The text is arranged in short bursts – the thoughts in Christopher’s head – which come in no apparent order. An eccentric character to be sure, Christopher’s life seems to have been shaped by tragedy and his musings, while bizarre and disjointed, are beautifully phrased. For discerning readers who like a challenge.
In the 2013 Nero Award winner Dead Anyway, Arthur Cathcart is mortally wounded, along with his wife, Florencia. In this second installment, the “dead man” with multiple identities realizes that it’s not enough to know who murdered Florencia; Arthur wants to know why. Aided by master of disguises, Natsumi Fitzgerald, he opens a safe deposit box in the Cayman Islands that sends the two on a worldwide cat-and-mouse chase. It’s a high-tech caper with exotic locales and a wild roller coaster pace as Arthur learns why his wife had a fortune stashed away.
Lee, whose last novel The Surrendered was a Pulitzer Prize finalist, has given voice to narrators of a dystopian community whose luck changed when 16-year-old Fan simply walked away, leaving the confines of protected worker bee life behind in a search for love. Outside B-Mor are the wild and lawless open counties where numerous adventures and perils befall the petite heroine on her quest to reach a Charter (i.e., elite class) community. Her story is woven into the history of B-Mor, where her tale has been elevated to mythic status by its citizens.
Even by her own reckoning, Cynthia Piantedosi leads a dull life. Her days consist of nursing school classes, attending mass, and cooking dinner for her father. The only thing exceptional is the “spells” that are growing stronger and encouraging her spiritual commitment. At a time when the Catholic Church is being challenged by the outside world to change, Cynthia is certain that she has been charged with becoming the first female priest. When she travels to the Vatican to present her case, it is obvious that denial could obstruct a miracle sent from God.
Twenty-three years ago, au pair Sabine Frazer was murdered along with two of the three young boys in her care. When Chantal sees that Weston Lodge, the country estate where her older sister’s stabbing took place, is being launched as a luxury hotel, she can’t pass on a special deal for the opening weekend. Hoping for much needed closure, Chantal soon realizes that she is not the only guest there who has a past connection with the house. In true gothic style, the house holds the answers to the questions she has and provides a suspenseful Christie-like setting.
In 1913, as the novel starts, four young men are beginning adulthood in earnest – a Frenchmen, 2 Brits, and a Brit living in the US. As the years pass, they find love, careers, and a sense of self. All enlist as war breaks out in Europe and are swept into different military roles as the action leads up to the climactic Battle of the Somme. This is a fitting tribute as we begin the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I. It is a good historical choice for book clubs and compliments our On the Same Page choice, A Star for Mrs. Blake.
Robert Stone doesn’t produce new works very often, but every one of them contains the tense and vivid prose that makes his characters linger long after the book is closed. The black-haired girl of the title is college student Maud Stack, a talented writer who doesn’t mind defying convention. She’s having an affair with her mentor, Professor Steven Brookman, who is ending the affair when Maud is killed in an accident. Maud’s death has a profound effect on her ex-cop father, the school counselor, her actress roommate, and Brookman’s family.
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