Simon Wroe is a former chef, so it’s no surprise that he set his debut novel in a kitchen. What is surprising about Chop Chop, though, is how little Wroe lets this fiendish little book get bogged down in the details of its setting. It’s very much about the chaotic life of a kitchen, but this darkly comic narrative covers so much more, and the result is addictively entertaining.
Justin Go’s ambitious, sprawling and compelling debut novel, The Steady Running of the Hour, lurches from America to England, France, Sweden Germany and Iceland—even stretching to the Himalayas—switching back and forth in time from pre-WWI England to the present.
Mona Simpson’s sixth novel, Casebook, visits the country of divorce through the eyes of California teenager and Sherlock Holmes wannabe, Miles Adler-Hart. Aided by his sidekick Hector (living through the aftermath of his own parents’ breakup), Miles recounts their earnest, if often fumbling, effort to make sense of the emotional disturbance that inevitably surrounds even the most amicable end of a marriage and the survivors’ halting attempts to rebuild their lives. Simpson brings this all off with style, blending pathos with humor to create an appealing story.
Colin Cotterill lives in Southern Thailand, where he's set the inventive Jimm Juree mystery series in a rural outpost village called Maprao—a funky, lackadaisical, behind-the-times setting painted in cartoon colors with a comic wash. The Axe Factor is the third in this series of imaginatively plotted, very funny crime novels starring Jimm, a 30-something freelance reporter and “English language doctor” who still misses the bright lights and big-city atmosphere of her former home in Chiang Mai.
In The Collector—the latest from powerhouse author Nora Roberts—YA writer and professional house-sitter Lila Emerson enjoys the rootless quality of her life since it allows her to explore different places and observe different people. As a matter of fact, people-watching is her hobby of sorts. One night, as Lila settles in à la Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock's Rear Window to watch the activity in a nearby New York City high-rise, she witnesses an assault that ends with a woman falling from her apartment to her death. Lila’s emergency call brings the police, but there are no clear-cut leads, since she didn't see the perpetrator.
Author Heather Brittain Bergstrom has won awards for her short fiction from the Chicago Tribune and Atlantic Monthly, among others. Her outstanding debut novel, Steal the North, is almost guaranteed to add to Bergstrom’s award collection. Narrated from multiple perspectives, the novel is a heartbreaking tale of family secrets, unrequited love and the unbreakable bond of family.
On a cold, sunless planet named Eden, 500 or so descendants of two stranded travelers live beneath light and heat-giving “trees,” converting the slowly decaying knowledge of their own beginnings into a tribal mythology. Among them, John Redlantern chafes at the slavish, innovation-quenching traditions the Family upholds as it huddles in its small valley and refuses to even question what lies beyond the “Snowy Dark” that surrounds it. Soon, John makes a series of decisions that threaten to disrupt the peace—and ignorance—his tribe holds dear.
For those who mistakenly assume that PTSD is a malady of modern warfare, prize-winning author Helen Dunmore’s novel The Lie provides a poignant reminder that throughout history, the battle is far from over after a soldier returns home.
BookPage Fiction Top Pick, April 2014
The title of Maggie Shipstead’s second novel, Astonish Me, is a fitting one indeed. It’s a request, a demand, a dare, all wrapped up in two little words, heavy with promise.
Julia Glass’ fifth novel borrows for its title a lyric from “What a Wonderful World,” the song made famous by Louis Armstrong. In Glass’ book, the reference comes up when Fenno McLeod, the Scottish expat introduced in Three Junes, is at a therapy session with his boyfriend. “The past is like the night: dark yet sacred,” the therapist says, neatly summing up the crux of this big-hearted story of family ties.