Violinist Julia Ansdell is the troubled heroine of Playing with Fire, a haunting new literary suspense novel by Tess Gerritsen, the best-selling author of the Rizzoli & Isles series and a number of standalone thrillers such as The Bone Garden and Harvest.
Teen love, angst, secrets and lies make up a lot of realistic YA fiction. Fortunately, those topics can also add up to some of the best storylines, as in Courtney C. Stevens’ second novel.
In The Hours Count, Jillian Cantor revisits a pivotal moment in American history and asks: What if Ethel and Julius Rosenberg—the only Americans to ever be executed for spying during the Cold War—were actually innocent?
No microwaves or football kickoffs here; a cast-iron stove, candles and a hand-pump sink fill the background in Sharing the Bread: An Old-Fashioned Thanksgiving Story. Pat Zietlow Miller and Jill McElmurry collaborate to bring us this charming peek into America’s past, reminding us that while the trimmings may have changed, our Thanksgiving tradition of family and feasting remains strong.
Writers have been known to embellish facts for dramatic purposes. A possible embellishment provides part of the drama of Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise, the final novel by Oscar Hijuelos. This posthumous work, set in the late 19th and early 20th century, is more restrained than previous Hijuelos books, including the Pulitzer Prize winner The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. And the protagonists are as un-Hijuelos as you can get: Mark Twain and Henry Morton Stanley, the Welsh explorer who achieved fame for his search for David Livingstone.
In John Irving’s 14th novel, aging Mexican-American novelist Juan Diego Guerrero travels from his home in Iowa to the Philippines. He plans to fulfill a decades-old promise he made to a Vietnam draft dodger to honor a father killed during World War II, and takes a former writing student as his tour guide. En route to Manila, he is overtaken and seduced by a ghostly mother-daughter duo: fans of Juan Diego’s novels, who will reappear in unexpected, -sexually-charged moments throughout his journey. Going on and off his blood pressure medications, he travels in an almost hallucinatory state. He dreams.
In lesser hands, the story told in Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare would be sentimental or even clichéd. An emotionally needy white woman takes in a tough inner-city girl whose life is transformed when she learns to ride horses at the neighboring stables. Cue the swelling music as the girl and horse ride into the sunset. But Gaitskill, whose novels and short stories have always delved full force into the most uncomfortable of situations, has instead produced a complex and nuanced look at love, loss and limitations.
The Works Progress Administration of the 1930s and ’40s was a savior for American artists. Those meager checks alleviated financial concerns enough that the artists could pay rent and spend their off-hours drinking, cavorting and exploring their artistic passions.
Ancient Rome helps define the way we understand the world and think about ourselves. The ideas of liberty and citizenship, the Western calendar, phrases such as “beware of Greeks bearing gifts” and much more came from this one source. Renowned classicist Mary Beard, a professor at Cambridge University, has spent much of the last 50 years studying the literature of the Romans and the thousands of books and papers written about them. Her magnificent, eminently readable SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome is an authoritative exploration of how a small and unremarkable village became such a dominant power on three continents.
Celebrity memoirs often have a predictable arc: I was born, and for a brief while I was much like you, eating cereal and riding bicycles, then (big famous thing) happened and now here I am, not much like you at all. These memoirs fill a need, because we want to know about the famous thing but also the steps that led to it, in hopes that we might trade our own cereal bowls for shrimp forks. By that metric, Mary-Louise Parker’s Dear Mr. You, a memoir written by an actress, is the farthest thing imaginable from a celebrity memoir. For this we can rejoice and be glad.