It is 1922, and England and her citizens are still recovering from the upheaval of the First World War: High unemployment, disillusioned ex-soldiers and severely strained circumstances are commonplace. Twenty-seven-year-old Frances Wray and her mother are living in South London. Both of Frances’ brothers died in the war, and her father’s recent death left the two women close to financial ruin. Even with the dismissal of servants and Frances taking over the housework and meals, the Wrays no longer have enough to live on. Their decision to take in lodgers, or “paying guests” as they genteelly refer to them, leads to an event as ultimately life-altering as the war itself.
Rene Steinke, a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award for her novel Holy Skirts, makes an awaited return with Friendswood. Located outside of Houston, the town of Friendswood, Texas, is definitely all-American. The citizens are high on religion, high school football and the oil business. But then a hurricane uncovers not just buried toxic chemicals, but secrets and moral ambiguities that are crippling the town.
Set against the colorful backdrop of the Virgin Islands from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning weaves an intricate tale of the legacy of an island family as it grapples with love, magic and death over more than six decades. A heartbroken patriarch purposefully sinks his ship into the Caribbean, leaving two daughters and their half-brother to make their own way, each in possession of a particular magic and unusual beauty.
A liberated Asian at odds with her conservative family or homeland is not a new story. Literature abounds with such declarations of independence in prose, doggedly demolishing superstitions and customs. This is especially true when it comes to an Asian woman's "proper" role in courtship and marriage, or non-role in the workplace. Jean Kwok's entertaining second novel, Mambo in Chinatown, thus breaks no new ground, except perhaps that it is her father, not her mother, who proves the protagonist's foil. Also: ballroom dancing!
Emma Straub’s delightful second novel, The Vacationers, is the best work yet from this Brooklyn-based writer, who previously penned the quirky short story collection Other People We Married and the historical novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures.
Who risks the most when a literary lion well into his ninth decade writes a novel? The legend, who is putting his legacy on the line, or the longtime reader, who shoulders the load of vicarious shame in the event the book is a mess?
With In Paradise, readers can rest assured the risk is worthwhile.
Leah Hager Cohen’s new novel, No Book but the World, takes its title from a quote by philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Ava and her younger brother, Fred, were raised by progressive parents who followed Rousseau’s “free” education and parenting model, letting their children discover the world on their own and without inhibitions or formal constrictions. Memories of their imaginative childhood in the woods flood forth as an adult Ava visits the town where her brother is now in jail.
An unnamed, ingenue heroine. A dramatic location by the sea. A wealthy and cultured older gentleman. If this sounds like the plot of the beloved mystery Rebecca, it is—but Rachel Pastan’s third novel pays homage to the Daphne du Maurier classic while adding a few new twists. Alena’s young heroine is a curator at a small art museum in the Midwest. Visiting the Venice Biennale with her employer, she is introduced to Bernard Augustin, the wealthy and enigmatic founder of the Nauquasset, a museum on Cape Cod that specializes in cutting-edge work.
At the start of The Swan Gondola, Timothy Schaffert’s enchanting new historical novel, two elderly spinster sisters discover a man in their front yard who has fallen from the sky (or from a hot air balloon, at least). The man in question is Ferret Skerritt, a ventriloquist turned star-crossed lover with an incredible tale to tell.
Chang-rae Lee’s fifth novel, set in a troubled America more than a century hence, marks a significant departure from his previous work, much of which has been rooted in his Korean heritage. In offering the quest narrative of a 16-year-old girl named Fan, he poses some disturbing questions about what a country that’s willing to tolerate an increasing gap between rich and poor might...