Love is in the air . . . love of romance books, that is. This week, the Romance Writers of America (RWA) announced the finalists for the 2014 RITA and Golden Heart Awards. A big congratulations goes to our very own romance columnist, Christie Ridgway, whose Beach House No. 9 is up for a Best Contemporary Romance RITA! Check out our interview with Christie about the book.
Other RITA finalists include veterans Jill Shalvis (nominated twice, for It Had to Be You and Rumor Has It), Nora Roberts (for Whiskey Beach), Elizabeth Hoyt (for Duke of Midnight), along with relative newcomers Sarah MacLean (for No Good Duke Goes Unpunished) and Bella Andre (for The Way You Look Tonight).
The Golden Heart Awards recognize excellence in novels or novellas that have not yet been published, with finalists in eight categories chosen from more than 1,000 manuscript entries each year.
Check out the complete list of finalists here. Winners will be announced at a black-tie gala at the RWA annual conference in San Antonio on July 26. Which books are you rooting for?
• Voting is officially open for the 2014 Children's Choice Book Awards! Be sure to vote for your favorite books before the deadline of May 12, and then tune into the live video webcast of the awards ceremony on May 14. Which books do you want to win?
• The assignation of a sentence as one of the "best" is subjective, of course, but because there are so many of them in the world of literature, it's always fun when folks round some up, as in these 10 gems selected by the editors of the American Scholar. Do you have a favorite literary line? (The one most fresh in my mind is from War and Peace: “From the study, like pistol shots, came the repeated sound of the old Prince furiously blowing his nose.” The perpetually cranky prince has just said a stoic goodbye to his son, who's heading off to war. I love Tolstoy's indirect revelation that a tender-hearted sentimentality lies beneath the prince's gruff exterior.)
• Check out this HuffPost list of 21 female literary characters—from Elizabeth Bennet to Daenerys Targaryen—and what it says about you if you have a crush on one—or more!—of them.
• Speaking of which, Mental Floss compiled a list of 10 infamous literary characters who were actually based on real people.
Peter Stark has an affinity for adventure—whether it's writing about it or engaging in it himself. His latest book, Astoria, chronicles John Jacob Astor's early 19th-century attempt to settle the frontier of the Pacific Northwest by financing two expeditions—one by land, the other by sea—to the remote region. A couple of the adjectives featured in our review of the book are "sweeping" and "spellbinding." Check out the full review right here.
We were curious about the books Stark has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend some recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
In the course of doing research for a book like Astoria, which my agent has called “historical adventure,” I find myself reading bits and pieces of all sorts of works of nonfiction, as well as explorers’ journals and memoirs, history, anthropology and many other eclectic subjects.
But here are a few of the nonfiction books I’ve read (or am in the course of reading), and enjoyed recently, that weren’t directly related to research:
FORGET ME NOT
By Jennifer Lowe-Anker
The author was married to one of the world’s best-known mountain climbers, American Alex Lowe, and is a passionate artist as well as outdoorswoman in her own right. The couple climbed together; they traveled together; and they had a family of three boys together. While Jennifer took on the role of mother, Alex continued to travel around the world for long stretches, pursuing his passion for climbing, out of which he had made a career. In 1999, he was killed in an avalanche while climbing in Tibet, leaving behind Jennifer and their three young sons in Montana. One of his closest friends, and climbing partners, Conrad Anker, survived the avalanche. Their shared grief over Alex’s death brought Conrad and Jennifer closer together, and eventually they married, with Conrad helping to raise the three boys.
As a writer of adventure and exploration, and adventurer in my own right, as well as a father, I was attracted to Jennifer Lowe-Anker’s story. It offers a deeply personal insight into the risks and rewards of pursuing a life of adventure in the outdoors.
THE FOOTLOOSE AMERICAN: Following the Hunter S. Thompson Trail Across South America
By Brian Kevin
Kevin takes to the road in the footsteps of Thompson’s yearlong, 1963 journey through South America, in which Thompson sent some of his first dispatches back to publications in the U.S. There’s a certain eerieness in witnessing the young Thompson’s observations and experiences abroad, knowing, as we do, the role he would have in shaping the “new journalism” over the next several decades and what he branded “gonzo journalism.” It seems odd to call the young Thompson “innocent,” but there are glimmers of it in some of his dispatches and letters, as well as the beginnings of the provocative, confrontational stance he would adopt in print in subsequent years. Kevin also provides an intriguing modern-day travelogue to the places that Thompson visited, places where I haven’t been, but have wondered about.
By Ted Tally
This is actually a play, not a book. I’ve been interested in the dramatic possibilities of explorers’ stories, and an actor friend, Jeremy Sher, recommended I read this play. Based in part on letters and journals, it follows the Scott party in the early 1900s in its valiant British attempt to reach the South Pole before a Norwegian party led by Roald Amundsen, and especially focuses on the fatal return journey where the Antarctic winter caught Scott and his deteriorating men. I’ve been curious to see how dialogue and flashbacks can capture the spirit and the context of one of the great adventure stories of our time.
AMERICAN SPHINX: The Character of Thomas Jefferson
By Joseph J. Ellis
I’ve read a good deal of Jefferson biography, and I read this one specifically while researching Astoria. While it doesn’t cover in any depth the expeditions Jefferson launched to the West, which has been my focus, American Sphinx gives a multidimensional character portrait of the man who shaped so much of the North American political geography. I also love the title, which, for Jefferson, is utterly appropriate.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding Astoria—or any of Stark's recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Amy Ragsdale)
April's right around the corner, and even if it traditionally means lots of showers in the forecast, at least we'll have plenty of great books to cozy up with. The April LibraryReads list, which features ten of next month's newly published books that librarians across the country are most excited about sharing with their patrons, features something for readers of all tastes.
At the top of the list is Gabrielle Zevin's irresistible novel The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, which graces the cover of our April issue. Don't miss our insightful interview with Zevin about the list-topper.
See all ten of their selections right here. Are there any that you'll be adding to your TBR list?
• These adorably clever book brooches by London-based House of Ismay make the perfect (non-bank-breaking) gift for your biliophile friends!
• If you are able to forgive the glaring inaccuracy in #2, BuzzFeed's list of 23 signs your Jane Austen addiction is getting out of hand is pretty hilarious.
• Did you read our guest blog post by author David Menasche about his recent (and moving) memoir The Priority List? If so, you might be interested in the news that the film rights have been acquired, with Steve Carell on board to play Menasche (and produce the movie).
• Even some of the 20th century's most iconic authors received bad reviews, like these entertaining gems rounded up by the folks at Mental Floss.
Jean Hanff Korelitz's You Should Have Known is so full of smoldering suspense that I devoured all 450 pages of it in two sittings. Grace Reinhart Sachs has the perfect life: a thriving career as a psychologist; her first book—a relationship-focused, self-help book called, you guessed it, You Should Have Known—on the verge of publication with lots of pre-pub buzz; Henry, her sweet, intelligent 12-year-old son, who attends an exclusive Manhattan prep school, her own alma mater; a comfortable "classic six" on the Upper East Side, the very apartment she grew up in; and Jonathan, her saintly, charming, pediatric oncologist husband of 18 years.
Of course, we all know that things aren't always what they seem from the outside, but sometimes they aren't what they seem from the inside, either . . . as Grace soon finds out. A violent death sends her community reeling, but the shocking crime is only a prelude to the gut-wrenching, gob-smacking truths about to be exposed in this supremely entertaining page-turner. In this excerpt from the beginning of the book—to whet your appetite—Grace is being photographed for a Vogue article about her forthcoming book:
Grace leaned forward. The lens seemed so close, only inches away. She wondered if she could look through it and see his eye on the other side; she peered deep into it, but there was only the glassy dark surface and the thunderous clicking noise; no one was in there. Then she wondered if she would feel the same if it were Jonathan holding the camera, but she actually couldn't remember a single time when Jonathan had held a camera, Click, let alone a camera this close to her face. She was the default photographer in her family, though with none of the bells and whistles currently on display in her little office, and with none of Ron's evident skill, and with no passion at all for the form. She was the one who took the birthday pictures and the camp visiting-weekend pictures, Click, the photo of Henry asleep in his Beethoven costume, and Click, the photo of him playing chess with his grandfather, Click, her own favorite picture of Jonathan, minues after finishing a Memorial Day road race up at the lake, with a cup of water thrown over his face and an expression of unmistakable pride and just distinguishable lust. Or was it only in retrospect, Grace thought, Click, that she had always seen lust in that picture, because later, running the numbers, she had realized that Henry was about to be conceived, just hours after it was taken. After Jonathan had eaten a bit and stood for a long time under a hot shower, after he had taken her to her own childhood bed and, Click, saying her name again and again, and she remembered feeling so happy, and, Click, so utterly lucky, and not because they were in the act of making the child she wanted so badly, but because at that specific moment even the possibility of that did not matter to her, nothing but him and, Click, them and this, and now the memory of this, rushing up to the surface: the eye and the other eye through the lense that must be looking back.
"That's nice," Ron said, lowering the camera. Now she could see his eye again: brown, after all, and utterly unremarkable. Grace nearly laughed in embarrassment. "No, it was good," he said, misunderstanding. "And you're done."
Done, indeed. Will you be checking out You Should Have Known? What are you reading this week?
After his much-acclaimed biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates, Blake Bailey reflects on his own family's difficult story in The Splendid Things We Planned, which our reviewer calls "an unforgettable look at a family doing its best in the most trying of circumstances, those where no good outcome exists." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Bailey has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend some recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
MS. HEMPEL CHRONICLES
By Sarah Shun-Lien Bynum
I was a school teacher for several years, and if someone were to ask me what was the least likely book I'd ever want to read, my answer would be (in effect) a collection of thematically linked stories about a quirky but lovable seventh-grade teacher. Unless, that is, such a book were written by a genius, as in this case. Ms. Hempel is, I think, one of the most enduring creations in American literature: tolerant, obliging to a fault, a little feckless, gifted in her own right but overwhelmed by the sheer endearing quiddity of each and every one of her students. It's not a book about teaching, really, so much as a study in human endurance, and yet I think it's the best thing ever written about teaching: the joys, sorrows and downright horrors of giving up the best years of one's life so that other (potentially less deserving) souls may thrive.
THE PATRICK MELROSE NOVELS
by Edward St Aubyn
There are five Patrick Melrose novels: Never Mind, Bad News, Some Hope, Mother's Milk and At Last. How I wish there were 50; how I wish I could depend on reading them for the rest of my life—the way I read Wodehouse's novels, say, whenever (blessedly) I don't have anything else to read. And indeed there's something of Wodehouse in St Aubyn, I think, if Wodehouse were inclined to write about sociopathic child-molesting fathers, heroin addicts, a whole gruesome family blighted by narcissism of every sort. But of course Wodehouse would never write about such people, so I'm all the more grateful for St Aubyn, who proves that one can be funny without losing a whit of gravitas where gravitas counts. Along with his humor and almost peerless elegance of style, St Aubyn is an Olympian judge of character: He puts us into the heads of monsters, and manages to make them comprehensible and even—almost—sympathetic. Proust is something like that, though not nearly as funny.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out The Splendid Things We Planned or any of Bailey's recommended books? By the way, see which other author recommended the Patrick Melrose novels.
(Author photo © Mary Brinkmeyer)
• What's the most downloaded ebook in your state?
• Anne Rice isn't letting the vampire phenomenon go down without a fight. She's bringing back her infamous "Brat Prince" (her words!) Lestat in a new Vampire Chronicles book. Prince Lestat will hit stores on October 28 of this year, just in time for Halloween.
• The longlist of finalists in contention for the 2014 Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction have been revealed. Among them are Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie for Americanah, Eleanor Catton for The Luminaries and Donna Tartt for The Goldfinch. Look for the shortlist of six books to be announced on April 7, the winner revealed in June. Which book will you be rooting for?
A psychologist, surveyor, biologist and anthropologist go into the woods . . . well, not the woods, exactly. The premise of Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation—the first in his Southern Reach trilogy, all due out this year—is oh-so-intriguing. The aforementioned quartet make up the 12th expedition into a place called Area X, the site of a former environmental disaster that's oddly teeming with lushness and wildlife. The fates of the members of the first 11 expeditions—murder, suicide, cancer—will send a shiver up your spine, and the mounting sense of foreboding in the first couple of chapters is outweighed only (though greatly) by an overwhelming curiosity to find out how this expeditions unfolds . . . or unravels. The imprint chosen for Annihilation—FSG Originals—couldn't be more perfect for this intense, unpredictable, clever thriller. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the book:
There were four of us: a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist. I was the biologist. All of us were women this time, chosen as part of the complex set of variables that governed sending the expeditions. The psychologist, who was older than the rest of us, served as the expedition's leader. She had put us all under hypnosis to cross the border, to make sure we remained calm. It took five days of hard hiking after crossing the border to reach the coast.
Our mission was simple: to continue the government's investigation into the mysteries of Area X, slowly working our way out from base camp.
The expedition could last days, months, or even years, depending on various stimuli and conditions. We had supplies with us for four months, and another two years' worth of supplies had already been stored at the base camp. We had also been assured that it was safe to live off the land if necessary. All of our food stuffs were smoked or canned or in packets. Our most outlandish equipment consisted of a measuring device that had been issued to each of us, which hung from a strap on our belts: a small rectangle of black metal with a glass-covered hole in the middle. If the hole glowed red, we had thirty minutes to remove ourselves to "a safe place." We were not told what the device measured or why we should be afraid should it glow red. After the first few hours, I had grown so used to it that I hadn't looked at it again. We had been forbidden watches and compasses.
What do you think? Will you be checking out Annihilation? What are you reading this week?
Anne Fortier follows up her New York Times best-selling debut, Juliet, with another novel rooted in one of history's most notorious tales. Our reviewer describes The Lost Sisterhood as "a gorgeous journey from England to North Africa to Greece, thrilling readers with beautiful settings, courageous women and breathtaking adventure." (Read our full review here.)
We were curious about the books Fortier has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share.
By Sally O'Reilly
I just finished this, and I’m jumping at this opportunity to recommend it to book lovers far and wide. It tells the story of Aemilia, a young lady at the court of Elizabeth I, who becomes the obsession of an up-and-coming playwright . . . yes, you’ve guessed it! Was Aemilia really Shakespeare’s famous “dark lady”? O’Reilly’s fabulous novel makes a very compelling case.
The book won’t be on the shelves until June, but then now you know there is something to look forward to this summer. Dark Aemilia is a must-read for all lovers of Shakespeare and old England, and while it is written from the perspective of a woman, I am confident men will enjoy it, too. I am usually careful with my books, but this one quickly became a victim of dog ears and pencil-marks, because O’Reilly touches on so many crucial historical moments and writes with such intelligent elegance.
The Greek Myths
By Robert Graves
Hardly a month goes by where I don’t reread a chapter or two in Robert Graves’ classic, The Greek Myths. It is one of those masterpieces that have long since won a permanent place on my what-to-bring-to-a-desert-island list. There are many renditions of the ancient myths out there, but to me, Graves' still rules supreme. Not only does he have an encyclopedic knowledge of the ancient world and its legends, but he is also able to re-tell the myths as if he were an ancient storyteller, and we the gaping audience sitting around his campfire. “Some say—” is his favorite opening, and indeed, he makes us believe the mythological heroes and heroines are still at large around us in the darkness . . .
In addition to the collected works of Shakespeare, I find the Greek myths make a fantastic graduation present, or simply a birthday gift for ambitious young readers.
Ronia, the Robber's Daughter
By Astrid Lindgren
I am just about to begin reading Astrid Lindgren’s wonderful Ronia, the Robber’s Daughter to my little girl. I can’t wait! This was one of my favorite books growing up, and now, decades later, I feel as if Ronia’s magical forest was as real as my own childhood memories. It is one of those rare books that make you eager to go out and find adventure in nature—a much-needed quality in today’s world, I think.
Born in 1907, Sweden’s Astrid Lindgren was such an inspired, paradigm-shifting author, and a real pioneer when it came to creating strong, adventurous female characters. My mother used to read The Children of Noisy Village to me, over and over; each individual chapter has its own plot and makes for a perfectly happy and wholesome goodnight story for boys and girls alike. Illustrations are sparse, but since the writing is so engaging and straight-forward, these are fantastic starter-books for transitioning away from picture books.
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Lost Sisterhood—or any of Fortier's recommended books—to your TBR list? By the way, The Lost Sisterhood is one of four books we're giving away in this week's Women's History Month contest.
(Author photo by Grant Simeon)