Ruth Reichl, the former NYT restaurant reviewer, final editor of Gourmet magazine and author of several best-selling memoirs, will be turning to fiction with her next book. Random House will publish Delicious! in May 2014, "a novel of sisters, family ties, and a young woman who must let go of the past to embrace her own gifts." The aforementioned heroine is Billie Breslin, who has moved to New York City to take a job at the food magazine Delicious!. But after Delicious! is abruptly shuttered, Billie discovers of WWII-era letters between a 12-year-old girl and famous chef and cookbook writer James Beard—a correspondence that ends up changing her own life. Readers can count on evocative descriptions of NYC and an authentic depiction of the foodie magazine scene—and yes, even a recipe for Billie's famous gingerbread. Related in BookPage: Read an interview with Ruth Reichl and other coverage of her previous books.
The Visionist by Rachel Urquhart
Little, Brown • $26 • ISBN 9780316228114
On sale January 14, 2014
Rachel Urquhart's debut novel takes place in a Shaker community in the 1840s—the place where 15-year-old Polly and her younger brother flee after burning her house down to conceal the murder of her abusive father. But she finds that safety comes at something of a price in this harsh and restrictive community.
"Why must I pretend my brother is not my brother?" she asked. She no longer felt afraid of this stranger. Nothing moved her anymore, not love, not worry, not even sadness. She had become as hard and dry as a winter seed. "Mama said she had business to attend to," Polly said, not intending to speak her doubts out loud. "Perhaps. And yet, how could she have left us in a place where there can be no love?"
The girl let out a sigh. "There is love here, you will see. Brother for brother, sister for sister. But flesh bonds are forged in the fires of carnal sin. Your Ben, like you, was born of a filthy act. Here, that filth will be lifted. You shall see for yourself, if you are willing to renounce your blood ties and confess. Should you refuse, then you do not belong among us."
2013 is winding down, and it's time to celebrate the year in books! With so many notable titles published this year, picking our top 50 was a real challenge. The full list will debut for the first time in our December issue, but for now, check out #26-50.
26. The Guns at Last Light by Rick Atkinson
27. Big Brother by Lionel Shriver
28. Schroder by Amity Gaige
29. The Astronaut Wives Club by Lily Koppel
30. The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker
31. The Book of Ages by Jill Lepore
32. Flora by Gail Godwin
33. The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert
34. Brief Encounters with the Enemy by Saïd Sayrafiezadeh
35. At Night We Walk in Circles by Daniel Alarcón
36. Drinking with Men by Rosie Schaap
37. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
38. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
39. Going Clear by Lawrence Wright
40. Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
41. Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw
42. The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
43. The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo
44. Ecstatic Nation by Brenda Wineapple
45. Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
46. The Secrets of Happy Families by Bruce Feiler
47. Jim Henson: The Biography by Brian Jay Jones
48. Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld
49. Visitation Street by Ivy Pochoda
50. Gulp by Mary Roach
Starting this week, our editors will be posting about some of their favorites from the list, so there’s plenty more “Best of” coverage to look forward to. Any guesses about who's #1? What was your favorite book of 2013?
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is Amy & Isabelle, by Elizabeth Strout. Strout went on to win the Pulitzer Prize with her third book, Olive Kitteridge, but her debut, a sensitive story about mothers and daughters, marked her as an author to watch. Isabelle thinks she knows everything about her daughter, Amy, but when she discovers that Amy has been having an affair with her math teacher, their relationship is tested.
Amy's deceit makes Isabelle, a single mother, question her own parenting skills, remembering her own lies that began when she first moved to Shirley Falls when Amy was a baby. Horrified by her daughter's actions, Isabelle commits an act that they later regret, igniting the hostile silence throughout the summer. Unsure how to make amends, Amy and Isabelle begin the arduous process of learning to see each other as adults and recognizing their respective limits. . . . In this quiet but exhilarating novel, the reader becomes involved in the life of Shirley Falls, able to peer through everyone's roofs at night and empathize with their struggles.
Read the full review from our January 1999 issue here.
August is First Fiction Month on BookPage.com! Click here for complete coverage.
Use your past favorites to discover your favorite new voice! Here are 10 notable first novels paired with their 2013 read-alikes. Agree? Disagree? Duke it out with me in the comments.
Like Prada, Kwan's debut features a likable heroine thrust into a world beyond her ken. Only instead of the fashion elite, Rachel is brought into the secretive kingdom of the offshore Chinese, a community with wealth and privilege beyond her wildest imaginings.
Like Audrey Niffenegger's 2003 bestseller, Rhonda Riley's debut tells the story of an ordinary woman in love with someone who's . . . not so ordinary. Along the way, it explores questions about the nature of love and identity.
If you like quirks, literary chops and a touch of magic in your fiction, The Rathbones is the 2013 debut for you. It stars a spunky teenage heroine who sets out on a search for a missing relative—and encompasses 100 years of Rathbone family history in the process.
Marra's accomplished debut is set in war-torn Chechnya, and, like Obreht's, manages to tell a compelling story while exploring the effects of a brutal civil war. Insightful and enlightening, this is the sort of novel that helps you see the world differently.
Like Fielding, Double Feature manages to tackle the tricky topic of young man coming of age without self-indulgence or pretension—although King's hero Sam Dolan must prove himself in Hollywood rather than on the baseball field. Both novels surround a dynamic male lead with an equally true-to-life, crowd-pleasing cast of characters, and ably walk the line between tragedy and comedy.
Though set in different eras, these two debuts both masterfully evoke the Southern landscape and culture and feature down-and-out protagonists who could use a little bit of luck—not to mention poetic, spare prose.
Alice Sebold's first novel broke the rules by killing her narrator in the opening pages. Nutting's debut is possibly even more transgressive: Its narrator is an unrepentant, beautiful and cold young woman who preys on her teen students. But a bold premise is nothing without an equally strong and original voice—and both of these books have it.
A story told in letters, set mostly on a small, isolated island during a world war—this summary could describe either of these charming novels. Although each has its own distinct voice, both handily evoke their eras and will please fans of love stories and small-town tales.
Though the settings of these two novels could not be more different—an isolated island off the coast of Australia vs. a modern American prison—the moral questions raised by each will have a similar resonance in readers' minds.
With a settings ranging from Sweden to Spain's stunning Costa del Sol, this fast-paced crime thriller is hard-boiled enough to satisfy fans of Stieg Larsson's Millenium trilogy.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is Sleep Toward Heaven by Amanda Eyre Ward. Set in the women's prison in Gatestown, Texas, this heartfelt and challenging novel is a true literary page-turner that intertwines the lives of three women: a murderer waiting to be executed on death row—who is at the same time desperately ill with AIDS—the widow of the man she murdered and the physician responsible for the inmate's care.
In lean, luminous prose, Ward taps into her own chilling experiences visiting one of the state's women's prisons. Her sharply drawn characters ponder life's capital-letter concepts: Guilt, Vengeance, Forgiveness. As Mills says, while driving to witness Lowens' execution, "The fact is that in the abstract, I do believe in mercy. . . . I believe people make mistakes, and that they should be given a chance to atone. But I also feel that something was taken away from me . . . and that I deserve something back."
Read the full review from our July 2003 issue here.
Today's Debut of the Day pick is The Spellman Files, the 2007 debut of Lisa Lutz, a former screenwriter. Wacky and irreverent, this is a quirky first novel that will appeal to fans of "Arrested Development" and the works of Maria Semple.
The first in a series, The Spellman Files tells the story of Isabelle Spellman, a tough-talking 28-year-old (described by another character as "Dirty Harry meets Nancy Drew") who works for her eccentric family's P.I. business. Investigating others is their formal objective, but the family including alcoholic gambler Uncle Ray and Izzy's 14-year-old sister Rae (who is known to snap incriminating photos of family members to use as blackmail) regularly probe each other's lives as well. This comes to a head when Izzy starts dating nice-guy dentist Daniel and can't go on a date without turning around to find her mother hot on her tail.
Click here to read the entire interview from our April 2007 issue.
Today’s Debut of the Day pick is You Came Back by Christopher Coake, a wrenching journey through grief that is also a suspenseful page-turner. Is Mark Fife's son really haunting the home where he died? Can people move on after tragedy? These questions and more are answered in this thoughtful first novel.
In You Came Back, the compelling debut novel by award-winning writer Christopher Coake, there is no shortage of love. There is the love Mark Fife has for his fiancée, Allison. There is his stubborn, somewhat obsessive love for his ex-wife, Chloe, the college sweetheart who left him. And there is the mountain of love he and Chloe both shoulder for their young son, Brendan, whose death in terrifyingly mundane circumstances will send chills down the spine of every parent.
Read the full review from our March 2012 issue here. And look for a new debut of the day all month long!
If you've ever found yourself thinking, gee, I wish there were more novels about seafaring adventurers—well, this is your summer. Five—yes, five—upcoming books explore the ocean's destructive and seductive powers, spanning centuries and featuring a very diverse cast of characters.
Monique Roffey's Archipelago (Viking, June) is set in modern-day Trinidad, which has just been torn apart by a devastating flood. Their home destroyed, Gavin and his young daughter pack up the dog and set out on a life-changing voyage on the very sea that turned their lives upside-down. Roffey is an up-and-coming writer; her previous novel, The White Woman on the Green Bicycle, was a 2011 Orange Prize finalist. Fans of Caribbean literature and father-daughter stories should pay attention.
Rewind a couple hundred years to 1819 for poet Eli Brown's madcap adventure, Cinnamon and Gunpowder (FSG, June). Female pirate Hannah Mabbot, famous for both her ruthlessness and flaming red hair, captures master chef Owen Wedgewood in a raid on an British lord's mansion. She agrees to spare his life—as long as he cooks her a delicious meal every Sunday. Wedgewood finds the provisions aboard the Flying Rose sadly inadequate, yet he is inventive enough to coax out some four-star meals from the one-star ingredients. In the meantime, an unlikely respect blossoms between captive and captain. Quirky characters combined with the adventure of the high seas make for a novel unlike any other you've read.
If we're judging a book by its cover, Kate Worsley's She Rises (Bloomsbury, June) wins by a mile. This literary novel set in 1740 is the story of Louise, whose father and brother were lost to the sea. Still, she doesn't say no when a wealthy ship's captain asks her to be his daughter's maid and companion. Meanwhile, 15-year-old Luke is impressed into service on one of his majesty's ships, desperate to return to the girl he left behind and struggling to survive the hard life of a sailor. Worsley's debut is is impeccably researched, bringing the Georgian period and its hardships to life.
Challenging and elliptical, Lori Baker's The Glass Ocean (The Penguin Press, August) features another unusual red-haired heroine (is there a genetic link between red hair and a yen for the ocean?). Orphaned Calotta Dell'oro lost her parents to the sea, and as she pieces together their story, which began with a fateful 1841 meeting, it becomes clear that the past is key to shaping her future. Baker, who is the author of two short story collections and teaches at Brown University, received a blurb from Thomas Pynchon for this debut—which seems a more accurate indicator of its content than the popular-fiction cover treatment.
Speaking of unconventional heroines, Janice Clark serves us up another one in 15-year-old Mercy Rathbone, narrator of The Rathbones (Doubleday, August). The youngest in a long dynasty of whalers—a dying industry in 1849, when the novel is set—Mercy lives with her mother and uncle Mordecai on the shores of Connecticut, missing her father, who has yet to return from the voyage he set out on seven years earlier. When violence strikes, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to set off on a voyage of their own, one that takes them through the family's haunted past. Clark's debut is tinged with the Gothic and has echoes of Poe and Melville, but the alternating past-and-present storylines and shaking of the family tree recalls Lauren Groff's The Monsters of Templeton.
Whew. I hope there are some fans of seafaring fiction out there. Any of these float your boat (sorry!)?
The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller
Ecco • $14.99 • ISBN 9780062060624
Published March 2012 • Winner of the 2012 Orange Prize for Fiction
Confession: Homer doesn't do it for me. Greek mythology was fun, but The Odyssey was the one book in high school that I, an avowed abhorrer of Cliffs Notes, ever faked finishing (sorry, Mrs. Brown!), and I never even bothered giving The Iliad a try. (This decision was later validated in my mind after watching the 2004 film Troy, which I found just OK, despite the eye candy of Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom and Eric Bana.) So the idea of enjoying a novel based on The Iliad . . . well, it sounded unlikely to say the least.
But readers and reviewers—people whose opinions I respected—kept buzzing about The Song of Achilles. When it won the Orange Prize, putting it in the company of several of my favorite novels, I decided it was time to put my prejudices aside and dive in. And I'm glad I did. Miller's novel has poetic touches, and the world is one that readers of Homer will recognize, but she imagines it in a more personal light: through the lens of the friendship and eventual love story between Patroclus, a disgraced Greek prince, and the warrior Achilles, a demigod with a tragic destiny. Patroclus narrates the novel, and the strong bond between him and Achilles provides an intimate counterpoint to the epic chronicle of the Trojan War.
Patroclus first sees Achilles when they are both children and Achilles has come to run in the games held in Patrocles' father's kingdom.
He is shorter than the others, and still plump with childhood in a way they are not. His hair is long, and tied back with leather; it burns against the dark, bare skin of his back. His face, when he turns, is as serious as a man's.
When the priest strikes the ground, he slips past the thickened bodies of the older boys. He moves easily, his heels flashing pink as licking tongues. He wins.
I stare as my father lifts the garland from my lap and crowns him; the leaves seem almost black against the brightness of his hair. His father, Peleus, comes to claim him, smiling and proud. Peleus' kingdom is smaller than ours, but his wife is rumored to be a goddess, and his people love him. My father watches with envy. His wife is stupid and his son too slow to race in even the youngest group. He turns to me.
"This is what a son should be."
What are you reading this week?