In an imaginative prelude to Charles Dickens' acclaimed classic, Great Expectations, Scottish novelist Ronald Frame allows readers a glimpse into the life of Catherine Havisham, a character who has chilled readers with her dour and ghostly literary presence for well over a century.
With Havisham, Frame nimbly explores what some could call hallowed literary ground—we first meet Catherine as the precocious child of a wealthy brewer and follow her through her years of growth and social refinement. Yet it is Frame's detailed account of her (infamous) relationship with the roguish Charles Compeyson that makes us truly sorry for saying such ugly things about her in our high school English classes.
Our reviewer Elizabeth Atwood gave high praise: "An excellent example of a present-day writer taking on a classic, Havisham gives the reader food for thought while reviving one of the great characters of Victorian literature."
Sounds like a true book nerd's story to us! Watch the stylish trailer below:
What do you think, readers? Have you picked up a copy of Havisham yet?
The Rosatis thought they were safe from the war hidden away in their ancient villa, until two soldiers walked into their lives. Twelve years later, the Rosatis are being targeted by a serial killer. Serafina Bettini begins investigating the case, but every step closer to an answer brings back her own hidden past. In a world that is trying to recover from the pain of war, Bohjalian expertly knots the threads of his characters, creating a story of love and revenge.
Chris Bohjalian, New York Times best-selling author of The Sandcastle Girls, delivers another mysterious novel, this one set in the beautiful hills of Tuscany. Our reviewer calls The Light in the Ruins "a brilliant blend of historical fiction and a chilling serial killer story."
Be sure to read the full review here and check out the trailer below from Knopf Doubleday for more:
Will you read The Light in the Ruins? What other mysteries have you read during Private Eye July?
Amor Towles' surprise bestseller, Rules of Civility (Viking), has sold some 500,000 copies since its 2011 publication. But fans were left wondering what happened to one of its most compelling characters, the glamorous and secretive Evelyn Ross, who got on a train to Chicago—and never disembarked.
Digital-only sequels and epilogues are common in genre communities, but rare for literary authors. But nevertheless, Towles is publishing a digital-only book imagining the further adventures of Eve in Hollywood, her ultimate destination:
The book will be available from Penguin on June 25, wherever digital books are sold, for just $2.99. Will you read it? Which literary novel do you most wish an author would continue?
As for what's next for Towles, he is working on another full-length novel, which he tells us "is set in a different time and a different place." We'll be sure to report back with more details when they're available.
Fellow fans of Valerie Martin, I've got good and bad news. The good: She has a new novel on the way, The Ghost of the Mary Celeste (Nan A. Talese). The bad: You have to wait until January 28, 2014, to read it.
But the wait should be worth it. The Ghost of the Mary Celeste is centered on the cultural fallout from a legendary real-life incident. When the Mary Celeste was found adrift off the coast of Spain in December of 1872, her cargo was intact—and there was no sign of her crew. What happened?
Martin blends this mystery with the sensation caused by the Arthur Conan Doyle story it inspired; the vendetta of a journalist against a possibly fraudulent medium; and the tale of the captain's family, who must add his loss to a long list of seafaring tragedies. From the catalog:
In a haunted, death-obsessed age, a ghost ship appearing in the mist is by turns a provocative mystery, an inspiration to creativity, and a tragic story of the disappearance of a family and of a bond between husband and wife that, for one moment, transcends the impenetrable barrier of death.
Though Martin's writing is always topnotch, her historical novels are my favorite of her works—and her 2003 novel, Property, set in antebellum New Orleans, is one of my favorite books of all time. She is one of those rare authors who are able to fully inhabit the past, warts and all. There are no anachronistic attitudes among her characters—even if that means, as it does in Property, that they give you the shivers. Can't wait to read this one.
Since its publication in 2009, Jamie Ford's Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (Ballantine) has sold 1.3 million copies. That's some debut!
Well, Ford is finally following up on his success: Songs of Willow Frost will be published September 10. Like Hotel, Songs of Willow Frost is historical fiction and features a Chinese-American character and a childhood friendship. This time, though, the story is set in the 1920s and 1930s, where a lonely young boy looks for the mother he longs for. From the publisher description:
Twelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.
Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.
Did you read Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet? Will you be looking for Songs of Willow Frost?
Z by Therese Anne Fowler
St. Martin’s • $25.99 • ISBN 9781250028655
Published March 26, 2013
Why are we so obsessed with the writers of the '20s and '30s? Baz Luhrmann's The Great Gatsby, Paula McLain's The Paris Wife, Woody Allen's Midnight in Paris—it seems we can't get enough of our darling drunk writers of the Jazz Age.
This is just one of the few things I chatted about with Therese Anne Fowler, author of the upcoming Zelda Fitzgerald novel, Z, for an interview for the April issue of BookPage. Fowler, who started working on Z before our Jazz Age resurgence, called it "radio waves in the zeitgeist."
If you're looking for dishy tales of crazy Zelda and drunken Scott, this isn't your book. You get some of that, certainly, but Fowler, through meticulous research, has crafted a Zelda you might not expect: She's complex, confused, ambitious, impulsive—and naive. You'll have to wait till April to hear more!
To tide you over, here's an excerpt from a contentious moment between Scott and Zelda in the early 1920s:
Scott walked in just as I was hanging up the phone.
I said, "Griffith had his secretary phone to say you just don't have what it takes for the job. Looks like you're out of luck."
He stripped off his gloves nonchalantly, then his coat, then let all of it drop to the floor behind him. His hat remained on his head. "You should choose your pronouns more carefully," he said. His voice was loose. "We are out of lucky. We're ruined, in fact."
"What are you saying? You're drunk."
"I'm drunk, and we're broke. Aren't pronouns fun?" Then he pulled his pockets inside out for effect. "I can't even buy us lunch."
"Go to the bank, then."
"No, I mean we have no money at all. Not in my pockets, not in my wallet, not in the bank. In fact, I had to borrow to pay for your coat."
"Borrow from who?"
"The Bank of Scribner, in this case, although sometimes I use the Bank of Ober."
I was confused. "Max and Harold lend you money?""Against royalties, or future earnings—it's all money I'm going to get eventually; just, eventually doesn't always arrive as quickly as I need it to."
I went to the closet, pulled the coat from its hanger, and shoved it at him. "Send it back!"
"Don't be ridiculous." He plopped down on the sofa. "You look fantastic in this coat. In fact, I think you should take off everything you're wearing and then put the coat on." His eyelids were drooping as he said this, and then they closed.
I watched him for a moment, thinking he'd fallen asleep. Then, without opening his eyes he said, "Don't hate me. I'm sorry. It's all for you."
Scott went on the wagon and finished his novel, The Beautiful and Damned, a story of a young society couple so indolent and overindulgent that they ruin themselves. His self-discipline impressed me, so much so that I was pregnant by February.
Are you looking forward to Z?
Well, it looks like our 2010 "Three years to Gabaldon" post was just about on target. Delacorte will release the eighth book in Diana Gabaldon's Outlander saga, Written in My Own Heart's Blood, on December 10, 2013. Gabaldon will be speaking at this year's BEA author breakfast to support the book—and she's already posted a few excerpts on her website.
It has been more than 20 years since Gabaldon published the novel that started it all, The Outlander. The seven published novels have sold more than 20 million copies, and the universe has expanded to include three generations: the star-crossed, time-traveling lovers Claire and Jamie; their daughter Brianna, who was born in the 18th century but returned to the late 20th century with her husband; and their grandchildren Jem and Amanda. Then there are the dozens of peripheral characters, who "crop up in one book, disappear, and then return two or three books later. Someone barely mentioned in an early book may become pivotal in a later one," as our interviewer Rebecca Bain noted in her 2009 chat with Gabaldon. So it's certain that surprises are in store.
In other Gabaldon news, it looks as though opponents of Katherine Heigl as Claire can breathe easier. The Outlander series has recently been optioned for a TV series, not a film, as was previously reported. Showrunner Ron Moore, who has worked on Star Trek films and the TV series "Roswell," will helm the project, and the Starz cable network has signed on to develop the series, which means that seeing an actual pilot sometime this year is quite likely. (Gabaldon has an extensive FAQ section on this topic on her site.) Move over, "Game of Thrones."
ETA: Though BEA's website continues to list a pub date of December 10, Diana Gabaldon has informed us that the pub date is "still fluid." Updates to come!
Falling to Earth by Kate Southwood
Europa Editions • $16 • ISBN 9781609450915
on sale March 2013
The debut novel from Kate Southwood is set in the 1920s Midwest, and opens just as a devastating tornado strikes a small town. As the residents of Marah, Illinois, sort through the wreckage, it becomes clear that only one family has escaped the storm's wrath. But the resulting hostility and anger focused on Paul Graves and his wife and children by their suffering neighbors may have even fiercer consequences.
Southwood's prose is vibrant and clear, and Falling to Earth's thrilling opening immediately draws in the reader with its brutal depiction of the power of nature.
Running the length of his own mutilated street, Paul tries to look straight ahead at what he's running toward. He can't make any sense of the nightmare vision, but neither can he look away. The cloud has been capricious: the houses on one side of the street have been knocked into piles of sticks, the bricks blown out of the sidewalks and trees snatched out of the ground like hanks of hair. On the other side, the houses are still standing, some shoved over sideways or twisted. Their roofs are mostly gone and the first fires have been touched off by the snapped electrical lines and cookstoves lying in the wreckage. A few of the people he passes walk naked, crazed, calling out names. An arm rests in the crotch of a tree. Paul tries again to shut out the grotesques, running toward home, running through the searing of his lungs, desperately afraid of arriving.
What are you reading this week?
I am so excited to share news of The Plum Tree with readers of The Book Case. This is a historical novel by debut author Ellen Marie Wiseman, a first-generation German American who was inspired by her mother's experiences in Germany during World War II. The book is on sale now.
In the novel, Christine lives in a German village and works for the Bauermans, a wealthy Jewish family. She falls in love with son Isaac Bauerman—but their lives are complicated in very painful ways when Isaac is arrested and sent to Dachau, the first Nazi concentration camp opened in Germany. But Christine is desperate to be with him as she's left on the home front.
Ellen's publicist shared with me why the author had to tell this story:
Ellen grew up listening to her German relatives tell tales of poverty, hunger, bombings, and constant fear—a time when the country was made up of women, children and the elderly struggling to stay alive while the men were drafted and sent off to fight. In writing the book, Ellen’s hope was to put a face on the countless destitute German women and children who lived and died under Hitler's regime, most often as victims of their government’s actions.
Here, you can see how the author's family history inspired the book. These are her own family photos and the captions and explanations are in her voice.
This photo was taken to send to Opa while he was off fighting on the Eastern Front. At one point during the four years Opa was gone, he was captured by the Russians and sent to a POW camp in Siberia. For two years my mother and her family had no idea if he was dead or alive until he showed up on their doorstep one day. Opa and his stories were the inspiration behind Christine’s father in The Plum Tree.
For years, Oma rang the bells every day to call the farmers in from the fields for Mittag Essen (the midday meal); every evening for prayer; and every Sunday morning for church service. During the war, the army took the bells down to be melted into bullets, a bomb hit the steeple, and the congregation, afraid to assemble without fear of being labeled traitors, met secretly in their homes. In The Plum Tree, this is the church were Christine attempts to expose an SS camp guard during the first service after the war was over.
My aunt’s face is bandaged because she tried to swallow fire after watching a fire-eater at a carnival. In The Plum Tree, Christine remembers her sister, Maria, doing the same thing.
My mother is wearing one of her best dresses; the rest were made from printed cotton sheets. The tall door behind them led to the goats’ indoor enclosure, which shared a wall with my great-grandparents’ first floor bedroom. The neighbor’s house (to the right of the tall door) shares a roof with my mother’s childhood home. This is the setting for Christine’s home in The Plum Tree.
In her debut novel, Kelly O’Connor McNees imagined the life of Louisa May Alcott. It was "a compelling, heart-wrenching story about the difficult choices women face," wrote reviewer Susan Schwartzman back in April 2010, and a "bittersweet, stirring debut."
More than two years later, McNees is back with her second book, another historical novel about extraordinary women. Called In Need of a Good Wife, this book takes place in the American West of the 19th century and stars Clara Bixby, a woman who works as a broker of mail-order brides. (How's that for an unusual profession?)
One of my favorite aspects of good historical fiction is that it drops us into situations and eras that seem very unusual to us today. Have you ever wondered why women from New York would have shipped off to Nebraska as mail-order brides? Here, McNees shares fives reasons why a woman would go down this path.
by Kelly O’Connor McNees
Before match.com there was the Matrimonial News, where, for about a quarter, prospective brides could place an ad describing what they were looking for in a husband. In the aftermath of the Civil War, many young women had lost a sweetheart to the battlefield and others still waited for their first chance at love. For the starry-eyed, nothing was more romantic than the idea of a lovelorn man sending letters from the prairie. Of course, things didn’t always work out quite the way these young brides hoped.
Other brides were more practical. Women with few prospects for marriage in their own social circle had scant hope of financial security unless they found a way to make a match elsewhere. Many arranged marriages were little more than business compacts—a husband agreed to provide food and a place to live, and in exchange his wife would clean, cook, work the farm and give him children. Mr. and Mrs. aspired to be on friendly terms (there was the matter of producing those children, after all), but often love was a luxury neither of them could afford.
In 1867 the newly completed Union Pacific Railroad finally joined the east to the frontier and made rapid travel a real option for most Americans. Suddenly, places that had seemed impossibly far away were within a day’s journey. Women who had believed they had no choice but to spend the rest of their lives cooped up in the same old towns, trying to live up to the rigid standards of the day, found themselves with new prospects. They could escape and go west, in search of gold, in search of new vistas, in search of a new way of life.
These days people wear pajama pants to the grocery store, so it’s hard for us to imagine just how many rules governed the choices women made every day about their behavior and speech and dress in the well-established cities and towns of the east. But for women weary of these strictures, the frontier offered freedom. Homesteading required a great deal of back-breaking physical labor, and women worked right alongside men. They were dirty, calloused and sunburned, perhaps, but also free of stiff petticoats and corsets that kept them sitting uncomfortably on the edges of chairs back east. For those with the means to hire workers, the Homestead Act of 1862 allowed single women to claim land of their own, which meant they might not need a husband at all—a kind of freedom most women never dared to hope for.
Many of the men and women who traveled west to homestead hoped to leave the past behind and start again, or yet again. Failed businesses, blighted reputations, the unwanted destiny of a family name or a country or religion of origin—all of the disappointments of the past would stay there, in the past. These brave pioneers set out to write a new destiny for themselves, and for the nation, one hard-won page at a time.