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."
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?
Emma Donoghue became a household name for readers after the her 2010 novel, Room, sold more than 1.5 million copies. But Room was actually an anomaly for Donoghue, who was known as a historical fiction writer—or, as she puts it, a "fact-based historical writer." She returns to the past on April 1 with Frog Music (Little, Brown), a story set in 1876 San Francisco that's based on a real-life crime. A heatwave is sweeping the city—and so is a deadly smallpox epidemic. But French burlesque dancer Blanche Beunon has even bigger problems: Her friend, Jenny Bonnet, has been shot dead, and Blanche is determined to bring her killer to justice.
As Blanche pieces together Jenny's past for clues, she discovers that her frog-hunting friend had more than a few secrets. Will she be able to solve the mystery of Jenny's death before the killer catches up with her?
In 2010, attorney Ronald H. Balson self-published his first novel, Once We Were Brothers, a haunting, fast-paced tale originating in Nazi-occupied Poland. The book opens in 2004, though. Philanthropist Elliot Rosenzweig is accused of being former SS officer Otto Piatek. The accuser is Ben Solomon, whose family took in the orphaned Piatek as a child, only to be brutally betrayed by him during the war.
Inspired by Balson's travels in Poland, Once We Were Brothers became a runaway hit, selling more than 120,000 copies. Three years later, the film rights have been optioned, and St. Martin's Press has published a new edition—released today—that will introduce this enthralling page-turner to an even larger audience.
In this guest blog post, Balson discusses how he was originally inspired to write the book:
In the early 2000s, I was hired by a small Chicago company that had an exclusive license to install telephone service in the Nova Sacz province of southern Poland. Unfortunately, they couldn’t deliver the project on time, and they lost their license. They, in turn, sued the manufacturing company. Although the lawsuit was filed in Chicago, the witnesses, the documents and all the evidence were in Poland. So, off I went. Many times.
I had read a lot about Poland during World War II, but I didn’t really know what to expect on my visits. I knew that Hitler had bombed 80 percent of Warsaw, and I knew the city had been rebuilt under the Soviet regime. But I failed to anticipate how much of the landscape would still show the wounds. Bullet holes remain in buildings. Plaques on brick walls commemorate ruthless murders that took place there. And the monuments. So many monuments, statues and memorials. Memorials to the fighters of the Polish Uprising, the Warsaw Ghetto, the Polish airmen and even the code breakers. And then there are the heartbreaking memorials to the camp victims.
Poland never stood a chance. It was facing the world’s largest, most menacing war machine. Yet, here and there, all across Poland, are glorious monuments in praise of heroism—to those who resisted, to those who fought in the uprisings and in the underground, and to those ordinary families who just tried to carry on and maintain their dignity in a time of insanity. They were heroes, all. That’s what the monuments tell us.
I became fascinated by the monuments and spent more time than I should have thinking about the people to whom they were dedicated. It was an easy step from there to Once We Were Brothers. My novel opens dramatically: A prominent philanthropist, Elliot Rosenzweig, is accused of being a former Nazi SS officer known as the Butcher of Zamosc, Poland. His accuser, Ben Solomon, claims that they grew up together in the same household, only to be betrayed by Rosenzweig during the war.
The underlying message of Once We Were Brothers, though, is one of heroism. Like the monuments, it lies in praise of the ordinary families of small-town Poland, who tried to live their lives in the face of the Nazi scourge. When their dignities were stripped from them, piece by piece, they did their best to carry on. The book’s message is also praise for the courage of those who resisted and those who served in the Polish underground.
An important section of the novel concerns a Catholic priest who risks his life to save the Solomon family. In a time when many averted their eyes and showed moral indifference, others, in the face of extreme consequences, displayed extraordinary courage. They are the ordinary folks—families, clergy, businessmen—who are honored at Yad VaShem as the “Righteous Among Nations.”
Ben Solomon seeks the help of a young lawyer, Catherine Lockhart, to bring Rosenzweig to justice. Over a series of interviews, he narrates the moving story of his family and of Rosenzweig’s betrayal. Although overmatched by Rosenzweig’s powerful team of lawyers, Lockhart must find the courage to confront them. To do so, she draws strength from Ben and his story. And isn’t that akin to the residual effect of the monuments? They are there to remind us of courage and moral conviction. Do we not draw strength and resolve from remembrance of these heroes?
If Once We Were Brothers entertains and informs, I am pleased with the result. But if the message of heroism is conveyed as well, then I have accomplished something that was born out of my visits to those emotionally powerful monuments several years ago.
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!