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.
You voted, we counted, and in yesterday's edition of XTRA, we shared the results of our Readers' Choice Best Books of 2013 survey! While this year lacked a breakout hit the likes of last year's Gone Girl, it turns out that you guys agree with us on Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which came in at #1 on your list, as well as ours. Coming in a very close second—with only one vote less—is Life After Life by Kate Atkinson.
Also making appearances on the list are mystery page-turners, stunning debuts and edge-of-your-seat thrillers, including Stephen King's Doctor Sleep and NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (King's son), which both received the same number of votes! See the Readers' Choice Top 15 Books of 2013. Did your favorite book make the list?
A big box of 10 books is on its way to one lucky voter, Amy from Illinois, whose favorite book is And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (#9). A big thank you to everyone who voted—we look forward to helping you discover more great books in 2014!
This fall, Jesmyn Ward followed up her 2011 National Book Award-winning novel Salvage the Bones with Men We Reaped, a poignant memoir in which she reflects upon the untimely deaths of five men in her life over the course of five years. Our reviewer calls the book—which came in at #4 in our list of the Best Books of 2013—"searingly honest and brutal." (Read our full review here.) We were curious about the books Ward has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites. She graciously agreed, sharing four recommendations, in fact:
SON OF A GUN By Justin St. Germain
Justin St. Germain’s memoir Son of a Gun has stuck with me like few other books this year. He and I have both written about our losses, to understand them better, and so others will, too. Although the circumstances are quite different, we bonded over these shared experiences. Justin tragically lost his mother to murder, in 2001, just after the World Trade Centers came down. She was shot by Justin’s step-father, his mother’s fifth husband. I remember that time clearly: a whole nation suffering from grief. I had recently lost my brother, so spent those days doubly reeling, as did Justin. We both began our books as Stegner Fellows and spent time talking about how to approach these challenging topics. Son of a Gun is not a who-done-it, and it’s more than simply a memoir of loss, although that would be enough. Justin looks at the wider context of guns and violence in the United States, particularly in the West, where he’s from. And he examines the terrible plight of women who are victims of domestic violence. In his careful telling, Justin helps us all understand not only his mother but the culture of violence that leads to stories like these.
THRALL: POEMS By Natasha Trethewey
I am a new mother and I teach, so poetry, which I’ve always loved, has real appeal for pleasure reading. Natasha Trethewey’s Thrall is among my recent favorites. Natasha was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, not far from where I grew up, and she and I have tread some similar terrain in our work, too, about race and history, complicated family, the South, but she does it with so much elegance! Her use of imagery, the precision and grace of her language, the overall craft of her work. She is rightly our Poet Laureate.
Up next in the long list of Austen re-imaginings is the HarperCollins' Austen Project, in which six beloved contemporary authors provide modern takes on Austen’s classic works. As with every reworking of a classic, we were skeptical. We all get a little protective of our favorite stories, even when in the hands of accomplished writers.
Kicking off the Austen Project is Joanna Trollope's Sense and Sensibility. It's a pretty straightforward re-imagining, as it transports the Dashwood family drama to modern times. If you're one of those readers groaning, "Not another one!" and judging the cover of Trollope's Sense and Sensibility (complete with earbuds), read what our reviewer had to say about it:
"Trollope does an exceptional job remaining true to the original characters. She accurately captures Austen's classic theme of 'head versus heart,' even as she updates the characters in believable ways (Elinor, for example, is studying architecture). Trollope’s version of Sense and Sensibility reminds the reader that the world may be changing too quickly around us, but matters of the heart remain constant."
Next in the Austen Project is Northanger Abbey by internationally best-selling crime writer Val McDermid, coming in May. Sheltered minister’s daughter Cat Morland loves losing herself in Gothic novels—maybe a bit too much. So when she attends Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival and meets Henry Tilney and his sister, Eleanor, she starts getting suspicious of their perfect little lives.
As with Trollope's book, it sounds like we can expect the story to play out like the original, but it will be interesting to see McDermid, "the acknowledged queen of the psychological thriller," take on Austen's famous Gothic parody. Especially after reading this interview, where McDermid says, "I think Jane Austen builds suspense well in a couple of places, but she squanders it, and she gets to the endgame too quickly."
Hmm. What do you think? Does Northanger Abbey have room for improvement?
Anyway, happy birthday, Jane Austen!
In Sherryl Woods' romance, A Seaside Christmas, songwriter Jenny Collins returns to her family home to nurse a broken heart. But ex-beau Caleb Green—a country superstar that was unfaithful—has followed Jenny back to Chesapeake Shores, and he's aiming to right his wrongs and win her back. Romance columnist Christie Ridgway calls this "A warm tale about understanding, forgiveness and the persuasive power of love." We caught up with her in a 7 questions interview and asked about her love of country music:
"I'm a huge fan of country music. Give me a guy with a great voice, a good love song, a snug pair of jeans and a tight T-shirt and I'll follow him anywhere."
Read the full interview to learn about breaking genre rules, her favorite Christmas movies and more!
Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh
Crown • $24 • ISBN 9780385348997
Published January 14, 2014
New York Times Magazine editor Adam Sternbergh’s debut novel, Shovel Ready, follows a garbage man turned assassin-for-hire known simply as Spademan, and he makes for quite an intriguing anti-hero. As one of the few remaining residents in a near-future, post-bomb New York City, Spademan finds himself at a crossroads when he decides not to follow through with the assassination of a wealthy evangelist's young daughter.
Here, Spademan introduces himself in the first pages of this edgy, noir-soaked thriller:
I kill men. I kill women because I don’t discriminate. I don’t kill children because that’s a different kind of psycho.
I do it for money. Sometimes for other forms of payment. But always for the same reason. Because someone asked me to.
And that’s it.
A reporter buddy once told me that in newspapers, when you leave out some important piece of information at the beginning of a story, they call it burying the lede.
So I just want to make sure I don’t bury the lede.
Though it wouldn’t be the first thing I’ve buried.
It might sound hard but it’s all too easy now. This isn’t the same city anymore. Half-asleep and half-emptied-out, especially this time of morning. Light up over the Hudson. The cobblestones. At least I have it to myself.
These buildings used to be warehouses. Now they’re castles. Tribeca, a made-up name for a made-up kingdom. Full of sleeping princes and princesses, holed up on the highest floors. Arms full of tubes. Heads full of who knows. And they’re not about to come down here, not at this hour, on the streets, with the carcasses, with the last of the hoi polloi.
What are you reading this week?
After a nearly 20-year career and millions of books in print, best-selling romance author Brenda Jackson has reached an impressive milestone with the publication of her latest novel, A Madaris Bride for Christmas—her 100th book!
Back in 1994, Jackson's first novel, Tonight and Forever, introduced the Madaris family. Matchmaking matriarch Mama Laverne has helped the Madaris men and women find everlasting love over the years, delighting and entertaining countless readers along the way. In A Madaris Bride for Christmas, Lee Madaris, one of Mama's grandsons and owner of one of the hottest hotels in Vegas, is determined to find a woman on his own, and has his sights set on pastry chef Carly Briggs.
With memorable characters, lots of sizzle and a few twists and turns, A Madaris Bride for Christmas is sure to satisfy fans of the series, hook some news ones and leave all readers looking forward to Jackson's 101st novel.
Karen Joy Fowler's riveting novel We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves landed in the #6 spot on our list of the Best Books of 2013. Our reviewer described it as, "a masterful account of a woman unraveling a tangle of family history, memory and the complex emotions that arise from the way she was raised." (Read the full review here.)
We were curious about the books Fowler has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked her to recommend three recent favorites, which she graciously agreed to share:
I have been on book tour lately, hitting some of the book festivals around the country. The pleasure of a book tour, for me, is the chance to meet new writers combined with considerable time on planes and in airports, time in which to read their books. Since plane travel now involves inevitable delays, cancellations, hours on the tarmac and a myriad of other irritations, a book, a really good book, is a travel necessity.
Among my most recent modes of transportation:
As someone who was there during the '60s, I seldom think anyone gets the period quite right. It is far too easy to fall, one way or another, into caricature. Arcadia, which starts in the sixties but extends into the future, is a gorgeous exception, a perfect illustration of the writers’ maxim that careful use of the particular is the way to evoke the universal. This is a deep and deeply touching book.
Another big and beautiful book, this one about California during the Great Depression. Silver makes a wonderful job of the big canvas—poverty, politics, class, life and death—but it is the little moments of crystalline observation that I loved the most. She has a way of taking a familiar emotion and opening it up, turning it, so that we see it freshly, think about it harder. Wise and inspiring.
And now for something completely different. This is the book I am currently reading. Very suspenseful! Don’t tell me how it ends!
By Jeff VanderMeer
Four women—a psychologist, an anthropologist, a biologist and a surveyor—are sent into Area X, an abandoned, uninhabited terrain from which 11 earlier expeditions have either failed to return or returned completely changed. VanderMeer’s descriptions of this mysterious world and the people traversing it are vivid, lush and increasingly ominous. I am finding this book unsettling and un-put-downable—like an old-fashioned adventure story, only weirder, beautifully written and not at all old-fashioned.
Check out all of our Best Books of 2013 coverage right here!
Kristina McMorris' third novel, The Pieces We Keep, is a gripping tale of love, grief, family and secrets—and an exploration of the intriguing notion that firsthand memories can be shared between different generations. In this guest blog post, McMorris discusses the real-life experiences and stories that inspired her to write the book:
My childhood home was haunted.
It all seemed to come out of nowhere: the TV and lamps started turning on by themselves; my sister’s room gained distinct “cold spots,” similar to ones you might detect in a swimming pool; my mother would be cooking dinner and smell perfume behind her, though nobody else was there; or, I would be alone in the house, and the floor above would suddenly creak with enough footsteps to indicate a party in the making. Later, we learned that our next-door neighbors had also noticed oddities occurring in their own house around the same time.
Eventually, my parents invited our family’s pastor over for advice. When he arrived and noticed an exotic carved mask, a recent gift from a friend’s travels, he expressed an uneasy feeling and suggested my parents remove it—which they did. Our pastor then blessed the house, room by room, and all the strange happenings came to a stop. Only later did we discover that the mask had been purchased in the notoriously mysterious country of Haiti, and that our house had been built on the edge of what was originally a cemetery.
(Poltergeist memories, anyone?)
Whether our experiences were actually born of the paranormal, or simply dramatic perceptions of logical instances, I couldn’t tell you for sure. What I do know is that, as a result, I grew up with a mind open to possibilities beyond explanation.
Perhaps this was a large part of the reason a particular news segment piqued my interest two years ago. Apparently, as a toddler, the boy in the story suffered from recurrent night terrors about dying in a plane crash. His knowledge of obscure historical facts ultimately convinced his skeptical parents that he’d once been a WWII pilot who perished in battle.
On a personal note, my oldest son had also suffered from night terrors in his toddler years and would even speak of a grandmother who didn’t exist. Could they have been merely the creative ramblings of a youngster? Absolutely. Still, the writer in me began to wonder: What would I have done if he, too, had spouted historical details he couldn’t possibly have known? What if those details were secrets other people wanted to keep buried?
From these questions a novel started to take shape. Completing the premise was a declassified report a friend had shared with me: an astounding case of Nazi saboteurs who were dropped off by U-Boat on the East Coast of America in 1942. As I researched the topic further, I discovered a trail of romance and tragedy, deceptive dealings by J. Edgar Hoover, and a secret military tribunal convened by FDR. It all seemed the elements of a Hollywood film, a fascinating tale I couldn’t resist.
Needless to say, I hope readers feel the same about The Pieces We Keep.
What do you think, readers? Will you be checking out The Pieces We Keep? Find out more about McMorris and the book on her website.
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list.
A Constellation of Vital Phenomena has been compared by many to Jonathan Safran Foer's now-classic debut, Everything Is Illuminated. But the novel it most reminded me of is Nicole Krauss' The History of Love. Both books are sincere (but never sentimental) in their portrayal of the tenuous but all-important connections between people. And both of them have beautiful, tear-jerking conclusions.
Here, the souls in question are brought together in war-torn Chechnya, where 8-year-old Havaa has just seen her father kidnapped by Russian forces. Her neighbor, Akhmed, risks his own safety to hide the girl, bringing her to a hospital he's heard about only through rumors. There, he finds exhausted doctor Sonja Rabina, who is dealing with her own traumatic loss.
Though Marra uses this setup to explore some major questions about life, love and loyalty, his characters are never less than real, and their struggles inspire even as they break your heart. I can't wait to see what Marra does next.