Tolstoy is famous for writing, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” What he doesn’t mention is that each member of the family can be happy and unhappy in their own individual ways. That’s where Angela Flournoy picks up in The Turner House, the story of a big African-American family struggling with the decision of what to do with their family home.
Venetia Stanley was a great beauty of her day, sought after by poets and painters eager to pay homage to her good looks. Her early death in 1633 has remained a mystery over the centuries, some accusing her husband, Sir Kenelm Digby, of murder and others ascribing her demise to the toxic beauty treatments she was rumored to have used. Hermione Eyre’s brilliant debut, Viper Wine, explores the perils of achieving beauty at all costs, set against a backdrop of the political and social upheaval of 17th-century London.
Pity the quiet novel about family life. In an era when novelists are taught to write killer openings and the line between literary and genre fiction is increasingly blurred, it seems as if there’s no room for a contemplative novel that finds drama in quiet moments. Fortunately, such books are still being published, and one of the better examples is The Children’s Crusade, the new novel by Ann Packer (The Dive from Clausen’s Pier).
When she married Prince William back in 2011, Kate Middleton didn’t just capture the heart of a future king—she also ensnared the imaginations of women worldwide. Will and Kate’s royal romance has been meticulously documented by the press and even been the subject of a Lifetime movie. Now it serves as the inspiration for the first adult novel by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan, the duo behind the snarky celebrity-fashion blog, Go Fug Yourself, and authors of two young adult novels (Messy and Spoiled).
The story of a young woman trying to make it in Hollywood is familiar to most. However, Shanna Mahin turns this common tale into a simultaneously heartbreaking and heartwarming story. Oh! You Pretty Things gives readers a glimpse of the destruction that celebrity (and the obsession with it) can cause in day-to-day life. Encompassing humor, wit, irony and sheer sass, this story shows that even in glitzy Hollywood, life can be filled with hardships.
The body of a newborn girl has been found in an idyllic New Jersey town. It’s not the best assignment for a newspaper reporter who so recently delivered a stillborn child, but Molly Sanderson wants to prove to her editor that she can cover hard news. So—despite her husband Justin’s trepidation that covering this story might cause Molly to lapse back into serious depression—she dives in, determined to find out how the child ended up abandoned beneath a bridge.
Admirers of Norwegian Per Petterson’s melancholy, atmospheric novels like Out Stealing Horses and To Siberia will welcome this story of two boyhood friends from a small town outside Oslo and the unexpected paths their lives trace after those early days. Featuring the same deep attention to character and introspective style of his earlier works, I Refuse confirms Petterson’s status as a standout among contemporary novelists.
There is a strong tradition of Irish writers—William Trevor, Edna O’Brien and Colm Tóibín come immediately to mind—who can turn the everyday details of an ordinary life into art. Add to these ranks Mary Costello, whose deceptively slender first novel, Academy Street, takes in the full measure of one woman’s quietly tragic life in fewer than 200 pages.
Set in upstate New York just after the Civil War, Jeffrey Lent’s latest book is a bit puzzling. To be blunt, it ends just when things are getting really interesting. It’s not that things haven’t been interesting from the beginning: By page three we’ve been witness to a double murder. The murderer’s name is Malcolm Hopeton, and he’s returned from the war only to find that half of his farm has been sold out from under him and his wife is canoodling with his hired man—the type who, in the old days, would have been called a cur. In his fury, Malcolm even injures his hired boy, Harlan Davis, who has witnessed the whole tawdry mess. As for Malcolm, he resigns himself to the gallows. But will he hang, after all?
Three of 2014's most acclaimed novels are now out in paperback and are sure to spark thoughtful discussion in reading groups this month.