Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Newish Boswell's Best Fiction--Engelmann, Buehlman, Petterson, Hoeg, Shapiro.

It's time to review another assortment of Boswell's Best titles. You think I'm doing this for you, the reader, but I'm actually doing this for me too. I force myself to get to know the books a little better, and next time someone comes in, I might have something interesting to say about one of these titles.

I'm not usually a reader of historical fiction, but having recently finished The Malice of Fortune, I'm curious to see what's out there. Ecco recently published Karen Engelmann's novel, The Stockholm Octavo (Ecco), which is set in 18th century Sweden. Emil Larsson is an eligible bachelor who becomes involved in a card game (Octavo) that will help him secure his future, but also leads him into a political plot. Kirkus has a pretty straightforward plot description. And Jason just read this. He really liked the way the plot was enhanced by the fantastical characters that inhabit the story (Publisher $26.99, Best $21.59).

Speaking of books Jason liked, he looked at my pile of titles and said that Christopher Buelman's new novel, Between Two Fires (Ace), is phenomenal.  The new novel is set during the Black Death. A disgraced knight has found a young girl alone in a French village. She tells him that the plague is part of a larger cataclysm, but is this delirium or is this faith? Hey, this is a good novel to read after finishing Tanya Hurley's The Blessed. So Jason says it's a fantastic horror-filled romp, and promises us a blog piece for Halloween. (Publisher $25.95, Best $20.76)

And I should note that although Mr. Buehlman was not able to appear at Boswell this fall, is also known as Christophe the Insultor, Verbal Mercenary when he appears at Bristol Renaissance Faire. And he also won the Bridgeport Prize in poetry. That's my favorite resume of the day.

We're keeping to Europe, but head back to Scandanavia for Per Petterson's new novel, It's Fine by Me (Graywolf, translation by Don Bartlett). The new novel is about an Oslo teen who styles himself a modern Hemingway, keeping the distant bad memories of his drunken and violent father. And then, of course, his father reappears in his life. This novel was originally published in 1992, and it's always funny to read an early coming-of-age novel after the broader canvases of later work. But this is an early work that deserved an American edition--Kerri Westenberg in the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune notes that "the melancholy story, and the superb writing that propels it, are both raw and honest." (Publisher $22, Best, $17.60).

Speaking of 1992, that's when we all first read Smilla's Sense of Snow, by Peter Hoeg. Well, everyone by me. His new novel is The Elephant Keepers' Children (Other Press, translation by Martin Aitken), and it concerns three kids whose parents have mysteriously disappeared. Their parents, devout members of a church on the island of Fine, have coexisted with folks of all faiths for years, but apparently, Peter and his siblings learn that nothing is as it seems. Sarah Moss in The Guardian sees the novel as a successful combination of Voltaire and Wodehouse, though she's a little less enthusiastic about its Salinger-esque angle.

And finally we have B. A. Shapiro's The Art Forger (Algonquin), which Tom Perrotta calls "a clever, twisty nove about art, authenticity, love, and betrayal. Here's Boswellian Nick's take:

"Claire Roth works for an art reproduction specialist, making copies of the Old Masters' paintings for sale to wealthy clients. After discovering her talents, an art dealer makes her an offer--copy a Degas painting that was stolen in an art heist and has not been seen since, and he'll give Claire her own show at his gallery. Desperate for respect after having been blackballed in the art community, Claire jumps at the opportunity. What Claire quickly realizes is that this is no ordinary job, but in fact a deal with the devil, in a world where nothing is as it seems.

"Billed as a suspense/thriller, The Art Forger remains engaging as it flows along to an ultimately satisfying ending. I was rather surprised to learn that Shapiro herself is not a painter because she displays such an affection for and understanding of the process and profession of painting. In fact, Shapiro's vast, intelligent, and extremely intricate exploration of the art realm, its history, and its darker, seedier corners (such as forgery) is the best part of this novel" (Publisher $23.95, Best $19.16).

Titles discounted at least through October 29, perhaps longer if they are selling well.

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