Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Tuesday New Day--Browsing Hardcover Fiction with Sarah Dunant, Ron Carlson, David Rakoff, Jessica Brockmole, and Yes, Even a Book that isn't from Penguin Random.

Last week we looked at nonfiction, plus one novel, Fin and Lady, so it's time to see what other works of the imagination are out in the last few weeks, specifically what our buyer Jason has picked for Boswell's Best. 

I have strong memories of David Schwartz taking to The Birth of Venus, by Sarah Dunant, some years ago. Dunant has a nice place somewhere between Hilary Mantel and the more commercial writers when it comes to historical fiction, and I only say that because there are few who have swept quite so many awards as has Mantel. Regarding her newest novel, Blood and Beauty: The Borgias (Random House), Christobel Kent refers to Mantel in her review in The Guardian (UK), but acknowleges that it's a very different kind of book, a rollercoaster ride as enjoyable as A Game of Thrones, to paraphrase. The Borgias were just born to entertain, weren't they, unless of course you were in their crosshairs. We've been also recommending Michael Ennis's The Malice of Fortune, now out in papeback, which has some Borgia bravado.

Jessica Brockmole's Letters from Skye (Ballantine) is a love story between a Scottish poet and an American ambulance driver over two world wars. Kirkus Reviews was a big fan, saying the story was "by turns lyrical and flirtatious, Brockmole's debut charms with its wistful evocation of a time when handwritten, eagerly awaited letters could bespell besotted lovers." Alas, the librarian who reviewed for Library Journal thought the story was more Nicholas Sparks than Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society. I don't think the publisher and author would mind the sales of the former, but one expects they are positioning the book more like the latter.It's hard to find trade reviews yet, though they have gotten a lot of blog pickup.

David Rakoff's last work, on the other hand, has already gotten praise in the trade press, including write ups from Entertainment Weekly and the Boston Globe. Love, Dishonor, Marry, Die, Cherish, Perish (Doubleday) is a novel in verse with the many characters linked together through acts of cruelty or generosity. Sam Sacks in the Wall Street Journal said "Readers may come to the book to pay their respects, but they will leave rejuvenated by the splendor of the warmth and wordplay. Composed a hand-span's distance from death, it feels death-defying."

Ron Calson is on the new and noteworthy case with Return to Oakpine (Viking), a novel set in Wyoming about four friends who reunite many years after their glory days of high school. They were all in a band together, Life on Earth, two stayed behind and two moved, one to be a lawyer in Denver, and the other to New York. The New Yorker has AIDS, and has returned after the death of his partner. His father will still barely talk to him, however, so good thing the old gang wans to put the band together.  Liz Cook of The Kansas City Star writes "With Carlson’s typical grace and unadorned prose, his latest novel deals in the prodigal sons and promising footballers of Oakpine, a small town that seems to hold optimism only for its youth." I fondly recall our event with Carlson at the old Bay View Schwartz, with the enthusiasm for this book led by a combination of Eric and Dan.

Getting away from Penguin Random House for a moment is Daniel Silva's The English Girl (Harper), his newest Gabriel Allon adventure. Silva is one of those branded thriller writers who still work pretty well in indie bookstores. He continues to get very good reviews, and though he's not exactly on an annual pace, the books come out a little faster than John Le Carre or Alan Furst, and the books appear to be a it of a hybrid between the more character-driven authors on a slower cycle and the plot-driven folks who produce faster. The newest centers on a kidnapped diplomat who turns out to be the secret lover of a prime minister. The Kirkus reviewer said "Silva's plot and action don't strain believability, and his accomplished character sketches of players new and old are captivating" but I should also note that he or she thought the asides got a little lecture-y, to paraphrase.

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