Susan Vreeland's historical novels such as Clara and Mr. Tiffany, Girl in Hyacinth Blue, and The Passion of Artemesia (which is the one I read) have found many fans. Though she was one two authors who first found inspiration in Vermeer (Tracy Chevalier was the other), she's hewed closer to the art world in subsequent offerings. In her newest, Lisette's List (Random House),the story opens in 1937 when Lisette and her husband move from Paris to Provence to care for her father-in-law, a pigment salesman, who schools her in all things art. When World War II comes, Lisette's husband hides Pascal's valuable collection of paintings before heading off to the front, but alas, he apparently forgets to tell Lisette. I'll eventually learn the historical basis for the novel, but for now, let me just say that the spin on this one is that artists are not really at the center, but the love of art still is. Julia M. Klein reviews the book for The Boston Globe.
Jumping back a few centuries, Jessie Burton's The Miniaturist (Ecco) continues the art theme. It's 17th century Amsterdam and Nella Ootman has just married a wealthy merchant; he's a aloof and the society she's fallen into is on the pious side. As a gift, he gives her a replica of their house and to fill it, they hired the aforementioned miniaturist and the artifacts he create have an almost weird prophetic nature to them. Apparently this book had big international sales. Daphne Guinness of The Sydney Morning Herald calls it "this season's industry excitement." She writes: "Central to the plot is sugar, a luxury commodity of the time, and Johannes and his fractious family face ruin if he does not sell a pile owned by a past friend, Frans, and his shady wife Agnes. Worse than ruin, actually, as the narrative unfolds. Burton’s imagination works overtime with whispered conversations behind forbidden doors, sexual behaviour of a provocative nature, snobbery in spades and the
unspeakable racist attitudes prevalent in 1686. This review also links to the miniature home in Rijks Museum which was the inspiration for the story.
Last week saw the release of We are Not Ourselves (Simon and Schuster), by Matthew Thomas and my sister Merrill already put it on her to-be-read list from the great reviews. It's an Irish American story starting in 1940s Queens. Eileen Tumulty is courted by Edmund Leary, whom she hopes has great plans for the future, but alas, it's not to be; he may teach, but it's at a community college. And so she puts her hopes in her son Connell. It's not meant to be a surprise to learn that much of the second half of the book is Eileen dealing with her husband's decline from Alzheimer's. Janet Maslin's review in The New York Times surely popped sales. It begins: "Matthew Thomas’s devastating debut novel, “We Are Not Ourselves,” does
not trumpet the fact that it’s an honest, intimate family story with the
power to rock you to your core," implying that this is exactly what it does.
We all know what happened to Edan Lepucki's California when Sheman Alexie recommended it on the Stephen Colbert show, so it was nice to see that when Lepucki when on, she had another title to talk up, Sweetness #9 (Little, Brown), by Stephan Erick Clark. We bought it rather thing, but sure enough, there were folks who came in to purchase it when it came out, and it didn't hurt that Lepucki seconded her enthusiasm on her recent visit to Boswell. From the publisher: "It's 1973, and David Leveraux has landed his dream job as a Flavorist-in-Training, working in the secretive industry where chemists create the flavors for everything from the cherry in your can of soda to the butter on your popcorn. While testing a new artificial sweetener--Sweetness #9--he notices unusual side-effects in the laboratory rats and monkeys: anxiety, obesity, mutism, and a generalized dissatisfaction with life. David tries to blow the whistle, but he swallows it instead." What a lot of folks don't know is that the Milwaukee metro has one of the larger concentrations of jobs in the flavor industry--read this Milwaukee Business Journal article to find out more. Perhaps some of those many employees will take to heart Carol Memmott of the Chicago Tribune's advice, that "Sweetness #9 is scrumptious."
I sort of lost track of when Painted Horses (Grove), by Malcolm Brooks was coming out, being that the publisher started promoting it at the last bookseller's Winter Institute, through the June Book Expo and onto this October's Heartland Fall Forum--there is a lot of enthusiasm for this book! The story is set in the 1950s, when an archeologist working on dam project falls in with a fugitive, an army vet and former mustanger (per the publisher). Lots of amazing quotes on this one from William Kitteredge, Amy Bloom, Doug Stanton, Rick Bass, and Jim Harrison who wrote that “Painted Horses is a wonderful novel full of horses, archeology, the new West, and two fascinating women. Malcolm Brooks should be lauded for this amazing debut." And Molly Gloss in the Washington Post wrote that "In his gift for the language of horses and the culture of horsemen, Brooks will inevitably recall Cormac McCarthy. And like Ivan Doig in Bucking the Sun, he mines one of the darker veins in the mythology of the American West, the seam where “greatness gets built on destruction."