Tuesday, January 28, 2014

New Books from Isabel Allende, Jenny Offil, Wiley Cash, Anna Quindlen, Plus Rebecca Mead on "Middlemarch."

When you hear about a book, you often think, "I'm going to read that" and then you get all caught up in other this and suddenly the book is out and you're no closer to reading it than you ever were. That's the case for me with Rebecca Mead's My Life in Middlemarch (Crown), a cultural biography slash memoir by The New Yorker staff writer. Of course my stumbling block was not having read Middlemarch. At one point, I decided that the two most-dropped signifiers of contemporary New York writers were Middlemarch and Mallomars. Here are reviews from The Boston Globe, USA Today, and Joyce Carol Oates' essay on the front page of The New York Times Book Review.

Isabel Allende switched it up for her last novel, Maya's Notebook, and now has penned what some call a classic thriller. Ripper (Harper) is the story of a high school girl whose mom disappears. Publishers Weekly's starred review was praise-heavy: "Allende's tightly plotted tale of crimes obvious and masked is sharply perceptive, utterly charming, and intensely suspenseful." Peruse these reviews in The Seattle Times and the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune, where Pamela Miller concurs that for a dark thriller, the tone can be rather upbeat. She calls it "creepy fun."

Jenny Offil's Debt of Speculation (Knopf) offers scenes from a marriage, "sliced life thin enough for a microscope slide and magnified it until it fills the mind's eye and the heart," per Booklist.Through the eyes of an unnamed protagonist, Offil offers vignettes of marriage and parenthood, highs and lows, including the husband's affair. Laura Collins-Hughes in The Boston Globe said the book is so radiant and sparkling that it made her gasp. Meg Wolitzer suggested to NPR listeners that they be brave enough to wade into the experimental narrative structure, as the rewards were great.

Wiley Cash already has a Boswell staff rec for his new novel, The Dark Road to Mercy (Morrow).  Conrad sees a mashup of Cormac McCarthy and Harper Lee in this story of two girls in the foster care system, and the rescue by their father that leads to no end of problems. Writer Jess Walter saw the mashup more as Harper Lee by way of Elmore Leonard, while Booklist compares the writing to Ron Rash and Tom Franklin. Alas, Ron Charles in The Washington Post has issues--he'd still recommend highly Cash's first novel, A Land More Kind than Home. If you want to see Cash, he's appearing at Left Banks Books' downtown St. Louis location. I was sort of surprised to see this listing on the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's website but heck, I think Cash is worth the trip.

And finally, Anna Quindlen's Still Life with Bread Crumbs (Random House) is the story of a 60-year old photographer who, having lost her marriage and with her career on the ebb, trades in her city living for a home in the country. Library Journal writes that "With spare, elegant prose, she crafts a poignant glimpse into the inner life of an aging woman who discovers that reality contains much more color than her own celebrated black-and-white images." Here's an interview conducted by Carole Burns in The Washington Post.

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