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  • Sarah Skilton 5:00 pm on 2017/12/26 Permalink
    Tags: bernard cornwell, blood sisters, , , dara horn, , eternal life, fall from grace, , fools and mortals, it occurs to me that i am america: new stories and art, , , jonathan santlofer, melanie benjamin, munich, robert harris, still me, the girls in the picture, , ,   

    The Best New Fiction of January 2018 

    January brings us several irresistible pairings: Two historical novels about the acting and writing life, one set during the glitz and glamour of early Hollywood, the other set on the Shakespearean stage of 1595;  Jojo Moyes and Danielle Steel’s latest works both concern the pitfalls and triumphs of starting over and taking charge of one’s life under difficult circumstances; and the final pairing depicts immortality in various forms, with Chloe Benjamin’s The Immortalists and Dora Horn’s Eternal Life. Rounding out the new year is a thriller from Robert Harris, the late great Denis Johnson’s final short story collection, and an anthology about democracy timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Women’s March.

    Still Me, by Jojo Moyes
    Coming off the worldwide success of Me Before You (also a movie starring Emilia Clarke and Sam Claflin), Moyes’ latest continues the uplifting adventures of Louisa (“Lou”) Clark, now living in New York City. Her journey of self-discovery includes choosing between her old life—in England with Sam—and her new one, as a household assistant for the powerful Gopnik family. As Lou becomes enmeshed in the ritzy, wealthy lives around her, she does her best to honor Will Traynor’s wish that she “live boldly.”

    Fall from Grace, by Danielle Steel
    When Sydney Wells’s husband dies, leaving Sydney with nothing, her luxurious existence comes to an abrupt end. With no place to call home, no source of income, and no help from her family, Sydney (who is pushing 50) is forced to start to over. Her new job in the cutthroat fashion industry finds her framed for a crime, but without anyone to rely on but herself, she must tap into reserves of strength she didn’t know she had in order to survive.

    Munich, by Robert Harris
    A master of historical fiction (Fatherland; Pompeii), Harris has earned fans the world over for his thrilling stories and complex characters. In depicting the run-up to Britain’s involvement in World War II, Harris focuses on the fateful Conference of Munich. Hugh Legat, private secretary to Prime Minister Chamberlain, and Paul von Hartmann, a member of the German diplomatic corps, are former friends who studied together at Oxford. Six years after their last meeting, they now find themselves on opposite sides of the looming war—or do they? Hartmann’s loyalties may not be as clear-cut as they first appear. 

    Fools and Mortals, by Bernard Cornwell
    Imagine watching the first stage production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in 1595 through the eyes of Shakespeare’s brother Richard, a handsome albeit grifting actor without a penny to his name. Jealous of William’s domination of the London stage, and bitter that William barely lifts a finger to help him, Richard is accused of a crime whose punishment is death. While showcasing the art of stagecraft in the Elizabethan era, Fools and Mortals also invites viewers to visit the darker underbelly of London as Richard tries desperately to clear his name.

    The Girls in the Picture, by Melanie Benjamin
    The bestselling author of Swans of Fifth Avenue sets her sights on the West Coast in a story about the friendship between two Hollywood legends at the dawn of Hollywood: “America’s Sweetheart” herself, Mary Pickford, and award-winning screenwriter (“scenarist”) extraordinaire Frances Marion. The year is 1914, the U.S. has not yet entered The Great War, and the silent film industry is thriving. Despite their financial and creative successes, both women find their ambitions curtailed to a degree, and the introduction of “talkies” may very well end Mary’s career, just as Marion’s is picking up steam. Perfect for fans of A Touch of Stardust, by Kate Alcott, and Silent Murders, by Mary Miley.

    Blood Sisters, by Jane Corry
    As a follow-up to My Husband’s Wife, Sisters provides even more twists and turns than Corry’s debut thriller. In 2001, a car crash claimed three victims. Although two of the girls survived the ordeal, fifteen years later their lives remain damaged. Kitty resides in an institution, unable to remember or communicate about her past, while Alison’s new job teaching art at a men’s prison puts her in more danger than she realizes. Dual POVs add to the rising tension throughout.

    The Immortalists, by Chloe Benjamin
    When the Gold siblings (Simon, Klara, Daniel, Varya), growing up in New York City in 1969, hear rumors that a mystic fortune teller is in town revealing people’s death dates, they line up to have their fates revealed. Through the next fifty years, we learn how the answer to that question has informed and perhaps guaranteed the course of their very different lives. A story about family, faith, and the power of illusion to overtake reality, The Immortalists promises to be literary fiction of the highest caliber.

    The Largesse of the Sea Maiden, by Denis Johnson
    The great Denis Johnson (Jesus’ Son became a film starring Billy Crudup and Samantha Morton; Tree of Smoke won the National Book Award and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize) passed away last May, but his final publication revives his trademark empathy for the downtrodden—the “losers” and “failures” of the world. This collection of short stories concerns alcoholics, criminals, advertising execs, and even a couple of writers, all of whom grapple for understanding in a tough world. In Johnson’s hands, the result will be pure poetry.

    Eternal Life, by Dara Horn
    Rachel made a bargain 2,000 years ago to spare the life of her son, and it worked. What did she give up in return? Her own death. In other words, she’s been forced to live forever but at this point—dozens of husbands and hundreds of children later—she desperately wishes to shuffle off this mortal coil. Her fellow traveler in the realm of immortality is a man she once loved, Elezar, who’s determined to keep her in his sights. Salvation may arrive in the form of Rachel’s latest granddaughter, who’s studying DNA and anti-aging and growing closer to discovering Rachel’s secret.

    It Occurs to Me That I Am America: New Stories and Art, edited by Jonathan Santlofer
    Some of the world’s finest and most beloved artists and writers have come together for this anthology of fiction and artwork dedicated to understanding, reaffirming, and celebrating democracy. Contributors include Mary Higgins Clark, Lee Child, Neil Gaiman, Joyce Carol Oates, Richard Russo, Alice Hoffman, Elizabeth Strout, Louise Erdrich, Walter Mosley, Julia Alvarez, Art Spiegelman, Sara Paretsky, Alice Walker, Paul Theroux, Susan Isaacs, Ha Jin, Roz Chast, and Joyce Maynard, among others. Its publication couldn’t be more timely or important. As the Executive Director of the ACLU, Anthony D. Romero puts it, “History has shown the crucial role artists play in challenging injustice during times of crisis.”

    What are you excited to read in January?

    The post The Best New Fiction of January 2018 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jeff Somers 4:49 pm on 2014/09/19 Permalink
    Tags: , adventures, bernard cornwell, , , george macdonald fraser, , horatio hornblower, julian stockwin, patrick o'brian, tom brown's school days   

    5 Books for Old-Fashioned Adventure in the 19th Century 

    Master and CommanderMaybe it’s the smell of gunpowder, or the flashy fashions, or the fact that hipster-ish facial hair was considered absolutely required, but nothing quite says adventure like a good romp through the 19th century, especially the early bits when Napoleon was threatening to turn the world into all the worst parts of France. This was a time of derring-do, forced boarding of ships, and terrible, awful food. Which might explain why everyone was so eager to have adventures: it beat sitting at home feeling nauseous all the time. If you yearn for a good adventure that includes a lot of risky behavior in a time before anesthetic or any concept of germs, these are the five books and series you should be reading:

    The Aubrey/Maturin Series, by Patrick O’Brian
    Ideal For: Anyone who thinks they can eat a meal of salted beef and ersatz coffee and then swing onto an enemy ship and shoot someone in the face with aplomb.
    If you’ve ever wondered what every single line of rope on a 19th-century warship was called and what it did, simply read these 20 novels and you’ll be able to make obscure seafaring jokes with the best of them. Interspersed with this detailed examination of life on the sea during wartime are sea battles, boardings, raids, romance, intrigue, and perhaps the worst weevil-based joke ever committed to paper. O’Brian packed in more adventure on the high seas and all over the world than most people will experience in their entire lives.

    The Flashman Books, by George MacDonald Fraser
    Ideal For: Anyone who finds themselves identifying with the villain and wondering why they’re never the star of the show, because they’re more fun.
    Harry Flashman, originally a minor character in Tom Brown’s School Days, is perhaps the worst human being ever invented. A coward, braggart, adulterer, and overall weasel, he uses a sharp mind, a head for languages, and an almost magical ability to be in the right place at the right time to somehow come through all his adventures looking like a brave, dashing hero instead of the cretin he actually is. Structured as a collection of diaries discovered by the author that reveal the truth behind the fictional heroics, there’s a healthy dose of actual adventure in each story—made more exciting by Harry’s whimpering cowardice, which more of us identify with than we might want to admit.

    Horatio Hornblower Series, by C.S. Forester
    Ideal For: Anyone who enjoys straightforward heroism that is approached as a duty and a necessity instead of something to be celebrated and sought after.
    Horatio Hornblower is one of the most complex characters you’ll find in any story set during the Napoleonic Wars. Equal parts socially awkward, heroic, and self-pitying, he’s the sort of adventurer who never thinks of himself as up to the task at hand or as particularly heroic. Hornblower simply does his duty to the best of his ability and thus is heroic by default, in a series of stories that takes him all over the world and involves him in plenty of adventures with high stakes and real costs.

    The Sharpe Novels, by Bernard Cornwell
    Ideal For: Anyone who gets sick and tired, sometimes, of every hero in a historical adventure being of the officer or aristocratic class.
    Richard Sharpe is, at the beginning of his lengthy story, a hardscrabble survivor in a rough army serving in an even rougher time period. From a poor orphan to the sort of desperate soldier wearing a threadbare uniform and constantly at the mercy of superiors who purchased their commissions and know much less about war than he does, he approaches all of his adventures with the sincerity of the desperate, and you kind of love him for it.

    The Kydd Novels, by Julian Stockwin
    Ideal For: Anyone who gets sick and tired, sometimes, of every story about the British Navy being about the officers.
    Stockwin’s Kydd books are technically set in the 18th century for the first six books, but they begin in 1793, so we’ve ruled it Close Enough. Refreshingly, it explores the experience of a “pressed” man, someone forced into the British Navy against his will, which wasn’t uncommon back in an age when manpower was desperately needed to fight a seemingly endless war. That doesn’t mean it’s all about eating moldy bread and endlessly scrubbing the decks with stones—there’s plenty of adventure, just from the point of view of the literal cannon fodder instead of the officers.

    Are you in the mood for an old-timey adventure?

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