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

    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.

  • Monique Alice 4:30 pm on 2014/11/03 Permalink
    Tags: , , denis johnson, , , national book awards, , the laughing monsters,   

    The Laughing Monsters, a Spy Novel for the 21st Century 

    Denis Johnson's The Laughing MonstersIf you’re looking for a quick, edge-of-your-seat, can’t-put-it-down read, pick up National Book Award winner Denis Johnson’s newest novel, The Laughing Monsters. It’s a nail-biting page-turner that ends as unceremoniously as it begins. Weighing in at a neat 228 pages, The Laughing Monsters packs a great punch in a little package, with viscerally real characters, a volatile and mysterious setting, and many of the trappings of a classic spy novel.

    Roland Nair seems no more sure of where he’s been than where he’s going. An American-born Dane who speaks almost no Danish, Nair is as comfortable in Rishikesh as he is in Cleveland. This is rather a convenient quality in a spy, though technically Nair is a NATO operative. The only thing more confusing than his origin is his loyalty, which seems to belong to everyone and no one. He’s smart, resourceful, and charming…but not exactly a choirboy. He drinks anything put in front of him, seeks out the services of sex workers despite his loyal significant other back home, and angles to win the affections of his friend’s fiancée. Nope, not a nice guy. But so dang likable!

    Nair is in Sierra Leone on the hunt for old friend and comrade Michael Adriko. The two have a long history of helping each other both into and out of assorted espionage-related scrapes. When Nair finds his target, the two resume their old buddy routine as only two spies-for-hire can: with equal parts conviviality and suspicion. Their uneasy bond is further tested by Adriko’s captivating American fiancée, Davidia, whom the two place firmly in the center of the perpetual tug-of-war between their egos. Despite their mistrust for one another, Nair and Adriko know they can get further together than apart. Nair is scheming to sell U.S. intelligence at a hefty profit, and Adriko is after a place at the table of the family from which he was separated as a child during a bloody insurrection. Neither can complete his mission without the other, and so the pair trudge on toward their shared goals of profit, redemption, and a decent hotel.

    In Nair, Johnson has painted a stirring portrait of a man torn between his lust for adventure and his angst over the apparent purposelessness of his life. Nair’s mood is as unreliable as Johnson’s Africa itself. Through vivid descriptions of the embattled, poverty-stricken continent, as beautiful as it is unforgiving, Johnson draws on readers’ empathy for the casualties of war and colonialism. You’ll see the majestic mountain range from which the novel gets its name, feel the sultry evening air pocked with deadly insects, and hear the American classics pumped through analog radios, eerily incongruous with their surroundings. Johnson has his finger firmly on the pulse of a post-9/11 world, a place so volatile it seems one spark away from combustion.

    The novel is classic spy stuff in that it’s full of intrigue, plot twists, and an underlying electric current of urgency. The Laughing Monsters, however, is modern in its tone and delivery. Though eschewing a neatly tied plot and a clear understanding of who the good guys are, the novel’s compelling characters and exhilarating prose make it a great ride.


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