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  • Sarah Skilton 9:00 am on 2017/09/29 Permalink
    Tags: , , diane chamberlain, , , , fresh complaint: stories, , hiddensee: a tale of the once and future nutcracker, , , manhattan beach, mark helprin, , paris in the present tense, rules of magic, , the stolen marriage, Tom Hanks, uncommon type: some stories, , winter solstice   

    October’s Best New Fiction 

    If you’re in the mood for spooky witches this fall, Alice Hoffman’s Rules of Magic—a prequel to Practical Magic—delivers chills, thrills, and sibling strife. October also brings mystical retellings of the Nutcracker and Cinderella; two historicals set in North Carolina; and Jennifer Egan’s first novel since A Visit From the Goon Squad won the PulitzerRounding out the list are two short story collections. The first is by Jeffrey (Middlesex) Eugenides, and the second introduces us to a little-known, up-and-comer by the name of Tom Hanks.

    Uncommon Type: Some Stories, by Tom Hanks
    Whichever role you most associate with Hanks—boy who wishes himself Big; perpetually annoyed women’s softball coach; partner to Hooch—cast it aside and prepare for a new one: short story author. With 17 tales to choose from, one of which concerns showbiz life, and all of which involve typewriters (the actor’s a fan), this collection of character-driven and nostalgic stories will charm Hank’s acting fans and avid readers alike. Whet your appetite with Hanks’ 2014 piece from the New Yorker.

    Fairytale, by Danielle Steel
    If fairytale updates and mash-ups are your jam, add this to your stack, ASAP: a modern retelling of Cinderella, set in a Napa Valley winery called Chateau Joy. Tragic Parental Deaths? Check. Evil, mesmerizing stepparent (in this case a Parisian countess)? Check. Handsome prince and fairy godmother? Absolutely. Add a Harvest Ball, plenty of Steel’s trademark romance, and a dash of magic and you’ll never want to leave Chateau Joy behind. Within the story’s Cinderella roots, Steel brings her own unexpected twists to a classic story. 

    Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker, by Gregory Maguire
    The author of the bestselling book and Broadway smash Wicked invites you to take a fresh look at the Nutcracker in this “double origin” story of the famous wooden toy and its creator, Drosselmeier. Who is Klara’s mysterious godfather, born a German peasant and seemingly fated to provide her with the sensational trinket? And what dark enchantment did he experience in his youth? Combining myths and historical legends, and written in the style of a Brothers Grimm tale, Hiddensee promises to delight and intrigue.

    Winter Solstice, by Elin Hilderbrand
    The fourth in her heart-and-hearth-warming “Winter” series, which are always set in Nantucket at Christmas, Solstice treats us to a reunion with the eggnog-guzzling Quinn family (patriarch Kelley, who owns the Winter Street Inn, and his four grown children). Each of them need help with romantic, business, or military entanglements. This year, heavy issues rise to the surface, from PTSD to hospice care and late-in-life regret. But with patience, love, and the bonds of family, the Quinns will pull each other through the tough times in this touching story.

    Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
    After winning the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit From the Good Squad (2010), Egan’s highly anticipated follow-up appears to be less experimental than her previous works, but just as moving. Set in New York City during the Depression and World War II, Manhattan Beach follows the struggles of Anna Kerrigan, first as an adolescent accompanying her father on a desperate job-seeking mission, and later at 19, after her father has disappeared and Anna is charged with supporting her sister and mother by working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as its sole female diver. A chance encounter with her father’s mobster boss begins to shed light on the truth about Anna’s dad. You may want to have tissues on hand for this detail-rich, feminist historical, which has already been long-listed for the National Book Award.

    Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman
    In this illuminating, entertaining prequel to Hoffman’s bestselling Practical Magic (also a 1998 film starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock), readers will learn what it was like for witchy sisters Franny and Bridget (Jet) Owens to grow up in 1950s/1960s New York City with a frustratingly strict mother (understandable, given the family curse: any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will meet a gruesome end). In Rules, we meet a charming younger brother, Vincent, who also grows up ignoring Mom’s warnings, with far-reaching consequences. Will any of the rules-averse siblings figure out a way to outwit their fates? If you loved the adolescent longings and heartaches of Hoffman’s poignant, private school-set River King, you’ll especially appreciate this coming-of-age tale.

    Fresh Complaint: Stories, by Jeffrey Eugenides
    The first short story collection from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex, Fresh Complaint depicts several relationships prior to implosion, including that of a young Indian-American woman who plans to ditch her arranged marriage; a poet-turned-criminal; and a friendship affected by dementia. Fans of The Marriage Plot will enjoy spending time with lovelorn Mitchell Grammaticus as he travels to Thailand in the story “Air Mail,” and there’s also a check-in with Dr. Luce of Middlesex fame, who throws himself into the study of intersex conditions after losing a patient to suicide. Written between the years of 1980-2017, this collection showcases Eugenides’ incredible ability to empathize with and write about people from atypical backgrounds.

    The Last Ballad, by Wiley Cash
    Juggling a 70-hour, night-shift work week at a textile mill (for which she’s paid crushingly low wages), marital abandonment, and four children who need feeding, Ella May Wiggins finds herself in the middle of a union dispute in 1929 North Carolina. The idea of a living wage, equal pay for equal work, and a 5-day work week sounds like a fantasy to her and her friends. Rather than give a speech, Ella May composes a song during a rally, a way to give voice to herself and the other workers. She and her cohorts are branded communists, but their devotion to creating a world worth living in for their children is especially prescient today, and the fact that it’s based on a true story is inspiring.

    The Stolen Marriage, by Diane Chamberlain
    Bestseller Chamberlain’s latest concerns an aspiring nurse trapped in a marriage-of-convenience in a small North Carolina town where she is disliked and mistrusted. It’s 1943, and Tess’s life just took a hard left: Impregnated by a man not her fiancée, she casts off her dream of a medical career alongside her true love and moves away with Henry, the baby’s father, who is uninterested in Tess’s potential. It soon becomes clear Henry is hiding things from Tess. With the polio epidemic in full swing, Tess gets a chance to use her nursing skills at last, but the home front remains as unsettling and mysterious as ever in this suspense-filled, World War II-era tale.

    Paris in the Present Tense, by Mark Helprin
    74-year-old Jules Lacour, a teacher at the Sorbonne reeling from his wife’s death and inaccurately believing himself a failure, thinks it’s about time he left behind the earthly plane as well. But his leukemia-ridden baby grandson needs him to find the money for treatment, and he hasn’t yet made peace with the tragic, seminal events in his life, including the deaths of his family members in the Holocaust. Perhaps there is yet time to play the cello, fall in love again, and save the day, if he’s willing to take a few risks. Paris looks to be invigorating and haunting read.

    What new fiction are you excited to read this month?

    The post October’s Best New Fiction appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Michelle Threadgould 3:15 pm on 2015/10/02 Permalink
    Tags: , diane chamberlain, , , pretending to dance   

    The Cost Of Faking It Til You Maybe Make It In Pretending To Dance 

    We’ve all heard the expression, “Fake it until you make it.” But what does a lifetime of “faking it” do to a person? Is potentially “making it” worth the cost?

    In Diane Chamberlain’s new novel Pretending to Dance, each of her characters must pretend to be what they wish they were—brave, empathetic—in order to find the strength to just be“I know the truth about myself and my work: I am a pretender of the first order. And I’m a little tired of it.” So says Molly Arnette, who, along with her loving husband, Aidan James, is a lawyer, lives in a picture-perfect house in sunny San Diego, and has a life with the kind of glossy façade that presents us with a myth: the woman who has it all.

    Yet what she wants most in life, it seems she cannot have: a child. After a miscarriage that leads Molly to undergo a hysterectomy, she’s unsure if she’ll ever be a mother. She and Aidan begin to work with an adoption agency, and in the process must fill out information about their families, their backgrounds, and what qualifies them to be good parents. Molly creates a pretend origin story, because even her husband doesn’t know where she really comes from. 

    Chamberlain shifts from modern-day San Diego to Asheville, North Carolina, in the 1980s to shed light on Molly’s childhood. She grew up in Morrison Ridge, on property her family has lived on for generations, all of her kin a short bike ride away. Her father is a therapist behind the development of “pretend therapy,” which states that if you pretend to be the opposite of what you are, you will become exactly what you want to be: If you’re scared, pretend to be brave.

    The philosophy is apt for her father, whose MS has progressed to the point where he only has mobility above the neck. His assistant, Russel, must help him with the most mundane of tasks, from eating to relieving himself, but he maintains his sense of humor and softness for his wife, Nora, and daughter, Molly. He pretends to be happy, and Molly pretends to believe him.

    A former social worker, Chamberlain reveals the complexity of dysfunctional families and how they operate. She’s able to capture family mythology: the stories we believe and are afraid to ever question. Because life at Morrison Ridge is not as tranquil as it appears to be. Molly’s family, made up of a long line of aunts, uncles, and her omnipresent grandmother, are at odds with each other over what to do with their land. Alcoholism runs in the family, and their habit of turning away from secrets seems pathological. Molly’s birth mother, Amalia, lives at Morrison Ridge in the “slave quarters” on her father’s land, to the discomfort of Nora, Molly’s adoptive mother, and the shame of her grandmother. Central to Pretending to Dance is the question, Is being able to pretend a gift or a curse? Is the presentation of perfection what’s really damaging us all?

    Drifting back to the San Diego present, Molly grapples with whether she’s ready for an open adoption. Shame from her own upbringing makes her believe she doesn’t deserve a stable family. When talking on the phone to Sienna, whose expected child she may adopt, Molly realizes she literally has one foot inside the baby’s nursery, and another out the door. She expects everything to fall apart; she’s afraid to trust that she deserves good things.

    Molly is an unreliable narrator, and at times difficult to sympathize with. She holds onto her anger like a petulant child, and in many ways, her entire worldview is stunted: she can’t let go of what happened to her at Morrison Ridge, and as a result has remained as emotionally charged and self-obsessed as an adolescent. Chamberlain gives us a protagonist who chooses to desert her birth family in order to start her own life, but is never truly free from her past. Aware of this, her husband Aidan encourages her to go back home, telling her, “You can’t let your past get in the way of your future any longer.”

    And while the reader’s patience may run thin with Molly, Chamberlain is at her best in scenes between her and Sienna. They offer heartfelt investigations into the economic circumstances that make adoption inevitable, and the difficult choices both birth and adoptive mothers must face. Chamberlain creates an intimate portrait of the hell endured on both sides of the adoption process, without letting the reader make easy judgments.

    When Sienna goes to visit Molly’s home, she’s impressed by all of the books that line the bookshelf in her nursery. She comes across the book Love You Forever, and after reading it, asks Molly, “Which one of us is our baby going to hold when she grows up?”  

    Here lies one of the beautiful premises of Pretending to Dance: how do you create the groundwork for a healthy family, one that honors the past and makes room for the present? When and how do you learn to let go? The novel shows us the shades of how jealousy, pettiness, grudges, and holding onto a sense of “what’s right” can tear a family apart, and how empathy, forgiveness, and coming to terms with one’s history can give a family the freedom it needs to grow.

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