We’re entering publishing’s top season, when they bring out literature’s notable and best-selling authorial names. This fall, we’ve got Irish mystery writer Tana French, British author of Atonement fame Ian McEwan, American crime novelist James Ellroy, popular historical fiction writer Sarah Waters and the incomparable British novelist Martin Amis releasing new novels. There are others, but these few particularly caught my attention. Below are brief summaries of their books. Also included, a sneak peek at Colm Tóibín’s new novel coming out early October.

The Secret Place by Tana FrenchThe Secret Place by Tana French
Tana French’s new detective novel is set for release this coming Tuesday, Sept. 2, and already getting rave reviews. It’s a boarding school mystery ignited by a note posted to the school’s anonymous tell-all bulletin board (called the Secret Place) that says someone knows the identity of a boy’s killer. French is known to use characters from previous novels and in this one brings back Detective Stephen Moran and the Mackay family from Faithful Place.  Publisher’s Weekly said, “French stealthily spins a web of teenage secrets with a very adult crime at the center.”

The Children Act by Ian McEwanThe Children Act by Ian McEwan
Set for release on Sept. 9, Ian McEwan’s new novel takes on the issue of religious belief preventing medical care for a 17-year-old boy who could die without it. The British judge hearing the difficult case is simultaneously struggling with her husband’s marital infidelity. This promises to be another one of McEwan’s best. For book collectors: A special limited signed first edition of The Children Act is available. All full leather copies are now sold out, but quarter leathers are still available.  Scroll down the page on Mr. McEwan’s website to get details.

Perfidia by James EllroyPerfidia by James Ellroy
Also set for release Sept. 9, this novel begins a new crime series by James Ellroy, well-known for his L.A. Quartet that includes Black Dahlia and L.A. Confidential. Perfidia is the first novel in what will now be a Second L.A. Quartet series. Characters from Ellroy’s previous novels will appear here in their younger years, as this is a prequel to the L.A. Quartet #1. Perfidia begins the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor and unfolds through the following days in December 1941. Rival investigators bump up against one another trying to solve the death of four members of a Japanese family, who may have had foreknowledge of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Previews and James Ellroy’s letter on his literary agency’s website point to a complex, involving crime novel. Note that its page count is just north of 700 pages.

The Paying Guests by Sarah WatersThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
Planned for release Sept. 16, this 560-page historical novel takes place in London, 1922, with a debt-ridden mother and daughter forced to rent rooms in their large, genteel home. Forbidden romance plus a shocking act of violence drive the novel’s tension. The Paying Guests is described as one of those novels that keeps you guessing until the end regarding narrative outcome. Sarah Waters is a three-time Man Booker prize short-listed author for her previous novels Fingersmith, The Night Watch and The Little Stranger.

The Zone of Interest by Martin AmisThe Zone of Interest by Martin Amis
Publisher’s Weekly begins its forecast for this new novel by describing it as “an absolute soul-crusher of a book.” I wouldn’t let that deter you, though. They also gave the book a starred review — as it’s received from every other forecast I’ve come across — and say it’s “the brilliant latest from Amis.” Just be prepared for a devastating love story. Amis draws again on a World War II theme that provided the narrative fulcrum for his earlier novel, Time’s Arrow. The setting is a German concentration camp, and the primary narrator is the camp’s commandant. Two other narrators also help tell the story, a Jewish inmate and the fictional nephew of the real-life Nazi official Martin Bowman, Hitler’s private secretary.

Nora Webster by Colm ToibinNora Webster by Colm Tóibín
This is an October release (10/7) I can’t help but mention here among the September books by acclaimed Irish author Colm Tóibín. The story focuses on a young Irish woman, recently widowed, having lost the love of her life. She lives in a small village in Ireland, and she’s overwhelmed with everyone’s condolences and her grief, let alone the needs of her children. She yearns to find her way back into the world. Previews for Nora Webster portend a powerful character study.


Caught, crooked, faithful…

January 20, 2011

I’ve not paid much attention to the Edgar® Awards in the past, but this year is different: I’m curious, thanks to my newfound reading adventures in this literary genre.

Nominees for the 2011 Edgar Allan Poe Awards, honoring the best in mystery fiction, non-fiction and television published or produced in 2010 were announced this week. These awards are sponsored by the Mystery Writers of America and widely acknowledged to be the most prestigious in the genre.

The full list of nominees in the 10 categories can be read on the Edgar website. Here I investigate the six nominees in their Best Novel category.

Caught by Harlan Coben
Described by The Independent as a “an excellent thriller” and by the New York Times as “crazily hyperactive,” bestselling Coben’s newest stand-alone involves a teenager suddenly gone missing and a news reporter who makes a name for herself chasing sexual predators. In this case, though, she starts questioning her instincts. The prologue is available for reading on Coben’s website.

Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
The story of two boyhood friends, torn apart by circumstance, who are brought together again by a terrible crime in a small Mississippi town. Washington Post book critic Ron Charles wrote this: “If you’re looking for a smart, thoughtful novel that sinks deep into a Southern hamlet of the American psyche, ‘Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter’ is your next book.” 

Faithful Place by Tana French
NYT book critic Janet Maslin listed this as one of her 10 favorites of 2010. Faithful Place is a story about an Irish family with a mystery to go along –  one of the family members returns to his hometown, Dublin, Ireland, to investigate the disappearance of his childhood sweetheart.

The Queen of Patpong by Timothy Hallinan
This mystery takes place in Bangkok, Thailand, with Halliman’s returning travel-writer protagonist facing evils from his wife’s past that threaten the family. Lots of blogging about this book, but no reviews from major sources that I could find. This is the fourth mystery in a series.

The Lock Artist by Steve Hamilton
This story’s 18-year-old protagonist doesn’t speak, ever since he experienced tragedy as an eight-year-old. But he’s got a gift for picking locks, no matter how impossible it may seem, and this gift leads to crime. This is a new character for Hamilton, who’s known for his Edgar Award-winning Alex McKnight series. From The New York Times review: “As coming-of-age novels go, this one is too good for words.”

I’d Know You Anywhere by Laura Lippman
The story of a young woman who dangerously engages with a man on Death Row who kidnapped her when she was a teenager. From a review in the Washington Post: “Some people would segregate Lippman as a crime or thriller writer. That’s a shame. She’s one of the best novelists around, period.”

The monster in my home

November 29, 2010

It’s time again to weed the stack on the reading table. Take a reality check of what I will likely read in upcoming weeks. Enough with the “I want to read these books soon” stack and the “flat stack” that grew like a snake across my dining room table so I could work my way from one end to the other.

That snake, however, proved to be delightfully satisfying as I watched it shrink. Antonya Nelson’s Bound and Patricia Engel’s Vida got picked up rather quickly followed by A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr and then Stephen Vizinczey’s In Praise of Older Women. But then I started adding more books, and I didn’t like the ongoing look of the snake, more boa than garden variety. I’ve been here before. I nurture a monster then have to face it. 

I won’t detail the long list of weeding, rather share the highlights that I, Hotel by Karen Tei Yamashita,  Skippy Dies by Paul Murray and The Long Ships by Frans G. Bengtsson got moved off because it’s not a time for them. (That was painful.) But, as it goes, remove a Man Booker candidate and then add one. Rose Tremain’s Trespass, long-listed for the 2010 Man Booker, as was Skippy Dies, now appears on the RT. Considering it’s a 14-day library book, it won’t be sitting there for long.

You might ask, why not read Skippy Dies instead of Trespass?  I wish I could answer that in a way that would offer a template for successful reading table management.  I don’t have it in me.

Speaking of library books (there’s another one on the RT, too), if I end up reading a library book, I’ll then scout for a copy for my bookshelves at used book stores and/or shows. The annual Dayton, Ohio, Bookfair held in November is a great place for such finds. 

Here are five other novels — in addition to Trespass — that survived the weeding. They are among 12 books listed on My Reading Table, a TLC page reflecting the high points neatly stacked on my dining room table. Some survivors have been long-standing titles on the table, such as Elie Wiesel’s Night and Brad Gooch’s biography of Flannery O’Connor

Only 12 books on TLC’s My Reading Table, you may ask? Again, they are merely the highlights and/or immediate next reads. Not reflected are books stacked on two other tables outside the dining room table. You likely have your own monsters to deal with. You don’t need mine.

♦  Faithful Place by Tana French
NYT book critic Janet Maslin listed this as one of her 10 favorites of 2010. Then I saw it at the library and checked it out. Faithful Place is a story about an Irish family with a mystery to go along —  one of the family members returns to his hometown, Dublin, Ireland, to investigate the disappearance of his childhood sweetheart.

♦  Stoner by John Williams
A classic published by The New York Review of Books, this is the story of a man who encounters a succession of disappointments. From an essay in the NYT: “John Williams’s ‘Stoner’ is something rarer than a great novel — it is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, that it takes your breath away.”

♦  The Visiting Suit by Xiaoda Xiao
A memoir-in-stories by an author whose first novel, The Cave Man, awakened me to human rights atrocities going on in modern China. Published by Two Dollar Radio whose branding is “books too loud to ignore,” which aptly fits the work of Xiaoda Xiao. Also on the RT from Two Dollar Radio, The Correspondence Artist by Barbara Browning, which looks “too good to ignore.” Scheduled for February 2011 release.

♦  Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg: The Letters, edited by Bill Morgan and David Stanford
This terrific book has been on and off the RT, and it’s now back on again. The stop-and-go reading has nothing to do with my interest in the book, rather being called to pick up other books and to let it go for a while. These letters are fascinating, and they read like a great story about the Beat Generation.

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