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Posts Tagged ‘Fallout’

“On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-fifth year, Rachel shot her husband dead.”

That’s the humdinger first line of the prologue to Since We Fell (Ecco, digital galley), Dennis Lehane’s new thrill ride of a novel that is as slick and unexpected as black ice. It reads almost like two books, with the first charting Rachel Childs growing up with a bitter single mother who refuses to divulge her father’s identity. After her mother dies when she’s in college, Rachel continues to look for her father, even as she becomes a successful TV news reporter in Boston and marries her producer. Then comes an on-air meltdown while on assignment in Haiti, and Rachel loses her career and her marriage. Debilitating anxiety attacks turn her into a shut-in until a chance encounter with a one-time private investigator she had briefly hired. Brian Delacroix is now a successful businessman who understands Rachel like no one else. She falls hard for him, and he for her. They marry and everything is going well, with Rachel gradually making solo trips into the city. It’s on one such foray that she spots Brian across the street in the rain. But Brian is on a flight to London. Isn’t he?

Uh-oh. This is a Dennis Lehane novel, after all. Remember Mystic River? Shutter Island? Gone, Baby, Gone? The reversals of fortune can make your head spin and your heart ache, and Since We Fell is no exception. Reflective Rachel must give way to action-figure Rachel as she finds herself caught in a conspiracy where nothing is what it seems. Nothing and no one. Trust me.

Megan Miranda’s The Perfect Stranger (Simon & Schuster, digital galley) is another of those twisty thrillers pivoting on questions of identity and appearances. Reporter Leah Stevens has to resign her newspaper job after her sources are questioned in a story about college suicides. She fortuitously runs into her former roommate, Emmy Grey, who suggests Leah accompany her to rural Pennsylvania for a fresh start as a high school teacher. Then a woman who resembles Leah is found bludgeoned at a nearby lake, and Emmy goes missing. Questioned by a police detective, Leah admits to being stalked by a fellow teacher and is drawn into the investigation, especially when she realizes how little she really knows of Emmy and how much of it is lies. Miranda, author of the very good All the Pretty Girls, gets a bit bogged down in Leah’s back story and a few too many coincidences, but this is smartly written psychological suspense.

So many more mysteries and thrillers out there. Don’t miss Fallout (HarperCollins, digital galley), in which Sara Paretsky sends the intrepid V.I. Warshawski and her golden retriever to Kansas on the trail of a young fillmmaker and an aging black actress. In Lawrence (where Paretsky grew up), V.I. finds evidence of long-ago crimes seeping into the present, both in the university town and a in nearby decommissioned missile silo. Agatha Christie fans will appreciate the locked-room aspects of G.M. Maillet’s Devil’s Breath (St. Martin’s Press), even though the room in this case is a luxury yacht. British spy-turned-Anglican priest Max Tudor comes on board after the body of a glamorous actress washes ashore. Everyone, it seems, had a motive for murder. Plum Sykes launches a comic murder series set in 1980s Oxford with Party Girls Die in Pearls (HarperCollins, digital galley), featuring freshman sleuth Ursula Flowerbottom and her new BFF, American Nancy Feingold. Ursula’s discovery of the body of a fashionable classmate sends the duo on a round of parties where they can look their best while looking for a killer. Supremely silly fun and clothes to die for. In the surprising Long Black Veil (Crown, digital galley), Jennifer Finney Boylan offers a secretive leading character on a collision course with the past after the bones of a former classmate are discovered on the eerie grounds of an abandoned prison. And old bones also turn up in Sycamore (HarperCollins, digital galley), Bryn Chancellor’s interesting but overworked first novel. When word gets out about the skeletal remains found in a wash outside a small Arizona town, residents immediately think of 17-year-old Jess Winters, who disappeared 18 years ago. Chancellor moves back and forth in time and among various voices to explore the mystery of Jess herself and how her disappearance affected the town. Chancellor nails her teenagers but is less successful with the older characters, turning them elderly before their time.

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bookxmasBrowsing through the year-end “best” lists, mostly I see all the books I have not read. This is not unusual — I don’t read as much or as widely as when it was my job. Now I have the luxury of time and choice, including rereading older books. But I have spotted some of my new favorites on others’ lists: the provocative Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel, the fantastic The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman, the latest crime novels from Tana French, Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman. Still, while I liked Anthony Doerr’s historical novel  All the Light We Cannot See, which is at the top of numerous lists, I didn’t love it, not the way I loved Ward Just’s American Romantic, for example, or Sadie Jones’ Fallout.

Reading is such a subjective pleasure. I enjoy recommending books I’ve enjoyed or I wouldn’t continue writing this blog (going on five years, folks), but I don’t expect everyone to like everything I like. How boring would that be? I am gratified, though, when a friend thanks me for giving her a copy of  The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin, which she hadn’t heard of but liked a lot. It’s fun, too, to exchange a virtual high-five with another blogger over Sarah Waters’ atmospheric The Paying Guests.  I pore over book lists all the time in search of titles I might want to read. The year-end round-ups are icing on the cake.

luckyusSo, my TBR/Dear Santa list is long and getting longer. David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. Richard Ford’s Let Me Be Frank with You (I’ve been crushing on Frank Bascombe since The Sportswriter). Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things. Celeste Ng’s Everything I Want to Tell You. Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke’s The Cinderella Murder. Already in hand are Michael Connelly’s Burning Room, Margaret Atwood’s Stone Mattress, Christopher Fowler’s Bryant & May and the Bleeding Heart, Delia Sherman’s Young Woman in a Garden: Stories. And I’m about a third of the way through Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl because as much as I like her confessional essays, I can only take them in small doses.

This TBR list doesn’t include all the ARCs and digital galleys of books to be published in 2015. Yes, I’ll start summer reading this winter. Lucky me.

Which brings me to Amy Bloom’s wonderful whirligig of a novel, Lucky Us (Random House), which came out the end of July when I was learning to walk on my new hip. My digital galley expired long ago, so I checked it out of the library a couple weeks ago. It was on some best-of-summer lists, and it has one of my favorite covers of the year. But it’s Bloom’s picaresque tale of two half-sisters, Iris and Evie, during the Depression and World War II that makes it one of my 2014 favorites. The plot pops with surprises, the setting shifts from the Midwest to Hollywood to Brooklyn to wartime London, and the cast — the sisters, their con-man father and the flamboyant friends who become part of their makeshift family — is neon-colored. I think you’ll like it.

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fallout“The summer days were long and exquisitely balanced, as if happiness were so strong it could not leave them, but perhaps sharpened by the unexamined sense of something hidden; the more permanent wounds of their longer lives waiting, undiscovered.”

That’s my favorite sentence from one of my new favorite novels, Sadie Jones’ Fallout (HarperCollins, digital galley), a romantic drama played out against the setting of theatrical London in the heady 1970s. Protagonist Luke, an intense young playwright, shows an early flair for the dramatic when as a schoolboy he helps his mother escape from a mental hospital for a day-long excursion. Later, a chance encounter with young producer Paul and his girlfriend Leigh leads to the trio starting a fringe theatre company above a pub and sharing rooms, giving their all for art. Leigh hides her feelings for Luke, a serial womanizer until he meets actress Nina. The willowy beauty, bullied by her failed actress mother and married to a bisexual West End producer, becomes a star as a torture victim in a successful play. Luke can’t resist the role of white knight, but betrayal lurks in the wings as he struggles to remain true to his best self. Jones is a pro at evoking youthful love, friendship and ambition, as well as the inevitable fallout of choices made in the heat of passion. Her backstage tale deserves the limelight.

words If Edward St. Aubyn ever decides he wants to be anything but a celebrated writer, perhaps he should consider becoming an acupuncturist. In his breezy satire Lost for Words (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, digital galley), he expertly needles the posturings and pretensions of the literary prize balloon. Pop! Pop! Pop! Of course, he skewered class and culture in his celebrated Melrose family novels (At Last. Mother’s Milk), but he was much more subtle and a lot less cheerful.  This is farce, and he’s having fun.

First, readers meet the assorted, and mostly unqualified, judges of the Elysian Prize for Literature (St. Aubyn’s stand-in for Britain’s prestigious Man Booker), headed by a publicity-seeking MP. Most have read only a handful of the 200 of books submitted for the prize, but that doesn’t stop them from coming up with favorites, forming alliances and trading votes. As the long list is winnowed down to the shortlist, the writers vie for attention. They include a Serious Novelist for whom writing is torture, in love with a lovely and promiscuous writer sleeping with both her married editor and a French semiotics specialist. She misses out on the Elysian when a publishing mix-up results in her publisher inadvertently submitting the manuscript of a cookbook, which then becomes a metafictional darling. Meanwhile, the cookbook author’s nephew, a spoiled Indian prince, is plotting revenge because his self-published opus, The Mulberry Elephant, is overlooked. The judges remain divided over the merits of an historical novel about a folksy young Shakespeare and a profanity-laced screed, wot u starin at, from Scotland. St. Aubyn include spot-on parodies of excerpts from these books; I’ll never be able to read Hilary Mantel or Irvine Welsh again without grinning.

The judges are all asked what they’re looking for in a winner. A media personality is all about “relevance,” while an academic professes an interest in “good writing.” When pressed to be more specific, she stubbornly replies, “especially good writing.” I nominate Lost for Words.

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