This summer, I promised myself I’d read all the wonderful novels I had piled up on my nightstand. But the mountain of books just kept growing; and now that the weather is so nice, my stash has moved to my front porch. What heaven to while away a cool September afternoon with a good book!
Nichole Bernier’s THE UNFINISHED NOVEL OF ELIZABETH D. asks us to consider how well we actually know the people we love. Those of us who lived through 9/11 can readily understand the state of mind in which Kate Spencer finds herself. She’s determined to stay at home with her two children, and to back-burner her career as a pastry chef. Her husband, who’s frequently absent, isn’t privy to the hoard of emergency supplies she hides in her SUV. Her summer vacation on Rock Island turns out to be anything but restful when she’s faced with the task of reading the journals of her late friend, Elizabeth Martin. Elizabeth has willed them to Kate with the instruction “start at the beginning.” The woman Kate discovers seems far from the friend she knew. In getting to know the Elizabeth who’s revealed as troubled and uncertain, Kate realizes she has to reconsider her own choices in life.
Emotional turmoil and the intricacies of relationships are also spotlighted in MOTHERLAND, by Amy Sohn. Those who appreciated the wit and sexy drama of Sohn’s “Prospect Park West” will be thrilled to see the continuation of the glimpse into the lives of discontent Rebecca Rose; Karen Bryan Shapiro, who’s trying to put her life back together; and actress Melora Leigh, once a hot ticket, now trying to reinvent her career. Here, we’re also introduced to the drama of Park Slope dads, both gay and straight. Cape Cod, usually thought to be a vacation haven, is instead the place where these denizens of Brooklyn must come to terms with the often unpleasant realities of their lives.
THE RED CHAMBER, author Pauline Chen’s reimagining of the Chinese classic “Dream of the Red Chamber,” is also the story of three women. The setting is an upper-class household in 18th Century Beijing. Called “a Chinese Downton Abbey,” this novel is, in fact, the culmination of an extraordinary undertaking. The original book is 2500 pages long, and features more than 400 characters. Chen has not only edited and condensed, she’s fulfilled a dream to give the story the ending she feels it deserves. The original conclusion was lost, and another author grafted on the ending. Chen has kept the focus on the three most compelling characters: Daiyu, an orphan who’s adopted into the family; Baochai, who’s forced to marry her cousin; and Xifeng, who is spurned by her husband when she fails to bear him children. This amazing window into an all but forgotten culture is the kind of fascinating work that compels the reader to give up all thoughts of the mundane world in which we live, and to become immersed in a different time and place.
The setting for the beginning of THE LOST PRINCE is fin de siècle Vienna. From there, Selden Edwards takes his heroine, once Weezie Putnam, to Boston, where she changes her name to Eleanor, and comes to believe that she knows what the future will hold. Edwards is a seventy-two-year-old former headmaster who took over thirty years to write his first novel, the runaway hit “The Little Book.” Fortunately, we only had to wait four years for this, his second. The tale of how Eleanor deals with the loss of her one great love, builds her life, and connects with some of the great minds of the twentieth century, including William James, Carl Jung, and Sigmund Freud, should not be missed.
Nora Roberts is a phenomenon; THE WITNESS is her 200th novel. “The New Yorker,” in 2008, named her “America’s favorite writer.” In 2011, books by Roberts debuted at the top of the New York Times fiction bestsellers lists for hardcover, trade paperbacks, mass market, and eBooks. In fact, of her fifty-one books, more than a quarter have immediately placed #1 on the bestsellers list, just as soon as they hit the book stands. Roberts began writing in 1979, and hasn’t stopped since. Fans are eagerly devouring this latest offering, which is filled with characteristic romance, suspense, a vividly portrayed heroine, and insight into both the Russian mob and the Witness Protection Program. Dive in, and be prepared for a plot twist you’ll never see coming.
Peter Carey, two-time winner of the prestigious Booker Prize, is widely recognized as one of the most accomplished storytellers of our time. His latest book, THE CHEMISTRY OF TEARS, doesn’t disappoint. The scene is London, in 2010. Secretly grieving the death of her married lover, Catherine Gehrig is charged, by her boss in the Swinburne Museum, with the task of bringing to life an automaton. Hidden away in the Annex, in order to reassemble the machine, Catherine must read the journals of the nineteenth century man who commissioned the automaton as a gift for his ill son. The healing that she finds transcends the time barrier which separates these two wounded people.
One lesson I’ve learned is that when you find a book you love, don’t wait to read it. Remember, as the saying goes, no one dies with an empty “in” box.
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Michall Jeffers is an accomplished Cultural Journalist and an avowed bibliophile. She writes extensively, both in print and online. Her eponymous cable TV show is syndicated throughout the tri-state area, and features celebrity interviews, reviews, and commentary. Michall is a voting member of National Book Critics Circle. www.michalljeffers.com