Friday, March 27, 2020

Bookshelf, Spring 2020

Hard as it is to believe, another season has come and gone, and Spring has officially arrived. A strange spring, with a rather bizarre epidemic that blew up out of nowhere and is at once mild and deadly, requiring unprecedented measures of quarantining and self-isolating and social distancing to restrain its rapid spread long enough to allow the world’s medical systems to catch up and wreaking havoc on the global economy.

But for all of us confined to our homes until further notice, books offer one reliable refuge. Here from my bookshelf are several literary journeys to a variety of times and places, from the contemporary Cotswolds to nineteenth-century Sicily and the New York art scene, ca. 1910. I’m sure you can find something here to lighten the pressures of life in lock-down.

Stefania Auci, The Florios of Sicily, trans. Katherine Gregor (HarperVia, 2020)

This family saga was a bestseller in Italy, hence its translation and republication here. It came to me for a potential interview, but I couldn’t fit it in even though the subject matter looks fascinating and I love to explore literary places that don’t come my way very often. I’m not quite sure when I’ll get to it, because I have a lot of interviews underway at present—including two for New Books in History that I have yet to schedule. But if anywhere can offer an escape from a world hovering on the brink of disaster into a past filled with sunshine and passion, nineteenth-century Sicily must be that place. Just the cover makes me think of summers at the beach.


Mari Coates, The Pelton Papers 
(She Writes Press, 2020)

A look at Agnes Pelton, a twentieth-century American artist whose work I didn’t know before encountering this lovely, lyrical exploration of her life. Born in 1881, Pelton survived a sickly childhood and lived to be almost eighty. Over her long career, she developed from a mostly realistic painter, if with hints of fantasy, into a “desert transcendentalist” who combined the spiritual principles of Vasily Kandinsky and Madame Blavatsky to create abstract works rich in brilliant colors. I’ll be talking with the author next week for New Books in Historical Fiction, so check in and give us a listen once that interview goes live around the middle of April.


Michelle Cox, A Child Lost
(She Writes Press, 2020)

Book 5 of a series that began in 2016 with A Girl Like You, by an author I interviewed regarding the first two back in 2017. By now, Clyde and Henrietta are married, but the cases keep on coming, even though Clyde has resigned from the Chicago police to work in his family business. Set in the 1920s, this series explores the seamier side of city life as well as the mansions on the North Shore. 

It would be unfair to give away spoilers, but check back on the blog early in May to see what the author is willing to reveal about A Child Lost as well as its immediate predecessors—A Promise Given and A Veil Removed.


Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister
(Henry Holt, 2020)

The thirst for Austen spin-offs continues unabated, and information about this one landed in my in box unexpectedly this week. Like Pamela Mingle’s charming The Pursuit of Mary Bennet (William Morrow, 2013), this novel by a long-time BBC administrator tackles the least attractive middle sister, Mary. It’s garnering rave reviews, and I’m as big an Austen fan as anyone—especially Pride and Prejudice. So I look forward to seeing Hadlow’s take on a perennial favorite. I’ll be talking with her for my May interview.


Stacey Halls, The Lost Orphan
(William Morrow, 2020)

Captivating, beautifully written novel about a young woman forced to give up her illegitimate newborn daughter, Clara, to London’s Foundling Hospital (the original UK title is The Foundling). That’s hard enough, since the hospital holds a lottery to determine which of the many unwanted babies it will keep, and Clara barely makes the cut. But when, after five years, Bess manages to scrape together enough of her earnings as a shrimp seller to retrieve Clara, she learns that someone claiming to be her baby’s mother took Clara the very day Bess left her daughter in the hospital’s care.

Bess decides to get her baby back. This story about two eighteenth-century women, each desperate in her own way, twists and turns in the most satisfying and unexpected ways, but at its heart it’s a tale of motherhood, its trials and triumphs. Stacey Halls will join me here next week to talk about this and her previous novel, The Familiars.

And just for fun—because what’s better than a brand-new mystery series with twenty books already written?—Agatha Frost, Pancakes and Corpses (Pink Tree Publishing, 2017). 

I love historical fiction; don’t get me wrong. I love interviewing authors and thinking about their books. But once in a while it’s nice to put my brain on hold and let a gifted contemporary writer sweep me into a world where it makes perfect sense that a cafĂ© owner and baker (or a lighthouse librarian, like Eva Gates’ Lucy, with the help of a resident Burmese cat) could be continually confronted by dead bodies and cases only she can solve.

I came to this book via Courtney J. Hall, one of my two co-founders at Five Directions Press, who loves the entire series. When I saw on Twitter that Agatha Frost was giving away six of her titles for free because of the pandemic, I downloaded them, then sprang for the first two in the series so I could get in at the beginning. I started this one a few days ago, but now that I have a bit of free time between interviews, I hope to tear through the rest of it. And if the end is as good as the beginning, I have lots more to go....

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