June 2009 -- "Have you not considered the distinct possibility that the accused were simply guilty
Connie Godwin thinks her academic advisor is teasing her: she has mastered the scholarship surrounding the Salem witch trials of 1692 and knows the question he poses is preposterous. She never suspects that answering it will alter everything she knows about the past, her family, and the professor himself. Interweaving two narratives, one set in 1991 and one set three centuries earlier, Katherine Howe's debut novel is a marvel of invention
and historical reconstruction. The author employs her training as an historian to vividly depict the realities of 17th-century Salem, dramatizing the plight of the unfortunate victims as they fall prey to the mania of their accusers. But it is the leap of imagination by which she connects Connie to that distant past that turns The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane into a bewitching reading
Sent by her mother to prepare her long-deceased grandmother's home for sale, Connie finds a decrepit dwelling filled with venerable oddities, including a collection of ancient bottles filled with peculiar liquids and powders. On her first night there, Connie chances on a crumbling bit of paper, bearing the words "Deliverance Dane," that has been carefully hidden inside a key tucked between the pages of a 300-year-old family Bible. Combing the local church registry for traces of this mysterious name, Connie strikes up an acquaintance with Sam, a steeplejack engaged in the church's preservation. Together they piece together Deliverance's tragic story and learn of her precious book of spells and recipes for healing potions. When a series of sinister events threaten Sam's life, Connie's search for the book is transformed from scholarly pursuit to a matter of life and death-and love.
- Discussion questions for your reading group
- Our downloadable reader's guide (pdf)
- Watch our exclusive interview with Katherine Howe on B&N Tagged!
- See our discussion on The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane in the First Look Book Club
August 2009 - Tom Cole, the grandson of a legendary local hero, has inherited an uncanny knack for reading the Niagara River's whims and performing daring feats of rescue at the mighty falls. And like the tumultuous meeting of the cataract's waters with the rocks below, a chance encounter between Tom and 17-year-old Bess Heath has an explosive effect. When they first meet on a trolley platform, Bess immediately recognizes the chemistry between them, and the feeling is mutual.
But the hopes of young love are constrained by the 1915 conventions of Niagara Falls, Ontario. Tom's working-class pedigree doesn't suit Bess's family, despite their recent fall from grace. Sacked from his position at a hydroelectric power company, Bess's father has
taken to drink, forcing her mother to take in sewing for the society women who were once her peers. Bess pitches in as she pines for Tom, but at her young age, she's unable to fully realize how drastically her world is about to change.
Set against the resounding backdrop of the falls, Cathy Marie Buchanan's carefully researched, capaciously imagined debut novel entwines the romantic trials of a young couple with the historical drama of the exploitation of the river's natural resources. The current of the river, like that of the human heart, is under threat: "Sometimes it seems like the river is being made into this measly thing," says Tom, bemoaning the shortsighted schemes of the power companies. "The river's been bound up with cables and concrete and steel, like a turkey at Christmastime."
Skillfully portraying individuals, families, a community, and an environment imperiled by progress and the devastations of the Great War, The Day the Falls Stood Still beautifully evokes the wild wonder of its setting, a wonder that always overcomes any attempt to tame it. But at the same time, Buchanan's tale never loses hold of the gripping emotions of Tom and Bess's intimate drama. The result is a transporting novel that captures both the majesty of nature and the mystery of love.
September 2009 - A Body in a Bistro, A Treasure in the Forest, and A Tale of Murder Beyond the Pale.
The village in Quebec where Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache novels are set is home to a bistro, a bookstore, a bedand-breakfast, and a boulangerie. Tantalizing aromas seem to waft from every room, and friendship warms the homes of the eccentric collection of people that populates the town, a potpourri of escaping urbanites, artists, carpenters, and an outlandish poet with a pet duck.
And yet, as Penny's fifth novel unfolds, it isn't long before murder disturbs the tranquility of the community watched over by the graceful trees that give Three Pines its name. One Sunday morning, the body of a stranger is discovered on the floor of the town's commercial and spiritual center: the bistro run by Olivier Brulé and his partner, Gabri. The victim appears to be a stranger-but is he? The answer to that question, and to the more pressing mystery of his killer's identity, soon rests in the hands of Armand Gamache of the Sûreté du Québec.
Arriving in Three Pines, a town of old friends and, sadly, new suspects, the commanding yet kind Gamache deploys his crew of detectives to gather evidence in the apparently clueless case. Each discovery-a corpse that won't stay still, a house whose restoration can't erase the aura of its haunted past, a log cabin located deep in the woods that holds an astonishing collection of priceless artifacts-ties another enigmatic knot in the intricate web of secrets and deceptions Gamache must unravel.
Tellingly blending the social pleasures of a cozy with the escalating terror of a psychological thriller, Penny traces Gamache's investigation as it expands to encompass cultural treasures that range from pieces of the fabled Amber Room to the china of Catherine the Great, from a first edition of Jane Eyre to the violin of the great Czech composer Bohuslav Martinù, from the modern art of the museums of Montreal to Haida totem poles on the mist-enshrouded Queen Charlotte Islands of British Columbia. With breathless anticipation, the reader follows Gamache as he pursues the shocking and brutal truth hidden in the heart of a seemingly loving community.
Dawsey, a farmer on the island of Guernsey in the English Channel, has come into possession of a book that once belonged to Juliet. Spurred by a mutual admiration for the writer, the two launch an epistolary conversation that reveals much about Dawsey's Guernsey and the islanders' recent lives under Nazi occupation. Juliet is especially interested to learn about the curious beginnings of "The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society," and before long she is exchanging letters with its other members — not only Dawsey but Isola the vegetable seller, Eben the fisherman, and blacksmith Will Thisbee, creator of the famous potato peel pie.
As Juliet soon discovers, the most compelling island character is Elizabeth, the courageous founder of the society, who lives in the memories of all who knew her. Each person who writes to Juliet adds another chapter to the story of Elizabeth's remarkable wartime experiences. Touched by the stories the letters deliver, Juliet can't help but travel to Guernsey herself — a decision that will have surprising consequences for everyone involved.
Drawn together by their love of books and affection for each other, the unforgettable characters of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society collectively tell a moving tale of endurance and friendship. Through the chorus of voices they have created, Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows have composed a rich tale that celebrates the power of hope and human connection in the shadows of war.
Eighty-six-year-old Hennie has lived in Middle Swan, a gold-mining town in the Rockies, since before Colorado was a state. Nit has recently arrived in town with her husband and her grief, reminding Hennie of her own youthful hopes and sorrows. Finding common ground in their Southern heritage and a love of quilting, an unlikely friendship blossoms as Hennie captivates Nit with vivid memories that reach back to the mid-1800s.
"There's something about stitching together," Hennie confides, "that draws a woman out."
As they sew, Hennie recounts her childhood in Tennessee and her tragic marriage to her sweetheart Billy, soon to be lost to the Civil War. She relives the death of their only child and her journey, by wagon train, across the country to start life anew with a man she'd never met. She recalls the unexpected blessing she discovered upon her arrival in Middle Swan and describes the lively cast of gamblers and moonshiners, quilters and "soiled doves" she has come to know. Summoning the feelings, dreams, and satisfactions of Hennie's years of experience as a woman, mother, and wife, these stirring yarns serve as a healing balm for the lonely, anxious Nit-and help her piece together a new beginning for her own family.
Just as Hennie's tales weave a many-hued cloak of mountain wisdom for the benefit of her young friend, so Sandra Dallas creates for us-through a deft blend of historical detail, authentic voices, quilting lore, and, last but not least, emotional truths-a vibrant quilt of heartbreaking incident and heartwarming compassion.
Only five short chapters into Setterfield’s deft, enthralling narrative, her readers too have been transported: they’ve inhaled the dusty scent of Lea’s Antiquarian Bookshop, shared the sense of adventurous comfort Margaret absorbs from her late-night reading, and been seduced by the glamorous enigma of Vida Winter. Yet The Thirteenth Tale has just begun. Commissioned by Miss Winter to compose her unvarnished biography, Margaret is soon swept up in the tragic history she must unravel—a story stranger and more haunting than any the celebrated author has ever penned, encompassing a grand house, a beautiful yet doomed family, passion, madness, ghosts, and a secret that holds readers spellbound until the very end. Richly atmospheric and deeply satisfying, Setterfield’s debut revives in all their glory the traditions of gothic and romantic suspense exemplified by the works of Wilkie Collins, the Brontës, and Daphne du Maurier. Old-fashioned in the best sense, it’s an urgently readable novel that’s nearly impossible to put down.
Bernie's enterprise, the Little Detective Agency, limps along, waiting for the next job to arrive. While Chet freely admits that he doesn't always understand the humans around him, the mutt who failed to graduate from the police academy quickly establishes that he's got a nose made for sniffing out trouble — as well as the tasty morsel.
When the story begins, Chet and Bernie are settled into the companionable routine they established when Bernie got divorced and lost custody of his son. Riding shotgun for stakeouts in Bernie's beat-up convertible (and snarfing up doughnuts and beef jerky) is the perfect life for Chet, though he knows Bernie's worried about cash flow.
But their luck is about to change. During a nighttime stroll through the neighborhood — an older enclave in the southwestern desert that Bernie fears will soon be eclipsed by new development — the pair encounter a panicked neighbor, Cynthia Chambliss. Waving a wad of bills, she beseeches Bernie to find her daughter, Madison, a 15-year-old who has been missing for several hours.
Bernie heeds the call of cash and the urgency of parental concern, but Madison soon returns home on her own, only to disappear again in short order — this time for several days. Cynthia frantically rehires Bernie, but her ex, Damon Keefer, refuses to cooperate, insisting that Bernie be taken off the investigation. Nevertheless, intrigued by the young girl's apparent connections to a group of Russian thugs, Bernie and Chet follow a trail of clues that leads them into more danger than they'd bargained for.
As Chet and Bernie race across the desert toward Las Vegas in their sandblasted Porsche, Quinn's narrative unfolds with mounting suspense. At every stage of their journey, readers will warm to Chet's loyalty and courage — to say nothing of his delightfully doggy digressions — and be captivated by Spencer Quinn's deft blend of humor and thrills in this enormously entertaining tale, bound to be the first of many adventures.
The intricate tale begins when Blomkvist is convicted of libeling top Swedish industrialist Hans-Erik Wennerström. Unable to prove his innocence, Blomkvist prepares to leave his position at Millennium, the magazine he co-founded, now financially threatened by the verdict. But a summons from Wennerström's rival, the aging tycoon Henrik Vanger, presents an option he couldn't have imagined: In exchange for Blomkvist's writing the Vanger family history, Vanger promises to back Millennium financially and deliver incriminating evidence of Wennerström's crooked dealings.
But that's not all. The closets of the Vanger clan are littered with skeletons, and his new patron wants Blomkvist to set one at rest: the disappearance, 40 years ago, of Vanger's 16-year-old grandniece, Harriet. Intrigued by the cold case that was never solved despite multiple investigations, Blomkvist begins to dig for new evidence on an island north of Stockholm.
He is soon joined by Salander, a freelance investigator originally hired by Vanger to vet Blomkvist's reputation. Multiple piercings and tattoos are belied by the young computer genius's photographic memory. A victim of assault and harrowing abuse, Salander is driven by a relentless will and an astonishing capability for merciless retribution.
Larsson's narrative unfolds with mounting suspense, detailing the duo's intellectual ingenuity and increasing courage as they expose hidden cultures of right-wing fanaticism and misogyny and reveal the moral bankruptcy of big capital. As they race across Europe and on to Australia to trap their prey before another woman is tortured and killed, the reader is held in breathless anticipation until the novel's unforeseen conclusion.
The women of the Waverley family—whether they like it or not—are heirs to an unusual legacy, one that grows in a fenced plot behind their Queen Anne home on Pendland Street in Bascom, North Carolina. There, an apple tree bearing fruit of magical properties looms over a garden filled with herbs and edible flowers that possess the power to affect in curious ways anyone who eats them.
For nearly a decade, 34-year-old Claire Waverley, at peace with her family inheritance, has lived in the house alone, embracing the spirit of the grandmother who raised her, ruing her mother's unfortunate destiny and seemingly unconcerned about the fate of her rebellious sister, Sydney, who freed herself long ago from their small town's constraints. Using her grandmother's mystical culinary traditions, Claire has built a successful catering business—and a carefully controlled, utterly predictable life—upon the family's peculiar gift for making life-altering delicacies: lilac jelly to engender humility, for instance, or rose geranium wine to call up fond memories. Garden Spells reveals what happens when Sydney returns to Bascom with her young daughter, turning Claire's routine existence upside down. With Sydney's homecoming, the magic that the quiet caterer has measured into recipes to shape the thoughts and moods of others begins to influence Claire's own emotions in terrifying and delightful ways.
As the sisters reconnect and learn to support one another, each finds romance where she least expects it, while Sydney's child, Bay, discovers both the safe home she has longed for and her own surprising gifts. With the help of their elderly cousin Evanelle, endowed with her own uncanny skills, the Waverley women redeem the past, embrace the present, and take a joyful leap into the future.
A decorated war hero driven by dedication to his country and faith in the superiority of Communist ideals, Leo Demidov has built a successful career in the Soviet security network, suppressing ideological crimes and threats against the state with unquestioning efficiency. When a fellow officer's son is killed, Leo is ordered to stop the family from spreading the notion that their child was murdered. For in the official version of Stalin's worker's paradise, such a senseless crime is impossible — an affront to the Revolution. But Leo knows better: a murderer is at large, cruelly targeting children, and the collective power of the Soviet government is denying his existence.
Leo's doubt sets in motion a chain of events that changes his understanding of everything he had previously believed. Smith's deftly crafted plot delivers twist after chilling twist, as it lays bare the deceit of the regime that enveloped an impoverished people in paranoia. In a shocking effort to test Leo's loyalty, his wife, Raisa, is accused of being a spy. Leo's refusal to denounce her costs him his rank, and the couple is banished from Moscow. Humiliated, renounced by his enemies, and deserted by everyone save Raisa, Leo realizes that his redemption rests on finding the vicious serial killer who is eviscerating innocent children and leaving them to die in the bleak Russian woods.
The narrative unfolds at a breathless pace, exposing the culture of fear that turns friends into foes and forces families to hide devastating secrets. As Leo and Raisa close in on the serial killer, desperately trying to stay a step ahead of the government's relentless operatives, the reader races with them through a web of intrigue to the novel's heart-stopping conclusion.
In his moments of lucidity, the gentle, likable Bobbie alludes to his earlier life as a successful photographer. Laurel finds it hard to believe that this destitute, unstable man could once have chronicled the lives of musicians and celebrities, but a box of photographs and negatives discovered among Bobbie's meager possessions at his death lends credence to his tale. How could such an accomplished man have fallen on such hard times? Becoming obsessed with uncovering Bobbie's past, Laurel studies his photographs, tracking down every lead they provide into the mystery of his life before homelessness-including links to the rich neighborhoods of her own Long Island childhood and to the earlier world of F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, with its larger-than-life characters, elusive desires, and haunting sorrows.
In a narrative of dazzling invention, literary ingenuity, and psychological complexity, Bohjalian engages issues of homelessness and mental illness by evoking the humanity that inhabits the core of both. At the same time, his tale is fast-paced and riveting-The Double Bind combines the suspense of a thriller with the emotional depths of the most intimate drama. The breathtaking surprises of its final pages will leave readers stunned, overwhelmed by the poignancy of life's fleeting truths, as caught in Bobbie Crocker's photographs, and in Laurel Estabrook's painful pursuit of Bobbie's past-and her own.
October 2007 -- "Let us begin with two girls at a dance," writes Maggie O'Farrell, and the reader is immediately pulled into a journey across continents, generations, and the hidden landscapes of the heart. The story she tells encompasses the confused present of a contemporary young woman, Iris Lockhart; the unsuspected past of Iris's grandmother, Kitty, adrift in the forgetfulness of Alzheimer's; and the long-concealed life of Kitty's sister Esme, who has spent a lifetime institutionalized for refusing to accept the conventions of 1930s Edinburgh society.
At the novel's opening, Iris's complicated life demands all her attention: Her vintage clothing shop barely turns a profit, she's having an affair with a married man, and she's never fully reconciled her intense attraction to her step-brother. But all this is pushed aside when Esme's existence is revealed to her, and she discovers that a great-aunt she never knew has been locked away for 60 years, a patient in a mental hospital that's preparing to close its doors for good. After initially refusing to do so, Iris decides to care for Esme and brings the elderly stranger into her home. As the two women become acquainted, Esme's memories—the childhood she and Kitty shared in India, the death of their young brother, the family's migration to Scotland, and Esme's youthful rebellion against the mores of her class—transform Iris's sense of her family's past, opening a vault of secrets that will change the character of everything she thought she knew.
With seamless narrative artistry, O'Farrell weaves an enthralling tale—and builds page-turning suspense—while shifting between Iris's and Esme's points of view, illuminating both with Kitty's fractured but vivid recollections. The taut fabric of the novel's telling enmeshes the reader in a tangled web of jealousy, deception, and betrayal that is shocking, heartbreaking, and unforgettable. Alive with the energy of trapped desires, Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a riveting work of literary imagination.
At the table sit two men: a young Pakistani named Changez and an unnamed American. Only Changez speaks, and his mesmerizing monologue relates his story, beginning with his happy days at Princeton and continuing through his initial success as a well-paid financial analyst. His budding romance with Erica, a beautiful fellow Princetonian, runs in counterpoint to the early promise of his career.
Then come the attacks of September 11. Over the next few months, slowly but inexorably, the innocence of Changez's ambition is shadowed by his experience of the unexpected political present — and by his altered understanding of his Pakistani past. As his career crumbles and Erica is consumed by her own demons, Changez's sense of his identity fractures under the strain of conflicting impulses of pride, passion, and loyalty. He returns to his homeland, and the complexity of his new life there is reflected in the alternating currents of his voice — ingratiating, insinuating, articulate, respectful, blunt, affecting, and, last but not least, sinister — as he leads his companion toward an uncertain yet ominous conclusion.
An extraordinary work of empathy and imagination, Mohsin Hamid's novel vividly dramatizes the turmoil and terror of today's world in a single unforgettable voice.
As the new book begins, the couple is settling into their first house on an idyllic street in a picturesque Philadelphia suburb. Cornelia is inexplicably drawn to "this unsurprising place" that she yearns to call home, but her neighbors are less sure of how these transplanted, apparently childless urbanites will fare in their midst. Especially Piper Truitt. The epitome of blonde cool, this demanding mother of two has created her own version of perfection within the walls of a home that sits across the street from Cornelia's. From their early encounter at a dinner party, the two are at odds, a situation that Cornelia, adrift from her familiar surroundings, cannot conceive how to navigate.
As the novel progresses, new characters emerge. We meet Elizabeth, Piper's best friend, who's battling cancer, as well as Toby, Cornelia's brother, and Clare, the bright and compassionate teen familiar to readers of Love Walked In. Then there's Lake, a single mother working at a local Italian restaurant, who throws Cornelia a timely lifeline in the form of a dish of spaghetti alla puttanesca. Lake's son Dev, a preternaturally gifted 13-year-old, becomes Cornelia's unexpected kindred spirit. Deftly blending several tales at once, de los Santos's narrative is richly embroidered with intertwined lives and loves. As present circumstances are threatened by the revelation of past secrets, the friends forge a circle of strength and forgiveness that the reader, too, belongs to — and will hate to leave when the last page is turned. A triumphant testimony to the power of love, Belong to Me hums with the hope that pulls friends through the ups and downs that the years hold in store for everyone.
The stories she is referring to belong to the years—covered in the opening chapters of Stormy Weather —of the 1920s and the early 1930s, when her rakish husband Jack led Elizabeth and their three daughters from one oil boom town to another, never settling anywhere for long. A drinker and a gambler in a time when both drinking and gambling were illegal, the feckless Jack dies in disgrace. As the despair and dust storms of the Great Depression fall over them, Elizabeth and her girls are left with nothing but an abandoned and decrepit family farm and a fleet, volatile racing stallion named Smoky Joe Hancock.
Of the four Stoddard women, it is Jeanine, the middle child, and her father's favorite—and frequently his sidekick at the Texas brush tracks where Smoky Joe raced—who pays the highest price for the stories Jack lived. And it is she who occupies the emotional center of Paulette Jiles's generous tale, learning to tame both the wild farm and her wild heart on her way into adulthood. Charting the women's progress through many storms and struggles, Jiles rivets our attention to the Stoddards' hardscrabble world of droughts, tractors, horses, oil fields, and small-town life, precisely rendering the details of labor and landscape, machinery and weather. Peopled with a vividly drawn cast of characters, from Jeanine's sisters Mayme and Bea to her suitors, the stuttering newspaperman Milton Brown and the handsome, reticent rancher Ross Everett, Stormy Weather tells a story that balances the bleakness of hard times with the humor and resilience of people who can—through persistence, luck, and love—outlast them. Fulfilling the promise of her first novel, the bestselling Enemy Women , and utilizing the gift for striking language that animates her award-winning poetry, Paulette Jiles has written a magnificent, magnanimous family drama.
Corey's entrée into this realm of promise is the patronage of Liam Metarey, son of a ruthless coal baron who amassed a fortune in the early 1900s. Through Corey's narration, we are drawn into the triumphs and trials of the Metarey family as Liam attempts to orchestrate a presidential nomination for Senator Henry Bonwiller. Thrust into the excitement of the campaign, 16-year-old Corey fetches drinks, parks cars, sets up chairs for press events — and gets an intimate education in human failings.
A champion of labor and civil rights who opposes the Vietnam War, Bonwiller seems to represent the best traditions of America's liberal coalition. But as both Liam and Corey discover, the senator's moral weakness threatens not only his candidacy but their own hopes and ambitions as well. While rumors of Bonwiller's shady business dealings are held in check by the long arm of Metarey influence, the furor set in motion by the accidental death of a young secretary linked to the candidate is not so easily contained.
Tracing the rise and fall of a politician and a family, and the passing of an idealistic era, Canin's novel moves between the present and the past as Corey chronicles his growth to middle age, his marriage to one of Liam's daughters, and his career as publisher of his hometown newspaper. As he mentors a high school intern at the paper, Corey is prompted to question his own role in the sordid affair that put an end to the senator's presidential bid. Layered with Corey's poignant recognition of what it means to be flawed and fallible, Canin's masterfully crafted plotlines converge to bring this complex tale to its startling, inescapable conclusion.