Thursday, May 24, 2012

Review-"The House of Velvet and Glass"

As 2012 is the centennial anniversary of the Titanic’s sinking one would be hard pressed to not come across a book, be it fiction or non-fiction, regarding the ill-fated luxury liner. Such is the case with Katherine Howe’s sophomore effort The House of Velvet and Glass, which begins its narrative just outside of the Titanic’s grand dining room on the evening of April 14, 1912. What could quickly become yet another over dramatized, maudlin look at the sinking of the ship, smoothly transitions to Boston, 1915 where a group of survivors and family members of the deceased are together in a spiritualist’s parlor attempting to ease their grief in any way possible. It is here that readers meet Sybil Allston, a 27-year-old woman whose family was devastated by the loss of her mother and younger sister. As the novel unfolds, it delves into Sybil’s life as she struggles to deal with her excruciating loss, her father’s dark moods, and her ne'er-do-well younger brother’s destructive tendencies. As Sybil tussles with the mounting issues at home and the increasingly erratic behavior of her brother she is thrown into a series of events that will dramatically change her life, and forever alter her view of the past.

Much like Howe kept this novel from being an exercise on sinking ships, she also avoids a novel full of survivor’s grief. Instead, readers follow Sybil as she grapples with the staid path her life has taken, and with a deft little twist, Howe uses chapter breaks to flit between Sybil’s father’s past as a sailor in Shanghai, and her mother and sister’s last night aboard the Titanic. The changing narratives help to weave an intriguing story, bringing in the same hint of the occult that made her first book The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane such an entertaining and unexpected marvel. For the sake of the revelation, I won’t go into these supernatural elements--I enjoyed how they so unexpectedly unfolded far too much to divulge them to readers, but I will say Howe uses her scholarly grasp of history in unique and wonderful ways.

The House of Velvet and Glass’s multiple narratives present a rich look at the lives of one family as they deal with love, loss, self-discovery, war, and a touch of the supernatural. The characters are full-bodied, rushing through the pages with remarkable realism, and at times gut-clenching decision-making and the prose is intricate, without being boring in it’s historical accuracy. This is a well-written multi-layered novel that perfectly displays the writing talents of author Howe--a wonderful and engrossing novel to read.

Friday, May 11, 2012

“If You Like This…”

Booksellers are extraordinary. They know what book it is when you ask for “Fifty Grey’s of Something”, they know that the book with the purple cover that someone spoke about at some time in the store is Richard Harvell’s The Bells, and not only do they know the New York Times reviewed Nell Freudenberger’s The Newlyweds, but they will also tell you how to meet her at our June 4th event. Are booksellers psychic? No, of course not, but they know their books. One question that never fails to get an enthusiastic response from a bookseller at Warwick’s is the “I like ---- can you find me something similar”. It’s the classic “If you like this” question and booksellers are always eager to introduce readers to new authors. So, in honor of the question I hear everyday outside of my office here is a little list of suggestions.

If you like Kate Morton (The Forgotten Garden, The Distant Hours)…

Try Katherine Howe author of The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane and The House of Velvet and Glass. Like Morton, Howe’s narratives weave back and forth through time, alternating between character point of view, to create a rich and wonderful novel. Her writing style is smooth and entertaining and the combination of the prose with her thorough knowledge of history (Howe is a historian) grabs the reader in a way few novels of this ilk can. Either novel is a perfect pick-up for fans of Kate Morton’s writing.

If you like Tana French (The Likeness, Faithful Place)…

French’s brilliant thrillers are a perfect blend of edge of your seat psychological suspense and literary skill. The writing is unusually rich and complex, not run-of-the-mill mystery text. Similar writers who are more than capable of hitting that literary suspense vein are Erin Kelly (The Poison Tree) and Rosamund Lupton (Sister and Afterwards). Also notable is Nicci French, whose recently released Blue Monday evokes the same police dynamic of the other French, but with the added aspect of a lead character who is a psychotherapist, and deeply troubled in her own right.

If you like M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth series…

Love quaint and entertaining mysteries like those so wonderfully produced by M.C. Beaton? Check out Rhys Bowen’s Her Royal Spyness Series that follows Lady Georgiana Rannoch, 34th in line to the throne in 1930’s England and decidedly without funds. Bowen’s series is utterly enchanting with greedy aristocrats, comedy of errors, occasional whimsy, a touch of romance, and of course murder. For an added bonus the audio versions of these books are probably the some of the best I’ve ever come across—truly worth a listen.

In the same genre, author Carola Dunn and her Daisy Dalrymple series, which follows the Honourable Daisy Dalrymple a writer who invariably walks into murders, is an enjoyable option. This is another fun series, clean, light, and perfect for fans of writers like Beaton.

If you like Jodi Picoult

Try Heather Gudenkauf (These Things Hidden, The Weight of Silence and One Breath Away (July ’12)). Gudenkauf writes compelling contemporary fiction, hitting on issues like school shootings, teen pregnancy, adoptions, and so forth, but in a less pointed way than Picoult. Her novels effortlessly weave hot button issues into gripping plots, without hitting readers over the head. Readers (and reading groups) who enjoy Picoult’s fiction will take pleasure in the intricate and moving novels of Heather Gudenkauf.

If you like…a quick guide…

Beth Hoffman’s Saving CeeCee Honeycutt: try author Sarah Addison Allen (Garden Spells, The Girl Who Chased the Moon, The Peach Keeper)

Dan Brown: pick up a book by Steve Berry (here at Warwick’s on May 16, 4pm to sign The Columbus Affair)

Christopher Moore, Chuck Palahniuk, and Christopher Buckley: read Max Barry (Jennifer Government, Company, Machine Man)

Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash: try Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Obviously this list could go on indefinitely, that’s where our booksellers come in, they are wells of book information waiting to be tapped, and eager to give you their own “If you like” recommendations. So, the next time you find yourself in need of a book, ask one of the Warwick’s booksellers, and you will be introduced to some amazing new books and authors.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Mini-Review of Veronica Roth's "Insurgent"

This follow-up to 2011's Divergent is a high-paced, action filled, novel that engrosses readers from page one. Taking off exactly where its predecessor ended, Insurgent follows Tris Pryor and the other survivors of the Erudite/Dauntless attacks as they find themselves scouring the city for allies amongst the other factions, and the surprisingly organized Factionless. Alliances form, war is waged, and a shocking betrayal turns Tris’s world into an almost unrecognizable battlefield, as she must determine the course of the future. Highly engaging, author Veronica Roth proves the ability to deftly handle the intricacies of war and the need to survive when there is seemingly nothing left to survive for. Beware, like Divergent, the ending is a shocking cliffhanger that leaves readers frothing at the mouth for more. This is the sequel to read, a must for fans of The Hunger Games, Legend, or Matched, guaranteed to absolutely glue you to the page.