Life as opera: the intrigues and passions of a star soprano in 19th-century Paris.
She was the last surviving member of a Minnesota farm family swept away by fever; "Lilliet Berne" is a name she borrowed off a gravestone by the East River on her way to board a ship to Europe in search of her mother's people. That mission is eventually abandoned as her original identity is buried under a succession of new incarnations and schemes for survival. She becomes a circus equestrienne, a high-level courtesan, a maid to the empress of France, a spy, and, ultimately, a "Falcon," the rarest breed of soprano—but double dealings, false steps, and bad bargains mark the way. When she is at the pinnacle of her fame, a writer brings her a book he plans to transform into an opera, hoping she will create the central role in its premiere. Reading it, she realizes with horror that the main character is her and that whoever has written it knows all her secrets. To find out who that is, she unfurls the whole of her complicated history and its characters, among them a tenor who's obsessed with her, a comtesse who uses her, her one real friend, and her only love. The story goes through the Franco-Prussian War, the Paris Commune, and the Third Republic, with cameos by Verdi, Bizet, P.T. Barnum, George Sand, and others. If the plot of Chee's (Edinburgh, 2002) second novel is overly elaborate, the voice he has created for his female protagonist never falters. Always holding a few cards close to her chest, Lilliet Berne commands the power of "the ridiculous and beloved thief that is opera—the singer who sneaks into the palace of your heart and somehow enters singing aloud the secret hope or love or grief you hoped would always stay secret, disguised as melodrama; and you are so happy you have lived to see it done."
Richly researched, ornately plotted, this story demands, and repays, close attention.
A female writer who is losing her sight probes the meaning of language, genre, and the reader’s expectations.
This intriguing short novel by Chilean writer Meruane is her first to be translated into English. It won Mexico’s prestigious Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz Prize in 2012. Meruane, who teaches at New York University, tells the traumatic story of Lucina, a Chilean writer also living in New York. The 60ish short, un-capitalized chapters are simply titled: “burst,” “that face,” “sleepwalker,” etc. Blending fiction and autobiography, the narrator and Meruane both suffer from diabetes, which can cause a hemorrhagic stroke affecting the eyes. The story is fairly simple, the telling intricate. While enjoying herself at a party, Lucina suddenly experiences a “firecracker” going off in her head. Blood begins spilling forth in her eye, the “most shockingly beautiful blood I have ever seen.” It's both outrageous and terrifying and only she can see it. Her other eye is also affected; she’s virtually blind. Lucina and her partner, Ignacio, are in the midst of a move to a new apartment. She now needs help to get around, to relearn the “geography of things.” When she’s finally able to get an appointment with her doctor, he tells her it may not clear up. She travels to Santiago to visit family and refuses to see a doctor there. She thinks about her country as being ill, too. Back in New York, she’s told her eye is still bad and may never heal: “Don’t move doctor, I whispered. Wait for me here, and I’ll bring you a fresh eye.” Throughout, Lucina (and Meruane) meditates upon illness and its relationship with the process of writing and going blind.
Meruane, whom Roberto Bolaño called one of the “greats in the new generation of Chilean writers,” fashions a challenging metafiction that ventures into fresh and provocative places.
A journalist’s harrowing account of how, over the course of more than three decades, she came to terms with an experience of rape.
On a July day in 1984, Connors, then a theater critic for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, was on the Case Western Reserve University campus. While looking for a playwright she had to interview, Connors came across a young man who raped her at knife point. In this book, the author revisits that episode and tells the story of how the event permanently changed her. To survive the rape and, later, police questioning and the physical examination that followed, she temporarily dissociated, becoming like a spectator watching “a girl in a play.” Even after police caught the rapist, David Williams, and sent him to prison, the ordeal continued. Her husband—who considered hiring a hit man to kill Williams—became the object of the rage she had felt about her situation. Connors developed a severe case of PTSD, which made her pathologically fearful for her safety as well as that of her two children. Williams died in 2000, 16 years after the incident; yet his death did not alleviate Connors’ suffering. Desperate to find the “narrative that would make sense of my rape and explain…what forces led us to that spot where we collided,” she began to investigate her rapist’s life. Through interviews with his family members and crime victims, Connors learned that Williams and his siblings grew up in a brutally dysfunctional household. Rather than see Williams as a monster for what he did, the author developed compassion for him, for his “tragic” family, and, most of all, for herself. Powerful and compelling, the book is a highly personal examination of the volatile intersection of race, poverty, and violence. The author insightfully reflects on the idea that the greatest monster anyone, including victims of violent crime, must face is the monster within.
A courageous and unsettlingly forthright memoir of overcoming trauma.
Coben (The Stranger, 2015, etc.) hits the bull’s eye again with this taut tale of a disgraced combat veteran whose homefront life is turned upside down by an image captured by her nanny cam.
Recent widows can’t be too careful, and the day she buries the husband who was shot by a pair of muggers in Central Park, Maya Burkett installs a concealed camera in her home to keep an eye on Lily, her 2-year-old daughter, and her nanny, Isabella Mendez , while she’s out at her job as a flight instructor. She’s shocked beyond belief when she checks the footage and sees images of her murdered husband returned from the grave to her den. Confronted with the video, Isabella claims she doesn’t see anything that looks like Joe Burkett, then blasts Maya with pepper spray and takes off with the memory card. Should Maya go to the police? They were no help when her sister, Claire, was killed in a home invasion while she was deployed in the Middle East, and she doesn’t trust Roger Kierce, the NYPD homicide detective heading the investigation of Joe’s murder. Besides, Maya’s already juggling a heavy load of baggage. Whistle-blower Corey Rudzinski ended her military career when he posted footage of her ordering a defensive airstrike that killed five civilians, and she’s just waiting for him to release the audio feed that would damage her reputation even more. So after Kierce drops a bombshell—the same gun was used to shoot both Joe and Claire—Maya launches her own investigation, little knowing that it will link both murders to the death more than 10 years ago of Joe’s brother Andrew and the secrets the wealthy and powerful Burkett family has been hiding ever since.
Once again, Coben marries his two greatest strengths—masterfully paced plotting that leads to a climactic string of fireworks and the ability to root all the revelations in deeply felt emotions—in a tale guaranteed to fool even the craftiest readers a lot more than once.
Sophie is given an extraordinary book to repair, and with it comes all manner of magic and danger.
If E. Nesbit penned Don Quixote, the results would be something like this extravagant tale. In this sequel to Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes (2011), that book’s title character returns to meet his equal in Sophie, a 12-year-old bookmender. She has dark skin, unlike most of her fellow Bustleburghers, inherited from her deceased mother, who came from a faraway island. Peter delivers to her the magical Book of Who, which puts her in the sights of Inquisitor Prigg, whose life objective is to destroy all nonsense, most specifically storybooks. Sophie quickly learns that the danger to her is very real, as she is a Storyguard, like her mother before her. In the dubious company of charms-purveyor Madame Eldritch, a hexed mandrake, Sir Tode (a small, hooved, catlike creature), and a giant silver tigress, Sophie must find and protect the other three books: of what, where, and when, of course. Together, the four volumes contain information about all the magic that ever existed. Themes of parental legacy, friendship, and the permanence of stories in the minds of their readers are woven through this elaborate adventure. Auxier balances delectable language, invigorating nonsense, and wisdom with aplomb.
This novel should be in the hands of every human young enough at heart to be enchanted by the written word.
Andria grapples to reconstruct her life following the death of her twin sister, Iris, due to a lethal heroin overdose.
Set in upper-middle-class Athens, Georgia, Andria’s story initially appears to involve the grieving, confusion, and feelings of abandonment to be expected six months after a sibling’s death. Though well-socialized and a straight-A student like Iris, even after her death, Andria considers herself the lesser twin, knowing she’ll never be the beautiful, superstar athlete Iris was but “a cold, dark satellite orbiting a star that went supernova” instead. Iris had always been the one in the spotlight: their mother had raised the girls believing Iris’ presence in the womb had caused Andria’s epilepsy and even contributed to their father’s suicide when the twins were 2. Now, in the wake of Iris’ overdose, Andria’s survivor guilt mounts as she finds herself falling for the boyfriend under whose influence her sister got involved with drugs. Throughout the novel, Bridges fuels the budding romance with snatches of famous poems that lend emotional depth to the forbidden love, while she ratchets up the narrative intrigue as Andria and her mother become embroiled in ever greater turmoil that brings them closer to understanding why the seemingly perfect Iris turned to heroin for release.
Though largely plot-driven, Bridges’ narrative effectively shows there are no easy remedies to some of society’s most troubling ills.
A doctor of physical therapy and former Marine lieutenant tells the story of her painful struggle with bulimia.
Born the only girl in a family of boys, Larson drew close to her mother, Mary Ann. But when Mary Ann died of cancer, a 10-year-old Larson was suddenly left without her main confidante. She disassociated herself from “girly” behaviors, friends, and activities and immersed herself in sports. She became a star softball pitcher who earned a full scholarship to Villanova, where she also became involved in the Marine Corps ROTC program. A high achiever, Larson also became involved in a program called Fit Forever to help her stop a pattern of “yo-yoing between salads, fruits, and healthy snacks and burgers, pizzas, and desserts, often late at night.” While the program earned the author a second-place finish in a Fit Forever competition and a reputation as the “campus fitness queen,” it also—inadvertently—reinforced the yo-yoing habits she had been trying to eliminate. Once she graduated from Villanova, she continued her military career with the Marines by going through basic training and, later, military engineering school. Though one of the top trainees, Larson still faced a sexual double standard that made her push herself even harder. The demands of her work and of the fitness competitions she entered drove her to regurgitate the unhealthy food she often ate. In Iraq, she became a highly respected Marine platoon leader, but the stress worsened the cycle of bingeing and purging. She eventually resigned and sought treatment for bulimia and became a physical therapist for other “wounded warriors.” By turns honest and heartbreaking, Larson’s book is a celebration of inner strength. It is also a poignant reminder that the mark of a true warrior is not just someone who fights wars, but who also knows how to “ask for help” in times of crisis.
AJ, a thoroughly modern tomboy, is set up for Victorian horror when she is sent to stay with her grandmother for the summer while her parents conduct research in the Amazon.
Grandma Jo wears nothing but high-necked black gowns, and she insists on calling AJ Annemarie. Worse, Grandma Jo disapproves of soccer, skateboarding, and cellphones, and she expects AJ to learn etiquette, including sewing. And the house is not only creepy, it contains forbidden rooms. Thank goodness there’s a cute chauffeur to take her to soccer, but even that is problematic: best friend Maddie thinks AJ’s becoming stuck up, while rich, mean-girl Brianna decides that AJ is now a worthy companion. AJ is beginning to wonder if Grandma Jo’s friends will be a saving grace; they have style and humor, and they appreciate AJ’s talents. In fact, they push to make AJ one of their circle—which, AJ discovers, is a heist club! The ladies give different explanations for their thievery, but, despite her insight and compassion, readers should not expect cheeky narrator AJ to examine the ethics too closely. She enjoys the thrill and Grandma Jo’s esteem until events take a decidedly dark turn: one decides to “steal” AJ—and it’s not her first kidnapping attempt!
The fast pace, colorful, multifaceted characters, and unusual angle make this a quirky, if perhaps disquieting, grandmother-grandchild bonding story.
Most children believe their parents are perfect, and the realization that they aren’t typically comes as something of a shock.
But the 8-year-old unnamed protagonist of Dominican writer Indiana’s English-language debut is not typical. In fact, she’s always had mixed feelings about Papi, the father who can bring her from agony to exultation in the course of an afternoon. On one hand, Papi is larger than life, presenting himself as if he owns the world and everything in it. Cocky and brash, he drips wealth and conspicuous consumption. Is he really important, she wonders? If so, why? The answers to these basic questions are far more elusive than the little girl would like, but as she bounces between Papi’s U.S. and Dominican mansions, clues about his less-than-legal vocation come to the fore. She notices, for example, that people fawn all over her dad and hang on to his every word as they beg for handouts and favors. It’s unsettling. Worse, there's another side to Papi. And although the child clearly loves her dad and is thrilled to be part of his entourage, she has also had to reckon with the fact that Papi can be irresponsible, conniving, and cutthroat. Furthermore, she knows that he treats women badly and has herself been on the receiving end of his broken promises and blatant lies. Not surprisingly, the child is perplexed, and as she struggles to make sense of the dysfunction, images gleaned from horror movies, science fiction, telenovelas, and fantasy collide with her lived experience. Throughout, long run-on sentences force readers to sort through a dizzying array of words, emotions, and images. Palpable pain spills forth, as do the girl’s confusion, angst, and tumultuous inner life.
A masterfully drawn, if sad, work of experimental coming-of-age fiction.