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Picks of the week
Today brings some top-notch new releases for fiction lovers, including these three unputdownable novels:
48 Clues into the Disappearance of My Sister by Joyce Carol Oates. Oates offers a seriously unreliable narrator in a gripping story that’s told through the eyes of a troubled woman named Gigi, whose beautiful younger sister, Marguerite, has gone missing and is presumed dead. We learn more about Gigi’s disturbed mind as she unspools clues to her sister’s fate. It’s a fast, absorbing read.
Hello Beautiful by Ann Napolitano. The author of the 2020 bestseller Dear Edward (now a TV series on Apple TV+) introduces us to two young people, Julia and William, who fall in love and marry. Julia and her three sisters embrace William, but as time passes his depression creates a rift and their paths diverge. This one’s a must if you’re looking to sink into an emotionally complex family story. It'll be big: Oprah has just chosen it as her 100th book club pick.
I Will Find You by Harlan Coben. A classic Coben tale: fast-paced and twisty, and probably already on its way to a TV adaptation, like so many of his books. David Burroughs is a broken man serving a life sentence for the murder of his son — which he vehemently denies. When he finds out the boy may be alive, it sounds impossible, but he plots a daring escape from prison to find the truth.
Check out our Members Only Access interview with Coben, who discusses who'd play him in the movie of his life, how he once found writing inspiration during Uber rides, and more.
Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward: A love affair to remember
We heard about Paul Newman’s intense passion for Joanne Woodward, now 93, in his recent posthumous memoir, The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man, edited by David Rosenthal. Newman, who passed away in 2008 and was married to Woodward for 50 (sometimes rocky) years, revealed, among other things, that “Joanne gave birth to a sexual creature. ... We left a trail of lust all over the place.”
Fans wanting to learn more about the stars’ romantic partnership can look forward to the recently announced October release of Head Over Heels: A Love Affair in Words and Pictures. It features photos of the couple compiled by their daughter Melissa Newman, 61, who tells us that she’s always been struck by “the inexorability” of her parents’ relationship: “You catch the gestures and the looks in some of the photos that speak of such lovely intimacy. … They were tempestuous, but absolutely hitched, and they had such fun together.”
If that’s not enough, you can actually buy Woodward’s wedding dress, among some 300 other items owned by the pair — including memorabilia from their films, as well as art and furniture from their Connecticut home — to be sold by Sotheby’s in a series of auctions starting in June.
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Weirdly specific … or fascinating deep dives?
How interested are you in, say, onions? Enough to buy a book on them? Authors writing about such microtopics is not a new trend: Michael Pollan did it brilliantly in 2001’s The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s-Eye View of the World, where in four separate chapters he dissected the role of the apple, potato, tulip and marijuana plant in shaping our world. And Mark Kurlansky is known for his books on tiny subjects such as Salt, Milk, Paper, and Cod (his The Core of an Onion: Peeling the Rarest Common Food comes out in November).
But there seems to be more than the usual number of new and upcoming books with similarly narrow foci. This month, we’ve got Lapidarium: The Secret Lives of Stones, by Hettie Judah (March 7), which, according to its publicity materials, “uses sixty stones to tell the story of our shared history through the realms of geology, anthropology, art, myth, and philosophy,” and Egg: A Dozen Overtures, by Lizzie Stark (March 28), billed as “an unconventional history of the world’s largest cellular workhorse.”
And just in time for the summer heat, there’s Ice: From Mixed Drinks to Skating Rinks: A Cool History of a Hot Commodity, by Amy Brady (June 6), which uses ice as a means to explore unique bits of cultural history — like women’s role in whetting America’s appetite for ice. “They became early adopters of the stuff and among ice companies’ first salespeople," according to Brady.
“So often history is presented as a single, overarching narrative, but it’s actually filled with more stories and interesting people than any one story can tell,” she adds by email, in response to questions about her seemingly narrow topic. “Looking at history through a single subject like ice helps to make those ‘hidden’ stories more visible.”
In case you missed it: A most intriguing duchess is now a novelist
You may know Sarah Ferguson, Duchess of York (“Fergie,” for short), as the ex-wife of Prince Andrew, Duke of York (King Charles III’s black-sheep brother, who recently settled out of court over sexual assault allegations).
But the duchess is also a skilled novelist — or at least a skilled co-novelist. Her latest, written with romance writer Marguerite Kaye, A Most Intriguing Lady (March 7), is an entertaining love story/mystery focused upon a duke’s rebellious daughter, Lady Mary Montagu Douglas Scott. This book follows the duo’s 2021 novel, Her Heart for a Compass, which was centered on Mary’s also-rebellious flame-haired older sister, Lady Margaret.
Both books are rich with details about royal manners in Victorian-era Britain — no surprise, as Mary’s parents, the fifth duke of Buccleuch and his wife, are based on the author’s own great-great-great grandparents.
In an emailed response to questions, Ferguson, 63, reports that she had long dreamed of becoming a novelist, “but it wasn’t until I was 61 that I finally had the courage to start a new career.” While researching her ancestors’ stories for the novel, she says, she concluded that courage has been a consistent family characteristic — “Strength, resilience, courage, kindness … it’s all in the DNA.”
Nonfiction picks of the week
If you’re not too busy (ha!), check out Saving Time: Discovering a Life Beyond the Clock by Jenny Odell (March 7). The author had a hit with her 2019 book How to Do Nothing: Resisting the Attention Economy, which President Barack Obama dubbed one of his favorite books of the year. In her latest, Odell offers ways readers can disengage from the corporate clock and the idea that time is money.
Another new nonfiction contribution comes from journalist Cokie Roberts’ daughter, who seems to share her late mother’s interest in American history: Rebecca Boggs Roberts has written Untold Power: The Fascinating Rise and Complex Legacy of First Lady Edith Wilson (March 7), an exploration of a complicated character who married widower Woodrow Wilson while he was president and took on many presidential duties after his stroke in 1919. “What I find most fascinating about Edith Wilson is that she is someone who made history while pretending she did nothing of the kind,” Roberts told AARP.
Tragedy befalls Clytemnestra (again)
March 7 was meant to be the release date for Costanza Casati’s novel Clytemnestra, which offers a feminist spin on the story of Ancient Greece’s legendary matriarch of an epically dysfunctional (and cursed) family. She murdered her husband, Agamemnon, and was killed herself, by her children Electra and Orestes.
Publicity materials called it “a blazing novel,” an all too apt description. The truck carrying “every single copy of the book” — 35,000 to 40,000 — caught fire on the way to a warehouse, says Cristina Arreola, the book’s publicist at Sourcebooks. The cause is under investigation (and, thankfully, no one was injured in the incident). “When I told my colleagues, ‘I hope this book catches fire!’ I didn’t mean it literally,” she quips. The new pub date is May 2.