The Sun Singer's Travels

Malcolm R. Campbell's World

Book Bits Preview: ‘The Invention of Wings’ and ‘Life After Life’

2013 was the year of The Goldfinch, The Flamethrowers, Men We Reaped, Wave, Going Clear, A Tale for the Time Being, Tenth of December, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Five Days at Memorial, The Unwinding and other notable releases that captured the attention of the critics, the buzz of the public and the “best of” list makers.

Now we’re seeing previews of 2014. The Independent, for example, begins today’s 2014 preview with: Barely are the end of year Christmas round-ups rounded up, and already 2014 looks exciting. Look out in these pages in January for more about The Thing About December by the 2013 Man Booker long-listed author Donal Ryan (Doubleday Ireland) and a debut writer, Hanya Yanagihara, whose The People in the Trees (Atlantic) has received rave reviews in the States, including from Paul Theroux and Sarah Waters.

We all have authors and series we watch like hawks. Fans of Diana Gabaldon’s long-running “Outlander” series are waiting for (finally) the release of the next installment in June, Written in My Own Heart’s Blood; Suzanne Collins fans will be happy to see the paperback edition of Mockingjay at the end of March; Anita Shreve’s March release of The Lives of Stella Bain is attracting attention.

The Invention of Wings by  Sue Monk Kidd, Viking Adult, January 7, 384 pages

inventionofwingsSue Monk Kidd’s website is highlighting the Oprah’s Book Club selection of The Invention of Wings, starred reviews from Kirkus, Booklist and Library Journal, and a busy book tour schedule.

From the Publisher: Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

From the Publisher’s Weekly Review: The book’s scope of 30-plus years contributes to a feeling of plodding in the middle section. Particularly insufferable is the constant allusion, by both women, to a tarnished button that symbolizes perseverance. But Kidd rewards the patient reader. Male abolitionists, preachers, and Quakers repeatedly express sexist views, and in this context, Sarah’s eventual outspokenness is incredibly satisfying to read.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, Little, Brown & Company, January 7, 560 pages

lifeafterlifecoverKate Atkinson’s website is highlighting the 2013 shortlisting of Life After Life for the Costa Novel Award along with praise from Hilary Mantel, Gillian Flynn and Helen Rumbelow.

From the Publisher: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Ursula’s world is in turmoil, facing the unspeakable evil of the two greatest wars in history. What power and force can one woman exert over the fate of civilization — if only she has the chance?

From the New York Times ReviewOne of the things I like most about British mystery novels (including Kate Atkinson’s)is the combination of good writing and a certain theatrical bravado. Their authors enjoy showing us how expertly they can construct a puzzle, then solve it: the literary equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat. “Life After Life” inspires a similar sort of admiration, as Atkinson sharpens our awareness of the apparently limitless choices and decisions that a novelist must make on every page, and of what is gained and lost when the consequences of these choices are, like life, singular and final.

If you read these novels, stop by and tell me whether they live up to our expectations from the web sites, reviews, and blurbs.


Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of contemporary fantasy novels, including “The Betrayed,” “The Sailor,” and “The Seeker.”



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