What a marvelous story! I’ve been to the Isabella Stewart Gardner museum in Boston, a long time ago when I was a kid, and I remember being amazed at the sheer number of artworks there and the eccentric way they were arranged. It’s a fascinating place, and the fact that its outrageous robbery has never been solved only adds to the genuinely mesmerizing history.
In The Art Forger: A Novel, Ms Shapiro goes into so much fascinating detail about how paintings are made, as well as how they are forged, that I wanted to actually SEE everything she was describing. The Dega’s… I went to google to look up the paintings. And Claire’s window paintings… I want desperately for them to exist so that one day I can see them for myself. This book was so wonderful, it’s hard for me to remember that it’s just a novel.
OK, I have to admit, I picked up this book solely because of the title. I’m glad I did, though, because it turned out to be awesome.
When Captain Flint was Still a Good Man by Nick Dybek
The title refers to stories that Hank Bollings tells to his young son, Timmy, stories he made up about Captain Flint, the villain of Treasure Island, before he became a pirate, overcome by greed and depravity. These stories are a metaphor for the overall plot of the book.
In the small crab-fishing town of Loyalty Island, Washington, the men go to the Bering Sea for half the year, while the women and children try to live complete lives. When the men are away at sea, they long for home and when the men are home for the summer, they long for the sea.
When the owner of the town’s fleet abruptly dies, leaving the entire town’s livelihood, and its very existence, in the hands of his estranged son, things begin to come undone in Loyalty Island.
When Captain Flint Was Still a Good Man is an extremely dark coming-of-age tale, as Timmy faces a terrible dilemma when the good people of Loyaty Island are driven to make an awful choice. Who can draw the line between right and wrong?
This book is an extremely impressive debut from a fellow Michigander.
I have never read anything like it… As you are reading this, remind yourself that it is a FIRST NOVEL by this author….. it is just stunning.
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
How to begin describing a book like this? A book which gives a detailed look into a mind so very different from my own as to be completely foreign? The narrator – if you can call her that – of Turn of Mind is Jennifer White, a 64-year-old very-well-respected former hand surgeon who is rapidly succumbing to Alzheimers. Her days and moods are varied – some days lucid and clear, when she understands what is happening to her with a clinical detachment. Some days confused, frightened and downright paranoid. Some days angry and violent. From day to day her adult children and her live-in caregiver do not know what to expect from her. They keep a journal for her, in the the hope that it will help her remember.But the decent into dementia is only part of the story. Jennifer’s best friend, Amanda, who lives three houses down the street, has been murdered – and 4 fingers of her hand have been expertly amputated. Naturally the police suspect Jennifer, but have no evidence, and Jennifer cannot remember. Sometimes the police treat her as though her amnesia is a “convenient excuse” to cover up the crime. Most days Jennifer cannot even remember that her friend is dead, so she relives the horror of learning that fact (along with the death of her husband) over and over and over.
Did she kill Amanda? Or didn’t she? Stunning, heart-breaking, strange and haunting. I could not put it down.
Dragon House by John Shors
I can’t throw enough clichés at this book – mesmerizing, touching, moving, heart-wrenching, compelling – and still I fail to capture the terrible beauty of it. The street children of Vietnam not only don’t have a home, they generally don’t have any parent or adult figure to help them. Dragon House is the tale of two Americans, with plenty of troubles of their own, who go to Vietnam to open a center to help take care of as many street children as they can. The detail is wonderful, letting you understand how crowded and wild Ho Chi Mihn City really is. Clearly the author spent a lot of time traveling around the area and probably saw unbelievably terrible situations in many cases. But Shors wisely chose to tell only two of the thousands of stories; any more would have been more than the reader could possibly bear. The book focuses on Qui and Tam, the granddaughter who is dying of leukemia, and the story of Mai and Minh, two children under the dubious “protection” of an opium-fiend named Loc. The stories are sad and yet still hopeful, the center a haven of childhood for many children who didn’t have one before. And as a bonus, John Shors is donating some of the proceeds of the book to the Blue Dragon Children’s Foundation, which works with children in need in Vietnam. See www.dragonhousebook.com for further information.
The Heretic’s Daughter by Kathleen Kent
The Heretic’s Daughter: A Novel
In the summer of 1692 in Salem, MA, 14 women and 5 men were hung as witches and many more were incarcerated in ghastly and inhumane prisons. It was a shameful time in American history, when the accused were guilty until proven innocent (and how do you prove that you are NOT a witch?) and confession was obtained by torture (ok, that has been a consistent method for all time). The words of disgruntled neighbors and hysterical teenage girls were considered evidence. It was a fearful and difficult time for the Puritan colonists, with the constant threat of Native American raids and poor harvests ranking only slightly lower in importance than terror of a vengeful God and a spiteful Devil. Mass hysteria ruled for less than a year, and is nearly incomprehensible to us today. Kathleen Kent is the descendant of Martha Carrier, one of the women excommunicated from the Church and hung as a witch (later remanded) and has written a powerful, terrifying fictionalized account of the trials, displaying the inexorable move from suspicion to accusation to execution.
The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
I recently receieved the ARC (Advanced Readers Copy) of this book from the Amazon Vine program, and it’s next on my to-read list.
On March 18, 1990, thirteen works of art worth today over $500 million were stolen from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. It remains the largest unsolved art heist in history, and Claire Roth, a struggling young artist, is about to discover that there’s more to this crime than meets the eye.
Claire makes her living reproducing famous works of art for a popular online retailer. Desperate to improve her situation, she lets herself be lured into a Faustian bargain with Aiden Markel, a powerful gallery owner. She agrees to forge a painting—one of the Degas masterpieces stolen from the Gardner Museum—in exchange for a one-woman show in his renowned gallery. But when the long-missing Degas painting—the one that had been hanging for one hundred years at the Gardner—is delivered to Claire’s studio, she begins to suspect that it may itself be a forgery.
Claire’s search for the truth about the painting’s origins leads her into a labyrinth of deceit where secrets hidden since the late nineteenth century may be the only evidence that can now save her life. B. A. Shapiro’s razor-sharp writing and rich plot twists make The Art Forger an absorbing literary thriller that treats us to three centuries of forgers, art thieves, and obsessive collectors. it’s a dazzling novel about seeing—and not seeing—the secrets that lie beneath the canvas.
The Ill-Made Mute by Cecilia Dart-Thornton
OK, why this woman is not a household name in the Fantasy genre is beyond me. Her writing is AMAZING! I picked up The Ill-Made Mute (The Bitterbynde, Book 1) just because I liked the title, but I couldn’t put it down because it was so good. This is the first novel by Dart-Thornton, an Australian writer, and fortunately there are 2 more in the Bitterbynde series as well as another 4-book series (of which her U.S. publisher has chosen to only publish the first three, very annoying… and makes it hard to get a copy.) The Ill-Made Mute is the story of an orphaned, nameless, disfigured, mute child with absolutely no memory, who works as a drudge in the castle of a powerful family. The first secret of the orphan is not very well kept, but still resonates when revealed. The language is poetic and romantic, and the story (although only the first of a trilogy) is wonderfully complex and satisfying.
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
In Company of Liars, a small group of unlikely comrades coalesces on the road in England in the summer of 1348 in a desperate attempt to outrun the Black Plague by moving farther into the country and away from the southern port cities where the plague originated. Each member of the company carries a potentially damning secret that they reluctantly begin to share among themselves. As the story unfolds and the travelers take turns revealing their tales, their number begins shrinking, one by one, because terrible things befall the guilty. The historical detail is engrossing, illuminating the nearly impossible but daily struggle to find food and shelter in that terrifying time of almost certain death. Some of the plot twists are foreshadowed and some, like the ending, will leave you breathless.