Posted by: kimberlysullivan | December 16, 2016

New-to-me authors in 2016 I’ll want to read more from…

BooksSince discovering the excellent Book Date site, I always get great ideas for reading or posts for book lovers, such as her post New-to-me authors in 2016 I’ll want to read more from.

What a great idea – each year I discover new writers whose work I enjoy, and it leads me to look up their other novels. Since we’re reaching the end of the year, it’s a good time to take a look back and see some of the authors I’ve read during 2016 and may keep an eye on in the coming year.

Here are some of the authors I’ve read for the first time this year (along with which of their novels I’ve read) and whose writing has interested me enough to seek out other works in the new year.

And as a reader always on the lookout for recommendations – I’d love to hear yours!

The Admissions, Mitchell MooreMeg Mitchell MooreThe Admissions

I knew nothing about this book or its author when I picked it up, but I was drawn in very quickly to a world I (hope to) avoid living abroad: the world of helicopter parenting in the high-stakes game of Getting-into-Harvard for teenagers today. Rather befitting that one of the book blurbs came from the author of You’re Not That Special, the book that argued that high school children (and their parents) should start to realize their talented students are only one of countless other talented teenagers throughout the world and that the culture of constantly cheerleading one’s children is best abandoned.

None of this is being had at the Hawthorne household, where the whole family is obsessing about high school senior Angela Hawthorne’s chances of getting into Harvard early admission. In fact, there is no plan B. Angela is only applying to Harvard.

After all, she’s valedictorian at her California Bay Area high school, runs in cross country, and studies Spanish. She’s obviously a shoe-in, or so she and her parents think. Not surprisingly, this conviction that as long as you continue to stay top of your class in your hometown, there’s nothing to worry about eventually causes Angela to crack. Her parents, Nora and Gabe, are swept away in the madness, but they have their own stress caused by secrets they do not want revealed. A nice send-up on ‘You’re so incredibly special and unique’ parenting today and the student and family stress as college acceptance season rolls around.

This brilliantly written book fell apart for me just a bit toward the end as problems work out just a little too neatly all around, but still an excellent and entertaining read.

Nevertheless, I loved Mitchell Moore’s excellent writing style and her light touch with this family tale. Will definitely be reading more of her work.

2016_June_100summersBeatriz WilliamsA Hundred Summers (Along the Infinite Sea, The Secret Life of Violet Grant)

Technically, this could be considered cheating. I discovered Beatriz Williams this year through her first novel, and since that discovery have already devoured another two of her books. I love her writing style, her characters, her ability to immerse herself in historical fiction. I’m sure I’ll be reading much more of her in 2017.

Here’s my review of her first novel, A Hundred Summers, which I enjoyed, but I think her writing has grown stronger in subsequent novels:

Plot in a nutshell: Boy meets girl. Boy loses girl. Years later, boy returns into girl’s life, now married to girl’s best friend.

Classic story, but it’s what the author does with it.

This wonderful debut novel by Beatriz Williams is told in alternating story lines. The first unrolls in 1931 as smart, ambitious Smith College senior Lily Dane accompanies her classmate and childhood friend, Budgie, to a Dartmouth football team where she meets the dashing quarterback, Nick Greenwald.

It’s (almost) love at first sight. While Lily, the daughter of a prominent New York family, is not influenced by the fact that Nick is half-Jewish, this is something frowned upon in her social caste, and not accepted by her family.

The second story line is set in the summer of 1938, at the privileged (fictional) Rhode Island seaside community of Seaview. Lily is spending the beach season with her family, and standing in as surrogate mother to her little sister Kiki while her own mother favors days spent drinking and playing bridge. After years of absence, Budgie returns to Seaview on the arm of her new husband, Nick Greenwald.

The use of these two story lines keeps the novel moving along quickly, as we follow the college love story of Lily and Nick, and the slow unraveling of the events that tore them apart and led Nick to marry Lily’s closest friend. The atmosphere of the late 1930s Connecticut beach community in the idyllic days before the storm of the century will hit the coast is evocative, and Lily’s role as the responsible adult of the family quickly becomes clear.

I enjoyed Williams’ writing style, her use of descriptive details that made me wish I’d been reading this beach side myself, and her interesting cast of characters. I’ll look forward to reading more of her novels.

The aspects that worked less for me was the consistent use of the page turner between the 1931/1938 chapters. I think this can work well once in a while, but it is clear this novel isn’t a thriller, and I didn’t feel this device was necessary. Lily’s character also disappointed me a bit. She starts off smart and ambitious, with plans for a real career (not simply a diploma to marry well), but she’s too often unrealistically naive and often left me frustrated as a reader. Likewise, Budgie could have been painted with a finer brush. Female friendships/rivalries can often be the most interesting aspect of women’s fiction, but Budgie is too much the villain to merit much interest.

Despite these minor concerns, I really enjoyed this book. I’m a sucker for most books set in the past, so I am pleased to see Beatriz Williams has others I’m certain to enjoy reading. Pull up a beach towel and enjoy this excellent read.

The Good GirlMary KubicaThe Good Girl

This psychological thriller is being promoted for fans of Gone Girl and The Girl on The Train. This isn’t my normal genre, but I was curious to read this book after reading about it and finding then plot intriguing. I’d read both Gone Girl and The Girl on The Train. Despite being outside my normal genres, I loved both of those novels at the beginning, but both fell apart for me in the final stretch (the latter less than the former). This is why I was so pleased that this novel was so enjoyable from beginning to end.

Without giving away elements of the plot, this book follows the disappearance of Mia Dennet, a young teacher from a well-off family in Chicago. Her disappearance and the ensuing investigation is seen through the eyes of her grieving mother, the detective following her case and her abductor. Interestingly, we don’t follow the story through Mia’s own perspective.

I enjoyed how the novel unravels, with scenes from before Mia’s abduction interspersed with later scenes. For me, this kept the pacing interesting and intriguing for the reader. Since I’m not a regular thriller reader, character development is mostly what keeps me reading these books, and this was another strength in this novel (although, I suppose, true lovers of thrillers could argue this character development slowed down then pacing). I felt truly invested in the characters and enjoyed following the stories through their differing perspectives. A very quick and enjoyable read.

I liked Kubica’s writing style and her ability to keep a thriller going strong through the last pages. I’ll certainly be curious to pick up other works by her.

The Door, Szabo, coverMagda SzabóThe Door

This is a beautifully written, slightly claustrophobic novel of a young Hungarian writer living in the capital – whose name we never learn until the end – who employs Emerence, an elderly woman, to become her housekeeper. Everyone in the neighborhood has tremendous respect for the older woman, but no one seems to know much about her or her past, which would be odd for the Hungary of the time. And she never invites visitors past her front door. At the job interview, we quickly learn it is not the author to select Emerence, but the older woman to decide if she wishes to enter into the author’s service – and life.

And enter into the author’s life she does, filling every sphere during their 20-year relationship, spanning the 1960s to the 1980s. Slowly, a relationship builds between these two very different women in a manner that is all-consuming. The novel foreshadows events that will happen later, and the guilt ‘the Lady Writer’ will later carry with her.

Szabó’s writing is beautiful. Although the ‘scope’ could be described as narrow, depicting the relationship between two women and the small events that make up their everyday lives in their neighborhood in the Pest section of Budapest, the slow revealing of backstory and the relationship the two women develop carries the reader along on this unusual tale.

I spent a fair amount of time living in Mitteleuropa, and I’m interested in novels set in this region. Szabó was a great find for me – and I’ll look forward to reading more of her work.

2016_July_Improbability_LoveHannah Mary RothschildThe Improbability of Love

I didn’t know anything about this novel until I saw it shortlisted for the Bailey’s Prize – always a source of inspiration for my reading – and loved its premise. I wasn’t disappointed at all. This was a fabulous find, and its interesting plot and cast of whimsical characters kept up a quick pace throughout the novel.

With a recent spate of ‘whimsical’ novels everyone has been raving about, but that don’t seem to have made the same impact on me, I may have been hesitant to have read this book if I’d read too much about it first. Instead, I loved the send-up of the London art world, and the cast of amusing and bizarre characters, with their petty rivalries, jealousies and scheming.

The central character, Annie McDee, who accidentally discovers the 18th century masterpiece in a dusty second-hand store, may have been a tad thin on character development. We learn a lot about her during the course of the novel, but she still doesn’t feel fully developed as the protagonist. But that flaw was more than made up for by the blustery and original voice of one of the narrators of the story: the painting itself.

I loved that the Watteau canvas was telling us aspects of the story through his eyes, and providing us with his own fly-on-the-wall perspective of what he’d seen throughout his (inanimate) lifetime.

The supporting cast of the Russian billionaires with more money than taste and their over-the-top handlers, the auctioneers, the authoritative (and often wrong) art historians with their outsize egos and petty jealousies, the unscrupulous art dealers and general hangers-on all contributed to the novel. A truly excellent read. The Bailey’s Prize short-list rarely disappoints.

I enjoyed Rothschild’s quirky writing style and her creative take on the London art world. Will definitely be on the lookout for her future works.

And you, readers?

What were your “finds” throughout 2016? Any new-to-you-authors you’ll be reading in 2017 and beyond?

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Responses

  1. In 2016 I’ve almost exclusively read novels written by women. You gave me the idea a while back and I quickly realized that I felt immediately in sync with women’s literature. I read many important books this year, all written by authors I already knew. But I discovered a new voice with the novel The Girls by Emma Cline. The story is disturbing because of its violence but also exceptionnally gorgeous because of the voice and author’s writing style. She is a very young American writer and I was very impressed. Cannot wait to see what she’ll be up to. And I’ve discovered Elizabeth Gilbert with Big Magic while most people know her since Eat Pray Love, which I haven’t read.
    Your list sounds fantastic, Kimberly, and since you’ve already suggested stories I’ve loved, I will certainly take your favorites into consideration.
    Happy Holidays to you and your family!

    • Thanks for these, Evelyne! I always appreciate your book recommendations. And so glad to see you reading women, too. After all, women dominate the reading market for books, which means we can have a real influence on the market, Personally, I think it’s important we help out fellow female authors since the playing field isn’t quite level yet. Wishing you a wonderful holiday reading season!


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