Fiction Addiction

Book news and reviews with Bronwyn Sell and Christine Sheehy

Fiction Addiction: Four hot new novels

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This month's featured book selections. Photos / Supplied
This month's featured book selections. Photos / Supplied

Through coincidence rather than design, there's a strong American influence in this month's Fiction Fix hotlist of new novels.

Our four picks traverse the United States, from 1930s New York to modern-day Los Angeles, with stopovers in 1920s Chicago, 1930s Cleveland, 1960s Pennysylvania and 1980s Nebraska (with a time-travelling trans-Atlantic trip to pre-1920s Dublin to mix it up). We've picked our September reads from among them - and you can enter the competition below to win one of the books.

First stop is New York, New Year's Eve 1937. Katey Kontent is stringing out her last few bucks in a jazz club when a chance encounter with the wealthy Tinker Grey marks the start of the best and worst year of her life.

Rules of Civility is the debut novel by Amor Towles and takes its title from the etiquette guide penned by George Washington 250 years ago, by which Tinker professes to live his life. It's a glittering tale of life and love in depression-era Manhattan. The UK's Guardian called it "a flesh-and-blood tale you believe in, with fabulous period detail ...

While you're lost in the whirl of silk stockings, furs and hip flasks, all you care about is what Katey Kontent does next. Another one bartender, please."

Bronwyn has chosen this as her September read. Read an excerpt on Amor Towles' website, www.amortowles.com.

Next we brave a stormy night in Pennsylvania in 1968, for The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon. Martha, a reclusive widow, opens her door to a deaf man and an intellectually disabled woman, soaked to the skin and clutching a newborn baby. They're fugitives from the School for the Incurable and Feebleminded, and when the police descend, the man escapes and the woman begs Martha to hide the baby. This 40 year tale of lives entwined hit the New York Times bestseller list just two weeks after its release. Critics have applauded Simon's compassionate exploration of what it means to experience life with an intellectual disability.

According to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, it is the author's "insight into the indomitable spirit of the human soul that infuses The Story of Beautiful Girl with brilliance and honesty... This book will move you to a better place."

Christine has chosen this as her September read. Read an excerpt on Rachel Simon's website, www.rachelsimon.com.

On Canaan's Side begins in modern day Long Island, as 89-year-old Irish-American Lilly Bere mourns the loss of her grandson, who committed suicide after returning traumatised from the Iraq War. As she looks back over her life we learn of other tragedies that have shaped it - from the murder of her first love in Chicago to the loss of her only son after the Vietnam War - since she fled Ireland for a better life at the end of World War I.

Even before it was released, On Canaan's Side was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. Two of Irish author Sebastian Barry's previous novels have made it as far as the short-list. Perhaps this one will go all the way?

"Barry's greatness isn't just that he's a fine writer and a deeply political writer," writes Carlo Gébler in the Financial Times. "His greatness is he does it all simultaneously: he tells a desolating story and demolishes many myths at the same time. Ireland's lucky to have him because when you're in trouble (like Ireland now is), you need truth-tellers."

There's an extract here.

Our last stop is modern-day Los Angeles, where the 44-year-old married heroine of To Be Sung Underwater wonders what happened to the teenager carpenter she fell in love with in Nebraska in the 1980s. And then she decides to track him down.
This literary romance by Tom McNeal has had reviewers swooning.

"Like a grander, straighter, funnier Brokeback Mountain, this is an immensely involving love story that will make your heart race, leap and sing," declared Britain's the Telegraph.

Said USA Today: "If a book is built, not just written, then Tom McNeal deserves some kind of award for literary architecture for his wise and heartbreaking novel, To Be Sung Underwater. ... I regretted parting from To Be Sung Underwater, a novel to fall in love with."

Follow the link here to read an excerpt.

In the next week we'll be reviewing our August feature reads, Geraldine Brooks' Caleb's Crossing and Ali Smith's There But For The. And then we'll get stuck into Rules of Civility and The Story of Beautiful Girl.

To enter the draw to win a copy of The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon, click here and tell us what your favourite American novel is, and why. Competition closes Tuesday September 6.

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