Weekly Words About New Books in

Independent Bookstores

January 22, 2023

New in Paperback - A Latin American Saga That Spans a Century, and A Racially Integrated Community Beset by Religious Intolerance

Violeta by Isabel Allende. The latest novel from the prolific Chilean-born author tells the epic story of Violeta Del Valle, a woman whose life spans 100 years - 1920 to 2020 - and bears witness to personal and historical upheavals, including two pandemics. Violeta herself is the narrator, telling her story in a letter she writes to her grandson. Allende sections the book into four parts, beginning with Exiles, which covers Violeta's birth at the outset of the Spanish flu and her adolescent years in an unnamed South American country. The subsequent section, Passion, takes place over another 20 years and chronicles the two men with whom Violeta is involved and the two children she bears.

By 1960, Violeta is a successful businesswoman, the father of her children is involved with the Mafia and the CIA, and the lives of her kids have taken decidedly different turns. And she is living in a country where a dictatorship has taken hold - could it be a nod to the Pinochet regime in Allende's home country? There's plenty more, but that should be enough to pique your interest - or not. Based on reviews and bookseller feedback, this is not one of Allende's best efforts; Publishers Weekly's called it a "mixed-bag" but added that "Allende succeeds once again at making the historical feel personal." Given Allende's track record, this sweeping saga with its historical, political, and feminist themes - especially in paperback - is on bookstores' radar.

This Other Eden by Paul Harding. New England writer Harding went from "who's he?" to literary darling in 2010 when his lovely small debut book, Tinkers, won that year's Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. With this, only his third novel, Harding draws inspiration from the true story of Malaga Island, an isolated island off the coast of Maine that became one of the first racially integrated towns in the Northeast from the Civil War until 1911, when the residents were forcibly evicted from the island. Here's a brief description from the publisher:

In 1792, formerly enslaved Benjamin Honey and his Irish wife, Patience, discover an island where they can make a life together. Over a century later, the Honeys' descendants and a diverse group of neighbors are desperately poor, isolated, and often hungry, but nevertheless protected from the hostility awaiting them on the mainland. During the summer of 1912, Matthew Diamond, an idealistic but prejudiced schoolteacher-turned-missionary, disrupts the community's fragile balance through his efforts to educate its children. His presence attracts the attention of authorities on the mainland who, under the influence of the eugenics-thinking popular among progressives of the day, decide to forcibly evacuate the island, institutionalize its residents, and develop the island as a vacation destination.

In her starred review for Booklist, Sarah Johnson wrote, "A superb achievement... Harding combines an engrossing plot with deft characterizations and alluring language deeply attuned to nature's artistry. The biblical parallels, which naturally align with the characters' circumstances, add depth, and enhance the universality of the themes...This gorgeously limned portrait about family bonds, the loss of innocence, the insidious effects of racism, and the innate worthiness of individual lives will resonate long afterward"

Don't Get Cozy - This Is Not Your Grandmother's Murder Mystery

Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson. Australian author and stand-up comedian Stevenson delivers an original and entertaining murder mystery involving a dysfunctional family reunion at a remote mountain resort. What's unique abut the book is the protagonist's running monologue with the readers throughout the story. It's a device that could easily get old, but for me it worked and added greatly to my enjoyment.

Stevenson's narrator is Ernest Cunningham, who's the author of how-go guides for writers and is well versed in how a good mystery story is put together. His mentor of sorts is real-life writer and mystery aficionado Ronald Knox, who in 1929 published 10 rules of detective fiction. Among Knox's admonitions for writers of the genre were:

  • Not more than one secret room or passage is allowable.

  • No hitherto undiscovered poisons may be used, nor any appliance which will need a long scientific explanation at the end

  • The detective is bound to declare any clues which he may discover.

  • Twin brothers, and doubles generally, must not appear unless we have been duly prepared for them.

Armed with his list of rules, all of which are presented at the outset of the book, our hero offers some pertinent backstory and then moves the plot forward to the present and the aforementioned family reunion, which begins awkwardly - there are issues - and devolves into a murder-ridden disaster. Throughout, Stevenson drops clues and hints about the guilty party (or is it parties?) as he slowly and somewhat haphazardly unravels the Cunningham family secrets. All the while, he breaks the fourth wall with comments aimed directly at the reader. He reminds us that he is following Knox's rules even while he misdirects, he throws out one-liners as frequently as clues, and even lectures us about false assumptions the readers may have made. The result is an original and satisfying take on classic murder mystery tropes.

"Exceptionally clever and amusing. ... Stevenson carries off this tour de force with all the aplomb of a master magician who conducts his tricks in plain view."? -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Hi, I'm Hut Landon,and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

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