Saturday, January 25, 2014

Weekend Picks for Book Lovers


Under the Wide and Starry Skyby Nancy Horan; Ballantine, 472 pp.; fiction

With her best-selling 2007 novel Loving Frank — about architect Frank Lloyd Wright and his scandalous affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney — Nancy Horan didn't invent the genre of the Woman Behind the Great Artist.

But she was a guiding light for what proved to be a fresh current in literary fiction.

In Under the Wide and Starry Sky, Horan is at it again, reimagining the real-life courtship and adventures of globe-trotting Scottish writer Robert Louis Stevenson and his indomitable American wife, Fanny Osbourne.

Though he would become world-famous as the author of adventure tales such as Treasure Island and the Gothic potboiler The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Stevenson was a struggling young essayist when he fell in love with Osbourne in 1875 at an artists' colony in France, where she had been sent to recover from the shock of losing her son to tuberculosis.

Louis (as he was known) was captivated by Fanny, a beautiful, earthy, impressively competent woman a decade his senior who rolled her own cigarettes and took no guff from the men in her life, including him.

USA TODAY says *** out of four. "Warmhearted … (there's) a lot of fun to be had along the way."

Pat and Dick: The Nixons, An Intimate Portrait of a Marriage by Will Swift; Threshold Editions, 496 pp.; non-fiction

Will Swift draws on love letters and other correspondence not available to earlier biographers to depict the Nixons' marriage.

USA TODAY says ***. "The distance from Watergate — and access to new personal documents — gives Pat and Dick a freshness to a much-considered chapter of history."

Carthageby Joyce Carol Oates; Ecco., 482 pp.; fiction

When 19-year-old Cressida Mayfield disappears, the ex-fiancé of Cressida's beautiful older sister is suspected.

USA TODAY says ***. "Powerful and absorbing … yet another formidable (Oates) novel."

Love & War: Twenty Years, Three Presidents, Two Daughters and One Louisiana Home

by Mary Matalin and James Carville; Blue Rider Press, 332 pp.; non-fiction

A co-memoir by the married pundits on opposite sides of the political fence – she, the right; he, the left.

USA TODAY says ***. "Compelling … confirmation that their love is true and their marriage stands a good chance of lasting until death do them part."

Andrew's Brain by E.L. Doctorow; Random House, 224 pp.; fiction

Doctorow lets readers eavesdrop on a series of conversations between a troubled cognitive neuroscientist named Andrew and an unidentified man who may be Andrew's shrink.

USA TODAY says ***1/2 out of four. "Daring and strange … seamlessly combines Doctorow's remarkable prowess as a literary stylist with deep psychological storytelling."

Contributing reviewers: Kevin Nance, Aamer Madhani, Charles Finch, Roberta Bernstein, Don Oldenburg