Books we’re talking about
Last week saw the passing of the two-time Booker prize-winning author of the Wolf Hall trilogy, Hilary Mantel, and we’ve been talking about it and mourning her loss ever since. Her agent summed up the magnitude of the loss to the literary world perfectly: “Her wit, stylistic daring, creative ambition, and phenomenal historical insight mark her out as one of the greatest novelists of our time.”
In addition, we’ve started casting an eye over our favorite reads of the year, commencing work on our best of the year list. Read on to see these and a few of the other books which caught our attention this week.
On September 22, Hilary Mantel, the British author of 12 novels, a memoir, and three short story collections, died in Devon, England, where she lived. Her trilogy, Wolf Hall, which follows the life of Thomas Cromwell—the schemer, dreamer, henchman, and political mastermind and pawn of King Henry VIII—took the literary world by storm when the first in the series published in 2009. The first novel in the series, and the second—Bring Up the Bodies—won the Booker Prize, and the third, The Mirror and the Light, was named a finalist—a remarkable feat. Her imagination and recreation of the juicy dynamics of power, political manipulation, love and lust, right and wrong, of 1500s court life is utterly captivating, almost surprisingly so. When I interviewed her in 2020, I asked why Cromwell resonated so much with readers, she replied: “I think readers were surprised that you could escape the genre trap, and write historical fiction that works in the same way as contemporary fiction. What drew me was the arc of [Cromwell’s] story—everything’s against him, but he battles his way to significance. That’s a story everybody understands.” Indeed. Thank you, Hilary Mantel, for your stories and your words. —Al Woodworth, Amazon Editor Book talk around the proverbial water cooler this week is focused on our favorites for the year, and arriving just in time to be in contention is John Boyne’s All the Broken Places (Nov. 29). This got us thinking about an old favorite, one of our picks for the best books of 2017, Boyne’s The Hearts Invisible Furies. This powerful novel traces Ireland's tumultuous post-war history through the eyes of Cyril Avery, a man unmoored and in search of where he came from, who spends far too much of his life trying to shake off feelings of shame, and illegitimacy. At 562 pages, would-be readers might shy away from its literal, and emotional heft, but Boyne is a master of pacing, and his keen appreciation for the absurd tempers the dark with plenty of light. If you haven’t already read it, it could be a contender to be one of your (all-time) favorites, too. —Erin Kodicek, Amazon Editor I’ve recently read two incredible novels about friendship, Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin and Now Is Not the Time to Panic by Kevin Wilson (November 8). They’ve got me thinking: why do we prioritize stories about romantic love over the powerful bond between friends? This question is at the heart of Platonic. Marisa G. Franco argues that because friendship is not valued in our culture, we’ve never really learned how to build and sustain platonic adult relationships—at great cost to us personally and to society. Franco’s breezy, instructive writing dashes the excuses I, and many others, have made: it takes a lot of courage to put yourself out there, we’re all stretched thin. She gently emboldens us to forge ahead anyway, and gives us the tools to do it successfully. As I was reading, I felt inspired enough to introduce myself to a big group of people I didn’t know at a recent party. (This book was a great ice breaker!) We’re hardwired to connect. This book gives you the confidence to make it happen. —Lindsay Powers, Amazon Editor
I’m a longtime U2 fan so was really excited to read Bono’s upcoming memoir Surrender (November 1), and it’s everything I’d hoped it would be. He goes into his childhood and family life growing up in Dublin in the 1970s, the bands he loved and admired, everything you want to know about U2—their songs, relationships, and journey from playing to a handful of people to selling out stadiums—and Bono’s personal passage as an artist and activist. Each chapter, titled after a song and prefaced with an illustration from Bono, is filled with intimate details and stories that take you on an incredible ride, giving even the most ardent of fans a window into the life of U2 and their front man that they’ve never seen before. —Seira Wilson, Amazon Editor
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but fans of Agatha Christie should not miss this one. Seriously, if you pine for Golden Age manor mysteries, Magpie Murders should be just your cup of tea, and the trailer we saw last week for the PBS series adaptation promises a faithful screen take on a great read. When cantankerous crime writer Alan Conway turns in the manuscript for his latest whodunnit, his editor Susan discovers that the last chapter is missing, and while she’s processing this information, Alan dies from a mysterious fall. What follows is a novel-within-a-novel, as Susan—along with the reader—turns amateur sleuth, using her biggest clue: Conway’s account of fictional detective Atticus Pünd solving his last case. A best of the month pick, this dark, clever, twisty series starter delightfully combines a lot of the things we love, including—but not limited to—bucolic English villages, red herrings, and murder. —Vannessa Cronin, Amazon Editor