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Notable books

Notable Books | Four works of fiction reviewed by Susan Olasky

Issue: "Ghost streets," Feb. 27, 2010

New York

Rutherfurd writes as James Michener did a generation ago: His fiction-based New York City history starts with an early Dutch trader who brings furs down the Hudson to the Dutch settlement at the tip of New York. Rutherfurd traces the history through this family, broadening his tale as the family interacts and intermarries with newcomers. The narrative moves the story along through developments such as the British takeover of Manhattan, the Revolutionary and Civil wars, the draft riots and blizzards, the stock market crash and the building of skyscrapers, and the stream of various immigrant groups. Rutherfurd's New York is a magnet for money, a place where ambition is rewarded, shortcuts overlooked, and dreams fulfilled.

Midnight Fugue

Police Superintendent Andy Dalziel has to prove that he's ready to lead his department after recovering from a bomb blast that put him in a coma (that's in a previous book). He gets off to a bad start when he comes into work on a Sunday thinking it's Monday. Trying to cover up his confusion, he makes a series of bad decisions that land a subordinate in the hospital. His missing-person case seems to be connected to an ambitious local politician being primed to become prime minister-unless someone turns up dirt on the politician's father, who used crooked means to get ahead. Hill retells scenes from different perspectives in this complex, funny (and sometimes crude) mystery.

Juliet, Naked

Nick Hornby, author of About a Boy and High Fidelity (both adapted into successful movies), writes about boys who have a hard time becoming men. This time the guy is Duncan, who spends his time researching, theorizing, and traveling to sites associated with a reclusive musician who for two decades hasn't produced an album. Duncan for 15 years has had a live-in girlfriend, Annie: They drifted into their relationship and are stuck, but things change when the musician (who has five ex-wives, various children who hate him, and a young son who adores him) reads online something Annie wrote and begins a correspondence with her. Hornby writes sympathetically (and graphically) about losers and lost souls.

Olive Kitteridge: Fiction

Olive Kitteridge is a blunt-spoken, ungainly, sometimes compassionate and sometimes harsh figure at the center of most of the 13 short stories that make up this fine collection set in the small town of Crosby, Maine. Although Olive taught school for many years, she often seems an outsider, especially compared to her husband Henry, the town pharmacist: He's a man who never met a stranger. But it's Olive who seems to understand the pain of others and see into their motivations, all those except her son. Although Strout deals with heavy issues-marital infidelity, loneliness, anorexia, depression, illness, and death-the book has a hopeful tone and wrestles with questions of faith, as Olive both exasperates and delights.

Spotlight

U.S. publisher HarperCollins is looking for a few good teen writers. At least that's the pitch behind the new website inkpop.com. The publisher claims it's the "first interactive writing platform for teens backed by a major U.S. publisher." There, writers between 13 and 18 can submit stories and poems, interact with other writers, vote on favorite submissions, and hope that publishing professionals might read their work. They can also interact with published authors during forums.

Since the website came online in late 2009, it already has 10,000 members who have submitted more that 11,000 novels, stories, poems, and essays. According to the publisher, editors will review the five favorite member selections each month, offering feedback and possible mentorship or publication. HarperCollins has a similar website for older writers, authonomy.com: "Whether you're unpublished, self-published or just getting started, all you need is a few chapters to start building your profile online, and start connecting with the authonomy community."

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