2014's Most Promising Books

Looking for a great read?  Book Critic Ellen Heltzel stopped by with her picks for some of this year's most promising books.

1. "The Invention of  Wings," by Sue Monk Kidd. Location: Antebelleum South. The author of the huge bestseller and book club favorite "The Secret Life of Bees" is back with a novel based on the life of Sarah Grimke, daughter of a slaveholder, who dedicated her life to ending slavery and getting women the vote. Here a fictionalized version of her story is told by alternating chapters in which first Sarah speaks and then her black slave, both illuminating a way of life that would soon be gone. (Another excellent novel on the same topic: Valerie Martin's "Property.") Book clubs, start your engines.
 
2.  "Careless People: Murder, Mayhem and the Invention of the Great Gatsby," by Sarah Churchwell. Location: The 1920s. Looking back, some may dismiss the "Roaring '20s" as the frivolous decade between World War I and the Great Depression. Guess again. As Churchwell demonstrates in this carefully researched work of nonfiction, the '20s ushered in the modern era, celebrity culture and consumerism. Based on her close reading of both F. Scott Fitzgerald and his most ambitious novel, "The Great Gatsby," Fitzgerald's inspiration for the book was not his own madcap life, as is often thought, but newspaper headlines, especially a scandalous double murder that took place in 1922. A great combo of history and literature.
 
3. "On Such a Full Sea," by Chang-rae Lee. Location: America, Sometime in the Future. Lee cleverly takes present-day fears about pollution, income inequality, the rise of China and who knows what else to craft a portrait of a future America that's divided into three distinct parts -- the elites who live in their high-walled cities, citizens of the factory towns that service the upper-crust's needs, and those who live by their wits in the lawless lands that stretch beyond. The best part of the book is its unnamed narrator.
 
4. "Radiance of Tomorrow," by Ishmael Beah. Location: West Africa. Beah, a boy soldier in Sierra Leone who told his story in a remarkable memoir, "A Long Way Gone," is back with a novel that confirms what a good writer he is. His fable-like tale focuses on two friends who return to their village after the fighting  and try to rebuild it. This book may remind some readers of Chinua Achebe's classic, "Things Fall Apart," but updated to show the conflict and corruption that infect modern Africa. 
 
5. "The Stud Book," by Monica Drake. Location: Portland, Oregon. Drake writes funny, raw and true, tearing motherhood off its pedestal and giving it a place of honor at the same time. Her cast of characters features four women friends in various stages of  enduring, denying or longing for maternity. Her story includes ironic insights into the ways and byways of the Rose City. Edgy and fun.

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