The Blood of Heaven -- A Novel by Kent Wascom, Grove Atlantic '13, $25, 457 pages, ASIN #0802121187.
Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase, the biggest impetus to America's Westward Expansion, hadn't yet occurred when Kent Wascom's novel about western exploration begins. It is 1799 when "Angel Woolsack, the son of a firebrand preacher, flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, who is proselytizing to the early settlers of Missouri."
Wascom limns Angel's adventures in the southern borderland, together with his adopted brother, Samuel Kemper, a charismatic highwayman, and "Red Kate," who would become the love of his life and a fellow "child of desolation." What follows isn't pretty: American settlers wresting lands from the Spanish and French and the creation of a brutal system of slave labor, "which is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering."
"The Blood of Heaven," writes Wascom, "is a searing portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of an emerging America where anything was possible."
Author Kent Wascom attended Louisiana State University and received an MFA from Florida State University. The Blood of Heaven is the 26-year-old's first novel.
Instructions for a Heatwave by Maggie O'Farrell, Knopf '13, $25.95, 290 pages, ASIN #0385349408.
May your own summer heat wave leave you in better shape than the protagonists in Maggie O'Farrell's latest novel, recounting a family crisis set during the legendary British heatwave of 1976. The dust cover offers a hint at its contents:
"Gretta Riordan wakes on a stultifying July morning to find that her husband of 40 years has gone to get the paper and vanished, cleaning out his bank account along the way. Gretta's three grown children converge in their parents' home for the first time in years: Michael Francis, a history teacher whose marriage is failing; Monica, with two stepdaughters who despise her and a blighted past that has driven away the younger sister she once adored; and Aiofe, the youngest, now living in Manhattan, a smart, immensely resourceful young woman who has arranged her entire life to conceal a devastating secret.
"Maggie O'Farrell writes with exceptional grace and sensitivity about marriage, about the mysteries that inhere within families, and the fault lines over which we build our lives -- the secrets we hide from the people who know and love us best. In a novel that stretches from the heart of London to New York City's Upper West Side to a remote village on the coast of Ireland, O'Farrell paints a bracing portrait of a family falling apart and coming together with hard-won, life-changing truths about who they really are."
Author Maggie O'Farrell is the author of five previous novels, three of which have won major writing awards.