By Margaret Bradham Thornton. (Ecco, 320 pages, $25.99.)
Eliza Poinsett is an art historian researching the intersection between a painting and the poem it inspired, delving into the confluence of artists who create images, albeit one being literal and one being figurative. So that perhaps explains the highly visual nature of this novel.
Sentences that seem superfluous to the narrative do, instead, play a role by creating vivid scene in your mind — scenes far more evocative than many books ever manage. This may be enough to make "Charleston" an enjoyable read. The tale itself brings together a love story and a nuanced depiction of Charleston, which occupies a peculiar wrinkle within Southern culture, and where Thornton was born and raised.
The city also is where Poinsett grew up and to where she reluctantly returns only to find she cannot leave. The situation is familiar to anyone who has contemplated returning to their hometown, wondering if it's a step back or a release to move forward. Thornton's answer may be preordained, and her characters perhaps not the most memorable. But the path to her conclusion is strewn with beautiful scenes.
The Other Story
By Tatiana de Rosnay. (St. Martin's Press, 320 pages, $26.99.)
Nicholas Duhamel clearly has let the fame of being a best-selling author go to his head: He obsessively reads about himself in publications, constantly checks his Facebook page, and expects to be universally recognized. He is vacationing at a luxurious resort in Tuscany with his new girlfriend while carrying on an intense sexting relationship with another woman. He assures his agent that he is working on another book, but he is doing everything he can to avoid writing. And when a well-known literary agent turns up at the same resort, he assumes that she is there because she wants to offer him a contract.
Doesn't sound like a very likable guy, does he? What makes the reader care about him is his vulnerability around his family. The blockbuster novel that brought him all the fame was based on a long-buried family secret he uncovered. It's when his family history comes into play again that Nicholas rediscovers who he truly is and what he most wants out of life. This is, ultimately, a story of redemption and identity. In the end, both Nicholas and this novel will surprise you.
Judy Romanowich Smith