The Secret Papers of Madame Olivetti
By Annie Vanderbilt
NAL; 275 pages; $14
The first pages of Vanderbilt’s novel bring blood to the cheeks, as the protagonist Lily Crisp (great name!) finds love in bed with her new French neighbor. But this novel is more than a widow’s rediscovery of love and independence in a new country, but a delightful exploration of a past and present full of secret love and betrayal, loss and regret, all divulged to a beloved typewriter.
The Sealed Letter
By Emma Donoghue
Harcourt; 416 pages; $26
Fact and fiction merge in Donoghue’s novel as British spinster and women’s movement pioneer Emily “Fido” Faithfull puts her cause at risk by helping her friend through a scandalous affair with an army officer. Based on real newspaper coverage from 1864 England about a Clinton-esque courtroom drama with adulturous accusations, stained clothing, and of course a mysterious letter, Donoghue’s story is wholly her own, an undressing of prim and proper Britian and an enjoyable romp through a provocative and famous divorce saga.
Casanova: Actor Lover Priest Spy
By Ian Kelly
Penguin; 403 pages; $28.95
In his newest book, Ian Kelly broadens our perception of the greatest lover of all time by documenting the life of Giacomo Casanova, a writer (he translated the Iliad for one), adventurer (visited every European capital), businessman, diplomat, spy and philosopher. Friend and lover accounts and unpublished papers provide backdrops for new insights on how his charisma led to infamy, and Kelly’s construction of Casanova’s life as dramatic play rivets attention to each page until the last curtain call.
By Posy Simmonds
Mariner; 136 pages; $16.95
A graphic novel by Britain’s loved cartoonist, Tamara Drewe’s format takes some getting used to, but Simmond’s finely crafted drawings, ear for dialogue and racy, breezy plot suck you right in. Inspired by a work of Thomas Hardy, this novel is set at a writer’s retreat, near where the ambitious protagonist Tamara works as a gossip columnist and watches every man fall at her feet. As the town and characters unfold, one can’t help but be seduced by its reality show similarities, and the book’s distinctly original charm.