Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster* by Karen Lee Street
The first in a planned series, Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster will engage a number of different readers. Street taps into Poe lore, history, and hoaxes served with a dollop of detective fiction. The 19th Century American writer and his fictional detective, Auguste Dupin, are on the case to solve a baffling family mystery. Poe receives a box of letters supposedly written between his stage actor grandparents, which leads the reader to believe that they were behind the London Monster attacks of the late 1700s. After sailing to England, Poe meets up with detective Dupin and the two are off to solve the authenticity of the letters. Mystery and long-forgotten memories, of course, start to poke through. Street clearly channels the motifs of both Edgar Allan Poe and of Gothic stories of the time (suckers for epistolary novels will get their fix). Readers won't be disappointed, and Street leaves you itching to go back and re-read those classic Poe stories from your student days.
Doreen by Ilana Manaster
There is something already "high school girl" about Oscar Wilde's 1890 novel The Picture of Dorian Gray. With catty characters obsessed with vanity, it makes perfect sense to revamp it with vapid, beautiful teenage girls. When awkward and acned Doreen Gray arrives at the haughty Chandler Academy, she is immediately plucked out by her cousin Biz and popular girl Heidi Whelan before her first day of school. With a quick digital snapshot and some major Photoshopping, the new photo of Doreen is everything the girls want her to be. Just like Wilde's original, the titular Doreen becomes the outwardly beautiful new girl who has all the boys fawning over her. But good grief, what could possibly be happening to that secret picture? This book is targeted toward a younger set of readers, much like the girls in the book themselves. The plot can be thin and lightly strung together at times, but Manaster has an excellent knack for dialogue—especially, Heidi, who enjoyably speaks as if she's caught up in a Gatsby party of the 1920s. The novel can be uneven, but it's clear that Manaster is a strong writer. However, it's as if someone told her to water it down because the audience wouldn't be able to keep up. It's a pity, because Manaster is capable and confident with her words.
Before the Feast by Saša Stanišić, tr. Anthea Bell
Marketed as a lyrical, fairy tale-inspired novel, Before the Feast ends up being a clunky and confused thud. There never quite is any magic and the writing is surprisingly tiresome. Stanišić's goal is clear: weaving together a portrait of a village with a cast of supposedly interesting characters. Secondly, the author is highlighting what life once was during the GDR opposed to present unified Germany. The cast is so large and nothing—details, names—ever pique the reader's interest. The prose can be lulling (when the reader isn't bumping over the clunkier sentences), but in the literal sense of the term—going to sleep. It was hard to be wrapped up in the imagery, language, and atmosphere, and it was baffling trying to understand the awards and praise heaped on this novel.
*This title is already available to UK readers and will be released in the US in October 2016.