Literary women are making a big splash at this year’s fest, offering everything from mysteries to historical fiction and contemporary poetry.
Some, like Jane Hamilton and Jennifer Chiaverini, are perennial favorites, returning to the festival with their latest offerings. Others, such as Flynn Berry, are first-time authors making their first visits. Here’s just a smattering of the offerings.
Jane Hamilton returns with her latest book, The Excellent Lombards (Oct. 20, 7:30 p.m.). Inspired by Hamilton’s life on an apple farm in southern Wisconsin, the book examines rural life, including the puzzle of succession on a family farm. Hamilton’s particular insight into the unspoken rules of family dynamics makes this a great read for fans of family sagas.
Flynn Berry is a first timer at the festival. Her book, Under the Harrow (Oct. 21, 6 p.m.), is a moody first-person novel of suspense about a young woman searching for her sister’s killer. Berry’s sensitive portrait of love and loss moves this book from a simple “whodunit” to a more emotional plane. Joining the ranks of ultra-popular books like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, with their unreliable narrators, Berry’s story gets under your skin.
Cara Black, known for her 15-book series about Parisian private investigator Aimee Leduc, is in town with her latest, Murder on the Quai (Oct. 21, 7:30 p.m.). Black switches things up by writing a prequel to the series, introducing the young Leduc as a university student in Paris in 1989. Black’s books are treats for fans of Paris and its neighborhoods; throw in a dog with a cute name and you’ve got the perfect recipe for an escapist mystery series.
Another festival newbie, Rae Meadows, will read from her latest novel I Will Send Rain (Oct. 22, 10:30 a.m.). Set in Oklahoma during the dustbowl, it’s a compelling story of a woman’s struggle to find hope and strength amid tragedy. Meadows also explores a theme common to her earlier works: the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters.
Author of The New York Times bestselling Elm Creek Quilts series, Jennifer Chiaverini, is a book fest fan favorite. In recent years, Chiaverini has begun writing historical fiction set during the Civil War era. Her newest book, Fates and Traitors (Oct. 22, 1:30 p.m.), is about the life of John Wilkes Booth. Praised for its historical accuracy, the book manages to humanize Booth without apologizing for him. Chiaverini depicts him largely through the eyes of the women who loved him — his mother, his sister and his secret fiancée.
Known for her witty books about marriage, friendships and the career struggles of young professionals, Jennifer Close delivers up a witty takedown of Washington insiders in The Hopefuls (Oct. 22, 3 p.m.). According to Close, Washington is a place where your security clearance defines your location in the social stratum, and your relationship with your BlackBerry is stronger than with your spouse. Light and topical, The Hopefuls is a funny take on modern politics and marriage.
Madison poet Rita Mae Reese is bringing The Book of Hulga (Oct. 23, noon) to this year’s festival. The Book of Hulga is a project book, which means that all the poems explore a single topic — in this case the works of writer Flannery O’Connor, and one of her characters in particular: Hulga appears in only one of O’Connor’s stories, but she looms large in these poems. Part fan fiction, part homage to Southern gothic literature, The Book of Hulga works as a stand-alone collection and as a lens through which we can view O’Connor’s darkly comic genius.