What should you read this weekend? USA TODAY's picks for book lovers include Anita Shreve's new novel about the mysterious "Stella Bain" and a meaty new biography of actress Barbara Stanwyck.
Stella Bain by Anita Shreve, Little, Brown, 261 pp.; fiction
indeed is the novelist who takes on amnesia, a malady ripe for parody
after a half-century of silly memory-loss plots on soap operas.
And yet Anita Shreve pulls it off in Stella Bain, which offers a feminine twist on World War I.
In Marne, France, in 1916, a woman drifts into consciousness on a
battlefield hospital cot and realizes "that she does not know her own
It appears she is an American, because of her accent, but she is wearing a British VAD (Voluntary Aid Detachment) uniform.
Slowly a name comes to her: Stella Bain.
She makes her way to London, where a young doctor realizes Stella is suffering from shell shock and that Freudian talk therapy will help unlock who she is.
USA TODAY says: * * * out of four. "An intriguing character study that delivers compelling mystery without melodrama."
A Life of Barbara Stanwyck: Steel-True, 1907-1940by Victoria Wilson; Simon & Schuster, 860 pp.; non-fiction
first of a planned two-volume biography covers the star's marriages to
vaudevillian Frank Fay and actor Robert Taylor, and movies including Stella Dallas and Meet John Doe.
USA TODAY says: * * * ½. "An exhaustive and epic Hollywood narrative."
The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan; Ecco, 589 pp.; fiction
A decades-long family saga set in the complex and closed world of Shanghai's "flower houses," where courtesans entertain gentlemen customers.
USA TODAY says: * * *.
"The journey with Violet, her mother and her daughter is one of
separate winding paths, each woman struggling to reach the light."
The Man He Became: How FDR Defied Polio to Win the Presidencyby James Tobin; Simon & Schuster, 311 pp.
Contrarian biography suggests that FDR's populist magnetism was largely generated by his disability from polio.
USA TODAY says: * * * *. "Eloquent ... solidly researched."
The Boy Detective: A New York Childhood by Roger Rosenblatt; Ecco, 257 pp.; non-fiction
unconventional memoir described by its author: "A man retraces the
steps of his youth in order to determine where he has been and where he
USA TODAY says: * * * ½. "The writing and ideas flow."