Category Archives: short story collection

Fall for These October Titles

Fall is finally here, bringing cooler weather and big books.  No, I don’t mean the ones you could use as doorstops.  We’re talking great reads from both established and new writers, novels that are sure to make many best-of-year lists.

What To Read Now:

burial rites

From Little, Brown and Company

A brilliant literary debut, inspired by a true story: the final days of a young woman accused of murder in Iceland in 1829.  Set against Iceland’s stark landscape, Hannah Kent brings to vivid life the story of Agnes, who, charged with the brutal murder of her former master, is sent to an isolated farm to await execution.  Horrified at the prospect of housing a convicted murderer, the family at first avoids Agnes. Only Tóti, a priest Agnes has mysteriously chosen to be her spiritual guardian, seeks to understand her. But as Agnes’s death looms, the farmer’s wife and their daughters learn there is another side to the sensational story they’ve heard.  Riveting and rich with lyricism, BURIAL RITES evokes a dramatic existence in a distant time and place, and asks the question, how can one woman hope to endure when her life depends upon the stories told by others?

A much-buzzed about (and well-deserved!) book from a brilliant new literary voice.

 

Coming Soon:

Arcade Publishing, October 1

Sex is forbidden at the Dasgupta Institute, the Buddhist retreat where Beth Marriot has taken refuge, and that’s a big advantage. Bethsex is forbidden has been working as a server, assisting in the kitchen and helping out–discreetly, so the meditators aren’t disturbed. The meditators are making big sacrifices to come here and change their lives. So the servers must observe the rules, and silence and separation of the sexes are chief among them.But Beth is fighting demons. She came here at a crossroads in her life, caught between an older lover who wouldn’t choose her and a young one who wants to marry her, and she may have caused another man’s death when she risked her own life swimming out to sea in a gale. A singer in a band, vital and impulsive, fleshy and sexy, she has been a rebel and a provocateur. And now, conflicted and wandering, she stumbles on a diary in the men’s dorm and cannot keep away from it, or the man who wrote it. At the same time, desiring–all too hard–to achieve the inner peace that Buddhist practice promises, she yearns for the example set by the slim, silent, white-clad teacher Mi Nu, and maybe yearns for something more.Comic and poignant at the same time, swiftly paced and completely engaging, Sex Is Forbidden is an entertaining novel about two profoundly different attitudes to life, and Beth–our narrator–is a character to be savored.

 

Faber & Faber, October 1

night guestA mesmerizing first novel about trust, dependence, and fear, from a major new writer.  Ruth is widowed, her sons are grown, and she lives in an isolated beach house outside of town. Her routines are few and small. One day a stranger arrives at her door, looking as if she has been blown in from the sea. This woman—Frida—claims to be a care worker sent by the government. Ruth lets her in.
Now that Frida is in her house, is Ruth right to fear the tiger she hears on the prowl at night, far from its jungle habitat? Why do memories of childhood in Fiji press upon her with increasing urgency? How far can she trust this mysterious woman, Frida, who seems to carry with her her own troubled past? And how far can Ruth trust herself?  The Night Guest, Fiona McFarlane’s hypnotic first novel, is no simple tale of a crime committed and a mystery solved. This is a tale that soars above its own suspense to tell us, with exceptional grace and beauty, about aging, love, trust, dependence, and fear; about processes of colonization; and about things (and people) in places they shouldn’t be. Here is a new writer who comes to us fully formed, working wonders with language, renewing our faith in the power of fiction to describe the mysterious workings of our minds. 

 

Simon & Schuster, October 1

 

rosie project

An international sensation, this hilarious, feel-good novel is narrated by an oddly charming and socially challenged genetics professor on an unusual quest: to find out if he is capable of true love.  Don Tillman, professor of genetics, has never been on a second date. He is a man who can count all his friends on the fingers of one hand, whose lifelong difficulty with social rituals has convinced him that he is simply not wired for romance. So when an acquaintance informs him that he would make a “wonderful” husband, his first reaction is shock. Yet he must concede to the statistical probability that there is someone for everyone, and he embarks upon The Wife Project. In the orderly, evidence-based manner with which he approaches all things, Don sets out to find the perfect partner. She will be punctual and logical—most definitely not a barmaid, a smoker, a drinker, or a late-arriver.  
Yet Rosie Jarman is all these things. She is also beguiling, fiery, intelligent—and on a quest of her own. She is looking for her biological father, a search that a certain DNA expert might be able to help her with. Don’s Wife Project takes a back burner to the Father Project and an unlikely relationship blooms, forcing the scientifically minded geneticist to confront the spontaneous whirlwind that is Rosie—and the realization that love is not always what looks good on paper.  The Rosie Project is a moving and hilarious novel for anyone who has ever tenaciously gone after life or love in the face of overwhelming challenges.

 

William Morrow, October 1

tilted worldSet against the backdrop of the historic 1927 Mississippi Flood, a story of murder and moonshine, sandbagging and saboteurs, dynamite and deluge-and a man and a woman who find unexpected love-from Tom Franklin, author of the bestselling Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter, and his wife, Pushcart Prize-winning poet Beth Ann Fennelly.  The year is 1927. As rains swell the Mississippi, the mighty river threatens to burst its banks and engulf all in its path, including federal revenue agent Ted Ingersoll and his partner, Ham Johnson. Arriving in the tiny hamlet of Hobnob, Mississippi, to investigate the disappearance of two fellow agents on the trail of a local bootlegger, they unexpectedly find an abandoned baby boy at a crime scene.  An orphan raised by nuns, Ingersoll is determined to find the infant a home, a search that leads him to Dixie Clay Holliver. A lonely woman married too young to a charming and sometimes violent philanderer, Dixie Clay has lost her only child to illness and is powerless to resist this second chance at motherhood. From the moment they meet, Ingersoll and Dixie Clay are drawn to each other. He has no idea that she’s the best bootlegger in the county and may be connected to the missing agents. And while he seems kind and gentle, Dixie Clay knows he is the enemy and must not be trusted.  Then a deadly new peril arises, endangering them all. A saboteur, hired by rich New Orleans bankers eager to protect their city, is planning to dynamite the levee and flood Hobnob, where the river bends precariously. Now, with time running out, Ingersoll, Ham, and Dixie Clay must make desperate choices, choices that will radically transform their lives-if they survive.

 

Viking Adult, October 1

signature

A glorious, sweeping novel of desire, ambition, and the thirst for knowledge, from the # 1 New York Times bestselling author of Eat, Pray, Love and Committed.  In The Signature of All Things, Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction, inserting her inimitable voice into an enthralling story of love, adventure and discovery. Spanning much of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the novel follows the fortunes of the extraordinary Whittaker family as led by the enterprising Henry Whittaker—a poor-born Englishman who makes a great fortune in the South American quinine trade, eventually becoming the richest man in Philadelphia. Born in 1800, Henry’s brilliant daughter, Alma (who inherits both her father’s money and his mind), ultimately becomes a botanist of considerable gifts herself. As Alma’s research takes her deeper into the mysteries of evolution, she falls in love with a man named Ambrose Pike who makes incomparable paintings of orchids and who draws her in the exact opposite direction—into the realm of the spiritual, the divine, and the magical. Alma is a clear-minded scientist; Ambrose a utopian artist—but what unites this unlikely couple is a desperate need to understand the workings of this world and the mechanisms behind all life.  Exquisitely researched and told at a galloping pace, The Signature of All Things soars across the globe—from London to Peru to Philadelphia to Tahiti to Amsterdam, and beyond. Along the way, the story is peopled with unforgettable characters: missionaries, abolitionists, adventurers, astronomers, sea captains, geniuses, and the quite mad. But most memorable of all, it is the story of Alma Whittaker, who—born in the Age of Enlightenment, but living well into the Industrial Revolution—bears witness to that extraordinary moment in human history when all the old assumptions about science, religion, commerce, and class were exploding into dangerous new ideas. Written in the bold, questing spirit of that singular time, Gilbert’s wise, deep, and spellbinding tale is certain to capture the hearts and minds of readers.

W.W. Norton & Company, October 7

In this heartbreakingly beautiful book of disillusioned intimacy and persistent yearning, beloved and celebrated author Andre Dubusdirty love III explores the bottomless needs and stubborn weaknesses of people seeking gratification in food and sex, work and love.  In these linked novellas in which characters walk out the back door of one story and into the next, love is “dirty”—tangled up with need, power, boredom, ego, fear, and fantasy. On the Massachusetts coast north of Boston, a controlling manager, Mark, discovers his wife’s infidelity after twenty-five years of marriage. An overweight young woman, Marla, gains a romantic partner but loses her innocence. A philandering bartender/aspiring poet, Robert, betrays his pregnant wife. And in the stunning title novella, a teenage girl named Devon, fleeing a dirty image of her posted online, seeks respect in the eyes of her widowed great-uncle Francis and of an Iraq vet she’s met surfing the Web.  Slivered by happiness and discontent, aging and death, but also persistent hope and forgiveness, these beautifully wrought narratives express extraordinary tenderness toward human beings, our vulnerable hearts and bodies, our fulfilling and unfulfilling lives alone and with others.

 

Dutton Adult, October 8

rasputinAn ingenious, fast-paced historical thriller from the author of the New York Times bestseller The Last Templar.  On a cold, bleak day in 1916, all hell breaks loose in a mining pit in the Ural Mountains. Overcome by a strange paranoia, the miners attack one another, savagely and ferociously. Minutes later, two men—a horrified scientist and Grigory Rasputin, trusted confidant of the tsar—hit a detonator, blowing up the mine to conceal all evidence of the carnage.  In the present day, FBI agent Sean Reilly’s search for Reed Corrigan, the CIA mindcontrol spook who brainwashed Reilly’s son, takes a backseat to a new, disturbing case. A Russian embassy attaché seems to have committed suicide by jumping out of a fourth-floor window in Queens. The apartment’s owners, a retired physics teacher from Russia and his wife, have gone missing, and further investigation reveals that the former may not be who the FBI believe him to be.
Joined by Russian Federal Security Service agent Larisa Tchoumitcheva, Reilly’s investigation of the old man’s identity will uncover a desperate search for a small, mysterious device, with consequences that reach back in time and which, in the wrong hands, could have a devastating impact on the modern world.  Packed with the twists, intrigue, and excitement that Khoury’s many fans have come to expect, Rasputin’s Shadow will keep readers turning pages long into the night.

 

Random House, October 8

In a riveting novel rooted in one of American history’s great “what ifs,” Jim Lehrer tells the story of two men haunted by the events osycamore rowleading up to John F. Kennedy’s assassination.   November 22, 1963. As Air Force One touches down in Dallas, ambitious young newspaper reporter Jack Gilmore races to get the scoop on preparations for President Kennedy’s motorcade. Will the bubble top on the presidential limousine be up or down? Down, according to veteran Secret Service agent Van Walters. The decision to leave the top down and expose JFK to fire from above will weigh on Van’s conscience for decades. But will it also change the course of history?  Five years after the assassination, Jack gets an anguished phone call from Van’s daughter Marti. Van Walters is ravaged by guilt, so convinced that his actions led to JFK’s death that he has lost the will to live. In a desperate bid to deliver her father from his demons, Marti enlists Jack’s help in a risky reenactment designed to prove once and for all whatwould have happened had the bubble top stayed in place on that grim November day.  For Jack, it’s a chance to break a once-in-a-lifetime story that could make his career. But for Van the stakes are even higher. The outcome of a ballistics test conducted on the grounds of a secluded estate in upstate New York might just save his life—or push him over the edge.   A page-turning historical novel with the beating heart of a thriller, Top Down could only have sprung from the fertile imagination of Jim Lehrer. Drawing on his own experience as an eyewitness to the events described, one of America’s most respected journalists has crafted an engrossing story out of the emotional aftershocks of a national tragedy.

 

William Morrow, October 8

lighthouse island

The bestselling author of the highly praised novels The Color of Lightning, Stormy Weather, and Enemy Women pushes into new territory with this captivating and atmospheric story set in the far future-a literary dystopian tale resonant with love and hope.  In the coming centuries the world’s population has exploded and covered the earth with cities, animals are nearly all gone and drought has taken over so that cloudy water is issued by the quart. There are no maps, no borders, no numbered years. On this urban planet the only relief from overcrowding and the harsh rule of the big Agencies is the television in every living space, with its dreams of vanished waterfalls and the promise of virtual vacations in green spaces, won by the lucky few.  It is an unwelcoming world for an orphan like Nadia Stepan. Abandoned by her parents on a crowded street when she was four, the little girl is shuttled from orphanage to orphanage, foster-family to foster-family. Nadia grows up dreaming of the vacation spot called Lighthouse Island, in a place called the Pacific Northwest. She becomes obsessed with it and is determined to somehow find her way there. In the meantime this bright and witty orphan falls into the refuge of old and neglected books; the lost world of the imagination. And beyond the confusion and overcrowding and the relentless television noise, comes a radio voice from an abandoned satellite that patiently reads, over and over, the great classical books of the world-Big Radio, a voice in the night that lifts Nadia out of the dull and perpetual Present.  An opportunity for escape appears and Nadia takes it, abandoning everything to strike out for Lighthouse Island in a dangerous and sometimes comic adventure. She meets every contingency with bottomless inventiveness meets the man who changes the course of her life: James Orotov, mapmaker and demolition expert. Together they evade arrest and head north toward a place of wild beauty that lies beyond the megapolis-Lighthouse Island and its all-seeing eye.

 

Crown, October 8

 

dani lancingFor fans of Tana French and The Silent Wife, THE LAST WINTER OF DANI LANCING is a chilling debut thriller hailed by Sophie Hannah as “brilliant” about one murder’s devastating ripple effects.
Twenty years ago, college student Dani Lancing was kidnapped and brutally murdered. The killer was never found. Dani’s family never found peace.   Thrust into an intense devastation that nearly destroys their marriage, Patty and Jim Lancing struggle to deal with their harrowing loss. Patty is fanatically obsessed with the cold case; consumed by every possible clue or suspect no matter how far-fetched, she goes to horrifying lengths to help clarify the past.  Meanwhile, Jim has become a shell of his former self, broken down and haunted—sometimes literally—by his young daughter’s death. Dani’s childhood sweetheart, Tom, handles his own grief every day on the job—he’s become a detective intent on solving murders of other young women, and hopes to one day close Dani’s case himself.   Then everything changes when Tom finds a promising new lead. As lies and secrets are unearthed, the heartbreaking truth behind Dani’s murder is finally revealed.  THE LAST WINTER OF DANI LANCING is a shockingly disturbing and deeply powerful debut, and P.D. Viner immediately joins the ranks of Tana French, A. S. A. Harrison, and Gillian Flynn.

 

Knopf, October 15

mad about the boy

Bridget Jones is back!  Great comic writers are as rare as hen’s teeth. And Helen is one of a very select band who have created a character of whom the very thought makes you smile. Bridget Jones’ Diary, charting the life of a 30-something singleton in London in the 1990s was a huge international bestseller, published in 40 countries and selling over 15 million copies worldwide. Its sequel, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, published soon after was also a major international bestseller. Both were made into films starring Renée Zellweger, Hugh Grant and Colin Firth.  Set in the present, the new novel will explore a different phase in Bridget’s life with an entirely new scenario. As Helen Fielding has said: “If people laugh as much reading it as I am while writing it then we’ll all be very happy.”

 

 

 

Little, Brown and Company, October 15

From the author of The Rehearsal and shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, a breathtaking feat of storytelling luminarieswhere everything is connected, but nothing is as it seems….It is 1866, and Walter Moody has come to make his fortune upon the New Zealand goldfields. On the stormy night of his arrival, he stumbles across a tense gathering of twelve local men, who have met in secret to discuss a series of unsolved crimes. A wealthy man has vanished, a prostitute has tried to end her life, and an enormous fortune has been discovered in the home of a luckless drunk. Moody is soon drawn into the mystery: a network of fates and fortunes that is as complex and exquisitely patterned as the night sky.  Eleanor Catton was only 22 when she wrote The Rehearsal, which Adam Ross in the New York Times Book Review praised as “a wildly brilliant and precocious first novel” and Joshua Ferris called “a mesmerizing, labyrinthine, intricately patterned and astonishingly original novel.” The Luminaries amply confirms that early promise, and secures Catton’s reputation as one of the most dazzling and inventive young writers at work today.

 

Gallery Books, October 15

rice

New York Times bestselling author Christopher Rice brilliantly conjures the shadowed terrors of the Louisiana bayou—where three friends confront a deadly, ancient evil rising to the surface—in this intense and atmospheric new supernatural thriller.  It’s been a decade since the Delongpre family vanished near Bayou Rabineaux, and still no one can explain the events of that dark and sweltering night. No one except Niquette Delongpre, the survivor who ran away from the mangled stretch of guardrail on Highway 22 where the impossible occurred…and kept on running. Who left behind her best friends, Ben and Anthem, to save them from her newfound capacity for destruction…and who alone knows the source of her very bizarre—and very deadly—abilities: an isolated strip of swampland called Elysium.  An accomplished surgeon, Niquette’s father dreamed of transforming the dense acreage surrounded by murky waters into a palatial compound befitting the name his beloved wife gave to it, Elysium: “the final resting place for the heroic and virtuous.” Then, ten years ago, construction workers dug into a long-hidden well, one that snaked down into the deep, black waters of the Louisiana swamp and stirred something that had been there for centuries—a microscopic parasite that perverts the mind and corrupts the body.  Niquette is living proof that things done can’t be undone. Nothing will put her family back together again. And nothing can save her. But as Niquette, Ben, and Anthem uncover the truth of a devastating parasite that has the potential to alter the future of humankind, Niquette grasps the most chilling truths of all: someone else has been infected too. And unlike her, this man is not content to live in the shadows. He is intent to use his newfound powers for one reason only: revenge.

 

Little, Brown and Company, October 22

goldfinchThe author of the classic bestsellers The Secret History andThe Little Friend returns with a brilliant, highly anticipated new novel.   Composed with the skills of a master, The Goldfinch is a haunted odyssey through present day America and a drama of enthralling force and acuity.  It begins with a boy. Theo Decker, a thirteen-year-old New Yorker, miraculously survives an accident that kills his mother. Abandoned by his father, Theo is taken in by the family of a wealthy friend. Bewildered by his strange new home on Park Avenue, disturbed by schoolmates who don’t know how to talk to him, and tormented above all by his unbearable longing for his mother, he clings to one thing that reminds him of her: a small, mysteriously captivating painting that ultimately draws Theo into the underworld of art.   As an adult, Theo moves silkily between the drawing rooms of the rich and the dusty labyrinth of an antiques store where he works. He is alienated and in love-and at the center of a narrowing, ever more dangerous circle.   The Goldfinch is a novel of shocking narrative energy and power. It combines unforgettably vivid characters, mesmerizing language, and breathtaking suspense, while plumbing with a philosopher’s calm the deepest mysteries of love, identity, and art. It is a beautiful, stay-up-all-night and tell-all-your-friends triumph, an old-fashioned story of loss and obsession, survival and self-invention, and the ruthless machinations of fate.

 

Katherine Tegen Books, October 22

allegiantOne choice will define you.
What if your whole world was a lie?
What if a single revelation—like a single choice—changed everything?
What if love and loyalty made you do things you never expected?

The faction-based society that Tris Prior once believed in is shattered—fractured by violence and power struggles and scarred by loss and betrayal. So when offered a chance to explore the world past the limits she’s known, Tris is ready. Perhaps beyond the fence, she and Tobias will find a simple new life together, free from complicated lies, tangled loyalties, and painful memories.
But Tris’s new reality is even more alarming than the one she left behind. Old discoveries are quickly rendered meaningless. Explosive new truths change the hearts of those she loves. And once again, Tris must battle to comprehend the complexities of human nature—and of herself—while facing impossible choices about courage, allegiance, sacrifice, and love.

Told from a riveting dual perspective, Allegiant, by #1 New York Times best-selling author Veronica Roth, brings the Divergent series to a powerful conclusion while revealing the secrets of the dystopian world that has captivated millions of readers in Divergent and Insurgent.

 

Doubleday, October 22

sycamore rowJohn Grisham takes you back to where it all began . . . John Grisham’s A Time to Kill is one of the most popular novels of our time. Now we return to that famous courthouse in Clanton as Jake Brigance once again finds himself embroiled in a fiercely controversial trial-a trial that will expose old racial tensions and force Ford County to confront its tortured history.  Seth Hubbard is a wealthy man dying of lung cancer. He trusts no one. Before he hangs himself from a sycamore tree, Hubbard leaves a new, handwritten, will. It is an act that drags his adult children, his black maid, and Jake into a conflict as riveting and dramatic as the murder trial that made Brigance one of Ford County’s most notorious citizens, just three years earlier.  The second will raises far more questions than it answers. Why would Hubbard leave nearly all of his fortune to his maid? Had chemotherapy and painkillers affected his ability to think clearly? And what does it all have to do with a piece of land once known as Sycamore Row?  In Sycamore Row, John Grisham returns to the setting and the compelling characters that first established him as America’s favorite storyteller. Here, in his most assured and thrilling novel yet, is a powerful testament to the fact that Grisham remains the master of the legal thriller, nearly twenty-five years after the publication of A Time to Kill.

 

Well, now you know what I’ll be reading this month!  Which of these titles are on your to-be-read list?  Which other October books are you excited about?  I’d love to hear from you.

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Filed under Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, coming of age, contemporary fiction, Debut Novels, dystopian literature, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, short story collection, Southern fiction, Southern writers, thriller, women's fiction, women's lit, young adult

Great September Reads

Typically, publishers unveil some of the year’s best and biggest books in September.  Cooler weather means weightier, more serious novels.  The same is true for 2013, and I so welcome them!

Here are THE titles to read this month (or at least according to Bookmagnet).

What To Read Now:

affairs of others

From Picador

A MESMERIZING DEBUT NOVEL ABOUT A YOUNG WOMAN, HAUNTED BY LOSS, WHO REDISCOVERS PASSION AND POSSIBILITY WHEN SHE’S DRAWN INTO THE TANGLED LIVES OF HER NEIGHBORS

Five years after her young husband’s death, Celia Cassill has moved from one Brooklyn neighborhood to another, but she has not moved on. The owner of a small apartment building, she has chosen her tenants for their ability to respect one another’s privacy. Celia believes in boundaries, solitude, that she has a right to her ghosts. She is determined to live a life at a remove from the chaos and competition of modern life. Everything changes with the arrival of a new tenant, Hope, a dazzling woman of a certain age on the run from her husband’s recent betrayal. When Hope begins a torrid and noisy affair, and another tenant mysteriously disappears, the carefully constructed walls of Celia’s world are tested and the sanctity of her building is shattered—through violence and sex, in turns tender and dark. Ultimately, Celia and her tenants are forced to abandon their separate spaces for a far more intimate one, leading to a surprising conclusion and the promise of genuine joy. 

Amy Grace Loyd investigates interior spaces of the body and the New York warrens in which her characters live, offering a startling emotional honesty about the traffic between men and women. The Affairs of Others is a story about the irrepressibility of life and desire, no matter the sorrows or obstacles. 

Coming Soon:

September 3 from Little, Brown and Company

The American master’s first novel since Winter’s Bone (2006) tells of a deadly dance hall fire and its impact over several maids versiongenerations.

Alma DeGeer Dunahew, the mother of three young boys, works as the maid for a prominent citizen and his family in West Table, Missouri. Her husband is mostly absent, and, in 1929, her scandalous, beloved younger sister is one of the 42 killed in an explosion at the local dance hall. Who is to blame? Mobsters from St. Louis? The embittered local gypsies? The preacher who railed against the loose morals of the waltzing couples? Or could it have been a colossal accident? Alma thinks she knows the answer-and that its roots lie in a dangerous love affair. Her dogged pursuit of justice makes her an outcast and causes a long-standing rift with her own son. By telling her story to her grandson, she finally gains some solace-and peace for her sister. He is advised to “Tell it. Go on and tell it”-tell the story of his family’s struggles, suspicions, secrets, and triumphs.

 

 

September 3 from Algonquin

explanationThere is nothing inherently threatening about Melissa, a young evangelist hoping to write the definitive paper on intelligent design. But when she implores Andy Waite, a biology professor and a hardcore evolutionist, to direct her independent study, she becomes the catalyst for the collapsing house of cards surrounding him. As he works with Melissa, Andy finds that everything about his world is starting to add up differently. Suddenly there is the possibility of faith. But with it come responsibility and guilt—the very things that Andy has sidestepped for years. 

Professor Waite is nearing the moment when his life might settle down a bit: tenure is in sight, his daughters are starting to grow up, and he’s slowly but surely healing from the sudden loss of his wife. His life is starting to make sense again—until the scientific stance that has defined his life(and his work) is challenged by this charismatic student.

In a bravura performance, Lauren Grodstein dissects the permeable line between faith and doubt to create a fiercely intelligent story about the lies we tell ourselves, the deceptions we sustain with others, and how violated boundaries—between students and teachers, believers and nonbelievers—can have devastating consequences.

 

September 3 from Nan A. Talese

Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from maddaddamthe vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, newly fortified against man and giant pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. Their reluctant prophet, Snowman-the-Jimmy, is recovering from a debilitating fever, so it’s left to Toby to preach the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb. 

Zeb has been searching for Adam One, founder of the God’s Gardeners, the pacifist green religion from which Zeb broke years ago to lead the MaddAddamites in active resistance against the destructive CorpSeCorps. But now, under threat of a Painballer attack, the MaddAddamites must fight back with the aid of their newfound allies, some of whom have four trotters. At the center of MaddAddam is the story of Zeb’s dark and twisted past, which contains a lost brother, a hidden murder, a bear, and a bizarre act of revenge. 

Combining adventure, humor, romance, superb storytelling, and an imagination at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Margaret Atwood—a moving and dramatic conclusion to her internationally celebrated dystopian trilogy.

 

September 10 from Ballantine

songs of willow frostTwelve-year-old William Eng, a Chinese-American boy, has lived at Seattle’s Sacred Heart Orphanage ever since his mother’s listless body was carried away from their small apartment five years ago. On his birthday—or rather, the day the nuns designate as his birthday—William and the other orphans are taken to the historical Moore Theatre, where William glimpses an actress on the silver screen who goes by the name of Willow Frost. Struck by her features, William is convinced that the movie star is his mother, Liu Song.

Determined to find Willow, and prove his mother is still alive, William escapes from Sacred Heart with his friend Charlotte. The pair navigates the streets of Seattle, where they must not only survive, but confront the mysteries of William’s past and his connection to the exotic film star. The story of Willow Frost, however, is far more complicated than the Hollywood fantasy William sees onscreen.

Shifting between the Great Depression and the 1920s, Songs of Willow Frost takes readers on an emotional journey of discovery. Jamie Ford’s sweeping book will resonate with anyone who has ever longed for the comforts of family and a place to call home.

 

September 10 from Simon & Schuster

It had been raining for weeks. Maybe months. He had forgotten the last day that it hadn’t rained, when the storms gave riversway to the pale blue of the Gulf sky, when the birds flew and the clouds were white and sunshine glistened across the drenched land.

Following years of catastrophic hurricanes, the Gulf Coast—stretching from the Florida panhandle to the western Louisiana border—has been brought to its knees. The region is so punished and depleted that the government has drawn a new boundary ninety miles north of the coastline. Life below the Line offers no services, no electricity, and no resources, and those who stay behind live by their own rules.

Cohen is one who stayed. Unable to overcome the crushing loss of his wife and unborn child who were killed during an evacuation, he returned home to Mississippi to bury them on family land. Until now he hasn’t had the strength to leave them behind, even to save himself.

But after his home is ransacked and all of his carefully accumulated supplies stolen, Cohen is finally forced from his shelter. On the road north, he encounters a colony of survivors led by a fanatical, snake-handling preacher named Aggie who has dangerous visions of repopulating the barren region.

Realizing what’s in store for the women Aggie is holding against their will, Cohen is faced with a decision: continue to the Line alone, or try to shepherd the madman’s captives across the unforgiving land with the biggest hurricane yet bearing down—and Cohen harboring a secret that may pose the greatest threat of all.

Eerily prophetic in its depiction of a southern landscape ravaged by extreme weather, Rivers is a masterful tale of survival and redemption in a world where the next devastating storm is never far behind.

 

September 10 from Random House

enonThe next novel by the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Tinkers, in which a father’s grief over the loss of his daughter threatens to derail his life.

Powerful, brilliantly written, and deeply moving Paul Harding has, in Enon, written a worthy successor to Tinkers, a debut which John Freeman on NPR called “a masterpiece.” Drawn always to the rich landscape of his character’s inner lives, here, through the first person narrative of Charlie Crosby (grandson to George Crosby of Tinkers), Harding creates a devastating portrait of a father trying desperately to come to terms with family loss.

 

 

 

 

September 10 from Doubleday

A dazzling novel from one of our finest writers—an epic yet intimate family saga about three generations of all-dissident gardensAmerican radicals

At the center of Jonathan Lethem’s superb new novel stand two extraordinary women. Rose Zimmer, the aptly nicknamed Red Queen of Sunnyside, Queens, is an unreconstructed Communist and mercurial tyrant who terrorizes her neighborhood and her family with the ferocity of her personality and the absolutism of her beliefs. Her brilliant and willful daughter, Miriam, is equally passionate in her activism, but flees Rose’s suffocating influence and embraces the Age of Aquarius counterculture of Greenwich Village.

Both women cast spells that entrance or enchain the men in their lives: Rose’s aristocratic German Jewish husband, Albert; her nephew, the feckless chess hustler Lenny Angrush; Cicero Lookins, the brilliant son of her black cop lover; Miriam’s (slightly fraudulent) Irish folksinging husband, Tommy Gogan; their bewildered son, Sergius. These flawed, idealistic people all struggle to follow their own utopian dreams in an America where radicalism is viewed with bemusement, hostility, or indifference.

As the decades pass—from the parlor communism of the ’30s, McCarthyism, the civil rights movement, ragged ’70s communes, the romanticization of the Sandinistas, up to the Occupy movement of the moment—we come to understand through Lethem’s extraordinarily vivid storytelling that the personal may be political, but the political, even more so, is personal.

Brilliantly constructed as it weaves across time and among characters,Dissident Gardens is riotous and haunting, satiric and sympathetic—and a joy to read.

 

September 17 from Soho

a beautiful truthTold simultaneously from the perspective of humans and chimpanzees, set in a Vermont home and a Florida primate research facility, A Beautiful Truth—at times brutal, other times deeply moving—is about the simple truths that transcend species, the meaning of family, the lure of belonging, and the capacity for survival.

A powerful and haunting meditation on human nature told from the dual perspectives of a Vermont family that has adopted a chimp as a surrogate son, and a group of chimpanzees in a Florida research institute.

Looee, a chimp raised by a well-meaning and compassionate human couple who cannot conceive a baby of their own, is forever set apart.  He’s not human, but with his peculiar upbringing he is no longer like other chimps.  One tragic night Looee’s two natures collide and their unique family is forever changed.

At the Girdish Institute in Florida, a group of chimpanzees has been studied for decades.  The work at Girdish has proven that chimps have memories and solve problems, that they can learn language and need friends, and that they build complex cultures. They are political, altruistic, get angry, and forgive. When Looee is moved to the Institute, he is forced to try to find a place in their world.

A Beautiful Truth is an epic and heartfelt story about parenthood, friendship, loneliness, fear and conflict, about the things we hold sacred as humans and how much we have in common with our animal relatives. A novel of great heart and wisdom from a literary master, it exposes the yearnings, cruelty, and resilience of all great apes.

 

September 24 from Little, Brown and Company

A taut, thrilling adventure story about buried treasure, a manhunt, and a woman determined to make a new life for herself in the outcastsold west.

It’s the 19th century on the Gulf Coast, a time of opportunity and lawlessness. After escaping the Texas brothel where she’d been a virtual prisoner, Lucinda Carter heads for Middle Bayou to meet her lover, who has a plan to make them both rich, chasing rumors of a pirate’s buried treasure. 

Meanwhile Nate Cannon, a young Texas policeman with a pure heart and a strong sense of justice, is on the hunt for a ruthless killer named McGill who has claimed the lives of men, women, and even children across the frontier. Who–if anyone–will survive when their paths finally cross? 

As Lucinda and Nate’s stories converge, guns are drawn, debts are paid, and Kathleen Kent delivers an unforgettable portrait of a woman who will stop at nothing to make a new life for herself.

 

 

September 24 from A.A. Knopf

lowlandTwo brothers bound by tragedy; a fiercely brilliant woman haunted by her past; a country torn by revolution: the Pulitzer Prize winner and #1 New York Times best-selling author gives us a powerful new novel-set in both India and America-that explores the price of idealism and a love that can last long past death.

Growing up in Calcutta, born just fifteen months apart, Subhash and Udayan Mitra are inseparable brothers, one often mistaken for the other. But they are also opposites, with gravely different futures ahead of them. It is the 1960s, and Udayan-charismatic and impulsive-finds himself drawn to the Naxalite movement, a rebellion waged to eradicate inequity and poverty: he will give everything, risk all, for what he believes. Subhash, the dutiful son, does not share his brother’s political passion; he leaves home to pursue a life of scientific research in a quiet, coastal corner of America. But when Subhash learns what happened to his brother in the lowland outside their family’s home, he comes back to India, hoping to pick up the pieces of a shattered family, and to heal the wounds Udayan left behind-including those seared in the heart of his brother’s wife.

Suspenseful, sweeping, piercingly intimate, The Lowland expands the range of one of our most dazzling storytellers, seamlessly interweaving the historical and the personal across generations and geographies. This masterly novel of fate and will, exile and return, is a tour de force and an instant classic.

 


September 24 from St. Martin’s Press

When prestigious plantation owner Cornelius Allen gives his daughter Clarissa’s hand in marriage, she takes with her a gift: Sarah—wedding gifther slave and her half-sister.  Raised by an educated mother, Clarissa is not a proper southern belle she appears to be with ambitions of loving who she chooses and Sarah equally hides behind the façade of being a docile house slave as she plots to escape. Both women bring these tumultuous secrets and desires with them to their new home, igniting events that spiral into a tale beyond what you ever imagined possible and it will leave you enraptured until the very end.

Told through alternating viewpoints of Sarah and Theodora Allen, Cornelius’ wife, Marlen Suyapa Bodden’s The Wedding Gift is an intimate portrait that will leave readers breathless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that you know my picks for the best books of September, I want to hear from you!  Which titles will you read?  What books are you hoping to read in September?

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Filed under Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, coming of age, contemporary fiction, Debut Novels, dystopian literature, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, short story collection, Southern fiction, Southern writers, Spotlight Books, women's fiction, women's lit

Storied Places

Battleborn by Claire Vaye Watkins (Riverhead Trade; 304 pages; $16).

This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila (Hogarth; 240 pages; $16).

The best stories are those suffused with colorful, detailed settings—tales in which place is not only vital but a central component of the narrative.  When a writer gets it right, the setting becomes a character itself.  And that’s when the magic begins.

Two story collections emphasize the significance of place and herald the arrival of two powerful and confident women writers.  In her collection of stories, Battleborn, Top 5 Under 35 National Book Foundation honoree Claire Vaye Watkins swallows the folklore of the American West, chews it up, and then spits it back out as she brilliantly reimagines the region.  Conversely, Kristiana Kahakauwila, Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Western Washington University and a native Hawaiian, captures the essence of Hawaii, its people, and its cultural traditions in her debut story collection This Is Paradise.

battlebornBattleborn consists of ten bold and gritty tales.  Watkins takes us from Gold Rush to ghost town to desert to brothel and weaves such passion and intensity into each story that she leaves us breathless.  Her keen insight and gorgeous, lyrical realism bring to mind literary greats like Cormac McCarthy and Annie Proulx.  More than any other writer of the American West, Watkins leaves an indelible mark.

Watkins does not shy away from the personal in her collection.  The author confronts the mythology of her own family history, a legacy that includes notorious killer and cult leader Charles Manson, in what is perhaps her best piece entitled “Ghosts, Cowboys.”  Her father, Paul Watkins, was one of Manson’s followers whose main responsibilities included wrangling new girls for Manson.  In exposing her life and the stigma of her father’s past, Watkins bares herself before us, allowing us to witness both the rawness of her past and her faith in readers. It takes guts for an author to write herself into the narrative.  Her candidness makes this collection rare and beautiful.

From the American West we venture to Hawaii, the setting of the six stories in Kahakauwila’s haunting and compelling collection This Is Paradise.   Kahakauwila reveals the conflicting world that is Hawaii—old vs. new, tradition vs. modernity, and “native” Hawaiian vs. tourist.  Hawaii, or at least Kahakauwila’s Hawaii, is a place of opposition, and the author does a splendid job of getting to the heart of both the state and its people.  This Is Paradise is as majestic as Hawaii’s last queen, Lili’uokalani.

In the titular tale, “This Is Paradise,” Kahakauwila uses the first person plural (“we”) to tell the story of a young, carefree American this is paradisetourist who gets a taste of Hawaii’s dark side from the perspective of the women of Waikiki.  Their distinctive voices inject emotion into the story, easily making it one of the strongest in the collection.  Here, Kahakauwila’s dazzling writing is reminiscent of Julie Otsuka’s formidable novella The Buddha in the Attic.  Kahakauwila then explores the almost double life of a woman seeking revenge in the cockfighting ring in “Wanle.”  In “The Old Paniolo Way,” Kahakauwila illumines a son coping with the imminent death of his father and struggling with his own identity.  Deeply flawed characters and achingly real situations give This Is Paradise a universal appeal.

In their short story collections, Claire Vaye Watkins and Kristiana Kahakauwila prove that as much as we shape our world, that place, in turn, influences us.  Watkins was born in Death Valley and raised in the desert of Nevada; Kahakauwila was born in Hawaii and raised in Southern California.  Whether the focus is on the American West or modern Hawaii, these tales have extraordinary power and meaning because of the place in which they are set.

 

 

 

 

 

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The Best of August Reads

It’s the beginning of a new month, and that means Bookmagnet selects the best works of fiction for the month.  As far as the book world goes, it looks like August will be a wonderful month!

To Pick Up Now

July 30 from Ballantine Books

night of the cometFrom the acclaimed author of Letter to My Daughter comes an engrossing coming-of-age tale that deftly conveys the hopes and heartaches of adolescence and the unfulfilled dreams that divide a family, played out against the backdrop of a small southern town in 1973.
For his fourteenth birthday, Alan Broussard, Jr., receives a telescope from his father, a science teacher at the local high school who’s eagerly awaiting what he promises will be the astronomical event of the century: the coming of Comet Kohoutek. For Alan Broussard, Sr.—frustrated in his job, remote from his family—the comet is a connection to his past and a bridge to his son, with whom he’s eager to share his love for the stars.
But the only heavenly body Junior has any interest in is his captivating new neighbor and classmate, Gabriella Martello, whose bedroom sits within eyeshot of his telescope’s lens. Meanwhile, his mother, Lydia, sees the comet—and her husband’s obsession with it—as one more thing that keeps her from the bigger, brighter life she once imagined for herself far from the swampy environs of Terrebonne, Louisiana. With Kohoutek drawing ever closer, the family begins to crumble under the weight of expectations, until a startling turn of events will leave both father and son much less certain about the laws that govern their universe.  Illuminating and unforgettable, The Night of the Comet is a novel about the perils of growing up, the longing for connection, and the idea that love and redemption can be found among the stars.

August 1 from Riverhead Books

Juan Gabriel Vásquez has been hailed not only as one of South America’s greatest literary stars, but also as one of the most the soundacclaimed writers of his generation. In this gorgeously wrought, award-winning novel, Vásquez confronts the history of his home country, Colombia. In the city of Bogotá, Antonio Yammara reads an article about a hippo that had escaped from a derelict zoo once owned by legendary Colombian drug kingpin Pablo Escobar. The article transports Antonio back to when the war between Escobar’s Medellín cartel and government forces played out violently in Colombia’s streets and in the skies above. Back then, Antonio witnessed a friend’s murder, an event that haunts him still. As he investigates, he discovers the many ways in which his own life and his friend’s family have been shaped by his country’s recent violent past. His journey leads him all the way back to the 1960s and a world on the brink of change: a time before narco-trafficking trapped a whole generation in a living nightmare. Vásquez is “one of the most original new voices of Latin American literature,” according to Nobel Prize winner Mario Vargas Llosa, and The Sound of Things Falling is his most personal, most contemporary novel to date, a masterpiece that takes his writing—and will take his literary star—even higher.

Coming Soon

August 5 from W.W. Norton & Company

brewster

The year is 1968, a year after the summer of love and the peak of the Vietnam War. The world is changing, and sixteen-year-old Jon Mosher is determined to change with it. Racked by guilt over his older brother’s childhood death, Jon turns his rage into victories running track. When he meets Ray Cappicciano, a local legend in the making, a rebel as gifted with his fists as Jon is with his feet, he recognizes a friendship with the potential to save him. Realizing that Ray needs saving too, Jon sets off on the race of his life–a race to redeem his past and save them both. Reverberating with compassion, heartache, and grace, Brewster is sure to remind readers of Andre Dubus III and Richard Russo.

August 6 from Simon & Schuster

Sisters Natalie and Alice Kessler were close, until adolescence wrenched them apart. Natalie is headstrong, manipulative—and gravity of birdsbeautiful; Alice is a dreamer who loves books and birds. During their family’s summer holiday at the lake, Alice falls under the thrall of a struggling young painter, Thomas Bayber, in whom she finds a kindred spirit. Natalie, however, remains strangely unmoved, sitting for a family portrait with surprising indifference. But by the end of the summer, three lives are shattered.  Decades later, Bayber, now a reclusive, world-renowned artist, unveils a never-before-seen work, Kessler Sisters—a provocative painting depicting the young Thomas, Natalie, and Alice. Bayber asks Dennis Finch, an art history professor, and Stephen Jameson, an eccentric young art authenticator, to sell the painting for him. That task becomes more complicated when the artist requires that they first locate Natalie and Alice, who seem to have vanished. And Finch finds himself wondering why Thomas is suddenly so intent on resurrecting the past.  In The Gravity of Birds histories and memories refuse to stay buried; in the end only the excavation of the past will enable its survivors to love again.

August 6 from Bloomsbury USA

heliumOn November 1st 1984, a day after the assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, a nineteen-year-old student travels back from a class trip with his mentor and chemistry teacher, Professor Singh. As the group disembark at Delhi station a mob surrounds the professor, throws a tire over him, douses him in gasoline and sets him alight.


Years later the student, Raj, is compelled to find his professor’s widow, the beautiful Nelly. As the two walk through the misty mountains of Shimla, Nelly comes up against a nation in denial, Raj faces the truth about his father’s role in the Sikh massacre and they both find the path leads back to the train station. Jaspreet Singh crafts an affecting and important story of a largely untouched moment in Indian memory.

August 6 from Simon & Schuster

The most authoritative account ever written of how an ordinary juvenile delinquent named Charles Manson became the notorious mansonmurderer whose crimes still shock and horrify us today.  More than forty years ago Charles Manson and his mostly female commune killed nine people, among them the pregnant actress Sharon Tate. It was the culmination of a criminal career that author Jeff Guinn traces back to Manson’s childhood. Guinn interviewed Manson’s sister and cousin, neither of whom had ever previously cooperated with an author. Childhood friends, cellmates, and even some members of the Manson Family have provided new information about Manson’s life. Guinn has made discoveries about the night of the Tate murders, answering unresolved questions, such as why one person on the property where the murders occurred was spared.  Manson puts the killer in the context of his times, the turbulent late sixties, an era of race riots and street protests when authority in all its forms was under siege. Guinn shows us how Manson created and refined his message to fit the times, persuading confused young women (and a few men) that he had the solutions to their problems. At the same time he used them to pursue his long-standing musical ambitions, relocating to Los Angeles in search of a recording contract. His frustrated ambitions, combined with his bizarre race-war obsession, would have lethal consequences as he convinced his followers to commit heinous murders on successive nights.  In addition to stunning revelations about Charles Manson, the book contains family photographs never before published.

August 6 from Bloomsbury USA

crooked maidVienna, 1948. The war is over, and as the initial phase of de-Nazification winds down, the citizens of Vienna struggle to rebuild their lives amidst the rubble.  Anna Beer returns to the city she fled nine years earlier after discovering her husband’s infidelity. She has come back to find him and, perhaps, to forgive him. Traveling on the same train from Switzerland is 18-year-old Robert Seidel, a schoolboy summoned home to his stepfather’s sickbed and the secrets of his family’s past.  As Anna and Robert navigate an unrecognizable city, they cross paths with a war-widowed American journalist, a hunchbacked young servant girl, and a former POW whose primary purpose is to survive by any means and to forget. Meanwhile, in the shells of burned-out houses and beneath the bombed-out ruins, a ghost of a man, his head wrapped in a red scarf, battles demons from his past and hides from a future deeply uncertain for all.  In The Crooked Maid, Dan Vyleta returns to the shadows of war-darkened Vienna, proving himself once again “a magical storyteller, master of the macabre.”

August 6 from William Morrow Books

“One evening, my father asked me if I would like to become a ghost bride…”

Though ruled by British overlords, the Chinese of colonial Malaya still cling to ancient customs. And in the sleepy port town of ghost brideMalacca, ghosts and superstitions abound.  Li Lan, the daughter of a genteel but bankrupt family, has few prospects. But fate intervenes when she receives an unusual proposal from the wealthy and powerful Lim family. They want her to become a ghost bride for the family’s only son, who recently died under mysterious circumstances. Rarely practiced, a traditional ghost marriage is used to placate a restless spirit. Such a union would guarantee Li Lan a home for the rest of her days, but at a terrible price.  After an ominous visit to the opulent Lim mansion, Li Lan finds herself haunted not only by her ghostly would-be suitor, but also by her desire for the Lim’s handsome new heir, Tian Bai. Night after night, she is drawn into the shadowy parallel world of the Chinese afterlife, with its ghost cities, paper funeral offerings, vengeful spirits and monstrous bureaucracy–including the mysterious Er Lang, a charming but unpredictable guardian spirit. Li Lan must uncover the Lim family’s darkest secrets–and the truth about her own family–before she is trapped in this ghostly world forever.

August 6 from Doubleday

rathbonesA literary adventure set in New England, Janice Clark’s gothic debut chronicles one hundred years of a once prosperous seafaring dynasty.  Moses, the revered patriarch of the Rathbone family, possessed an otherworldly instinct for spotting the whale. But years of bad decisions by the heirs to his fortune have whittled his formerly robust family down to just one surviving member: a young girl, left to live in the broken-down ancestral mansion that at one time had glowed golden with the spoils of the hunt.  Mercy, fifteen years old, is the diminutive scion of the Rathbone clan. Her father, the last in the dynasty of New England whalers, has been lost at sea for seven years-ever since the last sperm whale was seen off the coast of Naiwayonk, Connecticut. Mercy’s memories of her father and of the time before he left grow dimmer each day, and she spends most of her time in the attic hideaway of her reclusive Uncle Mordecai, who teaches her the secrets of Greek history and navigation through his collection of moldering books. But when a strange, violent visitor turns up one night on the widow’s walk, Mercy and Mordecai are forced to flee the house and set sail on a journey that will bring them deep into the haunted history of the Rathbone family.  Inspired by The Odyssey and infused with beautifully detailed descriptions of the realities of coastal and ship life reminiscent of Moby Dick, Janice Clark’s magnificent debut is a spellbinding literary adventure.

August 6 from Simon & Schuster

“Behind every subtle gesture, this novel shimmers with a deep and complex history. Snow Hunters is a beautiful and moving meditation on a solitary life.”  –Ann Patchett, author of State of Wonder and Bel Canto

In this elegant, haunting, and highly anticipated debut novel from 5 Under 35 National Book Foundation honoree Paul Yoon, a snow huntersNorth Korean war refugee confronts the wreckage of his past. With spare, evocative prose, Snow Hunters traces the extraordinary journey of Yohan, who defects from his country at the end of the war, leaving his friends and family behind to seek a new life in a port town on the coast of Brazil.  Though he is a stranger in a strange land, throughout the years in this town, four people slip in and out of Yohan’s life: Kiyoshi, the Japanese tailor for whom he works, and who has his own secrets and a past he does not speak of; Peixe, the groundskeeper at the town church; and two vagrant children named Santi and Bia, a boy and a girl, who spend their days in the alleyways and the streets of the town. Yohan longs to connect with these people, but to do so he must sift through his traumatic past so he might let go and move on.  In Snow Hunters, Yoon proves that love can dissolve loneliness; that hope can wipe away despair; and that a man who has lost a country can find a new home. This is a heartrending story of second chances, told with unerring elegance and absolute tenderness.

August 13 from Doubleday

color masterThe bestselling author of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake returns with a wondrous collection of dreamy, strange, and magical stories.  In this collection, Bender’s unique talents sparkle brilliantly in stories about people searching for connection through love, sex, and family—while navigating the often painful realities of their lives. A traumatic event unfolds when a girl with flowing hair of golden wheat appears in an apple orchard, where a group of people await her. A woman plays out a prostitution fantasy with her husband and finds she cannot go back to her old sex life. An ugly woman marries an ogre and struggles to decide if she should stay with him after he mistakenly eats their children. Two sisters travel deep into Malaysia, where one learns the art of mending tigers who have been ripped to shreds.  In these deeply resonant stories—evocative, funny, beautiful, and sad—we see ourselves reflected as if in a funhouse mirror. Aimee Bender has once again proven herself to be among the most imaginative, exciting, and intelligent writers of our time.

August 13 from Doubleday

Readers of exciting, challenging and visionary literary fiction-including admirers of Norman Rush’s Mating, Ann Patchett’s State people in the treesof Wonder, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, and Peter Matthiessen’s At Play in the Fields of the Lord-will be drawn to this astonishingly gripping and accomplished first novel. A decade in the writing, this is an anthropological adventure story that combines the visceral allure of a thriller with a profound and tragic vision of what happens when cultures collide. It is a book that instantly catapults Hanya Yanagihara into the company of young novelists who really, really matter.  In 1950, a young doctor called Norton Perina signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu’ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe. They succeed, finding not only that tribe but also a group of forest dwellers they dub “The Dreamers,” who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile. Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He scientifically proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price. As things quickly spiral out of his control, his own demons take hold, with devastating personal consequences.

August 13 from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

all the landA strange and powerful landscape summons strange and powerful happenings.  Rick Bass brings a lyrical lushness to the harsh backdrop of West Texas in his masterfully crafted fourth novel. All the Land to Hold Us is a sweeping tale of those who live on the desert’s edge, where riches—precious artifacts, oil, water, love—can all be found and lost again in an instant.  Roaming across the salt flats and skirting the salt lake, Richard, a geologist working for an oil company, hunts for fossils under the spell of Clarissa, the local beauty who plans to use her share of their plunder to get out of small, dusty Midland for good. A generation earlier, a Depression-era couple, Max and Marie Omo, numbly mines for salt along the banks of the briny lake until the emotional terrain of their marriage is suddenly and irrevocably altered. The strange, surreal arrival of a runaway circus elephant, careening across the sand, sets in motion Marie’s final break from Max and heralds the beginning of her second chance. Consequences reverberate through the years and the dunes when Marie becomes indelibly linked to Richard’s own second act.  With a cast of characters rounded out by a one-legged-treasure-hunter, a renegade teacher, and an unforgettable elephant trainer, All the Land to Hold Us is a vivid portrait of a fierce place and the inimitable characters that possess the capacity to adapt to and also despoil it. The novel boasts all the hallmarks of Bass’s most enduring work—human longing and greed, nature endangered, and the possibility for redemption are all writ large on his desert canvas.

August 20 from Atria Books

From the acclaimed author of Schindler’s List, the epic, unforgettable story of two sisters from Australia, both trained nurses, daughters of marswhose lives are transformed by the cataclysm of the first World War. In 1915, two spirited Australian sisters join the war effort as nurses, escaping the confines of their father’s farm and carrying a guilty secret with them. Used to tending the sick as they are, nothing could have prepared them for what they confront, first near Gallipoli, then on the Western Front.  Yet amid the carnage, Naomi and Sally Durance become the friends they never were at home and find themselves courageous in the face of extreme danger, as well as the hostility they encounter from some on their own side. There is great bravery, humor, and compassion, too, and the inspiring example of the remarkable women they serve alongside. In France, where Naomi nurses in a hospital set up by the eccentric Lady Tarlton while Sally works in a casualty clearing station, each meets an exceptional man: the kind of men for whom they might give up some of their precious independence—if only they all survive.  At once vast in scope and extraordinarily intimate, The Daughters of Mars brings World War I to vivid, concrete life from an unusual perspective. A searing and profoundly moving tale, it pays tribute to men and women of extraordinary moral resilience, even in the face of the incomprehensible horrors of modern war.

August 20 from Riverhead Books

good lord birdFrom the bestselling author of The Color of Water and Song Yet Sung comes the story of a young boy born a slave who joins John Brown’s antislavery crusade—and who must pass as a girl to survive.  Henry Shackleford is a young slave living in the Kansas Territory in 1857, when the region is a battleground between anti- and pro-slavery forces. When John Brown, the legendary abolitionist, arrives in the area, an argument between Brown and Henry’s master quickly turns violent. Henry is forced to leave town—with Brown, who believes he’s a girl.  Over the ensuing months, Henry—whom Brown nicknames Little Onion—conceals his true identity as he struggles to stay alive. Eventually Little Onion finds himself with Brown at the historic raid on Harpers Ferry in 1859—one of the great catalysts for the Civil War.  An absorbing mixture of history and imagination, and told with McBride’s meticulous eye for detail and character, The Good Lord Bird is both a rousing adventure and a moving exploration of identity and survival.

August 20 from St. Martin’s Press

“Lookaway, Lookaway is a wild romp through the South, and therefore the history of our nation, written by an absolute ringmaster of fiction.” —Alice Sebold, New York Times bestselling author of The Lovely Bones

Jerene Jarvis Johnston and her husband Duke are exemplars of Charlotte, North Carolina’s high society, where old Southern moneylookaway—and older Southern secrets—meet the new wealth of bankers, boom-era speculators, and carpetbagging social climbers. Steely and implacable, Jerene presides over her family’s legacy of paintings at the Mint Museum; Duke, the one-time college golden boy and descendant of a Confederate general, whose promising political career was mysteriously short-circuited, has settled into a comfortable semi-senescence as a Civil War re-enactor.  Jerene’s brother Gaston is an infamously dissolute bestselling historical novelist who has never managed to begin his long-dreamed-of literary masterpiece, while their sister Dillard is a prisoner of unfortunate life decisions that have made her a near-recluse.  As the four Johnston children wander perpetually toward scandal and mishap. Annie, the smart but matrimonially reckless real estate maven; Bo, a minister at war with his congregation; Joshua, prone to a series of gay misadventures, and Jerilyn, damaged but dutiful to her expected role as debutante and eventual society bride. Jerene must prove tireless in preserving the family’s legacy, Duke’s fragile honor, and what’s left of the dwindling family fortune. She will stop at nothing to keep what she has—but is it too much to ask for one ounce of cooperation from her heedless family?  In Lookaway, Lookaway, Wilton Barnhardt has written a headlong, hilarious narrative of a family coming apart, a society changing beyond recognition, and an unforgettable woman striving to pull it all together.

August 27 from Alfred A. Knopf

claireFrom the best-selling author of Brother, I’m Dying and The Dew Breaker:a stunning new work of fiction that brings us deep into the intertwined lives of a small seaside town where a little girl, the daughter of a fisherman, has gone missing.  Claire Limyè Lanmè—Claire of the Sea Light—is an enchanting child born into love and tragedy in Ville Rose, Haiti. Claire’s mother died in childbirth, and on each of her birthdays Claire is taken by her father, Nozias, to visit her mother’s grave. Nozias wonders if he should give away his young daughter to a local shopkeeper, who lost a child of her own, so that Claire can have a better life.  But on the night of Claire’s seventh birthday, when at last he makes the wrenching decision to do so, she disappears. As Nozias and others look for her, painful secrets, haunting memories, and startling truths are unearthed among the community of men and women whose individual stories connect to Claire, to her parents, and to the town itself. Told with piercing lyricism and the economy of a fable, Claire of the Sea Light is a tightly woven, breathtaking tapestry that explores what it means to be a parent, child, neighbor, lover, and friend, while revealing the mysterious bonds we share with the natural world and with one another. Embracing the magic and heartbreak of ordinary life, it is Edwidge Danticat’s most spellbinding, astonishing book yet.

August 27 from Ballantine Books

A brilliant and moving coming-of-age story in the tradition ofWonder by R. J. Palacio and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the ostrichNight-Time by Mark Haddon—this debut novel is written with tremendous humor and charm.  This is Alex’s story. But he doesn’t know exactly what it’s about yet, so you probably shouldn’t either.  Instead, here are some things that it’s sort of about (but not really):  It’s sort of (but not really) about brain surgery.  It’s sort of (but not really) about a hamster named Jaws 2 (after the original Jaws (who died), not the movie Jaws 2).  It’s sort of (but actually quite a lot) about Alex’s parents.  It’s sort of (but not really) about feeling ostrichized (which is a better word for excluded (because ostriches can’t fly so they often feel left out)).  It’s sort of (but not really (but actually, the more you think about it, kind of a lot)) about empathy (which is like sympathy only better), and also love and trust and fate and time and quantum mechanics and friendship and exams and growing up.  And it’s also sort of about courage. Because sometimes it actually takes quite a lot of it to bury your head in the sand.

Well, you’ve read my picks for August books to watch.  I want to hear from you.  What are you hoping to read in August?  Which novels are you excited about reading?

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Filed under beach books, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, coming of age, contemporary fiction, Debut Novels, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, non-fiction, short story collection, Southern fiction, Southern writers, Summer Reading, thriller, women's fiction

March Fiction To Put A Spring In Your Step

Each year, March fiction dazzles, and 2013 is no different.  These are the March titles I am most excited about.

Available now in hardcover and coming to Kindle March 4 from W.W. Norton & Company is the new novel from Jennifer Cody Epstein titled The Gods of Heavenly Punishment.  Epstein previously wrote The Painter from Shanghai.

gods of heavenlyA lush, exquisitely rendered meditation on war, The Gods of Heavenly Punishment tells the story of several families, American and Japanese, their loves and infidelities, their dreams and losses, and how they are all connected by one of the most devastating acts of war in human history.  In this evocative and thrilling epic novel, fifteen-year-old Yoshi Kobayashi, child of Japan’s New Empire, daughter of an ardent expansionist and a mother with a haunting past, is on her way home on a March night when American bombers shower her city with napalm—an attack that leaves one hundred thousand dead within hours and half the city in ashen ruins. In the days that follow, Yoshi’s old life will blur beyond recognition, leading her to a new world marked by destruction and shaped by those considered the enemy: Cam, a downed bomber pilot taken prisoner by the Imperial Japanese Army; Anton, a gifted architect who helped modernize Tokyo’s prewar skyline but is now charged with destroying it; and Billy, an Occupation soldier who arrives in the blackened city with a dark secret of his own. Directly or indirectly, each will shape Yoshi’s journey as she seeks safety, love, and redemption.

Coming March 5 from Europa Editions is the highly anticipated debut, Falling to Earth, by Kate Southwood.  Barnes and Noble chose this novel as a Spring 2013 Discover Great New Writers selection.  I have read this book and will be reviewing it next week.  Be sure to check then for a giveaway of a new and unread copy.

falling

March 18, 1925. The day begins as any other rainy, spring day in the small settlement of Marah, Illinois. But the town lies directly in the path of the worst tornado in US history, which will descend without warning midday and leave the community in ruins. By nightfall, hundreds will be homeless and hundreds more will lie in the streets, dead or grievously injured. Only one man, Paul Graves, will still have everything he started the day with –– his family, his home, and his business, all miraculously intact.  Based on the historic Tri-State tornado, Falling to Earth follows Paul Graves and his young family in the year after the storm as they struggle to comprehend their own fate and that of their devastated town, as they watch Marah resurrect itself from the ruins, and as they miscalculate the growing resentment and hostility around them with tragic results.

Another highly anticipated debut hits shelves March 5–Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi from Penguin Press.  I am reading this now and continue to be awed by this young woman’s prose and talent.

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Kweku Sai is dead. A renowned surgeon and failed husband, he succumbs suddenly at dawn outside his home in suburban Accra. The news of Kweku’s death sends a ripple around the world, bringing together the family he abandoned years before. Ghana Must Go is their story. Electric, exhilarating, beautifully crafted, Ghana Must Go is a testament to the transformative power of unconditional love, from a debut novelist of extraordinary talent.  Moving with great elegance through time and place, Ghana Must Gocharts the Sais’ circuitous journey to one another. In the wake of Kweku’s death, his children gather in Ghana at their enigmatic mother’s new home. The eldest son and his wife; the mysterious, beautiful twins; the baby sister, now a young woman: each carries secrets of his own. What is revealed in their coming together is the story of how they came apart: the hearts broken, the lies told, the crimes committed in the name of love. Splintered, alone, each navigates his pain, believing that what has been lost can never be recovered—until, in Ghana, a new way forward, a new family, begins to emerge.  Ghana Must Go is at once a portrait of a modern family, and an exploration of the importance of where we come from to who we are. In a sweeping narrative that takes us from Accra to Lagos to London to New York, Ghana Must Go teaches that the truths we speak can heal the wounds we hide.

Sam Lipsyte, author of the bestselling book The Ask, is back March 5 with The Fun Parts, published by FSG.  A hilarious collection of stories from the writer The New York Times called “the novelist of his generation.”  Returning to the form in which he began, Sam Lipsyte, author of the New York Times bestseller The Ask, offers up The Fun Parts, a book of bold, hilarious, and deeply felt fiction. A boy eats his way to self-discovery while another must battle the reality-brandishing monster preying on his fantasy realm. fun partsMeanwhile, an aerobics instructor, the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, makes the most shocking leap imaginable to save her soul. These are just a few of the stories, some first published in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, or Playboy, that unfold in Lipsyte’s richly imagined world.       Other tales feature a grizzled and possibly deranged male birth doula, a doomsday hustler about to face the multi-universal truth of “the real-ass jumbo,” and a tawdry glimpse of the northern New Jersey high school shot-putting circuit, circa 1986. Combining both the tragicomic dazzle of his beloved novels and the compressed vitality of his classic debut collection, The Fun Parts is Lipsyte at his best—an exploration of new voices and vistas from a writer Time magazine has said “everyone should read.”

a-tale-for-the-time-being2.jpg The magnificent Ruth Ozeki has a new novel coming out March 12 from Viking.  I have read this one and it’s ambitious, imaginative, and brilliant!  Look for my review soon.  “A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”  In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine.  Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.  Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

Bloomsbury USA will release This Magnificent Desolation by Thomas O’Malley on March 19.  Duncan’s entire world is the desolationorphanage where he lives, a solitary outpost on the open plains of northern Minnesota. Aged ten in 1980, he has no memories of his life before now, but he has stories that he recites like prayers: the story of how his mother brought him here during the worst blizzard of the century; the story of how God spoke to him at his birth and gave him a special purpose.  Duncan is sure that his mother is dead until the day she turns up to claim him. Maggie Bright, a soprano who was once the talent of her generation, now sings in a San Francisco bar through a haze of whisky cut with sharp regret. She often finishes up in the arms of Joshua McGreevey, a Vietnam vet who earns his living as part of a tunneling crew seventy feet beneath the Bay. He smells of sea silt and loam, as if he has been dredged from the deep bottom of the world – and his wounds run deep too.  Thrown into this mysterious adult world, Duncan finds comfort in an ancient radio, from which tumble the voices of Apollo mission astronauts who never came home, and dreams of finding his real father.  A heart-breaking, staggering, soaring novel, This Magnificent Desolation allows a child’s perspective to illuminate a dark world, and explores the creeping devastation of war, the many facets of loneliness, the redemptive power of the imagination, and the possibility of a kind of grace.
spotsViking releases The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards by Kristopher Jansma on March 21.  An inventive and witty debut about a young man’s quest to become a writer and the misadventures in life and love that take him around the globe.  From as early as he can remember, the hopelessly unreliable—yet hopelessly earnest—narrator of this ambitious debut novel has wanted to become a writer.  From the jazz clubs of Manhattan to the villages of Sri Lanka, Kristopher Jansma’s irresistible narrator will be inspired and haunted by the success of his greatest friend and rival in writing, the eccentric and brilliantly talented Julian McGann, and endlessly enamored with Julian’s enchanting friend, Evelyn, the green-eyed girl who got away. After the trio has a disastrous falling out, desperate to tell the truth in his writing and to figure out who he really is, Jansma’s narrator finds himself caught in a never-ending web of lies.  As much a story about a young man and his friends trying to make their way in the world as a profoundly affecting exploration of the nature of truth and storytelling, The Unchangeable Spots of Leopards will appeal to readers of Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists and Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize–winning A Visit from the Goon Squad with its elegantly constructed exploration of the stories we tell to find out who we really are.

The sequel to Danielle Trussoni’s AngelologyAngelopolis comes out March 26 from Penguin.  I devoured Angelology when it came out and am eager to read the second novel in the trilogy.  

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The sequel to the New York Times bestselling Angelology will thrill fans of Deborah Harkness, Justin Cronin, and Elizabeth Kostova.  Hailed by USA Today as “a thrill ride best described as The Da Vinci Codemeets Raiders of the Lost Ark,” Danielle Trussoni’s bestselling first novel,Angelology, wove biblical lore, the Orpheus myth, and Milton’s Rebel Angels into a present-day world tinged with the divine supernatural. The novel plunged two endearing loners—art historian V. A. Verlaine and Evangeline, a beautiful young nun—into an ancient battle between a secret society and mankind’s most insidious enemies: angel-human hybrids known as the Nephilim.  Now a decade has passed since Verlaine saw Evangeline alight from the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of her wings a betrayal that haunts him still. The Nephilim are again on the rise, scheming to construct their own paradise—the Angelopolis—and ruthlessly pursued by Verlaine in his new calling as an angel hunter. But when Evangeline materializes, Verlaine is besieged by doubts that will only grow as forces more powerful than even the Nephilim draw them from Paris to Saint Petersburg and deep into the provinces of Siberia and the Black Sea coast. A high-octane tale of abduction and liberation, treasure seeking and divine warfare, Angelopolisplumbs Russia’s imperial past, modern genetics, and the archangel Gabriel’s famous visitations to conceive a fresh tableau of history and myth that will, once again, enthrall readers the world over.

life after life jillJill McCorkle’s new book, Life After Life, hits shelves March 26.  Life After Life is A Shannon Ravenel Book.  Jill McCorkle s first novel in seventeen years is alive with the daily triumphs and challenges of the residents and staff of Pine Haven Estates, a retirement facility, which is now home to a good many of Fulton, North Carolina s older citizens. Among them, third-grade teacher Sadie Randolph, who has taught every child in town and believes we are all eight years old in our hearts; Stanley Stone, once Fulton s most prominent lawyer, now feigning dementia to escape life with his son; Marge Walker, the town s self-appointed conveyor of social status who keeps a scrapbook of every local murder and heinous crime; and Rachel Silverman, recently widowed, whose decision to leave her Massachusetts home and settle in Fulton is a mystery to everyone but her. C.J., the pierced and tattooed young mother who runs the beauty shop, and Joanna, the hospice volunteer who discovers that her path to a good life lies with helping folks achieve good deaths, are two of the staff on whom the residents depend.  McCorkle puts her finger on the pulse of every character s strengths, weaknesses, and secrets. And, as she connects their lives through their present circumstances, their pasts, and, in some cases, through their deaths, she celebrates the blessings and wisdom of later life and infuses this remarkable novel with hope and laughter.

Last, but certainly not least, we have Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald by Therese Anne Fowler, published by St. Martin’s Press.  This is going to be big.  I wish I could tell everyone who thinks we’re ruined, Look closer…and you’ll see something extraordinary, mystifying, something real and true. We have never been what we seemed.  When beautiful, reckless Southern belle Zelda Sayre meets F. Scott Fitzgerald at a country club dance in 1918, she is zseventeen years old and he is a young army lieutenant stationed in Alabama. Before long, the “ungettable” Zelda has fallen for him despite his unsuitability: Scott isn’t wealthy or prominent or even a Southerner, and keeps insisting, absurdly, that his writing will bring him both fortune and fame. Her father is deeply unimpressed. But after Scott sells his first novel, This Side of Paradise, to Scribner’s, Zelda optimistically boards a train north, to marry him in the vestry of St. Patrick’s Cathedral and take the rest as it comes.  What comes, here at the dawn of the Jazz Age, is unimagined attention and success and celebrity that will make Scott and Zelda legends in their own time. Everyone wants to meet the dashing young author of the scandalous novel—and his witty, perhaps even more scandalous wife. Zelda bobs her hair, adopts daring new fashions, and revels in this wild new world. Each place they go becomes a playground: New York City, Long Island, Hollywood, Paris, and the French Riviera—where they join the endless party of the glamorous, sometimes doomed Lost Generation that includes Ernest Hemingway, Sara and Gerald Murphy, and Gertrude Stein.  Everything seems new and possible. Troubles, at first, seem to fade like morning mist. But not even Jay Gatsby’s parties go on forever. Who is Zelda, other than the wife of a famous—sometimes infamous—husband? How can she forge her own identity while fighting her demons and Scott’s, too? With brilliant insight and imagination, Therese Anne Fowler brings us Zelda’s irresistible story as she herself might have told it. 

You’ve just seen my picks for Best Books of March. 

Which of these books are on your TBR list?  What other March titles are on your radar?  I’d love to know!

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Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell (A.A. Knopf; 256 pages; $24.95).

vampires in the lemon grove

            Karen Russell acts as a spirit guide to her readers as she takes them on an incredible journey through the bizarre, fabulous, chilling, and horrifying world of Vampires in the Lemon Grove.  There is nothing to fear, though, in Russell’s third book and her second short-story collection; this Pulitzer-Prize finalist is always in control of the macabre, holding our hands as she leads us down dark passages and through shadows.  The author of Swamplandia! takes us to places we’ve never been before and would not dare pass through alone.

Vampires in the Lemon Grove features eight extremely imaginative fables where the ordinary becomes extraordinary.  In each one, Russell shows a depth and maturity that belie her thirty-one years.  From the seemingly innocuous “small, kindly Italian grandfather” of the titular story to the young masseuse with a healing touch in “The New Veterans,” each story is more intricate and multifaceted, more complex and multilayered, than the next.

For Clyde, the main character in Russell’s first story, “Vampires in the Lemon Grove,” lemons can be tantalizing if you are a bloodsucker.  Clyde and Magreb have settled in the small Italian village of Santa Francesca, where tourists flock to see the famous bat caves.  The caves are not what drew the vampire couple to the village and nor was it the promise of vacationers.  Clyde and Magreb have given up drinking blood; instead, they stanch their cravings through lemons.  They’ve traveled everywhere and tried everything—“fangs in apples, fangs in rubber balls”—but only the lemons give them any reprieve.  It’s a nice life living in the bat caves until Clyde finds he can no longer change form.  “I can’t shudder myself out of this old man’s body.  I can’t fly anymore,” Russell writes.  Clyde has forgotten how to fly.  She may be writing about vampires, but this story expresses so much about aging.

In “Reeling for the Empire,” Russell invents a group of Japanese girls, “silkworm-workers,” who eventually rebel.  Using textured precision, she invents an insular world in which reeling for the empire is a revered calling yet painful beyond measure.  Russell is like the silk spinners in her story except she weaves together a beautiful tapestry of transcendent tales.

Nowhere is that ability more powerful than in the story titled “The Barn at the End of Our Term,” perhaps her best in the collection.  Carrying pieces of fruit, a little girl walks into a barn and approaches a horse.  “Hi horsies,” she calls to him and to the other horses in the stalls around him.  These are no ordinary steeds, however; they are dead presidents.  The horse “licks the girl’s palm according to a code that he’s worked out – - – -, which means that he is Rutherford Birchard Hayes, the nineteenth president of the United States of America, and that she should alert the local officials.”  Hayes cannot decide if he and eleven other deceased presidents are in heaven or hell and spends his days longing for his wife, Lucy, the “first First Lady,” and sugar cubes.  One day, James Garfield bolts.  Because they are ex-presidents, the horses yearn to escape their confined lives just as Garfield did.  John Adams takes the lead in their plan to flee: “But we can’t live out our afterlives as common beasts,” Adams proclaims.  “There must be some way back to Washington!  I am still alive, and I am certainly no horse.”  A revolution is thus born.

Two of Russell’s stories symbolize our faith in forces larger than ourselves, universal influences we do not nor cannot understand.   Nal, a boy with a crush on his brother’s girlfriend, finds a seagull’s nest in “The Seagull Army Descends on Strong Beach, 1979.”  Nothing is mundane about this discovery.  The nest contains artifacts that have shaped Nal’s life and the lives of those around him.  In “The New Veterans,” my favorite of Russell’s fables, Beverly, a masseuse, works on the back of an Iraq War veteran.  A large tattoo covers the vet’s back.  This pageant of ink is like a map of all he experienced in warfare.  When Beverly puts her hands on the soldier’s skin to alleviate his pain, she somehow alters the tattoo’s landscape.  It is if her hands cannot only heal but can change and even erase her client’s past.  Both Nal and Beverly commune with the universe in their own unique ways, just as Russell herself connects with readers through her pitch-perfect prose.  Her words alter us.

Menacing, even chilling and horrifying, undercurrents run through two of Russell’s tales: “Proving Up” and “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis.”  Evil lurks just over the shoulder or at least just over the next hill in “Proving Up,” set during Homestead-era Nebraska.  Young Miles Zegner mounts his horse and rides over to a neighboring farm.  As Russell illustrates, life is difficult for the Zegner family.  Drought, hail, and locus mean most families barely survive, much less thrive. Miles carries something special with him: a glass window.  The Homestead of 1862 required “every claim shanty or dugout must have a real glass window”; only then would the land rightfully belong to the homesteader.  The Zegners share the window with their neighbors so they can “prove up” when the Homestead inspector comes to call.  Miles learns that windows sometimes show us things we do not want to see, like trees made of bone, dead sisters who “rise out of the sod, as tall as the ten-foot wheat,” and a man whose “eyes are bottomless.”  A group of boys get much more than they bargained for when they bully a fellow student in “The Graveless Doll of Eric Mutis.”  This tale is Russell’s homage to the master of horror, Stephen King, and it shows.  The boys find a “scarecrow boy,” part wax doll and part scarecrow with “glass eyes and sculpted features” in the local park.  The boys are terrified by the doll’s uncanny resemblance to an epileptic boy who has vanished.  Russell’s story is definitely a didactic one in this instance.

Of the eight tales, only one, “Dougbert Shackleton’s Rules for Antarctic Tailgating,” was not to my liking.  This story is less a narrative and more a set of rules expounded upon as Douglas Shackleton prepares to watch as “Team Krill” takes on “Team Whale,” complete with recipes.  “Rule Five-A: If your wife leaves you for a millionaire motel-chain-owning douchebag fan of Team Whale, make sure you get your beloved mock-bioluminescent Team Krill eyestalks out of the trunk of her Civil before she takes off.”  So different in tone and structure, it does not seem to fit with the rest of Russell’s collection and lacks the effect of the other tales.

Karen Russell

Vampires in the Lemon Grove proves that the imagination of Karen Russell knows no bounds.  Russell is wild, fierce, wise, assured, and, most of all, uninhibited.  She just keeps getting better and better with everything she writes, whether it’s a sharp coming-of-age tale or a fabulous collection of fables.  Russell is at her peak and will certainly take home a Pulitzer one day.  What will this literary Wonder Woman do next?  With Russell’s almost super-human creativity and talent, nothing is impossible.

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Spotlight on Vampires in the Lemon Grove by Karen Russell

vampires

 

Karen Russell’s brand new collection of short stories, Vampires in the Lemon Grove, will be released February 12.  I fell in love with Russell’s second book, Swamplandia! and also enjoyed her first short-story collection, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.

st. lucyswamp

Karen Russell, a native of Miami, has been featured in The New Yorker’s debut fiction issue and on The New Yorker’s 20 Under 40 list, and was chosen as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. In 2009, she received the 5 Under 35 award from the National Book Foundation. Three of her short stories have been selected for the Best American Short Stories volumes. She is currently writer-in-residence at Bard College.

karen russell

“From the author of the New York Times best seller Swamplandia!—a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize—a magical new collection of stories that showcases Karen Russell’s gifts at their inimitable best.

A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood.

Karen Russell is one of today’s most celebrated and vital writers—honored in The New Yorker’s list of the twenty best writers under the age of forty, Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists, and the National Book Foundation’s five best writers under the age of thirty-five.  Her wondrous new work displays a young writer of superlative originality and invention coming into the full range and scale of her powers.” –From Random House

Here is an excerpt:

In October, the men and women of Sorrento harvest the primo­fiore, or “first flowering fruit,” the most succulent lemons; in March, the yellow bianchetti ripen, followed in June by the green verdelli. In every season you can find me sitting at my bench, watching them fall. Only one or two lemons tumble from the branches each hour, but I’ve been sitting here so long their falls seem contiguous, close as raindrops. My wife has no patience for this sort of meditation. “Jesus Christ, Clyde,” she says. “You need a hobby.”

Most people mistake me for a small, kindly Italian grand­father, a nonno. I have an old nonno’s coloring, the dark walnut stain peculiar to southern Italians, a tan that won’t fade until I die (which I never will). I wear a neat periwinkle shirt, a canvas sunhat, black suspenders that sag at my chest. My loafers are battered but always polished. The few visitors to the lemon grove who notice me smile blankly into my raisin face and catch the whiff of some sort of tragedy; they whisper that I am a widower, or an old man who has survived his children. They never guess that I am a vampire.

Santa Francesca’s Lemon Grove, where I spend my days and nights, was part of a Jesuit convent in the 1800s. Today it’s privately owned by the Alberti family, the prices are excessive, and the locals know to buy their lemons elsewhere. In summers a teenage girl named Fila mans a wooden stall at the back of the grove. She’s painfully thin, with heavy black bangs. I can tell by the careful way she saves the best lemons for me, slyly kicking them under my bench, that she knows I am a monster. Sometimes she’ll smile vacantly in my direction, but she never gives me any trouble. And because of her benevolent indifference to me, I feel a swell of love for the girl.

Fila makes the lemonade and monitors the hot dog machine, watching the meat rotate on wire spigots. I’m fascinated by this machine. The Italian name for it translates as “carousel of beef.” Who would have guessed at such a device two hundred years ago? Back then we were all preoccupied with visions of apocalypse; Santa Francesca, the foundress of this very grove, gouged out her eyes while dictating premonitions of fire. What a shame, I often think, that she foresaw only the end times, never hot dogs.

To read more, go here.

I love this book and will review it next week.  If you love fables or even quirky stories, then Vampires in the Lemon Grove is a must-read for you!

 

 

 

 

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How about a new book for your Valentine?

They say February is for lovers; I say it’s for lots of new books.  There is sure to be something for everyone this month.

Available January 31 is Dina Nayeri’s A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea.

teaspoon

Growing up in a small rice-farming village in 1980s Iran, eleven-year-old Saba Hafezi and her twin sister, Mahtab, are captivated by America. They keep lists of English words and collect illegal Life magazines, television shows, and rock music. So when her mother and sister disappear, leaving Saba and her father alone in Iran, Saba is certain that they have moved to America without her. But her parents have taught her that “all fate is written in the blood,” and that twins will live the same life, even if separated by land and sea. As she grows up in the warmth and community of her local village, falls in and out of love, and struggles with the limited possibilities in post-revolutionary Iran, Saba envisions that there is another way for her story to unfold. Somewhere, it must be that her sister is living the Western version of this life. And where Saba’s world has all the grit and brutality of real life under the new Islamic regime, her sister’s experience gives her a freedom and control that Saba can only dream of.

Filled with a colorful cast of characters and presented in a bewitching voice that mingles the rhythms of Eastern storytelling with modern Western prose, A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea is a tale about memory and the importance of controlling one’s own fate.

Just in time for Valentine’s Day is All This Talk of Love by Christopher Castellani, which will be released February 5.

all this talk

It’s been fifty years since Antonio Grasso married Maddalena and brought her to America. That was the last time she would ever see her parents, her sisters and brothers—everything she knew and loved in the village of Santa Cecilia, Italy. She locked those memories away, as if Santa Cecilia stopped existing the very day she left. Now, with children and grandchildren of her own, a successful family-run restaurant, and enough daily drama at home, Maddalena sees no need to open the door to the past and let the emotional baggage and unmended rifts of another life spill out. 

But Prima, Antonio and Maddalena’s American-born daughter, was raised on the lore of the Old Country. And as she sees her parents aging, she hatches the idea to take the entire family back to Italy—hoping to reunite Maddalena with her estranged sister and let her parents see their homeland one last time. It is an idea that threatens to tear the Grasso family apart, until fate deals them some unwelcome surprises and their journey home becomes a necessary voyage.

Writing with warmth and grace, Chris Castellani delivers a seductive feast for readers. Beautiful Country is an incandescent novel about sacrifice and hope, loss and love, myth and memory.

Soho will publish a rather intriguing story on February 5.  It’s Man in the Empty Suit by Sean Ferrell.

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Say you’re a time traveler and you’ve already toured the entirety of human history. After a while, the outside world might lose a little of its luster. That’s why this time traveler celebrates his birthday partying with himself. Every year, he travels to an abandoned hotel in New York City in 2071, the hundredth anniversary of his birth, and drinks twelve-year-old Scotch (lots of it) with all the other versions of who he has been and who he will be. Sure, the party is the same year after year, but at least it’s one party where he can really, well, be himself.

The year he turns 39, though, the party takes a stressful turn for the worse. Before he even makes it into the grand ballroom for a drink he encounters the body of his forty-year-old self, dead of a gunshot wound to the head. As the older versions of himself at the party point out, the onus is on him to figure out what went wrong–he has one year to stop himself from being murdered, or they’re all goners. As he follows clues that he may or may not have willingly left for himself, he discovers rampant paranoia and suspicion among his younger selves, and a frightening conspiracy among the Elders. Most complicated of all is a haunting woman possibly named Lily who turns up at the party this year, the first person besides himself he’s ever seen at the party. For the first time, he has something to lose. Here’s hoping he can save some version of his own life.

The author of one of my favorite books, Ron Currie Jr., has a new novel out on February 7.  It is called Flimsy Little Plastic Miracles and sounds as charmingly quirky as Everything Matters!

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In this tour de force of imagination, Ron Currie asks why literal veracity means more to us than deeper truths, creating yet again a genre-bending novel that will at once dazzle, move, and provoke.

The protagonist of Ron Currie, Jr.’s new novel has a problem­—or rather, several of them. He’s a writer whose latest book was destroyed in a fire. He’s mourning the death of his father, and has been in love with the same woman since grade school, a woman whose beauty and allure is matched only by her talent for eluding him. Worst of all, he’s not even his own man, but rather an amalgam of fact and fiction from Ron Currie’s own life. When Currie the character exiles himself to a small Caribbean island to write a new book about the woman he loves, he eventually decides to fake his death, which turns out to be the best career move he’s ever made. But fame and fortune come with a price, and Currie learns that in a time of twenty-four-hour news cycles, reality TV, and celebrity Twitter feeds, the one thing the world will not forgive is having been told a deeply satisfying lie.

What kind of distinction could, or should, be drawn between Currie the author and Currie the character?  Or between the book you hold in your hands and the novel embedded in it? Whatever the answers, Currie, an inventive writer always eager to test the boundaries of storytelling in provocative ways, has essential things to impart along the way about heartbreak, reality, grief, deceit, human frailty, and blinding love.

Did your book club ooh and ahh over Kathryn Stockett’s The Help?  Boy, do I have the newest book club darling for you then.  Tara Conklin’s The House Girl will be released February 12.  Conklin’s debut is going to be a major bestseller.  I have read the novel and absolutely loved it, so much that I sought out the author for an interview.  Look for my Q&A with Conklin on February 12.  Please see my spotlight post on the book and check back for the interview and my review.

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Julie Kibler’s amazing debut, Calling Me Home, the She Reads February Book Club Selection, also comes out February 12.  This was another story that stole my heart.  I was lucky enough to get to chat with Kibler, and the interview will be posted February 12.  Read more about the story in my spotlight post and check back for the interview and review.

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Also coming February 12 is the much-anticipated second short story collection of Karen Russell called Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Russell is the author of the incredible coming of age tale, Swamplandia!, and her first collection of short stories, St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.  I found she shows such depth and maturity with her newest book.

vampires   A dejected teenager discovers that the universe is communicating with him through talismanic objects left behind in a seagull’s nest.  A community of girls held captive in a silk factory slowly transmute into human silkworms, spinning delicate threads from their own bellies, and escape by seizing the means of production for their own revolutionary ends. A massage therapist discovers she has the power to heal by manipulating the tattoos on a war veteran’s lower torso. When a group of boys stumble upon a mutilated scarecrow bearing an uncanny resemblance to the missing classmate they used to torment, an ordinary tale of high school bullying becomes a sinister fantasy of guilt and atonement. In a family’s disastrous quest for land in the American West, the monster is the human hunger for acquisition, and the victim is all we hold dear. And in the collection’s marvelous title story—an unforgettable parable of addiction and appetite, mortal terror and mortal love—two vampires in a sun-drenched lemon grove try helplessly to slake their thirst for blood.

Karen Russell is one of today’s most celebrated and vital writers—honored in The New Yorker’s list of the twenty best writers under the age of forty, Granta’s Best of Young American Novelists, and the National Book Foundation’s five best writers under the age of thirty-five.  Her wondrous new work displays a young writer of superlative originality and invention coming into the full range and scale of her powers.

Julianna Baggott’s second novel in her Pure trilogy, Fuse, will be published by Grand Central on February 19 and is sure to set the YA world on fire.

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When the world ended, those who dwelled within the Dome were safe. Inside their glass world the Pures live on unscarred, while those outside—the Wretches—struggle to survive amidst the smoke and ash.

Believing his mother was living among the Wretches, Partridge escaped from the Dome to find her. Determined to regain control over his son, Willux, the leader of the Pures, unleashes a violent new attack on the Wretches. It’s up to Pressia Belze, a young woman with her own mysterious past, to decode a set of cryptic clues from the past to set the Wretches free. 

An epic quest that sweeps readers into a world of beautiful brutality, Fuse continues the story of two people fighting to save their futures—and change the fate of the world.

The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski comes out February 26.  She Reads chose this for their March Book Club Selection and what a great choice it is!  Leganski may have been born in Wisconsin, but she’s Southern at heart.  Read her debut and you’ll see what I mean.

A lyrical debut novel set in historic New Orleans that follows a mute boy whose gift of magical hearing reveals family secrets and forgotten voodoo lore, and exposes a murder that threatens the souls of those who love him.

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February 26 also marks the publication date for Mimi by Lucy Ellmann.

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It’s Christmas Eve in Manhattan. Harrison Hanafan, noted plastic surgeon, falls on his ass. ‘Ya can’t sit there all day, buddy, looking up people’s skirts!’ chides a weird gal in a coat like a duvet. She then kindly conjures the miracle of a taxi. While recuperating with Franz Schubert, Bette Davis, and a foundling cat, Harrison adds items to his life’s work, a List of Melancholy Things (puppetry, shrimp-eating contests, Walmart…) before going back to rhinoplasties, liposuction, and the peccadilloes of his obnoxious colleagues. Then Harrison collides once more with the strangely helpful woman, Mimi, who bursts into his life with all her curves and chaos. They soon fall emphatically in love. And, as their love-making reaches a whole new kind of climax, the sweet smell of revolution is in the air. By turns celebratory and scathing, romantic and dyspeptic, Mimi is a story of music, New York, sculpture, martinis, public speaking, quilt-stealing, eggnog and, most of all, love. A vibrant call-to-arms, this is Lucy Ellmann’s most extraordinary book to date.

Alex George’s brilliant debut A Good American will be available in paperback on February 5.  I highly recommend George’s story of immigration, love, and family.  You can read my review here.

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Chocolate?  Who needs chocolate?  Open up a new book and have a taste you can truly savor.  The best part?  You don’t have to worry about the book ending up on your hips tomorrow.

I guess February really is for lovers–book lovers, that is.

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Book Review: Little Sinners, And Other Stories by Karen Brown

Little Sinners, And Other Stories by Karen Brown (University of Nebraska Press; 208 pages; $17.95).

 

            Author Karen Brown has won several awards for her fiction writing.  Reading her new tightly-knit, intimate collection of short stories entitled Little Sinners, And Other Stories, it is easy to understand why.  Brown’s first collection, Pins and Needles, won the Grace Paley Prize for Short Fiction.  Her stories have appeared in The Pen/O. Henry Prize Stories 2009 and The Best American Short Stories 2008Little Sinners recently received the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction.  When you read Brown’s work, you know you are in the hands of a skillful craftsman in her prime.  Little Sinners is seductive and captivating as it explores the complicated and complex world of domesticity.

 

Although Brown features male characters, most of her principal personalities are women.  Brown’s world is a woman’s world, one in which females defy stereotypes and carve out places and roles of their own.  Unexpected consequences ensue, and the women must always pick up the pieces in the aftermath.  All of Brown’s stories are very true to life because, as women, we know that is often the case.

 

Her vignettes are slices of domestic life, written with passion and, above all, realism. Some tales are erotic; some are suspenseful; all are compelling.  Among the strongest stories in the collection are the title story “Little Sinners,” “Swimming,” “Stillborn,” “The Philter,” and “An Heiress Walks into a Bar.”

 

An adult woman remembers a horrible trick she and her best childhood friend played on a little girl in “Little Sinners.”  “We weren’t bad girls,” the narrator insists.  “We were feral, unequivocally vicious, like girls raised by the mountain lions that occasionally slunk out of the wilderness….”  The girls never expected what happened next, and the woman still carries a great amount of guilt many years later.

 

In “Swimming,” a married woman and her lover swim the pools of her neighbors in the dark of night.  When they are seen, they become the talk of the neighborhood.  The woman, though, is in for a big surprise when she catches her daughter and a boy in the family pool.

 

“Stillborn” is my favorite of Brown’s short stories and also her best.  Diana, who is six-months pregnant, and her husband move into a cottage on the Long Island Sound.  He has cheated on his wife but promises it won’t happen again.  Diana seeks solace in the garden.  She digs in the dirt only to discover small bones buried there.  “Femur, fibula, humerus, clavicle.  Tiny bones, delicate and dirt-stained,” Brown writes.  Diana “stopped digging, the bones uncovered.”  She thinks, “I’ve dug too deep.”  The bones are of a baby.  Diana assumes the child was stillborn; the parents, she guesses, buried the dead infant in their yard as was the custom in earlier days.  However, when Brown shifts perspective from Diana to her neighbor, Mrs. Merrick, we see a different, and darker, side of the story.  This is truly where Brown shines as she shows domestic relationships, like plants in a garden, can have blights.

 

The most disturbing and chilling of all the stories in Little Sinners is “The Philter.”   Kit, a troubled housewife, meets Sarah in a grocery store.  Sarah’s mother has disappeared; the teen confides in Kit and practically drags her to her home for dinner.  When Sarah shows Kit how she spies on her own house, the duo see way more than they bargained for.  There is a voyeuristic quality and an illicitness to this piece.  Brown focuses on silences, what is unspoken, and on body language.  I was just as uncomfortable as Kit seemed to be.  It becomes clear that there is more to the disappearance of Sarah’s mother.

 

In another favorite story of mine, “An Heiress Walks into a Bar,” Esme is diagnosed with the same kind of cancer that killed her mother.  She grapples with her own mortality and the absence of her father, who disappeared years before.  When she was twelve, “her father put on his pale blue pinstripe suit, custom-made for a previous trip to the Bahamas, and left, never to be heard from again.”

 

Brown’s emotional stories cut to the quick.  They wound; they scar.  The stories in Little Sinners are intelligent, dark, deep, and murky, much like a woman’s soul.  Brown has a keen sense of what works.  At only 194 pages, Little Sinners is short, but its issues are weighty.  I dare you to read Little Sinners and come away empty.

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Going Wild

Going Wild

 Birds of a Lesser Paradise by Megan Mayhew Bergman (Scribner; 240 pages; $24).

 

            In Birds of a Lesser Paradise, Megan Mayhew Bergman explores how we are shaped by nature and how, in turn, nature shapes us.  Sometimes our relationship with nature is beautiful, but sometimes it can turn brutal. Bergman’s short story debut collection, which consists of twelve stories, is deeply moving and intensely thought-provoking.

Many of Bergman’s stories concentrate on the theme of motherhood.  Bergman tells all of her stories from the point of view of women.  This technique makes sense.  Women, like female animals, have the ability to create and sustain life.  We nurture and ferociously protect our young.  In “Housewifely Arts,” one of my favorites and one of Bergman’s strongest, a woman and her son go on a desperate journey to find her dead mother’s African Gray Parrot.  What is so special about this creature, you may ask.  The bird mimics the mother’s voice and she wants to hear her once again.  The woman in the story longs to reconnect with her mother; her desire is fruitless.  Other women in Bergman’s tale want to have children of their own.  In “The Urban Coop,” a childless woman is so close to her dog that the canine suffers separation anxiety and an accident when he is not with his mistress.  The dog substitutes for a child.  In “Another Story She Won’t Believe,” an alcoholic holds a wild animal in her arms and seeks atonement for the way she raised her daughter.  In another of my favorites, “Yesterday’s Whales,” Bergman introduces us to a woman whose boyfriend believes the end of the world is nigh.  He sees no point in bringing children into a world that is a ticking time bomb.  The woman gets pregnant and is then forced to make a choice.  Bergman writes with cleverness and compassion.  These stories will fill you with emotion.  However, not all these tales are about motherhood.

Other stories focus on nature and the environment.  In Bergman’s title story and another of her finest, “Birds of a Lesser Paradise,” a young woman hires an unsavory guide to take her and her father on a dangerous quest to find an ivory-billed woodpecker that may or may not be extinct.  Their journey leads to horrific consequences.  Bergman shows that no matter how hard we try, we cannot tame nature.  Indeed, as the doctor finds out in “Saving Face,” there is an animal in every one of us.  Some of us hide it better than others do.  Bergman does not shy away from discussing the precarious state of our environment.  In our world, nature is in danger.  In a story called “2050,” Bergman takes us into the future.  The ocean is dying.  For one woman, her father’s whole life is the ocean and the life it sustains.  As the ocean declines, so does the woman’s father.  This is perhaps the most sobering of Bergman’s stories.  She gives us something to think about.

In Bergman’s stories, the bonds we have with animals and the connections they have with us shine.  Bergman is a wonderful new talent.  Birds of a Lesser Paradise is a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers selection for spring 2012 and an Indie Next Pick for March.  Bergman does so well with her subject for a reason.  She lives in Vermont on a farm with her husband, a veterinarian, and their rescue animals.  If you love short stories or enjoy books about people and their animal companions, then this is a must-read for you.  I happen to think it is an excellent pick for spring.  Read it outside where you can listen to the birds singing.

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