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April Fiction–Lots of Books Blooming!

This is the start of something new.  Spring is new, and the time could not be more perfect.  From now on, at the beginning of each month, I am going to share with you the notable new releases for that month.  You’re in luck!  There’s much to talk about for April.

Before I begin, please note: If there is a book you’re keen on that is not listed here, let me know.  Perhaps I do not know about it and would like to read it.  I will try to limit myself to ten books.  Sometimes I may have more; sometimes I may have less.  It all depends.

Without further ado.  Here are the books I’m excited about for April.

1.  The Lifeboat Charlotte Rogan

The debut novel of Charlotte Rogan, The Lifeboat, is getting a lot of attention right now.  That is amazing, considering it was released on April 3.  The New York Times ran a review in which I learned Rogan was 57 when she got her book deal.  What an inspiration she is!  The Lifeboat is perfect for your book club and the main character, Grace, on trial for murder, will generate much discussion.

2.  The Land of Decoration by Grace McCleen

This novel was released March 27, but Amazon has the title listed as one of its best of April.  Another debut, The Land of Decoration features a ten-year-old heroine named Judith.  It’s difficult to resist a story which Emma Donoghue, author of Room, said “grabbed me by the throat.”

3.  The Coldest Night by Robert Olmstead

Robert Olmstead’s The Coldest Night is another title you can pick up now.  Olmstead sets his story during the Korean War and after.  I am lucky because Olmstead will visit Lemuria Books in Jackson, Mississippi, on April 19.  If your local bookstore features signings, check to see if Olmstead will be there.

4.  The Red Book by Deborah Copaken Kogan

People Magazine loves this novel about four Harvard roommates who reunite after 20 years.  Their seemingly perfect lives are anything but.  The Red Book has been called The Big Chill meets The Group.”  This novel is out now.

5.  Calico Joe by John Grisham

John Grisham’s newest book, Calico Joe, is one of Amazon’s best books of the month and comes out April 10.  This time, Grisham turns to baseball and explores the themes of forgiveness and redemption.  Like all of Grisham’s previous novels, Calico Joe is sure to become a bestseller.

6.  The Cove by Ron Rash

The bestselling author of Serena returns with The Cove.  The novel is about a sister and brother and the cove, which may be cursed, where they live.  Rash will appear at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS, on April 18.  Be sure to check in your area.  Your city may be a stop on his tour.  The Cove is an Amazon best book of the month.

7.  The Beginner’s Goodbye by Anne Tyler

I must confess that I have never read Anne Tyler, but The Beginner’s Goodbye intrigues me.  Tyler tells the story of a middle-aged widower who is having a difficult time dealing with the death of his wife.  Until he starts seeing her, that is.  Amazon has this listed as one of the best books of the month.

8.  A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

I cannot wait to read Wiley Cash’s A Land More Kind Than Home, to be released April 17.  Cash’s debut has been compared to those of John Hart and Tom Franklin.  Amazon chose the novel as one of its best books of the month.  Cash will sign copies of his book on June 1, at Lemuria Books in Jackson, MS.  A Land More Kind Than Home is a “mesmerizing literary thriller about the bond between two brothers and the evil they face in a small western North Carolina town.”

9.  Blue Asylum by Kathy Hepinstall

The author of The Absence of Nectar and The House of Gentle Men (two of my favorites) returns with Blue Asylum.  I would love to interview Hepinstall.  During the Civil War, a Virginia plantation mistress is put on trial and convicted of madness.  She is sent to Sanibel Asylum, where she meets many interesting people.  Hepinstall asks the questions what is madness and who decides in this gripping tale.

10.  Waiting for Sunrise by William Boyd

On the cusp of World War I, a young English actor has an affair.  She later goes to the police and accuses her former lover of rape.  In a twist, the young man is saved from trial by two diplomats.  William Boyd’s upcoming book is already getting lots of buzz before its April 17 release.  This one could be a stunner!

 

Which books are you excited about this month?  What about for summer?  I’d love to hear all about them!

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This Novel Has Heft

 

Heft by Liz Moore (W.W. Norton & Company; 352 pages; $24.95).

            Arthur Opp last left his house on September 11, 2001, to see smoke blanketing the Manhattan skyline in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.  Arthur has not ventured out his door since in Liz Moore’s poignant yet hopeful novel Heft.  Ms. Moore chose the perfect title for a tale with larger-than-life characters and enormous emotional heft.

 

Ms. Moore uses two distinctive voices to act as the narrator-protagonists of Heft.  By switching back and forth between Arthur and Kel Keller, she builds tension and urges me to keep reading.  And I do.  In fact, I often could not stop myself.

 

Arthur is a former professor who no longer leaves his house.  He weighs between five and six hundred pounds and acknowledges he is “colossally fat.”  Everything he needs he orders online.  Arthur explains, “My home sometimes feels like a shipping center; every day, sometimes twice a day, somebody brings something to me.  The FedEx man, the UPS man.  So you see I’m not entirely a shut-in because I must sign for these things.”  Arthur, therefore, is not totally shut out or shut off from the world.

 

His primary relationship is with a former student, Charlene Turner, with whom he exchanges letters.  The two have been doing this for years, although Charlene’s responses have been sporadic lately.  For a time, the two were very close, but that was before Charlene’s marriage.  Still, Charlene means the world to Arthur.  In a letter to her, he writes, “Whether or not you have known it you have been my anchor in the world.  You & your letters & your very existence have provided me with more comfort than I can explain.”

 

When Charlene requests that Arthur help her son, he has to tell her that he has changed and that he is no longer teaching.  All these years, Arthur has kept the truth from Charlene.  Yet Charlene has been keeping some secrets from Arthur, as well.

 

Since Ms. Moore never pities Arthur and he never pities himself, I do not either.  His life and situation are not ideal, it is true.  Ms. Moore uses his weight as an outward manifestation of his pain, unhappiness, and disappointments.  We all have them.  Arthur is not alone in his failures.  We all have excess baggage.  Some of us just hide them better than others do.

 

In contrast to Arthur, Kel Keller, Ms. Moore’s other narrator-protagonist, carries his pain on the inside.  Kel is Charlene’s son.  He is a high-school student who excels in sports, particularly baseball.  Kel’s worries are weightier than those of most of his fellow students.  He has had to watch as his mother drinks herself to death.  Kel has had to be a kind of parent to Charlene, who loves her T-shirt that reads “It’s Five O’clock Somewhere.”  Kel confesses, “When she is very bad, usually I will tell her things to calm her down.  I will tell her Mom, Mom.  We have to be quiet because the neighbors will call.  We have to be very quiet.  Come up here with me on the couch.  Come watch your show.”  Sometimes when Charlene is “very bad,” Kel feeds her “like a baby.”

 

One night, Kel smells the alcohol on her before he even sees her.  He finds her passed out on the bathroom floor with the telephone in her hand.  Kel thinks she is dead, “My God she’s dead is what I think.  She’s dead this time.”  He crouches down beside her and starts to cry.  “WAKE up,” he tells her.  Then, she opens her eyes.  For Charlene and Kel, this is a pattern.  Yet when Kel is at school or on the field, he acts as if everything is all right in his world.  Only on the field and in the occasional fight can Kel blow off steam.

 

While Kel looks forward to impressing a Major League scout, Arthur slowly starts to make his way out into the world once again.  Charlene makes a choice, though, that changes everything.  It is a tragedy that finally brings Arthur and Kel together.

 

Ms. Moore connects these two people, who at first seem worlds apart, in astounding, clever ways.  I especially admire the many flaws each character has that enhance the story.  Ms. Moore lends an authenticity and a likeability to them, and I am engaged and won over.

 

Well-written novels are harder and harder to come by these days, which is why I recognize and admire good prose when I see it.  Ms. Moore has a real gift for language.  For example, Arthur believes he was “destined for solitude, very certain that one day it would find me, so when it did I was not surprised & even welcomed it.”  And Kel describes his performance for the scout: “I swing.  I miss.  I wait.  A strike.  A ground ball.  A strike.  It’s not terrible—I take a piece out of a lot of them, and I hit one more home run—but I’m not here.  I fail…I want to feel sorry for myself, but I almost feel relieved.”

 

I find myself empathizing, but never sympathizing, with Arthur and Kel.  I develop a true connection with them.  I cheer them on; I laugh with them; I cry with them; I grieve with them.  Such a thing does not happen everyday while reading novels.  It is a rare and precious thing, indeed.  For me, Heft has become beloved.

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