Category Archives: thriller

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

Book Review: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell

The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell (Amy Einhorn Books/Putnam; 368 pages; $25.95).

other typist“They said the typewriter would unsex us,” Suzanne Rindell writes in her dark and arresting debut The Other Typist.  A typewriter “is a stern thing, full of gravity, its boxy angles coming straight to the point, with no trace of curvaceous tomfoolery or feminine whimsy,” completely masculine. Although there is nothing feminine about a typewriter, the device has typically been used by women.

The typist in danger of being unsexed is Rose Baker, Rindell’s main character who is accused of a crime she claims not to have committed and deemed mad.  Her narrative consists of a journal she is keeping for her doctor, slowly clueing us in on the reason for her institutionalization.

A typewriter excuses nothing.  With the “sheer violence of its iron arms,” it strikes “at the page with unforgiving force.”  Women tend to be more forgiving than men, but “forgiving is not the typewriter’s duty,” yet another example of its innate maleness.

In the 1920s, the setting for Rindell’s tale, women were not supposed to be violent criminals.  Men committed crimes; women, with their “delicate” sensibilities, cared for their husbands, bore and nurtured their children, and maintained the home.  But Rose is not the typical 1920s woman.

There is one crucial element about Rose that you need to know: she is an unreliable narrator.  Come on, no human can possibly type 300 words per minute.  You cannot trust anything she says, making her a thrilling and unforgettable character.  Rose, a consummate liar, will surely remind readers of Amy from Gillian Flynn’s blockbuster bestseller Gone Girl.  Rindell’s narrator also shares many of the same qualities as Grace from Charlotte Rogan’s absorbing novel The Lifeboat.  Like Amy and Grace, Rose is an unknown, unknowable, and enigmatic character; you learn to expect the unexpected from her rather early on in Rindell’s novel.

The anticipation builds as Rose grows increasingly obsessed with Odalie, her fellow typist at a police precinct in New York City’s Lower East Side.  For Rose, Odalie is “sweet nectar” she cannot help but succumb to.  She is drawn to Odalie, like an “insect drawn to his peril.”  Rose’s fixation on Odalie reminded me of Patricia Highsmith’s cunning novel The Talented Mr. Ripley.

“A lying criminal always trips himself up (or herself, I suppose, rare though that alternate scenario may be) either giving too many details or else revealing the wrong ones,” Rindell writes.  In this way, the author slowly and shrewdly reveals the truth, and it is both surprising and extraordinary.

In Rindell’s expert hands, the budding science of criminology and history merge to create an atmosphere reminiscent of the period.

Suzanne Rindell

Suzanne Rindell

New York City in the 1920s comes to vivid life as Rindell recreates the jazz-age period of flappers and Prohibition and throws in decadent parties (think The Great Gatsby), moonshine, and speakeasies.  The experience is a grand and heady one that always keeps you engaged and guessing.

You are powerless to fight the pull of The Other Typist.  It is just impossible.  The Other Typist ensnared me from the first page and never let me take a breath until I closed the book.  Rindell may be a rookie, but she possesses an inherent knowledge of storytelling.  Easily my favorite mystery novel of the year, The Other Typist held me in its suspenseful grip, and I was content to abide in its clutches.  This novel is so shocking you’ll have to force yourself to close your mouth when you read the last page.

The Other Typist is a book and not a steak, but it’s juicy and appealing.  One taste and you are want more and more and more.  Rindell successfully creates two remarkable women who seize our attention, stun us, and make us fans for life.

Keira Knightley to star in and take a producer’s role on the jazz-age period piece, according to the Hollywood Reporter.

It is unknown which of the two main characters she will play.

Keira Knightley

Who do you see Knightley as: Rose or Odalie?  And why?

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The King’s Deception by Steve Berry Blog Tour

The King’s Deception by Steve Berry (Ballantine Books; 432 pages; $27).

Steve Berry

Steve Berry

Cotton Malone returns in Steve Berry’s newest novel The King’s Deception and the stakes have never been higher.  I am a huge Malone fan, and I must say that Berry’s eighth installment in the Malone series is his best and his most controversial yet.  The King’s Deception made my heart pound, my pulse race, and my eyes go wide.  I predict all Malone fans will have similar reactions.

The King’s Deception is actually a flashback.  Malone relives an experience he had two years previously in a conversation with his ex-wife, Pam.

Not only does Berry focus on Malone, his main character, but he also provides us perspectives from a wide-range of narrators, adeptly and easily juggling a large cast.  The insight we gain from these multiple viewpoints enhances the tale and makes us aware of many things that Malone himself is heedless of.

It all begins when Malone and his son Gary travel to Europe.  Recent revelations have stunned the father-son duo and they need quality time together to talk.  In other words, their luggage is not the only baggage they carry with them on their trip.

Malone has also agreed to do a favor for his former boss at the Justice Department, Stephanie Nelle.  Accompanying Malone and Gary is Ian, a fugitive teen from England.

If you expect a smooth ride, then you’ve never read one of Berry’s Cotton Malone novels.  Nothing is ever as Malone expects it to be.  A simple favor leads to a showdown that evolves into an international incident.  At the heart of which is the terrorist convicted of bombing Pan Am Flight 103, who the Scottish government has agreed to release for humanitarian purposes: the bomber is dying of cancer.  Malone finds himself in the middle of a politically-charged environment, an area in which he usually shines and this is no exception.

It’s a formula that continues to work for Berry, who modeled his protagonist partly on himself when he first created his personality for The Templar Legacy.  Berry says he and Malone share a lot of attributes: “The love of rare books.  He doesn’t like enclosed spaces, I don’t either.  He doesn’t drink alcohol.  He has finicky eating habits, so do I.   I, of course, don’t jump out of planes and shoot guns at bad guys, so I live that through him.”  Berry is just as talented at creating his antagonists, such as CIA operative Blake Antrim, who shares a rather unexpected connection with Gary.

If the above were not enough, Berry goes one step further, introducing a mind-boggling but intriguing historical mystery involving Queen Elizabeth I.  The King’s Deception claims that Elizabeth was really a man in disguise.  And not just any man, but the son of King Henry VIII’s illegitimate son.  The real Elizabeth, according to Berry’s fascinating tale, died as a child and an imposter was put in her place.  The truth was kept a secret, especially from the king.

Bunk, you say?  Well, the story is tantalizing but not wholly implausible.  Berry thinks the myth is “both possible and fascinating.”  “The most wonderful fiction,” he explains, “always has a ring of truth to it.  Here, everything centers around the Bisley Boy legend.  Three years ago, Elizabeth [his wife] and I were north of London doing some publicity work for my British publisher when our guide told me about a local legend.   In the village of Bisley, for many centuries on a [certain] day, the locals would dress a young boy in female Elizabethan costume and parade him through the streets.  How odd.  I then discovered that Bram Stoker [author of Dracula], in the early part of the 20thcentury, also heard the tale and wrote about it in a book called Famous Imposters, which I read.   I then kings deceptionbegan to read about Elizabeth I and learned of many odd things associated with her.”  A story idea was thus born.

If this conspiracy theory were true, the implications would be vast.  Berry plays devil’s advocate here: “What does it matter if this thing happened in history?   How is that still relevant today? So what if Queen Elizabeth I was an imposter?”  “Actually it would matter a great deal,” Berry elucidates.  “Great Britain itself would dramatically change, and not without violence.  This possible ‘so what’ was such a threat that my British publisher asked me to tone things down a bit so we don’t provide folks with any ideas.”  Conspiracy theory or not, Berry offers readers something to ponder and even investigate for themselves.

With fast-paced action, fully realized and complex characters, and a brilliant mystery at its heart, The King’s Deception is an explosive and pulsing historical thrill ride—one I wanted to get on all over again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Interview with Lisa Brackmann, Author of Hour of the Rat

Hour of the Rat by Lisa Brackmann (Soho Crime; 371 pages; $25.95).

Ellie McEnroe returns in the sequel to the critically acclaimed New York Times and USA Today best-seller, ROCK PAPER TIGER.

Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang’s mysterious disappearance of over a year ago has her in the sights of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving. But things really get complicated when Ellie’s search for an Army buddy’s missing brother entangles her in a conspiracy that may or may not involve a sinister biotech company, eco-terrorists, an art-obsessed Chinese billionaire and lots of cats—a conspiracy that will take her on a wild chase through some of China’s most beautiful and most surreal places.

hour-of-the-rat.jpgJaime Boler: Thank you so much, Lisa, for letting me ask you these questions.  I’ve always been a huge fan of yours from your Rock Paper Tiger days and Hour of the Rat is a clever, taut sequel.   You have worked as an executive at a major motion picture studio, as an issues researcher for a presidential campaign, and as a singer/songwriter/bassist in a rock band.  What made you want to write novels?

Lisa Brackmann: I really wanted to write fiction before I did any of those other things you mention above. I’ve told the story before, but I tried to write my first novel at the age of five. It was to be an epic adventure about cats who went camping. Unfortunately I did not know how to spell “tent.” This is a true story. I wrote fiction on and off when I was young, and none of it was very good, but I did have an idea how to construct a narrative, and writing was something that I was very passionate about.

I studied writing briefly in college – one of my professors was Lydia Davis, who just won the Man Booker Prize and who had a tremendous influence on me. She helped teach me how to see the world with greater precision. But I got to a point where writing felt like I was constantly living my life as source material rather than actually living it, so I took a break and got into music. Later, I worked in the film industry, and like just about everyone in Los Angeles, I wrote a couple screenplays and a bunch of teleplays. I really enjoyed those projects, but they aren’t finished until someone decides to produce them – and given the weirdness of what I tended to write, the odds of that happening weren’t great.

I decided to write a novel for fun while I came up with that high concept screenplay idea that was going to make me rich. I never did come up with the high concept screenplay, but I found that I really enjoyed writing novels. Even if I didn’t sell them, they were complete in themselves. I found that really satisfying.

JB: Your first novel, Rock Paper Tiger, was selected by Amazon as one of its Top 100 books of 2010 and a Top 10 pick in the

Rock Paper Tiger

Rock Paper Tiger

mystery/thriller category.  It was also nominated for the Strand Magazine Critics Award for Best First Novel.  What was that experience like?

LB: I’m friends with a bunch of writers, and in one of the groups I’m in, we call it “The Emo-Coaster.” When you’re a working author, you have tremendous highs, and crashing lows, regardless of how hard you try to stay balanced. It’s just very weird to have something you worked so hard on, that is such a personal expression, out there in the world being judged. This is especially true for debuts, I think – it’s all a new experience.

I really didn’t expect much to happen with Rock Paper Tiger – I was happy to be published, but I knew something about the reality of the lifecycle of most books. So when the book ended up doing pretty well, I was surprised. I remember at one point, feeling this weird rushing sensation – like, whoa, this is actually kind of taking off. Maybe I have a career doing this after all. At the same time that it was unexpected, I also felt like I’d really found my tribe, for the first time – that being a writer, being around other writers and around people who really care about books – this was where I belonged.

Getaway

Getaway

JB: Getaway, your second novel, is a standalone book.  Was it good to get back to the characters and setting of your debut?

LB: I hadn’t planned on writing a sequel to Rock Paper Tiger, but realized that there were still more stories that I wanted to tell about Ellie McEnroe and about China. I never find writing novels to be easy, but writing Hour of the Rat was definitely less hard than others. A lot of the groundwork is already done; you know who these people are and what they tend to want. As for the setting, I’d felt that I’d barely scratched the surface of the richness and complexity that is today’s China. My formative experience in China was in 1979, and though I’d been back at least a half a dozen times before writing Rock Paper Tiger, I’d kept going back after, and felt that I could bring a little more depth and insight into a new book than I’d been able to bring to the first. So it was great to return to China and to Ellie. I really had a lot of fun with it.

JB: What attracts you to writing existential thrillers?

LB: I like to think of myself as a realist. I’m very interested in big issues, but the reality is, unlike superhero or James Bond movies, the ability of one person to have a significant impact on global conspiracies, you know, the typical stuff of thrillers, is pretty limited. For most people, if you care about things, you have to learn how to deal with a world that doesn’t really care about you. You’re up against institutions and individuals that are extremely powerful, and all the weapons, both real and metaphoric, are on their side. Realistically, you don’t get to defeat those villains. Mostly, you just have to try and do your best and figure out how you’re going to live with that reality.

I’m interested in “ordinary” people as opposed to superheroes, who not only have to survive whatever perils they’ve been placed in, but who are trying to figure out how to live in the world.

JB: How would you describe Hour of the Rat?

LB: A romp through environmental apocalypse in China with accidental Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe.

JB: What provided the inspiration for Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe, the lead character in both Rock Paper Tiger and Hour of the Rat?  Is she based on anyone in real life?

LB: The years before I started writing Rock Paper Tiger, I’d been following the news about the Iraq War and the War on Terror pretty closely. I was fascinated by figures like Jessica Lynch, who’d joined the National Guard to get some extra money–there were no jobs at Wal-Mart, and she wanted to go to school and study to be a teacher—and then when she was captured by Iraqi forces, she became a symbol of the war in a way that she never wanted to be. On the flipside, you had Lynndie England, brought up in a trailer park in Appalachia in an abusive family and who was implicated in the torture at Abu Ghraib–one of the few individuals actually prosecuted for this, along with other low-level soldiers – none of the architects of the abuses were ever punished.

I wanted to deal with the Iraq War and the War on Terror in [Rock Paper Tiger], so I came up with the character of Ellie McEnroe, an accidental war vet who’d joined the National Guard to get health insurance and maybe some money for college, and ended up in a situation way above her pay grade. Unlike say, a Lynndie England, Ellie has a strong sense of right and wrong and also, of guilt.

I just sort of imagined her background and her experiences, and channeled who she would be, if that makes any sense.

ratJB: Ellie or “Yili” was born in the Year of the Rat.  According to a website that explains the Chinese zodiac, “The Rat is quick-witted. Most rats get more accomplished in 24 hours than the rest of us do in as many days. They are confident and usually have good instincts. Stubborn as they are, they prefer to live by their own rules rather than those of others.”  Is this why you chose that sign for Ellie?  And why you chose Hour of the Rat as your title? 

LB: I think, actually, that I chose her sign sort of backwards – I needed her to be a certain age in Rock Paper Tiger, and the birth-date I picked for her landed her in the year of the Rat. I thought that the Rat sounded like a good sign for Ellie – stubborn and quick-witted and living by her own rules – though she must have some other influences that undermine that whole “good instincts” part, because even when she knows that it’s a bad idea to do something, she tends to go ahead and do it anyway!

Since Rock Paper Tiger came out in the Year of the Tiger – which, by the way, was totally unplanned, it just happened that way – I thought maybe carrying over the Chinese astrology theme for the title would be cool. As Ellie explains in the book, Chinese astrology, like Western astrology, has rising signs, based on the time of day you’re born. Each “Hour” is actually two, and the Hour of the Rat is between 11 PM and 1 AM. I was actually born in the Hour of the Rat, and I don’t know, I just liked the way it sounded and the images that it conjured up.

JB: How different were earlier versions of Hour of the Rat compared to the final copy?

LB: Not very. One of my beta readers made a very smart observation about how a plot reveal I’d initially done early on sort of undermined the tension, so I moved that around. My amazing editor at Soho, Juliet Grames, suggested the addition of a prologue, to put people back into Ellie’s world, and had some notes about strengthening certain emotional arcs and story points. Overall, though, I was really lucky with this book – it basically came out in the first draft pretty much the way that it went to print. Would that they were all so easy!

JB: Do you have a favorite character in this story?  If so, who?

LB: I like them all, of course, but I will admit to a particular fondness for Kang Li, the macho guy with a soft spot for cats.

JB: You traveled to China shortly after the Cultural Revolution.  How did that visit affect you and also your writing?

The author in China.

The author in China.

LB: It completely changed the course of my life. I was twenty years old, and China at that time had been very closed off to the West and to Western cultural influences. When I showed up it was like being from the Starship Enterprise, and I’d beamed down to this strange planet. Americans, especially young Americans, were objects of intense curiosity and speculation—most of the Chinese we encountered hadn’t met many, or any Americans, so we took on this weird symbolic role, too. At the same time, there really weren’t any American pop culture influences in China at that time, other than bootlegged tapes of The Sound Of Music and TV broadcasts of a short-lived TV series starring Patrick Duffy called The Man From Atlantis (which was filmed in my hometown of San Diego, making it even weirder to see in Beijing, China!). American pop culture is so globally pervasive that being someplace where it was absent was oddly liberating.

I was in China for six months but the whole thing was so intense that it felt like Experience Concentrate.

It took me years to put it all in context and to really fully integrate the experience. I don’t think I really did until I started studying Mandarin years later and began to travel back to China.

In terms of the writing, if you compared examples of my prose before and after China, I don’t think you’d recognize them as being by the same person.

 

JB: World-wide environmental and political issues are of significant importance to you.  How easy or how difficult is it to

Lisa Brackmann

Lisa Brackmann

incorporate the things that matter to you into your fiction?

LB: I always say that my stories are about character meets setting meets something that I’m passionate about – the kind of issues you mention above help provide the passion. The main thing I have to work on is incorporating those kinds of topics into the story in an organic way. I want to avoid info dumps and a lot of didactic speechifying. I’m writing suspense novels, not academic non-fiction or political polemics.

JB: What is different this time around compared to when you were writing Rock Paper Tiger?

LB: Pretty different on a lot of levels. When I wrote Rock Paper Tiger, I didn’t have an agent. I hadn’t sold a book. There were no particular expectations on me other than the ones I put on myself. Hour of the Rat is my third published novel, and there’s a whole process that goes along with that. I can’t say that I’m exactly used to it, but I’m somewhat familiar with it at least.

JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing Hour of the Rat?

LB: Probably that I had to take certain aspects of Rock Paper Tiger that I had intended to be a little metaphoric – the open-endedness of the parts of the story to me was an expression of what the book was about. But in a sequel, you don’t have the same leeway to leave that many areas mysterious. I had to make decisions about how to ground these things in reality.

JB: Did you learn anything new about yourself in the midst of writing the novel?

LB: Mostly that I could write a book on a schedule and with a deadline, and that as long as I planned my time wisely, I could do that.

JB: What is a typical day of writing like for Lisa Brackmann?

LB: I get up and do my email and reading. I edit any work I did the night before. When I’m on a roll or have a lot to do, I have a writing session after that. Then late afternoon, I go out and get some exercise – either I go to the gym, or I take a long walk to do errands. I think it’s super-important for writers not to neglect their bodies, which is easy to do when your job is so much in your head and there’s so much sitting involved! My latest favorite form of exercise is old-school weight training—dead-lifts and bench presses and the like. I’m loving it.

 

I usually read novels or books for research and/or watch some TV in the early evening. I save the tough creative work for late night. I’ve always been a night owl, and I got into the habit of writing late at night when I had a full-time day job. I just sort of trained myself into it: “Now is the time to be creative and work.” For whatever reason it’s when my focus is best and when I am most able to problem-solve. Maybe for me it’s easier to be creative when everyone around me is asleep.

 

Mixed in with all this is socializing with friends and family, which is another thing that I think is really essential. Most writers are introverts, and for a lot of us, at times we think of other people as intrusions and interruptions. While it’s true that we need to be able to shut the door and work, I think for me, it’s important to not isolate. Besides, people and their conflicts are at the center of what we write. If we just stay in our rooms all day and don’t talk to anyone, what are we going to write about?

 

Of course, then, I have to make sure that I’m not socializing as a form of procrastination, which has been known to happen. 

 

Also, cats. Generally there are cats involved. I’m sitting next to one as I type this.

 

JB: Will you go on a book tour?  If so, which cities will you visit?

LB: I’m mostly going to focus on California this time out, so I’m doing events in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, San Diego and Orange County. I’ll also be at Bouchercon in Albany, NY, in September and am hoping to do a few gigs in New York City around that.

4BestLisa_BrackmannJB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading Hour of the Rat?

LB: I hope they get a little sense of what China is like, and maybe take away that the tough things we need to face in many cases are global in scale. What happens in China affects us in the US, and vice-versa. And that maybe there are certain aspects of our global economy that are pretty [screwed] up, that don’t benefit most people and that don’t benefit the planet.

Also, I hope that it’s a book people can escape into for a few hours, go somewhere different, and at the end that they enjoyed the ride.

JB: What’s next for you?  Are you working on anything new?  I certainly look forward to the return of Lao Zhang.

LB: I’m working on the third book in the series, tentatively called Dragon Day. The end of Hour of the Rat actually is setting up for a sequel – there are some plot threads running through the first two books that I feel I need to draw to a conclusion. So, yes, you will see Lao Zhang! I’m also working on a sequel to my second book, Getaway. It’s very different from that book, with a more satiric edge, but it also deals with issues that I’m very interested in exploring: the prison system in the US, particularly private prisons, and the relationship between that and the War on Drugs. Also, I’m having a lot of fun with the main character, Michelle, who I’m just going to say is not the woman she was at the beginning of Getaway, and the villain of the piece, who gets so much joy out of screwing with peoples’ lives—a man who truly loves his work.

JB: Thanks, Lisa, for a wonderful interview.  Good luck with the book!

LB: Thank you, it’s been a pleasure!

 

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Interview with Aric Davis, Author of The Fort

Jaime Boler: Thank you, Aric, for letting me ask you these questions.  The Fort is an electrifying coming-of-age thriller that grabbed me from the first page.  You are a professional body piercer and novelist.  How did you get into writing?

 

the fortAric Davis: Thanks for having me! I got into writing because of my lifelong love of reading. Being published was a dream, and it was wonderful to be able to see it through to fruition. I had a small kernel of hope that I might one day leave my day job behind to be able to write full time, and last year I was finally able to put the piercing needle down for good.

 

JB: How would you describe The Fort in ten words or less?

 

AD: A coming of age novel with realistic characters.

 

JB: What was different about writing The Fort, your third novel, than writing your first book, A Good and Useful Hurt?

 

AD: The Fort and Hurt share a few similar themes. They both allow entry into the mind of a delusional and dangerous killer, both have some very bittersweet moments, and both have a couple moments of stomach-churning violence. What makes The Fort different are the character perspectives of the children involved in the story. Their voices were a riot to bring to life, and it was a fun reminder of just how entertaining being young was.

 

JB: What inspired you to write The Fort?

 

AD: Much like Tim’s dad in the book, several years ago I installed a patio, and just like Tim, my daughter was lucky enough to get a fort from the leftover lumber. Staring at that day in and day out inspired the idea, and while I initially borrowed the idea to Will Daniels, the lead in Rough Men, I had to take it back.

 

JB: Whose character’s voice did you hear first?

 

AD: Tim, Luke, and Scott were the first characters brought to life in the first draft of The Fort, and they were the ones that led the charge. That said, Dick Van Endel, the cop in The Fort, is a character who has found his way into several books that I have written, most recently in Hurt, Rough Men, and in the Kindle Serial, Breaking Point. Van Endel has been featured in a few unpublished works as well, and hopefully I’ll be able to have more of my stories with him as a costar in the future.

 

JB: What prompted you to set the story in 1987?

 

AD: Some of my favorite books are the coming of age novels written by Joe R. Lansdale and Stephen King, both of whom have placed novels in the 1950’s. In that same way, I wanted the era that I grew up in to shine in The Fort. In pains me to say that the 1980’s are the same distance from today that the 1950’s were then, but somehow it happened.

 

JB: Are any of your characters based on real people?

 

AD: My neighbors have three sons that are finally on their way out of teenager-dom, and listening to them cussing at one another and bludgeoning their way through life was a wonderful reminder when writing younger male characters.

 

JB: Do you have a favorite character in your story?  If so, please share.

 

AD: I really enjoy Tracy, the wise-cracking and foul-mouthed medical examiner. He’s a riot to write, even if he’s only used sparingly.

 

JB: How were earlier versions of the story different from the final copy?

 

AD: They were actually very similar. The Fort went through the same number of edits as anything else that I’ve had published, but they were far and away the easiest edits that I’ve ever had to work with. That said, even the more daunting edits typically go pretty easily. My editors Terry and David are never short of good ideas, and I am typically not so stupid as to resist their thoughts.

 

JB: What was the most difficult thing about writing The Fort?

 

AD: The hardest part of the book came about three quarters of the way through. My good friend and first reader Greg had a suggestion at that juncture, and all of a sudden the end of the book became clear. I may or may not still owe him a beer for that.

 

JB: Critics have compared The Fort to Stephen King’s Stand By Meand Dennis Lehane’s Gone Baby Gone.  How do such comparisons make you feel?

 

AD: As those are two of my all-time favorite authors, I couldn’t be much more complimented.  It’s a hell of a thing to have my name mentioned in the same breath as writers like that, and it’s incredible to me to think that I could achieve anywhere near to what they have with writing.

 

JB: What do you hope readers take with them after reading The Fort?

 

AD: Ideally a sense of longing for the story, in that way that any loved book grabs at the reader. As I certainly can’t hope for that from everyone, I’ll be a little more down to earth and say that I hope that readers don’t feel that they wasted their money and time by buying and reading my story.

 

JB: What’s next for you?  Are you working on anything new?

 

AD: What comes next remains a mystery, but I am always working on something new. I’m a prolific weirdo, and right now I’m workingaric_davis_200 on my fifth manuscript since completing work on The Fort last summer. Hopefully one of these goes through to publication; I’ve certainly had fun writing them.

 

JB: Thank you, Aric, for a wonderful interview.  Good luck with the book!

Aric Davis’ novel The Fort is available now on Amazon.com. At turns heartbreaking and breathtakingly thrilling, The Fort perfectly renders a coming-of-age story in the 1980s, in those final days of childhood independence, discovery, and paradise lost.

 

 

 

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It’s a June Books Boon

Ah, June.  So good to see you again.  What’s that you have there, June?  Oh, you’ve brought some wondrous works of fiction.  Why thank you!

Let me tell you, dear readers–so many great novels are being released this month.  So we better get started now so we can have time to read them all!

Titles To Pick Up Now:

A resilient doctor risks everything to save the life of a hunted child, in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties constellationthat bind us together.  In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.  For the talented, tough-minded Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. And she has a deeply personal reason for caution: harboring these refugees could easily jeopardize the return of her missing sister. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weave together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

we need new names

 

 

Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.  But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her–from Zadie Smith to Monica Ali to J.M. Coetzee–while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.

 

 

A novel about fear of the future—and the future of fear.  New York City, the near future: Mitchell Zukor, a gifted young mathematician, is hired by a mysterious new financial consulting firm, FutureWorld. The business operates out of an empty office in the Empire State Building; Mitchell is employee number two. He is asked to calculate worst-case scenarios in the most intricate detail, and his schemes are sold to corporations to indemnify them against any future disasters. This is the cutting edge of corporateodds irresponsibility, and business is booming.  As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe—ecological collapse, war games, natural disasters—he becomes obsessed by a culture’s fears. Yet he also loses touch with his last connection to reality: Elsa Bruner, a friend with her own apocalyptic secret, who has started a commune in Maine. Then, just as Mitchell’s predictions reach a nightmarish crescendo, an actual worst-case scenario overtakes Manhattan. Mitchell realizes he is uniquely prepared to profit. But at what cost?  At once an all-too-plausible literary thriller, an unexpected love story, and a philosophically searching inquiry into the nature of fear, Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow poses the ultimate questions of imagination and civilization. The future is not quite what it used to be.

 

 

 

and the mountains echoed

 

An unforgettable novel about finding a lost piece of yourself in someone else.  Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.   In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most. 
Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page.

 

One of the most powerful and impressive debuts Grove/Atlantic has ever published, The Blood of Heaven is an epic novel about the American frontier in the early days of the nineteenth century. Its twenty-six-year-old author, Kent Wascom, was awarded the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival Prize for fiction, and this first novel shows the kind of talent rarely seen in anythe blood of heaven novelist, no matter their age.  The Blood of Heaven is the story of Angel Woolsack, a preacher’s son, who flees the hardscrabble life of his itinerant father, falls in with a charismatic highwayman, then settles with his adopted brothers on the rough frontier of West Florida, where American settlers are carving their place out of lands held by the Spaniards and the French. The novel moves from the bordellos of Natchez, where Angel meets his love Red Kate to the Mississippi River plantations, where the brutal system of slave labor is creating fantastic wealth along with terrible suffering, and finally to the back rooms of New Orleans among schemers, dreamers, and would-be revolutionaries plotting to break away from the young United States and create a new country under the leadership of the renegade founding father Aaron Burr.  The Blood of Heaven is a remarkable portrait of a young man seizing his place in a violent new world, a moving love story, and a vivid tale of ambition and political machinations that brilliantly captures the energy and wildness of a young America where anything was possible. It is a startling debut.

Coming Soon:

May 30 from Putnam Adult. 

Memorial Day, 1938: New York socialite Lily Dane has just returned with her family to the idyllic oceanfront community of Seaview, Rhode Island, expecting another placid summer season among the familiar traditions and friendships that sustained her 

a hundred summers

after heartbreak.   That is, until Greenwalds decide to take up residence in Seaview.  Nick and Budgie Greenwald are an unwelcome specter from Lily’s past: her former best friend and her former fiancé, now recently married—an event that set off a wildfire of gossip among the elite of Seaview, who have summered together for generations. Budgie’s arrival to restore her family’s old house puts her once more in the center of the community’s social scene, and she insinuates herself back into Lily’s friendship with an overpowering talent for seduction…and an alluring acquaintance from their college days, Yankees pitcher Graham Pendleton. But the ties that bind Lily to Nick are too strong and intricate to ignore, and the two are drawn back into long-buried dreams, despite their uneasy secrets and many emotional obligations.   Under the scorching summer sun, the unexpected truth of Budgie and Nick’s marriage bubbles to the surface, and as a cataclysmic hurricane barrels unseen up the Atlantic and into New England, Lily and Nick must confront an emotional cyclone of their own, which will change their worlds forever.

 

June 3 from Liveright

last summer

Set on Cape Cod during one tumultuous summer, Elizabeth Kelly’s gothic family story will delight readers of The Family Fang and The Giant’s House.  The Last Summer of the Camperdowns, from the best-selling author ofApologize, Apologize!, introduces Riddle James Camperdown, the twelve-year-old daughter of the idealistic Camp and his manicured, razor-sharp wife, Greer. It’s 1972, and Riddle’s father is running for office from the family compound in Wellfleet, Massachusetts. Between Camp’s desire to toughen her up and Greer’s demand for glamour, Riddle has her hands full juggling her eccentric parents. When she accidentally witnesses a crime close to home, her confusion and fear keep her silent. As the summer unfolds, the consequences of her silence multiply. Another mysterious and powerful family, the Devlins, slowly emerges as the keepers of astonishing secrets that could shatter the Camperdowns. As an old love triangle, bitter war wounds, and the struggle for status spiral out of control, Riddle can only watch, hoping for the courage to reveal the truth. The Last Summer of the Camperdowns is poised to become the summer’s uproarious and dramatic must-read.

June 4 from Riverhead

yonahlosseeA lush, sexy, evocative debut novel of family secrets and girls’-school rituals, set in the 1930s South.  It is 1930, the midst of the Great Depression. After her mysterious role in a family tragedy, passionate, strong-willed Thea Atwell, age fifteen, has been cast out of her Florida home, exiled to an equestrienne boarding school for Southern debutantes. High in the Blue Ridge Mountains, with its complex social strata ordered by money, beauty, and girls’ friendships, the Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is a far remove from the free-roaming, dreamlike childhood Thea shared with her twin brother on their family’s citrus farm—a world now partially shattered. As Thea grapples with her responsibility for the events of the past year that led her here, she finds herself enmeshed in a new order, one that will change her sense of what is possible for herself, her family, her country.  Weaving provocatively between home and school, the narrative powerfully unfurls the true story behind Thea’s expulsion from her family, but it isn’t long before the mystery of her past is rivaled by the question of how it will shape her future. Part scandalous love story, part heartbreaking family drama, The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls is an immersive, transporting page-turner—a vivid, propulsive novel about sex, love, family, money, class, home, and horses, all set against the ominous threat of the Depression—and the major debut of an important new writer.

June 11 from Thomas & Mercer

 

Booklist “Top 10” author Aric Davis returns with The Fort, a brutal coming-of-age tale forged with the lost innocence of Stephen King’s Stand by Me and the rich atmosphere of Dennis Lahane’s Gone Baby Gone.  In the waning summer days of 1987, Vietnam vet Matt Hooper abducts and kills nameless young women from the streets, replaying violent wargames he can’t escape.  In a twisted turn of events, he picks up sixteen-year-old neighborhood kid Molly Peterson and she goes missing–but this time, there are the fortwitnesses.  For high up in their makeshift fort, local boys Tim, Luke, and Scott spy a strange man in the woods with a gun to Molly’s back, and for the first time in their lives, experience evil lurking in their suburban backyards.  The boys seek help from Detective Richard Van Endel, but their story is taken as foolish make-believe, and their only choice is to shed their adolescence and track down Molly and the killer.  These aren’t childhood games anymore; they can never go back to the long days of summer.  The author of A Good and Useful Hurt and Nickel Plated, Aric Davis returns us to the days of his youth, when the ever present shadow of a violent war gave way to paradise lost.

 

 

 

 

June 11 from Knopf

engagements

From the New York Times best-selling author of Commencement and Maine comes a gorgeous, sprawling novel about marriage—about those who marry in a white heat of passion, those who marry for partnership and comfort, and those who live together, love each other, and have absolutely no intention of ruining it all with a wedding.  Evelyn has been married to her husband for forty years—forty years since he slipped off her first wedding ring and put his own in its place. Delphine has seen both sides of love—the ecstatic, glorious highs of seduction, and the bitter, spiteful fury that descends when it’s over. James, a paramedic who works the night shift, knows his wife’s family thinks she could have done better; while Kate, partnered with Dan for a decade, has seen every kind of wedding—beach weddings, backyard weddings, castle weddings—and has vowed never, ever, to have one of her own.   As these lives and marriages unfold in surprising ways, we meet Frances Gerety, a young advertising copywriter in 1947. Frances is working on the De Beers campaign and she needs a signature line, so, one night before bed, she scribbles a phrase on a scrap of paper: “A Diamond Is Forever.” And that line changes everything.  A rich, layered, exhilarating novel spanning nearly a hundred years, The Engagements captures four wholly unique marriages, while tracing the story of diamonds in America, and the way—for better or for worse—these glittering stones have come to symbolize our deepest hopes for everlasting love.

June 18 from Soho Press

in the house

 

In this epic, mythical debut novel, a newly-wed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost-uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods, and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife’s beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house.  This novel, from one of our most exciting young writers, is a powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage—and of what happens when a marriage’s success is measured solely by the children it produces, or else the sorrow that marks their absence.

 

June 18 from Doubleday

A spectacularly original, vibrant, and spirited debut narrated by a shy, sensitive college student who, in her search for love and lovebirdfamily, must flee everything she knows.    Margie Fitzgerald has always had a soft spot for helpless creatures. Her warm heart breaks, her left ovary twinges, and Margie finds herself smitten with sympathy. This is how Margie falls in love with her Latin professor, a lonely widower and single father who trembles visibly in class. This is how Margie joins a band of ragtag student activists called H.E.A.R.T. (Humans Encouraging Animal Rights Today) in liberating lovebirds from their pet-store cages. And this is how Margie becomes involved in a plan so dangerous, so reckless, and so illegal, that she must flee her California college town, cut off contact with her dear old dad, and start fresh in a place unlike anywhere she has ever been. Introducing one of the most unforgettable heroines in recent fiction, The Lovebird is a novel about a girl who can’t abandon a lost cause, who loves animals, and who must travel to the loneliest place on earth to figure out where she really belongs.

 

 

June 18 from Soho Crime

Sequel to ROCK PAPER TIGER

Sequel to ROCK PAPER TIGER

Iraq War vet Ellie McEnroe has a pretty good life in Beijing, representing the work of controversial dissident Chinese artist Zhang Jianli. Even though Zhang’s mysterious disappearance of over a year ago has her in the sights of the Chinese authorities. Even though her Born-Again mother has come for a visit and shows no signs of leaving. But when her mom takes up with “that nice Mr. Zhou next door,” Ellie decides that it’s time to get out of town—given her mother’s past bad choices of men, no good can come of this.  An old Army buddy, Dog Turner, gives her the perfect excuse. His unstable brother Jason has disappeared in picturesque Yangshuo, a famous tourist destination, and though Ellie knows it’s a long shot, she agrees to try to find him. At worst, she figures she’ll have a few days of fun in some gorgeous scenery.  But her plans for a relaxing vacation are immediately complicated when her mother and the new boyfriend tag along. And as soon as she starts asking questions about the missing Jason, Ellie realizes that she’s stumbled into a dangerous conspiracy that may or may not involve a sinister biotech company, eco-terrorists, an art-obsessed Chinese billionaire and lots of cats—one that will take her on a wild chase through some of China’s most beautiful—and most surreal—places.

 

June 25 from Redhook

universe

A rare meteorite struck Alex Woods when he was ten years old, leaving scars and marking him for an extraordinary future. The son of a fortune teller, bookish, and an easy target for bullies, Alex hasn’t had the easiest childhood.   But when he meets curmudgeonly widower Mr. Peterson, he finds an unlikely friend. Someone who teaches him that that you only get one shot at life. That you have to make it count.   So when, aged seventeen, Alex is stopped at customs with 113 grams of marijuana, an urn full of ashes on the front seat, and an entire nation in uproar, he’s fairly sure he’s done the right thing …Introducing a bright young voice destined to charm the world, The Universe Versus Alex Woods is a celebration of curious incidents, astronomy and astrology, the works of Kurt Vonnegut and the unexpected connections that form our world.

Paperback Releases

June 4 from Simon & Schuster

banyan

In her debut novel, In the Shadow of the Banyan, fiction eerily mirrors Ratner’s reality, as she tells the visceral and achingly heartbreaking story of 7-year-old Raami, a member of the royal family and a child who should never have had to see the things she witnessed.  Raami’s story is loosely based on Ratner’s life.

Like Ratner, Raami holds on to her innocence as only a very young child can.  Raami transports herself away from the ugliness and violence around her by turning inward.  For a time, she does not speak.  She is in a world of her own making.  Ratner employs magical realism, and this literary device works well when one is telling a story from the point of view of a 7-year-old, especially one who has seen such horror.  –From my book review

Read my interview with Vaddey Ratner here.

 

June 18 from Simon & Schuster

green shoreIn a nod to her father’s birthplace, Natalie sets her story mostly in Greece and focuses on a dark period of the country’s history, one that is virtually unknown to most: the 1967 to 1974 military dictatorship.  This period in Greek history, quite honestly, was Greek to this reviewer.  Natalie Bakopoulos, though, takes this event and personalizes it.  In her novel, the political becomes personal, and the personal becomes political…Since Bakopoulos is part Greek, she is intimately aware of Greek history and tradition.  Her knowledge and familiarity with Greece make this story all the more authentic.  Early on in the novel, Eleni and the rest of the family celebrate Easter.  Each takes a dyed-red egg.  Bakopoulos writes, “As was tradition, they would each take a hard-boiled, bright red egg and hit it together with the adjacent person’s, first the pointed end and then the round.  The last one with an intact egg was destined to have good fortune for the rest of the year.”  Reading this description, I could not help but wonder if the family itself would be cracked and broken by novel’s end.  Bakopoulos’s use of this Greek tradition is clever foreshadowing.     –From my book review

June 18 from Back Bay Books

tigers

Klaussmann channels F. Scott Fitzgerald in her decades-spanning tale, which suspensefully and chillingly allows us to witness events as five different people see them, showing how much point of view matters in storytelling.   –From my blurb in Elle, December 2012

Read my full review here

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What are you looking forward to reading in June?  I’d love to hear from you!

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Reading Round-Up

I spent last week basking in the sun and playing in the waters of Perdido Key.  Though Gulf waters were slightly colder than normal, I was not deterred.

I spotted a school of about 20-30 stingrays, eight dolphins frolicking in the surf, and one very large (and very close to shore) shark.  Scuttlebutt said it was a Great Hammerhead, but I have my doubts; I saw the head and it was not a hammerhead.  Looked more like a blue shark or a nurse shark to me.

I also played both the Florida Lotto and the Powerball.  Alas, I was not a winner in either.  Better luck next time.

I did some extensive reading done, and that is the goal of this blog post–to share with you what I read.

yonahlossee

Masterful and exquisite period piece set in the Great Depression.  This comes out in June.

a hundred summers

The perfect, propulsive summer read.  A Hundred Summers is like candy–once you start, you can’t stop!

inferno

Disappointing but better than The Lost Symbol.

5th wave

A YA novel adults will love.  Thought-provoking and highly intense, this page-turner will keep you up all night.

hour of the ratBrackmann’s clever, taut sequel to her bestseller Rock Paper Tiger.  

What I’m Reading:

kings and queens

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

southern cross the dog

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Filed under beach books, book review, Bookmagnet's Best Books of the Month, books, contemporary fiction, fiction, historical fiction, literary fiction, mystery, Southern fiction, thriller

It’s May–What Should I Read?

May is here, and everything’s coming up books!  And that is indeed a wonderful thing.  There’s lots of variety, meaning there should be something for everyone this month.

Titles To Pick Up Now

dear-lucy.jpgDear Lucy by the extraordinarily talented Julie Sarkissian is available now.  I loved Sarkissian’s debut and feel fiercely protective of her main character, Lucy, who is developmentally delayed.  If you are a fan of Gothic tales, this will be perfect for you.  I spotlighted the book and interviewed Sarkissian.  Book review is coming soon.

I go down the stairs quiet like I am something without any weight. I open the door in the dark and the cold sucks my skin towards it. It is the morning but there is no sun yet, just white light around the edges. It is the time to get the eggs. Time for my best thing. The eggs they shine with their white and I do not need the light to find them. The foxes need no light either. I am a little like the fox, he is a little like me.—From Dear Lucy

Dear Lucy is a very unique book, one that you will be sorry you missed.

 

Another recently-released debut that I am enjoying is  Amity & Sorrow by Peggy Riley.  Check out my spotlight on the novel.  amity and sorrow

A mother and her daughters drive for days without sleep until they crash their car in rural Oklahoma. The mother, Amaranth, is desperate to get away from someone she’s convinced will follow them wherever they go–her husband. The girls, Amity and Sorrow, can’t imagine what the world holds outside their father’s polygamous compound. Rescue comes in the unlikely form of Bradley, a farmer grieving the loss of his wife. At first unwelcoming to these strange, prayerful women, Bradley’s abiding tolerance gets the best of him, and they become a new kind of family. An unforgettable story of belief and redemption, AMITY & SORROW is about the influence of community and learning to stand on your own.

Riley’s tale is gripping, even from the first page when she introduces readers to sisters who are tied together at the wrist.  Amity & Sorrow is an unflinching, timely, and intriguing look at a fundamentalist cult and a mother who will do anything to save her daughters.

 

Claire Messud, author of The Emperor’s Children, returns with a new novel called The Woman Upstairs.  

the woman upstairsNora Eldridge, a 37-year-old elementary school teacher in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is on the verge of disappearing. Having abandoned her desire to be an artist, she has become the “woman upstairs,” a reliable friend and tidy neighbour always on the fringe of others’ achievements. Then into her classroom walks a new pupil, Reza Shahid, a child who enchants as if from a fairy tale. He and his parents–dashing Skandar, a half-Muslim Professor of Ethical History born in Beirut, and Sirena, an effortlessly glamorous Italian artist–have come to America for Skandar to teach at Harvard.  But one afternoon, Reza is attacked by schoolyard bullies who punch, push and call him a “terrorist,” and Nora is quickly drawn deep into the complex world of the Shahid family. Soon she finds herself falling in love with them, separately and together. Nora’s happiness explodes her boundaries–until Sirena’s own ambition leads to a shattering betrayal.  Written with intimacy and piercing emotion, this urgently dispatched story of obsession and artistic fulfillment explores the thrill–and the devastating cost–of giving in to one’s passions. The Woman Upstairs is a masterly story of America today, of being a woman and of the exhilarations of love.

I’m so proud of debut novelist Julie Wu.  Her dazzling historical epic, The Third Son, was featured in May’s O, The Oprah Magazine and chosen as one of Amazon’s best books of May.  The Third Son is a rich debut featuring a character who I came to see as family.  Saburo is a very special character, one who will steal your heart.  Wu’s story is perfect for fans of Samuel Park, Jamie Ford, Janice Y.K. Lee, and Lisa See.  I spotlighted the book and interviewed Wu.  A review is coming soon.

It’s 1943. As air-raid sirens blare in Japanese-occupied Taiwan, eight-year-old Saburo walks through the peach forests of Taoyuan. the third sonThe least favored son of a Taiwanese politician, Saburo is in no hurry to get home to the taunting and abuse he suffers at the hands of his parents and older brother. In the forest he meets Yoshiko, whose descriptions of her loving family are to Saburo like a glimpse of paradise.  Meeting her is a moment he will remember forever, and for years he will try to find her again. When he finally does, she is by the side of his oldest brother and greatest rival.

Set in a tumultuous and violent period of Taiwanese history—as the Chinese Nationalist Army lays claim to the island and one autocracy replaces another—The Third Son tells the story of lives governed by the inheritance of family and the legacy of culture, and of a young man determined to free himself from both.  In Saburo, author Julie Wu has created an extraordinary character, a gentle soul forced to fight for everything he’s ever wanted: food, an education, and his first love, Yoshiko. A sparkling, evocative debut, it will have readers cheering for this young boy with his head in the clouds who, against all odds, finds himself on the frontier of America’s space program.

 

Coming Soon

On May 7, Bloomsbury USA will publish the latest novel from bestselling author Gail Godwin.

floraTen-year-old Helen and her summer guardian, Flora, are isolated together in Helen’s decaying family house while her father is doing secret war work in Oak Ridge during the final months of World War II.At three Helen lost her mother and the beloved grandmother who raised her has just died.A fiercely imaginative child, Helen is desperate to keep her house intact with all its ghosts and stories.Flora, her late mother’s twenty-two-year old first cousin, who cries at the drop of a hat, is ardently determined to do her best for Helen.Their relationship and its fallout, played against a backdrop of a lost America will haunt Helen for the rest of her life.

This darkly beautiful novel about a child and a caretaker in isolation evokes shades of The Turn of the Screw and also harks back to Godwin’s memorable novel of growing up, The Finishing School. With its house on top of a mountain and a child who may be a bomb that will one day go off, Flora tells a story of love, regret, and the things we can’t undo.It will stay with readers long after the last page is turned.

Caroline’s Leavitt’s tenth novel, Is This Tomorrow, comes out May 7 from Algonquin Books.

 

In 1956, when divorced working-mom is this tomorrowAva Lark rents a house with her twelve-year-old son, Lewis, in a Boston suburb, the neighborhood is less than welcoming. Lewis yearns for his absent father, befriending the only other fatherless kids: Jimmy and Rose. One afternoon, Jimmy goes missing. The neighborhood in the era of the Cold War, bomb scares, and paranoia seizes the opportunity to further ostracize Ava and her son.Lewis never recovers from the disappearance of his childhood friend. By the time he reaches his twenties, he s living a directionless life, a failure in love, estranged from his mother. Rose is now a schoolteacher in another city, watching over children as she was never able to watch over her own brother. Ava is building a new life for herself in a new decade. When the mystery of Jimmy s disappearance is unexpectedly solved, all three must try to reclaim what they have lost.

 

 

constellationA Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra will be released on May 7 by Hogarth.  A resilient doctor risks everything to save the life of a hunted child, in this majestic debut about love, loss, and the unexpected ties that bind us together.  In his brilliant, haunting novel, Stegner Fellow and Whiting Award winner Anthony Marra transports us to a snow-covered village in Chechnya, where eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as Russian soldiers abduct her father in the middle of the night, accusing him of aiding Chechen rebels. Across the road their lifelong neighbor and family friend Akhmed has also been watching, fearing the worst when the soldiers set fire to Havaa’s house. But when he finds her hiding in the forest with a strange blue suitcase, he makes a decision that will forever change their lives. He will seek refuge at the abandoned hospital where the sole remaining doctor, Sonja Rabina, treats the wounded.  For the talented, tough-minded Sonja, the arrival of Akhmed and Havaa is an unwelcome surprise. Weary and overburdened, she has no desire to take on additional risk and responsibility. And she has a deeply personal reason for caution: harboring these refugees could easily jeopardize the return of her missing sister. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis and reveal the intricate pattern of connections that weave together the pasts of these three unlikely companions and unexpectedly decides their fate. A story of the transcendent power of love in wartime, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena is a work of sweeping breadth, profound compassion, and lasting significance.

Also on May 7 comes Daniel Wallace’s latest yarn, The Kings and Queens of Roam, from Touchstone.

kings and queens

 

From the celebrated author of Big Fish, an imaginative, moving novel about two sisters and the dark legacy and magical town that entwine them.  Helen and Rachel McCallister, who live in a town called Roam, are as different as sisters can be: Helen older, bitter, and conniving; Rachel beautiful, naïve – and blind. When their parents die an untimely death, Rachel has to rely on Helen for everything, but Helen embraces her role in all the wrong ways, convincing Rachel that the world is a dark and dangerous place she couldn’t possibly survive on her own … or so Helen believes, until Rachel makes a surprising choice that turns both their worlds upside down.  In this new novel, Southern literary master Daniel Wallace returns to the tradition of tall-tales and folklore made memorable in his bestselling Big Fish. The Kings and Queens of Roam is a wildly inventive, beautifully written, and big-hearted tale of family and the ties that bind

 

Unbridled Books will publish River of Dust by Virginia Pye on May 14.  On the windswept plains of northwestern China, Mongol river of dustbandits swoop down upon an American missionary couple and steal their small child. The Reverend sets out in search of the boy and becomes lost in the rugged, corrupt countryside populated by opium dens, sly nomadic warlords and traveling circuses. This upright Midwestern minister develops a following among the Chinese peasants and is christened Ghost Man for what they perceive are his otherworldly powers. Grace, his young ingénue wife, pregnant with their second child, takes to her sick bed in the mission compound, where visions of her stolen child and lost husband begin to beckon to her from across the plains. The foreign couple’s savvy and dedicated Chinese servants, Ahcho and Mai Lin, accompany and eventually lead them through dangerous territory to find one another again. With their Christian beliefs sorely tested, their concept of fate expanded, and their physical health rapidly deteriorating, the Reverend and Grace may finally discover an understanding between them that is greater than the vast distance they have come.

 

americanahOn May 14, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s new novel, Americanah, hits shelves from Knopf.  From the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun, a dazzling new novel: a story of love and race centered around a young man and woman from Nigeria who face difficult choices and challenges in the countries they come to call home.  As teenagers in a Lagos secondary school, Ifemelu and Obinze fall in love. Their Nigeria is under military dictatorship, and people are leaving the country if they can. Ifemelu—beautiful, self-assured—departs for America to study. She suffers defeats and triumphs, finds and loses relationships and friendships, all the while feeling the weight of something she never thought of back home: race. Obinze—the quiet, thoughtful son of a professor—had hoped to join her, but post-9/11 America will not let him in, and he plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London.   Years later, Obinze is a wealthy man in a newly democratic Nigeria, while Ifemelu has achieved success as a writer of an eye-opening blog about race in America. But when Ifemelu returns to Nigeria, and she and Obinze reignite their shared passion—for their homeland and for each other—they will face the toughest decisions of their lives.   Fearless, gripping, at once darkly funny and tender, spanning three continents and numerous lives, Americanah is a richly told story set in today’s globalized world: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s most powerful and astonishing novel yet.

 

Patricia Beard’s A Certain Summer will be ready for your beach bag on May 21.  The publisher is Gallery Books.  “Nothing ever a certain summerchanges at Wauregan.” That mystique is the tradition of the idyllic island colony off the shore of Long Island, the comforting tradition that its summer dwellers have lived by for over half a century. But in the summer of 1948, after a world war has claimed countless men—even those who came home—the time has come to deal with history’s indelible scars.  Helen Wadsworth’s husband, Arthur, was declared missing in action during an OSS operation in France, but the official explanation was mysteriously nebulous. Now raising a teenage son who longs to know the truth about his father, Helen turns to Frank Hartman—her husband’s best friend and his partner on the mission when he disappeared. Frank, however, seems more intent on filling the void in Helen’s life that Arthur’s absence has left. As Helen’s affection for Frank grows, so does her guilt, especially when Peter Gavin, a handsome Marine who was brutally tortured by the Japanese and has returned with a faithful war dog, unexpectedly stirs new desires. With her heart pulled in multiple directions, Helen doesn’t know whom to trust—especially when a shocking discovery forever alters her perception of both love and war.  Part mystery, part love story, and part insider’s view of a very private world, A Certain Summer resonates in the heart long after the last page is turned.

we need new namesAlso published on May 21 is We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo from Reagan Arthur.  Darling is only 10 years old, and yet she must navigate a fragile and violent world. In Zimbabwe, Darling and her friends steal guavas, try to get the baby out of young Chipo’s belly, and grasp at memories of Before. Before their homes were destroyed by paramilitary policemen, before the school closed, before the fathers left for dangerous jobs abroad.

But Darling has a chance to escape: she has an aunt in America. She travels to this new land in search of America’s famous abundance only to find that her options as an immigrant are perilously few. NoViolet Bulawayo’s debut calls to mind the great storytellers of displacement and arrival who have come before her–from Zadie Smith to Monica Ali to J.M. Coetzee–while she tells a vivid, raw story all her own.

 

 

Riverhead releases what may well be another bestseller for author Khaled Hosseini on May 21, And the Mountains Echoed.  Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times-bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations.

and the mountains echoed

Who doesn’t love a good thriller?  While I was no fan of The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown, I am looking forward to the release of Inferno, out May 14 from Knopf Doubleday.  As The Lost Symbol showed me, Robert Langdon works best in Europe, and not in America.

In his international blockbusters The Da Vinci Code, Angels & Demons, and The Lost Symbol, Dan Brown masterfully fused history, infernoart, codes, and symbols. In this riveting new thriller, Brown returns to his element and has crafted his highest-stakes novel to date.  
In the heart of Italy, Harvard professor of symbology Robert Langdon is drawn into a harrowing world centered on one of history’s most enduring and mysterious literary masterpieces . . . Dante’s Inferno.  Against this backdrop, Langdon battles a chilling adversary and grapples with an ingenious riddle that pulls him into a landscape of classic art, secret passageways, and futuristic science. Drawing from Dante’s dark epic poem, Langdon races to find answers and decide whom to trust . . . before the world is irrevocably altered.

Paperback Releases

If you didn’t catch these amazing reads last year, they are either now available in paperback or are coming out this month.  Don’t miss them!

yellow birdsThe Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers is out now from Little, Brown.  Powers was nominated for a National Book Award in fiction for his tale of the Iraq War.

The Yellow Birds is unlike other Iraq War novels.  Powers actually fought in combat so he knows his stuff.  This is fiction, but there are kernels of truth within these pages.  He drives home the point that the War in Iraq has irrevocably changed a whole generation and our country will not ever be the same.  The Yellow Birds is penetrating, poignant, and deeply personal for Powers.  I can’t stop thinking about Bartle and Murph.  This is the debut of the year.  —Bookmagnet’s review

 

 

 

the dog starsPeter Heller’s The Dog Stars comes out in paperback May 7 from Vintage.

Hig is an “old man at forty” who lost his wife and their unborn child to the flu.  Hig’s narrative is unconventional as Heller uses flashbacks and sometimes strange streams of consciousness to tell us his story.  After the flu struck, encephalitis felled Hig.  “Two straight weeks of fever, three days 104 to 105,” Hig explains, “I know it cooked my brains.”  There is no pattern to Hig’s thoughts.  They are often jumbled and mish-mashed, often without segue from one thought to the next.  He begins many of his sentences with “and” or “so” and most of his thoughts are fragments.  What Hig has lived through and what he has lost speak to us from the page.  Heller uses a very powerful device, and Hig just would not be Hig without it.–Bookmagnet’s review

 

 

 

 

On May 7, Vintage releases Maggie Shipstead’s debut, Seating Arrangements, in paperback.  seating arrangements

Seating Arrangments is THE read of the summer, but this is no fluff piece.  Shipstead constructs a many-layered story in the same way a baker creates a layered wedding cake or a designer sews a wedding gown.  There are layers upon layers, and we must peel them back chapter by chapter. There are debut novels, and then there are debut novels.  Messy, disorganized jumbles lacking cohesion.  Unrealized characters with nothing to drive them.  Settings that fall flat.  A plot that isn’t.  This is not one of those debut novels.  —Bookmagnet’s review

 

 

 

wilderness

 

Lance Weller’s electrifying and shocking debut Wilderness comes out May 14 from Bloomsbury USA.

I interviewed Weller and he had this to say about coming up with the story:

“Abel Truman came to me well before I had any notion whatsoever that Wilderness would become what it ended up becoming.  I wanted to try and write a really excellent dog story and, to that end, started writing a short story about an old man and his dog and what became of them.  Before I really knew it, they were living on the Washington State coast and the old man was an American Civil War veteran and I was beyond the point where it was a short story by a good number of pages.”

From my interview with Weller

 

Mariner Books will publish Jennifer Miller’s smart debut The Year of the Gadfly May 28.  gadly

Foreshadowing is just one of the plot devices in which Miller shows off her skills.  Traveling to the school with her mother, Iris notices that “the mountainous peaks resembled teeth.  The road stretched between them like a black tongue.  And here we were, in our small vehicle, speeding toward that awful mouth.”  One cannot help but wonder if the school will swallow Iris…I recommend The Year of the Gadfly to fans of Curtis Sittenfeld’s Prep, Amber Dermont’s The Starboard Sea, and Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.  Miller’s story is intelligent, sharp, and eye-opening.  Miller shines as she describes the pain of adolescence and aptly compares high school to the political dealings of a Third World nation.  “In high school,” Miller warns, “you never knew who was your enemy and who was your friend.”  Keep that warning in mind as you readThe Year of the Gadfly.  As in Miller’s novel, our enemies sometimes disguise themselves as our friends.  Iris should be vigilant.  —Bookmagnet’s review

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