Books for the Masses | Editors’ Picks BEA 2014

July2014webBEApicksTopB Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014

July2014webBEApicks1b1 Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014

A secret surprise

With the forthcoming release of Jodi Picoult’s Leaving Time (Ballantine, Oct.), the best-­selling author of such memorable titles as 2013’s The Storyteller announces her first publication with the Ballantine/Random House family. Librarians, get ready: readers are very excited about this book, which, as you know, if you were one of the many who picked up a signed ARC at BEA, delivers a mighty surprise. The author personally requests in a note on the back of the galley that readers “not reveal the ending or offer any spoilers in reviews or social media.” So, please, don’t do it!

Here’s what I can tell you: heartbroken 13-year-old Jenna Metcalf is determined to find her mother, Alice, who disappeared ten years earlier. Armed with hope, childhood memories, and clues taken from Alice’s surviving journals, Jenna sets out to solve the mystery of her mother’s whereabouts and to understand how this woman, a devoted caretaker and talented research scientist who pioneered the study of grief among elephants, could have abandoned her.

Jenna’s first stop for help is with former celebrity psychic Serenity, whose ability to communicate with the other side has seriously waned. However, moved by Jenna’s plight and some odd signals from beyond, Serenity agrees to offer assistance, even if it means faking her clairvoyant powers. Next on the team is Virgil Stanhope, a washed-up private eye with firsthand knowledge of the cold case connected to Alice’s disappearance. The novel’s heroine, however, is Alice, whose journey is one of marriage, motherhood, and a mind on the brink of discovery. Her voice, combined with Picoult’s fascinating research on elephants and their behavior, adds layers to the narrative’s complexity. At the end, readers will be stunned and satisfied, as the surprise is indeed a well-kept secret.

From secrets kept to secrets revealed and from the modern day to an earlier era. Readers will be captivated once again by the writing of historical romance author Grace Burrowes (Lady Jenny’s Christmas Portrait), whose new “Captive Hearts” series opens with The Captive (Sourcebooks Casablanca, Jul.). Christian Severn, Duke of Mercia, is recovering after enduring months of torture at the hands of French captors. Lady Gillian, countess of Greendale and recently widowed, has fresh wounds of her own. Captive is refreshingly complicated, but if its protagonists’ love is going to be everlasting they will have to fight: for each other, their family honor, and even their pleasure. Burrowes’s latest is fun and beautifully written (see LJ Xpress Reviews, 6/13/14).—Annalisa Pesek

 

July2014webBEApicks2b1 Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014Growing pains

From coming-of-age debuts to potential YA crossovers, here are titles that sparked my interest at BEA.

In the vein of Erik Larson’s best seller The Devil in the White City, Gary Krist’s exposé of New Orleans at the turn of the century, Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans (Crown, Oct.), proves that truth really is stranger than fiction by detailing the prominent figures within Storyville, the Crescent City’s red-light district. Krist spotlights Tom Anderson, the czar of Storyville, and his interactions with community members who have conflicting interests: prostitutes, reformers, politicians, the Mafia, and even a serial killer. Fans of Boardwalk Empire would enjoy this crime thriller as well.

Another New Orleans–based book is Dollbaby (Pamela Dorman: Viking, Jul.), the debut by Laura Lane McNeal. Already receiving buzz on GoodReads, the novel, which is set in the 1960s, tells the story of 12-year-old Ibby in the years after her dad tragically dies and her mom leaves her on Grandma Fannie’s doorstep. (Ibby was unaware she had a grandma until that point.) McNeal describes Ibby’s blossoming relationship with Fannie as well as her household staff: Queenie and her daughter, Dollbaby. Through their friendship, Ibby learns about race relations in the South and the true meaning of family. While the book has obvious ties to The Help and The Secret Life of Bees, fans of Wiley Cash and Sarah Addison Allen will enjoy this novel, too.

At the show I also discovered Friendswood (Riverhead, Aug.), the latest novel from Rene Steinke. Friendswood relays the events in a close-knit Texas town after a mother, Lee, loses her teenage daughter to cancer and Willa, a high school girl, is assaulted by a member of the football team. Steinke explores the similarities between these two situations in which women are expected to remain silent and religion is used as a crutch. Rounding out the characters are Hal, a recovering alcoholic, and Dex, a troubled football player. This well-crafted story has the emotional pull of Amanda Coplin’s The Orchardist combined with the small-town complexities of cult-favorite television drama Friday Night Lights.

Lastly, I am excited for Jean Kwok’s Mambo in Chinatown (Riverhead, Jun.; LJ 6/15/14). It focuses on twentysomething Charlie, an Asian American and self-proclaimed awkward dishwasher who has lived in Manhattan’s Chinatown her entire life. Charlie longs for more and has a passion for dance but is afraid of dis­appointing her noodle maker dad, who has sacrificed everything for his two daughters. Following the death of their mother, Charlie feels like both a sister and a mother to her much younger—and ailing—sibling, Lisa. The story is akin to that in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah, one of my favorite novels from 2013, in that the main character is torn between two cultures and is unsure of her place in either.—Stephanie Sendaula

 

July2014webBEApicks3b1 Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014East egg to East Berlin

This was my first experience of BEA, and while it was a bit of a whirlwind, I had a great time. I dug my way out of galleys and free tote bags to write about a few of the books I’m excited to read.

Full disclosure: I love The Great Gatsby.
I loved it the first time I read it and each time since. At the Association of American Publishers (AAP)/LibraryReads Adult Librarians’ Dinner, I picked up a copy of
So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures (the title is a pun; I love this book already) by NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan (Little, Brown, Sept.). Corrigan is a Gatsby expert, and her book, longer than Gatsby itself, looks into the novel’s lasting power—including how it went from obscurity to consideration for the Great American Novel.

Another book about classic lit that I can’t wait for is Margaret C. Sullivan’s Jane Austen Cover to Cover (Quirk, Nov.). It traces 200 years of covers of Jane Austen novels, everything from fancy Victorian editions to mass-market paperbacks to foreign releases. From what I’ve seen, the commentary, aside from displaying clear insight and knowledge, is also a lot of fun—about one cover of Northanger Abbey: “our heroine is clearly a woman in danger (her bright-red manicure notwithstanding) with her glowering hero and his cowboy-style string tie standing—or looming, really—in the background.”

A title I’ve been flipping through a lot is Knopf associate art director Peter Mendelsund’s What We See When We Read (Vintage, Aug.). Often philosophical, it’s a fully illustrated book of literary criticism that examines the way we read and how we picture characters (“Characters have only implied corporeality. And our imaginations grant them unity.”) and scenes. For example, when we read, from where do we view the action? How does that change if a book is in the first person? Third? It’s all very thought provoking.

The era of history I’m most interested in is the period surrounding the fall of communism in Central and Eastern Europe, so I was hoping to have more Berlin Wall–related books on my radar by now, given that this November marks 25 years since it fell. One I’ve heard about that I want to read is Mary Elise Sarotte’s The Collapse: The Accidental Opening of the Berlin Wall (Basic, Oct.), which focuses on the events leading to the fall of perhaps the most iconic symbol of Cold War communism. I’m looking forward to seeing how it fits in with the current canon of Berlin Wall books.

And, finally, a novel that sounds quite exciting is debut author Paula Hawkins’s The Girl on the Train (Riverhead, Jan. 2015). The plot involves a woman who commutes by train, and when it makes a certain stop, she watches a couple at their home—coming up with names for them and generally imagining their life together. Then one of them goes missing, and the commuter somehow becomes part of the murder investigation. It was a Penguin editor’s pick at LJ’s Day of Dialog and, though the book is not due out for a while, DreamWorks has already acquired the film rights.—Amanda Mastrull

July2014webBEApicks4b1 Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014favorites

Some of my favorite authors (Tana French, Lev Grossman, Louise Penny) are continuing some of my favorites series
with new releases this summer and fall
(The Secret Place, Viking, Sept.;
The Magician’s Land, Viking, Aug.,
LJ 6/15/14; and The Long Way Home, ­Minotaur: St. Martin’s, Aug.), but there
are plenty of other exciting books on the horizon as well.

Randall Munroe (best known for his webcomic, xkcd) has penned What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (Houghton Harcourt, Sept.), an extension of an online project in which he provides factual answers to absurd questions, e.g., At what speed would you have to drive for rain to shatter your windshield? Or if a T. rex were released in New York City, how many humans per day would it need to consume to get its required caloric intake? The online column is enlightening, interesting, and frequently funny (I recommend the entry addressing how much cornstarch one can rinse down the drain “before unpleasant things start to happen” for a good chuckle), and I have very high hopes for the book.

Another much-loved online project that’s expanding into a book is Sara Kate Gillingham and Faith Durand’s The Kitchn Cookbook: Recipes, Kitchens and Tips To Improve Your Cooking (Clarkson Potter, Oct.). TheKitchn.com is the go-to site for many home cooks, owing to its warm, friendly editorial voice; its accessible recipes and how-tos; and the glimpses into other people’s kitchens—both figuratively and literally. The book’s 150 recipes include one-pot coconut chickpea curry, slow cooker carnitas, and no-bake banana and peanut butter caramel icebox cake. Tips for stocking, organizing, and cleaning your kitchen are also included—the five-minute-a-day plan for a clean kitchen alone makes the book worth the price, as far as I’m concerned.

I watched The Princess Bride enough times in my tweens and early teens that I could probably recite the entire script, so I’m really looking forward to Cary “Farm Boy/Man in Black/Dread Pirate Roberts” Elwes’s As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride (Touchstone, Oct.). I want stories about Andre the Giant’s posse and what it was like to wrestle those ROUSes and what everyone talked about after hours on the set and something sweet and funny and personal about every single member of that incredible cast. Information about the audio version had not been announced at press time. Can it be too much to hope that the author will narrate?—Stephanie Klose

 

July2014webBEApicks5b1 Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014Curiouser and curiouser

David Mitchell’s 2004 novel Cloud Atlas was an intricate network of stories that moved forward and backward in time and place. Its every sentence was loaded with thought-provoking and story-forwarding details; the whole effect was disorienting and revealing at the same time and created a book that was, interviews confirm, nigh-on impossible to adapt into a movie. A movie there was, though, and the popularity of both forms of the book makes Mitchell’s newest title,
The Bone Clocks (Random, Sept.), highly anticipated. It won’t disappoint; the novel is another hefty collection of mind-bending, interlocking tales that are reminiscent of a (very) adult version of Alice in Wonderland. Bizarre events surround and affect the protagonists, and the quirky and sometimes darkly odd characters they encounter are enacting a hidden plot. The language is as rich as that in Cloud Atlas, with Mitchell assuming the voices of characters as disparate as aliens and teenagers with equal credibility.

Prolific Indian American author and journalist Thrity Umrigar (The World We Found; The Weight of Heaven; If Today Be Sweet; among others) is back with The Story Hour (Harper­Collins, Aug.), an absorbing tale of two women who carve out a topsy-turvy symbiosis. Psychologist Maggie is called to the hospital to help Indian immigrant Lakshmi, who has attempted suicide, on Maggie’s colleague’s dubious assumption that Maggie’s marriage to an Indian man will give her insight into how to be of assistance. Readers then get an insider view of both women’s troubled marriages and a look at a therapeutic relationship that breaks all the rules as cultural boundaries are tested and reconfigured. A twist concerning why one of the women’s marriages is so unhappy tops off this assumption-overturning novel whose lessons about love and forgiveness will stay with the reader.

For exposure therapy with a difference, Caitlin Doughty, whose fear of death led her to develop OCD as a child, took a job in a mortuary. She planned to use the job as training for running her own funeral-home-with-a-difference—one in which relatives and friends would be invited to view embalming, for example, in a party atmosphere that would take away the fear and sadness. Needless to say, her idea didn’t work out, but her time in the morgue was worth it for readers who will take a morbid delight in her Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory (Norton, Sept). The book’s pulling back of the veil surrounding death and its aftermath is an education—and hilarious, too, as while Doughty treats the dead with the respect they deserve, she’s not above describing the ludicrous side of the death industry.—Henrietta Verma

 

July2014webBEApicks6b1 Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014Middle East Interlude

To understand the contemporary Middle East, particularly the impact of war, revolution, and exile on communities there and immigrants here, one could Google a lot, read the newspapers religiously, or load up an ereader with current events titles.
Or one could turn to the illuminating truths delivered by fiction and poetry, which is my preferred method. Luckily, at BEA, I came upon several small-press works that promise to give me the cultural connections I’ve been seeking.

With The Luminous Heart of Jonah S. (Akashic, Oct.), Orange Prize and IMPAC Award finalist Gina B. Nahai returns after seven years with another novel of bristly beauty, offering a distinctive look at Iranian Jewish life in America. Having fled oppressive Iran, the Los Angeles–based Soleymans find themselves hounded for decades by the unprincipled financier Raphael’s Son, a member of their own community. Then he vanishes, perhaps murdered, and the narrative blends mystery and immigrant saga as it considers the costs of making a new life abroad.

In Salar Abdoh’s Tehran at Twilight (Akashic, Oct.), Reza has left behind a war reporter’s burdens for the simple life in New York but feels compelled to return home to Iran after a phone call from a childhood friend. Codirector of the Creative Writing MFA program at the City College of New York, Abdoh deftly captures the uneasy atmosphere of 2008 Tehran, swirling with betrayal and corruption, as Reza is pointedly asked, “Who doesn’t have blood on their hands?” Then there’s tea (“Tea was always bloody well served”), highlighting life’s painful absurdities.

In Hassan Daoud’s The Penguin’s Song (City Lights, Nov.), widely celebrated in Lebanon when it appeared there in 1998, the destruction of much of Beirut’s old city by civil war has forced inhabitants into the surrounding hills. A deformed young man called the Penguin lives there with his parents, daydreaming about a comely neighbor. Polished and forthright, the narrative captures the Penguin’s heartbreak without stooping to sentimentality (“I would complete the evening’s togetherness alone, sitting at the window”), and his isolation parallels his community’s larger loss.

If writing persuasive political verse is a major test, then Philip Metres proves to be a star pupil. Sand Opera (Alice James, Jan. 2015), his formally inventive cri de coeur, sweeps from the increasingly, painfully fragmented lines of “abu ghraib arias” (one poem is simply a page-long clutch of punctuation marks) to visceral war scenes (“air/ of wrecks & reliquaries/ of wasp & papyrus/ barbed wire & hung/ lyre”). Redacted text, with small boxes replacing letters, suggests the suppressed voice of Arab Americans like Metres; “Sand Opera” is shown to be the partly blotted version of “Standard Operating Procedure.”

Both Vénus Khoury-Ghata’s Prix Goncourt–winning Where Are the Trees Going? (Curbstone: Northwestern Univ, Oct.) and Matthew Shenoda’s Tahrir Suite (Triquarterly: Northwestern Univ., Sept.) offer book-length meditations on exile. Lebanese-born Khoury-Ghata, who has lived in France since 1973, offers a densely realized portrait of the immigrant mother (“the mother married again and again/ gave birth to children the size of a pencil that she replanted/ then uprooted”), while Shenoda’s forthright verse follows Egypt’s recent uprising (“A dictator swallows the clouds for shade/ and the people are left beneath the sun”) with the shock of leaving for elsewhere (“When you first arrive/ your essence, stolen”). As with all the works here, these collections powerfully deliver news you can’t avoid.—Barbara Hoffert

 

July2014webBEApicks7b1 Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014Toxic teens and
other creatures

Warning! Proximity to teenage girls might just make you dead—or at least, very, very damaged. That’s the premise of my two top fave BEA picks, Tana French’s The Secret Place (Viking, Aug.) and Megan Abbott’s The Fever (Little, Brown, Jun.). Of course, many other themes are explored by these two maidens of murk, but, basically, yeah, teenage years are a bitch!

French’s title is the fifth in her loosely connected (translation: you don’t have to read them in order, but read them, you won’t regret it) “Dublin Murder Squad” series, each one more dazzling and intricate than its predecessor. This one’s about a murder on the grounds of an elite Dublin boarding school for girls, the powerful and scary alliances and misalliances between two cliques of students at St. Kilda’s, a newly minted partnership between two police officers working on the case, and a whole lot of mind games. It’s all about the mind games and second guesses in French’s books. She also excels at telling by not telling, and that lends even more urgency and tension to this story.

After several dazzling and dark retro-set novels, Abbott moved into the contemporary realm, where, have no fear, things are still pretty dark. She’s been hanging out in (troubled) teenville for a while, most noticeably making waves with her 2012 “cheerleader noir” title, Dare Me. The Fever is my favorite of her contemporary novels so far. I was consumed by the story of a mysterious contagion that sweeps through a suburban high school, affecting only girls. Abbott injects horror elements à la Shirley Jackson and Stephen King but with her own stamp. She’s toned down the psychosexual aspects this time and branched out to include several points of view besides that of the high school heroine, Deenie. It’s all to the good. I read this in one sitting.

I didn’t get my vintage fix from fiction, so thank heavens for nonfiction—and for actress/artist Angela Cartwright (TV’s Lost in Space and Make Room for Daddy; she played one of the Von Trapp kids in The Sound of Music). Her book, written with Tom McLaren, is the gorgeous Styling the Stars: Lost Treasures from the Twentieth Century Fox Archive (Insight Editions, Oct.). It contains continuity shots—photos the studio took of actors to make sure that their hair, makeup, and costumes remained consistent throughout filming. More than 150 performers, including Marilyn Monroe, Shirley Temple, Cary Grant, Paul Newman, Julie Andrews, and many others, are featured. I cannot wait to get my mitts on this one.

After a feast for the eyes, I’ll help myself to food critic Mimi Sheraton’s 1,000 Foods To Eat Before You Die: A Food Lover’s Life List (Workman, Jan. 2015). Sheraton was my favorite of the cookbook panelists who participated in LJ’s pre-BEA Day of Dialog event, and I’m going to echo the tagline on the swag bag that Workman was handing out to BEA attendees: “I’ll have what Mimi’s having.”

Speaking of cool swag bags, the one for Underwater Puppies (Little, Brown, Sept.), photographer Seth Casteel’s follow-up to his best seller Underwater Dogs (2012), was squee-licious! Puppies! Swimming! The cuteness! Oh, my. That’s all; you know this one will circulate like crazy. And in the interests of equal time, here’s a hilarious cat book—no wait, it’s The Best Cat Book Ever: Super-Amazing, 100% Awesome (Griffin: St. Martin’s, Oct.) by Kate Funk, starring an infinitely patient but annoyed-looking cat in an array of costumes and settings. Grumpy Cat, there’s a new kitteh in town, so better watch out!—Liz French

 

July2014webBEApicks8b1 Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014A literary sampler

As the popular fiction editor at LJ, I luxuriate in fiction galleys, so at BEA it’s refreshing to clear my literary palate and sample some nonfiction. Catching my eye this year was Francisco Goldman’s The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle (Grove, Jul.). Having been born and raised (for the first three years of my life) in the DF (Distrito Federal) and feeling a bit nostalgic about my hometown, I was curious to experience the Mexican capital through the eyes of a masterly writer. Approaching the fifth anniversary of his wife Aura’s death in a surfing accident (recounted in Say Her Name), Goldman decided to learn to drive in Mexico City (“the seemingly anarchic chaos and confusion of the city’s traffic had always intimidated and even terrified me”). His book skillfully fuses the author’s personal journey from grief with an insightful portrait of a vibrant, complicated, and fascinating metropolis increasingly menaced by the drug-fueled violence and political corruption afflicting other parts of Mexico.

Mexico’s social ills are also the subject of The Jaguar’s ­Children (Houghton Harcourt, Jan. 2015), a debut novel by the author of The Tiger (a 2010 LJ Best Book). Using the same narrative skills that made his true tale of a man-eating tiger in Siberia so gripping, John Vaillant tells the heart-stopping and heartrending story of Hector, a young man from Oaxaca trapped with 14 other illegal immigrants inside a tanker truck abandoned in the desert by their smugglers. No matter what side of the immigration debate readers stand on, they will not be untouched by the human tragedy Vaillant depicts so ­movingly.

South African author Lauren Beukes is a writer who never does the same book twice. Having melded a noir detective story with urban fantasy against the gritty backdrop of Johannesburg in the award-winning Zoo City, she next explored time travel and Chicago serial killers in The Shining Girls. Her fourth genre-bending novel, Broken Monsters (Mulholland: Little, Brown, Sept.), can best be described as Red Dragon meets The Wire. In a broken-down, bankrupt Detroit that has seen almost every type of crime, the corpse—half boy, half deer—goes beyond the pale. Someone is leaving nightmarish, surreal human-animal tableaux throughout the city, and as Det. ­Gabriella Versado investigates, things only get weirder and more terrifying. Beukes is a supremely talented author, and her new book is bound to garner her a wider readership.—Wilda Williams

 

July2014webBEApicks9b1 Books for the Masses | Editors Picks BEA 2014Life in perception

A special feature of BEA is spending time in LJ’s Librarians’ Lounge, our home away from home for those many librarians and educators attending the show. As our space has become the happening place, we have been pleased to welcome authors who share their time with the crowd and sign their books. Among this year’s writers on
“booth duty” was someone new to me,
Charles Martin, whose tenth novel,
A Life Intercepted (Center Street, Sept.), is a beautiful story of love, redemption, and football. A winning combination.

A writer I was already familiar with is Sherry Thomas. I first met her at a Romance Writers of America (RWA) conference when I had taken over editorship of LJ’s romance column and she had just published her debut novel (Private Arrangements). She had a fascinating story (she was my first interviewee, ow.ly/xYVev), a young immigrant from China who learned English via classic historical romances. She is now a multi-award-winning author in her own right. Though we didn’t physically commune at BEA, finding her new book (My Beautiful Enemy, Berkley Sensation, Aug.) was like running into an old friend. Thomas has honed her craft to a fine edge, penning exquisite stories of depth and emotion. Enemy alternates between 1883 in Chinese Turkestan and 1891 London to reveal a love that withstands hardship, danger, and separation before it can become whole. I see another RWA RITA Award in Thomas’s future.

Now I have a confession to make: I’m in love with British author JoJo Moyes. Well, not JoJo per se but certainly her books. I have read her earlier works and adored each one (The Girl You Left Behind; Me Before You). At BEA, I ran into Sarah MacLean, a favorite romance author of mine, and when she asked me what I was reading and could recommend, I said, “JoJo Moyes!! Everything.” At that time I had finished her latest (or so I thought) title, One Plus One (see starred review, LJ 5/1/14). Now, lo and behold, there is a new one, Silver Bay (Penguin, Sept.), originally published in England in 2007. This one is set in Australia, at a rundown resort in New South Wales that garners few guests but is in an area where “whalechasing” is a way of life and preserving the natural environment for most residents trumps big-time ­development. But, as with Moyes’s other tales, all is not as it seems. Ooh, so good.

I’m returning to my roots with Syrie James’s Jane Austen’s First Love (Berkley, Aug.; LJ Xpress Reviews, 6/27/14), since my first Editors’ Pick back in 2007 (LJ 9/1/07) was the author’s The Lost Memoirs of Jane Austen. James has a way of getting into Austen’s head and her style that is truly riveting. And, finally, don’t miss Hank Phillippi Ryan’s third title in her Jane Ryland thriller series, Truth Be Told (Forge, Oct.). An investigative reporter for Boston’s NBC affiliate and winner of numerous awards, Ryan knows of what she writes as she creates her own headline-grabbing stories that readers can’t put down.—Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox is Managing Editor, Barbara Hoffert is Prepub Alert Editor, and Stephanie Klose is Media Editor, LJ. Liz French is Senior Editor, Amanda Mastrull is Assistant Editor, Annalisa Pesek is Assistant Managing Editor, Stephanie Sendaula is Associate Editor, Henrietta Verma is Editor, and Wilda Williams is Fiction Editor, LJ Reviews

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