Fiction Previews, Feb. 2014, Pt. 1: Six Much-Buzzed Debuts

Antopol, Molly. The UnAmericans. Norton. Feb. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9780393241136. $24.95. SHORT STORIES
As suggested by the six-city tour, the reading group guide, and the extensive marketing campaign, this first collection by Stegner Fellow Antopol is much anticipated, and the foreign rights sales to six countries clinches the deal. Antopol’s scenarios range from a gallery owner’s underground shows of smuggled Soviet art in 1970s Jerusalem to an actor, blacklisted during the McCarthy era, reaching out to his son.

Baszile, Natalie. Queen Sugar. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Feb. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780670026135. $27.95. POP FICTION
Winner of the Hurston/Wright College Writer’s Award and a runner-up in the Faulkner Pirate’s Alley novel-in-progress competition, this work is already getting good feedback from early readers. The heroine, African American Charley Bordelon, is surprised when her father leaves her 800 acres of sugarcane lane in Louisiana, but she’s glad for the second chance it offers her and her young daughter. Leaving Los Angeles behind, she quickly learns that in Louisiana the past isn’t past and that sugarcane is a white man’s business.

Brown, Pierce. Red Rising. Del Rey: Ballantine. Feb. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780345539786. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780345539793. DYSTOPIAN
Galley giveaways at BEA and at social media sites and author appearances at BEA and the San Diego Comic-Con (with the New York Comic-Con to come) have built a lot of enthusiasm for this dystopian debut; tentative about social media reviews, I’m nevertheless impressed that close to 1200 Goodreads folks have read it or marked it to read, with available reviews averaging 4.58 stars out of five. In a dark future where class conflict is rising, a man named Darrow becomes a revolutionary after his wife’s execution. Hunger Games comparisons; first in a trilogy.

Feldman, Joshua Max. The Book of Jonah. Holt. Feb. 2014. 352p. ISBN 9780805097764. $28; ebk. ISBN 9780805097771. CD: Macmillan Audio. LITERARY
Lots of in-house enthusiasm for this literary debut, a lead fiction title for the publisher’s winter season. As the title suggests, this is a modern retelling of the biblical story of Jonah, featuring Manhattan lawyer Jonah Jacobstein. Jonah is a wildly successful hunk with two women at his beck and call when he has a biblical vision that changes his life; thereafter, he suffers some terrible losses but also meets a woman named Judith Bulbrook whose quiet intensity changes his life. Set in New York, Amsterdam, and (of all places) Las Vegas.

Shotwell, Vivien. Vienna Nocturne. Ballantine. Feb. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780345536372. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345536396. HISTORICAL
One can hardly quarrel with a debut historical that’s compared to Nancy Horan’s Loving Frank for its depiction of stymied passion and Paula McLain’s The Paris Wife for its sense of atmosphere. But the most intriguing thing about this book is that Shotwell, a graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, is also a professional opera singer who won the 2013 Phyllis Curtin Career Entry Prize and the 2012 David L. Kasdon Memorial Prize from the Yale School of Music. Her novel draws on the real-life story of British opera singer Anna Storace, who had a tempestuous affair with Mozart. An Editors’ Pick at Day of Dialog, with lots of galleys available at the show.

Swanson, Peter. The Girl with a Clock for a Heart. Morrow. Feb. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780062267498. $25.99. LITERARY THRILLER
Optioned by Unanimous Entertainment, with Academy Award winner James Marsh attached to write and direct, and with rights sold to eight countries, Swanson’s literary thriller is well positioned indeed. His protagonist? George Foss, who’s drinking quietly in his favorite Boston bar when the beautiful Liana Dector sits down next to him. The love of George’s life, never mind that she’s been gone 20 years, Liana is deeply in danger from thugs who think she has stolen money from them. She could also be a heartless killer. Swanson’s stories and poems have appeared in venues like the Atlantic and Soundings East.


Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.