Readers, this is a bittersweet note. After writing more than 1,100 blog posts, discovering countless favorite new books and having the privilege to interview some of my very favorite authors, today is my last day at BookPage. I have loved talking books with so many passionate readers whom I have met through my work here, and it's been a privilege to come to work every day and get excited about books. I really am inspired by the people who read BookPage and The Book Case—especially those of you who read 15+ books a month! (And I know there are a lot of you out there.)
I think my favorite readers are the ones who have approached me over the last few years to say that a book they learned about in BookPage helped them cope with a tough experience, or inspired a great conversation. And I love hearing from people who go to the library on the first of every month to get their hands on a copy of BookPage. You make me smile!
And all of you grabbing (and dog-earring!) BookPage on the first of the month? That is totally going to be me in a few weeks, as I am moving from Nashville to Little Rock, Arkansas, where I will soon become a proud card-carrying member of the Central Arkansas Library System. After three and half happy years at BookPage, I am moving to a position at a magazine in Arkansas—though I fully expect to pop up in the comments here every once in a while. (I've taken a peek at some of the posts you can look forward to on the blog in the coming weeks—and some of the features in BookPage—and I know that we are all in for a treat.)
Thank you for letting me share my love of books on The Book Case. Happy reading!
With Valentine's Day just a week away, I wanted to share three new superlative series in the historical romance genre. Each of the books featured below is book #1 in a series—so jump on board now if you like to start a story at the beginning!
Beach House No. 9 by Christie Ridgway
HQN • $7.99 • ISBN 9780373777402
Published January 29, 2013
I interviewed Christie for the February issue of BookPage, and you can read that conversation here. It was fascinating to hear how the veteran romance author creates chemistry between her characters, and her description of the real-life Crystal Cove (which inspired her trilogy's setting) made me want to book a flight to California.
Beach House No. 9 is about book doctor Jane, a woman who is hired to work with war journalist Griffin on his memoir. Naturally, things don't go exactly as planned. Griffin can't seem to buckle down and write, and then there's the matter of the two of them falling in love . . .
Here's an early scene, after Jane moves into the guest room at Beach House No. 9 to keep a close eye on Griffin's work. This is early in the novel, but you can already see that she's having an affect on him:
Griffin propped his feet on the rail at Captain Crow's and sipped from the cardboard cup in his hand. The restaurant didn't serve breakfast, but the prep cook made a pot of coffee in the mornings, and this morning Griffin had made friends with the prep book. The guy had left for an emergency onion run, giving Griffin privacy and a place to start the day away from the eagle eye of the little dictator.
He still clung to his one and only plan in regards to Jane: avoid her as much as possible—and completely avoid what she wanted him to do.
After moving in two days before, she'd kept mostly to the guest room she'd selected. Though he'd continued blasting music through his earbuds, her close proximity seemed to punch through the wall of sound. He'd felt her presence, the capable and unwavering energy she exuded, despite the beams and plaster between them. She'd brought into his house a new scent too, a light and feminine fragrance that somehow pierced the Pacific's own salty-green perfume.
At dinner that first night, while he'd manned the barbecue and stayed out of range of the conversation between her, his family and Old Man Monroe as much as possible, he'd still been able to chronicle the effect she had on them. She'd managed to surprise a laugh out of his sister, unearth a set of jacks to amuse his nephews, put a book in the hands of his sulking niece and send their elderly neighbor home with a smile after a short stint holding the sleeping baby.
If he didn't keep up his guard, damn it, he had good reason to fear she'd manage to make him start the memoir.
He wasn't ready.
I can't tell you how many conversations I've had about erotic romance over the past year. How many people—in real life and via social media—have asked: I loved Fifty Shades . . . but what can I read next? Or: Why are millions of people reading this trash? Everyone has an opinion about the popularity of erotic romance. My two cents? I just want people to find a book that suits their taste.
I will say that I've grown a bit bored of the whole innocent-young-woman-is-seduced-by-a-billionaire plotline. So I was really excited to learn of S.E.C.R.E.T. by L. Marie Adeline, which gives the trope a feminist spin: What if the women control the fantasies? And I was intrigued by the novel's New Orleans setting. Forget boardrooms in big-city skyscrapers. Can you think of a better background for erotic romance than the French Quarter?
In a guest blog post, Adeline explains how she came to write erotic romance in the first place—and why her book stands out in a crowded market. If you've been on the fence about reading erotic romance, I hope you pick up S.E.C.R.E.T., which is on sale today.
Embracing the "what ifs" of erotic romance
By L. Marie Adeline
As a writer I always start with “what if.” When I set out to write S.E.C.R.E.T., a book about a woman named Cassie Robichaud who’s on a potent sexual journey, my “what if” had to do with my own reluctance to write erotica. The question became “What if you got over that fear and reached a wider audience, one now so clearly illuminated by the success of Fifty Shades of Grey?”
I’d always written about women’s struggles with intimacy. But I’d mostly get my characters to the bedroom doorway, then mutter, “Okay. Bye. Have fun. I’ll catch up with you later.” Maybe I’d linger for a kiss, but rarely did I watch it go down. Why? What if my idea of good (or bad) sex didn’t resonate with readers? What if my character’s proclivities were ridiculed?
When Fifty Shades began its bestseller climb, I had been working on a financial advice book. My editor basically dared me to man up (or woman up), and try my hand at erotica, and, well, I did. Following close upon the heels of my first literary “what if” came other questions:
What if my character wasn’t a very young woman but was a little older? What if I gave the story a feminist angle? What if a woman could learn to stay emotionally detached to men she’s sexually attracted to, and what if she could learn to be sexually attracted to men to whom she is emotionally attached? What if other savvier women taught her how to do that?
That’s what I feel differentiates S.E.C.R.E.T. from other novels in this genre. In my book, women help other women develop better sexual attitudes towards their partners.
In S.E.C.R.E.T., Cassie is recruited by a secret society of women in New Orleans that helps her overcome her sexual blocks. The group orchestrates nine daring sexual fantasies over the course of one year. With the group’s support, Cassie becomes more alive to herself. It’s not that Cassie doesn’t “fall” for some of these incredible men, but her guide, Matilda, is there to warn her of the pitfalls of mixing lust with love. Wouldn’t it be great if we all had a Matilda to tell us the truth about the Heathcliffs, the Rochesters and the Christian Greys? In Matilda’s mind, the men in S.E.C.R.E.T. are fine for sex. Perfect, in fact. But for true and lasting love, not so much. And Cassie needs to hear that from another woman who’s been there, done them.
That’s not to say Cassie isn’t on a romantic journey as well. There’s this guy, see, and of course it’s complicated . . . but in S.E.C.R.E.T., the erotic and romantic are explored separately before they finally, hopefully, come together at the end.
Here’s the key: For Cassie to have uninhibited sex with these fantasy men, she needs support and guidance from other women who overcame the same fears, the same reluctance, the same self-doubts Cassie has. She needs to see that women who take big risks often reap great rewards. She needs to be gently nudged out of her head and into the bedroom. The women in S.E.C.R.E.T. carved a path, and support Cassie, and frankly, that’s what E.L. James and other daring erotica writers have done for me. And for that, I’m grateful.
In our office we discuss and anticipate the announcement of the Newbery, Caldecott and Printz Awards with passion and glee—and let's just say that this morning there was a fair bit of squealing when the ALA named this year's recipients.
Perhaps most of all, we are thrilled that Jon Klassen was awarded the Caldecott Award for This Is Not My Hat, the story of a big fish in pursuit of a tiny thief. For the October 2012 issue of BookPage, Klassen hand-illustrated a Q&A for us. We loved the result (and of course we loved the book itself!):
We are also tickled that Katherine Applegate won the Newbery Award for The One and Only Ivan, which we reviewed in January 2012. Reviewer Keven Delecki praised this "brave, moving story" about the animals who live at the Exit 8 Big Top Mall.
The Printz Award went to In Darkness by Nick Lake, which BookPage reviewer Kimberly Giarrantano described as "an incredible novel." It's a harrowing and compelling story about a teen boy in the aftermath of the 2010 Haitian earthquake.
For more on these award-winning books—and other fantastic picks for young readers—subscribe to Children's Corner, our bimonthly e-newsletter. The next edition goes out Wednesday and will feature some very special interviews. (Hint, hint.)
And without further ado, here is a (partial) list of the 2013 Youth Media Award winners. Find the full list here, and click the links below to read coverage in BookPage.
2013 NEWBERY AWARD
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate (HarperCollins)
2013 CALDECOTT AWARD
This Is Not My Hat by Jon Klassen (Candlewick)
2013 PRINTZ AWARD
In Darkness by Nick Lake (Bloomsbury)
For even more recommendations for fantastic children's and teen books, see our list of the Best Children's Books for 2012.
A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee
Random House • $26 • ISBN 9780812993219
Published March 12, 2013
Like The Privileges, this novel tells the story of a wealthy couple. But here the couple find themselves in the midst of a major disaster: The husband, Ben, has a total breakdown, eventually getting himself a DWI and an accusation of sexual harassment from a summer associate at his law firm. Helen, the main character and Ben's wife, divorces her husband and must figure out a way to support herself and her daughter. Turns out she has a knack for PR. Specifically, she intuitively knows how to make powerful men (think, politicians embroiled in sex scandals) apologize. The story is a clever critique of our culture—both amusing and timely. Though A Thousand Pardons lacks the grace of The Privileges, I thought it was an entertaining read, and I enjoyed watching Helen's reinvention.
Here's an excerpt from an early scene, in which Helen must reason with a New York councilman whose violent actions have been caught on a surveillance camera. Helen's the first one speaking, then the councilman.
"You will admit to everything. You will apologize to this young woman, by name, for your violent behavior. You will not use any phrases like 'moment of weakness' or 'regrettable incident.' You will apologize to your wife, and to your children, and to your parents if they are still alive . . . Basically, you will get up in front of the cameras and make an offering of yourself."
Some of the redness drained from his face as she spoke; she could feel, as she'd felt before, the power her words gave her over him. "You really think that's the play?" he said.
"That is the only play. To ask forgiveness. If you hold back in any way, the story lives. Let me ask you this: presumably you are a man with ambitions. What do you want to happen now? What is the outcome that will put those ambitions back on the track that your own mistakes threw them off of?"
He tipped back noiselessly in his chair. "I want to stay in office," he said. "I want to be reelected. This was a stupid thing for me to have done, but it does not define me. It was a one-time thing, and I want to get away from it."
"You will never get away from it," Helen said. "But you can incorporate it into the narrative. You have to be sincere. You have to be completely abject, and not attempt to defend yourself or your behavior in any way, and not attempt to defend yourself or your behavior in any way. No 'I was drunk,' no 'she hit me first.' You have to take, and answer, every question. You have to hold your temper when people try to get you lose it. Do you think you can do that?"
Criminal Enterprise by Owen Laukkanen
Putnam • $26.95 • ISBN 9780399157905
Published March 21, 2013
I like Laukkanen's books because they start with a scenario that's plausible given our current economy. In The Professionals, a group of under-employed college grads turn to kidnapping to pay the bills. In Criminal Enterprise, a family man is laid off from his high-paying corporate job. He's got a pricey mortgage, a fancy car, kids, a stay-at-home wife. So what's he do to stay afloat? He starts robbing banks, of course (though it doesn't take long for Windermere and Stevens to get on his tail). Here's an early scene:
Tomlin settled into a rhythm. A few days a week doing taxes for senior citizens, a couple contract jobs for friends at big firms. A robbery every few weeks, when the money got low.
Or, more and more, whenever the mood struck him.
It wasn't just about the money anymore. Not even close. It was about the excitement, the power, the quick jolt of electricity he felt when the pretty tellers wilted at the sight of his gun. It was the same thrill he'd once felt when he walked through his office, watching the worker drones stiffen at their cubicles, knowing the room's collective sphincter had tightened the moment he walked through the door. It was power. Control. Robbing banks filled the void while it paid off his mortgage. And nobody had figured him out.
Tomlin found a small office in Lowertown, east of downtown Saint Paul. It was an old, musty low-rise with patchy off white walls and buzzing fluorescent lights, graffiti on the sooty facade. But Tomlin didn't much care for looks. An office would provide cover. An easy way to launder the robbery money.
What are you reading today?
Time and time again, we have learned that BookPage readers have a soft spot for suspense. In January, we recommend 12 books that will appeal to a range of mystery lovers—from those who love adventure thrillers, to those who read historical mysteries or classic police procedurals.
In the January Whodunit column, Bruce Tierney recommends four books that will keep you hooked past bedtime:
For fans of supernatural whodunits:
Read The Wrath of Angels, John Connolly’s new Charlie Parker thriller. Tierney writes: The books in the series "read like detective novels, but then they step over the line into Stephen King country, where apparitions dance at the periphery of the senses and where evil becomes palpable—and ever so believable."
For fans of police procedurals:
Read Watching the Dark, Peter Robinson's latest mystery starring Chief Inspector Alan Banks. The story gets going when a homicide is performed via crossbow, and then Banks must race from Yorkshire to Estonia to solve the crime. Tierney writes: "Taut suspense, complex characters and deft storytelling combine in this whodunit tour-de-force."
For fans of Irish noir:
Read Ratlines, Stuart Neville's edgy political thriller set in Ireland, 1963. The plot kicks off when a Nazi war criminal is murdered, and investigator Albert Ryan must find the killer. (Nazi collaborators were given sanctuary and new identities in postwar Ireland.) Tierney writes: "The setup is real-life history and the rest is 'just a story.' But what a story it is!
For fans of "Law & Order":
Read The Intercept by "Law & Order" producer Dick Wolf, a tale of modern-day terrorism starring NYPD detective Jeremy Fisk. Tierney writes: "In moving from the small screen to the printed page, Wolf has clearly lost not one iota of his ability to deliver first-rate suspense 'ripped from the headlines.'"
For fans of romantic suspense:
Read Dream Eyes by Jayne Ann Krentz, this month's Top Pick in Romance. The paranormal adventure story centers on the romance between a psychic counselor and a psychic investigator. Romance columnist Christie Ridgway writes: "Imaginative and exciting, this tale will have readers guessing (and second-guessing) their way to its conclusion."
For fans of historical mysteries:
Read A Study in Revenge by Kieran Shields, which begins when police deputy Archie Lean is called on to view a crime scene in Maine, 1893—strange occult symbols are drawn near a corpse. Then Lean and private detective Perceval Grey are off and running on their second sleuthing adventure, after 2012's The Truth of All Things. (Read more.)
For fans of psychological suspense:
Read Cover of Snow by Jenny Milchman, a haunting debut that starts ominously when Nora Hamilton wakes up to find her husband dead—by his own hand, she's told. But all is not as it seems in Nora's remote town in the Adirondacks, where secrets are buried in the snow . . . (Read more.)
For fans of Southern Gothic mysteries:
Read The Drowning House, a "remarkable blend of human drama and satisfyingly Southern Gothic mystery, propelled by [debut author Elizabeth Black's] lyrical, haunting narration." The story is set in Galveston, Texas. Black is a debut author to watch. (Read more.)
For fans of action and adventure:
Read The Third Bullet by Stephen Hunter, a thriller in which fictional ballistics expert Bob Lee Swagger attempts to solve America's most baffling murder mystery: Who killed JFK? (This year marks the 50th anniversary of the assassination.) Read an interview with the author here.
For fans of literary suspense who want something for their book club:
Read The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan, the BookPage staff favorite that takes place in 1914 after a luxury liner sinks and leaves a group of survivors on a too-small lifeboat. A pick in this month's book clubs column, The Lifeboat came out in paperback on January 8. (Read more.)
For fans of crime novels on audio:
Listen to Phantom by Jo Nesbø, in which ex-cop Harry Hole comes back to Oslo and digs into a complex, crime-infested world. Audio columnist Sukey Howard writes: "Subplots within subplots, ingeniously fleshed-out characters and an extraordinary performance by Robin Sachs make this the best Nesbø/Hole novel yet."
For fans of spy thrillers on audio:
Listen to Young Philby by Robert Littell, an espionage thriller based on real-life double agent Kim Philby. Philby was a British Secret Service agent spying for the Soviets during the Cold War. Howard chose this for the Top Pick in Audio for January, writing: "A living, breathing Philby emerges, but his true heart, motives, treachery or abiding patriotism (a minority view) stay fascinatingly clouded by the smoke and mirrors of real-life espionage."
What mystery novels are you reading (or listening to) this month? Will any of these suggestions make it to your TBR? Let us know in the comments!
It's been nearly a year since Defending Jacob, William Landay's third novel, was published—but this chilling psychological thriller doesn't show any signs of slowing down. After months on the New York Times bestseller list, it recently came in at a whopping #3 on our Readers' Choice list of the Best Books of 2012. (There's also a movie in the works from Warner Brothers.)
Like John Grisham and Scott Turow, Landay is a former attorney who turned to writing crime fiction. Also like those superstars, he is adept at crafting an irresistibly suspenseful tale. Defending Jacob is about an assistant D.A. in an affluent suburban Massachusetts town whose life is completely turned upside down when his 14-year-old son is accused of murder. So what does he do next? The father sets out to defend his own son in court.
If you are one of the many readers who got hooked on Defending Jacob, I hope you'll enjoy these suggestions for what to read next.
Novels like Defending Jacob are so compelling, in part, because they make us think about how life can irrevocably change in a single moment. In Lupton's second novel (after 2011's Sister), that moment is the outbreak of a fire at an elementary school—where Grace's son is enrolled as a student and her teenage daughter works as a teaching assistant. Was it arson? And how are Grace's children involved? Like Defending Jacob, this is a family-centered thriller that focuses on the great lengths a parent will go to protect his or her child.
It may initially seem that a thriller and a massive nonfiction book have little in common—but in fact they address similar themes. How does a child grow up to commit criminal acts? How do parents react to major unforeseen life events? How do they move on after these events, if such a thing is even possible? For one chapter in his book, Solomon interviewed (and spent hundreds of hours with) the parents of Dylan Klebold, one of the perpetrators of the Columbine massacre. This chapter is incredibly thought-provoking and sobering and would make an appropriate supplement to Defending Jacob—especially in light of the tragedy in Newtown, CT. (Solomon has written thoughtfully about that event, as well.)
Bohjalian's 1997 book about a midwife accused of murder (by performing an emergency c-section) is one of my favorite courtroom novels of recent memory, pitting doctors against midwives and townspeople against one another—all the while raising plenty of ethical dilemmas. Like Defending Jacob, this novel takes place in a small community and shows what it's like for a family after a criminal accusation.
Defending Jacob begs comparison to Shriver's 2003 Orange Prize-winning novel, in which a teenager commits a grotesque act of violence against his classmates. As you read descriptions of parental anguish and the violent actions of a disturbed boy, you will want to cover your eyes. For better or worse—this book may give you nightmares—you will be unable to stop reading thanks to Shriver's clever plotting.
This is another natural pick for readers who enjoyed Defending Jacob. In both novels, the narrator is a father who is unable to believe that his son committed murder—though in this case, the son is an adult, and the victim is a prominent presidential candidate. Why did the son do what he did? Could his parents have prevented the act of violence? A harrowing (and heartbreaking) story.
Readers: What books would you recommend for fans of Defending Jacob?
Did you miss Defending Jacob? The mass market paperback ($7.99!) comes out on February 26.
ALSO ON THE BOOK CASE: See what to read after Gone Girl.
Happy 2013! Maybe you've already got lots of high-minded plans concerning diet and exercise—but as far as we're concerned, the best resolution of all is to read more books. Lucky for you, 2013 is going to be a fabulous year for both fiction and nonfiction, whether your taste leans toward suspense, memoirs, history, literary novels . . .
Here are 2o books from the first three months of the year that BookPage editors are especially excited about. In the comments section, weigh in with your own personal picks!
(Note: Many of these books are also listed on our "Fiction forecast: early 2013" blog post—but we thought you'd appreciate a roundup that focuses on the very beginning of the year, nonfiction included.)
British author Jojo Moyes has written her fair share of complicated relationships, but her 10th novel introduces her most intriguing couple yet: a former finance whiz and daredevil who was paralyzed after being hit by a car, and a former coffee shop clerk who becomes his caregiver. Me Before You is our Top Pick in Fiction for January. We liked it so much that we interviewed the author, too.
Despite the Salvage the Bones rip-off cover art, this novel about Africa in the days of apartheid feels fresh and engaging. A South African refugee who escapes to Botswana and takes a job as a gardener (despite being a former medical student), and forms a bond with the white woman who hires him. Don't miss our interview with author Eleanor Morse in the January issue of BookPage.
Susanna Sonnenberg’s previous memoir, Her Last Death, explored her tumultuous relationship with her provocative and ultimately destructive mother. She Matters—our Top Pick in Nonfiction for January—focuses on the more nurturing relationships in her life: her friends. Some friendships last a lifetime, some turn sour or fall apart, but each one leaves its mark, and in her clear-eyed, thoughtful book, Sonnenberg discovers why each one matters.
Scientology has got to be one of the most fascinating (and mysterious) aspects of contemporary American culture, and Lawrence Wright, who won the Pulitzer Prize for The Looming Tower: Al Qaeda and the Road to 9/11, will investigate the religion in his newest book (the subtitle is "Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief"). Wright first investigated the church for a much-read article that appeared in The New Yorker.
If you've ever had a regular bar, or just wished you did, Rosie Schaap's book is for you. In Drinking with Men, Schaap, who writes the "Drink" column in the New York Times, focuses each chapter on her experiences in a different bar, and expands on the lessons each one taught her about adulthood, camaraderie and community. Pour yourself a double and let Schapp's writing amuse and enchant you.
Rising food star Eddie Huang runs a popular Taiwanese street food joint in the East Village. In the profane and hilarious Fresh Off the Boat, he tells his story of defying the "model minority" stereotype while growing up in Orlando.
Wayne’s debut, Kapitoil, won the 2011 Whiting Writers’ Award. In his second novel, Wayne satirizes the fame machine. Told in the memorable voice of Jonny, an 11-year-old pop star, this coming-of-age tale is part Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, part A Mother’s Gift, and includes one of the most complicated portrayals of the mother-son relationship since Room. Look for a Q&A with the author in the February issue of BookPage.
This intriguing new novel promises to take on the issue of identity—the one we are born with, and the ones we make for ourselves—through the story of a German immigrant.
Learn more than you ever thought you could know about our 30th president, who served from 1923 until 1929. The author of The Forgotten Man: A New History of the Great Depression argues that Coolidge was a great leader whom we should emulate today.
Roger Hobbs wrote Ghostman—a thriller that unfolds after a heist-gone-wrong—while he was still a college student. As if this weren’t enough to intrigue you, the stylish writing and zippy pace will keep you hooked until the very last page. Read an excerpt from the novel on The Book Case, and if you love thrillers, remember the name "Roger Hobbs."
Russell’s imagination always astounds, and her second collection of short stories is full of the same hard-edged whimsy that marked St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves.
Self-help books are a dime a dozen, but we found Bruce Feiler's book about making your family happier to be especially illuminating. Is family dinner really that important? Why are mornings always so chaotic? How do you balance caring for children and elders at the same time? Find out the answers to these questions and many more in The Secrets of Happy Families.
Haruf is a champion when it comes to chronicling the lives of everyday people with dignity and kindness. Here, he serves up a powerful tale of faith and community. (Read more.)
Domenica Ruta's debut memoir is about her chaotic childhood with a mother who both dealt and used drugs, who loved her—when she did not despise her—but was unable to protect her from very real dangers. Light reading it is not, but the sharp writing and dark humor make With or Without You a standout.
2013 seems to be a banner year for memoirs detailing painful experiences, and Christa Parravani's stands out. It's about the relationship between identical twins—and what happens when one sister dies. Look for an interview with the author in the March issue of BookPage.
Buzz is that this could be a breakout novel for Hamid, whose first two books garnered critical acclaim and prize nominations for their insight into relationships between East and West.
Emily Rapp's new memoir—about life after her son's fatal diagnosis of Tay-Sachs disease—is heartbreaking beyond belief. It's also unsentimental, poignant, intimate and memorable.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg expands on her popular TED talk about women in contemporary American life—encouraging women to "lean in" and take on new challenges in the workforce. Sandberg details her own experiences and the lessons she has learned in a warm, relatable style that is sure to inspire.
If you found a Hello Kitty lunchbox washed up on the shore, containing an old diary, would it change your life? The answer in Ozeki’s tale is emphatically YES. There’s much weirdness and wonder in store in this new novel from the author of My Year of Meats. Read an excerpt on The Book Case and look for an interview with Ozeki in the March issue of BookPage.
Public apologies and the high-stakes scandals that inspire them are the subject of Dee’s latest. (Read more.)