Erin McCahan's second novel for teen readers, Love and Other Foreign Words, would've been an easy favorite for my 12-year-old self. It stars an over-analytical, brilliant 17-year-old named Josie who can't keep her hilarious and too-astute commentary (and enormous vocabulary) to herself—and thank goodness she can't. The precocious teen approaches the world around her as an outsider, observing and translating the communication styles of others. The pattern and familiarty of language—from math to the "language of beautiful girls"—make sense to her, unlike the language of romantic love, an area where Josie's brillance offers no insight. So when her older sister Kate plans to marry the insufferable Geoff, Josie is determined to break them up.
Naturally, this doesn't go as planned, and Josie ends up learning a bit more about love than she expected. Read on for an excerpt, when she first starts considering the possibility of falling in love and makes a list of her potential guy's necessary critera:
"Okay. He has to be older than I am. And taller. Preferably handsome but not so gorgeous that he knows it. And smart in a way that makes me just want to sit and listen to him talk."
"About what?" she asks.
"Just—everything interesting. We have to be able to have marathon conversations. But we also need to be comfortable being quiet together." He will appreciate the value of self-possessed silence and practice it judiciously, I want to add, but don't.
"He should play some instrument too," I say. "Preferable guitar or piano, but I wouldn't mind a woodwind. Bagpipes would be my first choice, but percussion is out of the questions."
"Bag—? Josie," Sophie says.
"Well, he has to be able to do things I can't do that don't drive me crazy so that I stay interested."
"Like walking a straight line without falling over?" Stu asks.
"Yeah. Like that," I agree, pointing at Stu and shaming a smile.
"Stop listening to us," Sophie orders him. "Just go back to driving."
"You realize I haven't stopped driving," he says.
"Be quiet," she says. To me, she asks, "What else?"
There's more. There's lots more.
He will never ask me to eat gray, slimy, gelatinous food nor will he tousle my hair. Not that he could tousle it since I wear it daily in a neat and tidy ponytail, but there are times—showering, blow-drying—when my hair is, in fact, tousle-able. I'd prefer it if he just never touches my head or touches it only with my permission, which I will grant on special occasions such as Arbor Day, poor, neglected holiday that it is, but never on my birthday.
What are you reading this week?
The Cold Song by Linn Ullmann (translated by Barbara J. Haveland)
Other Press • $15.95 • ISBN 9781590516676
published April 8, 2014
Norwegian author Linn Ullmann's The Cold Song was a hit with readers and critics when it was first published in Norway in 2011. Lucky for us, an English edition (translated by Barbara J. Haveland) has just arrived stateside. Set in an elegant house on the coast of Norway, the novel takes a peek into the lives of married couple Siri and Jon, and their family. Siri is a super-busy and successful chef with her own restaurant to run. Jon is a novelist struggling with his current book.
The Cold Song doesn't so much unfold as it revolves, around the sudden disappearance of Milla, the young and beautiful summer nanny hired to take care of Siri and Jon's two children. The real "meat" of the novel rests in its keen and unflinching exposure of the inner lives of its characters, revealed in brief spurts of narrative that shift back and forth in time. The result is riveting. Here's an excerpt:
Jon Dreyer had fooled everyone.
He was in the attic room at Mailund, that dilapidated white turn-of-the-century house, where the Dreyer-Brodal family spent their summers. He was looking at Milla.
The room was small and bright and dusty with a view of the meadow and the woods and of Milla picking flowers with his children. His wife, she of the asymmetric back (a little kink in her waist, that's all), owned a restaurant in the center of town, in the old bakery. Siri was her name.
Siri was at work.
He was at work too.
His work was right here. He had his desk, his computer, this is where he was left in peace. He had a book to finish.
But he was looking at Milla.
Will you be adding The Cold Song to your TBR list? What are you reading this week?
What do you get when you mix the claustrophobia of Room with the psychological suspense of Before I Go to Sleep and a dash of The Road? Perhaps something that approximates Isla Morley's suspenseful second novel, Above. On her way home from the annual Horse Thieves Picnic, 16-year-old Blythe is kidnapped by Dobbs Hordin, the mild-mannered librarian in their small town of Eudora, Kansas. Dobbs tells Blythe he's doing this for her own good: The world is about to end, and his underground bunker is the only safe place. Is he lying to her? Or is he truly a prophet?
With the shallowest of breaths, I ask, "How long have you been planning this?"
This is when he's supposed to say, "Planned what? I haven't planned anything." This is when he's supposed to say, "Don't be crazy—I'm not going to keep you."
This is what he says: "The part regarding you, about two years, give or take. All the rest, eighteen years."
"How long . . .?"
"Well, I just told you."
I shake my head. "How long are you going to keep me here?"
He shrugs, looks away.
It must be asked. "Forever?"
The monster sucks me all the way down to the bottom of the silo. It is a long way down, just as Dobbs said, but I still manage to hear every last word. "We are the Remnant, Blythe. After the End, you and I will rise up together. You and me—we will one day seed the new world."
What are you reading this week?
My Wish List by Grégoire Delacourt
Penguin • $15 • ISBN 9780143124658
On sale March 25
Whether you actually play or not, you have probably imagined, just once, how your life could change if you won the lottery. It's also common to wonder, at midlife, how the life you have built measures up to the life you dreamed about when you were just starting out. French novelist Grégoire Delacourt takes this premise for his new novel, My Wish List, which was a #1 bestseller in France. His heroine, Jocelyne, owns a fabric shop and is happy with her 21-year marriage and her two children. But she can't help but think about how her life falls short of the life she imagined when she was in school.
Then Jocelyn wins 18 million euros in the lottery, and has the ability to make any dream come true. Faced with the reality of changing her life, she starts to wonder: Does she really want to?
Being rich means seeing all that's ugly and having the arrogance to think you can change things. All you have to do is pay for it.
But I'm not as rich as all that. I just happen to have a cheque for eighteen million five hundred and forty-seven thousand, three hundred and one euros and twenty-eight centimes, folded eight times and hidden inside a shoe. All I have is the temptation. A possible new life. A new house. A new TV set. Lots of new things.
But nothing really different.
Later, I rejoin my husband in the hotel restaurant. He has ordered a bottle of wine. We drink to each other. Let's hope nothing changes and we go on as we are, he says. Nothing really different.
What are you reading this week?
Ooh, creepy moms and their even creepier children.
It doesn't get more psychological than Laura Kasischke's new thriller, Mind of Winter. Holly Judge wakes on Christmas morning, seized with paranoia and convinced that "something had followed them home from Siberia" when she and her husband adopted their Russian daughter Tatiana 13 years ago.
When Holly's husband leaves the house to pick up his parents from the airport, a snowstorm traps Holly and teenager Tatiana together in the house—just the two of them. As the day progresses, Holly's paranoia skyrockets. Kasischke, a National Books Critics Circle Award-winning poet, slowly draws readers into this twisty, stream-of-consciousness narrative, and readers discover layers upon layers of guilt and denial as reality gives way to the tricks of the mind.
From the opening chapter, it's clear that Holly is not a narrator we can trust. She comes off a little (OK, very) crazy, but we still want to believe that she hasn't completely lost her marbles. She might not be particularly likable, but once you get used to Kasischke's writing style, Mind of Winter is nearly impossible to put down. Read on for an excerpt:
Something had followed them home from Russia!
It was the explanation for so many things!
The cat, crawling off. Her back legs, her tail.
And her husband. The bump on the back of his hand, like a tiny third fist—a homunculus's!—growing. They'd said it was benign, but how could such a thing be benign? They'd said to ignore it, but how? Something was bearing fruit inside her husband, or trying to claw its way out. How were they to ignore it?
(Although, to be fair to Dr. Fujimura, they had learned to ignore it, and it had eventually stopped growing, just as she'd said it would.)
And Aunt Rose. How her language had changed. How she'd begun to speak in a foreign language. How Holly'd had to stop making her calls because she couldn't stand it anymore, and how angry her cousins had been, saying She loved to talk to you. You were her favorite. You abandoned her when she was dying.
And then the hens. Ganging up on the other one, on the hen she'd so stupidly, so cavalierly, named Sally. Six weeks, and then—
Don't think about Sally. Never think of that hen and her horrible name again.
And the water stain over the dining room table in the shape of a shadowy face—although they could never find anywhere that water would have seeped through their skintight, warranty-guaranteed roof. The roof company men had stood around in their filthy boots and stared up at it, refusing to take any blame.
Also, without explanation, the wallpaper had curled away in the bathroom. Just that one edge. You could never do anything to keep it in place. They'd tried every adhesive on the market, but the daisy wallpaper would stick fast for exactly three days and nights before it peeled away again.
Holly needed to write down these things, this evidence! The cat, Aunt Rose, the bump on her husband's hand, the hens, the water stain, the wallpaper—along with the clue provided to her by the dream:
Something had followed them home from Russia.
Who's up for some creepy reading? Anyone else going to check out Mind of Winter?
Jean Hanff Korelitz's You Should Have Known is so full of smoldering suspense that I devoured all 450 pages of it in two sittings. Grace Reinhart Sachs has the perfect life: a thriving career as a psychologist; her first book—a relationship-focused, self-help book called, you guessed it, You Should Have Known—on the verge of publication with lots of pre-pub buzz; Henry, her sweet, intelligent 12-year-old son, who attends an exclusive Manhattan prep school, her own alma mater; a comfortable "classic six" on the Upper East Side, the very apartment she grew up in; and Jonathan, her saintly, charming, pediatric oncologist husband of 18 years.
Of course, we all know that things aren't always what they seem from the outside, but sometimes they aren't what they seem from the inside, either . . . as Grace soon finds out. A violent death sends her community reeling, but the shocking crime is only a prelude to the gut-wrenching, gob-smacking truths about to be exposed in this supremely entertaining page-turner. In this excerpt from the beginning of the book—to whet your appetite—Grace is being photographed for a Vogue article about her forthcoming book:
Grace leaned forward. The lens seemed so close, only inches away. She wondered if she could look through it and see his eye on the other side; she peered deep into it, but there was only the glassy dark surface and the thunderous clicking noise; no one was in there. Then she wondered if she would feel the same if it were Jonathan holding the camera, but she actually couldn't remember a single time when Jonathan had held a camera, Click, let alone a camera this close to her face. She was the default photographer in her family, though with none of the bells and whistles currently on display in her little office, and with none of Ron's evident skill, and with no passion at all for the form. She was the one who took the birthday pictures and the camp visiting-weekend pictures, Click, the photo of Henry asleep in his Beethoven costume, and Click, the photo of him playing chess with his grandfather, Click, her own favorite picture of Jonathan, minues after finishing a Memorial Day road race up at the lake, with a cup of water thrown over his face and an expression of unmistakable pride and just distinguishable lust. Or was it only in retrospect, Grace thought, Click, that she had always seen lust in that picture, because later, running the numbers, she had realized that Henry was about to be conceived, just hours after it was taken. After Jonathan had eaten a bit and stood for a long time under a hot shower, after he had taken her to her own childhood bed and, Click, saying her name again and again, and she remembered feeling so happy, and, Click, so utterly lucky, and not because they were in the act of making the child she wanted so badly, but because at that specific moment even the possibility of that did not matter to her, nothing but him and, Click, them and this, and now the memory of this, rushing up to the surface: the eye and the other eye through the lense that must be looking back.
"That's nice," Ron said, lowering the camera. Now she could see his eye again: brown, after all, and utterly unremarkable. Grace nearly laughed in embarrassment. "No, it was good," he said, misunderstanding. "And you're done."
Done, indeed. Will you be checking out You Should Have Known? What are you reading this week?
So here at BookPage, we've been working hard to reinstate March as the month to read the books you've always meant to read (see the original post for full details, and read Cat's follow up). Now it's my turn to share the books that I've moving up to the top of my TBR list this month. So far, so good—I'm already halfway through #1.
By Maggie Shipstead
I'm ashamed to admit that I thought I knew what to expect from a fiction debut about a wealthy family staging their daughter's wedding on Cape Cod. But after looking at Shipstead's upcoming release Astonish Me, I realized she was not the sort of writer one should underestimate—or make assumptions about, aside from the fact that anything she writes will be impeccably observed and surprising. Now is the time to go back and rectify that 2012 mistake!
White Is for Witching
By Helen Oyeyemi
Oyeyemi is one of the most interesting authors around, and her latest, Boy, Snow, Bird, is one of the best books I've read this year. Yet I have been sitting on my copy of this 2009 novel about four generations of women whose huge, canavorous home in Dover holds decades of secrets. (Confession: I have a fear of running out of books by authors I love, which is pretty irrational given that my job allows me to discover great new authors just about every day.) No longer! Let's just hope I can fall asleep after reading this one, which The Austin Chronicle compared to the best of Shirley Jackson.
The Thing Around Your Neck
By Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie
Ah, 2013: the year I stopped being intimidated by Adichie's triple name and fell in love with her work. Since then, I've been working my way through her backlist, starting with Half of a Yellow Sun. Next up is this 2009 story collection, which I expect to enjoy just as much as every one of her other books.
Are you joining us in unofficially designating March as "Read the Books You've Always Meant to Read" month? Share your list in the comments!
A psychologist, surveyor, biologist and anthropologist go into the woods . . . well, not the woods, exactly. The premise of Jeff VanderMeer's Annihilation—the first in his Southern Reach trilogy, all due out this year—is oh-so-intriguing. The aforementioned quartet make up the 12th expedition into a place called Area X, the site of a former environmental disaster that's oddly teeming with lushness and wildlife. The fates of the members of the first 11 expeditions—murder, suicide, cancer—will send a shiver up your spine, and the mounting sense of foreboding in the first couple of chapters is outweighed only (though greatly) by an overwhelming curiosity to find out how this expeditions unfolds . . . or unravels. The imprint chosen for Annihilation—FSG Originals—couldn't be more perfect for this intense, unpredictable, clever thriller. Here's an excerpt from the beginning of the book:
There were four of us: a biologist, an anthropologist, a surveyor, and a psychologist. I was the biologist. All of us were women this time, chosen as part of the complex set of variables that governed sending the expeditions. The psychologist, who was older than the rest of us, served as the expedition's leader. She had put us all under hypnosis to cross the border, to make sure we remained calm. It took five days of hard hiking after crossing the border to reach the coast.
Our mission was simple: to continue the government's investigation into the mysteries of Area X, slowly working our way out from base camp.
The expedition could last days, months, or even years, depending on various stimuli and conditions. We had supplies with us for four months, and another two years' worth of supplies had already been stored at the base camp. We had also been assured that it was safe to live off the land if necessary. All of our food stuffs were smoked or canned or in packets. Our most outlandish equipment consisted of a measuring device that had been issued to each of us, which hung from a strap on our belts: a small rectangle of black metal with a glass-covered hole in the middle. If the hole glowed red, we had thirty minutes to remove ourselves to "a safe place." We were not told what the device measured or why we should be afraid should it glow red. After the first few hours, I had grown so used to it that I hadn't looked at it again. We had been forbidden watches and compasses.
What do you think? Will you be checking out Annihilation? What are you reading this week?
Last week, BookPage Associate Editor Joelle announced March as the month to read books “you’ve always meant to read" and moved three books to the top of her TBR stack. (Read all about it here.) This week, it's my turn.
So, no more excuses. *Raises right hand.* By the name of Gutenberg, I swear I will no longer put off reading these books:
Hope: A Tragedy
By Shalom Auslander
I had a hunch that once I'd read Auslander's debut, he'd instantly become one of my new favorites. Our reviewer promised "echoes of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth and even Franz Kafka," and Auslander hooked me with his riotous book trailer series, The Attic Calls, in which he calls up his friends and asks if they will hide him during any future Holocausts. And, of course, there's the plot itself: A Jewish man in Stockton, New York, finds Anne Frank hiding in his attic. I finally picked it up last week and found it to be everything I'd hoped it would be.
Men We Reaped
By Jesmyn Ward
Last summer, I finally dug into Ward's debut novel, the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones (2011), and fell madly in love. (There's nothing like a graphic pit bull birthing scene to make for great summer reading . . . in my opinion, at least.) And like all great loves, it took a while for me to recover after it was over. The time has come to let Ward break my heart again, and it sounds like last year's memoir will be even tougher, as she probes the "why" of the deaths of five young men in her life.
By Sarah Blake
My mom gave me this book almost three years ago, and it's about time I was a good daughter and actually read it. (Oops.) I'm looking forward to being transported back to 1940s, on the eve of America's entrance into World War II, through the stories of three very different women. It sounds tender and poignant, but more importantly, I got completely sucked into Blake's poems about Kanye West last week, so now I definitely have to read her novel, even if I doubt Kanye will make an appearance.
Hey, readers: Join in! This month, move a book to the top of your TBR pile, and tell us all about it in the comments.
Saint Monkey by Jacinda Townsend
Norton • $24.95 • ISBN 9780393080049
On sale February 24
Jacinda Townsend's debut novel, Saint Monkey, follows best friends Audrey Martin and Caroline Wallace through their most formative years in the segregated Appalachian culture of Eastern Kentucky. Family tragedy and a deep well of grief initially tie the two girls together, and both dream of life beyond their tiny, oppressive town. Audrey is picked up by a talent scout for her gifts in jazz piano and joins the house band at Harlem's Apollo theatre at the age of 17, but Caroline finds it much harder to sever her ties to Mt. Sterling, and a bitter divide is cut between them as they struggle for a place in the world.
Read an excerpt from the first chapter below:
Since my daddy died, Grandpap has begun to see me as a dry leaf in freefall, a wasted petal about to be crunched under a man's foot. He wants me to forget all the boys of Montgomery County and take studies in typing, to let go the idea of marrying a town sweetheart and become, instead, a woman of the city in a store-bought dress and nylons, with my own bedboard and bankbook. I'm supposed to fly and dream about all that, sitting here in this swing. He painted it white, whiter even than the side of this house, whose thin coat is peeling to expose the aged black wood underneath. He painted the wood slats of this swing so white that when you stare at them for a time, they seem blue. Swing high, and the porch ceiling creaks where he riveted the screws: the grown people who walk by warn me. "Hey gal, it ain't a playground swing," they say. For them, for their limitations, I stop pumping my legs, and the creaking stops. But when they've faded down the walk, I fly high again.
What are you reading this week?