March is Women's History Month—which means it's time for our third annual "women to watch" list. We've pored over galleys to come up with 14 women writers whose ambitious debuts—or accomplished breakthrough books—are sure to make waves among book lovers this spring and summer.
The Weight of Blood (Spiegel & Grau, March)
There's a new face on the literary suspense beat: Missouri author Laura McHugh, who drew on her experience of moving to the rural Ozarks as a preteen for her astonishing debut, The Weight of Blood. Two generations of disappearances haunt the small town of Henbane, but only 17-year-old Lucy seems interested in solving the mysteries. Will she learn that some secrets are better left buried?
Astonish Me (Knopf, April)
Iowa Writer's Workshop graduate Shipstead saw her 2012 debut, Seating Arrangements, become a national bestseller, but this accomplished second novel is certain to secure her place as a major literary voice. Spanning decades in less than 300 pages, this is the polished story of a ballerina whose passion for dance—and for her Russian instructor—shapes her life in surprising ways. Full of insight into the artistic mind and the human condition, this is a story that readers will embrace.
KAUI HART HEMMINGS
The Possibilities (Simon & Schuster, May)
It has been seven years since the publication of Kaui Hart Hemmings' debut, The Descendants, which became an Alexander Payne film starring George Clooney. In her second novel, Hemmings eschews the lush setting of her native Hawaii for the ski resort town of Breckenridge, but she's continuing her exploration of family bonds and the weight of grief. We expect readers will be just as enthralled by this honest, heart-tugging story about parents and children, about growing up and letting go.
The Untold (Amy Einhorn, June)
Fans of Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang and Gil Adamson's The Outlander will thrill to Collins' debut, which introduces a bold new voice in Australian fiction. Inspired by the true story of Jessie Hickman, a notorious Australian outlaw, The Untold is set in the 1921 Outback, where Jessie is attempting to escape her past and atone for her crimes, all amid the terrible beauty of the landscape.
The Book of Unknown Americans (Knopf, June)
Chicago author Henríquez has earned praise from the likes of Sandra Cisneros and Ben Fountain for her previous novel and short story collection, but she's yet to become as well known to readers. She's poised for a breakthrough with The Book of Unknown Americans, the tale of two immigrant families in Delaware. The Toros, from Panama, are relatively established in the neighborhood when the Riveras arrive from Mexico. When the Toros' son falls in love with the Riveras' beautiful daughter, Maribel, their fates become intertwined.
Everything I Never Told You (Penguin, June)
Ng is a winner of the Pushcart Prize—and of the University of Michigan's Hopwood Award, which counts Mary Gaitskill, Frank O'Hara and Elizabeth Kostova among the past winners. Her elegant first novel follows the Lee family in 1970s Ohio after their favored daughter, Lydia, is found drowned.
The Quick (Random House, June)
Owen is just 28 years old and in the middle of pursuing her Ph.D. in English literature—but her first novel could be one of the biggest hits of the summer. Set in 1892 London, it has the same balance of historical/literary/supernatural that marked past bestsellers like Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian. Siblings James and Charlotte Norbury drift apart after James leaves their moldering Yorkshire estate to become a poet in London. But when James disappears without a trace, Charlotte must travel to the city to find him, and she uncovers a supernatural conspiracy in the process.
My Salinger Year (Knopf, June)
Poet Rakoff follows up her 2009 novel, A Fortunate Age, with a memoir of the mid-1990s year she worked as an assistant at one of the most storied literary agencies in NYC. After learning how to turn on her decades-old Selectric typewriter and adjust the playback speed on her boss' Dictaphone, Rakoff learns that she'll be in charge of answering the fan mail of the agency's top client: the reclusive J.D. Salinger. While it may be the Salinger cameo that initially draws readers in, it's Rakoff's effortlessly elegant, unhyperbolic prose and poignant coming-of-age story that will keep them engrossed through the very last word.
Life Drawing (Random House, July)
Mature marriages don't get a lot of play in fiction, but Robin Black brings one vividly to life in Life Drawing, the debut that follows her acclaimed 2010 story collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This. Authors like Karen Russell and Alice Sebold have already praised this tale of an artistic couple—Augusta ("Gus") is a painter, while Owen is a writer—who find that the secrets and betrayals of their decades-long marriage are stirred up by the beautiful divorcée who moves in next door.
Friendship (FSG, July)
Former Gawker editor Emily Gould (who now is the co-proprietor of Emily Books) is known for her frank-to-a-fault writing—and the much-written-about (by Gould as well as others) flop of her 2010 memoir/essay collection, And the Heart Says Whatever. Fans and foes alike will be waiting to see what happens with her first novel, Friendship, the sharply observed story of Bev and Amy, longtime best friends who have just hit their 30s. When Bev becomes pregnant, the divide that had been gradually opening between their two lifestyles suddenly seems stark and unbridgeable.
The Queen of the Tearling (Harper, July)
The female George R.R. Martin? That's the buzz on newcomer Erika Johansen, a graduate of, you guessed it, the Iowa Writers' Workshop. The 36-year-old writer sold her trilogy for seven figures early last year, and Warner Brothers has optioned the film rights. It's the story of Kelsea Glynn, heir to the throne of Tearling, who, after years living in hiding, must return and challenge the Red Queen for her rightful place as leader. Though the setting feels medieval, The Queen of the Tearling is actually set 300 years in the future, in a world where technological advancement has been destroyed.
Land of Love and Drowning (Riverhead, July)
One of the "5 Under 35" authors chosen by the National Book Foundation, Yanique draws from the rich history of her native Virgin Islands for this multigenerational saga that begins in the early 1900s. Two sisters are orphaned after a shipwreck and must make their way from rags to riches with only their wits—and their remarkable ability to make men fall at their feet.
CARRIE LA SEUR
The Home Place (Morrow, August)
A Montana environmental attorney might seem like an unlikely novelist, but La Seur, who has studied at Oxford and Yale, draws on her seven-generations-deep Montana background to create the immersive setting of her first novel. Alma Terrebonne thinks she has escaped her small-town past, but finds herself called back to Montana when her sister dies in what appears to be an accident. Once Alma returns, however, she finds that there may be more to the story.
Small Blessings (St. Martin's, August)
Described as "one part Maeve Binchy, one part Woody Allen," this debut from a 66-year-old NPR feature reporter is set in a Southern academic community, where professor Tom Putnam and his wife, Marjorie, are going through a marital rough patch. Things get more complicated when Tom gets introduced to the 10-year-old son he never knew he had.
Photo of Maggie Shipstead by Michelle Legro
Photo of Courtney Collins by Lisa Madden
Photo of Celeste Ng by Kevin Day Photography
Photo of Joanna Rakoff by Elena Seibert
Photo of Robin Black by Nina Subin
Today readers learned that John Darnielle, the man behind the indie group The Mountain Goats, will become the author of more than some memorable songs: FSG announced that they will publish his first novel on September 30.
The Wolf in the White Van is the story of video game artist Sean Phillips, whose RPG "Trace Italian" has captured the imaginations of people worldwide. But when two fans find their obsession has real-world consequences, Sean must deal with the reality of his fictional creation.
Darnielle joins such indie greats as Josh Ritter, John Wesley Harding and Willy Vlautin in making the transition from song to page. On his tumblr, Darnielle wrote that "I'm currently writing a novel for the same house that publishes Frank Bidart, which I totally cannot even believe, I mean honestly."
And his editor and publisher Sean MacDonald, is even more effusive, saying of the novel "the greatest and perhaps most unexpected satisfaction is the quality that encompasses all these things, that this is simply a magnificent novel, weird and dark and wonderful, adventurous and spellbinding in the way of any great piece of literary art."
Here's the full publisher description:
Isolated by a disfiguring injury since the age of seventeen, Sean Phillips crafts imaginary worlds for strangers to play in. From his small apartment in southern California, he orchestrates fantastic adventures where possibilities, both dark and bright, open in the boundaries between the real and the imagined. As the creator of “Trace Italian”—a text-based, role-playing game played through the mail—Sean guides players from around the world through his intricately imagined terrain, which they navigate and explore, turn by turn, seeking sanctuary in a ravaged, savage future America.
Lance and Carrie are high school students from Florida, and are explorers of the Trace. But when they take their play into the real world, disaster strikes, and Sean is called on to account for it. In the process, he is pulled back through time, tracing back toward the moment of his own self-inflicted departure from the world in which most people live.
Book jacket designed by Rodrigo Corral
Author and practicing anesthesiologist Carol Cassella's new medical mystery, Gemini, is hitting shelves today.
An unidentified Jane Doe winds up in a Seattle hospital as the presumed victim of a nasty hit and run in rural Washington. Soon, she slips into a coma on the operating table, and Dr. Charlotte Reese battles to keep her alive while police race to track and identify the driver at fault. Cassella's characters grapple with medicine and morality—is life and family about more than just DNA? Is Charlotte's patient still in her broken, failing body somehwere, or is her conciousness truly lost? Who will make decisions on the unknown patient's behalf in lieu of any known family?
Learn more as Cassella lays out the details in this trailer from Simon and Schuster below:
What do you think, readers? Will you pick up a copy of Gemini?
In The Story of Charlotte's Web, it was E.B. White. In his new book, The Adventures of Henry Thoreau, accomplished nature writer Michael Sims turns his eye to one of 19th-century America's most iconic figures. Our reviewer deems the book—which focuses on Thoreau's youth—"an amiable and fresh take on the legendary sage of Walden Pond." (Read the full review right here.)
We were curious about the books Sims has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share.
The Ghost in the Glass House
By Carey Wallace
I read a lot of children's and YA books, and lately my trend has been ghost stories. Most have been picked up randomly at library book sales—excellent older stories such as Betty Ren Wright’s The Dollhouse Murders and Colby F. Rodowsky’s The Gathering Room. But I've just read a fine new one by Carey Wallace, the author of the gorgeous 2010 novel The Blind Contessa's New Machine. Her first YA novel is elegant, witty, poignant and just as rich for adults. During the Jazz Age, 12-year-old Clare Fitzgerald travels with her wealthy, restless mother from hotel to rented house, from Europe to the United States. The mother is on the edge of having to address her demons, the daughter on the edge of adolescence. Then Clare meets Jack—or rather his ghost.
Wallace writes beautifully: “The unfinished walls were hung with a whole museum of curiosities: garden tools with handles rubbed smooth as driftwood, a pail full of the stubs of beeswax tapers, a few of Mack’s work shirts, soft with age, and a neat collection of herbs tied with scraps of ribbon and labeled. . . . As Clare’s eyes adjusted, she realized the shadows beyond the jars were full of roses, dozens of them, dried and stacked bloom to bloom like the skulls Clare’s mother had taken her to see, packed cheek to cheek in the Paris catacombs.”
By Marcel Proust, translated by C. K. Scott Moncrieff, revised and annotated by William C. Carter
I’m always rereading. I reread my favorite writers from childhood and everything else that I love: Kenneth Grahame, Jim Kjelgaard, Ruth Rendell, Dickens, Rilke, Hazlitt, Kevin Henkes, Philip Pullman, Annie Dillard, Thoreau, E. B. White, Beverly Cleary, Ovid, Raymond Chandler, Homer. Currently I’m re-reading Swann’s Way, which I’ve read twice before in its entirety and dozens of times in pieces. I’ve read the whole vast In Search of Lost Time, originally in the Moncrieff (and Kilmartin & Co.) translation, and I’m working my way through it a second time now in the multi-translator Penguin edition from several years ago. Now, thanks to this annotated revision of Moncrieff, I find myself returning again to the first volume. It’s a handsome deckle-edged trade paperback with crisp type, broad margins, and helpful annotations by the foremost biographer of Proust in English, William C. Carter (who is rivaled only by Jean-Yves Tadie, whose French masterwork was translated by Euon Cameron). Most importantly, it’s a full revision of Moncrieff, with endless corrections and thus a spectrum of restored nuances. Also it’s easy to hold in bed. And it smells great, which is only appropriate.
I read Proust for his psychological insight and his breadth of vision, but mostly for the cinematography. Has any other writer so beautifully captured the fleeting experience of everyday life? “For many years have now elapsed since the Combray days, when, coming in from the longest and latest of walks, I would still be in time to see the red reflections of the sunset in the panes of my bedroom window.”
The Letters of Pliny the Younger
I’m reading these vivid, lively, elegant letters in a sturdy red cloth edition from the original 1909 set of Harvard Classics. I grew up in the country in eastern Tennessee and never made it to college. The seeds of my personal library were the 50-odd volumes of the Harvard Classics, which I bought in a cardboard box at a library book sale for four dollars when I was in my mid-20s. I’m still reading and re-reading them.
They include Pliny’s account of the death of his esteemed uncle, now called Pliny the Elder, and a terrifying eyewitness account of the latter’s death during the eruption of Vesuvius, because he was determined to get closer to the volcano and understand what was happening. The letters provide a time-machine panorama of the intellectual, moral, and social issues dominating Roman life in the first century. They make me want to write about this era. Pliny also brings to life his ordinary days and the surprising comfort of his villa: “Adjoining this angle is a room forming the segment of a circle, the windows of which are so arranged as to get the sun all through the day: in the walls are contrived a sort of cases, containing a collection of authors who can never be read too often. Next to this is a bed-room, connected with it by a raised passage furnished with pipes, which supply, at a wholesome temperature, and distribute to all parts of this room, the heat they receive. . . .”
What do you think, readers? Will you be adding The Adventures of Henry Thoreau—or any of Sims' recommended books—to your TBR list?
(Author photo by Lauren Sloan Patterson)
I recently came across this vintage 1930s library poster on the Library of Congress site proclaiming March as a month to read books “you’ve always meant to read.” It was the perfect prompt to reassess my ever-growing TBR list and focus on some of the books that have been lingering on there for a while.
While I’m not reaching as far back chronologically as the examples on the poster (Dickens! Eliot! Clemens!), here are three books that I’ve decided to move to the top of my stack this month:
I feel like I’m the last person on the entire planet who hasn’t read Beautiful Ruins, which has been collecting dust on my bookshelf for a year. The 1960s, behind-the-scenes peeks into the wacky film industry, a crazy love story? Yes, please! Plus, a little armchair travel to the Italian coast and sunny California sounds like the perfect way to pass the last couple of weeks of winter.
I love historical fiction, particularly relating to the Tudors. The real-life goings-on within the court of Henry VIII couldn’t have been more intriguing had they been scripted by the likes of George R.R. Martin. Corruption, ego, excess, scheming, and a Man Booker Prize—sounds like Wolf Hall has the perfect ingredients for a thrilling read that I’m looking forward to diving into.
As a huge fan of both Pride and Prejudice and “Downton Abbey,” it’s practically a crime—or a head-scratcher at the very least—that I haven’t read Longbourn yet. This critically praised re-imagining of the Austen classic—told from the perspective of the Bennett household servants—landed on our Best Books of 2013 list, and I’m hoping that reading it will take some of the sting out of the recent end of Downton’s fourth season.
But what about you, readers? Is there a book that’s been lingering on your TBR list that you might move up to the top this month? If so, we want to know what it is—share in the comments below!
Books published posthumously are so bittersweet. They're such a treasure, because we get to enjoy more of our favorite writer's work, but they're such a tragedy, because we have no way to share our delight (or, perhaps, displeasure) with the author.
But I'm going to go with "treasure" when it comes to two books coming in April, when middle grade readers can enjoy new books from two celebrated children's book authors, published posthumously: Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George and The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones. Both books were left unfinished at the time of the author's death and were completed by talented family members.
Coming April 3 from Penguin, Ice Whale (ages 9 to 11) was Jean Craighead George's final novel and was completed by her children, Craig and Twig, after her passing in 2012. George, the author of more than 100 books, won the 1972 Newbery Medal for Julie of the Wolves and a 1959 Newbery Honor for My Side of the Mountain.
Ice Whale is yet another epic nature adventure set in northern Alaska, but this one unfolds with a surprising twist: It alternates between voices of Eskimos and a bowhead whale, and chapters featuring the whale include squiggly symbols, invented by George to represent whale sounds.
Ice Whale also has some especially sweet acknowledgements from Craig and Twig:
"We especially thank our mother, Jean, for leaving us with this "homework assignment," which pulled us all together after she died."
Dianna Wynne Jones, author of more than 40 fantasy novels, including Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series, died in 2011 before she could finish The Islands of Chaldea (ages 10 and up). Jones' sister, novelist and actress Urusla Jones, completed the unfinished manuscript, which will be published April 22 by Greenwillow Books. This standalone fantasy has all the makings of a classic Jones novel. The publisher shares more:
"Aileen comes from a long line of magic makers, and her Aunt Beck is the most powerful magician on Skarr. But even though she is old enough, Aileen's magic has yet to reveal itself. When Aileen is sent over the sea on a mission for the King, she worries that she'll be useless and in the way. A powerful (but mostly invisible) cat changes all of that—and with every obstacle Aileen faces, she becomes stronger and more confident and her magic blooms."
Ice Whale and The Islands of Chaldea definitely sound like two treasures.
• Flavorwire rounded up some fantastic video and audio clips of authors reading their own works. We're talking Joan Didion (at right), Zadie Smith, William Faulkner, Truman Capote . . . and 11 others!
• Hold onto your hats, Robert Galbraith fans, because J.K. Rowling has announced that her Cormoran Strike crime fiction series will not end with June's publication of The Silkworm. Five additional novels will follow!
• Brit Tim Martin has started a new 26-part weekly Telegraph series he's referring to as an "A to Z of forgotten books" that deserve to be remembered. First up: A is for Ariel by André Maurois, first published in 1923.
• Yes, Valentine's Day is over, and everyone's experiencing some internet-quiz fatigue these days, but no self-respecting bibliophile could pass up BuzzFeed's Which Classic Author Is Your Soulmate? (I, for one, can't wait to watch Before Sunset with my dreamily handsome match, Anton Chekov, at left.)
Chocolate enthusiasts take note: Our cooking columnist describes Alice Medrich's cookbook, Seriously Bitter Sweet: The Ultimate Dessert Maker’s Guide to Chocolate, as "the perfect love letter to this dark, dense, divinely delicious delicacy." This recipe for Bittersweet Decadence Cookies yields soft, ultra-rich cookies and can be modified to use up to 72% chocolate.
Bittersweet Decadence Cookies
Makes 36 cookies
Ultra-chocolatey and richer than sin, slightly crunchy on the outside with a divinely soft center, these are not delicate or subtle, but the jolt of bittersweet is irresistible. I reorganized and revised the original recipe from one in a newspaper—to make the cookies more chocolatey and intense—by reducing the sugar and butter. Now I’ve revised it again so that I can make it with higher-percentage chocolates without compromising that perfect contrast of textures. For the best cookies of all, chop your own chocolate for the chunks, or use a premium brand of chocolate chunks rather than ordinary chocolate chips. You can choose a chocolate for the chunks that contrasts in sweetness with the chocolate in the cookie batter.
Position the racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven and preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two cookie sheets (see Note) with parchment paper.
In a small bowl, mix the flour, baking powder and salt together thoroughly; set aside.
Place the 8 ounces (225 grams) of chocolate and the butter in a large stainless steel bowl in a wide skillet of barely simmering water and stir frequently just until melted and smooth. Remove the chocolate from the skillet and set it aside. Leave the heat on under the skillet.
In a large heatproof bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla together thoroughly. Set the bowl in the skillet and stir until the mixture is lukewarm to the touch. Stir the egg mixture into the warm (not hot) chocolate. Stir in the flour mixture, then the nuts and chocolate chunks.
Drop slightly rounded tablespoons of batter 1½ inches apart onto the lined cookie sheets. Bake until the surface of the cookies looks dry and set but the center is still gooey, 12 to 14 minutes. Slide the cookies, still on the parchment, onto racks, or set the pans on the racks. Let cool completely. Store in a tightly sealed container.
Note: I am fussy about cookie sheets. These cookies will have the best flavor and texture if they are baked on sheets lined with parchment paper, which insulates them just enough but still allows the cookies to be a little crusty on the outside and soft within. Cushioned pans and silicone liners make the texture of the cookies too uniform for my taste. Pans with dark surfaces (even if they are nonstick) tend to scorch rich chocolate cookie bottoms before the centers are cooked.
To use higher-percentage chocolate to make cookies that are increasingly bittersweet, without sacrificing the texture or the pretty gloss on the surface of the cookies, adjust the recipe as follows.
To use 61% to 64% chocolate:
Use 7 ounces (200 grams) chocolate. Increase the sugar to ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon (110 grams).
To use 66% chocolate:
Use 6½ ounces (185 grams) chocolate. Increase the butter to 3 tablespoons (45 grams) and the sugar to ½ cup plus 2 tablespoons (125 grams).
To use 70% to 72% chocolate:
Use 5½ ounces (155 grams) chocolate. Increase the butter to 3 tablespoons (45 grams) and the sugar to ¾ cup (150 grams).
For the chunks, use any chocolate you like, the same as or different from the batter. No alterations are necessary.
House of Glass by Sophie Littlefield
MIRA • $14.95 • ISBN 9780778314783
Published on February 25, 2014
Jen Glass lives with her husband and two children in a beautiful home in a suburb of Minneapolis. From the outside, the family couldn't look better. But on the inside, things are falling apart: Jen and her husband, Ted, are barely speaking; their teen daughter is sullen and distant and their young son has developmental delays. Just when Jen thinks things can't get any worse, they do. One night, two men break into the Glass home, but the routine robbery becomes something much worse when the family is held hostage in their own basement. Jen and Ted must overcome their differences in order to make sure their family survives the days to come.
Jen put her hand on the brass knob. Later, she would remember this detail, the warmth of the old brass to her touch, the way she had to tug to clear the slight jam.
Standing in the hallway was her beautiful daughter, her face exquisitely frozen, her lips parted and her long-lashed eyes wide with terror.
On her left, a man Jen had never seen before held Teddy in his arms, her little boy flailing ineffectively against his grip.
On her right, a man who looked unnervingly like Orlando Bloom pressed a gun to Livvy's head.
What are you reading this week?
With just a few days left in February, let's take a look at the March LibraryReads list, which features the 10 books coming out next month that librarians across the country are the most excited about sharing with their patrons.
Coming in at #1 is Laura McHugh's The Weight of Blood, which our reviewer describes as "a tense, taut novel and a truly remarkable debut. . . . a suspenseful thrill ride that satisfies in all the right ways." (Read our full review here, and our interview with McHugh about the book here.)
What do you think, readers? Will any of the March LibraryReads books be going on your TBR list?