Here's a long-range forecast for you readers who like to get your holds in early: Emma Donoghue, author of the bestseller Room, has just announced that she will publish a new book in the fall of 2016. The Wonder is a historical novel—the genre where Donoghue first made her name—and it also marks a return to writing about her native country of Ireland. Set in the 1850s, it's the story of Anna, an 11-year-old Irish girl who stops eating yet stays healthy, and the English nurse who is sent to find out whether Anna is a fraud or a miracle.
Donoghue is no stranger to writing about historical oddities—she has already released two short story collections based on similar real-life cases, including 2012's Astray. So it should be interesting to see how she handles similar material in a novel-length format.
Judith Clain, the VP and Editor-in-Chief of Little, Brown, had this to say about the new book: “The Wonder is a haunting and magnetic novel told with the spare and propulsive tension that made Room a huge bestseller. Like a great piece of classic literature it works on many levels—a simple story of two strangers who will transform each other's lives, a page-turning psychological thriller and a story about faith, doubt, and love. Emma Donoghue has written a masterpiece.”
Will you read it?
Watch out, readers—it looks as though this year's The Ice Twins was just the tip of the iceberg (sorry) when it comes to novels about diabolically dynamic duos. In January 2016 alone, two releases get a chill factor from different explorations of that powerful bond between twins.
Most of the time, twins switching places is done for laughs. Ann Morgan's debut, Beside Myself (Bloomsbury), puts a darker spin on it when favored twin Helen agrees to switch places for a day with her social outcast of a sister, Ellie—and Ellie refuses to switch back. The girls are only 6, and their troubled mother, who has just lost her husband to suicide, doesn't believe it when Helen tells her the truth. Forced to live her life as Ellie, Helen goes through a series of increasingly horrific experiences.
In Eleanor (Crown), by book designer Jason Gurley, twins Eleanor and Esmerelda are also separated at a young age. But this time, it's through tragedy: Esmerelda is killed in a car accident. The twins' mother drowns herself in alcohol and their father leaves. Eleanor is left to raise herself, with the support of her best friend and neighbor, Jack. But once Eleanor becomes a teenager, she begins to have out-of-body experiences that eventually turn into flat-out disappearances into a different world. Is Esmerelda the mysterious voice that pulls her into the void?
So, readers, on a scale of 1 (The Parent Trap) to 10 (The Shining twins) how creepy do you find this trend?
If you're looking for a fresh take on Southern life, get excited about this new collection of stories from Alabama author Helen Ellis.
Almost every reader has at least one "long-lost" author—that writer you Google every few years in the hope of finding an announcement of a new release. Helen Ellis is one of mine. An ARC of Eating the Cheshire Cat showed up at the Auburn University Bookstore when I was working there nearly 15 years ago, and was unlike any book I'd ever read before—a dark, psychologically complex portrayal of female friendships in the South that somehow managed to ring true even while being completely over-the-top (you'll never look at an axe the same way).
Needless to say, I'd been hoping she'd write something else for adults* ever since, so I cannot wait to dive into American Housewife, a story collection that Doubleday will publish in January. They describe the collection as "vicious, fresh, and nutty as a poisoned Goo Goo Cluster," which seems like just about the perfect description of Ellis' charms to me. Will you read it?
* She published a paranormal YA book in 2010, which, as a cat lover, I should probably pick up.
In the wake of yesterday's Booker Prize announcement, awards season rolls on today with the announcement of the finalists for the National Book Award. Drum roll, please . . .
Karen E. Bender, Refund (Soft Skull)
Angela Flournoy, The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies (Riverhead)
Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles (Random House)
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life (Doubleday)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau)
Sally Mann, Hold Still (Little, Brown)
Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus (Atria)
Carla Power, If the Oceans Were Ink (Holt)
Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light: A Memoir (Knopf)
Ali Benjamin, The Thing About Jellyfish (Little, Brown Children's)
Laura Ruby, Bone Gap (Balzer + Bray)
Steve Sheinkin, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War (Roaring Brook Press)
Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep (HarperTeen)
Noelle Stevenson, Nimona (HarperTeen)
Who are you rooting for?
Halloween approaches, and if you're looking for an eerie read, Isaac Marion's novella, The New Hunger, could be just the ticket. This zombie apocalypse tale is a prequel to his 2011 bestseller, Warm Bodies, an oddly charming romance that became a film of the same name starring Nicolas Hoult. Fans of star-crossed lovers Julie and R (a zombie—and yes, they are inspired by Shakespeare) will enjoy this glimpse into their world in its early days, as Julie and her family search for safety; R reckons with what he has become; and Julie's best friend, Nora, tries to find security for herself and her little brother.
There's a lyricism to this book that will appeal to readers of Justin Cronin's The Passage series, especially when Marion is describing the ruined world. And also, it's pretty darn creepy.
She hears a low growl behind her. Not a groan, not a moan, not a shout or a war cry; none of the sounds she's used to hearing when something wants to kill her. Just a wet, rattling growl, like seashore rocks tumbling in the undertow. She turns around. A wolf is staring at her from under a nearby picnic table. Its eyes are ice blue. Like her mother's, she suddenly recalls.
What are you reading this week?
It's official: We can knock one title off our list of long-awaited second novels. Helen Simonson is returning on March 22 with a follow-up to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Set in 1914, The Summer Before the War is also set in the English countryside, during a summer so beautiful that no one can quite believe that the rumbles of war will come to anything. The small town of Rye is more bothered by the new Latin teacher, who turns out to be not only a woman (which is controversial enough) but also attractive and, even worse, assertive.
Though set in the modern day, Major Pettigrew was full of old-fashioned charm, so Simonson's writing style should be an excellent fit for historical fiction. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does with this one. Will you read it?
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout returns in January with a new novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton.
Strout explored the complicated relationships of three brothers in her last book, The Burgess Boys, but in her new novel, she once again explores the mother-daughter bond—the relationship that powered her knockout 1999 debut, Amy & Isabelle.
Lucy Barton and her mother are long-estranged, but when Lucy needs help after surgery, her mother comes for a visit. Their reunion brings years of tension and longing to the surface, as Lucy reflects on her difficult childhood and her relationship with her own two daughters.
Will you read it?
Canadian writer Yann Martel hit a home run with Life of Pi, an international bestseller and Man Booker Prize winner—even the film ended up with a handful of Academy Awards. His second novel, Beatrice & Virgil, was a bestseller but didn't quite reach the same level as his debut (allegories about the Holocaust are not necessarily an easy sell).
Will his third novel be more successful in capturing readers' imaginations? We will find out in February, when The High Mountains of Portugal is published by Spiegel & Grau. As with his previous work, the premise is anything but usual: Blending three storylines that cover most of the 20th century, the novel is set both in Lisbon and the mythical mountains of the title, which just might contain an artifact that will change the way the world thinks about religion. Oh, and there's also a chimpanzee involved. We have to admit, we're curious! How about you?
The latest from Iain Pears—author of the worldwide bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost—is an ambitious literary work with a sci-fi twist. Actually, "ambitious" might be an understatement: This book is so complex that there's an app to help unravel it. (Is that a first? I'm pretty sure that's a first.)
Arcadia follows several different characters—including an Oxford professor, a teenager, a mathematician and a scholar's assistant—through 10 storylines that span decades and maybe even centuries. Knopf will publish it in the US on February 16.
Pears wrote in the Guardian that he decided to build an app to make it easier to play with narrative structure, and to allow readers to leave out any threads that "may displease." But it also taught him new ways to write: "Most peculiarly of all, I found that the story was most easily structured by looking at it visually; whole strands were expanded or even deleted simply to create a more pleasing shape in the writing program I was using. On every occasion, the more satisfactory the appearance, the better the story read, and I still haven’t quite figured out how that works."
The book has just gone on sale in the UK, so I guess we'll have a chance to see whether readers there embrace reading via app before Arcadia lands on US shores. Will you look for it in February?
Which debut author from 2015 is destined to be your new favorite author? Let an old favorite lead you to it.
If you liked The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisburger, you'll love Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin.
This workplace drama has loads of humor and a touch of romance, all set against a finely drawn LA backdrop that's just as full of crazy as the fashion industry. (read our review)
Set on Staten Island, this family drama follows a close-knit Irish-Italian family whose world changed forever on 9/11. Like Butler's debut, it is especially good at making the relationships between men feel real. (read our review)
Like Messud's Nora Marie Eldridge, the protagonist of Hausfrau is angry (albeit more passive in expressing it) and definitely not a role model (/understatement). Yet somehow, you can't keep from turning the pages to see what she'll do next. And like Messud, Essbaum has some serious literary chops. (read our review)
Like Sebold's modern classic, Walsh's debut traces the effect of a horrible crime on a community. Walsh takes it a step further, though, to provide a thoughtful examination of what these crimes say about society—especially men—adding timely thematic resonance alongside his suspenseful story. (read our review)
Readers who couldn't get enough of the historical detail and chilly Nordic landscapes of Kent's debut will want to pick up Wolf Winter, which also pits outsiders against their community and features a mysterious death. (read our review)
Like Miller's Orange Prize winner, Cadwallader's debut takes readers to a vanished world in poetic and polished prose. Her heroine, though, is no warrior, but a 17-year-old girl who voluntarily retreats from society to become a holy woman, or Anchoress. (read our feature story)