It seems to be the year of the mother-daughter mystery. I'm not talking about cozy mother-daughter sleuthing teams, solving crimes amid witty banter and little squabbles. No, these ladies are about as trustworthy as any Gone Girl character, and it's rare the reader knows what they've got up their sleeves.
It's the multigenerational bad girls club, and it's easily this year's hottest mystery trend.
Mind of Winter by Laura Kasischke
Paranoia reaches new heights in this psychological thriller. Holly Judge wakes up on Christmas morning, suddenly convinced that there's something very wrong with her adopted teenage daughter. "Something followed them home Siberia," she thinks, and starts ticking off all the disturbing evidence. An obsessive and twisted tale where reality threatens to slip away. Read an excerpt.
I Love You More by Jennifer Murphy
Oliver Lane’s murder looks like a simple case of a woman scorned—in this case, his wife, Diana. But investigators soon discover Oliver had two more families as well. So who really killed Oliver? Multiple points of view keep this thrilling mystery from every giving too much away. The most interesting POV comes from Oliver's daughter Picasso, who has seen plenty. Watch out for these ladies, and whatever you do, don't cross them. Read our review.
Don't Try to Find Me by Holly Brown
It's not initially clear who the victim of Brown's debut is. After 14-year-old Marley runs away from home, her mother launches a public campaign for her return. But people are fickle, and soon Marley's mom finds herself the target of public scrutiny. Why did Marley leave? Who is to blame? Secrets upon secrets. Read our review.
Dear Daughter by Elizabeth Little
This book's victim is pretty black-and-white, as Janie Jenkins was incarcerated 10 years ago for the murder of her mother. She's just been released from prison on a technicality—but she's also innocent and in need of some answers. Debut author Little has a great voice, and I wish her unapologetic heroine was my best friend. Look for a review in our August issue.
The Good Girl by Mary Kubica
This is another high-intensity thriller than unfolds through multiple points of view, but I can promise you'll never see this ending coming. The story jumps between events before and after Mia Dennett's abduction, when she was held in a cabin in the woods by a guy whose motivations don't quite make sense. Mia's mom is in on the investigation, and that's all I'm going to say about it. Look for a Q&A in our August issue.
Are you set for vacation reading this summer? If not, we're here to help! Follow the flowchart below to your ultimate summer read. Click on the graphic for an interactive version that will lead you more information about each book, or download it here.
What are you reading this summer?
It starts with one teenage girl—the severe tics, the twitching. Then it spreads to another, then another, then another. Is it a virus? Anxiety? Are the girls faking it? Soon, a dozen or more girls are twitching, and mass hysteria has an entire town in a panic.
I could be talking about the notorious Salem Witch Trials, the girls in LeRoy, New York, in 2012—or the two novels coming out this summer, one for adults and one for teen readers. Both novels were sparked by the mass hysteria in 2012 and tell the same general story—with some key differences. Both blend the thrills of a plague narrative with the psychological tension of paranoia and guilt.
We'll never forget how Megan Abbott addressed the cunning powerplays and precarious hierarchies of high-school girl world in her dark and twisted novel, Dare Me. In her next adult novel, The Fever, coming June 17 from Little, Brown, teenage girls fall one by one to unexplained seizures, sending the town into chaos. There's something distinctly sexual about the girls' twitching, and Abbott's dreamlike prose gives these events a haunting, disturbing quality.
YA novel Conversion by Katherine Howe, coming July 1 from Putnam, heads in a more supernatural direction and makes the satisfying connection between past and present twitching. Howe is a direct descendent of two of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, which has inspired her before. Conversion moves between Salem Village in 1706 and an all-girl's high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 2012. When girls start twitching and people start panicking, a parallel is drawn: Danvers was once Salem Village.
It seems the mass hysteria narrative is catching. I suspect we will see several more novels featuring twitchy girls before the end of the year.
Though William Shakespeare's exact date of birth went unrecorded, it's typically observed on April 23, the day he died on 52 years later—a neat piece of symmetry for such a literary life.
In the years since, the scant biographical facts available about the poet have combined with his singular status to ignite countless imaginations. This spring brings three additions to the lengthy list of Shakespearean tomes.
How did the son of a glovemaker rise to the heights of literary fame? This question has engendered many hypothetical answers over the years—including the well-known assertion that Shakespeare did not, in fact, write the plays he is credited with. Historical novelist Jude Morgan comes up with his own Bardic backstory in The Secret Life of William Shakespeare (St. Martin's), which opens in 1582, shortly before Shakespeare meets his wife-to-be Ann Hathaway. Morgan's Shakespeare adores his father and has a close relationship with his sister, Joan. He also feels a genuine passion for Ann, one that competes with his calling as a poet.
In Dark Aemilia (Picador), we move from investigating the source of Shakespeare's genius to unveiling the inspiration for the "Dark Lady" of his sonnets, the mistress whose "hair is nothing like the sun." Author Sally O'Reilly posits that the woman in question is a real-life contemporary, Aemilia Lanier—the fourth woman to ever publish a book of poetry in English. Lanier's biography is as sketchy as Shakespeare's own, leaving O'Reilly plenty of room to weave in a tumultuous romance with fellow poet Will while he's out and about on the London theater scene.
Finally, for those who don't take their Shakespeare too seriously, there's William Shakespeare's The Jedi Doth Return, the final Star Wars/Shakespeare mashup from Ian Doescher. The first, Verily, a New Hope, was a surprise hit back in 2013, and fans can't seem to get enough of the Star Wars story told in iambic pentameter.
If none of these suits your fancy, hold on until 2016, when Hogarth books will launch the "Hogarth Shakespeare Collection," a series that allows modern-day authors to turn several of Shakespeare's most popular plays into novels.
Those who prefer a "just the facts, ma'am," approach might try Germaine Greer's 2008 biography of Ann Hathaway or Stephen Greenblatt's National Book Award Finalist Shakespeare biography, Will in the World.
What's your favorite Shakespeare-inspired work? Or do you believe the play's the thing?
Last week, the New York Times published a piece in the Sunday Review from Amy Chua and Jed Rubenfeld based on their new book, The Triple Package, a study of why different immigrant groups succeed or fail in America. Though the book has been criticized for being "soft science" and/or measuring things that are very difficult to quantify (something the authors point out themselves in the Times piece) one statistic stood out to me:
Immigrants from many West Indian and African countries, such as Jamaica, Ghana, and Haiti, are climbing America’s higher education ladder, but perhaps the most prominent are Nigerians. Nigerians make up less than 1 percent of the black population in the United States, yet in 2013 nearly one-quarter of the black students at Harvard Business School were of Nigerian ancestry; over a fourth of Nigerian-Americans have a graduate or professional degree, as compared with only about 11 percent of whites.
Those are some astonishing numbers…but perhaps they're less so if you've been paying attention to literature lately. Although writers of African origin have been having a moment in recent years, it's not an exaggeration to say that Nigerian emigré authors are taking center stage. Don't believe it? How about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Teju Cole, Chris Abani, Okey Ndibie, Uzodinma Iweala,* Helen Oyeyemi, and Taiye Selasie,* most of whom are now based mainly in the U.S. or U.K.
Anyone looking for more perspective on the Nigerian immigrant path should pick up Adichie's most recent novel, Americanah, which comes out in paperback next month—its heroine, Ifemelu, goes from cash-strapped immigrant student to an acclaimed academic.
*not Nigerian-born, but of Nigerian descent.
While reading an interview with Eleanor Catton in The Guardian after her recent Booker win, I came across this interesting quote:
It is the peculiar constellation of her age, gender and the particular nature of The Luminaries that has, she believes, provoked "a sense of irritation from some critics–that I have been so audacious to have taken up people's time by writing a long book. There's a sense in there of: 'Who do you think you are? You can't do that.' "
Think Elizabeth Gilbert's The Signature of All Things (512 pages), Kate Atkinson's Life After Life (544 pages), Nicola Griffith's Hild (560 pages), Amy Tan's The Valley of Amazement (604 pages), Marisha Pessl's Night Film (624 pages), Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch (784 pages) and Minae Mizumura's A True Novel (880 pages).
Here's your nifty visual aid:
Writing a long novel not only asks a lot of the reader, but is also a mark of ambition—something that is not always looked on kindly when coming from a woman. But if this year's output is any indication, female writers aren't letting themselves be held back.
What was your favorite long novel published this year?
A couple months ago, I commented on the creepy timeliness of Koethi Zan's debut thriller, The Never List. Coming July 16, The Never List tells a graphic, terrifying story with details similar to the real-life situation experienced by the three Ohio women who were rescued after being held prisoner for 10 years. Read our review of The Never List!
But as I look into the fall mystery titles, it's clear that The Never List was just a starting shot to what looks to be the most disturbing trend of the year: abduction thrillers. In September alone, three blockbuster thrillers bear distinct resemblance the terribly sad stories of Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight. Each imparts graphic, intimate details of the mental and physical state of a woman held captive by a sadistic predator.
Alex by Pierre LeMaitre • MacLehose Press • 9/3
When Alex Prévost is kidnapped, beaten and trapped in a wooden cage hanging from the ceiling of an abandoned building, her only hope of escape is Police Commandant Camille Verhoeven. As Camille struggles to find the girl and her captor, he uncovers Alex's unusual past. With a 150,000-copy first printing, this is positioned to be a big one.
The Edge of Normal by Carla Norton • Minotaur • 9/10
Norton's true crime bestseller Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box was placed on the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit reading list. Now she steps into fiction with the story of Reeve LeClaire, who escaped her kidnapping six years ago. When she's asked to mentor another girl who experienced a similar situation, it's clear that the girl needs much more than guidance—she needs a protector from the villain that still watches.
Others of My Kind by James Sallis • Bloomsbury • 9/10
From the author of Drive comes the gritty, almost desensitized story of Jenny Rowan, who at age 8 was abducted and kept for years in a box underneath a bed. Years after her escape, a detective comes to her home and asks for her help with another young survivor. Of the four, this one might be the toughest.
Trends like this remind me of when I interviewed Therese Anne Fowler, who began writing Z, her novel of Zelda Fitzgerald, long before Jazz Age tales were back in vogue. Fowler had called it "radio waves in the zeitgeist," but this sadistic kidnapping thriller trend, coupled with coincidental recent events, pricks the spine.
Readers, I truly want to know your opinion: Why do you think all four of these authors—and probably many more—wrote on such similar topics? It this just a residual response to the popularity of last year's Room?
Do you think you'll be checking out any of these books?
A few years ago, YA lit fans were calling for more sci-fi, and it's safe to say that the genre answered. With YA's built-in fanbase for apocalyptic thrillers, the opportunities were endless: zombies, contagions, aliens, interplanetary romances and doomsdays that can be thwarted only by 16-year-olds.
Characters in high-action teen lit are right at home a hundred years in the future on Mars (Losers in Space, Black Hole Sun), surviving on space stations (Glow, Mothership), waking from stasis to discover a strange new future world (Across the Universe, A Long, Long Sleep) and thwarting dominate species (The Lunar Chronicles).
But this summer, it gets personal.
YA sci-fi comes to the home front as alien invasions sweep this summer's crop of teen lit. Naturally, many are set post-invasion, because honestly, YA dystopia will never die.
Here are a few of the big ones:
The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey (Putnam, 5/7)
Aliens quickly and mercilessly destroy the majority of the human race in attacks called "Waves." The few survivors include Cassie, who runs along an abandoned highway in search of her missing brother, completely unaware that the aliens' most terrifying strike is yet to come. Think The Host, only much better. Read our review from the May issue.
Icons by Margaret Stohl (Little, Brown, 5/7)
The aliens in this one barely show their faces—but that's what makes them creepy. The survivors of this post-alien invasion world are so scared of their overlords that they perpetuate the aliens' horrors willfully. Four teens with a special immunity to the aliens are Earth's only hope. Fans of Stohl's Beautiful Creatures series will enjoy this one.
In the After by Demetria Lunetta (HarperTeen, 6/25)
Amy and a toddler she calls "Baby" survive after aliens invade Earth and kill almost all of the population. But when Amy and Baby are miraculously rescued, everything is not as it seems, and she begins to discover the truth behind "Them."
Neptune's Tears by Susan Waggoner (Holt, 6/25)
Call this one an alien invasion of the heart. Set in London in the year 2218, an empath named Zee falls in love with David, a member of a mysterious alien race. Sure, there's some fighting, but it's mostly fighting for their love. An alien invasion tale for the romantic set.
And one more to look forward to: The fourth book in Pittacus Lore's I Am Number Four series, The Fall of Five, comes out on August 27.
Are you a fan of YA sci-fi? Are you excited for the upcoming thrilling alien reads?
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.
Readers of our December issue know that we've dubbed Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl the breakout book of 2012. A word-of-mouth sensation, this novel is guaranteed to keep you on your toes—and have you talking about it to your friends.
If Gone Girl whetted your appetite for unpredictable plotlines, dark and twisted characters or jaw-dropping finales, here are a few suggestions on what to read next.
Case Histories by Kate Atkinson. One of the themes of Gone Girl was the fascination that missing women and girls hold in today's society. Atkinson takes on a similar topic in her first Jackson Brodie mystery, which links the recent murder of a young woman to a child's disappearance decades before.
Hanging Hill by Mo Hayder. If you thought the ending of Gone Girl was messed up—well, the last page of this story will have your head spinning. Really, all of Hayder's dark, well-written tales should appeal to the Flynn aficionado.
Mr. Peanut by Adam Ross. A husband who fantasizes about his wife's death sees his guilty nightmare come true. Those who enjoyed Flynn's exposé of the ugly underbelly of marriage shouldn't miss Ross' debut, which features three couples bound by love, hate and, possibly, murder.
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins. Today's detective fiction is a descendant of Victorian "sensation" fiction—and The Woman in White, arguably the very first in that genre, is still one of the best. Like Flynn's, Collins' tale is told through the written statements of different protagonists, each with their own biases that the reader must consider. (Amy's diary has nothing on Count Fosco's!)
Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan. One of the pleasures of Gone Girl is its exploration of male-female dynamics and the power of creating a "story." McEwan deals with some of the same issues in his latest novel, which also contains one of those brilliant (and exceedingly rare) surprise endings that casts everything that came before in a different light.
Perfume by Patrick Suskind. You'd have a hard time finding a more dark and twisted main character than Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, the 18th-century French serial killer who stalks the pages of Suskind's remarkable debut novel. Grenouille is as manipulative and calculating as any character in the pages of Gone Girl, and the results of his machinations are shocking.
Mr. Fox by Helen Oyeyemi. A male writer is taken to task by his female muse for his unfortunate penchant for killing off the women he writes about in Oyeyemi's imaginative fourth novel, which shares Gone Girl's interest in violence against women and the dark side of marriage.
What books would you recommend for Gone Girl fans?
RELATED ON THE BOOK CASE: Previous posts on Gone Girl.