The longlist for this year's Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction has been announced. The prize (formerly known as the Orange Prize) recognizes one outstanding female author who writes in English and has been published in the U.K., and comes with a prize of £30,000. The shortlist will be announced on April 13, and the winner will be announced at an awards ceremony held at the Royal Festival Hall on June 3.
Eleven of the 20 longlisted authors have made the long or shortlist for the prize before—and a record-setting 16 of them are British. A few have yet to be published in the U.S. Who are you rooting for?
Rachel Cusk, Outline (FSG)
Lissa Evans, Crooked Heart (Harper, July)
Patricia Ferguson, Aren’t We Sisters? (no scheduled U.S. publication)
Xiaolu Guo, I Am China (Nan A. Talese)
Samantha Harvey, Dear Thief (Atavist Books)
Emma Healey, Elizabeth Is Missing (Harper)
Emily St. John Mandel, Station Eleven (Knopf)
Grace McCleen, The Offering (no scheduled U.S. publication)
Sandra Newman, The Country of Ice Cream Star (Ecco)
Heather O’Neill, The Girl Who Was Saturday Night (FSG)
Laline Paull, The Bees (Ecco)
Marie Phillips, The Table of Less Valued Knights (no scheduled U.S. publication)
Rachel Seiffert, The Walk Home (Pantheon)
Kamila Shamsie, A God in Every Stone (Bloomsbury)
Ali Smith, How to be Both (FSG)
Sara Taylor, The Shore (Crown, June)
Anne Tyler, A Spool of Blue Thread (Knopf)
Sarah Waters, The Paying Guests (Riverhead)
Jemma Wayne, After Before (Legend Times Group, April)
PP Wong, The Life of a Banana (Legend Times Group, May)
It's the middle of winter, and Francis Falbo is depressed, despondent and he hasn't changed out of his long johns and blue terrycloth bathrobe—the "uniform of a Life in Default"—for nine days. In the wake of his mother's death and his recent divorce, 30-something Francis has taken refuge in his father's creaky Victorian in his hometown of Pollard, Illinois. He could write some songs about all of this, except his moderately successful rock band, the Third Policeman, has also fallen apart. But as he slowly starts to venture outside his attic room, he comes to know his increasingly offbeat tenants and becomes more entangled and invested in their complicated lives than he ever expected.
I am also now sporting a beard, and have developed a very real anxiety about it smelling gamey, like a wet squirrel or coon. Beard pong can be and acute social/hygienic problem and when I encounter my tenants at the front porch mailboxes or in the basement laundry room I make an effort to keep at least an arm's length between us. Though I twiddle and stroke the beard compulsively, in fact I don't know what it looks like, as I've been doing my best to avoid mirrors and reflective surfaces of any kind out of fear of what I'm liable to see staring back at me. I'm starting to imagine the beleaguered Civil War soldier. Or the banished indie record store warlock. Or a derelict from the northeast United States. Like one of those Olympia, Washington, societal dropouts who eat only frosted Pop-Tarts, living out a Nineties grunge fantasy. The beard mangy and random with riptides and lots of wiry rogue strands.
The word wayward comes to mind.
But I'm a musician, so doesn't this fact make my current state okay?
What are you reading today?
Every month, we review the hottest new romance releases in our Romance column. But why let the print books have all the fun? In Digital Dalliances, we highlight digital-only releases guaranteed to heat up your eReader.
If you wished 50 Shades of Grey had more fabulous dresses in it, Bound by Bliss by Lavinia Kent might fit the bill. The high-spirited Lady Bliss Danser is in a dilemma. Although loathe to marry, her brother is convinced that it's time for her to wed—and quickly. Despite her attempts to find a suitable husband before her brother's patience runs out, she keeps on landing on the unsavory option of the brooding and austere Stephan Duldon. But although she hates to admit it, there's something about Stephan's demanding demeanor that she can't help but find attractive. Not to mention the fact that he is absolutely intent upon making her his wife.
"My brother plans to marry me off to Lord Duldon." She closed he eyes again as she said his name, pretending she was not imagining stark blue eyes staring at her from across a room. "Swanston believes it would be a good match for me." Lifting her head, she stared at her friend. The words hurt as they slipped through her lips, each one cutting like a sheet of paper slicing one's thumb. Against her will that forbidden image of Duldon formed, tall and brooding, his dark blond hair shining in the sunlight, and those clear eyes staring at her, watching her, always watching her. A small shiver eased through her as she pictured him. Even in her mind he saw right through her, his blue eyes glinting at her as if he knew all her secrets, all her forbidden thoughts.
Do you think you'll be picking up this romance novel for your eReader?
Leading off this week's new paperback releases is a novel shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize:
To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
By Joshua Ferris
Back Bay • $16 • ISBN 9780316033992
The protagonist of Ferris' third novel is a New York dentist and ardent Boston Red Sox fan who is unnerved when he learns that someone is impersonating him online.
The Nazi Officer's Wife
By Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin
Morrow • $16.99 • ISBN 9780062378088
First published in 1999, Beer's account of living in a "prison of pretense" as the Jewish wife of a Nazi officer is an incredible true story of survival and resilience. This new edition includes additional information about Beer, who died in 2009, as well as a reading group guide.
Fourth of July Creek
By Smith Henderson
Ecco • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062286468
A debut novel that landed on several Best Books of 2014 lists, Henderson’s dark Montana tale has earned him comparisons to Cormac McCarthy.
By Carl Hoffman
Morrow • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062116161
Hoffman sets out to determine what really happened to Michael Rockefeller, who vanished while collecting primitive art in New Guinea in 1961.
George Hodgman recounts caring for his ailing mother in the small, fading town of his childhood in his poignant and hilarious memoir, Bettyville. Our reviewer calls Bettyville a "masterpiece," written "with wit and empathy." (Read the full review here.)
We asked Hodgman to tell us about three books he's been reading lately, and he graciously agreed to share.
I wish I could say I had just reread Tristram Shandy or something and found new depths and brilliance, but I will always hate Tristram Shandy, and most of what I am reading now is stuff that a lot of people are also finding wonderful. I love Lily King’s brilliant Euphoria and her fascinating depiction of her characters’ work (anthropology).
I am nuts, completely passionate, about Jenny Offill’s novel, Dept. of Speculation. It’s a wonderful example of how a great writer can put a voice on the page that is just, well, a world—a voice that reveals so many facets of a personality and the small complexities of everyday experience. Here is a woman—a writer, wife, and mother—struggling with herself (a battle I understand), her art, the pressure of trying to love a child who sometimes drives her crazy, and a husband who breaks her heart. And it’s enough, more than enough to fill the book—this vulnerable woman’s ordinary journey. There is no especially unique plot or conflict—just a tenderly rendered depiction of the heart of a unique woman of sensitivity and humor and intelligence. I wanted to keep her with me and protect her. I loved this character. She sent me back to another book that is a very idiosyncratic presentation of a complicated self on the page: Speedboat.
Speedboat by Renata Adler is a book I struggled to connect with when I was younger. Adler’s Jen Fain is much more sophisticated than the wife in Dept. of Speculation: more glamorous and cerebral, less self-doubting, but like Offill’s character, she is absolutely all there and very, very human. I was happy to be able to appreciate her more now that I’m older.
I’ve also just finished Edward St. Aubyn’s Patrick Melrose series. I love contemporary English novelists, and St. Aubyn may be the most dazzling. He’s sharp, piercingly observant, very funny, but also, because of his experience and the decadence around him, dark. Edward St. Aubyn is heavy company. I found him brilliant, but was more than ready to part ways when the time came.
Thank you, George! See anything you'd like to pick up, readers?
(Author photo by Sigrid Estrada)
It's been 10 years since the publication of Boy Proof, Cecil Castellucci's groundbreaking young adult debut, now one of Time magazine's 100 Best Young Adult Books of All Time. Ten years ago, sci-fi fans—especially young females—felt like they could let their geek flags fly after reading about Egg, who styles herself after the heroine of her favorite sci-fi movie, Terminal Earth, by dressing all in white, shaving her head and coloring her eyebrows. She's got her shields up—especially against boys. But then she meets Max.
Castellucci looks back on the book that defined her as an author and encouraged nerdy girls to stay weird while finding their courage:
It begins at a bookstore: one of my favorite indie bookstores in Los Angeles, Skylight Books. When I was first trying to sell my first book and dreaming of becoming an author, I would walk to the store, which is funny because nobody walks in Los Angeles. I went there to haunt the shelves, paw the books and dream that maybe one day I would be an actual author. The staff was friendly and encouraging. They let me stay for hours.
In those early years of being a dreamer, they asked me to help out at inventory. I came in to support, but also needing the grocery money to help clean the store and count and shelve the books. I still do inventory with them every year—15 years and counting. I had written two novels and a picture book that had not sold. I was blue. And poor. And dreaming. Somewhere in fiction while I was dusting and lamenting my rejections both by the book industry and gentleman suitors. Then Steven Salardino, the manager of the bookstore and now a dear friend, turned to me and said, “You should write a book called Boy Proof and the boy should be named Max.” Instead of shrugging him off, or throwing a dust rag at him, I said, “OK,” and set about to do it.
The title had struck me deep in my core. And as a nerdy girl myself, I had felt like that growing up and wanted to write a book about a girl who was a true nerd and the star of the book, not the sidekick or the best friend. A girl who, like me felt a little boy proof. I wanted to write the book that I had needed and wasn’t there when I was growing up geek. I had a few loose threads in my head that I thought I could pull on to make a story.
While time coding for my friends production transcript company, I had seen footage of a girl who dressed up as Trinity from the Matrix movies. To give myself swaths of time to write, I was an extra in movies and once got a call to interview to be a child ape on Tim Burton’s Planet of the Apes. I was not chosen to be an ape. (Tim Burton’s loss, to be sure!) The interview was at special effects make-up artist Rick Baker's studio, which was truly inspiring. Living in Hollywood with all of this buzz of making it and reinvention made me think to back to when I was in high school. I had a great friend whose mother, a famous singer and actress, was making her big comeback, and there was a boy I was too shy to figure out how to make my boyfriend who sat next to me in math class. His name was not Max, but the shadow memory of him was a place to start.
I put those things together to write a book called Boy Proof about a girl named Egg who dressed as the main character of her favorite sci-fi movie. Who loved post-apocalyptic movies and read comic books. Who felt uncomfortable around the new boy. Whose dad was a special effects make-up artist. Whose mom was a TV star making a comeback. A nerdy girl who lets down her guard to let love in.
It was the first novel I sold, and it was born in a bookstore.
And to this day, I always ask Steven to help me title my novels.
Author photo credit Eric Charles.
On the eve of her wedding, a young woman wonders if she's ready to commit to her picture-perfect fiancé.
A lonely, overweight 20-something is working a dead-end job as an advice columnist when someone unexpected enters her life and shakes things up.
These may sound like stories you've read before. But this summer, two fearless debut novelists are pushing the boundaries, releasing female-centered stories that blend dark twists and searing social commentary.
Lily Wilder, the narrator of Eliza Kennedy's I Take You (Crown, May), is doubting her decision to marry—but not for the reasons you'd expect. Lily, a successful lawyer, isn't afraid that the ceremony won't be perfect, that she's not good enough for Will or that he'll run out on her: She's worried that marriage will cramp her not-exactly-monogamous lifestyle.
And Plum Kettle, the overweight protagonist of Sarai Walker's Dietland (HMH, June)? The person she meets who changes her life isn't a man, but a mysterious young woman who initiates the virtually housebound Plum (who is planning on having bariatric surgery) into a secret society of guerrilla fighters who are committing terrorist acts against the patriarchy. (No surprise, The Sun's page 3 is among the targets.)
Both Lily and Plum are heroines who lie outside the social norms. Lily loves her fiancé, Will, but she also loves sex—lots of it. She isn't sure if she can change that about herself, or if she even wants to, even though by accepting his proposal she's signed on to try.
Likewise, Plum is not conventionally beautiful–and maybe not even unconventionally beautiful, although it's hard to tell since Plum is only ever described through her own very critical eyes. All her life, Plum has defined herself by her weight, spending years on thankless diets waiting for her skinny self—whom she calls Alicia—to emerge so she can finally start living.
Still, it's not entirely unusual for stories to start out with women who don't conform to the norms. After all, that's why their lives aren't perfect, right? As the pages turn, you're waiting for the moment when Lily and Plum transform, become what society expects—which makes you realize just how well-trodden the tropes of women's fiction can be. But as Dietland and I Take You approach their very different but equally satisfying conclusions, it becomes clear that this isn't the point. Plum and Lily aren't the ones who need to change—the world is.
These two daring debuts introduce authors who have something to say.
There's a hot new genre that's been floating around the publishing world for a few years called New Adult Romance. If that's leaving you scratching your head, no worries! Best-selling author K.A. Tucker, whose New Adult romance Becoming Rain is now in stores, is here to explain what New Adult really means.
When I'm asked what genres I write in and answer "New Adult Contemporary Romance" and "New Adult Romantic Suspense," the follow-up question tends to be: "What does ‘New Adult’ mean?” It's a question with an answer that varies depending on whom you ask. But over the past few years, a number of defining characteristics have emerged.
Most New Adult authors will agree that their characters should fit into an age window of 18 to 26 years old. Anything younger is typically termed Young Adult; anything older is simply Adult.
These characters are not simply a specific age, however; they’re also emerging into the world as adults and are no longer under parental supervision. They're making decisions about their futures and, many times, those decisions are inspired by a sense of newfound freedom. They're driven by emotion and learning through mistakes. This is a very real stage of growth that most people go through, and New Adult is meant to capture the triumphs and struggles that accompany it.
How these triumphs and struggles play out varies drastically for the individual, however. Many young people go to college, but many don't. Some still have the financial support of their parents to keep them afloat; others are maintaining full-time jobs just to keep a roof over their heads. Some are already looking for that significant person to spend the rest of their lives with, while others can't see themselves settling down for another decade. Most really don't have a clue what they want to do with the rest of their lives now that they're in the driver's seat.
All of these motivators, combined with evolving personalities, make this stage incredibly rich for story-telling.
In fiction, an author's own experiences, belief systems and comfort levels influence how their characters will handle the obstacles they face. I like to create characters that make bad decisions. I put them in uncomfortable situations and weave in unusual challenges to see how it will all play out for them. This makes for somewhat unconventional New Adult plot lines (in Becoming Rain, the two main protagonists are an undercover police officer and a guy entering a car theft ring), but I don’t let that deter me. The only question I ask myself is, "If it were me, how would I have handled this in my early 20s—and how would I handle it now?" If the answers are drastically different, that's when I know I'm onto something.
Fans of best-selling author C.J. Box expect a lot of action and suspense, delivered in clear prose and paced expertly. The author has won a number of awards for his satisfying high-country thrillers, including the Edgar for Best Novel (Blue Heaven, 2009), but his 15th Joe Pickett novel, Endangered, is a cut above. It's darker, tighter and proof that even though Box's a seasoned thriller writer, he's still a writer to watch.
Joe is out surveying a field of massacred, engangered sage grouse when he gets a call about a woman found in a ditch. She's alive, but badly beaten. The victim is Joe's adopted daughter, April, who ran off with a rodeo rider in Stone Cold. Joe's ready to hunt down the rider—until an anonymous tip points Joe toward survivalist Tilden Cudmore as April’s abductor. All this is going down when Joe's old pal Nate Romanowski, who has just been released from prison, is found dead. And the twists just keep coming.
Blunt force trauma.
The very words were brutal in and of themselves, Joe thought as he and Marybeth trailed April's gurney down the hallway. He could hear the helicopter approaching outside, hovering over the helipad on the roof of the hospital.
April was bundled up and he couldn't see her face. He wasn't sure he wanted to. Joe was grateful Marybeth had positively identified her earlier.
He was unnerved by the number of suspended plastic packets that dripped fluids into tubes that snaked beneath the sheets. An orderly rolled a monitor on wheels alongside the gurney. Her body looked small and frail beneath the covers, and she didn't respond when the orderlies secured her to the gurney with straps.
Joe reached down and squeezed her hand through the blankets. It was supple, but there was no pressure back.
"Let me know how it goes," Joe said to Marybeth, raising his voice so as to be heard over the wash of the rotors.
"Of course," she said, pulling him close one last time before she left. Her eyes glistened with tears.
Joe watched as the gurney was hoisted into the helicopter. A crew member reached down from the hatch and helped Marybeth step up inside. Seconds, later, the door was secured and the helicopter lifted.
Joe clamped his hat tight on his head with his right hand and silently asked God to save April, because she'd suffered enough in her short life, and to give Marybeth the strength to carry on.
What are you reading?