Most fans of Audrey Niffenegger’s debut smash The Time Traveler’s Wife know she has a new book coming out this fall. On sale September 29th, Scribner is pitching Her Fearful Symmetry as “a spectacularly compelling ghost story set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London.” We’ve been on pins and needles waiting for our advance copy to arrive, and I was thrilled when I saw it in the mail last week—just in time for the weekend.
Although I’m only 75 pages in, I think it’s safe to say Niffenegger has avoided the dreaded sophomore slump. This novel feels wholly original and it’s something I would have picked up and kept reading even if I didn’t recognize the name on the (very spooky) cover.
The story begins as Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer in London. She has been long-estranged from her twin sister, Edie, but nevertheless leaves her London flat to Edie’s twin daughters—Julia and Valentina—who never knew their Aunt Elspeth. 20-year-old Julia and Valentina have lived in America their whole lives, and they are intrigued by their aunt’s generosity and a chance at an exciting new life in London. But Elspeth’s inheritance has conditions—the twins must live in her apartment together, and they must stay for at least one year; even stranger, Edie and her husband Jack are forbidden to set foot in the flat.
I know from the jacket copy that the twins will have another roommate in their new London home—the ghost of Aunt Elspeth. And I’m excited to see what the girls will learn about each other, their family’s history and why their mother and her twin sister Elspeth have been estranged all these years. In addition to being a fantastically gifted writer, Niffenegger is a guide at Highgate Cemetery—so the reader can expect lots of first hand creepy detail.
I learned from the all-knowing Google that today is Nikola Tesla's 115th birthday.
Surprisingly, this scientist has appeared in at least three recent works of fiction. (Links will take you to the BookPage reviews.)
Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day (who doesn't appear in that book?)
Samantha Hunt's The Invention of Everything Else
And Toni Jordan's Addition—but just as a photo on the wall.
Anyone have other Tesla spottings in literature?
Fans of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity have something to sing about: Juliet, Naked, his new novel (on sale September 29th) will take readers back into familiar territory: the music world.
According to USA Today, “[The novel] features a reclusive, Dylan-like, English singer/songwriter who gets involved, via e-mail, with a woman in rural Pennsylvania." As for his novel’s title, Hornby says it has nothing to do with nudity: “It’s comes from the title of the new, acoustic version of 'Juliet,' the greatest album by his fictional musician, who’s hoping to stage a comeback.”
Following a collection of essays, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, a novel for young adults, Slam, and a collection of columns, Shakespeare Wrote for Money, this is Hornby’s first novel since 2005’s A Long Way Down. Music lovers and Hornby readers, rejoice.
When I arrived at the Books-A-Million offices for a few publisher meetings back in May, I had just missed their meeting with Penguin. As Julia and I walked in, most of the reps were talking about one thing: Level 26: Dark Origins, a new "digi-novel" coming in September from Anthony Zuiker, the creator of "CSI." They'd just seen a sample of one of the video "cyber-bridges" that readers will get a link to every 20 pages or so in the book. By all accounts, the video had the same quality as a TV show or film, and the killer was more terrifying than Hannibal Lecter.
This picture certainly lines up with that assessment. Apparently he wears a rubber suit of some kind so as not to leave any forensic info at the crime scenes. Creepy!
Info on the novel's plot is as vague as it gets ("the story of the world’s most heinous serial killer, and the one man who can stop him"—heard that one before?), but with a gimmick like this, they may be thinking it's not necessary. There will be three Level 26 novels, and Dutton paid a reported seven figures for the trilogy.
Soap opera fans will find this blend of TV and books to be nothing new (the novels of "Kendall" from "All My Children" and the unforgettable Hidden Passions by "Tabitha Lennox" spring to mind). But this is the first time readers have to get up after 20 pages, go to the computer and search for a video link, something that seems less than ideal to me—but might appeal to YouTube aficionados with smartphones. And who knows, the online content might be exciting enough to send readers racing through the pages to get to the next "cyber-bridge." I'm happy to see publishers trying something outside the standard print format, though. What do you think? The way forward, or two steps back?
We read with interest Nicholas Kristof's column on the importance of summer reading for children—and plenty of other people did, too. The column rose to the top of the most viewed list at nytimes.com. But surely we won’t be the only ones to question Kristof’s reading recommendations. Almost every book on the list was published decades ago (the two exceptions being Harry Potter and the Alex Rider series). Among Kristof's picks for summer reading were the Hardy Boys, Freddy the Pig and Little Lord Fauntleroy. That’s like telling my teenage son to go see a movie, and suggesting that he choose between Gone With the Wind and The Philadelphia Story. Great films, no doubt, but not as likely to interest kids as a well-done recent release.
We all love the classics, but aren’t there plenty of newer books that would hold the attention of children—and teach them a little something as well? Of course there are, and The Book Case is here to prove it! For technical support, we asked husband-and-wife children’s book experts Dean Schneider (a recent Newbery selection committee member) and Robin Smith (an upcoming Caldecott committee member) for quick, off-the-top-of-their-heads recommendations of a few recent children’s books worth reading.
The US/UK jackets for Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol were released today. What do you think? Will you be scouring the cover for "clues" to the book's content, or are you happy to wait until the novel's release?
For those of you who can't read the fine print/details on the US jacket, this red wax seal includes the image of a Phoenix, the number 33, and the Latin phrase, "Ordo ae Chao," (Order from chaos). But what does it mean?!? Apparently if you follow Brown on Twitter (@lostsymbolbook) or Facebook, you too can devote your summer to piecing together clues about the plot of his long-awaited book. Or you can just wait until September 15. I figure with a 6.5 million print run, there will be enough copies to go around.
And now, I'll leave you with a link to a clip from the "Today Show," where Matt Lauer shows the Lost Symbol cover and describes Brown as an author whose books are "pretty well read." You could say that, Matt.
I've said it before and I'll say it again—we get a lot of mail at BookPage! So when something interesting arrives (and that can really mean anything, depending on the day) we take notice. Case and point—this mysterious and intriguing postcard that arrived last week from Random House.
The back of the postcard simply says:
HOMER & LANGLEY
Random House September 2009
Even though the postcard doesn’t say much—if anything—about the book, it’s a really clever idea to get people interested in Doctorow’s latest novel. If we weren’t already reviewing it in our September issue, I would have definitely gone online to look for more info. And speaking of more info, here is a brief summary, from the publisher:
Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers—the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langley’s proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers—wars, political movements, technological advances—and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through their cluttered house in the persons of immigrants, prostitutes, society women, government agents, gangsters, jazz musicians . . . and their housebound lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves. Brilliantly conceived, gorgeously written, this mesmerizing narrative, a free imaginative rendering of the lives of New York’s fabled Collyer brothers, is a family story with the resonance of myth, an astonishing masterwork unlike any that have come before from this great writer.
Last week, Walt Disney Studios released some concept and publicity art for the new Alice in Wonderland movie, directed by Tim Burton. Fittingly, this mad movie will be released in March—March 5, 2010—but instead of basing the story on Lewis Carroll's novel, this film is a sequel that finds Alice back in Wonderland at 17, with no memory of having been there before. USA Today describes the story as being "freshened with a dose of girl power" by Beauty and the Beast script writer Linda Woolverton, which sounds like fun to me.
Burton did an amazing job of bringing Roald Dahl's imaginary world to life in his version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (though I prefer the Gene Wilder's Willy Wonka—sorry Johnny!), and the concept art for Alice suggests the same applies for this adaptation, which will be in 3-D. Like any good Burton project, Alice in Wonderland will feature his wife, Helena Bonham Carter (the Red Queen) and the amazing Johnny Depp, along with the likes of Anne Hathaway, Alan Rickman and Stephen Fry. And now, the photos (via):
From vamps and witches to angels, by way of Jesus. That unusual path maps Anne Rice's fictional journey. The Vampire Chronicles author will publish Angel Time: Songs of the Seraphim (Knopf) on October 29. In Angel Time, the first in a series, a contract killer finds redemption after traveling through time to 13th-century England to save a Jewish community.
In blending her renewed religious beliefs with the supernatural themes that made her famous, Rice may have hit on a winning formula—Angel Time has already received a starred review from Booklist, and Kirkus calls it "devilishly clever." What do we think? You'll have to wait until October to find out, but here's a hint: if the opening pages are any indication, the complicated killer for hire Toby O'Dare makes for a compelling lead character; his "guardian" angel Malchia is a powerful presence and the ending will leave readers wanting the next book.
Rice talked with BookPage interviewer Jay MacDonald about her change in course back when Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt was published. She said she'd never return to the "lost souls" who made her famous: "[O]nce I returned to the Church and began to see the universe as a place that really did incorporate redemption and really tried to understand the implications of there being a God, my identification with the vampires as outcasts, as outsiders and lost souls began to totally wane."
As some Book Case readers know, before I came to BookPage in March, I was an Assistant Editor at Random House in New York City. I had the privilege of working with dozens of talented authors on hundreds of fascinating books. But one of my favorite projects—and one of the last ones I worked on before leaving Random House—was Mark Seal's Wildflower: An Extraordinary Life and Untimely Death in Africa.
Published in May of this year, Wildflower is the story of the captivating life and shocking death of world-renowned naturalist Joan Root. Mark Seal, a contributing editor at Vanity Fair, is the gifted author. Mark took the time out of his busy schedule to answer a few of The Book Case’s questions about Wildflower and writing in general.
Wildflower evolved from a piece you wrote about Joan Root’s life and death for Vanity Fair. How did you first hear about Joan Root? What interested you in her story?
I read a one paragraph mention of her death in The New York Times Digest, headlined “Conservationist Killed”: “Joan Root, animal lover and conservationist who collaborated with her husband, Alan, on wildlife documentaries in the 1970s, was killed on Jan. 13 in Naivasha, Kenya. Root was shot to death by assailants who invaded her farmhouse, the police said. Two men were arrested, officials said. One of the couple’s films, “Mysterious Castles of Clay,” narrated by Orson Welles, showed the inner workings of a termite mound. It was nominated for an Oscar in 1978.” I had never heard of Joan Root, but was instantly riveted and wanted to know more. When I began researching her, a whole world opened—and I discovered a truly amazing woman who led two incredible lives, first as a famous filmmaker with her husband, Alan, with whom she shared a magical love and almost unbelievable adventure, and, after their divorce, as a brave and independent woman on her own, who put her life on the line to save the ecologically endangered lake on which she lived.
Tell us about your research and writing process. How did you tackle such a complicated project?
For the Vanity Fair story, I traveled to Kenya for Joan’s memorial service, interviewing her friends, fellow naturalists and ex-husband, Alan, as well as the police who investigated her murder. However, I felt like I had to get her voice in order to write a book about her—not an easy task when dealing with an intensely private woman, who barely spoke above a whisper and rarely gave interviews. Then, something incredible happened: Joan Root began speaking. Her ex-husband, Alan Root, emailed me, saying I was right about the speaking, but he had thousands of letters Joan had written to her mother, as well as letters she’d written to him during their painful separation and eventual divorce, and meticulously kept diaries over the years. I returned to Kenya and got the letters and diaries, which enabled me to find Joan’s voice, which became so critical for the book.
What do you hope readers will take away from Wildflower?
That we are all capable of second acts and second lives, and that one person can make a difference. Joan was an unlikely activist, but she put herself on the line for what she believed in. “It’s all talk, talk, talk, meetings, meetings, meeting but nothing ever gets done!” she once said. Her legacy is that she showed how action, instead of talk, can bring about change.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m working on a new nonfiction book as well as articles for Vanity Fair.
Any advice for aspiring writers?
Stay with it. And always concentrate on finding a great story. It’s often said that characters begin to speak to you—and they do. But it takes hard work and perseverance to get them talking.
For more on Mark Seal, check out BookPage’s review of Wildflower. Thanks for reading with us!