This week's spotlighted debut is A Surrey State of Affairs, Ceri Radford's hilarious story of a middle-aged British woman who, in the wake of her husband's infidelity, decides to strike out on a once-in-a-lifetime adventure.
Constance ricochets from ignoring the obvious evidence of her own husband’s adultery to missing entirely the crush another woman’s spurned husband has on her. (That would be a man from her beloved Tuesday evening bell-ringing club.) She also totally misreads her son’s sexual leanings, resulting in misguided attempts to find him a wife, even as she despairs at her daughter’s truly appalling computer-assisted illiteracy.
But that’s only the first half of this giggle-out-loud, go-with-the-flow novel of old-fashioned human impulses . . .
Read the full review from our April 2012 issue.
Today's guest post comes from Andy Abramowitz, author of Thank You, Goodnight. Teddy Tremble is a former musician whose band, Tremble, was a 1990s one-hit wonder. Now a lawyer in Philadelphia, Teddy discovers that Tremble is big in Switzerland—or at least, one tiny town in Switzerland. Is this his chance for another shot at coming out on top? Fans of Nick Hornby and Jonathan Tropper will find much to admire in this heartfelt and hilarious story. We asked Abramowitz—who has a musical past himself—to give us a "Top 5" countdown of lessons he learned as a debut novelist.
Guest post by Andy Abramowitz
No. 5 – Your friends don’t want to read your book; they want to have read your book
Those friends of yours who only read presidential biographies or Allure don’t suddenly develop an appetite for fiction just because you wrote a book. They’ll congratulate you; some will mean it. They’ll say they’re going to buy it; a small subset of those will do that too. That should be enough. It’s quite nice of them to lie about how much they enjoyed it. Think you’re special? Test them. Narrow your eyes and ask, “What did you think of what happened to Warren at the end?” You’ll detect a bulky swallow in their throat and they’ll shrug and say, “It worked for me.” Told ya.
No. 4 – The editing process doesn’t end, it stops
Like the rush of critical information that suddenly occurs to your five year old at the precise moment of her bedtime, the editing process is never over. Every sentence stares up at you, asking for a tweak. I’m not telling you to walk away because it’s good enough. I’m telling you to walk away or your editor and publisher will. You’re not Steinbeck. Speaking of which . . .
No. 3 – John Steinbeck wrote East of Eden
Hardly revelatory, I know. But consider how much effort you put into making each of your sentences feel right and look right, informational and tonally true, not choking on gratuitous adverbs or clunky prepositions. Then humble yourself under the notion that so many others have done it with a lot more literary loop-de-loop than you could ever muster. So, Faulkner, wipe that scowl off your face over the fact that your masterpiece isn’t front and center at the airport newsstand.
No. 2 – You’ll never feel like more of a fraud than when signing a book
People you see every single day and whom you suspect are smirking because they know that the publication of your book is a minor miracle—they’ll all ask you to write your name on the inside cover. It will feel silly and pretentious, unearned, like an act performed only by the Michael Chabons of the world or people with fiction-writer hair. (See Michael Chabon.) Really—why would your sister ever need your autograph? I don’t have an answer for this one other than to nudge them toward the ebook version.
No. 1 – It’s okay to like your book
Society dictates that artists view their work with a measure of contempt, as but an imperfect realization of their vast vision. Applesauce! In a free moment, pick it up, read a few a pages, and notice that you’re smiling. That doesn’t make you a jerk. At least I don’t think it does.
In Julie Iromuanya's debut, Mr. and Mrs. Doctor, a Nigerian couple in America attempt to appear successful to their families back home, when in reality their lives are anything but perfect. Our reviewer says, "Iromuanya weaves this tale of a mismatched couple with dark humor and careful observation. [...] Her insights into assimilation—its difficulties and pitfalls—are astute and at times, eye-opening." (Read the full review.)
We asked Iromuanya to tell us about three books she's enjoyed reading lately.
Now We Will Be Happy by Amina Gautier
I love story collections that seemingly collapse time and space by reintroducing and circulating themes and characters. “Muñeca,” one story in Amina Gautier’s second award-winning story collection Now We Will Be Happy, is a haunting foray into the psyche of a character, but part of the richness of the story is how the protagonist’s narrative competes with the other narratives of love, loss, migration and displacement. Presences are heightened by absences in this story collection, as are the complexities at the core of racial and ethnic identity.
The Heaven of Animals by David James Poissant
The stories in David James Poissant’s The Heaven of Animals feature animals in bizarre and exotic poses. Take, for example, the first story in the collection, “Lizard Man,” in which two down-on-their-luck deadbeats end up locking horns with a giant alligator. And one night the protagonist in “What the Wolf Wants” is face to face with something that might as well be a werewolf. The writing is energetic but also poignant, as many of these highly imagined stories engage with raw and disturbing realities.
Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee
Disgrace, written by J.M. Coetzee, is an oldie-but-goodie for me. I come back to it when I need to be reminded of how a light hand can be impactful in my writing. I’ve been a fan of his utilization of allegory since I first read Waiting for the Barbarians years ago. Disgrace opens like a pedestrian novel about a philandering professor, but it is ultimately a novel that addresses the emergence of the new South Africa as vestiges of the old remain. It is brutal and searing at every turn, but it is also subtle in its revelations.
BookPage.com is turning a page after the suspenseful twists of Private Eye July to focus on the quieter pleasure of discovering a great new voice—it's First Fiction Month!
In August, we'll be blogging about the best debut novels. Here's a sample of what you can expect:
Looking for a no-cook snack for these dog days of summer? Sarah Leah Chase's Seaside Guacamole is refreshing, simple and boasts some in-season vegetables as a bonus.
Once my son’s Little League schedule began taking me over to Martha’s Vineyard for baseball games, I quickly discovered Nantucket’s rival island had much to offer and it was there that I came across the idea of adding grilled local corn to my guacamole during the summer months. To heighten the smoky flavor of the corn kernels, I season this guacamole with smoked sea salt. My husband’s seasoning company, Coastal Goods, markets a smoked salt under the name of Sea Smoke and the Maine Sea Salt Company sells two smoked Maine sea salts, apple smoked and hickory smoked. Go with regular sea salt if you can’t get your hands on a jar of smoked, but do be sure to make this seasonal guacamole because it is just the thing to tide you and lots of hungry friends over until dinner after a summer day lazed away at the beach. And, it also pairs nicely with any number of New England’s microbrewed beers, the frostier the better. If you really want to gild the coastal lily, scoop some Seaside Guacamole onto tortilla chips and top each off with a whole cooked shrimp or a spoonful of fresh crab or lobster meat. Makes 5 cups; serves 8 to 10
1. Set up a charcoal or gas grill and preheat it to high.
2. To grill the corn: Remove the husks and silk from the ears of corn and brush the kernels lightly all over with olive oil. Arrange the ears on the grate a few inches above the heat. Grill the corn, turning the ears, until the kernels are all nicely browned and slightly blistered, 5 to 7 minutes. Baste the corn with additional olive oil if the kernels appear to be getting too dry. Remove the corn from the grill and, when cool enough to handle, cut the grilled kernels off the cobs and set aside briefly. Discard the cobs.
3. Peel and pit the avocados and coarsely mash the pulp in a mixing bowl or molcajete. (If you don’t own a molcajete, a potato masher or wire whisk will work well to produce a coarse mash.) Add the grilled corn kernels, tomatoes, red onion, and jalapeños and gently mix until thoroughly combined. Stir in enough lime juice and smoked salt to suit your palate. Fold in the cilantro and serve the guacamole at once with tortilla chips.
Reprinted from New England Open-House Cookbook by Sarah Leah Chase, copyright © 2015. Recipe courtesy of Workman Publishing. Photography credit: Matthew Benson. Photography © Workman Publishing 2015. Read our review of this book.
It's been nearly six years since Janice Y.K. Lee made her fiction debut with The Piano Teacher, an "exceptional first novel" set in postwar Hong Kong where Allied occupiers and the native people negotiate an uneasy peace and a brittle, stratified society (read our review). The novel was favorably reviewed and a national bestseller, so we're pleased to hear that a follow up, The Expatriates, will be coming in January from Viking.
Also set in Hong Kong and featuring a cast of expatriates, this novel is set in the modern day, and "explores with devastating poignancy the emotions, identities, and relationships of three very different American women living in the same small expat community in Hong Kong," according to the publisher.
Will you read it?
Vicki Pettersson's psychological thriller Swerve starts off at a dead sprint and doesn't let up through all of its twists and turns. Crossing the desolate expanse of road between Las Vegas and California becomes a struggle to survive when Kristine Rush and her fiancé, Daniel, are attacked at a rest stop (validating my long-held fear of rest stops). When she comes to, Daniel is gone. But the man who took him quickly contacts her, and she must decide how much she is willing to risk for the man she loves.
"We've run into some . . . some . . ."
"Yes." Emboldened by my stillness, the large crow has inched closer and is now just ten feet away. It tilts its head at my whisper. "I mean no." Except . . ."
I'm at the first rest stop outside of Vegas. A man just attacked me in the bathroom. He's gone now, but so is Daniel and there's nowhere to hide except . . .
"Except?" Imogene prods, still crisp, still projecting her voice, still playing her part.
Except the phone bleeps in my hand, the triptych chimes of a text coming through, and I look down. Daniel has his phone preferences set to show messages directly on the lock screen—every second counts when you're a trauma surgeon—and that's how I find myself staring at my own name in the sender's box: KRISTINE RUSH.
And in the body of the text?
Or he dies.
What are you reading?
It’s Private Eye July at BookPage! All month long, we’re celebrating the sinister side of fiction with the year’s best mysteries and thrillers. Look for the Private Eye July magnifying glass for a daily dose of murder, espionage and all those creepy neighbors with even creepier secrets.
Here's an after-hours summer reading plan—open a bottle of wine and curl up with one of these new paperbacks, on sale today:
By Elizabeth Little
Penguin • $16 • ISBN 9780143127369
Little made a big splash—and earned (inevitable) comparisons to Gone Girl—with this debut mystery narrated by a sassy socialite convicted of killing her mother. When her conviction is overturned 10 years later, Jane leaves prison with one goal: finding the real killer.
The Long Way Home
By Louise Penny
Minotaur • $15.99 • ISBN 9781250022059
The 10th entry in Penny's acclaimed series finds Chief Inspector Gamache happily retired in the Québec village of Seven Pines—until a neighbor solicits his help in solving the mystery of her husband's disappearance.
The Story Hour
By Thrity Umrigar
Harper Perennial • $15.99 • ISBN 9780062259318
In her sixth novel, the author of The World We Found captures the emotional turmoil of two very different women—African-American psychologist Maggie and her patient Lakshmi, an Indian immigrant—and the crisis that ensues when their friendship crosses professional lines.
Shadows in the Vineyard
By Maximillian Potter
Twelve • $16 • ISBN 9781455516094
Expanding on a story he first reported for Vanity Fair, Potter travels to a legendary vineyard in Burgundy to ferret out the intriguing details of a plot to poison some of the region's most valuable grapevines. For oenophiles, Francophiles and true crime fans, this suspenseful story is a well-balanced summer diversion.
Congratulations to the winners of the most prestigious awards in the romance writing community: the RITA awards! The winners were selected from a great line-up of finalists, and the winning authors were announced on Saturday night at a party during the 2015 Romance Writers of America conference in New York. Below are a few of the big winners, and you can see the full list here.
Long Contemporary Romance
Baby, It's You by Jane Graves
Mid-length Contemporary Romance
One in a Million by Jill Shalvis
Long Historical Romance
Fool Me Twice by Meredith Duran
Short Historical Romance
Romancing the Duke by Tessa Dare
Deceived by Irene Hannon
Evernight by Kristen Callihan
Concealed in Death by J.D. Robb (pen name of Nora Roberts)