Last week, BookPage Associate Editor Joelle announced March as the month to read books “you’ve always meant to read" and moved three books to the top of her TBR stack. (Read all about it here.) This week, it's my turn.
So, no more excuses. *Raises right hand.* By the name of Gutenberg, I swear I will no longer put off reading these books:
Hope: A Tragedy
By Shalom Auslander
I had a hunch that once I'd read Auslander's debut, he'd instantly become one of my new favorites. Our reviewer promised "echoes of Kurt Vonnegut, Philip Roth and even Franz Kafka," and Auslander hooked me with his riotous book trailer series, The Attic Calls, in which he calls up his friends and asks if they will hide him during any future Holocausts. And, of course, there's the plot itself: A Jewish man in Stockton, New York, finds Anne Frank hiding in his attic. I finally picked it up last week and found it to be everything I'd hoped it would be.
Men We Reaped
By Jesmyn Ward
Last summer, I finally dug into Ward's debut novel, the National Book Award-winning Salvage the Bones (2011), and fell madly in love. (There's nothing like a graphic pit bull birthing scene to make for great summer reading . . . in my opinion, at least.) And like all great loves, it took a while for me to recover after it was over. The time has come to let Ward break my heart again, and it sounds like last year's memoir will be even tougher, as she probes the "why" of the deaths of five young men in her life.
By Sarah Blake
My mom gave me this book almost three years ago, and it's about time I was a good daughter and actually read it. (Oops.) I'm looking forward to being transported back to 1940s, on the eve of America's entrance into World War II, through the stories of three very different women. It sounds tender and poignant, but more importantly, I got completely sucked into Blake's poems about Kanye West last week, so now I definitely have to read her novel, even if I doubt Kanye will make an appearance.
Hey, readers: Join in! This month, move a book to the top of your TBR pile, and tell us all about it in the comments.
Books published posthumously are so bittersweet. They're such a treasure, because we get to enjoy more of our favorite writer's work, but they're such a tragedy, because we have no way to share our delight (or, perhaps, displeasure) with the author.
But I'm going to go with "treasure" when it comes to two books coming in April, when middle grade readers can enjoy new books from two celebrated children's book authors, published posthumously: Ice Whale by Jean Craighead George and The Islands of Chaldea by Diana Wynne Jones. Both books were left unfinished at the time of the author's death and were completed by talented family members.
Coming April 3 from Penguin, Ice Whale (ages 9 to 11) was Jean Craighead George's final novel and was completed by her children, Craig and Twig, after her passing in 2012. George, the author of more than 100 books, won the 1972 Newbery Medal for Julie of the Wolves and a 1959 Newbery Honor for My Side of the Mountain.
Ice Whale is yet another epic nature adventure set in northern Alaska, but this one unfolds with a surprising twist: It alternates between voices of Eskimos and a bowhead whale, and chapters featuring the whale include squiggly symbols, invented by George to represent whale sounds.
Ice Whale also has some especially sweet acknowledgements from Craig and Twig:
"We especially thank our mother, Jean, for leaving us with this "homework assignment," which pulled us all together after she died."
Dianna Wynne Jones, author of more than 40 fantasy novels, including Howl's Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series, died in 2011 before she could finish The Islands of Chaldea (ages 10 and up). Jones' sister, novelist and actress Urusla Jones, completed the unfinished manuscript, which will be published April 22 by Greenwillow Books. This standalone fantasy has all the makings of a classic Jones novel. The publisher shares more:
"Aileen comes from a long line of magic makers, and her Aunt Beck is the most powerful magician on Skarr. But even though she is old enough, Aileen's magic has yet to reveal itself. When Aileen is sent over the sea on a mission for the King, she worries that she'll be useless and in the way. A powerful (but mostly invisible) cat changes all of that—and with every obstacle Aileen faces, she becomes stronger and more confident and her magic blooms."
Ice Whale and The Islands of Chaldea definitely sound like two treasures.
In The Cuckoo's Calling, Detective Cormoran B. Strike and his plucky young assistant Robin unraveled the truth behind the death of a famous model. Now Strike and Robin return in The Silkworm to investigate the disappearance of a novelist.
The publisher shares more:
When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days—as he has done before—and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.
But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives–meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.
When Quine is found brutally murdered under bizarre circumstances, it becomes a race against time to understand the motivation of a ruthless killer, a killer unlike any Strike has encountered before…
Our reviewer loved the "fascinating cast of fast-track suspects both repellent and attractive" in The Cuckoo's Calling. It would be fair to say that Rowling's greatest talent lies in crafting finely drawn and unforgettable characters—including peripheral characters—and she makes no exception when writing as Galbraith. Are you looking forward to the new suspects in Rowling's next thriller?
February is Black History Month, the perfect time to remind young readers of beloved heroes and heroines like Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and Harriet Tubman. This year, new books focus on other important figures, including Malcolm X, the many voices of the Harlem Renaissance and unexpected champions of equality, from unstoppable performers to long-forgotten slaves.
We picked our 10 favorite new books for honoring African-American heroes and heroines. Some of these stories are inspiring, some brutal and unflinching, but all are valuable and educational.
"Kristy Dempsey revisits a watershed moment in performing arts history in her sparkling new book, A Dance Like Starlight. The story’s spirited young heroine, an African-American girl who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer, lives with her mother in Harlem. The year is 1951." Read our full review.
"This lyrical tribute to Sugar Hill, the historic Harlem neighborhood of the 1920s and ‘30s, and its legendary inhabitants packs a lot of information with an economy of words and R. Gregory Christie’s colorful, stylized paintings." Read our full review.
"With appeal for younger and older readers alike, Under the Freedom Tree is both a beautiful tribute to a lasting symbol of freedom and a powerful reminder that one brave action can change the course of history." Read our full review.
"Malcolm Little is a terrific introduction to a polarizing historical figure and an inspiring tale that children can apply to their own lives. We all face adversity at one time or another; it’s how we respond that counts." Read our full review.
"In Josephine, Patricia Hruby Powell writes with great reverence and a vigor fitting to the life of the illustrious performer Josephine Baker. This handsomely designed tribute to Josephine’s life is refreshingly uncluttered in every way: Powell’s free-verse text doesn’t waste any words, and Christian Robinson’s minimalist acrylic illustrations communicate the very essence of Josephine’s vivacious spirit." Read our full review.
The Sittin' Up by Shelia P. Moses
Putnam | Ages 10 and up
"While most African-American children’s literature focuses on either slavery or the Civil Rights movement, Moses gives middle grade readers a glimpse of a time when slavery was recent enough to weigh heavily on the minds and hearts of African Americans, yet a more equitable future was also imaginable." Read our full review.
"Using the framework of Sarah’s unlikely wealth, Bolden offers a wide-ranging book discussing the creation of the Indian Territory and Oklahoma, the rise of black towns and boomtowns, and the greed and corruption that surrounds money. Searching for Sarah Rector draws upon photographs, census records, sensationalist newspaper articles and first-person interviews to tell a fascinating account of a little-known time in American history." Read our full review.
The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin
Roaring Brook | Ages 10 to 14
"In The Port Chicago 50, Steve Sheinkin, author of the Newbery Honor book Bomb, tells the harrowing story of the fight for the lives and rights of 50 black sailors." Read our full review.
"Cy in Chains is a difficult, painful novel, but it’s an important one. Cy quickly morphs from a kind, compassionate boy, looking out for his friend before the accident, to a young man who’s been broken by a life of hard work and cruelty, and who comes to see compassion as a weakness he can’t afford." Read our full review.
"In a highly credible fashion, Willow grapples with her choices—she is as afraid of the path of freedom as she is of the certain horrors of continued enslavement. Perhaps most important to Willow, however, are the secrets she learns about the fate of her own mother, a beautiful and educated African woman." Read our full review.
Kelly Parsons is a board-certified urologist with degrees from UPenn, Stanford University and Johns Hopkins, and he takes all that surgeon's knowledge and puts it to better use (in my opinion, but I'm biased) with his debut medical thriller, Doing Harm.
We meet chief resident Steve Mitchell, a rising star with a bright surgical future who our reviewer calls "engagingly flawed." But then a patient dies of mysterious circumstances, and the killer starts toying with Steve, threatening his career, his marriage and even his life. And with an actual surgeon behind it, Doing Harm is the perfect blend of authentic hospital atmosphere and tense life-and-death moments.
To find out more about the high-stakes hospital world, we chatted with Kelly Parsons in a Q&A about patients, medical school and the fascinating character of Steve Mitchell—who we're reluctant to trust, or even like. And Parsons agrees:
"Readers shouldn’t necessarily trust Steve. They certainly don’t have to like him. But what I hope they do, on some level, is relate to his dilemma. I want readers to understand why he makes the choices he makes, however flawed those choices may be. The story is essentially about Steve’s moral journey. With some help along the way, Steve finishes the book a much different individual than when he began it."
Doing Harm is out today! Will you check it out?
Q: Why did you decide to write about baseball in your upcoming mystery, Murder in the Ball Park?
A: I have always loved baseball, so it is no surprise that I finally worked the national pastime into a Nero Wolfe novel, my ninth as the Rex Stout estate’s approved continuator of the Wolfe series.
Murder in the Ball Park, from MysteriousPress.com and Open Road Integrated Media, opens with a murder scene in the mid-twentieth century during a game being played at the Polo Grounds, the historic New York baseball stadium that for decades was home to the New York Giants before they departed the Big Apple for San Francisco in the 1950s.
Interestingly, Nero Wolfe creator Rex Stout also was an ardent baseball fan—and the Giants were his team. As his daughter Rebecca Stout Bradbury has told me, he loved the Giants but did not like the Yankees. Stout even set a Wolfe novella, This Won’t Kill You from the 1954 trilogy Three Men Out, at the Polo Grounds during a fictional Giants–Boston Red Sox World Series.
The Polo Grounds are long gone, having been razed in 1964. The site, at the north end of Manhattan near the Harlem River, is now occupied by the Polo Grounds Towers, a housing complex comprising four high-rise residential buildings. But the venerable stadium lives on in the pages of Murder in the Ball Park.
In writing this book, it was necessary for me to do research on the Polo Grounds, which as a Chicagoan I had never seen, but only heard about as a kid listening to Chicago Cubs games being broadcast from New York on the radio. The ball park had a strange shape, being long and narrow, more like a football stadium. This meant it had a very deep center field but extremely short dimensions down the left- and right-field foul lines—one of the factors in the book’s murder. Also, the stadium was nicknamed “Coogan’s Bluff” because of a promontory or cliff of that name that overlooked the field and was a vantage point providing non-paying spectators a view of the action far below.
Q: Why did you begin writing the Nero Wolfe stories?
A: My mother loved Rex Stout’s Wolfe stories and felt that because of their relative lack of gore, sex, and swearing, they were suitable for a teenager to read. I became hooked on them and after Rex Stout’s death, I wrote a Wolfe story as a gift to my mother. Years later, it was published as Murder in E Minor.
Q: What sets Stout’s detective duo apart from other fictional investigators?
A: The relationship between Nero Wolfe and Archie Goodwin. Wolfe is a genius, but Goodwin, unlike many detective sidekicks, is one smart cookie himself, and the two men complement each other. Wolfe is brilliant but sedentary, while Goodwin is fast on his feet and able to navigate the mean streets of New York, bringing suspects to the brownstone where Wolfe invariably unmasks the culprit(s).
Q: What’s the difference between continuing the Nero Wolfe Mysteries and creating your own investigator?
A: I have written five Chicago-based historical mysteries for Echelon Press featuring a Chicago Tribune reporter named Steve “Snap” Malek, who ends up as an amateur sleuth. In these stories, I can totally invent new people and situations. In the Wolfe stories, I use the template created by Mr. Stout and make sure that the recurring characters he created continue to have the personas and behaviors he imbued them with. When people read my Wolfe stories, I want them to be comfortable with “old friends” Nero, Archie, Saul Panzer, Lon Cohen, Fritz Brenner, Inspector Cramer and others.
Q: Are you involved with other Nero Wolfe fans?
A: Yes indeed. Just last December, I was keynote speaker at the annual Black Orchid Banquet of the Wolfe Pack, an organization of Nero Wolfe aficionados. The subject of my talk was The League of Frightened Men, my favorite Rex Stout novel. I urge anyone who hasn’t read that story to do so.
Thanks, Robert! Readers, Murder in the Ball Park comes out today!
The internationally best-selling novel has been adapted by Ben York Jones (Like Crazy, winner of the 2011 Sundance Film Festival Grand Jury Prize), and it's set to be directed by Marius Markevicius, who directed The Other Dream Team (a documentary of the 1992 Lithuania national basketball team) and produced Like Crazy. Filming will begin in Lithuania this year.
Between Shades of Gray is a Carnegie Medal-nominated tale of a 15-year-old girl's fight for survival during World War II. Set during the little-known yet shockingly true events of the Baltic deportation, Sepetys' debut shocked readers with its brutal honesty, and her heroine won our hearts with her resolve and her refusal to let go of hope. Check out our interview with Sepetys, where she shared her reasons for telling this moving story.
How exciting! And considering the inevitable hilarity of parents trying to hunt down the titles on their children's school reading lists and confusing Between Shades of Gray and Fifty Shades of Grey, what are the chances that a few feisty Redbox users will end up accidentally renting a heartrending tale about Siberian mass deportation? Probably pretty good, I'd say . . . .
We always look forward to the Newbery, Caldecott and Printz Awards, and this morning was filled with delight (and some surprise!) over this year's recipients.
We're perhaps most ecstatic that Kate DiCamillo won the 2014 Newbery Medal for Flora & Ulysses, the adventurous, hilarious story of a cynical, comic-loving girl who befriends a most unusual squirrel. (We were looking forward to this one several months before it came out; watch us chat with DiCamillo about seal blubber, poetry and giant donuts here.)
Mad props to our teen literature expert, Jill Ratzan, for predicting the Printz winner! She shared her prediction for Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick, saying, "Midwinterblood makes its readers work hard to uncover its secrets. That makes it a top Printz contender in my book." Seven intertwined narratives, full of blood and magic, unfold in reverse chronological order on a mysterious, remote island.
We are also tickled that Brian Floca won the Caldecott Medal for Locomotive, a gorgeous picture book about the beginnings of the transcontinental railroad in the United States.
Here's a (partial) list of the 2014 Youth Media Award winners. Find the full list here, and click the links below to read coverage in BookPage.
2014 CALDECOTT MEDAL
Locomotive by Brian Floca (Atheneum)
CALDECOTT HONOR BOOKS:
2014 NEWBERY MEDAL
Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo (Candlewick)
NEWBERY HONOR BOOKS:
2014 PRINTZ AWARD
Midwinterblood by Marcus Sedgwick (Roaring Brook)
PRINTZ HONOR BOOKS:
MARGARET A. EDWARDS AWARD (lifetime achievement in writing for young adults)
Markus Zusak (The Book Thief)
So, what do you think, readers? We're definitely thrilled by some, surprised by others.
For even more recommendations for fantastic children's and teen books, see our list of the Best Children's Books for 2013.
In one of the biggest author comebacks ever, master of suspense Greg Iles returns this spring after a five-year hiatus following a near-fatal car accident that resulted in the amputation of part of his right leg.
And with the return of this beloved author comes the return of an unforgettable character: Coming April 29 from William Morrow, Natchez Burning is the first in a new trilogy starring Penn Cage, the Southern lawyer and former prosecutor first introduced in The Quiet Game (1999).
Penn has always gained inspiration from his father, Tom Cage, an honorable doctor in Natchez, Mississippi (where Iles lives in real life). But Tom has become the main suspect in the murder case of his own nurse assistant. In Penn's pursuit of the truth, he unearths secrets behind horrific, unsolved murders from the 1960s—as well as connections to a secretive KKK sect called the "Double Eagles," a group of malicious and wealthy men with a bloody past stretching back 40 years.
The publisher's got us raring to read:
"Rich in Southern atmosphere and electrifying plot turns, Natchez Burning is a high-water mark for Greg Iles. It is the return of a genuine American master of suspense and a sensational new page in a brilliant career."
According to his website, Iles is wrapping up the second book in the trilogy, The Bone Tree, and is working with his son to create a short documentary about some of the real-life, unsolved civil rights cases that inspired these books.
Also, for readers who want a jump-start on Penn Cage's long-awaited return, Iles is releasing an eBook novella that resolves the cliffhanger at the end of The Devil's Punchbowl. Look for it a month before the release of Natchez Burning.
Who else is excited?
It's been a long, long wait for fans of Scott Sigler's science-fiction series that begin with Infected and Contagious, but the story finally concludes with Pandemic, out today.
Why, oh why, would an author make his readers wait this long to find out what happens in a series, especially when everyone's about to die?
Sigler offers a look into the years between the first two books and Pandemic—and why the conclusion kicks off in real time, five years after the events of Contagious.
If you read a series as the books come out, waiting for that last installment can be barbed-wire torture, you want your story, and you want it now. Waiting a year between books feels normal. But two years? That’s enough to make the die-hard fan rethink her devotion to an author. Three years? Oh, the insufferable agony.
The real jerks, however, straight-up tease their fans with that dreaded magic number: five years between books.
I’m one of those jerks. Allow me to explain why.
Five years . . . who does that to their fans? Well, lots of authors. If I can armor myself with two of the more famous examples, I give you Stephen King and George R.R. Martin. King averaged five years between books I-IV of his Dark Tower series (the first three books of which I personally count as the best trilogy of all time, of any kind). GRRM, of course, recently caught all kinds of Amazon-review hell for the five-year wait between A Feast for Crows, book four of his Song of Fire and Ice series, and book five, A Dance with Dragons.
Sometimes, delays happen.
Five years also turned out to be the wait between Contagious, book two of my Infected series, and book three, Pandemic, which is out today from Crown Publishing. The long pause in my series is a little different from those juggernaut properties listed above in one key way—that five year delay isn’t just in the publication dates, it’s also in the story itself. When Pandemic opens, the characters from Contagious (the few who survived that book, anyway) have been going about their lives for five years since Contagious ended.
I did this for two reasons.
First, the five-year fictional delay had to happen because of my storytelling style, in that all my horror/thrillers—not just the Infected series, but my stand-alone novels as well — happen in “real time.” The date of hardcover publication always coincides with the date the story in the book begins. If you open up Pandemic on January 21, you’ll see characters living in an eerily similar-but-fictitious January 21 of their own.
Second, Contagious doesn’t end like most thrillers do. The hero doesn’t snip the blue wire when the counter reads 0:01 and save the day with only a moment to spare. At the end of that book, shit goes wrong, way wrong, with world-impacting consequences. That big ending meant the story and the characters needed a little time to breathe. The world needed time to return to normal so that it was ready to face the next level of disaster in Pandemic.
Did this long delay affect my writing style? Absolutely.
For starters, I wrote Infected, the first book in the series, over the course of a decade while working at least one (and usually two) day jobs. The sequel, Contagious, was also penned while holding down a regular gig. After Contagious, I was able to leave those jobs behind. That gave me five years of hardcore growth as a full-time author between book two and book three. I am a changed writer, a stronger writer.
But like the characters in my book, I’m also five years longer on this Earth. I’m not just a different writer, I’m also a different person. Half a decade has done to me what it does to most of us: magnified my understanding of mortality. Everything ends, everyone dies. It’s also taught me that, sometimes, even the strongest of relationships don’t last. We are chaotic creatures: People grow and change, which can warp and shear bonds once thought unbreakable. This happens in Pandemic: The opening scenes show us how a love forged in fire has cooled and fractured, driving apart two people who clearly belong together.
Pandemic is dear to me because it catches me in creative flux: The story is stronger because I’m better at showing both the strength of love and the pain of loss. The span between books gave me the perfect way to illustrate the subtle shift of a good-to-going-bad relationship by not focusing on the slow process of dissolution, but rather giving the reader two jarringly mismatched bookends. Those who’ve been through such difficulties know that love doesn’t die in a spectacular supernova, but rather fizzles out in a slow, cooling fade.
Does that mean I turned Pandemic into a romance novel? Not in this lifetime, sister. I engineered the climax of this book with one thought in mind: tear the roof off this sucker. I’m still that slam-bang author who wrote the grizzly tale Infected. While five years of added wisdom let me tell a story with more complexity and depth, I remained true to my soul, to my roots and to my kick-ass fans.
And to those fans, to the people who have been blogging, emailing, Tweeting and Facebooking at me for the last five years, demanding the conclusion to their much-loved story? To you, I say two things: Sorry about the wait, and I hope the end result was worth it.
Thanks, Scott! Fans of the Infected series finally find out what happens to the human race on the brink of mass extinction, as Pandemic comes out today!
Author photo image credit Amy Davis-Roth, surlyramics.com.