Readers who came to Michel Faber via The Crimson Petal and the White (which was adapted as a miniseries) might find his first novel in nearly 10 years to be, well, full of strange new things. But true Faber fans know that one of the major themes of his work is giving an outsider's view of humankind. And while sometimes that means Victorian prostitutes, it more often means adding in a bit of the fantastical (did you see Scarlett Johannsen in Under the Skin? Yep, based on Faber's book).
Whether you're a longtime fan or a Crimson Petal aficionado, Faber is returning on October 28 with a long-awaited novel that is both epic and magical, and should satisfy both crowds of readers.
The hero of The Book of Strange New Things is a missionary ministering to his flock and facing the normal, everyday struggles that entails—that is, if you live in the future and your ministry has taken you not to China, South America or Africa, but to a distant planet that is light years away from your true home and family. Still, Peter is reconciled to his fate and becoming fond of his welcoming alien flock, until the news from Earth turns more horrifying than usual. Natural disasters are striking the planet, and on a more personal note, Peter's wife is facing a crisis of faith.
Check out the opening passage:
FORTY MINUTES LATER, HE WAS UP IN THE SKY
"I was going to say something," he said.
"So say it," she said.
He was quiet, keeping his eyes on the road. In the darkness of the city's outskirts, there was nothing to see except the tail-lights of other cars in the distance, the endless unfurling roll of tarmac, the giant utilitarian fixtures of the motorway.
"God may be disappointed in me for even thinking it," he said.
"Well," she sighed, "He knows already, so you may as well tell me."
He glanced at her face, to judge what mood she was in as she said this, but the top half of her head, including her eyes, was veiled in a shadow cast by the edge of the windscreen. The bottom half of her face was lunar bright. The sight of her cheek, lips and chin—so intimately familiar to him, so much a part of life as he had known it—made him feel a sharp grief at the thought of losing her.
Will you read it?
If you love books and you love mysteries, it would make sense that you'd love mysteries with a bookish backdrop. Or "bibliomysteries," a "small but elevated category of literature" that Otto Penzler (owner of the Mysterious Bookshop and the publisher of Mysterious Press) recently discussed over on the Open Road Media blog.
And there are so many good ones out there! Might I recommend a few?
Love cozy mysteries: Death on Demand by Carolyn G. Hart
The very first in Hart's Death on Demand mystery series introduces mystery bookshop owner Annie Laurance Darling and the endearing cast of characters who populate this South Carolina setting. The prime suspect of a murder, Annie becomes a reluctant sleuth, and her adventure is peppered with references to classic mystery authors that will undoubtedly lengthen your TBR list.
Love historical mysteries: Anna's Book by Ruth Rendell / Barbara Vine
Originally published as Asta's Book in the U.K. (long out of print but now available in eBook), this is an unexpected gem from Rendell's extensive oeuvre. A diary written by a young Danish woman in turn-of-the-century London becomes a huge commercial success; years later, these memoirs shed light on two unsolved murders.
Love literary thrillers: The Salinger Contract by Adam Langer
It seems fitting that the author and narrator of this book have the same name; it is, after all, a mystery about writers and writing. It's packed with bookish delights, including a sinister book collector, lots of literary references and shrewd insight into the publishing world.
Love collecting rare books: Bookscout by John Dunning
After years out of print, this one's now available as an eBook—though it's short enough to be considered a short story. Things get desperate for a rare book hunter, and the result is an interesting balance of book-collecting facts and mystery.
Readers, chime in! What bookish mysteries do you recommend?
It's April 1st, book lovers, and the beginning of a month devoted to celebrating one of our favorite places on the planet: libraries! First off, April is School Library Month, and then there's National Library Week (April 13 through 19), National Library Workers Day (on April 15) and National Bookmobile Day (on April 16). Phew—that's a lot of celebrating!
All of this library love got us thinking about our favorite books about libraries and librarians, and so we decided to put together a list of them. Featuring cats, bookmobiles, archivists, time travelers, even Dracula—these 15 books will inspire a renewed appreciation for a place that is, in the words of Jamie Ford in his novel The Songs of Willow Frost, "like a candy store where everything is free."
Henry is a 28-year-old librarian who has a genetic disorder that causes him to travel through time involuntarily. Stacking books on the shelves in the library's inner sanctum, he'll suddenly vanish, leaving behind a pile of clothes, only to materialize in some unknown past or future moment, naked and nauseated. Often he travels to a certain Michigan meadow and visits a little girl, Clare, who sneaks him food and clothes. (Read more)
The Ice Queen is the tale of a librarian in a small town whose wishes come true, but not always for the best. When the unnamed narrator is 8 years old and her brother, Ned, 12, their mother leaves the children alone one night, ostensibly to celebrate her birthday with friends. The narrator wishes her mother would disappear—and she dies that night, her car crashing on an icy road. Years later, Ned becomes a meteorologist and moves from New Jersey to Florida, while his sister goes to library school, still feeling the guilt and self-loathing brought on by her wish the night her mother died. (Read more)
This Book Is Overdue!
By Marilyn Johnson
As Marilyn Johnson postulates in the gloriously geeky This Book Is Overdue!, librarians are no longer ladies in cardigans hovering over the card catalog. The new librarians are bloggers, information junkies and protectors of freedom and privacy in the Patriot Act era. Says Johnson, “The most visible change to librarianship in the past generation is maybe the simplest: Librarians have left the building.” (Read more)
The Historian follows a motherless young girl's quest to learn the truth about her father's secret past and his search through Cold War-era Eastern Europe for the murderous fiend that has cost him so much—Dracula. The two journeys (which include stops at several libraries) eventually become one as the story traces the monster's footsteps from the hallowed halls of Oxford to the mist-shrouded mountains of Transylvania and finally to a medieval monastery that yields a shocking truth. (Read more)
By Martha Cooley
At its surface, The Archivist is the tale of its narrator, Matt Lane, a 60-ish librarian at a private university near New York. Matt has been entrusted with the care of certain personal correspondence between the poet T.S. Eliot and his friend Emily Hale, letters that are supposed to remain sealed until the year 2020. But the archivist's attempt to preserve the privacy of those letters is a metaphor for larger concerns. (Read more)
The Geographer's Library
By Jon Fasman
Reading The Geographer's Library is like stepping into a sepia-toned daguerreotype: The past here holds all the clues. The novel's narrator is Paul Tomm, a young, sometimes painfully naive cub reporter coasting along at a weekly newspaper in a sleepy New England town. When a professor at his alma mater dies in mysterious circumstances, the reporter's research for a routine obituary leads him into an unimaginably poisonous labyrinth. (Read more)
By Rebecca Makkai
What do you get when you pair a children’s librarian—whose father may be connected to the Russian mafia—with a curious 10-year-old boy whose dubious sexuality has caused his evangelical parents to enroll him in an anti-gay class and strictly monitor his library material? What sounds like the setup to a joke of questionable humor transforms into a charming debut novel in Rebecca Makkai’s hands. (Read more)
On a cold winter night in a small town in Iowa, the director of the Spencer Public Library, Vicki Myron, was shocked to discover a tiny, weeks-old orange ball of fluff deposited in the returned book slot. For the next 19 years, the sweet and magical cat known as Dewey Readmore Books lived in the library, touching countless lives, offering hope and pride to a struggling community, and gaining worldwide adoration along the way. (Read more)
A thriller about a librarian? Have no fear, best-selling author Brad Meltzer soon gets you hooked. After a somewhat slow start, The Inner Circle quickly becomes a fast, fun thriller. Once the twists start coming, Meltzer proves his prowess with the Washington, D.C., political thriller, and soon it’s impossible to resist the lure of the next page. Meltzer cleverly disguises who’s telling the truth, making readers question if there’s anyone they can trust. (Read more)
Bartholomew Neil is a uniquely likable protagonist who at nearly 40 has lived with his mother his entire life. After her death, Bartholomew sets a few life goals, like having a beer in a bar with an age-appropriate friend and pursuing Girlbrarian, the lovely but withdrawn woman who shelves books at his local library. “Her long brown hair . . . covers her face like a waterfall can cover the entrance to a mysterious cave,” Bartholomew writes. (Read more)
Imagine a man who can bend a horseshoe with his hands, whose outsized literary interests include everything from Jonathan Franzen to Stephen King and who towers above most of us at six feet seven inches. He sounds like a comic book hero, but the most heroic thing about him is this: He chooses to spend his days working in a public library, even though he suffers from a syndrome that compels him to act out, often audibly. Tourette’s, which Josh Hanagarne has referred to for years as Misty (for Miss T), is a formidable foe and constant companion. (Read more)
This literary mystery begins in a marvelous place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, a repository for literary works no longer remembered by anyone. A 10-year-old boy named Daniel is taken there by his bookseller father to assuage the lingering pain of his mother's death. The old caretaker tells Daniel to choose one book from the labyrinthian stacks, take it away and make sure it never disappears. (Read more)
The Camel Bookmobile
By Masha Hamilton
Masha Hamilton's compelling third novel, The Camel Bookmobile, leaves no room for doubt: Books are essential. Cookbooks, novels, parenting books—they all matter to Fiona "Fi" Sweeney, a librarian from Brooklyn searching for fulfillment atop a book-laden camel in the arid and dangerous bush of Kenya. Tiny, far-flung villages populated by nomadic tribes, largely forgotten and neglected by the greater population of a more modern Africa, welcome the bookmobile and Fi with a combination of curiosity and wary distrust of Westerners' belief that the rest of the world needs guidance. (Read more)
Running the Books
By Avi Steinberg
Avi Steinberg was meant for greater things. If not a doctor or lawyer (per his family’s expectations), his time in yeshiva should at least have turned out a decent rabbi. But no; he left yeshiva for Harvard, then stalled out as a freelance obituary writer for the Boston Globe. In search of a new direction, and the security of a job with benefits, Steinberg answered an ad on Craigslist and began life anew as a librarian in a Boston prison. Running the Books chronicles Steinberg’s years on the job, introducing a cast of inmates with whom his involvement went beyond mere book recommendations. (Read more)
Library: An Unquiet History
By Matthew Battles
Our Well Read columnist writes: "If you are a regular reader of BookPage (or even an occasional one), chances are you are also someone who has spent a fair amount of time in a library. Like me, you probably remember the monumental day when you got your first library card and, since reaching that milestone of childhood, have spent perhaps a little too much time roaming the stacks. Until I read Matthew Battles' engaging book, Library: An Unquiet History, though, I had not given much thought to the colorful past of those buildings-full-of-books that so many of us love." (Read more)
What do you think, fellow library lovers? Help us expand the list by adding your recommendations below!
With Valentine's Day right around the corner, we thought it would be fun to share some of our favorite recent literary love stories—and our thoughts on what makes them memorable.
Of course, our compilation of five books is hardly comprehensive, considering the countless options to choose from. So, we're hoping you'll help us expand the list by voting for your favorite love story in our poll. Voting will be open through Valentine's Day, and we'll share the results the following week. Without further adieu, our favorite recent literary love stories:
Lynn, BookPage Editor
Helen Simonson's debut novel, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, proves that a love story about an older couple can be just as enchanting—and just as appealing to readers—as the connection between two freewheeling 20-somethings. Pettigrew, a retired (and very reserved) British military man, is irresistibly attracted to Mrs. Ali, the Pakistani woman who runs a shop in his village. But with Pettigrew’s son and the narrow-minded ladies of the village standing in their way, can the major and Mrs. Ali build a life together? Simonson shows a wonderfully deft hand in exploring the personal and cultural issues that frame this touching story.
Read our review>>
Trisha, BookPage Managing Editor
Samuel Park’s moving first novel features a strong, memorable heroine torn between love and duty in Korea during the 1960s and 1970s. When Soo-Ja meets Yul, she immediately feels a connection. Unfortunately, she has just agreed to marry another man. Since going back on her promise would mean disgrace for her family, Soo-Ja rejects Yul to marry Min, a decision that haunts her for 20 years. Though Soo-Ja and Yul see each other only periodically, and usually by chance, their fraught encounters are tense with the passion of unrequited love. Fans of grown-up, realistic love stories like Ha Jin’s Waiting or Austen’s Persuasion will devour this debut.
Louisa Clark and Will Traynor: The fact these two are such an unlikely pair makes their love story all the more moving. Freshly laid off and desperate for work, “ordinary girl” Lou takes a job as a companion to Will, an acerbic quadriplegic, former adrenaline junkie who’s understandably despondent due to his predicament. Lou speaks her mind, has a razor-sharp wit and is self-deprecating in a way that dares readers not to succumb to her charms, as Will himself eventually does. Yes, Me Before You is a multiple-hankie novel, but the end brims with such hope and promise that readers will find themselves smiling despite their tears.
Cat, BookPage Associate Editor
We often think of brilliant writer F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife Zelda as a fast-burning, glitzy mess at the heart of Jazz-Age NYC. Therese Anne Fowler’s novel Z: A Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald promises a beautiful and damned love story, but also something more. Fowler peels back the layers of history to reveal the unglamorous and rather normal story of their love. It’s the perfect book for readers who like a little dark truth with their romance.
Read our interview with Fowler>>
Hilli, BookPage Editorial Assistant
Eleanor & Park begins when two misfit teens meet on a school bus in 1986. There are no vampires and they don’t live in a dystopian society (depending on your view of suburban Omaha). Rainbow Rowell painstakingly captures the experience of young love—the bliss of holding hands, the shaking fits of glee after a first kiss, the mixtapes—but refuses to shy away from the confusing, untidy aspects that come with the territory. Eleanor and Park are real people with real complexities and a real, grown-up story that will break your heart in the best possible way.
Read our interview with Rowell>>
What do you think, readers? Chime in with your comments, below, and be sure to vote for your favorite literary love story—stay tuned for the results!
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?
They don't call Linda Lael Miller the "First Lady of the West" for nothing. The beloved author of more than 100 romance novels—most of them set in the West—knows of which she writes: She grew up on a ranch in Washington state, her father the town marshall who also competed in rodeos.
Miller's authenticity has certainly struck a chord with readers, with all five of the books in her wildly successful Big Sky series landing on the New York Times bestseller list. The just-published sixth—and final—book in the series, Big Sky Secrets, returns to Parable, Montana, to share the passionate love story that unfolds between Landry Sutton, a self-made tycoon, and Ria Manning, the new owner of a flower farm neighboring the Sutton ranch.
In this guest post, Miller reflects upon the ways that her childhood has influenced her career as an author.
My life certainly has influenced my writing in the past, and it continues to do so, I’m glad to say.
I like to say I grew up in the Old West. I rode my first horse before I was two—sharing the saddle with my cowboy dad, of course—and even then, I reportedly loved “cutting the brush,” which is country-speak for chasing stray cattle out of the bushes, etc., on horseback.
I heard a lot of great stories as a child, and some of them later turned up in books, slightly altered. My father and uncle both followed the rodeo circuit back in the day—Dad rode bulls and Uncle Jack rode broncs. Dad gave it up after he drew a particularly bad bull and got himself banged up, but Uncle Jack continued to compete for a long time.
Naturally, tales of the rodeo—and attending a number of them myself—sparked a lot of ideas that came in handy later.
As kids, my brother and I (we have two sisters, but they’re a lot younger) spent a lot of time on the Wiley ranch, outside of our old hometown, Northport, Washington, where Dad later became the town marshal. He had the star-shaped badge and the whole shebang.
Our honorary grandmother, Florence Wiley, grew up on a farm outside of Coffeyville, Kansas, and she told some great stories while cooking many a meal on the old cast-iron woodstove she refused to give up, even after the ranch got electricity.
My favorites were 1) an account of the night Jessie James slept in the Heritage family barn and 2) the day the Dalton brothers tried to rob the bank in Coffeyville. It seems the townspeople got wind of the plan ahead of time, and when the Daltons rode in, the local men were waiting with rifles and pistols. The whole motley bunch was shot to death in the space of a few minutes, and later, their bodies were strapped to old doors and boards and propped up against the wall of a building on the main street as an object lesson to anybody who might be considering a life of crime.
Gramma heard the shots from the farm, but though folks came from far and wide to view the spectacle, her father was ahead of his time and refused to parade his children past a row of dead outlaws, thank you very much.
Television was a big influence on my writing style, too, I must admit. I LOVED “Bonanza,” or more properly Little Joe Cartwright, as played by Michael Landon, and I’m pretty sure I learned the concept of scenes by noticing how they began and ended on the show. Obviously, something had to be happening before the commercial break to bring the viewers back after Dinah Shore sang, “See the U.S.A. in your Chevrolet…”
Today, I’m living in the country again, just as I did in the early days. Guess you could say I’ve come full circle!
Thank you so much, Linda! Big Sky Secrets is available now. Will you be checking it out, readers?
(Author photo: John Hall Photography)
The Son, Philipp Meyer's epic, time-sprawling Western novel, landed in the #5 spot of our Best Books of 2013. Our reviewer called the family saga "a shining second step in a promising career." (Read the full review here and our interview with Meyer about the book here.)
We were curious about the books Meyer has enjoyed reading lately, so we asked him to recommend three recent favorites, which he graciously agreed to share:
By Karl Ove Knausgaard
This was recommended to me by Cressida Leyshon, the New Yorker editor, at a recent holiday party. By some miracle, despite being drunk on gallons of free champagne, I managed to remember the title. Turns out everyone in New York is reading this book. Often that’s reason enough to avoid something, but this book is actually brilliant. It’s being billed as the new version of Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, but it’s not. It’s better. It is a goddamn excellent book.
Life After Life
By Kate Atkinson
I have been beating the drum on this one for a while. Before this book, Atkinson was known mostly as a crime novelist, but this is an absolutely brilliant work of literature. This is not the same as saying there are no differences between literature and entertainment, because those differences are real. But Atkinson is one of those rare writers who will be master of whatever she sets her mind to. It made me furious when this book was passed over for the Man Booker prize. But now it’s popping up on every best book of the year list for 2013, for very, very good reason.
Kafka on the Shore
By Haruki Murakami
I went through a huge postmodernist phase in university, but I thought it had been flushed from my system along with all the dope I smoked back then. I grew up into a fairly modernist writer, and the fact that every hipster wanna-be loves Murakami was enough to make me give him a wide berth for years. But Murakami actually belongs in his own category. Unlike a lot of other postmodern writers, his writing has real emotional depth. He doesn’t do anything just to be clever. There is always a point to his twists and turns. And the fact that this guy didn’t even start writing until he was nearly 30 years old . . . you’ve got to love a person like that, who in his late 20s picks up a pen for the first time and by his 40s is one of the modern masters. I think Kafka on the Shore is the one for everyone to start with.
What do you think, readers? Did you enjoy The Son, or do you plan on checking out any of Meyer's recommended books?
Merry Christmas Eve, readers! Now is the time to fully indulge in Christmas themed everything before the big day passes, forcing you to pack up your Santa sweaters and tinsel for another year. Popular novelist Debbie Macomber admits she tends to overdo it a bit with her love of all things Christmas, but her latest book, Starry Night, gets it just right with a blend of romance, adventure and a little touch of Christmas magic. Carrie Slayton, a successful gossip columnist wants more out of her newspaper career, but when she comes upon the scoop of a lifetime in small-town Alaska, she must decide between her career or her heart. Watch Macomber excitedly introduce Starry Night in the trailer below. What are you reading this Christmas?
It has been almost seven years since the publication of Kaui Hart Hemmings' promising debut, The Descendants, which became an Alexander Payne film starring George Clooney. But! On May 13, 2014, the wait is over for Hemmings fans with the release of The Possibilities (Simon & Schuster). This time out, Hemmings is eschewing the lush setting of her native Hawaii for the ski resort town of Breckenridge, but she's continuing her exploration of family bonds and the weight of grief.
Single parent Sarah St. John lost her son, Cully, in an avalanche just three months ago. Consumed by grief, Sarah is just going through the motions despite the urgings of her friends and family to move on. Then a girl shows up on her doorstep with a surprising connection her dead son.
As part of our Best Books of 2013 coverage, our editors weigh in on some of their personal favorites from the list. Marisha Pessl’s sophomore effort avoids the dreaded slump with a shadowy, tightly wound thriller. Readers follow Scott McGrath, a journalist who watched his career crumble after leveling a threat against Stanislas Cordova—an elusive cult filmmaker reminiscent of early horror visionaries like Alfred Hitchcock and Dario Argento. But when Cordova’s 24-year-old daughter Ashley is found dead in a warehouse, McGrath sees a chance to salvage his own name while perhaps exposing Cordova’s dark side. Pessl writes with power and authority in Night Film while inviting readers to “explore their darker selves.” Read our review. View our complete Best Books of 2013 list, and find more Best Books of 2013 coverage on the blog.