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.
It's still early in 2015, but at least one unknown female author has already rocketed to the top of bestseller lists (we're looking at you, Paula Hawkins!). Which other women will join her this year? Here's our list of the top 10 candidates.
THE FAIR FIGHT
Riverhead • April 14
Fans of authors like Sarah Waters and Michel Faber will thrill to Anna Freeman's debut, The Fair Fight, an exciting historical novel set in the little-known world of women's bare-knuckle boxing. Yes, in 1800s England, women—at least, some women—were allowed to escape the confines of the home to fight for prizes that were twice the annual salary of a housemaid (one of the few occupations for women at the time). But Freeman, who is a poet and lectures in English at Bath Spa University, goes beyond the blood splatters and missing teeth to take a broader look at the limitations of class and gender, encouraging readers to ponder who (if any) among her characters is given a fair fight.
Thomas Dunne • April 21
An artful mix of suspense, fantasy and social critique, Emily Schultz's The Blondes puts a feminist twist on the dystopian stories that have been crowding fiction shelves for the last several years. It's the near future in New York City, and grad student Hazel is pregnant after an affair with a married man. She's also confined to the house thanks to a mysterious virus that is turning blonde women into cold-blooded killers (luckily, Hazel is a natural redhead). Now blondes are no longer the butt of jokes but the world's worst nightmare. Schultz's work has been praised by the likes of Margaret Atwood and Stephen King (who gave an unwitting bump to her first novel, Joyland, when he published a book by the same name)—look for The Blondes to be embraced by an equally diverse group of readers.
Pamela Dorman • May 5
Retellings of Jane Eyre are not exactly thin on the ground (see 1 2 3 4), but Queens-born writer Patricia Park takes a fresh tack in her debut, Re Jane. She casts the quiet but strong-willed heroine as a mixed-race Korean orphan living with relatives in 2001 Flushing—and that's just the first twist Park puts on her decidedly 21st-century, girl-power take on the beloved classic, which sends its heroine from Brooklyn to Gangam and back again. Park, a Korean-American who spent time in Seoul on a Fulbright scholarship and has studied under the novelist Ha Jin, expertly details the cultural divides facing her heroine, adding another dimension to a tale that might otherwise seem too familiar.
GIRL AT WAR
Random House • May 12
It's impossible for those who have not experienced civil war to truly know what it's like—and that's one of the themes of 28-year-old Sara Nović's sensitive debut novel, Girl at War. Moving back and forth between 1991 Croatia and 2001 New York City, the story follows main character Ana as she survives a dangerous childhood and attempts to transition to a new family and culture in the United States. Nović's descriptions of Ana's wartime childhood convey how war can be both shocking and mundane as violence becomes part of everyday life. Girl at War was acquired and edited by Random House's David Ebershoff, who knows his talent: He was the editor of not one but two of the 2013 Pulitzer winners (The Orphan Master's Son and Embers of War).
Amistad • May 26
Novelist Dolen Perkins-Valdez's 2010 debut, Wench, was a word-of-mouth hit with readers and explored a lesser-known corner of American history: the resorts where plantation owners would vacation with their enslaved mistresses. Her long-awaited second novel, Balm, takes an equally unflinching look at America's past and should bring this talented writer to an even bigger audience. Set in post-Civil War Chicago, it follows three strangers—a widowed white woman, a freeborn black woman from Tennessee and a former slave whose wife was sold away from him before the war—who move to the city for a chance to start over but are unable to completely shed their pasts.
THE BOOK OF SPECULATION
St. Martin's • June 23
Erika Swyler's debut, The Book of Speculation, is a bookish mystery with a supernatural twist. In a dilapidated house on Long Island Sound, librarian Simon Watson presides over a crumbling family legacy—until the day an old book arrives on his doorstep. It's the journal of a carnival owner, and it's connected to the drowning death of Simon's mother. Can he solve the mystery before his sister meets the same fate? Swyler, who has written short fiction and worked as a playwright, probes the bonds of sibling love and loyalty with the same authenticity she brings to the book's more magical elements, giving the novel surprising depth. Fans of family sagas with a touch of the fantastic should flock to it.
Harper • July 28
TV producer and author Lissa Evans is well known in her native England (fellow Brit Paula Hawkins is a fan), but this summer she's being published for the first time in the U.S. Crooked Heart is her fourth novel, and her second for an adult audience. Set during World War II, it follows a 10-year-old orphan who's a crime novel aficionado. He's evacuated during the Blitz and rehomed with Vera Sedge, a down-on-her-luck single mother with a penchant for money-making schemes, and the two form an unlikely bond. Their odd-couple friendship will appeal to readers of books like Lost & Found, and Evans' authentic period tone evokes the subtle charm of midcentury classics like I Capture the Castle.
Touchstone • August 18
Susan Barker made the 2008 longlist for the Dylan Thomas Prize with her second novel, The Orientalist and the Ghost, but she's hovered just below most readers' radars. That just might change with the release of The Incarnations, a suspenseful tour through Chinese history and folklore that was described as "China's Midnight's Children" when it was published in the U.K. last year. In modern-day Beijing, Wang, a taxi driver, is being stalked by someone who claims to be his soul mate. As letters appear in his taxi telling the stories of their past lives over the last 1,000 years—all of which end in tragedy or betrayal—Wang's paranoia about his watcher's identity increases, and he begins to wonder if history will repeat itself.
St. Martin's • August 18
Celebrity authors may strike seven-figure deals without breaking a sweat, but for unknown writers, having a book snapped up at a price like that is a little less common. That is just one of the things that makes New York Times reporter Stephanie Clifford's first novel, Everybody Rise, a standout. Set in 2006 New York City, the book plumbs the unfailingly popular literary trope of the young and privileged in Manhattan, as seen through the eyes of an imposter in their ranks. The film rights have been secured by Fox 2000.
FSG • October 6
OK, so maybe it's a little sneaky to put an author who's already a bestseller on a list like this. But Sloane Crosley (I Was Told There'd Be Cake) is making a transition from humorous essays to fiction—and I for one am intrigued about how she'll do it. The Clasp is described as "a comedy of manners," which is a novelistic genre that's a perfect match for Crosley's talents. Other intriguing elements include the exploration of how college friendships start to change in your late 20s, a madcap search for a missing family heirloom and a nod to Guy de Maupassant.
Check out our track record by viewing past women to watch lists here.
It looks like July 2015 will be a big month in the publishing world! First, Harper Lee announced that her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, will be out in July, and Random House Children’s Books just revealed that they will publish a newly discovered book from Ted Geisel, aka beloved children's author Dr. Seuss, on July 28.
The book, What Pet Should I Get?, follows the siblings from One Fish Two Fish Red Fish as they try to decide (as the title suggests) what pet they should get. The completed manuscript and illustrations for the book were discovered in fall 2013 by Geisel’s widow, Audrey Geisel, and his secretary and friend, Claudia Prescott.
Audrey Geisel states, "While undeniably special, it is not surprising to me that we found this because Ted always worked on multiple projects and started new things all the time—he was constantly writing and drawing and coming up with ideas for new stories.”
Cathy Goldsmith, Vice President and associate publisher at Random House Books for Young Readers, worked with Geisel before his death in 1991 and says, “We believe that he wrote and illustrated What Pet Should I Get? somewhere between 1958 and 1962—as the brother and sister in the book are the same as those in his bestselling Beginner Book One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish which was published in 1960.” Read more about the book and its discovery here.
Following the opening weekend of Fifty Shades of Grey, we're busy thinking about which book to film adaptations we're most excited to see next! Here's a list of the biggest books coming to screens this Spring.
Next up in theaters is a hilarious and all-too-honest adaptation of YA hit The Duff by Kody Keplinger. Coming to screens on February 20, the cast includes Parenthood star Mae Whitman as Bianca Piper, the awkward "designated ugly fat friend" who is often overshadowed by her traditionally beautiful, skinny best friends . . . until she meets Wesley Rush at a party.
Headed to the screen on March 13 is the adaptation of Nathaniel Philbrick's In the Heart of the Sea. Directed by Ron Howard and sporting an all-star cast that inlcudes Chris Hemsworth, Cillian Murphy and Ben Wishaw, this terrifying and true account of the sinking of a New England whaling ship in 1820 is sure to be one of the year's biggest films. The attacker, an enraged sperm whale, and the aftermath later served as inspiration for Herman Melville's classic novel, Moby Dick.
The sequel to Veronica Roth's best-selling YA novel Divergent is coming to theaters March 20. Starring Shailene Woodley—whom you may recognize from other hit film adaptations such as The Decendents and The Fault in Our Stars—as Tris Prior, Insurgent is sure to deliver plenty of heart-stopping sci-fi action as her life in a dystopian Chicago is further shaken by an escalating war between her society's factions.
Fans have been waiting a while for Ron Rash's historical Appalachian epic Serena to make its screen debut, but the film finally has a solid release date of March 27. Starring the highly-lauded acting pair of Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence as George and Serena Pemberton, this film is sure to deliver smoldering romance and a shocking quest for revenge.
What could be better suited for a big-screen treatment than an edge-of-your-seat murder mystery set in Stalin's Russia? Tom Rob Smith's Child 44 hits theaters April 17, with Tom Hardy at the helm as civil servant Leo Demidov who is doggedly investigating a serial killer. The problem is, how is Leo supposed to get to the bottom of an investigation of a crime Stalin refuses to admit even exists in his perfect society?
When was the last time you heard of a more perfect casting than Carrie Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene, the brilliant and independent heroine of Thomas Hardy's classic romance, Far From the Madding Crowd? The lush and beautifully directed film will be in theaters May 1. Prepare to have your box of tissues at the ready!
What do you think, readers? Which adaptations are you most excited to see in theaters?
Actor, writer and onetime Oscar host James Franco has been tapped to star in TV streaming service Hulu's adaptation of 11/22/63 by Stephen King. Franco will play Jake Epping, an unassuming high school teacher who travels back in time to kill Lee Harvey Oswald.
King has an executive producer credit for the adaptation, which was optioned by J.J. Abrams' production company and will air as a nine-part "limited series." This is the highest profile original program to date for Hulu, which has yet to have a breakout hit like Netflix's "House of Cards" or "Orange Is the New Black." Though previous adaptations of King's work are definitely hit or miss, they're always high profile, and the hook of 11/22/63 is an attention-grabber. Will you watch it?
While music is the highlight of the Grammy Awards, audiobooks got their fair share of play during last night’s ceremony as well. Two audiobooks won awards during the 57th Grammys: The Young Reader’s Edition of I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai won for Best Children’s Album, and the late Joan Rivers, who died last September at 81, received the award for Best Spoken Word Album for her narration of her memoir Diary of a Mad Diva.
Yousafazai’s award was accepted by narrator Neela Vaswani, while Rivers’ award was accepted by her daughter, Melissa Rivers. Melissa Rivers told E!, “It’s a difficult moment, it’s a little bittersweet.” This is the second Grammy nomination for Rivers, who was nominated for a Best Comedy Album Grammy in 1984.
Lovers of British literature have a lot to look forward to in 2015, as three beloved bestsellers make their way to the small screen as miniseries adaptations.
First up is J.K. Rowling's first post-Potter work, A Casual Vacancy, which BBC One will air in the U.K. later this month (
no U.S. date has been set yet) and HBO will air in the U.S. on April 29 and 30. The cast of mostly lesser-known British actors does include Michael Gambon, who starred as Albus Dumbledore in the later Harry Potter films. When it was released in 2012, A Casual Vacancy surprised Rowling's millions of fans with its dark, realist take on life in small-town Britain, and the adaptation looks appropriately gritty. (read our review)
Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall is next up, making its royal bow to U.S. audiences on April 5 as part of PBS' "Masterpiece Classic" series. Starring "Homeland" star Damian Lewis as Henry VIII and lauded British actor Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, this meticulously staged (well, almost) six-part drama is sure to be a spring highlight. (read our review)
And finally, a miniseries we've been looking forward to since it was announced in 2013: The BBC America adaptation of Susanna Clarke's Hugo Award-winning novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (read our review). This tale of rival magicians in an alternate Regency England could be difficult to translate to film, but early indications point to the producers getting it exactly right, as shown in this teaser clip.
Which of these do you think is the best bet to join North & South (Richard Armitage version, natch) and Andrew Davies' Pride and Prejudice and in the literary adaptation hall of fame?
We're excited to announce that BookPage will be launching Smitten, a monthly romance newsletter, next week. Smitten will feature exclusive guest author blog posts and Q&As with some of your favorite authors along with our monthly Romance Top Pick, a digital-first feature and reviews of some of the month’s biggest romance novels. Sign up for Smitten here.
Big news announced today by Harper publishing: Harper Lee will be publishing her second novel, Go Set a Watchman, on July 14, 2015. Lee won the Pulitzer Prize for her 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird, which has become a classic piece of American literature, and has yet to publish another book. Lee, now 88 years old, said in a statement issued by the publisher:
"In the mid-1950s, I completed a novel called Go Set a Watchman. It features the character known as Scout as an adult woman, and I thought it a pretty decent effort. My editor, who was taken by the flashbacks to Scout's childhood, persuaded me to write a novel (what became To Kill a Mockingbird) from the point of view of the young Scout.
I was a first-time writer, so I did as I was told. I hadn't realized it (the original book) had survived, so was surprised and delighted when my dear friend and lawyer Tonja Carter discovered it. After much thought and hesitation, I shared it with a handful of people I trust and was pleased to hear that they considered it worthy of publication. I am humbled and amazed that this will now be published after all these years."
Go Set a Watchman is set in 1950s Maycomb, Alabama, 20 years after the events of To Kill a Mockingbird. The novel will follow Scout as she returns home from New York to visit her father, the beloved Atticus Finch. Scout must come to terms with her father’s ideas about a changing society, as well as form her own opinions about her hometown.
"This is a remarkable literary event," Harper publisher Jonathan Burnham said in a statement. "The existence of Go Set a Watchman was unknown until recently, and its discovery is an extraordinary gift to the many readers and fans of To Kill a Mockingbird. Reading in many ways like a sequel to Harper Lee's classic novel, it is a compelling and ultimately moving narrative about a father and a daughter's relationship, and the life of a small Alabama town living through the racial tensions of the 1950s."
This announcement comes on the heels of Marja Mills’ memoir The Mockingbird Next Door, published last July, which redoubled interest in the intensely private Lee.
And yes, we checked the calendar. It is not April Fool's Day. What do you think, readers? You can see more about the new novel from Harper publishing here.