A Grown-Up Kind of Pretty by Joshilyn Jackson
Grand Central • $24.99
on sale January 25, 2012
The opening paragraphs illustrate everything readers love about Jackson's writing: the lyrical Southern cadence, strong imagery and unique diction that immediately brings her characters to life.
My daughter, Liza, put her heart in a silver box and buried it under the willow tree in our backyard. Or as close to under the tree as she could anyway. The thick web of roots shunted her off to the side, to the place where the willow's long fingers trailed down. They swept back and forth across the troubled earth, helping Liza smooth away the dig marks.
It was foolish. There's no way to hide things underground in Mississippi. Our rich, wet soil turns every winter burial into a spring planting. Over the years Liza's heart, small and cold and broken as it was, grew into a host of secrets that could ruin us all and cost us Mosey, Liza's own little girl. I can't blame Liza, though. She was young and hurt, and she did the best she could.
And after all, I'm the damn fool who dug it up.
You can find reviews of Jackson's previous four novels on BookPage.com.
Then Came You by Jennifer Weiner
Atria • $26.99 • on sale July 12, 2011
A Jennifer Weiner novel is my favorite kind of vacation read. It holds my attention in between swimming and socializing; keeps me awake until the wee hours; and provides me with a topic I'll want to discuss at dinner . . . in this case: surrogacy.
I've been a fan of Jennifer Weiner's ever since I discovered an old paperback of Good in Bed in my college library's popular reading section. Weiner writes about women you recognize from real life; her scenes are alternately hilarious and touching; and the pages always fly.
Lizza Bowen reviewed Then Came You in the July issue of BookPage, and her final line is an accurate description: "Weiner has a history of turning out lighthearted and romance-infused reads like Good In Bed and Best Friends Forever. Then Came You is something different for her, offering an eye-opening perspective on parenthood in an age where the family is ever evolving."
The story is about four women who all have a different connection to surrogacy. There's the egg donor, the surrogate, the woman who wants a baby but can't have one on her own, that woman's step-daughter. Weiner has said that her novel was inspired by the controversial New York Times piece, "Her Body, My Baby" by Alex Kuczynski. Though the novel will definitely get you thinking about the politics of reproduction, this story is really about characters—and isn't bogged down by the issue at its heart.
Here's a scene from when the wealthy India Croft meets Annie, her surrogate:
I got to my feet as Leslie trilled the introductions. "Ms. Croft, this is Anne Barrow. Annie, this is India Croft."
She was Ms., and I was Annie. So it begins, I thought. For a moment, the two of us stared at each other. India Croft had the look I expected, a rich-lady look (rich bitch look, I thought, before I could stop myself), like one of the women from those Real Housewives of New York episodes I sometimes watched when Frank was working. I knew better than to tune in when he was home. "Bunch of silly people who think they've got problems," he'd grumble, and I couldn't deny it, or explain to him that sometimes the problems were kind of interesting, and it was at least fun to look at their clothes and their houses, and feel good that your kids weren't half as bratty as theirs.
India Croft was white, like I'd expected, with smooth, unlined skin. Her heart-shaped face narrowed to a neat little chin. Her lips were full and glossed, her nose was small, adorably tilted, her brows were perfectly shaped, and, beneath them, her eyes were wide, almost startled . . .
Standing there, my mouth full of Mint Milano mush, sweating in my long-sleeved dress, I felt big as a battleship and just as ungainly. I swallowed, ran my tongue over my teeth, and stepped forward, saying the words I'd rehearsed in the car: "It's a pleasure to meet you."
The Improper Life of Bezellia Grove by Susan Gregg Gilmore
Crown • $23 • ISBN 9780307395030
August 17, 2010
Susan Gregg Gilmore's second novel (after Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen) is brimming with charm. From the first page, you'll be captivated by the voice of the novel's fascinating heroine, Bezellia, named after an ancestor who was one of the first Nashville settlers. The original Bezellia Grove, it is said, killed the Native American who killed her husband during a raid on Fort Nashborough. This particular story is all Gilmore, but pretty much all of the other Nashville details will ring true to residents like me (for one, Bezellia eats at Rotiers!).
Stories of coming of age in the South during the Civil Rights movement are myriad, but Gilmore's addition to this literary tradition feels fresh and is a real page-turner. Bezellia's voice is as unusual as her name, and her life story will capture your imagination.
Here's a taste of that voice:
Long before I had memorized the details of my family's story, I understood that I was a girl unlike most others. I had a pony to ride and a closet brimming with neatly pressed dresses. My bedroom was decorated with teddy bears that were handmade in Germany and dolls with porcelain heads that I was only to admire and never to touch. And, most important, I was always cooked for and attended to by people other than my mother, by people with dark skin and families of their own.
Are you intrigued? What are you reading today?
Between Friends by Kristy Kiernan
Berkley, April 2010
Kristy Kiernan's third novel follows a contemporary family through some major turmoil. Sixteen years ago, Cora donated an egg to help Ali and Benny conceive a daughter, Letty. Now Ali wants to have a second child—but Benny isn't so sure. And neither is Cora, who has a secret she's not sharing with her very best friend. Kiernan is an insightful writer with a gift for dialogue—especially teen dialogue—that lifts Between Friends above the rest of the crowded women's fiction field.
"I'm not going to discuss having another baby when we can't control the one we already have!"
"She's not a baby!" I yelled back, matching his volume, tired of being on the receiving end. "They grow up, Benny, they grow up and they lie and they test you and they do things that make you crazy. That's what they do. That's not a reason to turn into a dictator, and it's not a reason not to have another one."
"Well, I think it is." He clenched his hands, looking for something to do with them, his face red and mottled.
I should have been terrified for him. He looked like someone about to have a heart attack, or a stroke. But instead, I was terrified of him.
"I'm not going to stay here when you're this angry, and I'm not going to expose Letty to it, either." I said, my voice trembling.
"If you walk out that door, Ali, don't be so sure that it's going to be open when you come back."
I shook all the way to Cora's.
(In the interest of full disclosure: Kristy Kiernan is among the authors who have occasionally written reviews for BookPage.)