The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
Riverhead • $25.95 • ISBN 9781594487804
April 14, 2011
If you can relate, then have I got a book for you. Wendy McClure's charming new memoir is about her obsession with "Laura World," and her search for the truth behind the beloved series.
It's a fascinating read, and it's also quite funny. For example:
And, oh my God: I wanted to live in one room with my whole family and have a pathetic corncob doll all my own. I wanted to wear a calico sunbonnet—or rather, I wanted to not wear a calico sunbonnet, the way Laura did, letting it hang down her back by its ties. I wanted to do chores because of those books. Carry water, churn butter, make headcheese. I wanted dead rabbits brought home for supper. I wanted to go out into the backyard and just, I don't know, grab stuff off trees, or uproot things from the ground, and bring it all inside in a basket and have my parents say, "My land! What a harvest!"
What are you reading today?
This Life Is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman
Harper • $25.99 • ISBN 9780061958328
April 12, 2011
If you've ever thought about leaving it all for a simpler life, Melissa Coleman's memoir is for you. Her idealistic young parents left academic life to live on a Maine homestead in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Coleman was born during their first year on the property; sisters Heidi and Clare followed. They build a happy life there until toddler Heidi dies accidentally.
In this excerpt, the Colemans are seeing their land for the first time:
From the branches of a tree at the top of the slope they could see out to the ocean surrounding the cape on three sides. They also noticed a knoll where the forest opened up around what turned out to be a beautiful ash with a broad trunk and wide arching branches, a possible site for the house, and upon investigation they found a clear drinking water spring in the woods to the east. Their excitement dipped only when Papa took a spade to the earth to find sand and rock beneath the humus layer of forest floor.
"Poor soil," he muttered. This was not the dream farm he'd had in his mind's eye during the search, lacking as it did cultivated fields and a pond. But none of that mattered; it was their ground on which to stand, unbeholden to a mortgage or a bank, and it was up to them to make it into the dream.
What are you reading today?
The Tiger's Wife by Téa Obreht
Random House • $25 • March 8, 2011
We've been talking about Téa Obreht's The Tiger's Wife for months—since June, in fact, when Obreht was announced as the youngest person on The New Yorker's "20 under 40" list. Since then, you've been able to read an interview with Obreht in our March issue, and go behind that interview in a guest post from BookPage contributor Alden Mudge. You've even learned that part of The Tiger's Wife was composed in Starbucks. (Oh yeah, and learned that certain BookPage staffers feel a fair bit of Obreht envy.)
So. What more could I possibly write about The Tiger's Wife, which is on sale this week? Much of this novel is about secrets, but here's a pleasant truth that I'm happy to share with readers of The Book Case. When I started reading this novel, I expected a slow beginning, or to feel some sort of disappointment. So much hype! How could a book stack up? (For the record, I felt this way about Room. And quickly changed my mind.) But the truth I want to share is that I was very quickly drawn into The Tiger's Wife, because Obreht immediately plants the seed of a mystery:
Why did a grandfather travel to a strange place while he was very sick—without telling his wife or beloved granddaughter—then die? (And as a doctor, he surely knew he might not survive the journey.)
Soon after you're hooked by this scenario, you'll find an intriguing magic-laced paragraph:
Everything necessary to understand my grandfather lies between two stories: the story of the tiger's wife, and the story of the deathless man. These stories run like secret rivers through all the other stories of his life—of my grandfather's days in the army; his great love for my grandmother; the years he spent as a surgeon and a tyrant of the University. One, which I learned after his death, is the story of how my grandfather became a man; the other, which he told to me, is of how he became a child again.
What are you reading today?
Spoiled by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan
Poppy • $17.99 • 9780316098250
On sale June 1, 2011
In Spoiled, we meet 16-year-old Molly Dix, a normal teenage girl living in suburban Indiana. Her life changes—literally overnight—when her single mother passes away and she discovers that her biological father is none other than world-famous movie star Brick Berlin. Molly moves to California to connect with her famous father and discovers that she has a half-sister, Brooke, who is the epitome of the spoiled, privileged Hollywood royalty the Fug Girls love to poke fun at. Take a peek at the scene when the girls first meet each other—and see if you can keep a straight face:
“You must be my new sister!”
A tall blonde with bouncing curls glided into the dining room, bringing with her the shortest skirt, longest legs, and tallest stilettos Molly had ever seen. It was Brooke Berlin in the flesh, showing off rather a lot of it.
“I’m so happy to meet you!” Brooke squealed, hugging her before Molly even had a chance to get out of her seat. “Welcome to our wonderful home!”
Brooke had her clasped so tight, she was practically lifting Molly out of her chair. Molly, taken aback, breathed in sharply and almost inhaled a chunk of Brooke’s hair.
“Brookie, it’s not polite to be this late,” Brick scolded.
“I know, Daddy, but Ari’s wardrobe malfunction wasn’t going to fix itself. I’m super sorry!”
Brooke dropped Molly and sailed over to her seat, shaking out her napkin with a wide smile that her suspiciously fawning Wikipedia page called “a beacon of hope for our future.” Molly tried not to stare, but it was difficult: Brooke may not have been truly beautiful, but she was so well groomed that you’d never notice. The dress was designer, the eyelashes were false, the hair was either abundantly natural or expensively synthetic, and the purse she’d brought to the table was a Chloé bag Molly knew wasn’t on sale yet to the great unwashed masses. Molly glanced at her own comfy hoodie and kicked herself for treating this like just another movie night.
The Fates Will Find Their Way by Hannah Pittard
Ecco • $22.99 • 9780061996054
The story begins when 16-year-old Nora Lindell goes missing on Halloween, and a group of suburban boys spend their lives speculating on what happened. The narrative jumps from one possibility to the next, and though the plot does not have a traditional beginning, middle and end, Pittard's writing will nonetheless keep you hooked, and she is skilled at evoking the mood surrounding a tragedy.
The Fates Will Find Their Way is told in a first-person plural voice, a collective viewpoint that I most strongly associate with Joshua Ferris' Then We Came to the End, although in this case The Virgin Suicides is a more apt comparison. (I will admit that I only saw the movie.) In Ferris' novel, though, it felt like the "we" in each scene was always connected with a specific character, and in Pittard's book it's much more of a hovering voice.
Here's an excerpt from an early scene:
As our curfew drew nearer, the stories became more lurid, more adult, more sinister, and somehow more believable. Sarah Jeffreys—who'd abandoned the girls that night in favor of our company, perhaps for the protection of boys and would-be men, though perhaps merely to avoid the clingy sadness of the girls, their willowy voices, their insistence that It could have been me!—said she drove Nora Lindell to the abortion clinic in Forest Hollow the day before Halloween, which seemed to lend credence to Trey Stephens' claim that he'd had sex with her the month before. Sarah had been sworn to secrecy, which is why she said she would never tell Nora's father. She—Nora—had taken the pregnancy test at school, while Sarah waited one stall over. Sarah said someone had left the window open in the girls' bathroom in the gymnasium and that Nora had complained that it was too cold to pee. Details like this we found convincing. A detail we didn't find convincing was that we'd never seen Sarah and Nora together before. We pointed this out. "Anyway," said Sara. "Three hours after I dropped Nora off, I picked her up. She was standing right where I'd left her. We drove back to town together."
What are you reading today?
Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry
Crown • $24 • 9780307718389
On sale February 22, 2011
Sara J. Henry's debut starts with a bang—or, more literally, a splash—and doesn't let up until the final page. It's a classic "what-if" scenario: what if you were on a ferry and noticed a child falling from the ferry heading in the opposite direction? What if you jumped off the ferry to save that child?
What if that child had been pushed?
The aftermath of heroine Troy Chance's rescue of the boy, a French Canadian child named Paul, brings further complications. He doesn't seem to have been reported missing, and his arms were bound when he was thrown off the ferry. Unable to trust anyone, and increasingly concerned about the future of her shy and damaged young charge, Troy finds herself in the middle of a dangerous mystery.
I went to the doorway and it took me a moment to register that the bed was empty. No boy, no dog. For a moment I couldn't breathe. . . . My eyes went to the bedside table where we'd left the half-eaten piece of pizza. OK, missing boy, missing dog, missing half slice of pizza.
"Paul," I called out softly. "Paul, where are you? Où es-tu?"
A whine from Tiger. I eased back the hanging sheet that served as a closet door, and there was Paul crouched in the corner, one arm around Tiger, the other hand gripping the gnawed piza slice—looking as if it were perfectly normal to hide in a closet with a dog and a piece of pizza. I knelt, a careful distance away. "Good morning Paul," I said, keeping my voice steady. Would you like some breakfast? Veux-tu prendre le petit déjuner?"
He shifted but seemed unsure what to do. I snapped my fingers and Tiger obediently came toward me. "Did something frighten you?" I asked Paul. "Tu as peur?" No answer. "Paul, sweetie, come on out," I said, opening my arms and letting a little emotion into my voice.
He wouldn't look at me, and I waited a long, long moment. Finally he moved into my arms. I could feel the frailty of his limbs; I could feel his heart beating; I could almost feel his fear and confusion and loneliness. I hadn't known you could form an attachment to a person so quickly, so atavistically. Had my sisters experienced this when their children were born? I realized I would do anything to protect this child. "Je ne te blesserai jamais," I whispered to him. "I will never hurt you. Never."
And I knew I wouldn't be marching this boy down to the police station, not today, and possibly never.
You can download a chapter of the book here. What are you reading this week?
An Exclusive Love, by Johanna Adorján
Norton, January 31, 2011
Apparently my grandmother knew the first time they met that this was the man she was going to marry. Or at least, that's how she often told the story. In the family we also know what happened between them next. It's one of those stories retold so often that after a while you know it couldn't have been different, it was just like that. A family legend. The two of them made a date to go for a walk. And after that they liked each other so much that they made a date to go for another walk. And then another. Each of them thought the other was crazy about walking. They were both entirely mistaken. When that point was cleared up after a while, it's said that they were enormously relieved.
What are you reading today?
The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan
FSG • $18 • January 4, 2011
Valentine's Day is less than two weeks away, which means . . . well, I'm not sure what that means. I don't personally feel more romantic than usual during the month of February, although V-Day is always a great excuse to go out for a nice meal.
One thing I do know is that if people are asking me for Valentine's Day-themed books, I am recommending The Lover's Dictionary by David Levithan (the author known for teen books like Will Grayson, Will Grayson and Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist).
This book tells the story of a relationship through dictionary entries. It's quirky and—yes—gimmicky, but I think it totally works in conveying the ups and downs (and in-betweens) of modern love. It's also a quick read that you'll want to breeze through in one sitting. Since reading The Lover's Dictionary, I've kept the book out on my coffee table as my lone Valentine's Day decoration and have enjoyed periodically flipping through it and reading random entries. Here are some examples:
breathtaking (adj.), "Those moments when we kiss and surrender for an hour before we say a single word."
fluke (n.), "The date before the one with you had gone so badly—egotist, smoker, bad breath—that I'd vowed to delete my profile the next morning. Except when I went to do it, I realized I only had eight days left in the billing cycle. So I gave it eight days. You emailed me on the sixth."
kefuffle (n.), "From now on, you are only allowed one drink at any of my office parties. One. Preferably a beer."
The Adults by Alison Espach
Touchstone • $25 • ISBN 9781439292859
on sale February 1, 2011
Alison Espach's debut novel has been getting some major attention from writers like Aryn Kyle and Stefan Merrill Block. Early reviews compare the book to Tom Perrotta's Little Children, and Espach's trenchant observations on suburbia, made through the eyes of 14-year-old Emily Vidal, definitely recall Perotta's style.
The novel opens on a garden party, which the Vidals are throwing as scheduled despite announcing to Emily only that morning that they would be divorcing. Emily's biggest interest at the party is Mark Resnick, her neighbor and longtime crush, who shows up with his mother.
Mark was fourteen going on twenty. I knew this better than anyone. I tracked his growth daily. His arms were thicker by the month. His legs became logs instead of sticks. He had cut the sleeves off most of his shirts, started to read books by Tom Wolfe, books his father read, Lonesome Dove, Ulysses. . . .
There were so many amazing new developments.
His hands were opening jars for me weekly. I watched with fascination, or maybe it was frustration, not sure my weakness was good or bad. Either way, I was slowly devoting myself to him, adopting his speech patterns, dropping the g's off all my gerunds, devising ways in which Mark might have to touch me even though every time he brushed against me, I felt my whole body empty, all of the heat leaving my body for his. By August, I was nearly empty inside, and I began to understand what my father meant when he whispered quietly and harshly to my mother in the stairwell when they both thought I was out, "Gloria, I have lost myself in this marriage."
What are you reading this week?
Heartwood by Belva Plain
Delacorte • $26 • February 8, 2011
We were saddened to hear about Belva Plain's death last fall at the age of 95—she had done a lovely "Meet the Author" feature for us back in 2004 and was a favorite author for many BookPage readers. But she left behind a final manuscript—one that was a sequel to her best-selling 1978 first novel, Evergreen. In Heartwood, the children and grandchildren of Evergreen heroine Anna get their own stories, and as the novel opens, Anna's daughter Iris is excited about having her three children home for Thanksgiving. Iris thinks the children she has to worry about are her sons, but her daughter Laura is having problems of her own with her husband, Robby.
"You know how my folks love having the whole family together. And Dad loves Thanksgiving. . . ."
"It's a hyped-up commercial travesty, and you know it."
It was fashionable in their circle to say things like that, but suddenly, Laura realized that she didn't believe it. She pictured her parents on Thanksgiving Day after the meal was set out on the dining room table, and everyone was seated. Mom would be glowing, although there would be something tentative in her eyes, because Mom never could trust her happiness. But there would be no such shadow in Dad's smile. He would look around the table at his handsome children, their spouses and children, and his eyes would shine with the joy of a man who had built a life for himself on the ashes of despair His love of this country that had taken him in was not a hyped-up travesty.
"I don't mean to be corny, but my dad knows in a way that you and I never will what it means to be an American. That's why he loves to celebrate Thanksgiving. It isn't just about the food or the Macy's parade for him. He really does give thanks. You know?" The sullen, closed-off look left Robby's eyes. For a moment he was the Robby she had loved and married—the sensitive boy who knew what she was thinking before she did. "Please come with me," she said.