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?
Short stories make for perfect reading in the summer. Since each one is a self-contained dose of literature, you barely even need a bookmark—plus, there's no worrying about whether you'll remember what you read on the flight over when you reopen the book on the way back. If you're looking for a bite-sized dose of summer reading, explore our guide to 2014's spring and summer collections.
Readers looking for a voice from a very different world should pick up Hassan Blasim's The Corpse Exhibition (Penguin). Compared to Roberto Bolaño and Borges, this Arabic author sets the stories in his debut collection during the Iraq War—and they're told from the Iraqi perspective. If you want a collection that will test your beliefs and haunt your dreams, this might be your pick.
Another collection that features a distinctive cross-cultural voice is Snow in May (Holt), the first book from author Kseniya Melnik. Melnik was born in Russia and emigrated to Alaska as a teen, and the stories featured here are connected through her hometown of Madagan, a port city in the Far East of Russia that was a stopover on the way to Stalin's gulags. Spanning the later half of the 20th century and geographical locations from Madagan to Fargo, these stories plumb the weight of history and the struggle to reconcile where you come from with where you are now.
Those interested in coming-of-age stories and tricky relationship dynamics will enjoy the linked stories in Polly Dugan's debut collection, So Much a Part of You (Little, Brown). Featuring characters that reappear across decades, the book explores the way that relationships—romantic and otherwise—change over time. When Anne inadvertently dates her best friend's high school boyfriend, the same mistake destroys both relationships. A student's one-night stand changes her college life. And a deathbed revelation spurs forgiveness. Utterly real and insightful.
Inappropriate Behavior by Murray Farish (Milkweed Editions) is a much wider-randing collection, spanning decades and countries in stories linked only by the strange twists each one takes. The delusional narrator of one story is addicted to making lists, stalking a girl called Allison and writing love songs to Jodie Foster. In the title story, parents struggle with the dual burdens of unemployment and a child with behavior issues. Occasionally experimental, always imaginative.
Another edgy collection comes from Scottish author James Kelman, whose novel How Late It Was, How Late won the Booker Prize in 1994. The stories in If it Is Your Life (Other Press) are mostly written with the stream-of-consciousness style and dark humor that Kelman is known for, and they're a bit more outré than his novels. But readers who like to read about lives lived on the edge will be excited for this new collection.
Take a nostalgic trip back to your childhood (at least, if you're a child of the late 80s like me!) with a newly published collection of Lois Duncan's short stories, Written in the Stars (Lizzie Skurnick Books). The author of teen classics like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Duncan has collected 13 tales from her very early career—including a story she published when she was only 13 years old—and includes a brief contemporary commentary on each one. As you might expect of stories that originally appeared in places like Seventeen or American Girl, these are mostly focused on the concerns of youth, but the glimpse they provide into the shaping of a young writer are fascinating.
Another familiar name with a new collection is David Guterson. The author of Snow Falling on Cedars returns with the playfully titled Problems with People (Knopf), which branches out from the author's typical Pacific Northwest territory to encompass most of the U.S. as well as Nepal and Africa. Though diverse in locale, these 10 tales are united by Guterson's strong storytelling voice and will be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of his fans.
And we'll end with another collection from a beloved voice: Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck (Dial). Though most of these nine stories have been previously published in some of the best short fiction venues—Granta, The New Yorker—taken together, they demonstrate McCracken's remarkable range as well as her ability to truly understand the her characters and her quirky sense of humor (the title story opens with a 12-year-old girl being brought home by the police from a nitrous oxide party).
The City by Dean Koontz
Bantam, $28, ISBN 9780345545930
On sale July 1, 2014
Dean Koontz has long been known for providing thrills and chills to readers, but his new novel The City is something of an exception. Set in the 1960s and 1970s, it tells the story of Jonah Kirk, growing up as part of a close family in a nameless city and dreaming of becoming a "piano man." Jonah becomes a remarkable boy mostly thanks to his remarkable mother, who gave up her own dreams of attending Oberlin to have and raise him without much help from Jonah's ne'er do well father. Their close relationship is a highlight of the book, as shown in this excerpt, which takes place shortly after Jonah's mother has thrown his father out for good.
After school that day, I walked to the community center to practice piano. When I got home, all she said was, "Your father's no longer living here. He went upstairs to help Miss Delvane with her rodeo act, and I wasn't having any of that."
Too young to sift the true meaning of her words, I found the idea of a mechanical horse more fascinating than ever and hoped I might one day see it. My mother's Reader's Digest condensation of my father's leaving didn't satisfy my curiousity. I had many questions but I refrained from asking them. . . . Right then I told Mom the secret I couldn't have revealed when Tilton lived with is, that I had been taking piano lessons from Mrs. O'Toole for more than two months. She hugged me and got teary and apologized, and I didn't understand what she was apologizing for. She said it didn't matter if I understood, all that mattered was that she would never again allow anyone or anything to get between me and a piano and any other dream I might have.
What are you reading this week?
Golden Globes winning actress, producer, SNL alum, personal role model and hilarious human Amy Poehler has unveiled the cover of her upcoming book, Yes Please. Set to publish on October 28th with It Books, an imprint of Harper Collins, the book will cover topics such as friendships, dating, motherhood and more. It Books says this of Poehler's debut book:
"Her original twist on the conventional memoir will have universal appeal. An illustrated, non-linear diary full of humor and honesty and brimming with true stories, fictional anecdotes and life lessons, the book will be a unique and engaging experience from one of today's most talented and beloved stars."
If it's anything like her good friend Tina Fey's book, Bossy Pants, I will be overjoyed. But the real question is, can it live up to Leslie Knope's book, Pawnee: The Greatest Town in America?
The book is already available for pre-order. Do you think you'll be checking out Yes Please?
Emmy-winning actor, singer, director, producer (and my hero) Neil Patrick Harris is publishing a most unusual (we expect no less) book this October with Crown Publishing.
Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography is an autobiography in every way that an autobiography isn't, as readers choose the direction of NPH's life (or is it your own life?), from Broadway to fatherhood and everything in between. Because who wouldn't want to be NPH for a day?
The publisher shares more, because I won't even begin to try to explain this book in my own words:
"Sick of deeply personal accounts written in the first person? Seeking an exciting, interactive read that puts the “u” back in “aUtobiography”? Then look no further than Neil Patrick Harris: Choose Your Own Autobiography! In this revolutionary, Joycean experiment in light celebrity narrative, actor/personality/carbon-based life-form Neil Patrick Harris lets you, the reader, live his life. ...
Choose correctly and you’ll find fame, fortune, and true love. Choose incorrectly and you’ll find misery, heartbreak, and a guest stint on Celebrity Rehab with Dr. Drew. All this, plus magic tricks, cocktail recipes, embarrassing pictures from your time as a child actor, and even a closing song."
Think you'll join NPH's adventure on October 14?
Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg's debut novel is as dreamlike and as filled with potential horrors as one of his movies: Photographers Naomi and Nathan are lovers and competitors, but Cronenberg establishes early on that their two plotlines will not meet for a long time. Naomi has become obsessed with a "juicy French philosophical sex-killing murder-suicide cannibal thing"—a Marxist philosopher is found dead and mutilated in her French apartment, and her husband is nowhere to be found. Nathan is in Budapest, consumed with a "controversial Hungarian breast-cancer radioactive seed implant treatment thing," and after sleeping with one of unlicensed surgeon Dr. Zoltán Molnár's patients, he contracts a rare STD that sends him to Toronto in search of the man who first discovered the disease.
Consumed has a blurb from Viggo Mortensen (though they're clearly pretty good friends) and mentions a Gauloise in the second paragraph (of course). It's also hard to ignore the publicity materials throwing around names like Kafka and Borges, and words like "definitive heir," though film critics have been saying as much for years.
With all this in mind—as well as remembering my dislike for Cronenberg's most recent film, the limo thriller Cosmopolis, based on the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo—I approach Consumed with equal parts delight and healthy skepticism.
Read on for an introduction to Dr. Zoltán Molnár, a character that seems ideal for Cronenberg's style of exploratory, psychological storytelling and body horror:
And now, in a very smooth segue—which Nathan thought of as particularly Hungarian—Dr. Molnár said, "Have you met our patient, Nathan? She's from Slovenia. Une belle Slave." Molnár peeked over the cloth barrier and spoke to the disconnected head with disarmingly conversational brio. "Dunja? Have you met Nathan? You signed a release form for him, and now he's here with us in the operating theater. Why don't you say hello?"
At first Nathan thought that the good doctor was teasing him; Molnár had emphasized the element of playfulness in his unique brand of surgery, and chatting with an unconscious patient would certainly qualify as Molnáresque. But to Nathan's surprise Dunja's eyes began to stutter open, she began working her tongue and lips as though she were thirsty, she took a quick little breath that was almost like a yawn.
"Ah, there she is," said Molnár. "My precious one. Hello, darling." Nathan took a step backward in his slippery paper booties in order not to impede the strange, intimate flow between patient and doctor. Could she and her surgeon be having an affair? Could this really be written off as Hungarian bedside manner? Molnár touched his latex-bound fingertips to his masked mouth, then pressed the filtered kiss to Dunja's lips. She giggled, then slipped away dreamily, then came back. "Talk to Nathan," said Molnár, withdrawing with a bow. He had things to do.
Dunja struggled to focus on Nathan, a process so electromechanical that it seemed photographic. And then she said, "Oh, yes, take pictures of me like this. It's cruel, but I want you to do that. Zoltán is very naughty. A naughty doctor. He came to interview me, and we spent quite a bit of time together in my hometown, which is"—another druggy giggle—"somewhere in Slovenia. I can't remember it."
"Ljubljana," Molnár called out from the foot of the table, where he was sorting through instruments with his colleagues.
"Thank you, naughty doctor. You know, it's your fault I can't remember anything. You love to drug me."
Nathan began to photograph Dunja's face. She turned toward the camera like a sunflower.
Will you pick up Consumed when it's available this September? What are you reading today?
"Endlessly invent yourself," Jack Gantos tells children in our September 2007 Meet the Illustrator interview, which I recently rediscovered while digging through the BookPage archives.
How true, Mr. Gantos—and quite relevant to your own life! Coming June 14 from Macmillan Children's, Gantos' popular Joey Pigza series is getting a major redesign with artwork by Lane Smith. Smith is the illustrator behind several Caldecott Honor-winning picture books, including The Stinky Cheese Man and Grandpa Green.
The Joey Pigza series, which stars a troubled young boy with ADHD, includes four titles. The first, Joey Pigza Swallowed the Key, was a 1998 National Book Award Finalist for Young People's Literature. Joey Pigza Loses Control was a 2001 Newbery Honor Book. The next two titles were What Would Joey Pigza Do? and I Am Not Joey Pigza.
Check out the new looks:
It starts with one teenage girl—the severe tics, the twitching. Then it spreads to another, then another, then another. Is it a virus? Anxiety? Are the girls faking it? Soon, a dozen or more girls are twitching, and mass hysteria has an entire town in a panic.
I could be talking about the notorious Salem Witch Trials, the girls in LeRoy, New York, in 2012—or the two novels coming out this summer, one for adults and one for teen readers. Both novels were sparked by the mass hysteria in 2012 and tell the same general story—with some key differences. Both blend the thrills of a plague narrative with the psychological tension of paranoia and guilt.
We'll never forget how Megan Abbott addressed the cunning powerplays and precarious hierarchies of high-school girl world in her dark and twisted novel, Dare Me. In her next adult novel, The Fever, coming June 17 from Little, Brown, teenage girls fall one by one to unexplained seizures, sending the town into chaos. There's something distinctly sexual about the girls' twitching, and Abbott's dreamlike prose gives these events a haunting, disturbing quality.
YA novel Conversion by Katherine Howe, coming July 1 from Putnam, heads in a more supernatural direction and makes the satisfying connection between past and present twitching. Howe is a direct descendent of two of the women accused of witchcraft during the Salem Witch Trials, which has inspired her before. Conversion moves between Salem Village in 1706 and an all-girl's high school in Danvers, Massachusetts, in 2012. When girls start twitching and people start panicking, a parallel is drawn: Danvers was once Salem Village.
It seems the mass hysteria narrative is catching. I suspect we will see several more novels featuring twitchy girls before the end of the year.
South African novelist Lauren Beukes, author of last year's supernatural thriller The Shining Girls, returns this fall with a new violent mash-up of fantasy and crime fiction. Broken Monsters is set to publish on September 16 by Mulholland Books.
Beukes had us on the edges of our seats with her wildly imaginative, uber-creepy second novel, the international best-selling The Shining Girls. With the help of a portal in a mysterious House, an unfathomably cruel serial killer travels through time to hunt his victims—all women. The only one of his targets to ever escape is Kirby, who decides to track down the villain and put an end to his murderous reign.
Broken Monsters once again finds a capital-B Bad Guy who indulges his sick compulsions, this time in abandoned Detroit warehouses. The publisher gives a preview:
Detective Gabriella Versado has seen a lot of bodies. But this one is unique even by Detroit's standards: half boy, half deer, somehow fused. The cops nickname him "Bambi," but as stranger and more disturbing bodies are discovered, how can the city hold on to a reality that is already tearing at its seams?
If you're Detective Versado's over-achieving teenage daughter, Layla, you commence a dangerous flirtation with a potential predator online. If you are the disgraced journalist Jonno, you do whatever it takes to investigate what may become the most heinous crime story in memory. If you're Thomas Keen—known on the street as TK—you'll do what you can to keep clean, keep your head down, and try to help the broken and possibly visionary artist obsessed wth setting loose The Dream, tearing reality, assembling the city anew.
What do you think, readers? Looking forward to getting creeped out by Beukes' newest horror-filled vision?
The twists and riffs of an Eoin Colfer story combined with the gleeful quirkiness of Oliver Jeffers' illustrations? That's what I call an unbeatable team. Their first-ever picture book collaboration, Imaginary Fred, is coming this fall from HarperCollins.
Here's what we've got to look forward to:
Imaginary Fred is a unique take on the concept of imaginary friends. It’s the story of two little boys and their shared love of movies, music, and comic books. It is about how a little bit of electricity, a little bit of luck, and a little bit of magic can spark a friendship like no other. The perfect chemistry between Eoin Colfer’s text and Oliver Jeffers’s artwork will make for a treasured new picture book.
The publisher's already calling it an "instant children's classic," "genius" and "the stuff of dreams." It's way too soon to be throwing labels like that around, but we're nevertheless excited to see what fun this duo whips up.