In the wake of yesterday's Booker Prize announcement, awards season rolls on today with the announcement of the finalists for the National Book Award. Drum roll, please . . .
Karen E. Bender, Refund (Soft Skull)
Angela Flournoy, The Turner House (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)
Lauren Groff, Fates and Furies (Riverhead)
Adam Johnson, Fortune Smiles (Random House)
Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life (Doubleday)
Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau)
Sally Mann, Hold Still (Little, Brown)
Sy Montgomery, The Soul of an Octopus (Atria)
Carla Power, If the Oceans Were Ink (Holt)
Tracy K. Smith, Ordinary Light: A Memoir (Knopf)
Ali Benjamin, The Thing About Jellyfish (Little, Brown Children's)
Laura Ruby, Bone Gap (Balzer + Bray)
Steve Sheinkin, Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War (Roaring Brook Press)
Neal Shusterman, Challenger Deep (HarperTeen)
Noelle Stevenson, Nimona (HarperTeen)
Who are you rooting for?
Halloween approaches, and if you're looking for an eerie read, Isaac Marion's novella, The New Hunger, could be just the ticket. This zombie apocalypse tale is a prequel to his 2011 bestseller, Warm Bodies, an oddly charming romance that became a film of the same name starring Nicolas Hoult. Fans of star-crossed lovers Julie and R (a zombie—and yes, they are inspired by Shakespeare) will enjoy this glimpse into their world in its early days, as Julie and her family search for safety; R reckons with what he has become; and Julie's best friend, Nora, tries to find security for herself and her little brother.
There's a lyricism to this book that will appeal to readers of Justin Cronin's The Passage series, especially when Marion is describing the ruined world. And also, it's pretty darn creepy.
She hears a low growl behind her. Not a groan, not a moan, not a shout or a war cry; none of the sounds she's used to hearing when something wants to kill her. Just a wet, rattling growl, like seashore rocks tumbling in the undertow. She turns around. A wolf is staring at her from under a nearby picnic table. Its eyes are ice blue. Like her mother's, she suddenly recalls.
What are you reading this week?
It's official: We can knock one title off our list of long-awaited second novels. Helen Simonson is returning on March 22 with a follow-up to Major Pettigrew's Last Stand. Set in 1914, The Summer Before the War is also set in the English countryside, during a summer so beautiful that no one can quite believe that the rumbles of war will come to anything. The small town of Rye is more bothered by the new Latin teacher, who turns out to be not only a woman (which is controversial enough) but also attractive and, even worse, assertive.
Though set in the modern day, Major Pettigrew was full of old-fashioned charm, so Simonson's writing style should be an excellent fit for historical fiction. I'm looking forward to seeing what she does with this one. Will you read it?
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Elizabeth Strout returns in January with a new novel, My Name Is Lucy Barton.
Strout explored the complicated relationships of three brothers in her last book, The Burgess Boys, but in her new novel, she once again explores the mother-daughter bond—the relationship that powered her knockout 1999 debut, Amy & Isabelle.
Lucy Barton and her mother are long-estranged, but when Lucy needs help after surgery, her mother comes for a visit. Their reunion brings years of tension and longing to the surface, as Lucy reflects on her difficult childhood and her relationship with her own two daughters.
Will you read it?
Canadian writer Yann Martel hit a home run with Life of Pi, an international bestseller and Man Booker Prize winner—even the film ended up with a handful of Academy Awards. His second novel, Beatrice & Virgil, was a bestseller but didn't quite reach the same level as his debut (allegories about the Holocaust are not necessarily an easy sell).
Will his third novel be more successful in capturing readers' imaginations? We will find out in February, when The High Mountains of Portugal is published by Spiegel & Grau. As with his previous work, the premise is anything but usual: Blending three storylines that cover most of the 20th century, the novel is set both in Lisbon and the mythical mountains of the title, which just might contain an artifact that will change the way the world thinks about religion. Oh, and there's also a chimpanzee involved. We have to admit, we're curious! How about you?
The latest from Iain Pears—author of the worldwide bestseller An Instance of the Fingerpost—is an ambitious literary work with a sci-fi twist. Actually, "ambitious" might be an understatement: This book is so complex that there's an app to help unravel it. (Is that a first? I'm pretty sure that's a first.)
Arcadia follows several different characters—including an Oxford professor, a teenager, a mathematician and a scholar's assistant—through 10 storylines that span decades and maybe even centuries. Knopf will publish it in the US on February 16.
Pears wrote in the Guardian that he decided to build an app to make it easier to play with narrative structure, and to allow readers to leave out any threads that "may displease." But it also taught him new ways to write: "Most peculiarly of all, I found that the story was most easily structured by looking at it visually; whole strands were expanded or even deleted simply to create a more pleasing shape in the writing program I was using. On every occasion, the more satisfactory the appearance, the better the story read, and I still haven’t quite figured out how that works."
The book has just gone on sale in the UK, so I guess we'll have a chance to see whether readers there embrace reading via app before Arcadia lands on US shores. Will you look for it in February?
Which debut author from 2015 is destined to be your new favorite author? Let an old favorite lead you to it.
If you liked The Devil Wears Prada by Lauren Weisburger, you'll love Oh! You Pretty Things by Shanna Mahin.
This workplace drama has loads of humor and a touch of romance, all set against a finely drawn LA backdrop that's just as full of crazy as the fashion industry. (read our review)
Set on Staten Island, this family drama follows a close-knit Irish-Italian family whose world changed forever on 9/11. Like Butler's debut, it is especially good at making the relationships between men feel real. (read our review)
Like Messud's Nora Marie Eldridge, the protagonist of Hausfrau is angry (albeit more passive in expressing it) and definitely not a role model (/understatement). Yet somehow, you can't keep from turning the pages to see what she'll do next. And like Messud, Essbaum has some serious literary chops. (read our review)
Like Sebold's modern classic, Walsh's debut traces the effect of a horrible crime on a community. Walsh takes it a step further, though, to provide a thoughtful examination of what these crimes say about society—especially men—adding timely thematic resonance alongside his suspenseful story. (read our review)
Readers who couldn't get enough of the historical detail and chilly Nordic landscapes of Kent's debut will want to pick up Wolf Winter, which also pits outsiders against their community and features a mysterious death. (read our review)
Like Miller's Orange Prize winner, Cadwallader's debut takes readers to a vanished world in poetic and polished prose. Her heroine, though, is no warrior, but a 17-year-old girl who voluntarily retreats from society to become a holy woman, or Anchoress. (read our feature story)
In his most recent novel, the author of Corelli's Mandolin returns with another gripping tale of love and war. This time, the children of three neighboring families, who grew up in an Edwardian idyll, face love and loss as World War I rages. De Bernières blends global events with personal stories to great effect, putting both into perspective.
King Edward brought his brief and beautiful age to an end on the sixth day of May in 1910. Prostrated by bronchitis but smoking cigars to the very end that they had been hastening, he leanred from the Prince of Wales that his orse Witch of the Air had won at Kempton. 'I am very glad,' he said, and his servants put him to bed. 'I shan't give in,' he said, 'I am going to fight it,' but he fell into a coma and died at the imminence of midnight.
Thus it was left to King George to deal with what his father had foreseen; and to Rosie, Christabel, Ottilie, Sophie, Sidney, Albert, Archie, Daniel and Ashbridge.
What are you reading this week?
Discovering a new voice that speaks to you is one of the most exciting things that can happen to any book lover. Here, we're highlighting the best 12 debuts of the year (so far). Share your favorite in the comments!
This sweet, alluring first novel follows an elderly woman as she leaves her home to trek across Canada by foot and see the ocean for the first time. As Etta walks across the countryside, she reminisces about her past and the two men who meant the most to her.
Fans of Southern noir will thrill to Cooper's dark, enticing story of corruption in the Louisiana bayou after the destruction of Hurricane Katrina, where folks who live on the fringes struggle to eke out a living in ways that just might push the boundaries of legality.
This sharp and insightful social satire is an all-too-timely look at race relations in America, as three ostensibly liberal and definitely privileged Berkeley students from various backgrounds travel with a friend and classmate to his home in rural Georgia—just in time for a Civil War re-enactment.
Australian author Davis takes on the tricky subject of recovering from loss—whether you're 7 or 87—in her winsome first novel, which finds an abandoned young girl embarking on a road trip with very unlikely companions.
Eli Goldstein idolizes his uncle Poxl, a Czech Jew who served in Britain's Royal Air Force. But does Poxl's best-selling memoir really tell the whole story? Torday's tour-de-force of a novel puts a fresh spin on World War II (yes, really) in a page-turning tale of truth, lies and forgiveness.
Freeman's rabble-raising debut, set in the rough-and-tumble world of 1800's prize-fighting, features two memorable and very different heroines who push the limits for women of the day to fight for a better future. Fans of Sarah Waters or Michel Faber, meet your new favorite author.
What makes a home? This question is pondered (and argued about) by the 13 Turner siblings and their children in this tender family saga as they must decide whether to sell the Detroit house that has been home to three generations over 50 years. Flournoy paints an impressively realistic portrait of sibling bonds and a city in decline.
At just 28 years old, Nović has written an insightful first novel that will appeal to fans of Anthony Marra and Téa Obreht. Moving back and forth between 1991 Croatia and 2001 New York City, Girl at War follows Ana as she survives a dangerous childhood and attempts to transition to a new family and culture in the United States.
Librarian Simon Watson is barely holding his life together when a mysterious book appears on his doorstep. Could this journal be the key to understanding his mother’s death—and saving his sister from a similar fate? Fans of magical stories like The Night Circus will flock to this ambitious debut.
Plum Kettle is sure that bariatric surgery will change her life. But when she crosses paths with a mysterious young woman, Plum ends up involved in a full-on riot grrl ride to a feminist awakening. Walker's first novel is a fierce and fiery look at the struggles women face in today's world—and it's as entertaining as it is thought-provoking.
Finding out your father cheated on your mom? Bad. Finding out by reading his dirty emails to the other woman when you're just 11 years old? Even worse. Pierpont’s debut makes this common premise feel fresh thanks to character-enriching details (Kay copes by writing smutty “Seinfeld” fan fiction, for example) and a willingness to shake up her narrative structure.
Food and family combine in this vibrant first novel, which hopscotches through the life of Eva, a Minnesotan who has risen to become one of the country’s best young chefs. When the mother who abandoned her returns, Eva must decide if they can repair their relationship. The unusual setting, embraceable characters and mouthwatering recipes add up to a can’t-miss debut.
The secrets kept between generations—especially in wartime—are the focus of Walters' evocative debut, which is told from dual perspectives. Roberta is a 34-year-old bookseller whose life is in a holding pattern. While looking through her grandmother's belongings, Roberta finds a letter—and uncovers a secret that dates back some 80 years, to the waning days of World War II, in a story that should please fans of The Postmistress or the works of Kate Morton.
I have since read this letter again and again, and I still can't make sense of it. At first I experienced the strange sensation of needing to sit down. So I did, on the squeaky footstool, and my hand trembled as I read slowly, trying to take in every word.
Dorothea Pietrykowski is my grandmother. Jan Pietrykowski was my grandfather, never known to me, never even known to my father. These are incontrovertible facts.
But this letter makes no sense.
Firstly, my grandparents were happily, if briefly, married, but in this letter he seems to declare that he cannot marry her. Secondly, it is dated 1941. Polish Squadron Leader Jan Pietrykowski, my grandfather, died defending London in the Blitz, in November 1940.
What are you reading this week?