I didn't catch Little Bee pre-pub, but after reading a few pages in an Oxford bookstore I had to buy it. Luckily the UK practice of putting new books out in paperback made this an affordable and travel-friendly option. If you're put off by the back cover copy (which basically says, this book is so good we can't tell you anything about it), read a few pages and see if you're not captivated by the voice of Little Bee, a 16-year-old Nigerian refugee with a surprising connection to Kidman's well-to-do character, Sarah, and her husband. Unlike many over-hyped novels, this one delivers. Little Bee follows Cleave's Incendiary, a novel in the form of a letter to Osama bin Laden in response to an (imaginary) terror attack on a London football stadium. Unfortunately, the pub date set for Incendiary was July 7, 2005, the day of the London tube bombings, and the novel failed to get the promotion it deserved. We're glad to see Little Bee bring Cleave some well-earned success.
Fun fact: in the UK, Little Bee was called The Other Hand and featured a generic "literary fiction" type cover, a big contrast to the fanciful US jacket. Which do you prefer?
Watch an interview with Chris Cleave here.
Most fans of Audrey Niffenegger’s debut smash The Time Traveler’s Wife know she has a new book coming out this fall. On sale September 29th, Scribner is pitching Her Fearful Symmetry as “a spectacularly compelling ghost story set in and around Highgate Cemetery in London.” We’ve been on pins and needles waiting for our advance copy to arrive, and I was thrilled when I saw it in the mail last week—just in time for the weekend.
Although I’m only 75 pages in, I think it’s safe to say Niffenegger has avoided the dreaded sophomore slump. This novel feels wholly original and it’s something I would have picked up and kept reading even if I didn’t recognize the name on the (very spooky) cover.
The story begins as Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer in London. She has been long-estranged from her twin sister, Edie, but nevertheless leaves her London flat to Edie’s twin daughters—Julia and Valentina—who never knew their Aunt Elspeth. 20-year-old Julia and Valentina have lived in America their whole lives, and they are intrigued by their aunt’s generosity and a chance at an exciting new life in London. But Elspeth’s inheritance has conditions—the twins must live in her apartment together, and they must stay for at least one year; even stranger, Edie and her husband Jack are forbidden to set foot in the flat.
I know from the jacket copy that the twins will have another roommate in their new London home—the ghost of Aunt Elspeth. And I’m excited to see what the girls will learn about each other, their family’s history and why their mother and her twin sister Elspeth have been estranged all these years. In addition to being a fantastically gifted writer, Niffenegger is a guide at Highgate Cemetery—so the reader can expect lots of first hand creepy detail.
Fans of Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity have something to sing about: Juliet, Naked, his new novel (on sale September 29th) will take readers back into familiar territory: the music world.
According to USA Today, “[The novel] features a reclusive, Dylan-like, English singer/songwriter who gets involved, via e-mail, with a woman in rural Pennsylvania." As for his novel’s title, Hornby says it has nothing to do with nudity: “It’s comes from the title of the new, acoustic version of 'Juliet,' the greatest album by his fictional musician, who’s hoping to stage a comeback.”
Following a collection of essays, Housekeeping vs. The Dirt, a novel for young adults, Slam, and a collection of columns, Shakespeare Wrote for Money, this is Hornby’s first novel since 2005’s A Long Way Down. Music lovers and Hornby readers, rejoice.
When I arrived at the Books-A-Million offices for a few publisher meetings back in May, I had just missed their meeting with Penguin. As Julia and I walked in, most of the reps were talking about one thing: Level 26: Dark Origins, a new "digi-novel" coming in September from Anthony Zuiker, the creator of "CSI." They'd just seen a sample of one of the video "cyber-bridges" that readers will get a link to every 20 pages or so in the book. By all accounts, the video had the same quality as a TV show or film, and the killer was more terrifying than Hannibal Lecter.
This picture certainly lines up with that assessment. Apparently he wears a rubber suit of some kind so as not to leave any forensic info at the crime scenes. Creepy!
Info on the novel's plot is as vague as it gets ("the story of the world’s most heinous serial killer, and the one man who can stop him"—heard that one before?), but with a gimmick like this, they may be thinking it's not necessary. There will be three Level 26 novels, and Dutton paid a reported seven figures for the trilogy.
Soap opera fans will find this blend of TV and books to be nothing new (the novels of "Kendall" from "All My Children" and the unforgettable Hidden Passions by "Tabitha Lennox" spring to mind). But this is the first time readers have to get up after 20 pages, go to the computer and search for a video link, something that seems less than ideal to me—but might appeal to YouTube aficionados with smartphones. And who knows, the online content might be exciting enough to send readers racing through the pages to get to the next "cyber-bridge." I'm happy to see publishers trying something outside the standard print format, though. What do you think? The way forward, or two steps back?
The US/UK jackets for Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol were released today. What do you think? Will you be scouring the cover for "clues" to the book's content, or are you happy to wait until the novel's release?
For those of you who can't read the fine print/details on the US jacket, this red wax seal includes the image of a Phoenix, the number 33, and the Latin phrase, "Ordo ae Chao," (Order from chaos). But what does it mean?!? Apparently if you follow Brown on Twitter (@lostsymbolbook) or Facebook, you too can devote your summer to piecing together clues about the plot of his long-awaited book. Or you can just wait until September 15. I figure with a 6.5 million print run, there will be enough copies to go around.
And now, I'll leave you with a link to a clip from the "Today Show," where Matt Lauer shows the Lost Symbol cover and describes Brown as an author whose books are "pretty well read." You could say that, Matt.
I've said it before and I'll say it again—we get a lot of mail at BookPage! So when something interesting arrives (and that can really mean anything, depending on the day) we take notice. Case and point—this mysterious and intriguing postcard that arrived last week from Random House.
The back of the postcard simply says:
HOMER & LANGLEY
Random House September 2009
Even though the postcard doesn’t say much—if anything—about the book, it’s a really clever idea to get people interested in Doctorow’s latest novel. If we weren’t already reviewing it in our September issue, I would have definitely gone online to look for more info. And speaking of more info, here is a brief summary, from the publisher:
Homer and Langley Collyer are brothers—the one blind and deeply intuitive, the other damaged into madness, or perhaps greatness, by mustard gas in the Great War. They live as recluses in their once grand Fifth Avenue mansion, scavenging the city streets for things they think they can use, hoarding the daily newspapers as research for Langley’s proposed dateless newspaper whose reportage will be as prophecy. Yet the epic events of the century play out in the lives of the two brothers—wars, political movements, technological advances—and even though they want nothing more than to shut out the world, history seems to pass through their cluttered house in the persons of immigrants, prostitutes, society women, government agents, gangsters, jazz musicians . . . and their housebound lives are fraught with odyssean peril as they struggle to survive and create meaning for themselves. Brilliantly conceived, gorgeously written, this mesmerizing narrative, a free imaginative rendering of the lives of New York’s fabled Collyer brothers, is a family story with the resonance of myth, an astonishing masterwork unlike any that have come before from this great writer.
From vamps and witches to angels, by way of Jesus. That unusual path maps Anne Rice's fictional journey. The Vampire Chronicles author will publish Angel Time: Songs of the Seraphim (Knopf) on October 29. In Angel Time, the first in a series, a contract killer finds redemption after traveling through time to 13th-century England to save a Jewish community.
In blending her renewed religious beliefs with the supernatural themes that made her famous, Rice may have hit on a winning formula—Angel Time has already received a starred review from Booklist, and Kirkus calls it "devilishly clever." What do we think? You'll have to wait until October to find out, but here's a hint: if the opening pages are any indication, the complicated killer for hire Toby O'Dare makes for a compelling lead character; his "guardian" angel Malchia is a powerful presence and the ending will leave readers wanting the next book.
Rice talked with BookPage interviewer Jay MacDonald about her change in course back when Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt was published. She said she'd never return to the "lost souls" who made her famous: "[O]nce I returned to the Church and began to see the universe as a place that really did incorporate redemption and really tried to understand the implications of there being a God, my identification with the vampires as outcasts, as outsiders and lost souls began to totally wane."
It has been four years since her blockbuster debut, The Historian, but Elizabeth Kostova is rising again on January 21 with a second act, The Swan Thieves. Instead of literature, this time Kostova's subject is painting—and painters who struggle to balance love and art. The novel goes from 1870s France to the modern day as a Washington, D.C., psychiatrist tries to discover why one of his patients attacked painting in the National Gallery.
She told Powell's she began work on The Swan Thieves before The Historian was even published. "I felt it was important for me to get back to writing right away — to draw that magic, private circle again."
After the jump, a video of Kostova discussing the novel.
Today the Book Case welcomes author Mindy Friddle—a Southern writer who's celebrating the recent release of her second novel, Secret Keepers.
guest post by Mindy Friddle
One of my favorite parts about writing fiction is taking a familiar setting, tweaking it, and making it a character’s own. You won’t believe how liberating it is to depart from a map, wander away from the grid of streets, and imagine a slightly skewed version of a place.
My second novel, Secret Keepers, is set in Palmetto, loosely based on my hometown and its overlay of New South over Old South, Although it's a contemporary story, there's a narrative sweep from the early 1900's to the late 1980's, illustrated by changing landmarks. For example, the Confederate monument in the opening pages of Secret Keepers has been relocated from a central location in town to a new marginalized spot in the New South—in front of a cemetery. That really happened in my hometown. In the book, that statue is none other than General Robert E. Lee, and he’s pointing. Fiercely. I made that part up. And the cemetery? I changed it from Springwood to Springforth. I thought Springforth was a better name for a cemetery, anyway.
In Secret Keepers, McCann Square is known as the first “temperature-controlled shopping center” in Palmetto that once “dazzled the fickle town like a mistress” and lured away downtown department stores. It’s based on a shopping center I used to frequent back in the 80’s; the kind of place you’d find Members Only jackets and buy REO Speedwagon and Styx cassette tapes at the Record Bar. That was BM. Before Malls. A few years ago, that shopping center nearly went under, before it was transformed into an anchor for the local community college. In SECRET KEEPERS, McCann Square is rescued from abandonment when investors turn the place into a “faith-based commerce mall.” Renamed Crossroads, it attracts stores such as Hole in the Sole Shoe Repair, Pray and Pay Title Loans, and Testamints Candy Shop. One character in the novel, Dora, harbors an uneasy attachment to the revamped shopping center. In her wayward youth Dora frequented McCann Square, but now she is trying—and failing—to forget her past and reinvent herself. But try as she might, she still sees McCann Square winking at her behind the veil of Crossroads.
Sometimes I find inspiration right in my front yard. The pitcher plants, Love-Lies-Bleeding, and moonflower vine in my garden prompted some poetic license. Amaranth, a seedy, neglected estate in Secret Keepers, has a secret garden. When the Blooming Idiots gardeners stumble upon its bounty of botanicals, they find a few other-worldly flowers as well: secret keepers are flowers with a potent aroma that trigger a powerful memory of love in a person’s life. Soul shines are preternaturally sensitive, and react to a person’s feelings by shrinking or blooming. But other than these flights of fancy and warped locations, most of the novel is grounded in realism: Family secrets, mother-daughter conflicts, strained marriages, grief, lust. Humor, hopefully, winds through it all like a vine.
“I created a cosmos of my own,” William Faulkner said about Yoknapatawpha County, the setting for most of his novels and short stories, patterned upon his actual home in Lafayette County, Mississippi. Not that I’m comparing my work to Faulkner. Jeez! But I love the fact that in ABSALOM, ABSALOM! he included a hand-drawn map of his “apocryphal county,” signing it, "William Faulkner, Sole Owner & Proprietor."
I don’t know if I’ll ever go as far as sketching a map. When people tell me they loved getting lost in my book, it pretty much makes my day.
Readers are buzzing about the mystery debut from Attica Locke, Black Water Rising. The L.A. Times calls Locke "a writer wise beyond her years," Sarah Weinman is a fan, and the novel garnered positive pre-pub reviews from Library Journal and Kirkus. [via]
Come July, they can add praise from BookPage to that chorus. Whodunit? columnist Bruce Tierney chose Black Water Rising as one of his four favorite mystery debuts of the summer, calling the mystery "an excellent book by any measure, but as a debut, it is nothing short of astonishing."
Can't wait two weeks? Want to discover Bruce's other favorites before the L.A. Times does? Click here for a sneak peek.