Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New Releases on Boswell's Best--Fiction from John Kenney, Robert Crais, Melanie Benjamin, Eleanor Morse, and Maryka Biaggio.

Jason noted to me that with the move to on sale dates, most publishers crowd releases to the first and last Tuesdays of the month. In the days when distribution was a little fuzzier, a lot of books that had publication dates for a particular month would come the third week of the previous month. In short, what I am saying is that what was once a crowded week for releases (the next-to-last week of the month) is now pretty thin, at least in January.

That's fine, because there are plenty of Boswell's Best fiction titles who still haven't gotten their moment in the sun. Honestly, there are plenty that never get their writeup, due to the fact that I only have so many hands. My apologies to every author whose prose I haven't yet called "breathtaking."

To me, the most interesting release this week is John Kenney's Truth in Advertising (Touchstone), mostly because I'd been hearing about it for months--the folks at Touchstone (which recently moved from the Free Press to Scribner divisions) are very hot on it. I feel terrible that I haven't read it yet, especially since it seems like a cross between Augusten Burroughs' Sellevision, and Jonathan Tropper's This is Where I Leave You, both of which I liked, but heck, I just can't keep up, and that's with me feeling pretty good about my reading speed right now. I am taking time out several times a week for reading, and just finished Maria Semple's Where'd You Go, Bernadette, and started Christina Sneed's Little Known Facts. Yes, we're hosting both authors (May 1 and March 28 repectively). What else is new?

Oh, have I lost my train of thought here? Finbar Dolan is an ad exec in New York (probably looking much like the striking Mr. Kenney, at left), who has to choose between putting together a Super Bowl campaign and caring for his ill father. I know that the new thing is to not believe quotes, or even imagine that they finished the book (thanks to the Gary Shteyngart video) but Andy Borowitz (who was once at Boswell when we hosted an event for his wife) had a nice quote that I reprint here:

"No one makes me laugh like John Kenney (editor's note--he writes for The New Yorker). So I expected Truth in Advertising to be very funny, and it is But I was unprepared for how deeply felt and richly observed it would be This is a beautiful novel and a dazzling debut."

Alas, Truth in Advertising rubbed the USA Today's David Daley the wrong way (really wrong, I have not really seen something quite so bitter of late that was not on the Amazon one-star because the author snubbed me when he didn't give me a blurb but in a real newspaper, which is why I link to it here), but the Kirkus reviewer was quite a bit more upbeat: "With wry humor, always on point, Kenney guides us through the maze of work, family, love (elusive) and friendship (a lifesaver). This is an outstanding debut."

Back to USA Today, I'm actually a bit stunned with the vitriol of this first write up, particularly in a middle-of-the-road paper like USA Today. Do you really blame the author when Mean Joe Greene is misspelled? Did you notice that James Deen (the actor) was misspelled half the time as James Dean in a recent New York Times magazine piece (it's corrected on the website, but you should have seen the print edition)? Was that the author's fault?

I have been put in the place where I'm defending a book I haven't read. Now I really feel like I have to read Truth in Advertising!

But it turns out that this is not the only book coming out this week. Robert Crais has a new novel, Suspect (Putnam), coming out, and he's signing at Mystery One on Tuesday, January 29, at 7 pm. The new book is about an LAPD cop who loses his partner to a nighttime assault. His new partner is a dog, a survivor of Iraq duty who has lost her handler. Together they take on a big case.

I've heard that detective-plus-dog mysteries are ascendant, and it sounds like Crais has taken this to another level. Robert Taub in The Huffington Post says "Suspect is a rare hybrid -- a first class crime thriller and a story about love between two friends." Go see this guy, and tell Richard we sent you.

Still on Boswell's Best this week is The Aviator's Wife (Delacorte), by Melanie Benjamin, who has done a number of events in the Chicago area, but hasn't been up to Milwaukee for several books now. We had several good reads for Alice I Have Been, and she followed that with a stock signing for The Autobiography of Tom Thumb, when she read at Next Chapter.

Benjamin's newest is a historical novel about Anne Morrow Lindburgh, which reminds me a bit of Loving Frank and The Paris Wife, in that both were historical novels that hewed closely to the facts, through the eyes of the companion of the more famous person. And of course Benjamin's book borrows off the latter in terms of title phrasing too. I can imagine a whole series of wife books. Perhaps if Loving Frank hadn't done so well, the book might have been rereleased as The Architect's Wife..

I'm down to two books. Do I mention White Dog Fell from the Sky (Viking), by Eleanor Morse, or Parlor Games (Doubleday) by Maryka Biaggio? I'll just do some links for both.

The first is a novel of three folks in Botswana. This is fascinating. Here is the link to the book on the Curtis Brown literary agency site. I learned from this that the editor is Kathryn Court. I am usually drawn to books that she edits. And I also like the drawing on the jacket.

Entertainment Weekly gave the book a B+, with special props for the lyrical and beautiful writing.

The Publishers Weekly review offers that "Morse’s unflinching portrayals of extremes of loyalty and cruelty make for an especially memorable novel."

Jason noted that Parlor Games has a Rules of Civility-like cover (and yet it somehow has enough slight changes to move its genre needle a bit--see below) and a quote from Daisy Goodwin, author of The American Heiress, both popular books at Boswell. Goodwin cheered that "Parlor Games is a captivating tale narrated by the irresistible and deliciously unreliable con woman, May Dugas.

What I mean above is that there are these weird cover cues that say "this is not a book for men" which I did not see in Rules of Civility. And perhaps this goes back to Meg and Chris renaming their protagonist Magnus Flyte to get male readers. But it also calls to mind a Downton Abbey audience. Is it that there are only women on the cover? is it the pastel coloring? Jason noticed this too. Are we being sexist? Apologies to David Daley in advance.

Blogger Isaac Morris also spotted the sames issues (though he didn't call out the jacket), when he noted "It is not what I thought it would be, just a 'chick' book" and went on to say is an entertaining romp, in the classic style of picaresque.

Kirkus also had a nice write up, and called attention to the book's local interest. Dugas was born in Wisconsin and her exploits covered the midwest, including Illinois and Michigan. The reviewer states: "Based on a true story, Biaggio’s narrative provides an engaging glimpse into a character who categorically eludes our attempts to define her."

Sure you can find something here to read. And Jason says the releases heat up next week. 

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