Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Five Superpowered Women Novelists Take Down the Boswell Best This Week-Moyes, Shannon, Maynard, Pessl, and Yanagihara.

Night Film (Random House) has been getting all sorts of great attention, including some love from our own Sharon K. Nagel:

"When the daughter of a mysterious, cult-like film director is found dead, journalist Scott McGrath is unable to stay away from the investigation. He has studied Cordova, the director, for years, although little is known. This fascinating novel is a mash up of photographs, newspaper articles, underground website postings, and police reports. Pessl skillfully leads the reader down one mysterious corridor after the next, creating this labyrinth of a story. Here is the solution to what to read after you have finished Gone Girl."

As you can see, Stacie's taken advantage of the new "staff rec" function of our website, and is now able to include some personalized info along with the publisher feed.  The publisher went with a heavy but thin stock paper. We know it means it's high quality and that this is a book that still won't be yellowed in ten years. Sometimes though folks equate thick pages that bulk up a book with quality. I learned my lesson after The Lonely Polygamist. Expect this book to look a little fatter after a few printings, as Random House likely adjusts.

Jason wanted to make sure that I included the video trailer that's been making the rounds. Here is is.

Our initial copies are also signed. How can you not buy this?

Hanya Yangihara's The People in the Trees (Doubleday) has a beautiful jacket with raised letters, though it has notably less heft. I do like the maps on the endpapers, something I was hoping to see on Andrew Sean Greer's latest, but those maps wound up closer to the text. Doesn't everyone know that maps (in this case, Ivu-iu Village) belong on endpapers? I thought you'd agree with me.

It's 1950 and young doctor Norton Perina signs up for a Micronesian anthropological expedition. They meet a group of feral tree dwellers with an unusually long life expectancy. Some are smuggled out and there the problems begin.

The story is told by one of the scientist's colleagues, who is chronicling his mentor's rise and fall, with a defense of the seemingly indefensible. Let me just say that one of the hoops you have to jump through to enjoy the book is not mentioned on the flap copy. But it's hard to keep the secret from reviewers, and they are certainly going to tell us. Here's Carol Memmott in the Chicago Tribune with the story.

"In 1976, D. Carleton Gadjusek was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for proving the link between a slow-acting prion disease that caused madness and death in the Fore tribe in Papua New Guinea and the tribe’s funerary ritual of eating deceased members of their tribe. Debut novelist Hanya Yanagihara, an editor at large with Condé Nast Traveler, wrote in a recent essay that she was fascinated not only by Gadjusek's celebrated contributions to medical science but with his notorious personal life. During the years he spent traveling to Papua New Guinea and Micronesia, he adopted more than 50 children who lived with him in his Maryland home. Gadjusek was arrested, tried and sent to prison after being accused of sexually abusing some of them."

So of course the strangest parts of the story turned out to be true, or rather truish. I read a good amount of the book early on, and really liked it a lot, but other books got in the way. I think this novel will elicit very strong reactions, but Anne Perleberg Andersen in the Star Tribune came at it in a more analytical fashion. "Yanagihara asks what we want the scientist to be. Can Perina be a great mind without being a great — or even a good — man? What, in the end, are we willing to forgive for progress?"

Speaking of diseases, at a recent wedding, I was questioned as to whether I had "Jojo fever" by bookselling colleagues Ken and Lisa. The symptoms seem to be only wanting to read Jojo Moyes novels. Sharon contracted a case and wound up really enjoying Me Before You. Now it's time for The Girl You Left Behind, (Pamela Dorman/Viking) and it's the story of a young woman (Liv) who's given a portrait of a woman almost 100 years earlier, shortly before her husband's death. A chance encounter reveals the painting's true worth, and as the publisher notes, a battle begins over its troubled history. Was the painting looted? Who is to pay reparations? And who is the new owner?

Elizabeth Egan in the Los Angeles Times writes "Minor quibbles aside, The Girl You Left Behind is, well, impossible to leave behind. Even the most hard-hearted reader will want to know what happens to these women, not just the flesh-and-blood ones but also the bewitching one on the wall. Where will the painting land, and was its subject a casualty of war? In this moving paean to daring, determination and perspicacity, Moyes keeps the reader guessing down to the last hankie."

Three novels in, and I'm still writing up Penguin Random House, and that's with me being picky. But The Bone Season is from Bloomsbury, and Samantha Shannon's debut novel has been picked for the inaugural selection of Today Show Book Club 2.0. I read a little of this novel too. It's about a kick ass dreamwalker in London's criminal underground, who is caught and brought to Oxford, where a race of aliens is planning to use the clairvoyants for their own (dare I say nefarious?) purposes.

I was just saying to someone asking about books skewing to women in their twenties, that many of them are looking for Gone Girl-esque pscyhological thrillers, or fantasy-tinged thrillers such as A Discovery of Witches or City of Dark Magic. I feel that with the selection of The Bone Season, the Today show said we're aiming for fun, neither Oprah 1.0 or 2.0, and we're aiming a little younger in the demographics. I think publishers are seeing how many adults are reading young adult dystopian novels and want some of that audience.

From USA Today: "In fact, the publisher that first gave us the Potter books is hoping that The Bone Season, and subsequent books in the series, will join the science-fiction-cum-fantasy benchmark set in recent times by writers such as Stephenie Meyer (Twilight), Suzanne Collins (The Hunger Games) and Cassandra Clare (City of Bones)."

Our own Hannah Johnson-Breimeier writes "The all-powerful governing body Scion has made clairvoyance illegal in London. Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, who works for a clairvoyant syndicate until she commits an unthinkable crime. When the authorities find her, she's taken to a secret prison run by the Rephaim, a terrible and mysterious new race. Paige is put into the keeping of the Warden, with whom she must cooperate in order to survive long enough to escape. Bone Season is the riveting introduction to a new sci-fi series from Samantha Sutton."

Joyce Maynard's new novel, After Her (William Morrow), is set in late seventies Northern California. Patty and Rachel are young teens playing around on their summer vactation when young women start turning up dead and their dad is put in charge of finding the "Sunset Strangler."  As the case takes a toll on her father, Rachel comes up with a plan to solve the case, but it apparently doesn't go well. Now thirty years later she revisits it, with an eye at redemption.

The back jacket's got a nice assorment of New England writers (Maynard writes in the Wall Street Journal of her New Hampshire home), including Christopher Castellani, Stewart O'Nan, Caroline Leavitt, Jodi Picoult, and Jill McCorkle (honorary, I think she moved back down south after many years in Massachusetts). Complex thriller, page-turning mystery, nothing short of a masterpiece. But these writers don't help position the novel--their styles are quite different. This Ann Levin review from the Associated Press, picked up by the Star Tribune (I am doing my part for confusing coastal types about the difference between Milwaukee and Minneapolis--I quote the Star Tribune almost as much as I do the Journal Sentinel)seemed to imply that this was a commercial novel masquerading as a literary novel.

But no, that's just one take. Our own Sharon Nagel liked it a lot, and being a reader who crosses genres she felt that while the mystery was fine, she thought it worked best as a literary novel about sisters. Read it and decide for yourself, then argue it out over a glass of wine.

Like Yanagiahara's novel, this is inspired by true events, the "Trailside Killer" case that terrorized San Francisco. Of the advance reviews, Publishers Weekly was the most enthusiastic. "Maynard captures the way that memory works in fragments: Rachel recalls 'My Sharona' as the soundtrack of the summer, fusing her perspective with that of the killer, who sings it to his victims. Her retelling also flip-flops seamlessly from her teenage anxieties to the front-page news a testament to Maynard's narrative dexterity. This cinematic coming-of-age murder mystery satisfyingly blends suspense with nostalgia."

All these titles are Boswell's Best through next Monday, August 26.

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