It's a big release date today, the first substantial one of the new year and I'm sort of excited as I read not one but three of today's releases. First up is Jessica Chiarella's And Again: "So it’s the near future, or maybe it’s even now, and a blind study is going on that’s testing our ability to be literally born again. Four subjects are on death’s door, but with this experimental process, their bodies are cloned and aged to their present age, and then the part of their brain with memories are implanted in the new host. Of course these new shells are missing details that are due to natural use, such as tattoos, muscle strength, or even freckles. But the real fun begins when each has to wrestle with the complications of starting life over, such as when the painter realizes that her skills are lost when her new self no longer has muscle memory. Another subject is an actress with AIDS who hopes for a comeback, and mother of two who has been a quadriplegic for most of her children’s lives. And then there’s the politician, who might have used his influence to get his way into the blind study. And the truth is that a fresh start doesn’t undo their messy lives and bad habits are often hard to break. I found And Again surprisingly engaging and thought provoking for a book that first seemed outside my comfort zone." (Daniel Goldin)
This is one of those first novels I knew nothing about , but I said I would take on because the author had family in Chicago, though she was currently studying for her MFA at UC Riverside. It seemed like an interesting premise, plus I knew that Sally Kim was the editor, and I think she has interesting acquisitions and I don't think I get the chance to read enough of them. And you know how it goes - while I can hardly read every event book, or even a majority of them, it does push books I'm interested in to the top of the pile. It's struck a chord with several other booksellers too, as Sharon has already finished it and Carly is about to start.
Chiarella's event at Boswell is Wednesday, January 27, 7 pm. I suspect that this is a short talk and reading but I would suggest that the author come up with a cloning talk for the paperback. I can see this going well at programs like the Women's Speaker Series if it were packaged like a book club talk as opposed to an AWP-style reading.
Next up is a book and author who isn't appearing at Boswell. Sunil Yapa's Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist: "It’s the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, 1999. Protests are planned against the global trade deals. The police are getting ready to protect the delegates who need to get to their meetings from the hotel, but the protestors are going to do anything they can to prevent that from happening so they can shut the meeting down. The story is told through three protestors – a wizened pro, a young firebrand, and a kid on a global journey to find himself. On the other side are the cops – a loner with a short fuse, an empathetic officer who lived through the Rodney King riots, and a chief who is caught between his community policing ideals and his convictions to protect the delegates and the city from chaos. There’s also one diplomat, a Sri Lankan who gets caught in the fray. And did I mention that the chief and the kid are estranged father and stepson? Sunil Yapa gracefully captures the struggle between conviction and order, and how grand plans can easily go awry. Your Heart is a Muscle the Size of a Fist could easily run didactic, but the author offers a few twists to keep you surprised and enough heart and nuance to create a powerfully rewarding story." (Daniel Goldin)
I first heard about this book at Book Expo last year. The editor, Lee Boudreaux, discussed it at a Little, Brown luncheon, and it is the first of her acquisitions for her new imprint at Hachette to see publication. The program was an interesting experience, as I was the only bookseller at the table (because it's at the same time as the ABA Indie Bound lunch), but I really find it interesting to get other people's perspectives on the show and upcoming books.
Wisconsinites should remember Boudreaux as the editor at Ecco who acquired David Wroblewski's The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, a huge bestseller after it became an Oprah book, but even without that push, I suspect it would have been a hit, along the lines of The Art of Racing in the Rain. Not every dog novel is a hit, and in fact most are not, but not all are inspired by Hamlet either.
So it took me a while to get to the book, but I committed myself to reading it before the Indie Bound deadline. It had several Daniel-y elements:
--place-centric. Hey, Seattle worked for Where'd You Go, Bernadette?
--multiple perspectives. I like a little juggling
--subculture. I thought a book from the perspectives of both protesters and police was interesting
--I like a little humor mixed into my drama.
So there you have it. Here are some other reviews that have come out:
--Ian Longmire in the Denver Post so it as a political novel
--Hamilton Cain the Minneapolis Star Tribune saw the politics as scaffolding
--Kevin Nance interviews the author in the Chicago Tribune.
--And Ron Charles, my reviewing hero*, calls the book "enthralling" in The Washington Post
But all this pales in comparison to the release of Nicholas Petrie's The Drifter, another first novel by a Milwaukee (well, Whitefish Bay) author, writing a thriller set in Milwaukee.
Here's my take: "When Peter Ash finds out that his former Marine buddy committed suicide, he shows up at his widow’s house to help with some home repairs. Under the crawl space, he finds a mangy dog and a mysterious suitcase filled with cash. Needless to say, the contents are much desired by another party, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Nicholas Petrie has written a compelling thriller that knows all the right moves, from the loner character to the family in peril to the multiple plot turns, but infuses a fresh twist with Peter Ash, a vet with PTSD manifested in acute claustrophobia. There’s a bit of an Elmore Leonard vibe going on here, only with everyone playing at more contemporary higher stakes. And as a bonus for locals, the Milwaukee setting is distinct, but not so over-detailed to get in the way of the nail-biting plot." (Daniel Goldin)
I have no idea who the editor is, though it came from Putnam, a division of Penguin Random House that does a good job with thrillers. When I first met Petrie, I said, "You know Putnam doesn't sign up one book like this. It signs a series." And the truth was that Petrie (yes, I know I spelled it wrong once yesterday, much apologies) already had the second book in the series finished, and was working on the third. And before you get your hopes up that Milwaukee is going to be besieged by fictional crime for a long time, Peter Ash is a drifter, per the title, and the next book will be set elsewhere.
Another interesting thing to note is that Petrie is a home inspector by trade, and the novel's first surprise hinges on Ash's knowledge of home repair. This is a skill set that not every novelist has, and I'm wondering if it will work his way into other volumes. I also asked about his knowledge of veterans, as Petrie did such a good job with that. The author did a lot of research, which is good, because I think he's going to be talking to a lot of veteran's groups in the future. Ash may be flawed, but he's a hero.
It's cold tonight I know, but are you heroic enough to brave the temps to come out and celebrate the launch of The Drifter (January 12, 7 pm, at Boswell)? For those who are delicate flowers and would be completely out of place in this novel, we're also working with the Whitefish Bay Library on Wednesday, January 27, 6:30 pm and the Greendale Library on Friday, January 29, also at 6:30. The latter event will be a conversation with director Gary Niebuhr. Here's Carole E. Barrowman's review in the Journal Sentinel.
So that's it, my triple threat of new releases. It will be a long time before there's a week with three books I've read coming out, but February 2 looks promising.