This week I’ve selected three new titles that take a look at the darker side of American society.
Nine days : a mystery
This book sounds a bit Breaking Bad to me – ordinary people from the suburbs being master criminals. It’s about Julia, who for many years has used her historic-building renovation business as a front for her husband’s illegal arms dealing. But when he’s murdered she’s placed under witness protection and disappeared to Texas. There, even under the watchful eye of police chief Teresa Hallstedt, she finds herself embroiled in more crime and murder. Amazon describes the story as “atmospheric, gutsy and fun” and Publisher’s Weekly says “fans of distinctive female characters like Nevada Barr’s Anna Pigeon and Becky Masterman’s Brigid Quinn will be thrilled to add Koenig to their ranks”.
This novel is described as “harrowing, darkly comic, and wise” (Amazon) and its author, Benjamin Whitmer, called the successor to Cormac McCarthy and Larry Brown. High praise indeed. It’s a grim story about Patterson Wells, a disaster-tree clearer, self-destructive and trying to deal with the loss of his son. He travels home and meets up with an old friend only to find him high on meth and keeping a woman hostage in his house. Beyond this shocking premise, the story tells of Patterson’s attempts to come to grips with the pain in his life, interspersed with violence and drug and alcohol abuse.
Finally, there’s the debut novel from Caroline Kepnes a former journalist for many entertainment magazines and E! Online. It’s about a stalker and his victim, writer Guinevere, and their obsessive ‘relationship’. The story aims to be humorous and insightful, but Publisher’s Weekly says “what’s most chilling about this novel, besides its plausibility, is the way in which Kepnes makes the reader empathize with Joe during the journey into his troubled mind. Her book will have readers looking over their shoulders-and examining their own motivations”.
Hi everyone, just a recap for those who don’t know who or what my picks are.
I’m the fiction selector for Wellington City Libraries. I spend a lot of time reading about and choosing lovely new fiction for you to enjoy. I try to pick my favourites every week to share with you. These books aren’t ’shelf ready’, but they are due to be published in the next six months or so. And they are on the catalogue, available to reserve.
With a friend like you
Author Fanny Blake used to be an editor and a journalist so she obviously knows about what people enjoy reading. With a friend like you is about the breakdown of a female friendship (the title gives it away doesn’t it?!) Which is something I think we’ve all experienced at some time and that’s what made it so appealing. The book is about two friends, Beth and Megan living in London, who are both very different, but get along wonderfully and have done for years. Then Beth’s daughter reveals a secret which drives a wedge between the two friends. From a happy, genuine friendship they turn to misunderstanding, arguments and then bitterness and all out war. It’s written with a lot of humor and caring (combined with Blake’s experience in the industry) and this is what sets it apart from your usual chick lit. Blake’s previous book What women want was a quiet success too.
This story is both a murder mystery and a family saga. It’s about a woman named Alma who must return home to Billings, in rural Montana, after her sister is found dead. Alma had left behind her family years ago to live in Seattle and become a lawyer. She had survived a car accident which killed both of her parents and the choice to flee was the easiest for her. However, Vicky, her partying and troubled sister remained and one night drunk, she leaves a party and is found dead the next day. Alma returns to care for her orphaned niece and soon becomes embroiled in the town’s dramas, its secrets and uncovers the possibility that her sister was murdered. Library Journal says La Seur’s book is a “Walloping in suspense, drama, rage, and remorse, this debut is an accomplished literary novel of the new West.”
Away from you
This is by Kay Langdale, who’s published many a successful relationship/family lit-type novel. Away from you focuses on mothers and it’s about Monica, who is offered a three month placement in LA for her work. She knows she must do the best thing for her career and take the job, but it means leaving behind her children in London. Monica hires Ursula as a housekeeper and reluctant nanny to take care of her family. But Ursula doesn’t seem quite right and it becomes apparent there’s a dark secret in her past that keeps her cold and reserved. Publisher Hodder and Stoughton are calling Langdale the next Jodi Piccoult – a big call! The story does sound promising though.
This picture of you
Sarah Hopkins is an Australian author, former criminal lawyer and wife of chef Matt Moran (Masterchef fans will know who that is!) This picture of you is her third novel and it sounds really good! It centres around a family, a couple Maggie and Martin who have been married for 37 years, and their adult son. When the Martin has a car accident one day and then is totally unable to recall why he was even there or what he was doing, Maggie takes it upon herself to find out what happened. Martin meanwhile decides to relive what he can remember, regaling their son with the story of how the couple first met. But all is not as it seems and secrets begin to unravel. “This [is a] searing story of love and betrayal, and a family coming apart at the seams. This Picture of You is urgent, gripping, insightful and intoxicating, an unforgettable journey into the heart of a family and the secrets that threaten to tear it apart” (Amazon US).
Author Annamaria Alfieri lives in New York City, but sets her novels in far off locations like South American and Africa. Her latest is set in Nairobi in 1911 during the British East Africa era, and is described as “Out of Africa meets Agatha Christie”. It’s a mystery/romance about well-bred Vera McIntosh, who is very interested in handsome police officer Justin Tolliver. When her uncle is murdered with a tribesman spear the two set about investigating his death. This leads them to the local tribes-people, a vengeful medicine man and a long list of suspects. The is the first in a new series.
Emily Gould is a former co-editor of Gawker and blogger and this is her debut novel. It’s about two friends, Bev and Amy, who are two 20-something millenials living in New York City, approaching their 30s and starting to re-evaluate their lives. When their good luck starts to change the two are forced to look at their lives, choices and relationship. Booklist calls it a “savvy first novel that, in piercing prose, zeroes in on modern ennui and the catalysts that force even the most apathetic out of their complacency”. (It has also been recommended by fashion-blogging star Garance Dore on her summer reading list).
Elizabeth Little’s novel is a new spin on the ‘wrongfully convicted, must find real criminal’ story. Protagonist Janie Jenkins is a rich, LA socialite and celebrity who ends up convicted of her mother’s murder and sentenced to ten years in prison. She professes her innocence to no avail and when Jenkins is eventually released she sets about finding out who really killed her mother. This takes her to a small South Dakota town where she meets an odd array of locals, all the while being hounded by blogger Trace who is determined Jenkins is guilty. Sounds pretty good to me, “Little makes a thrilling debut with this gripping read. Fans of Tana French and Gillian Flynn are going to enjoy the smart narrator and the twists and turns in the case.” (Library Journal).
John the pupil
This is about three young religious men who set off on a journey to Rome from Oxford in 1267. But before you yawn and think ‘dry and boring and historical’, this book sounds hilarious. It has been described as a “medieval road movie…Umberto Eco seen through the eyes of Quentin Tarrantino” (Amazon UK). These holy men are on a mission, tempted by all sorts of sins, prostitutes, ambushed by theives and introducing us to the horrors of everyday medieval life. All written in a very comical and human way, apparently. I will be reserving this one!
Ways of the dead
The daughter of a prominent Washington DC judge is found dead and three young black men, who have barely spoken to her, are charged with her murder. This is the start of debut mystery by Neely Tucker, an investigative journalist turned novelist. Tucker chooses journalist Sully Tucker as the story’s narrator and Tucker is the one who delves deeper into this crime to try and find the real culprits, uncovering a series of unsolved murders along the way. Great review form the Library Journal “Journalist-turned-novelist Tucker has crafted an addictive, twisty debut, proving that crimes involving politics and sex can still surprise and thrill us. The slightly detached and cynical air will resonate with George Pelecanos readers and yet there’s a whiff of Elmore Leonard”.
Happiness is easy
Set in 1990s Brazil this book is about a very powerful and rich man called Olavo Bettencourt. He is a PR man for the government and the corrupt politics of the time create the backdrop for his story. Bettencourt’s wealth and prominence make him a prime target for extortion and a gang plans on kidnapping his son. They swoop on his armoured car as it ferries a small boy around the city – but is it his son?! Sorry, but I can’t find more to tell you about this book, and I think this simply makes it even more intriguing. The author, Edney Silvestre is a Brazillian journalist, producer and filmmaker. This book is his second, it was written in 2011 and has only just been translated to English.
In the light of what we know / Zia Haider Rahman.
This book is the debut novel by Rahman, a Bangledeshi British writer, and it has already become a literary hit. It’s set during the global financial crisis of the 2000s and is a bit too complex and wonderful for me to explain. Here’s Booklist’s synopsis instead! “This expansive novel sprawls over the past half-century and has as its primary settings the U.S., the UK, and South Asia. Its nameless narrator is an upper-class Englishman of Pakistani parentage, and its main character and secondary voice is the Bangladeshi-born Zafar, the narrator’s brilliant former Oxford classmate. Our narrator gets ensnared in the banking scandals of the early 2000s, and Zafar in the coterminous conflict in Afghanistan. This is, in part, a novel of international geopolitics going back to American involvement (or inaction) in the South Asian wars of 1971; in part, a novel of global finance; in referential detail, a novel of ideas; and, in addition, a novel of personal relationships in which issues of caste and class figure prominently”. (Booklist)
On a completely different note is Australian Jenny Bond’s first novel. The protagonist Iris is set to loose all her wealth during the Great Depression until a chance meeting with Eleanor Roosevelt propels her into the White House inner circle, confering on her all the prestige that association might bring. Ultimately though, this book is a love story and Iris meets two men, who she must choose between. All the while, loving a third who she can’t really have. A tried and true romance formula, within an interesting, political setting.
After me comes the flood
Another debut novel from a British writer, Sarah Perry. A London bookshop owner, John, decides to leave his life behind and drives away to a new town where he’s welcomed by the residents – who are all happy to see him and already know him by name. Weird! This story sounds very mysterious and foreboding and it has been described as “elegant, gently sinister and psychologically complex” (Amazon UK). Expect it around the beginning of July.
Unbearable dreamworld of Champa the driver
This novel is about Champa, a chauffeur in Lhasa. He works for Chinese art collector Plum. The two soon start sleeping together and Champa’s simple life quickly becomes complicated. When Plum brings home a Tara Statue, Champa sets off on a trip across country to find its origins. The story has been described by UK Amazon as “…a rollicking road novel brimful of sensuality and danger. Underlying the optimism and humour of its hero is a shocking picture of racism and rough justice in modern Beijing.” The author Chan Koonchung is a Chinese writer whose previous novel The Fat Years is also on order. It is a dystopian scifi thriller, written in 2009 and set in 2013 Bejing. It was banned in China and you can read about Koonchung’s experience with it here.
The axeman’s jazz has some basis in reality – the Axeman was a serial killer from the early twentieth century New Orleans, who happened to like jazz. The killer was an American Jack the Ripper, in that they were never identified or caught, a real life murder mystery. This book takes the Axeman and creates the backdrop for an atmospheric crime story. Detective Michael Talbot is working to find the killer. As is his rival and ex-con Luca d’Andrea, who’s working for the Mafia. Add to that Ida, a secretary for the Pinkertons who’s obsessed with Sherlock Holmes, and you have an excellent thriller.
And speaking of Jack the Ripper, this crime story is set in the same era. In last year’s Mayhem we were introduced to Dr Thomas Bond a police surgeon. While helping with the Jack the Ripper murders he becomes obsessed with finding another killer - a killer who keeps disposing of headless, limbless bodies all over London. Now, one year on, Bond is recovering from the Ripper case and the other darker, evil murderer. But – uh oh! – more bodies start to appear in the Thames, this time children. More murder mystery ensues.
Something a little different this week as I’ve chosen to focus on an author. Clarice Lispector was recommended to me by the lovely team at Unity Books. Some of her work is currently being reprinted, but as well as the newer editions we have a collection of her novels in our Central Stack. (The stack books are available for loan or to reserve; the brand new books are yet to make it onto the catalogue so you’ll have to keep an eye out for those)
Why this world : a biography of Clarice Lispector / Benjamin Moser.
Clarice Lispector was a Brazilian writer who found fame in the 1950s. She was born in the Ukraine in 1920 to Jewish parents, who soon after relocated to Brazil. Lispector began writing in her 20s, after studying law and marrying a diplomat, with whom she travelled the world. Near to the Wild Heart was her first novel and Agua Vitae is considered her masterpiece. It was published near the end of her life; she died in 1977 from cancer. Lispector has been described as a complicated person, and according to some ‘unliterary’ and an ‘incorrigible liar’. Her writing has a mystical quality and her work is considered avant garde.
The Virgins / Pamela Erens.
I have to admit I found this a hard one to describe, but it sounds really interesting so I’ll give it a go. It’s about the doomed love affair between two students at an exclusive US boarding school in 1979. They are both slightly set apart from the other students due to their backgrounds, Jewish Aviva and Korean Seung. Because of their differentness they strike up a relationship, which only works to set them further apart from their contemporaries. It also pushes them further from the boundaries of societal expectations. Their story is narrated by Bruce Bennet-Jones, a fellow student and a bit of a voyeur. This novel sensitively tackles the subject of awkward teenage sexuality and writer Pamela Erens was shortlisted for awards for her first novel The Understory.
Best thing that never happened to me
On a competely different note is this lovely new romantic comedy about Holly. She let go of her first love Alex, but now has a second chance of rekindling their relationship when he moves back to her city for a new job. It has been described as similar to Notting Hill and Love Actually. Which may or may not be your thing, but it sounds good nonetheless and has recommendations from fellow chick-lit writer Paige Toon.
Hen who dreamed she could fly
This is by bestselling and award winning Korean writer Sun-Mi Hwang and is one the few novels of hers translated into English (the only one our library has). It’s a fable about motherhood, morality and life in general. And it is actually about a hen called Sprout (and a collection of other barnyard animals). The hen, described by Publisher’s Weekly as “philosophically restless” (how great is that?!) yearns to be a mother and to hatch one of her eggs which unfortunately are collected each day by the farmer. Eventually she escapes her cage and meets a duck, Straggler, who helps her hatch and nurture an egg they find, both discovering the joys of parenthood. How brilliant!
Hi everyone, I’m back after a small break for Easter and holidays and such. I’ve been selecting some lovely new fiction for you to enjoy. This week are some good, old, ever-popular crime novels.
(Remember these books aren’t ’shelf ready’, but they are due to arrive at the library in the next six months. And they are on the catalogue, available to reserve).
St Kilda blues
This novel is set in 1967 Melbourne and follows detective Charlie Berlin as he investigates the disappearance of a teenage girl, the daughter of a wealthy and prominent city figure. This is the third installment by Geoffrey McGeachin about detective Berlin, the first two installments won Australia’s Ned Kelly award for crime fiction.
This is the first time novel for Ariel Winter and is actually three short chronological novels, with each story written in the hard-boiler crime, noir style of either Raymond Chandler, Jim Thompson or Georges Simenon. Each small novel is about a different subject – 1931 is set in a fictional town in France and is about the mysterious death of a prisoner; 1941 is about Rosenkrantz, an LA womaniser slash screenwriter, and his starlet wife; 1951 follows Rosenkrantz once again as he’s now a down-and-out alcoholic and his wife has been institutionalised.
Long way home
This is another police procedural, but this time with an interesting spin – it follows two detectives working in the Hate Crimes Unit. It’s set in Peterborough, a rather unassuming part of Eastern England, which is known for its population boom due to economic migrants looking for work in local factories. It’s from this background that detectives Ferreira and Zigic begin their investigation into the death of man, burnt alive in his garden shed. This is the debut novel for Eva Dolan who has been a name to watch online in crime writing in recent years and who was shortlisted for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger for unpublished authors.
Silence of the sea
Let’s face it, we still can’t get enough of our Scandinavian crime writers and therefore, this book is bound to be popular and I probably don’t need to mention it. But for those who don’t yet know, Yrsa Sigurdardottir is the latest, hottest, Icelandic crime novelist. This is her seventh novel and it is about Thóra Gudmundsdóttir who is sent to investigate when an unmanned luxury yacht crashes into the harbour in Reykjavík. Sigurdardottir is a best-seller and this story has been described as chilling – what more do you need to know?! Reserve it!
The Moon Sisters
It was the delightful cover that drew me to this one, however the story is anything but pretty and light. It’s about the relationship bewteen two sisters whose lives are thrown into turmoil after the suicide of their mother. Both sisters are very different from one another, with different approaches to life and struggle, and that’s where the trouble begins. The free-spirited sister Jazz decides to travel to an unknown town to lay her mother’s remains to rest. Her logical and sensible sister Olivia thinks this is a foolish quest, wanting to just get on with her life. This is a complex and atmospheric emotional drama – looks good!
Wow, this one sounds exciting! Espinonage, romance, drama, set in Egypt. With the CIA, assassinations, secrets and love affirs. It’s about the shooting of an American diplomat in Hungary and the repercussions from this, leading all the way to Cairo. And then it starts to get complicated. Described as a ‘spy procedural’ and John Le Carre-esque. It was an ‘Amazon Best Book of the Month’ in March.