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Kerry’s Fiction Picks

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.

Syndetics book coverWolf in white van
Fans of the Mountain Goats may be excited to hear that John Darnielle has written a book.  He’s a great storyteller so this is bound to be good.  It has a complex plot that fits somewhere between science fiction and regular fiction. It centres around Sean and a mail-based strategy game where players search for a sanctuary in an apocalyptic landscape.  Amazon says “Beautifully written and unexpectedly moving, John Darnielle’s audacious and gripping debut novel is a marvel of storytelling brio and genuine literary delicacy”.

Syndetics book coverGetting colder
This is the second novel for Amanda Coe who had some success with her debut What they do in the dark It’s about two children, now adults, who were abandoned by their mother and are now looking for answers.  Sara left her family to start a relationship with Patrick, a celebrated playwright, in the 1980s.  When Sara dies 35 years later her children Louise and Nigel seek Patrick out to find out who really was the villain and victims in this situation.

Syndetics book coverIf I knew you were going to be this beautiful, I never would have let you go
For starters, what about that title?  It certainly had me intrigued and it’s possibly the longest I’ve seen.  It’s the debut novel for Judy Chicurel.  The story follows Katie, a young woman from Elephant Beach, a working class summer town on the verge of gentrification.  Katie’s on the verge of adulthood and she spends her time hanging out with friends, drinking, and pursuing her crush.  A pretty common topic, but as Amazon says the author “creates a haunting, vivid world, where conflicts between mothers and daughters, men and women, soldiers and civilians and haves and have-nots reverberate to our own time. She captures not only a time and place, but the universal experience of being poised between the past and the future.”

Syndetics book coverStory hour
This story’s about the friendship that forms between two women despite their differences and the discovery of secrets and a affair that jeopardise their lives.  Maggie is a psychotherapist who begins treating Lakshmi after her suicide attempt, and who is isolated, controlled and unloved by her husband.  A bond forms between the two women and they find connections in their lives - Maggie is married to an Indian man and Lakshmi is from an Indian village.  The complex characters are what makes this novel, “critically acclaimed Indian American writer Umrigar’s most recent novel explores cross-cultural friendships, troubled marriages, love, loss, and forgiveness with her characteristic wisdom, humor, and warmth” (Library Journal).

Kerry’s Fiction Picks

Syndetics book coverSong of the shank
This story is based on the true story of ‘Blind Tom’, a 19th century piano prodigy who was blind, autistic and a slave.  He moved to a ‘black refugee city’ and became a performer.  What struck me about this book is the timeliness of it, following on from 12 Years a Slave and current events in America. The book is described as uncompromising with Publisher’s Weekly saying ” both the conception and the underlying history behind this story will leave readers with a profound understanding of the inhumanity of slavery and 19th century racial attitudes”.  Author Jeffrey Renard Allen spent years researching and writing it.

Syndetics book coverHour of lead
This is another novel focusing on a part of American history, this time the mythology of the West.  It’s a family saga and a coming of age novel set  in early twentieth century Washington State.  About a young man Matt, who takes over the family ranch when his father dies.  When his wife rejects him Matt takes off across the state on a journey, falling in with the violent Jarms family.  Kirkus Reviews describes him as “He’s the quintessential Western hero—taciturn and strong as iron with an unbreachable moral center”.  Matt eventually returns home and his past starts to catch up with him, the story reaching a surprising and bleak conclusion.

Syndetics book coverChinese cooking for diamond thieves
On a much lighter note – I read a description of this book as a mash-up between a cozy mystery and ‘emerging adult’ fiction.  I can’t even imagine what that means.  It’s about college dropout Tucker who meets Corinne and sets about trying to impress her. They run off together and end up working in a Chinese restaurant.  However, it soon becomes apparent that gangsters are after Corinne - looking for the diamonds she stole from them.  Publisher’s Weekly calls it a “caper story with foodie culture” and Booklist says it’s bound to please “any fiction reader interested in diamond heists, Chinese-speaking martial-arts masters, Chinese food, and wooing done well, with lame jokes and ex-girlfriends included”.

Kerry’s Fiction Picks

Syndetics book coverThe Good Girl
Mary Kubica’s debut novel centres around a Mia, a young art teacher from a well-to-do Chicago family.   One evening she disappears, apparently kidnapped, after leaving a bar with a man.  The story is told from four different perspectives – Mia, Colin (Mia’s kidnapper), James, her mother Eve and detective Gabe, both of whom will stop at nothing to find her.  However, things take a stranger turn when Mia returns, her memory completely lost.  Publisher’s Weekly says “the novel’s structure and deep Midwestern roots, will encourage comparisons to Gone Girl. Unlike that dazzling duel between what prove to be a pair of sociopaths, this Girl has heart-which makes it all the more devastating when the author breaks it.”

Syndetics book coverUnmanned
T
his novel has been described as “a psychologically gripping descent into the eerie realm of drone warfare, led by one pilot’s risky quest to expose its darkest secrets”.  It’s about Darwin, an ex-fighter pilot now a drunk, who’s haunted by his past and in particular an ill-fated drone mission in Afghanistan.  He teams up with three journalist investigating the mission and the possible rogue intelligence operative who controlled it.  A timely thriller.

Syndetics book coverYou’re a big girl now
This is another really timely story, in fact it’s been called  “a gripping, intelligent thriller that questions the morals and politics of America in the contemporary Age of Surveillance”.  It’s about Isabel, a reporter who’s about to write a New York Times cover story about Obama’s  unconstitutional surveillance of its citizens.  After the article breaks she goes into hiding at her grandparents’ home. And whilst there starts to investigate her own family’s past.  Her father who abandoned her as a child, was himself on the run from the government, one of the US’s most wanted.  Intriguing.  Sounds good!

Syndetics book coverFives and twenty fives
This is a debut for ex-Marine Michael Pitre who spent time in Iraq and returned wanting to write about his experiences.  The book is about a road repair platoon who fill in potholes in Iraq, looking for and defusing bombs.  This is a task of constant risk and danger – the title refers to the five metres in every direction they scan looking for explosives.  The story is set between their time in Iraq and current New Orleans, where the team reunites.  It has received good reviews and has been praised for its unique telling of soldiers’ experiences.

Kerry’s Fiction Picks

This week I’ve selected three new titles that take a look at the darker side of American society.

Syndetics book coverNine 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”.

Syndetics book coverCry father
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.

Syndetics book coverYou
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”.

Kerry’s Fiction Picks

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.

Syndetics book coverWith 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.

Syndetics book coverHome place
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.”

Syndetics book coverAway 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.

Kerry’s Fiction Picks

Syndetics book coverThis 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).

Syndetics book coverStrange gods
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.

Syndetics book coverFriendship
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).

Kerry’s Fiction Picks

Syndetics book coverDear daughter
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).

Syndetics book coverJohn 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!

Syndetics book coverWays 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”.

 

Kerry’s Fiction Picks

Syndetics book coverHappiness 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.

Syndetics book coverIn 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)
Syndetics book coverPresident’s lunch
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.

Syndetics book coverAfter 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.

Kerry’s Fiction Picks

Syndetics book coverUnbearable 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.

Syndetics book coverAxeman’s jazz
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.

Syndetics book coverMurder
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.

Kerry’s Fiction Picks

lispector coversSomething 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)

Syndetics book coverWhy 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.


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