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  • Joel Cunningham 2:00 pm on 2017/12/13 Permalink
    Tags: a land more kind than home, Fiction, , not his last ballad, the dark road to mercy, ,   

    Unlocking Character: A Conversation with Wiley Cash 

    In 2012, Wiley’s Cash’s novel, A Land More Kind Than Home, wowed readers and critics and booksellers, including those who sit on the selection committee for our Discover Great New Writers program. A Land More Kind Than Home is a classic Southern Gothic that uses a trio of voices to tell the story of a young man’s coming of age in the wake of tragedy; it’s a novel that so assured, it’s hard to remember that it’s actually Wiley’s debut.

    This Dark Road to Mercy, Wiley’s second novel, takes a less gothic, more noir, turn with the story of a man whose well-intentioned, but ultimately poor, choices endanger his family—and himself. This isn’t a story of black hats vs. white hats; it’s a layered story of living in the grey area, of meaning well and behaving badly, consequences be damned.

    Wiley’s still on the road talking to readers about The Last Ballad, and was gracious enough to give us a few minutes to talk shop via email.

    Where did The Last Ballad start for you?
    I grew up in Gastonia, North Carolina, completely unaware of the history of the mill. Firestone purchased the mill not long after the 1929 strike, which was one of the only communist-led strikes in American history. It turned the city upside down, people died, and families were run out of town. But by the time I was born in 1977, Gastonia had completely buried the story of the Loray Mill strike.

    It wasn’t until I went to grad school in 2003 that one of my professors learned that I was from Gastonia and mentioned the Loray Mill strike. I researched the name Loray Mill and was shocked to learn that the place I’d always known as the Firestone Plant was the epicenter of one of the most important labor movements in American history. It had all occurred in my hometown, and I had grown up knowing nothing about it. My mother and father were born and raised in mill villages close to Loray in 1945 and 1943 respectively, and they never heard about the Loray Mill or Ella May Wiggins, the woman who would become the face of the strike. This is not surprising, especially because they came of age during the Red Scare, when any mention of communism or anyone with supposed communist ties were reason enough to keep quiet.

    I was raised in Gastonia during the Cold War, and many of those restrictions still applied. This is to say that the silence surrounding the history of the strike was a confluence of things: in 1929, society was turned upside down when the poor organized to make demands of the rich; the strikers were led by avowed communists; people were shot and killed. Gastonia wanted to forget that story. The city is just now beginning to come to terms with its own legacy. It made me realize that history is not a fixed thing, and it made me understand that politics and public sentiment can dictate what is retained and what is lost.

    Why did you decide to switch to Historical-Capital-H fiction? (The obvious answer being why not, you’re a writer…)
    Something about this story pulled me back. My previous novels were historical in a sense that they were grounded in their historical moments. A Land More Kind Than Home was set in the 1980s, which was the era that showcased the rise and fall of the southern televangelist, and This Dark Road to Mercy was set in the summer of 1998 against the backdrop of the McGwire/Sosa homerun race, which, I would argue, was the last time Americans were united by something positive.

    But The Last Ballad was set in the distant past in the summer of 1929, a very different era than the 80s or 90s. Because the novel is based on a real event that unfolded over the course of that summer, I was shackled to that period. But there was also great freedom and joy in writing this novel because of its reliance on history. It was fascinating and disheartening to find so many connections between now and then: gender inequality, especially in terms of pay; racial violence fueled by white supremacy; the growing divide between rich and poor that presaged the even greater divides to come during the Depression.

    The historical moment also gave me some real direction in creating characters and considering what their daily lives would have been like. Obviously, the greatest challenge was getting it right, whether it was mill technology, period dress, automobile culture, or language. I did an incredible amount of research, but it was a joy, and it took me away from the page, which is right where writers need to be sometimes.

    What do you mean when you say the research “took you away from the page?” Don’t you need to be grounded in the details before you get to the heavy lifting: characters, narrative structure…?
    It took me away from the page in that it gave me a break from grinding out words, and it was a break that did not feel like a distraction or an indulgence. As you mentioned, it also gave me a way to be grounded in the story and the events, but research is an intellectual exercise, whereas writing is a surprisingly physical and emotional exercise. Sometimes it’s nice to get a break from that, and it’s great when that break contributes to the larger work of your book.

    Did you start with the story idea or Ella Mae’s voice?
    Both, kind of, I started with Ella May and I questioned why I had never learned the true story of a woman who was a feminist and civil rights leader before those terms were staples of the progressive movement. She was the face and later the martyr of one of the most significant labor struggles in American history, which happened to take place in my hometown, but I didn’t hear her name until I was in graduate school in Louisiana when I was twenty-five years old. I was horrified. Once I decided to write about her I struggled with how to tell her story.

    When I was on book tour for A Land More Kind Than Home, my friend and fellow writer Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk) and I drove from Austin to Houston for some overlapping events. Ben’s a North Carolina native and, unlike me, he’d heard of the strike and knew some things about it. He suggested, and suggested strongly, that I tell Ella’s story against the backdrop of the strike.

    I didn’t tell him at the time, and I don’t think I’ve told him since, but I fought that advice. The challenge seemed too big. How would I set Ella’s journey from the Tennessee mountains to the mill towns of the North Carolina piedmont, along with the many tragedies she faced, against the story of the strike, which unfolded relatively quickly in only a few months? To be honest, I had a difficult time “finding” Ella in the story of the strike, although there is no doubt that she was its central character and leader. As a way to find Ella on the page I created other characters—an African American labor organizer from New York City, a progressive mill owner who is forced to act against convictions, Ella’s oldest daughter decades after her mother’s death—and I watched Ella as she passed through their lives.

    It was fascinating. I had never realized a character by fixing her in the perception of other characters. It unlocked Ella and showed me connections between her and other important people that I may have never discovered had I forced her to take center stage too early.

    It’s a terrific device, developing Ella through the POV of the other characters. Is that what made you switch to the third person POV for The Last Ballad?
    I made the switch because I wanted there to be some historical distance between the events of the strike and the narration of those events. First person offers such immediacy, such heat. Third person is a little cooler, and a little more distant, a little more sweeping in terms of perspective. That’s how I wanted the novel to feel. I wanted to be able to zero in on those deeply emotional moments between characters, but I wanted the reader to feel part of it instead of feeling the heat from someone else’s first person relation of events.

    Although they’re not stories, A Land More Kind Than Home and This Dark Road to Mercy were both in first person. I’ve written a few short stories, most of them unpublished, in first person. It felt like a very natural way to write those initial novels, but The Last Ballad felt more sprawling, less narrow. It was my first real attempt at sustained third person, especially with so many characters, but I feel like it worked. The only first person in the novel is in the voice of Ella’s daughter Lilly, decades a later when she’s a much older woman.

    I modeled Lilly’s voice after Gail Godwin’s narrator in her brilliant novel Flora. I love that book so much. Gail was one of the first people to offer me a blurb for A Land More Kind than Home, and she’s gone out of her way to be kind to me in the years since. She’s a wonderful person and a foundational writer for those of us who are writing about contemporary Appalachia without the rosy glasses.

    Lilly’s voice is fantastic.
    Lilly’s voice was a lot of fun, and writing is felt transcendental. When I sat down I was able to channel her and hear her so clearly, and I was able to see her in the young girl who is portrayed in the earlier chapters that are set in 1929. She’s the same smart, tough woman whether she’s thirteen or eighty-nine. The challenge was tracing her knowledge of events and evolution of self over those many decades.

    Characters in realistic fiction, at least the kind I’m trying to write, are not static. They are dynamic, and they have to be shown evolving as people while still hewing to some basic characterizations that will allow readers to take that journey with them, confident that the character, at various stages of her life, is still the same person. Lilly is also a person who learns a lot about herself and her family’s struggle over the course of the novel. Each time she was on the page she was burdened by a different set of facts, and I had to be keenly aware of what she knew and what may be on her mind each time I put her on the page.

    Who doesn’t love fierce Ladies-of-a-Certain-Age? Lilly’s such a product of the place and the time and her family’s circumstances. The poverty is brutal in The Last Ballad, and yet your characters are all matter-of-fact about it—they certainly don’t like it, but there’s very much a feeling of this is just how things are. What surprised you the most as you were writing The Last Ballad?
    That may have been what surprised me. We have to keep in mind that this was a time in which there were no safety nets for impoverished families. There were no workplace protections. Racial and gender discrimination was legislated. There were roadblocks to humanity, to realizing one’s agency, and potential. Self-actualization for women and African Americans was warned against, even violently punished. These threats gave rise to incredible power, the kind of power that comes from righteous indignation, anger, and desperation. This is what fueled Ella May. It’s what made her get on a stage and tell the story of her struggle before mill owners who wanted her dead. It’s what made her demand integration in a union that was violently opposed to it. She was brave, but it was more than that: she was angry and desperate and convicted. And she was right.

    She still is.

    No one expected anything from Ella Mae, ever, did they? And even Ella Mae is surprised by the way events shake out, isn’t she?
    No, no one expected much from her. I think she even surprised herself as she slowly became aware of how dynamic and talented she was. Here is a woman earning $9 for a 72-hour workweek and living in utter poverty taking on corporate bosses in a state that is dominated by mill interests. She’s the ultimate underdog, and she’s the ultimate hero.

    That’s part of what’s so shocking about so much of what happens in TLB: the hardscrabble day-to-day, the callousness. Ella Mae really just wants to make things better for her family. She’s not thinking about making history, is she?
    No, that would’ve been far from her mind, especially because her concerns were so immediate and so dire. This phrase is thrown around a lot, but she was ahead of her time in every conceivable way.

    Watching how women move through The Last Ballad – not just Ella Mae, but also her friend and neighbor, Violet; or Miss Myra, or Claire and Katherine McAdam—their lives are so prescribed (in some cases, the women themselves are putting limits on what they can or will do), is sometimes shocking for a modern reader, though the emotional truths behind their stories is timeless. What did you learn from these women while you were writing?
    In terms of female characters, the three most important are Ella, her old friend Violet, and her new friend Katherine. As we’ve discussed, Ella is a poor white single mother who is swept in a violent mill strike and becomes the somewhat unwitting face of it. She quickly comes to terms with her new celebrity and the agency her bravery has earned her. Her friend Violet is a poor African American neighbor, but she’s also very self-possessed and bold. She may face the most discrimination due to her race and gender, but she’s also more outspoken about it and aware of it and engaged with it on a day to day basis because she has to be to survive.

    On the other hand, Katherine, the wife of a wealthy mill owner, sees Ella and Violet’s poverty as a type of freedom. They’re unmarried, they don’t face the trappings of wealth and social status. She feels more trapped inside her gilded cage than she believes they are trapped inside their poverty. She completely romanticizes their struggle, and their plight becomes her pet project. What I learned from them is the same thing that I’ve learned from the strong women in my life: there’s a connection that is forged between them because of the circumstances they often find themselves rallying against.

    Bessemer City and Stumptown (the part of town that Ella Mae and Violet live in) are almost characters in their own right in TLB. Like Ella Mae, Jess/Adelaide/Clem from A Land More Kind Than Home are all seriously connected to their community; Wade, Brady and Pruitt of This Dark Road to Mercy have no real sense of place behind them—is place the key to your characters’ development?
    Place is always central to my writing because it’s been central to my development as a writer and person. I had never thought of the dichotomy of my characters that are anchored to place as opposed to those who seem unmoored, but your reading of them makes perfect sense. I do feel that my characters who know the place they’re from and cling to it in some way are more interesting and more steady. There’s something about being of a place that makes a character feel real to me, and I only want to write about and spend time with characters who feel real.

    You’ve written three novels in less than a decade. Is there something you’ve learned while writing each one that you’ve applied to the next? (Presuming you’re already working on whatever comes after The Last Ballad…)
    While writing A Land More Kind Than Home I learned how to take three strong characters with distinct voices who all imparted separate sets of knowledge and forge them into what I hope feels like a cohesive narrative. I really struggled with the evolution of plot in that novel, but by the end of it I feel like I came out knowing how to carry tension from one scene to the next.

    That really influenced my writing of Dark Road, which is a more plot-centric novel. In that book I featured a first-person narrator who is deeply troubled and capable of incredible violence. I learned to let go of my fear and allow characters like him to take the lead.

    With Last Ballad I learned how to construct a “scene” around a character at rest. You may notice that nearly each time you meet a new character she or he is seated or otherwise not moving. I wanted their intellect, emotional range, sense of history, etc. to be the way that readers conceptualized them. Each character is introduced by the thoughts or memories she or he is having when they first appear in the novel. That’s where they’re all grounded.

    Gail Godwin isn’t the only writer who’s influenced you. Can we talk about Ernest Gaines for a minute? A Lesson Before Dying is a modern classic, the story of a young teacher and the bond he forms with an inmate on death row; set in the 1940s, published in 1983, Gaines’s masterpiece reads like it was written last year. (Much like the story Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin, first published in 1957, and collected in Going to Meet the Man. A Lesson Before Dying reads like it was written very recently.)
    Ernest Gaines and his work has meant everything to my development as a writer and literary citizen. I first read his fiction when I was an undergraduate at the University of North Carolina-Asheville. Although he was writing about the African American experience in southwest Louisiana in between the wars, I saw a similarity in the way his characters worked and revered land and the ways my grandparents talked about working and revering land. I felt a connection to his fiction and evocation of place that I didn’t feel to other writers. This is the reason I decided to attend graduate school at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette where he served as writer-in-residence for decades. I studied under him, and we became friends. I visited him and his wife over the summer. His work exemplifies the dignity of the human spirit in the midst of struggle: the struggle to survive, to maintain cultural traditions, to cling to land that runs the risk of being taken. Him putting words on the page is an act of reclamation.

    I’m always reading one of his books. It’s hard to pick a favorite, but I can say that I learned a lot from his novel Of Love and Dust and the stories in Bloodline. From his fiction I learned how to use dialogue to impart information to both a character and the reader. Nothing is wasted in Gaines’s work. Characters do not only talk to one another, and scenes are never designed simply for the reader’s benefit. In his work there is an incredible sense of shared experience between the characters and the reader.

    You’re just finishing a massive tour; what have you learned from your readers?
    This book tour has been looooong. I’m in Atlanta right now, and I’ll be in Ohio in a few days. But it’s been a blast. We hosted 600 people at the release event in Asheville NC where musician Shannon Whitworth sang and played some of Ella’s music and Charles Frazier and I talked about historical fiction and strong female characters. After that, book tour took me all over the country for something like 35 events. I’ve got a few left in me. It’s been a blast. I published a very political novel at a very tumultuous political moment in American history, and conversations about where we are and where we were have dominated the Q&A at my events. My readers are politically and culturally engaged, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

    What’s next?
    Next? Next is a nap. And then another event tonight.

    The Last Ballad is available now.

    The post Unlocking Character: A Conversation with Wiley Cash appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Tara Sonin 5:00 pm on 2017/12/05 Permalink
    Tags: dystopia, Fiction, in a world, , ,   

    Nora Roberts’ Year One Begins a Chilling Dystopian Sci-Fi Trilogy 

    Nora Roberts has done it all: contemporary romance, historical romance, crime romance, holiday romance, and magical romance. But in her newest book, Year One, she begins a trilogy in a new, admittedly intimidating genre: dystopian sci-fi.

    What begins as an innocent virus during the holiday season quickly explodes in a mushroom cloud of a pandemic, claiming hundreds of thousands of lives within weeks. Known only as The Doom, its reach is global and its might is unbeatable by any known medicine; soon, all structure of civilization has fallen to the disease, including—and perhaps most importantly—news organizations, and the government. After all, the world cannot be led if all of its leaders have succumbed to the Doom, too. Soon, the death toll reaches millions—that is, if the limited news the living are able to receive is to be trusted. Some say the its billions.

    The human race may be defeated, but we soon learn it is not done completely. A group of survivors ventures out into the unknown to try and find out what remains of the world they once thought was so safe: a chef, a writer, a doctor, a paramedic, two journalists, a hacker…and a mother of twins, the sole surviving family member of the first person to contract the disease. Different people from different walks of life, all with one incredible thing in common: they survived the Doom…and possess magical powers as a result.

    Roberts is at the top of her suspense game in the opening chapters of the novel, which are eerily prescient and hopefully not portentous. But the real meat of the story begins not in the beginning, but in the aftermath of the crisis. Humanity is as humanity does; Roberts does an extraordinary job of highlighting the ways that we will always seek to form communities and connections, even in the face of grave isolation and danger. There is certainly both in this new world: the survivors and their abilities are embraced by some and reviled by others, to the point where they are blamed for the crisis which has unfolded and, in the case of everyone we meet, consumed someone they loved. The factions split even further among the magical; tensions rise between those who just want to find a way to survive, and those who allow their abilities to release their darker impulses in search of greater power.

    That’s one of the unique things about this powerful, engaging novel: there is no “big bad” as there often is in other Nora Roberts classics: no ex-lover from the past coming back for revenge, no crooked businessman trying to put a family’s legacy into the ground…there is evil and darkness for sure, in the forms of the prejudiced, and of the power-hungry…and of course, of The Doom itself. But the evil our heroes and heroines must combat is the evil we see every day when we look into the mirror. When we let down our fellow humans by being selfish, or afraid: It’s us.

    Of course, the greater mystery of The Doom’s origins, and its impact on the powers of the survivors, looms large over the story. But since this is a trilogy, expect no easy answers or resolutions. Instead, in another move not typical of Roberts, expect every happy moment to be tinged with sadness, each revelation followed by more questions, and the joy of new life echoed by the tragedy of death.

    Year One is on B&N bookshelves now.

    The post Nora Roberts’ Year One Begins a Chilling Dystopian Sci-Fi Trilogy appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Jeff Somers 6:00 pm on 2017/12/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , Fiction   

    Best Fiction of 2017 

    Each year, Barnes & Noble steps up to help it’s customers with their holiday shopping and travel plans by compiling a list of the best books of the year. Whether you’re looking for gifts for loved ones who love to read or stocking up on entertainment to get you through the winter, this list of the best fiction published in 2017 has you covered.

    In the Midst of Winter, by Isabel Allende
    Richard and Lucia, two NYU professors in their early 60s who live in the same building (Richard is the landlord), agree to help Evelyn, a Guatemalan nanny and refugee who shows up on Richard’s doorstep, desperate for help. Thrown together on a winter night in Brooklyn, with an unrelenting snowstorm outside, the trio opens up to one another about their troubled pasts, Lucia’s in Chile during the coup, and Evelyn’s as a victim of gang violence. Allende is known for her powerful characters, intimate prose, and magical realism. Winter highlights a new element in her oeuvre, that of a suspenseful crime thriller.

    Origin, by Dan Brown
    Brown returns to his most successful character with an all-new Robert Langdon adventure, this time centered in Spain and focusing on more modern art. Langdon starts off the book as the guest of former student-turned-billionaire Edmond Kirsch, who is staging a provocative presentation at the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao and hinting at the answers to two of the fundamental questions of human existence. Naturally, things go very, very wrong, and Langdon soon finds himself fleeing to Barcelona with museum director Ambra Vidal and working desperately to discover a password Kirsch left behind that will unlock all of the billionaire’s secrets. Their opponent, however, seems to be all-knowing, and firmly rooted in the Spanish royal palace—but there’s no one on Earth more equipped to deal with codes and symbols than Robert Langdon.

    The Late Show, by Michael Connelly
    Detective Renée Ballard was an up-and-comer in the LAPD, until she filed sexual harassment charges against her boss and her career went sideways. She landed on the night shift in Hollywood, which means she never finishes an investigation, always handing them off to the day shift. Until she catches two cases she can’t let go of: a prostitute beaten into unconsciousness, who claims she was assaulted in the “upside-down house” before passing out, and a young woman killed in a nightclub shooting. Ballard works the cases during the day and continues to take her regular shift in the evening, dodging her former boss (who’s officially working the nightclub shooting) and her own demons—demons which begin to haunt her as she begins losing sleep and delving deeper into the twin mysteries.

    Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan
    After winning the Pulitzer Prize for A Visit From the Good Squad (2010), Egan’s highly anticipated follow-up appears to be less experimental than her previous works, but just as moving. Set in New York City during the Depression and World War II, Manhattan Beach follows the struggles of Anna Kerrigan, first as an adolescent accompanying her father on a desperate job-seeking mission, and later at 19, after her father has disappeared and Anna is charged with supporting her sister and mother by working at the Brooklyn Naval Yard as its sole female diver. A chance encounter with her father’s mobster boss begins to shed light on the truth about Anna’s dad. You may want to have tissues on hand for this detail-rich, feminist historical, which has already been long-listed for the National Book Award.

    Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich
    The countless fans of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and its recent Hulu adaptation, will want to grab Erdrich’s latest, set in a dystopian world in which pregnant women are criminalized, hunted, and oppressed because the babies they’re carrying appear to be victims of reverse evolution. In fact, time itself seems to be running backwards, and Cedar Hawk Songmaker, born to an Ojibwe mother and raised by progressive adopted parents in Minneapolis, is caught in the middle of extreme circumstances. Bestseller Erdrich, who is half-Ojibwe herself, continues her tradition of writing thoughtful portrayals of Native-American life.

    A Column of Fire, by Ken Follett
    The third installment of Follett’s excellent Kingsbridge series of historical fiction finds Kingsbridge Cathedral looming over a blood-soaked, divided England in the 16th century. Queen Mary is persecuting and executing Protestants, including the noble family of Ned Willard, who are accused of being sympathetic to the heretics. When the Willards lose their business to the family of Ned’s love Margery, Ned loses Margery as well—but only physically, as their love for each other transcends politics and business. Ned is inspired by this injustice to join the secret service of the future queen Elizabeth, a Protestant herself and a princess always in danger of being beheaded by her bloody and paranoid half-sister. Follett once again combines well-researched historical accuracy with an exciting thriller plot centered on espionage, continuing what is shaping up to be one of the most epic stories of all time.

    Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
    Working from the original Norse legends, Gaiman applies his novelist talents to craft the old myths into a cohesive narrative in which the gods emerge as characters with motivations and flaws, telling us the story of Odin, father of the gods, and his sons Thor and Loki from the beginning, but not quite like we’ve experienced it before, from how Asgard was built to how Thor came into possession of his famous hammer. Gaiman is true to the apocalyptic tone of the old myths, stories that cast the world as a place of struggle and violence, where dying in battle was probably your best option. If you’ve read American Gods, you know Gaiman has a gift for making old stories not just new, but unmistakably his own.

    The Rooster Bar, by John Grisham
    Grisham proves he’s still got his finger on the pulse in his newest, telling the story of idealistic but broke law students Mark, Todd, and Zola, who mortgage their future in the form of student loans to attend a third-tier law school. In their third year, the trio realizes they’ve been victims of the Great Law School Scam: the graduates of their school rarely pass the bar and almost never get jobs—and the school’s owner also owns the bank that wrote the paper on their loans. Naturally, smart nearly-lawyers go for the only option they have available: revenge. It’s going to take planning and risks (like dropping out before earning your degree) but it’s the only option if you want a little justice—and the result is an Ocean’s 11 for the LSAT crowd.

    Exit West, by Mohsin Hamid
    It’s hard to predict what books will endure, but this understated, elemental novel, blending stark realism with a dash of magic, has the feel of an instant classic. Hamid tells the story of Saeed and Nadia, a young man and woman who meet each other in a classroom “in a city swollen by refugees but still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war.” Nadia wears a full black robe, not because she’s religious—she isn’t—but because she wants to move independently through this unnamed Muslim city, where she has made the unusual choice for an unmarried woman of moving into an apartment by herself. Saeed is enchanted. By the time violence starts to demolish their city, they are in love. They make the risky choice to migrate when they hear of a magical door that will transport them to other places. As they join a mob of international refugees moving through these doors into various stable countries in the West and trying to eke out a new existence, can their love survive?

    Uncommon Type, by Tom Hanks
    Actor Hanks has several Oscars and remains one of the most popular thespians of the modern age, so you might be forgiven for thinking this collection of 17 short stories is just a vanity project. But Hanks has a deft style and an active imagination; all of the stories are linked by the recurring image of typewriters (Hanks is a collector), those long-obsolete typing machines that now represent a simpler time. Sometimes the typewriter is just a passing image in the background, sometimes it’s the whole point, but Hanks tells a range of surprising stories using the typewriter as his starting point, including a rapid-fire trip through a hilariously doomed romance, a holiday dinner that comes to represent something darker and deeper than mere family drama, and even a sci-fi story involving time travel. After enjoying Hanks the actor, surprise yourself with how much you enjoy Hanks the author.

    Strange Weather, by Joe Hill
    Over the past two decades, Joe Hill has established himself as a dark fiction powerhouse, a versatile master of the unusual capable of writing everything from a disturbing horror story entirely in tweets to a massive post-apocalyptic epic. Strange Weather, his new collection of short novels, expands his reach even further, with four “lean, mean” tales of human emotions and twisted nature. Strange events (“Loaded” depicts a mass shooting in Florida during a wildfire; “Nails” centers on apocalyptic hailstorms of crystal nails that gruesomely murder anyone unlucky enough to be caught outside), the tense atmosphere created by unusual natural phenomena, and the vivid visuals and weird beauty Hill brings to his work—it’s another must-read from a increasingly impressive storyteller.

    The Rules of Magic, by Alice Hoffman
    In this illuminating, entertaining prequel to Hoffman’s bestselling Practical Magic (also a 1998 film starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock), readers will learn what it was like for witchy sisters Franny and Bridget (Jet) Owens to grow up in 1950s/1960s New York City with a frustratingly strict mother (understandable, given the family curse: any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will meet a gruesome end). In Rules, we meet a charming younger brother, Vincent, who also grows up ignoring Mom’s warnings, with far-reaching consequences. Will any of the rules-averse siblings figure out a way to outwit their fates? If you loved the adolescent longings and heartaches of Hoffman’s poignant, private school-set River King, you’ll especially appreciate this coming-of-age tale.

    Magpie Murders, by Anthony Horowitz
    The diabolically clever Magpie Murders opens with the text of a classic whodunit set in sleepy English village; the latest novel in fictional author Alan Conway’s popular Atticus Pünd detective series. That mystery itself is absorbing enough, but things take a turn for the weird when editor Susan Ryeland must use the clues woven throughout it to solve a chilling real-life murder. Horowitz’s prose is elegant, his characters multifaceted and deeply human, and the ingenious construction of this brilliant puzzler (which pays homage to the classic whodunnit while taking it apart and reassembling it into something completely new) will leave you reeling. In his bestselling novels Moriarty and Trigger Mortis, Horowitz proved his knack for writing spellbinding stories, but Magpie Murders is a tour de force mystery-within-a-mystery that takes things to an astonishing new level.

    Sleeping Beauties, by Stephen King and Owen King
    Putting a lie to the theory that writing talent doesn’t have a genetic component: the King family. Joe Hill has more than proven himself as capable as dear old dad at crafting tense, terrifying thrillers, and now brother Owen is getting into the game with his first book in the family wheelhouse, co-written with the world’s bestselling horror writer. The premise is certainly killer,and oh-so-timely: it a near-near-future, all women suddenly drop into a coma-like state. While their minds are transported to an idyllic, female-dominated paradise, their bodies become shrouded in a gauzy substance. If the shroud is disturbed, the women awaken as feral monsters. As male society struggles to adapt to a world without women, we follow one woman immune to the sleeping state. With the epic length you expect from any book with “King” on the cover—and the thrills and chills to match.

    A Legacy of Spies, by John le Carré
    John le Carré is not only back, he’s bringing George Smiley with him—or at least Smiley’s assistant, Peter Guillam, called upon to fill in the blanks on an old operation called Windfall, now that the British government is being sued over some of the unintended casualties of the Cold War. Guillam begins piecing together the truth behind Windfall, digging through old files, listening to interrogations, and supplementing these discoveries with his own reliable memories. As usual in a le Carré novel, the combination of meticulous detail, skillful spycraft, and moral blankness makes for a slow-boil thriller that slowly increases the tension to unendurable levels. The intelligence and (above all) patience of the men and women working in intelligence becomes as thrilling as any gunplay.

    Hiddensee: A Tale of the Once and Future Nutcracker, by Gregory Maguire
    The author of the bestselling book and Broadway smash Wicked invites you to take a fresh look at the Nutcracker in this “double origin” story of the famous wooden toy and its creator, Drosselmeier. Who is Klara’s mysterious godfather, born a German peasant and seemingly fated to provide her with the sensational trinket? And what dark enchantment did he experience in his youth? Combining myths and historical legends, and written in the style of a Brothers Grimm tale, Hiddensee promises to delight and intrigue.

    The Ninth Hour, by Alice McDermott
    Tended to by an elderly nun after her husband commits suicide, a young widowed mother and her newborn baby are brought into the fold of the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor. Brooklyn in the 1940s and ’50s wasn’t forgiving toward families overcoming scandal, and the young mother discovers that the worst moment of her life is best not mentioned. The consequences of her husband’s act will affect many generations to come, but so will the loving friendships she makes with the nuns’ help. McDermott is a National Book Award and American Book Award recipient (for Charming Billy), and a multiple Pulitzer Prize finalist.

    Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng
    Fans of Anne Tyler’s Digging to America and Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies will devour bestselling Ng’s compelling new drama. When free-spirited artist and single mother Mia gives up her wanderlust and puts down roots in the affluent, tight-knit Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, she quickly befriends her landlord Elena’s family. Mia’s dismissal of the town’s social norms causes friction, however, and when she opposes another family’s well-meaning but controversial custody battle for a Chinese American baby, Elena turns against her, determined to dig up Mia’s closely guarded secrets.

    Glass Houses, by Louise Penny
    A mysterious figure has appeared in the idyllic village of Three Pines, standing alone and stock still in the freezing November sleet. As the villagers, including Chief Superintendent Armand Gamache, grow increasingly perturbed and even frightened, the figure remains. Soon after it finally disappears, a body turns up, which is very probably not a coincidence, and it falls to Gamache to discover whether the killing is in fact a terrible retribution. Later that summer, the accused stands trial, but Gamache is forced to face the consequences of the actions he took during those fateful days in November. The 13th novel in Penny’s incomparable series ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree.

    Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders
    Saunders’ celebrated short stories have plenty of the speculative about them. His debut novel is no different; starring Abraham Lincoln and set in the 19th century, it involves very real ghosts who populate the graveyard where Lincoln’s son Willie—dead at eleven years old—has been interred. These spirits have chosen to remain in an in-between state of existence, avoiding judgment, and retain all of the prejudices and personalities of their living years. Lincoln’s presence energizes them, and they determine to save his son’s spirit from their own static fate—and all of it is delivered with Saunders’ trademark wit, eye for delirious detail, and a prose style so absorbing you forget you’re reading and not hearing a story by the fire on a chilly winter night.

    The Women in the Castle, by Jessica Shattuck
    In Jessica Shattuck’s third novel (and her first historical), three women widowed by World War II and bonded by their husband’s roles in the resistance come together with their families to forge a new future. However, despite their apparently similar situations, their individual histories are not so easily reconciled. The women’s ad hoc leader, Marianne von Lingenfels, offers her family’s now-ruined castle in Bavaria as a safe harbor, but emotional resilience is tough to come by as the sins of the past come back to haunt the women in different ways.

    Sourdough, by Robin Sloan
    The author of 2013’s critically acclaimed Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore is back with a new novel set at the intersection of San Francisco’s technology hub and competitive farmers’ markets. When Lois Clary, an isolated computer coder who works in robotics, is bequeathed a sourdough starter (the yeast used to make bread) by two brothers about to be deported, she takes their request of “raising” the dough—which seems to have a personality all its own—very seriously. She soon finds herself in an invitation-only club of eccentric, fanciful chefs who wish to combine Lois’s day job skills in robotics with her newfound penchant for baking.

    Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward
    Magical realism and poetic lyricism combine in this paean to road trip novels by a talented author whose creativity brings emotionally devastating truths to the surface. Ward’s previous novel, Salvage the Bones, won the National Book Award in 2011 for its vital depiction of Hurricane Katrina. Here, drug-addicted and poverty-stricken matriarch Leonie, a black woman living on the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, is desperate to be a better mom but struggles with what that means and how to achieve it. She drags her two children (13-year-old Jojo and toddler Kayla) across Mississippi to the State Penitentiary, where their white father is set to be released. Jojo prefers the company of his grandparents over his parents, and is deeply reluctant to make the trip. His feelings on the subject are compounded when he’s visited by a spirit close to him in age, who died during his grandfather’s youth. Jojo’s ability was inherited from his mother, who is regularly haunted (and at times, comforted) by the ghost of her murdered brother.

    Artemis, by Andy Weir
    Weir’s first novel in the wake of The Martian‘s became a bestselling phenomenon and a major box office hit is a completely different kind of story, even as it shares its predecessor’s commitment to smart, plausible science. In Artemis, city on the Moon. Jazz Bashara works as a porter, scraping by and supplementing her income with a little light smuggling on the side. Her moonlighting brings her into contact with wealthy and powerful figures like Trond Landvik, a businessman with designs on a lunar aluminum monopoly. Landvik asks Jazz to come up with a way to sabotage his competition, and Jazz seizes the opportunity to grab a big score with a bold plan spiced. The resulting caper moves at a mile a minute, delivered with the same witty dialogue and ribald humor that made us fall in love with Mark Watney. If you ask us, Weir has another winner on his hands—and likely another blockbuster film adaptation in his future.

    Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate
    Avery Stafford, an attorney being groomed to follow her father’s footsteps into politics, returns home to a small town in South Carolina to help him through cancer treatments. There she meets an elderly woman in a nursing home who has a photo of Avery’s mother—although Avery’s never met or heard of the woman. Her sudden investigation into her prominent family’s past reveals a shocking secret connected to a sketchy orphanage (based, unfortunately, on real life) that spent decades basically stealing children from poor families and adopting them out to rich ones. As this tragic past catches up with the present, Avery has to reevaluate everything she thought she knew about family, heritage, and justice.

    What’s the best new fiction book you read this year?

    The post Best Fiction of 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Sarah Skilton 6:00 pm on 2017/11/30 Permalink
    Tags: , elif shafak, , Fiction, , , , , , , ,   

    The Best New Fiction of December 2017 

    The year is wrapping up, but great fiction isn’t slowing down. Reflecting on the past twelve months or creating a list of hopes and goals for the new year are both time well spent, but escaping from the chaos of the holidays is also vital. Much like the ghosts of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this month brings novels from the past (Tudor Era and 1800s England, as well as 1950s Louisiana),  the future (in a book that’s been called The Hunger Games meets The Road), and the present (contemporary Istanbul). May your days of reading be merry and bright.

    Enchantress of Numbers, by Jennifer Chiaverini
    Ada Lovelace is now recognized as “the mother of computer science” due to her work with Charles Babbage, who invented the first mechanical computer. In this historical novel set in the early 1800s, her lineage is explored and explained. Ironically, her father’s genius becomes an obstacle to her own passions. As the sole legitimate heir of famed poet Lord Byron, “rescued” from her father’s bad blood by her mother, who raised Ada strictly without art, poetry, fairy tales, or other artistic pursuits, Ada discovers a love of mathematics. Ada’s fear that “…the list of those who might wish to read my memoirs will be very short indeed” is unfounded; her tale will fascinate readers, and her work in STEM changed the world.

    The Last Suppers, by Mandy Mikulencak
    In this powerful debut set in 1950s Louisiana, the head cook at a state penitentiary, Ginny Polk, sees men reduced to their most vulnerable states. Despite the crimes for which they’re imprisoned, Ginny believes that those slated for execution deserve a final meal of their choosing, including special family recipes that she painstakingly recreates. The suppers are a symbol of her humanity and theirs. As she clashes with the prison board over her culinary decisions, she comes to discover that her own father’s murder may have punished the wrong person. 

    The Forever Ship, by Francesca Haig
    The third novel in the Fire Sermon trilogy, Forever depicts a post-nuclear, dystopian future in which every child is born a twin, and each set of twins contains an Alpha (“perfect” specimens born to rule) and an Omega (“deformed” and “flawed” second class citizens). Complicating matters is the fact that when one twin is harmed or killed, the other suffers the same fate. In this exciting conclusion to the saga, Cass (an Omega plagued by psychic visions), must confront her difficult relationship with her brother, Zach (an Alpha elite) when he seeks asylum among her people.

    Ravenspur: Rise of the Tudors, by Conn Iggulden
    If Richard III is your favorite Shakespearean villain, the fourth book of Iggulden’s War of the Roses series will offer you a new perspective on the king. Packed with battles, betrayals, and murder, there is plenty of royal intrigue to captivate history buffs. Edward IV and his brother fight against their banishment as Henry Tudor prepares his rise to power, eclipsing the previous rivalry of House of York v. House of Lancaster. 

    Three Daughters of Eve, by Elif Shafak
    Set in modern-day Istanbul, and written by Turkey’s number-one bestselling novelist, Eve is a bittersweet rumination on love lost.  While attending a dinner party at an extravagantly wealthy seaside home, juxtaposed with terrorist attacks occurring in the vicinity, a woman named Petri thinks back to fifteen years earlier, during her stint as an Oxford student. The intense relationships she formed there, and the ways in which those relationships challenged her views on religion, nationalism, ideology, and feminism, affect her to this day.

    What new fiction are you excited about this month?

    The post The Best New Fiction of December 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • Sarah Skilton 6:00 pm on 2017/11/30 Permalink
    Tags: , elif shafak, , Fiction, , , , , , , ,   

    The Best New Fiction of December 2017 

    The year is wrapping up, but great fiction isn’t slowing down. Reflecting on the past twelve months or creating a list of hopes and goals for the new year are both time well spent, but escaping from the chaos of the holidays is also vital. Much like the ghosts of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, this month brings novels from the past (Tudor Era and 1800s England, as well as 1950s Louisiana),  the future (in a book that’s been called The Hunger Games meets The Road), and the present (contemporary Istanbul). May your days of reading be merry and bright.

    Enchantress of Numbers, by Jennifer Chiaverini
    Ada Lovelace is now recognized as “the mother of computer science” due to her work with Charles Babbage, who invented the first mechanical computer. In this historical novel set in the early 1800s, her lineage is explored and explained. Ironically, her father’s genius becomes an obstacle to her own passions. As the sole legitimate heir of famed poet Lord Byron, “rescued” from her father’s bad blood by her mother, who raised Ada strictly without art, poetry, fairy tales, or other artistic pursuits, Ada discovers a love of mathematics. Ada’s fear that “…the list of those who might wish to read my memoirs will be very short indeed” is unfounded; her tale will fascinate readers, and her work in STEM changed the world.

    The Last Suppers, by Mandy Mikulencak
    In this powerful debut set in 1950s Louisiana, the head cook at a state penitentiary, Ginny Polk, sees men reduced to their most vulnerable states. Despite the crimes for which they’re imprisoned, Ginny believes that those slated for execution deserve a final meal of their choosing, including special family recipes that she painstakingly recreates. The suppers are a symbol of her humanity and theirs. As she clashes with the prison board over her culinary decisions, she comes to discover that her own father’s murder may have punished the wrong person. 

    The Forever Ship, by Francesca Haig
    The third novel in the Fire Sermon trilogy, Forever depicts a post-nuclear, dystopian future in which every child is born a twin, and each set of twins contains an Alpha (“perfect” specimens born to rule) and an Omega (“deformed” and “flawed” second class citizens). Complicating matters is the fact that when one twin is harmed or killed, the other suffers the same fate. In this exciting conclusion to the saga, Cass (an Omega plagued by psychic visions), must confront her difficult relationship with her brother, Zach (an Alpha elite) when he seeks asylum among her people.

    Ravenspur: Rise of the Tudors, by Conn Iggulden
    If Richard III is your favorite Shakespearean villain, the fourth book of Iggulden’s War of the Roses series will offer you a new perspective on the king. Packed with battles, betrayals, and murder, there is plenty of royal intrigue to captivate history buffs. Edward IV and his brother fight against their banishment as Henry Tudor prepares his rise to power, eclipsing the previous rivalry of House of York v. House of Lancaster. 

    Three Daughters of Eve, by Elif Shafak
    Set in modern-day Istanbul, and written by Turkey’s number-one bestselling novelist, Eve is a bittersweet rumination on love lost.  While attending a dinner party at an extravagantly wealthy seaside home, juxtaposed with terrorist attacks occurring in the vicinity, a woman named Petri thinks back to fifteen years earlier, during her stint as an Oxford student. The intense relationships she formed there, and the ways in which those relationships challenged her views on religion, nationalism, ideology, and feminism, affect her to this day.

    What new fiction are you excited about this month?

    The post The Best New Fiction of December 2017 appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
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