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  • Jenny Shank 7:00 pm on 2017/09/06 Permalink
    Tags: , literary fiction,   

    10 Can’t-Miss Fiction Reads for Fall 

    Beach reads are fun, but when the air turns crisp, many of us look forward to the rush of literary fiction hitting bookstores. Here are ten books to savor as the days grow shorter.

    My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent (August 29)
    This literary debut by a young writer who grew up on the Mendocino coast is an intense psychodrama about a sturdy, isolated 14-year-old girl named Turtle with an abusive father. The survival and shooting skills her father taught her, however, come in handy when she takes to the wilderness to try to escape him. Tallent leavens difficult-to-read scenes of abuse with lush descriptions of nature and comic interludes with Turtle’s newfound teenage friends.

    Black Jesus and Other Superheroes, by Venita Blackburn (September 1)
    If you’re the kind of reader who wants to pick up something completely different, take this indie short story collection for a spin. Black Jesus and Other Superheroes, winner of the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, is Venita Blackburn’s promising debut. Blackburn’s prose dazzles in these tales that include stories of everyday people who find themselves with superhuman abilities.

    Sing, Unburied, Sing, by Jesmyn Ward (September 5)
    Those blown away by Ward’s unforgettable, National Book Award–winning novel of Hurricane Katrina, Salvage the Bones, are eagerly anticipating Sing, Unburied, Sing. It tells the story of the members of a Mississippi family with an incarcerated father, who are haunted by ghosts of the past.

    Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng (September 12)
    Believe the advance hype about this engrossing novel by Ng, whose debut, Everything I Never Told You, became a bestseller in 2014. When a free-spirited artist moves to Shaker Heights, a suburb of Cleveland where the lawns and children are perfect, she threatens to disrupt the town’s carefully ordered existence. Ng’s storytelling voice will win you over immediately and keep you hooked through the fiery end.

    The Ninth Hour, by Alice McDermott (September 19)
    McDermott fans will love this story set in an Irish Catholic neighborhood in Brooklyn in the early 1900s, where the Little Nursing Sisters of the Sick Poor call the shots. As the book opens, a young, newly pregnant woman’s husband kills himself. Sister St. Saviour swoops in to save the day, offering the woman a job working in the convent’s laundry. As her daughter grows up among the bleaches and detergents, McDermott explores the nature of sin, redemption, and good works with her tender, funny, and honest approach.

    Five-Carat Soul, by James McBride (September 26)
    National Book Award winner McBride is back with a riveting, timely collection of stories. Expect the unexpected from this contemporary master of voice as he shows off his range by incorporating characters including Abraham Lincoln, teen funk band members, and a boxer who resembles Muhammad Ali fighting the devil to spare five souls from damnation.

    Manhattan Beach, by Jennifer Egan (October 3)
    Early reviews of Jennifer Egan’s follow up to her NBCC and Pulitzer Prize winner A Visit From the Goon Squad suggest prize judges might have a new Egan novel to laud. Drawing on years of research into the lives of women who worked in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, Egan has crafted a compelling mystery saga about a character named Anna Kerrigan, who becomes the first female civilian diver at the Brooklyn Navy Yard during World War II.

    Fresh Complaint, by Jeffrey Eugenides (October 3)
    Fresh Complaint is Eugenides’ first collection of short stories, which just might win over new fans to the genre. Fans of his novels will want to check out the collection for the stories “Air Mail,” which features a character from The Marriage Plot, and “The Oracular Vulva,” which delves into material related to Middlesex.

    Her Body and Other Parties, by Carmen Maria Machado (October 3)
    For a season this packed with new books by prize-winners and bestsellers, this debut story collection is getting an incredible amount of buzz. Across eight innovative tales, Machado muses on the female body, stretching the boundaries of imagination as she does so.

    Future Home of the Living God, by Louise Erdrich (November 14)
    Erdrich often ventures into the past for fictional material, but this time she journeys two months into America’s future, when evolution is beginning to reverse, resulting in six-foot dragonflies. The borders with Mexico and Canada are sealed, and all pregnant women must report to birthing centers, including Erdrich’s young Ojibwe protagonist, Cedar Hawk Songmaker.

    The post 10 Can’t-Miss Fiction Reads for Fall appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jenny Shank 8:30 pm on 2016/10/05 Permalink
    Tags: fall fiction, , literary fiction,   

    The Season’s Most Exciting Literary Fiction 

    Fire-colored leaves on the sidewalk, Oscar contenders in theaters, and pumpkin spice everything are nice, but if you’re a book lover, there’s only one sign of autumn that matters: the release of a slew of highly anticipated novels. This year brings some new books by perennial bestsellers we’ve been waiting years for, as well as a book from a promising debut author who’s winning loads of praise. Here are six fall reads everyone is talking about.

    Here I Amby Jonathan Safran Foer (September 6)
    Jonathan Safran Foer first created a stir in literary circles in 2001, when his story “The Very Rigid Search” appeared in the New Yorker. That fresh, hilarious, and moving piece grew into Foer’s blockbuster debut, Everything is Illuminated. He followed it with 2006’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, and then, for 10 years, turned toward other pursuits (notably Eating Animals). Here I Am marks Foer’s return to fiction, and has garnered a wide range of reviews, from the glowing to the eviscerating. I for one, loved it, stuffed as it is with lively dialogue, philosophical discussions, colorful characters, plenty of jokes, and real heart. It’s that heart, in the end, that has always distinguished Foer’s writing for me among other young male novelists with show-offy prose. It’s an ambitious book, setting the breakdown of a Jewish American family against the background of the potential destruction of Israel, and I for one would rather see a talented writer swing for the fences than take a base on balls.

    Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett (September 13)
    Ann Patchett has given us Amazon jungle intrigue (State of Wonder) and a South American hostage situation involving an opera singer (Bel Canto), but this time she opts for a quieter, domestic drama. A man and a woman divorce their spouses and marry, thus uniting their six very different children. It sounds like a boilerplate premise, but Patchett’s storytelling is impeccable—detailed, honest, good-humored, and transporting as ever. To borrow a term from filmmaking, it’s her camera angles that are completely intriguing, the way she has selected just the right scenes and perspectives to include as she delves into 50 years of this blended family’s history.

    The Wangs vs. the World, by Jade Chang (October 4)
    Fall may be the time when publishing houses present their best-known writers, but it’s also a season that brings highly anticipated debuts. First-time novelist Jade Chang’s Wangs vs. the World tells the story of immigrant businessmen Charles Wang, who built a fortune in the cosmetics industry and then loses it. Charles embarks on an odyssey to collect his far-flung and very American children and bring them home to China, in a story that promises to be funny and surprising.

    Swing Time, by Zadie Smith (November 15)
    Zadie Smith, London-raised author extraordinaire, is a Beyoncé-level idol for many book lovers. Her writing has it all: wit, smarts, humor, swagger. Swing Time, which will hit bookstores in time for a Thanksgiving reading binge, sounds incredible: the story of two friends who both dream of becoming dancers, though only one has a knack for movement, set in London and West Africa.

    Moonglow, by Michael Chabon (November 22)
    Michael Chabon won the Pulitzer Prize for his 2000 novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay, and the early reviews of Moonglow indicate it will be another stunner. Moonglow was inspired by the time Chabon spent by his dying grandfather’s bedside, when he shared fascinating tales from his life that he’d never before disclosed. When someone’s life spans two continents, a world war, and exploits in the space program, it’s bound to be eventful. Expect Moonglow to be filled with Chabon’s characteristic wit, intelligence, and heart.

    I’ll Take You There, by Wally Lamb (November 22)
    I’ll Take You There continues the story of Felix Funicello, whom Wally Lamb introduced in Wishin’ and Hopin’. One night while Felix is in the projection booth of a movie house preparing to show a film, the ghost of Lois Weber, a film director from Hollywood’s silent era, appears to him and induces him to reflect on the many women who have influenced his life.

    The post The Season’s Most Exciting Literary Fiction appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Jenny Shank 3:15 pm on 2016/03/22 Permalink
    Tags: literary fiction, , Time's Arrow   

    5 Fantastic Novels That Mess with Time 

    Some readers like novels that tell a story in a straightforward, chronological fashion, but some of us are thrilled when a novel takes us on an unexpected journey, jerking us around in time, showing us the story one way and then telling us, “Wait a minute, maybe it didn’t happen just like that.” If you love being transported when you read, here are five innovative novels to check out.

    Innocents and Others, by Dana Spiotta
    The brilliance of this novel about two female filmmakers and a semi-blind woman who seduces strangers through phone conversations sneaks up on you as the pieces of its puzzle come together. It begins with an essay the experimental documentarian Meadow Mori wrote about secretly shacking up as a teenager with an “old and fat” Orson Welles. Or did she? This novel, full of time jumps, stories told one way and then another, appreciations of filmmaking technique, and depictions of an artist at work will engage you all the way through its final, surprising scene.

    Beautiful Ruins, by Jess Walter
    I love recommending this novel to people because I’ve never yet heard a report of a displeased reader. Are you human? Do you have a sense of humor? Do you have a heart? Then this is the book for you. The story begins in a small coastal town in Italy in 1962, where an innkeeper falls in love with a beautiful actress, an extra in the film Cleopatra. Next Walter jumps to contemporary Hollywood, where the producer from that classic film is still at work, now in the degrading field of reality television. The story jumps back and forth between the two time periods until all the connections are revealed in this hysterical and heartfelt novel.

    Truth Like The Sun, By Jim Lynch
    What was Seattle like before it became the vibrant tech-and-coffee-loving city we know it as today? In 1962 Seattle hosted the World’s Fair, which gave it the Space Needle and propelled it from being a “stuffy, postwar” outpost into the city of the future. Lynch’s novel follows the young businessman Roger Morgan, who spurred Seattle to host the World’s Fair in 1962, and alternates that chapter of his life with his story in 2001, when the 70-year-old decides to run for mayor of the city. Helen Gulanos, a new-to-town journalist, digs into Morgan’s past to uncover the shady secrets beneath the exalted fair. 

    Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
    Ursula Todd, the heroine of Life After Life, dies before she takes her first breath. Or maybe she doesn’t. On a cold night in 1910, she’s born into a wealthy British family and lives to embark on series of adventures, each divergent life path ending, again and again, in her death. But each time she dies, Atkinson sends her heroine right back to the start, and down another path her life might have taken, frequently colliding with major events of the 20th century. This novel about endless do-overs is a romp through the possibilities of fiction—and of one life.

    The Bone Clocks, David Mitchell
    While other novelists who skip around in time often stick to a recognizable setting or characters to link the disparate parts of their novels, Mitchell loves to stretch the bounds of how different stories can be linked, spanning centuries in Cloud Atlas and decades in The Bone Clocks. In Cloud Atlas, the sections are linked loosely through a shooting star birthmark all the protagonists bear. The Bone Clocks makes six perspective leaps that are just as wild, but the protagonist of the first section, Holly Sykes, is connected to all of them. Holly repeatedly encounters entities called “atemporals,” people who can be reborn throughout the centuries, and learns she is a key figure in the fate of the world.

  • Melissa Albert 2:30 pm on 2016/03/21 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , , , literary fiction,   

    Miller’s Valley Author Anna Quindlen Share Her 10 Favorite Classics About Growing Older and Wiser 

    Miller’s Valley, Anna Quindlen’s first novel since 2014’s Still Life with Bread Crumbs, is a searching coming of age centered on science-minded Mimi Miller, aged 11 at the novel’s start. With a frank voice and gift for observation, she evokes her days on her family’s farm in flood-prone Miller’s Valley, and a way of life that may be vanishing. Bright and curious, Mimi’s sensitivity to her family’s troubles makes her the perfect narrator, as she tracks her parents’ response to the government officials who want to turn their land into a reservoir, the effect of a stint in Vietnam on her shattered brother, and the eccentricities of an agoraphobic aunt, turning her small story into a much larger, more universal one.

    Here, in honor of her young narrator, Quindlen shares her 10 favorite classics about growing older and wiser.

    David Copperfield, by Charles Dickens
    “I am born,” Dickens’ picaresque novel begins. From his mother’s unhappy marriage to Murdstone to his grudging acceptance by his great-aunt Betsey Trotwood to his friendship with Steerforth and his battle of wits with Uriah Heep, this is a rich tapestry of life with one young man’s moral education at its heart. Fun fact: it was Sigmund Freud’s favorite fiction, which says something about its insight into the human psyche.

    East of Eden, by John Steinbeck
    Twin brothers named Cal and Aron: can anyone familiar with the Biblical Cain and Abel doubt this is a story of pitched familial conflict? Steinbeck’s opus follows their father, Adam (see what I mean about the Bible?), to central California and their mother to the brothel where she takes up residence once she flees marriage and motherhood. The many different kinds of love, kinship, and reconciliation that are the linchpin of this great sprawling novel make it an unforgettable lesson in life, for the brothers and the reader.

    Billy Bathgate, by E.L. Doctorow
    As usual, E.L. Doctorow plumbs American history for his story of a Bronx boy named Billy Behan who goes to work during Prohibition for the mobster Dutch Schultz. Along with a vivid cast of bad actors and minor miscreants, there’s a woman in the case, the beautiful Drew Preston, who uses a liaison with Schultz as a way to escape execution and uses one with Billy as a way to stay alive after. Honest in the face of graft, idealistic in the face of betrayal, Billy is a hero to root for as he survives and thrives.

    The Death of the Heart, by Elizabeth Bowen
    Sixteen-year-old Portia Quayne finds herself barely tolerated in the home of her half-brother and dazzled by an amoral man. Her innocence is a terrible foil to the adult behavior around her, the polite calumnies and the barely concealed perfidy so palpable as to make the reader feel like a collaborator. “Oh, you’ll forget when you’ve got more to remember,” says the housekeeper who is the only decent member of the household, and it is a measure of Bowen’s moral authority that the sentence terrifies, not mollifies.

    A Sensible Life, by Mary Wesley
    Wesley’s Flora Trevelyan has much in common with Bowen’s Portia: a young girl governed by neglectful, even abusive adults. In Flora’s case those adults are her parents, who abandon her while they are posted abroad. Eventually she abandons them in return; “I am being sensible,” she says when asked what she is doing.   Wesley’s résumé is inspirational; she became one of England’s bestselling writers after publishing her first novel at the age of 71. Perhaps it is this long view that enables her to turn a portrait of a small girl left to her own devices into the story of a woman well able to handle whatever comes.

    Stoner, by John Williams
    The New Yorker called this “the greatest American novel you’ve never heard of,” and they weren’t exaggerating. Be warned: not much happens except real life, but this story of how a farm boy becomes a scholar and then an English professor is somehow as hypnotic in its press of humdrum events as any thriller. Spare and yet beautifully felt, the narrative puts you inside Stoner’s skin from beginning to end; his setbacks and small joys belong as much to the reader as the character.

    Someone, by Alice McDermott
    McDermott, too, writes most often about the everyday lives of unremarkable people. Yet her understanding of the deepest chords of human nature makes her novels quiet masterpieces, and never more so than in this story about seven decades in the life of a Brooklyn woman and the reverberations of small actions, and inactions, down through the years. The book begins with a small girl who sits on her stoop and sees things; it ends with the understanding of those observations that age brings.

    Howards End, by E.M.Forster
    Howards End is a house, but the real bricks and mortar of Forster’s masterful look at a society poised between old mores and new ones is Margaret Wilcox, the intelligent and empathetic young woman who finds herself in a marriage to a man whose sense of propriety trumps that of his humanity. “Only connect!” is the most famous sentence in the novel, and the connections throughout, between what the world expects and what our heart says is right, are profound.

    Away, by Amy Bloom
    Don’t be fooled by the brevity of Amy Bloom’s novel: an entire universe is contained within its 200 pages. Lillian Leyb leaves Russia and lands in the Jewish immigrant ghetto of lower Manhattan, a young woman bold and canny and strong. After using subterfuge and sex to prosper in New York, she finds herself improbably circling back towards her homeland. This is a mural done as a miniature, a great sprawling story told with uncommon precision and purity of expression.

    House of Mirth, by Edith Wharton
    There may be no female protagonist in literature as tragic as Lily Bart. Beautiful, intelligent, “horribly poor—and very expensive,” she knows what the upper echelons of 19th-century New York society demand of her: an advantageous marriage, a bargain in which she will provide the gilding and her husband the gold. Yet slowly we watch as she slides down the mahogany banister of position and respectability. Wharton’s first novel is a wrenching look back to an almost otherworldly time, in which a heroine of sensitivity can cry, “What a miserable thing it is to be a woman.”

    Anna Quindlen is a novelist and Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist whose work has appeared on fiction, nonfiction, and self-help bestseller lists. Her most recent novel, Miller’s Valley, will be on shelves April 5, and is available for pre-order now.

  • Ester Bloom 4:00 pm on 2016/02/15 Permalink
    Tags: a doubter's almanac, , ethan canin, literary fiction,   

    Genius Is a Gift And a Curse In A Doubter’s Almanac 

    America has long been fascinated with geniuses, both real and fictional. Oscar-winning films like Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind, the recent Broadway juggernaut Hamilton, TV shows like House and Sherlock, and even comic books lionize the solitary, gifted man—and in the popular imagination, the genius is almost always a man—because of his ability to do what others cannot. Other people get in trouble for breaking the rules; genius is given latitude, indulgence.

    But even as audiences cheer for the man who makes his own rules, they also want to see him made human, a little more grounded and relatable, through the love of a good woman. Spiderman needs Mary Jane, Will Hunting needs Skylar, Alexander Hamilton needs Eliza Schuyler, and so on.

    But that doesn’t mean genius treats its lovers well. In fact, when one thinks of the spouses or partners of acclaimed, brilliant men, the word “long-suffering” comes to mind. And if genius manages to reproduce, how do children cope with having to share their famous, pampered, flawed fathers with a world that may be more forgiving of those men than they are able to be?

    In his latest novel, A Doubter’s Almanac, best-selling author Ethan Canin (America America) introduces readers to a charismatic but particularly challenging form of genius, the prize-winning mathematician. Milo Andret begins life as a thoughtful only child of hands-off parents, wandering through the Michigan woods. By the time he makes it to UC Berkeley, he’s still immature in many ways, unsocialized and awkward, and though he craves connection he’s unsure how to achieve it.

    In some ways, his mentor, Professor Hans Borland, does him no favors when he tells Milo, “‘You’ve been chosen by God, young man. By humankind. By the cosmic order.'” Borland inflates Milo’s already outsized sense of self, but he also points him to the sub-specialty in which he will make his name: topology, or advanced contemporary geometry. It is at Berkeley that Milo learns to combine his prodigious talent with drive. It’s also at Berkeley that he learns to drink, to do drugs, and to win frenemies and influence people.

    The woman he falls in love with, Cle Wells, is a free-spirited product of the times: though she’s fond of Milo, she doesn’t see why that means she should stop seeing Milo’s dashing rival, Earl Biettermann. Earl’s last name forecasts the complex relationship he and Milo will have over subsequent decades, as they take different paths. Milo chooses the rewards of academia as a profession and Earl opts for high finance. Milo decides to have children while Earl produces none. Who at the end is the better man? Who is more bitter about the turns his life takes?

    Canin doesn’t stint on describing Milo’s abrasive qualities. Especially after he graduates from Berkeley and moves onto a teaching position at Princeton University, Milo becomes an egotistical, aggressive alcoholic and a user of other people; he treats his colleagues and even his bosses with the same callous disregard he shows his girlfriends. The laws of physics, if not narrative, stipulate that his actions must eventually spark reactions; and yet, when the reactions finally start, Milo has been cushioned for so long that he is unprepared. He never did care much for physics.

    Milo is sent spinning back to the Midwest with a new wife whom, out of desperation and a desire for ballast, he grabs on the way. He tries to reassert himself and his position in the world, all the while enacting a grim parody of the domesticity in which he himself was raised. When a narrative shift takes the reader into the mind of Milo’s more humane, though also prodigiously talented, son Hans, it comes as a well-timed relief.

    Like his father, though, Hans is drawn to drugs, and like his father’s rival, Earl, Hans chooses to apply his intellectual skills to the world of high finance, where he finds himself “capable of laserlike concentration, knifelike thought, and hoglike greed.” The reader must wonder whether there is any hope for the next generation, or the next.

    Canin’s implicit question throughout this dense, thoughtful novel is, To what degree does society allow, even encourage, geniuses to become monsters? And what happens when long-delayed consequences finally catch up to brilliant men? A Doubter’s Almanac is a story about the intricate topology of families, about brilliance, failure, ambition, and addiction: what gets passed down and what, in the end, our lives add up to.

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