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  • Miwa Messer 4:00 pm on 2018/07/19 Permalink
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    The Ensemble Author Aja Gable on the Attempt to Say That Unsayable Thing 

    Four friends are bound by their art and their ambition in Aja Gabel’s snappy debut, The Ensemble. We were delighted by the author’s insights about friendship, passion, and loyalty; her characters’ messy truths; and her lively, light writing. There is, as one of our bookseller reviewers said, “WOW on every page.” We asked Aja how her debut novel began for her, and this is what she said:

    Long before I wrote a word of my novel, The Ensemble, which is about a professional string quartet, I wrote one short story about music. A Russian violinist, Stefan, must fill in for his deceased teacher, Sergei, at a concert in Hong Kong. In a dressing room above the concert hall, he frets about his new million-dollar violin and the violent political riots happening outside his window. The drama is high and slick, and the language has a tinge of the old-fashioned. The story’s confidence wavers (an imprint of its nascency), but passages about the music performance flicker in early resemblance to the passages about music in my novel.

    I dug the old story up recently because I’ve been trying to figure out the origin of my novel, when the idea first began to take root. Was it here? I wondered.

    I know a neat and tidy origin story would point to a moment of revelation, an article that changed me, or a piece of music that unfolded a novel plot. But it feels instead like I’ve carried The Ensemble around with me for years, that it grew inside me as I grew, twining and fusing with my body from the moment I was five, when I first began to play the cello and write stories. Over the years, as I filled notebooks with fantasies and cut my calluses on steel core strings, the enmeshment continued. By the time I entered writing school, still playing the cello on the side, it was complete.

    Because of that fusing, I didn’t write about music because writing about music felt like writing about my skin or my voice. What was there to say? It was just me.

    I wrote that short story about the Russian violinist because of a conversation I had with a teacher about writing a novel. Make it easy on yourself, she said. What do you know enough about to write 300 pages? This version of the “write what you know” advice hadn’t occurred to me before. Rereading the story now, I see why. My relationship to music was the most intimate relationship I had, shared with no one but other musicians who I played with. But I believed novels to be big, outsized, highly dramatic. I also believed people wanted that sense of symphonic gravitas in any story about classical music. So I wrote a story that had all of that: political strife, foreign locales, tortured Russian artists. It’s not a bad story, but in rereading, I struggled to find the beating heart of it. It didn’t feel like my novel.

    It wasn’t until a year later, alone on a writing retreat, that I decided to do what I’d been hesitant to do before. I unraveled the story of music that was braided inside me, and began to parse the strands, until I figured out what it was about. That intimate narrative I’d tended to and told to no one but myself was itself about intimacy. When you play music with someone, you come to know their artistic impulses, their breath and body, their secret ambitions and wayward desires. And as I put the threads back together on the page, it took on new life and grew again. There are no steely Russians and no mid-recital explosions in this one. Instead, there are subtler and equally earth-shattering moments: a cruel, tossed off phrase, heartbreak that morphs with time, the death of an absent mother, the loss of a best friend.

    In the end, it did become big. The tale of a collaborative life, lived through music, across decades, is inevitably expansive. But it didn’t become big because I’d intended to write an epic. I don’t think any great novel begins by being enamored of its bigness. What ultimately opened the door into this novel was, for me, what always draws me to any book: truth, recognition, heart, the attempt to say that unsayable thing.

    I am now able to see it: the daunting excavation of the internal story I’d tended to for years. I don’t think it’s the root of every novel, but it was for my first one. I look at that old short story, the one about Sergei and Stefan and the riots, and see a writer who wanted to do what she thought other people wanted to read. But I think now that we should always only be writing what we ourselves want to read. And even in that older story, what I gravitate toward are the scenes of music, Stefan’s uncertainty while playing, his love of the physical feeling of his violin, his fear of the outside pressures drowning out his concerto, his song.

    The Ensemble is on sale now.

    The post <i>The Ensemble</i> Author Aja Gable on the Attempt to Say That Unsayable Thing appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sarah Skilton 2:00 pm on 2018/07/01 Permalink
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    July’s Best New Fiction 

    Anglophiles, take note: this month is all about historical fiction, several of which take place in Merry Old England. Travel to London during World Wars I and II, or to the early 1800s for a Pride & Prejudice retelling that ushers Mary Bennet into the spotlight. Then cross the Atlantic for a Virginia-set Southern Gothic and a New York-to-LA road trip, or board a fast boat to China for a Shanghai family drama. 

    Dear Mrs. Bird, by AJ Pearce
    Taking the London Blitz as its backdrop, this historical debut focuses on female friendships as well as the possibility of finding comfort in the empathy of strangers. When upbeat, 20something Emmeline Lake answers an ad for a job at Women’s Friend magazine, she’s hoping it will launch her career as a journalist. Instead, she finds herself assisting Mrs. Bird, the magazine’s judgmental advice columnist. Mrs. Bird won’t even consider answering letters about “unpleasant” topics (doesn’t she notice there’s a war on?). Emmy decides to write back for her, offering kindness and compassion to those whose struggles have been consigned to the rubbish heap.

    The Dying of the Light, by Robert Goolrick
    Fans of Southern Gothic will lose their minds for this dramatically rich story about Diana Cooke, the most beautiful teen debutante of the 1919 season, who marries a cruel man in order to save her family’s derelict Virginia mansion. Known as Saratoga, the estate has been in the Cooke family for a century and represents much more than the lavish parties it once hosted. However, the real trouble starts when the widowed Diana’s cherished son returns home from college with his roommate in tow.

    Saving Beck, by Courtney Cole
    Though known for her psychologically gripping, bestselling romance books, Cole’s new novel takes her writing in a new direction, one informed by her own life. Using dual perspectives, Saving Beck tells the story of widowed Natalie and her eldest child, grieving, guilt-ridden Beck, who blames himself for the car crash that killed his father. When Beck’s family life falls apart, burdening him with new responsibilities, he turns to heroin for relief. This appears to be a thoughtful, extraordinarily honest look at addiction.

    The Lido, by Libby Page
    Octogenarian Rosemary has resided in Brixton, London, since birth. Twentysomething Kate is a nervous newcomer to town who’s accepted an unglamorous reporting job at the local paper. The two form an unexpected bond of friendship while attempting to save the lido, the beloved public swimming pool that’s been a constant to Rosemary her entire life, from her WWII childhood to her years of marriage. Will Rosemary’s memories of what makes the pool so important be enough to keep it open? Can Kate cast off her anxiety and self-doubt and lead the charge on Rosemary’s behalf?

    Ghosted, by Rosie Walsh
    A brief, intense, and life-changing romance between middle-aged Sarah and Eddie ends in heartache and confusion when Eddie’s promised phone call after some time apart never comes. Sarah’s friends try to convince her she’s been ghosted, but Sarah can’t bear the idea of never seeing or hearing from Eddie again. She’s convinced something has gone terribly wrong, and her instincts are correct—leading her to uncover secrets she never saw coming.

    America For Beginners, by Leah Franqui
    Pival Sengupta, a recently widowed Indian woman, travels to the U.S. for the first time via a madcap touring company, in hopes of locating her estranged son, Rahi. The road trip from New York to LA allows Pival to learn about Rahi through his adoptive homeland. Her companions include a tour guide who’s only been in America for a year, and a would-be actress. The team members find solace in each other’s journeys and viewpoints. 

    Mary B: An untold story of Pride and Prejudice, by Katherine J. Chen
    Middle child Mary Bennet, an avid reader and writer, is voted least likely to marry by her family, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to sit on the sidelines of life. In fact, in this novel of behind the scenes and offscreen moments surrounding the events of P&P, Mary reveals herself to be observant and charming, with a quiet wit. Pair it with Curtis Sittenfeld’s 2017 novel, Eligible, for the best in old school and contemporary Austen retellings.

    What We Were Promised, by Lucy Tan
    Desperate housewife and mother Lina Zhen has trouble acclimating to her new life of leisure in modern-day Shanghai, but her husband Wei’s job provides everything the family could want. Still, Lina is restless and distracted, particularly when a reunion with her true love—Wei’s brother, Qiang—looms on the horizon after a twenty-year absence. The only person who senses the hidden tumult about to erupt is Sunny, the Zhens’ long-term housekeeper, who is privy to more than a few secrets.

    Fruit of the Drunken Tree, by Ingrid Rojas Contreras
    A historical coming of age novel set in Bogotá, Colombia, during the worst years of Pablo Escobar’s narcoterrorism, Fruit’s narration comes from the POV of two girls: seven-year-old Chula and thirteen-year-old Petrona, the family maid whose own family is being destroyed by the drug war. Petrona is determined to turn things around for her loved ones, but when she puts her trust in the wrong boy, she’s not the only one who’ll pay the price.

    Eagle Crane, by Suzanne Rindell
    Harry (who is Japanese American) and Louis (who is white) were neighbors and best pals during the Depression and their barnstorming days as stunt pilots in California, but the rivalry between their respective families, as well as a romantic interest in the same woman, caused problems for the two men. Jumping ahead a few years, it appears Harry and his father have been murdered in a plane crash after escaping from an internment camp, but the FBI is convinced the case is not as cut-and-dry as it appears.

    The post July’s Best New Fiction appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Dave K. 5:00 pm on 2018/06/08 Permalink
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    The Best New Vinyl to Spin This June 

    June is a big month over here at Barnes & Noble’s Vinyl Store. Not only do we have new records from Father John Misty and blues legend Buddy Guy coming in, we’ve also got the first new studio albums from Panic! at the Disco and Dave Matthews Band in years. Whether you’re a new fan of these artists, or just getting started on a vinyl collection, these albums will sound great on your turntable and look good on your shelf.

    God’s Favorite Customer, by Father John Misty 
    The ever-eccentric Father John Misty’s newest album, God’s Favorite Customer, is a more personal and less conceptual album than his previous output. Misty also promises “sprightly” tempos on this record, which he produced himself and wrote during a six-week rough patch when he was living in a hotel. One can sense that heartache in songs like the ballad “Just Dumb Enough to Try,” a heartfelt and moving (if not exactly sprightly) piano-driven affair with a buzzing synth solo. “Mr. Tillman,” meanwhile, is a much cheekier song that shows off Misty’s impressive storytelling instincts as a lyricist.

    The Blues Is Alive and Well, by Buddy Guy 
    Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy’s follow-up to his 2015 album, the excellent Born to Play Guitar, will be a star-studded effort. Guy recruited singer James Bay as a guest on the track “Blue No More,” rock legends and blues aficionados Keith Richards and Jeff Beck appear on “Cognac,” and none other than Mick Jagger appears on “You Did the Crime” as a guest vocalist. Just based on all that, The Blues Is Alive and Well will be the coolest record on your shelf this year. Plus, it’s neat seeing some of the musicians directly influenced by Guy coming back to collaborate with him.

    Pray for the Wicked, by Panic! at the Disco 
    Pray for the Wicked is Panic! at the Disco’s sixth studio album, and it’s a real firecracker. Vocalist Brendon Urie is in fine form here, hitting insane high notes on “Say Amen (Saturday Night)” and the surprisingly cheerful “(F— A) Silver Lining.” Urie, who spent part of 2017 on Broadway as a lead in Kinky Boots, wrote this album as a thank you to his fans, and that revved-up energy is present in both of the aforementioned songs. The band’s lyrical content has stepped up, too. In particular, Urie’s lyrics for “Say Amen” are really clever, detailing a night of rock ‘n’ roll debauchery using mostly religious allegories.

    Come Tomorrow, by Dave Matthews Band
    Amazingly, this is the first proper studio album Dave Matthews Band has released since 2012, and it follows the somewhat controversial absence of fiddler Boyd Tinsley. If you’re one of the DMB fans who was upset about Tinsley’s hiatus from the band, don’t worry, this album more than meets the standard set by previous output. In fact, some songs exceed it. “Samurai Cop (Oh Joy Begin),” named after a cult film starring Robert Z’Dar, is a heaving, emotional track, whereas “Can’t Stop” has a greasy blues guitar lead. Also, one of the producers has revealed that late woodwind player LeRoi Moore was able to contribute to this record.

    The post The Best New Vinyl to Spin This June appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sarah Skilton 4:00 pm on 2018/05/30 Permalink
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    June’s Best New Fiction 

    Weddings (and murder!) take center stage this monthalong with intriguing family dramas starring modern Muslim Americans and Native Americans. Fates and Furies author Lauren Groff is back with a collection of short stories, and sequels to I Don’t Know How She Does ItBeartown, and The Devil Wears Prada bridge the gap between Lowcountry beach reads and juicy, heart-clenching tales of starting over. 

    The Perfect Couple, by Elin Hilderbrand
    Hilderbrand’s latest combines her signature Nantucket beach fun with a page-turning mystery. When the maid of honor’s body is found (by the bride, no less) hours before a lavish wedding ceremony is set to begin, the festivities grind to a halt while the remaining members of the wedding party are interrogated. The island-set whodunit includes much-loved characters from Hilderbrand’s previous novels, but newcomers needn’t be familiar with them to enjoy this summer brainteaser. 

    All We Ever Wanted, by Emily Giffin
    Two families in Nashville—one wealthy and privileged, and one struggling financially and emotionally—collide when their teenage children become entangled in a scandal. Well-to-do Nina is forced to question the true natures of her husband and son when a troubling photo featuring a high school sophomore surfaces, throwing a private school into chaos. Who took the picture? And who’s trying to use their money and influence to make the controversy go away? Wanted appears to be a relevant, thoughtful, and complex drama that supplies no easy answers.

    Us Against You, by Fredrik Backman
    In the critically acclaimed Beartown, Backman introduced readers to a small forest town in Sweden convinced that a junior ice hockey team held the key to “fixing” their troubled community. In this follow-up story, the denizens of Beartown face off against those of nearby Hed, where many of the Beartown hockey players have defected. Adding tension to the rivalry is the fact that Beartown’s entire league may soon be disbanded. Hope arrives in the form of a new coach, but when the anger between the teams escalates to the point of murder, can their once-pure love of the sport ever return? 

    How Hard Can it Be?, by Allison Pearson
    In this sequel to Pearson’s bestselling 2003 novel, I Don’t Know How She Does It, we drop back into supermom Kate Reddy’s life a decade and a half later, as she rounds the corner toward fifty. Having spent seven of the intervening years as a stay-at-home mom (quite a change from her frenetic former job running a hedge fund), Londoner Kate prepares to reenter the workforce after her husband is laid off. Expect a lot of humor in this menopause-while-raising-teenage-hellions dramedy.

    There There, by Tommy Orange
    A powerhouse debut likely to earn a spot on countless best of the year lists, There There chronicles the coming together of twelve modern-day, urban Native American people at the inaugural Oakland, California, Powwow. Disparate in their ages, goals, hopes, and dreams, some of the twelve hope to connect with their history and/or long-lost family members; some desire to perform traditional dance; and others plan to take advantage of the event for their own purposes. Set aside some time to delve deep into this must-read novel.

    A Place for Us, by Fatima Farheen Mirza
    An Indian American Muslim family of five living in California come together for the eldest daughter’s wedding, an event that forces them to reevaluate their lives together and apart over the past few decades. In particular, youngest son Amar, who has become estranged from his parents and siblings, is reluctant to make peace with his past. Tension between the traditional Muslim culture practiced by parents Rafiq and Layla and the contemporary attitudes of their adult children infuses this highly anticipated debut with plenty of emotion and heart.

    Florida, Lauren Groff
    Not every story in this collection of shorts—Groff’s first since Delicate Edible Birds—takes place in Florida, but they all depict a darkly comedic Floridian state of mind, filled with “dread and heat.” Of the eleven narratives, a handful depict the same tough-as-nails mom, a novelist drowning in booze as well as love for her children.

    Before and Again, by Barbara Delinsky
    Having survived the car crash death of her young daughter, for which she was accidentally responsible, Mackenzie Cooper changes her name and starts a new life in a new town. As Maggie Reid, she works as a makeup artist beautifying others while never losing sight of the literal and metaphorical scars she’s hiding. When a friend’s teenage son finds himself in trouble with the law, Maggie knows she should back away—her probation prohibits fraternizing with criminals—but helping out another troubled soul may provide Maggie a modicum of peace in her own life.

    When Life Gives You Lululemons, by Lauren Weisberger
    In this fabulous follow-up to The Devil Wears Prada and Revenge Wears Prada, first assistant-turned-image consultant Emily Charlton, who stole scenes left and right in book and movie form (where she was portrayed by Emily Blunt), is thrown to the yummy mummy wolves of suburban Connecticut. Tasked with fixing the public’s view of a politician’s DUI-ruined wife, she joins forces with some old friends—including one Miranda Priestly. Pour the cocktails and start the party!

    Dreams of Falling, by Karen White
    The best beach reads of 2018 take place in Lowcountry, South Carolina, and Dreams will show you why. When Larkin’s mother, Ivy, is badly injured under mysterious circumstances, Ivy is compelled to leave New York and return to her hometown after a nine-year absence. As she tentatively reaches out to old friends and studies the past to better understand her mother’s predicament, secrets dating back decades will be revealed in this multigenerational drama featuring female friendships and a hint of romance.

    The post June’s Best New Fiction appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

  • Sarah Skilton 4:00 pm on 2018/05/01 Permalink
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    May’s Best New Fiction 

    Beach Read Queens, assemble! May brings us fresh fare from Dorothea Benton Frank, Mary Kay Andrews, and Mary Alice Monroe, aka your go-to authors for sand, surf, love, and family drama. Danielle Steel’s newest depicts a work-based family behind the scenes at a TV show, Michael Ondaatje offers up a coming-of-age mystery, and Christopher Buckley provides unexpected laughs from 1664.

    Love and Ruin, by Paula McLain
    After depicting the life of Hadley Richardson in her bestselling The Paris Wife, McLain sets her sights on Hemingway’s third wife, acclaimed war correspondent Martha Gellhorn. Her connection to Hemingway begins in Key West, Florida, in the late 1930s and ramps up against the invigorating, terrible backdrop of the Spanish Civil War. Two stars are on the rise—journalist and novelist, equal in skill—but one must eclipse the other. 

    By Invitation Only, by Dorothea Benton Frank
    Wedding season is upon us, and who better to enjoy it with than Dorothea Benton Frank, the queen of Lowcountry beach reads? Meet the Stiftels, peach farmers in South Carolina. They’re in for some serious culture shock when their beloved only son, Fred, becomes engaged to Shelby Cambria, the wealthy daughter of a Chicago-based private equity master of the universe.  When the two families are thrown together, first in Lowcountry and then in the Windy City, their disparate backgrounds clash, and multiple secrets come tumbling out.

    The High Tide Club, by Mary Kay Andrews
    New York Times bestseller Andrews delivers a tale of Southern romance and suspense that kicks off when Josephine, an eccentric, almost century-old heiress living in a Grey Gardens-esque crumbling mansion by the sea, hires lawyer Brooke to complete a mysterious task. Brooke must gather together the descendants of Josephine’s best friends for a reunion that may prove either profitable or deadly.

    The Cast, by Danielle Steel
    Kate Whittier, a twice-divorced magazine columnist with a robust fan base, powers through her fears of intimacy after she finds the support she needs to create a TV show based on the life of her extraordinary grandmother. And when Kait’s own life implodes unexpectedly, it’s the tightknit cast of the show she turns to for the strength to carry on.

    Beach House Reunion, by Mary Alice Monroe
    In the fifth book of her popular, heartwarming Beach House series, which concerns several generations of the Rutledge family living in Lowcountry, we meet Cara’s niece Linnea, a recent college grad who feels uncertain about her future and burdened by her parents’ expectations. Perhaps a summer at the Isle of Palms, rife with dolphins and loggerhead sea turtles, is in order? At Primrose Cottage, she and Cara help one another put the past to rights. Although it can be read as a standalone, series readers will be delighted by the cameos from previous characters.

    The Judge Hunter, by Christopher Buckley
    In this comedic, historical mystery-thriller (how often do you see that genre?), expert satirist Buckley (Thank You For Smoking) scatters real-life figures amid his own creations. A young, utterly useless layabout, Balty St. Michael, sets off for the New World in 1664, commissioned by his cousin Samuel Pepys to locate two judges who disappeared after assisting in the murder of Charles I. Helping Balty is a competent former commander with motives of his own. Adventure and hijinks ensue on both sides of the Atlantic, as well as throughout the newborn colonies.

    Warlight, by Michael Ondaatje
    From the author of The English Patient and The Cat’s Table comes a bildungsroman set in London in the immediate aftermath of World War II, as well as fourteen years later, when protagonist Nathaniel attempts to make sense of his mother’s enigmatic and disturbing behavior. Immediately following the war’s conclusion, teenage Nathan and his sister Rachel were left behind for a year with two mysterious, possibly criminal guardians while their parents traveled to Singapore. (Or did they?) In the decades to come, now working for British intelligence services, Nathan tries to piece together his mother’s secrets. The buildup to the answers he’ll find promises to be exquisitely poetic.

    The High Season, by Judy Blundell
    In her first book for adults (she previously won the National Book Award for her YA noir, What I Saw and How I Lied), Blundell proves once again how skilled she is at peeling back the glossy exteriors of people’s lives. Middle-aged, divorced Ruthie and her fifteen-year-old daughter are forced to abandon their beach house each summer and rent it out in order to afford living there the rest of the year. To their consternation, and despite their location in North Fork, they’re not safe from the wealthy, greedy Hamptons crowd two ferry stops away; in fact, their latest boarder exemplifies that group and seems poised to scoop up and replace Ruthie herself, starting with staking a claim on Ruthie’s ex-husband.

    Adjustment Day, by Chuck Palahniuk
    This dystopian-horror satire flows straight out of 2018 America. Day blends revolution, dirty politics, the worst of the internet, widespread murder (journalists and elites from a publicly voted on list are targeted), and a “Declaration of Interdependence” that results in the country being carved up into sections with names like Blacktopia, Gaysia, and (medieval) Caucasia. Heaven help you if you don’t fit the theme within your new borders: better adjust or flee. Fight Club aficionados will love the allusions to Project Mayhem.

    A Shout in the Ruins, by Kevin Powers
    Moving back and forth in time from the Civil War to the recent past, Shout examines the effects of slavery, segregation, and endemic violence on people from all sides of it. In the 1950s, seventysomething George Seldom decides to retrace the steps of his life, uncovering the threads that bind him to the inhabitants of the Beauvais Plantation in Richmond, Virginia. He’s joined by a young waitress whose own story (and contemplation of the past) take center stage in the 1980s. A Virginia native, Powers is an army veteran whose debut, The Yellow Birds, won the PEN/Hemingway Award.

    The post May’s Best New Fiction appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

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