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  • Sarah Skilton 2:00 pm on 2018/09/07 Permalink
    Tags: back in the saddle, , , new releases,   

    6 Reasons Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies Is the Perfect Buddy Comedy 

    If you’ve ever chuckled at an Obama/Biden meme, in which Joe plays a prank and Barack rolls his eyes affectionately, Andrew Shaffer’s Hope Never Dies—one part mystery, one part fanfic—is for you. When his favorite Amtrak conductor dies and all evidence points to murder, the former Veep can’t resist launching his own investigation. After all, life has gotten a bit dull since vacating his post in D.C., and he’s eager to be useful again, especially if that means teaming up with his partner-in-service and BFF, the 44th President of the United States. A perfect buddy comedy ensues. Here are six reasons why we love it.

    1. It’s fast-paced with a concise narrative voice
    Shaffer knew to keep things short and sweet. Chapters range from one to five pages, and the yarn is narrated by Biden himself, using semi-hardboiled prose: “I glanced over my shoulder, but no one was there. Barack had disappeared into the inky darkness, same as he’d come, leaving nothing behind but the stale smell of smoke.” (Don’t worry: with one exception, Obama sticks to Nicorette gum.) 

    2. The dialogue is gold
    Biden, re: the machinations of an apparent femme fatale: “Son of a buttermilk biscuit, we got bamboozled!” Obama, in response to whether he’ll run for any type of office again: “Michelle would kill me in my sleep. She said she’d smother me with a pillow. Even showed me which one she’d use.” 

    3. Its characters’ behavior is very on brand.
    Obama is “cool as cucumber lotion” in tense situations, but always willing to step into the fray when needed, as when Joe’s being held at gunpoint by a biker gang. Joe, who swaps his bomber jacket and aviator sunglasses for a KISS MY BASS hat as a “disguise,” is impulsive and hotheaded, eager to go with his gut, as when he storms the hideout of the aforementioned biker gang. Together they’re unstoppable. 

    4. A genuine relationship shines through
    The former Veep and ex-President are best friends and it shows, even if they’re going through a rough patch right now. There’s nothing either wouldn’t do for the other, even if they bicker like brothers. Obama schools Biden on the flowers he chose for Jill (“The lily is a funeral flower. If you were going for romantic, you should have gone for roses”) and Biden accuses Obama of ditching their true-blue friendship to go windsurfing with celebrities (cough, Richard Branson). Their initial meetup sets the tone: “I offered a handshake. Barack turned it into a fist bump. It was a greeting I’d never been able to master, but I gave it my best shot. Barack smirked. Just like old times.”

    5. Funny situations abound
    When a fast-food clerk makes a casual remark about global warming, Barack can’t resist explaining the finer points of it to her, and his passion for the topic wins her over. He and his secret service agent, healthy eaters both, are horrified by what Joe orders at a diner (a “hot and bothered” plate of hash browns, covered with “cheese, onion, diced ham, and jalapeno.”) To pass the time inside a particularly rancid no-tell motel, Biden and Obama launch into a game of “POTUS, SCOTUS, or FLOTUS,” in which one of them names three women, and the other responds with the role he’d prefer for her. (Prior to participating, Obama acknowledges it’s a little demeaning to women, and wonders if Strom Thurmond came up with it.)

    6. It’s absurd but brilliant
    While picturing the events of the story, you may occasionally think, “This is CRAZY.” But is it? I mean, who could have predicted what would happen once this duo left office? Is this any crazier than what has actually occurred since 2016? My advice is to embrace the setup, because if you’re willing to suspend disbelief, it’s sort of plausible. I like to think so, anyway.

    The post 6 Reasons Andrew Shaffer’s <i>Hope Never Dies</i> Is the Perfect Buddy Comedy appeared first on Barnes & Noble Reads.

     
  • BN Editors 2:00 pm on 2018/09/04 Permalink
    Tags: , , , new releases   

    September’s Best New Fiction 

    As summer bids us farewell and vacation time winds down, what could be better than curling up with a transportive book? Whether you’re in the mood for 1940s Britain, 1970s Argentina, 1990s Paris, or current-day America with all its rapid-fire twists and turns, September’s best new novels will enthrall you. Fascinating love stories, daring tales of espionage, and a new, female-driven perspective of Homer’s Iliad await.

    Hippie, by Paulo Coelho (translated by M.B. Becker)
    Anti-authoritarian protestors of 2018 will enjoy this look at a previous generation of freedom seekers and demonstrators. Brazilian author Coelho—whose groundbreaking work The Alchemist celebrated its 30th anniversary this year—draws from his real-life experiences to present an authentic journey of self-discovery set in South America and Europe in the early 1970s. From Peru, Chile, and Argentina through Amsterdam and Kathmandu, young Paulo, an aspiring writer, and his Dutch lover Karla travel via the Magic Bus, learning about themselves and their fellow passengers in what promises to be an immersive examination of original hippie culture.

    Sea Prayer, by Khaled Hosseini
    This timely, heartfelt illustrated novel, the proceeds of which will go to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR), depicts the hopes and fears of a father for his young son. As the duo waits for the boat that will take them on a harrowing escape from war-torn Syria, the father composes a letter to his sleeping child, detailing the lives they once lived in their home village of Homs. Intended for all ages, it’s a good choice for parents who want to explain the refugee crisis to their kids.

    Transcription, by Kate Atkinson
    Historical spy fiction at its finest, Transcription revolves around the mysterious choices made by Juliet, a teenager recruited by MI5 in 1940. Tasked with transcribing the clandestine meetings between a double agent and British Nazi sympathizers, Juliet believes her work is finished once the war ends. But ten years later her past returns, demanding answers about the role she really played serving justice to turncoats. Fans of Atkinson’s Life After Life  (i.e., everyone) will devour this suspenseful story.

    Katerina, by James Frey
    Toggling between Paris in the early ’90s and modern-day L.A., this love story/addiction parable seems to parallel some of the more controversial aspects of Frey’s real life. As a young American living in France, eager to write books that matter, Jay scrounges and scrimps and deals drugs alongside his sexy model muse. Twenty-five years later, now a famous author, he receives a message—possibly from said ex—that throws his world off-kilter. Will revisiting their passionate struggles ignite Jay’s creativity?

    Labyrinth of the Spirits, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
    The fourth and final installment of the Cemetery of Forgotten Books series (which began with The Shadow of the Wind) centers on Alicia Gris, orphaned by the Spanish Civil War as a child. Now nearly thirty, and working for Madrid’s secret police, she’s entrusted with locating a government official who seems to have vanished. Solving the mystery brings her into contact with friends of her parents and proves Franco’s regime was even more corrupt than previously understood. As with the earlier books in the tetralogy, Zafon continues to lavish love (and plot points) on books, those who love them, those who write them, and those who sell them. A literary feast. 

    Lake Success, by Gary Shteyngart
    Combining his trademark slapstick wit with a Greyhound bus road trip through the south and southwest, Shteyngart spins a tale set in right-this-second America, highlighting its surreal beauty and horror. Readers may not expect to root for a timepiece-obsessed hedge fund manager who abandons his American Indian wife and their autistic son for greener pastures, but watching Barry Cohen flail through his decisions in an attempt to outlast and outrun them proves satirical humor may be the best medicine in a society gone mad.

    The Silence of the Girls, by Pat Barker
    Previous Iliad / Odyssey retellings include Ransom, by David Malouf; The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller; and, of course Ulysses, by James Joyce. What makes Silence unique is that it focuses on the female prisoners held in Greece during the last days of the Trojan War. Briseis, the former queen of Lyrnessus, becomes Achilles’s concubine after he slaughters her family and lays waste to her city, but her struggles don’t end there; soon, Agamemnon demands that Achilles hand Briseis over to him, which changes the entire direction of the war. Barker is a master of wartime narratives, having won the Booker Prize for The Ghost Road, set during World War I.

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

     
  • Sarah Skilton 2:00 pm on 2018/08/01 Permalink
    Tags: , , , new releases   

    August’s Best New Fiction 

    This month’s best new work includes the second book of the Half-Drowned King Viking fantasy trilogy, a portrait of a Midwest town in decline, a debut roman à clef by an Iraq veteran currently imprisoned for bank robbery, and a historical about the Black Plague. And for lighter, contemporary reads, enjoy a sorority-set drama, a romance in Paris gone wrong, and an octogenarian-led cozy mystery. 

    The Masterpiece, by Fiona Davis
    In 1928, Clara Darden struggles against the restraints of the era as the lone female teacher at New York City’s Grand Central School of Art, housed in the majestic terminal of the same name. After the Great Depression hits, her career in illustration disappears, as does Clara. Fast-forward to the 1970s, when divorcée Virginia Clay takes a job at Grand Central, intrigued by the abandoned art studio there, as well as a painting she discovers—a painting that may shed light on Clara’s mysterious fate fifty years prior.

    Rush, by Lisa Patton
    Yankee Doodle Dixie author Patton has written another entertaining, Southern-set contemporary, this time pulling back the curtain on the secret lives of sorority sisters at Ole Miss. Cali Watkins hopes to earn a place with the elite Alpha Delta girls, but lacks the right pedigree and fears a long-buried family secret will tank her chances. The Advisory Board members have more power than sense, but the girls rise up against them when a beloved house staff member at Alpha Delta Beta is denied a promotion.

    Ohio, by Stephen Markley
    A searing debut about one evening in the summer of 2013, in which four ex-classmates who came of age during 9/11 reunite in New Canaan, Ohio, a town marked and marred by decline. From the opioid crises to the Great Recession to the never-ending wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, these Midwesterners have been affected by it all, and each seek closure from their painful pasts in this beautiful, sad, contemplative study of a rust belt town that has been hollowed out.

    The Sea Queen, by Linnea Hartsuyker
    Last summer kicked off the Half-Drowned King trilogy, a 9th-century Viking fantasy based on historical events and overflowing with political machinations and violent battles. In the new installment, six years have passed for minor king Ragnvald and his sister Svanhild, the titular Sea Queen. Their separation has evolved into opposition: While Ragnvald dedicates his life to the unification of Norway under Harald’s command, Svanhild marries the leader of the resistance and displays remarkable strength as a maritime warrior in her own right. 

    The Last Hours, by Minette Walters
    While her husband is away, a woman educated by nuns in 1348 England uses her smarts and intuition to hold the line against the Black Death when it arrives in the town of Develish. Having quarantined herself, her cruel teenage daughter, and her serfs in her moat-surrounded house, Lady Anne denies her own husband entry, correctly fearing he has brought the plague home with him. Her decision does not go over well with her progeny, Lady Eleanor, who harbors a sadistic streak.

    Three Things About Elsie, by Joanna Cannon
    A lifelong friendship between two women forms the heart of this mystery set in an assisted living facility. Our firmly independent octogenarian narrator, Florence, provides sharp commentary but finds it difficult to communicate with others, fearful her memory is failing. With a new arrival, who strongly resembles a frightening figure from Florence’s past, Florence dedicates herself to uncovering the hows and whys of the man’s reappearance. Shifting perceptions provide a bittersweet, suspenseful, and emotionally cathartic reading experience. 

    If You Leave Me, by Crystal Hana Kim
    Against the backdrop of the Korean War and its aftermath, a young woman desperate to provide for her invalid younger brother and widowed mother must choose between two cousins who love her. One is her childhood sweetheart, while the other has the financial stability necessary to save her family. A memorable, heartwrenching debut with multiple POVs that will appeal to fans of Samuel Park’s This Burns My Heart.

    Bad Man, by Dathan Auerbach
    Auerbach got his start terrifying Redditors on their NoSleep short story forum, and it’s easy to see why he proved so popular there. His second full-length novel tells the harrowing story of a young man from North Florida drowning in guilt over the role he played in his three-year-old brother’s disappearance. Five years later, now twenty, Ben decides to take a job stocking groceries at the very store where little Eric vanished. Will he find answers in this oddly creepy, disconcerting milieu, even when the local authorities could not? 

    Cherry, by Nico Walker
    PTSD, heroin addiction, bank robbing, and young-love-turned-bleak-survival are the themes of this breakneck debut by an author well-versed in all four topics. As a medic in Iraq, and a veteran of 250 combat missions, Walker returned home to find his memories incapacitating him; in a parallel to combat, the adrenaline rush he got while committing crimes was the only time he felt calm. A blisteringly authentic and timely work is the result.

    Goodbye Paris, by Anstey Harris
    When her relationship with David (who has a wife and family) comes to a difficult and public end in Paris, thirtysomething Grace Atherton is left to pick up the pieces back home in Kent, where she runs a shop making violins and cellos. Her own burgeoning career in music was derailed decades ago, and truly moving on from her broken relationship may require a hard look at the painful secrets she has been keeping from that time. Luckily, she’ll have help from people in her community, including a young shop clerk and a wise, older customer.

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

     
  • Miwa Messer 4:00 pm on 2018/07/19 Permalink
    Tags: , , , , new releases   

    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
    Tags: , , , new releases   

    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.

     
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