Short Take: Ride Around Shining – Chris Leslie-Hynan

Just listened to a great review by Maureen Corrigan on Fresh Air about this. Ride Around Shining is the story of a young white chauffeur’s envy and manipulation of his wealthy employer, a black Portland Trailblazers’ star.  Corrigan noted the intentional and meaningful ways this novel follows the plot of The Great Gatsby and also saw some echoes of Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novels and Othello. (Othello jumped out at me, too.) I love the term she uses for the integration of these kinds of references: “literary sampling.”

Corrigan’s overall verdict?

[I]n its calmer, more assured moments, Ride Around Shining lays claim to being an interesting novel on its own terms, offering some fresh takes on those big American topics of race, class, manhood and meritocracy….[It] is an often provocative read: It wouldn’t be my first-round draft pick, but it’s got game.”

Race, sports and celebrity married to timeless the themes of envy, desire and over-reaching…. No shabby ambition for this debut.

Ride Around Shining (9780062285072) by Chris Leslie-Hynan. $25.99 hardcover. 8/5/14 on sale.

Sneak Peek: Gutenberg’s Apprentice

I’ll have a full review of this in a month or so, but if you want to read a suspenseful historical novel about one of the world’s greatest tech start ups, keep an eye out for this one. Three starred advance reviews so far and they all sound like this:

Christie masterfully depicts the time and energy required to print the first Bibles…all against a catastrophic backdrop of plague, the fall of Constantinople, the violent superstitions of the peasantry, and a vested intelligentsia fearing the press would generate ‘crude words crudely wrought…smut and prophecy, the ranting of anarchists and antichrists…’ A bravura debut.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review

The author is both a journalist and letterpress printer and her blog on the book includes an excerpt from the novel as well as a ton of interesting information on letterpress printing and some observations on her own publishing process.

Plus she made this cool little letterpress-printed postcard and I’ve got a soft spot for artisan bling. :-)

Gutenberg Card

Gutenberg’s Apprentice (9780062336019) by Alix Christie. $27.99 hardcover. 9/23/14 on sale.

Book of the Week: Bad Feminist – Roxane Gay

This astute, witty collection of essays has had a gathering trajectory. In recent weeks I’ve had more and more requests for reads.  And publicity is emailing pretty much every day with new coverage commitments. If you’re interested in issues of race, class and feminism you’ve probably bumped across Gay’s work. She’s been published in the NYT, WSJ, the LA Times, the Nation and Salon. Her tumblr has 100,000 followers. She’s sharp, she’s funny, and the word’s getting out.

This is cultural criticism that doesn’t look down its nose at popular culture. Gay is working from inside the trenches. She live tweeting episodes of The Bachelorette and her essays cover subjects  as diverse as The Girls, Django Unchained, Jerry Sandusky, The Hunger Games, Chris Brown, Kanye West, Robin Thicke, Twilight, and (how could she not) 50 Shades of Grey. For a hint at her voice, check out this dating FAQ that she posted on tumblr last August.

Bad Feminist is an Indie Next Pick, has great advance reviews, and so far on-sale coverage includes USA Today, O, the Oprah Magazine, Vanity Fair, NPR, MSNBC, NYTBR, Buzzfeed, Deadspin.Com, WSJ, Elle.Com, New York Observer, Time, Time Out New York, The Week, Marie Claire, Mother Jones, Harper’s Bazaar, Ms., Cosmopolitan, Paste and The Believer.

This trenchant collection assembles previously published essays and new work by cultural critic and novelist Gay (An Untamed State). Even though she loves pink, feels nostalgic about the Sweet Valley High series, and lets degrading rap lyrics blast from her car stereo, Gay is passionately committed to feminist issues, such as equal opportunity and pay and reproductive freedom. Writing about race, politics, gender, feminism, privilege, and popular media, she highlights how deeply misogyny is embedded in our culture….Whatever her topic, Gay’s provocative essays stand out for their bravery, wit, and emotional honesty.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“One of our sharpest new culture critics plants her flag in topics ranging from trigger warnings to Orange is the New Black in this timely collection of essays.”
O, the Oprah Magazine, 10 Titles to Pick Up Now

 “A strikingly fresh cultural critic.”
— Ron Charles, Washington Post

“Gay’s essays are consistently smart and provocative. . . . Her essay collection will give you dinner-party conversation through September.”
USA Today, Jennifer Weiner’s 10 Best Beach Reads

Bad Feminist collects the very good essays of ‘It girl’ culture critic Roxane Gay.” — Vanity Fair, Hot Type

“Let this be the year of Roxane Gay.”

“Smart readers cannot afford to miss these essays…”
Library Journal

Bad Feminist (9780062282712) by Roxanne Gay. $15.99 trade paper original. 

Short Take: A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall – Will Chancellor

Rife with literary allusion, romance and comedy, this is a coming of age story of among the academics. 6’8” Owen Burr was bound for the Olympics until he was blinded in one eye. Seeking to redesign his destiny, he moves to Berlin intending to become an artist. That the only book he carries in The Odyssey is no coincidence. Sinister conceptual artists, the search for true love and a hilarious shadow plot about Owen’s classics professor father make for an engaging and energetic debut.

What Owen finds [in Berlin] is a monster as terrible as any encountered by Odysseus. Kurt Wagener is a wheelchair-bound shock artist who proposes to guide Owen toward celebrity. ‘Talent is a myth,’ he seductively counsels. ‘You have to have a brand before you have skill. First presence, then an audience, then change your skill set if you’re still not selling.’ In fact, Kurt is exploiting Owen for a grotesque photography project that he plans to unveil at Art Basel.

“Mighty deeds fill the rest of this delightfully bizarre and myth-drunk novel….Meanwhile, a parallel story maps the efforts of Owen’s father, a widowed classics professor, to locate his missing son. Posing as a fiery leftist radical on a barnstorming European lecture tour, he accidentally foments a student bombing on the Acropolis….

“[T]he story’s unflagging energy and dramatic battiness make it irresistible. Mr. Chancellor would probably call it Dionysian, and I wouldn’t disagree.”

“[A] ambitious book, one filled with Greek myths and art-world jargon, the type of stylistic siren song that could lure a writer into dangerous waters…. Chancellor never lets that happen; he shows great poise and command with this elegant and highly enjoyable first novel, which suggests that he has even more greatness to offer us.”

A Brave Man Seven Storeys Tall (9780062280008) by Will Chancellor. $25.99 hardcover. 7/8/14 on sale.

Short Take: Further Out Than You Thought – Michaela Carter

This is poet and bookseller Carter’s first novel and an August Indie Next pick. The story of three young friends coming of age during the 1992 LA riots, this reminded me a little of Ten Thousand Saints in its evocation of time and place—and of young people on the fringes of society trying to find their way past survival and into adulthood.

The prize-winning poet Carter’s striking debut novel depicts 1992 Los Angeles around the time of the Rodney King riots, following aspiring writer–turned–stripper Gwendolyn Griffin, her deadbeat pot-smoking boyfriend Leo, and their mutual friend, HIV-positive crooner Count Valiant. At the outset of the story, the trio lives in a decaying, roach-infested complex called the Cornell. They are each poised for metamorphosis: Gwen has learned that she is pregnant, Leo is planning an absurd publicity stunt, and Count is mentally preparing for the end of his life. The brutality of the riots convinces them to leave the city: “That’s what you did when your city was burning, the city in which you’d lived and dreamed and loved; that’s what you did when you had just this night.” They embark on an impromptu road trip that forces them to confront hard truths about themselves and map out the future. Carter’s lyrical writing and cast of characters resonate with the backdrop of a city in flames.”
— Publishers Weekly

“This debut from award-winning poet Carter is an unexpected gift. . . . The author infuses her period piece with shades of post-punk cynicism and the caustic, abandon-all-hope vibe of the grunge years while drawing characters who fit well into the book’s gritty ambiance . . . a fable for those who remember the bad old days.”
Kirkus Reviews

Further Out Than You Thought (9780062292377) by Michaela Carter. $14.99 trade paper original. 8/5/14 on sale.

New in Paperback: The Illusion of Separateness, Lighthouse Island, The Skull and the Nightingale

A few reads that deserve a second shot at some display space…

This was an Indie Next Pick and Van Booy remains a bookseller favorite with good reason. His prose is lush yet economical, the story profound and imbued with a simple, poignant humanity. Inspired by true events, this is the story of six seeming strangers whose lives prove inextricably linked. A gorgeous story.

“The uncanny beauty of Van Booy’s prose, and his ability to knife straight to the depths of a character’s heart, fill a reader with wonder….There are so many wonderful sentences in this book, a reviewer groans for want of room to list them.”
   — San Francisco Chronicle

“Masterful prose….From minimalistic sentences he wrings out maximum impact, stripping away artifice and elaboration in favor of stark, emotional clarity and honesty.”
   — Boston Globe

“His writing is consciously poetic and at times aphoristic, and he deftly portrays his characters’ raw emotions.”
— Wall Street Journal

The Illusion of Separateness (9780062248459) by Simon Van Booy. $14.99 trade paper original 7/29/14 on sale.


This is a novel for those who like their dystopic fiction to lean literary. A paean to reading, narrative tradition and the power of stories to fuel imagination, it is also a story about the power of imagination to save lives. Nadia is a young orphan who travels through a new American Dust Bowl searching for a brighter future. If that recalls Steinbeck… well there you go. You’ll get a bracing dose of other literary echoes, too, in this story about stories and how they save our lives.

“Although the novel’s “Drought Age” sounds a serious Ancient Mariner warning, Lighthouse Island initially engages readers as a literary lark, with Nadia taking turns playing Alice exploring dry land, Huck lying his way out of tight spots and Isabel Archer searching for the fiction-based ideal. When life becomes too oppressive, Nadia listens to readings from classic authors on an anachronistic ‘Big Radio.’”

Lighthouse Island (9780062232519) by Paulette Jiles. $15.99 trade paper. 7/29/14 on sale.


Super reviews for this delicious historical thriller. Both literary and sexy, with nods to Les Liaisons Dangereuses and Clarissa, 18th century literary specialist Irwin offers up vivid, visceral, page turning suspense.

“Evokes Tom Jones, The Crimson Petal and the White, and Les Liaisons Dangereuses. . . . Irwin has crafted a terrific historical novel, and an even better psychological thriller. A-”
— Entertainment Weekly

“Amid Irwin’s spot-on descriptions of 18-century England’s squalor and splendor, the masquerades and dinner parties, this passion play mostly rests between the sheets where Lust lies. . . . Irwin’s secondary characters also fascinate . . . A tale of morals, intriguingly told.”
   — Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

The Skull and the Nightingale (9780062202369) by Michael Irwin.  $14.99 trade paper. 8/12/14 on sale.


“[A] provocative novel . . . This surprisingly dark story of twisted head-games and base instincts is, by turns, troubling and engrossing.”
— Booklist


“[V]ividly renders the darker side of the Age of Enlightenment. Readers who like their history served up with conquest and betrayal will enjoy this page-turner.”
   — Library Journal.”

August 2014 Indie Next Picks

Here are Harper’s August picks. As always, there’s a complete list here.

  • Bad Feminist (9780062282712) by Roxanne Gay. $15.99 trade paper original.
  • The Home Place (9780062323446) by Carrie La Seur. $25.99 hardcover. 7/29/14 on sale.
  • This Is the Water (9780062294906) by Yannick Murphy. $14.99 trade paper original. 7/29/14 on sale.


Now in Paperback

  • Lighthouse Island (9780062232519) by Paulette Jiles. $15.99 trade paper. 7/29/14 on sale