Book of the Week: Driving the King – Ravi Howard

Looking at American history through the lens of famous figures has certainly been one of the most popular sub-genres in fiction in recent years. Blockbusters like Loving Frank (Frank Lloyd Wright) and The Paris Wife (Ernest Hemingway) come immediately to mind. Ravi Howard’s new novel uses this technique to paint a vivid portrait of race and class in post-WWII America and 1950’s Hollywood.

“The King” in the title is Nat King Cole, the singer and celebrity who made history with The Nat King Cole Show, the first television program starring an African-American. This story takes as its starting point a reimagined version of a true incident where Cole was attacked on stage by white racists. In Howard’s retelling Cole’s childhood friend and recent WWII vet Nate Weary saves the singer and is sent to prison for “inciting a riot.” The novel picks up a decade later when Nate is released from prison and Cole hires him as his driver. The friendship between these two men is what really propels the narrative.

In its starred review PW calls this a “velvety smooth fictional memoir.” I found it also to be a compelling look at recent American history–a history already being forgotten at a time when remembering could serve us all well. Ravi Howard won the 2001 Zora Neale Hurston/Richard Wright Award, and his last novel with us, Like Trees, Walking; and he has also won the Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence.

Howard moves back and forth in time, describing Weary’s days at war, his recollections of his family, his time in prison, and, eventually, his years in L.A. as Cole’s driver and bodyguard. This story about a strong man, living with his head held high, is set against the backdrop of Jim Crow and the Montgomery bus boycott. Howard’s prose goes down like the top-shelf whiskey that Weary favors, making for a heady reading experience.”
Publishers Week (Starred Review)

“Alternating between the cities and Weary’s past and present, Howard explores race relations in the pre-civil rights era and the strong ties forged between two extraordinary men.”
— Booklist

 Driving the King (9780060529611) by Ravi Howard. $25.99 hardcover. 1/6/15 on sale.

Short Take: Gideon – Alex Gordon

Harper Voyager doesn’t crank out of a ton of titles. But the handful of sci fi, fantasy and paranormal novels they publish each season are often worth keeping an eye on. With a nod to The Crucible and the spooky texture of Neil Gaiman’s landscapes, Voyager’s first 2015 release points to something special for fans of paranormal suspense.

 “With the pacing of a thriller, this debut supernatural tale does a solid job of portraying the menace of small-town evil. While the demonic figure of Blaine is scary, the petty viciousness of the townsfolk is even more chilling. This will appeal to fans of books such as Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane or Deborah Harkness’s A Discovery of Witches.”
Library Journal (Starred Review)

Generations ago, the people of Gideon burned a witch at the stake, and that decision has haunted the town ever since….[T]he town itself is the real main character—a small, suspicious community of souls standing guard over the barrier between this world and the next….The twists and turns are entertaining enough, and there are a couple of strong surprises lurking near the end, but it’s the atmosphere that’s the real star here…In the end, the book is as much about life in a small, closed-off community that believes ‘blood tells’ and character can be inferred from a last name as it is about elemental magic and the struggle between good and evil. This novel will thoroughly satisfy readers looking for suspense, horror and a grisly good time.”
Kirkus Reviews

 “In this impressive dark fantasy debut, witches are anything but cardboard embodiments of good and evil….Crisp and shiveringly disturbing prose, a solid plot, and well-developed characters all make for a deeply satisfying read.”
Publishers Weekly

Gideon (9780061687372) by Alex Gordon. $14.99 trade paperback original. 1/6/15 on sale.

Short Take: The Teenage Brain – Frances E. Jensen with Amy Ellis Nutt

You don’t need me to tell me there’s a lot of publishing on how teens think and how to raise them. What I like about this book is both the neuroscience and the POV—the author is herself the mother of sons and a pediatric neuroscientist. While targeted to parents, I found the recent research in the subpopulation appealing to this general reader.

“They can’t help it–teens are in many ways unable to control impulses, make wise decisions, and understand what they do, explains Jensen….It’s not willful; it’s brain chemistry. By understanding relevant brain science, however, parents can find plans of action to help their kids through all the nuances of life in this fraught period.”
— Library Journal (starred review)

This well-written, accessible work surveys recent research into the adolescent brain, a subject relatively unexplored until just this past decade. The result illuminates the specific ways in which the teen brain differs from that of a child or an adult. As Jensen explains, while hormones cause some changes, teen behavior—even through the college years—is most influenced by the connections between brain areas still under development, including new brain circuitry, chemicals, and neurotransmitters. This period of growth increases both adolescents’ capacity for remarkable accomplishments and their vulnerability to stress, drugs, sleep deficit, and environmental changes.”
Publishers Weekly

“A captivating chapter, ‘The Digital Invasion of the Teenage Brain,’ calls attention to computer craving and adolescent addiction to the Internet.”….[A] sensible, scientific, and stimulating book.”
   — Booklist

The Teenage Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Survival Guide to Raising Adolescents and Young Adults (9780062067845) by Frances E. Jensen and Amy Ellis Nutt. $27.99 hardcover. 1/6/15 on sale.

New in Paperback: The Kept, The Girl with a Clock for a Heart and 10% Happier

One of my very favorite books of 2014, I think this has the potential to break out in paperback the way The Orchardist did. Both are gorgeous, atmospheric period novels fraught with complex family relationships, heart-breaking moral questions and made vivid by the literary talents of the authors. Ideal for book clubs, this is a book readers want to pass on to one another and talk about. This was an Indies Introduce title as well as an Indie Next Pick in hardcover and now paperback.

“Scott is a master of mood… This landscape is more mythic than historic, and Scott’s characters are dark brush strokes of appetite and deceit. His central concern, as a storyteller, is the dynamic of consequence.”
— New York Times Book Review

“[A] bravura debut…. as breathless as it is inevitable.”
— Boston Globe

“Graceful…unsettling…The Kept is a novel where most everyone harbors dark secrets and most characters are not who they appear to be.”
— USA Today

“Dark and mysterious… A novel whose daring is found in its bleakness… sparse, elegant… haunting.”
— New York Times

The Kept (9780062236654) by James Scott. $15.99 trade paperback. 1/6/15 on sale.


Swanson is an elegant suspense writer with a 21st century sense of pacing.  His classic noir plots move with breathless, cinematic speed. (Indeed, this one has already been picked up for film.) He’s got a new book coming in February and if reviews are any predictor, I think Peter Swanson is a writer worth watching—and reading. This is an Indie Next Pick in both hardcover and paperback.

The book has pace to burn. It feels like a throwback to Ross MacDonald’s flawed but relentless work . . . glimmers with bright and original moments.”
   — USA Today

“Who are literature’s most lethal women? There are many candidates, of course . . . but we might start with Shakespeare’s Goneril and Regan . . . And here’s a new contender: Liana Decter, who causes endless heartbreak and occasional death in Peter Swanson’s compulsively readable first novel….This is a highly original story, well told, that should be a contender for crime fiction’s best first novel of 2014.”
   — Washington Post

“The parallel stories unwind relentlessly with audacious and spectacular twists . . . An intense mix of noir, pulp fiction, and fun.”
   — Boston Globe

The Girl with a Clock for a Heart (9780062267504) by Peter Swanson. $14.99 trade paperback. 1/6/15 on sale.


Several years ago we had a smart, witty, accessible self-help book that was a bestseller in hardcover. The Happiness Project then blew up in paperback and now has over a million copies in print. That’s what this book feels like. Harris had a very nice bestseller with the hardcover but I think we’re about to go stratospheric with the paperback for years to come.

“With startling, provocative, and often very funny candor, Dan Harris tells the story of why he urgently needed to tame the strident voice in his head, and how he did it….[It] will convince even the most skeptical reader of meditation’s potential.”
— Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project

“This is a book that will help people, simply put. I know a lot of very powerful, very stressed-out, type-A personalities who will be getting this book from me as a gift this year.”
— Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works–A True Story (9780062265432) by Dan Harris. $15.99 trade paperback. 12/30/14 on sale.

Kids Books: The One and Only Ivan – Finally in Paperback!

Speaking of books likely to go stratospheric, I thought I’d better give you a heads up about Ivan since we postponed this paperback release awhile back. It is, of course, the winner of the 2013 Newbery Medal and a #1 New York Times bestseller.

“A beautifully written, intelligent and brave book. You will never look at the relationship of humans and animals in the same way again. Quite simply, this story is life changing.”
— Patricia MacLachlan

The One and Only Ivan (9780061992278) by Katherine Applegate. $7.99 paperback. 1/6/15 on sale.

January 2015 Indie Next Picks

Here are Harper’s January 2015 picks. As always, there’s a complete list here.

  • Wildalone (9780062328021) by Krassi Zourkova. $25.99 hardcover.

New in Paperback

  • The Kept (9780062236654) by James Scott. $15.99 trade paperback. 1/6/15 on sale.

Publicity: On My Own Two Feet – Amy Purdy

Paralympic Bronze Medalist and Dancing with the Stars finalist Purdy has major publicity lined up starting with GMA on 1/5/15 and Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. Additionally, it was just announced that she will star in this year’s Toyota Super Bowl ad.


 On My Own Two Feet: The Journey from Losing My Legs to Learning the Dance of Life (9780062379092) by Amy Purdy. $25.99 hardcover. 12/30/15 on sale.