Book of the Week: The Witches of New York – Ami McKay

Here’s a satisfying sleeper you can put into the hands of fiction lovers who like their genres stirred into a potent, bracing brew—and their escapism underpinned with some substance.

The Witches of New York takes place in a beautifully realized Victorian New York—at a time when both science and spirituality were taking society by storm. The witches of this novel run a small tea shop that helps ladies find cures for many ills—from sleepless nights to bad marriages to unwanted pregnancies. Enter a young girl from the countryside who hires on as a shop girl—a girl who turns out to be a young witch unaware of her latent powers. Add in a powerful demon who works through a culture of men threatened by these self-sufficient, independent women and you have a summer entertainment whose themes couldn’t be more relevant today.

In this weighty, wonderful novel, McKay takes a sidelong glance at misogyny through a veil of witches, ghosts, and other mystical entities in 1880 New York…. McKay seamlessly combines several plots and juggles a large cast with grace. Skillful worldbuilding, fascinating characters, and a suspenseful plot make McKay’s novel an enchanting, can’t-put-down delight. The door is left open for a sequel, and readers will hope McKay takes Adelaide, Eleanor, and Beatrice on further adventures of witchery and self-determination.”
—  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“With a remarkable cast of characters… McKay has crafted a stunning work that bridges the gap between historical and contemporary women’s issues. The novel is ambitious in its scope yet still delves deep into the thoughts and motivations of characters who normally exist on society’s outskirts—or even beyond the earthly realm…. McKay’s elegant prose bridges the gap between the real world and the spiritual realm with skill and compassion.”
Kirkus (starred review)

The Witches of New York (9780062359926) by Ami KcKay. $15.99 trade paper original. 7/11/17 on sale.

New Fiction: The Almost Sisters – Joshilyn Jackson

Here’s another writer who is a master at serving up serious themes inside of confection of wit, pathos and heart. In The Almost Sisters, bestseller Jackson tells the story of a graphic novelist who has a one-night stand with a mysterious Batman she meets at a FanCon. She later discovers that she is pregnant and finds herself looking forward to the prospect of motherhood.

But add that her son will be a biracial boy born into a conventional Old South family, a grandmother with dementia, and a family secret in that has been hidden in her attic since the Civil War–and you’ve something a lot more substantial and satisfying than the typical summer beach read.

If you’re a fan of women’s fiction, you’ll love this story of family and relationships. If you’re not a fan of women’s fiction, come for the humor and insight. As one reviewer said of her work, it’s “Flannery O’Connor meets Dave Barry.”

“Jackson has written another spirited page-turner …There’s a whiff of Southern Gothic here and plenty of sex, lies, and family secrets…. But Jackson is bighearted and, in the end, optimistic. She writes vivid, funny characters, and her voice is distinctive and authentic.… A satisfying, entertaining read from an admired writer who deserves to be a household name.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Jackson has packed in all the drama needed for a fast-paced summer read, but this isn’t your average beach book. Dark secrets and racism plague Grandma Birchie’s seemingly charming southern town, and Leia will soon find that real-life villains aren’t as easy to identify as the ones in her comic books.”
Publishers Weekly

Leia, a self-proclaimed superhero-comics dork, narrates this light-dark Southern story of family, race, and belonging with affection, humor, and well-timed profanity, bound to please fans of the best-selling author’s six previous novels.… Both literary and women’s fiction readers will appreciate Leia’s smart/sassy narrative.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“Joshilyn Jackson is an amazing storyteller who somehow keeps getting better and better with every novel. Unforgettable characters, constant action and a deft hand with social issues makes The Almost Sisters her best yet…. Jackson’s ear for language makes her work sing; her characters’ fierce family loyalties make you cheer for them; and the humor in her work balances her often-dark subject matter. I adored The Almost Sisters!
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

The Almost Sisters (9780062105714) by Joshilyn Jackson. $26.99 hardcover. 7/11/17 on sale.

 

New Fiction: Made for Love – Alissa Nutting

Nutting likes to push boundaries—and buttons. Her first novel, Tampa, was a dark satire about an eighth-grade teacher’s affair with a student. It was a high-wire performance that repelled some readers and made others fans for life.

This new novel, while less polarizing, is no less a daring satire. It’s the story of an aimless young woman trying to escape her marriage to the founder and sinister CEO of a far-reaching tech company. (It’s hard not to think Google when the company is named “Gogol.”)

Having literally escaped her husband’s high security compound, she arrives at the door of her elderly father’s Florida trailer where he has taken up residence with a life-size blow-up doll in the aftermath of his wife’s death. Then things get weirder.

There’s a secondary plot about a handsome con man who gets his sexual wires crossed after being molested by a dolphin. (Yes, I said that.) Eventually his story intertwines with Hazel’s and results in an absurdist romp about technology, the mind and free will.  It’s bracing, laugh out loud social satire in the vein of Nell Zink.

Nutting deftly exploits the comic potential of perverse attachments, here to sex dolls, aquatic mammals, and technological devices…. The story begins after a woman, Hazel, has fled her controlling husband, Byron, a cold-blooded, germaphobic, and distinctly un-Byronic tech titan who treated his electronics like lesser wives.’ Hazel takes refuge in her father’s trailer park home, vastly different from her former lodging, ‘the Hub,’ Byron’s sterile compound that is at once a prison, spa, and hospital. Living with her father and his recently purchased sex doll, Hazel hopes to avoid Byron’s near-omniscient gaze and forge a new, unsurveilled, and thrillingly unhygienic life…. [A] witty portrait of a woman desperate to reconnect with her humanity.
Publishers Weekly, “Best Summer Books of 2017”

“[O]ne of the funniest, most absurd books you’ll read this summer…. Hilarious, clever, and strikingly original, Made for Love speaks to the absurdity of our societal obsessions with technology and wealth.”
   — Buzzfeed

“There is no one who negotiates the absurd as vigorously yet poignantly as Alissa Nutting. In her second novel, Made For Love, Nutting explores the loneliness of a future overly mediated by technology through a tremendous romp involving Hazel, trying to leave her tech mogul husband Byron even though his reach knows no bounds. There are sex dolls and a senior citizen trailer park and brain chips and a con man who loves dolphins and still, the story makes sense like a motherfucker. Brilliant, dense, hilarious writing that hurtles toward an ending that is both satisfying and unexpected.”
— Roxane Gay

“Oh god I just love every page. It’s fantastic.”
— Lynda Barry

“After devouring Nutting’s deliciously dysfunctional debut, Tampa, I consider myself a devotee to her particular brand of cringe-worthy absurdity. Nutting masterfully navigated the sticky complexities of human sexuality once before so I trusted her, implicitly, to take me there again. She, as expected, did not disappoint…. Equal parts sinister and hilarious, eccentric and affecting, Nutting manages to craft an arresting and outrageous puzzle that is far more than the sum of its parts.”
— Tara Bagnola, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Made for Love (9780062280558) by Alissa Nutting. $26.99 hardcover. 7/4/17 on sale.

Book of the Week: River Under the Road – Scott Spencer

Spencer will likely always be remembered for this 1979 classic, Endless Love. And that’s a shame because good as that book was, Spencer followed that early success with one terrific book after another. Two of his more recent novels remain among my favorites—A Ship Made of Paper and Man in the Woods. To that I happily add this new book.

While the plots of his books are wide-ranging, there is a through-line to his themes. It seems to me that all his books are concerned with how one’s reaction in a moment of strong emotion can tear apart what proves to be the relatively thin scrim of civilization.

Told from alternating points of view over many years, River Under the Road is the story of a marriage—two marriages really–against the backdrop of declining opportunities for the working class and the lottery-like luck that leads a small number of Americans to live lives of luxury while telling themselves they have earned that outsized luck.

The story plays out poignantly on the small canvas of a handful of people’s lives from their early choices to their dawning awareness of their compromises, betrayals and failures. And in a subtle but ultimately devastating way, we see how they stand in for America’s choices over the last fifty years.

What Janet Maslin said of A Ship Made of Paper in the NYT is true for this book, too:

Richly intelligent prose and vivid characters, set against the backdrop of American race relations [in this case substitute “class”]. Here are real people confronting real emotions, whether it’s the electric thrill of illicit love, seething anger over a betrayal or the white-knuckle terror of genuine mortal danger… [the] slowly escalating catastrophe that wrecks buildings and lives – will rattle your bones.”

The best book titles offer and “ah ha” moment and a clue about the writer’s intent. The title for this book comes when two screenwriters are talking at a Hollywood party: “’You want to know what I know, chum?… Eagles can tell how much food is going to be available in their habitat over the next six months and if they see it’s going to be slim pickings they break a couple of their own eggs so there won’t be too many mouths to feed. We’re connected to our environment, too. We’re aware of what’s going on with our species, with our whole world, we can feel it like you can feel a river under a road.’”

Coverage starts with New York Times Book Review and the Washington Post where it was already included as one of most anticipated book of the spring.

“Rich, provocative . . . . Since Endless Love (1979) . . . Spencer’s specialty has been the ache of unrequited (or lost) love. His prose on the subject of romance is fulsome, lush, downright Lawrencian. He has a supple understanding of infidelity and marital dynamics, especially the simmering resentments of a floundering relationship. . . . River Under the Road is wry and insightful.”
— Washington Post

“The story of two couples, recounted across 14 years through the lens of a dozen parties…. At the center of the action are Thaddeus, a screenwriter, and his wife, Grace, an artist who drifts away from her art as the pair moves from bohemia into the bourgeoisie…. Money is an issue throughout the novel—who has it and who doesn’t, what one must do to get it, what happens when it goes away. More to the point, however, this is a book about the vicissitudes of love…”
Kirkus Reviews

River Under the Road (9780062660053) by Scott Spencer. $27.99 hardcover. 6/27/17 on sale.

 

Fiction Short Take: The Destroyers – Christopher Bollen

Bollen follows up Orient, his stylish, well-received novel about murder in a small Long Island town, with a more Hitchcockian exercise in suspense and murder. The NYT writes that The Destroyers is about “beautiful people visiting glamorous places, being wicked enough to bring Patricia Highsmith to mind. It just isn’t summer without this kind of globe-trotting glamour to read about, especially when most of it is set in the Aegean…. Escapism, as calculating as it gets.”

The plot centers around two childhood friends from wealthy families now dealing with complications about their inheritances. Down-on-his-luck Ian is hired to manage his friend Charlie’s yacht. When Charlie goes missing Ian starts looking for him. Suddenly Ian’s eclectic group of acquaintances starts seeming pretty dicey–and the game is afoot.

This one is on tons of summer reading lists including The New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, TIME, Vogue, New York Post and the BBC. Reviews are coming in USA Today, New York Magazine, LA Times and People.

“Bollen manages to create a novel that is equal parts literary and thrilling. His beautiful sentences linger, and each of his characters have rich, complicated pasts that unfold over time… a cinematic and insightful reflection on wealth and the horrendous things it can drive people to do, even to the ones they love.”
Publishers Weekly

 “An eminently worthy heir to Patricia Highsmith. At once gritty, sandy, and silky-good reading for the beach or a yacht, too.”
— Kirkus Reviews

“Atmospheric… a slow-building, literary motorbike ride down steep Greek hillsides…. The writing is sharp, languid, and lovely, and the first-person point of view is a narrowly focused beam that eventually grows to encompass the entirety of the island.”
   — Library Journal

The Destroyers (9780062329981) by Christopher Bollen. $27.99 hardcover. 6/27/17 on sale.

 

New Fiction: The Force – Don Winslow

We’re always fans of the pithy soundbite in this business and Stephen King’s is memorable: “Think The Godfather, only with cops.”

Winslow already had a career-defining bestseller with his last book, The Cartel, and I think this new one is more than a case of lightning striking twice: I think we’re looking at a writer arriving at full mastery of his craft. The plotting, the finely developed characters, and the moral ambiguity felt on level with the epic TV crime drama, The Wire. Both feel like plot-driven narrative sociologies in steroids. In the case of The Force, to say that the reader comes away with a more nuanced, conflicted sense of good and bad, heroes and villains, is an understatement.

Major media agrees: It’s been covered in a number of summer previews and we already have national review commitments and interviews scheduled in Entertainment Weekly, USA Today, Rolling Stone, the NYTBR, Washington Post, Time and WSJ, with much more to come. It also received two starred advance reviews and is an Indie Next pick.

Janet Maslin weighed in this week in the NYT calling The Force “a shattering New York cop epic about an elite task force leader who’s a hero until he’s not… [A] boisterous, profane book… [that] recalls Sidney Lumet’s great New York police films (Serpico, Prince of the City) and makes their agonies almost quaint by comparison….”

Edgar-finalist Winslow peers into the soul of modern America through the eyes of a supremely skilled and corrupt police officer, in this epic novel of devastating moral complexity. Dennis Malone, a veteran NYPD detective sergeant, leads the Manhattan North Special Task Force, an elite unit established to combat drugs, gangs, and guns. Keeping the citizens safe is often messy work and sometimes requires unorthodox methods to get results. Gradually, however, Malone and his crew have slipped over the edge, stealing millions…. As the reader discovers, Malone’s corruption is but a tiny part of a much larger system that extends into the highest reaches of New York’s power structure, where the real business is done, and everyone on the chain takes a cut. Fans of modern masters such as Don DeLillo, Richard Price, and George Pelecanos will be richly rewarded.”
—  Publishers Weekly (starred, boxed review)

“By turns grim and giddy, this is a good read in the service of dark cops.
—  Kirkus Reviews

“Winslow has created what will likely become our quintessential cop novel, looking both at what cops do right and wrong with clear-eyed realism and passionate humanity.”
Booklist (starred review)

The Force (9780062664419) by Don Winslow. $27.99 hardcover. 6/20/17 one day laydown.

 

Book of the Week: Hunger – Roxane Gay

Novelist and essayist Gay adds memoir to her considerable repertoire in this unforgettable mediation on what it means to be an “unruly body”—an obese woman in a culture that so profoundly and narrowly equates appearance with worth.

Gay broke out with 2014’s bestselling Bad Feminist, which was a best book of the year on many lists and won the 2015 PEN Center USA Freedom to Write Award, a prize given in recognition of her “important, incisive, and connective” writing as well as for tackling “tough subjects and controversial topics with a hard-edged grace and difficult honesty.”

Many memoirs have been written on being overweight–this is a take you haven’t seen. Feminist, incisive, with her trademark ability it blend cultural theory and pop culture, Hunger is a searing book you won’t soon forget.

 It’s received four starred advance reviews and is Indie Next pick. In terms of publicity, everyone wants Roxane for this one. People is running a first serial and an interview; she’ll be on The Daily Show the night before on sale and Fresh Air interview airs 6/19/17 with other interviews to appear in Elle and TheAtlantic.com. We can expect reviews just about everywhere and Gay is doing a major, ticketed tour with dozens of speaking dates across the country. (Check out her tour dates here.) This is one of the signature nonfiction books of the summer.

After a group of boys raped her when she was 12 years old, Gay’s world began to unravel, and she turned to overeating as a way of making her violated body into a safe ‘fortress.’… Gay shares how her weight and size shade many topics, including relationships, fashion, food, family, the medical profession, and travel (the bigger her body became, the author notes, the smaller her world became). She suffered profound shame and self-loathing, and boldly confronts society’s cruelty toward and denigration of larger individuals (particularly women), its fear of ‘unruly bodies,’ and the myth that equates happiness with thinness. This raw and graceful memoir digs deeply into what it means to be comfortable in one’s body. Gay denies that hers is a story of ‘triumph,’ but readers will be hard pressed to find a better word.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“It’s hard to imagine this electrifying book being more personal, candid, or confessional…. In 88 short, lucid chapters, Gay powerfully takes readers through realities that pain her, vex her, guide her, and inform her work. The result is a generous and empathic consideration of what it’s like to be someone else: in itself something of a miracle.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A heart-rending debut memoir from the outspoken feminist and essayist…. The author continues her healing return from brokenness and offers hope for others struggling with weight, sexual trauma, or bodily shame. An intense, unsparingly honest portrait of childhood crisis and its enduring aftermath.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Displays bravery, resilience, and naked honesty from the first to last page…. Stunning …. essential reading.”
Library Journal (starred review)

Hunger reads like a conversation with an intimate friend who generously opens a door to her world. She weaves effortlessly between deeply personal anecdotes and culture criticism that make you reexamine your perception of the world as only Gay can. Her awareness of the treatment of the female body is both accurate and powerful in that it made me recognize what I knew to be true, but couldn’t articulate for myself. The reaction I keep returning after finishing Hunger is one of gratitude towards Gay—for both allowing us the privilege to hear her story and making room for others to do the same.”
— Lindsay Crist, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati, OH

“It turns out that when a wrenching past is confronted with wisdom and bravery, the outcome can be compassion and enlightenment—both for the reader who has lived through this kind of unimaginable pain, and for the reader who knows nothing of it. Roxane Gay shows us how to be decent to ourselves, and decent to one another. Hunger is an amazing achievement in more ways than I can count.”
—  Ann Patchett

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body (9780062362599) by Roxane Gay. $25.99 hardcover. 6/13/17 one day laydown.