New Fiction: Sycamore – Bryn Chancellor

This very assured literary debut marries the uncovering of the decades-old secret behind a teenage girl’s disappearance with the effect that disappearance has on a small Arizona community. Told in multiple voices, what could have been just another “disappearing girl whodunit” instead becomes a character study in grief, secrets and reconciliation. PW calls it “riveting” and I’ve had several early readers rave, one even texting me that it left her in tears.

It’s a LibraryReads Top 10 Pick for May and received two starred advance reviews.

In this riveting first novel, 17-year-old Jess Winters, a recent transplant to Sycamore, Ariz., disappears one night in 1991, leaving behind a jagged hole in the community. Eighteen years later, Laura Drennan, a new professor at Sycamore College, goes hiking and accidentally discovers human bones in a dry streambed near the campus. Word quickly spreads, and the entire town wonders if Jess’s remains have been discovered. As speculation runs high, we meet the former friends, classmates, neighbors, and teachers who continue to be haunted by Jess’s absence. They include her still-grieving mother…. There are also flashbacks, which ultimately reveal what happened to Jess on that fatal night. This is a movingly written, multivoiced novel…. The author ends her novel with a transporting vision of community, connection, and forgiveness.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

 “A meaty, suspenseful debut.”
Booklist

“Haunting and elegiac, Bryn Chancellor’s Sycamore masterfully traces the fault lines of trauma and loss that resurface in the wake of a tragedy’s second coming. Chancellor’s multivocal narrative brims with intelligence and insight, and her subtle writing poignantly illuminates the ways in which we are sometimes bound, for better and for worse, by a collective sorrow.”
— Claire Vaye Watkins

“This deeply moving story, which could have easily veered towards melodrama and sentimentalism, explores the fateful events that led to Jess’s disappearance and slowly reveals the mistakes, secrets and regrets but also the humanity and good that resides in each of the characters. Heart-wrenching and compassionate in the manner of Kent Haruf’s stories, this is a flawless first novel.
—  Pierre Camy, Schuler Books & Music, Grand Rapids, MI

Sycamore (9780062661098) by Bryn Chancellor. $26.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.

Biography Short Take: Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama – David Garrow

At over 1,400 pages and with a quarter million copy announced first print, this epic biography of Barack Obama’s early life and career is big in every way. Pulitzer Prize winning biographer Garrow draws on more than 1,000 interviews in his exploration of how Obama’s early life, his time as a Chicago organizer, and his daring bid for a U.S. Senate seat all helped forge the politician he would become.

The book is embargoed and we expect that a number of news-making revelations will help drive the media coverage. Reviews start with the Washington Post and USA Today with much more expected to come.

 “[R]ecounts Barack Obama’s intensely political life story up to his 2008 election to the presidency, and does so without apparent political bias…. The result is a convincing and exceptionally detailed portrait of one man’s self-invention… political history buffs will be fascinated.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Garrow is a demon for research…. Eminently solid… an impressive work that will provide grist for the former president’s detractors and admirers alike.”
Kirkus Reviews

Rising Star: The Making of Barack Obama (9780062641830) by David Garrow. $45.00 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.

 

New YA Fiction: Ramona Blue – Julie Murphy

Murphy’s debut Dumplin’ was one of last year’s break out books, debuting at #1 on the NYT bestseller list. After a success like that I always fret a bit about the possible “sophomore slump” No worries here. Advance reviews include two starred reviews and all the reviews praise Murphy’s thoughtful and empathetic characterizations.

The protagonist this time out is Ramona Blue, a teen steering herself and her pregnant sister through life in a coastal Mississippi town after their mother leaves them. At the opening of the book Ramona’s girlfriend leaves just as an old childhood friend returns. Freddie’s a middle-class kid and when his family signs them both up at the Y for the summer, Ramona discovers a talent for swimming—and an unexpected attraction to her old friend.

In another writer’s hands, the issues here might overwhelm the story—class, race, poverty, sexuality—but in Murphy’s hands it’s these finely drawn characters who keep the limelight, with Ramona emerging like Dumplin’, as an underdog you cheer for.

There are two things Ramona knows: she likes girls, and she’s the responsible one in her family, especially now that her sister, Hattie, is pregnant. The girls’ mother left,…they live in a trailer, and Ramona is juggling multiple jobs…. In Eulogy, Miss., Murphy creates a place that feels deeply real, a Gulf Coast vacation town that’s racially and economically diverse: Ramona is white and poor, Freddie is black and middle class, and the biggest divide might be between the year-round residents and the summer visitors. It’s a great setting for a coming-of-age story, as Ramona realizes that she’s capable of more than she imagined and that some categories are more fluid than she’d thought.”
Publishers Weekly

“An exquisite, thoughtful exploration of the ties that bind and the fluidity of relationships, sexuality, and life.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Julie Murphy knows a thing or two about navigating the worlds of girls on the brink of self-discovery.”
Booklist (starred review)

“A must-have work that will resonate with teens”
School Library Journal

Ramona Blue (9780062418357) by Julie Murphy. $17.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.

May 2017 Indie Next and LibraryReads Picks

Complete Indie Next List here.

  • The Baker’s Secret (9780062369581) by Stephen P. Kiernan. $26.99 hardcover. 5/2/17 on sale.
  • Ginny Moon (9780778330165) by Benjamin Ludwig. $26.99 hardcover. 5/2/17 on sale.
  • Sunshine State: Essays (9780062434876) by Sarah Gerard $15.99 trade paper original. 4/11/17 on sale.

Now in Paperback

  • Commonwealth (9780062491831) by Ann Patchett. $16.99 trade paper. 5/2/17 on sale.
  • Father’s Day (9780062408952) by Simon Van Booy. $15.99 trade paper. 4/25/17 on sale.
  • Half Wild: Stories (9780062444400) by Robin Macarthur. $14.99 trade paper. 4/19/17 on sale.
  • Larose (9780062277039) by Louise Erdrich. $15.99 trade paper. 4/11/17 on sale.

LibraryReads Picks

#3 Since We Fell (9780062129383) by Dennis Lehane. $27.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 one day laydown.

#5 Ginny Moon (9780778330165) by Benjamin Ludwig. $26.99 hardcover. 5/2/17 on sale.

#7 White Hot (9780062289254) by Ilona Andrews. $7.99 mass market paperback. 5/30/17 on sale.

#8 Sycamore (9780062661098) by Bryn Chancellor. $26.99 hardcover. 5/9/17 on sale.

#10 The Jane Austen Project (9780062651259) by Kathleen A. Flynn. $15.99 trade paper original. 5/2/17 on sale.

Book of the Week: Ginny Moon – Benjamin Ludwig

This debut novel is the winsome and poignant story of an autistic foster child who has found her “forever family” after three placements in five years. When her forever parents become pregnant, a complicated time for the family is made more difficult by the unexpected resurfacing of Ginny’s abusive birth mother who wants to reconnect with the girl. Told from Ginny’s point of view, this tale of an unusual girl finding her path to love and safety will like appeal to fan of books like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and The Rosie Project.

Ginny Moon launches Harlequin’s new indie-friendly imprint Park Row Books. It marks a great start and is shaping up to be a bestseller with three starred advance reviews, both an Indie Next and LibraryReads pick, and authors like Graham Simsion and Dan Chaon in its corner.

Ludwig’s excellent debut is both a unique coming-of-age tale and a powerful affirmation of the fragility and strength of families. We meet 14-year-old Ginny, who has autism, as she settles into life with a new “forever family” and unexpectedly reconnects with Gloria, the abusive, drug-addicted mother from whom she was taken away at the age of nine—and Rick, the father she never knew. The rediscovery unsettles the tentative bond Ginny’s forged with adoptive parents Maura and Brian, exacerbates the teen’s heartbreaking fears for the “baby doll” she left behind, and ultimately triggers a wildly heroic, secret plan to run away to Canada with Gloria and Rick. Ludwig brilliantly depicts the literal-minded and inventive Ginny—whose horrifying past and valiant hope for the future are slowly unveiled—and the alternately selfish, sympathetic, and compassionate adults who would do anything to get Ginny to choose their love….”
—  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“This stunning debut novel grabs readers by the heart and doesn’t let go.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“[E]nlightening…compelling…remarkably engaging…A heartwarming and unforgettable page-turner.”
Booklist (starred review)

“In telling the tale from Ginny’s perspective, Ludwig captures the carefully constructed, sometimes-claustrophobic world Ginny inhabits…. By turns heartwarming and heartbreaking, Ginny’s quest for a safe home leads her to discover her own strong voice.
 Kirkus Reviews

“Ginny Moon isn’t like most other 14-year-olds. She is a Forever Girl, living in a loving Forever Home, but she’s desperate enough to get back to her Baby Doll that she plots to have her dangerous, irresponsible birth mom kidnap her. Ginny’s story was completely gripping right from the start with a looming sense of dread at all the ways her tale might become a tragedy. Her voice was pervasive…and I loved being in her head and seeing the world the way she does. Likewise, the adults are all made both simpler and more complex seen through Ginny’s eyes, and I marveled both at the ways they understood her and in the ways they sometimes failed her. Even though I was terrified for her, it was a joy spending time with clever, focused, brave Ginny.”
— Danielle Borsch, Vroman’s Bookstore, Pasadena, CA

Ginny Moon (9780778330165) by Benjamin Ludwig. $26.99 hardcover. 5/2/17 on sale.

New Nonfiction: Between Them – Richard Ford

This small, intricate recollection of his parents by Pulitzer Prize winner Richard Ford is his first book-length work of nonfiction. Ford brings his brings his trademark blend of understated wit, insight and empathy to the story of young Parker and Edna Ford, a traveling salesman and his wife living on the road together and later with young Richard in the South during the Great Depression. Parker died when Ford was 16 and Edna in 1981. He tells the story their lives in two parts, written decades apart, that together form a vivid portrait of a loving marriage in a by-gone America.

The book has three starred advance reviews and is already slated for coverage in the NYTBR, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The Philadelphia Inquirer, VanityFair.com and The Huffington Post. Ford will be interviewed on Fresh Air and PBS Newshour.

“Ford vividly and gracefully preserves his memories of parents, his life “between them,” and the small Southern towns that provided the limits and the possibilities of their lives…. Every page of this little remembrance teems with Ford’s luxuriant prose, his moving and tender longing for his parents, and his affecting and intimate portrait of two people simply living life as best they can as their world changes around them.
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

By any standards, this is a singular volume, as peculiarly personal as it is slim. There are two sections, one devoted to each parent: ‘Gone: Remembering My Father’ and ‘My Mother, In Memory.’ The second was written three decades before the first, shortly after his mother’s death. Ford’s father had died much earlier, leaving his mother alone in the world to raise the son she loved, but not in the way she had loved his father. ‘He was her protector, but she was his,’ writes the author. ‘If it meant that I was further from the middle of things, I have lived my entire life thinking this is the proper way to be a family.’… A subtle, careful testament to devotion and a son’s love for his parents.
Kirkus (starred review)

“Illustrated with family photographs, Ford’s remembrance of his parents is a masterful distillation of sensuous description, psychological intricacy, social insights, and a keen sense of place. Ford’s reflections are bright with wit, edgy with candor, and lustrous with extraordinary poignancy and love.”
Booklist (starred review)

Between Them: Remembering My Parents (9780062661883) by Richard Ford. $25.99 hardcover. 5/2/17 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: Driving Miss Norma – Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle

Driving Miss Norma: One Family’s Journey Saying “Yes” to Living (9780062664327) by Tim Bauerschmidt and Ramie Liddle. $26.99 hardcover. 5/2/17 on sale.

It’s not often that I think it’s worth looking at a Facebook page to consider whether or not to buy a book–but there’s an exception to every rule. Take a look at the FB page Driving Miss Norma and you’ll get a sense of what this is the charming, uplifting memoir has to offer.

At 90, newly widowed Norma Bauerschmidt learned she had uterine cancer. Deciding against chemotherapy she instead hit the road for a year with her son and his wife in their RV—which they called an “mobile assisted living home”—and gave Norma the adventure of her life.

The story has been widely covered already—in People, The Washington Post and the NYT, on the CBS Evening News and the Today show. You won’t be surprised to know that the movie rights have been sold. I can’t wait to see it on screen—but in the meantime we have Miss Norma on the page in this generous recollection by her son and daughter-in-law.

This is an inspirational book for the ages; I’d put it on everything from Graduation and Mother’s Day tables to this fall’s holiday tables. It’s a great gift of inspiration for so many situations.

“For the first time, as [Norma’s son] writes in this endearing memoir, they got to know one another as adults, and their trip transformed into a warm, thoughtful, and meaningful conversation on family, aging, caretaking, and what happens when you look to other ways to heal besides Western medicine….The months on the road were nourishing for Norma, who saw some of her symptoms disappear, and also very therapeutic for Tim and Ramie, who had led itinerant lives free of obligations for years. Tim, Ramie, and Norma’s travels are joyful and moving….Norma’s willingness to be fearless and open to whatever comes her way, even trying cannabis cream, offers profound insights into how we choose to live.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)