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.

More on: The Essex Serpent- Sarah Perry

Holy Moley, it’s hard to imagine a better week opening week of review attention. With stellar Washington Post, WSJ and NYT national reviews and a fascinating NPR interview, this is shaping up to be summer’s literary sleeper hit (though hard to call any book that’s already sold 250,000 copies in England a “sleeper.”)

Don’t skip the video link below to Washington Post reviewer Ron Charles’ “Totally Hip Book Review.” He does these in addition to his reviews in the paper and they are always hilarious. 🙂

“The most delightful heroine since Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice… Perry creates that delicate illusion of the best historical fiction: an authentic sense of the past — its manners, ideals and speech — that feels simultaneously distant and relevant to us…By the end, The Essex Serpent identifies a mystery far greater than some creature ‘from the illuminated margins of a manuscript’: friendship.”
Washington Post (full review)

[A] novel of almost insolent ambition — lush and fantastical, a wild Eden behind a garden gate. Set in the Victorian era, it’s part ghost story and part natural history lesson, part romance and part feminist parable. It’s wonderfully dense and serenely self-assured. I found it so transporting that 48 hours after completing it, I was still resentful to be back home… Perry’s writing engages the senses. You can almost smell the brine, the oyster, the ‘secretive scent of fungus clinging to the oak.’ But the real abundance here is of feelings between characters, not all of them sentimental. It’s been a while since I’ve read a book in which a man and a woman quarrel quite so much, and quite so forcefully, without something devastating coming of it.”
New York Times (full review)

“Richly enjoyable… Ms. Perry writes beautifully and sometimes agreeably sharply… The Essex Serpent is a wonderfully satisfying novel. Ford Madox Ford thought the glory of the novel was its ability to make the reader think and feel at the same time. This one does just that.”
Wall Street Journal (full review)

The Essex Serpent (9780062666376) by Sarah Perry. $26.99 hardcover. 6/6/17 on sale.

 

Now in Paperback: News of the World – Paulette Jiles

This New York Times bestseller, National Book Award Finalist and MPIBA “Reading the West” award winner was also on many “Best of the Year” round-ups at the end of 2016. So, it should be a crowd-pleaser on the paperback tables all summer long.

The new edition also includes a P.S. section with an essay from Jiles and reading group guide. And I just heard it’s in development as a movie starring Tom Hanks. (Perfect casting!)

News of the World (9780062409218) by Paulette Jiles. $15.99 trade paper. 6/20/17 on sale.

 

Book of the Week: The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

This is a very clever literary novel that should appeal to fans Sarah Waters, Jessie Burton and Helene Wecker. Using the conventions of the 19th century Gothic novel, Perry tells the story of a young widow and a rural British village obsessed with the possibility of a prehistoric serpent the townspeople believe may be responsible for the mysterious deaths of several animals and people.

Against that background Parry is able to play out a story of science, faith and superstition populated with characters who feel both pegged to the time and refreshingly modern: a rakish dwarf who is a brilliant young surgeon and smitten with our heroine, the widow’s inscrutably peculiar son who we 21st century readers understand to be autistic, a country minister with a fierce intelligence that matches our heroine’s—and our heroine herself: an iconoclast, a survivor of abuse, and an autodidact fascinated with Darwin’s new theories. She thinks the “monster” might be an evolutionary throwback. That’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the cast of characters in this lively, inventive novel.

To me one of the book’s central pleasures is that it feels both subversively modern yet has all the charm and civility so central to the shape and tone of 19th century novels. And because Parry is playing with the 19th century Gothic, there are star-crossed lovers, romantic consumptives, high and low society, lives in peril. The book does Dickens and the Brontes proud. Combined with the mystery of the serpent, how it all gets resolved makes for very satisfying reading.

The Essex Serpent has been met with raves in England; the Waterstone Bookstore chain’s named it one of their books of the year calling it “the most deeply satisfying fiction you will read this year.”

On this side of the pond, it’s a June Indie Next pick. And as an indication of the broad popular/literary readership we expect, Variety selected Sarah Perry as one of “10 Brits to Watch in 2017.” Review attention starts with People, the NYTBR, WSJ, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Vogue and Vanity Fair.

The unlikely friendship between a canny widow and a scholarly vicar sets the stage for this sweeping 19th-century saga of competing belief systems….An unlikely pair, the two develop a fast intellectual friendship, curious to many but accepted by all, including Ransome’s ailing wife….Perry pulls out all the stops in her richly detailed Victorian yarn, weaving myth and local flavor with 19th-century debates about theology and evolution, medical science and social justice for the poor….The sumptuous twists and turns of Perry’s prose invite close reading, as deep and strange and full of narrative magic as the Blackwater itself….[P]repare to fall under Perry’s spell and into her very capable hands. Stuffed with smarts and storytelling sorcery, this is a work of astonishing breadth and brilliance.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“In Perry’s excellent second novel… a fatal illness, a knife-wielding maniac, and a fated union with the Essex Serpent will dictate the ultimate happiness of [the] characters. Like John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman, whose Lyme Regis setting gets a shout-out here, this is another period literary pastiche with a contemporary overlay.”
Publishers Weekly

“The vivid, often frightening imagery… and the lush descriptions… create a magical background for the sensual love story between Sarah and Will. Book discussion groups will have a field day with the imagery, the well-developed characters, and the concepts of innocence, evil, and guilt.”
Booklist (starred review)

In this novel, reminiscent of Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights in its bitter cold and windy weather, people surprise each other, much is not as it would seem, and the human heart wants what it wants, even when we know what happened in the garden of Eden. Lovely characters I will not soon forget.”
— Anne Holman, The King’s English Bookshop, Salt Lake City, UT

“[A] pitch-perfect modern take on the Victorian novel, channeling both Sarah Waters and Jane Austen. A weathered widow rediscovers a love for natural science as she both attempts to track down a mythical beastie in Essex, England and fend off a budding attachment to a local minister. Science and religion clash in a thrilling manner in this beautifully written novel, brimming with fully-formed, fascinating characters (I especially love her gruff, protective companion who is so in love). Romance! Passion! Religion! Politics! Giant river monsters! Fans of Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things are going to love this charming, yet scathing novel. I certainly did!”
— Bill, Carl, Wellesley Books, Wellesley, MA

The Essex Serpent (9780062666376) by Sarah Perry. $26.99 hardcover. 6/6/17 on sale.

Publicity: More on The Women in The Castle

It’s been a great first week for Jessica Shattuck’s The Women in the Castle. Initial reviews are raves. (See below.)

Shattuck’s NYT op-ed “I Loved My Grandmother. But She was a Nazi.” went viral over the weekend and was the #1 most-viewed story on the Opinion page

And you can listen to her NPR/Weekend Edition interview Click here.

“Moving… This is definitely not a story of plucky women banding together to fix up a chilly home.  Their recoveries are burdened with unending guilt, and while they’re sharing the deprivations of the present, very often they’re keeping secrets about the traumas of the past, even from one another. Shattuck’s characters represent the range of responses to fascism.  Her achievement – beyond unfolding a plot that surprises and devastates – is in her subtle exploration of what a moral righteousness like Marianne’s looks like in the aftermath of the war, when communities and lives must be rebuilt, together.”
—  The New York Times

“If you love historical fiction, this is your must-read book: It’s captivating, fascinating, and incredibly faithful to the events as they happened, and Jessica Shattuck reveals an entirely new side of what it’s like to be a woman in wartime.”
— Newsweek

“Offers a mesmerizing new look at the aftermath of the war . . . with insight and empathy, The Women in the Castle stands tall among the literature that reveals new truths about one of history’s most tragic eras.”
— USA Today

The Women in the Castle (9780062563668) by Jessica Shattuck. $26.99 hardcover. 3/28/17 on sale.

 

Fiction Short Take: The Orphan’s Tale – Pam Jenoff

Jenoff is the author of a number of commercial historical novels, including the bestselling WWII novel, The Kommandant’s Girl. Jenoff returns to that territory in this story published under Harlequin’s MIRA imprint. Readers who enjoy the drama of stories like Sara Gruen’s Water for Elephants will likely be drawn to this tale of everyday lives lived in Germany under the Nazis.

“Bestselling author Jenoff depicts two disparate women thrown together by destiny, each hiding a secret from the Nazi regime….Despite their different backgrounds, they find comfort and trust in each other’s friendship. Against the backdrop of circus life during the war, the author captures the very real terrors faced by both women as they navigate their working and personal relationships and their complicated love lives while striving for normalcy and keeping their secrets safe.”
Publishers Weekly

“I read this novel in a headlong rush, transported by the relationship between two vastly different women during World War II: a Jewish circus aerialist and a teenage runaway with a baby. Deftly juggling secrets, lies, treachery, and passion, Pam Jenoff vividly brings to life the agonizing choices and life-or-death consequences for a hardy band of travelers under Nazi occupation.”
— Christina Baker Kline

The Orphan’s Tale (9780778319818) By Pam Jenoff.  $15.99 trade paper original. 2/21/17 on sale.

 

Fiction Short Take: The Fire by Night – Teresa Messineo

Women’s historical fiction covering the war years of the 20th century constitutes a very hot subgenre these days. It’s a territory crowded with releases so I was pleased to see this debut get recognition by booksellers and reviewers alike. A sort of female “Band of Brothers,” The Fire by Night tells the story of women who served as military nurses during WWII.

“Debut novelist Messineo captures the intensity of grimy conditions in field hospitals and internment camps as well as the exhausted yet relentless sense of duty propelling Kay Elliot and Jo McMahon….Alternating between each woman’s perspective, chapter by chapter, Messineo is at her best when describing the squalid environment and psychological mayhem, creating an All Quiet on the Western Front from American women’s perspectives. In the theaters of wars, these nurses practice astonishing acts of mercy—including the embrace of a lover during a soldier’s death throes….A vibrant telling of the nurses’ nightmares during a brutal war.”
Kirkus

Messineo’s writing style, in which scenes often play out without extensive explanation but are later elucidated, adds to the feel of wartime chaos and works well with the story’s disjointed time jumps… The novel’s strength lies in how well it conveys—mostly without sentimentality—the selflessness and bravery of nurses during the darkest hours.”
Publishers Weekly

The Fire by Night was completely stunning. Reading the stories of two military nurses was a heart-wrenching, yet hopeful experience. Both women find truth and fulfillment in their lives even while dealing with gritty reality of PTSD. There were scenes in this book that left me emotionally wrecked, but the beauty of the writing and the characters was astonishing. The research is also very thorough and created a realistic read….[I]t left me in awe at the strength of both women, and their drive to continue after such horrific events. I can easily recommend this book to historical fiction readers.”
— Kate Schreffler, Joseph-Beth, Lexington, KY

The Fire by Night (9780062459107) by Teresa Messineo. $26.99 hardcover. 1/17/17 on sale.