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: 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.

 

New Fiction: The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. – Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland

Stephenson and fellow novelist Galland team up in a freewheeling fantasy where a government agent and an academic discover that magic was real but ceased to work with the advent of the scientific revolution and the Age of Enlightenment. As they embark on a mission to “unjam the frequencies” that keep magic from working in the modern age, readers are treated to a rollicking scientific/historical adventure that combines Stephenson’s vision, intricacy and complexity with Galland’s pacy storytelling.

It’s a #1 Indie Next Pick and arrives with two starred advance reviews

“[An] immense and immensely entertaining genre-hopping yarn…. A departure for both authors and a pleasing combination of much appeal to fans of speculative fiction.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Quantum physics, witchcraft, and multiple groups with conflicting agendas, playfully mixed with vernacular from several centuries and a dizzying number of acronyms, create a fascinating experiment in speculation and metafiction that never loses sight of the human foibles and affections of its cast.”
Publishers Weekly

“[An] enticing speculative thriller… a complex and engaging what-if tale that blends technology and history.”
Booklist (starred review)

The authors mix together magic, witchcraft, time travel, science and historical figures, both real and imagined, all the while delightfully skewering bumbling bureaucrats, pretentious academics, a rigid military and other bastions of the establishment to produce a work that is both thought provoking and totally entertaining.”
— Bill Cusumano, Square Books, Oxford, MS

“While there are plenty of serious plot twists in The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., it’s also a surprisingly light-hearted adventure romp, with all the high-tech intrigue typical of Stephenson’s books leavened by a beautifully over-the-top premise: a mysterious government agency is investigating the disappearance of magic, which is tied to the invention of photography. Nicole Galland, who wrote the weird but enjoyable novel Stepdog, adds a dash of romance to the proceedings. Stephenson fans, as well as lovers of books like The Invisible Library or Just One Damned Thing After Another, will love The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O.  Highly recommended!”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. (9780062409164) by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland. $35.00 hardcover. 6/13/17 one day laydown.

New Fiction: Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows – Balli Kaur Jaswal

This multicultural charmer is a perfect summer read for fans of books like Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. It’s an East-meets-West story of a westernized young Punjabi women who takes a job teaching creative writing at a Sikh community center in London. The women sign up for the class think they have signed up for a literacy class but embrace the spirit of creative writing, especially when one when one brings in a book of sexy stories.

As the women share their own stories, the “literacy class” becomes more and more popular while also drawing the attention of The Brotherhood—a self-styled moral police of conservative young men. Stir in a whodunit about the death of a young wife in the community; add a dollop of romance—and you’ve got a satisfying, sexy entertainment under pinned by some serious themes.

“Jaswal’s charming debut features an engaging protagonist who longs to break free from her more traditional mother’s expectations and who is still smarting from her father’s death, but it’s the portrayal of the women in Nikki’s class that is the highlight: these women are considered invisible, but through their writing they can be seen and their desires and dreams can be acknowledged. It’s a precious gift to give, and one Nikki comes to take very seriously. Additionally, the mystery of a young girl’s death offers an interesting twist at the end. This is a sparkling read, bolstered by a few of the women’s stories sprinkled in throughout.”
Publishers Weekly

By turns erotic, romantic, and mysterious, this novel of women defying patriarchal strictures enchants.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Sometimes books call to you from the shelves. Jaswal’s remarkable, fiery cast of characters — her Punjabi widows of Southall, England — tell a story with a voice that is so sorely needed. The stories of people whose voices often go unheard — women, immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ folks — are invaluable in our nation’s fight for empathy.”
— Tara Bagnola, Literati Bookstore, Ann Arbor, MI

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows (9780062645128) by Balli Kaur Jaswal. $26.99 hardcover. 6/13/17 on sale.

Nonfiction Short Take: A History of the United States in Five Crashes – Scott Nations

Smart, accessible, engaging… This narrative history of stock market crashes is likely to send you looking for a mattress to hide your money under even as you enjoy the read. Author Scott Nations’ stories of The Panic of 1907, Black Tuesday, Black Monday, The Great Recession, and The Flash Crash make for vivid reading and the author does a strong job of showing how the elements of each crash are related—and destined to keep coming.

Nations is the president of a financial firm, a regular contributor on CNBC, and personally witnessed three of the five crashes that appear in the book.

“[A] fascinating look at five major stock market crashes…. Nations observes that stock market crises mean more than just tanking investment accounts. They also stop people from investing, impacting job availability and the economy as a whole. While these failures don’t have a single cause that is easy to recognize beforehand, he asserts that all five studied here share important indicators. For one, they all had an external catalyst. He connects the Panic of 1907 to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which spurred insurance claims predominantly held by British insurers…. Nations’s focus on underlying causes is uniquely helpful given the complexities of the ever-changing and intricately connected global economy.”
—  Publishers Weekly

’Timely. … An eye-opening examination of the many ways money can be made—and disappear.’”
Kirkus Reviews

A History of the United States in Five Crashes: Stock Market Meltdowns That Defined a Nation (9780062467270) by Scott Nations. $28.99 hardcover. 6/13/17 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.

Fiction Short Take: The Himalyan Codex – Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch

If Crichton whets your appetite for science-based speculative fiction steeped in history, you can always turn to James Rollins. For readers who have worked through Rollins, Steve Berry, Preston Child and other established heirs to Crichton, you might want to try this new series from writing partners Schutt and Finch. This is their second book and both have been praised for offering the perfect blend of science, history and suspense rolled out at a page-turning pace.

Kirkus gave their first book, Hell’s Gate, a starred review saying, “[T]hink Indiana Jones. For that matter, this yarn evokes more than a few reminders of Stephen King, Joseph Conrad, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula. Fast-moving fun for thriller readers who enjoy a bit of horror and seeing bad guys get what’s coming to them.”

PW also gave the first book a starred review, highlighting the balance of science and suspense noting that “Michael Crichton fans will be pleased.”

“[in The Himalayan Codex] Schutt and Finch provide a textbook example of how to make the fantastic easy to buy into with their superior second Crichton-esque thriller…. In 1946, Maj. Pat Hendry visits [zoologist R.J. MacCready] at his offices in New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Natural History and shows him jawbones from a dwarf mammoth that suggest the creature had two trunks. Hendry reveals that the bones came from a remote part of Tibet known as the Labyrinth, which may also be the site of an even more amazing discovery—an incomplete codex believed to have been written by Pliny the Elder…that could be ‘the key to shaping life itself.’ … An extended author’s note at the end explains that such speculation is grounded in science.”
—  Publishers Weekly (starred review)

The Himalayan Codex (9780062412553) by Bill Schutt and J.R. Finch. $26.99 hardcover. 6/6/17 on sale.