Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Summer Preview 2014: Part Six

June is traditionally wedding month, and this brings to mind that English rhyme "Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue, and a silver sixpence in her shoe." That's what a bride is supposed to wear for good luck in her marriage. I hope this advice also holds true for reading books. If so, I'm on the road to good fortune.

Something Old

I have an old family scrapbook/photo album that I treasure, but my family's survival doesn't depend on it. On the other hand, Hannah Wilde's family diaries are crucial to their existence. The diaries are tied together with string and have been handed down from mother to daughter for more than a hundred years. They're in the trunk of the Wildes' car when Stephen Lloyd Jones's The String Diaries (Mulholland, July 1, 2014) begins. Hannah has the gas pedal to the floor, daughter Leah crouches in the backseat, and husband Nate sprawls in the front passenger seat, bleeding to death.

In ensuing chapters, writer Jones blends elements of horror, the supernatural and thriller to create a gripping urban fantasy. This isn't a book of vampires, ghosts or werewolves. Rather, Jones uses fabricated Hungarian folk tales and mythology to create an unusual story of destructive obsession based on character rather than supernatural nature alone. No one and nothing can be taken at face value. A layered timeline of three stories includes the ever-vigilant Hannah's, set in the present; Oxford professor Charles Meredith's, which begins in 1979; and Jakab's, which opens in Hungary in 1873. These three stories create the history behind Hannah's family diaries. Early reviewers report an engaging, confident story that forces them to stay awake until the early hours, furtively turning pages.

The "old" in Fredrik Backman's tragicomedy and Swedish bestseller, A Man Called Ove (translated from the Swedish by Henning Koch; Atria, July 15, 2014), is the title character himself. Ove is an old man whose view of the world has darkened since the death of Sonja, his handicapped wife, and his forced retirement. His days are long and a burden to him. As the self-appointed enforcer of his housing complex's rules, Ove judges everyone else by how closely they adhere to "the way things are done." It almost goes without saying that others fall far short and few fall shorter than his new neighbors, the pregnant Parvaneh and her inept husband, Patrick.

At this point, Ove longs to be reunited with his deceased wife and he's scheduled his demise on his daily calendar. Interruptions by deliverymen, his noisy new neighbors and even a stray cat constantly force Ove to reschedule for the following day. Eventually, these interrupters worm their way into Ove's life and give him a reason for living it. There are sky-high reviews for this poignant and funny first book by Backman and it's recommended as the perfect book for people who loved Helen Simonson's Major Pettigrew's Last Stand and Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry.

Something New

James Lee Burke's upcoming Wayfaring Stranger (Simon & Schuster, July 15, 2014) isn't one of his Dave Robicheaux books. It's the first in a new series with Weldon Holland. That last name, Holland, will ring a bell for Burke fans. Billy Bob Holland and Hackberry Holland, two tough-minded Texas lawmen and cousins, has each featured in his own Burke series. Now we follow Weldon, Hackberry's grandson, into manhood.

Burke's writing has great strength and poetic beauty. His appreciation for war veterans and honorable Americans who are the backbone of our country is evident in all his series. In the Robicheaux books, his concern is sin and redemption. This book is a morality play set during a coming of age/Texas family saga, seen through Weldon's eyes. An early encounter with evil takes place in 1934, when the 16-year-old Weldon has a chance encounter with infamous robbers Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow. Weldon chases them off Holland property with a bullet through the back window of their stolen car. He's a hero as an Army second lieutenant in World War II, in combat and action behind German lines. Back again in Texas, Weldon weds exactly the sort of gutsy woman you'd like to see him marry. He and his partner, Sgt. Hershel Pine, build a pipeline business in the cut-throat Texas-Louisiana oil industry. When all else fails, Weldon administers justice in the traditional Holland way.

Since we're talking about "something new" and administering do-it-yourself-justice, I need to tell you about Joe Abercrombie's Half a King (Del Rey/Random House, July 15, 2014). Like Wayfaring Stranger, it's the first in a series that combines a coming-of-age story with a family saga. Unlike Burke's book, Half a King begins a fantasy trilogy (Shattered Sea), set in a neo-Viking world. Although it's written for young adults, early reviewers emphatically assure us that "Abercrombie's stellar prose style and clever plot twists will be sure to please both adult and teen readers" (Publishers Weekly).

Abercrombie's protagonist, Yarvi, the youngest son of the king of Gettland, was born with a withered hand. He's smart and resourceful, but his inability to use a sword and shield leaves him vulnerable to taunts and bullying. It also leads to people underestimating him in a world where being a warrior is everything. (Game of Thrones' Tyrion Lannister, also called half a man, come to mind, anyone?) Yarvi is slated for the ministry and a role as royal advisor. When his father and older brother are ambushed and killed, Yarvi is totally unprepared for his ascent to the Black Chair (doesn't have quite the steely ring as the "Iron Throne" but this doesn't worry me, given the enthusiastic reviews). Gettland's people aren't prepared for their new half a king and Yarvi finds himself betrayed, nearly murdered and quickly dethroned. Yarvi swears to avenge his kin and, with the help of a motley crew that includes a woman (Sumael) and The Man Called Nothing, to retake the Chair.

Something Borrowed

I wasn't able to finish Zoran Drvenkar's gritty 2011 thriller, Sorry, though I read enough to recognize the book is stunning. It's a controlled chaos of fragmented chronology and various points of view, written in the first-, second-, and third-person. Drvenkar's narrative uses the word "you" to drag you into his story about a serial killer. The writing style wasn't a problem. What did me in was I simply couldn't take another woman nailed to the wall.

So why am I looking forward to reading Drvenkar's stand-alone psychological thriller, You (Knopf/Random House, August 19, 2014)? First of all, it's translated from the German by the same man who did the outstanding job on Sorry, Shaun Whiteside. Second, Drvenkar is such an inventive writer I want to see how well the structure of this book works. I've heard that it's written entirely in the second person and told in flashbacks from various points of view. Finally, the story itself is intriguing. The brother of Berlin criminal Ragnar Desche is killed and a cache of drugs is gone. It's no coincidence a group of teenage girls at the movies notice one of their friends is missing because she's going to bring these girls up against the Desche gang in a fight for their lives. (Something tells me not to expect Bambi Meets Godzilla.) I'm going to borrow some courage and read this top-rated German thriller.

Something Blue

This book with a beautiful blue cover, The Story of Land and Sea (Harper/HarperCollins, August 26, 2014) is a "big buzz" book by Katy Simpson Smith, who earned her Ph.D in history at the University of North Carolina. It's historical fiction set in a small town on the coast of North Carolina during the final years of the American Revolutionary War. It tells two stories; one of land, one of sea, that are linked by a woman named Helen.

When Helen's daughter, Tabitha (Tab), is 10 years old in 1793, she develops yellow fever. John, her father, is a former pirate turned Continental soldier. He has stayed away from the sea for Tab's sake but now he loads her aboard a sloop bound for Bermuda, in the hopes that she'll be helped by the sea air. While John and Tab are sailing, we look landward and back in time at Tab's mother, Helen, raised by her widowed father, Asa. Asa is a small plantation owner and he gives Helen a young slave named Moll for her tenth birthday. The two girls develop a relationship that's neither a friendship nor a master-slave connection. Years later, Helen marries John and Tab is born. Moll's marriage is arranged, yet she dearly loves Davy, her son. This historical fiction explores love in its many forms.

The title of Karin Slaughter's first stand-alone novel is Cop Town (Delacorte Press, June 24, 2014). As soon as I heard that, I envisioned a city full of blue uniforms. The city here is Atlanta. The time is 1974. We follow two female cops, Maggie Lawson and Kate Murphy, as the Atlanta Police Department grapples with social change inside and outside the Department and a serial killer targeting cops ("the Shooter").

Recently widowed Kate Murphy grew up in an affluent home, the daughter of a psychiatrist. To change her life, she joins the APD. Maggie Lawson, in contrast, bleeds cop blue. Five years earlier, she followed her uncle and brother into the APD, but she's still mostly writing tickets. To keep these female cops out of the way and on the periphery of the investigation, Maggie and Kate are partnered. But the Shooter's most recent victim was Maggie's brother's partner, and Maggie and Kate refuse to stay put.

Karin Slaughter writes the bestselling Will Trent/Sarah Linton novels and I expect flawed, but empathetic characters, a riveting plot and a significant amount of gore.

And a Silver Sixpence In Her Shoe

I was poking around, when I came across what sounds like a treasure, The Supernatural Enhancements (Doubleday, August 12, 2014), by Barcelona writer/cartoonist Edgar Cantero. Here's a piece of a Goodreads review:
it is basically a haunted house story. a gimmicky haunted house story full of cryptography, puzzles, and wordplay, which would call to mind House of Leaves, but unlike House of Leaves, it doesn't use its gimmicks as a crutch. . . . it is, instead, a very charming gimmicky haunted house story, and the gimmicks are fun and playful and not bleak and distancing like House of Leaves. it's an engaging adventure book which could be friends with Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore or The Shadow of the Wind, one that scoops you up, promises you a fun time, and actually delivers on its promise. it's a little bit gothic novel, a little bit treasure hunt adventure, a little bit dreamscape fantasy, with shades of the traditional victorian orphan-narrative, and a little secret society codex drama. and that ghost." (Karen)
That was enough to sell me, but if you want a little more info, it's about A., a young European who unexpectedly inherits Axton House, a beautiful estate in Point Bless, Virginia. Its previous owner threw himself out a third-story window, exactly as his father had done at that age. A. and his companion, Niamh, "a mute teenage punk girl from Ireland," haven't been in Point Bless long before they realize they have quite a something on their hands and they (and I) want to know exactly what it is.

I'm feeling very lucky as I survey the summer of reading before me. Tomorrow, we'll show you more upcoming books.

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