Ever find yourself in an ordinary day and yet you feel an unnerving disconnect with others for no obvious reason? David Guterson’s Problems with People: Stories is a collage of individuals who find themselves in such unhinging, if oddly indistinguishable, moments. Reading these 10 tales will make you feel like you are observing a stranger walking into a cold drift of social ineptitude. In “Paradise,” a divorcee, unsure of the future, finds himself in the passenger seat of a Honda Element driven by a silver-haired beauty he met via match.com. A well-meaning man, along with his unshakable cancer-ridden sister, is locked inside a game reserve in South Africa in “Pilanesberg.”
Each story unapologetically illuminates the oscillating and retracting nature of boundaries. These unpredictable lines, which divide cultures and perspectives, often inflict devastating detachment through innocent dealings. In “Krassavitseh,” questions of race and history are raised as a man takes his inquisitive elderly father on a Jewish Tour of Berlin. A benign American in Nepal encounters Maoists blocking roads and an intelligent child with impeccable shoe-cleaning skills in “Politics.” In the poignant story “Hush,” dog walker Vivian Lee finds an unlikely friendship with a stubborn client and his Rottweiler named Bill.
Don’t look for coddling or satisfaction in this collection. The inability to fulfill emotional obligations radiates off the pages. Guterson’s direct prose evokes the feelings of isolation and displacement in contemporary life, but still leaves a faint trace of hope.
Earlier this year, Between the Covers blogger Jeanne told our readers about Archetype, a debut novel by Maryland author M.D. Waters. In that novel, Emma wakes with no memory of her past. She begins to have flashes of memory and soon realizes that neither her doctor nor her loving husband Declan are exactly who they seem to be. She fights to learn the truth, and what she finds is truly shocking.
Prototype is the exciting conclusion to Emma’s story. The novel picks up one year after the end of Archetype. Emma now knows what happened to her, and she finds herself on the run from Declan. If she wants to survive, she must trust Noah, the man who she used to believe was the love of her life, and members of a resistance group that she used to help lead. The action ramps up in Prototype as Emma claims her true identity. This book is a genre-bending hybrid of science fiction, romance, action and psychological suspense.
Waters recently answered some questions for Between the Covers readers. Learn more about this talented writer, what she’s working on now and the music that influenced Emma’s story.
Between the Covers: What inspired you to write Emma’s story?
M.D. Waters: Growing up, my dad was a huge influence on me when it came to what the future could hold. I always had these things in the back of my mind: a planet-wide overpopulation, technology to control what type of child you bring into the world and that Mother Nature will always make it right. So when Emma woke me in the middle of the night, telling me she lived in a world where women were a rare commodity… Well, I immediately thought of all these things my dad believed possible.
BTC: Equality and legal rights, which differ wildly between men and women as well as clones and humans, are an important issue in both books. Have you had much feedback from readers about those issues?
MW: I have, yes, and everyone takes away very different things. Lots of positive thought provoking, but also some negatives, which surprises me. Lots of assumptions on my “plan,” which doesn’t exist. I see those issues as very normal and very possible, and didn’t even think about the actual rights issues it addressed when I wrote the books. We already live in a world where equality is a matter of perspective, and many of us are blind to the truth. Will it always be that way? I don’t know. I’d love to think we’re progressing to complete equality, but we’re human and subject to nature and/or nurture.
BTC: You share a lot of music on your blog. If Emma had a theme song, what would it be?
MW: “Lost in Paradise” by Evanescence. I swear there was a point when I listened to it on repeat for days. But I’d also choose “Tear the World Down” by We Are the Fallen. I felt a lot of Emma’s strength in Prototype in that one.
BTC: The books are a great blend of action, science fiction, romance and suspense. Let’s pretend that you just got the call that Archetype and Prototype are being made into a movie, and you have free rein with the casting. Tell us about your dream cast.
MW: Jennifer Lawrence, Stephen Amell (Declan) and Charlie Hunnam (Noah). (Triple crosses fingers!)
BTC: Will you tell us a little bit about your writing process? Where do you write? Do you write every day? Who is your first reader?
MW: My process is crazy. I go in these really long spurts of sleeplessness and coffee hazes. Then I binge watch television for days after because I broke my brain. I have a “library” in my house with my books and desktop, but I move around to different areas with my laptop too. Change of scenery always helps. My first readers? Charissa Weaks and Jodi Henry. I have a handful of people who read for me, but these two are always there to read short paragraphs to entire chapters on a whim. I couldn’t do this without them.
BTC: What can readers expect from you next?
MW: More of the same. I’m working on a spinoff of Archetype and Prototype, but also a Young Adult sci-fi [novel] that’s set in a world with its own set of issues.
BTC: As a reader, what book are you most excited to get your hands on right now?
MW: How much time do we have? Currently, I’m ready to get my hands on The Infinite Sea by Rick Yancey. His writing really shook loose the voice in the Young Adult [novel] I’m working on, plus The 5th Wave was seriously kick-ass. So, um, gimme.
In Clouds of Glory: The Life and Legend of Robert E. Lee by Michael Korda, the reader learns a lot about Lee’s life and the events that would lead to him becoming the leader of the Confederate Army during the Civil War. Born into Virginia aristocracy that included direct links to George Washington, Lee was destined for a distinguished life from birth. Still, Lee had some major obstacles on his path to military fame, including a less than idyllic family life. His father, ‘Light Horse Harry’ Lee, fought alongside Washington in the American Revolution, but sank into a life of dissipation fueled by alcohol. Eventually, he abandoned the family. Thanks to his mother’s guiding determination, young Robert was able to succeed both scholastically and socially, and achieved prominent positions in both the United States and Confederate States armies.
Lee attended West Point and graduated second in his class without ever receiving a single demerit – not an easy feat in those days when moral rectitude and scholastic discipline were equally valued. As Korda notes, Lee held himself to a very strict code of moral conduct, perhaps due in part to his father’s poor example. Yet, Lee did not exactly impose his strictness to either his family or the soldiers he led. Although he could be a disciplinarian, he preferred to lead by example. He felt that his subordinates should know instinctively the correct choices. According to Korda, Lee’s inability to effectively communicate his wishes to his troops was a major factor in determining the outcome of the Civil War.
Whether you view Lee as a hero, villain or somewhere in between, Korda does offer some interesting perspectives on a very complicated man. While Clouds of Glory may not change your mind about Robert E. Lee, it does illustrate what a complex and sometimes contradictory character he was.
Maddy Freed is a struggling young actress living in Brooklyn with her director boyfriend Dan in The Actress by Amy Sohn. Dan’s film starring Maddy is selected as an entrant at the prestigious Mile’s End Film Festival and, following its premiere, both of their lives are changed forever.
Maddy earns critical acclaim and wins an acting prize at the festival, but she also captures the attention of the sexy and single Hollywood heartthrob Steven Weller. Weller is 40-something and trying to reinvent his career. He is immediately captivated by Maddy, and she finds herself whisked away to Venice to Steven’s palazzo — ostensibly to audition for the most sought-after role in Hollywood. But the chemistry between them is palpable, and Maddy soon finds herself enchanted by this Hollywood A-lister.
Their whirlwind affair is passionate and intense, and when the couple ties the knot, the tabloid wags are shocked. The rumors swirling around Steven and his sexuality have dogged him for years, and the speculation doesn’t let up after the wedding. Maddy is head-over-heels in love with her husband and refuses to consider the hateful gossip. But when her career outpaces his, and Steven’s absences are longer and more frequent, she finds herself wondering if she really knows the man she married.
Sohn delivers a stylish, salacious and sizzling summer story set in glamorous and scandalous Tinseltown. Ruthless actors, scheming agents and the pervasive press all play supporting parts in this page-turner about one young actress coming to terms with her own ambition and deciding what role she will play in life.
Joshua Ferris’ third novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour is the most interesting story in which the narrator and protagonist is a dentist. It’s the chronicle of Dr. Paul C. O’Rourke, who offers oral care at his practice in New York City. Perhaps as a result of excelling in dentistry, Paul’s social life is nonexistent; he is a middle-aged, single atheist with no children, no pets and no contacts in his smartphone. The extent of his online presence is a scattering of posts on various baseball forums. His idea of “getting out” is staying in and watching the Red Sox game while simultaneously recording it on VHS.
Paul is seemingly content with his complacency, until his office manager discovers someone has made an official website for their practice—complete with staff bios and photos—without their consent. Days later, Paul and his staff are befuddled as someone creates multiple social media accounts in Paul’s name and begins proselytizing. This peculiar case of identity theft is more than slander; the culprit possesses intimate knowledge of Paul, and gradually reveals his secrets through a series of anonymous emails. Annoyed by the harassment, Paul responds to the emails in an attempt to discern the thief’s identity and motive.
What he discovers leads him to a series of introspective questions so existential that he begins to wonder who he really is. To Rise Again at a Decent Hour portrays a man who possesses no true self-identity, and insists on blaming the past and lying to himself to cope with his shortcomings. Ferris develops O’Rourke’s personality through an ongoing series of fantastic soliloquies disguised as the ramblings of an emotionally distraught dentist. Paul finds the unsettling truth to be that an identity thief posting on a faux-Facebook actually knows him better than he thinks he knows himself, and as he meanders between the past and present wondering how he has arrived at this point in his life, a beautifully reconciling narrative forms in his wake.
August is the perfect time to while away a hot, humid Baltimore afternoon in an air-conditioned theater, munching on popcorn and getting lost in a movie. Don’t miss these two new films based on popular novels for teens.
Lois Lowry’s Newbery Medal-winning novel The Giver has been a school reading list staple since its publication, and now, it has finally been adapted for the big screen. Jonas is honored to find that he has been selected to be the next Receiver of Memories for his community. Initially, he doesn’t know what that means, but he soon learns that he will become the sole member of his community who knows the world's history and remembers the time before they adopted Sameness. Jonas’ new knowledge forces him to see everything in his world differently, including his family and friends, and he is faced with a difficult choice. The star-studded cast includes Jeff Bridges, Meryl Streep, Katie Holmes, Alexander Skarsgard and Brenton Thwaites. The Giver will be in theaters on August 15.
Gayle Forman’s popular novel If I Stay is the story of a young woman who must choose between life and death after her family is in a catastrophic car accident. With both of her parents dead and her brother critically injured, 17-year-old Mia finds herself somewhere between life and death. Over the next day, she looks back on significant moments in her life while the hospital staff fights to save her life and her friends wait to see if she will survive. In the end, Mia must decide what happens next and if she will stay. The movie, starring Chloë Grace Moretz, premieres in theaters on August 22.
Bellweather Rhapsody by Kate Racculia is a tale of suspense set in a withering old hotel and featuring some of the most delightful characters to grace the pages of a work of fiction this year. The novel literally starts off with a bang, and once the reader enters the hotel, they better be prepared to stay.
In 1982, room 712, a young girl witnesses a horrible murder-suicide that will affect her for the rest of her life. Fast forward to 1997. The Bellweather Hotel hosts a statewide high school music festival which attracts some rather curious characters. Rabbit Hatmaker, a bassoon player, and his sister Alice, destined for stardom, arrive with their gun-toting chaperone, Natalie. There they encounter Viola, the stern and horrible program coordinator, and the foul-mouthed Scottish conductor, Fisher Brodie. When Alice returns to her room to discover her roommate has committed suicide, she immediately goes for help. But the body disappears, and it soon becomes apparent that 712 is an unlucky room, and that the past may be haunting the present.
There are several things to love about Racculia’s novel. All of the characters in Bellweather Rhapsody are complex and interesting with a very detailed backstories. She weaves their stories together, and as the characters bump into one another, the sparks begin to fly. The Bellweather Hotel is described in such detail that the rooms of the hotel become almost characters in their own right. Readers who enjoy novels with a strong sense of place will not be disappointed. Embedded in the story are several mysteries that keep the reader involved. The characters become intertwined with one another leading to an ultimately satisfying conclusion. Racculia captures the intensity of a musical competition where no matter the circumstances, the show must go on. This summer, make it a point to check into the Bellweather, a visit you won’t soon forget.
Two novels highlight the beauty of the beach and celebrate the power of female friendship. Enjoy perfect summer escapes with Anne Rivers Siddons’ The Girls of August and Nantucket Sisters by Nancy Thayer.
Siddons introduces readers to Maddy, Rachel, Barbara and Melinda when they are in their 20s, newly married and seeing their husbands through medical school. As the four become fast friends, they make a pact to spend one week together in August at a beach house. Though their lives change, the women keep this promise and travel to different beach houses over the years to reconnect. That is, until Melinda dies in a car accident and the August ritual is abandoned. Years later, Melinda’s husband remarries Baby, a 20-something who tries to resurrect the annual trip. The four end up at Baby’s remote family home on a barrier island off the South Carolina coast where jealousy simmers, secrets are revealed and friendship is tested. Siddons once again delivers an emotionally satisfying Southern summer tale with well-drawn women dealing with real, explosive issues.
Looking for a different beach? Travel north with Nancy Thayer to beautiful Nantucket. This lush setting is where Maggie and Emily meet as children and develop an unlikely, but strong, summer friendship. Emily is from a moneyed family whose mother wants nothing to do with the islanders. Maggie is the daughter of a local seamstress struggling to make ends meet. As the two get older, real life gets in the way and the girls drift apart. Emily wants more from life than simply being the wife of a successful husband while Maggie works hard, saves her money and longs for a passionate romance. It seems unlikely their paths will cross again until one wealthy Wall Street broker begins wooing both women. This engaging novel has romance and drama, but its centerpiece is the beauty and strength of lasting friendship.
Teacher, blog and forum editor, roleplaying game designer and writer Jeremy P. Bushnell’s debut novel The Weirdness is the perfect amalgamation of his mediums of creativity. Only someone who has spent their life marinating in nerd culture would be able to devise a plot and cast as imaginative and unique as Bushnell has in The Weirdness.
Billy Ridgeway is growing too complacent with his life; all he has to show for himself as a self-proclaimed “writer” is a couple of short stories and a novel vomited forth at the tail end of a post-college-dropout bender of forced artistry. While his former peers are paying mortgages and spawning children, he’s stalled making sandwiches for eight hours a day at a Greek deli.
Of course, this all changes one morning when Billy awakens to a suave-looking dude he doesn’t know sitting on his couch. Introducing himself as “Lucifer Morningstar,” the dude offers Billy some coffee, and with it an only slightly nefarious proposal that would launch his writing career. In a rare bout of good judgment, Billy declines and tries to go about his day; unfortunately for him, Lucifer is a supernaturally persistent guy, and he’s about to make things weird—like, warlocks and sex-wolves and plots to take over the world weird.
Bushnell’s novel is a swirl of contemporary geek humor and sci-fi, blended with a unique, refreshing writing style. He uses unconventional means—absurd similes, unexpected question marks, hypothetical maybes—to create an amusing feeling of doubt and disbelief in his narrative voice, which allows his characters to act with as much hyperbole as the reader wants to perceive. The Weirdness has to be read to be believed, and should not be missed by anyone who enjoys contemporary, surreal fiction.
Coming soon to the ABC network is a memoir turned television series, Fresh Off the Boat by Eddie Huang. In his memoir, Huang describes how his immigrant family moves from D.C. to Florida so that his father can open his own restaurant. Huang goes on to describe what life was like growing up as a Taiwanese-Chinese-American, not just in the United States, but also in a community with little diversity.
The audiobook for this memoir is narrated by Eddie Huang, which gives the reader a greater understanding of his perspective. His direct manner of detailing his eclectic array of experiences is uncensored and sincere. Culture is a prevalent theme throughout the book and food is frequently a platform for Huang to discuss the topic.
After listening to the audiobook, I will be interested to see how Huang’s book translates into an ABC series that appears to be quite comical. While the book isn’t without humor, it seems to focus more on challenging what are considered to be cultural norms and showing the impact that assimilation can have on a boy and his family as a whole. If you find yourself a fan of Huang’s style, checkout his video series on vice.com.