In Jane Smiley's Some Luck, on a farm in Denby, Iowa, Rosanna and Walter Langdon begin their married lives in 1920 in the time-honored tradition of past generations. Walter ponders fertile fields and chooses good bottom land for his farm. Rosanna becomes the consummate farmer’s wife and produces five children, all with vastly different personalities: Frank, brilliant but fiercely independent; Joe, whose gentle spirit and love of the land make him the heir apparent to the farm; Lillian, the beautiful but innocent angel; Mary Elizabeth, destined to fate; Clare, her father’s favorite; and Henry, always thirsting for knowledge.
Spanning three generations, covering the coming of age of America, Some Luck is the latest offering from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Smiley. Smiley deftly weaves historical events throughout her narrative, painting a portrait of one family as it endures the Great Depression, drought, social unrest and burgeoning communism, through World War II and its aftermath. With a sure hand, Smiley portrays each of these events as they affect farmers and laborers, town and city, America and the world. Whether on the farm or in a war, everyone must endure the hardship and the vagaries of life and fate. As Grandma observes, “But what would we do without some luck?” Smiley also subtly reminds us of the importance of family and friends, as they support each other through trying times and happy moments. As Walter and Rosanna survey their family at a Thanksgiving feast, they realize all they have achieved and conquered and that, by forming this family, they have created 23 unique stories that will resonate through succeeding generations.
Some Luck is the first installment in a trilogy. Once you have laughed and cried and shared all their stories, you will be anxiously awaiting the next installment.
Blake Butler’s 300,000,000 is a jungle; readers require courage and a literary machete to traverse this five-part psychological horror story. Told through the mediums of a manifesto left in the wake of a heinous murder spree, a first-hand account of the police investigation into the atrocities, and a disjointed recollection stitching the pieces together with plenty of room for the viscera to seep out, 300,000,000 is filled with rare glimpses of toxic and transcendent ravings.
Gretch Gravey is 300,000,000’s patient zero of homeland terror, supplicating and drugging teenage metal heads in his city to transform them into thralls of murder. He releases his ever-expanding army of brainwashed husks into the suburbs to kidnap people and bring them back to his house to be killed and buried in a sub-basement crypt. Gravey’s ultimate goal is the utter decimation of America by its own pudgy hands, and his successes are unhindered despite his eventual incarceration. Investigating police officer E.N. Flood feels himself being consumed by Gravey’s residual evil and attempts to chronicle his descent into madness in his notes, which are actively redacted by other members of the force who have succumbed to Gravey’s will.
As if Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club and Damned were chewed up and spat out in a bilious, meaty mass, 300,000,000 is disgusting and schizophrenic, yet somehow delicious in its depravity. Readers who enjoy wandering through their pitch-black houses when it’s so late that it’s actually early will be tickled by the way Blake Butler makes them question their sanity.
Award-winning author Molly Gloss’ newest novel has a transitional setting that begins on a ranch in Oregon in 1938, but the narrator looks at the past and whispers of present day. Falling from Horses is a layered work of fiction that strategically weaves together a man’s whole life by looking at the events that helped define it.
The protagonist, Bud Frazer, is the son of humble tenant ranchers. His upbringing instilled in him a way of life that Bud decides to use for a career, though not in the way his parents anticipated. Upon leaving home as a new adult, he tries his hand in the rodeo circuit before deciding to move to Hollywood and become a stunt rider for Western films. Eager to rub elbows with all the big names of the day, Bud packs his bags and hops a bus south. En route to Hollywood, Bud meets Lily, an aspiring screenwriter, and in their short time together on that bus trip they fall into a platonic relationship that spans a lifetime.
Those that have enjoyed Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses should pick this one up and give it a go. Like McCarthy, Gloss’ work is a character-driven narrative of a young man trying to find his path in the twisting and turning maze of life.
In Dear Daughter, Janie Jenkins has the kind of life teenage girls like to read about in fan magazines. She’s famous for the parties she’s attended, the high-profile celebrities she’s gotten high with and the fabulous clothes she wears. Paris Hilton wishes she were Janie Jenkins. Until 16-year-old Janie sneaks into her mother’s closet, climbs into her mother’s best fashion boots and overhears a passionate argument. The next thing Janie remembers, she is covered with her mother’s blood and trying to explain this to the police.
Janie is known among her set as the girl most likely to steal your boyfriend. She may be popular in the press, but not among her peers. She is devious and her number one priority is herself. This may not be evidence of murder, but it sure gets you biased witnesses and an unsympathetic jury. Convicted of her mother’s murder, Janie spends 10 years in prison for a crime she didn’t commit. Or, did she?
Released on a technicality, Janie follows clues she’s uncovered in the prison library databases. Pursued by the vulture press and obsessed bloggers who want her to pay for her evil act, Janie assumes the identity of a nerdy historian. In her new guise, she probes the past of the tiny gold-rush town her mother grew up in, proving that even the tiniest towns can hold deadly secrets.
Elizabeth Little’s debut thriller Dear Daughter brings a completely fresh perspective to the mystery scene. Her character exhibits the raw emotion of a traumatized teenager. Instead of compassion and therapy, she receives condemnation and punishment. Isolated and alone, Janie must battle her own demons in order to unearth the truth, no matter how horrific. Fans of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl and William Landay’s Defending Jacob will appreciate the fast pace and moral conundrums. Climb into your favorite easy chair, you are about to pull an all-nighter.
When it comes to comic books and graphic novels, Jeff Lemire is a 21st century Renaissance man. Hailing from Canada, he has been recognized numerous times for his prowess in both storytelling and artistry. Lemire has written and drawn most of his works completely on his own, but he also fares incredibly well when teaming up with other writers and inkers at DC Comics.
Lemire’s sci-fi brain bender Trillium is an eight-issue comic series published over the span of August 2013 to April 2014. In Trillium, adventurers Nika and William are torn from their worlds by occult magic and thrust together in an alien jungle on a foreign planet. Through this supernatural machination, the couple becomes intertwined, although they don’t realize it at first since they’re unable to communicate due to language disparities. Nika and William fight to understand each other while combing the flora and fauna in search of the rare trillium flower, which is thought to be the only possible cure to a sentient, space-travelling supervirus that has decimated humanity.
Trillium is confounding and strangely beautiful. Navigating dimensions with William and Nika is a thrilling experience with a rewarding narrative that endears readers to persevere. Throughout the series, Lemire toys with conventional comic layout standards and actually has readers flipping the book upside down and reading from back to front, conveying the disorientation the characters are feeling. Lemire’s signature mixed medium art style leaves each page messy and scrawled, evoking hysteria and tension. His ability to convey emotions through his characters’ faces is incredible; oftentimes it isn’t what’s said, but what’s left unsaid that resonates in Lemire’s works. The same is true of his 2008-2009 Essex County Trilogy, which has been praised as one of the best Canadian graphic novels of its decade.
Sonali Dev’s debut novel A Bollywood Affair is getting a lot of attention from romance readers and authors alike. Mili was married to a boy named Virat when she was only 4 years old, and she never saw him again. Twenty years later, Virat sends his brother Samir to find Mili and to obtain a divorce for him. Samir hides his identity, and as their friendship deepens, a romance develops. But Samir knows that his secret could destroy their blossoming relationship. A Bollywood Affair contains familiar romantic comedy elements that will make it appeal to a wide audience, but it feels like something new and special. Elements of Indian culture permeate the novel, forming a rich backdrop for this sweet love story.
Read on to learn more about Dev’s favorite Bollywood films and her experience as a debut novelist.
Between the Covers: This is your debut novel, which brings with it a lot of firsts. What has been the most exciting thing about the publishing process? Has anything surprised you?
Sonali Dev: The short answer is everything. Everything about this process has been exciting and it has absolutely taken me by surprise. A Bollywood Affair is the book of my heart and, at my most optimistic best, I had hoped to get a traditional publishing deal. Then I had pictured myself working slowly and steadily toward drawing in readers to build an audience. But the reaction I have received has completely blown me away. First, all these huge names in the romance genre got behind my book, including Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Nalini Singh and Kristan Higgins. Then the reviewers embraced it with a passion. Booklist, Library Journal, Smart Bitches Trashy Books, Dear Author, RT Book Reviews and a myriad bloggers and reviewers raved about it. It even made Library Journal’s list of Best Books of 2014. Even though I had experienced firsthand how incredibly generous writers and readers in the romance genre are, as a newbie unpublished writer, I had never expected to see this level of love and acceptance for a book that was so different from the norm.
BTC: A Bollywood Affair, then titled The Bollywood Bad Boy, was a finalist for the Romance Writers of America’s Golden Heart award for best unpublished manuscript in 2013. What did that honor mean to you and your career?
SD: Again, it meant everything and it set everything in motion. To have five anonymous strangers pick this book when they had to have nothing in common (at least on the surface) with my characters or my world gave me an immense amount of confidence in the power of the story. Thanks to that confidence, I was able to send it to authors I admire for endorsements. And to have authors whose word is respected in the industry not only endorse the book but like it enough to advocate for it set it on the path to a dream debut for me in terms of buzz.
BTC: Indian culture and Bollywood elements are infused throughout the novel, building a rich backdrop for the story, but at its heart, this is a novel built around the characters’ relationships. As a writer, how do you develop those deep connections between your characters?
SD: Thank you so much for saying that.
This is a really hard question. Because I don’t really set out to develop those connections per say. I just set out to develop characters who are struggling with something. Something big and binding that is seemingly impossible to heal from yet familiar enough that we’ve all struggled with some shade of it, like fear of abandonment or feelings of unworthiness. And then I work on making these struggles tangible and rooted in trauma and childhood events, so they are almost cemented in the fabric of the character’s being. I think the deep connections come when these seemingly insurmountable flaws draw one character to another because their flaws and their strengths somehow interlock to create those deep connections.
BTC: Do you have any recommendations for readers who are interested in trying Bollywood films after reading your book?
SD: There are several Indian films made in English for international audiences like Monsoon Wedding, Bend It Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice. These are wonderful, authentic films that I recommend for anyone whether or not you’re familiar with Indian culture.
If you’re interested in ‘full-on’ Bollywood films in Hindi (with subtitles), Dil Chahta Hai, Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara, Dilwale Dulhania le Jayenge, Kal Ho Naa Ho, and Life in A Metro are some of my favorite films and they’re a great place to start.
[Several of these films are in BCPL’s collection. A list is available here.]
BTC: What are you working on next?
SD: I’m working on the next few books in the Bollywood series. Which isn’t technically a series but more a set of stories in which one of the protagonists works in Bollywood.
BTC: What’s the best book you’ve read recently?
SD: I love Nalini Singh’s Psy/Changeling series, and Shield of Winter, which came out earlier this year, I think is the most romantic and magical book in the series yet (which, by the way, is saying something because that series is full of great books).
With the arrival of the winter holiday season comes a much mocked tradition: the dreaded holiday newsletter. Hello from the Gillespies by Monica McInerney is a novel that explores the consequences when a truthful account of a family’s past year unintentionally hits the presses.
Angela Gillespie is weary. She lives on an expansive sheep ranch in Australia’s isolated outback with husband Nick and young son Ig. In order to bring in extra money, she takes in bed and breakfast guests. When the time comes to write her annual cheery Christmas email which depicts her family as a cross between “the Waltons and the Von Trapps,” the words just won’t come. Her marriage is strained, the family farm is failing, Ig’s imaginary friend is becoming all too real and her three grown daughters are returning home with their lives in shambles. But wait, there’s more — Nick’s tart-tongued Aunt Celia is coming for an extended stay and Angela’s beset with debilitating headaches. Sitting at the computer, she dashes off a stream of consciousness letter intended to let off steam. Instead of deleting the rough draft, which details the failings of each Gillespie, she gets distracted…and Nick and Ig think they are being helpful when they click “send.”
While her husband and children are reeling from the realization that Angela doesn’t think their lives are peachy keen, she is in an auto accident which leaves her with an unusual form of amnesia known as confabulation. She no longer recognizes her own family, but thinks her “real” life consists of a long-ago boyfriend as her husband and one perfect daughter. Can Angela’s family band together behind a woman who now thinks she’s a guest in her own home? Like fellow Aussie writers Liane Moriarty (Big Little Lies) and Graeme Simsion (The Rosie Project), McInerney is an engaging and droll storyteller in Hello from the Gillespies.
Historic St. Pancras Station dwells at the heart of the latest Deborah Crombie British police procedural, To Dwell in Darkness.
During the International Festivities at St. Pancras, the protest group Save London’s History hopes to gain a little notoriety. Despite careful planning, the intended detonation of a harmless smoke bomb sparks a conflagration from a phosphorous grenade. Superintendent Duncan Kincaid will be hard pressed to identify the perpetrator, much less discover who wanted him dead. After eliminating the possibility of terrorism, Kincaid concentrates on the members of the protest group, who have organized to prevent the destruction of various historical sites.
Unfortunately, Kincaid has more on his mind than the investigation. His former superior at Scotland Yard has left the country under uncertain circumstances, and Kincaid is transferred to the London borough of Camden. While he doesn’t lose rank, it’s definitely a demotion from leading an elite murder squad at Scotland Yard. Kincaid is also left wondering if the recent promotion of his wife Gemma James is a palliative to prevent his protest. Then Kincaid discovers just how vulnerable his family can be.
Simultaneously, Inspector Gemma James is investigating electronics shop clerk Dillon Underwood for kidnapping, raping and murdering 12-year-old Mercy Johnson. Determined to build a case, Gemma is thwarted by the serial stalker, who clearly knows how to avoid leaving evidence.
Deborah Crombie is a master at weaving the intricate details of an investigation with the family life built by Duncan and Gemma. Well-drawn, solid characters bring authenticity and honesty to her work. Crombie based one of the characters on actual events involving an undercover agent who was betrayed by his fellow officers. Historical details of the train station pepper the narrative, but don’t overwhelm. For anyone who appreciates a literary mystery, Deborah Crombie is sure to please readers of Louise Penney, Elizabeth George and Peter Robinson.
Shelley Coriell continues her Apostles series with The Buried, a thriller built around a deadly game of cat and mouse. “It’s cold. And dark. I can’t breathe.” That’s what prosecutor Grace Courtemanche hears when she answers a call from a young woman who claims to be buried alive. Grace finds help in the form of Theodore “Hatch” Hatcher, her ex-husband and a member of an elite team of FBI agents. As Grace and Hatch try to find the woman at the other end of the call, they soon realize that they are caught at the center of a deadly game, and this is only Round One. Coriell’s Apostles series will appeal to both thriller and romance readers. It’s a perfect read for fans of Catherine Coulter, Tami Hoag and Elizabeth Lowell.
Coriell recently answered some questions for Between the Covers readers. Learn more about the maverick FBI agents who make up the Apostles and get her secret recipe for a kale salad that will wow your family this fall.
Between the Covers: This series revolves around an elite team of FBI agents nicknamed the Apostles. Tell us a little bit about them.
Shelley Coriell: Led by Parker Lord, a legendary FBI agent now wheelchair bound, the Apostles are an elite group of FBI agents who aren’t afraid to work outside the box and at times outside the law. They take on America’s vilest criminals, using the most powerful weapons known to mankind, the human mind…and heart. They aren’t good at following rules, and every Apostle I’ve met so far has either quit or been fired from the FBI before being personally recruited by Parker for his Special Criminal Investigative Unit. Parker Lord on his team: “Apostles? There’s nothing holy about us. We’re a little maverick and a lot broken, but in the end, we get justice right.”
BTC: Each member of the team has a unique area of expertise. How do the characters’ specialties impact your approach to the story? Do you do additional research to get into the right mindset?
SC: Each Apostle’s specialty is at the heart of each story. In The Buried, Agent Hatch Hatcher is a crisis negotiator and master communicator, so his book is very much about connecting with others. The Broken, book one in the Apostles series, features a criminal profiler or “head guy”, so that book is more of a puzzling who-done-it. As an author, I love the variety and scope of story possibilities with such a team.
As for research, I enrolled in a thirteen-week citizens’ police academy before writing a single word in the Apostles series and have a retired FBI agent I turn to with agency questions. I read law enforcement textbooks and do online research. After researching online how to make and disarm bombs for book three in the Apostles series, I’m sure I’m on some kind of government watch list.
BTC: The Buried opens with a young woman who has been buried alive. You’ve admitted that this is also one of your own fears. What is it about the idea of being buried alive that makes so terrifying? Did writing The Buried help you get over your fear or did it make it worse?
SC: Some people have anxiety dreams about forgetting their locker combinations or showing up for work without any pants. Growing up, I took anxiety dreams to the extreme and had reoccurring nightmares about being buried alive. I was terrified of not being able to breathe, perhaps because when it comes to human needs, air is primal and universal, even more so than food and water when looking at the amount of time we can live while being deprived of each.
While I no longer have dreams of being buried alive, this book certainly made me more cognizant of and grateful for the mundane task of breathing. While writing The Buried I woke up one night and was acutely aware of my husband breathing next to me. I remember placing my hand on his chest and feeling his chest rise. It was a surprisingly powerful but peaceful moment for me.
BTC: One of my favorite characters in this novel is Allegheny Blue, a very determined elderly hound who Grace frequently claims is “not her dog.” Was he inspired by any real canines in your life?
SC: Both Allegheny Blue and Ida Red were snatched straight from my childhood. My dad, an avid hunter and outdoorsman, raised hounds, and Blue, his 120-pound blue tick hound with paws the size of salad plates was a family favorite. Blue had a beautiful bellow, low and melodic, and I used to sneak him inside the house on cold nights and let him sleep by the fireplace. The bear-grease concoction Grace uses to doctor the pads of Blue’s torn paws is the same ointment my dad made for his dogs.
BTC: What’s next for the Apostles?
SC: Evie’s story, The Blind, which comes out in the summer of 2015. Evie Jimenez is the Apostles’ bombs and weapons specialist. She’s fiery, passionate and not afraid of things that go boom. In The Blind Evie travels to the gritty, eclectic Arts District of downtown Los Angeles where she teams up with a buttoned-up billionaire/art philanthropist to track down a serial bomber who uses bombs and live models to create masterful art that lives...and dies.
BTC: What is the best book you’ve read recently? What authors are on your personal must-read list?
SC: Jandy Nelson’s young adult novel, I’ll Give You the Sun. It’s the only book I read this year where I ceased being an author studying the craft of writing and simply lost myself in a good story. These days I read a good deal of narrative nonfiction, but in the fiction world, I like most authors named Sarah. Strange but true. I’m a huge fan of Sarah Dunant, Sarah Addison Allen and Sarah Dessen. Beyond the Sarahs, my go-to authors are Alice Hoffman, Lisa Gardner, Elizabeth Wein, Mary Pearson, Jeffery Deaver and Harlan Coben.
BTC: You’re a self-proclaimed foodie and a kale aficionado. Do you have a go-to kale dish to convert disbelievers?
SC: Even those with hardened hearts have fallen for my Fall Kale Salad. The secret is massaging raw kale with olive oil before adding the vinaigrette. It mellows the kale, which allows the other flavors to shine. I love serving this dish for the holidays. It’s so colorful and bursting with fall flavors.
Shelley Coriell's Fall Kale Salad
3-4 side servings
3 Tbsp. olive oil, divided
2 shallots, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup dried cranberries
2 Tbsp. red wine vinegar
2 tsp. honey or agave nectar
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1 bunch kale, thinly sliced
1/4 cup roasted and salted pepitas
1/4 cup goat cheese
Heat two tablespoons olive oil and sauté shallots until soft. Add garlic, cranberries, red wine vinegar, honey and lemon juice and heat through.
Put kale into large bowl and massage with remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Add shallot mixture to kale along with pepitas. Top with crumbled goat cheese.
The Detroit art scene goes horribly awry in Lauren Beukes’ new novel Broken Monsters. When the top half of a boy is found fused to the bottom half of a deer, Detective Gabriella Versado knows that more trouble will be on its way. Versado is a single parent of a teenage daughter named Layla who spends her free time catfishing online predators in hopes of serving them vigilante justice. Added to the mix is the charismatic Jonno, destined to become a YouTube sensation, willing to do almost anything to film a good story. Versado understands that the disturbing tableau created by this killer is only the beginning, and that she is dealing with a madman destined to strike again. What she doesn’t know is that the killer is haunted by dreams that are quickly spinning toward a grim reality.
South African author Beukes sets this story around the burgeoning Detroit art scene, where abandoned buildings are reclaimed and rebuilt into underground galleries. She is good at creating memorable characters, like the scavenger TK who knows the streets of Detroit well and can often sense when danger is lurking nearby. The story involves several main characters whose lives eventually intertwine and race toward an unforgettable ending. She builds suspense slowly, throwing in creepy details that blossom into all-out horror. Her previous novel, The Shining Girls, also features a killer with a paranormal bent, and readers who enjoy this one will want to read her first. Readers who enjoy this novel may want to try novels by Chelsea Cain or Gillian Flynn.