Books I Got at BEA 2012: Lit Fic Edition

This is the fourth and final post in a series about the books I picked up when I attended Book Expo America.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, which was given to me by Random House, will be published July 20. Lake was screenwriter for the first Reese Witherspoon film I ever saw (1991), The Man in the Moon, but this is her first novel. Swan, the 11 year old is compared to Scout from To Kill a Mockingbird in several early reviews.

Here’s the description:

Every first Sunday in June, members of the Moses clan gather for an annual reunion at “the old home place,” a sprawling hundred-acre farm in Arkansas. And every year, Samuel Lake, a vibrant and committed young preacher, brings his beloved wife, Willadee Moses, and their three children back for the festivities. The children embrace the reunion as a welcome escape from the prying eyes of their father’s congregation; for Willadee it’s a precious opportunity to spend time with her mother and father, Calla and John. But just as the reunion is getting under way, tragedy strikes, jolting the family to their core: John’s untimely death and, soon after, the loss of Samuel’s parish, which set the stage for a summer of crisis and profound change.

In the midst of it all, Samuel and Willadee’s outspoken eleven-year-old daughter, Swan, is a bright light. Her high spirits and fearlessness have alternately seduced and bedeviled three generations of the family. But it is Blade Ballenger, a traumatized eight-year-old neighbor, who soon captures Swan’s undivided attention. Full of righteous anger, and innocent of the peril facing her and those she loves, Swan makes it her mission to keep the boy safe from his terrifying father.

With characters who spring to life as vividly as if they were members of one’s own family, and with the clear-eyed wisdom that illuminates the most tragic—and triumphant—aspects of human nature, Jenny Wingfield emerges as one of the most vital, engaging storytellers writing today. In The Homecoming of Samuel Lake she has created a memorable and lasting work of fiction.

***

I sought this one out because I’ve wanted to read Schutt, a widely praised American short story writer and novelist, for a while. Prosperous Friends will be published November 6 by Grove Press. Here’s the description:

Described by John Ashbery as “pared down but rich, dense, fevered, exactly right and even eerily beautiful,” Christine Schutt’s prose has earned her comparisons to Emily Dickinson and Eudora Welty. In her new novel, Schutt delivers a pitch-perfect, timeless and original work on the spectacle of love.

Prosperous Friends follows the evolution of a young couple’s marriage as it is challenged by the quandaries of longing and sexual self-discovery. The glamorous and gifted Ned Bourne and his pretty wife, Isabel, travel to London, New York, and Maine in hopes of realizing their artistic promise, but their quest for sexual fulfillment is less assured. Past lovers and new infatuations, doubt and indifference threaten to bankrupt the marriage. The Bournes’ fantasies for their future finally give way to a deepened and mature perspective in the company of an older, celebrated artist, Clive Harris, and his wife, Dinah, a poet. With compassionate insight, Schutt explores the divide between those like Clive and Dinah who seem to prosper in love and those like Ned and Isabel who feel themselves condemned to yearn for it.

***

Wife 22 was published in May by Ballantine. I received it at the Random House breakfast. I haven’t read the Fielding or the Pearson, and it’s not a book I would normally seek out. You can read a chapter here. Here is the description:

For fans of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary and Allison Pearson’s I Don’t Know How She Does It comes an irresistible novel of a woman losing herself . . . and finding herself again . . . in the middle of her life.

Maybe it was those extra five pounds I’d gained. Maybe it was because I was about to turn the same age my mother was when I lost her. Maybe it was because after almost twenty years of marriage my husband and I seemed to be running out of things to say to each other.

But when the anonymous online study called “Marriage in the 21st Century” showed up in my inbox, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life. It wasn’t long before I was assigned both a pseudonym (Wife 22) and a caseworker (Researcher 101).

And, just like that, I found myself answering questions.

7. Sometimes I tell him he’s snoring when he’s not snoring so he’ll sleep in the guest room and I can have the bed all to myself.
61. Chet Baker on the tape player. He was cutting peppers for the salad. I looked at those hands and thought, I am going to have this man’s children.
67. To not want what you don’t have. What you can’t have. What you shouldn’t have.
32. That if we weren’t careful, it was possible to forget one another.

Before the study, my life was an endless blur of school lunches and doctor’s appointments, family dinners, budgets, and trying to discern the fastest-moving line at the grocery store. I was Alice Buckle: spouse of William and mother to Zoe and Peter, drama teacher and Facebook chatter, downloader of memories and Googler of solutions.

But these days, I’m also Wife 22. And somehow, my anonymous correspondence with Researcher 101 has taken an unexpectedly personal turn. Soon, I’ll have to make a decision—one that will affect my family, my marriage, my whole life. But at the moment, I’m too busy answering questions.

As it turns out, confession can be a very powerful aphrodisiac.

***

I sought this one out at an in-booth signing, because I wanted to meet Shulman. I had this idea that it might be interesting to read a “menage” book that is worlds apart from the “menage” books known in erotic romance. We had a nice chat about Maine. Menage was published in May. Unfortunately, the reviews for this, Shulman’s first book in decades, range from “meh” to scathing.

Heather and Mack McKay seem to have it all: wealth, a dream house in the suburbs, and two adorable children along with the nannies to raise them. But their marriage has lost its savor: she is a frustrated writer and he longs for a cultural trophy to hang on his belt.

During a chance encounter in LA, Mack invites exiled writer Zoltan Barbu—once lionized as a political hero, now becoming a has-been—to live with him and his wife in their luxurious home. The plan should provide Heather with literary companionship, Mack with cultural cachet, and Zoltan himself with a pastoral environment in which to overcome his writer’s block and produce a masterpiece.

Of course, as happens with triangles, complications arise—some hilarious, some sad—as the three players pursue a game that leads to shifting alliances and sexual misadventures. Shulman pokes fun at our modern malaise (why is having it all never enough?), even as she traces the ever-changing dynamics within a marriage. Ménage is a bravura performance from one of America’s most renowned feminist writers.

***

This one, a memoir by somebody I have never heard of, should have gone in my nonfic post, but alas. I have no idea how I acquired it. It will be published January 2012 by Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster).

Here’s the description:

A stunning memoir about an actress’s unconventional, heartbreaking childhood with an unstable alcoholic and suicidal mother—a real-life Holly Golightly turned Mommie Dearest—and the unusual strength that allowed her to rise above it all.

By the time Wendy Lawless turned seventeen, she’d known for quite some time that she didn’t have a normal mother. But that didn’t stop her from wanting one…

Georgann Rea didn’t bake cookies or go to PTA meetings; she wore a mink coat and always had a lit Dunhill plugged into her cigarette holder. She had slept with too many men, and some women, and she didn’t like dogs or children. Georgann had the ice queen beauty of a Hitchcock heroine and the cold heart to match.

In this evocative, darkly humorous memoir, Wendy deftly charts the highs and lows of growing up with her younger sister in the shadow of an unstable, fabulously neglectful mother. Georgann, a real-life Holly Golightly who constantly reinvents herself as she trades up from trailer-park to penthouse, suffers multiple nervous breakdowns and suicide attempts, while Wendy tries to hide the cracks in their fractured family from the rest of the world.

Chanel Bonfire depicts a childhood blazed through the refined aeries of The Dakota and the swinging townhouses of London, while the girls’ beautiful but damned mother desperately searches for glamour and fulfillment. Ultimately, they must choose between living their own lives and being their mother’s warden.

***


Schroder: A Novel
comes out in February 2013 (from Twelve, a division of Hachette). It is Gaige’s third, after O My Darling (2005) and The Folded World (2007). In 2007, The Folded World was named Foreword Book of the Year, best book of fiction in the Independent Publisher Book Awards, and one of the year’s Favorite Books by the Chicago Tribune. I picked it up in the publisher’s booth because I thought it looked interesting, and I love the cover. There’s nothing on Gaige’s website yet about this forthcoming book. Tsk. Tsk.

Here’s the description:

Attending summer camp as a boy, Erik Schroder– a first generation East German immigrant–adopts the name of Eric Kennedy, a decision that will set him on an improbable and transformative journey, SCHRODER relates the story of how years later, Erik finds himself on an urgent escape to Lake Champlain, Vermont with his daughter, hiding from authorities amidst a heated custody battle with estranged wife, Laura, who is unaware of his previous identity. From a correctional facility, Erik surveys the course of his life: his love for Laura, his childhood, his experience as a father. In this way, this sweeping and deftly-imagined novel is an exploration of the identities we take on in our lives-those we are born with, and those we construct for ourselves.

***

This one was published in hardcover September 2011 by Free Press (Simon and Schuster), and was be released in paperback this month. I have no idea how it came to me, how it ended up in my UPS box, and, to be honest, I have no plans to read it.

Life in Sofia, Bulgaria, in the late 1980s is bleak and controlled. The oppressive Communist regime bears down on all aspects of people’s lives much like the granite sky overhead. In the crumbling old building that hosts the Sofia Music School for the Gifted, inflexible and unsentimental apparatchiks drill the students like soldiers—as if the music they are teaching did not have the power to set these young souls on fire.

Fifteen-year-old Konstantin is a brash, brilliant pianist of exceptional sensitivity, struggling toward adulthood in a society where honest expression often comes at a terrible cost. Confined to the Music School for most of each day and a good part of the night, Konstantin exults in his small rebellions—smoking, drinking, and mocking Party pomp and cant at every opportunity. Intelligent and arrogant, funny and despairing, compassionate and cruel, he is driven simultaneously by a desire to be the best and an almost irresistible urge to fail. His isolation, buttressed by the grim conventions of a loveless society, prevents him from getting close to the mercurial violin virtuoso Irina, but also from understanding himself.

Through it all, Konstantin plays the piano with inflamed passion: he is transported by unparalleled explorations of Chopin, Debussy, and Bach, even as he is cursed by his teachers’ numbing efforts at mind control. Each challenging piano piece takes on a life of its own, engendering exquisite new revelations. A refuge from a reality Konstantin detests, the piano is also what tethers him to it. Yet if he can only truly master this grandest of instruments—as well as his own self-destructive urges—it might just secure his passage out of this broken country.

Nikolai Grozni—himself a native of Bulgaria and a world-class pianist in his youth—sets this electrifying portrait of adolescent longing and anxiety against a backdrop of tumultuous, historic world events. Hypnotic and headlong, Wunderkind gives us a stunningly urgent, acutely observed, and wonderfully tragicomic glimpse behind the Iron Curtain at the very end of the Cold War, reminding us of the sometimes life-saving grace of great music.

***

The last two books I received because I attended an author breakfast at which both authors spoke. One is a Barbara Kingsolver book, Flight Behavior (November, 2012), which I brought home for my mother. Who doesn’t want it. And the other is a Jo Nesbo crime fiction novel, Phantom (October 2012), which I do hope to read, once I’ve finished Redbreast which I am about 25% into right now.

My spouse will be pleased that, having written all my “BEA swag” posts, I can finally get all of these books off the dining room table. Of this batch, the books I am most looking forward to reading are the Schutt and the Gaige. Someday soon I hope to write a post on my BEA experience in general, which was super positive. Stay tuned!

3 responses

  1. I’m embarrassed to admit I still have a pile of books from BEA 2011 on m TBR pile. The BEA 2012 books I picked up only add to the chaos.

    One book that stood out from BEA 2012 was Stress Pandemic by Paul Huljich. I met the author at the Book Bloggers breakfast after, quite coincidentally, picking up his book on the way in. I burned right through it that same day. It was the best non-fiction book I’ve read in a long time.

    Priorities find their own way, don’t they?

    Like

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