Thursday, October 9, 2014

Front Porch Books: October 2014 edition

Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of books--mainly advance review copies (aka "uncorrected proofs" and "galleys")--I've received from publishers, but also sprinkled with packages from Book Mooch, Amazon and other sources.  Because my dear friends, Mr. FedEx and Mrs. UPS, leave them with a doorbell-and-dash method of delivery, I call them my Front Porch Books.  In this digital age, ARCs are also beamed to the doorstep of my Kindle via NetGalley and Edelweiss.  Note: most of these books won't be released for another 2-6 months; I'm just here to pique your interest and stock your wish lists. Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released.

Rooms by Lauren Oliver (Ecco):  What is it about ghost stories that whisper to us, make us lean closer to hear the story?  Whatever it is, Lauren Oliver seems to have tapped into that secret with her first novel for adults.  The author of the bestselling young adult novels Before I Fall, Panic, and the Delirium trilogy, Oliver runs her icy literary fingers along our spine with a story about a house and its inhabitants--both corporeal and spiritual.  Here's the Jacket Copy to give us the shivers:
Wealthy Richard Walker has just died, leaving behind his country house full of rooms packed with the detritus of a lifetime. His estranged family—bitter ex-wife Caroline, troubled teenage son Trenton, and unforgiving daughter Minna—have arrived for their inheritance. But the Walkers are not alone. Prim Alice and the cynical Sandra, long dead former residents bound to the house, linger within its claustrophobic walls. Jostling for space, memory, and supremacy, they observe the family, trading barbs and reminiscences about their past lives. Though their voices cannot be heard, Alice and Sandra speak through the house itself—in the hiss of the radiator, a creak in the stairs, the dimming of a light bulb. The living and dead are each haunted by painful truths that will soon surface with explosive force. When a new ghost appears, and Trenton begins to communicate with her, the spirit and human worlds collide—with cataclysmic results.
Blurbworthiness: “A chilling ghost story, and much, much more: Rooms is a magnificent gothic fugue on the themes of longing and buried secrets.”  (Lev Grossman, author of The Magicians)

The Future for Curious People by Gregory Sherl (Algonquin Books):  Zoe Symon's cover art for Gregory Sherl's debut novel features silhouettes of a man and a woman, a heart between them, a computer motherboard and rabbits, lots and lots of rabbits--a wink to "breeding like," I suppose.  The Future for Curious People is all about love and computer programming; specifically, what would happen if a person could see their romantic destiny.  Would they continue on their same course, or would they ditch their current lover in favor of the prince or princess waiting for them in the happily-ever-after future?  It's an engaging question and one which hooks me right into the book and its Opening Lines:
I'm breaking up with Adrian on the corner of Charles and Mulberry where he's passing out half-sheet advertisements for his band, the Babymakers. He's pale and weedy-looking, permanently anxious. His cheeks are flushed, his boxy nose red. It's cold and has just started to snow. The snow is partly the reason I've decided that today is the day. The air has taken shape, and everything suddenly seems like it's in motion, full swirl.
Here's the Jacket Copy for those who are curious about Curious People:
What if you could know your romantic future? What if an envisionist could enter the name of your prospective mate into a computer that would show you a film of your future life together? In The Future for Curious People, a young librarian named Evelyn becomes obsessed with this new technology: she can’t stop visiting Dr. Chin’s office because she needs to know that she’ll meet someone and be happy one day. Godfrey, another client, ends up at the envisionist’s office only because his fiancĂ©e insisted they know their fate before taking the plunge. But when Godfrey meets Evelyn in the waiting room, true love may be right in front of them, but they are too preoccupied—and too burdened by their pasts—to recognize it.
Based on the excerpt and plot synopsis, The Future for Curious People reminds me of the cosmic goodness found in Lydia Netzer's novels How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky and Shine Shine Shine.  So it's not surprising that Netzer herself offered up some Blurbworthiness: “A love story about love stories...The pages burst with laugh-out-loud scenes and crisply original set-ups.  I loved it!”

Find Me by Laura van den Berg (Farrar, Straus and Giroux):  After publishing two highly-successful short story collections (What the World Will Look Like When All the Water Leaves Us and The Isle of Youth), Laura van den Berg has delivered what will undoubtedly be a highly-successful novel.  Find Me has a fascinating set-up, as you can see by the Jacket Copy:
Joy has no one. She spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store outside Boston and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a sickness that begins with memory loss and ends with death sweeps the country, Joy, for the first time in her life, seems to have an advantage: she is immune. When Joy’s immunity gains her admittance to a hospital in rural Kansas, she sees a chance to escape her bleak existence. There she submits to peculiar treatments and follows seemingly arbitrary rules, forming cautious bonds with other patients—including her roommate, whom she turns to in the night for comfort, and twin boys who are digging a secret tunnel. As winter descends, the hospital’s fragile order breaks down and Joy breaks free, embarking on a journey from Kansas to Florida, where she believes she can find her birth mother, the woman who abandoned her as a child. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house. As Joy closes in on Florida, she must confront her own damaged memory and the secrets she has been keeping from herself.
Judging by the Opening Lines, the payoff will be every bit as good as the plot:
On our third month in the Hospital, the pilgrims begin to appear. They gather outside the doors, faces tipped to the sky, while our Floor Group watches at the end of the fifth-floor hallway. The windows have no bars on the outside and we have to tilt our heads to get a good view. Sometimes the pilgrims wave and we wave back. Or they hold hands and sing and we hear their voices through the glass. Some stand outside for hours, others for days. We don't understand what they could want from us.
I think I speak for the majority of readers when I say Find Me has easily found a place in my Most-Anticipated Books of 2015 list.

The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac by Sharma Shields (Henry Holt):  Speaking of Most-Anticipated....The day I received Sharma Shields' debut novel, I was so excited that I took the book outside, threw it on a pile of leaves and Tweeted about it:

Okay, so I get a little moist in the voice sometimes when I'm spreading booklove around social media, but in this case, every drop of my passion for The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac is genuine.  I was at the Get Lit! festival in Spokane earlier this year when I first fell in love with Sharma Shields' fiction.  She read a short, fabulous fabulist tale during the Pie and Whiskey event (free pie! free booze!) and I was completely won over by the way she manipulated the language and tropes of mythology and fairy tales.  As J. Robert Lennon said of her previous collection of short stories, Favorite Monster, “By all rights, these comic tales, with their cyclopses and serial killers, werewolves and writers, medusas and managers, ought to collapse into lighthearted whimsy. Instead they unfold into objects of extraordinary beauty and darkness, rendered in prose that can turn on a dime from the deadpan to the profound. Sharma Shields is a cutup, a sneak, and a badass--she will crack you up with these charming beasts, and then, in a stage whisper, reveal who the real monster is. (Hint: it's you.)”  The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac, her long-awaited (and most-anticipated) novel looks like it will be full of badassery and beauty.  Here's the Jacket Copy:
Eli Roebuck was nine years old when his mother walked off into the woods with "Mr. Krantz," a large, strange, hairy man who may or may not be a sasquatch. What Eli knows for certain is that his mother went willingly, leaving her only son behind. For the rest of his life, Eli is obsessed with the hunt for the bizarre creature his mother chose over him, and we watch it affect every relationship he has in his long life--with his father, with both of his wives, his children, grandchildren, and colleagues. We follow all of the Roebuck family members, witnessing through each of them the painful, isolating effects of Eli's maniacal hunt, and find that each Roebuck is battling a monster of his or her own, sometimes literally. The magical world Shields has created is one of unicorns and lake monsters, ghosts and reincarnations, tricksters and hexes. At times charming, as when young Eli meets the eccentric, extraordinary Mr. Krantz, and downright horrifying at others, The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac is boldly imaginative throughout, and proves to be a devastatingly real portrait of the demons that we as human beings all face.
Here are the Opening Lines:
     Eli Roebuck lived with his parents, Greg and Agnes, in a tiny cabin near Stateline. Greg arranged a little rock border right where the line ran so that Eli could stand with one foot in Idaho and one foot in Washington and sense through the soles of his boots the difference between the two.
     Washington sap smelled sweeter. The soil was softer and less rocky. Idaho earth baked and hardened and stank like eggs. Or so Eli imagined. In reality, the environment was seamless, dry white-pine forest littered with decomposing needles and loose rock, and, above, a hawk wheeling in the beryl sky. In the winter, snow fell and transformed the uneven terrain into a smooth white plain. Then it melted and the world returned to him as it had always been: faded brown and faded green, jagged and inviting.
Blurbworthiness: “The Sasquatch Hunter's Almanac is deeply strange and strangely moving.  Like Kafka's The Metamorphosis, it demands and rewards surrender.”  (Richard Russo, author of Bridge of Sighs)

The Silent Sister by Diane Chamberlain (St. Martin's Press):  T. S. Eliot once said, "If you start with a bang, you won't end with a whimper."  If that's so, then Diane Chamberlain has fired a volley of cannons with the Opening Lines to her latest novel.  I was so completely snagged by The Silent Sister's prologue that I'm going to give you the whole thing here:
January 1990
Alexandria, Virginia
      All day long, people stopped along the path that ran through the woods by the Potomac River. Bundled in their parkas and wool scarves, they stood close to one another for warmth and clutched the mittened hands of their children or the leashes of their dogs as they stared at the one splash of color in the winter-gray landscape. The yellow kayak sat in the middle of the river, surrounded by ice. The water had been rough the night before, buffeted by snowy winds, rising into swirling whitecaps as the temperature plummeted, and the waves froze in jagged crests, trapping the kayak many yards from shore.
      The walkers had seen the kayak on the morning news, but they still needed to see it in person. It marked the end of a saga that had gripped them for months. They’d looked forward to the trial that would never happen now, because the seventeen-year-old girl—the seventeen-year-old murderer, most were sure—now rested somewhere beneath that rocky expanse of ice.
      She took the easy way out, some of them whispered to one another.
      But what a terrible way to die, others said.
      They looked at the rocky bank of the river and wondered if she’d put some of those rocks in her pockets to make herself sink. They wondered if she’d cried as she paddled the kayak into the water, knowing the end was near. She’d cried on TV, for certain. Faking it, some of them said now as they moved on down the path. It was too cold to stand in one spot for very long
      But there was one woman, bundled warm, gloved hands in her pockets, who stood at the side of the path for hours. She watched as the news chopper collected fresh aerial images, its blades a deafening dark blur against the gray sky. She watched as the police milled along the banks of the river, pointing in one direction and then the other as they considered how they’d retrieve the kayak from the ice . . . and how they would search for the girl’s body beneath it.
      The woman looked at the police again. They stood with their hands on their hips now, as though they were giving up. This case was closed. The woman pulled her jacket more tightly around herself. Let them give up, she thought, pleased, as she watched a police officer shrug his shoulders in what looked like defeat. Let them wrest that kayak from the river and call it a day.
      Although a yellow kayak stranded in ice proved nothing.
      They were fools if they thought it did.
The Jacket Copy gives a few more clues to that mystery woman on the shore and her relation to what may or may not be the body under the river ice:
Riley MacPherson has spent her entire life believing that her older sister Lisa committed suicide as a teenager. Now, over twenty years later, her father has passed away and she's in New Bern, North Carolina cleaning out his house when she finds evidence to the contrary. Lisa is alive. Alive and living under a new identity. But why exactly was she on the run all those years ago, and what secrets are being kept now? As Riley works to uncover the truth, her discoveries will put into question everything she thought she knew about her family. Riley must decide what the past means for her present, and what she will do with her newfound reality, in this engrossing mystery from international bestselling author Diane Chamberlain.
And, by the way, don't you agree that the gorgeous cover design is just as enticing as the novel's prologue?

When Mystical Creatures Attack! by Kathleen Founds (University of Iowa Press):  Kathleen Founds' collection of fictional pieces might just be the most original book to land on my front porch in a long time.  Certainly, it promises to be one of the most fun.  It's always a good sign when "delight" is the primary factor bringing you back to a book day after day.  Read the Jacket Copy and I think you'll agree that When Mystical Creatures Attack! certainly has the Lay's Potato Chip Factor going for it:
In When Mystical Creatures Attack!, Ms. Freedman’s high school English class writes essays in which mystical creatures resolve the greatest sociopolitical problems of our time. Students include Janice Gibbs, “a feral child with excessive eyeliner and an anti-authoritarian complex that would be interesting were it not so ill-informed,” and Cody Splunk, an aspiring writer working on a time machine. Following a nervous breakdown, Ms. Freedman corresponds with Janice and Cody from an insane asylum run on the capitalist model of cognitive-behavioral therapy, where inmates practice water aerobics to rebuild their Psychiatric Credit Scores. The lives of Janice, Cody, and Ms. Freedman are revealed through in-class essays, letters, therapeutic journal exercises, an advice column, a reality show television transcript, a diary, and a Methodist women’s fundraising cookbook. (Recipes include “Dark Night of the Soul Food,” “Render Unto Caesar Salad,” and “Valley of the Shadow of Death by Chocolate Cake.”) In “Virtue of the Month,” the ghost of Ms. Freedman’s mother argues that suicide is not a choice. In “The Un-Game,” Janice’s chain-smoking nursing home charge composes a dirty limerick. In “The Hall of Old-Testament Miracles,” wax figures of Bible characters come to life, hungry for Cody’s flesh. Set against a South Texas landscape where cicadas hum and the air smells of taco stands and jasmine flowers, these stories range from laugh-out-loud funny to achingly poignant. This surreal, exuberant collection mines the dark recesses of the soul while illuminating the human heart.
Here's just one part of the book's Opening Lines, in which Ms. Freedman uses the journaling prompt: Write a one-page story in which your favorite mystical creature resolves the greatest sociopolitical problem of our time.
How the Minotaur Changed the Legal Drinking Age to 16
by Danny Ramirez

He’d be like, “Citizenry of congress, teenagers are going to drink anyway, so you need to learn to trust them, and not have the janitor break open their lockers because you think they have your diary hidden under their gym clothes,” which I didn’t, Ms. Freedman, so I hope they make you pay for my lock. Then the Minotaur would decree that any teacher who, in the heart of per personal journal, describes students as "feral raccoons devoid of impulse control" is maybe not cut out for education. Then the Minotaur would get hired as a Spokes-Minotaur for King Cobra. He'd be in commercials with all these big blonde Amazonian chicks, drinking forties, doing a topless carwash. In a maze. 

How the Unicorn Stabbed Danny Ramirez in the Heart Seven Times, Which Is What He Deserves, for Breaking Up with Me Like That
by Andrea Shylomar

I don't believe in anything mystical, Ms. Freedman. Not even God. You made us build that diorama of Mount Olympus, and you made us paint that mural with unicorns and butcherbirds and sand toads. You said it was to show that books transport us to different worlds, where there are different rules, and there’s magic in everything. Well, what you forgot is that when you shut the book, you’re back in this world, and the bell is ringing, and wadded-up paper is thrown at your head, and Adam Sandoval is poking at your crotch with a pencil, and later Christina Sackburn’s bitchy flunkies climb into your bathroom stall and threaten you with scissors. What you need is a book that takes you out of this world permanently. Which is called a gun, I think.
I'm reminded here of some of my favorite short story writers like George Singleton, Lewis Nordan, and maybe a splash of George Saunders.  I can't wait to be stabbed by Ms. Founds' unicorns.  Repeatedly.  Right in the heart and in the funnybone.

The Wonders by Paddy O'Reilly (Washington Square Press):  I came for the cover, I stayed for the plot.  Actually, my curiosity was whittled to a fine point when I read Ashley Hays' wonderful summary of the novel in an August article in The Australian.  Rather than listen to me natter on about The Wonders, I'll hand the mic over to Ashley.  Here's part of her review:
     If it’s one mark of a good book that it grabs you from the very first, then Paddy O’Reilly’s slightly creepy new novel is the business. It begins thus: “Leon was twenty-six when the true fragility of his body revealed itself. A week after his birthday he died for the first time.”
     And off we go.
     The Wonders, O’Reilly’s third novel, is a surreal and exotic thing, a finely wrought interrogation of the ways we navigate being human and the presumptuous shambles we make of much of it. Its four main characters — three “wonderful” human beings and the mega-manager who massages and propels them towards a strange superstardom, and beyond — are nothing if not extreme: big stories, big features, big circumstances, all laid down in sharp, fast lines.
     There’s Leon, the man who brings us into the story and who, fewer than 10 pages later, is being kept alive by an illegal mechanical heart (installed by mysterious researchers in a secret basement). Set in a cage of titanium ribs, it’s utterly visible, whirring and thrumming in a hollow, inorganic cavity. There’s Christos, a Greek performance artist who has had ceramic “lilies” implanted in his back, into which can be slotted a pair of frighteningly realistic, frighteningly mobile angel’s wings — he has trained his muscles to make them flex and move.
     There’s Kathryn, a woman cured of Huntington’s disease only to find one side effect of her gene therapy has left her covered in pure black wool. And there’s Rhona, the vaudevillian manager who brings them together to make them “The Wonders.” A person of murky circus provenance, she jangles and hustles her way through the book, rhinestones flashing and spurs a-clatter. There are touches of X-Men, touches of Cirque du Soleil.
     As Rhona assembles her troupe, she installs them in a glamorous Vermont mansion behind “a wall of thick cypress hedge, six foot high” and “curls of rusty razor wire [crowning] the inner fence of cyclone wire.” A stony stretch of “no-man’s land” runs between. The thick specificity of these barriers combines with a smattering of slightly unreliable retired circus animals also living in the compound and serves to underscore the fact the real world has been well and truly left behind.
     Yet in many ways the real world, and all of us in it, drives and defines the stories of the three Wonders. Because for all the extremity of Rhona’s performing trio, the showiness and slight gimcrackery of the modifications they have endured (willingly, and for the sake of “art”, like Christos; unwittingly, like Kathryn; or simply to stay alive, like Leon), the people who drive this story are, in the main, those who make up the pulsing negative space beyond them: the public, who fawns over them, hates them, abuses them, promotes them, stalks them, traduces them, adores them.
     The energy, the thrust, the twists and spikes of the narrative itself, are impelled by those not sketched in, not fully shown: the observers and the commentators, the protesters just outside the Vermont mansion’s gates. In other words, the audience — or us.
     At its heart, this is a book about fame and celebrity, and the worst reactions they engender.
Click here to read the rest.

Tell by Frances Itani (Grove/Atlantic):  The dark days of winter are drawing near, and you know what that means: nights of crackling fires, tumblers of smoky bourbon, and the pages of a good book.  Or maybe that's just me.  In any event, one of this winter's drinking companions is bound to be Tell by Canadian author Frances Itani.  Tell is on the shortlist for this year's Scotiabank Giller Prize and after reading the Opening Lines, it's easy to see why:
Toronto: November 1, 1920
     Zel glances around the room: oak floor, oak desk, wooden cabinet, two windows that look down over city streets three storeys below. Shelves behind the desk are stuffed with black binders. These, she suspects, are guarding secrets stored for generations.
     She is in this room with three other women, a man and a baby. The baby, six weeks old, sleeps while nestled against her mother’s arm. Papers are arranged neatly before a woman who wears a tailored jacket over a grey dress. Zel sees compassion on her face; she senses it from her manner and her voice. A brooch in the shape of a miniature sleigh, with silver slats and curved gold runners, is pinned to the woman’s jacket. A tiny gold chain droops from the crossbar to represent a rope attached to the front of the sleigh. It’s as if the woman, who has introduced herself as Mrs. Davis, has a playful side, though not here, not as the official who will ensure that the documents on her desk are duly signed. In other circumstances, Zel would ask Mrs. Davis about the brooch, its origins, its maker.
I love that beautifully-rendered detail of the sleigh brooch.  Here's the Jacket Copy:
The international debut sensation Deafening launched the story of Grania, deaf from the age of five, and her sister Tress, who helped to create their secret language. Tell picks up from the return of the sisters’ husbands from the war, and follows Tress’s partner Kenan, a young shell-shocked soldier who confines himself indoors, venturing outside only at night to visit the frozen bay where he skated as a boy. Saddened by her altered marriage, Tress seeks advice from her Aunt Maggie. But Maggie and her husband, Am, have problems of their own. Maggie finds joy singing in the town's newly created choral society. Am, troubled by the widening gulf in his marriage, spends more and more time in the clock tower above their apartment. As the second decade of the twentieth century draws to a close, the lives of the two couples become increasingly entwined. Startling revelations surface as layers of silence begin to crumble. Told with Itani’s signature power and grace, Tell is both a deeply moving story about the burdens of the past, and a beautifully rendered reminder of how the secrets we bury to protect ourselves can also be the cause of our undoing.

Where Wicked Starts by Elizabeth Stuckey-French and Patricia Henley (Lacewing Books): Engine Books, one of my favorite small presses, has decided to branch out to young adult fiction and I couldn't be more excited about the news.  The new imprint, Lacewing Books, will publish two books per year.  Where Wicked Starts follows on the heels of the first release, The Book of Jack Kerouac by Barbara Shoup; The Book of Laney by Myfanwy Collins is on deck for a 2015 release.  As you can see, the press is starting out with some top-notch authors.  Where Wicked Starts is the collaboration between Elizabeth Stuckey French (The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady) and Patricia Henley (Other Heartbreaks), which is about as ideal a combination as chocolate and peanut butter.  The Jacket Copy for the novel opens with a startling excerpt that will leave you both cringing and wanting more:
     That's when I noticed the couple we later named Bony and Mr. Creep sitting two rows in front of us. He had his arm around her, not like a father would do, or like I imagined a father would do--slinging his arm over the back of her chair. No, his arm was around her shoulders like she was his date. Bony kept wriggling but he would just grip her harder. Finally she gave up and sat still.
     He leaned over and licked her cheek.

When stepsisters Nick and Luna suspect that a girl they meet at a Florida alligator farm is being held captive, they enlist an older boy with a set of wheels to help rescue her. Their parents are too busy renovating a bed and breakfast to realize the girls are in real danger.
My, my, my, that's quite the set-up for what looks like a sure-fire Unputdownable.

The Spark and the Drive by Wayne Harrison (St. Martin's Press):  Here's a novel which came out in July, but somehow swam below my radar until it showed up on my doorstep.  Perhaps you're already ahead of my curve and have read The Spark and the Drive--if so, feel free to weigh in at the comments section below.  The press release accompanying my copy of the book is filled to the brim with praise from writers I respect.  Here's just some of that Blurbworthiness:

"There's nothing I enjoy more than entering a fictional world over which an author demonstrates complete mastery.  That's exactly what Wayne Harrison offers his lucky readers in The Spark and the Drive."  (Richard Russo, author of Empire Falls)

"Young men will always idolize the father substitutes who promise them a way out of the familiar.  Ever volatile, such relationships fuel some of our best literature, and to this category we must now add Wayne Harrison's gorgeous and grittily poetic debut novel.  Set in an auto shop in working class Connecticut at the end of the golden age of the American muscle car, The Spark and the Drive has all the horsepower and headlong beauty of the extraordinary machines at its center."  (Ann Packer, author of The Dive from Clausen’s Pier)

"The Spark and the Drive is a potent accomplishment: a novel about how quickly the shape of a life can change and about the years a person can spend trying to sort through the pieces.  It's written with acuity and grace, and best of all it knows how to hold its power in reserve, shifting and accelerating at the most surprising moments, so that it has the rhythm and momentum of a good street race."  (Kevin Brockmeier, author of A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip: A Memoir of Seventh Grade)

"This novel vividly renders the cult-like world of muscle car enthusiasts, but the author's ultimate concerns are the sparks and misfires of the human heart.  Wayne Harrison is an exciting new voice in American fiction."  (Ron Rash, author of Serena)

Those are great, but what really caught my attention was the setting and plot as described in the Jacket Copy:
Justin Bailey is seventeen when he arrives at the shop of legendary muscle car mechanic Nick Campbell. Anguished and out of place among the students at his rural Connecticut high school, Justin finds in Nick, his captivating wife Mary Ann, and their world of miraculous machines the sense of family he has struggled to find at home.But when Nick and Mary Ann’s lives are struck by tragedy, Justin’s own world is upended. Suddenly Nick, once celebrated for his mechanical genius, has lost his touch. Mary Ann, once tender and compassionate to her husband, has turned distant. As Justin tries to support his suffering mentor, he finds himself drawn toward the man’s grieving wife. Torn apart by feelings of betrayal, Justin must choose between the man he admires more than his own father and the woman he yearns for.A poignant and fiercely original debut, with moments of fast-paced suspense, Wayne Harrison's The Spark and The Drive is the unforgettable story of a young man forced to make an impossible decision—no matter the consequences.

Lizzie! by Maxine Kumin (Seven Stories Press):  And here's yet another book which escaped my notice when it was released earlier this year (I'm a pretty alert and aware bookworm, so I blame a crowded marketplace and, maybe, overworked publicists).  Not only was I happy to discover Lizzie!'s existence, I was surprised to find Maxine Kumin, in addition to being a world-class poet, was also the author of children's books (Seven Stories Press will also re-release four of her out-of-print children's books for kids ages 5 to 8, co-written with Anne Sexton: Eggs of Things, More Eggs of Things, Joey and the Birthday Present and The Wizard's Tears).  Well, slap me and call me Martha, I had no idea!  At any rate, I'm happy to have Lizzie! in my hands.  Maxine Kumin passed away earlier this year and this seems a fitting tribute to her talents.  She may be gone, but she will never be forgotten.  Here's the Jacket Copy:
Lizzie, age eleven, does not let her wheelchair get in the way of her curiosity. After she is partially paralyzed in a diving accident, Lizzie and her single mom are starting life over in a small town in Florida, where Lizzie’s thirst for knowledge and adventure makes her some unlikely friends and gets her into some sticky situations. Resilient and precocious, Lizzie has a passion for learning new words (especially those with Latin roots) and a propensity for finding trouble, which is how she ends up stumbling upon criminal activities involving seedy characters, beautiful golden monkeys, and murder.
Our young narrator won me over right off the bat with these Opening Lines:
If you think this is just some sweet sappy story about two kids in wheelchairs and a dear patient single mother, get over it. You could live your whole and not have this much stuff happen. This is my AUTOBIOGRAPHY! It took me almost a whole year to write it and I promise you it is not boring. So either start reading or shut this book now. It's up to you.
Honestly, what choice do I have but to obey?  Author Barry Moser seems to agree with me in this bit of Blurbworthiness: "Lizzie Peterlinz might just pull her wheelchair up to the table and take her place alongside Anne Shirley and Pippi Longstocking.  She’s smart.  She’s sassy.  She’s curious.  She’s courageous.  And she loves Latin and words of all kinds.  Told by one of the great American poets, Lizzie! is a flat-out wonderful read.  I couldn’t put it down."

A Pleasure and a Calling by Phil Hogan (Picador):  A tasty, unsettling novel that calls to mind Patricia Highsmith is always a good bet.  Phil Hogan's new novel has a Talented Mr. Ripley vibe to it and I, for one, can't wait to start reading about the Grade-A creepazoid character Mr. Heming at the center of the book.  Here's the Jacket Copy to run some icy fingers down your backbone:
You won't remember Mr Heming. He showed you round your comfortable home, suggested a sustainable financial package, negotiated a price with the owner and called you with the good news. The less good news is that, all these years later, he still has the key. That's absurd, you laugh. Of all the many hundreds of houses he has sold, why would he still have the key to mine? The answer to that is, he has the keys to them all. William Heming's every pleasure is in his leafy community. He loves and knows every inch of it, feels nurtured by it, and would defend it--perhaps not with his life but if it came to it, with yours...
Here are the Opening Lines:
If you were to put a gun to my head and ask me to explain myself, I suppose I might begin by saying that we are all creatures of habit. But then, you might wonder, what creature of habit is a slave to the habits of others? All I can say is that the habitual is what I love most and am made for; that the best I can do is hang on, have faith, and hope what has lately blown through our unremarkable but well-ordered town will be forgotten and all will be calm again. Right now I feel lucky to hear myself breathe. The air is dangerously thin. It seems to rush in my ears. And yet the scene is peaceful here in the half-lit, slumbering pre-dawn: a white coverlet glowing in the room, a discarded necklace of beads, a shelf of books, one face down, splayed on the bedside-table, as though it–like the whole town at this hushed time–is dead to the world. I cannot make out the title but the sight of this book with its familiar cover image (the shape of a man in raised gilt) returns me to that day, not too long ago, when the wind changed and the sky blackened and ordinary life–startled by the sudden thunderclap of the unusual–reared, kicked over the lantern and turned the barn into a raging inferno whose leaping, thrilling flames could be seen from a hundred miles away.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I think I just heard someone open my front door.  I'd better go see who's there...

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