Thursday, June 13, 2019

Front Porch Books: June 2019 edition

Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of new and forthcoming booksmainly advance review copies (aka “uncorrected proofs” and “galleys”)I’ve received from publishers. Cover art and opening lines may change before the book is finally released. I should also mention that, in nearly every case, I haven’t had a chance to read these books, but they’re definitely going in the to-be-read pile.

by Jean-Baptiste Del Amo
(Grove Press)

Jacket Copy:  The small village of Puy-Larroque, southwest France, 1898. Éléonore is a child living with her father, a pig farmer whose terminal illness leaves him unable to work, and her God-fearing mother, who runs both farm and family with an iron hand. Éléonore passes her childhood with little heat and no running water, sharing a small room with her cousin Marcel, who does most of the physical labor on the farm. When World War I breaks out and the village empties, Éléonore gets a taste of the changes that will transform her world as the twentieth century rolls on. As the reader moves into the second part of the novel, which takes place in the 1980s, the untamed world of Puy-Larroque seems gone forever. Now, Éléonore has herself aged into the role of matriarch, and the family is running a large industrial pig farm, where thousands of pigs churn daily through cycles of birth, growth, and death. Moments of sublime beauty and powerful emotion mix with the thoughtless brutality waged against animals that makes the old horrors of death and disease seem like simpler times. A dramatic and chilling tale of man and beast that recalls the naturalism of writers like Émile Zola, Animalia traverses the twentieth century as it examines man’s quest to conquer nature, critiques the legacy of modernity and the transmission of violence from one generation to the next, and questions whether we can hold out hope for redemption in this brutal world.

Opening Lines:  From the first evening in spring to the last vigils of autumn, he sits on the little worm-eaten hobnailed bench, his body hunched, beneath the window whose jambs frame the night and the stone wall in a small theatre of shadows. Inside, on the solid oak table, an oil lamp sputters and the fire in the hearth projects the bustling shadow of his wife onto walls mottled with saltpetre, shooting it up towards the rafters or breaking it on a corner, and this hesitant, yellow light swells the room then pierces the darkness of the farmyard, leaving the father motionless, silhouetted against a semblance of sunlight. Regardless of the season, he waits for night here, on the wooden bench where he saw his father sit before him, its moss-covered legs buckled by the years now beginning to give way. When he sits on this bench, his knees come a quarter-way up his belly and he has trouble getting to his feet, yet he has never considered replacing it, not if there were nothing left but a board. He believes that things should remain as he has always known them for as long as possible, as others before him believed they should be, or as custom and wear has made them.

Blurbworthiness:  “Four-hundred breathtaking pages of flesh, blood, grimy mud, executed with a blazing style....Beyond its thematic richness, the pictorial power of the scenes and the fierce sensitivity of the words in Animalia are worthy at times of the best of Cormac McCarthy. A dark splendor.” (L’Express)

Dear Edward
by Ann Napolitano
(The Dial Press)

Jacket Copy:  After losing everything, a young boy discovers there are still reasons for hope in this luminous, life-affirming novel, perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett. One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor. Edward’s story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery—one that will lead him to the answers of some of life’s most profound questions: When you’ve lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live? Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.

Opening Lines: Newark Airport is shiny from a recent renovation. There are potted plants at each joint of the security line, to keep passengers from realizing how long they’ll have to wait. People prop themselves against walls or sit on suitcases. They all woke up before dawn; they exhale loudly, sputtering with exhaustion.

Blurbworthiness:  “Eddie is an ordinary twelve-year-old, until a horrific plane crash turns him into the real-life Boy Who Lived. Ann Napolitano brings clear-eyed compassion to every character in Dear Edward, from Edward himself, caught between living and merely surviving, to his fellow passengers, who don’t have that choice. The result is a rich, big-hearted tapestry that leaves no one behind. Fans of Room and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close will be spellbound by Dear Edward, which explores trauma with the same honesty and tenderness as it does the crooked path to healing.” (Chloe Benjamin, author of The Immortalists)

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All
by Laura Ruby
(Balzer + Bray)

Jacket Copy:  From the author of Bone Gap comes the unforgettable story of two young women—one living, one dead—dealing with loss, desire, and the fragility of the American dream during WWII. When Frankie’s mother died and her father left her and her siblings at an orphanage in Chicago, it was supposed to be only temporary—just long enough for him to get back on his feet and be able to provide for them once again. That’s why Frankie's not prepared for the day that he arrives for his weekend visit with a new woman on his arm and out-of-state train tickets in his pocket. Now Frankie and her sister, Toni, are abandoned alongside so many other orphans—two young, unwanted women doing everything they can to survive. And as the embers of the Great Depression are kindled into the fires of World War II, and the shadows of injustice, poverty, and death walk the streets in broad daylight, it will be up to Frankie to find something worth holding on to in the ruins of this shattered America—every minute of every day spent wondering if the life she's able to carve out will be enough.

Opening Lines:  The first time they took Frankie to the orphanage, she couldn’t speak English. Only Italian. “Voglio mio padre! Voglio mio padre!” That’s what she said, over and over and over.
       At least, that’s what the nuns told her she said. She couldn’t remember any of it.
       The second time they took her to the orphanage, the last time, she didn’t say anything at all. Not one word. For months.
       She didn’t remember that either.
       What she did remember: her father’s shoe shop on Irving Avenue. The scent of calfskin and polish. The cramped apartment behind the shop. The metal tub sitting in the middle of the kitchen. Cold bathwater wrinkling her little toes. The rough scrape of Aunt Marion’s brush on her back.
       And then the shot from her parents’ bedroom—so sharp, so loud, so wrong.

by Jeanette Winterson
(Grove Press)

Jacket Copy: Lake Geneva, 1816. Nineteen-year-old Mary Shelley is inspired to write a story about a scientist who creates a new life-form. In Brexit Britain, a young transgender doctor called Ry is falling in love with Victor Stein, a celebrated professor leading the public debate around AI and carrying out some experiments of his own in a vast underground network of tunnels. Meanwhile, Ron Lord, just divorced and living with his mom again, is set to make his fortune launching a new generation of sex dolls for lonely men everywhere. Across the Atlantic, in Phoenix, Arizona, a cryogenics facility houses dozens of bodies of men and women who are medically and legally dead....but waiting to return to life. What will happen when homo sapiens is no longer the smartest being on the planet? In fiercely intelligent prose, Jeanette Winterson shows us how much closer we are to that future than we realize. Funny and furious, bold and clear-sighted, Frankissstein is a love story about life itself.

Opening Lines:  Lake Geneva, 1816
       Reality is water-soluble.
       What we could see, the rocks, the shore, the trees, the boats on the lake, had lost their usual definition and blurred into the long grey of a week’s rain. Even the house, that we fancied was made of stone, wavered inside a heavy mist and through that mist, sometimes, a door or a window appeared like an image in a dream.
       Every solid thing had dissolved into its watery equivalent.
       Our clothes did not dry. When we came in, and we must come in, because we must go out, we brought the weather with us. Waterlogged leather. Wool that stank of sheep.
       There is mould on my underclothes.

Blurbworthiness:  “Winterson writes with heartrending precision.” (Vogue)

Nothing to See Here
by Kevin Wilson

Jacket Copy:  Lillian and Madison were unlikely roommates and yet inseparable friends at their elite boarding school. But then Lillian had to leave the school unexpectedly in the wake of a scandal and they’ve barely spoken since. Until now, when Lillian gets a letter from Madison pleading for her help. Madison’s twin stepkids are moving in with her family and she wants Lillian to be their caretaker. However, there’s a catch: the twins spontaneously combust when they get agitated, flames igniting from their skin in a startling but beautiful way. Lillian is convinced Madison is pulling her leg, but it’s the truth. Thinking of her dead-end life at home, the life that has consistently disappointed her, Lillian figures she has nothing to lose. Over the course of one humid, demanding summer, Lillian and the twins learn to trust each other—and stay cool—while also staying out of the way of Madison’s buttoned-up politician husband. Surprised by her own ingenuity yet unused to the intense feelings of protectiveness she feels for them, Lillian ultimately begins to accept that she needs these strange children as much as they need her—urgently and fiercely. Couldn’t this be the start of the amazing life she’d always hoped for? With white-hot wit and a big, tender heart, Kevin Wilson has written his best book yet—a most unusual story of parental love.

Opening Lines:  In the late spring of 1995, just a few weeks after I’d turned twenty-eight, I got a letter from my friend Madison Roberts. I still thought of her as Madison Billings. I heard from Madison four or five times a year, updates on her life that were as foreign to me as reports from the moon, her existence the kind you only read about in magazines. She was married to an older man, a senator, and she had a little boy whom she dressed in nautical suits and who looked like an expensive teddy bear that had turned human.

A Polar Affair
by Lloyd Spencer Davis
(Pegasus Books)

Jacket Copy:  George Murray Levick was the physician on Robert Falcon Scott’s tragic Antarctic expedition of 1910. Marooned for an Antarctic winter, Levick passed the time by becoming the first man to study penguins up close. His findings were so shocking to Victorian morals that they were quickly suppressed and seemingly lost to history. A century later, Lloyd Spencer Davis rediscovers Levick and his findings during the course of his own scientific adventures in Antarctica. Levick’s long-suppressed manuscript reveals not only an incredible survival story, but one that will change our understanding of an entire species. A Polar Affair reveals the last untold tale from the Heroic Age of Antarctic Exploration. It is perhaps the greatest of all of those stories—but why was it hidden to begin with? The ever-fascinating and charming penguin holds the key. Moving deftly between both Levick’s and Davis’s explorations, observations, and comparisons in biology over the course of a century, A Polar Affair reveals cutting-edge findings about ornithology, in which the sex lives of penguins are the jumping-off point for major new insights into the underpinnings of evolutionary biology itself.

Opening Lines:  It is October 13, 1911. A cold day in Antarctica, even by Antarctic standards. Pack ice extends to the horizon from the tiny spit of land that is Ridley Beach at Cape Adare. A white, windswept tableau, it has been battered into a state of bleakness by the blizzard that masses overhead and pushes hard up against the mountain it hides. It is as uninviting a place as it is possible to find. And yet, as the man squints ahead of him, he can make out a little black-and-white person, a penguin, leaning into the wind, straining, marching toward its destination. This beach. This season. A chance to prove itself.

Blurbworthiness:  “The spirit and soul of the penguin is entwined with the factual information in this first-person account so that it is rather like reading a novel or an autobiography.” (American Bookseller)

The Crying Book
by Heather Christle

Jacket Copy:  Heather Christle has just lost a dear friend to suicide and now must reckon with her own depression and the birth of her first child. As she faces her grief and impending parenthood, she decides to research the act of crying: what it is and why people do it, even if they rarely talk about it. Along the way, she discovers an artist who designed a frozen-tear-shooting gun and a moth that feeds on the tears of other animals. She researches tear-collecting devices (lachrymatories) and explores the role white women’s tears play in racist violence. Honest, intelligent, rapturous, and surprising, Christle’s investigations look through a mosaic of science, history, and her own lived experience to find new ways of understanding life, loss, and mental illness. The Crying Book is a deeply personal tribute to the fascinating strangeness of tears and the unexpected resilience of joy.

Opening Lines:  I suppose some people can weep softly and become more beautiful, but after a real cry, most people are hideous, as if they’ve grown a spare and diseased face beneath the one you know, leaving very little room for the eyes. Or they look as if they’ve been beaten.

Blurbworthiness:  “This is a wonderful and profound look at the act of crying—something human and yet hidden, common and yet mysterious. I found myself reading with a thirst for the tears Heather Christle collects here—instances within literature, film, history, and the author’s own life all add up to a greater understanding of what makes us human.” (Chelsea Hodson, author of Tonight I’m Someone Else)

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