Thursday, January 21, 2016

Front Porch Books: January 2016 edition

Front Porch Books is a monthly tally of booksmainly advance review copies (aka “uncorrected proofs” and “galleys”)I’ve received from publishers, but also sprinkled with packages from Book Mooch, independent bookstores, 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: many of these books won’t be released for another 2-6 months; I’m here to pique your interest and stock your wish lists.  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. 

Not all Bastards are from Vienna
by Andrea Molesini
(Grove Press)

I’ll confess, I am so in love with this cover design, if I was a cheating man, I’d be making it my mistress. Those colors pop and glow, the beauty making a sharp contrast to the word “bastards” in the title. Beyond the pretty wrapping paper, though, there’s an intriguing story about wartime horror and heroism to be had here in these pages.

Jacket Copy:  In the autumn of 1917, Refrontolo—a small community north of Venice—is invaded by Austrian soldiers as the Italian army is pushed to the Piave river. The Spada family owns the largest estate in the area, where orphaned seventeen-year-old Paolo lives with his eccentric grandparents, headstrong aunt, and a loyal staff. With the battlefront nearby, the Spada home become a bastion of resistance, both clashing and cooperating with the military members imposing on their household. When Paolo is recruited to help with a covert operation, his life is put in irrevocable jeopardy. As he bears witness to violence and hostility between enemies, he grows to understand the value of courage, dignity, family bonds, and patriotism during wartime.

Opening Lines:  He loomed up out of the night. And for an instant there was nothing to distinguish him from it. Then a glint, a reflection from the lantern the woman was holding up close to the horse’s nose, attested to a monocle. The man addressed the woman in impeccable Italian, flawed only by certain gutturals that revealed his German mother tongue. There was something fierce and splendid in that face bathed in the swaying lamplight, as if the stars and the dust were met there together.

Blurbworthiness:  “Take Hemingway’s masterpiece A Farewell to Arms and Erich Maria Remarque’s classic All Quiet on the Western Front, and cross these two war depictions with the portrait of Italian aristocracy in Tomasi di Lampedusa’s novel The Leopard....[Not all Bastards are from Vienna] is a powerful and effective blend of Bildungsroman, armchair travel, historical document, and war drama, with touches of a thriller.”  (Kultur)

Joe Gould’s Teeth
by Jill Lepore

I’ve been fascinated by the strange, homeless, possibly-genius Joe Gould ever since I saw the 2000 movie based on his life, starring Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci. I’ve had Joseph Mitchell’s My Ears Are Bent on my shelf ever since—but, like too many of its neighbors, have yet to read it. Perhaps I could pair it with Jill Lepore’s new book, which looks fascinating in its own right. My eyes are peeled.

Jacket Copy:  When Joseph Mitchell published his profile of Joseph Gould in the December 1942 issue of The New Yorker, he deemed Gould’s purportedly masterful but rarely seen Oral History project, which allegedly consisted of nine million words detailing everything anyone ever said to him, “the longest unpublished work in existence.” But Mitchell, in fact, hadn’t read more than a few pages of the Oral History. The manuscript seemed to have gone missing, along with other of Gould’s possessions—his hair, his sight, his teeth—as he began to sink deeper into poverty, drink, and destitution. And as Gould neared the end of his life, lying pathologically, begging for money from friends and strangers alike, and deflecting publishers’ requests to read his work, Mitchell couldn’t help but wonder: Had the Oral History ever existed? After Gould’s death in 1957, Mitchell wrote a second profile in which he insisted that it did not. Was Mitchell wrong? Joe Gould’s Teeth is a literary investigation of this enigmatic figure of the early twentieth century, who, despite doubts surrounding his sanity, captured the imaginations of the most prominent writers and artists of the time. Renowned master of historical storytelling Jill Lepore carefully unravels the riddle of Joe Gould and his missing manuscript, probing deeply into our collective self-conscious, the nature of art, and how we define our reality for the future. Complete with appearances from the likes of E. E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, and Augusta Savage and set against the backdrop of inter-war and post-war New York’s glamour and grime, Joe Gould’s Teeth is not only the portrait of one man’s mind, but also a profound meditation on the limits of how well one ever knows another person.

Opening Lines:  For a long time, Joe Gould thought he was going blind. This was before he lost his teeth and years before he lost the history of the world he’d been writing in hundreds of dime-store composition notebooks, their black covers mottled like the pelt of a speckled goat, their white pages lined with thin blue veins.

Among the Dead and Dreaming
by Samuel Ligon
(Leapfrog Press)

I know two things: 1) Samuel Ligon’s new novel opens with a motorcycle crash that draws me in like nobody’s business; 2) I loved Ligon’s debut novel, Safe in Heaven Dead (which also began with a killer sentence—literally: “Robert Elgin died on the street, knocked down and run over by a Second Avenue bus while pursuing a woman he thought he could not live without.”). Okay, maybe I also know a third thing: I’m going to read Among the Dead and Dreaming just as soon as I can.

Jacket Copy:  Nikki has spent her life running from her abusive mother and the violent boyfriend she killed years ago, and now from his brother, Burke, just released from prison. Burke doesn’t know yet how his brother died, but he’s obsessed with finding Nikki and claiming her—and her daughter—as his own. Now she’s run out of room to run.

Opening Lines:  The rain was more like mist, soft against your skin the way the air is down by the ocean, so beautiful and calm, even from the back of Kyle’s motorcycle. I wanted to go faster and faster through it, my eyes closed tight and the water running off my face. It was just me and Kyle, or me and the ocean, me and the rain, or not me at all, just Kyle, the ocean, the rain, until we hit something and I was weightless, flying, the anticipation of landing lifting me into this bright, raw awareness. Nothing had been settled. Nothing ever would be settled. Nothing was supposed to be settled. And nothing was supposed to be accomplished, either, except the baby in my belly, the beautiful baby I wrapped myself around as we flew. Mark didn’t know about her—I’d only been certain a few weeks myself—but I sometimes thought she might save us. I didn’t know her name yet, not for sure. I just thought, baby, baby, baby, the one good thing I was going to do with myself, the one good thing I’d have. And then I did know her name for sure—Isabelle. My sweet baby Isabelle. Those moments we were in the air seemed like they might go on forever.

Blurbworthiness:  “Part meditation on modern love’s dark and often unexamined underbelly; part can’t-put-it-down-even-for-a-dinner-break-thriller, this novel contains one of the most convincingly and complicatedly terrifying fictional characters I have run into.”  (Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted)

Marrow Island
by Alexis M. Smith
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

The wait is over. For the legions of Alexis M. Smith fans (and I like to imagine there are legions), the promise of her debut novel, Glaciers, has been fulfilled. In June, our patience will be rewarded with what looks like another terrific, soulful, unforgettable novel that burrows deep under the reader’s skin. “Most Anticipated” doesn’t even begin to cover my feelings for Marrow Island.

Jacket Copy:  Twenty years ago Lucie Bowen left Marrow Island; along with her mother, she fled the aftermath of an earthquake that compromised the local refinery, killing her father and ravaging the island’s environment. Now, Lucie’s childhood friend Kate is living within a mysterious group called Marrow Colony—a community that claims to be “ministering to the Earth.” There have been remarkable changes to the land at the colony’s homestead. Lucie’s experience as a journalist tells her there’s more to Marrow Colony—and their charismatic leader—than they want her to know, and that the astonishing success of their environmental remediation has come at great cost to the colonists themselves. As she uncovers their secrets and methods, will Lucie endanger more than their mission? What price will she pay for the truth?

Opening Lines:  This was my last glimpse of Marrow Island before the boat pulled away: brown and green uniforms clustered on the beach, tramping up the hill to the chapel on the beach, tramping up the hill to the chapel and through the trees to the cottages of Marrow Colony. The boat wasn’t moving yet, but the uniforms already seemed to be getting smaller, receding from my sight, shrinking into a diorama, a miniature scene of the crime.

Blurbworthiness:  “Conjuring a lush and mysterious landscape, Marrow Island investigates the impact of the losses of the past—be they loved ones, failed quests, or the environmental calamities brought on by our collective blindness. By turns elegiac, compelling, and timely, it seeks real answers and finds the possibility of miracles. This is a beautiful novel.”  (Edan Lepucki, author of California)

All the Winters After
by Seré Prince Halverson

As a fan of Seré Prince Halverson’s debut novel, The Underside of Joy, this new one—set in Alaska—is another one that’s been on my most-anticipated list for a long time. Given the subject matter and the opening lines, I’m primed to love this one, too.

Jacket Copy:  Alaska doesn’t forgive mistakes. That’s what Kachemak Winkel’s mother used to tell him. A lot of mistakes were made that awful day twenty years ago, when she died in a plane crash with Kache’s father and brother—and Kache still feels responsible. He fled Alaska for good, but now his aunt Snag insists on his return. She admits she couldn’t bring herself to check on his family’s house in the woods—not even once since he’s been gone. Kache is sure the cabin has decayed into a pile of logs, but he finds smoke rising from the chimney and a mysterious Russian woman hiding from her own troubled past. Nadia has kept the house exactly the same—a haunting museum of life before the crash. And she’s stayed there, afraid and utterly isolated, for ten years. Set in the majestic, dangerous beauty of Alaska, All the Winters After is the story of two bound souls trying to free themselves, searching for family and forgiveness.

Opening Lines:  Evening crept its way into the cabin, and she went to get the knife. Always this, the need to proclaim: I was here today, alive on this Earth.

Blurbworthiness:  “Seré Prince Halverson delivers another riveting story about the bonds of family. All The Winters After is a beautiful and compelling tale set in the wilds of Alaska. A young woman broken by love sets a collision course with a family torn apart by grief and guilt. The secrets are deep. The winter is long. And the characters are unforgettable. I loved this book.”  (Amy Franklin-Willis, author of The Lost Saints of Tennessee)

by Peter Geye

The other “winter book” I hope to read before the snow melts here in Butte, Montana is this new one by Peter Geye. I thoroughly enjoyed his 2012 novel The Lighthouse Road, and I’m expecting similar great things from Wintering, which will take me deep into the Minnesota wilderness.

Jacket Copy:  An exceptional and acclaimed writer joins Knopf with his third novel, far and away his most masterful book yet. There are two stories in play here, bound together when the elderly, demented Harry Eide escapes his sickbed and vanishes into the forbidding northernmost Minnesota wilderness that surrounds the town of Gunflint—instantly changing the Eide family, and many other lives, forever. He’d done this once before, thirty-some years earlier, in 1963, fleeing a crumbling marriage and bringing along Gustav, his eighteen-year-old son, pitching this audacious, potentially fatal scheme to him—winter already coming on, in these woods, on these waters—as a reenactment of the ancient voyageurs’ journeys of discovery. It’s certainly a journey Gus has never forgotten. Now—with his father pronounced dead—he relates its every detail to Berit Lovig, who’d waited nearly thirty years for Harry, her passionate conviction finally fulfilled for the last two decades. So, a middle-aged man rectifying his personal history, an aging lady wrestling with her own, and with the entire history of Gunflint.

Opening Lines:  Our winters are faithful and unfailing and we take what they bring, but this season has tested even the most devout among us. The thermometer hanging outside my window reads thirty-two degrees below zero. Five degrees warmer than yesterday, which itself was warmer than the day before. I can hear the pines exploding, heartwood turned to splinter and pulp all up and down the Burnt Wood River.

Blurbworthiness:  “An elegant, quietly profound, and harrowing novel. I loved this book.”  (Emily St. John Mandel, author of Station Eleven)

1 comment:

  1. Thank you so much, David. Such an honor to know that my novel sits in the to-read pile of the author of the incredible FOBBIT.