Sunday, May 31, 2020

Fresh Ink: May 2020 Edition

Fresh Ink 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.

Becoming Duchess Goldblatt
by Anonymous
(Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

Jacket Copy:  Becoming Duchess Goldblatt is two stories: that of the reclusive real-life writer who created a fictional character out of loneliness and thin air, and that of the magical Duchess Goldblatt herself, a bright light in the darkness of social media. Fans around the world are drawn to Her Grace’s voice, her wit, her life-affirming love for all humanity, and the fun and friendship of the community that’s sprung up around her. @DuchessGoldblat (81 year-old literary icon, author of An Axe to Grind) brought people together in her name: in bookstores, museums, concerts, and coffee shops, and along the way, brought real friends home—foremost among them, Lyle Lovett. But who is the Duchess? In their own words: “The only way to be reliably sure that the hero gets the girl at the end of the story is to be both the hero and the girl yourself.”

Opening Lines:  I must have slept weird, folks. My backstory is killing me.

Blurbworthiness:  “After reading this unforgettable memoir, I figured out who Duchess Goldblatt is: all of us. Behind her brilliantly witty and uplifting message is a remarkable vulnerability and candor that reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles—and that we can, against all odds, get through them. As though casting a magic spell on her readers, she moves, inspires, and connects us through her unvarnished humanity. It was, for this therapist, a form of therapy I didn’t know I needed.” (Lori Gottlieb, author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone)

Why It’s In My Stack:  As a long-time follower/worshipper of The Duchess, I, like many of their royal subjects, am curious to discover what they look like behind the Twitter avatar.

Riding with the Ghost
by Justin Taylor
(Random House)

Jacket Copy:  When Justin Taylor was thirty, his father, Larry, drove to the top of the Nashville airport parking garage to take his own life. Thanks to the intervention of family members, he was not successful, but the incident would forever transform how Taylor thinks of his father, and how he thinks of himself as a son. Moving back and forth in time from that day, Riding with the Ghost captures the past’s power to shape, strengthen, and distort our visions of ourselves and one another. We see Larry as the middle child in a chilly Long Island family; as a beloved Little League coach who listens to kids with patience and curiosity; as an unemployed father struggling to keep his marriage together while battling long-term illness and depression. At the same time, Taylor explores how the work of confronting a family member’s story forces a reckoning with your own. We see Taylor as a teacher, modeling himself after his dad’s best qualities; as a caregiver, attempting to provide his father with emotional and financial support, but not always succeeding; as a new husband, with a dawning awareness of his own depressive tendencies; as a man, struggling to understand his relationship to his religion and himself. With raw intimacy, Riding with the Ghost lays bare the joys and burdens of loving a troubled family member. It’s a memoir about fathers and sons, teachers and students, faith and illness, and the pieces of our loved ones that we carry with us.

Opening Lines:  My father had decided that he would end his life by throwing himself from the top of the parking garage at the Nashville airport, which he later told me had seemed like the best combination of convenience—that is, he could get there easily, and unnoticed—and sufficiency—that is, he was pretty sure it was tall enough to do the job. I never asked him what other venues he considered and rejected before settling on this plan. He probably did not actually use the word “best.” It was Mother’s Day, 2013.

Blurbworthiness:  “Justin Taylor’s relentless, peripatetic, and tender search for reconciliation with his late troubled father blooms into a full-throated song of joy about his own life lived through music, teaching, travel, and literature. Riding with the Ghost is gorgeously layered and deeply felt.” (Lauren Groff, author of Florida)

Why It’s In My Stack: Well, Father’s Day is coming up....

A Small Crowd of Strangers
by Joanna Rose
(Forest Avenue Press)

Jacket Copy:  How does a librarian from New Jersey end up in a convenience store on Vancouver Island in the middle of the night, playing Bible Scrabble with a Korean physicist and a drunk priest? She gets married to the wrong man for starters—she didn’t know he was ‘that kind of Catholic’—and ends up in St. Cloud, Minnesota. She gets a job in a New Age bookstore, wanders toward Buddhism without realizing it, and acquires a dog. Things get complicated after that. Pattianne Anthony is less a thinker than a dreamer, and she finds out the hard way that she doesn’t want a husband, much less a baby, and that getting out of a marriage is a lot harder than getting into it, especially when the landscape of the west becomes the voice of reason. A Small Crowd of Strangers, Joanna Rose’s second novel, is part love story, part slightly sideways spiritual journey.

Opening Lines:  It was things like reading all of John Updike, and all of Elmore Leonard, and doing the crossword in the middle of the afternoon when she didn’t have to work, with the all-classical station pouring out the windows of her apartment over the dry cleaner’s. That’s what being thirty was about.

Blurbworthiness:  “As a fan of Joanna Rose’s groundbreaking novel, Little Miss Strange, I was eager to read the next, A Small Crowd of Strangers. Lucky readers—this novel, too, is buoyant, tender, and it’s so easy to invest in her lively characters and the gorgeously described landscape. At the center of the novel is Pattianne Anthony, a quirky reference librarian who is smart and witty, but who also tends to make major life choices on a whim. One of those is to marry a charming schoolteacher, Michael Bryn, and move from her childhood home in New Jersey to St. Cloud, Minnesota. It’s Pattianne’s discovery of self that most captivates through these pages—her budding realization that she has let life lead her instead of her leading life. As Pattianne ventures out, we witness her profound discoveries about love, family, faith, and the abiding strength of an eclectic community, and in this way Rose’s novel becomes sweetly intimate, a joy to read.”  (Debra Gwartney, author of I Am a Stranger Here Myself)

Why It’s In My Stack:  I thoroughly enjoyed the opening paragraphs which had enough kinetic energy to pull me right into the rushing current of words. I want to read more and more and more.

Barcelona Days
by Daniel Riley
(Little, Brown)

Jacket Copy:  Whitney and Will are a perfect couple by all appearances, their relationship rock-solid, and their engagement soon to be announced. Before their impending nuptials, however, Whitney suggests a lighthearted experiment: why not give each other three romantic “free passes” before getting married? Three opportunities to imagine other lives before returning with new appreciation for each other. On what’s meant to be the last night of a romantic Barcelona vacation, they agree to regale one another with details of these harmless trysts. They grin and bear it, and fall asleep feeling mostly satisfied, and relieved to be firmly together again. But then a volcano erupts overnight, spewing a cloud of ash across Europe and grounding all flights indefinitely. Trapped in Barcelona, their paths intertwine with a star basketball player, his future dashed by a crippling injury, and a foreign exchange student with a double life, about to return home and face reality. Whitney and Will flirt, provoke, dance, and drink. Over the next three days, they will use and be used by their new friends, once again testing the boundaries of their relationship—but this time, can it survive?

Opening Lines: “To you and me,” Will said, lifting his wine, a local something, butcher red. The label said it was from Penedes, just down the coast, and it featured a bull with roses where its horns should be.
       “To 1-2-3,” Witney said, lifting her glass to match, and they clinked a heavy clink, and it rang out around the dining room like a good idea.

Blurbworthiness:  “From beginning to end, the reader walks with Whitney and Will along the precipice marking an edge they may or may not have crossed. With dry humor and involving dialogue, Riley steps boldly into territory other authors have only tentatively approached.” (Enobong Tommelleo)

Why It’s In My Stack:  My first impression (based on the barest of skims through its opening pages) is that Barcelona Days gives off a Sheltering Sky vibe; this summer feels like a good time to immerse myself in literary affairs.

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