Tag Archives: Marlena

Paperbacks to Look Out For in April 2018: Part One

Cover imageLots of paperbacks to anticipate eagerly this April which is when, I hope, we can expect spring to take off here in the UK  unless there’s another little winter reprise. For no reason other than my own convenience, I’ve divided this month’s preview geographically into America then Europe which is where all the titles are either set or originate.

I’m starting with one which attracted a good deal of attention in my neck of the Twitter woods when it was first published. Julie Buntin’s Marlena follows naïve fifteen-year-old Cat who finds herself becoming best friends with her neighbour when she moves to a new town in rural Michigan. Cat and Marlena make the town their own, partying like there’s no tomorrow until Marlena is found drowned in nearby woods. Decades later Cat is still trying to come to terms with her past. ‘Alive with an urgent, unshakeable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull ourselves back from the brink’ say the publishers a little dramatically.

Olivia Sudjic’s Sympathy is set in New York where twenty-three-year-old Alice settles after leaving London. There she becomes obsessed with a Japanese writer she meets online whose life seems to echo her own. ‘As Alice closes in on Mizuko, her ‘internet twin’, realities multiply and fact and fiction begin to blur. The relationship between the two women exposes a tangle of lies and sexual encounters’ according to the publishers putting me in mind of Delphine de Vigan’s Based on a True Story.

Cherise Wolas’ The Resurrection of Joan Ashby is also about a writer and comes garlanded with praise from A. M. Homes. A rising literary star, Joan becomes distracted when she falls in love. Neither she nor her lover wants children but Martin’s surprised delight when she becomes Cover imagepregnant results in her keeping the child. ‘Decades later, when she is finally poised to reclaim the spotlight, a betrayal of Shakespearean proportions forces Joan to question every choice she has made’ say the publishers enticingly. Very much like the sound of that.

I’m not sure how I’ve managed to miss Laird Hunt’s fiction before now – he’s written six novels besides The Evening Road. Set in 1920s Indiana, Hunt’s odyssey follows two women through a searing summer’s night on which a lynching is to take place: one white, making her way to what she sees as a show; one black, travelling in the opposite direction. Hunt very effectively shows us both sides of this sorry story, each told by women who have more in common than they might imagine. It’s quite riveting: shocking at times, very funny at others, and vividly memorable.

In Tell Me How This Ends Well, David Samuel Levinson takes us to an anti-Semitic America in 2022 as the Jacobson family gathers for Passover in Los Angeles. Each of the three adult children is in the midst of a crisis, blaming their father for his mistreatment of them. Believing that he has their mother’s death in his sights, they begin to plot against him hampered by their own resentments and petty squabbling. ‘Tell Me How This Ends Well presents a blistering vision of near-future America, turning the exploits of one very funny, very troubled family into a rare and compelling exploration of the state of America itself’ say the publishers.

I’m ending this first paperback selection with a book from my 2017 books of the year list: Victoria Redel’s Before Everything. Five women, friends since school, come together when one of Cover imagethem is dying having called a halt to the emotional rollercoaster her illness has taken her on. The women gather themselves around Anna for what may be their last day of the constant conversation the five of them share, struggling with the imminent loss of the woman they love dearly. Redel uses a fragmentary structure for her novel – full of flashbacks, vignettes and anecdote – capturing the intimacy of death when the world falls away, all attention focused on the dying. It’s a gorgeous empathetic and tender portrait of friendship, shot through with a dry humour which steers it well clear of the maudlin.

That’s it for April in America. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis should you want to learn more, or to my reviews for The Evening Road and Before Everything. If you’d like to catch up with April’s new titles they’re here. Europe next week which will defiantly kick off with a British title because we’re still European

Books to Look Out for in June 2017

Cover image Top of my list for June is Sally Rooney’s Conversations with Friends which I’m pretty sure isn’t aimed at my age group but sounds enticing all the same. Four friends in their twenties talk about everything under the sun but it’s Frances and her affair with a much older married man who eventually takes centre stage. ‘You can read Conversations with Friends as a romantic comedy, or you can read it as a feminist text. You can read it as a book about infidelity, about the pleasures and difficulties of intimacy, or about how our minds think about our bodies. However you choose to read it, it is an unforgettable novel about the possibility of love’ according to the publishers, kindly leaving the choice up to their readers.

Love is also the subject of Catherine Lacey’s The Answers which comes at it in a very different way. Mary is desperate for work when she sees a job advertised as part of The Girlfriend Experiment whose aim is to analyse the nature of relationships – what works and what doesn’t – through role-playing. She is to be Emotional Girlfriend, joining a team which includes Angry Girlfriend and Maternal Girlfriend, playing against the Hollywood actor whose idea the whole thing is. ‘A novel of die-hard faith and fleeting love; of questions which probe the depths of our society, and answers that will leave you reeling’ say the publishers. It’s an interesting premise which has the makings of a great book not to mention a film, although I’m sure that’s been considered already.

Kevin Wilson’s Perfect Little World is about another kind of social experiment, this one focusing on families. Alone and pregnant with her art teacher’s baby, Isabelle is offered a place in The Infinity Family Project whose billionaire founder is pursuing a utopian ideal: raising nine babies as part of an extended family in a Tennessee compound. ‘Can this experiment really work – or is their ‘perfect little world’ destined to go horribly wrong?’ ask the publishers. Given the number of unhappy children brought up in communes who’ve shared their experiences with the world in one way or another, I suspect we can guess the answer. Cover image

Here’s one that has attracted a good deal of attention in my neck of the Twitter woods. Julie Buntin’s Marlena follows naïve fifteen-year-old Cat who finds herself becoming best friends with her neighbour when she moves to a new town in rural Michigan. Cat and Marlena make the town their own, partying like there’s no tomorrow until Marlena is found drowned in nearby woods. Decades later Cat is still trying to come to terms with her past. ‘Alive with an urgent, unshakeable tenderness, Julie Buntin’s Marlena is an unforgettable look at the people who shape us beyond reason and the ways it might be possible to pull ourselves back from the brink’ say the publishers a little dramatically.

The trials and tribulations of settling into a new home also play a part in Amanda Craig’s The Lie of the Land which follows the Bredins – who can neither afford a divorce nor their London home – to a remote part of Devon. No one seems very happy with the arrangement and everyone wonders why their rent is so low. ‘The beauty of the landscape is ravishing, yet it conceals a dark side involving poverty, revenge, abuse and violence which will rise up to threaten them’ say the publishers which promises the revelation of dark secrets. I’ve enjoyed Craig’s previous novels and this one comes with a stonking endorsement from Helen Dunmore.

Allegra Goodman’s The Chalk Artist is about the all-consuming nature of computer gaming and the way it can threaten to take over real life, explored through a teenage boy living in smalltown America. Aidan is at the top of his game when playing EverWhen, putting the problems of adolescence behind him, but when he’s sent a mysterious black box from the game’s designers he finds himself physically taken into EverWhen’s world, blurring the line between fantasy and reality. It’s a fascinating subject – remember Second Life and the divorce it prompted? – and I’ve enjoyed Goodman’s fiction very much in the past.

Cover imageI’m ending this preview with a book by an author whose first novel is sitting on my shelves but I have yet to read. Paula McGrath’s A History of Running Away follows three women: one wanting to box at a time when boxing is illegal for women in Ireland; the second contemplating a job offer but wondering if she can bring herself to abandon her mother in her nursing home; and a third who takes up with a biker gang as a means of escape. ‘A History of Running Away is a brilliantly written novel about running away, growing up and finding out who you are’ say the publishers which sounds very appealing but perhaps I should get around to reading Generation first.

That’s it for June’s new books. A click on a title will take you to a more detailed synopsis for any that appeal. Paperbacks to follow soon…