Summer is the time for the blockbusters, the big names, the beach reads. You probably already know that we have plenty of those. Here's a list of some lower profile and offbeat new novels that you may have missed.
Autobiography of Us , by Aria Beth Sloss
Coming of age in the patrician neighborhood of Pasadena, California during the 1960s, Rebecca Madden and her beautiful, reckless friend Alex dream of lives beyond their mothers' narrow expectations. Their struggle to define themselves against the backdrop of an American cultural revolution unites them early on, until one sweltering evening the summer before their last year of college, when a single act of betrayal changes everything. Decades later, Rebecca's haunting meditation on the past reveals the truth about that night, the years that followed, and the friendship that shaped her. The book spans four decades (the 1950s through the 1980s), and gracefully explores the friendship of two women as well as the culture of the times. To get a feel for the novel, the author created and discussed a music playlist on the Largehearted Boy blog that she feels works as a soundtrack for the book. Take a look here.
Black Venus, by James MacManus
A story based on the romance between Charles Baudelaire and the Haitian cabaret singer who inspired his most famous and controversial poems is set against the art scene of 19th-century Paris and follows their enduring bond, the banning of his master work and their scandalous public trial for obscenity. McManus, who is managing director of the Times of London literary supplement recently wrote in the Huffington Post blog about how Baudelaire changed his life.
Chocolates for Breakfast , by Pamela Moore
White Oleander author Janet Fitch has the best take on this recently re-released 1956 novel that I have come across. Here she is in a recent piece in Salon: "Fifteen-year-old Courtney Farrell has been raised by her actress mother to make a good martini and understand how to get around in the adult world of Hollywood's famed Garden of Allah, where her mother lives. She returns from boarding school in the East -- a touchstone of the best girl trash -- takes her first lover (a homosexual actor!), drinks a lot and becomes very jaded and sophisticated. A book to treasure forever."
There is a local angle here as well, it appears that when the novel begins, Courtney is going to boarding school right here in Greenwich. The book gained notoriety for its frank depiction of sexuality at a time when 18 year old girls were not expected to write or even read about such topics. The book also includes discussion of homosexuality, alcoholism, gender roles and sexual exploration that was, for the era, uncommon. Sometimes referred to as an American version of Bonjour Tristesse, this is a very welcome and inspired title for the folks at Harper's to re-issue. A bit of literary and social history for people to catch up with.
Cinnamon and Gunpowder, by Eli Brown
The year is 1819, and the renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, as long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail. To appease the red-haired captain, Wedgwood gets cracking with the meager supplies on board. His first triumph at sea is actual bread, made from a sourdough starter that he leavens in a tin under his shirt throughout a roaring battle, as men are cutlassed all around him. Soon he's making tea-smoked eel and brewing pineapple-banana cider. But Mabbot--who exerts a curious draw on the chef--is under siege. Hunted by a deadly privateer and plagued by a saboteur hidden on her ship, she pushes her crew past exhaustion in her search for the notorious Brass Fox. As Wedgwood begins to sense a method to Mabbot's madness, he must rely on the bizarre crew members he once feared: Mr. Apples, the fearsome giant who loves to knit; Feng and Bai, martial arts masters sworn to defend their captain; and Joshua, the deaf cabin boy who becomes the son Wedgwood never had.
Watch the book trailer here.
Good Kids, by Benjamin Nugent
At fifteen, Josh Paquette and Khadijah Silverglate-Dunn catch Josh's father and Khad ijah's mother kissing in a natural foods store. As both of their families fall apart, the teenagers sign a pact never to cheat on anyone, ever. They have no problem keeping the vow--until they meet again at twentyeight, both struggling with career and identity, and both engaged to other people. A reviewer in the Boston Globe calls the book "modest modern-day rebuttal of the fairy tale romance."
In the House Upon the Dirt Between the Lake and the Woods, by Matt Bell
In this debut novel a newlywed couple escapes the busy confusion of their homeland for a distant and almost uninhabited lakeshore. They plan to live there simply, to fish the lake, to trap the nearby woods and build a house upon the dirt between where they can raise a family. But as their every pregnancy fails, the child-obsessed husband begins to rage at this new world: the song-spun objects somehow created by his wife's beautiful singing voice, the giant and sentient bear that rules the beasts of the woods, the second moon weighing down the fabric of their starless sky, and the labyrinth of memory dug into the earth beneath their house. This novel is a powerful exploration of the limits of parenthood and marriage--and of what happens when a marriage's success is measured solely by the children it produces, or else the sorrow that marks their absence. NPR calls it "more a book-length fairy tale than a conventional novel" and "one of the smartest meditations on the subjects of love, family and marriage in recent years."
Last Days, by Adam Nevill
Horror fans take note. When guerrilla documentary maker, Kyle Freeman, is asked to shoot a film on the notorious cult known as the Temple of the Last Days, it appears his prayers have been answered. The cult became a worldwide phenomenon in 1975 when there was a massacre including the death of its infamous leader, Sister Katherine. Kyle's brief is to explore the paranormal myths surrounding an organization that became a testament to paranoia, murderous rage, and occult rituals. The shoot's locations take him to the cult's first temple in London, an abandoned farm in France, and a derelict copper mine in the Arizonan desert where The Temple of the Last Days met its bloody end. But when he interviews those involved in the case, those who haven't broken silence in decades, a series of uncanny events plague the shoots. Troubling out-of-body experiences, nocturnal visitations, the sudden demise of their interviewees and the discovery of ghastly artifacts in their room make Kyle question what exactly it is the cult managed to awaken - and what is its interest in him?
Read an interview from Rue Morgue.com with Nevill on his inspirations for the book.
Malavita, by Tonino Benacquista ; translated by Emily Read
The Blakes are newcomers to a small town in Normandy. Fred is a historian researching the Allied landings, Maggie enjoys charity work, and their kids are looking forward to meeting other teenagers at the local lycée. Or so it seems. In fact, Fred is really Giovanni Manzoni, an ex-goodfella turned stool pigeon who's been relocated from New Jersey to France by the FBI's witness protection program. He's got a two-million-dollar bounty on his head, but he and his family can't help attracting attention (imagine the Sopranos in Normandy). And when imprisoned mobster Don Mimino gets wind of their location, it's like The Godfather as if written by Carl Hiaasen. Because while you can take the man out of the Mafia, you can't take the Mafia out of the man. Soon to be the motion picture The Family starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Tommy Lee Jones, and produced by Martin Scorsese
The Story of My Purity, by Francesco Pacifico ; translated from the Italian by Stephen Twilley
Thirty years old, growing flabby in a sexless marriage, Piero Rosini has decided to dedicate his life to Jesus. He's renounced the novels and American music that were filling his head with nonsense; he's moved out of his fancy bourgeois neighborhood, which was keeping him from finding spiritual purity and the Lord's truth. Now that he and his wife have settled into an un?nished housing development on the far outskirts of Rome, he'll be able to really concentrate on his job at an ultraconservative Catholic publishing house, editing books that highlight the decadence and degradation of modern society. With a charismatic narrator as familiar with the finer points of Christian theology as with the floor layout of IKEA and the schedules of European budget airlines, Francesco Pacifico's exuberant novel brings us Europe old and new and the inner workings of a conflicted but always compelling mind. The Paris Review calls Piero Rosini "the funniest Catholic narrator in contemporary literature" in the introduction to this interview with the author.
The Tin Horse, by Janice Steinberg
It has been more than sixty years since Elaine Greenstein's twin sister, Barbara, ran away, cutting off contact with her family forever. Elaine has made peace with that loss. But while sifting through old papers as she prepares to move to Rancho Mañana--or the "Ranch of No Tomorrow" as she refers to the retirement community--she is stunned to find a possible hint to Barbara's whereabouts all these years later. And it pushes her to confront the fierce love and bitter rivalry of their youth during the 1920s and '30s, in the Los Angeles Jewish neighborhood of Boyle Heights. In a recent Los Angeles Times interview the author discusses Boyle Heights, the neighborhood the she evokes so poignantly in the novel.