Category: Contemporary

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Cover image for Where'd You Go, Bernadette by Maria Sempleby Maria Semple

ISBN 978-0-316-20426-2

Disclaimer: I’m Canadian, I live in the Seattle area and my husband works for Microsoft. Some might say that makes me biased.

Americans are pushy, obnoxious, neurotic, crass—anything and everything—the full catastrophe as our friend Zorba might say. Canadians are none of that. The way you might fear a cow sitting down in the middle of the street during rush hour, that’s how I fear Canadians. To Canadians, everyone is equal… No wonder the only Canadians anyone has ever heard of are the ones who have gotten the hell out. Anyone with talent who stayed would be flattened under an avalanche of equality. The thing Canadians don’t understand is that some people are extraordinary and should be treated as such.”

Fifteen year old Bee Branch is the daughter of Elgin Branch, a Microsoft tech genius, and Bernadette Fox, a “retired” architect who left the profession in the aftermath of a “Huge Hideous Thing” she won’t talk about. They live in a crumbling historic school building in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighbourhood which Bernadette has failed to renovate. When Bee brings home perfect grades from her final year at a private elementary/middle school, she asks for a trip to Antarctica as her graduation present. Her parents agree and planning for the trip gets underway. There’s only one problem; Bernadette is so agoraphobic and antisocial that she has hired a virtual personal assistant from India to take care of everything from dinner reservations, to arranging grocery deliveries, to calling in prescriptions. How on earth will she manage to spend three weeks on a cruise ship to Antarctica? As the stress of the upcoming trip mounts, Elgin begins to question his wife’s sanity, and Bernadette goes MIA, leaving Bee to piece together what happened to her mother.

Where’d You Go, Bernadette is composed of a variety of documents from emails, to newsletters, to magazine articles, with only the rare narrative interjection from Bee. Although Bee is the narrator, Bernadette, as the title character, dominates the narrative. However, Bee’s presence, and the focus of the book on how the events impact her give this adult novel a special appeal for young adults (it received the America Library Association’s 2013 Alex Award for crossover appeal). If anything, this novel would have benefited from showing more of Bee’s perspective. By the time her narration takes over the latter part of the book, we see only the truculent teen whose mother has abandoned her, and none of the bright, ambitious character the collection of documents revealed to the reader.

Semple has a sharp sense of humour and a keen eye for quirky details and situations, but plot development really isn’t her strong suit. Although we know from the outset that Bernadette is going to disappear, this inciting incident has a very long lead up, and somewhat disappointing conclusion. Where’d You Go, Bernadette is a somewhat haphazard romp satirizing private school culture, intellectual elites, and Seattle generally. Semple’s depiction of Bernadette’s mental state is particularly troubling.

While I ultimately came to understand Bernadette, I wasn’t able to embrace her as the lovable misanthrope, which is normally a character type I enjoy immensely. Bernadette’s behaviour was just extreme enough that I felt like I was having fun at the expense of a mentally ill character. While Elgin’s attempts to have Bernadette forcibly committed were contemptible, Bernadette’s almost magical recovery stretched credulity, and in both cases the satire stumbled over the line from humour to caricatures and trivializations of mental illness and its treatment, leaving me uncomfortable with this book.

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And The Mountains Echoed

Cover image for And The Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseiniby Khaled Hosseini

ISBN 978-1-59463-176-4

Alas, Abdullah and Pari, Baba Ayub’s days of happiness came to an end. It happened one day that a div came to Maidan Sabz. As it approached the village from the direction of the mountains the earth shook with each of its footfalls. The villagers dropped their shovels and hoes and axes and scattered. They locked themselves in their home and huddled with one another. When the deafening sounds of the div’s footsteps stopped, the skies over Maidan Sabz darkened with its shadow.”

In a village in Afghanistan, not far from Kabul, Abdullah and Pari are growing up in a poor family. After their mother’s death, Abdullah has raised Pari, even though their father, Saboor, now has a new wife. Parwana has one living baby of her own to love, a dead child to grieve for, and little feeling to spare for her stepchildren. Then Parwana’s brother, Nabi, brings an offer from his wealthy employers, a childless couple from Kabul, to adopt Pari. Faced with the prospect of another disastrous winter like the one that killed Parwana’s first child, the family is forced to accept the offer, and deliver Pari into the care of Suleiman and Nila Wahdati.  When Suleiman Wahdati suffers a stroke, Nila leaves him, taking Pari to live in France. With the family scattered across the world, there seems little hope that Pari and Abdullah will ever be reunited.

And The Mountains Echoed gets off to a supernatural start, opening with a fairy tale about a creature called a div, which reminded me of Helene Wecker’s The Golem and The Jinni. Of course, Hosseini is not a fantasy writer—though I would certainly love to see him try his hand at magic realism—and the story quickly returns to the more mundane tale of Pari and Abdullah. However, this myth hangs over the novel, and contextualizes it. Baba Ayub, who has lost his favourite son to the div, travels across the world to recover him, only to be faced with the question of whether or not his son is better off living in the div’s palace.

The theme of familial responsibility that begins with Abdullah’s unwavering love and duty towards Pari carries throughout the novel. Before marrying Saboor, Parwana must care for her paraplegic sister, Masooma. Masooma struggles with guilt for the burden she has placed on her sister, even as Parwana battles her own guilt and resentment towards Masooma. Nila tries and fails to fulfil her “wifely duty” by caring for Suleiman after his stroke, so that the task ultimately falls to Nabi. Abdullah’s daughter, named Pari after her long-lost aunt, must give up her dreams of art school to care for her sick mother, and then her father. In many cases, it is not the person who is expected to take up the duty who turns out to be the right person for the task. Nabi cares for Suleiman when Nila cannot, the relationship between master and servant outlasting the Wahdati’s doomed marriage not by years but by decades. Later, in the occupied Kabul of 2003, Nabi opens his home to Markos, a Greek plastic surgeon who has left his aging mother behind in Greece, in the care of his childhood friend, Thalia.

And The Mountains Echoed weaves together many modes to tell its story apart from straight narration. It opens with the aforementioned fairy tale, told by Saboor to Abdullah. Nabi tells his part of the story in a letter to Markos, which he asks in turn to be passed on to Pari, if she can be found. The enigmatic Nila Wahdati is only revealed after her death, in an interview with a French poetry magazine. The thread of the story changes hands many times, and the setting and period change just as quickly, from Afghanistan, to France, to Greece, to California, and from 1952 to the present. Some of the threads are not directly related to the separation of Abdullah and Pari, but they all drive towards Hosseini’s themes of family, duty, and heritage. Everyone is somehow connected to the family, even if it is as distantly as Adel, the son of a nouveau riche drug lord who is living in a gaudy “narco palace” built on the land where Pari and Abdullah grew up.

In conversation with Marcie Sillman (KUOW) at University Bookstore Seattle, Hosseini said he felt that And The Mountains Echoed was more complex than his earlier work. Certainly this is borne out in the depth of the characters; rereading The Kite Runner as I waited in the signing line, I was struck by how wholly repulsive Amir was, and how purely Hassan was portrayed like a martyr. The characters in And The Mountains Echoed still make hard decisions and live with the consequences, but they seem more fully fleshed, less easily identified as entirely good or bad. The storyline, too, follows more threads. According to Hosseini, the story began with just Abdullah and Pari, but instead of progressing in a straightforward manner as he expected, it branched out to include the many other people who were touched by the fallout of their separation.

Bittersweet and sometimes ungainly in its breadth, And The Mountains Echoed nevertheless captures the depth and complexity of family relationships and responsibilities.

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Already read and enjoyed And The Mountains Echoed? I recommend The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein. You may also enjoy A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra.

Golden Boy

Cover image for Golden Boy by Abigail Tarttelin

by Abigail Tarttelin

ISBN 978-1-4767-0580-4

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

Trigger Warning: This book deals with rape.

It would be another sexuality/gender thing that would give people the creeps, and it’s no use asking why questions of sexuality and gender give people the creeps, and it’s no use blaming it on society and saying it should change, because nothing is going to change about high school, and bitches who gossip, and guys who get freaked out and think people like Samuel want to make out with the entire football team. Nothing is going to change about my high school in the next year and make it okay for people to know the truth about me.”

Smart, athletic and popular, fifteen year old Max Walker seems to have everything going for him. He is loved by his parents, idolized by his younger brother, Daniel, and adored by his peers. But all his life, Max and his parents have been hiding a secret; he is intersex. Dating makes it hard enough to conceal this fact, but when Max is raped by a childhood friend, Hunter, it seems that his secret will inevitably come out. Hunter threatens to reveal it himself if Max tells anyone about the rape, which was violent enough to force Max to seek medical attention. The fallout from this incident brings a lifetime of tension within the Walker family to a boil; the best way to keep Max’s secret has been not to talk about it—even Daniel doesn’t know—but the situation can no longer be ignored. The upheaval comes at the worst possible time; Steven Walker is about to stand for Parliament, and the ravenous British paparazzi that ran the previous candidate out of office may descend on the Walkers at any moment.

Golden Boy opens with a graphic rape scene that sets the tone for the type of subject matter being dealt with—all the way through it is emotionally heavy and issue-oriented. Modern family dynamics, sexual and gender identity and cultural attitudes towards gender all come under the microscope. When we first meet Max, he seems to be happy and well-adjusted, but after the rape it becomes clear that this status quo could not have held forever. Unable to agree about how to deal with Max’s condition, his parents have been ignoring and avoiding the situation, and keeping Max in the dark as well. They have been putting their own comfort and personal issues about gender ahead of helping Max and considering his interests. No one is giving Max the information he needs to make choices for himself, and it is painful to watch him stumbling in the dark.

If being intersex can highlight family tensions, it also brings to light many of the deficiencies of the medical profession. Caught in the midst of the Walker’s family drama, is Archie Verma, the local general practitioner. Though Max has seen numerous specialists in the past, his parents’ competing ideas about how to deal with his situation have left him with no medical advice or information at all. Despite her lack of expertise, Dr. Verma turns out to be the advocate and confidante Max desperately needs, but throughout the novel she must scramble to educate herself about issues that were never covered at all in her medical education—and the reader gets educated along the way as well.

Speaking at University Book Store Seattle, Tarttelin described her book as an accessible read about an intersex child born into a normal family in an average community that readers can relate to. Many other intersex narratives focus on characters born on the margins of society, or born into extraordinary circumstances (think Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides). Max is heartbreakingly normal, always trying incredibly hard to be good—to be perfect—to ensure that his parents don’t perceive him as the problem child. Indeed, many of the aspects of Max’s story—dating, family relationships—have nothing to do with intersexuality; they are part of any coming-of-age story. In fact, Max’s intersexuality is not the problem of this book; it is the way in which the characters conceptualize gender and impose these ideas on others which complicates things, and with six narrative voices in the book, there are myriad conflicting view points, even within individual characters. Golden Boy may be accessible to a mainstream audience, but it is neither simple nor one-sided.

The Waiting Tree

Cover image for The Waiting Tree by Lindsay Moynihanby Lindsay Moynihan

ISBN 9781477816349

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

So, you told your brothers you were on a date with me so that you could sneak off and see your boyfriend who doesn’t know that you also slept with me while he was locked away in a religious asylum. Good job, Simon.”

The Peters brothers, Paul, Luke, Simon and Jude grew up in a religious family in Waynesboro. The two youngest brothers, twins Simon and Jude, have always been a little different; Jude is mute, and Simon is gay. Simon never gets a chance to find out if his parents would have accepted him because they were killed in a car crash before he was outed. Then his boyfriend, Stephen, is shipped off to a pray-away-the-gay facility after his father catches them together. Simon has already dropped out of high school and become Jude’s primary caregiver, so losing Stephen is just one more blow in a life that went off the tracks when his parents died. The brothers make sacrifice after sacrifice to try to keep their family together, but no one sees the toll this is taking on Jude, or is prepared for the lengths to which Jude will go to protect his family.

In The Waiting Tree, Lindsay Moynihan has written a dark and affecting story about growing up gay and poor in the Christian south. Thanks to Stephen’s father, everyone knows about Simon, but no one, not even his best friend Tina, can really accept the truth. The novel is character driven, and much more about relationships than actions. None of these characters have it easy, so tensions run high. Nevertheless, the pacing lagged in places, plodding along before being pushed abruptly into action by conversations (which inevitably devolve into shouting matches) or events. There are long periods of tension, in which the reader must simply wait for something, or someone, to give. However, the plot was dark and real; Moynihan is not offering any pat solutions or easy answers, or much in the way of closure. The Waiting Tree is a somewhat bitter slice of life.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

Cover image for A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marraby Anthony Marra

ISBN 978-0-7704-3640-7

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

What parts had she discarded for the sake of her sanity? What had she cut from herself? Had he stared into her pupils he would have emerged, bewildered and blinking, on the far side of the earth. Was he awed by her? Absolutely. Did he respect her? Unequivocally. Want to be anything like her? No, never, not at all.”

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Sonja Andreyevna Rabina escaped from war-torn Chechnya on a scholarship to study medicine in London. But she is pulled back home by the disappearance of her beautiful but troubled sister, Natasha, just in time to be trapped by the outbreak of the first Chechen war of independence. Against all odds, Sonja thrives, taking charge of a decrepit hospital and becoming a surgeon renowned by rebels and Feds alike. Miraculously, Natasha is returned to her, a shattered wreck rescued from a prostitution ring in Italy. They slowly begin to rebuild their lives, only to have them smashed again by a second war, and Natasha’s second disappearance. With her sister gone, and the hospital in more dire straits than ever, Sonja sacrifices herself bit by bit to continue saving lives. Meanwhile, from the woods behind her home, eight-year-old Havaa watches as her father, Dokka, is “disappeared” by Russian soldiers. Desperate to save Havaa from the same fate, Ahkmed, the incompetent village doctor who dreams of being an artist, delivers her to the hospital, and into Sonja’s reluctant care. Dokka’s abduction is the culmination of a series of events which will reveal the strange relationships and connections between disparate people struggling for survival in the midst of a brutal war in which everyone loses.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena centres around the five days in 2004 after Dokka’s abduction, while also spanning the previous decade, and occasionally stretching up to a hundred years into the future. We gain brief glimpses of the past and future outside the timeline of the story proper as Marra skilfully uses third person narration to deliver stunning detail and depth we wouldn’t get from a first person narrative. The omniscient narrator sees connections and events of which the characters remain, for better or worse, totally unaware. Although there is a great deal of flashing backward and forward in time, the timeline at the head of each chapter helps keep events in order, and enforces the currency of the events; far from being set in the distant past, this story takes place between 1996 and 2004, well within the lifetime of most readers.

The story is an exercise in contrasts, filled with exquisite, lyrical prose counterpointed by brutal, senseless violence. In the depths of a government facility known as the Landfill, a prisoner is tortured for information, but asked no questions by his interrogators. Indeed, only the power and the beauty of Marra’s writing can carry the reader through the ceaseless stream of horrible, tragic events, allowing us at once to experience them, and contemplate them at philosophic remove, such as Ahkmed’s description of helping build Dokka’s house, which the Feds burnt to the ground:

Carrying the lumber the forty meters from the forest had left his knuckles blistered, his underarms sopping, but now a few hours of flames had lifted what had taken him months to design, weeks to carry, days to build, all but the nails and rivets, all but the hinges and bolts, all into the sky. And too were carried the small treasures that had made Dokka’s house his own.

The grim picture is painted with beautiful words for a reason; the characters find the silver linings where they can, searching for life and hope and forgiveness in the ruins. Though many of the characters despair of saving themselves, they hope that by saving Havaa, they will have done something worthwhile.

Although the conflict and the setting are obscure—indeed largely unknown to Westerners before three weeks ago—Marra has created a cast of characters that will be relatable for everyone, and he weaves just enough history into his narrative to orient us, cleverly using Khassan’s unpublishable 3000 page history of Chechnya to educate and inform. Readers needn’t be familiar with the Chechen struggle for independence before reading this novel, though the events may leave readers interested in knowing more than can possibly be explained in a novel. For those readers, Marra provides a brief bibliography at the end of the book.

Dark and depressing on one hand, and buoyed by hope on the other, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena delivers the highs and lows life under difficult circumstances. Full of beautiful, striking details, this moving and resonant novel captures the heartache of war, and the depths of human resourcefulness in a narrative that will remain with you long after the final page.

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Already read and enjoyed A Constellation of Vital PhenomenaI recommend The Gods of Heavenly Punishment by Jennifer Cody Epstein.

Amity & Sorrow

Cover image for Amity and Sorrow by Peggy Rileyby Peggy Riley

ISBN 978-0-316-22088-0

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

And then Sorrow spins her, faster and faster, at last. Her eyes shut, the room wheels in her head and all about her. She feels herself spinning with the stars and the sky. She feels herself in a circle of women, visible and invisible throughout all of time, family eternal. They are there in her body, there in her blood. She knows they are waiting for her, reaching down from cloudy heaven. And Rapture, when it comes, will come as a vortex, twisting the faithful up to God with the dead. That is what they are spinning for—they are spinning to feel how the world will end.”

In the backseat of a crashed car in the back country of Oklahoma, two sisters are tied together at the wrist. Their mother, Amaranth, has just stolen them away from a polygamous sect which she helped found with their father, Zachariah. She has driven for four days and four nights, until she finally crashed from exhaustion.  Their temple has burned to the ground, but she is convinced that her husband will follow them to the ends of the earth to reclaim what is his. Although she has known the world outside their tiny splinter sect, her daughters are entirely innocent, or rather, ignorant. They have been snatched from the only life and the only world they have ever known, unable even to locate home on a map. Twelve year old Amity is cautiously curious about what this new world has to offer her, but her older sister, Sorrow, just wants to go home, back to where she was her father’s favoured daughter, and the Oracle of their unusual religion. Bradley, the man on whose land they have crashed, is kind but wary, unprepared to care for them, but unwilling to force them to leave. His soft heart is already evidenced by a Hispanic boy nicknamed Dust who Bradley has taken care of since his parents abandoned him after a farming accident.

Through a series of flashbacks, Riley examines the girls’ lives on the compound, then reaches further back to how Amaranth came to be involved with Zachariah. In Amity & Sorrow, none of the characters are without a burden.  We learn that although Zachariah was raised FLDS, he was, like so many other young men, kicked out, and his own religion contains only aspects of fundamental Mormonism. This frees Riley to incorporate a variety of intriguing and unique details, while still referring to a framework that readers will understand. Unfortunately, we never see much of the charisma the prophet must presumably have had in order to attract fifty wives to his cult. Although Amity often seems better adjusted than her sister, she believes that she has the power of healing in her hands. She also believes that this power can be used for evil, such as causing a miscarriage. Even kind Bradley struggles with the idea of giving shelter to a runaway wife, when his own wife has abandoned him, and he is not without his own secrets.

Riley leans heavily on references to The Grapes of Wrath, which serves as a touchstone for the novel. Whereas the Joads in Steinbeck’s novel left Oklahoma for California during the Dust Bowl, Bradley is part of a family that stayed behind and continued to farm there. In fact, Bradley is his family name; we never learn his first name. Amaranth, by contrast, began her life in California, a hippie love child in the shadow of Disneyland, but her journey brings her to Oklahoma. In some ways, it is a more hardscrabble existence than even life on the isolated compound they fled. They are dependent on Bradley’s charity, but every season Bradley must face the possibility of losing the family farm. It is also The Grapes of Wrath which reveals the heart-rending ignorance in which the children have been raised; Amity cannot read and doesn’t understand how to use a library, and she has never even seen a computer. More disturbing, however, is Amaranth’s abiding lack of concern for this state of affairs.

The major drawback to this title is the ploddingly slow pace, and Riley’s tendency to cloak everything in euphemisms so that it is difficult to determine with any certainty what is going on. In this way, readers are kept as ignorant as the two sisters, struggling to piece together an unfamiliar world. The characters are strong and well-rounded, but often not especially likeable, so that is hard to ask them to carry the reader through when the plot lags. The slightly stilted prose style, while appropriate to the subject and characters, is difficult to become immersed in. Combined with the sad and often disturbing subject matter, it was simply difficult to get through. Compelling at some moments, and horrifying at others, Riley asks hard questions, and provides no easy answers.

Heart Like Mine

Cover image for Heart Like Mine by Amy Hatvanyby Amy Hatvany

ISBN 978-1-4516-4056-4

Disclaimer: I received a free review copy of this book at ALA Midwinter 2013. All quotes are based on an uncorrected text.

Her full bottom lip trembled as she spoke. ‘You may not get all gushy about your feelings, but if I’ve learned anything over the past couple of years, it’s that any fool can learn to talk a good game about how they feel. It takes real strength to show up and prove it.’ She paused. ‘You hear me? Love is a verb.’

After basically raising her younger brother, Sam, Grace McAlister never wanted children of her own. But when she meets Victor Hansen, she decides that she wants to give him a chance, even though he has two children with his ex-wife, Kelli. The kids live with their mother, and Grace figures that she can handle two weekends a month with Ava and Max. But shortly after Grace and Victor become engaged, Kelli dies unexpectedly, and under questionable circumstances, leaving Grace wondering whether or not she can be a full-time parent to two grieving children.

When her parents divorced, Ava Hansen found herself thrown into unexpected responsibilities supporting her emotionally unstable mother, and helping her take care of her younger brother, Max.  She hopes that someday her father will come back to her family, but those hopes seem silly when her father moves in with Grace. When Kelli dies, information comes to light that causes Ava to question how well she knew her mother, and hints at hidden tragedies in her past. Ava struggles to reconcile herself to a relationship with Grace, while being forced to both grieve for her mother, and question their bond.

Heart Like Mine gets off to a rocky start, with a melodramatic and slightly contrived meet-cute scenario for Victor and Grace as Hatvany introduces the characters in the lead up to Kelli’s death. Similarly, Ava is established as a teenage stereotype by showing her being embarrassed by her mom and bullied by her peers, in a crude caricature of school life. After getting to know Grace for the rest of the book, I still felt by the end that her behaviour in the opening chapter was out of character. That being said, after Kelli dies, both Grace and Ava crystallize and the story takes off. Grace and Ava become equally sympathetic, even when they are at odds with one another, particularly because there are strong parallels between the two characters.

The story is comprised of sharp, uncomfortable edges where the characters try to fit the pieces of a broken family together into a new whole. There are ups and downs, but mostly downs, though Max’s character provides wonderful moments of comic relief. I also found myself particularly moved by the scene in which Grace and Victor laugh together for the first time after Kelli’s death, giving us a brief glimpse of normalcy in the otherwise tumultuous situation. Kelli’s chapters, which are flashbacks that Hatvany added to the book in a later draft, brought her character and her back story to life in a way that Grace and Ava’s investigations never could.  One perspective I did miss in all of this was Victor, who connects the three POV characters, but never gets to speak for himself.

Unlike many comedy movies in which a childless woman (usually an aunt) finds herself unexpectedly caring for children, Grace and Victor’s situation is entirely plausible. And even more fortunately, this book is not one in which Grace miraculously discovers that children were the magical ingredient missing from her otherwise perfect life. Her love for Victor and her determination to help the family through this period of grief rang true where a sudden rush of maternal feeling would have struck a false note.  Her character is all the more admirable because she genuinely struggles with the situation, but perseveres anyway. Although Heart Like Mine got off to a rocky start, it is ultimately a touching and realistic portrayal of grief, love and family that builds to a solid finish. 

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Already read and enjoyed Heart Like Mine? I recommend When It Happens To You by Molly Ringwald.

Spring/Summer Fiction Preview

This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the American Library Association’s Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. In addition to attending workshops and hanging out with other folks in the library profession, I was able to attend a Book Buzz event, and visit publishers at their booths on the exhibit floor to find out about the new fiction titles coming this spring and summer. I didn’t get much reading done this past week, so in lieu of sharing a review, here’s a peek at some of the forthcoming titles I am excited about for the first half of 2013.

Blood of Dragons (978-0-06-211685-7)
Cover image for Blood of Dragons Well known for writing fantasy trilogies in interlocking worlds, Robin Hobb is adding a fourth and final volume to The Rain Wilds Chronicles after a cliff hanger ending in volume three. The dragons and their keepers have reached Kelsingra, and the rebirth of the Elderlings is imminent. But although Kelsingra is no longer lost, the legendary silver wells on which the dragons depend are nowhere to be found. The keepers must steep themselves in the magical memories of the city to try to find out what has become of the wells before the dragons die. This series Harper Voyager continues April 9, 2013. (Update: read my review.)

Categories: Fantasy

Golden Boy (978-1-4767-0580-4)

Cover image for Golden BoyThe Walkers seem to be the perfect family. Karen Walker is a high power criminal attorney, and her husband Steve is about to stand for the British Parliament. Their son Max is the popular golden boy of his school. But for Karen, it all feels like a charade, and one that could fall apart at any moment. Steve’s candidacy for public office means that their lives are about to be laid bare to intensive media scrutiny. Between the publicity and the return of one of Max’s childhood friends, the Walkers are afraid that the secret of Max’s intersex condition will be exposed. Abigail Tarttelin’s novel is due out from Atria Books (Simon and Schuster) on May 21, 2013.

Categories: LGBT, Contemporary

The Golem and the Jinni (978-0-06211-083-1)

Cover image for The Golem and the JinniIn Helene Wecker’s debut novel, an unusual pair of magical immigrants arrive in New York City in 1899, creating an improbable connection between Jewish and Arabic mythology.  Ahmad is a fire jinni, accidently release from his lamp into the streets of the city. Chava is a Golem whose master, a Kabbalist magician, dies on the voyage from Poland to America, leaving her to make her way alone in a new country. United by their common immigrant experience, but then driven apart by their disparate heritage, only a “powerful threat” can bring them together again. HarperCollins is recommending this title for fans of The Night Circus, A Discovery of Witches, and Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell. Look for this HarperCollins book on April 23, 2013.

Categories: Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Mythology

If You Could Be Mine (978-1-61620-251-4)

Cover Image for If You Could Be MineSara Farizan’s debut novel is a young adult title about forbidden love in Iran. Sahar and Nasrin are best friends, but they are also in love, and in Iran homosexuality is a crime. Nasrin must marry the prosperous doctor her parents have selected for her. The girls keep their love a secret, passing only as friends in public. When Sahar learns that while homosexuality is a crime, being transgender is not, she must consider whether it would be worth transitioning in order to be able to love and even marry Nasrin openly. The only problem is that Sahar doesn’t identify as a man. This title is due out from Algonquin on August 20, 2013.

Categories: Young Adult, LGBT, Romance

The Rithmatist (978-0-7653-2032-2)

Cover image for The RithmatistTor is hyping this title as Brandon Sanderson’s YA debut, since his previous books are classified as either middle grade or adult. Rithmatists are powerful magicians who use their skills to bring creatures known as Chalklings to life from two-dimensional chalk models. These Rithmatist-controlled creatures are all that protect the American Isles from being overrun by Wild Chalklings. The son of a chalkmaker at the Rithmatists’ academy, Joel dreams of being a Rithmatist himself. It seems more likely that he will follow in his father’s footsteps, until students at the school begin disappearing, and Joel must help solve the mystery. Following shortly on the heels of the conclusion of the Wheel of Time series, The Rithmatist is due out on May 14, 2013.

Categories: Young Adult, Fantasy, Mystery

I received ARCs of a number of these titles, so look for reviews closer to the release dates.