Just out of the Box
Here’s a sampling of what’s arrived in the last couple of months. Most of them would make good summer reads: the first takes place on a river rafting trip, one is set in the Malibu surf scene of the 70s, four have foreign settings, and another describes a cross-country trip taken by an eccentric 12-year-old.
Elizabeth Hyde has set In the Heart of the Canyon on a river rafting trip through the Grand Canyon. The characters include 27-year-old Peter, looking for a hookup, a Mormon family, a teenage girl with body issues, a Harvard professor in her fifties, a history buff, and a couple in their seventies who are seasoned river rafters. According to Publishers Weekly “A stray dog joins the gang as bouts with heatstroke, festering open wounds and capsizing boats threaten to sabotage the adventure, though these seem tame compared to the surprise that hits downriver. The novel succeeds as both a study of strangers striving toward a common goal and as a suspenseful drama filled with angst and humanity. Hyde outshines herself with this wild ride.”
Alia Yunis’ The Night Counter is a twist on the Scheherazade story. In this case, the 85-year-old main character has spent 1,001 nights telling stories to Scheherazade, but knows that she’ll die when the last one is told. From the Barnes & Noble synopsis: “But between tonight and night 1,001, Fatima has a few loose ends to tie up. She must find a wife for her openly gay grandson, teach Arabic (and birth control) to her 17-year-old great-granddaughter, make amends with her estranged husband, and decide which of her troublesome children should inherit her family’s home in Lebanon—a house she herself has not seen in nearly 70 years. All this while under the surveillance of two bumbling FBI agents eager to uncover Al Qaeda in Los Angeles.”
Norman Ollestad’s Crazy for the Storm: a Memoir of Survival is his account of growing up with his father, a demanding, fearless athlete and ex-child actor and FBI agent, who expected the same toughness in his son from an early age. His father’s training would put the younger Norman to the test when, at age 11, he was the lone survivor of a light plane crash in the San Gabriel Mountains. Check out the Amazon video interview with the author, which includes historic news footage of Norman after the crash. Set in the surf culture of 70s Malibu and Mexico, this memoir has been called breathtaking, gripping, engrossing.
Steven Galloway’s The Cellist of Sarajevo is told in four voices, all connected by a mortar strike that kills 22 people. From the Barnes & Noble website: “Standing at his window on May 27, 1992, the cellist has no idea what is about to happen. The mortar that falls in front of his apartment building kills 22 of his friends and neighbors as they wait in line for bread, and in a moment, his world is horribly diminished. In mute defiance of the danger of doing so, he carries his instrument to the very place where the mortar exploded and plays. His intention is to play for 22 days — one day for each person killed — if he survives that long.”
Reif Larsen’s The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet is a debut novel with a 12-year-old genius cartographer as its central character. T.S. sets off on an epic journey from his hom ein Montana to accept the Baird Award at the Smithsonian, and obsessively maps, charts and illustrates his adventure. Stephen King says “it combines Mark Twain, Thomas Pynchon, and Little Miss Sunshine. Good novels entertain; great ones come as a gift to readers who are lucky enough to find them. This book is a treasure.” For a short video containing an introduction to the look of the book’s illustrations (which are also the work of the author), click here.
Political essayist Ali Sethi’s debut novel The Wish Maker takes place in modern Pakistan, and centers on two cousins. The story alternates between the early 90s (about the time that Benazir Bhutto was deposed) and post-9/11. Publishers Weekly says “The political background frames Sethi’s complex narrative, but the primary focus is on the family’s relatively privileged-and often as argumentative as it is loving-household, providing Western readers with an insider’s atmospheric take on a culture and a country much in the news these days.” Scroll down on the Amazon page for The Wish Maker to read an interview with the author, who was 23 when he wrote the book.
Another story focusing on close relatives in a faraway place, Lisa See’s Shanghai Girls is set in “the Paris of Asia” n 1937. Two sisters, May and Pearl, live a glamorous life until their father tells them he’s sold them off to California suitors to pay off his debts. They make the perilous trek from Shanghai, under attack by the Japanese across the Pacific to Los Angeles. Booklist says “The tortuous route they take to first avoid, then accept, and finally embrace their abrupt fall from grace is rife with the most heinous tragedies—rape and murder, betrayal and abandonment, poverty and servitude. Through it all, one thing ensures their survival: the sisters are tenaciously devoted to each other, though time and events will strain this loyalty nearly to the point of destruction. Examining the chains of friendship within the confines of family, See’s kaleidoscopic saga transits from the barbaric horrors of Japanese occupation to the sobering indignities suffered by foreigners in 1930s Hollywood while offering a buoyant and lustrous paean to the bonds of sisterhood.”
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