The Repeat Year is a debut novel by Andrea Lochen about a young woman who has had a terrifically horrible 2011. On New Year’s Day 2012, she wakes up to find that it’s 2011 all over again — at least it is for her. She’ll have to relive the dreadful year, with the full knowledge of what happened during her first time around, in hopes that she can correct her personal and professional mistakes. Yes, the storyline sounds like a cross between Groundhog Day and The Time Traveler’s Wife.
The Repeat Year will be released by Berkley Books on May 7, 2013, but you can read the first chapter now:
We’ll post a review of this novel in the near future, presuming that we don’t travel backwards in time.
A Working Theory of Love: A Novel by Scott Hutchins (Penguin Press, $25.95, 336pages)
This debut novel by Scott Hutchins – a University of Michigan graduate, a former Truman Capote Fellow in the Wallace Stegner Program and a current Instructor at Stanford University – will be released on October 2, 2012. The protagonist, Neill Bassett, lives in a San Francisco apartment building “on the south hill overlooking Dolores Park.” He commutes to work in Menlo Park, where he works at a small but innovative Silicon Valley company. Here is a synopsis of A Working Theory of Love:
Neil Bassett is now just going through the motions, again joining the San Francisco singles scene after the implosion of his very short-lived starter marriage to ex-wife Erin. He’s begun to live a life of routine, living with his cat in the apartment that he and Erin once shared. On one otherwise ordinary day he discovers that his upstairs neighbor Fred has broken a hip. Neil summons an ambulance, and when the paramedics arrive Fred says to Neil, “I’m sorry, Neill. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.” This sets Neil to wondering about life itself — was Fred apologizing for “his basic existence in this world, the inconvenience of his living and breathing?”
Neil’s physician father committed suicide ten years earlier, leaving behind personal diaries of thousands of pages. The artificial intelligence company Neil works for, Amiante Systems, is using the diaries to create a human-like computer which uses the words of Neil’s late dad to communicate. To Neil’s surprise, the experiment seems to be working as the computer not only gains an apparent conscious awareness it even begins asking Neill difficult questions about his childhood.
While in a state of shock over the events at Amiante, Neil meets an intended one-night stand named Rachel. He falls for her and wonders what his life would be like in her company; and, yet, he remains bogged down with his feelings for Erin. To make matters worse, Erin continues to intersect with Neil at unlikely and unexpected times. When Neil discovers a missing year in the diaries – a year that might unleash the secret to his parents’ seemingly troubled marriage and perhaps the reason for his father’s suicide – everything Neil thought he knew about his past comes into question. Neil now becomes paralyzed with confusion and indecision.
Scott Hutchins’s story deals with love, grief and reconciliation while teaching us about life’s lessons. He shows us how we have the chance to be free once we let go of the idea that we’re trapped by our family histories – our sad or disappointing childhoods, our poor youthful decisions, and our unintended miscommunications with those we love and have loved. A Working Theory of Love presents the reader with a unique, highly gifted new writing talent in the form of Scott Hutchins.
“A brainy, bright, laughter-through tears, can’t-stop-reading-until-it’s-over kind of novel… This book’s got something for everyone!” Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story and Absurdistan
“Scott Hutchins’s wonderful new novel is right on the border of what is possible… The book is brilliantly observant about the way we live now, and its comic and haunting story will stay lodged in the reader’s memory.” Charles Baxter, author of The Feast of Love
“It takes a genius, a supercomputer, a disembodied voice, and a man who’s stopped believing to create A Working Theory of Love, Scott Hutchins’s brilliantly inventive deubt novel… This book is astonishing.” Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son
The synopsis of A Working Theory of Love was based on information provided by the publisher, and on an Advanced Uncorrected Proof. The novel will be released in hardbound form in October, and will also be available as a Nook Book and Kindle Edition download.
Jack 1939: A Novel by Francine Mathews is a book that will be released in just a few weeks by Riverhead Hardcover Books. Here are a couple of blurbs about this tale of a young John Kennedy, and a synopsis.
“Jack 1939 is a marvel – a brilliantly conceived, riveting tightrope race across Europe in the predawn war of World War II.” Stephen White
“Jack 1939 is a triumph: an exciting thriller, an intriguing exploration of a troubled time, and an absorbing take on the early history of one of America’s most iconic figures. Highly recommended.” Iain Pears
Charming. Reckless. Brilliant. Deadly.
It’s the spring of 1939, and the prospect of war in Europe looms large. The United States has no intelligence service. In Washington, D.C., President Franklin Delano Roosevelt may run for an unprecedented third term and needs someone he can trust to find out what the Nazis are up to. His choice: John F. Kennedy.
It’s a surprising selection. At twenty-two, Jack Kennedy is the attractive but somewhat unpromising second son of Joseph P. Kennedy, FDR’s ambassador to Britain (and occasional political adversary). But when Jack decides to travel through Europe to gather research for his Harvard senior thesis, Roosevelt takes the opportunity to use him as his personal spy. The president’s goal: to stop the flow of German money that’s been flooding the U.S.; money directed by Adolf Hitler for the purpose of preventing FDR’s re-election.
In a deft mosaic of fact and fiction, Francine Mathews has written a gripping espionage story that explores what might have happened when a young JFK is let loose in Europe as the world spins rapidly toward war. Jack 1939 is both a potent combination of history and storytelling, and a unique, entertaining read.
Jack 1939: A Novel will be released on July 5, 2012. It will also be available as a Kindle Edition and Nook Book download. (Information provided by The Penguin Group, USA.)
The New York Times created a dust-up recently by posting an article about what was said to be the current glut of memoirs. The writer seemed to think that everyone and his dog and cat were writing their book of memories, and that there should be some type of pre-publication test of worthiness. Most did not meet his standards. Of course, that was but one person’s opinion, one which I happen not to share. If there’s one area in which the publishing industry seems to have shone brightly in 2010-2011, it’s in the publication of some fine memoirs.
Five memoirs are on my recommended list: The Memory Palace by Mira Bartok (nothing short of brilliant), The Foremost Good Fortune by Susan Conley (a cancer survivor), Between Me and the River by Carrie Host (another cancer survivor), No Place Like Home: A Memoir in 39 Apartments by Brooke Berman (about being nearly homeless in New York City), and Perfection by Julie Metz (sometimes frustrating but ultimately satisfying). It also appears that new and worthwhile releases are on the way, including The Long Goodbye by Meghan O’Rourke (about a daughter’s crushing grief following her mother’s death) and History of a Suicide by Jill Bialosky (an examination into the causes of a sister’s self-destruction).
But then there are a couple of negative trends that I will touch upon here. When it comes to popular fiction, tight editing seems to have been relegated to the sidelines. More and more I run across novels that seem to have no beginning; they meander on and ramble for dozens of seemingly unstructured pages. And some make things worse by incorporating non-chronological structures that veer back and forth between the present and past, past and present until it becomes dizzying. Every now and then I’m reminded of the frustrating quick-cut and overly trendy music videos of the 70s.
Are there no longer any editors who will tell a writer, “Look, you need to be very clear about the storyline at the start and quickly hook the reader. Confusion has its costs!” Who has the patience to read a hundred or two hundred pages just to figure out what story is being told? Sigh… Well, I guess some people do.
Then there’s the release of what I call the non-biographical biography. These are the ones that decide to be clever by telling us everything about the subject except precisely what it is they’re supposed to be known for! If the subject is an actor, we’re told about his sex life, his animals, his apartments and homes, marriages and divorces, where he went on vacations, what he liked to eat, and how much he tipped the servers. Yes, we come to learn about everything in his life except his acting and the films he made.
The same rule seems to apply to politicians – the cool author writing a bio of Ronald Reagan using this style would cover everything except Reagan’s acting career and his terms as governor of California and president of the U.S. If you prefer, substitute the name Robert F. (Bobby) Kennedy or Edward M. (Ted) Kennedy and the same strange rule will apply – there are sideways bios on them out there on the book store shelves. I won’t name names but they’re not that hard to find.
So, despite the view from Manhattan when it comes to memoirs the state of the publishing industry seems to be strong. When it comes to editing today’s novels, improvements may be in order. And when it comes to biographies, readers should hold out for the old-fashioned substantive kind, even if it requires a journey over to Powell’s Books to find a used one.
Pictured: The Long Goodbye: A Memoir by Meghan O’Rourke, which will be released by Riverhead Books on April 14, 2011.
Sometimes, but fortunately not too often, I receive an e-mail from an author or publicist that says, in effect, “Why haven’t you reviewed the book that was sent to you?” In thinking about this, there are probably a lot more reasons for a book to fall off of the TBR (to be read/reviewed) stack than are readily apparent to the average person. I’ll go over some of them here.
Please Mr. Postman
Some books get lost in the mail, or mistakes are made in the mail room. On occasion, I’ve received a book that looks like it shouldn’t have been sent to me but it’s usually from a publisher I know. That leads me to think that another reviewer has been sent the book that I was interested in. I’m sure it happens.
Obviously, since the people staffing publishers’ mail rooms are human, mistakes can and do happen. There was a particular book that I had slotted to read at a specific time and it never arrived. I brought this to someone’s attention and was told that another copy was going out that evening. What I wound up receiving was a very nice package with nothing inside of it – no book and no papers. Good intentions, but no luck.
Oh, and mail is certainly delivered to the wrong place these days. I now know which of our neighbors receives ESPN Magazine or Sports Illustrated or Power Tools Today based on the mailman dropping them in my box. It’s not too hard to figure that some of the books intended for me wind up as a free gift enjoyed by a close or distant neighbor.
Time is Tight
When I request a particular book – weeks before a review will appear – I have no way of knowing what other similar books will be released at the same time. And on this site we deliberately try to review a wide variety of books, not just one of a kind. So if I request a legal thriller and it shows up when I thought it would, and at a time when I’ve just finished a family novel and a children’s book, I will go ahead and read/review it as earlier planned. But let’s say that I’ve just read two legal thrillers, and my wife has finished one, when your legal thriller arrives. It’s going to be put aside because, unfortunately, it arrived at the wrong time. We don’t want to be known as Legal Thriller Review. (The same story gets played out for many genres, unfortunately.)
There’s also the fact that books arrive either earlier than expected or later. Publication dates also change. I have instances where I’m reading a book for a review to appear shortly, only to find that the publication date has been moved back a few months. That leads me to close the book. Contra, I may plan to read a forthcoming, not yet released book by a particular author, only to go to Borders and find out – yes, this did recently happen to me – that it’s been released for sale earlier than expected. Again, the apple cart gets upset.
I Don’t Want to Spoil the Party
Every now and then, for a sense of variety, I agree to take part in a book blog tour. What this usually means is that I’m sent a forthcoming book and asked to select a date, within a particular window (usually a period of 2 or 3 weeks), when my review will appear. I usually try to pick one of the final dates available. If I start reading the book and love it, and everyone whose review appears prior to mine loves it, everything is fine. But now and then I’m reading a blog tour book that I just do not like. If I see that everyone else has written a glowing review and mine is going to be the one extremely negative one, I will tell the publicist that I’m pulling out of the tour. I will still post my own review but on my own schedule. I have no need to rile things up on the blook tour party.
As I’ve said before, there are some books that I receive and read but I refrain from writing reviews about them. Why? It’s generally not that they are bad, just not unique enough to make for an interesting review. Let’s say, for example, that I’m reading one of five new Paul McCartney bios that are out this year. I finish it and find that it’s full of the same stories told in 10 prior McCartney-related books. Do I really want to write a rather boring review stating, “This book is a rehash of the same old stories…”? OK, sometimes I will write that but only if I think I can say it in an interesting way. Often, though, the same old thing is just not worth writing about.
To be continued…
Pictured: The Neighbors are Watching: A Novel by Debra Ginsberg, which will be released by Crown on Tuesday, November 16, 2010 (and which will be reviewed on this site on that date or earlier).