Angela Sherrill picks Three Thrillers for Teens and Adults

I'm glad to welcome Angela Sherrill back to the pixels & pages of my3books, writing in with new perspectives on children's publishing & bookselling from her new job.

There are many readers out there who are in for the thrill of it.  As children they may have read Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys or any variety of adventure stories.  As these readers age, many make their way into mysteries and crime fiction (or romance), where they can get lost in the breadth of their preferred genre. Here are three contemporary favorites perfect for the thrill seeker in all of us, no matter our preferred genre.

   

Blink & Caution
by Tim Wynne-Jones
Candlewick Press | 9780763639839 | $16.99 | March 2011

How had I missed this guy?  He's got a slew of awards for his books. He penned sixteen rockin' Fraggle songs. You know, like the ones about Doozer flooping in the episode “Doozer is as Doozer Does”. 

My excuse? Like many others, I assumed he was I some way related to the fantasy queen Diana Wynne Jones.  My evil brain then created a narrative in which he got his book contracts based on his “wife's” reputation.  Therefore, the contents were likely rubbish.  I even made up an excuse why his name was hyphenated and not hers!

When I was told otherwise, I quietly dismissed the truths that did not fit my narrative. After hearing about the Winter Institute buzz over Blink & Caution and seeing a trusted GoodReads pal dive in, I gently set my carefully crafted narrative aside and picked up the book. 

What I discovered was a contemporary, literary thriller that pleases. Two young urban characters who foolishly chase trouble while fleeing from their own inner-demons win your support as you root for them to stop the cycle of self-deprecation. I was wrapped up in the story, but I was entranced by the writing. Often poetic, yet always on the move, my mind played a tug-of-war wanting to re-read and slowly swallow lines while at the same time find out what happens next.  You, too, will be wrapped-up and entranced.  With a stylish cover lacking in cliché teen images, you can proudly carry this one around with you on the train, plane, or beach. No one has to know it's intended for teens. 

Check out Elizabeth Bluemle's Shelftaker post for more TWJ (as you too will soon be referring to him) fan-fare. 

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Flip
by Martyn Bedford
Wendy Lamb Books | 9780385739900 | $15 | April 2011

Here's an except from my early-read notes on the FLIP manuscript. Wendy Lamb was kind enough to let me  read the manuscript almost a year ago as she was brushing it up for publication.  I gave her a page full of glowing remarks.  Her practiced hand edited my most absurd comment, which I will paste here for my own amusement:

“If Annie Wilkes was holding Margaret Peterson Haddix hostage and forcing her to rewrite Todd Strasser's HELP, I'M TRAPPED series, you might end up with something almost as good as Martyn Bedford's FLIP.”

And, here's an excerpt from what The Guardian's Snork Maiden so deftly says about FLIP – in case you're the sort who likes a concise sensible review:

“This book is extremely gripping. It is fast-paced but still keeps you guessing and the plot is clever and unique, throwing you straight into the action right from the beginning. It's all about a normal boy who suddenly finds himself in an impossible situation, and has to find a way to get out of it pretty much on his own. Martyn Bedford is an excellent writer and captures the life of a teenage schoolboy brilliantly, with his writing style and dialogue. Alex appreciates the life he had so much more when it is suddenly snatched away from him. Every little thing he took for granted before, he longs for now. The book has an underlying message telling us to be grateful for the life we have because maybe it doesn't always seem that great, but at least it's ours.”

Ditto The Snork Maiden.

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Acceleration
by Grahame McNamee
Laurel Leaf/Dell | 9780440238362 | $6.99 | May 2005

For a long time, I thought I didn't like thrillers. I liked emotional YA and magical middle readers.  I could do without criminal elements and murder mysteries.  The Edgar Awards were not on the top of my reading list. And then, I read this.  I was blown away and thought, “I do like thrillers, after all!”

Duncan works at the Toronto subway system's lost and found department over the summer.  One day, he comes upon an abandoned notebook only to discover the collected scraps and intentions of a psychopath.  He decides it is up to him to track down said disturbed person and save the unsuspecting victims.  I know it sounds unoriginal, but you'll be hanging on the whole time. If you've got $7 and a couple of hours you can't go wrong with this one. Tucked inside this mass market paperback is a real gem. 

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ANGELA'S NEW BIO:

Angela K Sherrill is the Collection Development Manager for Children's Plus Inc., a children's book binder and distributer located just south of Chicago. She spent 8 years managing children's book at 57th Street Books in Hyde Park and continues to coordinate the annual 57th Street Children's Book Fair, a street festival that celebrates the love of reading and the joys of childhood.  

The next, next Great American Novel: Bonnie Jo Campbell's Once Upon A River (Norton)

It's hard to switch gears sometimes.

After spending so many months thinking and talking about a novel that moves you as powerfully as Nina Revoyr's Wingshooters did (just out last month from Akashic/Consortium), working through two seasons to build enthusiasm for a novel like that, one bookseller at a time, that it can be a bit of a shock to realize that it's time to move on to the next novel.

But the wheel of time turns, the publishing cycle spins, and a new season of books is here.

The average bookseller probably runs a practiced eye over the bookshelf full of likely "next books I might fall in love with" a couple of times a day, mentally shuffling the deck, trying to decide where personal tastes, current moods, and the whimsy of fate will intersect.

But eventually you choose a book to try out and see if it's the next one. Sometimes it's not. Sometimes it is. 

And when it is, you put down the novel you've been reading for the past couple of days or weeks in intense sessions of page-turning absorption, finally finished, with a satsified warmth in the bottom of your gut. And you know you have found a book that you can really get behind.

  

Once Upon a River
by Bonnie Jo Campbell
W. W. Norton & Company | 9780393079890 | $25.95 | July 2011

American Salvage
by Bonnie Jo Campbell
W. W. Norton & Company | 9780393339192 | $13.95 | Dec 2009

Bonnie Jo Campbell's previous book, a collection of stories called American Salvage, was a National Book Award finalist and an NBCC finalist in 2009. Originally published by Wayne State University Press, the reprint rights were scooped up by W.W. Norton shortly thereafter.

Two years down the road, we have this new novel: Once Upon A River, expanded from the story "Family Reunion" in American Salvage.

Set in rural Michigan, Once Upon A River follows the river-borne wanderings of sixteen-year-old Margo Crane, as she navigates a world of her own choosing – one comprised of fishing and trapping and hunting and floating upon the Stark River. In flight from a family tragedy partly of her own making, Margo is on the run. And she has decided to make the most of her sudden, premature independence.

One character in the book describes her as a throwback, and in some ways, Margo is definitely a young woman out of time with the future that is otherwise rushing at the people living in this novel. The other teens in the novel are more interested in watching television and getting drunk or stoned and trying to have sex with each other. Margo fishes and traps and shoots.

Although it's set in the early 1980s, the reader feels the closing in of the natural world, the borders pressing in upon Margo's idyll. Her journey is not a lazily drifting epic on the mighty Mississippi. Her river world is well-defined and a little confining, and frequently polluted by the industries that have spread throughout Michigan. There will be no territory for her to light out for in the end.

And like Huck in that other epic novel of escape and reinvention on the river, Margo faces both the entrapments of society and the savagery of men. A beautiful young woman, despite her frequent long stretches without adequate bathing, she seems to present a target too luscious for men who wish to possess her and have their way with her. Others see her as a wild child who needs to be tamed and civilized.

Like so many great American novels, Margo's story is as much a journey of self-discovery as it is a flight away from those who would try to control her. It's a joy and a thrill to watch Margo come to terms with the world around her and find a way to truly come home.

If you have not read Bonnie Jo Campbell's previous works, seek out American Salvage!  Booksellers should find an advance copy of Once Upon A River – it comes out in early July 2011.

 

FURTHER READING & RESEARCH:
Bonnie Jo Campbell: web siteblog | twitter

W.W. Norton & Co.: web site | tumblr | twitter

Wayne State University Press: web site | facebook

 

DISCLAIMER:
W.W. Norton is one of the publishers I represent. I have a (tiny) financial interest in you falling in love with Bonnie Jo Campbell's books.

Three books that weave magical spells of inspiring power and variety

   

The Magicians
by Lev Grossman
Plume | 9780452296299 | $16 | May 2010

Among Others
by Jo Walton
Tor | 9780765321534 | $24.99 | Jan 2011

Say Her Name
by Francisco Goldman
Grove Press | 9780802119810 | $24 | Apr 2011 

While I continue to read and ponder what I really want to say about these books, I couldn't let another day go by without recommending these books to you.

The Magicians originally came out in 2009, and is now available in paperback. (A sequel, The Magician King, is already on my list of books I'm most excited to read this fall.) Another, Among Others, came out in January. The third book, Say Her Name, will be published later this spring in April.

Two of them are overtly about the realms of magic and alternate visions of the world around us. The third is a completely captivating, though heart-breaking, study of the ways we fall in love, and the many ways that that love marks us forever. But all three contain a meditation on the secret pathways that we tread in the world - paths that, once identified, are never again invisible.

Another subtle connection is the web of book love they weave around us, invoking the power of the written word. In The Magicians, Quentin Coldwater spends his life dreaming of the Narnia-like magical world of Fillory from a beloved childhood fantasy series. Among Others is at once a bewitching fantasy novel in its own right and a love letter to the childhood discovery of all the magical worlds that we can find hidden in books. In Say Her Name, Francisco Goldman's somewhat fictionalized version of himself falls in love with the words and the beauty of a young writer that he meets.

They have each captured my attention like few other books this year. Seek them out!

Spring Preview: Two literary ghosts, a missing girl, a small town: Timothy Schaffert's The Coffins of Little Hope

The Coffins of Little Hope
by Timothy Schaffert
Unbridled Books | 9781609530402 | $24.95 | April 2011

There's a central mystery to Timothy Schaffert's new novel, The Coffins of Little Hope - a mystery about a remote farm, a single mother of questionable reputation, and a missing daughter. The question of whether that mystery is satisfactorily resolved at the end of the book is merely a matter of deciding for yourself on which side of the literary novel / smart mystery divide the book falls.

Two presiding literary spirits hover over the proceedings - Myrtle Kingsley Fitch (a legendary prairie author from the last century, a variation on Laura Ingalls Wilder and her legacy, with its preserved homesite run as a museum dedicated to her memory) and Wilton Muscatine (the still-living but reclusive author of a legendary 10 book series of novels for young readers, decades in the writing, now about to come to its conclusion in the long-awaited Book 11).

And yes, living humans fill these pages, normal small-town Americans dealing with the usual truckload of hope and patience, struggle and disappointment that seems to be our nation's due these days. The novel is narrated by 82-year-old S. Myles, not really short for anything, but she goes by "S Myles" in her profession as small-town-paper obit writer. Her family calls her Essie.

The newspaper is owned by her grandson, Doc, who's trying to live up to the example of his deceased father, who ran the paper for decades. Essie and her grandson Doc have been raising Doc's niece, Tiff, since his sister ran off to Paris in search of love and a closer connection to Myrtle Kingsley Fitch.

Doc's newspaper printing plant is also the top-secret location where Muscatine's final novel, The Coffins of Little Hope, is being printed. Daisy, the mother of missing Lenore, has been working in the printing plant and seems to have been sneaking pages of Muscatine's book out of work.

Essie and Tiff investigate the circumstances of the missing Lenore, sometimes to the annoyance of the crowd of well-wishers and tragedy mavens who have flocked to the comfort and assistance of Daisy. When Daisy begins reading chapters of what seems to be The Coffins Of Little Hope and broadcasting them by shortwave radio, it draws the attention of Wilton Muscatine himself.

Complications and connections abound - the threads draw together, pulling the town and its hovering spirits in a web of wondering and an ever-increasing awareness of the world changing right in front of us.

I read this book in a growing state of appreciation for the high-wire act Schaffert was attempting to pull off - small town changes, missing daughters, spunky but still aging little old ladies, two completely different literary cult figures, and looming over it all, the question of what makes love work between two people and what makes a family.  I loved it.

Booksellers: Seek out a galley immediately.  (Here's a link to the NetGalley page for the book.)

The rest of you? The Coffins of Little Hope comes out in April.

(The usual disclaimer applies: Unbridled Books is one of the publishers I represent, and yep, I'm biased about these guys. I'd love it if you all would go buy a copy.)

FURTHER READING & RESEARCH:

Unbridled Books: web | blog | twitter | facebook

Timothy Schaffert: web | twitter