The secretive project is simply titled 'S.'
Also: a thriller from Max Barry, a seafaring debut and the story of an infamous summer heat wave
"Sisterland" by Curtis Sittenfeld: The critical darling and bestselling author of "Prep" and "American Wife" writes about twin sisters, Violet and Daisy, who both possess psychic abilities but have very different attitudes toward their gift to see the future. Violet makes it her profession and becomes infamous for predicting a massive earthquake set to strike the St. Louis area, while Daisy changes her name to Kate, marries a scientist who teaches at Washington University and devotes her time and energies to her toddlers while ignoring her own psychic abilities. She disavows Vi on many levels--her twin is her opposite, gay, overweight, freewheeling--but then gets her own premonition that something of major significance will happen on October 16. Will it be Vi's earthquake? First line: The first earthquake wasn't the strongest--that would come later, in February 1812--but it must have been the most astonishing.
"The Impossible Lives of Greta Walls" by Andrew Sean Greer: Like Kate Atkinson's "Life After Life," Greer ("The Story of a Marriage" and "Confessions of Max Tivoli") plays with the idea of a character living alternate lives. Heartbroken over the death of her twin brother and a breakup with her lover, Greta Wells undergoes electroconvulsive therapy in 1985 and wakes up in different versions of her life. In 1918 she's a bohemian adultress and in 1941, she's a devoted mother and wife. In all three lives she has the same brother, aunt and lover, but there are different outcomes for these relationships. She has three months of shock therapy to decide which of these lives she prefers, and perhaps, to choose. Right up the alley for those who loved Atkinson's novel or Lionel Shriver's "The Post Birthday World." Or even the movie "Sliding Doors." First line: The impossible happens once to each of us.
"Instructions for a Heat Wave" by Maggie O'Farrell: England isn't known for steamy summers, but in 1976 the nation, already at drought conditions, was gripped by a heat wave that lasted nearly all summer. For 25 days in a row, temperatures were in the 80s, a number of Wimbledon spectators collapsed from heat stroke, offices without air conditioning (of which there were many) had to shut down and water conservation measures put into place. O'Farrell, whose previous novels include "The Hand That First Held Mine," sets her story of a London woman in crisis in the midst of the heat wave. Gretta Riordan's husband goes out for the paper while she's dutifully making soda bread--despite the heat--and simply never comes back. And he empties their bank account. In the wake of his disappearance, Gretta's three adult children arrive to sort out what to do about their abandoned mother. First line: The heat, the heat.
"Lexicon" by Max Barry: One of the most anticipated thrillers of the summer. At an exclusive school near Arlington, Virginia, students are instructed in the art of persuasion, learning to bend people to their will in a nearly magical way. (If you think this kind of creepy mind control sounds a bit like the dream steering in "Inception," you'd be right.) Our clever, heroine is an orphan named Emily Rikkard, who is recruited for the school after she's found on the streets of San Francisco, running a three-card Monte game. She excels like no other student in this school for "poets," until she falls in love, something the organization doesn't approve of. This is the kind of book where a woman finds herself in possession of the most powerfully magic word in the history of the world and Barry writes with similar urgency. Emily doesn't just apply mascara, she "detonates" it and when she kisses, she kisses like "a predator." First line: "He's coming around."
"She Rises" by Kate Worsley: Debut novelist Worsley, whose previous career includes stints as a journalist, a masseuse and a spotlight operator, got the idea for "She Rises" while walking to the docks near her home on the Essex coast. She admired those who went to sea every day but was terrified of it herself. Her novel, set in Georgian England (it opens in 1740) tells the story of Luke, a 15 year-old pressed into service on the Navy warship Essex. He's rather be anywhere else, but mostly in the company of Louise, a young maid in service to a wealthy captain's daughter in the naval port of Harwich. Worsley's characters have been compared to Dickens, her plotting to Sarah Waters and her sense of adventures at sea to Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey and Maturin series. First line: It's the singing that wakes him.
Fowler's powerful new novel is our Top-shelf pick of the month; but we almost missed it
I already had a copy of the novel, sent to me by a publicist at Putnam without me even having to ask--how I love publicists like this--but I hadn't cracked it open yet. I could tell you that I was too busy to get to it. It is true that the piles of upcoming releases surrounding my desk have grown so overwhelmingly huge I have all but given up on vacuuming my office floor. Except that I had found time to check an A. M. Homes' "May We Be Forgiven" out of the library and become engrossed in it even though I had no timely element obliging me to read it or write about it. I also can't pretend that I didn't know who Fowler was. In 2007 I had driven to Davis, California, where much of this new novel is set, to interview the writer around the time the movie version of her bestselling book "The Jane Austen Book Club" was coming out. I liked the movie and the book well enough but hadn't found it particularly memorable. If pressed, I'd have said it was a "nice" book. The title of this new book, "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves" conjured up expectations of a book about some domestic accident or tragedy: dead child, dead parent, pedophile in the 'hood.
But here's the thing: my interest in reading the book shot up immediately, not just because the Kingsolver review was so positive ("a novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get"). It was the placement of the review. The cover screams importance. The cover screams not chick lit. The cover made me put aside the Homes' book (which is excellent) and dive right into the Fowler. I can't lie; it altered my perception of its worth. That's what good literary real estate can do for a book.
Bing: More on Karen Joy Fowler
"We Are Completely Beside Ourselves" lives up to Kingsolver's endorsement and the larger endorsement made by the editor of the NYTBR in putting it on the cover. It is wickedly smart, instantly engaging--Rosemary the semi-unreliable narrator is in a word, unique--and so thought provoking on the topic of animal rights that it could alter your future decisions as a consumer. I don't want to say much about the plot of the book--Kingsolver tiptoed around it but gave up one key detail that Fowler doesn't reveal until page 77, and which I would have loved to not know--except to compare it to Ann Patchett's "State of Wonder" in terms of weaving a larger story of radical, scientific experimentation into a very personal woman's narrative. In short, it's Top Shelf.
A final word about the NYTBR. Pamela Paul was named the new editor of the book review in April, replacing Sam Tanenhaus, who becomes a writer-at-large. Would Tanenhaus have put a review of Karen Joy Fowler's book on the cover, or would he have made the same kind of dumb, incorrect assumptions about its worth that I did? It's impossible for me to supply a definitive answer, but having been appalled by the casual sexism and remarkably fuddy duddy tone of his review of the Amanda Knox memoir (read it here, if you are so inclined), in which he takes a college girl to task for essentially having been comfortable with the pleasure her body gives and receives (he calls her brazen, although thankfully, he left out the "hussy") my hunch is, I seriously doubt it. He'd probably have put the David Brooks' review of George Packer's "The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America," which ran inside the NYTBR on that same Sunday, on the cover.
Many have hailed Paul, only the second woman ever to edit the NYTBR, as an exciting choice to replace Tanenhaus. In the last three years, VIDA, which gathers statistics on gender bias in book review sections for magazines and other publications, has shown that the NYTBR consistently favors male reviewers and authors. When bestselling author Jennifer Weiner, one of the most vocal critics of this practice, heard the news about Paul's hiring she told Poynter: “I’ve been impressed with Pamela Paul’s writing (she’s my go-to source for picking books for my kids), and she seems aware of the Times’ female trouble. A female editor is no guarantee of instant improvement, but I am optimistic that things will get better for women in the Book Review.”
I'd say they already have.
Sex! Booze! Hairdresser Wars! The producer tells all, 50 years after the movie's premiere
Wanger's memoir, first published in 1963, is an often inadvertently hilarious account of the nearly four years he dedicated to making "Cleopatra." If you were willing to pay a lot for a yellowed paperback or even more for a first edition, you could track down Wanger's book on abebooks.com but I'd never had my hands on a copy until Vintage Books' reissue arrived.
Wanger's memoir (written with Joe Hyams) is a total comedy of errors, or maybe a sexy French farce. He'd been fascinated with Cleopatra since his days at Dartmouth College (class of 1915) and had optioned material with a movie in mind as a young producer. His diary-style entries start in 1958 with Wanger wooing Taylor for the role. She was his dream choice, ever since he'd seen her in "A Place in the Sun." "She is the only woman I have ever known who has the necessary youth, power, and emotion," he wrote. But the president of 20th Century-Fox, Spyros Skouras, wasn't so hot on the idea. As Wanger writes, "he said he didn't like the idea of working with Elizabeth because 'she'll be too much trouble.'"
Bing: More on 'Cleopatra,' starring Elizabeth Taylor
Skouras was so right. Not only did she and her also-married co-star have the affair of the century (and you think the birth of Brangelina was a big deal) but the woman was the walking definition of high maintenance, from her housing needs to her choice of hairdresser. She had every illness under the sun, from boils to fevers to supposed Asian flu and then nearly died from staphylococcus pneumonia. But Wanger never says a bad word about Taylor, even during the times when it seems she really could have dragged herself out of bed to make it to set. He doesn't blame Taylor even when it starts to seem as if the entire cast is also calling in sick. I love this entry from March 4, 1962: Rex Harrison called for the doctor today. The clinic is thriving.
The book covers nearly four years of history, ending with Wanger's visit in the summer of 1962 to a sand and scorpion-plagued set in Egypt that Taylor herself was banned from because she'd made contributions to Israeli charities and there were fears of riots or other reprisals. The film lost its first director halfway through and nearly destroyed the spirit of its second, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who once said "'Cleopatra was conceived in emergency, shot in hysteria, and wound up in blind panic." It was both legendarily bad and legendarily expensive; in a new afterword to Vintage's edition, film critic Kenneth Turan estimates its cost at $32 to 44 million.
Bing: More on Walter Wanger
There are many books that cover the making of "Cleopatra," from the carefully researched (Sam Kashner and Nancy Schoenberger's 2010's biography "Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton and the Marriage of the Century") to even some fiction (like Jess Walter's highly entertaining "Beautiful Ruins," which featured Richard Burton as a rascally character who impregnated an extra before falling for Liz) that I wasn't sure I needed to know anything more about the making of the film. But I flew through the book, folding over page after page filled with droll tidbits. Like this one, referring to Richard Burton's wife.
MAY 16 1962
Sybil Burton here over the weekend.
MAY 17, 1962
Dick Hanley called to say Liz cannot work today because she has swollen eyes.
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Don't be fooled by the spectre of "the letter"
Also, two new novels and a confession about the seduction of pretty covers
"Run, Brother, Run: A Memoir of a Murder in My Family" by David Berg: In 1979 Parade magazine profiled trial lawyer David Berg under a headline that read "Is He the Meanest Lawyer in Town?" Berg admits he was mean, mostly because "I was angry." Eleven years earlier, in 1968 his brother Alan, six years his elder and David's "fulltime cheerleader" was murdered outside a bar. His remains turned up six months later and the man accused of killing him was a hitman named Charles Harrelson, the father of Woody Harrelson. All these years later, Berg has carefully researched the case and his brother's life in an effort to finally come to terms with his loss. This true crime book examines the case from beginning to end, from Harrelson's acquittal to Berg's decision to confront his own father for the role he played in putting his son in harm's way.There's never been any doubt in Berg's mind that Charles Harrelson committed the crime (he talks to the woman who told police she watched Harrelson kill Alan Berg) and it drove him to pursue justice in his own career."Run, Brother, Run" is a fascinating look at a Texas family's history, written in darkly humorous, direct and powerful prose. Trial lawyers are known for being smooth talkers, but Berg proves himself a graceful writer as well.
Bing: More on convicted killer Charles Harrelson
"The Silver Star" by Jeannette Walls: Out about five minutes and already the latest from the author of the mega-hit "The Glass Castle" has already cracked the top #50 sellers on Amazon. She's writing fiction now, albeit fiction with a similar theme (screwed up mothers and what they do to you) and set during the Nixon administration. Two young sisters, Bean, aged 12 and Liz, 15, are deserted by their narcissistic mother. She runs off to look for "herself," leaving them with enough money to keep them going for a month or so. The girls, Bean and Liz, decide to find themselves some more reliable family, so they get on a bus from California to rural Virginia to track down their uncle. There, in a small mill town they come to love their eccentric Southern uncle and begin to build new lives for themselves. But the East has its drama too, including racial strife when the local schools begin to integrate and some dark encounters with the town's resident bad guy, the foreman at the mill.
Bing: More on Jeannette Walls
"The Illusion of Separateness" By Simon Van Booy: Look, sometimes we judge books by their covers. Or rather we're more drawn to or repulsed by books because of their covers. My friend Sami never wanted to read Willa Cather's "O Pioneers" because the corn fields on the cover reminded her too much of growing up in Kansas. When I saw this novel, which is really more like short stories that eventually begin to intersect and turn into a cohesive whole, I wanted to prop it up somewhere for display. It's so minimalist and elegant. But it turns out that what's inside is equally minimalist and elegant. In Santa Monica, an old man cleans floors at a nursing home and wonders about his life as a foundling in World War II Paris. On the other side of the country, a blind young woman longs for a normal life and takes strength from her grandfather's strange story of survival in World War II. And for one bittersweet moment, these worlds intersect.
"No One Could Have Guessed the Weather" by Anne Marie-Casey: And sometimes we must pick up a book because the title is so evocative. Otherwise I don't know that I would have opened this novel about four 40 something women in New York coming to terms with their less than beautiful lives. Look at that cover--what is that? Is that the bottom of a stream, filled with weeds and floating leaves? Not, it's an upside woman's head, a new twist on the stick-a-chick's-head-on-it cover. Lucy's husband loses all their money and has to take a low paying job in New York. He announces they'll have vacate their former comfortable suburban New Jersey life and cram themselves (and their two young sons) into an 800 square-foot apartment in the East Village. "The Mothers at the School shrieked divorce," Casey writes. Instead she decides to buck up and embrace New York, as well as the three new friends she makes, all of whom have lives in some state of intriguing disrepair. Likely to appeal to fans of Meg Wolitzer's "The Ten-Year Nap."
Go across dimensions with a new brand of hero
And magic is what Ecko certainly looks like to him. But the new world that Ecko has found himself trapped in comes complete with their own problems, and he may be the only one who can solve them. And that may also lead to his way home.
And that's about all we know about it
The book will be released this September, and you can pre-order it here.
The latest film in "The Hunger Games" film franchise, "The Hunger Games: Catching Fire," opens in theaters on November 22.