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Fauxccasional Poems

Daniel Scott Tysdal. Goose Lane/Icehouse. (UTP, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (98p) ISBN 978-0-86492-872-6

As alternate history poetics go, Tysdal's (The Mourner's Book of Albums) book is in many ways technically excellent, but it doesn't have much going for it besides the technical gymnastics. The collection includes a variety of forms: a sestinaiku (combining sestina and haiku), incantatory verse, binary code poems, and the more standard range of occasionals, pantoums, villanelles, couplets, and sonnets. The subject matter—including the Enola Gay crew's refusal to drop their payload, the survival of J.F.K. after Jackie's death by assassin's bullet, U.S. presidents as poet historians, and Twitter as 1960s social movement tool—should lend it weight and greater range. But the book rarely feels like more than an academic exercise taken to its logical conclusions. Its predictability and its oddly narrow range work against what could have been a body of poems inspiring deeper contemplation through ahistorical myth-making. Instead, what readers are left with is a work that cannot quite capture the often deeply tragic flow of history, and so replaces it with the artificial and cold comfort of unextrapolating reimaginings that lack nuance. It's a book potentially worth buying for the technical achievements but ultimately unsatisfying. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Guano

Louis Carmain, trans. from the French by Rhonda Mullins. . Coach House (Consortium, U.S. dist.; PGC, Canadian dist.), $19.95 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-55245-315-5

This debut novel from Québec-based author Carmain is an elegantly constructed "story of love and war." The author relies on the Spanish lust for empire in the late 19th century to provide structure to this dreamy, lonesome tale. Divided into four eras—one for each admiral who leads an expedition to South America—the story mainly focuses on Simón Cristiano Claro, whose love of words elevates him to ship's scribe and communicator. From the very beginning of the tale, truth and fiction converge, allowing Carmain to delineate how much history is rewritten by the winners. But history does not occupy a man's soul, and while Simón attempts to impress the Spanish monarchy with sometimes invented details, he is also busy falling in love with Monste, a woman whose deep passion for words matches Simón's own. Carmain brilliantly contrasts the kinds of courage and determination that are required of war versus those required by love, privileging neither. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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From Up River and for One Night Only

Brett Josef Grubisic. Now or Never (LitDistCo, dist.), $21.95 trade paper (347p) ISBN 978-1-988098-07-4

Grubisic (This Location of Unknown Possibilities) dives deeply into nostalgia in this autobiographical coming-of-age story. Four teenage friends dream big dreams in a small British Columbian town in the 1980s. Gordyn, Dee, Em, and Jay are two sets of siblings who exist on the outer edges of their high school's social circles. Their immediate goal is to form a New Wave cover band that can win an upcoming Battle of the Bands contest in nearby Bottlesburg, but their sights are set on glamorous rock-and-roll careers in London, Paris, and New York. With little money, experience, or talent, the four struggle to acquire instruments and decide what music to play. Along the way, they test the waters of sexuality and find some unusual ways to make money. Though Grubisic's carefully crafted descriptions of the teens' world can slow the narrative and cause it to meander, they provide much of the book's dark humor. This excursion into the '80s will be immersive for readers who remember the decade fondly; the story of dreamers pushing against the confines of conventionality and limited expectations will resonate more broadly. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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He Wants

Alison Moore. Biblioasis (Consortium/Perseus, U.S. dist.; UTP, Canadian dist.), $14.95 trade paper (188p) ISBN 978-1-77196-056-4

Through spare prose and a simple story, Moore's second novel (her first, The Lighthouse, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize) examines aging, interrogates wanting, proposes changing, and succeeds in convincing the reader that old dogs can still be taught. Lewis Sullivan, an elderly widower, has settled into the routine of a man without much desire left. His wife, Edie, died in her sleep. His daughter, Ruth, visits him daily, bringing him soup he does not want but eats anyway, and he in turn visits his own old father in a nursing home once a week. This routine continues until Sydney Flynn, a friend Lewis hasn't seen since grade school, reappears and undermines the idea that doing things the way one has always done things is the only way to live. Writers of fiction are often advised to drive plot by first establishing what their protagonist wants. Moore plays with this concept by enumerating those desires in chapter titles, and then ensuring her characters never succeed in getting what they want. This playfulness and the sympathetic and surprising character of Lewis make this artful novel a delightful read. Agent: Nicholas Royle. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Broken Ground

Karen Halvorsen Schreck. Howard, $14.99 trade paper (322p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9483-9

Readers interested in immigration issues and U.S. history will discover much to enjoy in Schreck's well-written, lyric novel. Ruth and Charlie Warren are happy newlyweds in the Depression-era East Texas oil fields until Charlie's unexpected death in a freak oil rig accident. Rather than return to her parents permanently, Ruth accepts a scholarship to Union University in faraway California. Her time there is cut short after she loses her scholarship, so Ruth moves to Kirk Camp, a barrio for Mexican farm workers who flock to the U.S. for jobs, and becomes a teacher. Ruth's heart begins to heal as her affection grows for her host, Silvia Morales; the camp children she teaches; and her new friend, Thomas Everly. Schreck reveals a little-known chapter in U.S. relations with our Mexican neighbors, some of it inspiring and much of it shocking. Readers will love Ruth's stamina and heart, and come away with a new understanding of immigrant experiences both then and now. Agent: Sandra Bishop, Transatlantic Agency. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Quieting

Suzanne Woods Fisher. Revell, $14.99 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-8007-2321-7

Fisher's deliciously heartwarming contemporary Amish romance, the second in the Bishop's Family series (after The Imposter), picks up a few months after the first left off and is told from a variety of viewpoints. Amish bishop David Stoltzfus is taking care of a houseful of his relatives' children and a congregation that is quietly being rocked by scandal. With so much in disarray, the last thing he wants is for his mother and two nieces showing up for an unexpected, indefinite visit. While dealing with his mother's managing ways and her desperation to see everyone in her family happily married to acceptable people, David has to relearn how to listen attentively to the word of God in his heart as he struggles to do what is best for his community. Family allegiances are pulled in opposite directions when the son of David's congregational rival expresses interest in his niece, Abigail. This fascinating glimpse into a closed culture explores the depth and breadth of its members' commonalities and differences. The deftly written tale of life, love, and faith is filled with a delightful cast of characters whose stories intertwine with David's to entertain the reader. Agent: Joyce Hart, Hartline Literary. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Love & Friendship: In Which Jane Austen's Lady Susan Vernon Is Entirely Vindicated

Whit Stillman. Little, Brown, $25 (112p) ISBN 978-0-316-29412-6

Stillman (The Last Days of Disco) cleverly reimagines a little-known Jane Austen character, Lady Susan Vernon from the unpublished novel Lady Susan, following her doting nephew's attempt to clear Aunt Susan's name and restore her reputation. Lady Susan, a recent widow, spends a few months with friends until gossip of a romantic scandal sends her fleeing to her brother and sister-in-law. Marriage plots abound for both Lady Susan and her young daughter, Frederica, as she seeks to establish secure matches that guarantee they will both be well cared for, but it is the means by which Lady Susan procures these proposals that call her character into question. Her sister-in-law, Catherine Vernon (née DeCourcy), and the DeCourcy family are convinced by the gossip surrounding Lady Susan and fear that she means to use her wit and beauty to marry into their family via Catherine's brother, Reginald DeCourcy. A cast of suitors, friends and otherwise, add perspective and dimension to Lady Susan's true motives, and the narrator of the account, Lady Susan's nephew, Martin Rufus Martin-Colonna de Cesari-Rocca, brings both quirky and hilarious flavor to Stillman's story. Martin's commentary and frequent interjections, particularly his thoughts on original author Jane Austen (referred to as the Spinster Authoress), serve as both comedic social commentary and a glimpse into the trivial dramas of the English aristocracy. (May)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Whale: A Love Story

Mark Beauregard. Viking, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-0-399-56233-4

In the summer of 1850, Herman Melville met Nathaniel Hawthorne at a Massachusetts picnic, and the lives of both man were changed forever. In his debut novel, Beauregard weaves a tale based on the real-life relationship of two of America's most renowned novelists, following the interactions they shared while living as neighbors in the Berkshires. During this period, Hawthorne wrote The House of the Seven Gables and Melville completed Moby-Dick, which he dedicated to Hawthorne. This fictional biography is the story behind that dedication and the love affair that some believe the two men shared—a stormy romance that would scarcely be believable if not for the use of Melville's real letters to Hawthorne, many of which are reprinted in the book. The emotion of the affair can occasionally feel abrupt, but readers will come to reconsider what they know about the lives of the two authors, and those who approach with an open mind may find their views on the writings of Melville and Hawthorne permanently changed. (June)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Adventurist

Bradford Hipps. St. Martin's, $25.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-06223-9

Hipps's debut novel peels back the layers of one man's seemingly monotonous life to reveal the deeply felt desire beneath, and the consequences of embracing one's innate thirst for adventure. Henry Hurt is a software engineer at a corporation in an unnamed city in the American South. His mother died a year ago, he's nursing an attraction to a married co-worker, and the company for which he works is struggling to turn a profit. To break through his overwhelming angst—or "the pall," as he calls it—Hurt decides to take his life circumstances in his own hands, more doggedly pursuing both purpose and fulfillment in his work and love. But in so doing, he endangers his career and relationships, forcing him to question what can truly bring him contentment and meaning. Hurt is a fascinating, if at times frustrating, protagonist; his is a middling existence that obscures an existential dread. He's self-aware and observant, the perfect narrator for a story that feels like the slow-motion collapse of a man who's already on the edge when the reader meets him. But rather than leaving him to wallow, the novel ends on a sense of hope predicated on the potential in a clean break and a fresh start. Deeply human, at times funny, and laced throughout with reflection on the crushing weight of the familiar, this novel is an engaging and nuanced exploration of life. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Pharos Gate: Griffin & Sabine's Missing Correspondence

Nick Bantock. Chronicle, $24.95 (60p) ISBN 978-1-4521-5125-0

In this final, stunning volume of the Griffin & Sabine saga, author and artist Bantock completes the inspiring story of two lovers who developed an epistolary relationship without ever meeting in the flesh. Each page of the book presents an intricately painted or drawn postcard on one side and the continued handwritten correspondence among Griffin, Sabine, and a few other characters on the other, or in some cases, actual envelopes that the reader will pull folded letters from. The artwork tells an ethereal story of its own, and as Griffin travels from England and Sabine journeys from the South Pacific to finally come together for the first time in Alexandria at the fabled Pharos Gate, the obstacles they each encounter take a mystical turn. The immersive experience of this book can be enjoyed on its own or in conjunction with the six other books in the series. However it is read, Bantock's conclusion to the epistolary epic is beautiful and truly singular. Agent: Brenda Bowen, Sanford J. Greenburger Associates (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/29/2016 | Details & Permalink

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