Being a bookstore owner has its challenges, but make no mistake: There are perks, too. One such perk is the gift of the advanced reader copy, or the ARC. We receive several of these from publishers each month, and most of them find their way to our free book bin in the shop, a case of so many books, so little time. But every so often, a publisher sends a review copy our way that we absolutely must save for ourselves. Last month, three ARCs made it on top of my nightstand.
Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Specht. I knew I’d have to read this book when I saw the main character’s name was Flannery (Flannery O’Connor, forever and ever, amen), but really, debut novelist Mary Helen Specht wove such a beautiful story, I was hooked from the beginning. Migratory Animals features Flannery, a young scientist returning to her hometown of Austin after years of research in Nigeria; Flannery finds herself torn between the two cultures, between the family of her blood and the family she created for herself in Africa. The book is a story of coming-of-age when you’re a 30-something, of family and friends and how we cope when faced with grief and growing up. I thought this book was well-written and slow turning; I found myself rooting for each character’s development, likeable or not. The book releases in January, and I think it will be perfect reading for a slow winter day. (For fans of The Explanation for Everything by Lauren Grodstein.)
The Bishop’s Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison. Set for release on December 30, The Bishop’s Wife is a suspenseful look at Mormon culture, patriarchy, and secrecy. I picked it out of the ARC pile based on the suspenseful premise: Linda Wallheim, the wife of a Mormon bishop, becomes increasingly troubled by the Mormon church’s secretive structure, especially when one cold winter morning, her neighbor appears on the her doorstep with his 5-year-old daughter, claiming his wife has disappeared. Unfortunately, that premise is more compelling than the book itself; the plot makes for page-turning material, but the writing feels lacking – a sort of Lifetime movie in book form. Check this one out from the library if you’re looking for a mid-winter suspense.
The Boston Girl by Anita Diamant. Here is the ARC I had been waiting for, and it releases in hardback December 9, in plenty of time to snag copies for holiday gift-giving. Diamant is the author of The Red Tent, a book I read years ago and loved, and her new novel, The Boston Girl, is already a favorite of mine for the year. Addie Baum is The Boston Girl, born in 1900 to immigrant parents, and the novel is written in the present, when 85-year-old Addie tells the story of her life to her twenty-two-year-old granddaughter, who has asked her: How did you get to be the woman you are today? The story develops over decades, reminding me a lot of the classic A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. I loved this one so much, I immediately mailed it to a friend – the ultimate compliment to any book, I think. Please add this one to your holiday reading list; it’s meant to be read during the winter months with a cup of tea and some time on your hands.
Yes Please by Amy Poehler. I finished September with Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl, and I finished October with Amy Poehler’s Yes Please. The book is well-written and sharp, different, though, from Dunham’s or Mindy Kaling’s or Tina Fey’s books, which I think is worth noting since those titles are often compared to one another (to the detriment of the authors, I think). Poehler’s book is hefty, both in size and, believe it or not, in substance. Yes Please is coffee table worthy, filled with pictures and paraphernalia from Poehler’s life; she’s also filled the pages with memories and advice. The stories from her SNL days and her Parks and Recreation family are the most compelling – Seth Meyers and Mike Schur both contribute – but her words of wisdom about life as a working mom (“Remember my motto: ‘Good for her, not for me,’” she writes) made me get out my highlighter in agreement. I know it’s early yet, but I suspect this will be on lots of holiday wish lists this year, and deservedly so. Yes Please is enjoyable, fun, and wise.