Saturday, February 26, 2011

Genre Reading Group - Debut Novels

I really love debut novels. They often offer new stories and new perspectives in addition to a sometimes less polished writing style. I appreciate the slightly less glossy experience for the bravery and effort on the part of the new novelist. Some have published in arts journals, short story collections and anthologies, poetry publications, etc but that first novel length work of fiction, no doubt their baby for many a year, is truly a first outing. I don't claim to like them all, but I do appreciate each and every one because that is a person who doesn't sit around and say, as I do, "I really need to get started on that idea and write," but rather steps up to the keyboard and does the heavy lifting.

Consequently, it was with delight that I tallied the votes for the GRG's last round genre picks and saw that they wanted debut novels on the list! In doing a bit of cautious searching, I found that Paste magazine had posted a list of the top 10 debut novels of the decade, 2000-2009 and our library owned a copy of each and every one!
In case you thought we were kidding: the Nancy Pearl action figure set
One topic of discussion that got everyone talking was exactly how much of your time to give to a book you may be struggling with, or just to any book in general if you've got a lot to read. Former librarian Nancy Pearl (She even has an action figure, shown above! I have two, one with Deluxe Reference Desk!) offers her Rule of 50: if you are 50 or younger, give it 50 pages. Readers 51 and over subtract their age from 100 and that is the number of pages you should read before giving up should you be struggling through a book.

At the GRG meeting last week, members brought in a wide variety of books to discuss and our meeting lasted almost two hours! Read through our list and pick your next great read!

Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen

As a world-class equestrian and Olympic contender, Annemarie Zimmer lived for the thrill of flight atop a strong, graceful animal. Then, at eighteen, a tragic accident destroyed her riding career and Harry, the beautiful horse she cherished.

Now, twenty years later, Annemarie is coming home to her dying father's New Hampshire horse farm. Jobless and abandoned, she is bringing her troubled teenage daughter to this place of pain and memory, where ghosts of an unresolved youth still haunt the fields and stables—and where hope lives in the eyes of the handsome, gentle veterinarian Annemarie loved as a girl . . . and in the seductive allure of a trainer with a magic touch.

But everything will change yet again with one glimpse of a white striped gelding startlingly similar to the one Annemarie lost in another lifetime. And an obsession is born that could shatter her fragile world.

Gruen wrote a sequel to this book, Flying Changes. She is also the author of the New York Times best-selling Water for Elephants, coming soon to the big screen starring Robert Pattinson, Reese Witherspoon, and Christoph Waltz, and Ape House.

Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Once in a generation a novel comes along that taps a vein of universal human experience, resonating with readers of all ages. THE LOVELY BONES is such a book -- a #1 bestseller celebrated at once for its artistry, for its luminous clarity of emotion, and for its astonishing power to lay claim to the hearts of millions of readers around the world.

"My name was Salmon, like the fish; first name, Susie. I was fourteen when I was murdered on December 6, 1973."

So begins the story of Susie Salmon, who is adjusting to her new home in heaven, a place that is not at all what she expected, even as she is watching life on earth continue without her -- her friends trading rumors about her disappearance, her killer trying to cover his tracks, her grief-stricken family unraveling. Out of unspeakable tragedy and loss, THE LOVELY BONES succeeds, miraculously, in building a tale filled with hope, humor, suspense, even joy.

Peter Jackson directed the film adaptation to this book. One of our GRG members commented on one of the most interesting points of the book, personally: how families deal with grief. Our GRG member mentioned another book that handles this topic well, Judith Guest's Ordinary People.

The most talked about—and praised—first novel of 2007, and winner of the Pulitzer Prize.

Oscar is a sweet but disastrously overweight ghetto nerd who—from the New Jersey home he shares with his old world mother and rebellious sister— dreams of becoming the Dominican J.R.R. Tolkien and, most of all, finding love. But Oscar may never get what he wants. Blame the fuk├║—a curse that has haunted Oscar’s family for generations, following them on their epic journey from Santo Domingo to the USA. Encapsulating Dominican-American history, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao opens our eyes to an astonishing vision of the contemporary American experience and explores the endless human capacity to persevere—and risk it all—in the name of love.

This debut novel won a Pulitzer Prize! Well done Mr. Diaz! Those interested in reading more about the culture of the Dominican Republic might enjoy In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez. This book was adapted to film in 2001.

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
n 1899 Henry Oades discovers he has two wives -- and many dilemmas! In 1890, Henry Oades decided to undertake the arduous sea voyage from England to New Zealand in order to further his family's fortunes. Here they settled on the lush but wild coast -- although it wasn't long before disaster struck in the most unexpected of ways. A local Maori tribe, incensed at their treatment at the hands of the settlers, kidnapped Mrs Oades and her four children, and vanished into the rugged hills surrounding the town. Henry searched ceaselessly for his family, but two grief-stricken years later was forced to conclude that they must be dead. In despair he shipped out to San Francisco to start over, eventually falling in love with and marrying a young widow.

In the meantime, Margaret Oades and her children were leading a miserable existence, enslaved to the local tribe. When they contracted smallpox they were cast out and, ill and footsore, made their way back to town, five years after they were presumed dead. Discovering that Henry was now half a world away, they were determined to rejoin him. So months later they arrived on his doorstep in America and Henry Oades discovered that he had two wives and many dilemmas! This is a darkly comic but moving historical fiction debut about love and family, based on a controversial newspaper account from the early 1900s.

The GRG member who brought this book shared that it was almost based on a true story. An 1870's newspaper published the sad tale of the Oades but MUCH later the story was revealed to be false. Unfortunately, it had already made it's way into legal textbooks by that time! Read more about this story from the Inland Valley Daily Bulletin and The Museum of Hoaxes.

Bit by bit, the ravages of age are eroding Marina's grip on the everyday. An elderly Russian woman now living in America, she cannot hold on to fresh memories—the details of her grown children's lives, the approaching wedding of her grandchild—yet her distant past is miraculously preserved in her mind's eye.

Vivid images of her youth in war-torn Leningrad arise unbidden, carrying her back to the terrible fall of 1941, when she was a tour guide at the Hermitage Museum and the German army's approach signaled the beginning of what would be a long, torturous siege on the city. As the people braved starvation, bitter cold, and a relentless German onslaught, Marina joined other staff members in removing the museum's priceless masterpieces for safekeeping, leaving the frames hanging empty on the walls to symbolize the artworks' eventual return. As the Luftwaffe's bombs pounded the proud, stricken city, Marina built a personal Hermitage in her mind—a refuge that would stay buried deep within her, until she needed it once more. . . .

While not a debut novel, it was impossible for me not to think of David Benioff's City of Thieves. This fast-paced thriller is also set in occupied Leningrad but is about two unlikely allies who must find one dozen eggs to escape begin executed. It may sound amusing, but this cold, gritty novel is anything but comical.

In the small village of Edgecombe St. Mary in the English countryside lives Major Ernest Pettigrew (retired), the unlikely hero of Helen Simonson’s wondrous debut. Wry, courtly, opinionated, and completely endearing, the Major leads a quiet life valuing the proper things that Englishmen have lived by for generations: honor, duty, decorum, and a properly brewed cup of tea. But then his brother’s death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Jasmina Ali, the Pakistani shopkeeper from the village. Drawn together by their shared love of literature and the loss of their spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship blossoming into something more. But village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and regarding her as the permanent foreigner. Can their relationship survive the risks one takes when pursuing happiness in the face of culture and tradition?


Do you have a favorite first novel? Tell us about it here or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/emmetoneallibrary!

Happy reading!
Holley

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