A Grab Bag of New Writers
Posted by: Neil Hollands
I met with the staff book group at Williamsburg Regional Library yesterday. Our theme was new writers: authors on their first or second book.
Melissa started with a couple of young adult novels. Her favorite was Fairy Tale, by Cyn Balog. It’s a story of young lovers, a changeling past, psychics, secrets, and the pending tragedy of a forced separation. Melissa said she was caught up in a well-paced tale with surprising twists.
Barbara brought All Things at Once, a memoir by MSNBC morning show host Mika Brzezinski. It’s the story of an overachieving lifestyle brought into question by a scary fall down some steps that badly injured the newborn she held in her arms. Barbara particularly liked the story of the author’s unusual childhood. As the daughter of Carter-administration National Security Advisor Zbigniew Brzezinski and a sculptor mother, she had opportunities and encounters that most children wouldn’t dream of having.
Kathryn Stockett’s The Help has had so much exposure it hardly seems like a debut anymore, but Amy liked how it made her consider the conflict felt by black nannies and the white children they raised when the children came of age and were expected to distance themselves from their mother figures. Others chimed in, unanimous in the feeling that the book deserved its widespread attention.
Morag is a Scottish ex-patriate, so when she saw Late Late Show host Craig Ferguson’s American on Purpose, she had to give it a try. She could relate to many of his feelings as he came to the US in his twenties, returned to Scotland, then came back to America and became a US citizen. Ferguson also documents his various job in entertainment and addictions to alcohol and cocaine with lively dark humor.
Cela chose a fantasy debut by Liane Merciel. In The River Kings’ Road, a mercenary and a royal baby are the only survivors of a vicious magical attack that disrupts the fragile peace reached between two warring kingdoms. The mercenary finds a woman with a baby of the same age to nurse the royal infant. From this start, which echoes other epic fantasies, the plot took many twists that surprised Cela. She praised the gritty tone and shades-of-gray character development that left her fascinated with even the villains. She’s ready to continue Merciel’s series.
Gail wasn’t so sure about Alice I Have Been. Author Melanie Benjamin portrays the mild Oxford don Charles Dodgson (known to us as Lewis Carroll) as a pedophile and his muse Alice Liddell as a kind of lolita. Gail (and others of us in the group) dislike historical fiction that derives damning conclusions from incomplete historical evidence. We are concerned that some readers may mistake this book’s fictional account for incontrovertible truth, but the book did create some lively discussion!
My choice was Steve Hely’s How I Became a Famous Novelist. While it doesn’t hold together marvelously as a novel, the Letterman Show writer’s first novel has funny content on every page. Book lovers will finds dozens of knowing winks, nudges, and barbs aimed at bestselling authors who care about the bottom line more than the quality of their books. Hely’s author protagonist writes a book hilariously derivative of book group books, The Tornado Ashes Club, that should give real book groups plenty of laughs.
Cheryl was underwhelmed by Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, but found a gem in the nonfiction Flawless: Inside the Largest Diamond Heist in History. Scott Andrew Selby and Greg Campbell tell the story of of a ring of Italian thieves who made off with half a billion dollars worth of diamonds from the Antwerp Diamond Center in 2003. She was fascinated by the details of how they broke into one of the world’s most secure facilities, and then were caught by a small mistake exposed by a lucky coincidence. Cheryl’s a big fan of heist stories; when she gets this excited, it’s worth paying attention.
I love a discussion that is this diverse. The time races by, and as librarians, we love the chance to find out about so many new writers.