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During times like these we're grateful for the solace and escape of a great book. We're grateful also for your support. We hope you and yours are all safe and sound, and we hope you love these books as much as we do.
During times like these we're grateful for the solace and escape of a great book. We're grateful also for your support. We hope you and yours are all safe and sound, and we hope you love these books as much as we do.
(Flatiron Books, 9781250204028, $26.99)
"Imagine a world where almost all the animals have disappeared. Imagine a love strong enough to believe it can make a difference. In a fragile, near-future world, author Charlotte McConaghy gives us Franny Stone, a character as wild and broken as the few remaining Arctic terns she is determined to follow on what will most likely be their last migration. Franny's quest is as epic as Captain Ahab's, and while it leaves much destruction in its wake, it is ultimately a quest toward life. Migrations is a book so beautiful it will leave you breathless. Breathless with cold despair, and breathless with pulsating life and hope. This is a truly stunning debut."
|(photo: Emma Daniels)|
Independent booksellers across the country have chosen Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy (Flatiron) as their number-one pick for the August 2020 Indie Next List. Here, McConaghy discusses climate change, the migratory patterns of birds, and building a sense of place.
Where did the idea for this story come from?
It's hard to pinpoint exactly where the idea for Migrations came from because it came in so many tiny pieces at different times, but I can identify that it started to culminate in my mind when I went travelling some years ago. I went to live in the U.K. for a year, and I travelled around Ireland, a place I really love and feel quite connected to, and became the inspiration for my protagonist Franny's home. I also went to Iceland, which is an extraordinary place. I remember noticing these beautiful big geese, the Icelandic greylag geese. I felt connected to them because they had these sweeping, long journeys, and I felt a little like I was doing the same. It got me thinking about migratory birds and the people who study these birds, and that's maybe where the idea for an ornithologist character came from.
But the book also came from learning about the Arctic terns and their courageously long migration, and the forces of climate change that are making the journey harder for them each year. And it came from learning that humans have killed over 60 percent of the planet's wild animals in the last 50 years alone. This stark truth forced me to imagine the world without animals and how that might look and feel, which became the setting for Migrations.
How did you craft Franny Stone's character?
I wanted Franny to be like the birds she loves: migratory and roaming. I'm not a wanderer myself but we did move around a lot as a kid, so that by the time I was 21 years old I had lived in 21 different houses. I guess I know a little about what it feels like to be unsure where you belong, and this is one of Franny's defining struggles. She's someone who is wilder than most people, or at least more easily able to tap into that wildness. She doesn't feel ambition or greed; she is led through the world by instinct, which is a creaturely trait. She yearns for family and connection and it's this loneliness that leads her to make a family of the natural world. She's a character whom I got to know as I wrote her. She unspooled before me in ways I might not necessarily have expected. The losses suffered by the world are reflected within her; she's a woman who feels very intensely. Yet she's contradictory in nature: she wants family and love but her wandering feet and yearning for exploration force her to leave her husband over and over. Because she is so instinctive, I had to craft her using instinct. She's a lot of things I wish I was more of--brave and earthy--and also many things I'm glad I'm not.
Franny is on a quest to find and follow the world's last flock of arctic terns on their final migration. Why arctic terns specifically?
I really loved learning about these birds. I remember the wonder I felt when I learned that they have the longest migration of any animal in the world, from the Arctic to Antarctica and back again each year, so that in their lifespans they will travel the equivalent distance of to the moon and back three times. That seemed like an extraordinary distance, a journey that grows more difficult each year, as humans fish their waters to scarcity. They became a symbol of courage and hope for me, and seemed like the perfect choice for Franny to follow.
This story takes place in a number of different locations, including a ship called the Saghani and a women's prison in Ireland; Franny also reflects on her time in Galway and in Australia. Why did you choose these settings?
As far as the sea voyage, I was led by the logistical necessities. I looked at the routes the Arctic terns actually fly and I mapped a course for the Saghani based on that route, which, wonderfully, finished in Antarctica--one of my all-time bucket list places. As for Franny's life, the various locations I chose were simply places I love. I grew up on the south coast of Australia so it felt natural for Franny to spend her adolescence there. And I love Ireland, and always wanted to write a story set there, so that seemed natural, too.
What was your research process like for this book?
I spent a long time researching before I felt ready to start writing. It was quite a daunting idea, when I broke it all down and realized how very little I actually knew about most of what I'd planned to write! I needed to learn a great deal about what it was like to be on a fishing boat in open sea--a challenge for me, as I get very seasick!--and about oceans, currents, and fishing. I also needed to learn about ornithology, and Arctic terns specifically. I needed to learn about any of the places I hadn't been, such as Greenland, Newfoundland, and Antarctica. And, of course, I needed to learn more about climate change and the disastrous extinction crisis the world is facing. Though difficult, it was an amazing process and I feel very lucky to have been through it.
On the note of migration, the idea of leaving is a recurring motif through this story. Franny notes that this is a common trait in her family, but she also discovers it's a trait among those working on the Saghani, too. What drew you to this idea?
I was curious about the type of people who are drawn to life at sea; you would have to be comfortable with leaving any idea of a normal life behind in order to become a fisherperson. They're at sea for months at a time, they come and they go, I imagine it to be quite a transient life. And I was curious, too, about people who choose a life of roaming and exploring rather than putting down roots and finding a single place to stay. It struck me as a kind of untethered life, with great freedom to see and do and experience all they can. Perhaps more like wild creatures. There is no stillness in a bird's life; movement, for them, is survival. And this is true in some ways for Franny. But the burden for her is that she has always journeyed alone, which is why she takes to the crew of the Saghani so well--she has finally met people who are more like her.
The idea of leaving seems to be emphasized more than having a specific destination in mind. The characters are following ideas, people, or animals. Why did you decide to explore that distinction?
Sometimes life can feel like it has no destination. But the old adage is that it's the journey that matters, and as simple or as clichéd as that may be, I do think it's true. Franny has always felt like her life was an endless migration without a destination, and this is painful for her because she has little control over her need to be moving. She says in the book that it isn't fair to be a creature who is able to love, but unable to stay. It's this idea of leaving for the sake of leaving that compels her, and is so bewildering. But it's only by coming to understand that it's in her nature to wander--that this is okay, it's part of who she is and she doesn't need to be ashamed of it--that she can forgive and be at peace with herself.
Is there any one thing you'd want readers to take away from this book?
We live in a world now that's bombarded with dire threats and warnings, and we all feel some low-level anxiety about the state of our planet, especially when we also have to deal with governments that seem to be actively contributing to climate change instead of trying to fight it. Along with deep anger and fear around that, it also creates a combination of hopelessness and apathy in playing our part. It's hard not to detach when there seems to be no hope in sight, and the people who are meant to be steering us through this are burying us deeper in it. It takes a lot of inner strength to be optimistic in the face of that.
It was really important to me that despite the book embracing this bleak possible future, it was also hopeful. I created a character who'd lost all hope but, against impossible odds, is able to rediscover it. She's a woman who's dealt with unimaginable loss, but is able to find a way to see the beauty that still remains in the world. She's brave enough to pick up the fight that we haven't yet lost, and I hope that's what this book inspires readers to do. It's about trying to deny the pervasive fear that we are powerless. We're not powerless. We haven't yet lost the fight. We still have time and each one of us can make a difference.
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374194321, $26)"Luster centers on Edie, a young black woman working in New York publishing and barely making rent each month, who finds herself navigating a suburban white couple's open marriage. This novel is filled with unexpected turns taken at breakneck speeds. It seamlessly examines the plight of millennials living under capitalism along with the complications of intimacy and race, all while finding both the humor and profound sadness in those things. This is a multifaceted and brilliant book, as well as an extraordinary debut from Raven Leilani."
(Tor.com, 9781250313225, $26.99)"Harrow the Ninth is an exceptional second entry in Tamsyn Muir's Locked Tomb trilogy, which has quickly become a cherished series. The necromancy in this world is given even more room to flex its muscles as an integral part of the story. Muir's particular gift with language and her deft humor remain on full display. For all of the questions answered and curiosities resolved, I'm left desperate to know where we are headed next in this journey!"
(Riverhead Books, 9780525541608, $27)"I am staggered by the immersive, fluid, irresistible prose Emezi has perfected in their third novel, The Death of Vivek Oji. This tale follows the captivating, curious Vivek through the aftermath of his mysterious death, while simultaneously examining the people and relationships closest to him. Vivek, his cousin Osita, and a distant third-person narrator lead the reader through a grounded, lively picture of Nigeria, family and friendship bonds stretched to their breaking points, and the passing of this unique, complex young boy. Through addictive, multifaceted characters and a simply beautiful story, Emezi inspects masculinity, otherness, and love. This is one of the most magical, compelling, exciting, thought-provoking, and important books of our time."
(Tor.com, 9781250260499, $19.99)"I've never read anything quite like this book. The prose is confident--it's like an iron backbone on which strange and beautiful flowers grow. Jennings' use of syntax is utterly unique. Words that should bump and snap at each other instead morph and burst into unforgettable sentences. This is a... fairy tale? An allegory? A murder mystery? I'm not entirely sure. It doesn't matter. Trying to categorize this wonderful novel would be like putting a unicorn into a horse box. It wouldn't fit and the horn would shatter the wood. Best to leave it unbound and wild, admire it for what it is, and wonder at what it's not."
(Viking, 9781984877680, $26)"A brilliant mind-bender of a novel that uses different methods of storytelling to illustrate how storytelling creates different versions of truth (if truth even exists) and reality. Are we the stories we tell ourselves? Or do we become the stories that are told about us? This is the question True Story asks as it peels away layer after layer of the narrative. Part fever dream, part timely comment on sexual assault, and part psychological thriller, True Story will keep you turning pages and guessing until the genius, puzzle-completing ending. I LOVED this book!"
(Algonquin Books, 9781616209728, $26.95)"Jill McCorkle's latest novel, Hieroglyphics, tackles early loss and how its memory persists in the minds of those who experience it. McCorkle weaves the stories of four unassuming characters and their individual traumas into a braided cord of empathy, revelation, and survival. Her storytelling skill is in high gear in this quiet yet deeply insightful drama that will remain in the reader's mind long after the final page."
(Ecco, 9780062248572, $27.99)"Natasha Trethewey was 19 when her mother was murdered by her stepfather in 1985. For decades, she hid the event, and memories of her mother, in the recesses of her mind while she went on to win a Pulitzer Prize and become the Poet Laureate of the United States. Now, decades later, she opens herself up to her past to produce a harrowing yet beautiful memorial."
(St. Martin's Press, 9781250259042, $27.99)"Whoa! I am blown away by this book! A few wandering souls travel over time and space from the early 1800s to WWII in this truly unique story of love, struggle, and the desire to make things right. This book can be read two different ways: from cover to cover or in a page order mapped out at the beginning. It is a completely different reading experience depending on which way you choose. The atmosphere of Crossings is one of Sherlock Holmes written by a David Mitchell-esque character with a love for literature and Paris. This novel is beyond explanation--just read it!"
(Knopf, 9780525657606, $26.95)
"I loved Hamnet in very much the same way I loved Lincoln in the Bardo. This novel explores the way the dead haunt the living--especially how the death of a child haunts their parents--and does it in the context of a fascinating historical figure and time. But we know so much about the Lincolns, and so little about the Shakespeares. Maggie O'Farrell's ability to construct a palpably real emotional life for all the members of the Shakespeare family--but especially for Shakespeare's wife--is just magical. This is a powerful and haunting novel."
(William Morrow, 9780062975942, $27.99)"Cherie Dimaline's latest novel packs a wallop of a story. Absolutely stunning in every way, this latest offering follows the story of Joan, whose husband has disappeared, and her courage when confronted with truths and lies. She and her husband, Victor, live in a Métis community, close and tight knit. As Joan deals with the fallout of her emotions after Victor disappears, she comes across another man, Eugene Wolff, who bears her husband's face. He does not carry Victor's memories and insists he has no idea who Joan's husband is. Turning over rocks to find the truth, Joan reaches out to whomever she can in her community for help. What waits for her at the end of her quest is incredible. This novel will have you at the edge of your seat!"
(Bloomsbury Publishing, 9781635574678, $27)"In the waning months of WWII, as allied forces are closing in from both sides, the devastation of war has reached the Huber family as it struggles to stay intact. With an older son changed forever by the Eastern Front, a younger son heading out to the Western Front, and a husband growing increasingly nationalistic and senile, a mother keeps pushing forward with the hope of having her whole family back together under one roof. In this incredibly moving and personal look at the destruction of Germany that ultimately ended the war, Binder tackles a range of issues within countries and families. In the realm of historical fiction, The Vanishing Sky is a true standout."
(William Morrow, 9780062878441, $27.99)"Many people were involved in the creation of the atomic bomb in the mid-1940s, and Charles Fisk was one of them. Like many of those developmental scientists and engineers, Fisk remained deeply troubled and forever changed by the outcome of his efforts. This finely crafted love story--and a love story it is--weaves a well-researched history of the shrouded creation of the atomic bomb with the blossoming love of two people. Kiernan's work exposes a terrifying truth and renders a valuable education while pulling the reader into a fast-paced narrative of love and loss."
(Henry Holt and Co., 9781250755933, $26.99)"For an avid mystery reader, this book is deeply satisfying. Short stories are picked apart by a young editor and an older author who are looking for a mathematical standard to the classic detective novel. Each story depicts a variation of victim, killer, and detective, and contains clues to yet another mystery involving the author. Puzzles bloom within puzzles, and the final reveal...well, no spoilers from me, but it was unexpected in the best way!"
(Counterpoint, 9781640094161, $16.95, trade paper)"This book is about every sort of disaster that can happen: ecological, economic, social, moral, and even the unexpected. When Yona, a designer of 'disaster tours' for a travel company, is forced to go on a business trip to a remote island, she gets caught up with making a disaster of her own. This book brilliantly peels back the layers of ecotourism, capitalism, and all the ways we are complicit in creating catastrophes. A shocking, thought-provoking book that's also a great read."
(Doubleday, 9780385534871, $26.95)"I absolutely loved reading The Butterfly Lampshade. We're escorted through Aimee Bender's novel by Francie, who as a child is removed from her mother's care because of mental illness. Throughout the story, Francie questions her own sanity as she deeply believes she witnesses phenomena that defy nature. Increasingly, she withdraws from the world, owning next to nothing and working hard to remember the events of her life. This book and this amazing character are astonishing."
(Simon & Schuster, 9781982112981, $26)"The Bright Side Sanctuary for Animals is a story of struggle, relationships, understanding, and forgiveness. When a daughter is compelled to return to the home she ran from years earlier, she must confront the truth about why she left and whether all fences can be mended. Becky Mandelbaum weaves together all of the threads of this story until it becomes a beautiful tapestry."
(Avon, 9780062959928, $15.99, trade paper)
"I don't have enough superlatives to do this book justice. Everything is spot on, from the chemistry between the main characters to the telenovela drama to the meddling but supportive cousins. I love all the Spanish, the backstage glimpses into the making of a TV show (especially the inclusion of the intimacy coordinator), and the way the telenovela tropes, like a secret child, are woven into the grounded romance. Now I just hope Michelle and Ava get their own books soon!"
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374102098, $26)"Laura van den Berg's new collection of stories, one of the most unique I've read in recent years, navigates a space between the outer and inner world and takes unexpected turns that, like her novel, The Third Hotel, seem to bring in aesthetics of literature outside our time and place to tell stories that are very much grounded in our present. These stories are thrilling, timeless, and get better when you reread them. I've read 'Hill of Hell' more than five times by now."
(Algonquin Books, 9781616209988, $27.95)"Miracle Country is one of those books that takes on the personality of the place in which it's set, and in the case of the Owens River Valley, that personality is starkly beautiful and full of rugged vitality. Atleework's unflinching combination of personal and natural exploration is the perfect complement to the backdrop of the High Sierra, and she somehow manages to encapsulate both the allure and the contemptuousness of the mountains--and existence in general--through an examination of her own life. Harsh and brutal, resplendent and inviting, this book makes the Sierra Nevada tangible in a way that only great writing can."
(Harper Perennial, 9780062698179, $16.99)"Rene Denfeld has done it again: written a mystery that sucks you in and thoroughly absorbs you until you're done. We pick up the story with Naomi Cottle, who has been searching for the sister she left behind when she escaped the clutches of their childhood kidnapper. Haunted by guilt, her search leads her back to her hometown, where a number of young girls have been murdered. By chance or by fate, she encounters Celia, a 12-year-old girl living on the streets who may be the key to everything--including finding her sister and a rapacious killer. Heart-wrenching, thought-provoking, and utterly unputdownable, this really should be the gold standard for mysteries."
(Celadon Books, 9781250297464, $16.99)
"This book is extraordinary. In a small, empty beachside town after the season ends, a couple on their ill-planned honeymoon, slowly awakening to all the ways they can disappoint each other, stumble across a Gatsby-ish household of worldly beautiful people who embrace them wholeheartedly. The days pass in a glorious gin-soaked daze; erotic tension charges every encounter. Chip writes like James Salter, with a sense of a humor and a fuller appreciation and understanding of female desire. Moving, so gorgeous, and absolutely brilliant."
(Ecco, 9780063023345, $9.99)"Meet Cordyceps Novus, a highly adaptable fungus that just wants one thing: to take over the world. After being contained underground for 40 years, conditions are finally perfect for a comeback. Several floors above, two young night-shift security guards decide to track down the source of the mysterious alarm below. David Koepp's debut novel is both terrifying and humorous--a thrilling combination. After getting an inside look at the growth and spread of this fungus, I will never look at a mushroom the same way again."
(Vintage, 9780525563921, $16)"When is the last time a horror novel was both scary and charming? A Cosmology of Monsters is that book! Riffing on themes from H.P. Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury, Hamill weaves a complex tale of lost cities, haunted Halloween attractions, and doorways to other worlds. I really enjoyed this literary horror story, which starts out as a love story (don't ALL good horror tales?) and grows progressively creepier. The book posits the questions: Who are the real monsters, and why do we love to be scared? Truly an uber-creepy yet delightful homage. I loved it."
(Gallery/Saga Press, 9781534439870, $14.99)"Solomon is perfectly suited to expand the concept of a civilization of merfolk whose origins were born in the violence of pregnant African women sent to the depths from the vessels of white slave traders. The Deep focuses on Yetu, whose role as historian is to be individually burdened with six centuries of memories of all the wajinru (merfolk), and the consequences when she abdicates her responsibility. With shades of Hans Christian Andersen, Ursula Le Guin, and Lois Lowry, Solomon's short tome is, indeed, a deep read."
(Riverhead Books, 9780525541349, $17)
"Janina is an eccentric middle-aged woman who translates William Blake, studies astrology, and is acutely attuned to the wilderness around her in rural Poland. When hunters and poachers begin to be gruesomely murdered, Janina informs the police that the animals are responsible. As the bodies mount, so does her involvement with the mystery, although her status as a crank and possible madwoman ensures that she's ignored. This is an extraordinary and disturbing tale--a mystery that becomes more complex as the story continues, accompanied by Janina's often witty observations on man, nature, justice, and identity."
(Picador, 9781250619525, $18)
"This tale of the alchemy of immortality, of the quest for an elixir of life, is powerfully driven by a tension between the desire to transmute the nature of life versus a reductive drive to prolong it. The mutability of time and character suffuse the story, making 16-year-old Conrad's coming of age unexpectedly multi-layered and complex. If ever a book invited looking into the future, it is The History of Living Forever. I predict that it will have a long and glorious life."
(Simon & Schuster, 9781501132742, $17)
"Saeed Jones is supremely talented, so I expected his memoir to be great. I did NOT expect, however, to be left immobile in my chair after reading that final paragraph, processing the beauty of his words and those indelible sentences he's generous enough to share with us. How We Fight for Our Lives is a moving and intimate portrait of the writer growing up as a young, gay black man and trying to understand the complex realities of his identity. We also gain insight to Jones' relationship with his mother, a story that left me in pieces by the end. How We Fight for Our Lives is raw, difficult, and truthful, and completely stuffed with love."
(Anchor, 9781101971383, $16.95)
"Rarely is a book such an absolute feast--for the senses, for the intellect, and, above all, for the soul. Morgenstern dazzles in her latest novel, an intricately wrought tale populated by lovers, mystery, and sumptuous magic. The Starless Sea is an ode to book lovers everywhere, reanimating the excitement as well as the pure possibility felt when reading books like Harry Potter or The Lord of the Rings for the first time. I am reminded of the famous C.S. Lewis quote, 'One day, you'll be old enough to read fairytales again.' When that day comes, The Starless Sea will be waiting for you."
(Picador, 9781250619556, $17)
"From the first page of this debut novel set deep in Appalachia, we know that Stay and Fight is aptly named, for the way it explores the constant struggle of its characters to stay where they are while fighting for a better existence. ffitch expertly shows us the romantic, albeit brutally raw, reality of living off the grid (on one's own terms, most importantly), a feat she somehow accomplishes in the most modestly ambitious way. Stay and Fight is fantastic."
(Anchor, 9780525565482, $16)
"On the surface, Lisa Howorth's coming-of-age story follows a group of young friends in a sleepy suburb just outside Washington, D.C., through long lazy summer days punctuated by childhood adventures. Into this setting, where WWII is still a fresh memory for many and the Cold War is heating up daily, she introduces an international cast of supporting characters whose back stories provide fascinating context and drama. By providing the details of the adults' lives as seen through the boys' eyes, Howorth creates a larger story while keeping her eight-year-old protagonists front and center. It's a perfect balance. I loved it!"
(W. W. Norton & Company, 9780393358094, $17.95)
"I don't think there is a square mile of ground on this planet where Robert Macfarlane couldn't dig up a new, wondrous story. Underland continues the tradition of profound storytelling, reflection, and, quite simply, gorgeous writing we have come to expect from him. Macfarlane's ventures into the underworlds of our planet, both mythical and literal, may amount to his finest work yet, and not just because these are the places that have captivated me most throughout my life. I feel fortunate to be living at the same time as him, knowing that as long as he is writing, there is something to look forward to."