As any BookExpo veteran knows, there are generally two kinds of books: those that have big marketing budgets and everything else. "In that 'everything else,' " said Geoffrey Jennings from Rainy Day Books, "is where we make our bread and butter."
Sheryl Cotleur at Copperfield's in Northern California has been raving about Painted Horses, a debut novel by Malcolm Brooks (Grove, Aug.) for months--even before Winter Institute, where he was a featured author. Set in the 1950s, Painted Horses is the story of a young female archeologist who is paid by a utility company to travel to Montana and investigate the impact a planned hydroelectric dam will have on a valley considered sacred by native Americans (who also need jobs the project would bring) and populated with wild mustangs. She meets a painter who was part of a mounted patrol in the Italian Alps during WWII and hires a guide who happens to hunt mustangs. "The language is gorgeous, with poetic paragraphs," said Cotleur. "I really love it when books are this good and they are also a debut."
While it's not a debut, Lin Enger's The High Divide (Algonquin, Sept.) is also about a journey in the American West. Though he's often compared to his brother Leif, Jennings said Lin Enger has a "completely different style." Set at the turn of the 19th century, The High Divide is about two sons and their mother who go in search of their father, who inexplicably left their homestead on the Minnesota prairie.
Although Rafael de Grenade grew up in rural Arizona, where she started working as a ranch hand at 13, her nonfiction book, Stilwater: Finding Wild Mercy in the Outback (trade paper, Milkweed, June) is about her experience working on an abandoned cattle station in Australia. "It's almost like an essay on the nature of the land of Australia," observed Annie Philbrick at Bank Square Books in Mystic, Conn.
Booksellers appreciate how Europa Editions books often take readers outside of the U.S., and many are anticipating the third installment of Elena Ferrante's Neapolitan series, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay (Sept.). NPR's John Powers called the books, about two Italian friends who meet in girlhood and stay connected as they take different life paths, "one of modern fiction's richest portraits of a friendship." The New York Times, the New Yorker and the San Francisco Chronicle recognized My Brilliant Friend, the first in the series, for its literary merit. Europa's other buzz title is a fictionalized biography of E.M. Forester, also being released in trade paper, Arctic Summer by Damon Galgut (previously shortlisted for the Booker Prize).
Philbrick described Greer Macallister's debut novel, The Magician's Lie (Sourcebooks Landmark, Jan.)--about a notorious female illusionist--as "a little taste of The Night Circus, and a little salt of Water for Elephants." Philbrick also praised Lucy Atkins's debut thriller, The Missing One (already released by Quercus in the U.K. and being published here in February 2015), which is about a young woman's search for her deceased mother's past and her journey to British Columbia, where a gallery owner holds the key to many secrets and lies.
Vikram Chandra is perhaps best known for his novel Sacred Games, which was nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award, but in his day job he has been a computer programmer, a world he examines in his first work of nonfiction, Geek Sublime: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty (trade paper, Graywolf, Sept.). City Lights' Paul Yamazaki said Geek Sublime has "the trifecta of elegance, precision and passion."
From Houghton Mifflin Harcourt comes What If: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions, a first book by Randall Munroe, creator of the hugely popular webcomic xkcd. The publisher already has more than 30,000 preorders for the September book.
Hampton Sides (Ghost Soldiers) has a reputation among booksellers for making nonfiction read like a good novel. In his latest, In the Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette (Doubleday, Aug.), Sides takes readers into the world of sea exploration during the Gilded Age. Karen Abbott (Sin in the City) is another author who creates page-turning nonfiction out of historical fact, and her latest is Liar Temptress Soldier Spy: Four Women Undercover in the Civil War (HarperCollins, Sept.).
Fulcrum Publishing has Strange Fruit, Vol. 1: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, a graphic anthology written and illustrated by Joel Christian Gill (June). In his foreword to the volume, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes, "let the comic-book sellers have their mythic superheroes; through Joel Gill, we can have our own. But, instead of flying around in capes or spinning webs, the superheroes in Strange Fruit are extraordinary-ordinary black folks making 'a way out of no way.' The difference: they really lived."
Lena Dunham, creator of Girls, is one of the many celebrities with memoirs coming this year (Norman Lear, John Cleese, Neil Patrick Harris and Alan Cummings are also on that list); she is also filming a comedy for HBO based on the life of Betty Halbreich, whose memoir about how, as a divorced socialite, she became a Bergdorf Goodman personal shopper is titled I'll Drink to That: A Life in Style, with a Twist (Penguin Press, Sept.). A much sadder but equally poignant story is told in The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League (Scribner, Sept.), written by Peace's college roommate Jeff Hobbs, who had a rare perspective on his friend's struggle to balance two worlds and his tragic end.
Caitlin Doughty, a licensed mortician who writes for the Huffington Post, shares anecdotes from her world in Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Lessons from the Crematory (Norton, Sept.) "It's so wonderfully good and quirky--Six Feet Under meets Mary Roach," said Kathleen Caldwell from A Great Good Place for Books in Oakland, Calif.
Michele Filgate at Community Bookstore in Brooklyn said she is excited about an out-of-print essay collection that Tin House is expanding and re-releasing in paperback in November: Loitering by short story writer Charles D'Ambosio. "I hope it gets as much attention as The Empathy Exams [by Leslie Jamison]," said the bookseller. "People seem to be turning to essays again."
At Chicago's Women & Children First, Lynn Mooney noted that loneliness was at the core of the stories in a collection she praised, A Different Bed Every Time by Jac Jemc (trade paper, Dzanc, Oct.). "Dressed with the skin of murderers and victims, vapid teenagers and washed-up actresses, con artists and hope-filled children," Mooney said, the collection reminds the reader "we are all alone in the same way, and in this we can take comfort."
Most booksellers have their favorite indie presses to watch. Yamazaki has quite a few, and said Archipelago was a favorite at City Lights. In September Archipelago will publish Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga (previously published in French by Gallimard), a first novel set in an elite school for girls in 1970s Rwanda by an author who lost almost 30 family members in the genocide. --Bridget Kinsella
Our coverage of BEA Buzz books continues through this week. Check out Part 1: Debut Fiction and Part 2: Fiction Follow-ups.