"In A Land More Kind Than Home" — Harper Collins, April 2012, Hardcover $24.99
Wiley Cash has written a stupendous debut novel set in the evangelical darkness of North Carolina. Carson Chambliss, a snake charmer, ex-con turned evangelical preacher brings evil into the small town of Marshall along with adultery and tragedy. Grown up secrets are exposed turning the childhood world of two brothers upside down. Cash writes with a perfect voice of literary fiction, clear and precise and powerful.
"A Lady Cyclist's Guide to Kashgar" — Bloomsbury, May 2012 Hardcover, $26.00
With the green bicycle set against the snow covered Himalayas on the cover of Suzanne Joinson's book, you are transcended into a exotic world of far western China, isolated from most of the world but familiar with the cultures that collide there.
Two sisters, Eva and Lizzie, travel with the religious zealot, Millicent, to Kashgar as missionaries. Eva, however, is only traveling under the auspices of a religious calling and prefers to ride her green bicycle around the city looking for adventure. Millicent, meanwhile, brings Lizzie under her spell, taking her further away from her sister's care. Lizzie explains to their guest one evening how Millicent calls this "female approach to spread the Gospel...gossping the gospel. We infiltrate the female elements of society, the harems, the inside of the Moslem women's quarters and families and it is there that we begin the process of conversion. Slowly, but surely."
The novel opens with the three women assisting with a roadside birth, the mother just a child herself. When the mother dies in childbirth, the baby girl becomes their own, with Eva assuming the role of mother while Millicent stands by in disapproving control. Their actions get them in serious trouble with the local tribe and a bribe is required for their safety.
The other story within this novel is that of Frieda, a young woman living in London carrying on, rather tiredly, with a married dolt of a man who is a drunk. The relationship sours and Freida receives a letter stating that she is the next of kin to a Mrs. Irene Guy and has therefore inherited her apartment and its contents. Frieda has no idea who this hoarder of a woman was and why she is the next of kin. Her father is unhelpful and Frieda's mother has long since gone away. As the identity slowly unfolds with the discovery of a photograph, Frieda feels the pages of a multigenerational story begin to turn.
With quotes excerpted from Maria Ward's "Bicycling for Ladies," published in 1896, Joinson uses Eva's bicycle as a means of freedom to feed her appetite for adventure.
"The Lady's Cyclist's Guide" is a fascinating, entrancing debut novel that takes the reader to a part of the eastern world where most have never been nor even heard of. I had to look on a map to see where we were, and then wondered how one even transports a bicycle to such a far away land, to ride in the desert sands.
Joinson has taken her talent and in- depth knowledge of the lands and its culture and combined into a novel of a literary prowess that leaves the reader looking for more. I think in every woman there is a sense of adventure waiting to be tapped, whether you are Freya Stark, Anna Spafford, the enigmatic evangelist who founded the American Colony Hotel in Jerusalem, Amelia Earhart or just a woman who rides a green bicycle. In "The Lady Cyclist's Guide," Joinson brings to you the adventure and one where you cannot help but become entranced.
"Gold" — Simon and Schuster, July 10, 2012 Hardcover, $27.00
As with Little Bee, Chris Cleave has written a novel that encompasses love, compassion, tragedy through which emerges the goodness of mankind and the importance of friendship. One reads the pages of Gold like they were racing Kate and Zoe on the track of the velodrome—fast, unstopping, breathing hard until the next page where you have to hold your breath to see who wins the heat or to make sure Sophie is alive. Cleave injects some unexpected twists into Gold but never once do you suspect the truth until it hits you in your face. Emotionally stunning, brilliantly written… You will hold on for the ride."
Annie Philbrick is the co-owner of Bank Square Books in downtown Mystic; www.banksquarebooks.com.