Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • The Testaments by Margaret Atwood:  Is it possible to compose a satisfying sequel to a novel that’s become a modern classic? That’s a challenge in itself, but the difficulty goes up exponentially if said novel has also been turned into a blockbuster TV series. In her sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale (1985), which has outlined a near future in which women’s freedom had been completely curtailed, celebrated Canadian writer Margaret Atwood leaps these hurdles with Olympian ease. The Testaments is a crowd-pleasing page turner. Atwood leans in to the attractions of both her original novel, with its Scheherazade-style narration, and the TV series, with it resistance-minded heroine. The Testaments is told in the first person by three narrators, allowing for a more panoramic view of Gilead than the cloistered Handmaid Offred could provide. The voice that flows with the most relish from Atwood’s pen, and that will be most familiar to readers, is the Machiavellian Aunt Lydia. In Gilead’s patriarchal society, which categorizes women according to their function (Handmaids, for example, exist solely to bear children), Aunts are responsible for enforcing these roles. As a privileged member of an oppressed class, Aunt Lydia makes every decision with maintaining her status in mind.  The other two narrators are young girls:  one raised within Gilead’s walls by a powerful Commander and his wife, and the other raised in Canada as the child of Mayday resistance operatives. As their stories unfold, it becomes clear that the power to bring Gilead down may be in their hands. If a book must be groundbreaking to be a true classic, The Testaments can’t be ranked alongside its predecessor. Today, the divide between genre and literary fiction is more porous, and dystopian fiction is an established genre–in large part thanks to novels like The Handmaid’s Tale. But just as The Handmaid’s Tale was a response to the backlash against the women’s movements of the 1970s, The Testaments is equally of its time, drawing from contemporary politics in ways that resonate. Atwood remains a keen chronicler of power and the way status (or lack thereof) affects how it is leveraged, and seeing her explore that issue in Gilead once again is a pleasure. testaments
  • Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? by Caitlin Doughty:  “To my adorable future corpses,” reads the dedication to Caitlin Doughty’s Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs?: Big Questions From Tiny Mortals About Death. Doughty’s forthright but playful tone is apparent before you even get to the table of contents. Written as an answer book to all the questions Doughty has fielded from young and inquiring minds during her career as a mortician, author and death activist (more on that later), Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? is perhaps the most enchanting little book ever to discuss such matters as whether or not one’s body might explode if one’s final meal before being loaded into the crematorium included popcorn. Anyone with a child in their life will be unsurprised at the sorts of curious hypotheticals that are posed in this book, or at a hyper-focus on the ins and outs of the corpse. It is to her credit that Doughty not only answers those questions that would seem to fall easily within her area of expertise but dutifully chases down the science that might provide a plausible answer to the fate of an astronaut who slipped from this mortal coil while on a spacewalk. However, this book is by no means solely for death-curious children. Most if not all of the answers provided alongside the charmingly gothic illustrations will be news to the average adult reader, as well. In her career, Doughty has worked to rehabilitate a Western culture that has become death-illiterate through an increased outsourcing of the caregiving and rituals surrounding death. And as Doughty orients death as sometimes sad but normal, she touches on subjects that are of interest to adult readers who may be planning for end of life care, or helping someone else do so, such as eco-friendly, natural burial. Will My Cat Eat My Eyeballs? (which, yes, does include an answer to that question as well) provides answers to questions both humorous and moving, bringing tiny and full-sized mortals alike to a greater comfort with and understanding of the one transition that will happen to us all. will my cat eat my eyeballs
  • The Institute by Stephen King:  Stephen King’s The Institute is already drawing comparisons to a couple of his older works, Firestarter and It, as well as to the Netflix sensation “Stranger Things.” And with good reason–The Institute includes a ragtag collections of adolescents banding together against a common enemy, a shady organization exploiting children for their unique “gifts.” But whether King is chasing “Stranger Things” or “Stranger Things” is chasing King, the result is the same:  shocking suspense and hallmark thrills. In an unexpected move, King opens The Institute with a Jack Reacher-like drifter named Tim Jamieson, who takes a job as a “night knocker” with the sheriff’s department in rural Dupray, South Carolina. It’s more than 50 pages later before we meet the novel’s true protagonist, young prodigy Luke Ellis, whose parents are trying to get him into a prestigious school where his unique intellect will be challenged. But Luke’s world is shattered when he is kidnapped from his Minneapolis home in the middle of the night by a team of highly skilled special operatives. He awakens in a room made to look like his own, though the illusion stops at the door. Once outside his room, Luke finds himself in a strange facility somewhere in Maine. He soon learns he’s not alone, as other kids, ranging in age from 10 to 16, are also being held prisoner. King conveys Luke’s confusion, shock, hopelessness and grief in convincing and heart-wrenching fashion. The concept of family separation takes on an eerie weight here, with unsettling parallels between the events of the novel and real-life images we see on the news of kids huddled under silver mylar blankets in cramped cages at the U.S.-Mexico border. In a thinly veiled comparison to callous border patrol agents, Luke’s adult captors lack compassion and are often downright cruel. But King ramps up the cruelty even further, subjecting Luke to physical and mental abuse that, at times, readers may find hard to sit through. Luke and the other kids get slapped around, are forced to receive mysterious injections that cause convulsions and are nearly drowned in a sensory deprivation tank, all to awaken the kids’ latent telepathic or telekinetic powers. The kids are promised that, if they do as they are told, they’ll have their memories wipes and be returned home to their parents as if nothing ever happened. Good behavior is rewarded with tokens to purchase snacks or even alcohol and cigarettes. Kids can even buy time on a computer, though internet access is restricted. After gaining the trust and help of one of the Institute’s support staff, Luke makes a break for freedom. His escape brings him to South Carolina, where Tim Jamieson finally reenters the story just in time to aid Luke in a final confrontation with the Institute’s baddies. King makes no effort to hide his distaste for Trump, as he takes a direct jab at him in the book’s waning pages. Political leanings aside, The Institute offers a thrilling reading experience and rousing tribute to the resilience of children and the unending fight against evil. institute
  • Clear My Name by Paula Daly:  It’s evident from the first page of Clear My Name that Paula Daly’s heroine, investigator Tess Gilroy, is as adept at keeping secrets as she is at uncovering them. Between Tess and Carrie, the woman she’s trying to prove innocent of murder, we’re left with two narrators who are simultaneously sympathetic and also inherently unreliable. Add exquisite pacing and a plot with some real twists, and you have a recipe for a book bound to keep you up all night. A former probation officer, Tess is now the chief investigator for a group called Innocence UK that works to free the wrongfully convicted. Her latest case brings her back home to the small town she fled. She’s investigating the murder conviction of Carrie Kamara, a woman serving a 15-year sentence for killing her husband’s mistress. Many of the details surrounding Carrie’s case seem weak and the police work potentially shoddy, but Carrie was never able to account for how her blood was found in the victim’s home. That forensic detail was enough to see her incarcerated. Even as Tess digs into Carrie’s deeply trouble marriage and her complicated relationship with her daughter, we can sense her unease at being back home. Tess thinks she’s being followed, and she’s avoiding contact with someone from her past. The competing mysteries of Tess’ past and Carrie’s true involvement in the murder make Clear My Name feel tightly wound, with threads of paranoia woven throughout. Tess is used to false claims of innocence, and even as she is reluctant to believe Carrie, we know we also cannot trust Tess. Eventually Tess’ and Carrie’s narratives collide in a way that is genuinely shocking. The last quarter of this mystery doesn’t so much as unfold as it explodes; the tension is at a fever pitch and the final revelations are genuinely surprising. With a wonderfully executed mystery and two unreliable narrators, Clear My Name straddles the line between psychological thriller and good old-fashioned whodunit. clear my name
  • Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir:  Gideon Nav is not a Necromancer. She is not even one of their bodyguards, a Cavalier. So when her oathsworn enemy since childhood, the Reverend Daughter and Necromancer Harrowhark Nonagesimus, requires a skilled Cavalier to accompany her on her ambitious educational trials, brash swordswoman Gideon volunteers partially out of self-preservation, partially because of blackmail and mostly because she needs a free ride off of the planet of the damned she was raised on. Gideon and Harrow hail from the Ninth House, a dark realm fraught with bloodthirsty skeletons, fearsome nuns and crypts that house the living, dead and reanimated alike, where the haunted and actively haunting lay trapped, forgotten and rotting in the jet-black depths ruled by the iron fist of Harrow and her frightful ossified forces. Tamsyn Muir’s meticulous world building has created a realm where penitence and piety are prioritized above all else, traditions that acting leader Harrow has kept instituted to keep rabble-rousers like Gideon at bay. But for the fearless and free-spirited Gideon, who has yet to leave the Ninth House, remaining on the planet means the slow torture and inevitable death of her hopes and dreams, or she can risk a swift execution during her next escape attempt. On her most recent escape effort, Gideon’s plans are foiled by Harrowhark as usual, but this time she is offered an intriguing proposition–to escort Harrow on her journey to the First House to study towards Lyctorhood, a hallowed educational position for reputed necromancers of the Nine Houses. If Gideon accepts, she can finally leave the Ninth and its grimy ghouls behind, but she will be tied at the hip to her mortal enemy, posing as a professional cavalier in front of the rest of the Houses. If she declines, she will surely rot in the prisonlike Ninth until her death and beyond. Gideon thrives off-planet despite personal and professional challenges, practicing her swordswoman and adventuring skills and becoming accepted by the group of competitors as the solitary Harrow explores their lodgings, the mysterious and foreboding Canaan House. The girls are welcomed by Teacher, a priest of the First who is a little too lively and thrilled for the taste of the Ninth, as well as a fascinating and memorable cast of their competitors, including Dulcinea Septimus of the Seventh, whose alluring charm captivates Gideon immediately; the suspicious trio of the Third, comprised of twin sun-and-moon necromancers and a vain cavalier; and the repulsive, parasitic-like duo of the Eighth, a nephew-uncle combination who condemn followers of the Ninth as “death cult members.” So when the murders begin, it is only natural that the house most comfortable and familiar with Death itself should solve the mysteries that abound. Gideon the Ninth is worth every second of every spine-chilling page as the book moves seamlessly from science fiction to mystery-thriller and back again. The journey to Lyctorhood is soon revealed to be more nefarious and agonizing than a simple competition between Houses. The necromancer-cavalier teams realize they are stranded on the First, and things devolve into a battle royale reminiscent of Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None where only the strongest, bravest and smartest will endure. Gideon herself is a blazing beacon in this very dark world, where people are shackled their entire lives by tradition and fear–her extroverted nature and love for items like swords, girly magazines and an archaic pair of an item once called “sunglasses” reveal her passion for living in the moment and her open-mindedness to explore outside the parameters forced upon her by society. Compelled to accompany Harrowhark on several trials and tribulations, Gideon soon realizes that they might have more in common than she assumed, and that if they want to stay alive, they will have to move forward from the past and work together, and that maybe, just maybe, she could have had a friend–or more–all along during their dark days in the Ninth. Muir’s attention to numerology, wordplay and symbology here is beyond impressive. Each of the Nine Houses is painstakingly constructed, from their unique Necromancer personalities to the abilities of their Cavaliers and priests. The story takes place mostly in the First House, yet readers will feel familiar enough with the other realms that they can imagine the entire cosmos that Muir has created at her fingertips. Gideon is no stranger to Death, but when faced with the constructs of fear, loss and grief, she soon learns what is truly important to her in life, and that while new endeavors mean an inevitable end, endings can also mean a new beginning.   gideon the ninth
  • Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson:  Jacqueline Woodson, who is completing her stint as National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, returns to her beloved Brooklyn for her second novel for adults, Red at the Bone, which explores the effects of an unplanned pregnancy on an African American family. The story opens in 2001 at a coming-of-age party at a Brooklyn brownstone. Sixteen and outfitted in her mother’s lace dress with a matching corset, garters and stockings, Melody plans to enter the party to an instrumental version of Prince’s “Nikki,” much to her grandparents’ discomfort. But there’s another catch to both the day and the dress. At 15, Melody’s mother, Iris, was pregnant and unable to wear the carefully made dress. Iris’ own coming-of-age birthday was left unmarked, and after her dismissal from private school, the family opted to move to another part of Brooklyn where they could also join a new church. But despite the shame and disruption of baby Melody, Iris was determined to move forward, ultimately getting her high school diploma, enrolling at Oberlin College and moving, almost permanently, out of Melody’s life. Over 21 brief chapters, Red at the Bone, which draws its title from the romantic feelings Iris has for another woman at Oberlin, moves backward and forward in time, examining the effect Melody’s birth had on each character, from her disappointed but loving grandparents to her devoted father and his resolute yet fragile mother. Along the way, the reader learns more about the history of the family’s losses, from 9/11 to the Tulsa Race Riots of 1912. Kin and community have always been of primary concern for Woodson; her National Book Award-winning memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, explored her own childhood transition from Ohio to South Carolina and then New York. Her books combine unique details of her characters’ lives with the sounds, sights and especially music of their surroundings, creating stories that are both deeply personal and remarkably universal. Though Red at the Bone lacks the cohesion of Woodson’s previous work, this lyrical, lightly told coming-of-age story is bound to satisfy. red at the bone
  • Sontag:  Her Life and Work by Benjamin Moser:  Perhaps no writer of the late 20th century has been more mythologized, or lionized, than Susan Sontag. Beautifully written and moving, Benjamin Moser’s Sontag:  Her Life and Work reveals with illuminating clarity Sontag’s ceaseless quest to understand and be understood; her often arrogant and condescending manner, even to those closest to her; and her attempts to use art to fashion herself into the iconic figure she became in life and death. Drawing deeply on hundreds of interviews with Sontag’s family and friends, as well as on materials in Sontag’s restricted archives and her published and unpublished writings, Moser traces her life from her childhood and youth, to her years at the University of Chicago, and throughout her attempts to distance herself from reality by aestheticizing it in her critical essays and fiction. Sontag’s father died when she was 5, and her mother remained distant, so she retreated into books. “Reading gave Susan a way to recast reality…When she needed to escape, books lets her close the door,” Moser writes. Looking back on her childhood, Sontag revealed a theme in her journals that defined her entire work and life:  “I grew up trying both to see and not to see.” Moser’s close readings of Sontag’s writings–from her earliest essays (“Notes on Camp,” “Against Interpretation”) to her failed novels (The Benefactor) and her successful ones (The Volcano Lover, In America)–reveal the theme of language’s relationship to reality. For Sontag, “language could console, and how it could destroy.” Alongside his elegant readings, Moser delves into the rocky relationships that resulted from Sontag’s inability to be alone–from her son, David, to her lover, Annie Leibovitz, to artists such as Jasper Johns and Joseph Brodsky. Sontag may have been our last public intellectual. She cast her intense gaze over art, literature, film and politics, boring into her subjects with a steely vision that revealed the many facets not only of those subjects but also of herself. Moser’s monumental achievement captures the woman who, among other things, “demonstrated endless admiration for art and beauty–and endless contempt for intellectual and spiritual vulgarity.” This brilliant book matches Sontag’s own brilliance and finally gives her the biography she deserves. sontag
  • The Dutch House by Ann Patchett:  The Dutch House confirms what we’ve always known:  Ann Patchett doesn’t write a bad book. Though the settings may differ (Bel Canto took place in South America, Commonwealth in Southern California and elsewhere), each of Patchett’s books tells a compelling, vivid and imaginative story while offering a deep meditation on human nature. The titular mansion is located in the Elkins Park section of Philadelphia. It was once owned by the VanHoebeeks, whose imposing portraits are still hanging on the walls when an aspiring real estate developer buys it after World War II. He brings with him his two children–Danny, 3, and Maeve, 7–and his wife, Elna. The house, which has fallen into disrepair, comes complete with furniture and a servant, Fluffy. Elna is horrified by the extravagance of the property and her husband’s wealth, which he’d been keeping a secret. She starts to disappear, first sporadically, then permanently. Left with their emotionally detached father, the children find that things can only get worse. In true fairy-tale fashion, a wicked stepmother and her own kids move in. Danny (the narrator) and Maeve are displaced from their home when their father suddenly dies and leaves them both almost penniless. An unshakable bond forms between the brother and sister as they survive and strive, pining for their lost home and enraged by the women who took it from them. Along the way, Patchett’s knack for aging her characters over many decades serves the story well. The Dutch House is a vast, almost preternatural property, and the characters who have, at one point or another, inhabited it are at the heart of this absorbing tale. It’s fitting and inevitable that the home eventually beckons them back.   dutch house
  • The Water Dancer by Ta-Nehisi Coates:  Hiram was born into “tasking”–what Ta-Nehisi Coates calls slavery in this beautiful, wrenching novel–but he has always stood slightly apart from the other people who are “Tasked” on the Virginian estate called Lockless. The son of an enslaved woman named Rose, Hiram learned early in life that his father was the Lockless master, Howell Walker. Although Hiram worked in the apple orchards and the main house, he had something the other Tasked would never dream of:  lessons from the Walker family tutor. But the lessons were no gift. Howell Walker’s plan was to prepare Hiram to spend his life caring for his older half-brother, Maynard, the charmless, dull heir to Lockless. A naturally smart child, Hiram subdued his thirst for knowledge. “I knew what happened to coloreds who were too curious about the world beyond Virginia,” he says. Driving Maynard home one night from the horse races, Hiram is thinking of nothing but his “desire for an escape from Maynard and the doom of his mastery. And then it came.” Hiram doesn’t know why a strange mist comes up off the river or why the bridge falls away, revealing his long-gone mother dancing. He later learns this is Conduction, the rare ability to transport oneself on the power of memories. It’s a prized skill that recruiters on the Underground Railroad hope Hiram will put to use for their cause. They move him to Philadelphia, where he is shocked to see for the first time people of all colors mingling freely. He works to harness his gift of Conduction, while still feeling the pull of his people who have been sold and scattered throughout the South. The Water Dancer confronts our bitter history and its violence and ugliness, which still resonate generations later. Coates’ fierce, thought-provoking essays on race composed We Were Eight Years in Power and the National Book Award winner Between the World and Me. Here he weaves a clear-eyed story that has elements of magic but is grounded in a profoundly simple truth:  A person’s humanity is tied to their freedom. “Breathing,” Hiram says. “I just dream of breathing.”   water dancer
  • The World That We Knew by Alice Hoffman:  Alice Hoffman is a brilliant weaver of magic and the mundane, as many of her novels have proven over the years. In her hands, a story we think we know, from a time we think we’ve extracted every possible detail, can become a soulful new voyage into the heart of the human condition. With her latest novel, The World That We Knew, Hoffman travels to a hidden world built amid the horrors of the Holocaust and brings forth a spellbinding tale of love, loss and what it means to endure. Hoffman’s story begins in 1941 in Berlin, where a young Jewish mother, Hanni, knows that she must find a way to smuggle her daughter, Lea, out of the city before the Nazis take notice of her. To do this, she turns to a rabbi for mystical help, only to discover that his daughter, Ettie, is more willing to help Lea through magical means. Ettie, working from knowledge she’s gained through observing her father, crafts a golem they call Ava to guide and protect Lea. Thus begins an unlikely and harrowing journey through France, where Ettie finds a new purpose, Lea finds her soul mate and Ava finds that she’s much more than a single-minded creation. In beautifully precise prose, Hoffman chronicles the experiences of these characters and those whose lives they touch along the way. Throughout the next three years of the war, each woman tries to survive while also pursuing her own process of self-discovery. Through Nazi-occupied France is an endlessly compelling place to many readers, Hoffman never takes her historical setting for granted. Rather than leaving us to lean on what we think we know, she weaves a fully realized version of the hidden parts of history, chronicling the stories of people who slipped through the cracks on their way to freedom and the emotional toll that freedom took. Page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, The World That We Knew presents a breathtaking, deeply emotional odyssey through the shadows of a dimming world while never failing to convince us that there is light somewhere at the end of it all. This book feels destined to become a high point in an already stellar career.   world that we knew
  • Immortal Born by Lynsay Sands (e-book):  Lynsay Sands immerses readers in the complex and exciting world of bloodsucking vampires in Immortal Born and leaves them breathless for more. The 30th book in the Argeneau series, Immortal Born introduces us to Allie Chambers, who is in a predicament. Allie has promised to raise and protect her friend’s son who has an insatiable appetite for blood. As Liam grows, so does his hunger, and Allie decides to take a desperate chance to give him what he needs. When her plan to rob a blood bank to feed her growing son goes awry, Allie is suddenly introduced to one of the most handsome men she has ever met:  Magnus Bjarnesen. As Allie may be Magnus’ potential lifemate, he’s not sure what surprises him more–the amount of danger Allie and Liam are in, or how badly he wants her. Sands’ effortless character creation leaves no stone unturned as she spells out the sprawling world of the immortals and their history. With this modern take on vampire lore, Allie and Magnus become as believable and relatable as any other romantic leads. Allie is a modern-day heroine thrown into the confusing world of immortals. Readers will have no trouble identifying with Allie as she faces difficult choices and displays a refreshing, no-nonsense attitude toward survival. When faced with the ultimate choice to protect Liam, and put her heart on the line in more ways than one, Allie weighs the options with a clarity and relatability that comes from thorough character building. Magnus and his family of vampires, who prefer to be called immortals, are warm and inviting when his and Allie’s worlds are thrown together. Readers will revel in Sands’ expert, slow build of the couple’s chemistry as Allie finds herself more curious about Magnus with each passing day, and as Magnus struggles with his own desire. The intimate moments between these two characters make this book shine and romantic sparks fly. Immortal Born is a take on the vampire genre grounded in emotional realism that allows readers to imagine themselves in the characters’ shoes with ease.    immortal born
  • Beverly, Right Here by Kate DiCamillo:  Sometimes characters continue speaking to their creators long after their books have been published, prompting authors to write unplanned follow-ups. Grateful readers will reap ample rewards in Kate DiCamillo’s Beverly, Right Here, the last in what has unexpectedly become a middle grade trilogy, which began with Raymie Nightingale and continued in Louisiana’s Way Home, about three irrepressible girls who meet at baton-twirling lessons in Lister, Florida, in 1975. This installment, set in 1979, features the tough-as-nails, eye-rolling Beverly Tapinski, who is now 14. Following the death of her beloved dog, Beverly decides she’s had enough of life with her drunken mother and leaves, hitching a ride to nowhere with a good-for-not-much-else cousin. A big-hearted older woman named Iola welcomes Beverly into her trailer. Beverly slowly builds an anchoring friendship not only with Iola but with bullied, brilliant Elmer, who is about to leave for Dartmouth on a full scholarship. Life with a ragtag bunch of strangers becomes much better but is still hardly perfect as Beverly, who hates fish, ends up working in a fish restaurant and eating tuna melts every day. A tormentor named Jerome lurks on the sidelines, and Beverly desperately misses Raymie and Louisiana. DiCamillo’s genius is her ability to create such worlds without ever sugarcoating their gritty realities. “People were terrible to other people. That was the truth,” Beverly realizes. Yet amid life’s injustices, a fish restaurant waitress repeatedly urges Beverly to always dream big, and a cook named Doris stages a sit-down strike for better working conditions. In the end, although Beverly realizes she can’t run away from her past or her neglectful mother, she learns that she doesn’t have to be held back by either one. Instead, she can seek her own springboards to happiness. As Iola says, “Oh, I’m glad I needed you. I’m glad you needed me.” DiCamillo has described her trilogy as being about “becoming” and “the power of community.” Drawing each girl’s story with subtle yet bold strokes, DiCamillo delivers novels that feel both beautifully spare and deeply rich. With lovely reminders of the angels who help us all find our way in this sometimes unbearable world–as well as the enduring power of stories, kindness, hope and surprising possibilities–Beverly, Right Here completes DiCamillo’s superb trilogy, which is destined to remain a classic.   beverly right here
  • The Topeka School by Ben Lerner (e-book):  Late in The Topeka School, Ben Lerner’s brilliant new novel, a character asks, “How do you rid yourself of a voice, keep it from becoming part of yours?” Voice is one of the central themes of this ingenious work that also serves as a commentary on the current political climate. One of the book’s three narrators is Adam Gordon, the protagonist of Lerner’s debut novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. When Adam was 8, he suffered a concussion that left him with migraines so severe that his speech became slurred. Now, in the late 1990s, Adam is a Kansas high school senior and a fierce debater who has taken part in national tournaments. Adam’s story makes clear that communication as well as voice–how people communicate or don’t, from debaters to therapists to anti-gay Reverend Fred Phelps and his Westboro Baptist Church–are as integral to the story as Adam and his parents, Jonathan and Jane Gordon, psychologists at an institute called the Foundation. Jane is the author of a bestselling book that some women have told her saved their marriage. Because of its success, Jane has received abusive phone calls from men, especially after her “Oprah” appearance, as well as harassment from Phelps and his crowd. Jonathan, meanwhile, struggles with his wife’s success and with his own fidelity. He left his first wife after he met Jane, and now with Jane’s career on the rise, he begins to have feelings for Sima, another Foundation psychologist, who is also Jane’s best friend. In the midst of these stories is that of Darren Eberheart, Adam’s classmate, who has committed a violent act that will have ramifications for the people around him. The importance of speech in the novel let’s Lerner comment on the state of politics, from glancing references to some people’s inability to decode irrational arguments to more direct critiques, as when he writes of a legendary debater at Adam’s school whose right-wing Kansas governorship would become “an important model for the Trump administration.” “How do you keep other voices from becoming yours?” is a key question of our time, or, for that matter, any era. The Topeka School provides no clear answers, but it memorably demonstrates how hard it can be to recognize insidious utterances for what they are.   topeka school
  • Aurora Blazing by Jessie Mihalik (e-book):  Jessie Mihalik returns to her science fiction romance series with Aurora Blazing, as a noblewomen with secrets plays cat-and-mouse with her family’s security advisor. Bianca von Hasenberg is a woman with a lot to hide. Widowed under mysterious circumstances, Bianca fully leans into “mourning” her late husband, which grants her freedom from the strict Consortium courtly etiquette. Though she plays up the air-headed, materialistic royal role, Bianca has been cultivating a network of spies and complex digital connections for collecting intel. But her biggest secret is that she was her scientist husband’s guinea pig, and now has a modified mind and body that intercept communication signals from nearly everyone. Security Director Ian Bishop is a no-nonsense man who is loyal to the von Hasenberg family, though Bianca’s habit of sticking her nose into things where it doesn’t belong is often his biggest source of frustration. When Ferdinand, Bianca’s older brother, is kidnapped and Bianca is framed as a traitor, Ian is tasked with keeping her locked away. When she escapes, Ian chases Bianca across the galaxy as she searches for answers and Ian does his best to keep her out of harm’s way. Sci-fi romance is a relatively small subgenre and Mihalik’s imaginative series about the bonds of family amid scheming power plays feels like a refreshing sip of water after a long drought. The romance is tense, as Bianca and Ian both prefer to ignore whatever feelings they share. And with an intergalactic conspiracy as a backdrop, there is no shortage of action to rival the sizzling banter between the main couple. Bianca is an impressively strong heroine, given what she’s overcome both in childhood and marriage. The survivor she’s built herself to be is, well, totally awesome. She doesn’t need a blaster or superb fighting skills to get out of a tough situation. Instead, Bianca relies on her many connections and useful knowledge to gain the upper hand. And for romance readers who prefer the strong, silent type, Ian Bishop ticks all of the boxes. His sense of honor and duty is everything to him, but when pesky things like love get in the way, Ian must finally address how far he’ll go for his employer and his mission. Aurora Blazing is a standout, memorable book that oozes crossover appeal. Prefer action and adventure? One spaceship heist coming up! Find court intrigue and politics to be irresistible? Two ruling houses are at war, with a third desperately trying to remain neutral. Sucker for a happy ending? Well, it’s a romance, so there’s definitely that. Mihalik fills the void for every Star Wars fan who wished the franchise had more kissing.aurora blazing
  • The Fountains of Silence by Ruta Sepetys (e-book):  In her stunning new novel, New York Times bestselling author Ruta Sepetys, author of Salt to the Sea and Between Shades of Gray, turns her attention to a period rarely (if ever) covered in American young adult literature: 1950s Spain under the rule of Francisco Franco.  The first part of The Fountains of Silence takes place in Madrid in 1957, as Sepetys follows four young people who are all trying to set the course for their futures through alternating chapters narrated in third person. Rafa must deal with blood every day in his job at a slaughterhouse, but blood is a part of his past as well. He is tormented by the memory of his father’s murder—which he and his sisters, Julia and Ana, witnessed firsthand—at the hands of “the Crows,” Franco’s guards. Ana, Rafa’s sister, is now a maid in a hotel and dreams of leaving Spain. She is drawn to a guest at the hotel named Daniel, a young white man from Texas. Daniel wants to be a photojournalist, a dream his father, a Texas oilman, is sure Daniel will outgrow. The fourth and final character, Puri, works with babies at a Madrid orphanage—some of whom may have been stolen from their parents. The novel depicts these characters’ lives, loves and often-difficult decisions as their paths intertwine. The second part of the book revisits all four characters nearly two decades later, when Daniel returns to Madrid after Franco’s death on November 20, 1975, and discovers a shocking secret. In an author’s note, Sepetys traces her interest in Spain to a trip she took while on a book tour, where she met readers fascinated by the past—a past that was often both hidden and painful. “I discovered that Spain is a classroom for the human spirit,” she writes. A 2011 article about the Spanish Civil War and its aftermath drew her further into the country’s history. (For readers interested in learning more, the novel includes a substantial bibliography as well as a glossary.) With The Fountains of Silence, Sepetys has once again written gripping historical fiction with great crossover appeal to adult readers, combining impeccable research with sweeping storytelling.   fountains of silence
  • Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson (e-book):  We already replace knees and lenses and hips with superior mechanical parts. We can implant devices to augment our abilities, from delivering insulin to stimulating the heart to beat. What happens when we can replace the whole body? Such is the question at the heart—or maybe CPU—of Jeanette Winterson’s FrankisssteinThe mechanics of the story are a bit convoluted to sum up in the space allotted, but try to follow along. In alternating chapters, four stories run parallel, one of them in the distant past (the summer of 1816, to be precise) and three in the present. The first tale is a (more or less) straight recounting of the circumstances surrounding Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley’s creation of Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus. The other three take place in contemporary society and concern a cryogenics facility in Arizona, a young transgender doctor who is mesmerized by an artificial intelligence specialist named—get this—Victor Stein and a recently divorced boor who has perfected a robotic sex doll. In many ways, though, the story is just a pretext for extended meditations on the meaning of love, the meaning of life and the coming “singularity,” in which consciousness can be uploaded like so many data points to be retransferred to a previously frozen human body or to a “more human than human” replicant à la Blade Runner.Surprisingly, it’s the sexbot engineer who poses some of the most cogent practical questions surrounding the possibility of cryogenic revival, including this one on inheritance: “Actually I was about to say, you can’t take it with you, but maybe you should! You drop dead. All your relatives spend the money, then bingo! You’re back! Then what?” Of course there are deeper concerns as well: What happens to the soul in the interregnum between death and reanimation? How do you love someone “forever” when forever is, quite literally, forever? What does gender mean in a replicant body . . . or no body at all? Much like its spiritual predecessor, B.F. Skinner’s 1948 novel, Walden Two, Winterson’s book occasionally sets up straw men to knock down, but also like Skinner, she may turn out to be more prophetic than she, or we, imagined.frankkissstein
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Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • Alexander the Great by Anthony Everitt:  Greece. Bulgaria. Turkey. Syria. Lebanon. Israel. Egypt. Iraq. Iran. Afghanistan. Pakistan. In only a dozen years, Alexander the Great created an empire that encompassed large parts of what are now these 11 countries. It still seems a staggering feat–even more so now, when the United States has been fighting a war in just one of those countries for 18 years and counting. Every age since the young Macedonian king’s death at age 33 in 323 B.C.E. has come with its own interpretation of his exploits. As author Anthony Everitt notes, to one respected historian in the 20th century, Alexander was the perfect English gentleman; to another, he was the prototype of a totalitarian dictator. Of course, he was neither:  He was a man of his own time and place. In Alexander the Great: His Life and His Mysterious Death, Everitt, an expert storyteller, has written a riveting narrative that restores Alexander to his own context–and takes a whack at solving the remaining mysteries. Did he kill his father? Was he straight or gay? Visionary or winging it? Genius or lucky? Big-hearted or a violent drunk? And the ultimate question: What–or who–killed him? Everitt marshals the facts and makes his case. Along the way, he takes us on a spirited passage through the ancient world, from the Balkans to South Asia, with effective explanations of battles and sieges and a useful description of the ordinary Greek soldier’s experience. One conclusion is incontrovertible:  Alexander was a military strategist of rare talent, defeating larger armies by brilliantly analyzing their deployments and seizing the initiative with aggression and deceptive tactics. He was helped enormously by the disciplined army that his late father (and victim?), Philip, left him. Everitt is particularly perceptive about the impact of Alexander’s charismatic parents, as well as the snake-pit royal court where he was raised. Alexander left no dynasty, but he did change the Middle East for centuries. And we still remember him more than 2,000 years later. That would have pleased him.   alexander the great
  • Sapphire Flames by Ilona Andrews (e-book):  Ilona Andrews draws the reader seamlessly into the depths of a highly detailed, endlessly fascinating world in Sapphire Flames. The first in a new trilogy in Andrews’ Hidden Legacy series begins with Catalina Baylor as the newly minted Head of her House. Even though she’s a Prime mage with intense, unique abilities, she and her family work small investigation jobs. As a Siren, Catalina can persuade someone to do just about anything. But the longer she uses her magic on them, the more extreme their love for her will become–to the point that they will try to rip her apart to have pieces of her for their very own. When Catalina’s friend asks her for help discovering who killed her mother and sister, Catalina is faced with one of her most difficult challenges yet. To make matters worse, her teenage crush, the mysterious Italian Prime Alessandro Sagredo, is somehow involved. Readers will enjoy the lively banter and simmering attraction that Andrews adds to each of their scenes. Husband-and-wife team Andrews are known for their bold world building, and their originality shines as mages, magical creatures and assassins come alive in modern-day Houston. Andrews paints a clear path for the reader’s imagination to follow, describing the details of everything from government structures to the choreography of a fight scene. Alessandro and Catalina’s interactions, both steamy and confrontational, are full of witty dialogue and relatable inner musings. Catalina navigates the obstacles of her role and the dangers of her magic with a frankness that allows the reader to imagine themselves in her very shoes, magic aside. And her reactions to Alessandro’s cheeky commentary showcase the potential couple’s snappy chemistry. Andrews makes space for new readers, ensuring they don’t lose their way as they follow the mystery and romance that dazzles on every page, all the way to Sapphire Flames’ gripping conclusion.   sapphire flames
  • Quichotte by Salman Rushdie:  Some stories are eternal, and while writers don’t necessarily repeat them word-for-word through the generations, they are capable of crafting compelling echoes that evoke both the time we’re in and the universal emotional constants of humanity. Evoking that sense of universality becomes more difficult when you’re telling a story that’s an open homage to one of the most famous and influential works of literature in human history, but in his insightful and wickedly funny way, Salman Rushdie pulls it off with Quichotte. A retelling of Don QuixoteQuichotte follows a man who, on a quest to win the heart of a daytime TV star, has redubbed himself “Quichotte” (pronounced “Key-shot“) and committed his life to the pure pursuit of what he calls “The Beloved.” To aid him in his quest, he imagines a son called Sancho, and the two journey together on a road trip through a half-imagined, enchanted version of the American landscape, staying in  hotels where the TV is always on. Quichotte and Sancho’s story is woven through a metanarrative, as Rushdie reveals that their story is actually being imagined by a man who writes spy novels under the pen name Sam DuChamp. DuChamp and Quichotte’s stories are both, in their ways, tributes to Cervantes’ epic quest for love and acceptance, full of journeys to redemption and understanding in a world that seems to have gone mad around them, and it’s in this metafictional journey that Rushdie’s already witty and precise prose really comes alive. By structuring Quichotte as a narrative within a narrative, he’s given himself an inventive way to say something about a world obsessed with everything from reality television to hacktivism. Quichotte is a story of breathtaking intellectual scope, and yet it never feels too weighty or self-serious. Like Cervantes, Rushdie is able to balance his commentary with a voice full of tragicomic fervor, which makes the novel a thrilling adventure on a sentence-by-sentence level and another triumph for Rushdie.   quichotte
  • The Ungrateful Refugee by Dina Nayeri:  In 1988, when she was 8 years old, Dina Nayeri and her younger brother fled Iran with their mother, a doctor, who had received death threats from the government’s moral minders because of her activism as a Christian convert. They went first to Dubai, then were refugees in Italy before being granted asylum in the U.S. and arriving in Oklahoma. In her well-received second novel, Refuge, Nayeri wrote a fictionalized account of her experiences. In The Ungrateful Refugee:  What Immigrants Never Tell You, her first work of nonfiction, Nayeri offers a searing, nuanced and complex account of her life as a refugee and of the experiences of other more recent refugees from Syria, Iran and Afghanistan. The stories are terrifying, disheartening, sometimes uplifting and definitely worth reading and meditating on. One of the most illuminating sections of the book is called “Camp.” In 2017, seeking to revisit her own experiences of exile, Nayeri volunteered in a refugee camp in Greece, where she served and talked to many refugees. It wasn’t all bleak. “People think of a refugee camp as a purgatory, a liminal space without shape or color. And it is that. But we kept our instinct for joy,” she writes. Still, it was a place of soul-destroying indignity and waiting. Refugees aren’t allowed to work. They’re not welcome at local schools. Young men entertain themselves by fighting. Then there are the government bureaucracies that certify some refugees’ stories as “believable” enough for asylum and others not so much. Through her narrative, Nayeri makes vividly clear the Catch-22 of the process, especially for those asylum-seekers who are poorer, less educated and more desperate. Nayeri is not really an ungrateful refugee, as her title suggests. She writes about how as a youth she was driven to excel in order to escape her identity as a refugee. She went to Princeton, Harvard and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. But, as she points out, refugees are expected to be grateful in ways that deny their experience of loss, of leaving a place or a family they deeply love. In Oklahoma, for example, Nayeri realized that her education in Iran had been far better and more rigorous than her classes in the local school. Yet she was expected to say everything here was better. It wasn’t Nayeri is neither a journalist nor a polemicist. She’s a storyteller who invites our moral engagement. She doesn’t write directly about the situation at the U.S. southern border, but an engaged reader will certainly infer the stark human costs of our current official attitudes and policies.   ungrateful refugee
  • The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott:  Debut author Lara Prescott’s parents gifted her with a gold mine. First, she was named after a character in her mother’s favorite book and movie, Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago. Then in 2014, her father sent her a newspaper article about how the CIA secretly helped publish and distribute editions of the novel in the late 1950s, using it as political propaganda to try to turn Russians against their government. Prescott spent years researching this bizarre saga, ultimately turning her knowledge into richly imagined, thrilling historical fiction. The result, The Secrets We Kept, uses multiple narrators to deftly show how this drama unfolded on opposite sides of the world. Readers learn how Pasternak came to write Doctor Zhivago, a Nobel Prize winner that his government refused to publish, and how his mistress Olga Ivinskaya both inspired parts of the novel and helped get it published outside the Soviet Union, despite unimaginable costs to both herself and her children. As Prescott’s fictionalized Ivinskaya explains, “I was the person who ushered his words out into the world. I became his emissary.” Readers also take a deep dive into the clandestine world of literary spycraft through a host of characters, including a pool of female CIA typists (who occasionally serve–quite delightfully–as collective narrators). Several of these women are spies, like Sally Forrester and newcomer Irina Drozdova, whom Forrester trains. In addition to the sheer drama of the situation, the historical details and office politics are intriguing. Think “The Americans” meets “Mad Men,” with a dash of Soviet literature. Indeed, this is a whirlwind of storytelling. With a bevy of themes that include the monumental power of words and literature, governmental attempts to suppress citizens and craft political propaganda, women’s ongoing struggle for equality, and the suppression of gay and lesbian rights, this novel could have easily become either heavy-handed or perhaps confusing. Never fear, because in Prescott’s supremely talented hands, the result is no less than endlessly fascinating, often deliciously fun as well as heartbreaking. The Secrets We Kept is a dazzling, beguiling debut.   secrets we kept
  • The Grammarians by Cathleen Schine:  Identical twins Laurel and Daphne Wolfe, both named for the same minor Greek goddess, shared everything:  a womb, a language known only to themselves, the red hair that set them even further apart from their peers (only 2% of the world’s population are gingers, less than the 3.3% that are twins). They also share a love of English that (and they would adore the irony) cleaved them together as much as it cleaved them apart. Long before their first adolescent stirrings, the pair fell head-over-heels for words. Daphne amassed rare ones (rebarbative, hendiadys, aposiopesis) in her notebook, the same way other kids collect sea glass or baseball cards. Laurel looked them up in their father’s massive Merriam Webster’s Second Edition. They played with words, quarreled over words, used words as both rapier and armor. Author Cathleen Schine is a keen student of both language and families, and The Grammarians calls to mind the likes of Nora Ephron or Joan Didion. It’s not every verbal stunt pilot that can bring a mid-novel excursus about the differences between Webster’s Second and Third editions to a safe landing. As for the sisters, Schine renders a note-perfect portrait of how shared DNA can foster a ferocious internal rivalry, while it renders the pair nearly impervious to attack from the outside world. When the big rift does descend, it’s a proxy war but devastating nonetheless:  prescriptive grammar versus descriptive, Fowler’s Dictionary of Modern English Usage versus The Chicago Manual of Style. Daphne’s somewhat hectoring grammar column, “The People’s Pedant,” has found a modest but passionate audience, and it puts her on the obverse side of a coin with sister Laurel, whose poetry celebrates the authenticity of those for whom grammar doesn’t really exist. Words are exchanged, but fewer and more rarely. As they say, the reason that our families can push our buttons is because they’re the ones who installed them. The big question becomes whether there is a dictionary sufficiently large and complex to contain the words that Laurel and Daphne need to build a bridge back to one another, or whether they will remain like their identical DNA, a double helix whose twin coils never really meet.   grammarians

Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • The Cruel Stars by John Birmingham:  A good space opera can be many things. It can be funny or deeply philosophical. It can be touching, and it can be gory. John Birmingham’s latest novel, The Cruel Stars, balances all of those things, making readers laugh out loud even as it pulls them through an intergalactic battle for the soul of humanity. Hundreds of years ago, humanity faced a terror like no other: the Sturm, a cultlike subculture bent on exterminating any human with genetic or cybernetic modifications. After a bloody and  hard-fought civil war, the Sturm were forced to retreat. Because they weren’t hears from for hundreds of years, many thought the Sturm had to be extinct. That is, until they suddenly executed a system-wide, coordinated attack designed to cripple both human defenses and the enhancements of any “impure” humans. Led by a group of space pirates, a young military officer, a princess, a convicted criminal and a war hero, those who survived the initial onslaught must make a stand. Their mission? Drive the Sturm back before they can carry out their goal of system-wide purification. The Cruel Stars showcases Birmingham’s remarkable mastery of scope. In just a few short chapters, he manages to paint (and then proceeds to destroy) a complex, flawed and deeply interesting version of human civilization. The grandness of this vision could be overwhelming. How, after all, can five point-of-view characters hope to encompass the entirety of a civilization or of a war? The simple answer is that they can’t, so Birmingham doesn’t try. Instead, he focuses his attention on a single planet and the Habitation satellites surrounding it. Instead of a grand, sterile view of the war, he creates a claustrophobic nightmare–well, as close as you can get to a nightmare and still have jokes. Despite the admittedly disturbing drive behind the Sturm’s crusade, The Cruel Stars manages to be deeply funny. In fact, it’s probably because of the disturbing potential consequences of the Sturm’s religious zeal that the humor works. Jokes about overly literal rhino men and space Nazis act as comic relief, breaking up the tension and letting Birmingham’s characters and universe shine. If you aren’t a fan of gore (or if you just don’t like your humor and your gore to mix, then The Cruel Stars might not be the right book for you. But for readers who loved the frenetic pacing of the first few episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” or the gritty realism of A Song of Ice and FireThe Cruel Stars needs to make its way to the top of your reading list! cruel stars
  • The Reckless Oath We Made by Bryn Greenwood:  Bryn Greenwood’s quirky, page-turning love story, The Reckless Oath We Made, is mesmerizing from its opening pages to resonant end. Zhorzha Trego, called Zee, lives with her sister, LaReigne, and nephew, Marcus. She works as a waitress and makes weed runs for extra cash to pay their never-ending bills. Zee suffers from chronic pain from a motorcycle crash, and at physical therapy she meets an oddly chivalrous young man named Gentry. She doesn’t think much of him, even though LaReigne calls him Zee’s stalker. Gentry is an aircraft builder with autism spectrum disorder who speaks in Middle English and hears voices. One of the voices, the Witch, tells him that one day Lady Zhorzha will need a Champion. Ever since, Gentry has been checking in on Zee, waiting to serve his lady. While volunteering at the local prison, LeReigne is kidnapped by two white supremacists, and Zee’s life is flipped upside down. When Zee and Marcus are swarmed by journalists in front of Zee’s mother’s house, Sir Gentry steps in, thrilled to finally be of service. Zee accepts his help reluctantly, embarrassed by the state of her mother’s home even in the midst of chaos. Zee’s mother is a reclusive hoarder; Sir Gentry calls her a dragon. When the police come up short in their search for LaReigne, Zee is still determined to find her missing sister, and Gentry’s deep code of honor mandates that he follow her to whatever end. Chapters told in Gentry’s melodic, medieval voice are hypnotic and haunting, and Zee’s chapters provide an exciting contrast. The Reckless Oath We Made illuminates a life of struggle in middle America and examines how incarceration, poverty and mental illness affect families for generations. reckless oath we made
  • Middle England by Jonathan Coe:  As Brexit throws Britain into another protracted turmoil, Jonathan Coe once again turns his talents to documenting the state of the nation. Middle England‘s authenticity lies in its characters–reintroduced from The Rotter’s Club and its follow-up, The Cloud Circle–now in late-middle age, with grown children of their own, grappling with a country more divided than ever. Like the previous works in this series, Middle England covers a lot of ground. It moves swiftly from the election of the coalition government in 2010 to the riots of 2011. The 2012 Olympics gives us a feel-good respite of multicultural pride, but that’s quashed by the 2016 referendum and its subsequent fallout, ending in 2018. Though each chapter revolves around the storyline of its many characters, if there is a central protagonist it would be Benjamin Trotter, the focal point of Coe’s earlier works. He is now single, living in a Shropshire Mill House and toiling over a novel that has spiraled out of control. His sister, Lois, is in a dysfunctional marriage, and her daughter, Sofia, is a university lecturer who has embarked on an unlikely romance with a driving instructor, who is in thrall of his mother and her far-right views. There are many other funny and fascinating characters, too:  Sofia’s gay Sri Lankan best friend, Sahan; Charlie, a boyhood friend of Benjamin’s who is now scratching out a living as a clown for children’s parties; and Doug, another old friend, now a political journalist with his own faltering marriage and activist daughter. Middle England is a hilarious, nuanced and well-observed novel that keeps the pages turning while leaving a smile on readers’ faces.    middle england

Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • City of Windows by Robert Pobi:  There are shades of Jeffery Deaver’s Lincoln Rhyme in quadriplegic forensics consultant Lucas Page, protagonist of Robert Pobi’s standout thriller City of Windows. Page is not quite as physically challenged as Rhyme, but as a result of a shooting some 10 years ago, he is burdened with the loss of an arm and a leg, as well as the loss of sight in one eye. Once a crack FBI field agent, Page has retreated into an academic life. And then something rattles his peaceful post-FBI existence: the assassination of his former partner by a sniper’s bullet, a seemingly impossible shot fired from a rooftop during a blinding snowstorm. Page reluctantly agrees to come out of retirement to help with the investigation of the shooting. His almost three-dimensional grasp of velocities and trajectories borders on the uncanny, and he is thus uniquely suited to the task at hand. Unfortunately, the shooting is only the first in a series of virtually impossible sniper shots targeting a member of the law enforcement community. The tension ratchets up for the reader just as it does for Page as he and his loved ones find themselves in the crosshairs. Pobi has written five other books, but this is his first thriller. It would seem he has found his calling.   city of windows
  • Inland by Tea Obreht:  It’s been eight years since Tea Obreht’s debut, The Tiger’s Wife, became an instant literary bestseller. Her new novel, Inland, set in the American West at the end of the 19th century, has a similarly sweeping grasp of history, telling a boldly imaginative story of two characters bound together by their relationships to the dead. Wife and mother Nora Lark lives in an unincorporated Arizona town struck by drought. When Inland opens, her husband is out searching for potable water and her two older sons have disappeared, leaving her alone with her youngest son, Toby, and her husband’s 17-year-old cousin, Josie, known for her psychic powers. Both Josie and Toby swear the homestead is being menaced by a mysterious beast, and between the young cousins’ growing hysteria and the lack of drinking water, Nora is at her wit’s end. But how can Nora doubt their claim when she herself carries on a daily conversation with her daughter, Evelyn, who died of heatstroke as a baby? Outlaw Mattie Lurie has only the dimmest memories of childhood and the Muslim religion in which he was raised before coming to the United States. Surrounded by death for most of his life, Lurie encounters ghosts at every turn. Orphaned young, he did whatever he could to survive and, after killing a man, remains on the run. When Lurie meets up with a traveling caravan of camels and their drivers who are working for the U.S. Army, he feels a personal connection to their leader, Hi Jolly, and throws in his lot with theirs. Obreht mixes the fictional with the factual in the same effortless way she mixes the magical with the real, the beast with the human. Inland is based, in part, on the true history of the use of camels in the Southwest after the Mexican-American War significantly expanded America’s borders. Though the novel could have benefited from some streamlining, the final chapter in which the paths of Nora and Lurie finally cross is a brilliant prose poem on the interrelationship between the living and the dead, between memory and loss.  inland
  • The Last Good Guy by T. Jefferson Parker:  The title of T. Jefferson Parker’s The Last Good Guy refers to its protagonist, private investigator Roland Ford, who is indeed a good guy, albeit one beset by troubles. But his latest case seems pretty straightforward, at least at the outset. A teenage girl has run away, an action not inconsistent with her wild nature, and her elder sister is anxious for her safety, especially since the young girl has a 20-year-old boyfriend who is a decidedly unsavory character. But rest assured, an author the caliber of Parker will not spin a simple tale of a runaway. Instead, there is nuance upon nuance, misdirection upon misdirection, including a celebrity evangelist, the aforementioned unsavory boyfriend, an enclave of neo-Nazis and a client whose motive for finding her sister may not be exactly as she represented it. As is typical for Parker’s novels, the stage upon which the story unfolds is a microcosm of today’s America, with racism and intolerance, the escalating struggle between conservatives and liberals and the pervasive influence of megachurches and the politics espoused therein. As is also typical of Parker’s novels, it is a mighty fine read. last good guy
  • The Bitterroots by C.J. Box:  C.J. Box’s latest thriller, The Bitterroots, follows a family that redefines the word dysfunctional:  the Kleinsassers, longtime ranchers and influential denizens of remote Lochsa County, Montana. Private investigator Cassie Dewell, on retainer with a local law office, has been tasked with the defense investigation of family black sheep Blake Kleinsasser, who has been credibly accused of the rape of his 15-year-old niece. It’s pretty much inevitable that his investigation will not end well, as there is quite a bit of enmity among the family members, and no resolution to the case will be satisfying to all the players. The evidence is compelling, with a positive ID from a DNA sample and Blake’s statement that he cannot remember any of the events of the night in question. Yet when Cassie ramps up the investigation, she is stymied at every turn by the Kleinsasser family, to the point of being jailed on trumped-up charges. Clearly someone is invested in derailing the investigation and seeing Blake put away for a very long time, irrespective of his guilt. Box is in top form here, gilding his reputation for finely crafted suspense novels of the New West–a place you wouldn’t necessarily want to live but that is endlessly intriguing to read about.   bitterroots
  • The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal (e-book):  In Elizabeth Macneal’s debut sensation, an aspiring artist traverses the fine line between destruction and creation. In 1851 London, Iris works long hours in a doll-making studio. Trapped into an apprenticeship beside Rose, her unhappy twin sister, Iris plots to build a new life in which she is free to paint while Rose runs her own shop. Iris also hopes to gain a position stable enough to help the toothless street urchin Albie, who sews doll clothes for the studio and becomes like a little brother to her. When up-and-coming artist Louis offers to give Iris painting lessons–in exchange for her modeling for a painting he wants to enter into the Great Exhibition–she feels that she’s one step closer to making her plan succeed. But little does Iris know, a lonely taxidermist named Silas has his own designs for her. Chapters interweave like the finest lace, as Iris, Rose, Albie, Louis and Silas each take a turn in the spotlight. They are trapped in an intricate web of desire and obsession, the passions that can make or break art. Iris risks stability in her desperation for artistic freedom, Rose’s chronic regrets pull her away from Iris, and Albie wants a new set of teeth so badly he almost betrays his benefactress. While Louis rebels against the academic standards of the time, depicting fleeting moments in his pre-Raphaelite paintings, Silas is dead-set on preserving his specimens for all time. Does art break down or build up ideals? Or both? London’s splendor as well as its squalor come alive in visceral detail, and Macneal’s attention to artists’ processes spans the extremes from ecstatic joy to macabre revenge and everything in between. The Doll Factory isn’t just inspired by the Victorian era; it takes Thackeray’s social satire and Rodin’s natural forms and molds them into a stunning portrait of a modern heroine. doll factory
  • The Oysterville Sewing Circle by Susan Wiggs:  Caroline Shelby’s life has been turned upside down. First, scandal destroys the promising clothing designer’s budding career in New York. Then, Caroline’s close friend dies suddenly, leaving her the legal guardian of her friend’s two young children, Flick and Addie, a task for which she feels totally unprepared. With nothing to keep her in New York, Caroline drives cross-country with her two grieving charges to Oysterville, Washington, the hometown she left years earlier and to which she never envisioned returning. There, she finds her family and town both familiar and changed. She must also face her first love, Will, who married her then-best friend, Sierra. Returning to the fabric shop where she discovered her love of design, Caroline slowly begins to rebuild her life and career and even discovers her mothering skills. She also assuages her guilt in failing to help her late friend by creating the Oysterville Sewing Circle, a group for women who’ve experienced abuse. With The Oysterville Sewing Circle, Susan Wiggs tackles the painful subject of domestic violence in a life-affirming way. While Wiggs doesn’t shy away from addressing abuse in its myriad forms through the stories of the women in the sewing circle, a central theme of this novel is the healing power of family and community, and especially women supporting one another. Furthermore, as a resident of one of the Puget Sound islands, Wiggs writes with an intimate knowledge of the area, which makes her fictional town of Oysterville come alive on the page. Readers will long to visit and meet her characters in the local shops. Author of over 50 novels, including the Lakeshore Chronicles, Wiggs has written another compelling novel that will grab readers’ hearts, hold their attention and leave them with a sense of hope.   oysterville sewing circle
  • Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center:  Some people work to live, but Cassie Hanwell lives to work. Her job as a firefighter–and an extremely good one at that–gives her a sense of purpose that nothing else ever has. With grit and unwavering determination, Cassie has worked her way up the ranks of the Austin, Texas, fire department, earning the respect and admiration of her male colleagues. She’s even the first woman to win the department’s prestigious Valor Award. But on the evening of the award ceremony, an impulsive decision, triggered by an encounter with a blast from her past, may jeopardize everything for which Cassie has worked so hard. With her career on the line, Cassie agrees to transfer to an old-school fire department on the outskirts of Boston, where she’ll have to prove herself to her new squad, who have made it clear that there’s no room for a “lady” in their fire station. The only person who doesn’t ignore her or treat her with outright hostility is a fellow newcomer, known as the Rookie, who proves to be a different kind of problem–because Cassie decided a long time ago that she would never fall in love, no matter how considerate or attractive or good a cook he might be. There’s no way her career can survive another scandal, but as she spends more time with the Rookie–and begins reconnecting with her estranged mother–Cassie can’t help but wonder if she should let her past go up in flames and make room for something new. Katherine Center’s latest novel is an emotionally resonant and deeply satisfying love story that features a resilient and courageous heroine with legitimate traumas and obstacles to overcome. Center is a pro at creating characters that readers will root for every step of the way. While Cassie’s happy ending is never truly in doubt, she puts in the work to get there, and it feels well-earned and richly rewarding. Hopeful and heartwarming, Things You Save in a Fire is a moving testament to the power of forgiveness and love’s ability to heal, even in the face of life’s worst tragedies.  things you save in a fire
  • The Swallows by Lisa Lutz (e-audiobook):  Lisa Lutz’s new novel, The Swallows, is fast-moving, darkly humorous and at times shockingly vicious. The battle of the sexes within its pages couldn’t be more compelling. The book opens as teacher Alexandra “Alex” Witt reluctantly begins a new role at the prestigious Stonebridge Academy, a boarding school in Vermont. Alex isn’t one of those teachers whose passion for the profession overrides all else. She doesn’t hate it, but she doesn’t love it. After losing a similar position following a scandal at her previous school, she’s just happy to be employed at all. She doesn’t hate or love her students either, although they would be easy to hate after one of them hides a dead rat in her desk on the first day of class. Alex responds by assigning them five questions: What do you love? What do you hate? If you could live inside a book, what book? What do you want? Who are you? What she gets in response is both surprising and mysterious. Many of the anonymous responses cite something called the Darkroom. It’s not long before Alex begins to match the students to their replies and discovers the school’s secret hierarchical pecking order, ruled from the top by a group of students known as the Ten. Student Gemma Russo quickly emerges as the second most important voice in the story as Alex convinces her to stand up for herself and the other girls on campus against their male counterparts, resulting in a wildly creative and hilarious episode. Lutz delivers a frantic, morbidly funny story about what happens when girls are no longer willing excuse bad behavior as “boys will be boys.” swallows
  • The Warehouse by Rob Hart (e-book):  Reading The Warehouse is a kind of nightmare. Its near-future dystopia seems startlingly plausible; the split-narrative structure goes round and round like a Lazy Susan; and Rob Hart’s prose feels as densely claustrophobic as the living conditions he has constructed for the disenfranchised millions now working for the Warehouse, the hideous corporate giant (read: Amazon, a few clicks down the road) that has so benevolently, inevitably and horribly rescued the world’s ruined economy. The novel doesn’t even bother with character development. Why should it? The only thing that matters in this book is the vastness of the nightmare. For this purpose, cardboard will do just as well as flesh and blood. The three main persons in the story (I want to call them “assets”) would literally rather die than be developed. First, there’s ordinary poor sod Paxton, who can’t pay his bills, so he gets on the bus to one of the Warehouse’s mega-centers, passes the entry exam and starts his job as a security officer, color-coded uniform and all. Second, there’s the smart, anti-establishment terrorist Zinnia, who also passes the exam and decides to enlist Paxton’s help to get the dirt on the Warehouse and bring it down. And then there’s the third figure of Hart’s novel, the only one who speaks to us in first person: Gibson, the founder and supreme leader of the Warehouse. It’s Gibson who transcends the book’s cynicism. As an up-to-date incarnation of the beatific, ruthless redeemer archetype, Gibson elevates The Warehouse to the zone of indispensable satire and dark spiritual inquiry, the space where Dickens, Kafka, Orwell and Koestler reign. These titans of the genre have shown us what it looks like when evil wears the mask of goodness, how it feels when our salvation asks us to abandon all hope and what happens to us when the shining light of progress becomes an all-consuming darkness. I hope they don’t make a movie out of  this book. It’s already impossible to wake up from. warehouse

Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • The Lager Queen of Minnesota by J. Ryan Stradal:  While the condition generally known as “Minnesota Nice” might seem to imply an unmitigated kindliness, it is more aptly described as passive aggressiveness made palatable by a virtually transparent veneer of civility. This is not to say that hearts of gold fail to beat beneath that veneer, but it might take an ice drill–or a clever wordsmith–to bust through the permafrost. In The Lager Queen of Minnesota, J. Ryan Stradal ventures back into the kind of kitchen that made his debut, Kitchens of the Great Midwest, a success–and from there into the ever-evolving world of beer culture. Early on, the reader gets the sense that sisters Edith and Helen Magnusson were not particularly close during their youth, and that condition is dramatically exacerbated when their inheritance favors one over the other. Hopscotching back and forth between the sisters’ stories over the years, Stradal lays out the triumphs and tragedies that have kept the siblings apart, as well as the story of the granddaughter/great-niece who might be their bridge to reconciliation. Elder sister Edith comes across as an archetype of Midwestern sense and sensibility: modest, hard-working, self-deprecating, stoic and just a bit too straight-laced to enjoy life to the fullest. When her pies are touted in the press as the best in the state, she regards the ensuing notoriety as a distraction, if not an impediment. Helen, on the other hand, plays grasshopper to her sister’s ant and revels in her ability to transform her parents’ estate into a brewery that markets “the second-bestselling Minnesota-brewed beer in Minnesota.” Her husband, in a moment of inspiration, crafts the tag line that propels the brand to stardom: “Drink lots, it’s Blotz.” But as fans of Falstaff, Rheingold, Schmidt, Esslinger’s, Jax and others have ruefully noted, chilled and frothy heads oft turn warm and flat, and the fictional Blotz goes plotz. With decades of silence and unspoken resentment separating Edith and Helen, it may take something stronger than a stein of stout to reunite them, and Stradal artfully keeps the suspense brewing for over 300 pages. With apologies to McCann-Erickson’s wildly successful campaign for Miller Lite (you know the one: “Tastes great, less filling”), this book tastes great, is quite filling and never bitter.  lager queen of minnesota
  • Gravity Is the Thing by Jaclyn Moriarty (e-book):  The invitation seems a bit silly to Abigail Sorenson: attend an all-expenses-paid retreat on an island off the coast of Tasmania to learn about a self-help book. But it’s an opportunity she can’t refuse, even if she does expect a catch in the form of a sales pitch. This retreat isn’t about any old self-help book. The invitation promises to reveal the mystery behind The Guidebook, a tome Abi has received by mail, one chapter at a time, for 20 years. The first chapter arrived when Abi was 15, just before her slightly younger brother, Robert, also 15, disappeared. Although the events didn’t seem to be connected, they’re inextricably bound in Abi’s mind. So what’s the worst that could happen? The retreat might be a sales pitch scam, or it could solve the mysteries that have defined Abi’s life. Abi couldn’t have predicted the retreat’s reveal, and the experience stays with her as she returns to life in Sydney. Abi begins to reflect on her life, the end of her marriage, the fact that she runs when she’s dubbed a happiness cafe. Has her light attitude toward life been an effort to turn from the gravity of her experiences? The Guidebook examined another meaning of the word: “Of course, gravity is not a thing. It’s just a way of describing the fact that things fall.” Perhaps Abi has been resisting that fall for decades. Bestselling young adult novelist Jaclyn Moriarty brings her unfettered imagination and buoyant sense of humor to Gravity Is the Thing. She explores difficult subjects, such as the loss of a sibling, with a light touch. As Abi accepts and invitation to re-examine her life, readers may laugh, cry and even reflect on their own paths of discovery.   gravity is the thing
  • Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia:  The trope of a doe-eyed, innocent waif wandering a spectacular wonderland is well-worn by authors of classic fantasy and science fiction, but the magic that Silvia Moreno-Garcia weaves in her 1920s-set historical fantasy, Gods of Jade and Shadow, immerses the reader in a fairy tale like no other. The author of Signal to Noise and The Beautiful Ones is known for celebrating remarkable heroines of Mexican heritage, and her protagonist Casiopea Tun certainly does not disappoint. Casiopea is a star-crossed Cenicienta who refuses to let fate, mysticism, prophecies and other such rubbish dictate her life. Scorned and neglected by her wealthy family because of her supposedly bastard heritage, she opts for curiosity and wit over lashing out against her cantankerous grandfather, Cirilo Leyva, and dangerously spoiled cousin, Martin. When the imaginative Casiopea opens a mysterious locked chest in Cirilo’s bedroom a la Pandora, she unleashes the bones of one of the gods of the underworld: the stoic and dryly humorous Hun-Kame, former (and self-titled “rightful”) Lord of Xibalba. After learning that she is inextricably bound to Hun-Kame until he is able to defeat his treacherous brother, Vucub-Kame, and that she and Martin will play important roles in the battle for the crown, the simultaneously sheltered and exploited Casiopea embarks on a cross-country, darkly whimsical adventure to both restore Hun-Kame to the throne and regain her independence. Casiopea is not a damsel in distress, but rather a young woman coming of age in a time where music, myth, art and exploration thrum colorfully around her, and her affinity for poetry and storytelling, gleaned from her deceased father, keeps her motivated and hopeful. Casiopea explores what it means to live on the fringe–she is neither Tun nor Leyva, of Middleworld nor Xibalba, country girl nor flapper of Mexico City’s Jazz Age renaissance–while learning about love and loss, grief and greed, strength and perseverance. Unlike her namesake in Greek mythology, she is far from vain, possessing instead resourcefulness and a willingness to sacrifice for the well-being of others. Casiopea encounters demons, succubi, monsters and sorcerers along the way, from Tierra Blanca to the Black Road–settings that glimmer like the Mayan obsidian and jade that the gods are so fond of. The book also includes bleak but nonetheless vivid depictions of Xibalba itself, a nightmarish hellscape home to dangerous, but wondrous, beings. Readers will be floored by Moreno-Garcia’s painstaking attention to detail. Her descriptions of the emotionally charged interactions between realistic human characters and otherwordly gods, witches and demonic forces are unforgettable, as are the fairy-tale and folktale aspects of the plot. As Hun-Kame and Casiopea grow closer, physically and psychologically, the two experience and share what it truly means to live–and die. When Casiopea enters her new life, she is assured that “‘Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.”  gods of jade and shadow
  • Beijing Payback by Daniel Nieh (e-book):  What if someone you loved died and left you a letter plus a few important items? And the letter turned out to be a to-do list for vengeance? And those things were not mementos, but rather a gun, a counterfeit passport and some cash? In Beijing Payback, California college student Victor Li and his sister, Jules, are stunned when their father, Vincent, a beloved owner of three Chinese restaurants, is murdered. In short order, they discover the aforementioned bizarre and alarming contents of their father’s safe, and a mysterious man named Sun–who knows all about their dad, though they had no idea Sun existed–shows up, ready to assist Victor in going to China to exact revenge on Vincent’s behalf. It’s a dangerous, quite possibly fatal undertaking (for one thing, Victor’s a college athlete, not an assassin), but he ultimately decides to fulfill his dad’s wishes for one reason: Their comfortable life in suburban America wasn’t due solely to proceeds from the restaurants but from profits earned by the global crime syndicate his father and a few friends founded in post-Mao China. This is not a typical realizing-your-parents-are-flawed story, to be sure, and debut author Daniel Nieh really goes for it, packing in action, suspense, drama, plus some humor and sexiness, too. The author’s background in Chinese-English translation serves him well, as skillfully employed language throughout evokes Victor’s ties to his Chinese heritage and reinforces his ability to move between cultures as he tries on various personas: basketball player, suave dude, loyal friend, family member…and righteous bad boy? Drunken college parties give way to terrifying, blood-spattered encounters as the stakes grow ever higher, and Victor must reckon with the truth about his family’s past and its implications for his future in this entertaining, colorful debut. beijing payback
  • A Capitol Death by Lindsey Davis: A body falls from the Tarpeian Rock, a looming structure that overlooks the ancient Roman Forum. People assume it’s a suicide, but a woman insists she saw someone push the victim. When an investigation is called for, Flavia Alba is ready to help. A Capitol Death is a traditional whodunit set in ancient times, but if feels remarkably fresh. Author Lindsey Davis (Pandora’s Boy) balances grit and frivolity with ease. Flavia feels like the love child of Philip Marlowe and Carrie Bradshaw–she’s on the case, observing and reporting with care, but keeps a running line of saucy commentary on everyone throughout. This death would hardly raise a fuss were it not for the Imperial Triumphs, a sort of war parade/street fair hybrid set to take place. The dead man organized the entire affair and made plenty of enemies in the process, on top of being widely disliked in general. Flavia researches the case and then comes home to the drama of her home, still under construction, with ever-changing staff and their own drama. Stolen moments with her husband, and their snappy repartee, are sweet side trips. Her childhood as a British orphan gives Flavia an acute awareness of class and difference. She can gently mold herself to fit in almost any situation and draw people into her confidence. The story builds with numerous twists toward a thrilling conclusion, but much of the pleasure comes from the deep, realistic world Davis has created and the people who inhabit it. capitol death
  • Chances Are… by Richard Russo:  When you’re 66, like the three longtime buddies in Richard Russo’s latest novel, you’ve got lots of events to look back on. One of the most devastating events in the lives of these three men is the driving force of Chances Are…–a surprising work that is as much a mystery as a meditation on secrets and friendship. The friendship began at Minerva, a Connecticut college, in the late 1960s, a time when nervous young men wondered whether their draft number would draw a tour of duty in Vietnam. The three college buddies, all of them on scholarship, met when they were hired to sling hash at dinners for Theta house, the least rebellious sorority on campus: Lincoln as server because he was the most handsome, Teddy as cook’s helper, Mickey as dishwasher. Each man comes from a lower-class background, which Russo describes at length in a long prologue. Lincoln’s mother lost most of the family fortune after her parents died. She then married Wolfgang Amadeus Moser, known as Dub-Yay, a domineering man who ran a copper mine. Teddy was a bookish sort who suffered a basketball injury in high school that had lifelong repercussions. Mickey, a construction worker’s son, dislike school but was passionate about rock music. One of the common bonds the three men forged at college centered on Jacy Rockafellow, a child of privilege engaged to another child of privilege, a law student named Vance. Jacy’s engagement didn’t stop the three “hashers” from falling in love with her. Then, in 1971, tragedy strikes. At Lincoln’s family’s house in Chilmark on Martha’s Vineyard, Jacy joined the three men for a farewell Memorial Day weekend. But Jacy disappeared and was never heard from again. Now, as the 2016 presidential campaign begins, the old friends gather at the Chilmark house for a September get-together before Lincoln, now a commercial real estate broker, reluctantly sells the property. Much has changed in their lives, but one thing hasn’t–lingering questions about what happened to Jacy that weekend. Fans of Russo’s work will know what to expect from Chances Are…, including the many scenes of male bonding and the colorful dialogue. If some of the material is familiar, the book is nevertheless a moving portrait of aging men who discover the world’s worst-kept secret: You may not know the people you thought you were closest to. chances are
  • The One Who Stays by Toni Blake (e-book):  Toni Blake tells the perfect story for a summer afternoon in The One Who Stays. Cancer survivor Meg Sloan runs her late grandmother’s inn on small, quaint Summer Island. She’s content with her world and her relationship with Zack Sheppard, a local fisherman who casually drops in and out of her life. But while anticipating a momentous birthday, she wonders if she’s been settling instead of fully living life. The arrival of charming younger handyman Seth Darden emboldens her to consider what she really wants–perhaps something and someone different altogether? Blake’s leisurely pace provides a sense of slowed “island time” in this lovely, heartwarming romance with a little sadness to balance out the sweet.  one who stays
  • Never Have I Ever by Joshilyn Jackson:  Joshilyn Jackson’s newest novel weaves a wicked tale right from its opening pages. When a mysterious and charismatic woman named Angelica Roux shows up at a suburban book club in a small Florida town, Amy Whey has a sinking feeling that a bomb is about to drop on their cozy lives. Roux get the liquor flowing and slips the reins from Charlotte, the book club’s leader and Amy’s best friend. As the women relax, Roux starts a seductive game–an adult version of “Never Have I Ever,” in which each woman shares the worst thing she’s done in the past week, then month, then year and so on. The women are giddy with the newness of Roux’s game and her feral flirtation. When a married woman confesses to kissing another man, Amy worries that her neighbor is messing around with Charlotte’s husband. But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Roux somehow knows a terrible secret from Amy’s past, and Amy thinks Roux has shown up to trap her. Amy has worked hard to rebuild her life. She has a loving husband, a quirky teenage stepdaughter named Maddy and a baby to dote upon. But as Amy’s past threatens to collide with her present, she is forced to play Roux’s dangerous game. After the party had ended, Roux starts to chip away at Amy’s cool exterior, demanding hush money for the secrets she keeps. But Amy reveals herself to be shrewder than she seems, and she’s determine to keep her family and new best friend from knowing what’s buried deep in her heart. Things get even stickier as Maddy cozies up to Roux’s son, Luca, who seems like the type of boy to break Maddy’s heart, or worse. When Roux sets a deadline for the hush money, Amy decides the only way to get out is to beat Roux at her own game. With excellent pacing, clever character development, fun plot twists and a palpable setting, Never Have I Ever is a binge-worthy read. Jackson brings her first thriller to the table this summer, and you don’t want to miss it.  never have I ever
  • The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware (e-book):  Ruth Ware’s homage to The Turn of the Screw is filled with all of the best gothic elements: an unreliable narrator, an isolated setting, creepy children and a house that functions as its own menacing character. Part epistolary novel, part psychological thriller, The Turn of the Key is compulsively readable and will keep readers guessing until the very last page. Rowan Caine worries that the live-in nanny job she’s secured may be a little too good to be true. The pay is outstanding, the residence is a beautiful estate in the Scottish Highlands, and the parents want her to start right now. Almost immediately her fears are validated. Her charges, 8-year-old Maddie and 5-year-old Ellie, are fractious and have already burned through several caregivers. The home, Heatherbrae House, is a “smart home,” where every convenience is controlled by an app named “Happy” and every room except the bathrooms are monitored by security cameras. Left alone with two mutinous charges and a house that can be controlled remotely is enough to stretch Rowan to her last nerve. Those elements are certainly chilling enough (especially when the “Happy” app nightmarishly malfunctions), but Ware expertly weaves in a supernatural element as well. Already fraught, Rowan begins experiencing strange events, like the sound of someone pacing in the supposedly empty, walled-off space above her room, and when objects start going missing or moving seemingly on their own. Then there is the story of a small girl who tragically died of an accidental poisoning in the house decades earlier. A rational person might quit, but as the novel progresses, we learn that Rowan has secrets of her own, ones she certainly doesn’t want her employers uncovering. All of these twists and turns might feel unwieldy in the hands of another writer, but Ware is adept at managing multiple plot threads and using them to shock her reader. The beauty of The Turn of the Key is in how it takes the tropes central to the gothic genre, like the isolated haunted house, and gives them a 21st-century spin while still managing to feel fresh and surprising to even the most gothic-averse reader. Straddling the line between horror and thriller, this novel will delight fans of both genres.  turn of the key
  • Is There Still Sex in the City? by Candace Bushnell (e-book):  The answer to the titular question of Candace Bushnell’s new book is an emphatic no, not really. There is divorce in the city. There are $4,000 facials in the city. There is still a tight-knit group of ride-or-die girlfriends in the city. But sex? Not so much. In this amiable follow-up to Sex and the City, the iconic 1990s bible for single-girl life in Manhattan, we check in with Bushnell as she closes out her 50s. (How is this possible?) She is living on the Upper East Side, with a fixer-upper home in a Hamptons beach town she calls the Village. She has divorced, lost her mother and is settling into late middle age as a single woman with two large poodles. Even after a series of bestsellers, she struggles to pay the bills. It’s not what Bushnell planned for her life, and one can understand her occasional dip into melancholy. “It didn’t used to be this way,” Bushnell writes. “At one time, fiftysomething meant the beginning of retirement–working less, slowing down, spending more time on hobbies and with your friends, who like you, were sliding into a more leisurely lifestyle…They weren’t expected to exercise, start new business ventures, move to a different state, get arrested, and start all over again, except with one-tenth of the resources and in many cases going back to the same social and economic situation that they spent all of their thirties and forties trying to crawl out of.” The effervescent Bushnell still has the ability to make readers laugh too with her casually dry one-liners. “Middle-aged madness had moved on and I was in a good place,” she writes. “I was doing the stuff they always tell middle-aged people to do. I was ‘staying active,’ ‘eating healthy,’ and I wasn’t drinking ‘too much.’ I always made sure to fill up my rose glass with ice.” Toward the end of Is There Still Sex in the City?, Bushnell starts dating a dashing guy she refers to as My New Boyfriend (or MNB–girlfriend loves an acronym). It is a perfectly satisfying arc in this, the companion to a book that defined love and friendship for a generation of women. One can’t help but root for her.  is there still sex in the city
  • The Lady in the Coppergate Tower by Nancy Campbell Allen (e-book):  Nancy Campbell Allen gives Rapunzel a steampunk twist in The Lady in the Coppergate Tower. Medical assistant Hazel Hughes knows she has some minor healing powers, but her world changes overnight when a stranger arrives in London claiming to be her uncle and that her previously unknown twin sister needs Hazel’s special talents in Romania. Doctor Sam MacInnes isn’t willing to let his lovely employee stray far from his sight, as he suspects her “uncle” might have malevolent intent. Their journey via submarine engenders a new closeness between Hazel and Sam, and Allen creates a fun and fantastical world to visit in this kisses-only romance.  lady in the coppergate tower

Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • The Golden Hour by Beatriz Williams:  Bestselling author Beatriz Williams skillfully sets a story of love and sacrifice against the backdrop of war in her fascinating new novel, The Golden Hour. In 1941, the island of Nassau, Bahamas, “is terrible for gossip,” recently widowed Lulu Randolph admits. “It’s the favorite pastime. Everybody seems to be knee-deep in each other’s dirty business.” As a society columnist for Metropolitan magazine in New York, Lulu is tasked with getting close to the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (the former was once king of the United Kingdom and is now governor of the island), for whom Americans have “an insatiable appetite.” Using her journalistic skills and social etiquette, Lulu succeeds in befriending the duchess, Wallis Simpson. As Lulu grows closer to the royal couple, who are long suspected of being Nazi sympathizers, she gleans deeper insights into their complex web of political, racial and financial intrigue. When real-life philanthropist Harry Oakes is found murdered on the island in 1943, the duke takes a particular interest in the case. Lulu, meanwhile, has fallen deeply in love with Benedict Thorpe, an English botanist and intelligence agent in the war. After Thorpe is captured by the Nazis and imprisoned in a German prison camp, Lulu journeys to London, determined to help regain his freedom. Williams alternates Lulu’s story with that of German baroness Elfriede von Kleist and her love affair with Wilfred Thorpe in the early 1900s, linking the generations together. Readers will be spellbound by Williams’ elegant prose, fascinating characters and unforgettable settings while fully engrossed by the novel’s dual plots.   golden hour
  • Wilder Girls by Rory Power (e-book): An all-female dystopia with rich language and intricate characters, Wilder Girls offers a taste of something new is a sea of predictable YA apocalypses. Almost two years have passed since the Tox, a mysterious disease, first ravaged the bodies of the girls and teachers at Raxter School for girls, an isolated island boarding school. Now there’s only a fraction of them left, and they’ve learned to adapt to the new additions to their bodies–gills, silver scales and second spines–and to the changed environment of the island in order to survive. Their most sacred rule? Never break quarantine, never go outside the fence. But when Hetty’s closest friend, Byatt, has a flare-up and goes missing, following the rules becomes the last thing on Hetty’s mind. She will do whatever it takes to get to Byatt, even if it means putting herself in even more danger. But when she ventures past the fence, what she finds on the other side may not be what she expected. In our current cultural and political climate, it’s refreshing to find a young adult novel that showcases and celebrates the enduring strength of women, even in the face of unimaginable hardship. First-time author Rory Power is particularly adept at illustrating the dynamics of female friendship, as well as exploring queer romantic relationships. All of these relevant topics, set against a stark and high-risk backdrop, make Wilder Girls stand out from the crowd and practically demand to be read.     wilder girls
  • Three Women by Lisa Taddeo (e-book):  A veteran of New York Magazine, Esquire and Elle, author Lisa Taddeo opens Three Women, her compelling debut, with stories about her mother:  the beginnings of her mother’s life as a woman, with all the complexities that accompany the teenage years, when society views women as reaching the height of their sexual power. She closes with her mother as well, this time describing the end of her life as Taddeo cared for her in the hospital. While this may seem like a strange decision for a book that concerns itself with female desire, it’s quickly apparent to even the casual reader that Taddeo doesn’t shy away from the unspoken, the uncomfortable and the shadow sides of sexuality. This is by necessity a ruthless book as it explores the half-concealed aspects of not only the female sex life but also the inner and secret lives of women. The three women in question cut across lines of class, age and experience. Maggie’s story begins as a teenager in a working-class family in North Dakota, receiving provocative and confusing texts from an English teacher that build alarmingly and irresistibly. Lina is an Indiana housewife, firmly middle-class, unfulfilled and anxiety-ridden amid toddlers and a sexless marriage, when she reconnects with an old boyfriend over Facebook. Enigmatic Sloane is comfortably upper-class and considers herself highly in control of her sexual agency, until difficult memories surface, consequences arise, and she begins to question the line between male desire and her own–whether she is subject or object. Three Women is merciless, impossible to put down and so revealing as to be uncomfortable. As the women share themselves, you find yourself reflected. It’s a multifaceted work that changes as you turn it, casting light in unexpected corners that you never before considered–and had perhaps even been guarding against.   three women
  • Stay and Fight by Madeline Ffitch:  What comes to mind when you hear the word Appalachia? Whatever it is, it probably won’t be the same after you read this engrossing, sometimes shocking and often witty debut novel from Madeline Ffitch, who is part of the direct-action collective Appalachia Resist. Helen has little knowledge of the foothills of Appalachian Ohio when she moves there from Seattle with her boyfriend, seeking cheap land to park their camper and relocate his landscaping business. But he soon leaves to work in the oil fields up north, and Helen is left to cope with the approaching winter alone. She earns a little doing tree work with Rudy, an alcoholic loner escaping civilization who’s living in a lean-to on abandoned coal company land. He introduces Helen to Lily and Karen, a couple living on the Women’s Land Trust, where no males are allowed. Lily is expecting their first child, and when she gives birth to Perley, a boy, they are forced to move. Helen offers to let them live on her 20 acres, and while Lily cares for Perley, Helen and Karen build a “house” for the four of them, “basically livable,” though the porch leaks, the front door lets in daylight top and bottom, their toilet is a bucket, and multiple black snakes soon take up residence. In alternating chapters, Lily, Karen, Helen and Rudy share what life is like for them in this downtrodden corner of Appalachia–a hill town with a hardware store, a school, an IGA grocery store, a diner and 30 bars. They survive, barely making it through each winter by eating acorns they’ve gathered in the fall, even the ones full of grubs, for “a burst of protein.” But the outside world encroaches on their nontraditional, isolated life when, at age 7, Perley asks to go to school. Though Karen objects, calling school “regimental brainwashing,” the two mothers relent, and Perley gets his first taste of television, electricity and a real friend his age. Their situation disintegrates when social services find Perley’s living conditions unacceptable, place him in foster care and mandate that Lily and Karen come up with a “reunification plan” within 90 days. The remainder of Ffitch’s remarkable novel portrays the ways in which they try to meet that goal, bringing all their skills and wiles to bear to allow their son to come home. Ffitch’s survival saga of strong, independent women will appeal to readers of Dorothy Allison’s Bastard out of Carolina and the realistic novels by Manette Ansay, especially Vinegar Hillstay and fight
  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead:  Though he’s abandoned the magical realism of his 2017 Pulitzer Prize- and National Book Award-winning novel, The Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead continues to confront racial prejudice in American life. Based on a true story, The Nickel Boys is a blistering expose of bigotry in a Florida reform school in the 1960s, when the modern civil rights movement was just beginning to awaken the entire nation to the justice of black Americans’ demands for equality. Nurtured by a loving grandmother after his parents abandoned him at age 6, and with ambitions fueled by recordings of speeches by the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., 17-year-old Elwood Curtis of Tallahassee, Florida, has his eyes set on college as the first step on the road to a consequential life. But after he has the bad luck to hitch a ride with a car thief, he finds himself confined to the Nickel Academy for Boys, a rigidly segregated reform school that’s home to some 600 students. Almost as soon as he arrives at Nickel, Elwood beholds a nightmare world of deprivation and cruelty. Even modest transgressions by Elwood and his fellow black students are punished by savage beatings at a building called the White House, where a giant industrial fan is used to mask the screams of the victims, members of an “infinite brotherhood of broken boys.” Some students face even worse mistreatment, their brief lives ending with burial in a secret campus graveyard and fabrications about their “disappearances.” As Whitehead reveals in a sympathetic but clear-eyed narrative, Elwood’s idealism is subjected to the ultimate test when it confronts the school’s relentless racism. Determined to expose the misdeeds of Nickel’s brutal administrators, Elwood makes a fateful choice that lays the groundwork for an emotional plot twist in the novel’s concluding pages. Whitehead pulls no punches in telling this heartbreaking story. The Nickel Boys offers optimists an opportunity to be encouraged by how far the United States has come in the past 60 years in addressing racial inequality, but a careful reading of this disquieting novel leaves one with the feeling that we still have much further to go.   nickel boys
  • The Gone Dead by Chanelle Benz:  A father dies mysteriously, and his daughter, too young to remember what she saw–if she saw anything–is whisked away. It takes another death to bring Billie James back to Greendale, Mississippi, when her late grandmother leaves her a dog, some money and the house where her father died. Billie’s parents–Pia, wispy blonde who later becomes a medieval studies scholar, and Cliff, a tall, black budding poet and activist–met on a Freedom Riders bus, but their bond didn’t last. In the Delta in the 1960s, interracial relationships were frowned upon. When Cliff died in 1972 while 4-year-old Billie was visiting him, Pia came for her, and they moved on. At the start of The Gone Dead, it’s 2003, and Billie has returned to the “contradictory spell of the South,” a place she barely remembers. Billie finds a sense of purpose by traveling back roads to old haunts and showing up on the doorsteps of those her father knew. Finding out how her father died (by his hand or another’s) becomes her focus, though the divide between white and black, wealthy and poor–still as stark and confounding as ever–frustrates her search. With an actor’s ear for dialogue and a directorial vision, Chanelle Benz creates characters and scenes like a playwright. Her debut novel skillfully reveals and also conceals, building tension within her characters and between the past and the present that is left largely unresolved. Chapter by chapter, each told from a different perspective, The Gone Dead spreads out like the Mississippi River’s many tributaries, showing how one person’s life affects others, even long after death. Most of the people Billie meets–Mr. McGee, the original landowner’s son who was there the night her father died; Carlotta, one of her dad’s many girlfriends; and her Uncle Dee, who lives in a former motel and drives a truck as far away from Greendale as he can only to come back–know something they aren’t telling her. This complicated place and people that molded Cliff James and gave weight to his poetry is the same place and people that became his undoing. Benz’s poetic words capture the weariness of a South still mired in old prejudices and transgressions but longing for freedom and redemption. gone dead
  • Buried by Ellison Cooper:  The second book in the Special Agent Sayer Altair series delves deep into the mind of a monster, creating an immersive and chilling experience while following a FBI neuroscientist who studies serial killers. Following up directly where Caged left off, Buried finds Sayer recovering from a gunshot wound–and facing political fallout from her last case in which she exposed a horrible secret within the FBI. Then the gruesome discovery of a mass gravesite in the Shenandoah National Forest pulls Sayer off desk duty and back into the field, but with extremely limited resources. With only a few park rangers and two FBI agents to assist her, Sayer throws herself into the case as a way to avoid coping with her recent trauma. The bones, and one recent body, tell a macabre story:  A serial killer was active in the area for eight years until 2002, only to begin killing again now. Even more troubling is the report of a missing woman whose description matches the profile of the other victims. As the case begins to build steam, Sayer is drawn into an increasingly dark and melodramatic gothic nightmare. The landscape of the Shenandoah National Forest, with its hidden mines and cave systems, becomes a character itself, as the villain emerges from the shadows to terrorize Sayer’s team, only to vanish again. Small-town secrets and long-held feuds also threaten to derail the investigation. Cooper’s focus on atmosphere gives the novel the tight pacing of a thriller, while also producing a constant feeling of unease more typically found in the horror genre. This is not the book for a cozy mystery fan. Sayer stands out in a largely whitewashed genre as a woman of color, and her awareness of how her race affects other’s perceptions of her is present but never overly evangelized to the reader. Resourceful and self-possessed, she triumphs even when the odds are stacked against her. When evidence leads her to theorize that a woman who went missing from the area years ago–and who happens to be the local police chief’s sister–may be involved in the killings, she finds herself frozen out by both the FBI and local law enforcement. By depriving Sayer of departmental resources and deus ex machina forensic breakthroughs, the narrative focuses on her brilliant profiling and detective skills, making Buried feel like an old fashioned whodunit as the reader pieces the clues together along with Sayer. buried
  • Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman:  Cambria Brockman’s riveting debut, Tell Me Everything, takes place on the campus of an exclusive New England college, where six friends form a destructive connection. Introvert Malin comes out of her shell at Hawthorne College, bonding with five other students: Ruby, Max, John, Khaled and Gemma. They’re a close-knit group, but as graduation approaches, their relationships begin to unravel. Gemma drinks too much, and John is increasingly cruel to Ruby, who is now his girlfriend. Malin, meanwhile, excels academically while concealing her very dark past. The anxieties of senior year peak at semester’s end as she struggles to uphold her self-assured facade. She isn’t the only one in the circle who’s hiding something, and when a murder occurs, the six friends’ lives change forever. Narrated by Malin, whose intelligence and cunning drive the story, Tell Me Everything is an edgy exploration of loyalty and human desire. Readers in search of a true page-turner will savor this electrifying novel.    tell me everything

Best New Books: Your Library Curated

  • Paper Son by S.J. Rozan:Mississippi?…I didn’t know which part was craziest:  that my mother wanted me to go to Mississippi on a case; that my mother wanted me to go to Mississippi on a case; or that my mother wanted me to go to Mississippi on a case.” It’s a good question, rife with possibilities for New York City PI Lydia Chin, narrator of S.J. Rozan’s Paper Son. The case in question revolves around a distant cousin accused of murdering his father. But before Lydia and her partner, Bill Smith, can talk to said cousin, he escapes from custody, thus accomplishing the one feat that could make him look even guiltier, especially when added to the already damning evidence of his proximity to the body when found and his fingerprints on the murder weapon. The term paper son refers to Chinese immigrants who came to the U.S. after the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. They were able to do this by purchasing fraudulent papers documenting them as blood relatives, typically sons or daughters, of legal Chinese immigrants. Many of those paper sons came to the Mississippi Delta, and one of them was the brother of Lydia Chin’s great-grandfather, hence the family connection. Rozan skillfully weaves this history into her narrative, adding texture and nuance to what is already a cracking good mystery.   paper son
  • Wanderers by Chuck Wendig:  It’s not easy to write the end of the world. In precise and deliberate prose, you can explain why and how your fictional world is ending, but writing something that really conjures the end–with the many cogs in the machine of civilization that have to break down, and the consequences of the failure of each one–is much harder, particularly if you’d like to do it with heart and thrills and something resembling a thesis statement about the human condition. Very few authors can pull it off, and even fewer can master it. With Wanderers, Chuck Wendig has mastered it. The story begins with a young girl walking out of her house one morning with no shoes or supplies. Her sister tries to stop her, then her father, Then EMTs and police, but still she walks. She is the beginning of an apparent epidemic of “sleepwalkers” that form a flock who walk–expressionlessly and painlessly–across the United States. In the midst of this mysterious outbreak comes a series of characters–a disgraced CDC official, a woman who built the world’s most sophisticated artificial intelligence, a rock star, a preacher on the verge of crisis and the young girl’s older sister–who all have roles to play in unraveling the mystery of what’s to come. The walkers, you see, are just the beginning, and what follows is an American epic with the soul of the nation–and the world–at stake. Wendig tells this story through several points of view, mixing not just different spiritual, political and psychological worldviews, each one as real as the last, each gripping in its way. His ability to juggle so many fully realized characters is impressive, but even more so is the astonishing power Wanderers commands in conveying what it would actually feel like if this happened in the America we live in now, complicated by deep ideological divides, disinformation and the constant chatter of social media. All of these elements work together, often in surprising ways, to create a sense of terrifying plausibility and compelling verisimilitude. The true success of Wanderers, though, is not just in its ability to show us the grim scenarios that could play out across a divided nation; it’s in its heart. Whether he’s writing about rage or faith or the faintest glimmer of light, Wendig brings a sincerity and emotional weight to his prose. That’s why the scariest parts of this book work, but it’s also why the most hopeful ones do, too.   wanderers
  • Someone to Honor by Mary Balogh:  Mary Balogh returns to her Westcott historical romance series with Someone to Honor, an emotional and sweetly indulgent romance in which first impressions aren’t always indicative of a person’s true character. Abigail Westcott and Gilbert Bennington truly get off on the wrong foot after she chastises him for working shirtless on the Westcott estate. It’s not proper, especially when there are young, unwed ladies in his midst. And this single interaction leads to a host of misunderstandings. Abigail makes the assumption that Gil is just a servant on the grounds and not the officer who helped her brother return home from the Napoleonic Wars. Meanwhile, Gil reduces Abigail’s comments to her being a spoiled and rich woman, something that deeply taps into his feelings of inadequacy given their class differences. Despite their disastrous first meeting, Abigail and Gil begin spending more and more time together, often enjoying walks around the grounds, where they have rather insightful and illuminating conversations. Gil realizes he was wrong about his assessment of Abigail. She’s a wealthy and independent woman whose life was upturned by a family scandal. Meanwhile, Abigail learns of Gil’s heroic treatment of her brother, and when he reveals a personal, heartbreaking predicament, Abigail and her brother offer to help. But that help comes in the form of marriage. Self-assured and practical, Abigail has grown accustomed to being a pariah since her father’s bigamy scandal. What she never expected was how much it would give her in the ways of freedom. With no man wanting to attach his name to her, Abigail has settled into a lovely, quiet country life in which she can do as she pleases. Gil carries lingering trauma from  his military service, and while he may have earned the respect of many, he can’t shake the insecurity he feels from being an illegitimate child and growing up in poverty. A bit broody, Gil is a hero who prefers to observe and be on the sidelines, harboring an understandable distrust for upper-crust society. Balogh writes with an inescapable tenderness, in which each conversation furthers Gil and Abigail’s affection ever so slightly. There is always a softness and subtlety to Balogh’s romances, serving as a lasting reminder that love is patient and kind. Previous fans of the Westcott series will love seeing familiar faces integrated into Gil and Abigail’s romance. Though well-meaning, the Westcott family isn’t afraid to meddle and can’t leave well enough alone. With a relationship built on trust that slowly blooms with understanding, Someone to Honor is another fantastic novel by Balogh, who expertly navigates all the highs and lows that come before a happily ever after. someone to honor
  • Deep River by Karl Marlantes: Before you read this review, look up “steam donkey” on Wikipedia. Take a good look at the picture, then return. Now you know what a major piece of equipment looks like in Karl Marlantes’ sprawling tale of immigrants, logging in the Pacific Northwest and what it all had to do with early 20th-century socialism. A doorstopper at over 700 pages, Deep River seems a work born from Willa Cather by way of Upton Sinclair. But this new book is its own animal, and it’s something of a masterpiece. The story begins at the turn of the last century in Finland, the home of the brilliant, fearless, passionate Aino Koski and her family. At the time, Finland was under Russian rule, and Aino is drawn to socialism and revolution, which she clings to even though bouts of torture whose ghastliness is only hinted at. Her commitment to Comrade Lenin only grows when she and her brothers emigrate–flee is actually a better word–to Washington. Nothing dims her zeal for the coming socialist utopia, not even her troubled marriage or motherhood. Aino brings her baby along to Wobbly (Industrial Workers of the World) meetings or leaves her with her brother and his wife. Marlantes, author of the powerful war novel Matterhorn, immerses the reader in the life of the Koski siblings, whose worldview is dominated by sisu, a Finnish concept of honor, dignity and inner strength. Sisu requires men and women to be stoic, to always fight for their honor and to work from sunup to sundown. Page after page is dedicated to the dangerous and grueling job of harvesting gigantic trees from old-growth forests–see “steam donkey.” The reader will be in awe of such hard labor done in the service of exploitative bosses who pay little. At the same time, Deep River bemoans the ruin of virgin forests, the pollution of pristine rivers, the fact that 100-pound wild salmon are now scarce. The book extols the love of family and friends and the beauty of the landscape even as that landscape is ravaged. Best of all, Marlantes’ new novel has more than a few moments of fun and laughter. Even combative Aino can laugh at herself. In Deep River, she takes her place beside Antonia Shimerda as one of the great heroines of literature.   deep river

Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner:  At the outset, Jennifer Weiner’s new novel, Mrs. Everything, pays homage to Little Women:  Older sister Jo, a tomboy and athlete, wants to be a writer, while younger sister Bethie just wants to be a sweet, pretty daughter. But in Alcott terms, these two sisters are more like Jo and Amy:  They scrap, they fail to understand each other, and sometimes they just don’t get along. Told by turns in Jo’s voice and then Bethie’s, Mrs. Everything follows the two sisters from their Jewish girlhood in post-World War II Detroit right on through the present and in the near future, 71 years in all. The cultural changes of the 1960s and ’70s–civil rights, the antiwar movement, gay rights, the women’s movement and more–roll over Jo and Bethie, changing them as each struggles to find her way, and as they sometimes rescue or betray each other. Jo and Bethie reverse their roles multiple times, so that what the reader expects from the novel’s opening chapters is not what follows. The novel is especially strong during Jo’s observations on race relations and the way even well-intentioned white people can thoughtlessly enforce institutionalized racism. With its long timespan and its focus on cultural change, Mrs. Everything is a departure for Weiner, a founding godmother of fun, fluffy, women-centric popular fiction. In its period details, Mrs. Everything is a little reminiscent of Judy Blume’s In the Unlikely Event, and in themes reminiscent of Meg Wolitzer’s The Female Persuasion. This is a warm, readable novel about figuring out what it means for a woman to be true to herself, and then figuring out how to act on that knowledge.   mrs everything
  • More Than Enough by Elaine Welteroth:  As the youngest ever editor-in-chief of Teen Vogue–and the first African American–Elaine Welteroth has spent her career defying expectations. Just 29 when she was appointed editor by the legendary Anna Wintour, Welteroth guided the publication in a more inclusive, modern direction, working to ensure the pages included more representation of women of color and moved beyond makeup and fashion to cover politics, racial justice and gender identity. In More Than Enough: Claiming Space for Who You Are (No Matter What They Say), Welteroth retraces her California childhood with a white dad and a black mom and her lingering feeling of “otherness” coming from a mixed-race background. She writes about the way she learned her particular brand of scrappy journalism from years covering beauty and fashion, first at Ebony magazine and then at Glamour. When she joined the hallowed halls of Teen Vogue as its first black beauty director, those halls were, well, quiet compared to the raucous camaraderie and creativity of her previous gigs. And the office lacked the diversity Welteroth had previously experienced. “Finding my voice and my confidence in a predominantly White office to pitch stories that pushed the envelope, that tackled issues that mattered to my community, and that challenged the status quo–that would take more time to cultivate,” she writes. Welteroth pushes the envelope throughout the book, pitching stories beyond lip gloss and tanning lotion to cover topics like ethnic hair and cultural appropriation. When Welteroth is offered the position of editor-in-chief, but not the salary or corner office commensurate with the title, she has to learn how to advocate for herself in a world that still undervalues women of color. “In the press, I was being held up as a symbol of progress and exalted publicly as a token win for diversity (again),” she writes. “But behind the scenes I had been asked, on the spot, to assume an ill-defined position that broke from a tradition that I felt devalued my role.” Welteroth makes her mark not only on the publication but also on the industry. This book is a beautifully honest look at the exhilaration and heavy weight that comes with breaking barriers. Welteroth didn’t set out to shatter ceilings, but she is a force of nature. more than enough
  • Elderhood by Louise Aronson:  If you aren’t currently among the more than 46 million Americans over the age of 65, with any luck, someday you will be. That’s why geriatric physician Louise Aronson’s Elderhood, a passionate, deeply informed critique of how our healthcare system fails in its treatment of the elderly, is such a vitally important book. As Aronson explains, American medicine is reluctant to acknowledge old age as a distinct stage of life–one with unique medical challenges but hardly lacking in opportunities for deep fulfillment. Whether it’s the failure, until this year, of pharmaceutical trials to test drugs on elderly subjects, resulting in unanticipated side effects, or the tendency to view the final years of an elderly person’s life only through the lens of illness and disability, our perspective is both shortsighted and flawed. Another more profound flaw, Aronson argues, is out medical establishment’s stubborn insistence on treating organs and diseases rather than whole human beings, often prizing science and technology over simple, compassionate care. These efforts typically trigger costly late-life interventions that may be successful in the narrowest sense, prolonging life for a time but often inflicting physical and psychological pain on their recipients that severely compromises their quality of life. Aronson advocates for a new care paradigm, focused on the “optimization of health and well-being,” even when an earlier death may be the consequence. This book shares some of its DNA with Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal. But unlike the well-known surgeon, Aronson brings to bear some three decades of geriatric practice, a branch of medicine that didn’t even emerge as a specialty in the U.S. until 1978. She draws extensively on case histories, including moving stories about her father’s final days and her mother’s resilience in facing the challenges of old age. Aronson, who holds a master’s degree in creative writing, is as comfortable drawing on resources outside the field of medicine, quoting poet Donald Hall or novelist Karl Ove Knausgaard, as she is parsing a scientific study. Through the subject of this provocative book is the elderly, its message touches the entire span of human life.   elderhood
  • Like a Love Story by Abdi Nazemian: Author Abdi Nazemian brings emotional depth and a dreamy soundtrack to the story of a teen love triangle set in New York during a turning point in the AIDS crisis. It’s 1989, and Iranian teen Reza is new to the city, having recently left Toronto to live with his mom and new stepfather. Reza knows he’s gay but is terrified to say so, let alone act on it. He quickly befriends the two coolest freaks in his new high school. Judy is a skilled fashion designer, and her best friend, a photographer named Art, is the school’s only out gay student. Both Judy and Art are devoted to Judy’s uncle, Stephen, an activist who is dying of AIDS. And Judy and Art are both attracted to Reza, but in order to follow his heart, Reza will have to confront both his fears and his family. While the main characters in this story are all fictional, the ACT UP demonstrations vividly depicted here really happened, and cameo appearances by artist Keith Haring and musical icon Debbie Harry put the reader right in the middle of it all. Uncle Stephen makes Art a collection of index cards with info about important figures in queer history–like Marsha P. Johnson–and readers will hopefully be inspired to do further research.  like a love story
  • Aunt Dimity and the Heart of Gold by Nancy Atherton:  The English village of Finch has been beset by an ice storm instead of the usual picture-perfect Christmas snow, but Lori Shepherd insists on a bit of cheer by making a run to dear friend Emma’s annual party. While she’s there, a car hits the ice and lands in a ditch outside. They incite the frazzled driver, Matilda “Tilly” Trout, inside, where she is able to answer a question that has long puzzled Emma–the odd-looking room in Emma’s home is a former Roman Catholic chapel. Lori, Emma and company find a compartment inside the chapel that contains actual treasure, but how did it get there? There are no murders to solve in this book, just a story in need of unraveling. Nancy Atherton’s series finds kindness and human connection in frosty times, and the good hearts of Finch will warm yours.    aunt dimity and the heart of gold
  • The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung:  According to Katherine, the narrator of Catherine Chung’s new novel, the 10th muse was the youngest of the semidivine sisters and chose to tell her own stories rather than be a source of inspiration for men. Because of this, the 10th muse was stripped of her immortality. A symbol of female creativity and empowerment, her bold spirit hovers over The Tenth Muse, a sweeping tale of identity, gender and genius. Katherine was raised in a small Midwestern town as the daughter of a Chinese immigrant and a white American veteran of World War II. Already ostracized because of her mixed parentage, Katherine is further scorned by her classmates after her mother abandons the family. Though Katherine is clearly a gifted math student, her teachers don’t acknowledge her abilities, and on the cusp of college graduation, she is brutally tricked by a classmate who claims her work as his own. At the same time, her father’s plans to remarry force Katherine to uncover the tangled truth behind her parents’ relationship. Katherine establishes herself in the male-dominated world of advanced mathematics and becomes involved with a charismatic older professor, Peter Hall. But as a woman, she has trouble getting recognized for her accomplishments, and much to Peter’s dismay, she accepts a fellowship in Germany. Pursuing an unsolved mathematical hypothesis draws Katherine further into the mystery of her lineage, and in Bonn, Germany, she uncovers a theorem that promises to lead her closer to the truth. Other characters’ complicated stories of duplicity, innocence and sacrifice are echoed in Katherine’s experiences of stolen research and betrayed trust. Though she finds some answers and even some remaining family in Germany, she also accepts that life has fewer tidy endings than any mathematical formula. Similar to the way she used Korean folk tales in her first novel, Forgotten Country, Chung uses the history and language of mathematics in this book to explore how the past is inextricably tied to the present. Her writing has a beautiful clarity, and the novel has an epic feel, sweeping between decades and continents without ever losing sight of the human lives at stake. This is a timely story about a woman searching for her identity in an inhospitable environment and emerging scarred but triumphant.   tenth muse
  • Empress of Forever by Max Gladstone (e-book):  Vivian Liao is tired of being herself. A Steve Jobs-esque super CEO in Earth’s near future, she controls a vast technological empire, but increasingly suspects that her enemies are closing in on her success. In a last-ditch effort to take control of her life (and the world), Viv fakes her own death and breaks into a server room where, with a few quick keystrokes, she’d be able to take over all data on earth. Just as the last loading bar creeps toward 100 percent, a woman bathed in light grabs Viv and, somehow, rips her out of her existence and into a far future galaxy full of robots where she is the only human. With nothing but questions and a few fantastic companions by her side, Viv must scour the galaxy for an answer to a simple question: “How the heck do I get home?” The answer involves a kaleidoscopic journey through space on a ship called, of course, the Question. And the journey wouldn’t be half as fun without the ensemble cast Gladstone builds around Viv the moment she arrives in the post-human future. There’s a forest-dwelling Viking princess-pilot, a robed monk who treats Viv like a miracle, a creature called Gray who steals dreams and Zanj, a wrathful demigod hell bent on the same thing as Viv–finding the Empress and exacting revenge. Each core member of the team is given plenty of page time, and in its best moments, the book feels like Guardians of the Galaxy mixed with a healthy, swashbuckling dose of Pirates of the Caribbean. With Empress of Forever, Gladstone stands confidently on the shoulders of his Craft Sequence to create a confident, poignant, expansive world. Though he never holds back in the imagination department, it’s the smaller interactions between characters that forms the foundation. It might be hard to build a new universe, but it is even harder to fill it with people that readers instinctively know both belong and deserve to be there. empress of forever
  • Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes: NPR pop culture correspondent Linda Holmes is an unabashed lover and ardent defender of the romantic comedy, so it’s unsurprising that her debut novel is exactly that. Evvie Drake Starts Over is a heartwarming rom-com about loss, grief and second chances. Ever since her husband–a successful surgeon and her hometown’s golden boy–died in a car crash, Evvie Drake has been in the worst kind of rut. Everyone in her small Maine town chalks up her funk to grief, but as far as Evvie is concerned, the truth is far worse. So much worse, in fact, that Evvie can’t even bear to share it with her best friend, Andy, and has instead resigned herself to a life spent as a young widow, rattling around a house that is now far too big for her, content to lose herself in big books and watch life slowly pass her by. Everything changes, however, when Andy suggests that Evvie rent out her home’s attached apartment to a friend who also has more than a passing familiarity with life not turning out according to plan. Dean Tenney, once one of baseball’s hottest players, is now infamous for his case of “the yips,” a baffling development that forced him into early retirement after he inexplicably lost his ability to pitch, seemingly overnight. After Dean moves in, a tentative friendship forms between the two that ultimately transitions into something more. Together, Dean and Evvie encourage one another to face their pasts and their present truths, all while discovering that even when life throws you a curveball, it’s never too late to find your happily ever after. Despite the kernel of sadness rooted at the novel’s core, Evvie Drake Starts Over is a feel-good read that radiates warmth. Holmes nails the balance between romance and humor, with Evvie and Dean’s effortless and truly funny dialogue being a particular strength. In addition to developing their convincing relationship, Holmes spends ample time fleshing out her leads so they feel like real people with legitimate issues. Uplifting and life-affirming, this book is a perfect choice for fans of Rainbow Rowell and Marian Keyes.   evvie drake starts over

Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong:  Poet Ocean Vuong’s highly anticipated debut novel, On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, takes the form of a letter from a young writer to his illiterate mother. The writer, who goes by the nickname Little Dog and whose life bears a strong resemblance to Vuong’s own, is the first of his family to go to college. The letter is an attempt to share his fragile sense of self with his mother. Little Dog’s grandmother survived the Vietnam War as a sex worker, and his mother was fathered by an American soldier. After immigrating to the United States and settling in a working-class Connecticut neighborhood, Little Dog became a victim of his mother’s abuse and a witness to his grandmother’s untreated schizophrenia. Without siblings or a father, Little Dog was isolated and lonely, hyperaware of his small size, his lack of English and his origins. Vuong’s poetry collection Night Sky With Exit Wounds was one of the most celebrated books of 2016. In On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous, his prose is richly poetic, and his references draw from a wide range of sources, from Roland Barthes to 50 Cent. The novel finds its heart when Little Dog invites his mother to acknowledge a part of his life he’s never fully shared with her. Little Dog and Trevor met as teenagers when they worked on a tobacco farm, and their attraction was immediate. The depiction of the boys’ affair is graphic yet tender, and the blunt portrayal of Trevor’s opioid addiction alludes to the grim consequences of poverty and violence in their community. Disarmingly frank, raw in subject matter but polished in style and language, this book reveals the strengths and limitations of human connection and the importance of speaking your truth. on earth we're briefly gorgeous
  • Underland by Robert Macfarlane:  We reach for the stars and keep our eyes to the skies, but how often do we look below our feet and wonder what lies below the grass or sidewalks we tread on every day? What intricate networks lie just below our toes? Could we ever glimpse them? What could we learn by journeying through them? In the mesmerizing Underland: A Deep Time Journey, Robert Macfarlane enthusiastically conducts us on such a journey, descending into solid rock to a repository designed to store nuclear waste in Finland, swimming down through sea caves in the Arctic and crawling into the “invisible cities” below Paris. In Paris, for example, he and fellow claustro-philes follow a map that offers advice about passageways (“Low, quite low, very low, tight, flooded, impracticable, impassable…”), also naming places along the underground paths in the depths below (Crossroads of the Dead, the Chamber of Phantoms, the Chamber of Oysters). In England, Macfarlane traverses caves, learning “undersight” as he crawls through narrow spaces, “face forced into wet gravel.” Macfarlane also reveals the fascinating existence of what he calls “the wood wide web,” an intricate and mysterious network that joins below the ground to make forest communities. He introduces readers to Canadian forest ecologist Suzanne Simard, who has discovered that an underground network of “mycorrhizal fungal species” links trees to other trees. Blending classic stories of descent into the underworld–the Epic of Gilgamesh and the Aeneid, for example–with his own lucid stories of his experiences in geologic time, Macfarlane poetically concludes that “darkness might be a medium of vision, and descent may be a movement toward revelation rather than deprivation.” He discovers that every culture places into the underland “that which we fear and wish to lose, and that which we love and wish to save.” As Macfarlane descends through some of these narrow passages in search of enlightenment, we often hold our breath and feel our hearts racing, but when he emerges we see with him the beauty of the world beneath our feet. underland
  • The Electric Hotel by Dominic Smith:  Dominic Smith’s engaging new novel, The Electric Hotel, offers a deep dive into the history of early cinema. In the early 1960s, Claude Ballard, a retired French filmmaker, lives in a run-down hotel. When approached by a young graduate student named Martin Embry about the long-lost film masterpiece The Electric Hotel. Ballard is reluctant to revisit the past, but Embry’s enthusiasm encourages Ballard to recall his role in the making of an early cinematic treasure. Then Ballard reveals that he still has a copy of the film. A photographers’ apprentice in Paris in the 1890s, Ballard was hired by the Lumiere Brothers as a roaming projectionist. His travels took him as far away as Australia and America, where, in picaresque fashion, he befriended a stunt man, a French actress and the young owner of a seedy Brooklyn amusement parlor. Before long, this idiosyncratic troupe settled in the cliffs of Fort Lee, New Jersey (once a prime location for the making of American movies, hence the expression “cliffhanger”), pouring all their energy, money and talent into what Ballard refers to as the “great cinematic experiment.” It will come as no surprise to readers that the making of The Electric Hotel almost destroyed the lives and careers of the four friends. As in Smith’s own masterpiece, The Lost Painting of Sarah DeVos (2016), the joy in The Electric Hotel is in the getting there:  the travels from Paris to New York at the very birth of cinema, the repeated run-ins with a litigious Thomas Edison and Ballard’s return to Europe amid the scarring battlefields of World War I. Smith skillfully blends film history with the adventures of his intriguing crew, never losing sight of their individuality. This book enchants with a compelling plot but satisfies with the fully felt pathos of its characters. electric hotel
  • Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok:  As a child, Sylvie Lee had a lazy eye, a crooked tooth and a peculiar birthmark that she’s retained into adulthood. Now grown, she’s brilliant and successful. She is cold and even punitive toward people she doesn’t know, but she is capable of passionate love for the few who are close to her. She spent the first nine years of her life in the Netherlands with her grandmother; her mother’s rich cousin, Helena Tan; Helena’s husband, Willem; and their son, Lukas. After that, Sylvie was shipped back to the cramped Queens, New York, apartment of her Ma, Pa and adoring younger sister, Amy. When Jean Kwok’s latest novel opens, Sylvie has returned to the Netherlands to tend her dying grandmother’s funeral, then vanishes. No wonder:  If you were Sylvie, you’d probably want to get as far away from the Dutch branch of your family as possible. Helena hates her, and Willem is handsy. Friends Estelle and Filip, whom Sylvie meets when she returns to the Netherlands, are duplicitous. Sylvie falls in love with Lukas, but it’s an impossible union, not only because they’re second cousins but also because she’s already married to an unfaithful man and Estelle is Lukas’ girlfriend. After Sylvie’s disappearance, Amy burns up her savings to fly to the Netherlands to find her. On top of the turmoil surrounding Sylvie’s disappearance, Kwok throws in the racism experienced by the Lees in America, and the less expected but often cruder racism the Tans experience in the enlightened Netherlands. Throughout the novel, women struggle to cope with the misogyny found in Chinese, American and Dutch societies, language barriers, class differences, amusing customs (such as the Dutch traditions of giving three kisses in greeting and riding bicycles absolutely everywhere) and irresistible cuisine. Kwok is unafraid to fully translate her characters’ flowery Chinese and contractionless Dutch, which gives the book an unexpected Pearl S. Buck-style flavor. There’s even a cache of valuable jewels passed from mother to daughter that everyone thinks everyone else wants to get their hands on. The result is a book that is busy, compelling and not a little wild. When you think of it, it is very much like Sylvie herself. searching for sylvie lee
  • Sorcery of Thorns by Margaret Rogerson (e-book):  Elisabeth Scrivener is an orphan. Raised in one of the kingdom’s six Great Libraries, she has been training as an apprentice, hoping one day to become a library warden who’s responsible for the categorization and containment of dangerous magic. The Great Libraries house not only regular books but also grimoires–books created with sorcery that contain ominous spells and rituals. These grimoires can also transform into deadly creatures known as Maleficts. Elisabeth knows not to trust sorcerers and the powerful magic that whispers to her from the shelves. In fact, she has been raised to defend humans from and contain the powerful magic. But when disaster strikes her library and she is accused of treason, Elisabeth makes an unlikely alliance with young sorcerer Nathaniel Thorn and his Mephistophelian servant, Silas. Uncovering the true saboteur leads Elisabeth down a terrifying path of conspiracy and chaos, but also of self-discovery. As she learns more about her connection to grimoires and gets closer with Nathaniel and Silas, she begins to reassess her goals and question some of the Great Library’s teachings. Bestselling author Margaret Rogerson (An Enchantment of Ravens) presents a unique twit on a magical fantasy plot, setting the novel in a 19th-century Western Europe-inspired world that’s dealing with the inheritance of medieval magic as well as the innovations of an industrializing society. Elisabeth is a charismatic heroine, and her chemistry with Nathaniel is inevitable and natural, but it is Silas’ character arc that is particularly compelling. A race against time filled with demonic magic, vivid settings and classic romantic tension, this book is a chillingly good gothic.sorcery of thorns
  • All the Greys on Greene Street by Laura Tucker and Kelly Murphy:  In Laura Tucker’s All the Greys on Greene Street, Ollie, a gifted artist, is content living with her artist parents in a loft in New York City. But then her father leaves for France, accompanied by a woman whom Ollie and her mother playfully nickname “Vooley Voo.” One week later, the playfulness has vanished, and Ollie’s mother will not get out of bed. Ollie strives for normalcy as she attends school, hangs out with her two best guy friends and goes to visit Apollo, her father’s partner in his art restoration business. Due to her mother’s urgent, hushed phone conversations and a desperate man who appears at their door, it becomes apparent that a mystery surrounds Ollie’s father and his departure, which coincided with the disappearance of a valuable piece of art. This is a lot for 12-year-old Ollie to puzzle out, and she becomes fiercely protective of her mother and refuses to accept the truth of her mother’s depression. There is a beguiling naturalness to Tucker’s depiction of Ollie and her troubles. Ollie is observant and reflective, allowing the reader full access to her emotional upheaval. Her best friends are genuine and loyal but clumsy in their attempts to help. Apollo is kind but distantly adult. Perhaps the most lovely element of the book is the infusion of art:  Ollie’s art, rendered in pencil drawings, is sprinkled throughout the book, and there are discussions of art technique, art in museums and, most instructively, the provenance of art displaced by war. This book is a poignant and well-structured debut novel that’s sure to satisfy young readers. all the greys on greene street
  • In West Mills by De’Shawn Charles Winslow:  Residents of West Mills, North Carolina, joke that their town never changes. Yet there’s never a dull moment for the stubborn, loyal characters in De’Shawn Charles Winslow’s debut novel, In West Mills. The novel opens in 1941 with a fight between main character Azalea “Knot” Centre and her man, Pratt. When Pratt enlists for the war, Knot’s neighbor Otis Lee looks after her and keeps her company. He chides her for her obsessive drinking and reading. In turn, she scolds him for his rift with a mutual friend, Valley. And so it goes, friends becoming family until the town includes three generations of fierce fighters and lovers. Reminiscent of August Wilson’s 10-play cycle marking each decade in 20th-century African-American history, In West Mills telescopes four decades into a densely packed drama surrounding Knot, a woman full of passion and pathos, an object of both hate and love. Knot is nicknamed as a girl for balling up her little body around ceramic “whatnots” stolen from her mother. Other West Mills inhabitants’ nicknames include Pep, Breezy and Goldie, showing how these neighbors claim one another as their own. As the novel progresses, the story becomes less about Knot and more about how the whole town handles its woes, and the story’s central figure becomes a tightly wound web of lies, secrecy and forgiveness. Characters deal with inflamed emotions, gender and race roles, sexual preferences, addiction and children born out of wedlock–the stuff of the soap operas Knot and friends watch every day on their new televisions. What distinguishes West Mills’ melodrama from episodic TV, however, is the real-life, unglamorous attitudes of ordinary people. Amid their squabbles, they work hard as farmers, cleaners, midwives, teachers and musicians. They eschew happy endings but stick with each other despite their differences. This book exemplifies the timeless adage that it takes a village to raise one another. This is a historical fiction triumph.  in west mills
  • The Right Sort of Man by Allison Montclair:  World War II and its immediate aftermath compose a well-trod territory for fiction, especially the British homefront. But this book breathes life into that era with a sprightly historical mystery. It’s 1946. Rationing is still in effect, and the catastrophic damage of the Blitz still pockmarks the city’s surface, but London is shakily getting back to business as usual. For Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge, the end of the war has left them both somewhat adrift. And so they both leap almost gratefully into action when a client of their matchmaking agency, the Right Sort Marriage Bureau, is accused of murder. Dickie Trower has been arrested for the killing of Tillie La Salle, a canny shop girl with whom the Right Sort had arranged for him to go on a date. Elegant war widow Gwendolyn leads the investigative charge, at least initially. And while her fledgling attempts to understand the London transportation system without the aid of a chauffeur are endearing to the extreme, Montclair adds in twists of melancholy given Gwen’s still very fresh grief over her beloved husband Ronnie’s death. To make matters even worse, Gwen had a nervous collapse upon receiving the tragic news, was sent to a sanitarium for four months and subsequently lost custody of her and Ronnie’s child to his aloof, snobbish parents. Montclair balances Gwen’s pursuit of both independence and the murderer with her partner Iris’ own struggle to adjust to peacetime. The Right Sort of Man‘s rat-a-tat dialogue is never better than when Iris is eviscerating the latest unfortunate to stand in her way, or when she’s finagling her way into a new line of inquiry like a scrappy British cousin of Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday. And as with Gwen, Montclair slowly reveals the profound sadness that lies beneath Iris’ wry and witty exterior. “I can’t answer that” is her constant refrain when asked about what exactly she got up to during the war; it’s a running joke that becomes an increasingly sad motif, reminding the reader that the freedom and excitement of Iris’ classified activities on behalf of king and country have faded away. But Iris can still use her less-than-savory skills and reach out to some of her shadowy war buddies to solve the case. As she and Gwen delve into the lower-class world of La Salle, who may or may not have been involved in a black market scheme with a very charming gangster, Montclair mines fantastic comedy from both Iris’ ever-increasing portfolio of underhanded skills and the very genteel Gwen’s interactions with Iris’ motley former comrades. Brimming with wit and joie de vivre but sneakily poignant under its whimsical surface, this book is an utter delight and a fantastic kickoff to a new series.   right sort of man
  • This Time Will Be Different by Misa Sugiura:  Her family’s unofficial motto is Katsuyamas Never Quit, but that hasn’t held true for 17-year-old CJ, who knows she’s never going to be as high-powered as her ambitious single mom. CJ prefers helping her Aunt Hannah at their family floral shop, Heart’s Desire. Heart’s Desire is a point of family pride. CJ’s grandfather spent 30 years saving enough money to buy back the shop at an astronomical markup. When the Katsuyamas and thousands of other Japanese Americans were sent to internment camps during World War II, her grandfather was forced to sell all of his property to an investor named McAllister for a fraction of its true value. But now, with Heart’s Desire struggling, CJ’s mom is threatening to sell it right back to a McAllister who currently serves as the head of the venture capital firm where she is a partner. This outrage stokes CJ’s activist spirit, especially when she learns that the Heart’s Desire scandal is only one of many examples of the McAllister family profiting off the losses of Japanese Americans. This books shows CJ wrestling with her growing awareness of racism and the injustices of history while also grappling with more typical teenage concerns like an unattainable crush or a changing relationship with her best friend. With the help of a history-loving boy, CJ starts to realize that although we might never be able to fix past mistakes–both globally and personally–we can learn from them, tell their stories and try our best to avoid making them again. this time will be different
  • Leaving the Witness by Amber Scorah:  Reality is the most effective antidote to a religion whose tenets are designed to keep their members segregated from “the world.” In Leaving the Witness:  Exiting a Religion and Finding a Life, Amber Scorah chronicles her journey into the world and, subsequently, away from her religious community. By Scorah’s account, her Jehovah’s Witnesses church kept its members preoccupied studying, preaching and submitting records of their activities; discouraged them from going to college and cultivating friendships outside their congregation; and advised them to take subsistence jobs rather than pursuing careers that might refocus their interests. Why bother with careers, after all, when Armageddon is just around the corner? Email turned out to be the serpent in Scorah’s Eden. After she and her husband moved to Shanghai in 2005 to preach their gospel (which was illegal there and had to be done furtively), she took a job podcasting about life in China. Listeners were encouraged to email her questions and comments. One who did so was Jonathan, a screenwriter in Los Angeles. It becomes clear that something emotionally seismic is brewing in the narrative when the readers noticies that Scorah never states her husband’s first name or endows him with personality but quotes lavishly from her correspondence with Jonathan, who views her religion as a cult and tells her so. Although she was so devoted to the Witnesses that she learned Mandarin in order to preach in China, she finds her faith slipping under Jonathan’s barrage of skepticism. Her exhilaration at finally making the break is tempered greatly, however, by the realization that it has cost her the comfort and friendship of everyone she’s been close to throughout her insulated life, including her entire family. With nothing to hold her elsewhere, she relocated to New York to embark on a new plane of existence. The last pages of her story are heartbreaking, but unlike many apostates who look back wistfully at the beliefs they’ve left behind, Scorah has no doubt that she has delivered herself from a kind of evil. leaving the witness
  • Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn:  Desperation can lead a person to extreme decisions they wouldn’t otherwise countenance. For a parent, what could be more heart-wrenching than the choice to leave one’s child behind and move to another country in search of a better life? That’s the decision made by the title character of Patsy, Nicole Dennis-Benn’s follow-up to her assured debut, Here Comes the Sun. But one of the satisfying nuances of her second novel is that this heartache is only partly due to the knowledge that, by emigrating from Jamaica to America, single mother Patsy will leave behind her 6-year-old daughter, Tru. As the novel opens, it’s 1998, and Patsy is still in love with her childhood friend Cicely, who moved to America several years earlier. Patsy hopes to secure a tourist visa–her previous application was declined two years earlier with no explanation–and rekindle their romance. Soon, Patsy leaves Tru and Mama G, her religious  mother who collects Jesus figurines, and flies to New York, where Cicely meets her at the airport. Patsy’s surprise upon reuniting with her friend is one of the many turns this novel takes. Cicely lives in a brownstone in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, is married to an abusive would-be real estate mogul and is raising a son Tru’s age who takes violin lessons at a prestigious music academy. Over the next decade, Patsy fails to find the America–or the Cicely–of her dreams and has to settle for a job cleaning bathrooms in a faux-Jamaican restaurant before securing gigs as a nanny for a host of privileged women. The story moves back and forth between Patsy’s increasingly disheartening experiences in America and Tru’s grim situation back home. Tru has to live with her father, Roy, a police officer she barely knows. As Tru enters her teens, she struggles with depression and her sexuality, all the while wondering why her mother has been gone for much longer than the promised six months and why she never calls. This moving work about the immigrant experience is distinguished by Dennis-Benn’s compassion for her characters and her acknowledgement that issues related to sexuality and immigration require subtlety and understanding.   patsy

Summer Reading Guide

The Jacksonville Public Library has a Summer Reading Program for every single person no matter the age. Check out some of our best new books that we recommend to get your reading started off on the right foot!

  • Once & Future by Cori McCarthy and Amy Rose Capetta:  For 41 cycles over thousands of years, the wizard Merlin has had the same agenda:  Find Arthur, train Arthur, and nudge him onto the nearest throne. Then Arthur is supposed to defeat the greatest evil in the universe and unite all of humankind. Every cycle so far, Arthur has died and Merlin has aged backward–until this 42nd reincarnation of the once and future monarch. This time, Arthur is a teenage Arab interplanetary refugee who was taken in by an adoptive brother named Kay and his two moms. Arthur is also a girl named Ari. And, like nearly everyone else in this futuristic world, Ari is queer. Familiar characters and places from the legend are here in new guises. Gweneviere is the multi-racial leader of a rebel planet, Lamarack is gender-fluid, and Camelot is a combination of a run-down spacecraft and a world where medieval entertainment takes center stage. The greatest evil in the universe is a mega-corporation known as Mercer that’s led by an unforgiving Administrator. When a quest to reveal Mercer’s dark side–and to rescue Kay and Ari’s moms–goes awry, Ari and her friends must draw on previously unrecognized strengths to save themselves and the universe, and the stunning conclusion leaves room for future stories. once and future
  • The Little Guys by Vera Brosgol:  Caldecott Honor-winning author and illustrator Vera Brosgol’s new picture book charms with a story of a band of acorn-hatted creatures, a gang of inscrutable little guys who live on a small island. They may be small, but they live large. Tiny but strong, they are clever and fearless. Using their noggins, their numbers and their tight teamwork, they ford deep streams, cross dark forests, climb tall trees, lift heavy logs, dig deep burrows and even bounce on the belly of a big brown bear. They do this all to find food for the little guys. But one day, while hunting for their breakfast, they get carried away with their success and leave chaos in their wake. Soon they have bullied all the residents of the forest and collected a tower of food. All the food is for them. There is nothing for anyone else. The little guys quite literally have everything–everything except one grape in the beak of a small red bird. When the little guys create a tower to grab it, the tower sways and they all tumble into the water. The little guys float along and finally climb out, but only with the help of the forest creatures whose food they’ve taken. This incident wakes the little guys to the realization that they already have all they need. Together they are strong, they say, as they deliver the grape back to the small red bird. Brosgol’s story filled with bright, cartoonish illustrations will delight young readers and spur conversations about teamwork, greed and even the politics of power.   little guys
  • The Binding (e-book) by Bridget Collins:  What would life be if you could forget your most painful memories? Emmett Farmer’s family is horrified when a bookbinder requests Emmett as her apprentice. Under her guidance, he will learn to lay hands on people, copy their memories onto paper and bind those memories between two covers. Once the memories are committed to the page, their creator forget their most traumatic moments. Sexual assault and violence are no more, but what’s left in their place? Is it worse “to feel nothing, or to grieve for something you no longer remembered?” Emmett asks. “Surely when you forgot, you’d forget to be sad, or what was the point? And yet that numbness would take part of your self away. It would be like having pins and needles in your soul.” In this book, acclaimed young adult author Bridget Collins explores the way memory shapes a person in times both good and bad. Emmett learns that his trade is controversial–considered witchcraft by some–but that he’s powerless to avoid it. His mentor sees binding as a kind act for those who want to leave trauma behind, but other binders aren’t so ethical. Some practitioners sell books on the black market. Other binders take advantage of people’s need for money and purchase their memories. When Emmett spots a book bearing his own name, the ethical quandary becomes personal. Collins’ interest in bookbinding is apparent in her enchanting descriptions of these vessels of memories. She also found inspiration in her work with the Samaritans, the British charity organization she volunteered with, working with people who had experienced trauma. This book is an imaginative, thought-provoking tale of how–for better or worse–moments can define who we become.  binding
  • Normal People by Sally Rooney:  This novel is partly set in the small Irish town of Carricklea. Sixteen-year-olds Marianne and Connell attend the same school but are worlds apart socially and financially. Marianne is plump, uncool and unliked. She comes from a well-off family, which isolates her from her blue-collar classmates. The star of the football team, Connell, is a slightly aloof, decent, sweetly unassuming guy who picks his mother up from her cleaning job. A clandestine affair starts between the two, but at school Connell barely acknowledges Marianne. Marianne is treated badly at home, too, where she is ignored by her widowed mother and bullied by her brother. Connell’s casual cruelty evokes all the insecurities of teen life, of fitting in and worrying about what people think. It sets a precedent:  Marianne longs for Connell’s love, and he appears unable to give it. The complex relationship between the two–their incredible closeness and dysfunction–is masterfully done. Both Marianne and Connell receive academic scholarships to Trinity College in Dublin, and over the years, their lives bisect and cross. Marianne becomes popular, while Connell becomes introverted and distant. They become best friends, relying on each other’s counsel as they both enter into new relationships. But there is also a fractious, complicated longing that neither seems to know how to handle. Marianne’s bad choices in boyfriends–bullies and emotional abusers–only put Connell’s bad qualities in sharp relief. But he, too, is suffering. Depression sees him visiting a therapist and scuppers his relationship with a college girlfriend. The quality of Rooney’s writing cannot be understated as she brilliantly provides a window into her protagonists’ true selves. normal people
  • Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein:  A wealth of history turns this book into a novel that’s both beautiful and devastating. Author Jennifer Cody Epstein taps into the 1930s prewar era, laying out an unsparing narrative that details tragic events and horrifying legacies. Renate and Ilse, Jew and and Gentile, are best friends in pre-World War II Germany, but they’re driven apart in the terrible buildup to war when Ilse joins Bund Deutscher Madel, the female division of the Hitler Youth movement. Many years later, in 1989 New York City, Ilse’s estranged daughter, Ava Fischer, receives her mother’s ashes and a trove of letters, addressed to Renate but never sent, that reveal her mother’s terrible secrets. In turn, Ava resists sharing Ilse’s history with her own daughter, Sophie, and Ava realizes that she “has kept Sophie from her own story.” The narrative unfolds from several characters’ perspectives, making plain “the things we lie about to make our crimes bearable,” while also opening a new door that may lead to redemption and joy for future generations. wunderland
  • Courting Mr. Lincoln by Louis Bayard: In this novel, Louis Bayard dramatically recreates the months after Abraham Lincoln’s 1840 winter arrival in Springfield with delicious detail and diligent diplomacy. Alternating between the disparate voices of Lincoln’s future wife and Lincoln’s best friend, Bayard offers an insider’s view of just how much the two may may have influenced the awkward, often ill-mannered country lawyer as he began to inch his way up the political ladder. Mary Todd is a debutante who has been told she needs to find a husband, and quickly. While visiting her sister in Springfield, Mary is not at all impressed by Lincoln in their first meetings, and besides, her family believes that Springfield’s societal rules restrict Mary from allowing the man a spot on her dance card, much less a courtship. Lincoln soon discovers that Mary is not the average young woman. She is educated and passionate about politics, something he doesn’t usually encounter in young women, if he ever even notices them. Mary eventually becomes drawn to Lincoln’s intelligence, humor and respect for her boldness. When Lincoln and Mary begin their relationship, albeit clumsily, they are forced to hide their courtship from everyone, including Lincoln’s roommate, Joshua Speed. Joshua rescues Lincoln as he arrives in Springfield with only the clothes on his back and a few other items in saddlebags. With no money and no legal work yet, Lincoln agrees to Joshua’s suggestion that they share a room with only one bed. The two become inseparable, historically rumored to have been lovers, and bonded together by mutual respect and a great deal of admiration. Joshua guides Lincoln through Springfield’s water, which can quickly become raging if proper customs regarding attire, table manners and the like are not observed. Joshua is not looking for a woman to share his life with, and he really doesn’t think that Lincoln should either–hence the crux of the problem and the book’s main thrust. Will Lincoln sacrifice his relationship with Joshua to court Mary? Better yet, should he?  courting mr. lincoln
  • Tangled Up in You (e-book) by Samantha Chase:  When police officer Bobby Hannigan is shot in the line of duty, he’s forced to take some rest and relaxation. In his downtime, he meets single mother and widow Teagan Shaughnessy, who’s just brought her son back home to be near family. The time is wrong for Bobby and Teagan. Their future’s too uncertain, the changes too big. But as John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.” Their attraction is gentle at first, and they forge an undeniable bond through their shared emotional struggle to adjust to their respective new normals. Bobby’s love for Teagan’s son, Lucas, only reinforces their inevitable happy ever after. Chase takes readers on an emotional journey, and you’ll  laugh and cry and get sucked into the drama of the Shaughnessy clan. If you’re a fan of big, meddling families and a full cast of secondary characters, you’ll enjoy it all the more. tangled up in you
  • A Prince on Paper (e-book) by Alyssa Cole:  Love is the most dangerous gamble imaginable for Johan Maximillian von Braustein, stepson to the king of the tiny, tumultuous nation of Liechtienbourg. Bullied as a child for his sensitive heart, he’s learned to protect himself with an unending display of glamour and debauchery designed to keep everyone distracted and at a distance. Known as “Bad Boy Jo-Jo,” he’s on a first-name basis with members of the paparazzi, and there are online communities dedicated to the appreciation of him. Every move he makes is orchestrated and calculated to protect himself from ever having to be genuine or vulnerable. And while he’s known for his wild stunts, the one risk too hazardous for him to even consider is the idea of falling in love. Meanwhile, love is quite literally a game for Nya Jerami. Sheltered (read: stifled) by her manipulative, controlling father for most of her life, she seeks refuge in online games that let her play at romance, intrigue and seduction. And if her favorite happens to be One True Prince, in which her character is required to seduce a certain Prince Hojan transparently based on a Liechtienbourgian playboy, then who’s to know? It’s not likely that a man like him would ever notice a wallflower like her. A series of comedic mishaps through Johan and Nya together during a mutual friends’ wedding celebration. Nya finds herself thrust into Johan’s arms–and right into the media spotlight. It’s her chance to chase the adventure she’s always craved, with the man she has always desired. But years of treating love as nothing more than a harmless, consequence-free game have done nothing to prepare her for the moment when it’s there in the flesh, right by her side. This book is full of luxury and decadence–escapism at its finest! prince on paper
  • Light From Other Stars by Erika Swyler:  On a cold January morning in 1986, everything changes for Nedda Papas, an 11-year-old science geek and astronaut fangirl. Ten miles from Easter, their small Florida town, the space shuttle Challenger lifts off and explodes. Soon, strange things happen:  Electricity surges and fails, ponds freeze and boil, the sky takes on a green glow. At first, Easter’s residents chalk up the weirdness to the Challenger explosion, but Nedda and her dad, Theo–a physicist who’s been laid off from NASA–begin to suspect otherwise. Theo and his wife, Betheen, both grieving a loss, have begun to live separate lives. Theo works obsessively on a project he calls his entropy machine, while Betheen, a frustrated scientist, has devoted herself to her baking business, cutting herself off emotionally from her husband and daughter. The novel alternates the 11-year-old Nedda’s story with that of the grown Nedda, who’s narrating from aboard the spaceship Chawla. The adult Nedda is part of a crew of four on a long-term mission to an unnamed planet, and the crew has learned that power spikes have affected the ship’s generator. As Nedda and her crewmates work to head off disaster, so does the 11-year-old Nedda, along with Theo and Betheen. Although this book includes plenty of science fiction elements, it’s also a coming-of-age story, as the young Nedda gains a new understanding of her parents and then works to rescue them and the rest of her town. Juggling dual timelines, wonderful mid-1980s period details and a large cast of secondary characters, Swyler has set herself an ambitious task. But the novel is well-paced, with a satisfying twist near the end that readers are subtly prepared for but that still feels surprising.  light from other stars
  • Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer:  Racing across the Mongolian desert in a pony express-style horse race isn’t a challenge many folks would choose to tackle. But when British 19-year-old Lara Prior-Palmer stumbles across a website detailing this very thing, she impulsively decides to throw her hat in the ring. The result is this stunning debut memoir detailing Prior-Palmer’s journey entering, competing in and ultimately winning the Mongol Derby, often dubbed “the world’s longest, toughest horse race.” It’s an extremely demanding test, not for the weak-spirited, requiring riders to change steeds 25 times through 14 different microclimates. In witty, open and revealing prose, Prior-Palmer details a slew of obstacles–from searing heat and pelting rain to food poisoning, uncooperative ponies and, most importantly, a lack of experience and preparation. Her tale could be pulled from the pages of Hollywood script, with its sweeping, scenic descriptions of the Mongolian steppe and the allies and fierce competitors who emerge among the unique cast of characters (like the skilled and highly trained Texan rider Devan, with her striking American accent and corporate sponsorships). In spite of being an amateur navigator and rider, who didn’t even bring enough food or clothing, Prior-Palmer makes her way with true grit and determination. And we passionately cheer her on, especially when she muses that the race is “a live show of humans slowly falling to pieces.” Against all odds, she wins, becoming the first woman and youngest person ever to do so. The ride is a learning experience for Prior-Palmer, one that helps her overcome fears of fleeing and teaches her to tap into her gut to make her way. As she says once she’s gotten her stride, “The race has got me going so fast I’ve lost hold of my ducking-out technique.” This book is a true page-turner, told in gorgeous, descriptive prose that readers will tear through like the ponies racing across the plain. rough magic
  • The Pioneers by David McCullough:  The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was one of the most important acts of Congress in our history and crucial to an orderly settlement of the American West. It began taking shape on March 1, 1786, when Revolutionary War veteran General Rufus Putnam convened a meeting at the Bunch-of-Grapes tavern in Boston. The men there devised an ambitious plan to guarantee what would later be known as the American way of life. Veterans would be provided property in the Ohio country as payment for their military services. The conditions of this plan would allow freedom of religion and education but wouldn’t allow slavery. From this meeting, the Ohio Company was formed, coupling the group’s idealism with land speculation. In his absorbing new book, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner, bestselling author and most readable of historians David McCullough brings to life the story of the courageous men and women who dealt with many hard realities to found the city that became Marietta, Ohio. Letters, diaries, journals and other primary sources give us an intimate portrait of the community. McCullough focuses on five men, quite different from each other, who were instrumental to the venture’s success. Women were responsible for many things, as well, but since they recorded little of their hardships, we have few of their first-person accounts. Putnam did much of the planning for the first Ohio Company group to settle in the West, and he was their leader. Manasseh Cutler didn’t move to Marietta himself, but his son Ephraim did, and he and Putnam were personally responsible for prohibiting slavery in the new state of Ohio. Joseph Baker, a skilled carpenter, became a notable architect, and Dr. Samuel Hildreth was a pathbreaking physician and an important historian of Marietta. All in all, McCullough has again worked his narrative magic and helped us to better understand those who came before us. pioneers
  • The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames:  Juliet Grames’ entrancing multigenerational family saga is based on the life of her grandmother, Stella, who was born in 1920 in the small Italian village of Ievoli and, 16 years later, immigrated with her family to Connecticut as World War II loomed over their homeland. Through the book, the author inserts fictional details into the life of her ever-stoic grandmother while focusing on her near-death experiences, which were well documented by family members and passed down over the years, including severe burns from cooking oil, an attack by a hungry pig, almost dying in childbirth and falling down basement steps at the age of 68. Just as compelling as Stella’s story is that of her mother, Assunta, who was born in Ievoli in 1899 and was married at age 14 to a domineering and abusive husband. At first, Assunta’s sad marriage convinces Stella to remain single, but eventually she gives in to traditional mores and weds Carmelo Maglieri, another Italian immigrant. Stella’s independent spirit is stifled, finally, and she ends up raising 10 children, the last one coming when she’s 44. The final 30 years of Stella’s life, following a partial lobotomy after her fall, are lonely ones. Estranged from her younger sister, whom she blames for her “seven or eight deaths,” Stella lives by herself, her grandchildren knowing her only as “an unintelligible crocheting grandmother engaged in a blood feud with her sister.” They have heard the facts of her many near deaths but know nothing of her feisty, independent spirit, now long gone. Embellished with details of the extreme hardship experienced by Italy’s poor throughout two world wars and the bigotry encountered by those who immigrated to the U.S., Grames’ debut will find broad appeal as both an illuminating historical saga and a vivid portrait of a strong woman struggling to break free from the confines of her gender.  seven or eight deaths of stella fortuna
  • The Farm by Joanne Ramos:  There are a number of compelling arguments for surrogacy. Some would-be mothers are unable to conceive. Gay couples may wish to become parents. But, as with any legal arrangement, complications can arise, especially when mercenaries try to exploit people’s emotions for monetary gain. Joanne Ramos imagines such complications in this ambitious dystopian debut. The novel’s effectiveness lies in the power of its premise. Financially straitened women, most of them Filipina immigrants–Ramos, an American, was born in the Philippines and moved to Wisconsin when she was 6–are recruited to carry the babies of ultra-rich, typically white clientele in exchange for a huge payout. Among the immigrants is protagonist Jane Reyes, the Filipina mother of a 4-year-old girl who left her husband after she discovered his affair. After Jane loses her nanny job, she takes a tip from her 67-year-old cousin with whom she lives, and applies for a job at Golden Oaks, a fancy resort in New York’s Hudson Valley. At Golden Oaks, surrogate mothers reside in luxury, and this opulence includes organic meals, private fitness trainers, daily massages–all for free. But the pregnant women are constantly monitored, and they are restricted from leaving the grounds or from having any contact with the outside world. The person running Golden Oaks is Mae Yu, a high-achieving Chinese-American woman who, in a marvelous phrase, has “a lusty Ayn Randian love of New York.” Her job is to recruit Hosts who are willing to carry babies for the company’s wealthy Clients. Not all Hosts, however, are treated the same. A few are Premium Hosts, which means they’re white. They include Jane’s roommate Reagan, who represents the holy trifecta of Premium Hosts because she’s white, pretty and educated. She aspires to a career in photography and wants to break free of her domineering father. Another Premium Host is Lisa, who sees Golden Oaks for what it is and recruits Jane and Reagan in her plans to undermine its authority. And then there’s Jane’s cousin, whose motivations may not be what they seem. At one point, Reagan tells Jane, “Everything’s conditional. Everything’s got strings attached.” The Farm shows how intricately laced those strings can be. farm
  • Exhalation by Ted Chiang:  Reading a Ted Chiang anthology is an experience that slowly claims little corners of your brain until eventually your whole head is devoted to it. You read and digest one story, but each tale is so compelling and complex that no matter how long you wait, that first story will continue to beg questions even as you try to digest a second. One after another, Chiang’s stories claim their place in your mind until you’re completely swept up in his provocative and at times even charming world. Exhalation, Chiang’s latest collection of stories covering almost 20 years of his work, gathers nine tales that ponder questions of the nature of consciousness, the rigidity of history, our relationship with the machines that increasingly take control of our lives and more. In the title story, the narrator uses their own artificial lungs as the basis for a study on the nature of reality. In “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” Chiang explores time travel as it might have existed in a time before science fiction pushed it into the public consciousness. “The Great Silence,” one of the book’s shortest tales, explores the intellect and mortality of a parrot. Then there’s the collection’s centerpiece, the novella-length “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” which explores the growth and developing lives of a group of digital organisms and the humans who care for them. Each story is a carefully considered, finely honed machine designed to entertain, but this collection also forces you to look at things like your smartphone or your pet with new eyes. What makes Exhalation particularly brilliant is that not one of the stories feels like it’s designed to be thought-provoking in a stilted, academic way. Chiang is an entertaining, empathetic writer first, before being one of contemporary sci-fi’s intellectual powerhouses, and each story reads that way. Exhalation is a must-read for any fan of exquisitely crafted sci-fi. exhalation
  • Furious Hours by Casey Cep:  This wonderful book tells the strange saga of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a black Alabama preacher accused of murdering five members of his family for insurance money in the 1970s. Law enforcement officers and insurance officials suspected something was up but had no hard evidence, while Maxwell’s followers whispered rumors of voodoo after his relatives kept turning up dead by the side of the road. At the funeral of Maxwell’s last victim, his 16-year-old stepdaughter, he was shot dead by one of the girl’s relatives, Robert Burns, who until that moment had been a hardworking, law-abiding family man. Amazingly, despite the fact that hundreds of mourners witnessed the shooting, Burns was ultimately acquitted of his crime. Attending the trial was Harper Lee, who wrote that Maxwell “might not have believed in what he preached, he might not have believed in voodoo, but he had a profound and abiding belief in insurance.” After studying law at the University of Alabama, Lee was naturally intrigued by the Maxwell story–although she realized “all too well that the story of a black serial killer wasn’t what readers would expect from the author of To Kill a Mockingbird.” She spent nearly a decade working on a manuscript she called “The Reverend” but ultimately abandoned the project, much to the disappointment of many of the citizens of Alexander City, where Maxwell’s murder took place. Cep, a thorough researcher and polished writer, divides this sprawling tale into three parts:  first telling Maxwell’s story, then chronicling the lawyer who once had Maxwell as a client and ultimately represented Maxwell’s killer, and finally explaining the famous novelist’s fascination with and involvement in the case. All in all, Furious Hours offers an absorbing glimpse into the gifted but guarded life of this enigmatic literary hero. furious hours
  • With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo:  Emoni Santiago, known for her amazing skills in the kitchen, is a senior at her Philadelphia charter school, but her family is closer to the forefront of her mind than classes and college applications. Her 2-year-old daughter, Emma, whom Emoni calls “Babygirl,” has just started daycare. Babygirl’s father, Tyrone, is sweet to the child, but he’s a headache for Emoni. Emoni’s own father, Julio, is an activist who couldn’t handle single parenthood after Emoni’s mother, a black woman from North Carolina, died during childbirth. Now, when Julio visits from Puerto Rico, he leaves without goodbyes. And Emoni’s grandmother, ‘Buela, keeps having doctor’s appointments that she doesn’t fully explain. But at school, a new guy is testing Emoni’s resolve not to deal with pretty boys, and then there’s the elective class she’s taking a chance on–culinary arts. When Emoni cooks at home, her dishes are inspired and have the power to bring people to tears. (Readers can try out Emoni’s dishes for themselves with the many recipes peppered throughout.) But the class assignments feature as much science as they do art, more discipline than creativity, and Emoni isn’t the school-achievement type. Plus, she’s not sure what to do about the culinary class’s study-abroad trip to Spain, which she has no money for. Readers will connect with Emoni as she navigates complex relationships, her irritation at being misunderstood and her self-identity with confidence and sass while trying to keep her dreams realistic and motherhood on the front burner. This book stands out for its unique, realistic subject matter and memorable characters. with the fire on high
  • The Flight Portfolio by Julie Orringer:  Varian Fry was a young Harvard-educated journalist and editor who worked for the American Emergency Rescue Committee during World War II. His primary goal was to prevent notable artists, writers and political exiles, many of them Jewish, from being interned in concentration camps. Stationed in Marseilles in 1940, Fry procured visas, created false passports and sought out escape routes on both sea and land for almost 2,000 people, including Marc Chagall, Andre Breton and Max Ernst. His inherently dramatic tale is the basis for Julie Orringer’s thoughtful and absorbing new novel, The Flight Portfolio. For just over a year, Fry and a core staff of Jewish and non-Jewish expats focused their efforts in the south of France, collaborating with an extensive network of forgers, blackmailers and petty thieves. Working out of a hotel room, Fry eventually rented a villa to provide a temporary home for refugees who needed a safe residence. The Flight Portfolio opens after an unpersuasive visit to the Chagalls, who show no interest in leaving France. Fry is approached by Elliott Schiffman Grant, an old friend and lover from her student days at Harvard, where both men were part of Lincoln Kirstein’s inner circle. Now teaching at Columbia, Shiffman–or Skiff, as he is called–has followed his German-born Jewish lover, Gregor Katznelson, to Europe in hope of locating Katznelson’s son. Both father and son need to leave Europe, and swiftly. Although Fry and Skiff haven’t seen each other in over a decade, they become romantically involved as they work together to provide the Katznelsons with safe passage. This book mixes historical fact with imaginative fiction. Though Skiff is an invention, Fry’s bisexuality is well documented, and Orringer makes use of the relationship to explore Fry’s sense of growing empathy and to highlight the moral issues inherent in deciding who is and who is not “worth” saving. Orringer is a meticulous researcher, and the novel’s cloak-and-dagger thrills keep the pace lively in this lengthy but intriguing tale of resilience and resistance. flight portfolio
  • Lanny by Max Porter:  This book is the ultimate incarnation of nature and its pitiless sovereignty:  a being who haunts the edges of a village, chronicling every word uttered in pub, house or street. It calls to the sweet, brilliant boy Lanny, drawing him into the woods, away from his parents’ home and from his kind old friend Mad Pete. The creature summons little Lanny to a doom we cannot know or understand, even after we’ve read this magnificent story. This awful, awesome personage–this human-hungry thing–goes by many names, such as Dead Papa Toothwort, Pan, Oberon or the Green Man. Toothwort sings the ancient, recurrent Song of the Earth, rising above a chorus of perplexed and panicked human voices. Boy, mother, father, artist, the entire village–all must face the music. All are done for. Lanny is one of the most beautiful novels of the past decade. lanny
  • Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips:  Although it may seem that every square inch of the earth has been mapped, there are still places that are mysterious. The Kamchatka Peninsula is one such place. You’ve seen it on a map, extending like a swollen appendage from the northeastern edge of Russia into the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk. Maybe you’ve wondered about the people who live there. Does anyone live there? Of course, people do live in Kamchatka, both in real life and in Julia Phillips’ powerful debut novel. There are those from the indigenous and the white Russian population. The book opens when two little white girls are snatched from the seaside by a creep. The rest of the book concerns both the search for these two girls and the mystery of how they could have vanished on a peninsula all but cut off from the rest of Russia by a mountain range. The book’s many characters are introduced in the preface, which calls to mind all those classic Russian novels with sprawling casts. But at the same time, Disappearing Earth is utterly contemporary. Cellphones are as inescapable in Kamchatka as they are anywhere else, even though they’re frequently out of range. Phillips’ focus in on her female characters. There are the missing Golosovsky girls and their desperate mother; unhappy schoolgirls; a new mother going out of her mind with boredom; and a bitter vulcanologist with a missing dog. We hear from a native woman whose own daughter disappeared years before, as well as from her other daughter and her daughter’s children. Most of these women brush or bump up against each other, connected, sometimes tenuously, by the disappearance of the Golosovsky girls. The men in their lives aren’t so much useless as they are in the way. The cops give up the search, and husbands, fathers, boyfriends and brothers just don’t get it. Besides the deep humanity of her characters, Phillips’ portrayal of Kamchatka itself is superb. Has there ever been a novel, even by Dostoevsky or Tolstoy, set in such a strange, ancient, beautiful place, with its glaciers and volcanoes and endless cold? It’s a place where  miracles might happen–where what is lost can once again be found–if you jump over a traditional New Year’s fire in just the right way. Phillips’ stunning novel dares to imagine the possibilities. disappearing earth
  • The British Are Coming by Rick Atkinson:  This book begins in 1775 with the lead-up to the battles of Lexington and Concord and ends in January 1777 after the battles of Trenton and Princeton. Many of us have heard of these places, and some of us have visited them. One of the many virtues of Atkinson’s skill as a researcher and writer is that he is able to strip away contemporary accretions and give readers a tactile sense of those times and lands. Few of the Founding Fathers appear in these pages; they are off in Philadelphia writing their declarations and acts of the Continental Congress. But Ben Franklin, nearing 70, makes an arduous winter journey to Quebec as the Americans try and disastrously fail to split Canada away from Great Britain. Then there is Henry Knox, an overweight bookseller who turns out to be a brilliant artillery strategist. And the brothers Howe, leaders of the British Army and Navy, waver between punishing their enemies and treating them lightly to coax them back into the arms of the mother country. Towering above them all is George Washington, famous for his physical grace and horsemanship. During much of this time, he is such a failure that some officers plot against him, and he fears being dismissed as the military leader. Under his leadership, the army retreats again and again and again. The enemy mocks Washington, ironically calling him “the old fox.” He must beg soldiers to stay when their enlistments expire. He endures. One of this book’s great achievements is that it gives readers the visceral sense of just how much the American forces endured. It’s moving to read accounts from soldiers who slept on the snow and frozen ground with their bare feet to a fire, then rose and marched without shoes or jackets to cross the icy Delaware river on Christmas night 1776 to rout British-paid mercenaries in Trenton. The British Are Coming is a superb ode to the grit and everyday heroism that eventually won the war. british are coming
  • Once More We Saw Stars by Jayson Greene:  A parentless child is an orphan. A spouse whose partner dies is a widow. But what, muses Jayson Greene, do you call a parent whose child has died? “It seems telling to me there is no word in our language for our situation,” he writes. “It is unspeakable, and by extension, we are not supposed to exist.” Greene and his wife, Stacy, find themselves in this nameless state after their only child, Greta, dies at age 2. Greta was sitting on a bench with her grandmother when a brick fell from a nearby windowsill and struck her on the head. The couple quickly turn to one another for comfort; while some families are torn apart by such a tragedy, the Greenes find hope in working through their grief together. But grief is a tremendous thing, and mourning Greta is a gargantuan task. Jayson and Stacy open themselves to healing possibilities outside of their norm. They didn’t think of themselves as the sort of people who would turn to a medium in times of grief, but she becomes part of their journey when the couple travels to the Kripalu Institute for a seminar called “From Grieving to Believing.” A grief expert at this retreat tells them, “Grief is a reflection of a connection that has been lost…It is a reflection of that love you had for that individual.” The Greenes find comfort in these words, and in the family and friends who rally around them. Even as they move forward–sometimes literally, like when they sell their home–the Greenes carry Greta’s memory and their pain. “The act of grieving our daughter continues on, and on, and on,” Greene writes. “We have held our firstborn child’s corpse in our arms, and now there is no limit to what we can endure.” Once More We Saw Stars isn’t about the tragedy that befell a family–although Greene recounts with exquisite detail how he felt in the tragic days that ended his daughter’s life. The memoir is instead a story of a couple who faced one of the worst things imaginable and still continued to choose life. once more we saw stars
  • If She Wakes by Michael Koryta:  Imagine waking to realize that you can’t move, you can’t speak or even blink, yet you’re fully aware of everything and everyone around you. Then imagine there is a crazed killer who will stop at nothing to extract a secret from you. For Hammel College senior Tara Beckley, she doesn’t have to imagine it. It’s real. And it’s terrifying. That’s the frightening premise of If She Wakes, the newest novel from thriller master Michael Koryta. Events start innocently enough as Tara chauffeurs professor Amandi Oltamu across town to deliver the keynote address at her Maine liberal arts school’s conference. When Oltamu asks her to stop, she figures he simply has the jitters about his speech. But he follows up with an odd request to take a picture of her on his cellphone and then to lock the phone in the glovebox of her car. Again, she obliges. But before they can get underway again, the pair are struck by an apparently out of control driver. Oltamu is instantly killed in the collision while Tara is knocked senseless, only to “wake” in the hospital surrounded by doctors and family. Koryta puts the reader in Tara’s shoes for some truly claustrophobic chapters in which her predicament is made all too clear. She can’t move, she can’t communicate, but she can hear everyone as they discuss her fate. While staying in Tara’s tortured mind is harrowing enough, Koryta throws in a few other characters and half dozen plot twists to ratchet up the tension even further. Insurance investigator Abby Kaplan discovers Oltamu’s phone, while Dax Blackwell, a young hitman out to prove himself worthy of his father’s legacy, strives to take it from her. But it won’t do either of them any good unless Tara can unlock its secrets. Koryta keeps the action fast and furious, tempered with his characters’ determination to persevere against all odds. if she wakes
  • No Visible Bruises by Rachel Louise Snyder:  “I talk to a lot of people who don’t want to talk to me,” writes author Rachel Louise Snyder on the first page of No Visible Bruises. She begins with the case of Michelle Mosure Monson, fatally shot by her abusive husband, Rocky. He also killed their two children before committing suicide. Years later, Snyder sat down with Michelle’s father, trying to unravel what happened. She watched hours of home videos. She connected with Michelle’s family, law enforcement and community members who were traumatized by the crime. Most didn’t want to talk about Michelle. They felt complicit, wracked with regret and grief. The suffering induced by domestic violence is bigger than we can begin to understand, Snyder explains. Because these crimes are generally perceived as private, it’s nearly impossible to trace the collective impact. Snyder sets herself to the task, arguing that we need a broader research-based view of domestic violence. Snyder’s careful reporting about Michelle’s case lays the foundation for the many other stories she examines. Beyond the victims and their families, Snyder profiles several men who are trying to overcome their violent tendencies. She visits them in prison and sit in on counseling sessions, showing how hard it is for them to be aware of their processes of escalation–and how easy it is for them to slip back into violent tendencies that put them and those around them at risk. Finally, Snyder examines what interventions are interrupting the cycle of violence. This section offers tangible hope that our collective efforts, especially those that unite professionals around high-risk cases, can result in real change. Although No Visible Bruises is not easy or light reading, Snyder’s willingness to tell the intimate stories of domestic violence sheds light on an often neglected subject. All of us have a stake in becoming more aware of and responsive to private violence, and this book proves why. no visible bruises
  • Orange World and Other Stories by Karen Russell:  A young man falls in love with a 2,000-year-old girl he discovers in a Northern European peat bog. A young woman unwittingly becomes the human  host of a Joshua tree, while her boyfriend struggles to understand this startling change in their budding relationship. During a nostalgic visit to a tornado auction, an old man impulsively buys and rears one last tornado as he reviews his life choices. A woman strikes a bargain to breastfeed the devil to protect her unborn son. These are just a few of the brilliantly inventive premises of Karen Russell’s wonderful new collection of short stories. However, Orange World and Other Stories is so much more than fresh plots. Russell ties these seemingly disparate tales together with a pervading theme of alienation:  from the past, from family, from nature. Furthermore, despite their surreal nature, Russell grounds each story in human experience, both poignant and hilarious in turn. In “Orange World,” a mother is desperate to protect her infant son after the pain of repeated miscarriage. In “Bog Girl:  A Romance,” another mother makes the same remarks about her son’s new, albeit dead, girlfriend that mothers around the world have made. Underlying all of this is the exquisite beauty of Russell’s sentences, which will repeatedly surprise readers with their imagery and masterful language. orange world
  • The Confessions of Frannie Langton by Sara Collins:  Former slave Frannie Langton is warned early in her service to her London employer, George Benham, that “a good servant must know her place, to be content in it.” Frannie readily admits that this has “always been my trouble. Never knowing my place or being content in it.” Frannie, who is fiercely independent, immediately likable and stubbornly contrary to the expectations of her role in society, shares many such admissions while awaiting trial for the murder of Benham and his wife, Marguerite. What Frannie can’t account for is how she wound up covered in their blood and being charged with their murders. In an effort to make sense of it all, Frannie pens her life story from jail. What follows is a literary sojourn as Frannie explores her place in history through race, class and sexuality. Set in the early 1800s, The Confessions of Frannie Langton begins with Frannie’s life as a slave on a Jamaican plantation and her education in reading and writing. From there, she recounts how she attained her “freedom” when her master took her to London, where he “gifted” her to the Benhams, and how she eventually began a love affair with Marguerite. The story casually meanders through Frannie’s narrative in a mostly linear fashion but is interspersed with snippets from the trial in progress, including damning testimony and fiery newspaper accounts, making certain that readers don’t forget what’s at stake. confessions of frannie langton
  • Necessary People by Anna Pitoniak:  Two complex women inhabit Anna Pitoniak’s second psychologically astute novel, Necessary People–recent college graduates who’ve become the closest of friends, though they’re opposites in so many ways. Stella Bradley comes from a wealthy New York family, has two doting parents and a home on Long Island Sound featuring a carriage house, a pear orchard, a swimming pool and a dock stretching out into the water. Not much of a student, she enrolls at a small New England college because, in her own words, she’s “rick, and lazy.” Violet Trapp was raised by abusive parents in a “mildewed apartment with roaches” in Tallahassee. She’s an outstanding student who turns down a full scholarship to Duke against her counselor’s advice. Instead, she picks a school based solely on a five-minute conversation with Stella during orientation. Violet spends holidays and summers with the Bradleys, and after graduation, she and Stella share an apartment in New York City, mostly funded by Stella’s parents. Violet follows her love of journalism to an internship at a new TV channel, King Cable News. She quickly rises through the ranks, becoming an assistant and then assistant producer. She loves the challenge and relishes the sense of accomplishment she experiences as her work is recognized by those above her on the network ladder. Stella, however, is floundering–spending her parents’ money “like it was water,” her days “a chick-lit fantasy come alive,” in Violet’s own words. When Stella’s brother tells Violet that Stella is actually jealous of her, Violet doesn’t believe it at first. But then Stella uses one of her mother’s lofty connections to land a job at King News, and her beauty and outgoing personality catapult her to an anchor job, overshadowing Violet’s hard-earned accomplishments. Their longtime friendship gives way to ambition, each one feeling threatened by the other’s success. Pitoniak perceptively traces the fracture of Violet and Stella’s sisterlike bond, leading to a denouement the reader will not anticipate. The author’s insightful glimpse into the competitive world of television news, as well as her spot-on portraits of these two ambitious women, come together in an emotional, gripping novel sure to become a popular summer read. necessary people
  • Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane:  In the early 1970s, Francis Gleason, an immigrant from Ireland, and Brian Stanhope attend the New York City police academy together and are paired in field training. Francis quickly marries Anne, a nurse and Irish immigrant. Brian marries Lena, the daughter of Polish and Italian immigrants. Though their career trajectories are different, within a year or two, Francis and Brian end up as neighbors in a suburban town about 20 miles north of New York. The families are not close. In fact, Anne is unstable and aggressively antisocial. But Brian and Anne’s only son, Peter, and Francis and Lena’s youngest daughter, Kate, develop an extraordinary bond. When Peter and Kate are in eighth grade, Anne commits an act of violence that rips both families apart. All of this happens within the first quarter of Ask Again, Yes. The rest of the beautifully observed story is about the course of Peter’s and Kate’s lives–and through them, their families’–as they find and lose and find each other again. Not surprisingly, it is a fraught journey, shadowed by the dark bruises of their histories. Time, it seems, does not heal all wounds. But it does heal some. To say much more would betray a narrative that holds many surprises, large and small. Keane sets her story among seemingly regular people in a normal-seeming American suburb. But Ask Again, Yes is a tale that will compel readers to think deeply about the ravages of unacknowledged mental illness, questions of family love and loyalty and the arduous journey toward healing and forgiveness. ask again yes
  • The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary:  Tiffy loves her job as assistant editor for a publisher of DIY books. That’s the only reason she can justify sticking around despite the dismal pay. But after her boyfriend dumps her–for real, this time–she’s got to find a flat with rent she can afford. Leon needs extra cash, and he’s willing to get creative. Working overnight shifts as a palliative care nurse means his place is vacant when most people are home. Why not rent it out? Though it means designating which side of  his bed is his and sharing it with a stranger, Leon is willing to go to extremes. His family needs his help. The flatmates follow a strict schedule to ensure that they won’t meet–a rule Leon’s girlfriend establishes before agreeing to this arrangement. But they begin to get to know each other through notes. Their correspondence starts when Tiffy leaves a sticky note next to a plate of oatmeal bars, and Leon continues it as he realizes how much of the snack he’s consumed. The pair builds a friendship, sight unseen, and their curiosity about each other grows. Peppered with amusing quips and multidimensional characters, this quick, engaging read is labeled a romantic comedy, but it also grapples with some of life’s more difficult moments. Even readers skeptical of the novel’s fanciful premise may find themselves surprised by the thoughtful way O’Leary faces not only new love but also the traces of individual pasts. flatshare