A Ladder to the Sky by John Boyne: Maurice Swift is handsome, charming, and hungry for fame. The one thing he doesn’t have is talent–but he’s not about to let a detail like that stand in his way. After all, a would-be writer can find stories anywhere. They don’t need to be his own. Working as a waiter in a West Berlin hotel in 1988, Maurice engineers the perfect opportunity: a chance encounter with celebrate novelist Erich Ackermann. He quickly ingratiates himself with the powerful–but desperately lonely–older man, teasing out of Erich a terrible, long-held secret about his activities during the war. Perfect material for Maurice’s first novel. Once Maurice has had a taste of literary fame, he knows he can stop at nothing in pursuit of that high. Moving from the Amalfi Coast, where he matches wits with Gore Vidal, to Manhattan and London, Maurice hones his talent for deceit and manipulation, preying on the talented and vulnerable in his cold-blooded climb to the top. But the higher he climbs, the further he has to fall… Sweeping across the late twentieth century, A Ladder to the Sky is a fascinating portrait of a relentlessly immoral man, a tour de force of storytelling, and the next great novel from an acclaimed literary virtuoso.
Forever and a Day by Anthony Horowitz: Occasionally an author’s estate or a publisher gets the idea to craft a prequel to a popular series, and Anthony Horowitz performs this duty for ace British spy James Bond in Forever and a Day. As the book opens, M (the big boss of MI6) is discussing the death of agent 007, which initially seems odd, as this is at the inception of Bond’s illustrious career. But it turns out that the 007 under discussion is the previous holder of that particular license-to-kill number, and Bond is quickly promoted to take on his predecessor’s responsibilities. His mission takes him to the south of France, where he engages the first of the legendary villains that will characterize the adventures of Bond’s later life. The book uses some source material from original Bond author Ian Fleming, and of all the Bond books that have come out since Fleming’s death, this one may hew closest to the originals.
The Kinship of Secrets by Eugenia Kim: In 1948 Najin and Calvin Cho, with their young daughter Miran, travel from South Korea to the United States in search of new opportunities. Wary of the challenges they know will face them, Najin and Calvin make the difficult decision to leave their infant daughter, Inja, behind with their extended family; soon, they hope, they will return to her. But then war breaks out in Korea, and there is no end in sight to the separation. Miran grows up in prosperous American suburbia, under the shadow of the daughter left behind, as Inja grapples in her war-torn land with ties to a family she doesn’t remember, Najin and Calvin desperately seek a reunion with Inja, but are the bonds of love strong enough to reconnect their family over distance, time, and war? And as deep family secrets are revealed, will everything they long for be upended? Told through the alternating perspectives of the distanced sisters, and inspired by a true story, The Kinship of Secrets explores the cruelty of war, the power of hope, and what it means to be a sister.
Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty: Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be. Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer–or should she run while she still can? It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question. Combining all the hallmarks that have made her writing a go-to for anyone looking for wickedly smart, page-turning fiction that will make you laugh and gasp, Liane Moriarty’s Nine Perfect Strangers once again shows why she is a master of her craft.
Family Trust by Kathy Wang: Meet Stanley Huang: father, husband, ex-husband, man of unpredictable tastes and temper, aficionado of all-inclusive vacations and bargain luxury goods, newly diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Meet Stanley’s family: son Fred, who feels that he should be making a lot more money; daughter Kate, managing a capricious boss, a distracted husband, and two small children; ex-wife Linda, familiar with and suspicious of Stanley’s grandiose ways; and second wife Mary, giver of foot rubs and ego massages. For years, Stanley has insistently claimed that he’s worth a small fortune. Now, as the Huangs come to terms with Stanley’s approaching death, they are also starting to fear that Stanley’s “small fortune” may be more “small” than “fortune.” A compelling tale of cultural expectations, career ambitions and our relationships with the people who know us best, Family Trust draws a sharply loving portrait of modern American family life.
Alice Isn’t Dead by Joseph Fink: “This isn’t a story. It’s a road trip.” Keisha Taylor lived a quiet life with her wife, Alice, until the day that Alice disappeared. After months of searching, presuming she was dead, Keisha held a funeral, mourned, and gradually tried to get on with her life. But that was before Keisha started to see her wife, again and again, in the background of news reports from all over America. Alice isn’t dead, and she is showing up at every major tragedy and accident in the country. Following a line of clues, Keisha takes a job as a long-haul truck driver and begins searching for Alice. She eventually stumbles on an otherworldly conflict being waged in the quiet corners of our nation’s highway system–uncovering a conspiracy that goes way beyond one missing woman.
Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know by Colm Tóibín: Colm Tóibín begins his incisive, revelatory Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know with a walk through the Dublin streets where he went to university–a wide-eyed boy from the country–and where three Irish literary giants also came of age. Oscar Wilde, writing about his relationship with his father, William Wilde, stated: “Whenever there is hatred between two people there is bond or brotherhood of some kind…you loathed each other not because you were so different but because you were so alike.” W.B. Yeats wrote of his father, John Butler Yeats, a painter: “It is this infirmity of will which has prevented him from finishing his pictures. The qualities I think necessary to success in art or life seemed to him egotism.” John Stanislaus Joyce, James’s father, was perhaps the most quintessentially Irish, widely loved, garrulous, a singer, and drinker with a volatile temper, who drove his son from Ireland. Elegant, profound, and riveting, Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know illuminates not only the complex relationships between three of the greatest writers in the English language and their fathers, but also illustrates the surprising ways these men surface in their work. Through these stories of fathers and sons, Tóibín recounts the resistance to English cultural domination, the birth of modern Irish cultural identity, and the extraordinary contributions of these complex and masterful authors.
Dark Sacred Night by Michael Connelly: Teaming up with Harry Bosch to reopen a cold case, LAPD detective Renee Ballard navigates interpersonal differences to pursue justice for a murdered runaway in Hollywood. Renee Ballard returns to Hollywood Station from working the night beat. She finds a stranger rifling through old file cabinets–retired detective Harry Bosch, working a cold case that has gotten under his skin. Ballard kicks him out, but then checks into the case herself. Bosch is investigating the death of fifteen-year-old Daisy Clayton, a runaway on the streets of Hollywood who was brutally murdered and her body left in a dumpster like so much trash. Now, Ballard joins forces with Bosch to find out what happened to Daisy and finally bring her killer to justice.
Nine Pints by Rose George: The sight of blood makes some people faint; for others, it’s just creepy. Yet it is essential–each adult human contains approximately nine pints of it. In this new book, Rose George discusses this life-giving substance in intricate detail. George describes the busy, unrelenting job of this essential human body part that is “a tissue and an organ at once, and probably our most important organ.” She travels around the world, interviewing people whose lives have been impacted by blood in one way or another. She reports on a clinic in South Africa where residents can get tested and treated for HIV, a village in western Nepal where menstruating girls are shunned and must sleep in outdoor shacks, and a London trauma center that regularly treats code red (open chest) and code black (people with severe brain injury) patients. George tackles a squeamish subject in a manner that is eloquent and witty, making Nine Pints a factual, scientific book that reads like a novel with a colorful cast of characters ranging from medicinal leeches to groundbreaking scientists and innovative inventors.
The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth: What happens when you return to the real world after being in a fantastical one like Narnia? Six years ago, sisters Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell were swept away to a strange and beautiful kingdom called the Woodlands, where they lived for years. But ever since they returned to their lives in post-WWII England, they have struggled to adjust. Ev desperately wants to return to the Woodlands, and Philippa just wants to move on. When Ev goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under. Walking the line between where fantasy and reality meet, this lyrical and magical novel is, above all else, an exploration of loss and healing, and what it means to find where you belong.
The Christmas Key by Lori Wilde: There’s a legend in Twilight, Texas. If you sleep with a kismet cookie under your pillow on Christmas Eve, you will dream of your one true love. She saw him in her dreams… It’s impossible! Naomi Luther was standing face-to-face with the man she’d dreamed about over a year ago. Was it the magic of kismet Christmas cookies that brought him to her? Or is there an even greater force at work? All Naomi knows is she is falling, hard and fast, for the one man all good sense says she should not have. She was his buddy’s sister…Rebellious Mark Shepherd found order in the Marines but chaos on the battlefield. In a mission gone wrong, Mark is injured and one of his fellow soldiers loses his life. Haunted by guilt, he arrives in Twilight to keep a solemn promise. But when the Luthers mistake him for their handyman, he’s swept up in playing Santa to his buddy’s orphan son…and falling hard for Naomi’s irresistible bright spirit and sweet smile. But what will happen when she learns the truth?
Counting to Perfect by Suzanne LeFleur: Rising seventh-grader Cassie is looking forward to a summer of competitive swimming and hanging by the pool with her best friends–away from her 17-year-old sister, Julia, who’s a new mom to 6-month-old Addie. Ever since Addie arrived, Cassie’s life has been put on the back burner, and she longs for the closeness she and Julia shared before Addie was born. So when Julia confides in Cassie that she and Addie are leaving without telling their parents, Cassie takes the chance to potentially rekindle their relationship and joins them on a road trip with no planned destination. This is a gorgeous novel that illustrates the enduring bond of sisterhood.
Little by Edward Carey: In 1761, a tiny, odd-looking girl named Marie is born in a village in Switzerland. After the death of her parents, she is apprenticed to an eccentric wax sculptor and whisked off to the seamy streets of Paris, where they meet a domineering widow and her quiet, pale son. Together, they convert an abandoned monkey house into an exhibition hall for wax heads, and the spectacle becomes a sensation. As word of her artistic talent spreads, Marie is called to Versailles, where she tutors a princess and saves Marie Antoinette in childbirth. But outside the palace walls, Paris is roiling: The revolutionary mob is demanding heads, and…at the wax museum, heads are what they do. This is a darkly endearing cavalcade of a novel–a story of art, class, determination, and how we hold on to what we love.
A Parade of Elephants by Kevin Henkes: From the very beginning, the energy of this book is infectious as readers turn the page to see a parade of pastel-colored elephants. There are five, to be exact, but on this first full spread, they are laid out in five rows in which we see them incrementally (one in one row, two in the next, and so on). For the most part, the elephants march from left to right on an uncluttered, squiggly-lined landscape, trimmed with heavy-lined borders that often form a stripe on top of the purple pages. But, delightfully, Henkes mixes up the compositions. Sometimes, for instance, there is a stripe of purple at the top with the elephants jubilantly marching below, and sometimes all the borders fall away while the elephants determinedly march on. As we follow their march, Henkes sprinkles the text with prepositions for those children still learning the ways of grammar. Up, down, over, under, in and out march the single-minded elephants. In a moment of creative wordplay, we read that they are “big and round and round they go.” The short phrases and short sentences are laid out in a large, bold font. Closing with a happy surprise as it does—when they tire, the elephants scatter stars in the sky via their long, upturned trunks—young readers won’t want to see this story end.
Imagine! by Raúl Colón: While skateboarding through New York City, a boy pauses at the Museum of Modern Art and decides to head inside. Suddenly, his imagination kicks into gear: Figures from three legendary paintings step through their canvases to join him—the cubist figures from Picasso’s “Three Musicians,” the woman and lion from Rousseau’s “The Sleeping Gypsy,” and the abstract expressionistic body from Matisse’s “Icarus.” As a group, they leave the museum and roam the streets of the city, making memories at iconic stops like the Statue of Liberty’s crown. After the boy returns to the museum to say goodbye to his new friends, he stops to paint his own memories of the day on a building wall. This book is a reverent, playful tribute to the power of imagination and art.
Shell Game by Sara Paretsky: V.I. Warshawski, like all of us, is not getting any younger. She is well past the age of dangling upside down in search of clues or doing fishtail burnouts in her V-8 Mustang to avoid getting shot, and certainly past the years when she should be treading across thin ice floes to keep a priceless artifact out of the hands of a ruthless billionaire. In this latest thriller by Paretsky, age seems a nonissue, as V.I.’s latest crusade leads her to engage in all these dangerous activities and more. Two cases weave in and out of the narrative: the first, a murder charge hanging over the beloved nephew of V.I.’s godmother, surgeon Lotty Herschel, involving a Syrian archaeological dig and a dissident immigrant poet on the lam from ICE; the second, the mysterious disappearance of V.I.’s niece following a Caribbean junket that turned sinister in ways that no travel brochure would suggest. Readers will revel in the superb pacing, the well-developed characters and the crisp dialogue from one of the most consistently excellent writers in the genre.
Milk Street by Christopher Kimball: This is a wonderful collection of quick recipes for weeknight dining, inspired by the Milk Street television show. This cookbook includes such dishes as yakiudon with pickled ginger, pork schnitzel, kale and white bean soup, Indonesian fried tofu salad, and three-cheese pizza. Weeknights call for techniques that deliver dinners in less time. Every recipe in the book delivers big, bold flavors, but the cooking is quick and easy–simple enough for the middle of the week. The team at Milk Street shows you how to make simple, healthy, delicious meals using pantry staples and just a few other ingredients. And each two page spread features the recipe complete on one page, opposite a full-color photograph of the finished dish, for those who need the visual stimulation of knowing what dining pleasures lie ahead!
Virgil Wander by Leif Enger: Midwestern movie house owner Virgil Wander is “cruising along at medium altitude” when his car flies off the road into icy Lake Superior. Virgil survives but his language and memory are altered and he emerges into a world no longer familiar to him. Awakening in this new life, Virgil begins to piece together his personal history and the lore of his broken town, with the help of a cast of affable and curious locals–from Rune, a twinkling, pipe-smoking, kite-flying stranger investigating the mystery of his disappeared son; to Nadine, the reserved, enchanting wife of the vanished man, to Tom, a journalist and Virgil’s oldest friend; and various members of the Pea family who must confront tragedies of their own. Into this community returns a shimmering prodigal son who may hold the key to reviving their town. With intelligent humor and captivating whimsy, Leif Enger conjures a remarkable portrait of a region and its residents, who, for reasons of choice or circumstance, never made it out of their defunct industrial district. Carried aloft by quotidian pleasures including movies, fishing, necking in parked cars, playing baseball and falling in love, Virgil Wander is a swift, full journey into the heart and heartache of an often overlooked American Upper Midwest by a “formidably gifted” (Chicago Tribune) master storyteller.
An Easy Death by Charlaine Harris: Set in a fractured United States, in the southwestern country now known as Texoma. A world where magic is acknowledged but mistrusted, especially by a young gunslinger named Lizbeth Rose. Battered by a run across the border to Mexico, Lizbeth Rose takes a job offer from a pair of Russian wizards to be their local guide and gunnie. For the wizards, Gunnie Rose has already acquired a fearsome reputation and they’re at a desperate crossroad, even if they won’t admit it. They’re searching through the small border towns near Mexico, trying to locate a low-level magic practitioner, Oleg Karkarov. The wizards believe Oleg is a direct descendant of Grigori Rasputin, and that Oleg’s blood can save the young tsar’s life. As the trio journey through an altered America, shattered into several countries by the assassination of Franklin Roosevelt and the Great Depression, they’re set on by enemies. It’s clear that a powerful force does not want them to succeed in their mission. Lizbeth Rose is a gunnie who has never failed a client, but her oath will test all of her skills and resolve to get them all out alive.
Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo: When Louisiana Elefante’s granny wakes her up in the middle of the night to tell her that the day of reckoning has arrived and they have to leave home immediately, Louisiana isn’t overly worried. After all, Granny has many middle-of-the-night ideas. But this time, things are different. This time, Granny intends for them never to return. Separated from her best friends, Raymie and Beverly, Louisiana struggles to oppose the winds of fate (and Granny) and find a way home. But as Louisiana’s life becomes entwined with the lives of the people of a small Georgia town–including a surly motel owner, a walrus-like minister, and a mysterious boy with a crow on his shoulder–she starts to worry that she is destined only for good-byes. (Which could be due to the curse on Louisiana’s and Granny’s heads. But that is a story for another time.) Called “one of DiCamillo’s most singular and arresting creations” by The New York Times Book Review, the heartbreakingly irresistible Louisiana Elefante was introduced to readers in Raymie Nightingale–and now, with humor and tenderness, Kate DiCamillo returns to tell her story.
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan: When poet and writer Joy Davidman began writing letters to C.S. Lewis–known as Jack–she was looking for spiritual answers, not love. Love, after all, wasn’t holding together her crumbling marriage. Everything about New Yorker Joy seemed ill-matched for an Oxford don and the beloved writer of Narnia, yet their minds bonded over their letters. Embarking on the adventure of her life, Joy traveled from America to England and back again, facing heartbreak and poverty, discovering friendship and faith, and against all odds, finding a love that even the threat of death couldn’t destroy. In this masterful exploration of one of the greatest love stories of modern times, we meet a brilliant writer, a fiercely independent mother, and a passionate woman who changed the life of this respected author and inspired books that still enchant us and change us. Joy lived at a time when women weren’t meant to have a voice–and yet her love for Jack gave them both voices they didn’t know they had. At once a fascinating historical novel and a glimpse into a writer’s life, Becoming Mrs. Lewis is above all a love story–a love of literature and ideas and a love between a husband and wife that, in the end, was not impossible at all.
A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult: The warm fall day starts like any other at the Center–a women’s reproductive health services clinic–its staff offering care to anyone who passes through its doors. Then, in late morning, a desperate and distraught gunman bursts in and opens fire, taking all inside hostage. After rushing to the scene, Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, sets up a perimeter and begins making a plan to communicate with the gunman. As his phone vibrates with incoming text messages, he glances at it and, to his horror, finds out that his fifteen-year-old daughter, Wren, is inside the clinic. But Wren is not alone. She will share the next and tensest few hours of her young life with a cast of unforgettable characters: A nurse who calms her own panic in order to save the life of a wounded woman. A doctor who does his work not in spite of his faith but because of it, and who will find that faith tested as never before. A pro-life protester, disguised as a patient, who now stands in the crosshairs of the same rage she herself has felt. A young woman who has come to terminate her pregnancy. And the disturbed individual himself, vowing to be heard. Told in a daring and enthralling narrative structure that counts backward through the hours of the standoff, this is a story that traces its way back to what brought each of these very different individuals to the same place on this fateful day. One of the most fearless writers of our time, Jodi Picoult tackles a complicated issue in this gripping and nuanced novel. How do we balance the rights of pregnant women with the rights of the unborn they carry? What does it mean to be a good parent? A Spark of Light will inspire debate, conversation…and, hopefully, understanding.
The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson and Eugene Yelchin: Uptight elfin historian Brangwain Spurge is on a mission: survive being catapulted across the mountains into goblin territory, deliver a priceless peace offering to their mysterious dark lord, and spy on the goblin kingdom–from which no elf has returned alive in more than a hundred years. Brangwain’s host, the goblin archivist Werfel, is delighted to show Brangwain around. They should be the best of friends, but a series of extraordinary double crosses, blunders, and cultural misunderstandings throws these two bumbling scholars into the middle of an international crisis that may spell death for them–and war for their nations. Witty mixed media illustrations show Brangwain’s furtive missives back to the elf kingdom, while Werfel’s determinedly unbiased narrative tells an entirely different story. A hilarious and biting social commentary that could only come from the likes of National Book Award winner M.T. Anderson and Newbery Honoree Eugene Yelchin, this tale is rife with thrilling action and visual humor…and a comic disparity that suggests the ultimate victor in a war is perhaps not who won the battles, but who gets to write the history.
Waiting for Eden by Elliot Ackerman: Eden Malcom lies in a bed, unable to move or to speak, imprisoned in his own mind. His wife Mary spends every day on the sofa in his hospital room. He has never even met their young daughter. And he will never again see the friend and fellow soldier who didn’t make it back home–and who narrates the novel. But on Christmas, the one day Mary is not at his bedside, Eden’s re-ordered consciousness comes flickering alive. As he begins to find a way to communicate, some troubling truths about his marriage–and about his life before he went to war–come to the surface. Is Eden the same man he once was: a husband, a friend, a father-to-be? What makes a life worth living? A piercingly insightful, deeply felt meditation on loyalty and betrayal, love and fear, Waiting for Eden is a tour de force of profound humanity.
A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe: Joanna Shupe returns to New York City’s Gilded Age, where fortunes and reputations are gained and lost with ease–and love can blossom from the most unlikely charade. With the fate of her disgraced family resting on her shoulders, Lady Christina Barclay has arrived in New York City from London to quickly secure a wealthy husband. But when her parents settle on an intolerable suitor, Christina turns to her reclusive neighbor, a darkly handsome and utterly compelling inventor, for help. Oliver Hawkes reluctantly agrees to a platonic marriage…with his own condition: The marriage must end after one year. Not only does Oliver face challenges that are certain to make life as his wife difficult, but more importantly, he refuses to be distracted from his life’s work–the development of a revolutionary device that could transform thousands of lives, including his own. Much to his surprise, his bride is more beguiling than he imagined. When temptation burns hot between them, they realize they must overcome their own secrets and doubts, and every effort to undermine their marriage, because one year can never be enough.
King Alice by Matthew Cordell: It’s a snow day, and Alice’s father wakes to find her dressed in royal garb, declaring she is “KING Alice! The first!” King Alice is full of creative ideas for how to spend the unexpected day off, and whatever she says goes. While her mother tends to the baby, King Alice and her drowsy but willing father write and illustrate a story. Even though King Alice is bursting with ideas and hops from one game to another, she faithfully returns to their story–the one where, just like in real life, she calls the shots. After a well-earned timeout breaks King Alice’s stride, father and daughter make amends and return to their bustling, chaotic story featuring pirates, unicorns and fairies. Though most of King Alice is filled with the lively pen-and-ink and watercolor illustrations that won Cordell a Caldecott Medal for Wolf in the Snow, the story within the story is rendered via Cordell’s children’s stash of art supplies, and his fluid, humorous dialogue keeps things moving at a brisk pace. The bond between father and daughter is the heart of this sweet but never saccharine story. King Alice’s father goes all in, never turning down a game in the name of traditional gender roles–he spends most of the book in a tiara and toy earrings–which is refreshing to see. Long may King Alice reign.
Transcription by Kate Atkinson: A novel from the multiple award-winning author Kate Atkinson is always cause for celebration. Transcription, based on the life of a former Secret Service worker during World War II, is no exception. A hallmark of Atkinson’s work is her playful use of time. Transcription starts at the end of a life when, at 60, Juliet Armstrong is hit by a car in a London street. Readers are then plunged back to the 1940s, when 18-year-old Juliet finds herself at loose ends after the death of her mother. Eager to assist in the war effort, she join MI5. Quickly plucked from the initial tasks of departmental filing and collating, she is placed in an agency-owned apartment, where she transcribes recordings of the secret comings and goings of a group of fascist sympathizers. Juliet is eventually given a nom de guerre and sent to infiltrate a group of wealthy appeasers. The work is mostly dull (transcribing) and occasionally terrifying (shimmying down drainpipes). When the war ends, she presumes her role with the agency is finished as well. A decade later, Juliet is producing children’s radio dramas, and the personnel overlap between MI5 and the BBC is unusually high. When she is confronted by persons she thought were long gone, she realizes that not everything was tied up as neatly as she was led to believe. Though the war is over, it turns out there are still enemies that must be reckoned with.
Rising Out of Hatred by Eli Saslow: Barely a year has passed since violence incited by white nationalists led to tragedy in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the death of Heather Heyer. That anniversary makes Pulitzer Prize-winning Washington Post reporter Eli Saslow’s Rising Out of Hatred: The Awakening of a Former White Nationalist all the more timely and important. With the skill of a novelist, Saslow tells the extraordinary story of how the “rightful heir to America’s white nationalist movement” came to repudiate his racist heritage. If anyone could lay claim to an impeccable pedigree in prejudice, it would be Derek Black, the son of the former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard who founded Stormfront, a vicious internet hate site, and the godson of white supremacist David Duke. Starting as a teenager, Black shared a microphone with his father on a radio talk show that relentlessly spewed venom against black people, Jews and other minorities. But Black’s life began its radical transformation when he enrolled at New College of Florida, a small liberal arts institution in Sarasota, in 2010. Not long after his arrival, he befriended Matthew Stevenson, an Orthodox Jewish student who invited him to Friday night Shabbat dinners to observe the Jewish Sabbath. On one of those occasions, Black met Stevenson’s roommate, Allison Gornik, who became the principal agent for upending Black’s worldview. Drawing upon hundreds of hours of interviews with Black, his family and friends, Saslow describes how Gornik methodically engaged Black, who proved to be a bright, intellectually curious young man, in conversations. These discussions exposed the flawed sources and logic of the information and fallacious thinking that fueled Black’s bigotry and his fears of a white genocide. Even more significantly, she patiently persuaded him to make amends for his racist past and the harm he’d inflicted.
Leadership by Doris Kearns Goodwin: With Leadership: In Turbulent Times, pre-eminent presidential historian Doris Kearns Goodwin turns her perceptive lens to a question on the minds of many Americans these days: What is leadership? But the “turbulent times” of the title are not, in fact, our own. Instead, Goodwin examines the leadership styles and challenges facing four previous United States presidents: Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. Goodwin has written about these men in previous works, but her approach here uncovers new insights and understanding–both for readers and for herself. “After five decades of studying presidential history, examining these four men through the lens of leadership allowed me to discover so many new things about them that I felt as if I was meeting them for the first time,” Goodwin reflects. Readers will share that sense of discovery. Goodwin divides her study into three thematic areas: Ambition and the Recognition of Leadership; Adversity and Growth; and The Leader and the Times: How They Led. Within these sections, she devotes a chapter to each president. These chapters are chronological, allowing the reader to better appreciate and understand the historical forces that shaped the four presidents’ growth and decisions. In the final section, Goodwin examines different kinds of leadership: transformational, crisis management, turnaround and visionary. Readers follow Lincoln as he grapples with the Emancipation Proclamation, Teddy Roosevelt as he deals with the coal strike of 1902, FDR through the first hundred days of his presidency in 1933 and Johnson as he approaches civil rights. In an epilogue titled “On Death and Remembrance,” Goodwin reflects on the final days of each president and their legacies for us today.
The Visitor by Antje Damm: In this German import, originally published in 2015 by Antje Damm and translated by Sally-Ann Spencer, young readers meet the reclusive Elise. Likely agoraphobic, she is scared of many things, including people, and she doesn’t leave her compulsively-cleaned home. One day, when her open window allows for the entry of a paper airplane, it frightens her. With broom in hand, she sweeps the paper airplane into the fire. The next morning, a young boy named Emil arrives to retrieve his plane, and the spark of a friendship is ignited. The boy stays to play, to hear a story (“It was a long time since Elise had read to anyone”), and to have a snack. “It’s fun at your house,” he tells Elise before exiting. After his visit, Elise is a changed person, and she even sits down to make her own paper airplane–one sure to serve as an invitation to her new friend.
Accessory to War by Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang: There seems to be no scientific advancement–regardless of how pure and benign its origin–that doesn’t wind up in military use. And vice versa. That’s basically the theme that ties together Neil deGrasse Tyson and Avis Lang’s Accessory to War, an engaging and well-documented survey of the instruments and organizations that have led human civilization into its current battle for supremacy in space. Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and ubiquitous explainer of all things cosmic, clearly wishes that war would go away and that space would become a wellspring of common benefit. But he is far too much a rationalist to confuse wishes with reality. He concedes that, to the military mind, space is the ultimate “high ground” that confers battlefield advantage. That being said, military spending on communications, travel and weapon systems does lead routinely to peaceful civilian applications. Think of where we’d be without the constant data that flows from the same satellites that made America’s invasion of Iraq so effective and devastating. Although space is the ultimate focus of this book, Tyson and Lang, his longtime researcher and editor, first take the reader on a tour through history with chapters on early celestial discoveries, the development of ocean navigation, refinements of the telescope and advancements in communications. These accounts are accompanied by chronicles of what was going on concurrently in the world. With a worried eye on the catastrophic consequences of space war, Tyson proposes a more pleasing alternative: “[A]strophysics, a historical handmaiden to human conflict, now offers a way to redirect our species’ urge to kill into collaborative urges to explore, to uncover alien civilizations, to link Earth to the rest of the cosmos . . . and protect our home planet until the Sun’s furnace burns itself out five billion years hence.”
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari: If there were such a thing as a required instruction manual for politicians and thought leaders, Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari’s 21 Lessons for the 21st Century would deserve serious consideration. In this collection of provocative essays, Harari, author of the critically praised Sapiens and Homo Deus, tackles a daunting array of issues, endeavoring to answer a persistent question: “What is happening in the world today, and what is the deep meaning of these events?” For all the breadth of his concerns, Harari is able to distill the most pressing challenges facing our world down to three: nuclear war, ecological collapse and technological disruption, all of which together “add up to an unprecedented existential crisis.” He explains, for example, how this century will see the development of evermore sophisticated algorithms that will alter everything from the way we work (or don’t, in complex future economies that won’t require many people’s labor) to the way we organize and conduct our political lives. These trends will unfold in a world that clings to what are, in Harari’s opinion, already outdated notions of nationalism and religious belief, which will inevitably create tension and conflict. But Harari doesn’t ignore our current controversies. His concise essays on terrorism and immigration are examples of the fresh thinking he brings to any subject. Harari makes a passionate argument for reshaping our educational systems and replacing our current emphasis on quickly outdated substantive knowledge with the “four Cs”—critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity. In the book’s final piece, Harari argues that the practice of meditation, something he does for two hours daily, offers a productive tool for understanding the human mind.
The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker: The classics are experiencing a feminist revolution. Emily Wilson’s new translation of the Odyssey–the first to be written by a woman–was published to great acclaim at the end of 2016. Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire, a contemporary reworking of Antigone, won the 2017 Women’s Prize. And American author Madeline Miller has just published Circe, her second novel based on classical characters. Joining this group is the award-winning British novelist Pat Barker, whose 14th novel, The Silence of the Girls, is a reimagining of one of the key episodes in the Iliad, told from the perspective of a captured queen living in the Greek army camp during the final weeks of the Trojan War. Briseis was the queen of one of Troy’s neighboring kingdoms when her city was sacked and her husband and brothers were killed. A prize of battle, she becomes the property of Achilles, and she lives in the women’s quarters but is available to him as his concubine and slave. When King Agamemnon demands Briseis for his own, Achilles relinquishes her but, as a show of resistance, refuses to fight the Trojans any longer. In Barker’s retelling, Briseis finds herself torn between the two men, helpless but also uniquely positioned to observe the power struggle whose outcome will decide the fate of the ancient world. The Iliad concerns a war fought over a woman, and women play a major role in the epic poem as nurses, wives and, of course, unwilling sex slaves. Yet the lack of women’s voices in the original text is deafening. In The Silence of the Girls, Briseis is the master of the narrative, telling her story in counterpoint to Achilles, becoming her own subject rather than his object. Her voice is wryly observant and wholly cognizant of the cost that she and other women have paid for the violence and abuses of war perpetrated by men.
John Woman by Walter Mosley: To start a Walter Mosley novel is like sitting down to a feast. In this case, the tastiest dish is not the protagonist who gives the book its name, but his mother. Lucia Napoli-Jones is such a vivid, vibrant presence in John Woman that when she leaves early in the book, the reader may spend the rest of it, like her son, longing for her return. Earthy, deeply imperfect, possessed of a rollicking Lower East Side way of speaking and living, she is easily Mosley’s best secondary character since Mouse Alexander. But enough about flamboyant Lucia. John Woman is all about history: its slipperiness, its unknowability and maybe even its ultimate uselessness. John Woman’s autodidactic father teaches him about this, which John in turn teaches to his students after he becomes a college professor. This is all ironic, for John is trying to outrun his history. First, there’s the uneasy relationship between his parents, both of whom he loves with the helpless passion of a young child even into his 30s. John’s real childhood ended abruptly when he was forced to kill someone in defense of himself and his father. Soon after, he’s raped. He then flees, changing identities until he settles on his unusual moniker, which is in part a reference to his rapist. As usual, Mosley’s superpower lies in his slantwise take on the world and his characters, of whom there are dozens, and every one is memorable, even if they speak only a line or two.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris: Perhaps the three scariest words in the history of human imagination were cast in iron atop a gate leading directly into the closest approximation of hell ever erected on earth: Arbeit Macht Frei. “Work sets you free.” The banal words that were nothing more than a cruel and tragic joke for thousands turned out to have a deeper meaning for Lale Sokolov, an Auschwitz survivor and the real-life hero of Heather Morris’ extraordinary debut novel, The Tattooist of Auschwitz. Like the Nobel Prize-winning author Elie Wiesel’s Night, Morris’ work takes us inside the day-to-day workings of the most notorious German death camp. Over the course of three years, Morris interviewed Lale, teasing out his memories and weaving them into her heart-rending narrative of a Jew whose unlikely forced occupation as a tattooist put him in a position to act with kindness and humanity in a place where both were nearly extinct. While Lale’s story is told at one remove–he held his recollections inside for more than half a century, fearing he might be branded as a collaborator–it is no less moving, no less horrifying, no less true. Just as a flower can grow through a sidewalk’s crack, so too can love spring and flourish in the midst of unspeakable horror, and so it is that Lale meets his lifelong love, Gita, when he inscribes the number 34902 on her arm. With the same level of inventiveness, dedication and adoration displayed by Roberto Benigni in Life is Beautiful, Lale endeavors to preserve their love (and safety) amid the horrors. Make no mistake—horrors abound. At one point, Lale is called to identify two corpses seemingly marked with the same number, which is anathema to the camp’s meticulous record keepers. Upon emerging from the crematorium, Lale is greeted by his Nazi handler, Baretski: “You know something, Tätowierer? I bet you are the only Jew who ever walked into an oven and then walked back out of it.” For decade upon decade, Lale’s story was one that desperately needed to be told. And now, as the number of those who witnessed the terror that was Nazi Germany dwindles, it is a story that desperately needs to be read. The disgraceful words that once stood over Auschwitz must be replaced with others: Never forget. Never again.
The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King: Not only is 2018 the 50th anniversary of the national premiere of “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” but–as two feature films and this full-length biography attest–it is also a moment when our culture is feeling particularly nostalgic for the Presbyterian minister in his cardigan sweater and sneakers. Maxwell King, former director of the Fred Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children’s Media, prepared to write this biography of Fred Rogers by interviewing many people who knew Rogers best–from Rogers’ wife, Joanne, to the attendant who saw him every morning at the gym before his swim and Rogers’ many friends and co-workers. King offers a comprehensive look at Rogers’ life in The Good Neighbor, from his privileged childhood in Latrobe, Pennsylvania, through is difficult college experiences (dropping out of Dartmouth College to pursue a music degree from Rollins College) to his early days in broadcasting and his meticulous work on “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood.” The show was unique in the landscape of children’s television, and Rogers’ fingerprints were on every element. The opening credits feature his hometown of Latrobe; the songs, which he wrote, reflect his deep commitment to social and emotional education; and the puppets embodied characters Rogers first imagined when he was a child. His passions for puppetry, childhood development, faith and music come through clearly. Rogers’ ideas will make readers want to cheer. “There are many people in the world who want to make children into performing seals,” he once said. “And as long as children can perform well, those adults will applaud. But I would much rather help a child to be able to say who he or she is.”
Pandemic 1918 by Catharine Arnold: We are living in a world of technological marvels, with each decade bringing increased numbers of medical breakthroughs. However, one disease that has been very tough for scientists to track and understand is the ever-mutating influenza virus. In Pandemic 1918, historian Catharine Arnold provides a detailed and chilling look at the 1918 Spanish flu outbreak, explaining what has been learned in the 100 years since this deadly epidemic, which killed more than 50 million people. Arnold gives firsthand accounts from those who witnessed and survived the Spanish flu’s deadly grip while examining its impact. By exploring family memories, journals and medical documents, she is able to focus on these personal stories that have been preserved and handed down over the years. One of the most terrifying aspects of the Spanish flu was that it often struck the healthiest rather than the elderly, young or weak. Victims included farm boys who were going off to fight in World War I. Arnold notes, “By the end of the war, more Americans died from Spanish flu than perished in the war.” The war also aided the flu’s spread, with soldiers coming from around the globe to fight. As described by one health officer at the time, Spanish flu “came like a thief in the night, its onset rapid, and insidious.” Arnold also provides a touchstone to more recent flu epidemics, such as the Hong Kong bird flu in the late 1990s. She explains how scientists have been able to exhume and examine tissue samples from those who succumbed to Spanish flu to learn more about its causes and the virus’s ability to jump from animals to humans. As she cautions, “The threat of pandemic flu is as severe as that of a terrorist attack.”
French Exit by Patrick deWitt: Whatever you do, don’t mess with Frances Price. If you’re a waiter, and the “moneyed, striking woman of sixty-five” who is the protagonist of French Exit enters your restaurant, make sure you’re polite to her, or she just might take out her perfume, spritz the centerpiece and set it on fire. She has nice qualities, too–she gives money to charities and the homeless–but she’s also likely to leave for a ski holiday in Vail rather than contact the authorities when she discovers that her husband, a ruthless litigator, has died of cardiac arrest. The tabloid scandal caused by her indifference hasn’t stopped her from living an extravagant Manhattan lifestyle since her husband’s death 20 years ago. But enforced austerity is about to begin. Her financial adviser tells her that the money she inherited has run out. Sell everything that isn’t nailed down, he tells her, and begin again. When an old friend offers her the use of a Paris apartment, Frances reluctantly accepts. Soon, she’s sailing across the Atlantic with Malcolm, her 32-year-old kleptomaniacal “lugubrious toddler” of a son, and Small Frank, an elderly cat she is convinced houses the spirit of her late husband.
Our House by Louise Candlish: In Our House, Fiona Lawson returns home from a long weekend, only to discover movers unloading a van full of another family’s belongings into her tony Trinity Avenue home. Stranger still, her belongings and those of her two sons have vanished, and this new family insists they own the house, although Fiona never put it on the market. From this unsettling scenario, British author Louise Candlish proceeds to masterfully spool out the complicated series of events that led Fiona and Bram, her estranged husband with whom she shares the home in a “bird’s nest” co-parenting arrangement, to reach this shocking moment. Candlish tells a large part of the story through a podcast called “The Victim,” which Fiona narrates, and through a Word document written by Bram, both in retrospect. The podcast and Word document give the reader the opportunity to hear Fiona’s and Bram’s differing perceptions of the events as they unfold. This narrative structure also allows the reader to feel the full weight of the characters’ emotions, from Fiona’s initial utter perplexity to Bram’s almost fatalistic resignation, and to discover the deep-rooted origins of their relationship’s complexities. Allowing the reader to plumb these depths gives the plot real plausibility. What seems outlandishly far-fetched at first slowly becomes uncomfortably conceivable and makes this novel nearly impossible to put aside.
We Regret to Inform You by Ariel Kaplan: Ariel Kaplan’s We Regret to Inform You is a compelling novel about every highly motivated college applicant’s worst nightmare. High school senior Mischa Abramavicius should have had it made. She goes to a tony prep school on scholarship where she’s a star student. But when college acceptances start rolling in and her classmates are accepted to places like Harvard and Princeton, Mischa gets nothing but rejections. She doesn’t even get into her safety school, Paul Revere University. Shocked and ashamed to tell her single mother, Mischa visits Revere’s admissions office and discovers that her transcript has been altered. But her original transcript is in order, leading Mischa to realize that something fishy is going on. With help from her best friend, Nate, and a group of hacker girls who call themselves the Ophelia Syndicate, Mischa begins to dig deeper.
Ohio by Stephen Markley: From its opening pages, in which an empty casket is paraded through the streets of a small town in Ohio so that its townspeople may pay tribute to one of their golden boys who has died fighting overseas, debut novelist Stephen Markley makes his intentions clear: Ohio is a eulogy to middle America and its flyover states. It is a battle cry for the forgotten pockets of the country and the tired, poor and dispossessed whose voices we do not care to hear. Bookended by death and spanning nearly 500 pages, Ohio interweaves the stories of four former classmates, all of whom have left New Canaan, Ohio, only to return home on the same fateful night. We meet Bill Ashcroft, an outspoken activist who has come to deliver a dubious package that is strapped to the underside of his truck; Stacey Moore, a grad student whose love life has plagued her since her school days, who has returned to make peace with the mother of an old flame; Dan Eaton, a history-loving bookworm-turned-veteran who lost his eye in the war and is back for dinner with his high school sweetheart; and Tina Ross, former town beauty who now lives one town over, works at Walmart and needs to get over her football star ex-boyfriend once and for all. Each character returns haunted by the ghosts of New Canaan’s past, unaware of how their past and present actions will converge with destructive and terrifying consequences.
Whiskey When We’re Dry by John Larison: Set in 1885 in the heart of the Midwest, the novel shirks the traditional white-hat-versus-black-hat shtick for a more grounded, emotional view of life on the range. In this instance, we experience the wild country’s hardships through the eyes of 17-year-old Jessilyn Harney as she wrestles to find her place in a man’s world. The only woman in the Harney household after her mother dies while giving birth to her, Jess does “the woman work” of “washings and stewings and mendings and tendings,” while Pa and her older brother, Noah, labor in the fields. Pa’s overbearing demeanor ultimately drives Noah away, leaving Jess to care for her father as the farm suffers. After her father is killed in a fall from his horse, Jess attempts to carry on by herself before ultimately realizing she needs help; she needs Noah. Disguising herself as a man by cutting her hair short and binding her chest, Jess sets off on her faithful mare, Ingrid, with a meager supply of rations, her pa’s fiddle and the deed to the Harney land. “I was a Harney, dammit, and my destiny was to find my brother and bring him home and thereby save our family land.” Carrying out the feat is easier said than done. Noah, for starters, has become the outlaw leader of a wild gang with a $10,000 bounty on his head, while Jess, who takes on the manlier moniker of Jesse Montclair, discovers the harsh brutality of life in the West. Even after she is beaten and robbed, Jess’ determination—and skill as a sharpshooter—pushes her onward.
The Air You Breathe by Frances de Pontes Peebles: Two girls—beautiful and privileged Graça, who has a captivating singing voice, and orphan Dores, nicknamed “Jega,” which means “donkey” in Portuguese—grow up in the early 20th century on the same sugar plantation in Brazil, which Graça’s family owns. Dores is the more levelheaded and intelligent of the two, and Graça is an impetuous risk-taker. When they first hear music on the radio, their lives are forever changed. As teens, Graça’s rebellious nature wins over her friend, who harbors an unrequited love for her, and they escape via a boarding school trip to Rio de Janeiro’s gritty Lapa neighborhood, with the aim of pursuing their dreams. Though the girls are originally a musical duo, it’s clear that Graça is the star. She is renamed Sofia Salvador after finding success in a nightclub owned by a local gangster, and Dores cedes the spotlight to write her friend’s songs. Amid a colorful canvas of sex, corruption, drugs and violence, the history of samba unfolds. The young women’s relationship is often strained, but they remain united through ambition. When Hollywood calls, Sofia Salvador becomes an international star during World War II, a pin-up for the troops à la Carmen Miranda. But there is a price to pay.
Flights by Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer Croft: Flights combines intriguing stories of historical figures with more prosaic accounts of overbooked flights and missed trains. The unnamed peripatetic narrator proves a good-natured companion whose childhood vacations extended no further than locales easily reached by the family car. But if her timid parents traveled mostly for the pleasure of returning home, her passion is to stay moving. Drawn to maps and atlases, she is also a frequent visitor to museums that feature taxidermist and anatomical exhibits. Her stories pull the reader deep into the minds and bodies of her subjects, such as a 17th-century Flemish anatomist who discovered the Achilles tendon, and the posthumous return of Chopin’s heart from Paris to his beloved Warsaw home. The contemporary tale of an environmental biologist called to assist a terminally ill friend bears the weight of how much a single journey can change us.
Bad Reputation by Stefanie London: Remi Drysdale has given up on dancing. She had a promising career in the Melbourne Ballet Company that ended in scandal and a heartbreaking miscarriage. After getting involved with a fellow dancer and getting pregnant, she was ousted from the company while her lover chose his career over whatever feelings he had for Remi. Now, she lives in New York, teaching barre classes. Ballet is a thing of the past until Wes Evans walks into the studio with his niece. Wes is the son of dancing royalty, and his parents currently own one of the most prestigious ballet schools in the country. But he wants to do more than just get by on his family’s name and influence. He wants something for himself. Wes has lofty ideas for a show that combines modern ballet, audience participation and other forms of dance. There’s just one thing he’s missing: his lead ballerina. To complicate matters, the money his investors are willing to provide is jeopardized when a dating app begins publicizing his . . . gifts in the bedroom, granting him the nickname “Anaconda.” It takes some convincing for Remi to partner with Wes, and she makes it clear that she won’t be mixing business with pleasure. She made that mistake before and refuses to make it again, though it’s clear that Wes and Remi’s chemistry transcends more than just a working relationship. Remi is a woman whose experiences have left her broken. She hasn’t danced professionally in years, and it’s incredibly sad to see her be so hard on herself. Meanwhile, Wes is just doing his best to get out from his parents’ thumb. His mother, in particular, isn’t too fond of his idea to strike out on his own and do something in opposition to her traditional ballet teaching. But it is because he grew up in a family that puts such a focus on dance that he knows a good performer when he sees one. Wes is able to recognize Remi’s fear, hesitancy and the slew of complicated emotions that prevent her from being the magnificent dancer he knows she is. With each page and each practice, Remi gets better and more confident, building herself back into the beautiful, confident dancer she once was. It’s a Cinderella story in pointe shoes.
Rust & Stardust by T. Greenwood: All Sally Horner wanted was to fit in with the cool girls at school. What she got instead was two years of harrowing captivity at the hands of a sexual predator. Author T. Greenwood recounts Sally’s real-life plight in Rust & Stardust, a shocking crime novel about the famous real-life 1948 abduction that inspired Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and the film that followed. Eleven-year-old Sally’s effort to make friends goes awry when the other girls tell her she must steal something from a local pharmacy. When she does, she’s immediately caught by Frank LaSalle, a man who purports to be an FBI agent and threatens to arrest her if she doesn’t do as he says. Sally believes LaSalle intends to take her before a judge, and LaSalle in turn poses as the father of one of the other girls and convinces Sally’s mother to allow her to accompany his family to Atlantic City for a weeklong vacation. So begins nearly two years of lies and torment as LaSalle absconds with Sally, traveling from state to state in an effort to elude the law. As the novel is told in large part through Sally’s youthful perspective, it is easy to see how she is so easily duped by an adult who professes to be first an officer of the law and later her long-lost father. Readers will sympathize with Sally’s tragic plight while being revolted by LaSalle’s predatory instinct as he sexually exploits her. Greenwood reportedly spent more than two years researching Sally’s abduction and years drafting Rust & Stardust. The result is an unflinching portrait of a vile criminal and his helpless victim. What is perhaps just as vivid is how sexual predators today continue to mirror the exact methods LaSalle used to usurp Sally’s will–and body–with empty promises, gifts and eventually threats.
The Third Hotel by Laura van den Berg: How well can one know oneself? Laura van den Berg’s eerie yet compelling second novel, The Third Hotel, explores this question with a clanging loneliness, like a wrench falling down an elevator shaft. Clare, troubled and newly widowed, travels to Havana, Cuba, for a horror film festival that her late husband had planned to attend. From the onset, everything is strange, creating a bleak space between Clare and the reader. Just when the reader starts to question Clare’s reliability as a narrator, Clare spots Richard, her dead husband, in the streets of Havana. She follows him and spies on him for several days, but she’s less like a devastated lover who can’t believe her eyes and more like a cool and distant voyeur. She follows him to a resort (or is it a mental health facility?), where they have a literal post-mortem on their relationship that leaves Clare grappling with the reality of her role in their marriage. A major theme of this slim novel is mystery: the nature of Richard’s hit-and-run death; the contents of a simple package he left behind; the actuality of the man Clare is following in Havana. Did she find Richard, or someone who looks like Richard, or is she just imagining him altogether? All the alternatives seem equally plausible through van den Berg’s adeptly disorienting storytelling. An equally important theme is the undead, whether it be Richard, zombies in the festival’s films or inescapable memories that dig their way to the surface. The Third Hotel is a chilly, thought-provoking study of loss, loneliness and life after death.
The Shakespeare Requirement by Julie Schumacher: Poor Jason Fitger. In Dear Committee Members, Julie Schumacher’s hilarious 2014 novel, Fitger is a tenured professor of English at the second-rate Payne University, where he has a dingy office by the bathroom, writes sardonic letters of recommendation and gripes about the school’s political in-fighting. Life isn’t much better in The Shakespeare Requirement, Schumacher’s entertaining follow-up. Fitger is now the department chair, to the faculty’s dismay. That’s not his only problem: The university has renovated Willard Hall, but only for the Economics department, which now enjoys hot-and-cold water fountains and an espresso bar. English is stuck in the dilapidated lower floors, where Fitger has a “barbarically hot” office with “fossilized apple cores” under his desk and wasps in the windows. That isn’t indignity enough for Roland Gladwell, the Economics chair. He wants to get rid of the English department entirely, so he convinces Phil Hinckler, dean of the university and Fitger’s ex-wife’s boyfriend, to let him chair a quality-assessment program that he hopes will help achieve his goal. One of the ways English can survive is by submitting an acceptable Statement of Vision. This, too, poses problems, as the proposed statement eliminates the requirement that all students take a Shakespeare course, a change that infuriates the department’s Shakespeare scholar and becomes a cause célèbre among the student body. The novel includes many colorful characters, among them Fitger’s assistant, Fran, who’d much rather be an animal behavior consultant, and Angela Vackray, a freshman who gets into trouble with a boy from her Bible study.
The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis: Fiona Davis has established herself as a master of historical settings and fictional recollections of those worlds. Her debut, The Dollhouse, pulled readers into a long-kept secret at New York City’s Barbizon Hotel for Women. Davis’ sophomore effort, The Address, explored Manhattan’s Dakota apartment building and the lives lived there, separated by a century. And with The Masterpiece, Davis shows yet again that New York’s historic structures are apt settings for intrigue. Grand Central Terminal once served not only as a temple of travel but also as the home for the Grand Central School of Art, where (mostly male) artists lived bohemian lives with the prestigious school at their center. In Davis’ story, a sole female teacher, Clara Darden, struggles to make her way as an artist in a decisively male-dominated world. She sees some success as an illustrator, but there’s no trace of Clara after 1931. Some 35 years later, the terminal is no longer the architectural masterpiece it once was. After her divorce, single mother Virginia Clay finds temporary work at Grand Central’s information booth. The job begins as a way to stay afloat, but when Virginia stumbles upon the art school, abandoned in 1944, she becomes obsessed with both learning its history and saving the transportation hub in which it resides. Davis expertly switches between the lives of Clara and Virginia, weaving their struggles for independence and security with Grand Central’s history. Readers will be drawn into the lives of these remarkable women—and, alongside Virginia, into the mystery of what happened to Clara.
Fly Girls by Keith O’Brien: The thrills of air racing, so popular in the 1920s and ’30s, are now mostly forgotten, along with the names of the aviators who risked their lives for huge crowds, three-foot trophies and, of course, the cash prizes. Lost with them was the story of the “Powder Puffs,” women who defied the time’s rampant gender discrimination and triumphed in (or plummeted from) the sky. Of these pioneer breakers of the ultimate glass ceiling, perhaps only one name has stayed familiar: the beloved and doomed Amelia Earhart. Keith O’Brien’s spectacularly detailed Fly Girls: How Five Daring Women Defied All Odds and Made Aviation History changes all that, re-creating a world that can still inspire us today. Meet Louise Thaden, a married mother of two; Ruth Elder, a beautiful Alabama divorcée; Ruth Nichols, a woman unhappily born into wealth; and Florence Klingensmith, whose promising aviation career ended in tragedy. True resisters, they were empowered by their recently gained right to vote and inspired by aviation’s rising popularity. Charles Lindbergh’s recent solo trans-Atlantic flight in 1927 was an achievement that begged for a female challenger, and it had one soon enough. O’Brien keeps a sharp eye on the planes as well. The flimsily built early aircraft regularly lost their wings, shed their wheels and exploded in flames, sometimes miraculously leaving their pilots alive and eager to fly again. Men found financial support—and better planes—much easier to come by than women, who routinely faced reporters asking why they weren’t at home cooking dinner. Elder and Klingensmith tried to dodge the husband question, while Earhart allowed her husband, prominent New York publisher George P. Putnam, to be her relentless PR man who “probably saved her from becoming a nice old maid.” The women of aviation were “friendly enemies,” competing for speed and distance records while supporting each other on the ground and in the air. Known collectively as the Ninety Nines, they encouraged young women to aim high. As Earhart said, a woman’s place “is wherever her individual aptitude places her.”
Scarface and the Untouchable by Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz: The collision of celebrated mobster Al “Scarface” Capone and his larger-than-life nemesis, Prohibition agent Eliot “The Untouchable” Ness, has become an American myth. In Scarface and the Untouchable, the latest narrative of their convergence–which played out primarily on the streets of Prohibition-era Chicago–Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz go into great detail to present the day-to-day realities that made this law-versus-lawless conflict so colorful, violent and headline-grabbing. Both Capone and Ness were the sons of immigrants, and both were equally animated by ambition. Capone showed his viciousness and enterprise early, while Ness was a late bloomer who took time out for college before drifting into law enforcement. But Ness’ childhood fascination with Sherlock Holmes foretold an enthusiasm for evidence gathering and “the chase.” After he became famous, Ness assumed Sherlockian importance of his own by serving as the model for the cartoon crime buster Dick Tracy. In spite of creating a bootlegging empire and ordering a string of murders, Capone was finally convicted and jailed for mere tax evasion. Ness did his part to bring down Capone by relentlessly raiding his breweries, thus eroding his economic base. Although the two never had a face-to-face confrontation, Ness was on hand to help escort Capone to prison. The repeal of Prohibition did little to dismantle the criminal organizations like Capone’s that it brought into being. It did, however, coincide with the end of Capone’s career. Straight-shooter Ness would move on to clean up the Cleveland, Ohio, police department and, two years after his death, come to life again as the central figure in the television crime series “The Untouchables.” The scholarship displayed in Scarface and the Untouchable is extraordinary, probing deeply into the activities, interrelationships and mindsets of the many principal characters. Publicity-seeking Capone is especially well-drawn.
Dopesick by Beth Macy: Dopesick is no doubt the hardest book that award-winning journalist Beth Macy has written. Macy spent six years following families affected by the opioid epidemic in and around her adopted hometown of Roanoke, Virginia, and she begins by noting that several interviewees died before she had time to transcribe her interview notes. It’s a heart-wrenching and thorough treatise on the national crisis that everyone knows about, but few deeply understand. Macy addresses a wealth of complex issues in her engaging, spitfire prose, such as the difficulties of rehab and disagreements about the benefits of 12-step programs versus medication-assisted treatment. Macy is a masterful storyteller, and Dopesick is full of unforgettable stories, including those of policemen, caregivers, prosecutors and a dope dealer named Ronnie Jones. Macy traces the origins of the crisis, which was perpetuated by Purdue Pharma, a company owned by one of the richest families in America. Purdue went from “selling earwax remover and laxatives to the most lucrative drug in the world”—prescription opioids they claimed were not addictive. As one Virginia lawyer aptly notes, “the victims were getting jail time instead of the people who caused it.” Dopesick is dedicated to the memory of 10 opioid victims. Their stories and those of their surviving families form the heart of this book. There’s Jesse Bolstridge, a 19-year-old high school football star, and “blond and breezy” 21-year-old Scott Roth, who “looked like one of the Backstreet Boys.” Macy herself wasn’t immune to the heartache, admitting that there “were times that journalistic boundaries blurred,” especially when it came to the lively and likable young mother Tess Henry, whom Macy interviewed during drives to Henry’s Narcotics Anonymous meetings for several months. There are no easy fixes, of course. Macy writes, “America’s approach to its opioid problem is to rely on Battle of Dunkirk strategies–leaving the fight to well-meaning citizens, in their fishing vessels and private boats–when what’s really needed to win the war is a full-on Normandy Invasion.” It’s indeed time to storm the beaches, and Dopesick is a moving, must-read analysis of a national crisis.
Illegal by Eoin Colfer, Andrew Donkin and Giovanni Rigano: We’ve all heard news reports about refugees fleeing their homes for any number of reasons in search of a better life. And for most of us, once the news report ends, so do our thoughts about their lives. But Illegal does something special–it forces readers to stop and consider the humanity of the people who are so often portrayed as mere statistics. Twelve-year-old Ebo is determined to make it out of his poor village in Ghana. His older sister and brother have already fled, so Ebo decides to slip away and risk everything to cross the Sahara Desert and the unforgiving sea in hopes of making it to Europe. More of Ebo’s history is revealed through flashbacks as the narrative jumps between his current situation—floating helplessly on a slowly deflating life raft—and the pivotal moments of his life in Ghana. With Illegal, writers Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin–along with award-winning illustrator Giovanni Rigano–have created a gripping account of a 21st-century refugee’s experience. This vivid, powerful graphic novel, drawn from original interviews with undocumented immigrants, asks the reader to take in someone else’s plight, and then leaves them with a new sense of empathy, understanding and compassion.
Fruit of the Drunken Tree by Ingrid Rojas Contreras: “Life is a space full of agreeable and disagreeable surprises.” Pablo Escobar said in an interview in the late 1990s. In Fruit of the Drunken Tree, Chula Santiago and her family’s maid, Petrona, slowly build a friendship fraught with both types of surprises. Told with suspense and mystical lyricism in the vein of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Isabel Allende, this debut novel by Ingrid Rojas Contreras stings and heals, like salt on a wound. To support her large family, teenage Petrona is sent by her mother from the Hills into Bogota, Colombia. Meanwhile, feeling guilty over her own wealth and desperate for a confidante, young Chula obsesses over the mysterious Petrona. Each girl must make a choice: Lured by money and first love, Petrona must decide between the Santiagos and the guerillas; Chula must decide between her family and Petrona. Chapters narrated by Chula are full of sensations. Imbued with a mix of Catholicism and her mother’s indigenous beliefs, the plot moves along dreamily as Chula witnesses traumatic events through a child’s lens. She calls on the cows in her courtyard to protect her. She calms herself by counting fly parts and the syllables Petrona speaks. She searches for the Blessed Souls of Purgatory, of whom she believes Petrona is a representative. Alternative chapters narrated by Petrona are more straightforward and action-based, giving the novel a robust balance of fantasy and realism.
Baby Teeth by Zoje Stage: It seems that more and more books, films and TV shows feature relationships between mothers and children who despise each other and seek each other’s slow death. In Zoje Stage’s debut novel, you can’t blame put-upon Suzette Jensen for wanting to be free from her monstrous daughter, Hanna. Indeed, by page five you’re praying for the little horror to eat it in the worst way possible. What’s less clear is why Hanna hates her mother so much. What could Suzette have possibly done to Hanna, 7 years old when our tale opens, to fill her with such psychotic rage? On top of this, Hanna’s dad, Alex, is so love-blinded that he refuses to see how utterly atrocious Hanna is. Soon enough, it becomes clear there is no answer, for Stage’s real subject is the conundrum of evil itself. Find out what happens by checking this book out from the library and make sure to keep your eyes open for a sequel!
Ghosted by Rosie Walsh: With nearly 40 years under her belt and a recently failed marriage to her name, Sarah Mackey has finally found the love of her life. During her annual pilgrimage home to England to visit her parents, Sarah meets Eddie, who is chatting with an escaped sheep on the village green. Although Sarah is definitely on the rebound–or so says an app on her phone, downloaded by a friend with the best of intentions–and in no fit state to start a relationship, the chemistry between the two is instantaneous and undeniable. Sarah falls hard, and after a week holed up together in Eddie’s cottage, she’s sure he has, too. So when Eddie leaves for his previously planned holiday in Spain and she doesn’t immediately hear from him, she is puzzled but not overly concerned. However, with every unanswered text and voicemail, Sarah’s unease mounts until she becomes convinced that a great catastrophe has befallen Eddie. Her best friends counsel her to let it go and accept that she’s been ghosted, but Sarah is haunted by Eddie and the promise of what their week together signified. Despite her friends’ warnings, Sarah begins an obsessive search for her one-that-got-away, determined to uncover what went awry, even if it means finally facing her painful past and her family’s trauma, which she’s been running from for nearly two decades.
Nightbooks by J.A. White: Late one night, a boy named Alex heads out into the darkened hallways of his apartment building. His objective is to get to the basement and destroy his “nightbooks” in the furnace. He calls them this because he has spent countless hours recording his scariest nightmares and spooky stories in their pages. Alex prizes his imagination, but it’s also the thing that sets him apart from his peers. And when you’re a kid, being different isn’t always a good thing. Alex hopes that destroying his stories will help him fit in, but what he doesn’t expect is a detour that will lead him into the heart of the scariest story he’s ever faced!
The Late Bloomers’ Club by Louise Miller: The heroine of Miller’s second novel, Nora, the owner of the Miss Guthrie Diner, makes her living serving up comfort food to locals and visitors alike in a small town in rural Vermont that finds itself at the crossroads of preserving tradition and embracing economic development. Peppered with a cast of characters that includes Nora’s younger sister Kit, Kit’s significant other (both aspiring filmmakers) and an assortment of working-class heroes, the novel unfolds after the town’s beloved “cake lady,” Peggy Johnson, dies in a car crash. Peggy, whose property is targeted for a big-box development, has left behind a will designating Nora as the beneficiary of her estate–a gesture that proves both a boon and a burden to the cash-strapped Nora, who soon finds herself torn between loyalty to the residents of Guthrie and the prospect of financial freedom. As Nora navigates between searching for Peggy’s lost dog, Freckles, who fled after the crash, and sidestepping her ex-husband’s overtures and dalliances, she finds herself alternately attracted to and angered by none other than the big-box developer, Elliot. Readers with a sweet tooth and a passion for dogs are sure to enjoy this book!
The Fall of Wisconsin by Dan Kaufman: On Election Day in 2016, pundits were confident that Wisconsin would be a “blue wall” that would lead Hillary Clinton to victory. The next day, however, revealed a different story. Instead of showing Clinton the same support they had given Obama in the previous two presidential elections, Wisconsin went for Trump by 22,748 votes. Political commentators were flummoxed. How could Wisconsin, historically the most progressive state in the Union, have turned overnight to the right? After all, Wisconsin had served as the legislative laboratory for the rest of the country, passing reform laws that later inspired the New Deal. Furthermore, Wisconsin’s unions could be reliably counted on to turn out the vote for Democrats. What had caused such a sudden shift? According to journalist Dan Kaufman, the answer is that the shift did not occur overnight. A native Wisconsinite now based in New York, Kaufman argues that Wisconsin’s swing to Trump is the product of a decades-long effort by conservative think tanks, PACs and donors to dismantle Wisconsin’s progressive ethos and replace it with a right-to-work, anti-regulatory government. The result, according to Kaufman, is a gerrymandered state with weakened environmental laws, poor educational results and increased poverty. Democrats do not get off lightly, either. Kaufman claims that the Democratic Party’s neglect of the industrial workers who made up the bulk of their union support had a significant impact on the outcome of the 2016 election. He also observes that job losses from NAFTA and the recession made union workers particularly susceptible to Governor Scott Walker’s divide-and-conquer tactics. Democrats, he argues, took Wisconsin for granted, and gave the unions little or no support in devastating political battles. Weakened, they had neither the ability nor the desire to turn out the vote for Clinton. Kaufman weaves recent political events, Wisconsin history and the stories of real people caught in the political whirlpool–union leaders, Native Americans, grassroots organizers–into a meticulous and compelling exploration of a consequential political metamorphosis. It is essential reading to understand how we arrived where we are today.
Where the Watermelons Grow by Cindy Baldwin: In Cindy Baldwin’s big-hearted debut novel, Where the Watermelons Grow, everything seems to be going wrong for 12-year-old Della Kelly. There’s currently a summer drought in her town of Maryville, North Carolina, which is bad news for the Kelly family farm–even their beloved watermelons are dying on the vine. But what worries Della the most is the fact that her mother’s schizophrenia is flaring up for the first time in four years, leaving her unable to function, much less care for Della’s 16-month-old sister, Mylie. Della can’t help feeling that her mother’s illness is her fault, since her symptoms appeared soon after Della was born. Feeling that it’s up to her to not only help, but cure, her mother, she seeks out Tabitha Quigley, a local beekeeper whose family’s honey seems to hold magical cures. But Miss Tabitha doesn’t offer the cure that Della yearns for, leaving her feeling more isolated and helpless than ever. Baldwin’s portrait of a strong, loving family facing a mental health crisis is nuanced, sensitive and believable. Although Della can’t bear to confide her worries in her best friend, both she and her father slowly realize they can’t keep their problems to themselves. One of the great strengths of this book is that Baldwin offers plenty of hope but no easy fixes. Della learns invaluable lessons and realizes she has strengths she never imagined along with supportive family and friends who are ready to help. And most of all she learns that “No sickness in the world could make my mama’s love for us less real.” Where the Watermelons Grow is a spot-on, insightful novel about a preteen learning to live with and accept a parent’s mental illness.
Clock Dance by Anne Tyler: Deceptively simple prose is like a child with an adorable smile: They can both get away with a lot. In a career that began with 1964’s If Morning Ever Comes, Anne Tyler has created one deceptively simple novel after another. Her specialty is the depiction of quiet lives that may seem ordinary at first glance. Upon closer inspection, each book is a subtle analysis of American married life, its joys as well as its darker elements. Tyler offers yet another astute portrait in Clock Dance. In 1967 Pennsylvania, 11-year-old Willa is the elder daughter of a mild-mannered father and a mother prone to disappearances and bursts of violence. The action then shifts to 1977, when college junior Willa flies home so that her boyfriend, Derek, can meet her parents. After a section set in 1997, in which Derek, now her husband, dies in a car accident, the second half of the book shifts to 2017. Willa is living in Arizona and married to retired lawyer Peter. One day, she gets a call from a stranger in Baltimore, who tells her that Denise, a former girlfriend of her elder son, has been shot in the leg. The woman, Denise’s neighbor, asks Willa to fly out to care for the victim’s 9-year-old daughter, Cheryl, whom the neighbor mistakenly thinks is Willa’s granddaughter. Tyler fans won’t be surprised to learn that kind-hearted Willa agrees to the request. Her experiences with Denise and Cheryl make up much of the book’s drama. If the concluding pages are more circuitous than necessary, Tyler’s touch is as light and sure as ever. Clock Dance is a tender portrait of everyday people dealing with loss and regret, the need to feel useful and the desire for independence.
Dear Mrs. Bird by AJ Pearce: Emmeline Lake has big dreams. She’s already doing what she can to support the war effort as a volunteer telephone operator for the Auxiliary Fire Service. She writes frequent letters to keep her boyfriend up to date and in high spirits while he’s fighting Hitler and the Nazis. But she wants to do even more: Emmy dreams of becoming a war correspondent. She’s so busy dreaming, in fact, that she doesn’t pay attention during her interview for a job she spotted in The London Evening Chronicle. Emmy daydreams of seeing her byline under important reports from the front. Instead, she’s hired as a typist for another publication: Woman’s Friend. Emmy will spend her days typing up tough-love advice from Mrs. Henrietta Bird, author of the column “Henrietta Helps.” The problem? Emmy actually wants to help. Mrs. Bird sends any letter containing “unpleasantness” to the rubbish bin. But as Emmy sorts through the mail, she sets aside such letters. Those readers deserve a response, she reasons, and it should be more thoughtful than the harsh advice Mrs. Bird doles out. So Emmy writes them back. And signs her boss’s name. It seems like a small offense in the context of World War II. London has so much more to worry about. But as Emmy continues to sort through her boss’s mailbag, she finds that she can provide some hope in the midst of the world’s darkest time. In Dear Mrs. Bird, debut novelist AJ Pearce draws inspiration from women’s magazine advice columnists of the era. The result is a charming story full of as much pluck and grit as its protagonist.
The Poisoned City by Anna Clark: Make no mistake: The water crisis that has plagued the people of Flint, Michigan, is not the result of a single decision. Rather, it is the disastrous culmination of state government dysfunction, decades of enforced housing segregation and the meteoric rise and fall of the American automobile industry. In April of 2014, Flint residents discovered that the water pouring from their faucets was not only undrinkable but also downright toxic. Due to a recent switch in the city’s water supply, Flint’s lead pipes corroded. Initial reports from horrified Flint citizens were largely ignored. By the time the state of Michigan admitted to its mistake, 12 people had died and Flint’s children had been exposed to irrevocable harm. Anna Clark, a journalist and regular contributor to the Detroit Free Press, recounts the tangled series of events that eventually led to the city’s poisoned water supply in The Poisoned City. Clark avoids sanctimonious judgments, but she isn’t afraid to painstakingly show how racism and state-sanctioned white supremacy shaped the socioeconomic policies of Flint. Flint’s water crisis extends beyond an environmental disaster; it’s a public health and civil rights issue. In a way, it was by design that Flint’s communities of color were hit hardest. Unfortunately, the narrative surrounding Flint’s poisoned water is not an anomaly. For Clark, it’s a reflection of America’s tradition of inequality–the nation’s foundations are structured at the expense of the vulnerable and marginalized. Ultimately, the story of Flint’s water crisis echoes throughout countless American cities.
A Dog Named Doug by Karma Wilson and Matt Myers: Here’s a challenge for a tired parent: Try to get through the tongue twisters and antics of a very energetic canine in A Dog Named Doug without collapsing from laughter. The first line sets the stage: “Once there was a dog named Doug. Doug liked to dig, but when Doug dug, oh boy, did Doug DIG!” Readers young and old will delight in Doug’s journey, which brings them from the Old West to Hollywood and from the African savannah to the White House. And what world tour would be complete without a visit to Stonehenge? In fact, Doug digs so deep underground that he ends up on the other side of the world. (Where, naturally, he finds himself upside down.) This book was so enjoyable and fun that kids will want to read it again and again!
Geraldine by Elizabeth Lilly: No one likes moving, especially Geraldine the giraffe. It doesn’t help when her mother reminds her not to be a drama queen or when her father suggests that moving will be “a Grand Adventure.” Back in Giraffe City, Geraldine was just Geraldine. But as the only giraffe at her new school, she feels like “That Giraffe Girl.” Never shy before, Geraldine now hides behind trees and basketball poles during lunch and recess. But one day, Geraldine discovers someone else in her lunchtime hiding spot: a girl named Cassie with a long, twisty braid who identifies herself as “that girl who wears glasses and like MATH and always organizes her food.” As Geraldine and Cassie hide and hang out together, they realize that they’re not so unusual.
The Secrets Between Us by Thrity Umrigar: Thrity Umrigar’s eighth novel follows the main character of her bestselling The Space Between Us (2006), the servant Bhima, over the course of a year. The life of Parvati, a minor character entwined with Bhima’s in this sequel. Parvati has the sadder background of the two: Sold into prostitution as a young girl by her desperately poor father, she spent two decades in a brothel before one of her regulars asks her to marry him. She trades one horrific life for another, as she is regularly abused by him and is left penniless when he dies. Now Parvati exists by selling six cauliflowers a day from her spot at an outdoor market; she sleeps under the stairwell outside her nephew’s apartment and eats leftovers from a nearby restaurant. Bhima has been forced to leave one of her servant jobs and is looking for a way to earn extra money to help send her granddaughter, Maya, to college. She meets Parvati at the market, and they form a working partnership. As the two lonely women grow closer, they gradually begin to share their stories, listening without judgment to the secrets they’ve hidden from others–poverty, illiteracy, sexual abuse, multiple abortions, offspring who died from AIDS. Nothing is left unsaid.
The Race to Save the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport: By the early 20th century, thanks to Queen Victoria’s prodigious matchmaking, almost all the ruling families across Europe were related. Among Victoria’s favorite grandchildren was Alexandra Feodorovna, who went on to marry her cousin Nicholas II, the czar of Russia. Alexandra’s new husband looked so similar to George, their mutual cousin and the future king of England, that they could have passed for identical twins. So why, given all the family ties, were “Alicky” and “Nicky” left to die at the hands of revolutionaries? Many of the royal cousins attempted to create a plan for rescue, but the bulk of the blame for their deaths has generally been laid on King George V. But in her new book, The Race to Save the Romanovs, historian Helen Rappaport argues that British anti-royal sentiment in that era was so strong that rescuing the Romanovs could have been disastrous for King George’s family. This is not the sweet, sacrificial Nicholas and Alexandra of other biographies, Rappaport writes–with substantial evidence–that the czar was a weak leader, and the czarina was a decided and sometimes oblivious partisan. They were, however, deeply devoted to one another and to their children. Rappaport concludes that no rescue attempt would have succeeded because the Romanovs would never have abandoned the motherland.
All We Ever Wanted by Emily Giffin: Nina Browning’s days are filled with the typical activities of Nashville’s wealthiest residents: “Meetings and parties and beauty appointments and workouts and tennis games and lunches, and, yes, even some very worthwhile charity work.” She has lavish homes and designer clothes, and her husband, Kirk, is a tech titan–albeit one with a fondness for bourbon and long business trips. The Brownings have it all, and the best part is that their only child, Finch, has just been accepted to Princeton (sure, a check to the university endowment may have greased the wheels). But their elite world comes crashing down when Finch is accused of texting his buddies a partially nude photo of a passed-out girl at a party, along with a racist comment. Finch is at the mercy of his private school’s disciplinary committee, and his Ivy League future is in jeopardy. Kirk’s reaction is to protect their son at any cost. But Nina finds herself seeking answers as to why Finch would have done what he did. She is drawn to the young girl in the photo and desperate to make things right. Nina’s own past resurfaces as she probes what really happened that night at the party and what it means for her family’s future.
Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse: After a sudden climate apocalypse, one of the only places left intact was Dinetah, a former Navajo reservation that has become a land where gods and supernatural heroes walk among humans. Preternaturally deadly monster hunter Maggie Hoskie is one of the byproducts of the supernatural rebirth of Dinetah. When her search for a missing girl and her monstrous captor goes south, Maggie is left with questions. Who created the monster that abducted the girl, and why? Maggie’s investigation leads her to reluctantly team up with Kai Arviso, an overly charismatic young medicine man with powers of his own. The further they dig to find the truth behind the monster, the more Maggie is forced to recognize that confronting her past may be the key to solving the mystery.
My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton, and Jodi Meadows: Cynthia Hand, Brodi Ashton and Jodi Meadows, the team of young adult authors otherwise known as the Lady Janies, penned the 2016 New York Times bestseller My Lady Jane–inspired (more or less) by hapless historical figure Lady Jane Grey, who ruled as queen of England for only nine days. Now, they’ve whipped up another ghostly journey into the past in the latest installment of their Jane-centric series, but their new inspiration is a different famous Jane. This time, the eponymous protagonist is none other than Charlotte Bronte’s indomitable heroine Jane Eyre. With this crew of authors at the helm, don’t expect a simple retelling. In the opening pages of My Plain Jane, we meet not only Jane but also her friend Charlotte Bronte, both of whom are students at the infamous Lowood School. As a young aspiring author, Charlotte is working on her “Very-First-Ever-Attempt-at-a-Novel” and thinks Jane will make the perfect heroine in her story. Jane has the ability to see ghosts, which convinces the very attractive supernatural investigator Alexander Blackwood that she would make a fine addition to his Society for the Relocation of Wayward Spirits. But Jane rejects the job offer and instead sets off to fulfill her destiny by securing the governess position at Rochester’s Thornfield Hall. Off she trots with a ghostly Helen Burns at her side, who proves to be a fantastic comic foil for Jane.
A Thousand Beginnings and Endings by Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman: As a collection of Asian myths and legends, A Thousand Beginnings and Endings could be required reading for any classroom. Fifteen acclaimed Asian and Asian-American authors breathe fresh life into 15 popular Asian folktales and myths, elevating this anthology to a higher level. Editors Ellen Oh and Elsie Chapman have compiled these diverse narratives to represent the stories and cultures of East and South Asian peoples, who are all too often disregarded in modern media and publishing. Spanning Chinese, Filipino, Gujarati, Hmong, Japanese, Korean, Punjabi and Vietnamese cultures, authors such as Renee Ahdieh, E.C. Myers and Aisha Saeed have reimagined the stories of their ancestors from their own viewpoints, crafting layered tales with nuance and cultural wherewithal. For example, in Ahdieh’s “Nothing into All,” a brother and sister try to lift themselves out of poverty by using the magic of forest goblins to transform common objects into gold, but the dueling good and evil in their natures result in twisted desires and irreversible consequences. The retooled stories included here fall into many categories–fantasy, science fiction, romance–and each gives the reader newfound insight into Asian culture and history.
The Lost Vintage by Ann Mah: Quick quiz: Which group is larger–Americans who have Nobel Prizes or Americans who have passed the Masters of Wine test? Is that your final answer? At press time, the U.S. sported a mere 47 of the latter, fewer than the number of Americans who have won the Nobel in the last decade. The Masters of Wine roster is the very definition of “elite.” At the beginning of Ann Mah’s second novel, The Lost Vintage, protagonist Kate Elliott has committed to an extended visit with extended family in Meursault, France, and in the hopes of shoring up her knowledge of French wines in advance of her third–and final–sitting for the test. To earn her keep during her excursion, Kate helps her cousin reclaim a cellar storage space that contains several surprises, not the least of which is a World War II-era diary from the great half-aunt named Helene who has been more or less expunged from the family history. As Kate digs deeper, it appears that her relative may have been a collaborator during WWII, which is a bitter pill to swallow, but she’s determine to uncover the truth nonetheless.
Untamed Cowboy by Maisey Yates: Maisey Yates gives readers a twist on the friends-to-lovers trope by adding layers of negative family history on both sides, considerably raising the emotional stakes in her latest romance, Untamed Cowboy. Kaylee Capshaw has been in love with Bennett Dodge since she was 13, but to protect her heart, she never pursued him. She’s struggled to cope with unrequited feelings ever since, even as the best friends share a veterinary practice in rural Gold Valley, Oregon. Kaylee has psychological reasons to keep her attraction to Bennett a secret–her parents’ marriage was a disaster and Kaylee was constantly aware she was unwanted and unloved. Her friendship with Bennett is important to her and Yates develops a long, comfortable, affectionate history between them. After his mother’s death when he was a child, followed by too many stepmothers to count, Bennett has followed a strict plan for his life that ensures a quiet, well-organized existence. Powerful emotion isn’t allowed and he’s unaware that he subconsciously, purposefully, never considered Kaylee as a potential girlfriend. When his sensible fiancee breaks off their engagement and immediately fall in love with another man, Bennett is at loose ends. He’s disappointed but thinks he’s coping with the situation as well as could be expected. But then his regimented life is hit by a bombshell when a social worker arrives on his doorstep with the son he didn’t know existed.
The House That Lou Built by Mae Respicio: In her charming debut novel, Mae Respicio brings young readers into the warm and loving Filipino community of Lucinda Bulosan-Nelson, a determined San Francisco middle school student with an unusual dream. Lou wants a circular saw for her 13th birthday, and she wants to build her own house: “The idea started off as a daydream, a dare to myself: What if I made something no other girl has?” And Lou has just about all she needs as she inherited a plot of land from her late father. She has a growing set of construction skills; she’s already making sets for Barrio Fiesta, a neighborhood fundraiser for the Filipino American Community Senior Center. And thanks to her woodworking teacher, Mr. Keller, she’s learning about tools, drafting and innovative architectural designs, including tiny houses. But Lou’s ambitious plans, and her budding friendship with classmate Jack, might all come to nothing if her mom gets a job out of state, and if no money can be found to pay the back taxes on Lou’s new land.
Front Desk by Kelly Yang: Intrepid fifth-grader Mia Tang gets a crash course in capitalism when she oversees the front desk at the motel that her Chinese-American parents operate. Loosely based on author Kelly Yang’s experiences as a new immigrant to America, this story shimmers with good cheer, working-class realities and Mia’s unshakeable belief that people can make a difference if they pull together.
Small Country by Gael Faye and Sarah Ardizzone: The mass killings that took place in Rwanda in the spring of 1994 form the core of Gael Faye’s Small Country, a miraculous story of before and after, of innocence shattered and of surviving the transformation of paradise into hell. Already an international bestseller and the winner of multiple awards, Small Country, ably translated from the French by Sarah Ardizzone, tells the story of 10-year-old Gabriel living in Burundi with his family. Life is easy in the comfortable expatriate suburb, and even after Gaby’s parents separate, he and his band of friends spend their days stealing mangoes and smoking cigarettes. Though rumors of ethnic tensions rumble over from the Rwandan border, nothing threatens their carefree spirits. This changes abruptly when war breaks out. Rumors of horrific violence turn into killings in Gaby’s own town, and even his own street. Gaby’s mother, who had traveled to Rwanda to find her brother and aunt, returns forever changed. The divide between Hutu and Tutsi proves insurmountable, and the lessons learned by Gaby and his friends are brutal.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang: Debut author Helen Hoang knocks it out of the park with The Kiss Quotient, which follows a romance between an analytical heroine and the gorgeous escort who teaches her all about the benefits of falling in love. Stella Lane is in love with data and numbers. As an econometrician, she’s most comfortable when poring over statistics and finding anomalies or trends. Stella also has Asperger’s a fact of which her mother, between her unceasing requests for grandchildren, constantly reminds her. But romance and a relationship hold very little appeal to Stella, especially after some lackluster experiences. And since Stella never does anything halfway, she’ll only accept the best “tutor” she can find. Enter Michael Phan, an escort whose looks could easily grace any fashion magazine. Though he really needs the money, he’s also charmed by Stella’s checklist of things to tackle. Any romance reader knows where this is going, and things between Stella and Michael start to stray from strictly business. This book is a unicorn. It’s magical and one of a kind. Stella’s Asperger’s isn’t talked about in veiled or coded language. It’s very much part of who she is, and she’s learned to live her life in a way that suits her and makes her (mostly) happy. Though uncomfortable when it comes to the realm of social interactions, Stella is self-assured about her work ethic. She really loves her job and finds comfort in the work she does. Michael is a great foil for Stella’s awkward moments. He’s smooth and effortless in how he handles her nervousness, inexperience and everything in between. Michael fully embodies the romance hero ideal, and he’s set the bar high for all other heroes to come.
Us Against You by Fredrik Backman: Fredrik Backman’s engrossing fifth book is a sequel to Beartown, his 2017 novel set in a small town on the edge of a Swedish forest. As Us Against You opens, Beartown’s future is threatened: first by the possible closure of its only factory, and second by the bankruptcy faced by the town’s hockey club. Hockey isn’t merely a game to the town’s inhabitants–their whole lives revolve around the Bears’ wins and losses. Beartown’s anxiety is further fueled by a major shift in the Bears’ team roster. After the rape of the general manager’s daughter, Maya, by a team member, as chronicled in Beartown, the team was torn apart. Some Bears abandoned the team and joined the Bulls from the neighboring town of Hed. Those who stayed in Beartown are some of the best players, but the remaining team lacks the size and experience of the Bulls. Backman’s latest saga focuses on the first hockey season following the schism, brilliantly portraying the way each magnetic character copes with the hatred and violence that has engulfed these two small towns as their teams prepare to do battle. Maya struggled to move on from her traumatic experience, constantly aware that many blame her for the team’s demise. Her best friend, Ana, carelessly reveals that their friend Benji, one of the team’s best players, is gay. Maya’s parents, Peter and Kira, constantly face backlash from a town that blames their report of Maya’s rape for the team’s problems. Vidar, the younger brother of one of the town bullies, is mysteriously released from a detention camp to be the Bears’ goalie. Ramona, a widow who runs the local bar, lovingly supports the pack of “hooligans” who resort to violence in support of their team. The new Bears coach is a woman, an ex-professional player who struggles to gain the acceptance of the town and her players. And lurking in the background is a Wizard of Oz-like figure–a politician trying to manipulate the team and factory to enrich his own pockets. Backman stirs this volatile melange of disparate characters until the inevitable explosion occurs, leaving Beartown sadder but perhaps wiser than before. His depiction of thi small town will resonate especially with readers who struggle with the racism, homophobia and misogyny that exist in their own communities.
A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza: A Place for Us concerns itself with the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family living in California. The opening scene is the wedding of eldest daughter Hadia. The bride’s prodigal brother, Amar, has returned after an absence of several years, and the reasons for this absence unfold in ensuing chapters. Hadia and Amar, along with sister Huda, are the children of Layla and Rafiq, and the interior lives of these characters are explored in continually shifting timelines. This story really gains traction when Amar is bullied at school around 9/11. He is also involved in a forbidden romance with Amira Ali, the daughter of a well-respected local family whose eldest son died in a car accident. Overshadowing all these events are the parameters of a deeply traditional Muslim culture–arranged marriages, the differing set of standards and expectations for men and women, the pressure for academic achievement–and the looming sense of being an “other” in American society. Immigrant novels often center on conflict and the juxtaposition between Old World values and modern Western culture. In seeking a better life for their children, Layla and Rafiq must contend with this and the effect it has on their family. A Place for Us resonates at the crossroads of culture, character, storytelling and poignancy.
The Book of Essie by Meghan MacLean Weir: A resourceful, resilient teen heroine is at the heart of Meghan MacLean Weir’s propulsive debut novel. Demure and obedient, 17-year-old Essie has played the perfect preacher’s daughter for years–she’s the youngest of the brood that makes up “Six for Hicks,” a hit reality TV show starring her family. But now Essie is pregnant, and she won’t name the father. As the novel opens, Essie’s image-first mother is debating whether to arrange an abortion or secret adoption, or somehow try to pass off her grandchild as her own. Essie, however, has other plans: After all, what gets better ratings than a wedding? Essie already has her eye on a groom: Roarke Richards, an athletic high school senior. The two barely know each other, and Roarke is skeptical–but once he realizes the deal includes enough money to save his parents’ business and pay for his dream college, he’s in. As Roarke and Essie try to sell their sudden wedding as a fairy tale and not a shotgun, the reader (and Roarke) gradually realizes that there’s more to Essie’s story (and her plan) than it first appears.
Neverworld Wake by Marisha Pessl: Beatrice Hartley has been unable to find normalcy ever since her boyfriend, Jim, was found dead under mysterious circumstances in a quarry outside their elite boarding school. While searching for answers, Beatrice attempts to make amends with four former friends. But a freak accident soon finds the group trapped in the Neverworld, a realm in which the same day repeats endlessly…and will continue to do so until the quintet can agree on one member who will return to the world of the living. The others will die. Imagine living the same day an infinite number of times and being trapped for centuries in the moment between life and death. That’s what happens in the Neverworld, where storms rage, strange birds nest in dead trees and black mold lies just below clean-looking surfaces. While some in the group delight in the mayhem, Beatrice remains the stereotypical good girl. But as the friends put aside their differences (and their debauchery) to investigate Jim’s death in earnest, secrets and deceptions begin to multiply. And the Neverworld begins to break down.
Calypso by David Sedaris: If you’re ever stuck in an elevator or airport, just pray for David Sedaris to appear. Time passes quickly with this national treasure of a storyteller. Reading Calypso, Sedaris’ latest collection of essays, is like settling into a glorious beach vacation with the author, whose parents, siblings and longtime boyfriend, Hugh, feel like old friends to faithful readers. Family gatherings at Sedaris’ North Carolina beach house are featured frequently in this collection of 21 essays, and at the Sea Section (his chosen moniker for his beach house), games of Sorry! become delightfully vicious and the clan gets gleefully nosy when James Comey is said to be renting 12 doors down. Another favorite topic, not surprisingly, is aging. Sedaris, 61, observes that sometimes life at the beach feels like a Centrum commercial, and soon enough, he and his siblings will join the seniors they see zooming by on golf carts. “How can that be,” he asks, “when only yesterday, on this very same beach, we were children?”
A View of the Empire at Sunset by Caryl Phillips: You won’t learn anything about her writing–the novel never mentions the title by which most readers know her, or any of her other works–but the Jean Rhys depicted in Caryl Phillips’ beguiling new novel, A View of the Empire at Sunset, is not unlike the poorly treated and subjugated female characters from some of Rhys’ own books, among them Wide Sargasso Sea and Voyage in the Dark. Phillips, a native of the Caribbean island of St. Kitts and author of 2015’s magnificent The Lost Child, begins his tale in 1930s London. Gwendolen Williams (Rhys’ birth name) is unhappily married to her second husband, literary agent Leslie Tilden Smith. He has recently received a legacy from his late father. With the money, in the hope of repairing their relationship, he suggests a trip to Gwennie’s West Indies homeland, “for he understood how desperately she wished once again to see her birthplace.” Readers of Phillips’ previous novels will recognize similar elements here, including the elegant formality of his prose and the criticisms of racism and colonialism. A View of the Empire at Sunset is a provocative portrait of one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic authors.
Ruthless Tide by Al Roker: Al Roker, co-host and weather anchor of NBC’s “Today,” vividly recreates the tragedy of the Johnstown Flood in Ruthless Tide. In what he calls an “unnatural disaster,” 20 million tons of water hurtled past a failing dam and into a Pennsylvania valley on the afternoon of May 31, 1889, tossing animals and trees, crushing houses and killing 2,209 men, women and children. By supplying plenty of detail, Roker brings the reader so deeply into the moment (it took about 10 seconds for most of Johnstown to be utterly destroyed) that you can almost hear the water’s roar and feel the thundering crashes as rooftops and locomotives banged into buildings ripped from their foundations.
From Twinkle, With Love by Sandhya Menon: High school junior Twinkle Mehra’s ultimate dream is to become a great filmmaker. She also wants to leave behind the social stratum she’s dubbed “the groundlings” and carve out a place among the “silk hats,” where her former best friend, Maddie, and Twinkle’s longtime crush, Neil, are counted as members. When Neil’s geeky twin brother, Sahil, offers to help Twinkle shoot a film for the annual arts festival, she jumps at the chance. Sahil’s kindness, love of film and respect for Twinkle’s art soon have her falling hard. But Twinkle’s goals thus far–making films, regaining Maddie’s friendship and winning Neil’s heart–have become so entwined that it’s hard for her to make room for a new goal and new possibilities with Sahil. Twinkle speaks out through her films, but is she seeing the world around her for what it truly is, or has her perspective become warped by long-held assumptions?
Robin by Dave Itzkoff: From his rapid-fire stand-up comedy riffs to his breakout role in Mork & Mindy and his Academy Award-winning performance in Good Will Hunting, Robin Williams was a singularly innovative and beloved entertainer. He often came across as a man possessed, holding forth on culture and politics while mixing in personal revelations – all with mercurial, tongue-twisting intensity as he inhabited and shed one character after another with lightning speed. But as Dave Itzkoff shows in this revelatory biography, Williams’s comic brilliance masked a deep well of conflicting emotions and self-doubt, which he drew upon in his comedy and in celebrated films like Dead Poets Society; Good Morning, Vietnam; The Fisher King; Aladdin; and Mrs. Doubtfire, where he showcased his limitless gift for improvisation to bring to life a wide range of characters. And in Good Will Hunting he gave an intense and controlled performance that revealed the true range of his talent.Itzkoff also shows how Williams struggled mightily with addiction and depression – topics he discussed openly while performing and during interviews – and with a debilitating condition at the end of his life that affected him in ways his fans never knew. Drawing on more than a hundred original interviews with family, friends, and colleagues, as well as extensive archival research, Robin is a fresh and original look at a man whose work touched so many lives.
Julian is a Mermaid by Jessica Love: While riding the subway home from the pool with his abuela one day, Julián notices three women spectacularly dressed up. Their hair billows in brilliant hues, their dresses end in fishtails, and their joy fills the train car. When Julián gets home, daydreaming of the magic he’s seen, all he can think about is dressing up just like the ladies in his own fabulous mermaid costume: a butter-yellow curtain for his tail, the fronds of a potted fern for his headdress. But what will Abuela think about the mess he makes — and even more importantly, what will she think about how Julián sees himself? Mesmerizing and full of heart, Jessica Love’s author-illustrator debut is a jubilant picture of self-love and a radiant celebration of individuality.
Fatal Throne by M.T. Anderson, Candace Fleming, Stephanie Hemphill, Lisa Ann Sandell, Jennifer Donnelly, Linda Sue Park, and Deborah Hopkinson: The tragic lives of Henry VIII and his six wives are reimagined by seven acclaimed and bestselling authors in this riveting novel, perfect for fans of Wolf Hall and Netflix’s The Crown. He was King Henry VIII, a charismatic and extravagant ruler obsessed with both his power as king and with siring a male heir. They were his queens–six ill-fated women, each bound for divorce, or beheading, or death. Watch spellbound as each of Henry’s wives attempts to survive their unpredictable king and his power-hungry court. See the sword flash as fiery Anne Boleyn is beheaded for adultery. Follow Jane Seymour as she rises from bullied court maiden to beloved queen, only to die after giving birth. Feel Catherine Howard’s terror as old lovers resurface and whisper vicious rumors to Henry’s influential advisors. Experience the heartache of mothers as they lose son after son, heir after heir. Told in stirring first-person accounts, Fatal Throne is at once provocative and heartbreaking, an epic tale that is also an intimate look at the royalty of the most perilous times in English history.
White Rabbit by Caleb Roehrig: Caleb Roehrig, author of Last Seen Leaving, delivers another spellbinding YA murder mystery in White Rabbit. Rufus Holt is having the worst night of his life. It begins with the reappearance of his ex-boyfriend, Sebastian–the guy who stomped his heart out like a spent cigarette. Just as Rufus is getting ready to move on, Sebastian turns up out of the blue, saying they need to “talk.” Things couldn’t get worse, right? Then Rufus gets a call from his sister April, begging for help. He and Sebastian find her, drenched in blood and holding a knife beside the dead body of her boyfriend, Fox Whitney. April swears she didn’t kill Fox. Rufus knows her too well to believe she’s telling him the whole truth, but April has something he needs. Her price is his help. Now, with no one to trust but the boy he wants to hate yet can’t stop loving, Rufus has one night to clear his sister’s name . . . or die trying.
The Miscalculations of Lightning Girl by Stacy McAnulty: Lucy Callahan was struck by lightning. She doesn’t remember it, but it changed her life forever. The zap gave her genius-level math skills, and ever since, Lucy has been homeschooled. Now, at 12 years old, she’s technically ready for college. She just has to pass 1 more test–middle school! Lucy’s grandma insists: Go to middle school for 1 year. Make 1 friend. Join 1 activity. And read 1 book (that’s not a math textbook!). Lucy’s not sure what a girl who does calculus homework for fun can possibly learn in 7th grade. She has everything she needs at home, where nobody can make fun of her rigid routines or her superpowered brain. The equation of Lucy’s life has already been solved. Unless there’s been a miscalculation? A celebration of friendship, Stacy McAnulty’s smart and thoughtful middle-grade debut reminds us all to get out of our comfort zones and embrace what makes us different.
Our Towns by James Fallows and Deborah Fallows: A vivid, surprising portrait of the civic and economic reinvention taking place in America, town by town and generally out of view of the national media. A realistically positive and provocative view of the country between its coasts. For the last five years, James and Deborah Fallows have been traveling across America in a single-engine prop airplane. Visiting dozens of towns, they have met hundreds of civic leaders, workers, immigrants, educators, environmentalists, artists, public servants, librarians, business people, city planners, students, and entrepreneurs to take the pulse and understand the prospects of places that usually draw notice only after a disaster or during a political campaign. The America they saw is acutely conscious of its problems–from economic dislocation to the opioid scourge–but it is also crafting solutions, with a practical-minded determination at dramatic odds with the bitter paralysis of national politics. At times of dysfunction on a national level, reform possibilities have often arisen from the local level. The Fallowses describe America in the middle of one of these creative waves. Their view of the country is as complex and contradictory as America itself, but it also reflects the energy, the generosity and compassion, the dreams, and the determination of many who are in the midst of making things better. Our Towns is the story of their journey–and an account of a country busy remaking itself.
The Soul of America by Jon Meacham: Our current climate of partisan fury is not new, and in The Soul of America Meacham shows us how what Abraham Lincoln called the “better angels of our nature” have repeatedly won the day. Painting surprising portraits of Lincoln and other presidents, including Ulysses S. Grant, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman, Dwight Eisenhower, and Lyndon B. Johnson, and illuminating the courage of such influential citizen activists as Martin Luther King, Jr., early suffragettes Alice Paul and Carrie Chapman Catt, civil rights pioneers Rosa Parks and John Lewis, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt, and Army-McCarthy hearings lawyer Joseph N. Welch, Meacham brings vividly to life turning points in American history. He writes about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the birth of the Lost Cause; the backlash against immigrants in the First World War and the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s; the fight for women’s rights; the demagoguery of Huey Long and Father Coughlin and the isolationist work of America First in the years before World War II; the anti-Communist witch-hunts led by Senator Joseph McCarthy; and Lyndon Johnson’s crusade against Jim Crow. Each of these dramatic hours in our national life have been shaped by the contest to lead the country to look forward rather than back, to assert hope over fear–a struggle that continues even now. While the American story has not always–or even often–been heroic, we have been sustained by a belief in progress even in the gloomiest of times. In this inspiring book, Meacham reassures us, “The good news is that we have come through such darkness before”–as, time and again, Lincoln’s better angels have found a way to prevail.
The Perfectionists by Simon Winchester: The revered New York Times bestselling author traces the development of technology from the Industrial Age to the Digital Age to explore the single component crucial to advancement–precision–in a superb history that is both an homage and a warning for our future.
The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner: It’s 2003 and Romy Hall is at the start of two consecutive life sentences at Stanville Women’s Correctional Facility, deep in California’s Central Valley. Outside is the world from which she has been severed: the San Francisco of her youth and her young son, Jackson. Inside is a new reality: thousands of women hustling for the bare essentials needed to survive; the bluffing and pageantry and casual acts of violence by guards and prisoners alike; and the deadpan absurdities of institutional living, which Kushner evokes with great humor and precision. Stunning and unsentimental, The Mars Room demonstrates new levels of mastery and depth in Kushner’s work. It is audacious and tragic, propulsive and yet beautifully refined. As James Wood said in The New Yorker , her fiction “succeeds because it is so full of vibrantly different stories and histories, all of them particular, all of them brilliantly alive.”
My Ex-Life by Stephen McCauley: David Hedges’s life is coming apart at the seams. His job helping San Francisco rich kids get into the colleges of their (parents’) choice is exasperating; his younger boyfriend has left him; and the beloved carriage house he rents is being sold. His solace is a Thai takeout joint that delivers 24/7. The last person he expects to hear from is Julie Fiske. It’s been decades since they’ve spoken, and he’s relieved to hear she’s recovered from her brief, misguided first marriage. To him. Julie definitely doesn’t have a problem with marijuana (she’s given it up completely, so it doesn’t matter if she gets stoned almost daily) and the Airbnb she’s running out of her seaside house north of Boston is neither shabby nor illegal. And she has two whole months to come up with the money to buy said house from her second husband before their divorce is finalized. She’d just like David’s help organizing college plans for her 17-year-old daughter. That would be Mandy. To quote Barry Manilow, Oh Mandy . While she knows she’s smarter than most of the kids in her school, she can’t figure out why she’s making so many incredibly dumb and increasingly dangerous choices? When David flies east, they find themselves living under the same roof (one David needs to repair). David and Julie pick up exactly where they left off thirty years ago–they’re still best friends who can finish each other’s sentences. But there’s one broken bit between them that no amount of home renovations will fix. In prose filled with hilarious and heartbreakingly accurate one-liners, Stephen McCauley has written a novel that examines how we define home, family, and love. Be prepared to laugh, shed a few tears, and have thoughts of your own ex-life triggered. (Throw pillows optional.)
Warlight by Michael Ondaatje: From the internationally acclaimed, best-selling author of The English Patient: a mesmerizing new novel that tells a dramatic story set in the decade after World War II through the lives of a small group of unexpected characters and two teenagers whose lives are indelibly shaped by their unwitting involvement. In a narrative as beguiling and mysterious as memory itself–shadowed and luminous at once–we read the story of fourteen-year-old Nathaniel, and his older sister, Rachel. In 1945, just after World War II, they stay behind in London when their parents move to Singapore, leaving them in the care of a mysterious figure named The Moth. They suspect he might be a criminal, and they grow both more convinced and less concerned as they come to know his eccentric crew of friends: men and women joined by a shared history of unspecified service during the war, all of whom seem, in some way, determined now to protect, and educate (in rather unusual ways) Rachel and Nathaniel. But are they really what and who they claim to be? And what does it mean when the siblings’ mother returns after months of silence without their father, explaining nothing, excusing nothing? A dozen years later, Nathaniel begins to uncover all that he didn’t know and understand in that time, and it is this journey–through facts, recollection, and imagination–that he narrates in this masterwork from one of the great writers of our time.
Love and Ruin by Paula McLain: The bestselling author of The Paris Wife returns to the subject of Ernest Hemingway in a novel about his passionate, stormy marriage to Martha Gellhorn–a fiercely independent, ambitious young woman who would become one of the greatest war correspondents of the twentieth century. In 1937, twenty-eight-year-old Martha Gellhorn travels alone to Madrid to report on the atrocities of the Spanish Civil War and becomes drawn to the stories of ordinary people caught in the devastating conflict. It’s the adventure she’s been looking for and her chance to prove herself a worthy journalist in a field dominated by men. But she also finds herself unexpectedly–and uncontrollably–falling in love with Hemingway, a man on his way to becoming a legend. In the shadow of the impending Second World War, and set against the turbulent backdrops of Madrid and Cuba, Martha and Ernest’s relationship and their professional careers ignite. But when Ernest publishes the biggest literary success of his career, For Whom the Bell Tolls, they are no longer equals, and Martha must make a choice: surrender to the confining demands of being a famous man’s wife or risk losing Ernest by forging a path as her own woman and writer. It is a dilemma that could force her to break his heart, and hers. Heralded by Ann Patchett as “the new star of historical fiction,” Paula McLain brings Gellhorn’s story richly to life and captures her as a heroine for the ages: a woman who will risk absolutely everything to find her own voice.
Tyrant by Stephen Greenblatt: As an aging, tenacious Elizabeth I clung to power, a talented playwright probed the social causes, the psychological roots, and the twisted consequences of tyranny. In exploring the psyche (and psychoses) of the likes of Richard III, Macbeth, Lear, Coriolanus, and the societies they rule over, Stephen Greenblatt illuminates the ways in which William Shakespeare delved into the lust for absolute power and the catastrophic consequences of its execution. Cherished institutions seem fragile, political classes are in disarray, economic misery fuels populist anger, people knowingly accept being lied to, partisan rancor dominates, spectacular indecency rules–these aspects of a society in crisis fascinated Shakespeare and shaped some of his most memorable plays. With uncanny insight, he shone a spotlight on the infantile psychology and unquenchable narcissistic appetites of demagogues–and the cynicism and opportunism of the various enablers and hangers-on who surround them–and imagined how they might be stopped. As Greenblatt shows, Shakespeare’s work, in this as in so many other ways, remains vitally relevant today.
How to Change Your Mind by Michael Pollan: A brilliant and brave investigation by Michael Pollan, author of five New York Times best sellers, into the medical and scientific revolution taking place around psychedelic drugs–and the spellbinding story of his own life-changing psychedelic experiences.
When Michael Pollan set out to research how LSD and psilocybin (the active ingredient in magic mushrooms) are being used to provide relief to people suffering from difficult-to-treat conditions such as depression, addiction and anxiety, he did not intend to write what is undoubtedly his most personal book. But upon discovering how these remarkable substances are improving the lives not only of the mentally ill but also of healthy people coming to grips with the challenges of everyday life, he decided to explore the landscape of the mind in the first person as well as the third. Thus began a singular adventure into the experience of various altered states of consciousness, along with a dive deep into both the latest brain science and the thriving underground community of psychedelic therapists. Pollan sifts the historical record to separate the truth about these mysterious drugs from the myths that have surrounded them since the 1960s, when a handful of psychedelic evangelists catalyzed a powerful backlash against what was then a promising field of research. A unique and elegant blend of science, memoir, travel writing, history, and medicine, How to Change Your Mind is a triumph of participatory journalism. By turns dazzling and edifying, it is the gripping account of a journey to an exciting and unexpected new frontier in our understanding of the mind, the self, and our place in the world. The true subject of Pollan’s “mental travelogue” is not just psychedelic drugs but also the eternal puzzle of human consciousness and how, in a world that offers us both struggle and beauty, we can do our best to be fully present and find meaning in our lives.
Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake: For readers of Girl in Pieces and The Way I Used to Be comes an emotionally gripping story about facing hard truths in the aftermath of sexual assault. Mara and Owen are as close as twins can get, so when Mara’s friend Hannah accuses Owen of rape, Mara doesn’t know what to think. Can her brother really be guilty of such a violent act? Torn between her family and her sense of right and wrong, Mara feels lost, and it doesn’t help that things are strained with her ex-girlfriend, Charlie. As Mara, Hannah, and Charlie come together in the aftermath of this terrible crime, Mara must face a trauma from her own past and decide where Charlie fits into her future. With sensitivity and openness, this timely novel confronts the difficult questions surrounding consent, victim blaming, and sexual assault.
Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli: In this sequel to the acclaimed Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda–now a major motion picture, Love, Simon–we follow Simon’s BFF Leah as she grapples with changing friendships, first love, and senior year angst. When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat–but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. She’s an anomaly in her friend group: the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends–not even her openly gay BFF, Simon. So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting–especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.
I Walk With Vanessa by Kerascoët: This simple yet powerful picture book–from a New York Times bestselling husband-and-wife team–tells the story of one girl who inspires a community to stand up to bullying. Inspired by real events, I Walk with Vanessa explores the feelings of helplessness and anger that arise in the wake of seeing a classmate treated badly, and shows how a single act of kindness can lead to an entire community joining in to help. With themes of acceptance, kindness, and strength in numbers, this timeless and profound feel-good story will resonate with readers young and old.