Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • 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. small country
  • 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.   kiss quotient
  • 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. us against you
  • A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen MirzaA 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.    place for us
  • 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. book of essie
  • 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.     neverworld wake
  • 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?”   calypso
  • 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. view of the empire at sunset
  • 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. ruthless tide
  • 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?  from twinkle with love
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