Your Library Curated: Best New Books

  • 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.” pandemic
  • 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. french exit
  • 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.  our house
  • 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. we regret to inform you
  • 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.    ohio
  • 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.  whiskey when we're dry
  • 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. air you breathe
  • Flights by Olga Tokarczuk and Jennifer CroftFlights 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.   flights
  • 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.bad reputation
  • 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.  rust and stardust
  • 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.  third hotel
  • 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.   shakespeare requirement
  • 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.masterpiece
  • 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.” fly girls
  • 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.  scarface and the untouchable
  • 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. dopesick
  •  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.  illegal

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