It’s been a hot minute since we’ve posted about our new books. Then again, it’s been a hot minute since we’ve had new books to post about. We’re all finally getting caught up with unpacking boxes and processing/cataloging books. Here are some of the newest additions to our physical and digital collection:
- The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel: It’s been eight years since we last saw Thomas Cromwell, and Hilary Mantel fans have been waiting impatiently ever since. Even though we knew how this story ends, we still need Mantel to guide us through the final days of the relationship between Henry VIII and his most famous adviser. The wait is over. The Mirror & the Light opens where Bring Up the Bodies left off. Cromwell has just witnessed the execution of Anne Boleyn. Days later, he is haunted by the memory of the late queen, as well as the five suitors who were also put to death for allegedly having consorted with her. But mostly it’s business as usual: The wedding of the king to third wife Jane Seymour, the dissolution of the monasteries, repressing tax rebellions in the north and the endless jockeying for position among England’s aristocratic families are all in a day’s work for the Renaissance’s hardest-working Privy counselor. As Cromwell goes about the king’s business, he is troubled by more than these events. Ghost-laden memories arise from a childhood spent as his father’s punching bag and his later years in Europe as a mercenary soldier and financial fixer. Another visiting ghost in the form of his previous employer, Cardinal Wolsey, continues to trouble him. Cromwell’s attempts to form a religious alliance with the Protestant German states through Henry’s marriage to Anna of Cleves backfires, an incident that wounds the king’s pride beyond repair. Cromwell is blamed, and the aristocracy, who have never accepted his origins as the son of a blacksmith, turn on him. The Mirror & the Light is the longest book of the trilogy, as if Mantel didn’t want to give up her relationship with Cromwell, but that won’t bother readers who may feel the same way. No other contemporary writer has so thoroughly and uniquely entered the mind of a historical character. Told from an unusually close third-person perspective, The Mirror & the Light is lushly written, suspenseful even though you might know its outcome and has occasions of unexpected wry wit. This is the kind of storytelling that so completely transports you, you look up from a chapter not quite knowing where you are. Mantel has, quite simply, redefined historical fiction with this trilogy. Cromwell may be gone, but long live Hilary Mantel.
- Nobody Will Tell You This but Me by Bess Kalb: In 2011, Bess Kalb received a rambling voicemail from her beloved grandmother, Bobby Bell, reminiscing about how she would fly between Florida and New York every week to babysit Kalb as a baby while Kalb’s mother worked. “I was an old lady! But I loved you. And I’d sit there in their terrible apartment by the hospital and I’d watch you. We’d watch TV, we talked, it was fine. Every week for the first year of your life. Can you imagine? You started talking at nine months. You said ‘hi.'” From that first word on, the dialogue between these two has never stopped, even though Bobby Bell died at age 90 in 2017. At her funeral, Kalb read a transcript of that voicemail as part of her eulogy, and afterward she decided to write a book about her grandmother’s life. However, Kalb, a comedy writer for “Jimmy Kimmel Live!,” put a unique spin on the project, using her grandmother’s voice to write the book in first-person. And kudos to Kalb, who pulls off this daring approach brilliantly, allowing readers to hear her grandmother’s inimitable voice in Nobody Will Tell You This but Me: A True (As Told to Me) Story. In the prologue, Bobby offers a running commentary on her own funeral, noting, “The worst part was the dirt.” Not surprisingly, given Kalb’s chosen career, there are laughs galore throughout the book, as when Bobby gives fashion advice, career advice, boyfriend advice or says, “God knows I never wanted you to be a writer. But I knew you would. I told you, Bessie–you should be a teacher. Make a salary. Have the summers off to travel.” Yet this account runs much deeper than a typical comedy routine. Kalb frequently shares the immense challenge of imagining her grandmother’s voice, writing, “It’s turned me into a riddle, a series of boxes to unlock, pages to riffle through in your mental filing cabinet. Bess, I’m not a riddle–I’m a corpse.” Calling her book “a matrilineal love story,” Kalb describes the lives of several generations of women, starting with Bobby’s own mother, who immigrated to America alone at age 12 from Russia in the face of religious persecution. These many enthralling tales (along with family photographs) unfold in a carefully structured yet nonlinear fashion (think “This Is Us”). The result is lively and fascinating, funny yet poignant. Kalb processes her own grief as she writes, sharing how she reacted in the days following her grandmother’s death. With heartbreaking honesty, she notes in her grandmother’s voice, “Ha. You can write all you want, but you’re still at a desk in a world where I don’t exist.” In a bold stroke of literary bravura, Kalb has turned the formula for writing memoirs inside out, bringing her grandmother’s distinctive voice back to life and sharing it with a legion of lucky readers.
- The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai (available as an e-book on the Axis 360 and Libby apps): Nguyen Phan Que Mai’s The Mountains Sing recounts a fascinating narrative of Vietnam through the alternating voices of Huong–a woman born in Vietnam in 1960–and her grandmother, Dieu Lan. Que Mai is an acclaimed Vietnamese poet, and her vivid images, along with the simplicity of her prose, make the novel propulsive and haunting in its depiction of a deep, nuanced landscape. Early on, Que Mai writes, “Only through honesty can we learn about the truth.” That truth is, at times, hard to confront. The Vietnam War-set opening scene–as Huong and her grandmother seek shelter from bombs, only to find that the available hiding places are full of people or cold water or both–is difficult to process, but the novel begs us to keep reading, to see how the two women’s narratives converge, to understand the legacy and complexity of family and place. In alternating chapters, Que Mai moves between Huong’s visit to Hanoi in 2012, her survival of the Vietnam War with her late grandmother and Dieu Lan’s harrowing stories of how war, poverty and North Vietnam’s land reform movement ripped their family apart. Dieu Lan’s community turns on her as a result of the politics of the land reform movement, and she is chased off her land, forced to abandon her family and remake her entire life. These historical chapters reveal the complexities of this family and how it has been ruptured by generations of conflict, bolstering our comprehension of how colonialism, violence and the landscape impact a family’s past and present. While many recent novels from authors like Ocean Vuong and Viet Thanh Nguyen give glimpses of the Vietnamese American experience, The Mountains Sing offers a tale of Vietnamese history through a Vietnamese lens: neighbors caring for and turning against each other, families split apart by war and attempts at reunification on various scales. We also see the ways that food (foraging for it, cooking it, sharing it, eating it) can bring communities together and rip them apart. Above all, we see how war impacts the individual. Huong and Dieu Lan are remarkably drawn characters. They’re complex, likable, flawed women, and each is searching to connect with family and understand her community and history. Their pain and joy make the novel and landscape sing.
- Darling Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel (available as an e-book and e-audiobook on the Libby and Axis 360 apps): Stephanie Wrobel’s compulsively readable debut, Darling Rose Gold, explores Munchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP), psychological disorder in which a child’s caregiver, often the mother, seeks to gain attention from the medical community for made-up symptoms of the child in her care. Earlier novels about this rare phenomenon focus on the modes of abuse the mother employs to gain attention, like starvation or putting ipecac in her child’s food to induce vomiting. Wrobel instead begins her eerie tale when Patty Watts is about to be released from prison after serving five years for aggravated child abuse. The reader learns the details of what Patty did to her daughter, Rose Gold, only in flashback chapters: “By the time I was ten,” Rose Gold remembers, “I’d had ear and feeding tubes, tooth decay, and a shaved head. I needed a wheelchair…I’d had cancer scares, brain damage scares, tuberculosis scares.” Despite finally realizing that her own mother was the cause of all her suffering, Rose Gold still has ambivalent feelings about her mother’s sentencing and imprisonment: “Some days I was thrilled. Some days I felt like a vital organ was missing.” The rippling effects of Rose Gold’s horrific childhood build up over the five years she’s on her own, until she’s 23 and the need for revenge begins to take hold. After Patty is released, their small town’s inhabitants are amazed to hear that Rose Gold has taken her mother into her own home–and even lets her care for her newborn son. Wrobel explores this bizarre mother-daughter relationship in chapters that alternate between each woman’s point-of-view, both past and present. Each woman displays Jekyll and Hyde-style personalities, and the reader is kept guessing about which one will emerge the stronger. This creepy psychological thriller is sure to be enjoyed by those who devoured Gone Girl, Girl on the Train and domestic thrillers from authors like Megan Abbott and JP Delaney.
- The Honey-Don’t List by Christina Lauren (available as an e-book and e-audiobook on the Axis 360 and Libby apps): When picking up a Christina Lauren (CLo) book, readers can count on a delicious blend of emotional ups and downs, slice-of-life hilarity and happy endings worthy of an ugly cry (or at least a beautiful, artful tear that rolls down your cheek). The queens of romantic comedy celebrate their 25th book with The Honey-Don’t List, in which two employees of married DIY superstars must keep the couple from imploding in public. Carey Duncan has worked for the Tripps for over a decade; they’re like a second family. Unfortunately, Rusty and Melissa Tripp cannot stand each other. With a new home improvement Netflix show on the horizon, disaster looms as the Tripps and their crew embark on a promotional road trip. Carey’s role as mediator gets a boost in the form of James McCann, an engineering whiz and new addition to the team. While on the road, the two must contend with close quarters, unexpected chemistry and wrangling the Tripps’ marital dramatics. Carey is the ultimate sweetheart. She’s dedicated to those close to her and earnestly expresses her emotions. There’s a raw quality to her that motivates others to be better and, to her occasional annoyance, brings out the protective nature of her friends and family. Carey lives with a movement disorder that often affects her hands, and while it’s a routine part of her life, she’s also cognizant that others may view it as a defining characteristic of who she is. For frequent readers of Lauren’s work, Carey likely tops many lists of favorite CLo heroines because of her goodness. She’s a genuinely kind person, and sometimes we all need a reminder that those kinds of people exist, fictionality aside. The Honey-Don’t List‘s leading man, James, is just as charming. The pair get off on the wrong foot–James is the new guy with big ideas, whereas Carey is far more experienced in the idiosyncrasies of her bosses. They eventually realize that there is strength in numbers, and with extended time on the road, they’ll need to rely on each other to keep the Tripps’ sham marriage from getting out. The tenderness James exhibits toward Carey is a magnificent reminder that love isn’t about forcing someone to match our ideals, but that it comes from adjustment and widening our hearts to make room for the unexpected. The comedic beats are sharp and always impeccably timed to temper some of the more serious moments. These moments feel like well-placed reminders that everything is going to be OK. CLo fans will be delighted that their writing is as rock solid as ever, and newcomers should look forward to beginning what will undoubtedly become a life-long love affair with the author duo.