Hi, I'm Emily Crowe, travel fiend and fiction reader extraordinaire. You'll see me mainly working downstairs in the fiction room and children's department, where I split my time between managing the store and buying the adult fiction. My main interests are literary fiction with a somewhat dark bent, but I love good pieces of light-hearted fare and narrative nonfiction, too. I devour books set in the American South (my homeland), the Caribbean (my heartland), Africa, and the Middle East, but lately Marika has been putting some amazing YA books in my hands, and I love those, too! I have a blog devoted to books and travel and you can find it at As the Crowe Flies and Reads.
Meeropol’s new novel is a stunning kaleidoscope of humanity, with characters so real and complicated and full of life that you’ll want to linger with them over coffee long after the last page is turned. She treats them all with tremendous generosity, but it’s her creation of Flo, the feisty revolutionary whose mind is devoured a little more each day by Alzheimer’s, who won my heart through and through.
Aviva Grossman is an undergraduate who becomes embroiled in an affair with the politician she interns for, and this book is a humorous but fierce send-up of a culture whose bloodlust demands young women in these situations to pay for their mistakes the rest of their lives, while permitting the older men in positions of power to resume their places in society. Complex and interesting women share the non-chronological narrative here, including Aviva’s mother and the politician’s wife, and the author treats them all with a real generosity of spirit. Readers will nod knowingly and cheer to themselves with each chapter.
If I had to use just one word to describe this debut novel, I’d say it was “compelling,” but if I'm allowed to expound, I'd say that Adelia Saunders has created three heartbreaking characters whom she treats with great generosity and compassion. Her remarkable human insight and unusual premise combine to provide quite the literary treat. You’ll be amazed at the subtle ways she threads all of the narratives together and find yourself wondering at the myriad ways you may be connected to the strangers around you.
Journalist Moran brings all of her usual humor and passion to bear in this collection of writing from her column with The Times. Topics range across the vast gamut of Moran’s interests – anything from the death of Prince to the death of common politeness is fair game – but her trademark penchant for politics and all things feminism form a unifying thread throughout the collection. Her casual style belies the thoughtfulness behind each piece, and there’s something here for every reader, and I hope that this is the book to bring her a wider American audience!
Chabon’s latest novel drapes loosely over a non-fiction structural conceit in a very meta way – where the narrator is a character named Michael Chabon who sits at his grandfather’s deathbed and records all of his stories. Spanning most of the 20th century, and bookended with world wars and rocketry, this novel’s warm, rueful tone, its flirtation with the allure of science fiction, and its ultimate themes of conflict, love, madness, and loss across generations all combine to showcase Chabon at the top of his form. Top that off with the prose, which is as luminous as this title might suggest, and you’ve got one helluva read.
This Daily Show host made his name as a comedian many years ago, but what many viewers haven’t known much about until now is Noah’s childhood in apartheid South Africa. Born to a white father and a black mother in a time when interracial relationships were illegal, his very existence was itself a crime. This memoir is as clever as you would expect from the new host of The Daily Show -- but it's also a shocking, insightful, and wildly intelligent evisceration of racist, gendered, and class social constructs, from someone who was as defined by these social "rules" as much as he was rejected by them. We need these narratives, these testaments, now more than ever.
Remember all of those Facebook quizzes from a couple of years back that would eerily pinpoint where in the US you lived( or were from), based on your individual vernacular? This book is the complete visualization of those language quizzes, and it is utterly captivating. Through color-coded visual interpretations, you can see at a glance urban centers of language usage and how they have trickled through to other areas, or you can see how certain immigrant populations have affected language usage. If you’re fascinated by language, maps, cool graphics, or general information presented in thought-provoking ways, this is the perfect book for you!
This slender tome began as a social media viral sensation. Shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris in November 2015, one husband and father wrote an open letter to the authors of those attacks, stating time and again that they would not have his hate, despite the fact that he lost his wife and the mother of their infant son. This memoir closely follows the hours after the attack, chronicling his thoughts and emotions for the next several days through the funeral for his wife. Though brief, this is a powerful meditation on grief and resilience and the importance of building a legacy of forgiveness for his son.
This heartfelt historical novel tells the important but little-known story of the transatlantic ship, the Saint Louis, filled with Jewish passengers who disembarked from Europe in 1939, only to be turned away from their destination in Cuba and New York City. But for a handful of passengers, the ship was turned back to Europe, much to our country’s shame, and all but a small percentage of them ended up dying in the concentration camps. In a time where immigration is a hot-button topic, and the U. S needlessly continues to turn refugees away, we could all learn from this terrible lesson.
In this loosely autobiographical novel, Patchett stretches her story over the framework of multiple generations of a blended family, where “none of it happened, but all of it is true.” A chance encounter drastically alters the lives of two families, where the step siblings form a united, allied front against their various parental permutations. When their family narrative is appropriated by an outsider for his novel, the grown children must each decide for themselves who owns their story, where their loyalties lie, when forgiveness is the better part of valor, and what comprises family.
It’s difficult to imagine a more horrific subject for a novel than the sadistic experiments Dr.Mengele performed on twins in Auschwitz, but debut author Konar manages to craft something magnificent from such dark origins. Pearl and Stasha tell their stories in alternating chapters, each twin doing her utmost to protect her sister in the camp, their shared history almost enough to create their belief in a shared future on the other side. Konar’s language is so fresh and inventive, even occasionally playful, that it creates a powerful and shocking juxtaposition against the narrative. This author is going places, and after reading this book, I will want to be along for the ride. Every. Single. Time.
It would take a major literary player like Colson Whitehead to reinterpret the Underground Railroad in such a literal way and get away with it. This latest Oprah honoree takes a staple of the slave narrative and creates metafiction with it. Following the lives of Cora and Caesar, two runaway slaves whose stories constantly intertwine, Whitehead never shies away from the terrible realities of slavery while creating a story that is at once hopeful and honest. Elegant and readable, this is a novel that will garner as much literary acclaim as it will reader enthusiasm.
This beautifully conceived conclusion to Becker’s wordless picture book trilogy is astonishing, where the nameless girl from the series returns to the world drawn from her imagination and then makes her final return home. Wondrous and intricately crafted illustrations invite the viewer to observe closely, to see how the smallest detail can inform a story. This book provides everything you’d want in a picture book: stunning illustrations, fantastic story, adventure, action, and above all, magic. I never expected that a wordless book could move me to tears, but Becker’s skill in evoking emotion is unparalleled. For ages 3 and up.
This novel in verse begins with the death of a wife and mother, told through the eyes of her surviving husband, her two sons, and, unexpectedly, a Crow. Crow, one part trickster god, one part guardian, and wholly unpredictable, descends upon this fractured family to watch over them in their grief and guide them back to the land of the living. Some of Porter’s phrases and descriptions startled me with their clarity and undid me with their simple and unexpected poignancy.
I am truly floored by the talent of this new, young writer. Gyasi (prounounced like “Jessie”) follows the parallel lineages of two half-sisters through several generations, beginning in 18th century Ghana at the height of the slave trade and ending in the present. One sister marries a European slaver while the other is abducted from her village and sold, and each generation of their descendants carries the narrative forward in separate chapters, each of which can be read as a short story in its own right. The ending brings the entire novel full circle and is satisfying in the extreme. Meticulously crafted and constructed, hauntingly beautiful, this book made my heart ache.
Geography of place combines with the ongoing legacy of slavery and racism to create a powerful, sweeping saga. Thoroughbred racing and breeding have irrevocably shaped the lives of the Forge clan, scions of Lexington, KY, but they have had an even greater impact on the lives of Allmon Shaughnessy and Rueben Bedfor Walker III, two of the Forges’ employees. They all pin their hopes on Hellsmouth, the filly destined for greatness, but at what cost? Morgan’s ambitious novel is great in its reach, and the sheer lyricism of her prose will have you underlining text on every page. This book is magnificent, and while it is not perfect, it comes pretty close to achieving the status of a Great American Novel.
Two narratives collide in this fun, literary romp through art history. Ellie Shipley, struggling graduate student with a knack for restoration takes Sara de Vos, the first woman to be admitted to Amsterdam’s art guild in 1631, as the subject of her dissertation. When she is asked to paint a replica of a Dutch Old Master painting, these two women’s stories become intertwined, darting back and forth between centuries. Told with warmth and generosity, this novel is an extremely satisfying read.
I didn’t think I needed another book about cancer, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Alice and Oliver are the perfect young New York couple with a newborn baby…until Alice collapses over Thanksgiving dinner. This is the saga of their lives, in all of their messy, devastating glory, as they do battle with cancer, treatments, and the byzantine bylaws of health insurance in our country. The writing is fresh and unexpected, and so unflinchingly honest that I wasn’t surprised to learn that it was based on the author’s own experiences. This book broke my heart on several levels, but there is so much humanity at its core that I fell in love with it, too.
This compelling debut novel explores the effect of cultural expectations and violence on three generations of a Korean American family in New England. Kyung Cho reluctantly takes his parents in when they are brutally assaulted in their home, but instead of providing a second chance for reconciliation, it drives a bigger wedge between them. As Kyung struggles to keep his family’s financial burdens hidden from his father, he slowly discovers that his mother has been keeping secrets – big secrets – of her own. When the police piece together the final clues to solve the assault, Kyung’s life implodes in ways he never could have predicted. This electrifying storyl is both character-driven and a page turner!
Lahiri breaks new ground here by not only publishing her first work of nonfiction, but her first in Italian! As a young graduate student, she fell in love with the language during her first trip to Italy. On the surface, this memoir explores her struggles to become fluent in Italian, but she also explores language as a metaphor for belonging and identity. While this book lacks the lush and lyrical prose that dominates her fiction, the insights she shares about learning to think, write, and create in a non-native tongue, and how language can confer insider or outsider status, are peerless. Lahiri opted for somebody else to translate her work into English, and the beautifully printed dual-language format creates a lovely book-as-object, too
In this outstanding piece of journalism, Fink exposes the miasma located at the intersection of national disaster and gross bureaucratic incompetence: the failed evacuation of a hospital during Hurricane Katrina. Prepare to be dumbfounded as things fall apart even before the storm hits, but that is almost nothing compared to the media storm that follows, when someone leaks to the press the rumor that medical professionals may have been euthanizing patients before they could be evacuated. If this book isn’t on the shortlist for every major nonfiction prize when the time comes, I will stage a one-reader protest.
With his new memoir, local artist Barry Moser proves without a doubt that his storytelling skills are something indeed to be reckoned with. Chronicling his childhood in pre-Civil Rights era Tennessee, Moser alternately shocks and moves the reader with his family vignettes, all told with a direct and simple style that is lush with creative metaphor. Much of the book delineates the violent falling out, and later reconciliation, of Moser and his brother Tommy, perfectly capturing the complications and complexities of sibling relationships.
Groff’s most ambitious work to date chronicles a marriage of two golden children, Lotto and Matilde, as they navigate adulthood, including professional successes and losses as well as (non) parenthood. With prose as lush as ever and human insights that verge on the uncanny, Groff tells two very different versions of this marriage, one from Lotto’s point of view (Fates) and one from Matilde’s (Furies) that, when they come together, become something greater than the whole.
Smith College professor Nagoski interprets important research in women’s sexuality and distills it into an easy-to-read narrative. The most important concepts she describes are nonconcordance (when people’s bodies and desires act in opposite ways, and why this can happen), the difference between responsive and spontaneous desire, and even the simple truism that for too many decades, women’s sexuality was only studied vis a vis men’s, where men’s sexuality was seen as normal and women’s sexuality was abnormal where it deviated from men’s. Everybody who identifies as a woman, and everybody romantically/sexually involved with such a person should consider this required reading.
In this novel, Godwin has produced a literary masterpiece of a life told in reflection. Helen, the book’s narrator, looks back in her old age to the summer of 1945, when her cousin Flora moves from Alabama to North Carolina to take care of her. A precocious, moody, and sensitive child, Helen is devastated by her grandmother’s death and her father’s temporary abdication to Oak Ridge for the war effort, but determined to maintain a certain snobbish propriety in the face of Flora’s country ways. Godwin channels the spirits of Jane Austen and Eudora Welty in this brilliant examination of loss-haunted lives, all redolent with Southern atmosphere.
Reading this novel is a little like driving past an accident: it’s hard to avert your eyes. Full of all of the sensationalism that one would expect of a book filled with a polygamous (and possibly incestuous) cult with a Messianic leader, what lies beneath the surface is actually a tangled knot of psychological complexity. When Amaranth makes a risky escape with their two daughters, Amity and Sorrow, from her husband’s cult to start a new life, she cannot know that the madness lying dormant in one of her daughters will imperil all of their lives. This is a disturbing and compelling read.
Zen philosophy and quantum physics blend seamlessly in Ozeki’s brilliant new work of metafiction, where sometimes it’s difficult to distinguish between the author’s attempts to build up and break down the fourth wall. Or as Jiko, the wise and wizened Buddhist nun from the book might say, to raze or to raise, they are the same. I’ve rarely encountered a novel that has made me think about our world quite as much as this one has, where distance and time are mutable depending on the observer, and what is a reader if not the ultimate observer? Ozeki’s novel feels, impossibly, timeless and utterly of our time, but I suspect that might be the hand of Jiko guiding me.
After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey. I do not read very many memoirs—I figure most people who write them either don’t have a good enough story to tell or else they’re not a good enough writer to tell it. Hainey succeeds here on both counts, creating a search for the truth behind his father’s death that feels both intensely personal and quite universal. After all, it’s only through knowing where we fit between our progenitors and our next generation that we can truly know ourselves. By the end of the first chapter I had dogeared half a dozen pages for beautiful passages. If you’re interested in the nature of memory and how it intertwines with historical fact, do yourself a favor and read this book.
Nobody has a finger on the pulse of Americana quite like Haruf, and he brings his full expertise to bear in this powerfully moving novel. Dad Lewis, more backbone than scion of Holt, Colorado, must face his own mortality and as he reflects back on his life, family, and work, we get a cross section of small town life, full of change and continuity. Haruf is pure genius at finding beauty in the quotidian and revealing the quiet dignity of humanity.
What starts off as a rather Bourgeois novel quickly takes a darker turn and descends into the realm of menace, both underhanded and overt. Clearly there is more to our unnamed, mild-mannered narrator than first meets the eye, and as he learns more about his son’s new and disturbing hobby, the reader learns more about him. The further this insidious father-son story unfolded, the faster I was compelled to turn the pages. This book is a bestseller in Europe and recently translated for English-speaking audiences.
In a drastic departure from her previous novel, Ogawa crafts a compelling collection of tales, ranging from the merely bizarre to the macabre, each story connected to one before or after it with a gossamer-thin thread. Her stories, marked by the characters’ loneliness and longing, range from a mother who buys strawberry shortcake every year for her son on the anniversary of his death to a boutique purse maker who is commissioned to create a bag for a human heart. If you are a fan of the unconventional, for writers with an eye for small, intimate, & perfect details, this is the book for you.
This book should come with a warning: do NOT pick this book up unless you have a box of tissues by your side and several hours to spare. Because once you start reading it, you’re not going to want to put it down, and once you do put it down, you’re going to be a soggy, wet mess. Will and Lou couldn’t be more different on the surface, so when they form an uneasy alliance that grows into the truest friendship either has ever known, nobody is more surprised when they are. But might Will’s secret haunt Lou to the point she makes the biggest mistake of her life? The class issues, the family relationships, and the importance of having somebody to believe in you when you no longer believe in yourself all give this book a heft that matches its heart.
Don’t let the nondescript cover fool you! This book from the Emmy and Peabody award winning author blends the humor of Joss Whedon with the snappy dialogue of John Green to make a novel that will keep you laughing (or at least smiling) until the big bad happens. It’s an exploration of adolescence, being Gay with a capital G, and what it means to be a parental figure when the actual parents can’t seem to get the job done. This is a quick read and an entertaining one to boot.
What starts off as a send up of overscheduled, gifted children and the Rambo parents and elite schools who create them, quickly turns into a billion dollar big pharma conspiracy. When Sean reluctantly caves in to the pressure that New York City’s (and by extension, America’s) most prestigious school exerts on him to start medicating his son, Toby, for nonexistent issues, there are disastrous consequences. He must gather his allies close and his enemies closer if he wants to take on this bedrock of prestige and wealth, whose arms of power extend eerily into every aspect of his life. A fast-paced read covering a topic that everybody should be concerned with, not just parents.
This book combines the emotional content of a Jodi Picoult novel with the nuanced autistic narrative of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night and makes for an extremely fast read. Olivia moves to Nantucket to start over again after her autistic son, Anthony, dies; meanwhile, when Bess discovers her husband’s infidelity, she starts writing a book about an autistic boy named Anthony. Their paths cross in unexpected ways and before long their individual stories become mysteriously intertwined. This is a heartwarming and rewarding read that grants a curiously clear insight into the heart of autism.
The best fiction reflects not only how the world is, but what its reality could be. Chabon’s latest (and greatest) novel, while ostensibly about race in the 21st century, is really a cross-section of America itself and a peek into the real American Dream. Chock full of pop cultural references that will keep the curious reader Googling, and imbued with the creole rhythms of music from the world over, it shows that our differences don’t always have to divide us and that the “apartheid of consciousness” that pervades our nation can, in fact, be overcome.
You know how every once in a while, you pick up a book to read and it’s the perfect book for the moment? That’s exactly what this book was for me. Wryly funny tempered by bits of the absurd, but hinting at darker things underneath the surface, this novel made me laugh out loud and dog-ear pages like few have done before. There’s a little bit of Bernadette inside us all; most of us are just better at assimilation.
Move over, Cormac McCarthy—there’s a new post-apocalyptic gig in town! In this rugged country, the few surviving people untouched by the deadly virus must make test the limits of their humanity in order to stay alive. Hig relies on his dog Jasper, his old Cessna, and an uneasy alliance with a former special-ops guy named Bangley to make his way in this brave, new world. The language in this novel is riveting, and the innovative style of the first person narration is carried off amazingly well. This book packs both a literary and an emotional wallop—I swear that I laughed, was moved to tears, and had an adrenaline rush, all on a regular basis. Dark, poetic, and deeply beautiful. I can’t recommend this one enough.
Stolen baby or adopted child? So much depends on perspective in this fine debut novel of love, loss, selfishness, and sacrifice. When Janus Island lighthouse keepers Tom and Isabel decide to care for a shipwrecked infant as if she were their own without reporting their find, life is idyllic for this family of three...until they discover that baby Lucy’s mother is still alive on the mainland. The adults in this no-win scenario put their own moral justifications for their actions above Lucy’s best interest, but the problem here is that any compass of moral relativism lacks one True North.
Believe me, this book will absolutely sneak up on you unawares! What starts off as a sweet story, peopled with quirky characters, quickly turns into a poignant study of human nature, where the peculiarity is matched only by its whimsy. Dotted with charming British humor and sparkling with spontaneity this is a book you will mull over long after closing its pages. I recommend to anyone who enjoys a well-crafted novel, but especially for fans of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand, or The Tower, the Zoo, or the Tortoise.
The author’s mother, Nicola Fuller, is clearly a force of nature. Hailing from Scotland but living most of her life in central and east Africa, she is of seriously hardy stock—the kind that is so admirable and interesting to read about but perhaps less comfortable to actually live with. Unconventional, larger-than-life, fearless, fierce, daunting and undaunted are among her many epithets. Suffice it to say that she is one of the most complicated, fascinating, charismatic and problematic characters I’ve ever encountered. If she had lived in ancient Greece, her life would be sung by the likes of Sophocles and Aristophanes—in other words, equal parts tragedy and comedy, with large doses of hubris thrown in for good measure.
You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that when a mysterious stranger rolls into town in chapter one, carrying only two suitcases filled with cash and a set of very sharp knives, that all is not going to end well in this novel. But Goolrick keeps the reader guessing exactly what form of evil will mark this community, making for an intense but heartfelt read. Add in a curious five year-old narrator, a small town full of busybodies, a racial divide, old time religion, a near-death resuscitation, and a man who’s so rich and so mean, he has to buy himself a pretty young mountain girl for a wife, and you’ve got the makings of a pretty great story.
If you don’t pick this book up for its gorgeous cover, try picking it up for its smart retelling of Edith Wharton’s classic novel, The Age of Innocence, transported to a tightly-knit Jewish community in contemporary North West London. This is a work of lighter fare, with occasional bits of sly social commentary that make for a fun and engaging read.
Don’t let the awkward title fool you! This is an important book of our time that may well come to be the definitive book on the Iraq War. Through the pensive eyes of nineteen-year-old Billy Lynn, we come to know the emotional and intellectual life of one young soldier, whose ruminations seem to suggest that war in the 21st century may be more about reality entertainment and commercial enterprise than the noble calling it once was. The language is fresh, edgy, and often funny, and I suspect you’ll be thinking about Billy Lynn long after you put the book down.
Yes, this is a baseball novel. But saying that this is just a book about baseball is as reductive as saying Moby-Dick is just a book about whaling. Full of heart and soul, it’s a testament to the human spirit, in a sports-triumph yay-team kind of way, but beyond that, it’s a celebration of the human condition, all of our glorious foibles and hangups and endless striving. I’ve rarely met characters who were so gloriously human and complicated and f*cked-up and lovable AND real.
I am not a parent, nor do I intend to become one, so I was quite surprised to find this memoir so engrossing. This book is full of such common sense French-style parenting that it’s amazing to me how far we’ve gone in the opposite direction here in the US. Our nation likes to give lip service to family values and the importance of children, but it’s absurd for us to make those claims until we have similar standards in place to protect, keep healthy, and educate our daycare-aged children from every socio-economic background.
I picked this book because I was intrigued by the sly double-entendre of the title. Two years after 9/11, a New York committee selects a beautiful and peaceful garden design among the blind submissions as a World Trade Center memorial. Big surprise: the winning designer is a Muslim American and his design may or may not be inspired by historical Islamic "martyrs' gardens." Along the way, we get multiple characters' perspectives and an ending that, while lacking social justice, is fairly realistic.
Meet Caleb, Camille, Annie and Buster Fang. They're a family dedicated to making art, but not in way that anybody would expect. Performance art doesn't quite do it justice--it's more like guerilla warfare aimed at a complacent public. This book is laugh-out-loud on the surface, but the absurdity really only masks a darker level where children are valued only as much as the next prop and where the parents' final performance is both devastating and liberating.
Jacob Marlowe is the last surviving werewolf on record and he's not long for the world, not with a special-ops werewolf hunter and an elite cabal of vampires intent on tracking him down. If this novel sounds like it's treading old vampire/werewolf territory, you couldn't be more wrong. The intelligent prose, literary allusions, and Jake's existential philosophies make this a very smart book, indeed. It's fast-paced, sexy, and graphic, and the author elevates this genre in the same way Anne Rice did with Interview With a Vampire.
A disparate group of twenty-somethings, bound alternately by family, love, or lust, drives off into the night after a wedding--a little high, a little drunk, a little hazy with sleep--and a little girl must pay for their bad judgment with her life. As the novel follows the wedding-goers through the next few decades, their lives riddled with guilt and recrimination, three siblings search for meaning (and, perhaps, redemption) in vastly different ways: through art, social justice, and addiction. Along the way, Anshaw demonstrates she's at equal ease descending into the maelstrom of drugged delirium as she is scaling the heights of the grander moment of human existence. In short, she’s brilliant at making these flawed and damaged characters compulsively readable and real.
[This novel] is light and sweet and a little something more. It’s the story of seventeen year old Hadley Sullivan and how four minutes changed everything in her life. She’s late for the flight to London for her estranged father’s wedding, which starts off a series of improbable events, beginning with meeting a wonderful but secretive boy and ending with a new understanding of family and forgiveness. So no, this isn’t an exciting do-or-die adventure, nor is it a dystopian love triangle, or full of angsty vampires, but it is a surprisingly good story, well-told, replete with first love and second chances.
There’s nothing like a good visit with old friends, and that’s what it feels like to savor The Flight of Gemma Hardy. Even better, really, since in this retelling of Jane Eyre, the characters are imbued with a more modern sensibility, and this time around Mr. Rochester isn’t a reprehensible misogynist (oops, did I say that out loud?). Livesey’s Gemma remains true to the spirit of Jane and the dark Scotland and Orkney Islands settings are as atmospheric as they come, making this the perfect book to curl up with for a weekend with a pot o’ tea and perhaps a wee dram of that country’s namesake beverage.
New in Paperback: This debut novel is so wholly fresh and inventive that I read it start to finish in practically one sitting. From the uncommon point of view -- a group of non-specific boys collectively acts as a first person plural narrator -- to the plot ambiguities that keep the reader constantly guessing, this book is more than just the story of a 16-year-old girl who goes missing. It is a story of unintended consequences, a tale of imagination and self-reflection, a multi-generational coming-of-age, and above all, it proves that the most haunting words in our language are “what if."
Amazing. Beautiful. Heartbreaking. Is that enough of a review? Because I cannot possibly do it justice. It’s a love story and a war story, and these twin narratives weave in and around each other to the point that they’re impossible to separate. This is like no book I’ve read before—I never would have thought that there was any book that could both keep me up all hours to finish it AND send me straight to the bookstore to purchase a copy of The Iliad to read the next day. This book is beautifully imagined and written. Clearly the Greek classics are NOT dead, not with Madeline Miller at the helm. Brava! Signed copies available while supplies last.
From the Pulitzer-prize winning journalist comes a stunning novel about the physical perils and moral crises faced by groups of people who try to relieve the suffering caused by war and famine in Sudan. Arms runners, missionaries, tribal lords, “trustafarian” do-gooders, and mercenaries cross paths in unlikely ways, all discovering for themselves the bewildering, slippery slope of compromises made for the Greater Good—and the murky moral relativism and brutality that exist within us all.
A paperback favorite. I cannot tell you the last time I read a book filled with such wonderment, indelibly quirky characters, and an utterly rewarding plot. It really is a joy to read a book whose literary value isn’t compromised by its sparkle and charm. People who loved The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society or Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand will enjoy this one, too, as will anybody who enjoys books that are pleasantly offbeat and filled with British humor. It was simply enchanting.
This tiny gem of a novel comes from the Bellevue Literary Press, the same publisher as Pulitzer-prize winning Tinkers from 2010. Like that book, The Sojourn is a deceptively quiet novel, despite its World War I setting, filled with beautiful language and a lyrical prose that is as lovingly-handcrafted as anything I have read. The paragraph-long sentences may demand a bit more deliberation from the reader, but believe me when I say that time invested in this literary novel is well-rewarded.
As with his previous book, Life of P, Martel puts animal allegory to good use again, layered under a very postmodern meta-fiction structure. Ostensibly about a writer who has lost his creativity, this book is actually an exploration of how inadequate words are to describe the Holocaust. This novel is so haunting and provocative that I could not stop thinking of it for days.
This incredibly interested debut story collection was written by a Mount Holyoke alumna, class of 2011. Kupersmith takes traditional ghost stories of Vietnam and re-creates them in a modern setting. The blend of supernatural lore and the country’s history wouldn’t be complete without the presence of that other, all-pervasive specter: the Vietnam war. Most of the stories take place in Vietnam, either the countryside or in Ho Chi Minh City, and while the ghosts take many forms, they seem comfortable interacting with Vietnamese and visitors alike. The blend of creepiness and whimsy is balanced perfectly, and in the midst of this richly atmospheric read, you’ll swear you can scent the franigpani blossoms and spices on the air around you
We Need New Names by Noviolet Bulawayo is the story of a girl named Darling who grows up in Zimbabwe but later moves to America to live with her aunt. No matter where she lives, she is longing for the other country and unable to confront that longing head-on. She and her best friends, Chipo, Bastard, Godknows, and Sbho, are only 9-12 when the book opens, but already they inhabit dual worlds of innocence and worldliness that juxtapose in frequently sinister ways. In other words, Bulawayo breaks your heart with these characters and makes you want to yell at them; then you remember that they’re only children and your heart breaks all over again for a different reason. This is a strong debut but not a comfortable read. I highly recommend it
This multi-generational saga of a seafaring New England family is equal parts Moby-Dick, the Odyssey, Greek tragedy, and magical realism. Clark begins her novel with the tyrannical but brilliant patriarch, Moses Rathbone, and ends with the youngest generation, narrated by his great-great-great granddaughter, fifteen-year-old Mercy Rathbone, interspersing the two narratives throughout the novel. This novel contains dozens of elements that make for a good read, including high sea adventures, whaling, polygamy, abductions, secrets uncovered, covenants betrayed, hidden identities revealed, fratricide, foundlings, and even sentient crows. It’s a fun and transportive read.
This gorgeously written novel takes place in the small township of Liberty in East Texas during the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. Ephraim and Ruby were playmates as children, but when Ruby returns to Liberty after nearly twenty years of living in New York, nobody can fathom the demons from her past that still haunt her. This astonishing and self-assured debut is reminiscent of early Toni Morrison and Edwidge Danticat, by way of all of the great Southern writers who know that there is no place like, and no place more complicated than, home.
Don’t let the cover and title fool you: it looks and sounds like it might be Oscar Wilde meets The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, but in reality it’s much more along the lines of Thomas Hardy meets The Remains of the Day. Which is obviously a pretty good thing, once your expectations are in order. Wilfred Price is a young man filled with modest ambition and aspirations, but due to a terrible misunderstanding, he is caught between his duty and his desires. Rather than a comedy of manners, this novel is a tragedy of predestination where the characters’ secrets are burdens that can never be lightened and whose utter lack of birthright, by dint of gender or class, dictates the course of their lives.
What I loved about this book was the way it entrenched me in the personal story of people living through one of the most tragic disasters of the modern era: the Chernobyl catastrophe. The writing is just outstanding—I wanted to dog ear page after page for the prose and the author’s insights. Reminiscent in style and tone of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, this debut novel marks the start of a career of a writer worth watching.
Amanda Maciel has done something quite daring with her debut novel, Tease: She’s written a teen suicide book told from the point of view of one of the bullies, not the victim. What kicks it up a notch is the fact that Sara, our narrator, is not all that sorry about what she did. Whoa. The fact that Maciel also manages to make Sara seem occasionally sympathetic? Double whoa. In other words, there were times that this book made me feel deeply uncomfortable. Since I don’t believe that a novel about the bullying and resulting suicide of a sixteen-year-old girl should be comfortable, I say brava to Ms. Maciel. NB: Local readers should beware that the author was loosely inspired by the real-life tragedy of Phoebe Prince from South Hadley and should proceed with caution in reading a book that might hit too close to home.
As author Emily St John Mandel says, this novel “doesn’t remind me of anything else I've ever read.” Louisa Hall has somehow answered the question of what it means to be human by exploring the world of machines and artificial intelligence. With five disparate narratives spanning centuries and the globe, including poet Mary Bradford, crossing the ocean to the New World in the 17th century, and Alan Turing (of Enigma Code fame), she weaves together a beautiful story of time, language, memory, and loss. Truly a unique novel, and one that will make the reader reflect on it long after the last page is turned.
This luminous novel is based on the real life Ella May Wiggins, a Depression-era mill worker in Gastonia, NC, who broke down the barriers of the era when she transformed into a protest song writer and union organizer. Class, gender, race, and workers’ rights all intersect in this incredibly moving and true story, told with both sensitivity and urgency. Wiley Cash is one of our most underrated authors today, and this is a great introduction to his work.