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Non-fiction Friday: History Books

Non-fiction Friday: History Books

Renowned historian David McCullough once addressed the graduating seniors of Wesleyan University and said, “History is a guide to navigation in perilous times. History is who we are and why we are the way we are.” If you’re looking for titles that explores the past to help understand the present, here is a list of recently published history books you can borrow now.

This Land is Their Land: The Wampanoag Indians, Plymouth Colony and the Troubled History of Thanksgiving
by David J. Silverman

What it’s about: the complex 50-year alliance between the Wampanoag tribe and European colonizers that ended with King Philip’s War, a three-year conflict that almost completely annihilated the Wampanoag.

Why you might like it: This impassioned narrative centers the Wampanoag people’s experiences, offering insights into why the alliance was brokered and how the tribe persisted in the face of devastation. 

Don’t miss: profiles of Wampanoag activists, including Frank James (1923-2001), who established the National Day of Mourning in 1970. 

The Ship of Dreams: The Sinking of the Titanic and the End of the Edwardian Era
by Gareth Russell

What it is: an extensively researched, evocatively detailed account of the Titanic‘s fateful voyage as experienced by six first-class passengers.

Featuring: Lucy Leslie, Countess of Rothes, who rowed a lifeboat full of passengers to safety; Jewish American immigrant Ida Strauss, who chose to die with her husband rather than board a lifeboat without him.  

Don’t miss: Author Gareth Russell’s debunking of many of the popular conspiracy theories and falsehoods about the ship’s sinking.  

Highway of Tears: A True Story of Racism Indifference and the Pursuit of Justice for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls
by Jessica McDiarmid

What it is: a heart-wrenching exposé on British Columbia’s Highway 16, known as the “Highway of Tears” because of the disappearances or murders of many Indigenous girls and women in the area.

Why it matters: Journalist Jessica McDiarmid’s “powerful must-read” (Booklist) illuminates how these unsolved and under-reported crimes are a microcosm of the systemic forces that continue to fail vulnerable Indigenous populations throughout Canada.

Checkpoint Charlie: The Cold War, the Berlin Wall, and the Most Dangerous Place on Earth
by Iain MacGregor

What it’s about: how Cold War tensions spurred the construction of Checkpoint Charlie, the border crossing separating East and West Germany that became a powerful symbol of the era.

Why you might like it: This dramatic, well-researched account was published to mark the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

What sets it apart: never-before-seen interviews with border guards, intelligence operatives, and escapees.

Broke: Hardship & Resilience in a City of Broken Promises
by Jodie Adams Kirshner, foreword by Michael Eric Dyson

What it is: an eye-opening portrait of Detroit, Michigan following the city’s 2013 bankruptcy filing. 

What’s inside: profiles of seven Detroit citizens trying to make a better life while facing poverty, urban blight, and government negligence. 

Try this next: Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist (and Detroit native) Charlie LeDuff’s Detroit: An American Autopsy similarly surveys the lives of everyday citizens navigating the Motor City’s tumultuous changes. 

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Winter Weather Whodunit

There is something about mystery/crime fiction that goes well with the winter season. If you crave the gritty, atmospheric, and claustrophobic feeling that this book genre offers, here is a list of recently published books that you can borrow from the library now.

The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld

In Denfeld’s second novel, Naomi Cottle returns and focuses her attention on a case close to her. Naomi wants to find her missing sister, whom she left behind when she fled captivity as a child. But how would Naomi solve the mystery if she cannot remember the time before or during her captivity? While in Portland, Oregon, figuring out the mystery of her missing sister, Naomi learns that missing girls are ending up dead. The story explores how people deal with traumatic experiences. This mystery is for those who enjoy fast-paced and compelling stories in the style of Harlan Coben’s Runaway and Lisa Gardner’s Love You.

Heaven, my Home by Attica Locke

Nine-year old Levi King has disappeared. His family has ties to the Aryan Brotherhood. His father, Bill “Big Kill” King, is known for killing a black man but never being convicted for it. Levi was last seen on Caddo Lake in Jefferson, a community steeped in antebellum history. When African American Texas Ranger Darren Matthews is sent to investigate, his initial suspicions are confirmed that there is more to the child’s disappearance than familial problems. Attica Locke’s second novel does not disappoint. It is a well-written and compelling crime novel that explores the mindset and culture of a small-town community in the Southwest. If you enjoy crime stories by Walter Mosley, Greg Iles, and Thomas Mullen, you will enjoy Attica Locke’s Heaven, My Home.

Gallow’s Court by Martin Edwards

Set in London in 1930, Rachel Savernake, a 24-year old heiress turns her interest to sleuthing. When she beats Scotland Yard in solving a recent murder, Rachel attracts the interest of both police inspectors and Fleet Street reporters, specifically one by the name of Jacob Flint, who has started looking into the case a bit more. Jacob slowly finds that Rachel has something to hide. This atmospheric mystery is intricately plotted with suspense that will keep readers turning the page. If you like Rhys Bowen and Agatha Christie, you will enjoy Martin Edwards’ latest novel.

The Chestnut Man by Soren Sveistrup

The Chestnut Man is Soren Sveistrup’s (creator and writer of the Danish TV Series The Killing) first foray into writing novels. He covers all the bases about what makes a great crime fiction story. Set in Copenhagen, a woman is found murdered with a small doll made of chestnut beside her. Newly paired Detectives Naia Thulin and Mark Hess are asked to investigate the case. When they find a fingerprint of a missing girl on the chestnut doll, both Detectives Thulin and Hess know that they have serial killer on the loose. With unexpected plots and twists, Sveistrup leaves his readers with bated breath as we follow the unlikely heroes as they race to catch the killer known as the “Chestnut Man”.

The Truth Behind the Lie by Sara Lovestam

Swedish children’s and young adult author, Sara Lovestam’s debut mystery novel first appeared in 2015 and won both the Swedish Crime Writers’ Academy Award and the Grand Prix de Litterature Policiere. The story revolves around two characters who live on the fringe of society. Kouplan, an undocumented Iranian refugee, is struggling to survive in Stockholm, Sweden. He decides to place an ad online claiming that he is a private investigator, even though he has neither credentials nor any prior experience. When Pernilla’s six-year-old daughter goes missing, she sees the ad online and decides to hire Kouplan. Despite his fears of the police and deportation, Kouplan diligently investigates the missing person’s case. Lovestam’s novel slowly builds and readers will find themselves invested in its two fully-realized characters, Kouplan and Pernilla.

Bad Axe County by John Galligan

In 2004, Heidi White has just given a speech as the Wisconsin Dairy Queen when she learns that her parents have been shot on their farm. The police concludes that it was a murder-suicide, but Heidi believes that is not the case. Fifteen years later, Heidi finds herself the first female sheriff of Bad Axe County, Wisconsin. Still known as the Dairy Queen, she not only struggles with endless crimes in the town but also with sexism. Upon hearing that the old sheriff of Bad Axe County is dead, Angus Beavers, a long-time native who used to be known as the local baseball star, returns home and pursues a cold murder case. Slowly, John Galligan brings the stories of these characters together in a mystery that involves misogyny, human trafficking, child abuse, and murder. A portrait of the midwest that’s never seen before, Galligan’s Bad Axe County is all you could ask for in atmospheric noir fiction.

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Recently Released Fiction

Looking for a good book to read this holiday season?
Here is a list of recently released fiction books you can borrow or request now.

All This Could Be Yours
by Jami Attenberg

What happens: After the megalomaniac real estate developer, Victor Tuchman, died of a heart attack, his family finds a way to reconcile with Victor’s history and move forward.

Why you might like it: Unfolding over the course of only one day, the readers are privy to the innermost thoughts of the characters, who are inscrutable to each other. 

For fans of: Elizabeth Strout’s The Burgess Boys or Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. This is a well-written contemporary family saga.

A Tall History of Sugar
by Curdella Forbes

The gist of the story: This is a modern fairy tale about an unlikely love story between Moshe Fisher and Arrienne Christie as well as a compelling story that explores post colonial Jamaican history.

Why you might like it: With a strong sense of place, a touch of magical realism, lyrical writing, and well-crafted dialogue, this is a powerful novel that interweaves social history and romance.

Reviewers say:  “It’s a novel of colonialism and its tragic aftermath of  racism and economic despair. But most of  all, the book is a  journey. The characters so vivid, their depictions so intimate, that the skin of the pages themselves almost pulse beneath the reader’s fingers. A powerful journey into the souls of two lovers, two countries, and the people caught in the wakes of empires (Kirkus Reviews, August 1, 2019).”

Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
by Kate Racculia

Starring: An eclectic cast of characters, all sent on an inventive treasure hunt across Boston by an unconventional billionaire’s final request.

For fans of: Literary and pop culture references; ghost stories; inheritance drama; loners; bankers who used to be theater kids; Edgar Allan Poe; cape-wearing gentlemen; scavenger hunts; camp, whimsy, and eccentricity. And, of course, Ellen Raskin’s classic kids’ book The Westing Game.

Read this next: Ernest Cline’s nostalgic, sci-fi scavenger hunt, Ready Player One.

Frankissstein: A Love Story
by Jeanette Winterson

What it is: A modern re-telling of the creation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, featuring Mary as a narrator, as well as a modern-day tale in which a trans doctor falls for a professor working to chain AI to a fusion of body parts.

Why you might like it: Ever questioned what makes us human? If so, this one’s for you.

Reviewers say:  “As the subtitle declares, this is a love story, paralleling the relationship between Mary Shelley and Percy Shelley and that between Ry and Victor. The forthright description of non-binary choice forms a replete example of embracing transgender experience, and both Victor Stein and Victor Frankenstein are finally shown to be illusory characters, adding spookiness. Highly recommended (Henry Bankhead, Library Journal).”

Inside the O’Briens
by Lisa Genova

Starring: 44-year-old Joe O’Brien, a cop with a recent diagnosis of Huntington’s disease, his wife, and their four children, who must decide whether or not to be tested for this incurable hereditary condition.

What happens: As Joe’s health worsens, youngest daughter Katie is, at 21, just starting her adult life, and she isn’t sure if she wants to know what her future holds. How the O’Briens cope is both heart-wrenching and riveting.

Why you might like it: If you’ve read and enjoyed Lisa Genova’s Still Alice, you will like this book. This is also similar to Danielle Steele’s Silent Night and Jodi Picoult’s Lone Wolf.

How Are You Going to Save Yourself
by J.M. Holmes

What it is: The interconnected stories of four friends coming of age in working-class Rhode Island and recognizing the restrictions placed on black men in America.

Narrated by: Gio, Dub, Rye, and Rolls, each with their own advantages, flaws, and struggles, who get out of Pawtucket, or don’t, on their own or with the help of the women in their lives.

Reviewers say: “The stories are by turns comedic, bawdy, heartbreaking, and grisly. What links them all is the heady style deployed throughout; language with the same taut rhythm and blunt imagery as the best hip-hop yet capable of intermittent surges of lyricism that F. Scott Fitzgerald in his own precocious stories of youthful romance and remorse could summon. The publisher says Holmes is working on his first novel. This collection makes you thirst for whatever’s coming next. (Kirkus Reviews).”

Find Me
by André Aciman

What it is: This is a follow-up to Call Me By Your Name, revisits Elio, Samuel (Elio’s father), and Oliver decades after they meet.

Is it for you? Readers who loved the meditation on love found in the earlier book will want to pick that story up again here.

But what about Elio and Oliver? You’ll have to be patient to find out if they ever get back together

Nothing to See Here
by Kevin Wilson

What it’s about: When 28-year-old Lillian Breaker accepts a job working for her former roommate, Madison Roberts (who is now wife to a senator eyeing a chance to be secretary of state), Lillian has no idea what she’s in for. Lillian’s job is to be the governess for the senator’s twin children, ten-year-olds Bessie and Roland. What’s the catch? The twins randomly burst into flames when agitated. Lillian guides the children in how to control their emotions.

What happens: Lillian, whose life has stalled ever since she was kicked out of school, has no experience with children. And yet she starts to love these two unloved kids. The relationship that develops between Lillian and the twins is something readers will easily identify with.

Why you might like it: Flawed, quirky characters and offbeat humor make this a wry, engaging read. If liked Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, you will enjoy this book.

Book buzz: Nothing to See Here was selected for the Today show’s book club.

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A Window into the Past

There are a lot of ways that we, as readers, connect to literature. By providing a window into the past, historical fiction not only helps us understand a particular historical time period but also encourages us to empathize with others from a different time and a different place.

Here is a list of historical fiction novels you can borrow in the library now.

by Courtney Maum

What it is: 15-year-old Lara’s recounting of her heiress mother’s scheme to smuggle a group of Surrealist artists out of Nazi Germany and install them at Mexico’s posh Costalegre resort.

Inspired by: the complicated mother-daughter relationship of American socialite Peggy and painter Pegeen Guggenheim.

Why you might like it: Structured as a series of diary entries, this novel juxtaposes keen observations of Costalegre’s bohemian guests with a lonely girl’s quest to become an artist in her own right.

The Women of the Copper Country: A Novel
by Mary Doria Russell

Starring: Labor activist Annie Clements, who in 1913 led a strike against a Montana copper-mining company.

Is it for you? Closer in tone to Doc than The Sparrow, this well-researched historical novel unfolds from multiple perspectives, all rendered in lyrical prose.

Want a taste? “Running lengthwise down the peninsula’s center, like the blood gutter of a bayonet, are the richest copper desposits on earth.” 

The Ventriloquists: A Novel
by E.R. Ramzipoor

Belgium, 1943: Ordered to produce pro-Nazi propaganda, a group of journalists and resistance fighters instead publish a parody newspaper mocking the Fuhrer, knowing full well it will be the last thing they ever do.

Why you might like it: Inspired by true events, this well-researched novel boasts a briskly paced storyline, a balanced blend of humor and suspense, and an LBGTQIA-diverse cast that takes turns narrating.

For fans of: Paul Goldberg’s The Yid, which similarly unspools a madcap scheme to thwart fascists by a group of marginalized intellectuals.

Out of Darkness, Shining Light
by Petina Gappah

What it’s about: The harrowing 1,500-mile, nine-month journey undertaken by the African servants of Scottish missionary Dr. David Livingstone as they transport his body to the coast of Tanzania.

Narrated by: cynical Halima, the band’s cook, and loyal Jacob Wainwright, educated by missionaries following his manumission.

What sets it apart: Livingstone is a minor character in Zimbabwean author Petina Gappah’s novel, which “captures the diverse cultural milieu of colonial Africa with compelling detail” (Kirkus Reviews).

The Secrets We Kept
by Lara Prescott

What it’s about: The CIA’s plan to smuggle copies of Boris Pasternak’s banned novel Dr. Zhivago into Moscow as anti-Soviet propaganda.

Starring: Russian-born secretary-turned-spy Irina; her handler Sally, with whom she begins an affair; and Pasternak’s mistress, Olga, who refuses to incriminate her lover and lands in the gulag. 

Want a taste? “Some of us spoke Mandarin. Some could fly planes. Some of us could handle a Colt 1873 better than John Wayne. But all we were asked when interviewed was, ‘Can you type?'”

The Shadow King: A Novel
by Maaza Mengiste

Ethiopia, 1935: Orphaned Hirut joins the fight against Italy’s invading army by serving as bodyguard to the “Shadow King,” a stand-in for exiled Emperor Haile Selassie.

What sets it apart: Not only does this lyrical novel by the author of Beneath the Lion’s Gaze depict a lesser-known conflict, Hirut’s journey from servant to soldier offers a change from war stories that portray women exclusively as casualties or refugees

The Sweetest Fruits
by Monique Truong

What it’s about: The peripatetic life of writer Lafcadio Hearn, the son of a Greek mother and an Irish father, who works as a journalist in the United States and Martinique before settling in Japan.

Why you might like it: Four women — Hearn’s mother, his wives, and his biographer — reveal different aspects of a protean man as he reinvents himself.

For fans of: iconoclastic biographical novels with multiple narrators who describe their relationships with charismatic men, such as T.C. Boyle’s The Women or Louisa Hall’s Trinity.

The Hunger
by Alma Katsu

What it is: a chilling, often visceral retelling of the Donner Party’s ill-fated overland journey, in which supernatural forces stalk the wagon train.

Is it for you? While this well-researched novel adheres closely to the known facts, the introduction of elements such as lycanthropy and ghosts may not be everyone’s cup of tea.

For fans of: menacing historical horror à la Dan Simmons’ The Terror or F.R. Tallis’ The Passenger.

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National Book Award Fiction List

One of the great ways to discover books is to look at literary awards. If you’re looking to explore new stories, here is a list of the National Book Award Fiction that you can borrow in the library now.

Trust Exercise by Susan Choi – National Book Award Fiction Winner

“That whole thing about fiction not being the truth is a lie,” one character admonishes another in Choi’s fifth, and finest, novel. Returning to the multilayered teacher-student power struggles seared into My Education (2013), Choi’s Trust Exercise  should immediately put readers on alert: it will appear four times as a title—of the novel itself and as the repeated title of the book’s three sections. Despite being a reference to a soul-baring acting exercise , “trust ” will have little correlation to truth. “Trust Exercise ” number one introduces Sarah and David, two 15-year-old students at a suburban performing-arts high school, precariously entangled with each other, overseen (manipulated) by their magnetic theater teacher, Mr. Kingsley. “Trust Exercise ” number two picks up 14 years later, after more than 100 pages, revealing number one to be a large portion of Sarah’s newly published novel, and its last page is where Sarah’s former best friend, Karen, stopped reading. What happened (or not) thus far gets deconstructed, then expanded, culminating in a series of dramatically (of course) orchestrated reunions. “Trust Exercise ” number three will render all that came before unreliable while exposing tenuous connections between fiction, truth, lies, and, of course, people. Literary deception rarely reads this well. — Terry Hong (Reviewed 2/15/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 12, p25)

Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James – Finalist

As with his Man Booker Prize-winning A Brief History of Seven Killings, James’s first foray into fantasy demonstrates epic sweep, an intensely layered structure, and raw if luscious language that pins readers to the page with enough concrete detail to discourage a breezy skim-through. Placed firmly in the genre by its dark magic, unstoppable twists and turns, dangerous kingly aspirations, and imperfect but essential fellow-creature bonding, the narrative is refreshingly distinctive in its grounding in African history and folklore. Its protagonist is the Tracker, a tough-talking loner whose sense of smell leads him to his quarry and here to a momentous task. The opening pages show the Tracker as a young man leaving home both to escape his family and confront his people’s enemies, as he refines his skills, discovers a shocking secret about his parentage, helps a group of children (e.g., Smoke Girl, Giraffe Boy) abandoned for their weirdness as cursed, and meets the sardonic, shapeshifting Leopard , with whom he forms a close but testy relationship. But the journey’s the thing, as the Tracker is later engaged by a slaver to find a kidnapped child, reputedly the son of a North Kingdom elder who riled the king and was slaughtered with his family. In his efforts, the Tracker grudgingly allows himself to be joined by the Leopard , the Moon Witch Sogolon, the perfidious Nyka, and others. As they move through the Darklands and subsequent fraught territories toward the Southern Kingdom, they encounter witches and demons, flesh-eating trolls, splendidly dressed mercenaries, vampires, necromancers, ancient griots, and a wise, magisterial buffalo. References to harsh pansexual encounters often shift events forward, and the entire story is framed as a tale told to an inquisitor, though we are a long way from understanding from whence he came—this is the first in the “Dark Star” trilogy. VERDICT As the Tracker realizes, “The only way forward is through,” and it’s the same for readers. Highly recommended for fantasy lovers who welcome a grand new challenge, as James launches an unglorified if gloriously delivered story that feels eminently real despite the hobgoblins, and for literary readers, eager to see the world—and James’s particular talents—in a new light. [See Prepub Alert, 7/31/18; Editors’ Spring Picks, p. 22.] –Barbara Hoffert (Reviewed 02/01/2019) (Library Journal, vol 144, issue 2, p68)

The Other Americans by Laila Lalami – Finalist

Who killed Driss Guerraoui? Was it an accident, a hit-and-run in the  wee hours of the  morning? Or was it murder, a brutal act against the  Moroccan immigrant who might pose a threat to a neighborhood business in a small Mojave-desert town? The  mystery at the  center of Lalami’s (The  Moor’s Account, 2014) novel brings together an intriguing set of characters, including Driss’ daughter, Nora, a struggling composer who returns home to the  remnants of her family. There’s Maryam, Driss’ wife, who misses her native country; Iraq War veteran Jeremy, who is battling his own demons while trying to help Nora; and African American  detective Coleman, who is trying to work out the  mechanics of the  case while facing her own domestic challenges. Now and then the  story is nearly drowned out by the  nine narrating voices, yet Lalami impressively conducts this chorus of flawed yet graceful human beings to mellifluous effect. “I didn’t know which version of the  past I could trust, which story was supported by the  facts and which had been reshaped to fit them, whether out of grief or out of malice,” Coleman worries. An eloquent reminder that frame of reference is everything when defining the  “other .” — Poornima Apte (Reviewed 2/1/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 11, p26)

Disappearing Earth by Julia Phillips – Finalist

In her dazzlingly original debut novel, Phillips imagines a cold, desolate climate inhabited by characters who exude warmth and strength. This cinematic setting is the far eastern Russian peninsula, Kamchatka, where white Russians and indigenous tribes uneasily coexist. In the chilling opening chapter, two sisters vanish after a day at the beach, and though a witness describes seeing them with a man in a shiny black car, the authorities come up empty. Three years earlier in a village many hours further north, a Native girl also disappears, but she is dismissed as a runaway. Phillips cleverly weaves these two incidents through subsequent chapters that cover a year in the lives of her many vividly drawn characters, illustrating the subtle effects of racism on the investigation. Themes of dark and light pervade the narrative. Outsiders, those with darker skin or hair, are blamed for an uptick in crime. Prejudice blinds people to the truth until two grieving mothers, brought together by a photographer with a penchant for nosing into other people’s business, manage to see past their differences to their shared loss and courage. VERDICT Phillips, a Fulbright fellow whose work has appeared in Slate and the Atlantic, has written a knock-out novel that combines literary heft with a propulsive plot. [See Prepub Alert, 12/3/18.] –Sally Bissell (Reviewed 05/01/2019) (Library Journal, vol 144, issue 4, p89)

Our Staff Review here:

Fleishman Is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner

Brodesser-Akner’s sharp and tender-hearted debut centers on hapless 41-year-old New York hepatologist Toby Fleishman, recently separated from his driven wife, Rachel, and alternately surprised and semidisgusted to find his dating apps “crawling with women who wanted him,” who prove it by sending him all manner of lewd pictures. After an increasingly rocky 14-year marriage, Toby has asked Rachel, who owns a talent agency and makes a lot more money than he does, for a divorce, because she is always angry and pays little attention to their two preteen kids. But then, as Toby is juggling new girlfriends, dying patients, and unhappy children, Rachel disappears, leaving Toby to cope with logistics more complicated than he anticipated. The novel is narrated by Toby’s old college friend Libby (a device that’s occasionally awkward), a former magazine journalist now bored with life as a housewife in New Jersey. Though both she and the novel are largely entrenched on Toby’s side, Libby does eventually provide a welcome glimpse into Rachel’s point of view. While novels about Manhattan marriages and divorces are hardly a scarce commodity, the characters in this one are complex and well-drawn, and the author’s incisive sense of humor and keen observations of Upper West Side life sustain the momentum. This is a sardonically cheerful novel that readers will adore. (June) –Staff (Reviewed 04/01/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 13, p)

Black Light: Stories by Kimberly King Parsons

Parsons’s debut crackles with the frenetic energy of the women who stalk its pages. In opening story  “Guts,” Sheila has just started dating “almost-doctor” Tim, whose particular brand of condescending masculine practicality destabilizes her already-erratic lifestyle. In “Foxes,” a recently divorced mother recounts her courtship and marriage to her ex-husband, whom she calls “the fool,” as she listens to her young daughter spin a story  featuring knights and inky enemies, and the two stories  begin to intertwine and mimic the cadences of each other. “Foxes” kicks off a dazzling run of stories , including “The Soft No,” in which a pair of siblings must navigate neighborhood politics as well as their unpredictable mother, to “We Don’t Come Natural to It,” in which two women’s pursuit of beauty becomes a vortex of self-inflicted violence, control, and mistrust. In the title story , a young woman watches as her former lover evolves into someone she realizes she never knew, while she must navigate the breakup in a way that doesn’t out her sexuality. Parsons’s characters are sharp and uncannily observed, bound up in elastic and electrifying prose. This is a first-rate debut. (Aug.) –Staff (Reviewed 06/10/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 23, p)

The Need by Helen Phillips

A woman confronts an intruder—and her own motherhood—in this gripping, shape-shifting second novel from Phillips (The  Beautiful Bureaucrat). With her husband out of the  country, paleobotanist Molly is home with their two young children when she hears footsteps coming from the  living room. She’s ready to dismiss it as house noise and put the  kids to bed until her daughter asks, “Who’s that guy?” The  answer will shake Molly to the  core and send her down a metaphysical rabbit hole that reads like a fever dream of every mother’s fears. Molly is convinced the  fossil quarry she is helping to excavate has unleashed a sinister force and that one of the  found objects—a Bible that suggests God is female—has led some suspicious visitors to the  site. Whether Molly’s true enemy is real or a manifestation of her deepest anxieties is a lingering question that Phillips, with incisive detail and linguistic dexterity, suggests comes with the  territory of parenthood. VERDICT Is this literary work a story of magical realism, a straight-up horror novel featuring home invaders and shadow-selves, or a product of Molly’s exhausted imagination? Of course, it’s all of the  above and makes for an unforgettable—and polarizing—reading experience. [See Prepub Alert, 1/23/19.] –Michael Pucci (Reviewed 06/01/2019) (Library Journal, vol 144, issue 5, p106)

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

/* Starred Review */ This first novel by poet Vuong (Night Sky with Exit Wounds, 2016) is narrated by Little Dog, a Vietnamese refugee who grew up in Hartford with his mother and his maternal grandmother, Lan. A writer now, he addresses his story as a letter to his mother, who cannot read, “”to tell you everything you’ll never know.”” He recalls her painful attempts to toughen him and his simultaneous rage for all that frays her—work, memories, difficulty communicating. At 14 he gets a job cutting tobacco, and there meets Trevor. Two years older, Trevor works to escape his alcoholic father and makes Little Dog feel “”seen—I who had seldom been seen by anyone.”” Their covert love blooms brilliantly as Trevor, battling his own demons, handles Little Dog with bewildering warmth. This plot line is its own speeding train, while Little Dog’s letter also reveals the family’s inextricable legacy from the Vietnam War. In Vuong’s acrobatic storytelling, Lan’s traumatic wartime tale unspools in a spiraling dive, and a portrait of Trevor emerges in the snapshots of a 10-page prose poem. Casting a truly literary spell, Vuong’s tale of language and origin, beauty and the power of story, is an enrapturing first novel. — Annie Bostrom (Reviewed 4/15/2019) (Booklist, vol 115, number 16, p21)

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

“As it had ever been with Nickel , no one believed them until someone else said it,” Whitehead (The  Underground Railroad) writes in the  present-day prologue to this story, in which construction workers have dug up what appears to be a secret graveyard on the  grounds of the  juvenile reform school the Nickel  Academy in Jackson County, Fla. Five decades prior, Elwood Curtis, a deeply principled, straight-A high school student from Tallahassee, Fla., who partakes in civil rights demonstrations against Jim Crow laws and was about to start taking classes at the  local black college before being erroneously detained by police, has just arrived at Nickel . Elwood finds that, at odds with Nickel ’s upstanding reputation in the  community, the  staff is callous and corrupt, and the boys —especially the  black boys —suffer from near-constant physical, verbal, and sexual abuse. Elwood befriends the  cynical Turner, whose adolescent experiences of violence have made him deeply skeptical of the  objectivity of justice. Elwood and Turner’s struggles to survive and maintain their personhood are interspersed with chapters from Elwood’s adult life, showing how the  physical and emotional toll of his time at Nickel  still affects him. Inspired by horrific events that transpired at the  real-life Dozier School for Boys , Whitehead’s brilliant examination of America’s history of violence is a stunning novel of impeccable language and startling insight. (July) –Staff (Reviewed 01/31/2019) (Publishers Weekly, vol 266, issue 6, p)

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Books in the Spotlight: Young Adult Books Focusing on Family

With the Holidays upon us, most of us think about spending time with our family. Here are some young adult titles that focus on family stories and prove how important familial bonds are.

The Last True Poets of the Sea by Julia Drake

The premise: A modern re-telling of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, the novel chronicles the story of a wild, sixteen-year-old named Violet. After her younger brother was sent to the hospital in Vermont and her partying got out of control, Violet’s parents sent her to live with her Uncle in the coast of Maine. There, she finds herself intrigued by her great-great-great-grandmother who was the sole survivor of a shipwreck and was the founder of the town.

Why you might like it: While the themes explored are heavy subjects, the book’s tone at times are funny and the characters feel authentic. If you like books such as All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven or It’s Kind of a Funny Story by Ned Vizzini, you would like The Last True Poets of the Sea.

Bonus: Even though it’s a fictional town, it is set in Maine.

The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu

What happens: Set in the 1980s, this a moving tale of the Finney family as it chronicles their journey through struggles and hardships. It explores family dynamics and posits questions about one’s identity.

Reason to pick it up: The characters are well-developed that we could easily relate with; the book is suspenseful and fast-paced.

What critics have to say: According to Booklist, “Mathieu masterfully invests readers in the the characters’ origin stories, emotions, and motives. Her descriptions of the various settings over time and space are vivid and pulsating, immersing the audience in the psyches and nostalgia of each narrator.”

The Revolution of Birdie Randolph by Brandy Colbert

What it’s about: High-achieving 16-year-old Birdie tries hard to live up to her strict parents’ expectations, even if it means hiding how close she’s getting with Booker (a sweet guy who spent time in juvie) and her Aunt Carlene (who just got out of rehab, again). As it turns out, though, Birdie’s not the only one keeping secrets.

For fans of: the authentic characters and complicated-yet-caring families in books by Angie Thomas and Elizabeth Acevedo.

Thirteen Doorways, Wolves Behind Them All by Laura Ruby

Featuring: fourteen-year-old Frankie, abandoned by her father in a Chicago orphanage during the lead-up to World War II; and Pearl, the ghost who watches over her.

What happens: While Pearl tries to reconcile her own tragic life and death, she watches Frankie grapple with poverty, family instability, falling in love, and the search for meaning in a harsh world.

Who it’s for: Fans of author Laura Ruby’s Bone Gap will enjoy this similarly subtle, strange, and thought-provoking story.

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Suspense and Thrillers

The cool weather of autumn has arrived, and with it, so do the atmospheric books. With the right blend of thrilling mysteries and spine-chilling tensions, suspense and thrillers are perfect for those foggy mornings and chilly nights. Here are some of our recommendations.

The Butterfly Girl by Rene Denfeld

What it’s about: survival and resilience in the face of harrowing circumstances; the hunt for a killer who continues to evade the authorities while children’s bodies pile up; the failures of the legal system to protect those who need it the most.

Who it’s for: fans of private-eye mysteries; readers who can handle darker topics such as life on the street and child abuse.

Series alert: The Butterfly Girl is the second entry in the Naomi Cottle series, which follows the titular detective as she looks for missing children, including the cold case of her own younger sister.

Somebody’s Daughter by David Bell

Bye bye baby: Michael and Angela Frazier are enjoying a quiet dinner at home when Michael’s ex-wife Erica unexpectedly appears at their door, saying her daughter Felicity has been kidnapped and by the way, Michael is the girl’s father.

The search begins: Michael takes off with Erica to look for the child that he’s secretly always wanted, but each step towards Felicity reveals secrets that threaten the future of his marriage to Angela.

What sets it apart: the intensifying, intricately plotted narrative unfolds over the course of a single high-stakes 12-hour period. 

You Were Made for This by Michelle Sacks

Picture it: a charming cottage in rural Sweden, where Sam and Merry Hurley have recently settled with their infant son Conor, leaving behind their fast-paced Manhattan lives.

Beneath the surface: Sam is keeping secrets from Merry, Merry is keeping secrets from Sam, and nobody’s secrets can stay buried after a visit from Merry’s captivating childhood friend Frank.

Reviewers say: This “unblinking look at beautiful people with ugly secrets has the voyeuristic fascination of a Bergman film” (Booklist).

Stolen Things by R.H. Herron

Starring: Cop-turned-911 dispatcher Laurie, who takes a call from her own daughter, JoJo.

What happens: Jojo’s rape, the murder of a man, and the disappearance of another teenage girl all seem connected to a pro football player who, like the two girls, is an activist against police brutality. And Laurie and JoJo seem best poised to save the missing girl. 

Want a taste? “‘My daughter.’ The man’s words were a garbled gasp. ‘She’s gone.'” 

The Whisper Man by Alex North

What happens: After the death of his wife, Tom Kennedy moves with his young son to a new town, hoping for a fresh start. But Featherbank has a dark past: 20 years previously, a serial killer known as “the Whisper Man” lured away young boys. And now it’s happening again.

Why you might like it: Dark and haunting, this intricately plotted thriller has supernatural overtones, well-depicted characters, and a menacing atmosphere.

For fans of: Sharon Bolton’s The Craftsman, another eerie tale of history repeating itself.

The Escape Room by Megan Goldin

What it is: A twist on the traditional locked-room thriller; a story about the team-building exercise from hell.

Starring: Wall Street colleagues Sylvie, Sam, Jules, and Vincent, who share a tangled web of connections, rivalries, and dark secrets.

What goes down: The four investment bankers share an elevator on their way to a training exercise, only to find that the elevator is the exercise and that they’ll have to work together if they want to survive.

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Another World, Another Time: List of New Science Fiction and Fantasy

With its ability to take one from a different place or a different time, science fiction and fantasy novels are for those who are looking for the ultimate escapist reading experience. Here are some of the new titles we recommend.

Recursion by Blake Crouch

What happens: Assigned to the case of a suicide victim who claimed her son’s existence had been erased, investigator Barry Sutton follows leads to the outbreak of a memory-altering disease and the technological innovations of a controversial neuroscientist.

Why read it: For those who would like to introduce themselves to the science fiction genre, this is a thought-provoking and riveting book that reads like a suspense.

Who would like it: Long-time Michael Crichton fans will enjoy Blake Crouch.

Wanderers by Chuck Wendig

What happens: A mysterious epidemic of sleepwalking accelerates societal collapse as sufferers and their caregivers traverse a deeply divided near-future United States.

Why you might like it: 
Unfolding from multiple perspectives, this sprawling yet suspenseful apocalyptic novel combines action with explorations of contemporary social issues.

For fans of: Stephen King’s The Stand.

Hollow Kingdom by Kira Jane Buxton

What is it about: When a wise-cracking, curse-spewing narrator identifies himself as a Seattle-born talking crow named S.T. who’s just witnessed an eyeball popping out of his “MoFo” owner’s head, readers willing to get on board this bizarrely captivating debut novel will know they’re in for a bumpy ride, seat belts not included (Booklist).

Would you like it: If you’re looking for quirky stories or a good adventure story with engaging characters, Hollow Kingdom might be for you.

For fans of: Nora Robert’s Year One and Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne.

Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

What happens: After 18-year-old Casiopea Tun accidentally reanimates Hun-Kamé, Lord of Shadows, she must accompany the Mayan death god on a quest to regain his stolen body parts and defeat his brother.

Why you might like it: the evocative 1920s Mexico setting; a slow-building romance; and a quest storyline that unfolds like a dark fairy tale.

About the author: Silvia Moreno-Garcia is the author of Signal to Noise and Certain Dark Things.

Meet Me in the Future: Stories by Kameron Hurley

What it is: a short story collection by speculative fiction writer Kameron Hurley, containing “16 hard-edged pieces that gleam like gems in a mosaic” (Publishers Weekly).

Don’t miss: “When We Fall,” a prequel to The Stars are Legion, and “The Light Brigade,” which became the novel of the same name.

Reviewers say: “These are stories that pack a punch” (Booklist).

A People’s Future of the United States

What you’ll find: 25 dystopian and utopian visions of the future by writers of color, LGBTQIA writers, Muslim writers, and other underrepresented voices in speculative fiction.

Includes: stories by Charlie Jane Anders, Omar El-Akkad, N.K. Jemisin, Seanan McGuire, Daniel José Older, and Charles Yu, to name just a few.

For fans of: anthologies such as Octavia’s Brood, edited by Adrienne Maree Brown and Walidah Imarisha or New Suns, edited by Nisi Shawl.

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WML Recommends

It’s almost the season where a good book paired with a strong, hot cuppa sounds terribly enticing. Here is a list of books we recommend when you feel like curling up and staying indoors.

Jessica Francis Kane’s Rules for Visiting combines a dose of wit with a plethora of botanical facts as gardener May Attway undertakes a journey to reconnect with a set of old friends. While May covers quite a bit of mileage in her odyssey, the book makes equal mental strides as she contemplates whether the kind of hospitality Odysseus received in myth is possible in this day and age. The novel feels light but emotionally affecting, inviting readers to question what it means to know or care about people in a world where over-connectedness and Twitter feeds actually lead to disconnect. You can know the growth habits of a tree, you can feel its bark, you can seek solace in it. And May does. But are there still ways to know a friend so deeply in the age of social media? As May’s story unfolds, her reasons for self-isolation and difficulty forming new bonds are slowly revealed. Kane cleverly provides self-help advice in fictional form, as her flora-loving character navigates what it means for us both to relate to others and to accept who we are and what we’ve been through. ~NORA

“We deserve love. Thick, full-bodied and healthy. Love.” – Patrisse Khan-Cullors, When They Call You a Terrorist

Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele’s When They Call You a Terrorist is a powerful memoir full of love, hope, and healing.

Growing up poor in Van Nuys, California, Cullors witnessed her brothers and their friends being searched by police for no apparent reason other than they were black. She witnessed her father routinely being in and out of prison for drug use. She watched how her brother, Monte, was affected by torture experienced in prison. She discovered what it was like to have one’s home raided by police when her husband was mistakenly identified as a robber being sought. Despite all of this, Cullors remained optimistic. She involved herself in local community organizations whose mission was to provide support to those who were most in need. Together with Alicia Garza and Opal Tometi, Cullors helped found the Black Lives Matter Movement, an organization which helps shed light on the inequality and racism which still exists today.

Cullors’ story and the origins of the Black Lives Matter Movement is both tragic and uplifting. Cullors, together with Bandele, reminds us that strength will always be found in love and hope, no matter the situation. When They Call You a Terrorist is simply a must-read. ~ENICA

Set in 1544 London, The Alchemist of Lost Souls is the latest Bianca Goddard mystery by local author Mary Lawrence. The absorbing tale of murder and intrigue, based around a magical, glowing stone, is enhanced by its rich, historical detail, as well as by the inclusion of colorful medieval words interspersed throughout. The author vividly depicts life in Tudor London, inspiring readers to imagine what life was really like without modern sanitation, household appliances and medical knowledge. Superstition, magic and fantastical elements are pervasive and feel very authentic. I enjoyed a deepening acquaintance with Bianca, her relationships and her empathy with the people in her life. The river Thames courses through the novel and becomes a part of its exciting denouement. I found myself caught up in Bianca’s world and holding my breath to the very end. ~KAREN

My Beautiful Birds, by Suzanne Del Rizzo, is a beautiful picture book that follows Sami, a boy from Syria, and his family who have escaped to a refugee camp. Sami is worried about whether his pet pigeons have also been able to escape. Del Rizzo uses paint and clay to make the book’s illustrations and the resulting images have a beautiful three-dimensional look to them. The story is based on an actual refugee child from Syria who kept birds. My Beautiful Birds is a beautiful and moving book. ~KATE

Very well known and professionally respected in the American art world, Jim Stegner begins to fall apart after the violent death of his beloved teenaged daughter. It doesn’t help that he is alcoholic, arrogant, and has a short fuse. It is not surprising that he has murdered two men. The really interesting part of the story is the unraveling of why he allowed himself this behavior and whether he was justified in each case. None of the characters are either good or evil, even the brutal brothers he kills are shown to have a sympathetic backstory. The beating of a small horse sets Stegner off on his soul searching and very tense, dangerous, and unwanted adventure. The story is riveting . ~MARTHA

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Women in Translation Month

August has been celebrated as Women in Translation month since 2014, when book blogger Meytal Radzinksi brought attention to the underrepresentation of women’s work in translated literature. One of the great powers of the written word is its ability to articulate the human mind across boundaries and to envelop us in other worlds. With so many phenomenal women writers across the globe, our shelves are expanded to include an exciting and diverse array of books when translators bring us women’s words from many languages.  

One of our Adult Summer Reading Categories this month involves reading a translated book, so if you’re in the midst of the challenge or just looking for an interesting new read, check out this list of works by women translated into English. From short stories and little novels that tug on the heart strings, to surrealist fiction and thrillers, these books transcend genres and show how many exciting literary talents are at our fingertips through the acts of imagination and translation. 

The Travelling Cat Chronicles, Hiro Arikawa (translated from the Japanese by Philip Gabriel) 

Arikawa’s The Travelling Cat Chronicles creeps in on little cat feet, starting as a whimsical novel narrated by a feline companion and gradually becoming both sad and heartwarming. Satoru brings his cat Nana on a road trip across Japan, visiting old friends and trying to find his beloved pet a new owner. What memories lurk in Satoru’s past and why must he give away Nana? Answers unfold throughout this little book that has become a bestseller around the world. 

The Dry Heart, Natalia Ginzburg (translated from the Italian by Frances Frenaye) 

In a review of the recent republication of Ginzburg’s novella The Dry Heart, the New York Times declared, “Natalia Ginzburg can only sound like herself,” one of the highest compliments to bestow upon any writer. “The Dry Heart begins and ends with the matter-of-fact pronouncement: ‘I shot him between the eyes.’ As the tale―a plunge into the chilly waters of loneliness, desperation, and bitterness―proceeds, the narrator’s murder of her flighty husband takes on a certain logical inevitability. Natalia Ginzberg transforms an unhappy tale of an ordinary dull marriage into a rich psychological thriller” (Bookmarks). The original English translation was published in 1952, but the 2019 edition is already garnering much attention. 

The Vegetarian, Han Kang (translated from the Korean by Deborah Smith) 

The Vegetarian is Kang’s English language debut and the first Korean translation to win the Man Booker International Prize. The novel is told in three parts, conveying the story of two sisters, one of whom (Yeong-hye) decides to break with tradition and become a vegetarian. The slim novel probes family relationships and veers toward the Kafka-esque. Kirkus Reviews describes it as a book that “insists on a reader’s attention, with an almost hypnotically serene atmosphere interrupted by surreal images and frighteningly recognizable moments of ordinary despair. … An unusual and mesmerizing novel, gracefully written and deeply disturbing.” 

Convenience Store Woman, Sayaka Murata (translated from the Japanese by Ginny Tapley Takemori) 

Sayaka Murata has written ten novels, but Convenience Store Woman is the first of her works to be translated into English. It is “an offbeat exploration of what we must each leave behind to participate in the world” (The New York Times). Protagonist Keiko has always been on the margins but feels more at ease in the structures of the convenience store job she has held for eighteen years. The story now finds her involved with a cynical male coworker and follows the repercussions. In her Akutagawa-prize winning novel, Murata deals with the question of conformity: What is the right choice to make for oneself when the pressures to have one’s life follow a socially acceptable narrative arc feel terribly constricting? 

Mirror, Shoulder, Signal, Dorthe Nors (translated from the Danish by Misha Hoekstra) 

In this Man Booker International Prize finalist, middle-aged Sonja lives in Copenhagen, where she is learning to drive for the first time and translating Swedish crime novels for a living. Isolated from her family, potential friends, and the rural area of her childhood, Sonja finds herself living a dejected life of indirect action: nonconfrontationally avoiding her abrasive driving instructor and writing postcards to the sister who seems to want nothing to do with her. Sonja seeks a kind of solace in the memory of the rye fields she traversed as a girl while fighting against episodes of vertigo and her own despondency. In unembellished prose, Nors conveys both sadness and humor. Kirkus Reviews describes her as “an exquisitely precise writer, and in rendering her heroine’s small disruptions and, yes, victories, she is writing for, and of, every one of us.” 

Fever Dream, Samanta Schweblin (translated from the Spanish by Megan McDowell) 

Argentinian writer Samanta Schweblin’s debut novel Fever Dream has been described as “terrifying but brilliant” (The Guardian), evoking precisely the nightmarish quality its title implies. The novel begins with a woman named Amanda lying in a hospital with a boy—not her son—by her side. What ensues is “a haunting story of broken souls, toxins, looming environmental and spiritual catastrophes, and the ties that bind a parent to a child” (from the publisher). 

The Murmur of Bees, Sofía Segovia (translated from the Spanish by Simon Bruni) 

Segovia’s The Murmur of Bees, her first work to be translated into English, melds historical fiction and magical realism and has been likened to the work of Isabel Allende. Booklist describes it as “a gorgeous novel of family, friendship, land, and murderous envy.” The story takes place during the Mexican Revolution of 1918, following the enveloping story of the young child Simonopio, who can both divine the future and is protectively followed by a swarm of bees. Segovia follows Simonopio’s extraordinary journey in its relationship to his family and town. 

Flights, Olga Tokarczuk (translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft) 

Tokarczuk’s critically acclaimed Flights won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize and has been described by The New Yorker as “a cabinet of curiosities that must include itself in the cabinet” as it grapples with themes of “mobility and curiosity.” According to World Literature Today, “Tokarczuk describes the book as a constellation novel, in reference to its complex, nonlinear structure. It is a fiendishly difficult book to describe. Flights combines essayistic reflections, fictional stories, and fictionalized histories, varying in length from thirty-odd pages to a paragraph or two, interwoven around two main themes: travel and the preservation of the human body.” The result is a book that oscillates between fiction and thought experiment, beckoning the reader through to see what thread holds these flights together. 

Aetherial Worlds: Stories, Tatyana Tolstaya (translated from the Russian by Anya Migdal) 

Tatyana Tolstaya’s Aetherial Worlds was longlisted for both the National Book Award for Translated Literature and the PEN Translation Prize. The Moscow-based writer’s book includes eighteen stories that are grounded in reality but take flight into the titular aetherial worlds, covering both the personal and the political. From the publisher: “A woman’s deceased father appears in her dreams with clues about the afterlife. A man falls in love with a marble statue as his marriage falls apart. A child glimpses heaven through a stained-glass window.” These are just some of the glimpses into realms both sorrowful and strangely hopeful. 

Written by Nora Curry