Homeland Elegies is a sounding gong for the reckoning of the American experiment. Marrying fact and fiction, Ayad Akhtar tells a version of his life that is both deeply intimate and yet eye-opening in its expansiveness. From tense conversations at his parent’s kitchen table in the American heartland to the growing divide between friends in Pakistan, Akhtar peels back the layers to uncover the cost of consumerism and price of obliviousness. A brilliant writer whose greatest feat is reflecting the best and worst of us in his compelling tales, Akhtar allows us to imagine how reading might indeed be a path toward healing.
If you love reading Louise Erdrich or Dennis Lehane, Winter Counts is the perfect book for you! In fact, if you only typically read one of those authors, I am betting you are going to enjoy David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s eye-opening mystery. Virgil Wounded Horse has spent his life meting out “justice” on the Rosebud Indian Reservation and has grown tough as a result. But when his nephew almost overdoses, he is willing to break down his walls to protect those he loves and make sure someone pays. On the long road to the truth, he discovers unusual allies, old enemies, and the power of tradition.
Evening is the story of compassion for our own failings and those we love. Eve returns to sit shiva for her sister, Tam, in their childhood home of Toronto—a place that Eve escaped from as soon as she was able, in contrast to Tam, who seemed to flourish as a hometown celebrity. While Eve loved her sister deeply, she was conflicted about Tam’s choices and how her own life stood in contrast. Now with her foil gone, Eve is struggling and must find acceptance for the adults she and her sister grew to be. Rapoport’s deft hand and lyrical prose bring to life this beautiful examination of grief and love.
In Transcendent Kingdom, Yaa Gyasi’s precise prose and thoughtful examination of one woman’s struggle to overcome the sorrow of her past and forge a foundation for her future reminds us why she is one of the most exciting writers working today. Gifty is working on her doctorate at Stanford when her mother, fragile from the toxic depression that has sapped her spirit, comes to stay. The arrival reminds Gifty of her childhood as the daughter of Ghanaian immigrants being raised in the deep South and the wounds of racism that still burn. Travelling the boundaries between often disparate worlds of science and religion, parent and child, immigrant and native, love and despair, Transcendent Kingdom brings to life an intimate narrative that expands to encompass the story of America today.
Bill Clegg gracefully weaves together character-driven vignettes to reveal sixty years of secrets and regrets over the course of a single day. The central characters have known each other since childhood, but while their paths parted ways long ago, the mystery of why is now threatening to come clean. Moving seamlessly from Connecticut to Kauai, from present day to the past, the unbreakable nature of their connections becomes gradually clearer. The power in Clegg’s writing is in his ability to bring uncomfortable situations and characters to life without judgement, allowing them their humanity while not absolving them of guilt. This gentle writing style is what makes The End of the Day such an emotionally powerful novel.
A new Elena Ferrante novel is always cause for celebration; we love being whisked away on her words to the dizzying streets of Naples, vicariously eating delectable Italian food, and listening to the evocative stories told by the characters within. The Lying Life of Adults once again proves why Ferrante is so beloved. Here is the story of a young woman confronted with an ugly statement by her father, a remark so cruel she is forced to reevaluate her own role in the family. Determined to set her own destiny, she seeks out the one person her father dislikes most—the one person who might hold the answers to the darkness that has descended on her once-happy life—spinning a rich tale of the inner strength and ferocity of women.
Is there anything scarier than knowing something decidedly sinister is happening in the place you call home? What if it is under the guise of gentrification and the insidious jabs of racism? The Brooklyn neighborhood Sydney Green grew up in was her refuge, filled with stories and friends, but all of that is changing as old neighbors disappear and new owners move in. Struggling to hold onto what made this place home, she partners with a new resident, Theo, to delve into the past. But the truth of what is happening is beyond anything they could have imagined and the price of staying there is steeper than either of them can afford. Alyssa Cole has taken the suspense novel and transforms it into a terrifying ride through a world that looks much like our own, but as the tension builds, she pulls back the curtains to reveal the alarming rot underneath.
If you are looking to laugh and be moved and feel lighter at the end than when you started, then you would be hard pressed to do better than an evening reading a Fredrik Backman novel. Backman is the master of unusual friendships and surprisingly endearing characters and Anxious People has plenty of both. When a botched bank robbery leads to an absurd hostage situation at a nearby open house, the assorted would-be home buyers soon reveal the tragicomic turns in their own lives as if this crazy situation has released them from pretending to be fully functioning adults. Anxious People is a delightful and heartwarming story of how one man’s desperate act changes the lives of those around him.
This masterful portrait of the wild edge of America at the turn of the century will take your breath away. Populated with hobos, tycoons, vaudeville stars, and Pinkerton detectives, Spokane, Washington was ripe ground for free speech riots and demands for social justice. Jess Walter brings this all to life with his rich cast of characters including Rye and Gig, two brothers looking for honest work in a town where the wealth runs uphill. Rye is wary of his older brother’s idealism and union sympathies, but when a passionate young female union organizer is introduced into his life, he soon finds himself caught up in the history being made and its consequences. This thrilling tale is a feat of storytelling, transporting us to the early throes of a fight which we continue to see play out today.
A love triangle between a talented illusionist, his ambitious assistant, and the charming young man who introduces their act on the Brighton Beach pier sets the stage for Graham Swift’s latest novel, Here We Are. Pulling back the curtains to reveal the story behind the performance, Swift transports us from a widow reflecting on her life in 2009 to WWII where a young boy has found refuge and family in the unfamiliar countryside. But the heart of the novel is the stage on the Brighton Pier in 1959, where the illusions bring delight to the viewers and the betrayals bring heartbreak to the trio; years later we see the fluidity of how the three changed as needed. This short bittersweet tale beautifully examines the illusion of who we are and the trick of how we get there.
John Banville knows how to construct a beautiful sentence and build the perfect atmosphere; he puts both skills to work in this latest foray into the mystery world. Starting with a deliberate nod to the classic mysteries of Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers, a body is found in the library of an aristocratic estate. Detective Inspector St. John Strafford, an outsider on the police force and a black sheep from the upper class, soon finds himself at odds with both the residents of the manor and the Chief Superintendent. Banville skillfully alludes to the locked room mysteries of the past as he deftly imagines the unrelenting snow, creating a claustrophobic atmosphere that permeates the pages. But don’t let the familiar terrain fool you—the classic mystery backdrop is simply the canvas Banville uses to deftly illustrate the struggles of Ireland’s recent past.
What if the hero that the world needs is an evil hench who is not afraid to call out the destructive hypocrisy of hero worship? That is what Anna begins to wonder after a data analytics job for a mid-level villain has led to a disastrous encounter with the world’s greatest superhero. As her wounds heal, she passes the time blogging her analysis of the actual costs of these heroic confrontations, drawing the attention of the biggest villain of them all. Walschots’ witty and empathetic take on office politics in a world ruled by those with superpowers offers a delightful twist on a revenge story. Both thrilling and hilarious, she manages to find the humanity behind the mask as her delightful novel asks the big question—what is the true cost of trying to save the world?
The first great pandemic era novel has nothing to do with Covid, yet perfectly captures the uneasy feeling of dread that has permeated our lives. Amanda, Clay, and their two children are taking a vacation from their sticky, hot summer in the city to an idyllic corner of Long Island. But their days imagining themselves as the owners of the beautiful house they have rented ends abruptly with a knock at the door in the middle of the night. As the dream turns into a nightmare, they are forced to examine both the very real ugliness inside themselves and the possible dangers in the world outside. Rumaan Alam’s smart and propulsive novel reminds us how unprepared most of us are for a world stripped of the illusion of control.
Not all is sunny in Susan Ryland’s Greek paradise, so when an opportunity to briefly return to her former life of books and mystery arises, she jumps at the chance. It has been years since the death of her most famous former client, mystery writer Alan Conway, but the parents of a missing woman are convinced that their daughter’s whereabouts are tied to one of his earlier books. In those pages might also be the identity of a violent murderer, one who could be disturbed by Susan’s investigation. The much-anticipated sequel to Magpie Murders, Horowitz’s latest Christie inspired meta-mystery raises the art of the literary puzzle to new heights.
Memorial is the complicated love story of Benson and Mike, two men who are struggling to find reasons to stay together, or motivation to move on. When Mike decides to fly back to Japan to care for his ailing father, leaving his mother in Benson’s care, Benson must confront the lingering questions about their life. Benson also has a troublesome history with his own parents, and now must find a balance with this new parental figure, forcing him to examine his past. Washington takes us from Benson’s Houston to Mike’s father’s Japan, illustrating the intersection of food, family, and culture as Benson and Mike begin to imagine their possible futures. Washington’s words are spare as he carefully details daily life, but the world he creates for his characters is expansive in this unforgettable debut.
Becky Cooper was in graduate school at Harvard when she first heard the salacious tale—a beautiful archeology student whose murder was covered up by the powers that be at her prestigious university. Many of the details in this first telling turn out to be incorrect, but finding herself drawn to the charismatic victim, Becky spends years determined to find answers to this shocking crime. Her research leads to suspects, friends, and witnesses but as more red herrings emerge it becomes clear that the institution itself, with its historic biases against women, played a damaging role in the case. Cooper’s passion is infectious and her storytelling compelling in this story of murder and memoir.
Evocative of both Donna Tartt and Chaim Potok, The Orchard boldly dives into the depth of teen drama and Jewish philosophy and emerges with a heartfelt story of transformation. Ari is entering his senior year when his parents decide to move from their Orthodox Brooklyn community to a more modern enclave in suburban Miami. His surprising acceptance into an elite clique at his new school has him grappling with questions regarding pleasure and spirituality as he attempts to find his way with his new peers. Straying from the teachings of his youth, he is drawn to investigate his religion in increasingly surprising ways, with unforeseen consequences. An impressive debut!
As we end a year that has required more patience and fortitude than most, there may be no better balm to our collective soul than Katherine May’s Wintering. After being set back on her heels by a difficult year, May decided to examine both her personal ‘winter’ along with the coldest months of the year. She finds rebirth in swimming frozen waters and how stillness is required to grasp the beauty of the Aurora Borealis. Along the way May reminds us of rhythm of healing found both in nature and various cultures around the world. Her beautiful descriptions of the more challenging months of the year point out a fact that is too often missed as we rush about—that times of healing and renewal are vital to a healthy and happy life.
All may seem too perfect from the outside for handsome Sam Statler and his accomplished new bride, Annie. But there are secrets in Sam’s life and in the lives of those close to him. When he fails to come home after a day at the office, rumors flair up in their small town, but nothing comes close to the twisted tale of what has really happened. In a crowded mystery field Goodnight Beautiful stands out as Aimee Molloy takes us on a thrill ride that proves to be a brilliant mash-up of a psychological suspense novel and classic Stephen King.
Whether on the screen or the page, there is no bad way to engage with Steve Martin’s humor, whimsical without being saccharine, witty without being cruel. He has the ability to make us laugh at ourselves and feel better for doing so. It was therefore genius to pair him with the talented New Yorker cartoonist Harry Bliss. One-panel cartoons of erudite animals and ridiculous humans are interspersed with delightful scenes of their collaboration. Everyone on your list needs this book to brighten their day and remind us to laugh at the absurdity of it all.
This beautiful book is one of my favorites of 2020! Set in an expected future when many ecosystems have collapsed, Migrations is the moving story of one woman’s quest to follow the last flock of Arctic terns on their epic journey across the globe. In a boat filled with misfits and romantics, she plots towards what she sees as her inevitable future, all the while struggling to come to terms with her painful past. Charlotte McConaghy’s heartbreaking story of love, grief, and determination reminds us of the inextricable nature of our connections to the natural world and the solace found in its unending ability to surprise us.