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Flynn Berry knows how to ratchet up the tension; as I found myself literally holding my breath multiple instances throughout her latest book, it became clear that she had once again written an inspired thrill ride of a novel. Set against the recent Troubles in Northern Ireland we meet Tessa, BBC producer and devoted single mother. When her sister is implicated in an IRA attack, the world as she knows it is suddenly and irrevocably threatened—but she soon learns that understanding what has happened and protecting her family will put her in the crosshairs of a dangerous game. Northern Spy is a fascinating look at the IRA and MI5, as well as a moving portrait of the lengths a woman will go to to protect her family.
Joanne Tompkins’ remarkable debut, What Comes After, leads the reader through a wide range of emotions—from the devastation of loss to the warm glow of hope—all the while maintaining the tension of the most skilled suspense novelists today. In the aftermath of the murder of the local golden boy and subsequent suicide of his close friend, their parents are left bereft, afloat, and alone in their grief. When an abandoned teenage girl who knew the boys turns up on one of their doorsteps, they are forced to make the first stuttering steps toward rejoining the world. Beautifully rendered and deeply moving, Tompkins’ novel may begin as a story of loss but evolves into a tender examination of the courage it takes to heal.
Tragedy at sea, moonshine runs in Montana, adventurous flights across continents, and the dark side of glamourous Hollywood—with Great Circle, Maggie Shipstead has given us more than simply a good yarn to read, she invites us to embark on a grand voyage. Here is the story of Marian Graves, a fiercely independent woman and one of the first aviatrixes to attempt to fly around the globe, and Hadley Baxter, the burnt-out young actress determined to play her. Shipstead brings their stories to life and reminds us that even as things change, the challenges that women face often remain the same. A magnificent novel that is both epic in proportions and intimate in its details, I cannot imagine I will ever forget the thrill of following Marian and Hadley as they forged their own destinies.
The electric combination of an Afro-Punk Queen and a British singer-songwriter blowing up the music scene in the middle of the turbulent 1970s jumps off the page in Dawnie Walton’s brilliant debut, The Final Revival of Opal & Nev. You will have a hard time believing this fictional duo doesn’t exist as you follow their story through interviews conducted by a music journalist, who also happens to be the daughter of their deceased drummer. The reminisces of Opal, Nev, and their eclectic coterie of friends and family weave together the stories of race, identity, and fame. Each voice is unique but together they tell the tale of the young stars’ ascendency being forever altered by one shocking night. Propulsive and full of surprises, this is one story which will reverberate far past the last page.
S. Kirk Walsh has gifted us a WWII story unlike any we have heard before—and remarkably, the most outlandish part is based on a true story. The setting is the unstable Northern Ireland city of Belfast, where feelings towards the Germans and the British are complicated by years of anger and loss. Here we meet Hattie, a young zookeeper, and Violet, the elephant she is determined to save from both the bombs and her fellow citizens. Reeling from tragedy in her own life, Hattie soon discovers that Violet is not the only one being saved by their growing friendship. Walsh brings to life both the devastation of war and the acts of heroism by those caught in the crossfire. The Elephant of Belfast is a beautiful and surprising story of the love and resilience which can be found in the hearts of creatures both big and small.
Few writers create endearing characters and hilarious dialog as well as Katherine Heiny and that remains true for her latest book, Early Morning Riser—a delightful tale of love and family, illustrating that while neither might be perfect, they may evolve into exactly what you need. Here we meet Jane, who has fallen for Duncan, the local lothario in their little Northern Michigan town of Boyne City, a place filled with quirky characters, many of whom have their own complicated relationships with Duncan. When a sudden tragic event changes their lives and relationships forever, we see the true stuff these people are made of. Heiny’s tender observations and laugh-out-loud descriptions will leave you wishing for more time with this memorable group in Boyne City, embraced in the family of their own creation.
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Gold Diggers is a clever and original immigrant tale where the modern-day pressure of expectations collides with the danger of daring to do anything to succeed, resulting in an explosive combination. In Sanjena Sathian’s coming-of-age story, Neil is an Indian-American teenage slacker—until he stumbles on the old-school secret of success being performed by his neighbor and crush, Anita. But all magic has a price, as this odd couple soon discovers. Years later, their paths cross again and this time the stakes are even higher. With elements from the 19th century Gold Rush to the modern Silicon Valley excess, Indian mythology to the American dream, individualism to community, Sathian has crafted an impressive debut.
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Paula McLain may be known for her gorgeous historical fiction novels, but When the Stars Go Dark proves that she is also as talented at writing a suspenseful thriller as anyone in the mystery game. Detective Anna Hart, seeking shelter from loss, retreats to her childhood home only to discover that evil has once again touched her small town—and she might be the only person able to stop it. Set amidst the towering trees of Mendocino County, McLain makes much of this fertile soil as it provides a gothic background to the unsettling events that haunt Anna as she grapples with the ghosts of her past and the crimes that continue to haunt too many young girls. When the Stars Go Dark is an outstanding thriller crafted by a beautiful writer.
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Bracing and powerful, Things We Lost to the Water is an immigrant story told without soft-peddling the disorientation of finding yourself in a new land, unsure of where to shelter in safe harbor. This is the story of Huong and her two boys—a Vietnamese family that arrives in New Orleans in 1978, minus the husband and father they left behind. They strive to navigate their new home only to find that connections to their homeland are difficult to leave behind and detrimental to ignore. Told from three perspectives over twenty-six years, Eric Nguyen’s powerful debut reminds us of the contradictions that live within us, our past and our future, our hopes and our fears, our desire to hold tight and our need to let go. A remarkable addition to the dialog of what it means to call this country home.
There is an unmistakable richness to Joan Silber’s writing, rich in character, rich in emotion, and rich in insight. The stories told in her latest novel, Secrets of Happiness, are primes examples of Silber’s deft hand at seamlessly connecting characters, stories, and emotional through-lines. We meet Ethan, who thinks he knows his father until a letter shatters that illusion, revealing infidelities and an alternate version of his family living in another New York borough. From there, the web of characters continues outward, across time and continents, before pulling back to the center. Each story is a beautifully intimate character study, yet they all open our eyes to the universal truths that connect us on our search to make sense of our lives, and possibly to discover happiness on the journey we share.
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They say everything is bigger in Texas, and going by Stacey Swann’s fantastic debut, that includes the family dramas. With a tip-of-the-hat to Roman mythology, we meet the Briscoe family, rife with jealousy, anger, lust, and love. This potent mixture has caused plenty of trouble over the years, but now the return of their most volatile son—soon followed by a tragic accident—has each of them wondering how well they truly know each other. It is hard to not have strong feeling about these characters and that is what makes Olympus, Texas so compelling; as soon as you think you know one of them, Swann and the residents of Olympus surprise you. A rollicking tale of family, forgiveness, and the cost of holding on too tightly to the roles we are cast in.
Claire Fuller novels distinguish themselves through the beautifully observant nature of her writing. From the perfectly detailed flowers to the cold knife of heartbreak, Unsettled Ground is another quietly impactful stunner. In it we meet Jeanie and Julius, twins who have lived a simple life, unwittingly bound to their mother by secrets and lies—but as their lives begin to unravel and unpleasant truths emerge, they each discover their own hidden strengths and weaknesses. Fuller tenderly reveals a family where the power of betrayal is matched only by the strength of perseverance. Poetic and suspenseful in equal measure, Unsettled Ground is an immersive heartbreaker for all of your senses. A simply gorgeous book!
Emily Henry is the queen of the funny, smart, romance. She is also the one to turn to when you want to enjoy the lead characters' friendship as much as you want them to fall into bed together. Poppy and Alex might seem like opposites, but they have been best friends and travel companions for years—until one disastrous trip put a cold freeze on their friendship and future vacation plans. Now Poppy is determined to get her best friend back with a budget adventure to Palm Springs, where she hilariously attempts to navigate the road from estrangement to friendship and maybe more. You will be wishing all literary banter was as fun as in this delightful romance, where everything goes wrong and that might be the only way to make things right.
With carefully drawn characters and illuminating cultural details, Swimming Back to Trout River reminds us of the unseen battles we wage against the injustices of life. Linda Rui Feng’s stirring debut follows the lives of Momo, Cassia, and Dawn as they come of age in China during the Cultural Revolution and beyond to their emigration to the United States. Meanwhile, Momo and Cassia’s young daughter, Junie, is left behind in Trout River. Junie's physical limitations have led to a life free from the expectations that others experience. Now, confronted with a possible reunion, she cannot imagine the lives her parents have been leading thousands of miles away. Feng brings to life both the sweeping shifts in political thought and the personal battles that each person wages to survive. A heartbreaking story of hardship and hope, and the stories we tell ourselves to make sense of the world.
Grief and beauty can surprise us in unexpected places and Michelle Zauner’s memoir, Crying in H Mart, captures these moments in brilliant detail. Michelle had a complicated relationship with both her mother and with her own identity as a Korean American. When her mother received a devastating cancer diagnosis, Zauner was driven to reconnect with her mother and the culture that formed the woman she was terrified to lose. Much of her mother’s love over the years had been demonstrated through the meals she would meticulously make—now these smells and tastes are experienced as both a continuation of that love and a reminder of the absence of her loved one. Zauner brings these feelings vividly to life as she details the food she craves and the woman she’s become on the path to understanding both herself and the mother that raised her.
There is nothing more riveting than a twisting, dark game of cat-and-mouse—which is why it is next to impossible to put down The Plot once you've begun. The story starts with Jacob Fincher Bonner, an author on the downslope of his career, teaching MFA students to hone their skills for the success that he never achieved. One cocky student claims to have a plot that will project him into the literary stratosphere. When that student suddenly passes away, Jacob convinces himself that the student’s plot should still be told, and that he is the one to tell it, but not everyone seems to agree. Now Jacob finds himself at the center of a dangerous game and he is alarmed where this story might end. Jean Hanff Korelitz pays homage to Patricia Highsmith in this heartstopping tale of literary treachery and legitimate evil.
A fascinating look at the lives of nine female resistance fighters in World War II, The Nine reminds of the human faces behind the incredible stories of bravery and perseverance during one of the darkest hours of our time. Author Gwen Strauss is the niece of Hélène Podliasky, one of the nine women who met during the war when they were arrested by the Gestapo. Their daring escape from a German forced-labor camp and subsequent trek across Germany to Paris is brought to life with Strauss’ vivid storytelling. These young women came from varying backgrounds, but they all risked their lives to fight against overwhelming odds. Backed by thorough research, Strauss has crafted a compelling picture of these unsung heroes as she details the courageous work they did and the bonds they formed.
A page turner built of secrets and suspense, The Last Thing He Told Me will have you wondering what you would do if the person you loved most turned out to have hidden the truth from you. And what if that truth will change everything? Hannah’s husband has disappeared, and her only clue is a cryptic note to take care of his daughter, Bailey, who has never warmed up to her new stepmother. But now their goals are aligned as Hannah and Bailey attempt to piece together what really happened and what it means for their future. While the plot twists will keep you guessing, it is the growing relationship between Hannah and Bailey that will have you holding your breath until the final page.
Mary Jane is a big-hearted coming-of-age novel of one girl caught between respectability and a cultural revolution in 1970s Baltimore. Mary Jane is thrilled to get a summer job babysitting for the Cone family, especially as they are unpretentious, expressive, and uninhibited—everything her family is not. Things get even more interesting when a certain celebrity couple move into the Cone’s home in an attempt to clean up their act. While Mary Jane struggles to navigate between her upbringing and the new world being opened up to her, it becomes clear that she is changing them as much as they are changing her. The 1970s were transformative years in this country and Jessica Anya Blau deftly captures both the excitement of that time and people we choose to be.
A restoration of faith is what Monica West has achieved in her remarkable debut, reminding us of the power of a good story beautifully told. Revival Season follows Miriam Horton as she travels with her Evangelical Baptist family, watching her father spread the good word and heal the desperate across the American South. But faith is not enough when trouble erupts, revealing the rot that has grown unchecked in the house of the Lord and in the home of her family. Miriam’s awakening of her own powers forces her to question all that she has been told as she struggles to understand her role as a healer in both this small town and within her broken family. A tender and moving story of finding your strength from within.
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For those who enjoy a good dose of irreverent humor with their heartache, there is no better writer than Steven Rowley. Semi-reclusive ex-TV star Patrick has been nursing his own wounds when the tragic death of his best friend and sister-in-law temporarily places his beloved niece and nephew in his “care." Armed with nothing but his list of rules and a sharp wit, Patrick soon discovers the real answer is to open up and allow his own heart to heal. There are many hilarious moments in this gem of a book, but the real treat is the tender way Rowley wraps his arms around grief.
It would be difficult to find a more sympathetic portrait of friendship than the two bullied fourteen-year-olds who seek refuge in each other in Mieko Kawakami's Heaven. Afloat in an ocean of torment by his classmates, Eyes feels lost until he meets a kindred spirit in Kojima. Soon their bond grows from the simple one-sided conversation of notes to the deep philosophical discussions of their weaknesses and strengths. Throughout all of this, the bullies' presence punctuates their days and forces them to contemplate the meaning of their lives. Kawakami’s writing is both raw and elegant as she gracefully draws the lines between hardship and hope in this magnificent new book.
Jace and Tessa may have appeared to be a typical young couple in love, but appearances can be deceiving. When Jace comes home late from entertaining clients to find broken glass on the floor and his new wife missing, his first instinct is to call the police. His second instinct is to lie. Is he protecting the life he loves or just giving the police more rope to hang him with? Meanwhile, Tessa finally feels safe knowing she has set up her husband to take the fall for her disappearance. Breaking her lifelong pattern of bad men is only one hurdle she needs to overcome—the other is outrunning her past while trying to stay alive. Finding Tessa is an outstanding domestic thriller where nothing can be taken at face value, as twist after twist reveals the good, the bad, and the deadly.
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In Jasmin Darznik’s brilliant historical novel, we join Dorothea Lange in 1918 as she arrives in San Francisco—destitute, friendless, and with only one valuable possession, her camera. She soon meets a talented Chinese woman who, in a time of hideous anti-Chinese campaigns, becomes Dorothea’s friend, mentor, and business partner. Together they open a photography studio, an unheard of enterprise for women. Jasmin Darznik brings Dorothea Lange, her friends, her lovers and her times into perfect focus.
A compassionate and engrossing novel, Morningside Heights tells the story of a family of strong personalities who are forced to reevaluate their long-entrenched roles when their lives are upended by the shock of one member’s cognitive decline. When Pru fell in love with Spence, her dashing young Shakespeare professor, she traded in her own grand dreams to be a step-mother, mother, and his greatest support. Now that Spence has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, the cruelties of this disease strips away all pretense and forces Pru and her children to evaluate their lives, their bonds to each other, and what they need to get through this together. A moving portrait of the evolution of a family as they navigate both the heartbreak of dementia and the true meaning of love.