Anthony Marra's new novel, MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS is a fascinating emotional roller coaster. Set in the late 1030s and early 1940s, he follows several characters -- many refugees from war-town Europe-- who work at or around the fictional Mercury Pictures in Hollywood. Through their eyes, we witness the end of an era. An Italian woman navigates the halls of censorship under the Breen Commission. A Chinese American is frustrated playing evil yellow peril characters; A brilliant German miniaturist finds herself recreating her home streets in Berlin only to destroy them; and the brilliant studeo head attempts to save his company from the clutches of a twin brother and a board that doesn't understand how Hollywood works. This is a brilliantly plotted novel which takes you from back rooms in Hollywood to Germany and Italy, paced perfectly and written with gorgeous prose. It is also highly prescient of our current times. What a lovely, wonderful, and often very funny book!
THE DEVIL TAKES YOU HOME is a new crime/horror hybrid with a distinctly Mexican flair. It's violent, disturbing, and scary, yet it has its tender moments as a man who has lost his daughter to cancer and his wife to the world turns bad guy and takes a job stealing from a cartel. This one will get under your skin.
THE DISPLACEMENTS by Bruce Holsinger is a howling primal scream of a novel and the most suspenseful page-turner I have read in quite some time. What will happen to all of the millions of people displaced when climate change causes massive storms and environmental turmoil? When a massive hurricane wipes out Miami and Houston within days of each other, millions of people find themselves without a home, money, or even ways of contacting other family members. Through the lens of a FEMA professional setting up a huge tent city and one distressed family that must settle there and a drug dealer hoping to cash in on the disaster, Holsinger exposes the cracks in U.S. policy. It's fascinating, suspenseful, and sometimes utterly terrifying -- as I said, a true page-turner! This could well be my favorite book of the year!
Remember that first time you sped through Scott Turow's PRESUMED INNOCENT or John Grisham's THE FIRM? Now, we have Joey Hartstone, and his legal thriller THE LOCAL is a legal thriller that really thrills. From its elegiac opening describing the small town of Marshall, Texas where most patent cases are tried (who knew?) to the twists and turns that don't stop until the final pages, Hartstone holds us enthralled. A young patent lawyer ends up embroiled in a homicide case in which his mentor, the local presiding judge, is murdered -- allegedly by a young, hot-blooded tech genius after a confrontation during a hearing. Even though criminal law isn't his thing, James Euchre cannot disentangle himself from the case . . . and the real killer may be closer to him than he knows. Full of suspense, vividly wrought characters, and dazzling courtroom shenanigans, this is the best legal thriller since Graham Moore razzle dazzled us! The beautiful use of language brings this one up close to a Scott Turow level. Yes, it's THAT good!
Geraldine Brooks (MARCH, CALEB'S CROSSING) brings us a beautiful novel in HORSE. Several stories in different time periods intertwine -- a slave boy trains a racehorse but dreams of freedom; a maid tries to sell a painting inherited from her grandfather; a skeleton discovered in the Smithsonian's attic proves to be extremely important. All of it revolves around a famous racehorse, LEXINGTON, and it is nearly impossible to stop reading!
THE TWILIGHT WORLD is the great filmmaker Werner Herzog's first novel and it is every bit as strange and wonderful as his films (AGUIRRE, FITZCARRALDO, NOSFURATU). Like many of his films, it is a mixture of fact and fancy, detailing the nearly thirty years Hiroo Onoda, a Japanese soldier of WW2, spent defending a Philippine Island, not knowing that the war was over. And the devil is in those details of small raids on airfields, spying on American soldiers, keeping his small squadron safe. In detailing these small instances, Herzog says that futility and the process of waiting can become its own brand of honor, a purpose within the disbelief. It's short, fascinating, and a little cold in its dissection, but a truly one-of-a-kind story.
HURRICANE GIRL by Marcy Dermansky -- well, that was completely different! This novel, about the tribulations of a young woman who buys a house to see it destroyed by a hurricane ten days later is filled with existential dread. Yet, it is also morbidly hilarious. Allison ping-pongs from one strange situation to another, but her true problems always seem to loom larger than her real issues. She is attacked and hit in the head, opening a hole in her skull, but she worries about getting home to her Mom. A hurricane destroys her house, and she worries about the next door neighbor being mean. She might be falling in love with her brain surgeon, or is she just using him for his pool and the steady diet of take-out food? It's one catastrophe after another in this fever dream of a comic novel. You will laugh a lot, but beware the serious side of Allison's life, always lurking beneath the messy surface.
ORDINARY MONSTERS by J.M. Miro is a beautiful fever dream of a dark historical fantasy novel -- and, good news, it's the first in a trilogy! Equal parts Clive Barker, Susanna Clarke, and Philip Pullman, ORDINARY MONSTERS brings us a group of young people with extraordinary powers -- in Victorian London, the Old West, exotic Asia -- who are brought together for a nefarious reason at a castle in Scotland. There are terrifying monsters, thrilling chases, and wonderfully drawn characters to keep anyone reading late into the night. This truly is a Harry Potter-esque journey into growing up (albeit without any terf references and MUCH better written) for adults. It's violent, exciting...there aren't enough superlatives! This is a great one!
Sloane Crosley's delightful new novel, CULT CLASSIC, is an oddball mixture of SCOTT PILGRIM, SEX AND THE CITY, and THE TWILIGHT ZONE! A woman sneaks out for a smoke in Manhattan, only to discover one of her exes there. The following night, she bumps into another ex. the next night, the same, etc etc. Why is this happening? Is it some sort of karmic closure device or is someone manipulating her reality? It's very funny and full of twists and turns and just full of beautiful, exquisite writing that is so evocative it pulls you right along with its weirdness. I thoroughly enjoyed the ride and readers searching for something witty and different will enjoy it, too.
TRACY FLICK CAN'T WIN brings back one of author Tom Perrotta's most infamous characters - Tracy Flick from ELECTION. Now, she is assistant principal in a high school and ready to take over the principal's position when he retires at the end of the year, but first she must navigate the mine fields of high school politics, a Hall of Fame ceremony from hell, a tech wizard, an alcoholic ex-football player, and more than one small town scandal. It's a funny, gossipy, page-turning novel that plastered a smile on my face till the very end. Maybe TRACY FLICK CAN'T WIN, but she might just die trying!
Ann Leary''s new novel, THE FOUNDLING, is based upon true stories she discovered about her grandmother, and it makes for a crackling good read, perfect for book clubs. When naive Mary Engle takes a secretarial job at the Nettleton State Village for Feeble-Minded Women of Childbearing Age (whew!), she soon discovers it's actually a sort of workhouse/prison /eugenics experiment where women are committed and cannot leave until they can no longer have children. Then, she discovers a childhood friend -- a brilliant young woman -- is an inmate, and she is definitely not "feeble-minded." A rescue plan is hatched, but will she be able to help so many young women? THE FOUNDLING brings a tragic and shocking part of America's past to life, exposing a country where women have gained the right to vote but where their husbands can have them charged with being morally reprehensible and admitted to places like this. It's a fast-paced story that's sure to please fans of Martha Hall Kelly and Tracy Chevalier.
Dan Chaon's new novel, SLEEPWALK, is (not to mince words) a very strange book! Imagine the film Grosse Pointe Blank meets THE ROAD meets NEVER LET ME GO...only with giant roadside robots, hostile fertility cults, heroic pit bulls, and intelligent chimpanzees. When Will Bear, a henchman for hire in a Dystopian future America, gets a phone call from a daughter he never knew existed, his life becomes a series of struggles to find her and know her before either he or she is taken out. This has big bloody action scenes, hilarious Tarentino-esque dialogue, and some very heart-warming moments. A certain type of person is going to adore this book; you know who you are. It is one wild ride!
Elif Batuman brings back her wonderful protagonist, Selin, one year after THE IDIOT in her long-awaited sequel EITHER/OR. It's Selin's sophomore year at Harvard, and she is caught between Kierkegaard's debate between living aesthetically or living ethically -- and are the two compatible? What follows is a whirlwind of classes, books, philosophies, parties, and the never-ending search for what the heck happened with Ivan. It's hilarious, smart, and touching, even when it isn't ABOUT anything (like the Seinfeld of literary novels). I couldn't stop smiling.
If you think you know where this ghostly thriller is going -- you have several surprises coming to you! Rekulak uses familiar ghost story tropes -- haunted child, babysitter/governess with issues, unreliable narratives -- and he adds pictures drawn by the child as they are haunted by the malevolent spirit of a woman long dead and buried. A perfect summer thrill ride!
BOOK OF NIGHT is Holly Black's first foray into adult fiction, and it's a real humdinger! Part horror, part urban fantasy, part mystery -- BOOK OF NIGHT follows a young thief who gets mixed up in the world of shadow magic, a deadly kind of sorcery that's apparently running rampant in western Massachusetts! What follows is a really fun novel (if a bit too expository at first) that gains steam as it goes until the exciting climax. I look forward to the next book in the series with delight!
BREATHLESS by Amy McCulloch is the kind of novel that you start reading and you are suddenly transported to a beautiful, exotic, and dangerous place. I found myself completely forgetting about all the work I had to do until I finished this thrilling book. It's as though an Agatha Christie whodunit was mashed up with a slasher thriller set atop one of the world's tallest mountains during a mountaineering expedition. Someone is bumping off the climbers one by one, or are they really just accidents? This puts the thrill back into thriller and is easily one of the most exciting books I have read in ages! I can't wait to put it into customers' hands!
Don Winslow just keeps one-upping himself, and his new thriller, CITY ON FIRE, is the best gangster saga I've read since THE GODFATHER -- and it may even be better than that classic! Winslow re-works the plot of Homer's Iliad, transposing that epic poem's siege of Troy to 1980s Providence Rhode Island in the midst of a gang war. The balancing act is precarious, but Winslow beautifully navigates the plot twists, and his characters are robust and beautifully drawn with just a few broad strokes. The dialogue is funny, realistic, and profane (those triggered by the racist and homophobic ways bad men talked in this time period are warned), and the story barrels along like a powder keg on fire. And did I mention it is the first in a trilogy? This is fantastic storytelling and a gangster drama for the ages! Read it now!
Jennifer McMahon takes on the classic tropes of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN in her new thriller THE CHILDREN ON THE HILL. It's a roller coaster ride through memories of a woman, a cryptozoological monster hunter, through her past as the grandchild of a controversial psychologist and sister to the mysterious Iris, who is scarred and has amnesia. Who are the real monsters and who are the victims? This is a wonderfully gothic novel full of monster-ey goodness and richly developed characters. I couldn't put it down!
INSOMNIA is Sarah Pinborough's best novel yet -- a thriller that races towards a pulse-pounding climax. I dare you not to read the whole book in a single gulp; it's that suspenseful! Lawyer/mother/wife/abuse survivor Emma appears to be following in her mother's footsteps, going mad during a particularly wicked bout of insomnia. Is she repeating history, which will end with her harming her own family, or some is there some sort of gaslighting occurring? It's a terrific mystery, expertly paced and plotted, and I couldn't put it down. This could be Pinborough's best novel yet!
TAKE MY HAND by Dolen Perkins-Valdez is a remarkable, gripping fictional take on a real case where two girls (11 and 14) were sterilized with the government's consent in 1973! With compassion and care, Perkins-Valdez tells the story through the eyes of a helpful, guilt-ridden nurse. An excellent book!
With THE CANDY HOUSE, Jennifer Egan once again relates a novel in short stories (snippets, letters, memos) in a sort-of-sequel to A VISIT FROM THE GOON SQUAD. Only in this case, her target is the online world, in which the real world is made false and fresh and new while the real world becomes stagnant. Beginning with a computer genius who finds a way to download peoples' memories forever, to spies in the field, to philosophers who don't believe in this online world, to D & D playing young people at a halfway house, to an aging rocker ready for a comeback. Each story is told in a completely different writing style, and each is compelling on its own, but only as a whole does the entire plot make sense. Egan is on a search for authenticity, as are most of her characters. Some find it -- in drugs or sex or violence or baseball, and others do not. It's a fascinating, literary book that is a bit more experimental than GOON SQUAD. I enjoyed it immensely.
This is a very enjoyable novel about two daughters with big problems and their mother, an ex advice columnist who realizes that her advice actually has consequences. Cute, sweet, and filled with funny bits, this is a novel for anyone who misses Olivia Goldsmith (THE FIRST WIVES CLUB).
PROBABLY RUBY is an improbable delight. Linda Bird-Wilson begins her story in 2013 as Ruby, our Canadian indigenous woman speaks and tries to seduce her analyst. We make snap judgements about her -- she drinks too much, she's a ' loose woman', she lies . What follows are snippets of her life, falling like kaleidoscope pieces out of order, and we learn that Ruby, like most of us, is so much more than the first impression or the sum of her parts. Through friends, parents, lovers, and acquaintances' tales, we discover just who Ruby is. Bird-Wilson was an adopted indigenous woman, one of so many pried from her family and given to a white family to raise, and she brings a haunting verisimilitude to Ruby's story. It's sweet, scary, funny, and sad, and it turns the fractured kaleidoscope picture into a beautiful singular piece of art. I adore this book!
FRENCH BRAID is, simply put, Anne Tyler's best novel in decades. By examining a single family through snapshot in time, she notes the unraveling of the nuclear family unit as well as the ties that not only bind us, but the ties that never let go. Over 60 years we read about The Garretts, their loves and losses, their infidelities, their children, and their growing apart from each other. I can recognize much of my own family in The Garretts. It is a lovely book, filled with gorgeous minutiae that tells so much more about this family than the major scenes that take place in one's life. Much like one character strives to paint scenes inside houses that focus upon a singular detail, Tyler draws the reader to the little things that explain behaviors. I adore this book!
Amy Bloom's beuatiful new memoir, IN LOVE, details her husband's diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer's Disease and their subsequent search for a way for him to die on his own terms. A book about assisted suicide seems terribly depressing, but Bloom brings wit, humor, and a gorgeous love story to the book. It's a serious subject matter -- one which America doesn't even want to discuss -- and it is a true blessing. For fans of When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.
BOOTH by Karen Joy Fowler is an unlikely literary novel about an unlikely family -- the Booths (as in John Wilked Booth who shot and killed Lincoln). In a country torn in two, this family of actors struggle to keep their dignity amidst adultry, bigamy, loss of children and home, war and the eternal shroud of slavery. It's beautifully written, skirting between family members while always keeping John Wilkes at a distance. He is a product of his home and his country, both of which are examined in minute detail. The research and verisimilitude are breath-takibng, and Fowler is up to the task of balancing these many conflicts like an expert juggler on a stage. It's a wonderful book, and people who like Isabel Allende or Maggie O'Farrell will love it.
THE NIGHT SHIFT by Alex Finlay is one rocket ship of a suspense thriller; it takes you by the throat in the opening pages and doesn't let loose until the surprise ending. I read the entire book in a single day. I can't remember the last time I did that! It starts with all the night shift employees getting murdered in a Blockbuster Video in 1999. Sixteen years later, in the same town, all of the evening shift employees at an ice cream parlor are killed in a very similar way. The novel follows the only survivor from the first murders, a pregnant FBI agent, and the brother of the suspected killer through so many twists and turns you could get whiplash! The writing is fast-paced and cinematic, and the conclusion plays fair. This is a great thriller and a breakout novel for Alex Finlay.
Simply put, SUNDIAL by Catriona Ward, is the scariest, most terrifying book in ages. Do NOT start this one late at night. When her daughter begins to show signs that she is killing animals and may be preparing to harm her little sister, a mother takes her back to her childhood home, where her parents used to perform horrific experiments on dogs (trigger warning; lots of dog trauma here). As the mother relates the story of her own childhood to her daughter, secrets are exposed and dark truths are brought to life. It's a psychological horror novel with a dash of science fiction and a load of horror -- Gillian Flynn (especially SHARP OBJECTS) meets Shirley jackson (it's not a coincidence that Jackson also had a novel called THE SUNDIAL). This one had me horrified from the first pages and held me in its spell for the other 300! Don't miss it if you like dark novels!
Rio Youers new novel NO SECOND CHANCES is that rare thing of beauty -- a fast-paced, action-packed, character-driven thriller that delivers on every level. Kitty, a wannabe actress and part time drug courier rescues failed movie star Luke when he attempts suicide (his wife disappeared and everyone in the world believes he killed her). When things go south with Johan Fly, Kitty's new boss, she runs to Luke for help at the same time he receives a clue pertaining to his wife's whereabouts. They head off into the Mojave Desert with the killers in hot pursuit. What follows is a John Woo action film with fewer doves and more characters you truly grow to care about. these are real people, and when things get scary, you are terrified they might not make it out alive. Youers gets this chemistry so right, his characters are so real and likable, and the reader will follow them anywhere. He has also created, in Johan Fly, the scariest villain in ages! Strap on your seatbelt and keep your arms and legs inside for the ride. . . and just try not to read it all in one night! This is a great thriller.
Sheila Heti's new novel PURE COLOUR is an experimental, complex, philosophical book that defies definition. It attempts to explore the relationship between fathers and daughters, life and death, transubstantiation, fixing things vs going with the flow, and love. There are so many nuggets I had to read aloud to my husband as I read along. It's fresh and exciting, new and controversial, and it certainly won't be for everyone, but if you're an adventurous reader who likes meta-fiction, this is a terrific new book.
Brendan Slocumb's first novel, THE VIOLIN CONSPIRACY, is a page-turner of the first magnitude! Ray fell in love with classical music at an early age, even though African-Americans were supposed to only love hip-hop, and he became a polished violinist, especially once his grandmother gave him his great-great grandfather's violin, given to him by his master when he was freed from the hell of being a slave. Turns out, this inheritance was a Stradivarius worth over ten million dollars. When it turns up missing before a huge competition, Ray must figure out who stole his most prized possession -- his greedy family? The ancestors of the plantation owner who allegedly gave the slave the violin? Or another competitor in the tournament in Moscow? It's a really fun ride with all kinds of insights into classical music and the inherent racism in the world of orchestras and operas. I really enjoyed the ride -- a sort of cross between THE QUEEN'S GAMBIT and LUPIN -- and I think readers will enjoy it as well.
Violeta is another triumph for Isabel Allende, an epic set over a hundred years in South America that aligns its history with that of the titular character, an independent-thinking progressive woman. The characters are vividly drawn, and the prose just sings off the page. This is a delightful story filled with wonderful people, and I never wanted it to end.
ROAD OF BONES is Christopher Golden's best novel to date, a story of a small reality-TV crew in Siberia who stumble upon a horrific supernatural event. The characters are interesting and fully-realized, and when they are put in harm's way -- fighting off ghosts, wolves, and other folk-horror staples -- the reader truly cares about them. With a fascinating setting ( the coldest place on Earth) and several truly scary scenes, this is one terrifying book, nearly impossible to put down until you finish the haunting ending. Superb horror fiction!
Let's get one thing out of the way immediately -- DEVIL HOUSE by John Darnielle is not a horror novel, despite the cover. This is the story of a true crime writer coming to grips with truthfulness and honesty in his writing as seen through the lenses of multiple characters, a mosaic that may -- or may not -- finally get to the truth of what happened in a small porno store turned home. And does truth matter? there are many heady philosophies that Darnielle wrangles with, and the ending is both heart-breaking and delightful. It's a major literary work disguising itself as genre fiction and I believe it's the best book from Darnielle yet.
HOW HIGH WE GO IN THE DARK by Sequoia Nagamatsu is a devastating look at humanity's future, one ravaged by climate change and disease, a terrifyingly believable world. Through short stories, confessionals, of various intermingling characters, we see the world fall apart and get back up again. There is much that is devastatingly sad here, but also hope in a world in which people communicate. The interconnectivity of people has never been tracked so lovingly and carefully. My favorites are stories 2 and 4, but these tales work very well as a whole experience. Beautiful and heart-breaking.
Molly is a maid in an upscale hotel in Nita Prose's delightfully quirky new novel, THE MAID. Molly is different from many people; she takes many things literally and she has trouble reading other people. But she is the best at ' returning a room to its previous perfection.' Until she discovers a real estate mogul's body one day! Molly is a true delight, and I loved living in her head for a while. The mystery is challenging and has many surprises, but the main draw here is Molly the Maid, a wonderful new character, one of my faves since Eleanor Olyphant!