THE WHISPERING HOUSE by Elizabeth Brooks is a standout gothic literary mystery that features art, sisterhood, forgiveness, murder, and revenge in a simmering brew certain to please almost anyone who desires a good read well-written! After her older sister's death (murder?), Freya becomes obsessed with the struggling artist and his dying mother inhabiting a run-down mansion by the seashore where her sister's body was discovered. After she moves in and becomes the artist's lover, secrets are revealed until the shocking climax. Brooks writes with a deft hand, keeping the story moving full speed ahead and injecting bits of humor and satire amidst the atmospheric gothic-ness of it all (there's more than one nod to NORTHANGER ABBY!) This was suspenseful and tragic and just a darn good read for a windy wintry evening.
This is a delightful mystery, sort of Golden-Age tinged, about someone killing mystery writers and the two concurrent investigations (one police and one amateur) to capture the killer. It has charming characters and a great sense of place, and it barrels along swiftly. Just the kind of book I need during trying times to take my mind off of things.
Ishiguro does it again, creating a multi-genre novel that defies description but entertains and pulls at every heartstring while doing so. Klara is an advanced android purchased by a sick girl and her mother to be an artificial friend. With a keen sense of character and an eye for detail, Kazuo Ishiguro brings Klara to life, posing barvbed questions about what it means to be human and what are we doing to ourselves in this modern, machine-driven age. Beautiful, haunting, and sweet, this is a book to beat for the best of the year -- and it is only January!
LOLA ON FIRE is one high-octane thriller, a dark and violent epic cat and mouse game that takes place over 27 years. It feels as though Quentin Tarentino and Lee Child wrote a book together. A young man is blackmailed into stealing something, but it's all a frame-up, and he is left with a corpse on his hands. Why? The answer lies in a bloodbath when one lone female assassin named Lola took out nearly the entire mob in one day. On the run, the man and his handicapped sister cross the country to seek out answers, closely followed by a killer so terrifying and cold, you'll never forget her. Vengeance and thrills follow! What separates this book from so many action novels, is the attention to character -- you truly want these people to make it out alive. Will they? You need to read the book to find out!
A fascinating bildungsroman about a girl on the cusp of becoming a woman in San Francisco, whose best friend/worst enemy disappears. It's a novel about illusion vs truth and self-doubt, but it's also about 'that girl', the one all the other girls wanted to be and all the boys wanted to love. The lead character is entrancing and felt very real to me.
In A THOUSAND SHIPS, Natalie Haynes's intricate deconstruction of THE ILIAD, we finally hear the stories of the women of the Trojan War. From Helen to Cassandra, goddesses and muses, queens and Amazons -- all finally get a voice to share their own experiences during this tragic ten-year war and its aftermath. Haynes weaves a tapestry of first person accounts, grounded by the experiences of the Trojan Women, and the writing is beautiful, the connections seamless. Fans of Madeline Miller and Mary Renault are going to adore this new book, as I did!
Ever wanted to take a Master Class in writing and reading short fiction? George Saunders leads just such a class in A SWIM IN A POND IN THE RAIN. Concentrating on 7 classic Russian tales by the likes of Tolstoy, Checkov, and Turganev (included here), he guides you through becoming a better reader as well as a better writer. Entertaining, erudite, and, most of all, fun...this is a wonderful book for any literature lover!
Paraic O'Connell's THE HOUSE ON VESPER SANDS is a Victorian gothic supernatural mystery...similar in many ways to Dan Vyleta's SMOKE. After a seamstress commits suicide with a cryptic message stitched into her skin, a detective, a seminary student, and a journalist all search for answers as more and more young women go missing in London. The characters are a delight and the writing is often quite funny, despite the morbid trappings. I enjoyed it immensely,
This delightful story of a handsome cowboy on a dude ranch for divorced women in Reno and the two wild women who change him is funny, sweet, tender, and sad. I had all the feels, and it reminded me of Fannie Flagg in her prime. It was charming and heartfelt, and the surprises somehow actually surpised me.
THE LIAR'S DICTIONARY by Eley Williams is the book I didn't know I needed, but oh boy, did I! In 1899, a young clerk who works at a publishing house compiling an encyclopedic dictionary (think Oxford English Dictionary) slips in mountweazels -- fake words he has made up. In current times, this dictionary is being digitized, and one young woman is charged with hunting down and removing all the false words. In doing so, she begins to see patterns, and she begins to learn all about the creator of the mountweazels. Hilarious, sweet, romantic, and compelling, this wonderful novel is full of enough puns and wordplay to put a smile on any literature-lover's face. I was compelled to read late into the night, until I discovered the mystery at the heart of the LIAR'S DICTIONARY. What a wonderful read!
THE ARREST is Jonathan Lethem at his stylish best, a literary pulp novel! Featuring characters that were completely fascinating, realistic relationships and drama, and a vivid setting -- when Lethem throws in the science fiction aspects, it all seems plausible. Some of Lethem's best writing in years. I enjoyed it and thought he elevated the apocalyptic tale.
This novel is both heart-warming and funny and gut-wrenchingly sad; it's a glimpse into multiculturalism and queer lifestyles as well as a story of family and when to say good-bye. I fell in love with the prose almost immediately, but the characters were so real and the situation between the lovers so intensely true that I couldn't help but fall under its spell until the lovely ending. I wish there had been even more. yan Washington is a writer to watch. There were moments when I felt as if a hipper, more understanding John Updike had written this beautiful book, but the writing is so crisp and the structure of the novel is so unique, that I want Washington to have all the glory. This is one of the best of the year.
THE BUTCHER'S BLESSING by Ruth Gilligan is one amazing work of dark fiction! It begins with a terrifying photograph of a butcher, dead, hanged by his feet on a meathook, but it soon flashes back to Ireland, 1996 during the Mad Cow crisis. Following various characters -- a gay student, a thief, a disturbed young girl, an abandoned mother having a fling, the photographer who took the snapshot, and a group of butcher's who follow an ancient Celtic tradition, the novel explores issues of change in society and in singular human beings as old traditions die and new ones spring forth. The pacing is pitch perfect and each character has a solid storyline to follow, each one wrapping around that initial mystery of who is hanging by the meathook like a delicate cocoon. It is a stunning, propulsive piece of fiction that dares you to stop reading. For fans of Colum McCann and Tana french, this is a book not to be missed!.
THE COLD MILLIONS is another beautifully written novel by Jess Walter. The story of two brothers and their involvement with the IWW and anarchists, this story somersaults between points of view, offering snippets of history mixed with alternating points of view, but always remaining grounded within the purview of the younger brother, an innocent looking for purpose in his work and his life. I loved this young man so much, I would follow him anywhere.
SHE COME BY IT NATURAL is a feminist overview of Dolly Parton's career, written by the magnificent Sarah Smarsh, Using events from her own life and her grandmother's life, Smarsh details the emerging feminist in Parton -- her liberation from Porter Wagner, her star-making role in 9 to 5, and her endless philanthropism, all while exploring how her music changed yet stayed true to her roots. I always loved Dolly, and now I love her even more.
PLAIN BAD HEROINES is a literary roar from queer author Emily M. Danforth...and a crackling great read that practically dares you to put it aside! A cursed boarding school in Rhode Island causes death and suicide amongst the young women boarding there in 1902. In modern day times, a queer horror novel based on the events is being filmed and events become eerily reminiscent of the creepy doings a century earlier. Featuring barbed satire on the film industry, queer politics, social media, romantic longing, and a skewering/reverence for gothic tropes that will blow your mind. this is more fun than any novel should be, and I can't wait to recommend it to customers who enjoy something smart, scary, and savage!
The Thursday Murder Club thrillingly begins a new series of cozy British mysteries. Featuring wonderfully vibrant characters and realistic police proceedings, this novel falls fairly close to a cleaner Louise Penny novel—a definite focus on character and a distinct sense of place. When four pensioners in an assisted living facility form a club to re-examine cold cases from the police files, they didn’t realize they would end up smack dab in the middle of a twisty-turny real life set of murders. The pacing is great, and the writing sings. I want the TV series produced on BBC now! Pamela Dorman
Imagine Marvel Universe Avengers movie, only seen from the eyes of one of the many temporary henchmen / henchwomen. In HENCH by Natalie Zina Walschots, we are introduced to Anna, who temps for supervillains -- mostly data entry -- and struggles to survive, pay her rent, and get an occasional date. When she becomes collateral damage after a superhero attacks her boss, she is left injured, jobless, and flooded with medical bills as she has no insurence. Revenge becomes the word of the day and she finds herself becoming her own supervillain. If this sounds silly, it's not! It's as much a commentary on the working poor as a science fiction action story, and the characters are fascinating. It's so compelling, I finished it in two nights, and I wanted even more. This is a blockbuster waiting to happen, and I loved it!
One man lives in a massive labyrinth filled with decaying statues and a tidal sea. Another man observes, searching for the meaning of life itself. What secrets does the past hold? This puzzle box of a literary fantasy novel is so good, I read it slowly to enjoy every word. It will sweep you off your feet like some mad amalgamation of Umberto Eco, John Fowles, and Neal gaiman!
This is the thriller of the year! From the creator of the Scandinavian mini-series THE KILLING, THE CHESTNUT MAN is an unbelievably fast-paced and exciting page-turner. I literally had trouble putting it down to sleep! A serial killer is loose, a cold case kidnapping is brought back to life, and a politician is attacked from all sides. This is the kind of book Thomas Harris used to write and one of the best plotted mysteries in a long time. What a wonderful group of vivid characters and what a ride! Whew!
THE YEAR OF THE WITCHING by Alexa Henderson is like THE HANDMAID'S TALE as viewed through the dark fairy-tale lens of Angela Carter. haunting and extremely atmospheric, this horror fantasy hybrid is feminist, political, and very, very spooky!
Utterly charming, hilarious, sweet, and ultimately touching -- this book is for anyone who loves the books of Sarah Dessen or Jenny Han. I want to be friends with all the characters!
Kevin Wilson's new novel, NOTHING TO SEE HERE, is a deceptively light and humorous story, but there is so much more to it than the delight the reader experiences. When a senator from Tennessee is about to be vetted for Secretary of State, he suddenly inherits his two children from his estranged first wife when she dies. And the kids are wild. And they spontaneously combust every once in a while, setting everything aflame. An old friend / somebody-to-be-taken-advantage-of the family is asked to care for them, and she embarks on a journey of self discovery while tending these dangerous kids. It is hilarious, wicked, barbed, heart-breaking, and fabulous . I've never read anything quite like it, and it moved me to tears while making me laugh in surprised staccato bursts! What a terrific book!
Jacqueline Woodson's new novel RED AT THE BONE is one of the year's best, evocative, provocative, and stunningly well-written. Don't let the slim size fool you; this one is packed to the brim with emotion. This lyrical, poetic novel unfolds in various time periods, all centered around a single family event and how that affects each member of the family. It brilliantly evokes that feeling when we are young and indestructible as well as the disappointments of life as well as unexpected delights that unfold when we least expect them. The characters are wonderfully alive, and the world they inhabit is one I'd love to live in -- a place full of love and family. It is a lovely gem of a novel!
TRANSCENDENT KINGDOM is a deeply moving and thoughtful book, a triumph of a seconf novel! I cannot stop thinking about Gifty and how the behaviors of her brother and mother affect her work as a scientist and as a devout christian. Faith vs. Science has rarely been handled so deftly. Superb in every way!
Kiera is seventeen, a black student at a nearly all-white school, and the creator of the people-of-color-only RPG virtual reality game, Slay in this suspenseful and thought-provoking novel. When a young gamer is killed by another, Slay comes under fire and becomes a world-wide controversy -- is it racist or exclusionary? -- and Kiera must fight to defend everything she has built. This would be an excellent book club pick as there is so much to discuss after reading it, Just as good for young aduslts as teens, but I believe it will speak to young people who feel like they need a safe place sometimes but cannot say why or how!
THE LIVING DEAD by George Romero and Daniel Kraus is, yes let's say it right off the bat, a zombie novel. Actually, I would say it is THE zombie novel. THE literary zombie novel. Begun by the great cult filmmaker (and creator of zombies as we know them today) George Romero and finished after his death by Daniel Kraus, this epic story unfolds so beautifully that the pages fly. A medical examiner and his partner discover the dead are returning to life; a solitary woman decides to archive every event after the apocalypse; a gay navy officer on an aircraft carrier faces a takeover by religious zealots; a young woman and a Syrian refugee must fight their way out of a trailer park and then her past; a musician decides to defeat the ruin of the world through art. All these tales eventually intertwine, all while carefully peeling back the layers of our society to reveal the xenophobia, misogynies, homophobia, transphobia, and what happens when humans allow base men to assume roles of power. The sociological parts are nicely woven into the narrative, which is action-packed and studded with gory set pieces, and the characters are incredibly well-drawn and treated humanely. You really hope these people make it out alive -- that our world can recover and be different, despite our worst natures. It's scary, moving, literary, emotionally-draining, breath-taking, gorgeously and quotably written, and the best novel I have read this year. I'm completely gob-smacked by this. Just terrific!
This magnificent, incredibly moving novel deals beautifully with the extinctions occurring now in our climate-changing world. One woman, for reasons unknown, decides to follow the migration of the arctic terns -- the longest migration of any animal and possibly the last one for these dying birds. Through flashbacks, we begin to understand why she is attempting this suicidal journey and discover all the monsters hiding in her past. Her own migration of the mind reflects like a funhouse mirror the physical journey she is attempting. the ending is just beautifully rendered, a perfect climax to a gorgeously written novel, offering hope for hopeless times. I was moved nearly to tears.
When is the last time a horror novel was both scary and charming? A COSMOLOGY of monsters is THAT book! Riffing on themes from HP Lovecraft and Ray Bradbury, Hamill weaves a complex tale of lost cities, Halloween haunted attractions, and doorways to other worlds. I really enjoyed this literary horror story, which starts out as a love story (don't ALL good horror tales?) and grows progressively creepier. The book posits the questions -- who are the real monsters and why do we love to be scared. Truly a delightful, yet uber-creepy homage. I loved it.
THE BOOK OF ATLANTIS BLACK by Betsy Bonner is part memoir and part investigative crime reporting...but all engrossing! When Bonner's sister is found dead of a heroin overdose in Mexico, she goes on a journey to discover what happened, which turns into an inward-gazing spiral of conspiracies, suspicion, and obsessive paranoia. Through emails, facebook messages, and letters and interviews, she uncovers bits and pieces of her sister's life, including a mysterious figure only known as Gretchen, who seems to be a criminal. dark, fascinating, and very suspenseful, Bonner's narrative non-fiction is a brilliant look at how we never know anyone as well as we should and how one obsession can take over your life and how there are no easy answers...even when we want there to be. I would compare it to THE FACT OF A BODY.
LUSTER introduces us to a shockingly wonderful new voice -- Raven Leilani writes with a pen dipped in venom. When a young African-American woman enters into an open-marriage relationship with a white man only to find herself rediscovering her passion for art, her attraction to abuse, and her sudden feelings of protectiveness toward the adopted black child of the couple. Full of wicked humor, sexy and shocking situations, and gorgeous language, I found myself laughing and wincing...often on the same page. This is an important book by a great new writer. Tom Wolfe meets Brit Bennett. I devoured this book.
Kings County by David Goodwillie, is just superb, the most Brooklyn novel I have read in forever. Two people with pasts meet in New York and venture out on a life together. She is an A & R rep at a small recording company and he acquires film rights to novels. When their pasts resurface, their relationship is tested -- all while surviving on the tough streets, the loud clubs, the hallowed hallways of commerce of New York City. The language and characters are as vibrant as the city itself, and the writing is just gorgeous, especially in the first two thirds of the novel. What a treat!
A STAR IS BORED by Byron Lane is a very funny novel, the kind that whisks you away from the daily grind and into a world where people are witty, glamorous, and, well, suffering addiction -- to drugs or to fame. Based loosely (HA!) on Lane's experiences as Carrie Fisher's assistant, the book features a likable hero striving to make a difference in a movie star's world. Raunchy, hilarious, and surprisingly very tender and sweet, this is a wonderful novel to take to the beach or divert your attention away from the awfulness of the world today. So much fun! I think Carrie would even approve! Fans of POSTCARDS FROM THE EDGE and THE EDITOR are going to love it!
In Malorie, Josh Malerman continues the story he began in Birdbox. Malorie and her children have survived for years on their own, and now the teenagers have entered a rebellious stage. they want to see the world, want to have experiences, want to meet people, but Malorie keeps them on a short leash, understanding the dangers out there in the real world. the dread in this book is almost palpable, with a first paragraph that hits the ground running and never pauses for a breath. The middle section detailing a long, precarious blind train ride is exceptional and makes up for the finale, which just misses the mark (unless there is a third book in the works to make a trilogy!) I enjoyed Malorie very much, as much a parable about overprotective parents as a horror novel, and I rushed through it like the locomotive at its heart. Really good!
Alaya Dawn Johnson has written her first adult novel, TROUBLE THE SAINTS, and it is a doozie! Complete entertainment from beginning to end, I'd call it an historical urban fantasy crime novel. When a supernaturally-gifted assassin who is passing for white in 1940s Harlem (she's especially talented with knives) finds herself no longer trusting her mob boss, her entire past is thrown into doubt. Her on again off again boyfriend and she go on the lam, seeking refuge with a card-reading torch singer, but to reveal anything else would be criminal! As the story unfolds through three different viewpoints, we live and breath these characters and their supernatural talents, and Johnson unveils only a little at a time until we finally understand this entire familiar, yet not familiar, world. If N. K. Jemison and Chester Himes had a bastard child, it would be TROUBLE THE SAINTS!
Maggie O'Farrell's new novel Hamnet details the last days of William Shakespeare's son as he is dying along with flashbacks to the courtship of the famous playwright and his eccentric wife, Agnes and their early years of marriage. With delicate language and an eye for detail, O'Farrell brings us a historical drama that feels as fresh as yesterday, and the details of life during the late Sixteenth Century are carefully chosen and parsed out like breadcrumbs. How parents survive the death of a child is always a delicate subject and the author avoids many of the sentimental traps as she details how a marriage is stressed; how an author is inspired; how a sister is lost in the shuffle. It is a lovely book, beautifully crafted.
Buckle up your safety belt, because BLACKTOP WASTELAND by S.S. Cosby is one fast and furious ride! When a wheelman - gone - straight is forced to drive the car for one more burglary, he and his cohorts are in over their heads before the dust even clears. Everything that can go wrong does, and the men are trapped in a cage of doubt over who, if anyone, they can trust. This is a race car of a novel, and the reader will be speeding through the pages. Exciting and brutal, BLACKTOP WASTELAND brings us a reimagined noir, southern in texture, but reveling in everything the genre represents. People often forget how much ambiguous gray exists in noir, focusing on the black and white nature of the books and especially the noir films. But this novel is filled with moral ambiguity and terrific writing that really brings these desperate characters to life. You understand exactly why they do what they do, even when you yell at the book to stop them from bad choices (and aren't bad choices all a part of noir?). This is a keeper, one of the best thrillers in years and one of the best paced. Fans of Chester Himes, Elmore Leonard, and Brian Panovich are going to love it.
What an amazing book! David Mitchell brings us the story of UTOPIA AVENUE, a semi-psychedelic band in London in the late 1960s. it's all here -- drugs, sex, and rock and roll -- but there's a beautiful edge to these characters. they have personal demons that haunt them and each gets their chance to escape. This novel really feels like music -- sometimes ethereal, sometimes hard and pounding, and often gloriously uplifting. One of the great novels about a band written -- right up there with THE COMMITMENTS and THE FIVE!
Rarely does a book hold me in its grip for over 800 pages, but Karl Marlantes' follow-up to his novel MATTERHORN did just that! DEEP RIVER i\s the story of the Koski family, Finns who escaped to the American Northwest from Russian aggression in the early 20th century. through the decades, they become loggers and engineers, midwives and mothers, healers and labor activists. Seen mostly through the eyes of Aino, the sister of the three siblings and a vocal opponent to the lumber barons, this epic novel draws you into its world, expertly creating an historical atmosphere, and offering characters of such depth that it is sometimes astonishing. This is an immersive novel like PACHINKO or WAR AND PEACE or THE FAR PAVILIONS that surrounds you for weeks as you inhabit this world. Kudos to Mr. Marlantes!
The Son Of Good Fortune by Lysley Tenorio refers to Excel, a young man, an illegal alien from the Philippines, who resides with his con-woman mother in Colma, California. His mother scams older men out of money by flirting with them on the internet, and Excel, fed up with the deception as well as with his mother's behaviors, runs away with his girlfriend to a ramshackle artist's community in the desert. There, disaster strikes, and he must learn to grow and atone for what he's done. This novel is exceptional in every way, from its well-drawn characters to its glimpse into the terrifying life of an illegal alien, from its jabs at humor within every situation (even the most dire) to its clever dialogue to its beautifully constructed and taut ending. I loved every page of this book and cannot recommend it more. Fans of Imbolo Mbue and Junot Diaz will particularly enjoy this book, but I just thought it was brilliant. I'm still grinning!