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!
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.
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.
Antoine Wilson's remarkable new novel, MOUTH TO MOUTH, is deceptively slim and a swiftly-paced page turner. It's also a brilliant novel about storytelling, the nature of truth, and the deceptions our minds try to convince us are truth. When a down on his luck writer's plane is delayed, he discovers an old acquaintance from twenty years ago when he attended college. the friend sits with him and proceeds to tell him the story of his rise in the art world and the cruel man whose life he saved. This is a taut novel -- not necessarily a suspense novel, although it is incredibly suspenseful -- and the twists keep coming until the final breath-taking sentence. This will appeal to fans of erudite thrillers like John Le Carre or Patricia Highsmith. Just terrific in every way!
This fabulous, funny, and informative history of booze details how women have influenced alcohol and its production (and drinking!) over the years. From Cleopatra, to Catherine the Great to Hildegard the nun, you learn something new on every page. Crack open a bottle of Barbe-Nicole and enjoy!
Nicholas Meyer (author of THE SEVEN PERCENT SOLUTION and one of my favorite films TIME AFTER TIME) brings us another delightful and respectful Sherlock Holmes adventure with THE RETURN OF THE PHARAOH. This time, Watson takes his ailing wife to Egypt, where he runs into the great detective as well as Howard Carter, and the pair are swept away into a mystery involving ancient tombs, belly-dancing spies, and missing dukes. It's tons of fun with a thrilling sandstorm sequence, and it fits well within the Sherlockian canon. I enjoyed it so much.
Ken Follett eschews historical epics for a welcome return to his thriller roots, and it's still an epic! Remember EYE OF THE NEEDLE or TRIPLE? NEVER relates the story of a possible WW3 scenario, and it is far too believable. From a border dispute in Chad and Sudan, to a military coup in North Korea, and the people in China and America who scramble to diplomatically prevent a third world war, this globe-trotting book will keep you reading late into the night. And Follett does one of the things he does best -- bringing us believable characters caught up in epic events -- a young woman fleeing Chad for Europe, a Chinese intelligence agent with an actress wife, and even the new female Republican president of the U.S. With a deft hand, he enfolds the reader into this epic work that will stun readers with its timeliness and rapid pace, even at its epic length!
WIN ME SOMETHING by Kyle Lucia Wu introduces us to a wonderful character - Willa Chen, a mixed race woman in her early twenties who has felt out of place ever since her parents broke up and raised other families of their own. She is adrift, searching for meaning in her life, when she fumbles her way into a position as a nanny for a bright child in a wealthy family in Tribeca. Her place as an employee/friend/nanny/and ancillary family member blurs. Willa is a fully formed character, even if her future has yet to be decided, and I was drawn into her adventures among the super rich and privileged. Wu is adept at drawing believable characters, and she is a writer to watch.
I don't read a lot of graphic novels, but I was immediately drawn into the story of BALLAD FOR SOPHIE, a new book by Filipe Melo and Juan Cavia. This story of two rival pianists -- one innately gifted and one who struggles to be the greatest -- and their decades long friendship/rivalry. It mirrors Nozart/Salieri in many ways, but this one includes Nazis, diabolic bargains, and many twists and turns. The art is quite beautiful and the story was incredibly compelling.
Anyone worried about Jack Reacher being handed over from father (Lee Child) to son (Andrew) have nothing to worry about; the franchise is in good hands if this new novel is any indication. This is one furiously-paced, fun, exciting story, and fans will be pleased.
BURNING BOY is Paul Auster's tour-de-force examination of the life and writings of Stephen Crane, an exhaustive biography that is among the very best I have ever read. It is massive, requiring patience and time to follow the trail Auster leads one down, but the rewards and riches at the end are well worth the effort. It works as a piece of literature unto itself; the writing is that good (and if you get the audiobook, Auster reads it himself). It's like your very best professor giving a master class on this writer, who has fallen from popular notice in America. The chapter by chapter and story by story examinations of Crane's novels, poems, and stories is enthralling, placing each tale in a specific time and place in history as well as in Crane's brief lifetime. But it isn't just his writing that is fascinating. Crane was shipwrecked, travelled the country and the world, became friends with luminaries of the time, fought for workers' rights and women's rights as well as marrying a sex worker and becoming a journalist in the Spanish American war. And he died at the age of 28. This is a great book for literary readers of fiction or biography.
Another great read from Elizabeth Strout! Highly enjoyable story about how nobody can completely know anyone, how our pasts and secrets can harm us, and how we reconcile with loss and grief. Lovely.
Gus Moreno presents us with nightmare fuel with his first horror novel, THIS THING BETWEEN US. After the death of his wife, a young man heads to a cabin in the mountains -- both to escape his grief and the strange things occurring around his smart speaker (think haunted Alexa times a hundred!) Soon, he is under attack from forces from another dimension and it appears his dead wife is attempting to communicate with him. But is it her or is it something else. This surreal, literary horror novel is genuinely scary with the scariest scenes I have read in ages! For people who like Ian Reid, Stephen Graham Jones, or the movies HEREDITARY or MIDSOMMER. So good! This one will haunt me.
THE SURVIVORS by Alex Schulman is a fascinating novel, a Jenga puzzle with a fractured storyline that feeds the reader its clues in perfect proportions until you finally understand all that has happened. A family spending a summer by a lake are involved in an accident that fractures all familial lines, especially affecting the middle son, Benjamin. In alternating chapters, we go backwards in time as the three brothers go to the summer house to spread their mother's ashes and end up in a brawling fight. The why and how of the events entangle until the gasp-inducing final revelation. This is a swift read, but it's one that will stay with me for a long time. Excellent translation, too!
In Amor Towles new novel, THE LINCOLN HIGHWAY, 18 year old Emmett is released from a juvenile prison to find the family farm repossessed by the bank and his father dead. His younger brother has a dream of finding their runaway mother based upon clues she left behind, but as they begin their cross-country trip, Emmett discovers two other runaways from the work farm -- the quiet and addicted Woolly and the charming but possibly psychotic Duchess. their trip takes a sudden turn to New York, and along the way Towles graces us with many finely drawn and fascinating characters, from police officers to circus workers, preachers to killers, from nuns to prostitutes -- each imbued with lovely character touches. The journey forces these four men (and later one woman) to really see each other for who they are, and as they grapple with these realities, they find themselves growing up. It's a beautiful story hauntingly told with many moments of laughter and tears. This is a tough high-wire act, but Towles balances the emotions beautifully. The ending will haunt me for years! I loved it so much that the pages just flew by.
Rachel Harrison offers up a delightfully different kind of horror novel in CACKLE, bringing a lot of humor as well as a healthy dose of feminist theory to the table. When Annie is dumped, she moves to upstate New York toi a small town and immediately falls under the (ahem) spell of Sophie, a local character who may be a lot more than she seems. She lives in a haunted castle, adores spiders, and most of the town's residents seem to be afraid of her. Could she possibly be...a witch? The book is full of sly references and has a wonderful female friendship at its core, and there are creepy moments galore and Harrison's style lands somewhere between SEX AND THE CITY and STEPHEN KING. It's unique, fun, and I may always check to see if a spider is smiling before I sweep it out of my house from now on! This will be a great rec for Halloween for people who want a spooky book but not something really violent or scary.
Jonathan Franzen returns to the literary fiction scene with his brilliantly realized new novel CROSSROADS, and it's a return to the things he does best. It is almost like the autopsy of a family, set in the early 1970s from Christmas season until Easter with a coda afterwards, and it dissects the different crossroads that the Hildebrandt family must face during this turbulent time period in US history. The father, a minister, flirts with an affair and a loss of faith after losing control of the youth group to a hipper, younger man; the mother faces a return of the mental illness that dragged her into the gutter as a young woman; one son wants to leave college and run to Vietnam in rebellion to his family; another son, the local pot dealer and a genius, wants to stop and become a good person; and the daughter finds first love and meaning in the church. Franzen is grappling with big issues here -- the death of the nuclear family, God and faith, and drugs and politics, and he does so beautifully. No balls are dropped in this fine juggling act. I cannot wait for the next book in this trilogy.
Richard Osman follows up his delightful THE THURSDAY MURDER CLUB with a new sequel, THE MAN WHO DIED TWICE, bringing back all the charming characters from the first novel and adding a few new suspects and shady villains. When ex-MI5's Elizabeth gets a note from her ex-husband, she is drawn into a web of murder, diamonds, and psychological mind games as the Thursday Murder Club becomes involved in spies, thieves, and the mafia! This was so much fun, and the characters are just as delightful as ever, but the mystery is a bit darker and twistier. . . which I love. I truly thought I knew who the killer was, but boy was I wrong. I can't wait to introduce new customers to these fun books!
MY MONTICELLO by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson is an electrifying debut. Much of the deserved hooplah surrounds the eponymous novella, which is utterly gripping, but I will be haunted by that opening story -- in which a scientist makes his son the control study for a secret experiment on race in America -- will haunt me for years.
CLOUD CUCLOO LAND is Anthony Doerr's follow-up to his beloved, Pulitzer Prize winning ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE, and everyone was wondering if this one would be as good. Great news! It's even better! With three different stories wrapped around an ancient myth, Doerr explores the disparate worlds of stories and story-telling in a way that is compulsively-readable. A young woman tries to get a book out of Constantinople as it is getting sacked in the 15th Century; a translator of the book turns it into a play for children and is taken hostage inside a library in Idaho; and a young woman discovers family ties to a book in the virtual library of her family's space ship as they escape from a future polluted earth. It sounds complicated and confusing, but it's not. Under Doerr's assured guidance, we thrill along with all the twists and turns the stories take and we laugh and cry alongside these well-drawn characters. this is more than a book; it's an event! I cannot recommend it highly enough. This may sound like hyperbole, but this is the greatest piece of fiction in years. Utterly transformative.
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!
MORDEW by Alex Pheby is the beginning of a totally original trilogy of fantasy novels. This is literary fantasy, set in a world where the most powerful men attain their powers through the flesh of a dead god, which is moldering in a kind of magical muddy swamp. This one moves fast and is full of brilliantly detailed world building. I especially love the magical talking dogs! If Mervyn Peake's GORMENGHAST combined with China Mieville or Neil Gaiman, that might come close to how dark and original this one is!
APPLES NAVER FALL is a wonderful, juicy entertainment. Told from multiple points of view, including delightfully gossipy views of overheard conversations from Uber drivers, nail salon workers, etc, we get the unfolding story of a woman who disappears and her family's search for her. Did the father kill her? Did she run off with someone? Who really was that young woman she took into her home last year? It's so much fun, I often forgot the time and read well past bedtime. If you need a book that is truly just FUN, this is it! Perfect escapism.
Colson Whitehead delves into the mystery heist genre with the utterly brilliant HARLEM SHUFFLE. Ray Carney (a bit crooked, but not bent yet) is unwillingly coerced into a robbery at an upscale hotel by his shiftless cousin, Freddie, but nothing goes as planned. Through murders, blackmail, and a twisted revenge-fueled plotline, Whitehead steers us toward an ultimate battle between the almost morally gray territories of Chester Himes and Donald Westlake through the eyes of characters we truly care about. The ending is an eye-opening, show-stopping wow -- cleverly planned all along by our maestro at the helm of this terrifically entertaining crime novel.
Holy cats! NEVER SAW ME COMING by Vera Kurian is a stunning psychological suspense novel that will have you reading well into the night. That ending! Fans of Gillian Flynn and Caroline Kepnes will love this intense book.
Colm Toibin's magnificent new historical novel, THE MAGICIAN, tells the story of eight decades in the life of German writer Thomas Mann (DEATH IN VENICE, THE MAGIC MOUNTAIN (one of my favorite novels of all time)) and his fascinating life. Instead of focusing on the books and the writing, Toibin brings us the man in the raw flesh -- family man, agitator, intellectual, father of six, and repressed homosexual -- and in all his complexities. In bringing the focus away from his work, we really get to know Thomas Mann and his fascinating family as they journey through WWI, the rise of the Nazis, up until the Cold War This detailed work of fiction is always gripping and often quite moving. I truly couldn't put it down.
This stunning epic novel of one African-American family in America is one of the great achievements in literature this year. Honoree Fannone Jeffers tells the tale of one family, specifically three sisters, who suffer from the scars of sexual abuse and the paths they travel to escape the psychological traps set by the past. The book also tells the complex story of their family going back hundreds of years and many generations. Can the scars caused by whites against African-Americans ever be healed? This novel doesn't offer easy answers, but the comparison between the scars of racial injustice and the scars of personal abuse are finely drawn and the reader gets swept along with the story -- and this is one terrific story, by the way! Utterly engrossing and beautifully written (by a poet), THE LOVE SONGS OF W.E.B. DUBOIS is a fantastic read, one that will appeal to people who love THE GOLDFINCH or HOMEGOING. Don't be intimidated by its length, because this is a novel you don't want to miss!
A really fun neo-noir set in 1970s Mexico. Moreno-Garcia does it again,
MRS. MARCH by Virginia Feito is a whip=smart and morbidly funny look at the descent into madness of one upper class woman whose life appears perfect on the outside. When a simple comment about her husband's new novel takes her off guard, Mrs. March (who doesn't get a first name until the ending) is forced to re-examine everything she believes . . . including the fact that her husband may be a murderer. Or is she merely losing her mind? Feito keeps her cards close to her chest, revealing snippets of the truth until the shocking ending. This is a very well written novel, creepy and detailed in all the right ways (MRS. DALLOWAY was certainly an inspiration, as is 'The Yellow Wallpaper'). For those who enjoy literary thrills, this is a good one!
ONCE THERE WERE WOLVES by Charlotte McConaghy is a brilliant follow-up to her best-selling book MIGRATIONS, a mystery veiled in a world on the brink of environmental disaster. Inti has issues in her past that haunt her to the day, hardening her intoi a person she barely recognizes, when she is set to reintroduce wolves into the forests of Scotland. After a man is mauled, she sets out to protect her animals and her twin sister (also scarred by past relationships) while attempting to discover if a wolf is actually the culprit. The writing is sublime, and the mystery is shocking and intense, but this is more than a mere mystery. It's an examination of how we all attempt to reconcile the wildness within us wit the passivity of domestication. in the end, are we truly that different from a beast? And is that a bad thing? This is one terrific book!
Megan Abbott has always been expert at diving into the darkest parts of women's' souls, but THE TURNOUT, her newest novel, is on a whole new level. While preparing for the season's performances of The Nutcracker, two sisters who run a ballet school run afoul of a dangerous contractor hired to fix their studio after a small fire. One falls for the contractor's dark sexual spell while the other sister succumbs to suspicions and doubts about her own marriage. Mirroring the shadowy underbelly of the ballet The Nutcracker (as well as the dark, sensual world of fairy tales), THE TURNOUT is soon twisting and turning in unexpected ways as family secrets and lies come to light. Full of gasp-inducing plot twists and simmering with an uncomfortable sexuality, THE TURNOUT is easily Megan Abbott's best book, a work of fiction on par with the best of Patricia Highsmith or Shirley Jackson. I can't wait to recommend this one to customers!
THE THOUSAND CRIMES OF MING TSU is a western/fantasy/noir hybrid that almost defies description. A lone Chinese-American assassin is out of the prison of required work on the railroad, is on a mission to kill all of the people involved in his frame-up and the taking of his wife. Along the way, he teams up with a group of carnival workers who can perform miracles and a blind Chinese prophet. The writing is cinematic and the violence can be startling, but this is an anti-hero we can all get behind, and I thought the book was fascinating and exciting.