In some ways it has a classic western feel: the tough towns always primed for violence, death in an instant, or more slowly if water isn't found soon, the clanging of rail spikes as the Union Pacific and the Central Pacific hammer toward their convergence. In other ways it surprises: the "miracles" revealed by the Ringmaster of a traveling magic show, the wisdom of a prophet with no memory who knows what's on the horizon, the truly amazing quality of the writing. Ming Tsu is a Chinese American orphan, raised by the white killer-for-hire who trained him. "For a long time it had ceased to trouble him to kill." He married a white woman after her father laughed at his proposal and was beaten for it, then convicted of miscegenation and sentenced to work the railroad line. Now he's got scores to settle and a wife to find, even though a judge ruled they were never married. He's wanted, but whites likely wouldn't know he's coming except that he's "bigger than them Chinese normally is." Oh, he's coming, and just pray he’s not coming for you! The novel has a mysterious air about the fleeting aspects of memory, what we try to hang on to and what we try to get back. These characters often frightened me and always filled me with wonder. Remarkable!
— Tim McCarthy
Lynette just wants to be safe. That's why the only time she leaves her overly secure apartment is to meet with the five other final girls (the women who are left alive after defeating their killer. Think: Laurie Strode in Halloween) and their therapist in a church basement. But when it seems like their monsters are coming back to kill, she is forced to leave her hiding place to figure out why someone is going after final girls again. This was my first-time reading Grady Hendrix's work, and I am already hooked. Imagining classic horror films as if they were the result of tragic realities is done in an extremely original way that leaves you wondering where the story will lead, while trying to match each final girl to the correct classic horror heroine. Hendrix's style is so much fun but surprisingly tense, perfect for the horror fan who doesn't take themselves too seriously.
— Madi Hill
Grey Brooks is known for starring in a teenage drama, but she wants more substantial roles now that she's nearing thirty. When her publicist sets up a fake, tabloid-pleasing romance with former-heartthrob-turned-Oscar-winner Ethan Atkins, the arrangement seems easy enough - until it becomes clear that the chemistry isn't only for the paparazzi. But with Ethan's alcohol abuse after the tragedy that derailed his career, is a Hollywood happily ever after even possible for them? I started this book expecting a frothy Hollywood fantasy type romance, but instead I was pleasantly surprised by the gravity and depth of the story. Wilder brings these two lonely characters together in such an artificial way, yet their connection is immediate and palpable. I can't wait to see more from this author.
— Rachel Copeland
Unknotting topical issues that raise complex ethical questions is Boyle's specialty. So are crafting hysterically flawed and self-deluded characters who think that they rise above and are the best ones to take on such dilemmas. Here Boyle confronts the unethical treatment of animals with the plight of a chimpanzee being taught sign-language. Everything is fine as long as the chimp remains young and cute, but once adolescence hits, his future becomes increasingly bleak as he grows larger and stronger and wilder. His handlers want to save him, but their motivations are selfish and self-serving, especially when they think they are most altruistic. Can he be saved?
— Conrad Silverberg
True Triangle Construction is just three guys who've managed the modest step of starting their own company with three matching trucks. They don't even have a website. So why would a wealthy, worldly, beautiful San Francisco lawyer pick them to build the majestic house she plans to tuck perfectly into the Wyoming Tetons, next to hot springs and a cold, pure river? How did Gretchen Connors even find them? These are the questions they ask as they start to dream of all the ways a project like this will change their business, and their individual lives. There’s all that money and a shiny new reputation, but can they do it, and at what price? Gretchen’s expectations are so high, and the timeline! Why? Butler has given us a study in desire, where it comes from and the damage it can cause. It’s a fascinating and very intense ride, and the best part is that we see both sides of the story in the detailed lives of characters, the rich woman and the men struggling with a transformation that’s making regular guys like them feel less at home in their own town. I felt compelled to stay with them, and I felt rewarded for seeing them through to the end.
— Tim McCarthy
What I love about Joan Silber’s books is how her novel-stories rocket me through space and time without any fear of crashing. In my opinion, the connecting thread of Secrets of Happiness is Gil, a contractor in the garment business whose work takes him to wherever the costs are cheapest – Indonesia, China, Bangladesh, and most notably Thailand, where he brings back more than just the beautiful scarves he buys as souvenirs for his wife. From there, the story spins out to two of his sons (who don’t know each other), and from there to a documentary filmmaker, a librarian turned cancer patient, a labor organizer in Asia, and more than one soul who are not quite sure what they are doing. They are all searching for the happiness of the title – is it money, vocation, love, spirit, or something else? And how do moral transgressions figure into this equation, large and small, some punished, others excused or even rewarded? Coincidences abound, but it is best to think of them more like connections, vital to both fiction and life. Comparisons to the greats like Alice Munro and Grace Paley abound, and I’d like to add Ann Patchett (also a fan) to the mix. Beautiful!
— Daniel Goldin
Nina, Jay, Hud, and Kit are the children of the world-famous crooner Mick Riva. However, they may know him best through celebrity magazines. Raised by their mother June, the siblings grow up in Malibu and bond over surfing. Told in two parts, we learn the family's history from the mid-fifties to late seventies and then of the day of the Riva's annual end-of-summer party in 1983. Each chapter reveals a new heartbreak, all leading up to the most explosive party the siblings have ever hosted. Taylor Jenkins Reid sets the scene for family drama and manages to transport you to Malibu's past effortlessly. I was mesmerized by the Rivas, my heart breaking with them at one turn, and laughing out loud at the next, especially at Kit's astute observations. Make an 80's surfing playlist and add this to your summer read pile!
— Jen Steele
A very exclusive, very private lodge in the Colorado Rockies has pristine creeks chockfull of trout, and very wealthy clients. Jack takes a fishing guide job late in the season, replacing someone who left suddenly. Bad vibes hit Jack almost immediately upon arrival, but melt away as he enjoys an exquisitely relaxing day fishing with his charming client. Unfortunately, neither of them can ignore increasingly visible oddities suggesting the lodge is a cover for something else. Something sinister. Both are compelled to discover what's really going on; they do, and it's a nasty surprise. Prepare for lovely highs and grim lows, an increasingly common combination for Peter Heller, one of my favorite authors.
— Kay Wosewick
Damnation Spring is a must-read for fans of Overstory. Whereas Overstory speaks of the stunning ecology of old-growth forests and the environmentalists who champion them, Damnation Spring transports you directly into the lives and homes of third and fourth generation loggers and their families - people who rely on old-growth forests to maintain very modest lives in small communities dependent on logging. Damnation Spring thrust me into the shoes of loggers, and I stepped out of those shoes with a big dose of empathy injected into my environmentalism. Davidson has written a gritty, humbling, remarkable first book.
— Kay Wosewick
Alice Holtzman works at a dead-end county job, grieving the loss of her husband, with only her bees for solace. Into her life comes Jake and Harry, two young men who are nothing alike but are both struggling with setbacks – an accident has left Jake a paraplegic while Harry is a recently released ex-con who has just lost his elderly uncle. What’s worse, a pesticide company’s product seems to be killing the bees, and the folks running the county don’t even seem to care. If we had a section called “found family/second chances,” this book would be shelved there - it’s an uplifting story with memorable and likeable protagonists and a very strong sense of place. If you haven’t been to Oregon’s Hood River Valley, you’ll want to plan a trip there after reading The Music of Bees.
— Daniel Goldin
Marian Graves is a pilot who disappeared on a groundbreaking flight. Hadley Baxter is the actress, tarnished by scandal, who hopes an important role playing Marian in a biopic will burnish her reputation. With alternating voices, Great Circle ponders, can you really know someone’s story? Historical fiction of the highest order!
— Daniel Goldin
Amidst the clashing viewpoints and lifestyles of 1970s America one teen girl tries to make sense of it all and find out who she wants to be in Mary Jane. The story opens on a 14-year-old girl from a straight-laced, conservative family whose worldview is shaken when she takes a summer nanny job for a doctor. Expecting a family much like her own, Mary Jane is surprised and strangely delighted when the Cones turn out to be a bohemian, openly amorous, rock n' roll couple with a free-spirited 5-year-old. On top of it all, a rock star and his famous wife are living in the attic as the doctor helps the rocker recover from his drug addiction. Throughout the summer, Mary Jane encounters and embraces new music, new clothes, and a new way of looking at herself and what she wants to be, all while inadvertently helping the Cone family and their guests grow as well. A wonderful read about found families and finding yourself - this is already one of my favorites of the year!
— Margaret Kennedy
Baltimore, 1975. For 14-year-old Mary Jane, life is Roland Park Country Day School, lemonades at the Elkridge Country Club, and cooking and cleaning with her mom. A summer nanny job offers a surprising twist - a rock star and his actress wife are in hiding at the house, being treated for addiction. That’s one crazy summer. Jessica Anya Blau does a great job of capturing that moment when you realize that life could be more than what you’ve been offered. For all the sex, drugs, and rock and roll, Mary Jane only occasionally veers into raciness. Mostly it’s smart and funny and charming.
— Daniel Goldin
Klara is an AF (artificial friend) waiting at the store with her friend Rosa for someone to take her home. Her odds have decreased since a new model has been released. Josie, a young girl, has been browsing the store and has set her eye on Klara, but hasn’t been able to commit. And when she does, Klara will find itself (herself?) plopped into a family drama of an ill girl and divorced parents who disagree on the best course of action. Ishiguro hints at an eerie future of genetically modified elites, professions replaced by robots, and worsening civil breakdowns. If there’s an author where the more you read, the greater the appreciation for the entire body of work, Ishiguro is it. I began Klara and the Sun imagining a connection to Never Let Me Go, noting later that Klara was also the obvious descendent of Stevens, the butler of Remains of the Day, dedicated to service and unmoored by a change. I love how Ishiguro’s heroes are both keenly observant and hobbled by blind spots. For Klara, it could be mistaking the sun for a deity, which makes sense, being solar powered. I’m almost disturbed to say this – Klara is perhaps the most empathetic hero I’ve read about in a long time. So what does this say about me?
— Daniel Goldin
This book is easy to read, and not because it's simple. Ishiguro creates tremendous emotional depth with a graceful narrative flow. That must be how you win a Nobel Prize: expertly crafting writing that sounds so natural. Klara observes the world and its people with open curiosity, at first untainted by her limited experience, but she’s always learning. Her ability to analyze human behavior with sincerity, consideration, and objectivity is something I would love to possess, but Klara isn't human. She's a machine, waiting for a future with a human family who would buy her as their child's Artificial Friend. She looks forward to being displayed in the storefront window, where nourishment from the sun will make her stronger, and she can see more of the city's intensity. Then there’s a wider world out there, where her status will be friend, family, and possession. Klara feels the effects. She has her own intentions, and her personal story has an unmistakable living warmth. Can Klara love and be loved? Is she ultimately being used for her owners' needs alone, or do they care for her as they would care for a person? One thing I can say without hesitation is that I wish Klara was my friend!
— Tim McCarthy
Reeling from the discovery of her husband's affair, Caroline Parcewell decides to go to London on what was supposed to be an anniversary vacation. One afternoon she takes part in mudlarking and discovers a curious vial which reignites a long-buried passion for history. As Caroline embarks on uncovering the vial’s secrets, she discovers more about herself and her marriage. Meanwhile, in 18th century London, there's a hidden apothecary dealing in poisons. Nella is the heir of the apothecary. What used to be a place where all could go for health and healing is now something more sinister. Nella now works in the shadows, helping women right the wrongs done to them by men. The rules are simple: the poison must never be used to harm another woman, and the names of the murderer and her victim must be cataloged in the apothecary's register. A definite page turner that kept me up late just to find out what happens next!!
— Jen Steele