The fire in Paradise (called the Camp Fire) moved swiftly, and the authors, Gee and Anguiano, made me feel the heat inducing panic of being trapped in a town that had firenados raging through it. This fire was thoroughly devastating to both land and life. A town of 27,000 that was there mere hours before was gone. This book highlights what it means to be in a community- the sadness of loss, the euphoria of saving lives, and the harrowing escapes. My personal gripe is highlighted in this briefly in the aftermath of the destruction. Fires like the Camp Fire are getting more and more common with climate change, and the longer we ignore it the worse it will get. And it’s already a nightmare.
— Jason Kennedy
I have been reading dysfunctional family comedies since my teenage years, and Emma Straub's latest has all the makings of a classic. Astrid, who lives in a picturesque Hudson Valley town, is widowed and has secretly taken up with a new love. Her three kids, Elliot the driven builder, Porter the nurturing goat farmer, and Nick the former actor who may or may not now have a profession, all parents or parents to be, are coping with the repercussions of youthful decisions, which may or may not be the fault of their mother. When Nick’s daughter Cecelia has trouble at her Brooklyn school, the family decides to send her to Clapham to start anew, and that, as well as unexpected death of Astrid’s long-time rival, sets several runaway trains on a collision course. There’s something very circa-2019 about the story – teenage bullying, sexual assault of various stripes, and at least two LGBTQ plotlines. But in the end, the questions raised by the delightful All Adults Here is timeless; can the family come to terms with their past so they can enjoy the present? Since this is a comedy, a positive outcome is likely!
— Daniel Goldin
What if you took a DNA test and turned out to be part monster? Alberta “Bert” Monte doesn’t know this when a stranger appears at her door, telling her that she’s the last of Montebiancos, a wealthy family centered in a remote part of the Italian Alps. All she knows is that her grandparents emigrated there to the Hudson Valley, and little was ever spoken of their past, though there are rumors of children disappearing from the village. Bert’s at loose ends – she’s recently separated from her husband after a series of miscarriages – and so goes along, as much to learn the truth about herself as to claim her fortune. The twists and turns of The Ancestor are as tortuous as a ragged mountain pass, and Bert is just the companion for this exciting journey into the land of gothic horror.
— Daniel Goldin
Simon Watson is a librarian living in a run down house on the edge of a cliff. He's just received a very strange & cryptic book that will change everything he thought he knew about his family. Simon's family is no ordinary family. They are mermaids and fortune tellers. They are carnival folk, and their history is contained in this newly acquired tome. While exploring its pages, Simon soon discovers that every woman in his family has mysteriously drowned on July, 24th. Could his sister, Enola, be next? In order to save her, Simon must decipher this book before time runs out. The Book of Speculation is mysterious, dark, magical and very hard to put down.
— Jen Steele
Ruthie (responsible, hardworking young manager of a retirement community) and Teddy (flaky, hot mess son of the retirement community owner) are opposites. When once-and-future-tattoo-artist Teddy gets trapped into being a personal assistant for two demanding residents of the community, Ruthie is sure Teddy will be gone the next day. Instead, Teddy thrives, working his way into everyone's hearts with his sweet nature and impulsive, fun personality. With his inevitable departure on the horizon, Ruthie just needs to guard her heart long enough to stay safe in her protective bubble of the retirement community forever. I have to say - this one really got to me. I cared so much about each character, and when I was done reading, I immediately flipped back to my favorite parts to enjoy them again. It's rare to find a romance novel that has both heart and sizzle in equal measure, but Sally Thorne makes it seem easy.
— Rachel Copeland
To be a sin eater is to take on the sins of the dead and dying through a ritualistic eating of symbolic food. When orphaned and illiterate 14-year-old May is caught stealing bread, she is sentenced to become a sin eater, never to speak to another human being except when conducting final rites. Isolated in every possible way, only May's ingenuity can see her through the tangled web of court intrigue and murder that she becomes embroiled in. By setting this novel in an alternate version of the Elizabethan era, Campisi creates her own playground, with characters based on the Tudors and their various peculiarities but without the obligation to stick to the history books. The result is a uniquely historical dystopian novel that had me guessing until the end.
— Rachel Copeland
Well, if you’ve ever said to yourself, ‘Man, I sure wish Taxicab Confessions was set in Mississippi and the stories were told by a UFO chasing, Shakespeare worshipping Buddhist with anger issues,’ then boy oh boy do I have the book for you. The Last Taxi Driver is one glorious, delirious cruise into the depths of the downtrodden folks of the South as told by your new favorite person, Lou, a cabbie trying desperately to be as compassionate as is reasonably possible and maybe even scrounge up a little truth, all while not getting himself killed by an idiot taking driver’s seat selfies. Crank up the car tunes (skip Skynyrd, opt for David Banner), jump into the back seat, and get ready to have the best time ever riding along for the worst day of Lou’s life.
— Chris Lee
Diana, Lady Templeton, and Jeremy, Marquess of Willingham, are always at each other's throats - he's an incorrigible rake, and she's a wealthy young widow. When Diana wagers that he'll be married within a year, Jeremy is confident he'll win. But then Jeremy's former mistress gives him negative feedback about his so-called skills, and he realizes he needs an honest review from his toughest critic: Diana. As a longtime reader of Regency-era romance novels, I'm ashamed to say I did not know about this series until the second book. If you read romance for the banter, this one is for you - Waters knows the genre well, and she has aptitude for both winking at tropes and using them sincerely. This book hasn't even been released yet, and I already can't wait to read the next in the series.
— Rachel Copeland
If I wrote copy for mass market paperbacks (and Anne Tyler’s books used to be published in that format), I’d say that Micah Mortimer can repair computers, but he can’t figure out the connections of the human heart. His latest girlfriend has just dumped him, but he’s got a new guest, a college student who claims to be his long-lost son. As always, the novel is filled with gentle humor and the deep truth about connection. And don’t be concerned about the shorter length of Tyler’s latest; it might be stripped down to its essentials, but it’s no less enjoyable.
— Daniel Goldin
Micah Mortimer's family says he's "finicky." He's a man of caution who doesn't like his routine disrupted, but he's got a girlfriend that he keeps at a safe distance by not moving in with her. Too much complication in that. He's also got loving sisters with raucous families, whose clutter he dutifully steps around, and a small Tech Hermit business that keeps him engaged with customers in various stages of techno-frustration. Nothing he can't handle. Still, he sometimes wonders if missing just one "Friday vacuuming" could send his world careening into chaos. Well, life has a way of messing with our best-laid plans, and messy human connections from his past and present life will team up to challenge him on what really matters. This novel is a quick read with sly humor. Tyler's natural writing style and clever take on the state of our day-to-day lives had me smiling to the end.
— Tim McCarthy
Lena Johnson is a college student, struggling with debt, coping with her grandmother’s death and her mother’s disability. She gets the opportunity to participate in a research project in a small town in Michigan, only why would they list the death and dismemberment benefits in the non-disclosure agreement? And the first thing she has to work on is memorizing her pretend work routine while the patient group is effectively tortured, both mentally and even physically. What a fascinating story Lakewood is - a coming-of-age story with a strong dose of social justice-framed psychological horror!
— Daniel Goldin
From its beginnings as a 1920s fad whose detractors sounded much like today’s video game vigilantes, crosswords were the bones of one major publisher (Simon & Schuster) and even developed an English accent, with British cryptic crosswords more focused on clue wordplay than the American counterparts. Puzzle creation etiquette was soon standardized under Margaret Farrar, with two sea changes to follow – the triumph of the pop culture guard over traditionalists (so OREO could now be a cookie instead of a mountain prefix) and the rise of crossword creation software, which has coincidentally led to a decline in the percentage of women constructors. Raphel visits the annual Stamford tournament and goes on an ocean-crossing crossword cruise. She looks at the clue-driven connections to mysteries and notes the puzzle’s place in culture, from Vladimir Nabokov to Sex and the City. And she looks at how technology has changed the avocation, from construction programs to user apps. As a person who is attracted to puzzles but struggles with solving them, I am continually fascinated by the world of crossword puzzles, and it didn’t seem to matter that I’d already seen Wordplay and read Marc Romano’s Crossworld some years ago, I was thoroughly entertained by Thinking Inside the Box. Maybe it’s a memory thing; I hear crossword puzzles are good for helping with that.
— Daniel Goldin
Adunni, living in rural Nigeria, has dreams of getting an education, but when her mother dies, her father sells her off as a third wife to get food. Her husband Morufu just wants to hedge his bets on getting new sons for his tax business. Later she’s placed as a maid to Big Madam and Big Daddy, a wealthy and abusive Lagos woman with a flourishing textile business and her lecherous husband. However dire things got in the story, Adunni’s spirit and determination kept me going. She truly is Sweetness, which is what her name means in Yoruba.
— Daniel Goldin
It’s 1999, and the crowd is dancing like it’s the end of the world. And while Y2K is on everyone’s minds, this is no repeat of Station Eleven, but it has that same sense of mystery, between the morphing characters (Vincent Smith alone goes from pauper to princess and back again) and the jumps across time and place, from a remote hotel off the coast of British Columbia to the posh restaurants of New York and on to a ship in the Pacific Ocean. Yes, there is a disaster at the center of the story, a Ponzi scheme of epic proportions, but that’s just one of the betrayals and thefts that populate the tale. It’s hard not to get lost in The Glass Hotel, an ethereal and moody novel that I’m still thinking about long after I turned the last page.
— Daniel Goldin
We know early on that the story is about a financial crime, a massive Ponzi scheme, but the book’s greatness is that the big money crime becomes a perfect vehicle for building extraordinary characters, settings, and themes. Vincent Smith begins and ends the novel as her life (yes, a girl named Vincent) shifts on a grand scale, at lightning speed, from 13-year-old vandal to... wow! St. John Mandel is so talented at revealing all of her characters that their personal trajectories become riveting. They somehow feel both unique and universal. In the process, we travel to the sharply contrasting and richly drawn landscapes of wealth and struggle, the spectacular hotel in a remote Canadian forest, the concrete indifference of New York City, Dubai, and desolate small towns. Yet in every mind and in every place the questions seem the same. Can we feel anchored anywhere to this world, or are we all adrift? Is anything certain or clearly real? In just 300 pages St. John Mandel has given us a penetrating, memorable look at our shared, and so often maddening, human experience.
— Tim McCarthy
Imagine living your adult life never knowing how old you’ll be when you wake up on your next birthday. This is Oona’s life, starting with what should be her 19th birthday, when she wakes up 51 years old. Before the book ends, she flips through seven more birthdays, ranging from 19 to 53. Oona’s reactions to this craziness, such as attempts to adjust her fate and to right past wrongs, feel surprisingly believable. This is a unique, fun, and thought-provoking book.
— Kay Wosewick
At her 19th birthday party on New Year’s Eve, 1983, Oona is preoccupied. Should she accept an offer to study in London or go on tour with the boy she loves and their band? At the stroke of midnight, before she can make her choice, time and fate intervene. Just as Oona’s boyfriend leans over to kiss her, she blinks awake decades later in a strange house and an unfamiliar body. This is the first of Oona’s jumps along the timeline of her life, and from then on, each New Year’s Day, she wakes up either younger or older than the moment before, but never in the right sequence. She struggles to fit herself back into her own life as she reconnects with friends and people she loves (or loved or will love) as her past and future selves, and mourns the ones she has left behind. Particularly meaningful is her relationship with her mom, who is just so charming and full of life, and who veers between being a mother, a friend, a frenemy, and the wisest person in the novel. I enjoyed thinking about, as Oona learns to, what it really means to live in the moment, with consequences delayed for future Oona, who might be much more adept at solving her problems - certainly much better than past Oona! For anyone who’s been waiting seventeen years for a novel as engrossing as The Time Traveler’s Wife, this is the book for you!
— Jenny Chou
I remember reading The Song of Achilles and loving it. Madeline Miller is back with another Greek retelling with Circe. Circe is the lesser daughter of Helios, the god of the sun, and her mother is an Oceanid naiad named Perse. After angering Zeus (plus she is not really liked but tolerated by her family), she is cast out to live on an island all alone. Even though she is a god, her powers have never really presented themselves until she comes to the island. Here she meets all manners of famous names from the myths: from Hermes, the Minotaur, Athena, Daedalus and his son Icarus, to Odysseus. Circe comes into her own on this island, defying the Gods by not remaining quiet and confined. This brilliant book is so well written and researched that I may just have to read it again for the fun of it.--Jason
Tom, just one of his many names, is different. As an alba, he does age, but at a rate much slower than most humans. An alba (short for albatross, a bird known to live longer than most) may well live a thousand years or more, and the implications are stunning, often heart wrenching, and always dangerous. The people he comes to know, including the actor and playwright William Shakespeare, are fascinating and well developed by Haig. Accusations of witchcraft are common in Tom's early years, during the 1500s and beyond, forcing him to continually move and change identities to avoid constant suspicion. He fears being used by people with complicated motivations. The revelations of Tom's life and the wisdom he gathers about time, loss, and the need to insulate himself from painful human connections are drawn beautifully in sequences and identities ranging from deep into the past to the future. Haig is not writing science fiction here, but rather making us believe that this could actually be happening. I don't typically compare authors, but I felt changed by this book in ways similar to reading David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas, Bone Clocks, and Slade House. This is an excellent novel!