Afia Atakora's Conjure Women draws the reader into the life of a mother and her daughter in the Civil War South as they're released from slavery and begin grappling with the future, and it does so in intimate and unexpected ways. The whole novel reckons with divides - the slaves who remember being forcibly stolen from their homes, now living with children born into a new freedom; between the black slaves and the white slavers; between Rue and the plantation owner's daughter Varina; between the old voodoo magic of Rue and her mama Ma Doe against the conventional religion introduced by the travelling Bruh Abel. Atakora creates a world that feels painfully and heartrendingly grounded to reality, yet her striking prose weaves the illusion of fantasy and hope throughout her pages - a reflection of the illusion Rue and Ma Doe create for the men, women, and children on the plantation they're irrevocably bound to. Conjure Women is a debut that I loved and is certain to place Atakora's name on the map.
— Kira McGrigg
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
Millet gathers a large group of old friends and their children for an extended summer vacation in a ginormous rented house. The children, largely teens, are more or less forgotten by their drunken, self-absorbed parents. The kids, embarrassed - even horrified - by their parents’ behaviors, actively disown them and take charge of their own vacation. A gigantic, climate-change-driven storm takes them all by surprise, causes significant destruction, and widens the wedge between adults and kids. Without giving away more of the story, Millet suggests the younger generation has the drive, but perhaps not all the tools, to save themselves, and even their disdained parents. Millet has penned a thoughtful, appropriately angsty, and definitely possible tale set in the not-very-distant future.
— Kay Wosewick
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
It’s 1989 and the Danvers Lady Falcons field hockey team is having another crappy year. So what harm could it do to take a cue from the witches of the city’s past and inscribe their names in a demonic book, especially if it helps you start winning games? With each game getting its own chapter, and each chapter bringing another player and her journey to adulthood to life, Barry’s second novel captures the excitement of a pennant race with the power of a feminist comic novel, notably a comic-steeped-in-the-eighties one.
— Daniel Goldin
One of the things I loved about this book is it reads as if one of my best friends is talking. The casual, funny, chatty writing style, liberally dosed with sniping and sarcasm, fits the story perfectly. Set in Danvers, home of the original witch trials, a girl’s losing field hockey team signs itself over to the dark side in order to become a winning team. Hilarity ensues, with loads of action accompanied by occasional moments of soul-searching.
— Kay Wosewick
We Ride Upon Sticks is an empowering tribute to the decade of the ‘80s, girlhood, and women of all sorts. The story follows the 1989 varsity girls field hockey team of Danvers High, ready to start another season after an impressively long losing streak. This time, however, they are going to do whatever it takes to get to States - even if it means following in the footsteps of those teen girls that lived in their town three centuries ago by dabbling in a bit of witchcraft. Told from the point of view of all the girls at once with the collective ‘We,’ Barry introduces us to each of these teen girls that signed their name in the devil’s book (which is actually just a spiral notebook with Emilio Estevez on the cover), giving us their hopes, struggles, and reasons for turning to darkness. Except, are dark forces really at work here? Or is it just the ever-constant, ever-changing ordeal of being a woman? Barry expertly weaves a tale with big hair, outrageous fashion, and rocking music without being over-the-top cheesy, giving us a story that every girl and woman has lived through while at the same time being entirely unique.
— Margaret Kennedy
A green utopian community, Greenloop, is nestled out in the wilderness not too far from Mt. Rainier. The story unfolds via a journal found in the aftermath of a volcanic explosion. The demise of the community is not linked to the volcanic activity but to an ancient myth that becomes frighteningly real to the residents. The strength of this novel lies with the characters. Max Brook built a complex cast that leaves you reeling when the Sasquatch arrive. As the group is surrounded, they must come to terms with what must be done if they are going to survive. A seat-of-your-pants reading experience - brilliant!
— Jason Kennedy
The two things you're going to learn from this review is that, one, I'm a judgmental idiot, and two, this is my book of the year. I wasn't familiar with the authors other works, I knew he had written World War Z and a Minecraft novel, so when I saw that this book was about Sasquatch, I picked it up on the off chance it would give me a good laugh and something to complain about. I was expecting it to be cringe, what I got was disillusionment with life in the urban sprawl, how shallow some people can be in contrast to how deep your humanity can go before it's skewed into something else, a critique on our "society of convenience," and how ignorant some people are to the dangers of nature. Oh, and constant allusions to the violent breakup of Yugoslavia (which hit a bit too close to home for me) and how to make a spear. This book taught me how to make a spear. I can now feasibly make a spear. With Halloween on the way, this book is an exceptional read for the season, and will have you wondering if we, the humans, are the real monsters. (And learning how to make spears!!!!)
— Ogi Ubiparipovic
Norwegian author Lunde alternates her narrative between Signe in current-times Norway, and with a father, David, and his young daughter, Lou, twenty years hence in France. Signe fights (mostly unsuccessfully) environmental destruction in her own still-pristine neighborhood. In contrast, David and Lou are just surviving in horribly degraded living conditions caused by climate change. A boat - almost a character itself - ultimately links Signe with David and Lou. I only wish Lunde’s portrayal of today was not so spot-on. This is a beautifully crafted cautionary tale.
— Kay Wosewick
In 2017, Signe goes on a journey to shove her ex-lover’s face in the eco-catastrophe that she believes he is responsible for. In 2041, David and his daughter Lou, are running from a horrendous draught brough about by out-of-control climate change. Making it to a camp in France, David is hoping to reconnect with his wife and son, since they were separated when fleeing their home. These stories seem to have no real connection to each other, but just like the glaciers, oceans, draughts and weather are connected, so are they. A story of love and lost, but also a warning of what path we could be setting ourselves on if we don’t change. An amazing and impactful story on climate change, I can’t wait for the next book to be translated in this series. .
— Jason Kennedy
Christie has given the Greenwood reader many opportunities to ponder the role of nature versus nurture in this four-generation saga. A first generation lumber baron in the early 1900s eventually gives rise to a fourth generation forest guide in one of the planet’s last standing old-growth forests in 2034. Most members of this family lead edgy lives in varying degrees of pain and loneliness, and moments of joy are scarce - yet these characters dig hooks in you and press you to read onward. Unresolved relationships and personal journeys, within and across the generations, slowly achieve a measure of closure as the chapters shift almost seamlessly from 2034 to 1908 and back to 2034. The characters will stay with you long after you close the book, and just might keep you thinking about nature versus nurture.
— Kay Wosewick
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
This book is so good it’s giving me anxiety attacks. Jenny has a lot going – break ups, break downs, digital obsessions, maternal intrusions, maybe even a little growing up, and all of it rudely intruding from outside the edges of her phone’s screen. Told in a whirlwind of texts, unsent emails, Instagram comments, and Jenny’s mumbling, razor-tongued ruminations, which range from deadpan riffing to screaming-in-a-pillow angry crying, this is a sweaty palms, grinding teeth, visceral experience that’ll have you doing that taken-aback-laugh-rage-shaking thing – in a good way, I swear!
— Chris Lee
The anxiety is REAL. This book started out feeling like a phone-crazed Black Mirror episode but quickly turned into a mother-daughter relationship evaluation in the midst of a personal crisis. Jenny’s in her mid-thirties and wants desperately to actually live the life she presents on social media, but instead is spiraling into a mind-numbing, constant anxiety that sinks further when her extroverted, dare I say ridiculous, “psychic” mother decides to live with her. I was worried this book would be just another “the younger generation and those phones!” where our protagonist learns some kind of unplugging lesson, but it is so much deeper. Jenny deals with real problems women face, including the struggles of both motherhood and infertility, largely through her frantic yet comedic e-mails, social media posts, and inner monologues. I especially appreciated how it deals with infertility, as reproduction is so often considered a woman-defining ability, making it a silent struggle not often discussed. I cannot stress enough how well this book handles the stigmas and struggles that women face, including female relationships that are much more than catty bickering. Grown Ups makes you want to hug your best friends and call your mother.
— Madi Hill
Emma Jane Unsworth's Grown Ups is a quirky, she's-already-come-of-age novel with a cast of characters that you can't stand and can't believe you so clearly identify with. Reminiscent of Black Mirror's “Nosedive,” Jenny McClaine's perfectly posh social media feeds would have you believing anything but the truth - that is, her life is an actual bona fide mess, her relationship of nearly a decade just crashed & burned, and her neurotic, new age mama is moving in. Through Jenny's texts, emails, email drafts, and social media messages, Unsworth gifts her readers with a critique of the keep-scrolling-til-the-dopamine-hits culture of the 21st century that has every woman you know feeling like there's no damn way to keep up. Initially, more than a few of Jenny's actions come across as deplorable, but the deeper we dive into her psyche, the more understandable, and frankly, 100% relatable, she becomes. I want to give this book to all of the women I know, and I dare them to read it without checking their phone every couple of pages. #obsessed
— Kira McGrigg
Jenny McLaine's life is perfectly instagrammable. A nice photograph, with the right filter, and a witty caption, with the perfect amount of "!'s" and emojis. Well, most of her life anyways - she still has to deal with her complicated relationship with her ex-boyfriend, her crumbling friendships, her dying job, and worst of all, her mother. Grown Ups is a hilarious and scarily relatable novel that explores the complicated way that social media has begun to influence us and our IRL relationships. These characters and their antics made me laugh-out-loud, cringe, and shudder in horror when I saw myself reflected in them. Jenny and just about everyone else in this book seriously suck. But sometimes, so do we all, and maybe if we try a little harder, and post a little less, that can be okay. Unsworth tosses the falling tree and the forest aside and asks the question, "if I don't post about it did it really matter? And what happens if no one cares?"
— Parker Jensen
One day, four Native Americans go off hunting where they shouldn't have been. They slaughter a bunch of elk. One was pregnant at the wrong time of year, and Lewis has a hard time of it. He moves off the rez and tries to leave the past behind. He finds out the past is never too far away and that it can hold grudge forever - even off the rez. The other hunters have similar fates in-store that befall Lewis. They all see the Elk-Head Woman and know what it means. Stephen Graham Jones depicts Native Americans on and off the rez; the hardness, the bleakness and briefness of life there. There's some beauty in there, too. The sweat lodge scene and the meaning behind it was really engaging and great, until the killing started. This book will kick out at you when you least expect it to, and you will love it.
— Jason Kennedy
Los Verticales was more than a tower, it was a huge monument to a self-sustaining society; a form of Utopia. Like all Utopias, it collapsed, quite literally, killing everyone. Well, almost everyone. Bernard starts transmitting over the radio station that he worked for, and the whole world starts listening and calling in. His brother, Orville, has joined the dig to attempt to unearth him. Orville phones into Bernard's studio every night, which has been a ratings boost for the station. When the head of marketing attempts to recruit Orville to sprinkle in some product placement while in conversation with Bernard, Orville gets a bit indignant. From there the story starts to gather momentum into crazy coincidences and some amazing characters. This is the first book in 2020 to read - you won't be able to put it down.
— Jason Kennedy
When the gargantuan 500-story apartment building called Los Verticalés - the Vert, if you're cool - collapses and becomes the Heap, Orville joins the dig effort to rescue his brother Bernard, miraculously alive and broadcasting from... well, somewhere inside the Heap. Orville's daily calls to his brother are like a soap opera to the outside world, but being a minor celebrity isn't all it's cracked up to be, so when someone approaches Orville with a lucrative advertising deal, he refuses. And yet, somehow, that's Orville's voice on calls to his brother, peppering in casual mentions of products. What follows this inciting incident is an insane cat-and-mouse game/hostage situation/heist that is weirdly hilarious from start to finish. What an impressive debut novel! Adams thoroughly establishes two microcosms of society, the Vert and Campertown (where the diggers live), while keeping the story moving along with multiple perspectives. I couldn't put it down!
— Rachel Copeland
To save his career as a political fixer, Dre has a quarter million in dark money to convince a small town in South Carolina to let a company dig for gold (yes, really), strip mining the local nature preserve and poisoning the water. A grimly hilarious assessment of one microcosm of the American body politic; literary ironies abound. Dre is so desperate to hang onto the world he’s clawed his way into, but he’s also deeply cynical, so much so you’ll be shaking your head ‘no’ while muttering, ‘but he’s right.’ As Dre grapples with his own past, tries to care for what’s left of his family, and maybe even makes a friend, the novel evolves into a bracing portrait of a man trying to untangle the political from the personal to see if he can save what scraps of decency he might have left.
— Chris Lee
At Chris's recommendation, I bought a copy of The Coyotes of Carthage, and I’m just completely blown away. It’s the story of Toussaint Andre Ross, a Washington political consultant who is seemingly on the edge of being fired for something that went wrong with his last campaign. Dre’s also lost his longtime girlfriend, and his brother, whom he supports, is wasting away from ALS. He’s sent by the firm’s elderly owner, his mentor, to backwoods South Carolina to convince a town to lease out their beloved mountain to a gold mining operation, all on the thinnest of budgets with just one assistant, who happens to be his mentor’s grandson. His local crew is headed by an Evangelical working-class couple, a headstrong unpredictable guy and his hard-to-judge, pregnant-with-child-number-seven wife. Dre’s plan is to throw a God-fearing, patriotic initiative on the ballot, vilify the single female county exec, and sneak the land grab through. Remind you of Local Hero, that beloved film from the 1980s? Me too! But Wright tackles race, class, and the culture wars in a way that Bill Forsythe’s film did not. So what to make of this book? Is it a thriller? It has a quote from John Grisham. Is it a literary novel? Well, yes, the writing is a dream and Dre is a fully drawn and completely tortured protagonist. But I think the best way to define this book is as an espionage novel - the style, the philosophical dilemmas, and how so much of the plot is internal is positively Furstian. My only warning to you is if you like your stories wrapped up neatly, that’s not going to happen here. But for everybody else, go for it!
— Daniel Goldin
Young Claude is being raised by his Grandma in Chicago's changing South Shore, and folks in his life - his parents, friends, neighbors - are disappearing. There’s little he can count on besides his Grandma, her friend Paul, and his not-quite girlfriend Janice. The violence that was once at a safe distance is now on their doorstep, with corrupt and racist police coming from one direction and the Redbelters gang on the other. It’s hard not to imagine Claude wanting to escape too, but as for many kids in his situation, trouble is likely to follow him, even to college in Missouri. Told in episodic bursts filled with emotional resonance, Everywhere You Don’t Belong is a powerful coming-of-age debut that will stick with you long after the last page is turned.
— Daniel Goldin
Willis Wu has aspirations to become Kung-Fu Guy on a cop show called Black and White. He's not Kung-Fu Guy yet, but maybe someday, if he can move up the ranks of bit Asian roles given to him. Willis wants this so bad that reality has blurred a bit for him and his real life shows signs of being a scripted as well. I started to question whether Willis really knew what he wanted or if he was presetting himself a path that would be difficult for him to veer away from. Charles Yu made this book look so easy, smooth and fun to read, which he's demonstrated in all his past works as well. This book is dripping with pop culture references, stereotypes and lots of lots of humor. Interior Chinatown delivers several knock out punches at our culture and society.
his utterly heart-warming story allows you to vicariously join four of the primary wolf packs formed during the reintroduction of wolves to Yellowstone starting in 1994. The stories of original alpha males and females and their offspring are stunning in their detail. Without anthropomorphizing, McIntyre observes markedly unique personalities, a genuinely amazing variety of games that teach life-long skills and build bonds among individuals both young and old, fascinating family dynamics, and fierce loyalty and bravery on the hunt and against threats from outside such as grizzlies and other wolf packs. This is the loveliest and most vibrant wild animal story I’ve ever read.
— From Kay's Staff Recommendations
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
There was a lot of buzz about Sally Rooney’s first novel, Conversations with Friends, but it seems like her second, already winner of the Costa Prize for fiction and long-listed for the Booker, will be greeted at stateside publication with a deafening roar. Marianne is a wealthy but emotionally isolated high school student, while Connell is relatively popular, but bares the shame that his mom is Marianne’s amily’s maid. The attraction is immediate, but something’s always getting in the way of them being together - from Connell’s desire for respectability to Marianne’s legacy of abuse. I love the structure of the book, from the way story is a series of moments with time lapses laid out to the delicate way the no-quotation-marks dialogue is integrated into the exposition. I’m drawn to the tone, which is a mix of sad and awkward. But mostly I love Marianne and Connell, an unforgettable couple star-crossed not by outside forces but by their own demons. --Daniel