The 43 new books
of interest on our radar this fall
The old blessing (or curse) “may you live in interesting times” is timely this season, with the first woman candidate for president nominated by a major party, and the first woman (and the first African American) confirmed as the Librarian
of Congress. In the 43 titles selected by LJ Reviews editors, you’ll meet many other fascinating women (and a few good men).
Our selections feature female scientists and mathematicians, “trainwreck” women, fashionistas, mothers, a first lady, favorite fiction and fantasy authors, a Supreme Court justice, a pop star, a performance artist, an adwoman, several highly anticipated debuts by women authors, a smattering of romance, several immigration novels,
and a Clancy of Queens (double-voted). A king (Elvis) is also represented, as are lexicographers, AIDS activists, a master baker, a murdered Russian spy, a conclave
of cardinals, and the Rolling Stones, not to mention an audiobook about the history of audiobooks and several titles about America’s long legacy of racism. Here’s hoping our varied list will guide you and your patrons through our interesting times.—Liz French
Since How To Cook Everything (1998) and How To Cook Everything Vegetarian (2007) are two of my cookbook staples, I was excited to receive How To Bake Everything: Simple Recipes for the Best Baking (Houghton Harcourt. Oct.), the latest release from food journalist and former New York Times columnist Mark Bittman. From bakeware basics to getting started with brownies, pies, or breads, this work will provide bakers at all levels with something new. My husband has already tried a pound cake recipe, plus some frostings to go along with it. Naturally, I plan to experiment with more recipes while watching PBS’s The Great British Baking Show.
Another cooking guide I’m looking forward to is Padma Lakshmi’s The Encyclopedia of Spices and Herbs: An Essential Guide to the Flavors of the World (Ecco: HarperCollins, Oct.). I enjoy cooking with herbs but tend to rely on my favorites (Anything with mint? Yes, please). This heavily illustrated reference by Lakshmi, the longtime host of Bravo’s Top Chef, is already giving me ideas for venturing out of my comfort zone. I appreciate that the various forms of herbs are included (for example, that nutmeg is available whole or ground), along with occasional tips for use in recipes.
I was hooked by the first sentence of John Simpson’s The Word Detective: Searching for the Meaning of It All at the Oxford English Dictionary (Basic: Perseus, Oct.; see review, p. 117): “Nobody thinks dictionaries are written.” Admittedly, I didn’t know much about the world of lexicographers (writers, editors, or compilers of dictionaries) until I picked up this enlightening memoir. Throughout, Simpson explains the origins of certain words—e.g., redux, disability, and shenanigan—while sharing his personal story along with the long-term process of digitizing a book with historic roots in print.
The title of Trainwreck: The Women We Love To Hate, Mock, and Fear…and Why (Melville House, Sept.; see review, p. 128) is as compelling as the book itself. This smart yet critical debut from Sady Doyle combines feminist theory and women’s history to examine why women in the public eye (everyone from Charlotte Brontë and Billie Holiday to Whitney Houston and Lindsay Lohan) receive more scrutiny than their male counterparts. I’m still struck by this sentence: “The expansion required to make oneself heard and seen by the public is deeply at odds with the basic female work of getting and staying small.”
Meanwhile, Margot Lee Shetterly’s Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race (Morrow, Sept.; see review, p. 123) drew me in because of its emphasis on the contributions of women who are most often overlooked. Shetterly shows how, facing segregation and discrimination, a team of schoolteachers–turned–human computers, such as Katherine Johnson, were crucial to the origins of NASA. A film adaptation starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, and Janelle Monáe will be released in 2017.—Stephanie Sendaula
In high school I became a hard-core fan of Ursula K. Le Guin after reading her Hugo Award–winning The Left Hand of Darkness. Her vision of a society whose members have no fixed gender identity blew my teenage mind, and over the years I have continued to admire how she uses the tropes of sf and fantasy to explore social and political issues in imaginatively original ways. So this fall I can’t wait to get my grubby hands on Le Guin’s Words Are My Matter: Writings About Life and Books, 2000–2015, with a Journal of a Writer’s Week (Small Beer, Oct.), a collection of her recent talks, essays, introductions, and book reviews; Prepub Alert editor Barbara Hoffert reported that advance reading copies for this title disappeared five minutes after they were put out on the show floor at this summer’s American Library Association annual conference. And the bounty continues with The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga: S. & S., Oct.), a reissue of Small Beer’s 2012 two-volume release, and The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin (Saga: S. & S., Oct.); both titles will also be available in November as a boxed set.
Another visionary I admire is Marina Abramovic´, whose 2010 groundbreaking MOMA retrospective opened my eyes to the power of performance art. How did her childhood in Communist Yugoslavia help shape the artist she is today? Her memoir, Walk Through Walls: Becoming Marina Abramovic´ (Crown Archetype, Oct.), is bound to offer some illuminating insights.
On the fiction front, I am tearing through Robert Harris’s Conclave (Knopf, Nov.). House of Cards’ Frank Underwood has nothing on the political machinations involved when 118 cardinals from around the world gather in Vatican City to select the next pope. Having interviewed a number of prominent Catholics and visited locations used during a conclave that are permanently closed to the public, Harris offers fascinating insider details on the world’s most secretive electoral process.
Also catching my attention are two novels about immigration that examine in different ways the nature of identity and belonging. Short-listed for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction (one of Australia’s richest literary prizes), Stephanie Bishop’s The Other Side of the World (Atria, Sept.) is a beautifully moving story about a young British couple who immigrate with their two daughters to Perth, in Western Australia, only to discover that their new life Down Under is not what they had sought. Through three interlocking plot threads in Nine Folds Make a Paper Swan (Tin House, Jan. 2017), Ruth Gilligan explores the little-known story of Ireland’s Jewish community, whose most famous fictional citizen was James Joyce’s creation Leopold Bloom.
Mad Men fans meet Lillian Boxfish, once the highest paid female advertising copywriter in America. When Kathleen Rooney’s novel Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk (St. Martin’s, Jan. 2017) opens, it’s New Year’s Eve in 1984 Manhattan, and 85-year-old Lillian is preparing to leave her Murray Hill apartment to go to dinner at Grimaldi’s, her favorite Italian restaurant. Along the way, she takes a detour down memory lane, reflecting on her life and walking through the streets of the city. Rooney says her novel was inspired by the life of advertising pioneer Margaret Fishback, who made her reputation in the 1930s working for Macy’s.—Wilda Williams
Debuts are hard. Most readers, myself included, tend to gravitate toward the known, the voices we’ve come to love and look for on the best sellers lists. That is why I was thrilled to discover Brit Bennett’s stunning debut novel, The Mothers (Riverhead, Oct.; see review, p. 93). It’s the story of a trio of young people who move into and out of one another’s lives in a small, close-knit contemporary black community in Southern California. It’s about motherhood, ambition, relationships, and ways our decisions reverberate throughout our lives and the lives of those closest to us. Several months after reading the galley I’m still thinking about these characters.
For nonfiction readers who can handle a raw and honest look at a very dark side of American history and white supremacy culture, Patrick Phillips’s Blood at the Root: A Racial Cleansing in America (Norton, Sept.; LJ 7/16) is gut-wrenching and unforgettable. It’s the true story of how a mob of whites in 1912 Forsyth County, GA, forced out all of the black citizens, burning down homes and businesses and laying claim to the “abandoned” lands. Phillips, who grew up in Forsyth, takes readers through a history of the region, from the removal of the Cherokee people in the 1830s all the way to the late 20th century, when white residents staged a “Keep Forsyth White” campaign.
I’m a Queens, NY, girl, born and bred. That’s one of the reasons my eyes lit up when I saw the galley of Tara Clancy’s The Clancys of Queens: A Memoir (Crown, Oct.). The only child of parents who divorced while she was still a toddler, Clancy split her time among three very different environments throughout the 1980s: a tiny converted boat shack in the Rockaways with her NYC cop dad, a bustling multigenerational split-family home, and the well-appointed estate in the Hamptons owned by her mother’s boyfriend. In light, humorous prose, Clancy weaves her coming-of-age story with a casual intimacy. I recognized the characters and the locales—from the seedy but warm bars she frequented as her dad’s young “wingwoman” to the posh poolscapes of Long Island to the boisterous kitchen of her maternal grandmother—and came to care about them as much as she does. For native New Yorkers, this is like going home.—Kiera Parrott
While I’ve read a lot about Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg this past year, My Own Words (S. &. S., Oct.) is a collection of her writings that will offer even more. Compiled with her official biographers Mary Hartnett and Wendy W. Williams, the book, her first since being appointed to the Supreme Court in 1993, addresses a number of topics and features everything from an editorial she wrote for her school newspaper to speeches she’s given to bench announcements. Justice Ginsburg’s impact not only on the legal profession but also on young women contemplating such a career path is undeniable. In the preface she writes that groups of schoolchildren touring the Supreme Court often ask her if she always knew she wanted to be a judge and that “to today’s youth, judgeship as an aspiration for a girl is not at all outlandish.” When Ginsburg entered law school, there had been only one female federal appellate court judge. Reading that text on the day after a major American political party nominated a woman for president for the first time, it’s impossible not to reflect on such advancements for women in our government.
Another compilation I want to read is Tyler Conroy’s Taylor Swift: This Is Our Song (S. & S., Oct.). The book, first known simply as the “Swift Fan Book” (both the title and honorary author were chosen via fan contests), is promised to be a full retrospective of Taylor Swift’s career released to mark the tenth anniversary of her debut album. It’s designed to be scrapbook-style and compile photos and articles from her career, from pieces about her singing the national anthem at an NBA game as a Pennsylvania preteen to major features in Rolling Stone. As a Swift fan, I find this an obvious choice. And while she may not be everyone’s favorite pop star, her influence on contemporary music, both country and now pop, is difficult to dispute—along with chart-topping albums and sold-out stadium tours, she’s also the only woman whose albums have twice won the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. This book, though not endorsed by Swift, is sure to be in demand, and from the advance pages I’ve seen, it won’t disappoint.
I’m also looking forward to Guardian journalist Luke Harding’s A Very Expensive Poison: The Definitive Story of the Murder of Alexander Litvinenko and Russia’s War with the West (Vintage, Jan. 2017). In 2006, former Russian FSB and KGB agent Alexander Litvinenko was living in London, having received asylum. Following a meeting with two Russian men, one a former associate, Litvinenko became ill. Tests eventually revealed he had been poisoned with polonium-210, which is more radioactive than uranium yet isn’t picked up by Geiger counters. Once investigators knew what they were looking for, however, the tracks were easy to follow—from the hotel where the three met through London to Heathrow Airport and the plane that one of the men arrived on from Moscow. Both returned to Russia, and the UK didn’t succeed in extraditing them. Harding likewise examines the larger aspects of who ordered Litvinenko’s murder (Did the chain of command go as high as Russian president Vladimir Putin?) and the effect (or lack thereof) on international relations.—Amanda Mastrull
As a teenager obsessed with all things horror and suspense, I often wondered where such macabre imagery—taxidermied corpses, elevators gushing blood—derived. And what kind of disturbed mind could produce the climactic scene of “The Lottery,” in which a group of villagers matter-of-factly stone one of their own to death? Ruth Franklin’s Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life (Liveright: Norton, Sept.; LJ 8/16), a biography of one of the masters of horror, provides some insight. Franklin intriguingly suggests that Jackson’s attempts to reconcile her literary goals with society’s often suffocating expectations for women resulted in many of her now-famous works. After all, as the biographer points out, two of Jackson’s most famous volumes—We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House—are not only tales of terror but also domestic stories in which “a house becomes both a prison and a site of disaster.” Yet Franklin takes a nuanced approach, showing how even as Jackson chafed at many of her wifely and motherly duties, she was a genuinely loving parent. Carting the book around has already led to conversations with curious strangers; I’ve a feeling that this offering will have no trouble finding audiences.
Like Jackson, Margaret Atwood is an author whom I’d follow just about anywhere, whether she’s writing about a woman’s nervous breakdown (The Edible Woman), the end of humanity as we know it (Oryx and Crake), or a warning of where society’s sexist and misogynist attitudes, if left unchecked, will take us (The Handmaid’s Tale). In Hag-Seed (Hogarth, Oct.), the latest in the publisher’s series of titles that present a modern spin on a Shakespearean play, Atwood takes on The Tempest through Felix, the director of a theater festival who’s been driven to the brink by the loss of his wife and his daughter, Miranda. He seeks solace and healing through what he hopes will be a rousing and dynamic production of The Tempest, but when things go south, Felix finds himself teaching his beloved play to a most unlikely group of students: inmates at a local prison. Atwood’s prose is masterly, as always; under her dark wit and superb turns of phrase, Felix’s genuine pain and turmoil are apparent.
I can’t end an Editors’ Picks entry without some mention of the music from my favorite era: the 1950s to the 1970s. While I’ve always been more of a Beatles person than an Elvis devotee (as I write this, the Fab Four’s version of “Act Naturally” is playing in the background), with Ray Connolly’s Being Elvis: A Lonely Life (Liveright: Norton, Dec.), I plan to change that. Although I’m familiar with the images of Elvis—the thrusting pelvis, the boyish charm, the swagger, as well as the overweight, white-suited binge eater and pill popper of the 1970s—Connolly offers a glimpse into the King’s emotional state, covering his clandestine relationship with Priscilla, his bewilderment as the Beatles usurped what he saw as his rightful place, and his resentment of his manager, Tom Parker.
Three years ago, one of the books I was most excited about was Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon’s All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Beatles Release; this October will bring The Rolling Stones All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track (Black Dog & Leventhal, Oct.). Margotin and Guesdon combine a passion for music with thoughtful and comprehensive research, resulting in ready-reference that doubles as the ultimate coffee-table book. There’s an entry for each song, along with a sumptuous array of images and anecdotes galore. It may only be rock and roll, but fans will like it (yes, they will).—Mahnaz Dar
I am firmly of the opinion that women should be celebrated at every opportunity. With that in mind, I was thrilled to discover some amazing ladies during my search for upcoming gems. First, Dava Sobel discusses a group of sadly undervalued scientists in The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars (Viking, Dec.). During the mid-19th century, the supposed fairer sex was asked to look to the stars and interpret the discoveries being made by the institution’s men. And so it went for many years, with intellectuals coming from newly formed women’s colleges, eager to decipher the glass plates used to photograph the skies. Sobel delves into letters, memoirs, and more to bring to life the relatively unknown careers that helped form our knowledge of astronomy.
History continues to dominate my literary interests. Susan Quinn’s Eleanor and Hick: The Love Affair That Shaped a First Lady (Penguin, Sept.; LJ 8/16) details the relationship between First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and reporter Lorena Hickok. The impact they had on each other—both personally and professionally—is palpable through Quinn’s moving and thoroughly researched portrait. On the other side of the spectrum is Unmentionable: The Victorian Lady’s Guide to Sex, Marriage, and Manners (Little, Brown, Oct.) by former LJ fiction reviewer Therese Oneill, a down-and-dirty perusal of the realities of hygiene and womanhood in the Victorian era. The truth behind slimming corsets, virtuous nuptials, and strict morals is sometimes shocking, occasionally alarming, but always funny with Oneill’s wry commentary.
In fiction, The Wangs vs. the World (Houghton Harcourt, Oct.; LJ 8/16) by Jade Chang tracks a family in the midst of financial crisis as they road trip away from their foreclosed home and formerly prosperous lives. Chang’s debut shines, examining the immigrant experience with a fresh eye and an engaging charm. Last, but certainly not least, is a novel that I’ve been anticipating all year. V.E. Schwab’s “Darker Shade of Magic” series has been at the top of my recommendation list since the first book was released in 2015, and now the time has come for its final installment. A Conjuring of Light (Tor, Feb. 2017) will see the last of Kell, one of the world’s only remaining Travelers, and Lilah, thief-turned-pirate-turned-magician. Schwab’s worldbuilding is phenomenal, imagining several alternate versions of London, each with its own complex—and sometimes fraught—relationship to magic. Here it will all come to a head. While Kell is arguably the tale’s lead, the story to me has always been Lilah’s as she is made to adapt and thrive during her adventures through Londons. It will be a bittersweet goodbye, indeed.—Kate DiGirolomo
Beasts & Beauties
Armchair travel is fine for those who want Rome without the crazy drivers, Paris without the condescension, or Brazil without Zika. When I armchair-travel, I crave weirder and wackier. Joshua Foer, Dylan Thuras, and Ella Morton have just the ticket: Atlas Obscura: An Explorer’s Guide to the World’s Hidden Wonders (Workman, Sept.; LJ 6/1/16), a spin-off of AtlasObscura.com, the wildly popular website cofounded by Foer and Thuras in 2009. The volume finds the offbeat and oddball worldwide, whether it’s “Australia’s Big Things,” including a 46-foot-tall koala statue; a witches’ market in Bolivia (llama fetus, anyone?); Mexico City’s Island of the Dolls; a monument to feral child Kaspar Hauser in Germany; or Houston’s National Museum of Funeral History (mortician/author Caitlin Doughty would approve!). The artwork and maps are beauteous, but I think I’ll skip a real-life trip to Australia after reading about the stinging and venomous creatures (and one plant, p. 228–229) that are just waiting to wrap their tentacles around you.
I’m a bit of an armchair fashionista, too, so my heart beat a little faster when I heard that Vogue creative director–at–large Grace Coddington was working on a follow-up to her amazing 2002 slipcase-edition title, Grace: Thirty Years of Fashion at Vogue, which Phaidon reissued in 2015 (Classic Returns 4/4/16). I can’t wait to see “Grace II,” titled Grace: The American Vogue Years (Phaidon, Oct.). This volume has a foreword by Brooklyn actress Saoirse Ronan,an intro by legendary photographer Annie Leibovitz, and Coddington’s personal anecdotes of working with star photographers such as Steven Meisel and Mario Testino and celebrity models like Keira Knightley, Kim Kardashian, and many others. But it’s not all celebrity name-dropping; Coddington also discusses the effect of the film-to-digital transition on the creative process in fashion photography. The packaging and photo layouts look stunning.
Speaking of stunning, Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o graces the cover of fashion photographer Alexi Lubormirski’s Diverse Beauty (Damiani, Sept.). She also provides the text. Lubormirski’s pictorial response to the homogeneity of so many fashion shoots is a celebration of beautiful women of every color, size, age, and sexual orientation and seeks to make a “small step in the direction of changing societal norms.”
The activists in David France’s How To Survive a Plague: The Inside Story of How Citizens and Science Tamed AIDS (Knopf, Nov.) made huge steps in changing norms and saving lives but not before hundreds and thousands of people, including artists, designers, fashionista/os, and others were lost to the disease. This book accompanies France’s Oscar-nominated documentary of the same name (starred review, LJ 2/15/13); check out the starred review on p. 130, where Susanne Caro calls the book “unflinching, brutally honest, and wonderful.”
Finally, I return to film and to fashion with two more highly anticipated titles. Amber Butchart’s The Fashion of Film: How Cinema Has Inspired Fashion (Mitchell Beazley, Oct.) goes beyond the oft-cited instances (e.g., “Bonnie and Clyde influenced 1970s fashion”; “Elizabeth Taylor’s party dress in A Place in the Sun was copied by brides-to-be”) and cites plenty of fresh new examples of the love affair between fashion and film. Film scholar Glenn Frankel returns with another Hollywood history: High Noon: The Hollywood Blacklist and the Making of an American Classic (Bloomsbury, Feb. 2017). Frankel’s 2013 opus The Searchers was an LJ Best Book, and if this title is even half as good as his last, readers will be in movie-book heaven.—Liz French
An audiobook about audiobooks? How could I resist? Matthew Rubery’s The Untold Story of the Talking Book (Blackstone, Nov.) covers the format’s evolution from Thomas Edison’s experiments (he recorded himself reading “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in 1877) to the modern digital revolution. But Rubery focuses less on the history of the technology than on the format’s social impact as he makes the argument that audiobooks enhance both the source material and listeners’ lives.
Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go Bernadette (Hachette Audio) was one of my favorite audiobooks of the last few years. So I was delighted to see that Semple has another quirky, Seattle-set novel coming out this fall and even happier to see that Kathleen Wilhoite is returning as narrator. Today Will Be Different (Hachette Audio, Oct.) follows Eleanor Flood over the course of a single day in her life as she learns her husband has been lying to her about something big, confronts painful memories about her only sibling, considers professional obligations she’s let slide, and tries to figure out why her son keeps pretending to be sick to avoid going to school. Fans of the earlier book are already familiar with the author’s signature combination of pathos and hilarity, which is deployed again to tell Eleanor’s story. Careful listeners may just catch a cameo by Bernadette!
It’s not unusual for authors of memoirs and personal essays to read the audio version of their work—who else could do it justice?—but the results can be mixed. However, I have no doubt that Tara Clancy (The Clancys of Queens) and Phoebe Robinson (You Can’t Touch My Hair: And Other Things I Still Have To Explain, both Books on Tape, Oct.) will provide extraordinary narration for their respective titles. Clancy, whose book is also recommended here by Kiera Parrott, is a Moth GrandSlam winner—check out clips of her onstage at the live storytelling events—and Robinson is a stand-up comedian with a highly rated, hugely popular podcast, 2 Dope Queens. Both authors have extensive experience performing personal material for discerning audiences—exactly what they’ll be doing for audiobook fans this fall.—Stephanie Klose
At a time when women are making the biggest headlines and the future of American liberties hang precariously in the balance of a critical election, two novels that recently came my way feel especially pertinent. Marie Benedict’s intimate and immersive historical novel, The Other Einstein (Sourcebooks Landmark, Oct.; LJ 8/16), relates the untold story of Serbia-born Mileva “Mitza” Maric´ (1875–1948), genius mathematician and scientist and first wife of Albert Einstein. Benedict, who has penned several historical works as Heather Terrell (The Chrysalis; The Map Thief; Brigid of Kildare), was inspired to investigate Maric´’s history while assisting her son with a report on the Scholastic children’s book Who Was Albert Einstein?, by Jess Brallier and illustrated by Robert Andrew Parker, which noted briefly that Einstein’s first wife was also a physicist. Benedict explains in an interview included in the review copy of her book that she was interested in exploring not only “the passionate affair and magnificent meeting of minds that happened between [Albert and Mileva], but also the process of scientific creativity—that very moment of insight—and the attribution that happened afterward.” Itself steeped in moments of insight, the novel opens with Mileva as a young woman in 1896 navigating her way in a man’s world at the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zürich, a feat pretty much unheard of at the time. She attracts the attention of the garrulous Albert, whose promises of a life as “equals in love and work” set her on a new path, one of much suffering but also fulfillment. Mileva’s contributions to Albert’s research, specifically the 1905 publication on the Theory of Relativity, remain contested, but as Benedict states in her author’s note, evidence stemming from letters discovered in the 1980s between the couple during their days as university students and early marriage reveals her role as significant. Prepare to be moved by this provocative history of a woman whose experiences will resonate with today’s readers.
A fittingly radical departure from 19th-century Europe and the cloistered academy, Winston Groom’s epic El Paso (Liveright: Norton, Oct.; LJ 8/16) envelops readers with the story of a country and its people long oppressed by a government in perennial turmoil. Set during the Mexican Revolution (1910–20), which reportedly claimed more than a million lives, and against a Wild West backdrop of dirty politics, merciless battles, and strategic “nation-building” efforts led by American one-percenters (think Guggenheims, Harrimans, Morgans, Hearsts, and Whitneys), the book centers on second-generation Irishman and American Civil War veteran John Shaughnessy, aka the Colonel, owner of the New England & Pacific Railroad Company. His sprawling estate in Northern Mexico, which he purchased for but a few pesos, is taken over by Mexican revolutionary Pancho Villa. Villa has decided it’s time that Mexico frees itself of foreigners and that Americans, Japanese, Spaniards, and anyone else with interests in the land understand that it can no longer be bought. Groom, himself a veteran of the Vietnam War and the author of more than two dozen books (e.g., Forrest Gump), delivers through multiple perspectives, including those of such historical figures as actor Tom Mix, satirist Ambrose Bierce, Marxist journalist John Reed, even George S. Patton, then aide to Gen. John J. Pershing, an eye-opening account of the reasons why nations go to war and who really stands to gain from the bloodshed.—Annalisa Pesek
Love and Life, Unconditionally
In Lucky Boy (Putnam, Jan. 2017), Shanthi Sekaran’s sophomore effort after The Prayer Room, Solimar Castro Valdez wants to get out of her small Mexican town of Popocalco; she will even stuff herself inside a hidden compartment in an automobile to cross the border into the United States. But men can’t be trusted, not even the beautiful Checo, who gets her most of the way toward her destination, her cousin Sylvia’s apartment in Berkeley, CA. Kavya and Rishi Reddy are married Berkeleyites; she’s a chef at a sorority house, and he’s an engineer (an air quality specialist) in Silicon Valley. Their East Indian traditions poke at them constantly, especially when Kavya’s mother sharpens the stick with regard to her long-hoped-for grandchild. Soli and the Reddys eventually find themselves inextricably linked. What words best describe this beautiful novel? Heart-wrenching? Heart-tugging? The hearts in question, of course, belong to the readers, whose organ will be ripped from their chests as the protagonists’ stories are relayed in heart-stopping (there’s another one) detail.
I first became entranced with the writing of Colson Whitehead when I reviewed his 2006 novel Apex Hides the Hurt, about a man who names things. Sag Harbor (2009) introduced a teenager who spends the summer of 1985 in the Long Island enclave learning about legacy and manhood. So I was thrilled at the prospect of reading his new work, The Underground Railroad (Knopf, Aug.; LJ 7/16). After traveling barely a third of the way with slaves Cora and Caesar, I know this is going to be a harrowing journey, horrific and unspeakable, but one we all need to embark upon if we wish to call ourselves human beings. My colleague Barbara Hoffert summed it up best in her starred LJ review: “A highly recommended work that raises the bar for fiction addressing slavery.” Oprah thinks it’s pretty good, too, as she chose it as her most recent Book Club title (which led to the release date being moved up to August).
Tessa Dare is a romance author and a librarian (I reminded her recently that once a librarian, always a librarian), and her several series are engaging, flirty, and terribly clever. Do You Want To Start a Scandal (Avon, Oct.) is the next installment in the “Spindle Cove” books. The last unwed Highwood sister is Charlotte, “the Desperate Debutante,” according to the broadsheets. She hates the appellation, but she can’t do much about it. Still, she can prevent her mother’s embarrassingly obvious plans to throw her at Piers Brandon, Marquess of Granville, at the Parkhurst house party. But another couple sneak into the library, with Charlotte and Piers forced to hide behind the drapes. It doesn’t help that young Edmund Parkhurst overhears the licentious goings-on and accuses Piers of trying to murder Charlotte. A pair of mystery lovers, poisonous plants, and secret missions are all part of Dare’s riotous tale.
Mary Balogh is one of the best writers of historical romance around, with more than 50 books to her credit. Someone To Love (Signet, Nov.) begins the Westcott series, about the children of the late Earl of Riverdale, including the daughter no one knew about who has inherited the earl’s fortune. Sit back and soak up the love, readers. You don’t want to miss a drop.—Bette-Lee Fox
Top illustration by JM Cooper