With travel off the table I've been loving books set in exotic locales. The Guest Book took me to a destination wedding off the coast of Ireland, where dark secrets threaten to derail meticulously-planned nuptials. So many twists and turns, building up to a mind-blowing ending.
Equal parts political thriller, spy novel, and love story, American Spy--
which is based on real events from the 1970s--grabbed me from page one. The story is propulsive, the characters are complex, and the settings--Cold War Washington and Burkina Faso--are drawn with precision. Add healthy doses of sexism, racism, imperialism, and bureaucratic infighting, and you've got a serious binge-read on your hands.
Booker Prize winner Avarind Adiga’s new novel, Amnesty, is a surprising mix of humor, mystery, and social commentary. The fast-paced thriller set in Sydney, Australia stars Danny, an earnest and endearing housecleaner from Sri Lanka who has information about the murder of one of his clients but is afraid to come forward because he’s undocumented. At turns funny, heart-breaking, and even
infuriating, Danny’s story moves the immigration debate from the political to the personal, offering romance, mystery, and drama in equal portions.
Unsheltered explores how families cope with social and economic upheaval. When a middle-aged couple moves from NYC to rural Delaware after Willa, the primary breadwinner, loses her publishing job, and the college where her husband works converts its entire faculty to adjunct status, there’s a lot to process. When both adult children also decide to come “home,” and one of them has baby in tow, things get really interesting. Some stories speak to the times we live in. For me, this is one of them.
I love this National Book Award winner. A slender volume about a woman who inherits a Great Dane when her author-lover dies, and the bond that develops as she grieves. A gorgeously written contemplation on complicated love, loss, literature, and, the unexpected ways we sometimes find companionship. This book is truly a delight.
One of my favorite Chabon novels. If you need a change of scenery, it’s set in (pre-COVID) northern California, on the border between Berkeley and Oakland, circa 2004. Middle-aged bandmates Archie and Nat run a record store called Brokeland, their wives run a midwifery practice, and all is relatively copacetic, until a retired football player opens a Tower Records-esque megastore down the block; then the battle for survival is on. Great for lovers of rock & roll music, the 80s, and/or the California vibe.
Sometimes I only have the band-width to read a handful of pages at a time. This is one of those times, so I recently returned to one of my favorite story collections. Mai-Lee Chai’s stories of family, love and forgiveness, and struggle against the pressures to assimilate and achieve are raw, intimate, and deeply moving.
Set in rural east Texas, Bluebird, Bluebird and its sequel, Heaven My Home, introduce readers to Darren Mathews, a black Texas Ranger investigating small town murders against the backdrop of both overt and covert racism. He keeps his guard up, and does not expect (or, for the most part, receive) assistance from the local sheriff. The mysteries are well-crafted, the scenes are moody and evocative, and the social and political dynamics add tension and complexity.
Loosely based on the 2005 murder of American Natalie Holloway during a “beach week” trip in Aruba, Saint X revisits the tabloid stories of the time but goes a step further, reimagining the lives of the young woman who died on a family vacation in the Bahamas, her presumed killer, and her surviving younger sister, Emilie. Fast-paced and suspenseful and packed with smart social commentary, Chaikin’s novel asks probing questions about how well we really know those who are closest to us, and how we accurately we perceive those we see as different.
Adunni is a 14-year-old Nigerian girl from a rural village destined for an arranged marriage and a life of child-rearing and subsistence farming. She dreams of an education, but her family pushes her to marry a village elder whom she fears will abuse her. She flees to Lagos and finds a job as a maid in the home of a wealthy and glamourous couple, but soon faces new dangers there. Fortunately, she also finds an advocate: a young, educated woman who sees her potential and supports her passion for learning. Punctuated with economic and historical data about the country’s economy and massive wealth disparities, this debut novel was informative and insightful.
Angelo nails the power dynamics that can shape female friendships and the way seemingly small slights can elicit oversized responses, especially when stakes are high or the audience is large, and she’s fascinated by the influence celebrity has on modern culture. When Floss (a model/wannabe actress) and Orla (a celebrity reporter) meet in 2015, they’re unknowns, living on ramen, itching to “make it.” Angelou imagines their relationship as it grows and changes over 35 years; by 2051, they’ve realized some of their dreams, but their ambition has put them on a collision path. It’s a wild ride, a story that hooked me immediately, and kept me up late wondering how things would end. Just the escape from reality I needed.
This short, funny essay collection was the perfect answer for my current situation as a reader; I’m desperate for human connection and but my attention-span is limited. Little Weirds is slender, and comprised of vignettes, so you can pick it up and put it down whenever you feel the itch. Slate digs into love, loneliness, and vulnerability, and does it with incredible candor and a lot of humor. Mindy Kaling called it “delicious” and I wholeheartedly agree. Treat yourself!
Bri's world is turned upside-down when a school security guard throws her to the ground for sneaking in candy and she gets suspended. She channels her anger into her music, winning a rap battle with a riff about how black and brown kids are singled out for discipline at her school. When a video of the song goes viral, things get really interesting... this is a timely & important new book from YA standout Angie Thomas, known best for The Hate U Give.
When her seemingly happy marriage ends tragically, Ainsley Blake is shocked and mystified. He had a troubled childhood, but seemed to have overcome it. Then his long lost older sister Maude arrives from Australia demanding answers. So much more than a police procedural - I couldn't put it down!
Super smart multi-perspective view of how a political scandal plays out for the lead characters and those who love them, written by a keen observer of people.
The subtitle says it all - Dessa's 'Essays from the road on Music, Science, and Senseless Love' is wise, funny, deeply personal and yet totally relatable.
McCracken's quirky voice, keen observations, and always astute use of language make Bowlaway an absolute joy. This eccentric love story - set at the turn-of-the-century in a small new England town, and, for the most part, in a bowling alley - is guaranteed to make you smile. In fact, it made me laugh out loud more than a few times.
A smart, funny read about the "New Russia," as seen by a Russian-born, US-raised 20-something who is called to Moscow to care for his aging grandmother when his Moscow-based older brother must make a "quick" trip to Europe.