As the years pass, our bookshelves grow and occasionally that one book we were so excited to read falls by the wayside. Sticking to our namesake, we’re plucking old favorites off the shelf and placing them in the spotlight once more!
It is 1892 on a vast estate in the north of Ireland and Harriet, an aristocratic mother of nine who has managed to beat eight of her children into a form of submission, is losing the battle to control her youngest daughter, Charlotte. Unable to cope with Charlotte’s stubbornness, Harriet locks her in a cabinet, a common enough punishment in the household, and one all the girl’s brothers have endured more than once. Hours later, having been forgotten, Charlotte’s lifeless body is found in the cupboard by her distraught mother and a housemaid. Harriet is subsequently arrested for causing her death. The story of Charlotte and what happened that day is told in the alternating voices of Harriet, in diary entries she made during the year she spent in jail for the murder, and Maddie, the housemaid turned nanny whose part in the death is not revealed until the final pages.
This is the kind of book you read and have to talk to someone about immediately. It is a perfect book club book or one to pass around during vacation—the only drawback is that you will hound the other reader to find out when they will finish.
When former nanny Maddie McGlade receives a letter from the last of her charges, she realizes the time has come to unburden herself of a secret she has kept for more than seventy years: the truth behind the death of Charlotte Ormond, the four-year-old daughter of the wealthy household where Maddie was employed as a young woman. Based on chilling events that actually took place in the north of Ireland in 1892, this is a dark, emotionally complex novel that explores the dark side of turn-of-the century aristocracy. Charlotte's mother, Harriet Osmond, is violent, abusive, and (what else?) an avid lepidopterist.
An irresistible love story, MY LAST CONTINENT opens with a disaster: a massive cruise ship is sinking in the ice-choked waters near Antarctica. Leaving readers in tremendous suspense, the book moves back in time five years, following the stories of two Antarctic researchers, Deb Gardner and Keller Sullivan, as they meet and fall in love.
I found myself slack-jawed over the last pages, eking out each step over the ice alongside Deb and Keller. Under Raymond’s exquisite hand, their fragile romance and the increasingly fragile continent which they share becomes intimately powerful. Readers will be awed by Raymond’s evocation of the tensions between conservation and tourism, disaster and providence, love and loss.
This unforgettable debut, set against the dramatic Antarctic landscape, is “refreshingly different, vivid and immediate. Midge Raymond has an extraordinary gift for description that puts the reader bang in the middle of its dangerous and endangered world” (M.L. Stedman, New York Times bestselling author of The Light Between Oceans).
It is only among the glacial mountains, cleaving icebergs, and frigid waters of Antarctica that Deb Gardener and Keller Sullivan feel at home. For a few blissful weeks each year they study the habits of Emperor and Adelie penguins and find solace in their work and in one another. But Antarctica, like their fleeting romance, is a fragile place, imperiled by the world to the north.
Each year, Deb and Keller play tour guide to the passengers on the small expedition ship that ferries them to their research station. But this year, when Keller fails to appear on board, Deb begins to reconsider their complicated past and the uncertainty of any future they might share. Then, shortly into the journey, Deb’s ship receives an emergency signal from The Australis, a cruise liner that has hit desperate trouble in the ice-choked waters of the Southern Ocean. Soon Deb’s role will change from researcher to rescuer; among the crew of that sinking ship, Deb learns, is Keller.
As Deb and Keller’s troubled histories collide in this “original and entirely authentic love story” (Graeme Simsion, author of The Rosie Project), Midge Raymond takes us on an unforgettable voyage deep into the wonders of the Antarctic and the mysteries of the human heart. My Last Continent is “a sensitive exploration of how the smallest action can ripple through an ecosystem—seemingly impenetrable, but as fragile as the human heart” (The Minneapolis Star-Tribune). “Atmospheric and adventurous...The story and vivid writing will keep readers glued to the pages” (Library Journal).
A MOUNTAIN OF CRUMBS by Elena Gorokhova is a beautifully written and lyrical memoir about coming of age in the Cold War years of 60’s & 70’s Soviet Russia. With every article about the Olympics and the Crimean Crisis, I am reminded of this book and how the country, which pretends to be so different, is still very much the same as the one Elena grew up in and fled from the moment she could manufacture the chance.
As much as this is a story of enduring life under the suffocation of Communist rule it is really the story of a girl struggling against—and breaking free from—a powerful over-bearing mother who she loves and seems to fail at every turn.
What I love so much about this book is how beautifully Elena writes. Her sentences soar and she is so good at immersing you in the story that you are with her in her classroom with the wretched teacher Nina Sergeevna; her mother’s lab where her Aunt Klava “rasps tobacco-smelling words into her ears”; and on the streets of Leningrad as tour guide for Kevin and other clueless British tourists who are shown a Russia that does not exist for her fellow citizens.
Elena Gorokhova’s A Mountain of Crumbs is the moving story of a Soviet girl who discovers the truths adults are hiding from her and the lies her homeland lives by.
Elena’s country is no longer the majestic Russia of literature or the tsars, but a nation struggling to retain its power and its pride. Born with a desire to explore the world beyond her borders, Elena finds her passion in the complexity of the English language—but in the Soviet Union of the 1960s such a passion verges on the subversive. Elena is controlled by the state the same way she is controlled by her mother, a mirror image of her motherland: overbearing, protective, difficult to leave. In the battle between a strong-willed daughter and her authoritarian mother, the daughter, in the end, must break free and leave in order to survive.
Through Elena’s captivating voice, we learn not only the stories of Russian family life in the second half of the twentieth century, but also the story of one rebellious citizen whose curiosity and determination finally transport her to a new world. It is an elegy to the lost country of childhood, where those who leave can never return.
The story is about a young man named Christian who is contacted by a London-based legal firm and informed that he may be the rightful heir to a century-old fortune. All he has to do is prove it. There’s a catch, of course—time is of the essence. The time frame in which the untold fortune can be kept within the family is limited to eighty years, and those eighty years are nearly up.
Christian, with little more to go on than a curious letter in a museum archive, embarks on a journey across Europe, guided only by his amateur research and luck. His search eventually resurrects a collection of letters that plunge him into what might be his family history, their story running parallel with his own across time as he chases their specters and secrets through the French countryside, the frozen Swedish lake country, and the fjords of Iceland.
This mesmerizing debut contains both an impossible quest and an epic love story. When a young American discovers that he may be the rightful heir to the unclaimed estate of a wealthy English alpinist who died attempting to summit Mount Everest in 1924, he is drawn further and further into the past, and into an obsession that could change his life forever.
THE MIRACLE OF EDGAR MINT is a heartbreaking, but ultimately glorious, work about a seven-year-old boy who is run over by a mail truck and abandoned by his Apache mother and deadbeat, cowardly Anglo-Saxon father. Through sheer courage, strength, and resiliency, the narrator, Edgar Mint, survives often sparse and harsh conditions, taking nourishment from friendships wherever he can find them.
There are times when it’s difficult to keep reading, your heart breaking for Edgar. However, Udall’s gift is his ability to allow Edgar to tell his story with utter and complete sincerity, both from the adult’s and the child’s perspective. Udall’s attention to detail poignantly sheds light on not just his characters but the human condition itself. Edgar is a lovable, loyal, and brave boy in the face of extreme adversity. His insightfulness, sincerity, and even humor drives the story. Immediately, he takes you right to the heart of things.
Sixty pages in, you’ll have witnessed troubling violence and tragedy; sixty pages more and you’ll bear witness to darker deeds. By story’s end, you’ll have explored the lowest reaches of human nature, traveled countless miles, and watched a nation grow out of its ancient imperial origins into a modern industrial power, all through the eyes of the same tortured souls.
This is the thread of Susan Barker’s THE INCARNATIONS, a gorgeous, sweeping work that carries you across the history of China as experienced by two soul mates. Lovers, relatives, rivals (and not always mutually exclusive), they’ve played out the years in myriad roles cast by fate, forever bound to want and wound one another.
Read a Book Wherein All Point-of-View Characters Are People of Color
Taxi driver Wang begins to receive unusual letters from a mysterious “soul mate” that are filled with the stories of his previous lives—from escaping a marriage to a spirit bride, to being a slave on the run from Genghis Khan, to living as a fisherman during the Opium Wars. With each letter, Wang becomes more convinced that someone is watching him—someone who claims to have known him for more than 1,000 years.
When mystery and suspense intersect with great characters and interesting sub-plots, I’m all in. Add complicated familial relationships, and, well, you’ve got my reading nirvana. That is why THE LIFE WE BURY by Allen Eskens hit a chord with me.
Joe Talvert is a college student with an irresponsible mother and a brother with autism (extremely well-drawn, I might add) whose care often falls upon Joe’s shoulders. He’s also a college student struggling to pay his tuition. When an assignment to write a biography leads him to a nursing home in search of a subject, he gets more than he bargained for when he interviews Carl Iverson—a convicted murderer who was moved to the nursing home because he’s dying of cancer. To make Carl even less palatable, his murder victim was a 17-year-old girl.
As Carl’s story unfolds layer by layer over several sessions, Joe begins to believe his claim to innocence. Although Joe’s own life holds plenty of drama without taking on the cause of freeing a convicted murderer, his good-guy conscience can’t let it go, and Joe begins to dig for answers someone doesn’t want him to find.
Looking for an interview subject for a college assignment, Joe Talbert finds himself unwittingly interviewing convicted murder Carl, who has been medically paroled to a nursing home. Thread by thread, Joe digs deeper into the circumstances of Carl’s conviction and the crime. But will he discover the truth before it’s too late to escape the fallout?
I latched on to the main character in Heather Webb’s historical novel RODIN’S LOVER, Camille Claudel, who was not just Rodin’s muse but also a talented sculptor herself. Webb’s masterful novel plunged me right into the center of late-nineteenth-century Paris and into the heart and mind of the sculptress. It begins when young Camille defiantly resists marriage and instead convinces her family to allow her to attend art classes in Paris. Not long after, when her mentor wins a prestigious prize, he arranges for Rodin to continue her instruction, setting their stormy love affair into motion.
Rodin and Claudel’s relationship lasted a decade and was riddled with countless disagreements, heartbreaks, and misunderstandings. This is also a story about deep creative passion, about mental illness, and, above all, about the constraints that were so often placed upon a woman who felt that her place was not secured by the strings of a kitchen apron or motherhood. Camille Claudel was a woman with a fiery spirit and indisputable talent, and I ached for her with every word I read.
In all her novels, Jane Smiley’s insights into what it is to be a father, a daughter, a lover, part of a family, are always illuminating. So I couldn’t wait to dive into SOME LUCK, the first of three superb novels that trace the fortunes of an American family from the 1920s into the future. Together, these novels make up the Last One Hundred Years series. Reading them is like stepping through a portal into the real world of living, breathing, loving, quarrelling people. Pull up a chair and prepare to be enthralled.
Blue, an up-and-coming New York chef with a cloudy past, takes a trip to Nova Scotia to sell a house bequeathed to him by his late grandmother. He’s accompanied by his friends: Gabriel, a fragile young man whose puppy love for Blue makes him easily sympathetic; Jason, a no-nonsense coworker; and Elisa, Jason’s wife whom Blue loves. The house is located in Starling Cove, a sprawling art commune. While there, Blue begins to remember bits of his childhood—particularly how his tie to a case of a missing child and his mother’s abrupt escape from Starling Cove seemed too closely intertwined. Locals speak of beings called the Other Kind who are said to live in these areas (you know something’s bad if uppercase letters are used). From the woodlands of Starling Cove, something invisible yet all-seeing calls to Blue. One night, the call is much too strong, and like a lightbulb blinking out of power, Blue disappears, leaving Gabe, Jason, and Elisa to reckon with the confusion and questions in his wake.
The ending of this novel is quite a trip—a visionary episode that I have never seen before in writing: frightening to the point that it inspires awe. I swear, I’d even pay for IMAX tickets if this book were ever made into a film. That’s how much I love THE GLITTERING WORLD.
In the tradition of Neil Gaiman (The Ocean at the End of the Lane), Scott Smith (The Ruins), and Jason Mott (The Returned), award-winning playwright Robert Levy spins a dark tale of alienation and belonging, the familiar and the surreal, family secrets and the search for truth in his debut supernatural thriller.
AS A BOY, HE VANISHED INTO THE WOODS. SOMETHING ELSE CAME BACK.
It’s a long way from the grit of New York City to the stark beauty of Nova Scotia, and many years separate Blue Whitley’s only two journeys between them. One occurred at age five, when his mother stole him away from the hinterlands of Canada. Now, twenty-five years later, he’s returning to sell a house left to him by a grandmother he barely remembers. Envisioning the trip as a week of countryside leisure, Blue is accompanied by his best friend Elisa, her stalwart husband Jeremy, and Gabe, his young and admiring co-worker. Starling Cove, however, is not your typical vacation spot. Blue senses secrets withheld. Strange whispers on the wind welcome him home, and at first he finds himself staring transfixed into the woods. Then he feels them gazing back. After a shocking discovery—that Blue went missing in these forests for weeks as a child—life as he knows it begins to fall apart. And when another abduction strikes, the truth about Starling Cove begins to emerge.
Told from all four characters' points of view, through lush, evocative prose Robert Levy conjures a fascinating, sinister landscape. A unique blend of taut psychological thriller and supernatural suspense, The Glittering World is a stunning debut novel about belonging and betrayal, the mysteries of the natural world and the secrets buried deep within the human heart.
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