Expanding on her award-winning reporting on the 2018 Camp Fire in northern California, Johnson focuses on the near total destruction of the town of Paradise amid the desperate evacuation efforts of its inhabitants. Visceral accounts of overwhelmed first responders, parents struggling to save their families, and everyday citizens fighting against the odds, alternate with damning evidence of the fire’s origins in aging, poorly-maintained infrastructure. As the Dixie Fire is showing, these threats to our communities are becoming a terrifying and heartbreaking norm. This book is a must-read.
The quiet tone of Unsettled Ground belies the utter calamity at its heart. Despite their having been isolated from the world by an unusual set of circumstances, what happens to two middle-aged siblings after their mother dies could happen to anyone with just a little bad timing and a few wrong steps. One of the marvels of Claire Fuller's writing is that she leads us not only to empathize with Jeanie and Julius in their plight, but to identify with them--their fears, their pride, and their bond with each other are real and human, and wonderfully realized.
This harrowing tale of two boys barely on the cusp of young manhood is conveyed with the quiet assurance of a seasoned storyteller. Their bond of friendship is put to the test as they flee the consequences of a rash act of loyalty, and you will be on the edge of your seat as you follow them into the unknowns of the northern Wisconsin forest. It is likewise impossible not to be charmed by the grownups who set out to save the two young boys from the terrible course they’ve set out on. With such strong characters and sensitive writing, it’s hard to believe this is a debut novel!
150 Glimpses is not a straight Beatles biography and holds no great revelations, all of which is just fine. Craig Brown instead offers new perspectives on much of what we already know about the Fab Four and those who found themselves in their orbit. With well more than 150 laugh-out-loud moments, it's clear he has eyes and ears for the absurdity of Beatlemania. But he also captures the tragedy, and that's not too strong a word; this is the first book about The Beatles to bring me to tears. If, like me, you grew up on the group with the worst name in the history of popular music, 150 Glimpses is essential reading.
Paraic O'Donnell leavens the dark foreboding of a truly sinister, otherworldly mystery with distinctively clever storytelling and a decidedly marvelous cast of characters. You are in the best of hands with the odd couple of Inspector Cutter and Gideon Bliss on the case, along with the intrepid and resourceful reporter Octavia Hillingdon. Beautifully done!
While studying at Harvard, Becky Cooper hears about the unsolved 1969 murder of Jane Britton, a grad student in anthropology. Unable to shake the story, Cooper is ultimately driven to learn everything she can about the victim, the suspects, the investigation, and the competitive milieu at Harvard in the late sixties. The result is in its own right a unique anthropological study, and the most compelling account of a murder investigation since I’ll Be Gone in the Dark.
Jack Robinson the renowned stagemaster, and his showstopping magic act The Great Pablo and Eve, bring innocent escape to the vacationers in their drab English seaside resort. This deceptively slim volume -- almost a novella -- holds its own magical, yet haunting, story. Graham Swift conveys the deepest emotion with the simplest strokes of the pen.
Decades after her stepfather shot and killed her mother, Natasha Trethewey finally turned to look back at the past she'd buried and to learn more about her mother’s final days. Memorial Drive is a moving account of growing up first as the child of an inter-racial marriage, then as the single child of a single mother, and finally as the tormented daughter of a woman caught in a toxic relationship. It is also a profound and poetic act of love and remembrance for the mother who was so suddenly taken from her.
Two old friends meet for a night out in the pubs. Joe has left his wife, but can’t really explain why, since he clearly still loves her. Davy is back in Dublin to care for his dying father, and hasn’t much sympathy for Joe’s predicament. Over countless pints they revisit the glory days of their youth. Old resentments flare up; several times, Davy almost leaves. But through the fits and starts of drunken conversation, Roddy Doyle reveals the beating heart of what binds these two aging souls, even after years apart, and rewards the reader with a rich and deeply felt story of male friendship.
The author's lifelong fascination with lighthouses bears rich fruit in this extended meditation on solitude, the collector's urge, and the lure of the beacon keeper's life. For Barrera, lighthouses are a source of solace against life's vicissitudes, and On Lighthouses is itself a balm, a book to keep near and return to. Beautifully done!
Simon Boudlin’s passion is to be the best fiddle player there is, following his muse wherever it takes him and beholden to no one. But when he meets the beautiful Doris Aherne, his plans change. Paulette Jiles once again captures the great promise and sweeping beauty of the Texas frontier, during a time of upheaval at the end of the Civil War, in cinematic prose as poetic and lyrical as the tunes that pour forth from the fiddler himself. Simon joins that great pantheon of strivers after a better life, and readers will root for him every step of the way. Fans of News of the World can rejoice - with Simon the Fiddler, Paulette Jiles has done it again!
An immigrant teenager tries to break out from the torpor of small-town adolescence. A young mother faces down the price she’ll have to pay for doing the right thing. A middle-aged widow struggles to find a reason to keep living. And a young girl, abandoned by her mother and looked-down on in her neighborhood, finds someone to whom she can matter. Their lives become entwined in the aftermath of a brutal assault, in ways both haunting and heartbreaking. Elizabeth Wetmore’s excellent debut novel pulses with the dry heat of West Texas oil country, and will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page.
As a young child playing spies with her neighborhood friends, Ariana Neumann stumbled on a small box tucked away deep inside a closet in her house. Inside was a document written in a strange language, with a photo of her father as a young man. Thus began a journey of discovery that brought the adult Ariana face-to-face with the young man in the picture and his gripping story of survival during wartime. Ariana Neumann artfully balances the historical and the personal, casting a fresh light on the plight of Czech Jewry in the years before and during WW2.
The members of an extended family from a rural village confront life in a changing society in Omani writer Jokha Alharthi's exceptional novel, winner of the 2019 Man Booker International Prize (the first book translated from Arabic to do so) and her first to be translated into English. Throughout all of these intertwined stories run threads of tension between traditional and modern roles, between rural ways and city life, and between generational expectations. This deeply moving novel deserves every accolade it has received.
Old pals Maurice Hearne and Charlie Redmond reminisce while waiting at the Algeciras ferry terminal, hoping to track down Maurice's estranged daughter Dilly on her way to, or maybe from, Morocco. With a style light as air but sharp as a knife, Kevin Barry explores love, family, friendship, and the gravitational pull of memory. Night Boat to Tangier is a soft-spoken masterpiece.
This is a fascinating portrait of the period of the Red Scare and the impact the anti-communist witch hunts had on one family. Maraniss writes from a unique perspective, as the family in question is his own--he was a young child during the early '50s--and his father lost more than one job as a result of his refusal to name names. But the author's own experience as a journalist and historian informs this book in so many ways, and he connects the dots between his family's experience and the larger story of this shameful period in our history.
Casey Cep's hybrid true crime/biography hits the mark in every way. Not only does she corral multiple narratives--the stories of "the Reverend" Willie Maxwell, the lawyer/politician Tom Radney, and of course the enigmatic Harper Lee--into a single text that works (no mean feat), but she does so with style and panache. The result is an example of narrative non-fiction at its best. There's no doubt Furious Hours will be on more than one best-of-the-year list for 2019.
At the heart of Bowlaway is the mysterious Bertha Truitt and the gravitational pull she exerts on the eccentric residents of Salford, Massachusetts (think Somerville) around the turn of the last century, over a hundred years ago. Her women-only candlepin bowling alley becomes the heart of a community full of fascinating characters. With delicious prose and a colorful cast, this is a welcome return from one of our best novelists.
Set mainly in Palestine between the wars, the title character in this breathtaking debut novel aspires to a life of culture and refinement, while surrounded by the forces of upheaval unleashed by the fall of the Ottoman Empire after WW1. Hammad's sensitivity toward all of her characters imbues her writing with power and grace.
Grandfather has not returned to his homeland in the north since before the war, but he knows that nature's resilience knows no boundaries. So when he returns to the border every year he doesn't just see the barbed wire and the soldiers marching, he sees the birds, the fish, and the other animals. This beautifully illustrated tale has a wonderful ending and a hopeful spirit to match.
The Lizzie Borden story is so well-known, it's hard to believe there is much new that can be said about it. In this masterful account of the legal maneuverings that followed the two brutal murders, Cara Robertson refracts the impact of these heinous crimes through the prism of a late-nineteenth-century society that was even more concerned with social status than we are now. Put simply, this was the O.J. Simpson trial of its day. Robertson has added a fascinating new dimension to the story of the Borden murders, and The Trial Of Lizzie Borden leaps to the front rank of books about this uniquely American crime.
The scale of devastation inflicted in the Chernobyl disaster is still almost impossible to fathom, but Higginbotham does a great job describing what led up to what is still the world's worst nuclear accident. What's best here, though, are the personal stories of the workers on the front lines, who sacrificed themselves in the effort to contain the damage and prevent an even worse disaster. Despite the inevitably confusing tangle of Soviet bureaucratic acronyms, this was a very hard book to put down.
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If this book does nothing else but drive you to read the great Eve Babitz herself, it will have done its job. Anolik's obsession with the enigmatic L.A. writer/artist knows no bounds--much like Babitz in her heyday--and the result is a fascinatingly well-rounded account of the highs and lows of life in and around Hollywood in the 60s and 70s.
John Rebus may be retired, but that doesn't stop him sticking his nose into police business (much to the chagrin of the current crop of DIs). But the murder in this case suggests a years-old police cover-up, one in which Rebus himself may have played a role, so it only makes sense he wants to stay on top of the trail of evidence. Old loyalties are newly tested and rivalries resumed - and Rebus' music tastes continue to fascinate - as Rankin delivers another propulsive Edinburgh thriller.
Amy Reed's life is not what she'd planned. She loves her family, but with her husband out-of-work (and not dealing very well with it), kids to worry about, and a nowhere job working for her best friend's tech-genius-wannabe son, her life has lost a lot of its meaning. When she has the chance to see what might have happened if... well, you'll have to read to find out. If you like Tom Perrotta, you will feel right at home with Schulman as her characters explore the boundaries between what is and what might have been.
Gemma Woodstock is back in Sarah Bailey's follow up to the
spine-tingling debut, The Dark Lake. Having left her small town behind for the big city (Melbourne), Det. Woodstock finds herself torn between the life she's left behind (including her small boy) and the demands of two possibly linked murders. Paired with a less-than-helpful partner and unsure where she stands with her station chief, Gemma has to fall back on her instincts. Bailey knows how to combine great storytelling with tightly wound suspense -- I can't wait for the next installment!
Middle sister navigates the rumors, gossip, codes, silences, and hidden meanings of daily life during civil war with a wonderfully unique voice that fills Milkman with character, intelligence, and sly wit. Anna Burns' third novel, her first to be published in the U.S., is a deserving winner of this year's Man Booker prize.
Shaun Bythell is the perennially exasperated proprietor of what has to be the most delightful used bookshop in the UK, if not the world. If it's not the clueless or downright rude customers, it's his staff and their tendency to do things their own way, no matter what the boss says. At heart, though, you can tell he has a tremendous soft spot for the people in his life -- none more than Nicky, his obstreperous assistant/nemesis. This diary is not just for us bookstore geeks, though; anyone who loves a good anecdote and tales of small-town life will find nourishment here.
Jess Harney will stop at nothing to track down her ne'er-do-well brother and bring him back to the homestead where he belongs, despite her resolve being put to the test time and again. It's a good thing she has nerves of steel, great instincts, and even better aim. John Larison has given us an unforgettable cast of characters and a three-dimensional American west that defies stereotypes and mythmaking. This is gritty, honest writing and a story that grips you early and doesn't let go.
Rachel Proulx, FBI expert on terrorist underground movements, has been placed in charge of investigating a clandestine group known as the Massive Brigade. As the Brigade begins to execute their revolutionary plot, Proulx takes on the competing distractions of a nosy media pundit, a loose-cannon colleague, and the challenge of figuring out the elusive motives of the odd-couple behind the mysterious outfit. Take the tightly-wound cat-and-mouse interplay of All The Old Knives and ratchet up the stakes by a notch or three, and you have The Middleman, riveting reading for lovers of suspense everywhere.
Why would a woman on vacation with her husband and young daughter decide to walk away and take up a new life as a waitress in a small-town dive bar? What happens when she falls for the man who's been sent to track her down? Laura Lippman returns with her most compelling story yet, featuring a slow dance between two of her most unforgettable characters. Savor it now, or take it with you on your own vacation. This is a great beach read in more ways than one.
When true-crime expert Michelle McNamara comes across the cold case of a prolific serial killer, she becomes fatally obsessed with catching him. It's no spoiler to say she never does. But her legacy is this fascinating, one-of-a-kind insider's account of the hunt, crafted with all the skill of a born writer/detective.
Paul Howarth has set an exceptionally high standard for himself with his first novel. Set during a drought in the 1870s on the frontier of Queensland, in a hardscrabble environment where settlers are taking over the land and pushing natives out, this is a gripping story with an unforgettable cast. Although a mystery lies at its heart, the greatest satisfaction comes from the quality of the storytelling and the development of the characters. A breathtaking debut!
Sarah Schmidt takes on the story of Lizzie Borden in this ambitious debut novel. Four voices, including Lizzie herself, tell the story, in a gripping narrative of the fatal events of Aug. 4, 1892. Schmidt's wonderfully sensual prose perfectly captures the emotions so fully repressed within the Borden home that even the very walls of the house could have burst.
An Amish community finds itself under threat from the societal chaos unleashed in the wake of a massive solar storm. For farmer Jacob, who has been keeping a diary, the catastrophe has a personal aspect -- his troubled young daughter appears to have foretold the coming of the "skies bright with angel wings". This poignant story is, at heart, a meditation on the meaning of faith and devotion to family and community when truly put to the test. Jacob's voice resonates long after one turns the last page.
Basing her story on a notorious true crime, one of a spree of violent murders that rocked Glasgow in the late 1950s, Mina burrows deep into the psyches of the two characters closest to the crime. William Watt is an aspiring local businessman who has been accused of the brutal murder of his wife and daughter. Peter Manuel is the vaguely charismatic local hoodlum with aspirations of his own. These two spend a long winter night traipsing from pub to pub, each pursuing his own agenda. Intercut with vivid prison and courtroom scenes, Mina gives us a fascinating account of criminal psychology in action.
Horowitz gives us two for the price of one in this cleverly constructed story-within-a-story. Are clues to the curious death of famed mystery writer Alan Conway encoded in the manuscript of his final Atticus Pund novel? Trust Susan Ryeland, editor-turned-sleuth, to find the truth. Devotees of the golden age of English detective fiction will delight in Horowitz's obvious affection for the genre.
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This is a fascinating account of the rapturous reception given The Origin Of Species amongst a small but potent group of American intellectuals during the period of the runup to the start of the Civil War. Darwin's ideas proved compelling, and were quickly pressed into service to support a wide range of (often opposing) views about race and religion. Fuller balances top-notch social history with wonderful first-hand accounts of the relationships and rivalries among those attempting to forge public opinion during one of our country's most fractured times.
Emma Donoghue refines the element of confinement so central to The Room in this powerful and haunting story, set in rural Ireland in the years following the potato famine. Anna is a young girl from a poor family, who seems to thrive without food; Lib is the English nurse who has been brought in to help determine whether the girl's fast is fraud or miracle. But Anna's condition worsens, and Lib is faced with standing up to an intensely devout family and community in order to save the girl's life. At heart is the power of faith, both religious and personal, to guide one's heart to the right course.
Based on his long-running Wall Street Journal column, Myers has compiled a history of 45 classic songs, spanning the period from the early 50s to the early 90s. Featuring "you are there" interviews with the composers, the producers, and the musicians themselves, Myers teases out little-known and surprising details that will send you back to your hi-fi for a fresh listen. At the very least, you will never again be able to listen to the opening riff of Proud Mary without thinking of a certain German composer and his most famous symphony!
This is simply a beautifully written story. Within Paulette Jiles' precise and economical prose lies a rich world brought to full life and color, and I was riveted by the tale of Capt. Jefferson Kidd and Joanna Leonberger. Though not familiar with Paulette Jiles before reading News Of The World, I will now be eagerly seeking out her previous novels, some of which feature related characters in a similar setting.
The stories in Robin MacArthur's debut story collection are set in the hilly backcountry of southern Vermont - a rural landscape of half-abandoned farms and run-down double-wides, but also of immense natural beauty and wildness. Her characters hew close to this land - even those who have left cannot help but return. These are beautifully drawn portraits of people who, despite poverty and decay, remain vibrantly alive to their world and to the power of memory. Many of these stories are deeply moving - I cannot wait to read more from this author!
Expanding on a newspaper article she wrote in the aftermath of the riots in Ferguson, Mo., Carol Anderson flips the narrative of "black rage" to show how "white rage" has worked to extend the corrupt legacy of slavery throughout the years and decades beyond the end of the Civil War, right up to the present day. Anderson's economic prose cuts to the chase in a cogent and concerted style that provides an excellent overview of a continuing darkness in the heart of our society.
This is a trenchant account of the difficult middle period of the Revolutionary War. While focusing on Benedict Arnold's twin betrayals of both the revolutionary cause and his close relationship with George Washington, Philbrick also illuminates several broader webs of intrigue that drove much of the action during this period, including second-guessing subordinates and a meddlesome Continental Congress. As always, Philbrick's lively writing makes for riveting reading.
When a hunting accident results in the death of his neighbor's son, Landreaux Iron follows native tradition and offers his own son LaRose to the bereaved family. Thus begins a powerful story set among a group of families in a small community in the North Dakota hinterland. Erdrich's luminous prose captures each character's struggle to overcome their worst impulses, whether it's a handicapped man's long-nurtured quest for revenge or the pain of a mother withholding her love from her daughter. Muted on the surface, but with a heart that beats strong, Erdrich's latest novel is a book to be treasured.
As a student, Sarah Bakewell was fascinated by the writings of the great existentialist philosophers. Later, as a seasoned writer, she was drawn to know more about who they were and how they engaged with their world (and each other). In her latest book, she brings Sartre, de Beauvoir, Camus, and many others wonderfully to life and shows how their thought developed through the prolonged experience of 20th-century European conflict. This is not just a lively book about some dead philosophers; without question, the issues they engaged with in their day are just as relevant now.
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Barbara Parker's ambition to make it as the English Lucille Ball animates this breezy romp through the trenches of early-sixties British TV. She may be graced with the kind of looks that open doors, but it's her quick wit and knack for comedy that get her from provincial Blackpool to London and into her first TV role in record time as the lead in a domestic comedy series that breaks all records. Her catalytic spirit inspires her co-workers to follow their own dreams as the grey fog of post-war conformity lifts and the Technicolor sixties come to life. Nick Hornby writes warmly, with lots of laughs and lots of heart.
In Vienna, two CIA operatives become lovers. Years later, having long gone separate ways, they meet for dinner at a quiet seaside restaurant. It is a simple setting for what turns out to be so much more than a simple encounter. This tightly wound game of cat-and-mouse will keep you off-balance until the very last word.
Rebanks (known to thousands by his Twitter handle @herdyshepherd1) takes us through a year in his life as a working shepherd in northern England, going deep into the history of the land, the close ties between farmer and flock, and the special knowledge that is passed from generation to generation. You are with him through all the highs and lows of the farming year – from the births of the newborn lambs, to the seasonal auctions that form the social high point of the year, to the joy of turning the flock out to the common grazing fields. This is a rich and delightful book, full of the warmth of the summer sun on the high Lake District fells.
Their mother's threat to sell the family home pulls the four grown children of Rosaleen Madigan back to their western Ireland home for Christmas, where they must face each other and the force of her fierce love. While spinning out to such far flung places as western Africa and New York City during the 80s AIDs scare, Booker-winner Enright's latest novel possesses a spirit as wild as the primal Green Road of the title.