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This book is so good. It has everything going for it. Engaging, topical plot. Smart, stylish prose. Page-turning pacing. Unforgettable characters. The novel is the story of twin sisters and the diverging paths their lives take when one decides to pass as white. It is important look at the performance of race (and also gender) and it’s psychological cost over the generations in a family. I couldn’t put it down and I can’t stop thinking about it. And I want to talk about it to everyone I know. I bet you’ll be itching to unravel this multifaceted, sophisticated novel, too. Read it and then, let’s talk. - Hilary
I’m a huge fan of Lindsay Ellis’s video essay work as a film and pop culture critic, but I wasn’t sure what to expect from her debut novel. Would her voice translate well into a new medium? Involving aliens, no less?! The answer is a resounding YES. Ellis’s critical skills are expertly channeled into this engaging, thoughtful, and well-paced first contact story. Axiom’s End manages to feel both breezy and grounded, and it skillfully balances humor and high stakes—all while raising questions about the nature of intelligence and the accessibility of truth. I had an absolute blast reading it! - Stephanie
Ten-year-old Dela and her sister sixteen-year-old Suki haven’t ever had much except each other. Not when their mother was arrested for cooking meth and left them with her last boyfriend, and not when that boyfriend did something so terrible that they had to escape right away with only the clothes they had on. Now as wards of the state and living in a foster home they can start to have so mind of normal life. Della is a fierce and unforgettable protagonist, careful to let you know when the story is going to get rough. And rough it is. This is a powerful, important book about sexual abuse, trauma, and the power of speaking up to protect someone you love. Although the subject matter is terrifying, there is warmth and hope in the story as well. Fighting Words has already received many starred reviews, and, no doubt, will continue to gather many more. - Deb
There is no shortage of novels about the legal profession in the U.S., but this book feels both original and authentic. Set in the world of "BigLaw," it tells the story of first year associate Alexandra (Alex to her friends, Al to her boyfriend) as she sets her sights on "matching" with the Mergers and Acquisitions department at her firm, a notoriously male bastion of lawyers who bill the most and behave the worst. The frat party atmosphere of booze and drugs encourages sexism and sexual harassment; the round the clock hours and sleep deprivation comes with a great cost to families and relationships. Will Alex match with M&A, and will her new found rampant materialism, and ethical lapses cause her to lose her soul? Filled with great workplace details and well-delineated characters, it entertains as it makes the case for more women partners.
Rachel believes that she remembers exactly what happened the day her parents were shot & justifies the last fifteen years.
Rachel’s mother, Jenny tells us what happened as it happened.
Is returning to the place that Rachel once ran from going to help her discover what really happened?
An absolutely absorbing, artfully-paced thriller that I couldn’t stop thinking about, couldn’t put down and held me on the edge from the beginning.
A critic called this book “literary sunshine” and I can’t think of a better description. This book is the kind of book that goes down easy but also one you savor; Straub’s witty and rounded characters stay with you long after they’re gone. And while I despise the term “beach read,” this is the right book for August, near the end of summer, a time to sit under a favorite tree or near water and reflect. An enjoyable and memorable read. - Mike
“In the cupboard in a velvet case lies a drawing from the hand of another young lover, of a beautiful, large-eyed woman smiling a little, demure in her bonnet. Perhaps the artist is saying something that causes her to forget, for a moment, some bitter things she has learned. His enamored pencil does not catch, perhaps, a certain fated expression in her eyes. . . . The young lover sees only his own kisses there."
This is my favorite book of 2020 so far. Scanning the pages I’d dogeared and underlined gave me shivers—the passages are beautiful and scary and freeing. Diane Johnson’s biography of Mary Ellen Peacock Nicholls Meredith infuses what she calls a “lesser life,” a life that for a time orbited the “greater” life of writer George Meredith, with urgency and poetry and meaning. If you live a lesser life too, it’s utterly heart-stopping. I’ve never read a biographer like this who treats her subjects with such speculativeness, tenderness, and honesty. - Kaitlyn
There couldn't be a more timely novel to read during the world-wide coronavirus crisis. "Room" novelist Emma Donoghue has written an eye-opener of a story about midwife Nurse Julia Power on the frontline of the devastating 1918 flu epidemic in the maternity ward of the Dublin hospital where she works. Riveting no-holds-barred descriptions of birthing, and life and death scenarios, this is a deeply compassionate book of hope and courage against all odds. - Vicki
In Star Daughter, Shveta Thakrar’s enchanting debut, Sheetal is the daughter of both a star and a mortal, not fully a part of either world. When her own starfire injures her dad in a fatal accident, she whisks away to the heavens where only participating in a celestial competition might save her father. Sheetal’s struggle to belong is a beautiful story of what it means to be human and the choice to love in spite of fear. Nothing in Star Daughter shines brighter than the world-building, with immersive descriptions full of vivid colors and smells. Thakrar’s prose is made of music and moonlight, and it’s easy to fall right into the Hindu mythology-inspired world. Star Daughter is a gorgeous book that will dazzle readers! - Julia
"Mostly the water is unconcerned with beauty. Mostly it rages and beats the cliffs till they crumble, plunging unwary creatures to their deaths. The water eats at the posts of the docks, bends that wood to its knees. The water does not reflect. It is itself, and it spreads to the horizon"(247).
Siblings set off to bury their father's rotting body in the Gold-Rush American West. The children attempt to live with and bury their past, so that they might have a future. Their present, however, is filled with folklore, hardship, anti-Asian American racism, and a thirst for home. This novel seems the love child of Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, and As I Lay Dying told through a young girl. Zhang's writing beckons the reader to chase the siblings through the chapters, often, leaving room for our imagination within the layers of this tale. The world of this story is searching for nuggets of gold, the words themselves lend nuggets of truth just as precious. - Rose
It's been many years since author Jane Smiley, whose 1991 Pulitzer Prize and National Book Critics Circle Award bestseller "A Thousand Acres," has been in my book radar. What a Big Treat it was to discover that not only has Jane Smiley published a new novel to share with her fan base, she's written a story with delightfully unique voices who have a timely message to share with the world. From page one and through the last page, I found myself utterly hooked, falling head over heels in love with each and every character who include a racehorse, a raven, two ducks, two rats, and an 8-year old Parisian boy. Smiley rejoices in the animal world and their commanding communication skills, showing her readers that all living things desire freedom, love, and understanding. I highly recommend this absolutely charming read and can't say it loud enough: "Perestroika in Paris" is my end of 2020 all-time favorite novel! — Vicki
Perhaps particularly this winter, people who seem to have it all, and yet find themselves waking up okay one morning and unhappy the next, will identify with the story of Martha, child of eccentric artist parents, the sister to a supportive but take no prisoners mother of too many, and wife of martyr, auditioning for a doormat, Patrick. You won't always like Martha much, at least in the beginning, but you will recognize her. As someone who has read a lot of memoirs about mental illness, I was, however, somewhat distracted by trying to decipher: what is wrong with Martha? I'm not going to reveal that plot twist, but I can tell you that I had no trouble enjoying every turn of this first novel. Reading it will definitely provide some short term relief from a case of the pandemic blues. — Carla
"Your father is about to ask me the question. This is the most important moment of our lives, and I want to pay attention, note every detail. Your dad and I have just come back from an evening out, dinner and a show; it's after midnight. We came out onto the patio to look at the full moon; then I told your dad I wanted to dance, so he humors me and now we're slow-dancing, a pair of thirtysomethings swaying back and forth in the moonlight like kids. I don't feel the night chill at all. And then your dad says, 'Do you want to make a baby?' "
So begins Story of Your Life, the absolutely mind-bending fourth story of eight within Ted Chiang's collection. I read this at the recommendation of a friend, and I've been struggling for months now to put into words just how profound a piece of writing this is. I can't recommend it enough. Honestly, if you're in the mood to have your notions of time and language reconceptualized entirely, keep this title in mind.
Note: pairs well with a sunny afternoon and a cup of your favorite tea. – Ben