Dear Fang, With Love by Rufi Thorpe

dear fang with loveWhen seventeen-year-old Vera has a breakdown at a high school party, her father, Lucas, decides to take her far away from her normal routine for the summer.  When they arrive in Vilnius, the capital of Lithuania, Lucas and Vera become immersed in the medieval city’s history and culture — and form fast friendships with the others in their tourist group.

As Vera struggles with her homesickness and the knowledge of her new mental health diagnosis, Lucas tries to bond with his impetuous daughter and track down the truth about his Lithuanian relatives.  Filled with humor and chaos, Dear Fang, With Love is a perfect portrait of a family dealing with long-buried secrets and terrifying new realities.

Quote:
I had already framed Vilnius in my mind as a liminal place, a portal between East and West, but also, as Darius had mentioned, a portal between the living and the dead, and I didn’t like the idea of crossing the river into Užupis.  It made me think of the River Styx.  But the River Vilnia was narrow and picturesque, not haunting or misty, and the bridge railings were bristling with love locks.  It was a custom around there, Darius told us, for young couples to have their initials engraved on a lock, which they attached to the bridge, and then together they would throw the key into the river.  There were hundreds, maybe even thousands of locks on the bridge, covering every bar of the railing.”

Author:
Rufi Thorpe is the author of The Girls from Corona del Mar and Dear Fang, With Love.  She lives in California.

Published:  2016
Length:  303 pages
Set in:  Vilnius, Lithuania

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The Book of Memory by Petina Gappah

the book of memoryIn a death row jail cell in Harare, Zimbabwe, a young albino woman named Memory begins to record her life story.

Charged with the murder of Lloyd Hendricks — her wealthy, white adoptive father — Memory tells a tale of heartbreak and upheaval:  growing up poor in a local township, grieving for the deaths of several siblings, struggling to adjust to her new life with Lloyd, and slowly coming to understand his motivations for adopting her.

Written in beautiful prose that almost crackles with intensity, The Book of Memory follows a young woman grappling with a cruel fate.

Quote:
“You will discover as you walk around the city that it was planned to keep the direct heat of the sun away from the faces of white people.  In the mornings, they left the northern suburbs to go into town to work, and the sun was behind them, and in the evenings, when they went back home, the sun was behind them still.  The streets of the northern suburbs are lined with avenues of jacarandas and flamboyants that give cooling shade.  But in the townships, the sun is always in the faces of the people.  And there are no tree-lined avenues, no cool grass beneath the feet, only the hard heat of the dusty streets.”

Author:
Petina Gappah is the author of the short story collection An Elegy for Easterly and the novel The Book of Memory.  She was born in Zambia and moved with her family to Zimbabwe as a child.

Published:  2015
Length:  276 pages
Set in:  Harare, Zimbabwe

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

eleanor oliphantEleanor Oliphant eschews interaction with strangers and acquaintances alike, ignores her co-workers’ snide comments, listens to her mother’s berating voice on the phone, and retreats to her apartment each weekend to drink a solitary box of vodka.  Her life is simple, dependable, and completely devoid of any intrusive or well-meaning questions.

One day, Eleanor and her co-worker Raymond witness an old man collapse in the street.  After calling for medical attention and visiting him in the hospital, it almost seems as though she and Raymond are becoming… friends.  And while Eleanor insists that she doesn’t need anyone new in her life, she finds herself going along with his invitations to spend time together.  But as she slowly begins to let Raymond in, the small cracks in her well-constructed life begin to show.

Quote:
“No one’s been in my flat this year apart from service professionals; I’ve not voluntarily invited another human being across the threshold, except to read the meter.  You’d think that would be impossible, wouldn’t you?  It’s true, though.  I do exist, don’t I?  It often feels as if I’m not here, that I’m a figment of my own imagination.  There are days when I feel so lightly connected to the earth that the threads that tether me to the planet are gossamer thin, spun sugar.  A strong gust of wind could dislodge me completely, and I’d lift off and blow away, like one of those seeds in a dandelion clock.”

Author:
Gail Honeyman is the author of the novel Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.  She lives in Glasgow, Scotland.

Published:  2017
Length:  327 pages
Set in:  Glasgow, Scotland

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The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

7D6B70B8-0B2F-48EA-98A5-06D7B3FA7D25The Heart’s Invisible Furies begins in rural Ireland with a dramatic scene: a teenage girl is cast out of her village, shamed and ridiculed by her family and local priest for becoming pregnant out of wedlock.  With nothing to her name and no home, she boards a bus to Dublin and doesn’t look back.

Her son Cyril is adopted by an emotionally distant but wealthy couple and seeks affection in his close friendship with a boy named Julian.  Yet as he grows up and comes to understand his identity as a gay man, he faces pervasive discrimination and the pressure to conform.  From strange kidnappings to unadvised marriages and tragic losses, Cyril’s life unwinds for readers in fascinating but heartbreaking bursts.  Written with compassion and humor, The Heart’s Invisible Furies comes in at almost 600 pages yet somehow still feels too short.

Quote:
“Maude and I traveled to the Four Courts together on the final day to hear the verdict and, as I had not been allowed to attend during the trial itself, I was fascinated and a little frightened by the majesty of the Round Hall, where the families of victims and criminals alike mixed in a curious mélange of quarry and miscreant while barristers marched to and fro in black gowns and white wigs, laden down with folders and trailed by anxious-looking juniors.  My adoptive mother was seething with rage, for the case had received so much publicity over recent weeks that her latest novel, Amongst Angels, had found its way to the front table of the Hodges Figgis Bookshop in Dawson Street, a location that none of her previous work had ever come close to troubling in the past.  Alerted to the fact that morning over breakfast by our housekeeper, Brenda, who had been shopping in town the afternoon before, she extinguished her cigarette in the center of an egg yolk and started to tremble in fury, her face pale with humiliation.  “The vulgarity of it all,” she said.  “Popularity.  Readers.  I can’t bear it.  I knew Charles would destroy my career in the end.”

Author:
John Boyne is the author of books for both children and adults, including The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, The Heart’s Invisible Furies, A History of Loneliness, and Stay Where You Are and Then Leave.  Born in Dublin, Boyne also writes regular book reviews for The Irish Times. 

Published:  2017
Length:   582 pages
Main Settings:  Dublin, Ireland; Amsterdam, The Netherlands
Secondary Setting:  New York City, New York, United States

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The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

association of small bombsThe Association of Small Bombs opens with violence: a bomb explodes in a crowded Delhi marketplace, killing two young brothers named Tushar and Nakul Khurana.  Their friend, Mansoor, survives the blast.  While Mansoor grows up haunted by the deaths of his childhood friends, Tushar and Nakul’s parents struggle to overcome their all-consuming grief.  In a separate storyline, Karan Mahajan introduces Shockie, a bomb-maker from the northern Indian region of Kashmir.

By weaving together stories of those affected by this one market bombing — barely a blip in the fast-paced news cycle — Mahajan untangles the complex, harrowing worlds of those who cause and suffer from acts of terrorism.

Quote:
“Now Mr. Khurana, who had been a troubled, twitchy sleeper ever since he’d become a documentary filmmaker years ago, began to suffer from dreams that impressed him deeply, and he never failed to discuss them with his wife or his collaborators.  He didn’t mention that he was terrified during their nightly unspooling; that he slept in the crook of his wife’s armpit like a baby, his body greased with sweat, his leg rotating out like the blade of a misfired fan. But the dreams were truly notable, and in the first and most frequent one, he became, for a few minutes, the bomb. The best way to describe what he felt would be to say that first he was blind, then he could see everything. This is what it felt like to be a bomb. You were coiled up, majestic with blackness, unaware that the universe outside you existed, and then a wire snapped and ripped open your eyelids all the way around and you had a vision of the world that was 360 degrees, and everything in your purview was doomed by seeing.”

Author:
Karan Mahajan is the author of the novels The Association of Small Bombs and Family Planning.  His writing has been featured in NPR’s All Things Considered, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.  Born in Delhi, India, he now lives in upstate New York.

Published:  2016
Length:  288 pages
Main Setting:  Delhi, India
Secondary Setting:  Kashmir, India

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

little fires everywhereIn the small Cleveland suburb of Shaker Heights, Ohio, conformity is the ideal to which most people aspire — including Elena Richardson.  A local news reporter and general busybody, she is also the mother of four vastly different children:  popular Lexie, athletic Trip, sensitive Moody, and troublemaker Izzy.  When the Richardson family rents out one of their apartments to artist Mia Warren and her daughter Pearl, these new tenants soon become entangled in their lives.  And with a fresh controversy building in Shaker Heights — the fierce custody battle between an immigrant mother from China and white adoptive parents — tensions between the Warrens and the Richardsons build to a fiery pitch.

Written with a keen eye for character detail, Little Fires Everywhere explores what it means to be a family — and how long-held secrets can fray even the strongest bonds.

Quote:
“Mia looked down at Izzy, this wayward, fiery girl suddenly gone timid and dampened and desperate.  She reminded Mia, oddly, of herself at around this age, traipsing through the neighborhood, climbing over fences and walls in search of the right photograph, defiantly spending her mother’s money on film.  Single-minded almost to excess.  Something inside Izzy reached out to something in her and caught fire.”

Author:
Celeste Ng is the author of Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere.  Her writing has appeared in publications including One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, and the Kenyon Review Online.  She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Published:  2017
Length:  338 pages
Set in:  Shaker Heights, Ohio, U.S.

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Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

tipping the velvet

Born in Whitstable, England in the late 19th century, Nancy Astley has known little more than the drudgery of working in her family’s oyster house — that is, until she sees Kitty Butler perform on a Canterbury stage.  Captivated by Kitty’s delicate face, powerful voice, and masculine costumes, Nan seeks out her affection and the chance to leave the coast for the bustling city of London.  But once in London, Nan’s fortune ebbs and flows from fame and fortune to heartbreak and hardship, leaving her to fend for herself and slowly construct her own identity.  Rich in detail and written with Waters’s distinctive Victorian flair, Tipping the Velvet is a charming, immersive coming-of-age story.

Quote:
“The trip from Bethnal Green to Cable Street did indeed take us through some of the roughest, poorest, squalidest districts in the city, and could never, ordinarily, be very cheerful.  I knew the route, for I had walked it often with Florence: I know which courts were grimmest, which factories sweated their workers hardest, which tenements housed the saddest and most hopeless families.  But we were out that night together — as Florence herself had admitted — for pleasure’s sake; and though it might seem strange to say it, our journey was indeed a pleasant one, and seemed to take us over a rather different landscape to the one we normally trod.  We passed gin-palaces and penny-gaffs, coffee-shops and public-houses: they were not the grim and dreary places that they sometimes were, tonight, but luminous with warmth and light and colour, thick with laughter and shouts, and with the reeking odours of beer and soup and gravy.”

Author:
Sarah Waters is the author of six novels: Tipping the Velvet, Fingersmith, Affinity, The Night Watch, The Paying Guests, and The Little Stranger.  Born in Wales, she currently lives in London.

Published:  1998
Length:  472 pages
Set in:  London, England, United Kingdom

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The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey

the dark lakeWhen Rosalind Ryan, beloved high school drama teacher, is found dead in the local lake, detective Gemma Woodstock and her partner Felix are given the case.  Between family fights, tension with her colleagues, and a mysterious event at her previous teaching job in Sydney, many people seem to have motive to hurt Rosalind.  As the case gains media attention and pressure to solve the murder mounts, Gemma must balance her desire to catch the killer with her urge to keep her own secrets hidden — including her own past ties to Rosalind.  In The Dark Lake, Bailey succeeds in writing complex, often unlikable characters and constructing a slow-burning but suspenseful plot.

Quote:
“Rosalind’s death has formed a blanket over Smithson: mixing with the relentless heat, it’s a creeping, vapor-like cover that sticks to everything.  Voices are low and theories are exchanged in clusters outside the newsagent and the post office.  Eyes dart around as if seeking a killer in the shadows.  Beautiful piles of flowers form little mountains of love and grief at Rosalind’s front door, the lake and the school.  It’s true what they say, that death unites us, pulls us together, though I see beyond this primal unity and think that perhaps we pull each other closer to check that we are who we say we are.  We are all trying to work out what went so horribly wrong.”

Author:
Sarah Bailey lives in Australia, where she has worked in advertising for more than a decade.  The Dark Lake is her first novel, and its sequel, Into the Night, will be published in 2018.

Published:  2017
Length:  440 pages
Set in:  New South Wales, Australia

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The Windfall by Diksha Basu

the windfallWhen Mr. Jha sells his company for an exorbitant amount of money, he and his wife begin immediately planning their escape from the cramped housing complex they’ve called home for decades.  As they settle into a spacious mansion in an affluent neighborhood of New Delhi, their lives become an exercise in keeping up appearances. Suddenly, Mr. Jha needs a diamond-encrusted couch, a round-the-clock guard, and a chauffeured car — and doesn’t understand why Mrs. Jha seems unimpressed with these new necessities.  Meanwhile, their son’s promising future at an American business school is slipping away, and his desperation to hide his failing grades leads to greater issues for the family.

Hilarious and fast-paced, The Windfall explores themes of class, marriage, and whether happiness can truly be bought.

Quote:
“The summer heat was getting on his nerves.  The heat in Delhi summers did not just come from the air; it radiated up from the ground and came off the walls of the buildings and pushed you from every direction, making it difficult to move.  What was the point of all this money if he couldn’t escape the blistering midday temperatures?  It should be possible, Mr. Jha thought, to have a small portable air-conditioned Plexiglas cubicle built to walk around in.  After all, he had had a shower installed in the Gurgaon bathrooms so he would no longer have to use a bucket filled with water and a mug to pour over his body.  So maybe he could have a similar contraption — completely sealed and cooled — to take everywhere with him.  It would make life a lot more pleasant.  Maybe something with wheels.  But then that would just be a car.”

Author:
Diksha Basu is a writer and actor. She splits her time between New York and Mumbai, India.

Published:  2017
Length:  295 pages
Set in:  New Delhi, India

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The Piano Maker by Kurt Palka

piano makerWhen Helene Giroux arrives in the small coastal village of Saint Homais in Nova Scotia, her presence is instantly the talk of the town.  As she settles in and begins working as the church pianist, the local people begin to accept her — until the police begin asking questions about her mysterious past.

By turns charming and suspenseful, The Piano Maker is a deftly written historical novel that spans two continents — from World War I France to post-war Canada — and grapples with questions of violence, mercy, and sacrifice.

Quote:
“In the thin white light from the sky and the yellow from the streetlamps she crossed the square to the church and at the side entrance used the key the priest had given her.  She stepped inside.  So quiet and dark at this hour.  Only the eternal flame by the altar and the street-side windows gave some light.  She found her way to a front pew and sat there with her hands in her coat pockets.  She looked at the piano, at the fine shape of it, the classic footed legs and the delicate prop stick, and in her mind she could see each part of it, the cabinet pieces still raw from the milling floor, the key-board and its nerve endings, the fine soundboard with the bridge applied.  The harp so heavy it took two men to raise it and four to set it in its lockpoints.”

Author:
Kurt Palka is a novelist whose books include The Piano Maker and Clara.  He currently lives in Ontario.

Published:  2015
Length:  288 pages
Primary Setting:  Nova Scotia, Canada
Secondary Setting:  Montmagny, France

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