Who’s the fairest of them all? Is it Snow, with her fair skin and hazel eyes? Maybe it is Bird, with her cap of dark curls and golden skin. Nigerian-born Helen Oyeyemi’s latest novel, Boy, Snow, Bird, takes classic fairy tale themes of beauty, stepmothers and sibling rivalry and reworks them around a 1950s New England town and a family’s secrets.
Eighteen-year-old Boy Novak lives in New York City with her sadistic father who works as a rat catcher, using blinded rats as bait. To escape her father’s abuse, she buys a train ticket for the far-away stop of Flax Hill, Massachusetts. The fine-boned, flaxen-haired Boy meets and marries Arturo Whitman, local professor-turned-jeweler, widower, and father of Snow. Boy slides right into her role of benevolent stepmother and daughter-in-law until she and Arturo have their own baby, Bird, who is “born with a suntan.” Unbeknownst to Boy, her new husband and his family are African-American passing for white. Bird’s arrival pulls back the curtain on their carefully constructed public lives.
What is fair, either in beauty or in deeds? Arturo’s mother wants to send the darker-skinned Bird away to live with relatives; Boy views stepdaughter Snow as the interloper who needs to go. Oyeyemi uses a conversational writing style and alternates characters’ narration, including letters sent between the sisters, to explore issues of identity relative to race and gender. Boy, Snow, Bird warns us of the danger in allowing our reflection, whether in the mirror or eyes of the beholder, dictate who we are.
Hesteyri: A beautiful location by the ocean, a popular summer tourist destination, an entrepreneurs golden opportunity. When friends decide to purchase and renovate a house to start a bed and breakfast, they find their dream quickly transforms into a nightmare. I Remember You by Yrsa Sigurdardottir is a spectacularly terrifying ghost story, and the most frightening and suspenseful novel I have read in recent memory. Readers meet the three friends as they are traveling on a small boat to the island, the location of their renovation project. It is a dreary and blustery winter’s afternoon and the seas are rough, indicative of a threatening storm. After disembarking at the uninhabited village, the captain encourages them to call if they need to leave before the predetermined departure a week later. He seems to struggle with divulging something menacing, but elects to hold his tongue. The author’s brilliant foreshadowing paints an atmosphere very different from the bright hopes and expectations of the main characters. Their house creaks and moans, there is a putrid stench which emanates periodically from the kitchen, wet footprints appear overnight, objects move on their own… and the disturbances are only beginning.
I Remember You is actually two tales which are told in alternating chapters. The second story line involves a doctor on the mainland who has recently relocated to the area. Having suffered the unbearable loss of his young son who disappeared three years before, he and his wife have just divorced and he is attempting to move on with his life. As the only professional in the town with any psychiatric experience, the police have called him to a preschool which has been extensively vandalized. Every item in the room is broken, every piece of artwork shredded and the word “dirty” has been written repeatedly on the wall. Even more bizarre is that it perfectly mimics a crime at an elementary school 60 years ago. The investigation reveals multiple classmates from the earlier crime have died under suspicious circumstances.
Discovering the truth behind these mysteries is a thrilling and terrifying adventure. Readers will appreciate the break in the ghostly hauntings when the storyline switches to the mainland. But only for so long, as it becomes evident there are sinister otherworldly events taking place there as well. If you are looking for a great ghost story, check out the Scandinavian thriller I Remember You.
British author Laline Paull is setting the book world abuzz with her debut novel, an imaginative and gripping tale which takes place in a beehive. Paull began studying bees after a beekeeper friend died; the fascinating societal structure of the hive inspired her to write The Bees.
Flora 717 is a worker bee living in a hive valuing conformity. Born “obscenely ugly… and excessively large,” Flora is saved from immediate execution because a ruling class priestess wants to use her in an experiment. The hive’s rigid caste system relies on mind control and strict job divisions, which keep the hive operating for the good of the group, but its totalitarian mindset allows no individual freedom. Flora defies the limitations of her Sanitation class: She is able to speak, block other bees from accessing her thoughts and use her abilities to forge a unique role for herself when the survival of the hive is threatened.
In creating the intricate life of this honeybee colony, Paull did everything from attending beekeeper classes to watching nature unfold in her backyard. She blends factual bee behavior, like building honeycomb nurseries or the “dancing” and antennae touching which bees perform to communicate information, with elements of goddess worship, Catholic prayer and the British monarchy in her creation of a detailed parallel world. As in nature, The Bees is sometimes chillingly violent. It is also surprisingly funny, with its swaggering Drone class reminiscent of any Animal House frat bro collective hopped up on testosterone.
The Bees is being compared to the modern classic Watership Down by Richard Adams for its thrilling adventure and social commentary wrapped up in an animal story. This story makes a perfect book club choice or escapist summer read as Flora 717 takes the reader on a wild flight. Is Flora a traitor or a savior? The bees in your garden will never look the same again.
Did you already binge-watch the second season of House of Cards on Netflix? Are you on pins and needles waiting to see where Frank and Claire’s machinations will lead them next? These novels filled with intrigue and scheming are just the thing to help ease your post-season two blues.
Before it was a hit American series, House of Cards was a popular British miniseries inspired by a trilogy of novels written by Michael Dobbs, a former advisor of Margaret Thatcher. The author recently revised House of Cards, the first novel in the trilogy, and it has been re-released. This thriller revolves around Chief Whip Francis Urquhart and his Machiavellian political maneuvering and Mattie Storin, a driven young reporter who pursues a story about corruption that she can’t resist. Like the television adaptation, the novel is ruled by political intrigue. The remaining novels in the trilogy will also be available later this year, so stay tuned for more plotting, greed and corruption.
For more political scheming, try Hilary Mantel’s Man Booker Prize-winning novel Wolf Hall, which brings 16th-century English politics to life. This fictional account of the life of Thomas Cromwell shows his rise to his position of advisor to the king and his skill as a consummate political schemer. The novel follows Cromwell’s behind-the-scenes maneuvering during the tumultuous reign of Henry VIII. Mantel’s well-researched, skillfully written novel is the first in a trilogy that you won’t want to miss.
If you’re looking for dark stories about ruthless, manipulative characters, Patricia Highsmith’s 1955 novel The Talented Mr. Ripley is the gold standard. Tom Ripley is entranced by the wealthy world of his new acquaintance Dickie Greenleaf. When Dickie’s father asks Tom to go to Italy and convince his wayward son to come home to New York, Tom agrees. He slowly becomes more and more obsessed with Dickie’s world and eventually assumes Dickie’s identity. Highsmith tells the story from Tom’s distorted yet charismatic perspective, leaving the reader both fascinated and horrified.
Baltimore author Rob Kasper will discuss his book Baltimore Beer: A Satisfying History of Charm City Brewing, at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, May 6, at the Perry Hall Branch. This program is sponsored by the Friends of the Perry Hall Library. Kasper, who also had a prolific career as a writer and reporter for The Baltimore Sun, recently answered questions for Between the Covers about his book.
How long had the idea for Baltimore Beer been, well, brewing, before you put pen to paper? At what point did you decide to make a serious study of Baltimore beer and the history of local breweries?
About 10 years. One day at The Sun I got a call saying National Premium was no longer being bottled (it has since been revived). Reading the clips to write the story, I realized there was no current history of Baltimore breweries. Originally I had a contract with the publishing arm of Bibelot bookstores to write the book. They went bankrupt and the project lay dormant, then I got a contract with History Press and finished the book.
What was the most interesting or the oddest piece of information about Baltimore beer or breweries that you discovered in your research?
Three things come to mind that show how breweries were a major part of Baltimore’s social fabric. One, how German the city of Baltimore was. In addition to all the breweries, city council notes were printed in German and English until World War I. Two, how the Lone Ranger’s silver bullet and some National Premium executives coaxed the owner of the Washington Senators into letting the Orioles move to Baltimore in 1954. Three, when a fisherman caught Diamond Jim III (a rockfish tagged by American Brewing Company) and won $25,000, the fisherman argued that catching the fish was civic achievement and therefore tax free. A judge was amused but said the fisherman owed $6,000 in taxes.
For more than three decades, you were a reporter, columnist and editorial writer for The Baltimore Sun. What are a few notable moments or highs from your career with the newspaper?
I won a handful of national writing awards for my columns which buoyed me, but the most gratifying part of the job was the feedback from readers – phone calls, letters and comments from folks I bumped into who had read something I had written. Mostly they liked what I had written, but sometimes not.
You’ve made a career in Baltimore, but you grew up in Kansas. How did you find your way to the East Coast?
All the great seafood lovers grew up in the Midwest. That is because when folks out here were eating rockfish on Fridays, we were chewing on fish sticks. When I came to Maryland to work at The Sun, (after a five-year stop at the Louisville Courier-Journal and Times and a one-day – yes, one-day – stint at the National Observer) I tasted crab soup, crab cakes, steamed crabs and soft crabs. There was no going back. I once beat Brooks Robinson in a celebrity crab picking contest – not bad for a guy from Dodge City. But I later got demolished by Shirley Phillips, of Phillips Seafood. She used a knife to slice up the steamed crabs. The way she wielded that knife, you wouldn’t want to cross her.
Okay, we need to ask: Your favorite beer?
Well, like Ado Annie in Oklahoma!, the girl who cain’t say no, my favorite depends on whom I am with. At Brewer’s Art it is Resurrection; at Union Craft it is Duckpin; at Heavy Seas it is Loose Cannon; at Pratt Street Ale House it is Extra Special Bitter; at DuClaw it is Black Jack Stout; at Flying Dog it is Snake Dog. The beer I still pine for is pilsner from the long-gone Baltimore Brewing Company. That was exceptional. I make do substituting with Victory Prima Pils and the Pendulum Pilsner from RavenBeer.
Tell us a little about Baltimore Beer Week, a nonprofit that celebrates local brewing, which you helped to found.
My contributions to Beer Week pale compared with those of Joe Gold and Dominic Cantalupo and the late Mick Kipp. But basically it is a 10-day celebration in October of all things beery in Baltimore. There are tastings, beer dinners and tours of breweries, including the classic old American Brewery, now home to the nonprofit Humanin. I try to provide historical background and remind beer drinkers that the good stuff they are enjoying today was built on the shoulders of generations of brewers before them.
Life could be greener on the Emerald Isle these days, where Ireland's economic recession has wreaked havoc upon the residents of one small rural town. There are no jobs, no pension, no unemployment benefits. The effect is a domino-like collapse of livelihood and sanity for everyone in Irish writer Donal Ryan's insightful, darkly humorous debut, The Spinning Heart.
The title refers to a battered and flaking red metal heart on a front cottage gate belonging to the father of well-known resident, Bobby Mahon. Despite its beaten condition, the heart continues to spin on its hinge. It becomes a metaphor for Bobby and the other 20 blindsided souls, who each get a brief chapter to tell their story. They, too, need restoration after the town's big employer abandons them.
Pokey Burke is the corrupt, now-defunct builder who absconds with more than his workers' money. Soon everyone is pondering their hand-to-mouth existence and the fissures emerging in their community. The common thread is Bobby, Pokey's tough but well-respected former foreman whom everyone knows and generally respects. But even Bobby is not above reproach, as his possible complicity in his father’s death has people wondering.
Ryan’s snapshot into the recess of weary minds speaks to a wry, vulnerable sensitivity, and his writing in the vernacular hits home. The prose oozes with spot-on observations of the time, while his use of idioms smartly adds to the authenticity of the first-person narratives. Long-listed for the Man Booker prize, Ryan isn't the first author to swirl Ireland’s economic woes into a novel. Tana French did it in Broken Harbor, and closer to home, Stewart O'Nan did it with Last Night at the Lobster. Best laid plans are never guaranteed. “The future is a cold mistress,” Bobby’s father said. Tomorrow is like that.
Countless manga series that have been translated from the original Japanese have appeared in the U.S. over the past decade. After a few years of the market becoming flooded with sometimes mediocre products, publishers have become more selective. They are now focusing on the cream of the crop. Two strong, well-reviewed manga for teens that have been recent hits in Japan are arriving here in the U.S.
Nisekoi: False Love, by Naoshi Komi, tells the story of Raku, the high school-aged son of a Yakuza gangster. Raku’s father has arranged a “false love” match between the young man and a rival gang leader’s daughter, Chitoge. They get off to an inauspicious start when Chitoge accidentally knees Raku in the face, which in turn causes Raku to lose an important locket. This was the only connection he maintained to a childhood sweetheart, and the search for the lost item causes instant strife between the two newly matched teens. Despite the outrageous plot, this works as a sort of wacky romantic comedy, with gangster elements adding intrigue and surprise. Two volumes are currently available, with the third coming in May.
Meanwhile, Arina Tanemura’s Phantom Thief Jeanne is a reincarnation in more ways than one. Originally licensed to another publisher that later went bankrupt, this series has returned with new covers and crisp line drawings reminiscent of Sailor Moon. The other reincarnation is Jeanne herself – a “phantom-thief magical girl” who is the second coming of Joan of Arc. As is the case in many manga, the plot is almost too outrageous and convoluted to summarize, but it involves a battle between angels and devils, chess pieces that unlock the mysteries within the hearts of humans and demons hidden in priceless works of art. All of this is compounded by another story of false love! The second volume of the series will soon be available. Both of these series are good avenues into the outlandish, fantastical world of manga, as well as peeks into Japanese culture.
Damaris Chance feels no compulsion to marry but instead longs for a cottage by the sea. Freddy Monkton-Coombes is enjoying the rewards of his rakish ways, which will be severely curtailed if his mother has anything to say about it. In The Winter Bride, Annie Gracie revisits the Chance sisters and shares the stories of this magnetic and damaged duo.
Damaris Chance’s unhappy past involves a blackguard sea captain who hurt her so deeply that marriage is no longer an appealing option. But her guardian, Lady Beatrice, convinces her to make her debut and enjoy a season of lighthearted fun. Meanwhile, Freddy’s season is filled with all the single ladies tracking his every move and a mother who won’t stop nagging about marriage. He is also determined to honor his promise to his friend Max to watch out for the Chance sisters. When Freddy discovers Damaris roaming through unsavory parts of town at all hours of the night, he demands to know her secret.
Damaris has been surreptitiously selling her painted pottery in an effort to secure her dream cottage. While not a scandalous secret, during the course of their conversation, the two reach a most unorthodox decision and agree to an arranged marriage. Freddy can continue his womanizing ways, and Damaris will have her cottage. As the two spend more time together during their “engagement,” they share confidences and dreams. Is marriage really such a bad thing after all? Gracie continues her Chance Sisters series with another charming romance centered by a charismatic couple while positioning the players to be featured in the next two seasons. Spring and summer can’t come soon enough!
What do a group of computer-savvy youths, a television psychic, a devoted grandfather and a murder spree have in common? Ripper. This is the name of the online computer game that six teenagers use to puzzle out historic murder mysteries, such as the case of Jack the Ripper. Each player has an assumed identity and his or her own particular area of criminal expertise. Ripper is also the title of Isabel Allende’s newest novel, an ingenious whodunit that will baffle readers as thoroughly as it does the police department investigating the series of murders tormenting its city.
After a psychic predicts a bloodbath in the city of San Francisco, the Gamemaster proposes the Ripper players attempt to crack these most peculiar murder cases. Their theoretical game takes a tragic turn when Indiana, the mother of the Gamemaster, goes missing. It will take all of their resourcefulness to try to find her before she is added to the list of victims. Readers will enjoy this plot-driven storyline that progresses steadily even as the body count rises. The story intensifies toward a dramatic conclusion that will have people revisiting early chapters of the book in astonishment.
In a departure from her previous novels featuring magical realism, bestselling author Allende brings her character-rich writing style to this modern day suspense story. According to Booklist, “Allende creates a compassionate and gripping mystery stoked by the paradoxes of family and community and the consequences of abuse.”
This week, Greg Iles fans are celebrating the release of Natchez Burning, the author’s first new novel in nearly five years! Natchez Burning brings readers back to hero Penn Cage, and it marks the start of a new trilogy from Iles. When Penn’s father Dr. Tom Cage is accused of administering a lethal injection to Viola Turner, a nurse who he worked with in the 1960s, Penn is desperate to save him. His investigation sends him on a journey through his father’s past, unearthing long-hidden secrets that may have come back to haunt Tom and put his family in peril. The shocking truth that Penn eventually finds involves a splinter cell of the Ku Klux Klan called the Double Eagles and crimes hidden for 40 years.
Natchez Burning is an unforgettable, cinematic story that Book Page calls “William Faulkner for the Breaking Bad generation.” This is a must-read for fans of John Grisham’s Sycamore Row. At nearly 800 pages long, this novel seems daunting, but the pages fly by. Iles is a masterful storyteller, and this is some of his best work. Before reading Natchez Burning, long-time fans of Penn Cage will also want to read The Death Factory. Iles wrote this novella, which was released exclusively in ebook, to tie up loose ends from The Devil’s Punchbowl.
The road to Natchez Burning was a long and challenging one for Iles. His father, who inspired his character Tom Cage, passed away in 2010. Then, Iles faced life-threatening injuries from an automobile accident in 2011. Iles shares more about how those events impacted his writing process for this remarkable new novel in this video.