Some books are beautifully written while others tell a fascinating story. And then there is Anthony Doerr’s new novel All the Light We Cannot See, which combines exquisite prose with an engrossing and layered tale of history, science and myth set in Europe during the era of World War II.
In August of 1944, the French coastal city of St. Malo was the location of a battle between the occupying Nazi troops and the Allied forces determined to drive out the Germans. In the city, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a 16-year-old blind girl, is home alone, hiding under her bed when the shelling begins. Across town, German army private Walter Pfennig is stationed with his radio team in the basement of the Hotel of Bees.
Doerr moves his story back and forth within a 10 year time frame. Marie-Laure was living in Paris with her father, the locksmith for the vast complex of the National Museum of Natural History. The pair fled Paris as the Occupation began, possibly carrying with them a priceless diamond steeped in legend from the museum’s collection. As a boy, Werner lived in an orphanage where he repaired a radio discarded as trash. He and his little sister would tune in to French radio broadcasts about science. Gifted with an analytical mind, Werner is drafted by the Nazis, using his skills to hunt down amateur broadcasters for the Resistance. Doerr carefully unfolds each character’s narrative as they gradually converge in St. Malo.
The center of this story might be a peerless gem, as cursed as the Hope diamond, both precious and horrifying. It might be the realization that both good and evil — or caring and callousness — can live within one heart. All the Light We Cannot See is a finely crafted work and deserves its place on The New York Times best sellers list. Readers of World War II literary fiction might also enjoy Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, a 2012 Man Booker finalist.
We all have friends from yesteryear with whom we pine for the perfect, golden memories of whatever chapter of our lives we consider to be “the good old days.” Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel The Girls from Corona del Mar follows two best friends, Mia and Lorrie Ann, as their journeys take them from their California hometown to the far corners of the world and back again, testing their bond along the way.
Mia is convinced that her friend Lorrie Ann is her counterbalance in the universe. Beautiful, soft-spoken and otherwise perfect in every manner, she can do no wrong in her kindred spirit’s eyes. Lorrie Ann’s only flaw seems to be her terrible luck; despite being an elementally good person, she suffers three distinct, life-altering tragedies that leave her reeling and unsure of her purpose in life. Mia feels powerless, remorseful and guilty, as if her best friend was being punished for her own shortcomings.
As the two grow older, their lives become disparate; Mia marries and moves to Turkey to develop her career while Lorrie Ann is swallowed up by the world. After years of sporadic contact, Mia is shocked when her best friend turns up in Istanbul, battered and in need of help. What transpires after the two are reunited challenges the temper of their time-forged companionship.
The Girls from Corona del Mar is a tragic, beautiful reckoning of the worst catastrophes life can muster, and illustrates just how powerful and enduring friendship can be, despite the fragility of youth. Anyone who has lost a best friend to time or distance will sympathize as Mia and Lorrie Ann’s story progresses. Rufi Thorpe has written a wonderful debut that will be enjoyed by fans of literary fiction or women’s literature.
2013 was a banner year for Rainbow Rowell, having published two major hits: the popular Fangirl and the critically lauded Eleanor and Park, which won a Michael L. Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction. Rowell fans can rejoice as her hotly anticipated adult novel, Landline, hits BCPL’s shelves today.
Georgie McCool is on the verge of a major breakthrough in her career. She and her writing partner have a huge meeting with a studio executive the day after Christmas to pitch their very own TV show. It’s everything she’s ever dreamed of, but the meeting means her family won’t be able to go to Omaha to visit her mother-in-law. Georgie’s husband, Neal, decides to take their daughters anyway, leaving Georgie alone on Christmas to contemplate their marriage, her career and how her marriage has turned into something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She goes to her mother’s house and finds an old-fashioned rotary phone in her childhood bedroom and uses it to call Neal in Nebraska. Neal answers, but not her husband of 14 years; it’s Neal of 1998, right before he is about to propose, and suddenly Georgie wonders if she’s destined to reroute their shared history by talking him out of their marriage before it even begins.
In Landline, unlike Rowell’s other novels, the main relationship isn’t a burgeoning romance: It’s a marriage of 14 years. There’s too much at stake to let it falter, and the tension between Georgie and the past and present Neals will keep readers itching to skip to the last page to see how it all turns out. There is a lot to laugh about in the book as well: funny, relatable characters; a pug in labor and tons of pop culture references. Landline is a winner for a great summer read, especially if you recognize the phone on the cover as something you had in your own bedroom (or just begged your parents for when you were in junior high).
Malla Nunn and Kwei Quartey present two African mysteries that are sure to thrill the armchair traveler looking for a suspenseful police investigation.
Racism and police corruption during Apartheid in Johannesburg, South Africa are the subjects Nunn tackles in her novel, Present Darkness. Emmanuel Cooper is a flawed detective who rose from the mean streets of Sophiatown to enter the police force and must hide the fact that he is in an illegal relationship with a woman of color. When a European couple is found severely beaten in their home and the main suspect is a Zulu named Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of Cooper’s friend and colleague, Cooper is cautioned strongly not to investigate. Cooper as he ignores the direct order of his supervisor in order to save the son of a man to whom he owes his life. Nunn’s exploration of this difficult time in South African history is compelling, and her thoughtful prose creates a chilling atmosphere that is sure to enthrall the reader until the novel’s heart-stopping conclusion.
In Murder at Cape Three Points, Quartey introduces the reader to Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, who works in Accra on the coast of Ghana. Late one night, a canoe is found drifting near an off-shore oil rig. In the canoe are the bodies of the Smith-Aidoos, an influential, highly educated couple. Darko digs deeper and uncovers corrupt real estate deals and bribery, all threatening to the local fishing trade and seeming to stem from the oil industry. With a growing list of suspects and a tenacious family member looking for results, Darko must put all of his skills to the test. Quartey has a more traditional approach to crime solving, and fans of police procedurals will enjoy this novel.
Both writers excel at detailed descriptions of their respective countries and will appeal to readers who love visiting an exotic locale. Readers who enjoy these selections can find earlier novels in the series from both authors. Those who like the African setting and are longing for more should try Michael Stanley and Deon Meyer.
It’s 1938, and while San Francisco is prepping for a world’s fair and a war is percolating overseas, three young girls are focused on making it as showgirls in the city’s most exclusive Asian revue. Lisa See introduces us to Ruby, Helen and Grace in China Dolls, a captivating novel which takes readers to the dazzling and debauched world of burlesque while detailing the intricate relationships of women and the impact history and fate has on their lives and friendships.
Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen Fong lives with her extended and very traditional family in Chinatown. And Ruby Tom is stunning, independent and ambitious, but has a closely guarded secret. These three young women from diverse backgrounds find themselves competing for the same jobs, but still become fast friends sharing secrets, hopes and dreams. Everything changes with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As the U.S. government sends innocent Japanese citizens to internment camps, Ruby’s true heritage is exposed and she is sent to a camp in Utah. Did one of her friends betray her secret?
Paranoia and suspicion set in, and their friendships become increasingly fragile as the war intensifies. However, bleak times demand support, and the trio always manages to find a way back to one another. Lisa See once again delivers a faultlessly researched historical saga spanning a half century. This story of female friendship, ambition and betrayal is highlighted by the magnificent milieu of Asian burlesque entertainment. The colorful details create a beautiful backdrop for sharing the life journey of these three remarkable and dynamic women.
Where can you find out about the hottest new books before they’re published? LibraryReads features 10 new titles published each month that have caught the eyes of librarians across the country. The July LibraryReads list is a mix of books by returning favorite authors as well as some fresh debuts. Don’t forget to pack these two in your beach bag this summer!
Many American readers were introduced to Jojo Moyes when they read her runaway bestseller Me Before You, which Between the Covers blogger Laura told us about early last year. This summer, Moyes returns with One Plus One. Jess, single mom to a genius daughter and an outcast stepson, needs cash fast, so she embarks on a road trip to the Math Olympiad with her family in tow, hoping to use the prize money to pay her daughter’s tuition. Throw in one large, smelly dog and a disgraced tech geek to round out the party, and you have a charming story about a quirky band of misfits who somehow fit together. Fans of the movie Little Miss Sunshine will love this novel.
Told in alternating chapters, Lori Rader-Day’s The Black Hour brings together the stories of Amelia Emmet, a sociology professor recovering from a seemingly random shooting that left her injured and a student dead 10 months earlier, and Nathaniel Barber, her teaching assistant who wants to write his dissertation about the attack. Rader-Day masterfully builds tension as both Amelia and Nath seek answers about why the shooting happened. This darkly suspenseful debut is a perfect match for readers who enjoy novels by Gillian Flynn and S. J. Watson.
It’s the fall of 1941 in England, and the world stands on the brink of destruction. By night, the bombs drop. By day, exhausted Londoners go about their daily business. As do a network of spies – specialists in deceit – determined to stop Hitler and all he stands for. Maggie Hope never expected to be one of them. Shattered from her undercover experiences in Berlin, she is assigned to share her expertise in the training of future SOE agents.
Britain stands alone; the United States merrily jitterbugs, packing Bundles for Britain, remaining determined to stay out of European affairs. Winston Churchill despairs that FDR will never come to England’s aid. Determined to defend the realm whatever the cost, Churchill authorizes the development of chemical weapons.
But the war is about more than the plans of politicians. It’s about the people who must make deeply personal decisions about their involvement. When a dear friend of Maggie’s is accidentally affected by the secret experiments being conducted in Scotland, Maggie must decide how far she will go to find a killer, save a friend and her country.
Meticulously researched, and based on the stories of true spies, political and military events, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent is sure to please historical fiction readers as well as lovers of mystery and suspense. Susan Elia MacNeal is a master at creating the backdrop of war and the heartbreak of those involved. Readers of Jacqueline Winspear and Laura Wilson will be delighted with this latest entry in the Maggie Hope series.
We asked some popular thriller authors what books kept them up all night. Their responses include a host of reading suggestions that will help you build the perfect summer reading list.
Chris Pavone, author of The Accident, recommends Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch. He writes, “I couldn't put down Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which I suspect no one is referring to as a thriller, despite its tremendously thrilling elements. I think it's a great book in every way, but in particular I found it heartbreakingly beautiful on the sentence level–one wonderful sentence after another after another, for nearly 800 pages–and filled with moments of truth and insight. Then, of course, there's the terrorist bombing and the stolen priceless painting and drug deals and death by gunshot and hiding out in an Amsterdam hotel. How can you go to sleep with this type of stuff going on?”
Brad Meltzer couldn’t put down Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which he says is “[m]ore history, less thriller, but had me to my soul.” The novel, which has been a favorite of readers since its publication in 2006, was also recently made into a movie.
M. J. Rose, co-president of International Thriller Writers and author of The Collector of Dying Breaths, shared two of her favorite authors. “Two authors guaranteed to keep me up all night are Lee Child and Steve Berry – they both have new books coming out soon [that are] sure to be as un-put-downable as the last.” Find Child’s Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel (available to be placed on hold) and Berry’s The Lincoln Myth in BCPL's catalog. Rose continues, “Both of them are consummate professionals who never miss a chance to stop a chapter with a cliffhanger and get their characters into what seem like impossible situations. These guys can write!”
Matthew Quirk, whose new novel The Directive was just published, recommends a classic. “I recently re-read Marathon Man by William Goldman and couldn't put it down. It has a great voice and unforgettable scenes (you'll never look at a dentist the same way again). It taught me so much about what drives a thriller: relentless threats to your protagonist as you ratchet up the stakes.”
Natalie Baszile tackles several tough topics in her novel Queen Sugar. Protagonist Charley, a single mother, has to create a whole new life for herself as a black woman in rural Louisiana. She has to deal with the loss of loved ones, confront prejudice and raise a strong, proud daughter. It is only with the help of her grandmother, Miss Honey, that she is even able to attempt this new beginning.
After Charley’s father passed away, she was surprised to learn that he had left her a sugar cane plantation in Louisiana. She’d always considered herself a city girl from California, but it had been four years since her husband passed away, and she and her 11-year-old daughter Micah were in need of a change.
When Charley and Micah arrive in Louisiana, they realized that the plantation manager had given up long ago and the fields were in dire need of a green thumb. Feeling overwhelmed, Charley immediately begins to try to turn things around. She had moved Micah against her will and sunk all of her savings into a long shot at a new life, but Charley quickly learns that this new life doesn’t come with the promise of simplicity. More than one curve ball is thrown her way, but Charley is determined to make her father proud and show Micah that perseverance is the key to reaching a goal.
Baszile creates rich characters whose relationships feel warm and authentic. It’s the combination of these character interactions and the vivid descriptions of the landscape that bring this book alive. Though the novel is more contemporary in content, I would recommend it to those who liked The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd.
New reporter Rebekah Roberts is haunted by the mother who abandoned her to return to her secretive Hasidic family. After a childhood in sunny Florida with her adoring father and stepmother, Roberts moves to New York with dreams of becoming a renowned journalist. In Julia Dahl’s debut novel Invisible City, the world of print media is fading fast. However, Roberts lands a job as a glorified tabloid reporter, sent to the scene of the seediest crimes where she hopes to eke out a living reporting facts that someone else will write. After receiving a call to report to a crime scene, she finds herself immersed in the murder mystery of a Hasidic woman who is from the same community as Roberts’ mother is.
When Roberts meets Jewish detective Saul Katz at the home of the victim, he recognizes her based on her uncanny resemblance to the mother she never knew and she is catapulted into a world shrouded in tradition and secrets. With each new fact she discovers, another question replaces it. Her past motivates her to dig further, which leads her into undeniable danger.
With each new turn of the mystery, Roberts finds herself learning more and more about her mother’s Hasidic world. Roberts watches the body taken away by Jewish “police” instead of the medical examiner. She learns that an autopsy will not be conducted, and the victim buried before evidence can be collected. Clearly a murder, the case might never be solved unless Roberts can expose the truth behind the crime and her own ties to the community.