German author Charlotte Link creates a gripping mystery with The Other Child, her first novel translated for an English audience. In a small town nestled on the coast of Yorkshire, a young woman finishes a babysitting job and heads home. The lighted path ahead is blocked, forcing her to choose a darker and more desolate route. She never returns home. Meanwhile, a group of characters gather to celebrate the pending engagement of Gwen Beckett and Dave Tanner. Gwen, painfully shy and living at home with her father, is not the average blushing bride. Her friends and family fear that Tanner is only interested in procuring her hand to gain access to the farm and fulfill his plan to turn the farm into a bustling hotel. Fiona Barnes, an old matriarch and a close family friend, rails against the pending marriage and creates a scene at a dinner party. It is not long before Fiona is also found dead with her head smashed in, much like the young woman that was discovered earlier that week. Enter Detective Valerie Almond, a nervous detective who is unsure of her place in the police force and her ability to solve a crime. Will she be able to piece together the clues before the killer strikes again?
Link creates a great atmospheric thriller with psychological intensity. She also incorporates a story within a story as Fiona recounts a situation that happened long ago during the height of World War II. Many of the characters are tremendously flawed and the cast of suspects will keep the reader engaged in solving the mystery. Fans of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James will easily gravitate to this novel and look forward to the next one.
Elizabeth L. Silver’s debut novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is the kind of book that leaves the reader thinking about it long after finishing the last page. As the story begins, Noa is on death row awaiting X-Day, the day of her execution, when Marlene Dixon, the mother of her victim Sarah, approaches her. Marlene is a prominent Philadelphia attorney who tells Noa that she has changed her stance on the death penalty. Marlene says that she has formed a new nonprofit organization called Mothers Against Death, and she offers to petition for clemency on Noa’s behalf. What she really wants is for Noa to explain why she shot Sarah. During her trial and sentencing, Noa did not speak to defend herself. She did not offer any explanation for Sarah’s death.
The story is told through narratives written by Noa as X-Day approaches and letters that Marlene writes to Sarah at the same time. The truth is a murky thing that Silver slowly reveals over the course of the novel. The idea that both guilt and innocence exist on a spectrum is at the heart of the story. Neither of the women is what she seems to be in the beginning, and both share the burden of guilt to some degree. As Noa’s execution draws near, the reader realizes the complexity of the situation and must consider the difference between moral guilt and legal guilt. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is a complex, character-driven psychological thriller that will yield heated discussions at your next book club meeting.
In author Gail Godwin’s newest novel, Flora, the aged Helen is remembering the summer of 1945. She lived on a mountaintop outside a small North Carolina town in her family’s once stately manse with her adored grandmother Nonie, described by one of Helen’s few friends as looking like “an upright mastiff driving a car.” Also in residence is Helen’s remote and sarcastic father who usually prefers the company of Jack Daniels to his daughter. Helen’s mother died when Helen was three. Nonie has died, unexpectedly, in the spring and Helen’s father has eagerly accepted a supervisory position at the Oak Ridge, Tennessee military facility, leaving the nearly eleven-year-old Helen in need of a caretaker.
Arrangements are made for cousin Flora to come tend Helen. Flora, a recent teacher’s college graduate, is everything Helen’s “right side of the tracks” family is not; her lack of guile and tender heart are viewed with polite condescension and her stories of Helen’s mother’s estranged family back in Alabama are an embarrassment. Hitler has killed himself but the Japanese are continuing to fight World War II. On the home front, polio has reared its paralytic head, victimizing Helen’s buddy Brian, and soldiers lucky enough to straggle home are bringing their own demons with them. Helen’s father declares that Flora and Helen must remain sequestered on the decaying estate for their own safety.
Writer Godwin is known for her graceful prose, sharply-drawn characters, and is at her best probing family dynamics influenced by Southern Gothic tradition. In Flora, she portrays both a country and a family on the cusp of change, responding to circumstances beyond either’s control. Helen’s struggle to regain her footing in a permanently altered world has far reaching consequences, and Godwin’s careful portrayal of Helen as a child desperately emulating her beloved adults rings sadly true.
What happens when an ex-wife is forced to live with the woman who broke up her once happy marriage? First time author Amy Sue Nathan delivers a novel with that tantalizing premise in The Glass Wives. Evie Glass finds her world upended when ex-husband Richard dies in a devastating car accident. While she had come to terms with living alone with their ten year-old twins in what had been their dream house, she still counted on Richard to be there. Sure, he now had a new wife more than ten years her junior, Nicole, and a baby son with that new wife. But Richard was still an active parent to her children, someone who would continue to be there through their life milestones: the bar and bat mitzvahs, their graduations. Or so she had always hoped.
Once the shock of Richard’s death begins to wear off, Nicole Glass realizes to her horror that her financial support is now gone as well. Her part time sales job at the gift store doesn’t bring in enough to pay the mortgage, let alone anything else. And although she initially was happy about the thought of removing Richard’s widow from her life, she hadn’t realized her children had already developed a bond with their half-brother. And Nicole herself is left adrift, estranged from her own relatives.
The Glass wives begin to redefine family as necessity brings their separate families together under one roof. Nathan’s smart, thoughtful story, told with compassion and a sense of humor, makes a great poolside read. Need a compulsively readable choice (with a lot of discussion points) for an upcoming book club? The Glass Wives is a sure bet.
The majority of American brides have diamond engagement rings today, but that wasn’t always the case. The American expectation of a diamond engagement ring largely grew from the aggressive marketing of the DeBeers Company in the 20th century. J. Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements brings together a diverse cast of characters in a story centered around relationships and, of course, the engagement ring.
Kate, who lived through the turmoil of her parents’ failed marriage, has vowed never to marry. She and her partner Dan are very happy together, but she must set aside her feelings about marriage as she helps her cousin plan his wedding to his long-time partner. Evelyn married Gerald soon after the loss of her first husband. They have been married 40 years, and they now face their son’s crumbling marriage and his choice of a new relationship. James is a paramedic who married his high school sweetheart Sheila. Their life together is far from perfect, but they are working to stay together. Delphine’s relationship with musician P.J. is coming to an end because of his infidelity. She reflects back on their doomed relationship as she methodically trashes his apartment. In the midst of these stories, we also meet Frances Gerety, a fictionalized version of the woman who wrote the famous DeBeers slogan “A Diamond is Forever” in the 1940s. Frances works for the N. W. Ayer advertising agency in Philadelphia and has helped craft many of the marketing catchphrases for diamonds that we still recognize today. She never married, and her experience as a single woman working to promote engagements and marriage provides a counterpoint to the other stories.
Over the course of the novel, Sullivan slowly connects these seemingly unrelated stories. She presents no perfect characters and no perfect relationships, but the enduring nature of love and family shines through. This entertaining and rich look at relationships and marriage will be the perfect addition to your summer beach bag.
In a rather touching tale of self-discovery amidst the landscape of the animal rights movement, Natalie Brown’s debut novel The Lovebird introduces us to a flawed character searching for change who ultimately finds it in herself. Margie comes from a troubled childhood. Her father smokes and drinks too much and seems unwilling to accept the death of his wife. It seems only natural for Margie to discover another lost and lonely soul, a professor of Latin raising his daughter after the death of his wife. Simon offers her love but also the chance to fight for the small creatures of the earth. Margie becomes vegan and an active member of H.E.A.R.T. (Humans Encouraging Animal Rights Today) and begins to perform slightly unsavory acts for the benefit of nature. But a life event changes her course, and suddenly she is thrust into the leadership of H.E.A.R.T., and her decisions will affect the course of her life forever.
The Lovebird is an engrossing character study, following Margie’s thoughts in the first person. As her story unfolds, the reader feels a deep sympathy for a character that, although often misguided, has complete compassion and care for others. The story takes an unexpected turn in the middle and readers will be surprised and delighted by Margie’s journey. Natalie Brown’s prose is thoughtful and expertly crafted, so readers who appreciate a good turn of phrase will certainly enjoy her writing. The novel is heartfelt and inspiring with an ending that readers will remember, a perfect choice for book groups.
What happens when a girl who shouldn’t have survived a violent attack hunts a killer who shouldn’t be able to exist? This is the story at the center of the hypnotic web that South African author Lauren Beukes creates in her new thriller The Shining Girls. In the 1930s, serial killer Harper Curtis found something magical that has made his murders almost unsolvable. The front door of his house opens onto different times, allowing him to travel back and forth through time to find his girls. He finds himself drawn to some girls because they shine; their lives are full of promise. He murders the girls, leaving trophies from his kills in other times at the grisly murder scenes. He is confident that he’ll never be found, so he begins to go back to visit his girls when they are children, years before he kills them.
Kirby Mazrachi is a survivor. In 1989, she was attacked by a serial killer and left for dead. She is determined to find answers. She becomes an intern at the Chicago Sun-Times and works with Dan Velasquez, a former homicide reporter who wrote about her attack. She begins to find answers, but Kirby quickly realizes that the more she learns, the more impossible it all seems. Tension builds as readers realize that Kirby and Harper are on a collision course to meet again. Beukes has created a chilling, genre-bending thriller that may ruin the childhood toy My Little Pony for you forever. For a sneak peak at the novel, watch this book trailer that will make you sleep with the lights on tonight!
Whether they’re the shambling zombies from The Walking Dead or the terrifyingly fast ones from 28 Days Later, zombie fiction is more popular now than ever before. This weekend, a movie adaptation of World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War by Max Brooks will come to theaters. This new film starring Brad Pitt promises to be one of the big hits of the summer, but true fans of zombie fiction will want to read the book before heading to the theater.
After writing his bestselling book The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead, Brooks went on to write World War Z. The novel is a collection of first-person interviews of survivors of a zombie outbreak that spread worldwide. The interviewer explains that he was hired to compile the United Nation’s Postwar Commission Report, but these personal stories were cut from the official report. He compiled and published them as a book to record the human experiences from that time. From the doctor who treated Patient Zero in China to a U. S. Army infantry soldier at the Battle of Yonkers, the survivor interviews bring both the events and the human element of the zombie war to life in a creative and haunting way. This novel is a must-read for zombie fiction fans. In honor of the movie’s release, a new full-cast audio production is available on both CD and Playaway. This recording is voiced by a list of Hollywood actors and Sci Fi fan-favorites such as director Martin Scorsese, The Walking Dead creator Frank Darabont, Nathan Fillion, Simon Pegg, and Mark Hamill. If you still want more zombies, BCPL has many books and movies available.
Havaa’s father once told his young daughter that a true chess player thinks with his fingers. The eight-year-old girl would remember his comments when a year later her father's fingers were savagely cut off by government security forces in war ravaged Chechnya. It is one of the many atrocities in Anthony Marra's beautifully realized literary debut, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, where the spiral of murder and torture is as much a part of the landscape as the myriad of landmines, checkpoints, and disappearances in the night.
Spanning a decade of war with Russia from 1994 to 2004, Marra exposes the underbelly of his complicated Caucasus region by weaving together the lives of the damaged souls in its wake. At its core are two doctors whose pasts must be reconciled as they cycle toward their fates. There is Akhmed, a neighboring doctor who rescues Havaa, now being hunted by the "feds" after her father is kidnapped for aiding the rebels. Akhmed flees with the girl, careful to avoid a neighbor's war damaged son who is now an informant. They end up at a nearly abandoned hospital heroically run by a brilliant, sharp witted ethnic Russian doctor named Sonja. She reluctantly agrees to hide the child in exchange for Akhmed's help. An artist at heart, Akhmed would rather be drawing his patients than amputating their mangled limbs.
Marra enriches his compelling, richly-detailed writing with surprising bursts of humor, sidebars, and characters whose stories are plentiful and achingly poignant. It is a place where death is prevalent but hope is instinctive. It is about being ready when the time comes; just like Havaa's "just in case suitcase" her father had her pack, waiting by the door. Readers of The Tiger's Wife or The Cellist of Sarajevo will recognize here the challenge of living with dignity at the greatest of costs.
Two years ago, sisters Margot and Gwen’s lives were dramatically changed by the departures of their husbands. In The View from Penthouse B, Elinor Lipman shares the story of these sisters whose marital situations were altered by wildly different circumstances. Gwen’s husband Edwin died suddenly but peacefully in his sleep. Despite the best intentions of family and friends, Gwen has not felt the need or desire to start dating. Margot’s husband, Charles, an OB/GYN, might as well have died when he was arrested and jailed for fraud. His crime: providing infertility treatments the old-fashioned way. Margot immediately divorced Charles, but managed to secure a good deal of his money. She bought a beautiful Village penthouse and started living the high life. Then Bernie Madoff happened, and with it came Margot’s reversal of fortune. Younger and bossier sister Betsy took one look at her two floundering sisters and recommended they share the penthouse. This cohabitation would provide companionship and also made good financial sense.
Margot and Gwen are compatible roommates, but their ever-tightening wallets dictate the need for a third roomie. Margot finds Anthony, an unemployed financial analyst, single, gay, and in his twenties. He’s a breath of fresh air in their stagnant lives, and boy does he bake fabulous cupcakes! Gwen finally decides to venture back into the dating scene and places online personal ads. The responses she receives from prospective suitors headline subsequent chapters and are just one example of Lipman’s sharp wit. At the same time, Charles is paroled and moves into an efficiency downstairs for the sole purpose of winning Margot back. The sisters’ lives are finally getting interesting with dates, dinners with Charles, and an introduction to Chaz, the son from his scandalous “treatment.” Lipman creates another comedic and poignant gem with this sister story about love, forgiveness, and renewal in middle age. Once again, Lipman makes it clear why so many have dubbed her our modern Jane Austen.