A lame orphan, an incompetent grifter and London’s Blitz might comprise a fairly grim story. Instead, author Lissa Evans’ Crooked Heart: A Novel is darkly comedic and heartwarming as it focuses on the incongruous pairing of a posh city child and his conniving country mouse foster parent.
Meet Mrs. Vee Sedge: resident of rural St. Albans, lives with her indolent adult son and disabled mother who writes motivational letters to Winston Churchill regarding homefront morale and offering friendly advice (“I saw your picture in the paper last week and I hope you don’t mind me saying that I wonder if you’re getting enough fresh air.”) Vee is so desperate for money that she’s taken out a life insurance policy on an elderly neighbor, who foils Vee’s plans by failing to die, and she goes door to door collecting money for the war effort which she keeps for herself. When Vee sees Noel limping through her village as part of a parade of children evacuated from London to evade Hitler’s bombs, she volunteers to care for the little boy, not out of patriotic duty, but as a prop to a con.
Noel is the child who never fits in. Precocious, pale and unathletic, he is also bereft since the death of his beloved godmother. Farmed out to the putative safety of the Sedge’s shabby quarters, Noel perks up when he realizes he can be the brains behind Vee’s ill-conceived swindles. World War II’s privations were harsh and Evans frames the duo’s petty frauds in a landscape where the common folk of England must scheme to survive. Nominated for a Bailey’s Women’s Prize for fiction, Crooked Heart’s clever writing, multifaceted characters and thoughtful story make this an engaging read and a winning book club pick.
Robin Hobb has spent two decades building up to the events of Fool’s Quest, beginning in 1996 with the introduction of the bastard FitzChivalry Farseer in Assassin’s Apprentice, the first book in the Farseer trilogy. All of Hobb’s intricate world building and delicate web spinning has led to this dark-tinged tale, the second in her Fitz and the Fool series.
Long after Fitz has gone from unacknowledged pseudo-heir to the throne to unacknowledged and invisible hero of the realm many times over, he retires to live out a happy life with his new family. He has a wife he can love out in public, he has a daughter he can finally claim as his own...and he has a royal family continuing to spy on him long after he thought his spying days were over. His ignorant bliss is shattered when he receives a message from a friend he had thought lost forever: The Fool’s child is in danger, and he needs Fitz to save the child. But first, he has to find out who the child is.
Fool’s Quest is a novel of love, loss and longing — and what constitutes family. One man will do almost anything to protect those he loves. But with everyone in danger, how many can Fitz save?
Readers who enjoyed Raymond Feist’s early novels or who enjoy Trudi Canavan will enjoy the Fitz and the Fool series.
Nikesh Shukla’s second novel Meatspace is what happens when the fractals of a man’s loneliness are traced through social media and reassembled into a spectre of depression. Tweets, status updates and blog posts are the 2015 equivalent of wearing one’s heart on one’s sleeve, and the characters in Meatspace are all very expressive. Cut through the gristly irony and melodrama, and the remaining sinew shows readers how Shukla’s cast of aimless authors are feeling at any given moment of their days — except when they’re on the Tube.
Kitab Balasubramanyam was fired from his job in London for writing a novel in a secret Google doc instead of earning his pay. Now he’s holed up in a bachelor pad with his brother Aziz and a fridge full of chutney that his ex-girlfriend Rach left behind. Every minute of every day he’s online, randomly liking his relatives’ status updates and photos on Facebook or deleting and rephrasing a tweet to sound more authorial as he checks the nonexistent sales figures of his now-published book. Living off his mother’s life insurance policy is only going to get him so far, so he’s trying to make the author thing work out by doing readings at local pubs, which is going as fantastically as it sounds.
Dawdling in the bar bathroom after his latest stint at the mic, Kitab Balasubramanyam meets another guy who is also floating through life: Kitab Balasubramanyam. A second Indian guy at the same exact London pub book reading with the same exact name. Weirdness ensues.
Every chapter starts with a glimpse at Kitab’s browser history and is permeated with hashtags and blog posts and stored tweet drafts, all of which jigsaw together to illustrate how not-okay he is. Meatspace is brimming with pop culture references so relevant it’s like Nikesh Shukla has found a way to make ninja edits to the print copies, as if it wasn’t already impressive enough.
Audrey Niffenegger is mostly known for her bestselling and film adapted novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, but if you know her other work, the gothic novel Her Fearful Symmetry or her dark graphic novels such as Raven Girl, you won’t be surprised to learn she’s had a lifelong fascination with the otherworldly. Ghostly collects her favorite ghost stories, from the classic to the obscure, with illustrations and introductions to each. It’s like receiving a thoughtful mixtape from a friend who wants to unsettle you.
There are perennial classics here such as M.R. James’ “The Mezzotint,” in which a collector is troubled by something in the background of a photo that appears to be moving. There are also modern masterpieces like Kelly Link’s “The Specialist’s Hat,” in which a babysitter teaches two girls how to play Dead, which is different from being dead and has its own rules. And there are also very funny pieces like Amy Giacalone’s “Tiny Ghosts,” in which a woman is taking a bath and reading her favorite book when a tiny door opens next to her faucet and a little ghost comes out.
Ghost stories traditionally focus more on mood and atmosphere rather than the jump scares and viscera that are obligatory in other horror genres, and so there’s almost no blood dropped in any of these tales (apart from Poe’s “The Black Cat,” which is terribly gory and ironically the only story here likely to be read in elementary schools.) This means that theoretically you could read some of these stories to the little ones by campfire or by flashlight. Just don’t be surprised if they don’t thank you for it!
For edgier scares, check out the new teen horror anthology Slasher Girls and Monster Boys or for safer horror, the children’s classic Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark.
The world of Akame ga KILL! is like a frenetic mash-up of The Hunger Games and Attack on Titan. The premiere volume of the 2010 manga series made its U.S. debut in March, pitting vivacious and foolhardy swordsman Tatsumi against the Capital, an affluent city rife with corruption and depravity.
Surrounded on all sides by roving gangs of assassins, rebel armies and nomadic tribes of ferals, the Capital is many impoverished settlers’ only hope — or option — for survival. Tatsumi embarks for the Capital from his village with his friends Sayo and Ieyasu, dreaming of becoming a renowned mercenary. The three are separated during an ambush; Tatsumi assumes his friends will journey to the Capital to regroup, so he does the same, utilizing his superior skills in battle to aid fellow travelers along the way.
When he arrives, Tatsumi is awestruck by the sights and smells of the city. Amidst the aristocracy, he finds a tavern and encounters Leone, a cat-like vixen who cons him out of all his earnings from the journey’s battles. Now desperate, Tatsumi sheepishly accepts an offer of lodging from a wealthy family in exchange for his service as a guard at their estate.
As quickly as Tatsumi settles into his new routine as a sentry, a team of brutal assassins assaults the estate and murders the entire family in cold blood. Tatsumi protects the family’s youngest daughter from a skilled female ninja, but she cajoles the girl into revealing her family’s terrible secret. The assassins are impressed by Tatsumi’s unwavering demeanor and “kidnap” him after the ordeal to offer him a choice: join their ranks and become a killer by trade or die.
Akame ga KILL! Vol. 1 is filled with characters who hide their lunacies behind perfect façades absolutely begging to be sliced in twain, and there is no shortage of bloodshed in the first volume. Manga and anime fans who revel in seeing justice gracefully dispensed with a katana will surely dig this.
There’s a new sheriff in town. The town just happens to be a rundown mining hub on a fringe planet populated by all manner of ill-tempered aliens, and the sheriff just happens to be Clara Bronson, a single mother looking for a fresh start. Copperhead: Vol. 1 is a genre-bending classic in the making, and the recent release of its first collected volume makes this the perfect time to jump onboard.
As if Sherriff Bronson didn’t have enough on her plate helping her son adjust to their new home and earning the respect of her grumpy deputy, Budroxifinicus, things get particularly tough for her when she gets called to investigate the brutal massacre of a local family on her very first day on the job. The investigation that follows leads Sherriff Bronson from neighborly squabbles to the seedy criminal underbelly of the local mining industry. Look no further for a tense mystery that’ll keep you guessing to the very end.
Writer Jay Faerber and artist Scott Godlewski have crafted a truly unique world here. The dusty mining town at the heart of the story is populated by a colorful cast of humans and aliens alike. Crooked industry tycoons, artificial humanoid soldiers leftover from a war long concluded and the wild creatures lurking in the wastes just outside of town are just a few of the fascinating inhabitants that come into play. Colorist Ron Riley ties the package together with a unique mix of vibrant colors and gritty textures that grant a distinct Old West style to the science fiction world. The final result of this fantastic collaboration is a world that fits in somewhere between Fargo and Blade Runner. The quirky cast, unforgettable setting and intricate plot make for a truly exceptional take on the classic murder mystery that’s sure to entertain.
It’s December 1941, and a slumbering country awakes to the realities of war in Susan Elia MacNeal’s Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante. Maggie Hope returns to America as part of Winston Churchill’s entourage. In the wake of Pearl Harbor, the United States and Great Britain cement their ties and discuss strategy at the White House. During this delicate stage in their relationship, political enemies of the Roosevelts’ and their New Deal will do anything to harass the President — even if it undermines the war effort.
Mrs. Roosevelt, always passionate about domestic affairs, becomes involved in the scheduled execution of a 15-year-old sharecropper who shot a Virginia landowner. The President is now focused on winning the war and preventing the descent of a new Dark Age. In order to do this, he must have the support of the entire country, including the Jim Crow South. Virginia’s governor sees a way to disgrace the Roosevelt administration and simultaneously reduce the public pressure to reprieve the young inmate. His henchman sees a way to get into the governor’s good graces and ride his coattails into the White House. Maggie Hope must find a way to protect Eleanor Roosevelt from scandal, support the President’s strong leadership position and thus save Britain from Nazi rule.
Once again, Susan Elia MacNeal provides a strong sense of place and captures the uncertainty of that turbulent time. It is a fascinating portal into the society of the 1940s; the marginalized role of women, the powerlessness of the minority, the awful power vested in the politicians we trust. Fans of Jacqueline Winspear, Charles Todd and James Benn will appreciate the strong characters and the exploration of subjects we often forget. While we tend to think of World War II as the time everyone came together for a common cause, the reality was far from this idealized picture.
They say "Don't judge a book by its cover," but if you glance at the front cover of Stephen Kings' novel Finders Keepers then you can assume one thing, and that is: There will be blood. Oh, and there will be crime, violence and gore.
Finders Keepers goes back and forth between the past and present to follow the lives of two main characters — Morris Bellamy and Pete Saubers, born decades apart. Morris and Pete eventually meet face to face because they have a great deal in common. For instance, they are both obsessed with the same person, who happens to be dead.
The story kicks off in 1979 and introduces us to Morris Bellamy, a 23-year-old criminal obsessed with a famous American author named John Rothstein and his Jimmy Gold trilogy. Morris and his partners in crime pay Rothstein an unwelcome visit. They rob the author of his bank envelopes stuffed with cash, his Moleskine notebooks filled with unpublished writings...and his life. Paranoia sets in. Morris thinks the cop will track him down. This causes him to hide the stolen goods in a trunk and bury it in the woods behind his house. Although Morris robbed and killed Rothstein, he ends up receiving life in prison for committing a different crime.
Decades later, a teenager named Pete Saubers, who now lives in Morris’ house, discovers Morris’ trunk and takes the cash and notebooks. He behaves like a secret Santa by mailing the cash to his parents, who had fallen on hard times and were on the verge of a divorce. When Pete reads what’s inside the Moleskine notebooks, he becomes a devoted fan of John Rothstein and his Jimmy Gold novels. John Rothstein changes him.
Morris, now nearly 60 years old, gets parole. He only has one thing on his mind, the Moleskine notebooks. After spending 35 years in prison, Morris believes his trunk is still safely buried behind his former home. When Morris finds out that Pete is the new owner of the Moleskine notebooks, it infuriates him. There is a standoff between the old Morris and the young Pete. They both want the Moleskine notebooks. There will be blood, lots of it.
Finders Keepers is a keeper. I definitely recommend this book. The story gets better and better after each turn of the page. If you like this novel, you will certainly like Mr. Mercedes also by Stephen King. While not required, I highly recommend Mr. Mercedes since it provides backstory for important events and characters mentioned in Finders Keepers. To find out more about Stephen King and his upcoming projects visit stephenking.com.
It’s that time of year again: The time when the air cools down and the writing heats up. At BCPL, National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is coming to a branch near you. Everyone has a story inside them, and November is the time to let it out! With that in mind, check out the following titles that have helped others reach deep inside themselves to let their own words out.
Need structure? No idea where to begin? Afraid that the middle will fall completely out of the story? Never fear! Victoria Lynn Schmidt’s Book in a Month provides all the instruction a person could want about how to put together an outline, assemble ideas and even generate new ones! Schmidt brings order, structure and worksheets to the chaos that is a house when a novel is being written inside.
What if you have no idea what to write, only that you want to write it right now, immediately? Talk to Chris Baty. The founder of NaNoWriMo (going strong since 1999) aims his book No Plot? No Problem! at anyone who thinks it might be fun to write a novel but has no idea what to write about. Or anyone who has just discovered that NaNoWriMo is a thing and wants to do it.
Unsure if you can be successful writing a readable novel in a month? T. Styles, popular author extraordinaire, demonstrates her prowess in The End, Part 1. This short book (155 pages) takes the aspiring author one day at a time through the process of creating a novel.
Make “some day” become this day, right now.
“Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” is an old mnemonic device for remembering the order and fates of Henry VIII’s six wives. In The Taming of the Queen by Philippa Gregory, the reader meets the wife that survived, Kateryn Parr. Written in first person from Kateryn’s point of view, the story delves into the many trials that she endures as a wife and queen. When the 31-year-old Kateryn marries 52-year-old Henry in 1543 to become his sixth wife, she has been twice widowed, and all of her marriages have been arranged. Before Henry proposes, Kateryn is set to marry Thomas Seymour, the man she actually loves. However, no one dares go against the tyrannical Henry, so Kateryn puts her love aside to marry the king.
At first, Henry dotes on Kateryn, buying her expensive presents and exotic birds from all over the world to fill her aviary. She can even tolerate Henry’s grotesque physique, the open festering wound on his leg and his fumbling attempts at love making. Yet, she's constantly reminded of her ill-fated predecessors as she wears their gowns and jewels, sleeps in the same bed and even raises their children.
As Gregory portrays Kateryn, it's her religious leanings that put her in constant danger. She's a devout Reformer who subscribes to the new church that Henry created primarily to marry Anne Boleyn. However, there are many Papists in the court who want England to return to the Catholic Church, and Kateryn’s religious sentiments make her powerful enemies. Henry is starting to waver between Reform and Catholicism as his health deteriorates, and begins to fear that, in breaking from the Church, he is doomed to eternal damnation. As Henry’s mental health also declines, he sees heretics and traitors everywhere, and not even Kateryn is safe. When she discovers the King is about to have her arrested, Kateryn must swallow her pride and humiliate herself in order to avoid the executioner.