The Glass Forest by Cynthia Swanson
In 1960, 21-year-old Angie and her older, handsome husband Paul Glass are living what she views as a deliriously happy, ideal life in Wisconsin with their young son. A call from Paul’s seventeen-year-old niece Ruby is disturbing enough when Ruby tells Paul her mother, Silja, has left her and her father, but then she tells Paul his brother Henry, her father, has killed himself. At Angie’s insistence, she and their son travel with Paul to Stonekill, NY to assist Ruby with the final arrangements, but when they arrive at the custom made glass home at the edge of the forest, Angie sense a darkness filled with secrets, but just what the repercussions of these secrets will have on their lives is more than Angie can fathom. As Henry Glass’s story and that of the entire Glass family is revealed, a less than perfect story unfolds. Told partly in flashbacks, mainly through Silja’s past as a young immigrant in New York City, the narrative explores social change and mores of World War Ii and beyond, including and especially women’s roles. Using bright-eyed, optimistic, at times naïve women, who may be troubling to some readers, the Glass’s story unfolds. In the end, each woman shows they are much more capable, and much stronger than anyone gave them credit for being.
The Hush by John Hart
Johnny Merrimon and Jack Cross have been best friends for their entire lives; now, in their early twenties, each has taken a different path since the events of ten years ago that shook not only their friendship, but the entire North Carolina town: Jack is a newly minted attorney working at a high-powered firm and Johnny is living off-the-grid on 6,000 acres of land he owns, Hush Arbor. The Hush has been in his family for generations and Johnny has come close to losing it several times. The Hush holds secrets, many evil, and Johnny has learned to live along side of it, respecting its powers. When a local businessman/hunter who has been trying to buy Johnny’s land is found dead, Johnny is arrested as the suspect, but released when the medical examiner testifies that there is no way a single human man could have inflicted such damage to another man. Embroiled in a court battle of his land, fighting for his freedom and keeping the secrets of the Hush, Johnny turns to the one person he feels his can trust about all: Jack, putting Jack in an impossible situation, testing their friendship in a way that has never been done before. John Hart is a master at evoking the Deep South with its folklore and many heinous acts that were committed over the years and the scars left on the descendants.
Force of Nature by Jane Harper
When two groups of colleagues set out on a corporate retreat in the Australian wilderness, the five men emerge within the allotted time, but the women are late, and when they arrive at the end of the trail, one woman, the one with the only cell phone and working flashlight, missing. Each of the women has a different version of what happened to Alice Russell in the woods. Federal Agent Aaron Falk and his partner Carmen Cooper travel south from Melbourne when they learn the name of the missing woman who has been an informant for Falk and Cooper regarding a possible money laundering scheme. Has someone learned of Alice’s cooperation with authorities? Does this has something to do with her daughter and the daughter of her colleague, both of whom has been involved in a high school bullying incident, or as crazy as it sounds, does this have something to do with a long dead serial killer who was in the area at one time and whose son has vanished and is presumed to be still alive. It quickly becomes clear that Alice did not have any fans in the group, but did someone hate her enough to murder her or was this a tragic accident. Cleverly told, the plot shifts between the investigation and the weekend in the wilderness. Complex characters must depend on one another for survival in the rugged wilderness and during the investigation if they are to stay away from suspicion.
Asymmetry by Lisa Halliday
This debut novel feels familiar at first but by the end is like nothing you’ve ever read before. The first part, “Folly”, tells the story of Alice, a young New York editor, and her deepening relationship with a much older, award winning author, Ezra Blazer. As their relationship grows, Alice finds herself surprised by the joy she finds in it, during the time the Iraq War is beginning. The second section “Madness” is Amar’s story. Amar is an Iraqi-American man who, at the end of 2008 has made a detour to London on the way to visit his brother in Kurdistan. As Amar sends the weekend detained in a holding room in Heathrow, his story is told in flashbacks. Amar cannot imagine why he would be detained: to him, his life has been very banal and he poses no threat to anyone. The third section of the novel, brings the two narratives together as Ezra is interviewed for a BBC program using the music he would bring with him were he stranded on a desert island as a springboard for conversation. Lyrica and startling, humanity and our relationships to each other, ourselves, our environment, and the world at large, are viewed from many different angles, focused through different lenses, creating a changing perspective with the slightest shift.
Only Child by Rhiannon Navin
First-grader Zach Taylor knows that to do during a lockdown drill at his school, but when a gunman enters the school and kills his friends, teachers, and older brother, there is no way anyone could be prepared for what happens next. Even as a town buries its dead, Zach’s mother Melissa looks for justice for her young son, holding the parents of the shooter, long time members of the school community, responsible for their son’s actions. As Zach watches his mother’s grief turns to anger, what remains of his family fall apart, and tries to deal with his own feelings of loss, he turns to books and art to heal his grief, his anger, and his heart, he begins to demand, in the way only a six-year-old could, the same of his parents, showing them the way out of their grief, finding that it is possible to still live, to show love and compassion, have empathy for others even with their acute loss. This heartbreaking story is told through Zach’s eyes in an authentic voice with an honesty that only a child’s view could bring to this tragic situation where there are no easy answers, only healing and forgiveness.
As Bright As Heaven by Susan Meissner
After the death of their infant son in 1918, Thomas and Pauline Bright decide to move their three daughters Evelyn, Maggie, and Willa from the family tobacco farm in Quakertown, PA to Philadelphia where Thomas will be his uncle’s assistant undertaker and where they hope they will be able to offer their daughters the chance for a better life. As the family slowly assimilates into their new home, they watch young men leave to serve in the Great War, and then in horror as thousands die from the Spanish flu. Drawing on strength they never knew they had, the young women fight to keep their family together, and alive, and to save the orphaned baby they take in and grow to love as their own. In the years following the war and the flu, the family rebuilds its life and faces new challenges, and truths, as each member reassesses what is most important to them and how much they are willing to fight to keep what means the most to them. This detailed and nuanced look at a family living not only within itself but within its extended family, the society of a large city, and the tragedy of war and pandemic, reaffirms the resilience of human nature and the willingness to continue to try and live, even to make life better, under the most dire of circumstances.
Summer Hours at the Robbers Library by Sue Halpern
This homage to libraries illustrates the draw of libraries and how they become what each user needs at just the right time. Kit, a librarian, has come to Riverton, New Hampshire, where no one knows about her past, the bad decisions she made, and the tragedies she endured because of those decisions and the decisions of others; she is able to come to work, lose herself in the books and quietness of the library, and forget her past. All that is about to change: fifteen-year-old Sunny arrives to perform court ordered community service after stealing a dictionary and must spend the summer working at the Robbers Library. Sunny is home-schooled by her off-the-grid parents and has lived a less than traditional life, has no friends her own age, but is curious about the world beyond what her parents teach her, and eager to challenge some of their ideas. Rusty, an unemployed Wall Street trader, has come to Riverton hoping to regain some traction in his life. This trio is thrown together at first, and then drawn together, each taking stock of how their lives have unfolded bringing them to this point, and how they can rebuild their lives, making their own decisions to determine their futures. This novel, populated by delightful and eccentric characters, is a true love song to libraries and all they offer beyond books.
The French Girl by Lexie Elliott
Ten years ago, six Oxford university friends spend a week in a French farmhouse. Everything seemed to be perfect until Severine. The girl next door showed up, causing the tensions that already existed between the six friends to flare up, especially for Kate Channing and her now ex-boyfriend Seb. No one has seen nor thought of Severine since she disappeared on the last morning the friends were in France, seen on CCTV getting on a bus. Ten years later, her body is found in a filled in well behind the farmhouse and the French police have come to England to ask more questions of the five remaining friends, Theo having been killed in Afghanistan. Kate has lost touch with Seb, has had occasional contact with Caro and Tom, and has remained close with Lara and now finds herself at the center of a murder investigation threatening everything she has including a business she has been building, and even possibly her freedom. As Kate begins to spend more time with her once close friends she wonders if one of them could be a murderer; as secrets begin to emerge, the kaleidoscope shifts shoring a much different picture of the life Kate thought she has and the past she remembers. Thoughtful with slow building tension this debut will slowly draw you into this tangled web of relationships and hold your interest until the very end.
The Storm King by Brendan Duffy
Fourteen years ago, Nate McHale left his hometown of Greystone Lake in the Adirondacks and never looked back. Now a successful surgeon in Manhattan, he is happily married, has a delightful three-year-old daughter, and has all but put the tragedies and crimes of his teenage years firmly out of his head, leaving them firmly in the past. But the lake has a way of giving up all its secrets eventually; a body has just been found, and Nate is making his way home, just ahead of a major hurricane, to attend the funeral. Reunited with his high school best friends, Nate realizes the sins of their teenage years are being revisited by a new generation, and some of their secrets were not a secret as they thought. As the hurricane bears down on the Northeast, Nate’s past comes crashing into his present, and he must face what he left behind fourteen years ago before the past destroys them all. Taut and fast-paced, the plot picks up steam and strengthens like a hurricane, lulls as the eye of the storm passes over, and then builds to a final feverous pitch. There are surprises with each new page, and no detail is wasted with all loose ends woven together to create a final, sinister picture of tormented lives, and, as the storm ends, a glimmer of redemption for anyone who seeks it.
Sunburn by Laura Lippman
Polly and Adam are just passing through Belleville, Delaware, Polly with plans to head west, Adam, with no discernable plans. They are magnetically drawn to each other and find themselves staying in this town for one steamy summer, each lying to the other, and perhaps themselves, about their pasts and their futures, but together for this moment. As the summer unfolds and someone dies, it becomes unclear in the murky heat, if this is all part of a plan or just happenstance from a series of seemingly unrelated incidents. As Polly’s and Adam’s stories are revealed, it becomes even more unclear what each is looking for, from life as well as from the other, and their relationship becomes increasingly dangerous the more entangled they become with each other. Where will it all end and who will be left standing is just one of the many mysteries that is slowly revealed in this psychological suspense novel told in the best noir tradition by one of the best crime novelists writing today.
The Queen of Hearts by Kimmery Martin
Emma Colley, a trauma surgeon, and Zadie Anson, a pediatric cardiologist have been best friends since they met at a pre-med camp in high school. Roommates through college, they both continue to be big parts of each other’s busy lives in Charlotte, NC, harboring secrets from their third year residency, shared, and individual, but most involving Nick Zenokostas. The friends think their secrets can stay hidden in the past and from each other, but when Nick reappears in their lives, the two women must closely reexamine their pasts, their shared history, and what, if the secrets they each hold, are revealed, the consequences will be and whether their friendship can survive. The narrative is told from both Zadie and Emma’s points of view, in both present time and during their critical year of residency, as each considers the choices she made and how those choices affect each personally and professionally. Warm and wise, at times humorous, at times heartbreaking, Martin’s debut novel is full of live and love.
The Driest Season by Meghan Kenny
Kenny’s debut novel, which expands on her prize winning short story of the same title, is a coming of age novel that is exquisite in its quietness, as it tells the story of not-quite-sixteen-year-old Cielle and how she copes with and tries to reassemble her life in 1943 Boaz, Wisconsin on her family farm after she finds her father hanging in the barn. The farm has been suffering from wide-spread drought and is under threat of being lost now that there is no one to farm it. Cielle takes every occurrence and action very much to heart from her first kiss to a horse-riding accident, her father’s last cup of coffee being discarded and washed, to her sister’s boyfriend joining up and leaving for war, and tries to reorder it all within her life as she burgeons from a young girl in to a young woman while holding fast to all she cherished as a child, with the new knowledge that things change in an instant and as they do, we nor the world around us can ever be the same again.