Saturday, May 2, 2020

New For May

Tiny Imperfections by Alli Frank and Asha Youmans
In her early twenties, Josie Bordelon thought she had it all: she was the runway darling of all the top fashion houses, until she got pregnant.  Not sure where to turn, she found herself back at her aunt Viv’s in San Francisco; Viv raised Josie when Josie’s mother dumped her on Viv’s door steps when Josie was four and Josie is determined not to make the same mistakes with Etta her mother, completely estranged from her sister and daughter, made wither.  Josie is the director of admissions at the most prestigious San Francisco private schools, Fairchild Country Day School where Josie went: she made good grades, was a track star, and more importantly, was black, making the Administration and Board of Trustees feel very diverse and progressive.  As admission season begins, Etta is a senior in high school, and a high level ballerina who wants nothing more than to go to Julliard; something Josie is dead set against, afraid Etta will end up like Josie did, no college degree, on Aunt Viv’s doorstep.  Between juggling over 500 applications for 36 kindergarten spots, and navigating Etta’s college applications, the last thing Josie has time for is a new relationship, but when Aunt Viv has a heart attack, that’s just what she finds in a most unexpected place.  This breezy, smart, sassy story is a new take on private school enrollment.  Josie and her best friend Lola dish every Tuesday in a no holds barred gripe session.  The women in this book are strong and independent and want to instill that in the next generation.  Readers will be anxious to read more about these characters.

Happy and You Know It by Laura Hankin
Claire was a musician on her way to stardom until her band unceremoniously dumped her; now she finds herself a playgroup musician for a group of Park Avenue elite infants.  Whitney, the alpha mommy and Instagram darling, is welcoming to Claire, and often includes her in the groups’ outings.  While some of the mommies are hard to get to know, Claire is drawn to Amara, a new-stay-at-home mommy who isn’t entirely comfortable in her new role; and there’s Gwen who, as a second time mommy, is full of helpful hints.  The closer Claire gets to the women, the more their veneer starts to come off, and the more secrets she uncovers, soon realizing these women’s lives are more than yoga, juice cleanses, and cute selfies.  Fun and breezy, with some unexpected twists, this novel is a different take on being a privileged toddler on the Upper East Side.

All My Mother’s Lovers by Ilana Masad

This assuredly written debut novel that explores love in all its many forms: familial love, the love between a mother and daughter, a young woman and her girlfriends, a mother, a woman, who finds the love missing from her life in other, unexpected places.  Maggie Krause is finding her way with her new girlfriend when she receives the news her mother has been killed in a car crash.  Maggie travels from her home in St. Louis back to California where she finds her brother and father unsure of what to do next.  Maggie is tasked with mailing letters her mother Iris wanted mailed upon her death, but Maggie decides to deliver the letters in person, curious about to whom they are written and why.  As she does, she learns about a variety of relationships her mother had, learns more about her parents’ relationship, and tries to understand why, in light of what she learns on her trip, her mother had a hard time accepting Maggie’s choices.  

Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency by Olivia Laing

This collection of essays is almost prophetic in its timely quest to answer the question: is art of any use to anyone in dire circumstances?   Laing’s conclusion is, yes.  Her essays are short and to the point, sometimes terse, but always keenly observed and aware, with carefully chosen words, and descriptive language, she tends towards isolation and solitude, favoring juxtaposing art with death, disease, and tragedy.  She looks for the oddity in human nature and society and connects it back to art, and to each person reading the essay with an unerring eye and a fresh conclusion.

Hollywood Park by Mikel Jollett
This memoir tells the story of Jollett, the front man of the indie band Airborne Toxic Event, who was born into the Church of Synanon cult and who escapes with his mother and brother at a young age;  what follows is the story of learning a new world, meeting his grandparents, and living in an unfamiliar place and time. The present tense gives the story an immediacy and authenticity, with a childhood honesty that comes from living his first years sheltered from the world, as he finds his way and an inner strength in life through music.

The Wife Stalker by Liv Constantine
Piper Reynard has arrived in Westport, Connecticut from the West Coast, and has something to hide.  She has opened a wellness center and sets her sights on handsome attorney Leo Drakos whose marriage is troubled.  Joanna has been in love with Leo for many years, has managed his house and cared for his children, Evie and Stelli, yet she realizes he is not returning her feelings, even after he emerges from a deep depression. When Joanna realizes that Piper is the cause of Leo’s well-being, she becomes determined to protect the family she has at all costs; Leo, however, is willing to let everything go for his new love.  Joanna, cast to the side, begins to look into Piper’s past and realizes that Leo and the children may be in real danger, but when she brings her concerns to Leo he dismisses her as jealous, and even her therapist considers Joanna on the brink of paranoia. Authors/sisters Lynne and Valerie, have laid out a twisty domestic thriller, though not as compelling and without the impact and well-developed characters as their first two novels. 

The Catherine House by Elizabeth Thomas
This debut novel is a gothic tale of an elite college tucked away in rural Pennsylvania. Incoming student Ines feels she has no place left to go: she has burned all of her bridges and knows she will have serious consequences if she returns home.  Her roommate Baby has come with a burning desire, bordering on obsession, to study plasma, a specialty of this school.  But there is something more sinister within these walls, the labyrinths and labs deep under the school, and the Restoration Center, a solitary confinement like area where you are stripped naked and left with only a deck of cards and a few books. Readers will find themselves frantically turning pages as they try to learn the secrets of Catherine House.  A strong debut for fans of Paul Tremblay and Alex North.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley
Friends and family of reality television star Will Slater and magazine publisher Julia Keegan gather on a remote Irish island in the North Atlantic to celebrate Will and Julia’s marriage.  Theirs is to be the first event at the recently purchased and restored Folly and every detail must be perfect from the dress, to the flowers, to the food and alcohol, and the guests.  The bridal party includes four of Will’s mates from school who are not as refined as Will would like them to be; Julia’s best man at the wedding is her longtime friend Charlie who has brought his wife Hannah; Julia’s lone official attendant is her waifish but stunning half-sister Olivia.  As the alcohol begins to flow freely, so do the secrets and before the end of the reception, someone is dead and almost everyone at the wedding has a motive or a secret to wish this person dead.  This sophomore book by Foley (The Hunting Party) once again features a remote location and a closed room murder, but to much greater success this time: the characters are well drawn, their motives seep slowly out as the weekend wears on, keeping tensions high, and by the end, no one is really sure who did the final knife plunge, but many are relieved it happened. 

The Paris Hours by Alex George

1927, Paris between the war was the city of ex-patriots and literary bohemians and literati, among them, Marcel Proust, who has told his maid Camille to burn his notebooks, which she did, save one, but who has now lost the surviving notebook and is desperate to find it.  Souren is a refuge from Armenia who performs unsettling puppet shows for children.  Artist Guillaume is at a lost for a muse, until he encounters Gertrude Stein with unusual results; journalist Jean-Paul keeps his painful past hidden by writing about the tragedies of others---when these four lives collide, the results will change everything for each of them and for so many others in surprising ways no one could expect.  The events unfold in the course of one single day, giving and immediacy, yet dreamlike quality, to the narrative.

The Children's Bible by Lydia Millett
This allegorical climate novel finds a group of bohemian adults renting a lakeside retreat one summer, bringing along a menagerie of children ranging in age from tween to seventeen.  Left to their own devices, the ringleader, and eldest, Evie, and the children create their own fun and adventures: they wait out a storm and flood in a farmhouse surrounded by animals as the group’s ire to their parents’ concern for the environment and climate change rises like the waters.  Evie’s younger brother Jack sees their escapades in terms of Biblical stories, in this narrative reminiscent of The Lord of the Flies, offering an ending with little hope, but much to think about and consider.

The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell
This debut novel tells the story of Erin, a cancer patient who has plateaued, but will never be in remission, whose plane explodes over Kansas while she is on the way to a cancer patient retreat; she is the only survivor and decides to walk away from her life and die quietly, rather than making her family grieve twice, they already think she is dead, and have them watch her die.  Charlie is the NTBS agent who is assigned to find Erin, and when he does, he sees life, including his own, from another perspective and makes difficult choices, ones that change everything.  Reading groups will find much to discuss in this philosophical novel, what do we owe our families, what do we owe ourselves, and how much control can we, and should we have over our own lives and fate. 

The Book of Rosy: A Mother’s Story of Separation at the Border by Rosayra Pablo Cruz and Julie Schwietert Collazo
After she was shot in 2018 and her husband was murdered in Guatemala, Rosy fled to the United States with her two sons. After a harrowing eight-day trip in the back of a truck with other refugees, Rosy was separated from her sons, aged five and fifteen, at the border, detained for eighty-one days.  While detained in Arizona, her two sons were placed in foster care in the Bronx.  Schwietert Collazo, who started the Immigrant Families Together, to aid families, with the ultimate goal of reuniting parents and their children, helps Rosy tell not just her story, but the story of dozens of mothers separated from their children.  Ultimately, through much prayer, and considerable fund-raising on Immigrant Families Together’s part, Rosy was reunited with her children and is building a new life with them in their new country.

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight
Lizzie has just accepted a job with a high-powered Manhattan law firm after her husband’s drinking problem caused an accident and resulted in a settlement against him.  Lizzie isn’t sure what to do about Sam, she thinks he has hit rock bottom, yet he continues to drink. She is near giving him an ultimatum when she receives a phone call from her law school buddy Zach: Zach is in Riker’s Island, arrested for assaulting an officer, but he believes being held more as a suspect in the death of his wife Amanda, who was found at the bottom of the staircase in their Park Slope brownstone.  Lizzie can’t believe Zach murdered his wife, but is not a criminal defense attorney, but her law firm gives the go ahead and she finds herself looking into her friend’s life, uncovering many secrets, all the while hiding her own as she tries to save Zach, Sam, and herself.  Fast-paced and intertwined with a security breach at the Brooklyn County Day school most of the neighborhood children attend, this twisty domestic drama examines marriages from all sides with a sharply drawn protagonist.

My Life as a Villainess: Essays by Laura Lippman

A collection of republished personal essays takes on the form of a memoir for Lippman, a best-selling crime fiction author. These mostly short essays, though some are longer and subdivided, traverse through Lippman’s childhood, her time as a newspaper reporter, as she beings her career as a novelist, writing the Tess Monaghan series and then her stand-alones, mostly set in Baltimore, all leading up to “Game of Crones” published previously online with over 100,000 unique views.  Honest, and sometimes self-deprecating, these essays offer insight into one of today’s most revered mystery authors. A tight little collection to be dipped into time and time again.
Quick Picks for May

The Last Flight by Julie Clark
Two women, two plane tickets, two women with secrets:  Claire and Eve meet by chance at an airport bar and decide at the last minute to switch tickets, Claire will take Eve’s flight to Oakland, and Eve will travel to Puerto Rico on Claire’s ticket.  The plane to Puerto Rico crashes leaving Claire with the chance to assume Eve’s identity and disappear from her controlling husband forever…but what secrets was Eve hiding and what are the consequence of her choice?

I, John Kennedy Toole by Kent Carroll and Jodee Blanco
A fictionalized account of the making of Toole’s Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece A Confederacy of Dunces, published after the author’s suicide. 

Ghosts of Harvard by Francesca Serritella
A first novel by the daughter of author Lisa Scottoline and co-authors of several best-selling essay collections featuring Cady, a Harvard freshman who tries to acclimate to college life as she tries to understand her brother’s suicide on the campus.  Eric suffered from schizophrenia and stopped taking his pills, spiraling downward.  As she further delves into Eric’s life, Cady too begins to hear voices and wonders if she too is schizophrenic or are the voices she is hearing ghosts and was Eric really as sick as he was diagnosed?

The Tourist Attraction by Sarah Morgenthaler
When Graham Barnett named his diner The Tourist Trap, he   never expected the Moose Springs, Alaska spot to become just that: a popular tourist destination and Graham would just rather not be bothered: until he meets Zoe Caldwell who save for over two year to spend two weeks on an Alaskan adventure.  Graham, immediately smitten, plays tour guide to Zoey and the two embark on some zany adventures and antics as their attraction to each other grows.  Fans of Northern Exposure will eat this book up.

The Jane Austen Society by Natalie Jenner
One hundred and fifty years ago, Chawton was the final home of Jane Austen, one of England's finest novelists. Now it's home to a few distant relatives and their diminishing estate. With the last bit of Austen's legacy threatened, a group of disparate individuals come together to preserve both Jane Austen's home and her legacy. These people—a laborer, a young widow, the local doctor, a movie star, among others—could not be more different and yet they are united in their love for the works and words of Austen. As each of them endures their own quiet struggle with loss and trauma, some from losses incurred in the recent war, some from more distant tragedies, they rally together to create The Jane Austen Society. (From publisher)

All Adults Here by Emma Straub
When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus accident in the center of town, it jostles loose a repressed memory from her young parenting days decades earlier. Suddenly, Astrid realizes she was not quite the parent she thought she’d been to her three, now-grown children. But to what consequence? Astrid’s youngest son is drifting and unfocused, making parenting mistakes of his own. Her daughter is pregnant yet struggling to give up her own adolescence. And her eldest seems to measure his adult life according to standards no one else shares. But who gets to decide, so many years later, which long-ago lapses were the ones that mattered? Who decides which apologies really count? It might be that only Astrid’s thirteen-year-old granddaughter and her new friend really understand the courage it takes to tell the truth to the people you love the most.  (from publishers).  For fans of Olive Kitteridge

Boys of Alabama by Genevieve Hudson
In this bewitching debut novel, a sensitive teen, newly arrived in Alabama, falls in love, questions his faith, and navigates a strange power. While his German parents don’t know what to make of a South pining for the past, shy Max thrives in the thick heat. Taken in by the football team, he learns how to catch a spiraling ball, how to point a gun, and how to hide his innermost secrets. Max already expects some of the raucous behavior of his new, American friends—like their insatiable hunger for the fried and cheesy, and their locker room talk about girls. But he doesn’t expect the comradery—or how quickly he would be welcomed into their world of basement beer drinking. In his new canvas pants and thickening muscles, Max feels like he’s “playing dress-up.” That is until he meets Pan, the school “witch,” in Physics class: “Pan in his all black. Pan with his goth choker and the gel that made his hair go straight up.” Suddenly, Max feels seen, and the pair embarks on a consuming relationship: Max tells Pan about his supernatural powers, and Pan tells Max about the snake poison initiations of the local church. The boys, however, aren’t sure whose past is darker, and what is more frightening—their true selves, or staying true in Alabama. (From publisher)

These Women  by Ivy Pochaoda
In her masterful new novel, Ivy Pochoda creates a kaleidoscope of loss, power, and hope featuring five very different women whose lives are steeped in danger and anguish. They’re connected by one man and his deadly obsession, though not all of them know that yet. There’s Dorian, still adrift after her daughter’s murder remains unsolved; Julianna, a young dancer nicknamed Jujubee, who lives hard and fast, resisting anyone trying to slow her down; Essie, a brilliant vice cop who sees a crime pattern emerging where no one else does; Marella, a daring performance artist whose work has long pushed boundaries but now puts her in peril; and Anneke, a quiet woman who has turned a willfully blind eye to those around her for far too long. The careful existence they have built for themselves starts to crumble when two murders rock their neighborhood.

Get Cozy with Kensington…

A Fatal Finale by Kathleen Marple Kalb
The first in a new series set in New York during the Gilded Age features opera singer Ella Shane, who plays the “trouser roles”, male parts played by females; both on and off the stage, Ella is assured and dramatic.  While she is playing the part of Romeo, her Juliet drinks real poison during the final scene, a death that is ruled a tragic accident, and Ella goes about her life until an English Duke arrives in Greenwich Village insisting the young woman was murdered, refusing to leave until he, with Ella’s help, learns the truth. 

Pulp Friction by Julie Anne Lindsey
Winnie Mae Montgomery saved her Granny’s apple orchard by building a cider shop and an event venue in Blossom Valley, Vest Virginia.  One of her first events is a wedding reception that doesn’t bode well for a happily ever after: the bride is unhappy, the groom drunk, and arguing with Winnie’s ex Hank who was making out with a bridesmaid.  Before the happy couple can leave in the honeymoon getaway truck, the groom is found dead, Hank the main suspect,  Sheriff Wise, with whom Winnie has a burgeoning relationship, warns Winnie off the case, but Winnie is certain she has an insider’s view and proceeds to follow the clues, no matter where they lead, in this fun, breezy who-dunnit.

Murder Can Confuse Your Chihuahua by Rose Pressey
Celeste Cabot is a favorite painter on the craft fair circuits, but she also has the uncanny knack of summoning ghosts with her paintings.  While looking for scenic views to paint while at a craft fair in North Carolina, her Chihuahua Van (after Van Gogh) leads her to the body of another vendor, Erica Miller, down by the river.  In spite of admonitions from her would-be boyfriends, FBI Detective Pierce Meyer and TBI Detective Caleb Ward, Celeste is certain she can solve the crime in much shorter order than the two of them.  The touch of supernatural and Van add lighthearted touches to this fledgling series.