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Bloomsbury Picks for September

heartsinvisiblefuriesTHE HEART’S INVISIBLE FURIES
John Boyne
This heartbreakingly sad and laugh-aloud funny novel of Ireland is not to be missed. Cyril Avery is the adoptive son of eccentric twits, who consider themselves Irish aristocracy. His teen-aged, pregnant birth mother was shamed and banished from her rural parish by a priest who had fathered two children of his own. Cyril’s story from 1945, when the Catholic church ruled with an iron hand until 2015, when Ireland passed the Gay Marriage Act is filled with memorable, so-Irish characters, a tragic, repressive history and a droll wit, unseen in literature since Evelyn Waugh. Best novel of the year for me. –Sheila
 
burninggirlTHE BURNING GIRL
Claire Messud
Julia and Cassie are best friends as only prepubescent girls are, in a way that seems to remake the world just for two, that burns brighter and causes more obsession than lust or love, in a way that changes you indelibly and forever. But sometimes growing up means growing apart. Messud beautifully captures the formative female friendship in this suspenseful contemporary coming-of-age story set in a small town in Massachusetts. From realizing the fear inherent in inhabiting a female body, to recognizing the internal lives orbiting our own, Messud says something true about being on the cusp of womanhood. Gorgeous. –Becky
 

myabsolutedarlingMY ABSOLUTE DARLING
Gabriel Tallent
Turtle Alveston is a remarkable heroine, simultaneously strong and naive, with a knowledge of survival skills, weaponry, and the natural world that defies the modern age. She lives with her father, a man broken by time and life and loss, who prepares his daughter to face and survive her greatest enemy—him. Love doesn’t always make sense, and in his debut novel Tallent explores the hows and whys of loving someone who seems determined to break you. Tallent has created a world, rough and gritty but vivid with color, that will consume readers until the breathless end. Reminiscent of A Little Life, this is a book you can’t unread, but the marks the story leaves behind make us better people. –Becky

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Bloomsbury Picks for August

marionpalmMISFORTUNE OF MARION PALM
Emily Culliton
A fast-paced and fun read. Marion Palm runs away and leaves her family after embezzling money from her daughters’ school. She leaves behind a clueless husband, 2 young daughters, and a puzzled school board. The story is told through alternating voices of the characters involved. Marion is delightfully quirky, and easily gains the empathy of the reader. Culliton has written a sharp, humorous and clever first novel. –Anita
 

esmelennoxGOOD MORNING, MIDNIGHT
Lily Brooks-Dalton
An unnamed cataclysmic event strands an aging astronomer and a strange child in the Arctic Circle, while a group of astronauts returning from Jupiter lose all contact with Earth. Mission Specialist Sullivan and astronomer Augustine have one thing in common, a shared love and fascination with space. But while Augustine is content to view the stars from a distance, Sully finds herself drawn into the skies. The connections between their two seemingly disparate journeys are as far reaching and as dizzying as the universe itself. Brooks-Dalton beautifully evokes both the arctic and deep space, highlighting the isolation inherent in experiencing the alien beauty of both landscapes. Part meditative philosophy and part disaster tale, this is a book about missed connections, communication and, ultimately, what it means to be human. Breathtaking and suspenseful. –Becky
 
esmelennoxSEE WHAT I HAVE DONE
Sarah Schmidt
In 1892, Lizzie Borden hacked her father and stepmother to death with an ax. Or did she? Schmidt’s own reasons for writing a novel based on the case has a chilling element: Borden had visited Schmidt in her sleep and whispered, “My father has much to answer for.” And Schmidt found that the ghost, whether real or imagined, was right. She confronts long held assumptions about the American murder so infamous that school children still play games to a ditty based on the crime. Schmidt plunges readers into Borden’s head, which is a very dark, strange, sometimes gross and disturbing vantage point from which to view the story. I stayed up all night to finish this one. –Becky
 
esmelennoxREADYMADE THIEF
Augustus Rose
A young, rebellious girl, a surfeit of disappearing teens, mysterious raves run by an enigmatic leader, and a centuries’ old invention. Lee is an improbable heroine, her father gone, her flighty mother remaking herself for men until she remarries. Lee turns to thievery to avoid being invisible, acquiring goods for her classmates and hoarding the money while planning her escape. Until she is caught, arrested, and starts a journey into an underworld that starts to feel Gotham-esqe. Modern and antique technology collide in this fast-paced novel with teen-crossover potential. Susan and Becky recommend this one. –Becky
 

Bloomsbury Picks for July

esmelennoxVANISHING ACT OF ESME LENNOX
Maggie O’Farrell
Susan calls this book fascinating and disturbing. In the 1930s, Esme Lennox, a dreamy and bookish young woman, vanishes. Decades later, when the hospital where she has spent the last sixty years closes, Esme is sent to live with her great-niece, a woman who has no idea Esme existed. Atmospheric and compared to The Yellow Wallpaper and A Room of One’s Own, this is a compelling examination of the interior lives of women and the historic attempts made to control said lives.
 
what we loseWHAT WE LOSE
Zinzi Clemmons
For Thandi, the daughter of a South African mother and American father, growing up in Pennsylvania means always being an outsider. She is caught between not being black enough and not being white enough. In Clemmon’s beautiful, semiautobiographical, debut novel, Thandi searches for a place to belong.
 
donotbecomealarmedDO NOT BECOME ALARMED
Maile Meloy
This domestic thriller is a perfect summer read! The tropical cruise is everything cousins Nora and Liv want for their families during the busy holiday season, until the children go missing. Switching perspective between the adults and the children, Meloy explores the lengths to which we will go in the face of our deepest fears. This is a smart, readable, and probing novel that stays with you. –Becky
 
goldenhillGOLDEN HILL
Francis Spufford
NPR book critic Maureen Corrigan gave this book such a great review that I had to run out and buy myself a copy; I was not disapointed. This is an epic novel, one that comes around infrequently. This story of a disreputable Englishman in colonial New York involves a drunken mob, a duel, and a murder trial. Written in period langauge, Spufford’s novel brings history to life while never taking anything too seriously (least of all itself). –Becky
 

Bloomsbury Picks for June

CHEMISTRYCHEMISTRY
Weike Wang

“What do you do with a sick chemist?
Helium.
Or curium.
Or barium.”

What do chemistry and literature have in common? Both help us make sense of the world. Chemist Weike Wang’s first novel is an equation solving for love. Wang’s mostly unnamed protagonist is a chemist and the daughter of Chinese immigrants who struggles to let herself love and be loved in return. The writing is a cross between poetry and science—distilled and wise—and is unexpectedly funny. Pure alchemy. –Becky
 
norsemythologyNORSE MYTHOLOGY
Neil Gaiman
Follow the adventures of Norse gods Odin, Thor, Loki and many others in this superb retelling of classic Norse myths. Visit the northern sea where the Midgard serpent lurks, enter the great halls of the Frost Giants, and behold the wondrous creations—including Thor’s hammer Mjollnir—of the dwarfs who live underground. This at-times-dark collection is high on drama and excitement and includes the tale of the final destiny of the Norse gods. –Brandon
 
essexserpentESSEX SERPENT
Sarah Perry
A coterie of Londoners and Essex country-folk are drawn into the orbit of Cora Seaborne, recently widowed and freed from an abusive marriage. Cora’s desire to become a naturalist draws her to the rivers and estuaries of Essex where rumors of a water-monster have reawakened the locals’ fears of a long-ago evil The rumors fuel Cora’s hopes of discovering, instead, dinosaur fossils suitable for display in museums−and, perhaps, a living throwback to the geologic past. Author Perry is remarkable in her rich evocation of the Essex weather, earth, flora, and fauna that Cora eagerly encounters. Equally remarkable is Perry’s depiction of her late-Victorian cast who are anything but the fusty, repressed characters of modern imagination. In this work of historical fiction, ancient fears and superstitions clash with a thoroughly modern gamut of passion, science, and reason to propel Perry’s cast into one another’s lives and to the threshold of the 20th-century. –JG

 

Great Reads Now in Paperback

nordictheoryofeverythingTHE NORDIC THEORY OF EVERYTHING
Anu Partanen
In The Nordic Theory of Everything, Anu Partanen, a Finnish-born journalist who married an American, explores how many policies and ideals Americans believe make us more free actually do the opposite. The Nordic theory of love states that authentic love and friendship are only possible between people who are independent and equal. According to Partanen, this mentality dictates policies that support the freedom of individuals, such as equal access to health care and education. She explains how current American policies create unequal relationships between parents and children, romantic partners, and employees and employers. Far from advocating a switch from democratic to socialist values, Partanen expresses admiration and affection for her new country, and simply explores ways to make her beloved new home a “well-being” state.
review by Becky

 
thetroublewithgoatsandsheepTHE TROUBLE WITH GOATS AND SHEEP
Joanna Cannon
After their neighbor, Mrs. Creasy, goes missing, precocious 10-year-olds Tillie and Grace spend the summer of 1976 hunting for Jesus, believing he can keep their sleepy English village safe. Jesus is everywhere after all, at least according to the vicar, but God sometimes shows himself in unexpected ways (and places). At the beginning of their quest the girls believe wholeheartedly in the existence of goats and sheep—those who fit in and those who do not—based on the Gospel of Matthew, but they discover that most of us are a little of both. Where is Mrs. Creasy, and why do the grownups of neighborhood suspect Walter Bishop? This charming and quirky debut novel is part coming-of-age tale, part mystery, and part examination of small-town politics. Delightful! –recommended by Susan, Karen, and Becky

 
thenixTHE NIX
Nathan Hill
What do a a failed writer (turned college professor), his estranged (and possibly terrorist) mother, an obese video game addict, and a serially-cheating college student have in common? Their lives are about to connect in unexpected and far reaching ways. In his ambitious, funny, and provocative debut novel Hicks probes Nordic folktales, the history of political unrest in the second half of the 20th century, and the impacts of social media and video games on the psyches (and empathy) of modern Americans. Hill has the knack for writing characters readers feel like we’ve known our entire lives, and his dialog is funny, wise, and alive. Be prepared to suck in your breath, to laugh helplessly, and to lose yourself in brilliant commentary (in the guise of an engaging novel) about the state of today’s world. –review by Becky
 
homegoingHOME GOING
Yaa Gyasi
Stretching from the tribal wars of Ghana to slavery and Civil War in America, from the coal mines in the North to the Great Migration to the streets of 20th century Harlem, Gyasi has written a modern masterpiece that is unforgettable. This is one of my favorite novels of the year.  –review by Sheila
 
lilyandtheoctopusLILY AND THE OCTOPUS
Steven Rowley
“A heart is judged not by how much you love, but by how much you are loved by others.” Lily loves ice cream, chicken and rice, tofurky, her red ball, and her dad, Ted. She loves the beach, but dislikes being wet. On Thursdays Lily and Ted discuss which boys they think are the cutest, and when they play Monopoly she likes being the cannon. Lily and Ted are more than best friends, more than dachshund and man, and together they undergo the adventure of a lifetime hunting an octopus on the open sea. This is a charming and quirky story that gives us permission to love our animals in the consuming, over-the-top, bizarre ways that we do. Lily is the Hobbes to Ted’s Calvin, the Enzo to his Denny, the Richard Parker to his Pi, and with one slow tug of a shoelace Lily bursts Ted’s heart open, and marks herself indelibly inside of a reader’s. –review by Becky
 
razorgirlRAZOR GIRL
Carl Hiaasen
Raucous, raunchy, and fabulous, Hiaasen’s latest revolves around two true news blurbs: first is the eponymous Razor Girl, whose niche calling in life is that she enjoys driving around South Florida rear-ending drivers while shaving her lady bits and kidnapping the smitten and stunned drivers. Second is a massive infestation of goat-sized rats in the Keys. These premises plus a handful of rednecks and a few effete Californians provide the ingredients for a spicy read indeed. As usual, Hiassen’s writing is witty (at one point requiring the reader to translate “whore beach” from Spanish to get a travel agent’s joke), and the dialog does not disappoint.
review by Janna

 

labgirlLAB GIRL
Hope Jahren
Questions are the heart of science. You don’t have to be a mathematician to be a scientist; “what comes first is a question.” Lab Girl is the incredible story of one woman who dared to ask why not me, determined to carve a career in a world dominated by men. This is also an enduring, unconditional friendship between two lab partners, and a breathtaking exploration of the natural world from the perspective of trees. Jahren touches on the political aspects of science as she battles bosses who ban pregnant women from the lab, and fights for the ever-shrinking funding available for scientists—“science for war will always make more money than science for knowledge.” This is a story of academia and laboratories, of friendship and marriage and motherhood, of dancing next to glaciers and taking detours to monkey zoos. This is a story that asks the all important question: “Did the first flower make the dinosaurs sneeze?” –review by Becky
 
commonwealthCOMMONWEALTH
Ann Patchett
As a child, Franny’s life is changed when her parents divorce, her mother remarries, and she is suddenly part of a blended family of siblings and situations. This is a tender and heartbreaking novel about the dissolution of families, the creation of new relationships, and the effect this has on the children involved. Beautifully written in Ann Patchett’s gifted style. –review by Anita
 
darkmatterDARK MATTER
Blake Crouch
This is a thriller of quantum proportions based on the many-worlds theory of quantum mechanics, which states that every possible outcome can and does occur. When Jason Dessen, a physics professor at a small Chicago college, is violently attacked, drugged and kidnapped, he wakes to a world that is not his own. His wife doesn’t know him, his son never existed, and Jason has just won a prestigious scientific prize for research he stopped decades before. Or did he? The harrowing journey home will test Jason in every conceivable way, including his understanding of the universe. This is a smart, fast-paced, consuming book that gives Schroedinger’s cat a refreshing twist. Becky and Susan recommend this read. –review by Becky
 
daredevilsDAREDEVILS
Shawn Vestal
The year is 1974, the year of Patti Hearst’s kidnapping and Nixon’s resignation, the year of the Fawcett flip and the year Eval Kneval jumps the Snake River. Lorretta (Lori), caught sneaking around with her boyfriend, is married, a “sister wife” and mother, at fifteen. A desert away, Jason rattles in the passenger seat of his grandfather’s Ford pickup. What do you think? He gonna make it? Jason ponders his grandfather’s question, imagines Eval Kneval shooting across that shadowed canyon. His answer is as uncertain as his faith and both are about to be tested. Lori and Jason will take the road trip that will change their lives forever, but not how they expect. Vestal’s writing feels like the desert, gritty and raw but unexpectedly—incredibly—beautiful. He displays both keen insight into the psyche of adolescence and into the Mormon faith. This is a coming-of-age story, also one of disillusionment and the idols we must cast away to find ourselves. – review by Becky
 
sportofkingsTHE SPORT OF KINGS
C.E. Morgan
“We are Kentuckians first and Virginians second and Christian third,” Henry Forge tells his young daughter. The Forges are more than a family, and they are more than horse breeders. They are a legacy of true-blue blood running back 250 years. Henrietta Forge is no ordinary Southern girl, just as Hellsmouth is no ordinary racehorse, both bred for greatness and born into destinies they cannot control. Likewise, Allmon is an extraordinary groom who pulls himself from poverty only by suffering exceptional loss. Henry, Allmon and Henrietta carry the heavy burdens of the generations before them; their blood binds them to this landscape, and their futures to the fate of one horse. This Southern Gothic is a great American novel—wide in scope and alive with the ghosts that haunt our nation. The writing is sure, evocative without being overbearing. The story and characters are unforgettable. –review by Becky

 

Bloomsbury Picks for May

eleanoroliphantELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE
Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant is a woman of routine. She works in the office of a graphic design company, eats lunch alone, and always does the crossword in the Daily Telegraph. The only deviation in this schedule is the Wednesday night phone calls with Mummy. When we meet Eleanor she has just begun contemplating radically changing her life. When she and her coworker, Raymond, save the life of an elderly gentleman who collapses on the street, she is forced to do more than just contemplate change. Once she opens the door, Eleanor slowly faces the reasons for her deep, habitual resistance to experiencing life. Honeyman delivers a book that is smart, funny, and germane in a world so focused on appearance and differences. She also throws in a few surprises and twists, making a book that is simultaneously suspenseful, funny, and thought-provoking. Readers of A Man Called Ove, by Peter Backman, Out of My Mind, by Sharon Draper, and The Rosie Project will love this very Scottish story of coming-of-age mid-life. –Becky
 
extraordinaryadventuresEXTRAORDINARY ADVENTURES
Daniel Wallace
Edsel Bronfman is 34-years-old, single, and lonelier than he can even admit to himself. A surprise phone call becomes the lifeline he doesn’t know he is waiting for. Now Bronfman has 79 days to find a companion to bring with him on the free weekend in Florida he has won, or lose his prize all together. Given his lack of confidence and his past, less than successful, experiences with women this is a Herculean, often hilarious (only sometimes heartbreaking), endeavor. With a cast of quirky supporting characters, including a woman who perpetually identifies people by the animal they most remind her of, and Bronfman’s mother (who was a single mother wearing red lipstick at a time when women of a certain age were supposed to be sexless house cleaners), this is the feel-good book of the spring. –Becky
 

Bloomsbury Picks for April

evictedEVICTED
Matthew Desmond
Winner of the 2017 Pulitzer Prize in Nonfiction
Evicted chronicles the evictions of eight families in Milwaukee, families of different sizes and backgrounds with a shared circumstance. Arlene is a struggling single mother. Scott is a nurse whose back injury led to an opiate addiction. Lamar is a war veteran, recovering addict, double amputee and resident father-figure to the boys of the neighborhood. Desmond tells complex stories that explore poverty not as a structural or cultural force, but as an interaction between rich and poor. He details the business of eviction, from landlords to eviction courts to the moving crew and the storage facilities. Housing is “too fundamental a human need” to be treated as just a business, Desmond argues. He proposes solutions, including increasing funding to eviction courts and a universal voucher program, but also declares, “If our cities and towns are rich in diversity—with unique textures and styles, gifts and problems—so too must be our solutions.” I couldn’t stop reading. –review by Becky
 
womeninthecastleWOMEN IN THE CASTLE
Jessica Shattuck
Marianne von Lingenfels, a widow in war-torn Germany at the height of World War II, valiantly continues her husband’s valuable work in the resistance after he is executed for his participation in in a failed assassination attempt on Hitler. Following the war, Marianne joins with two other “resistance widows” to form a makeshift family. As her once black-and-white world turns to rubble, Mariane must come to terms with not only her own political history, but that of her loved ones and fellow countrymen as well. Through the three very different lives and paths of these women, Shattuck explores how war turns ordinary people into both heroes and villains, pitting the best and worst aspects of human nature against each other as survival becomes more and more difficult. –review by Becky

 

Bloomsbury Picks for March

strangerinthewoodsSTRANGER IN THE WOODS
Michael Finkel
A young man parks his car and disappears into the forest in Maine. For three decades he manages to survive through freezing winters with no contact with anyone. A fascinating true story of survival. –review by Karen

 

edgarandlucyEDGAR AND LUCY
Victor Lodato
From the very first pages, young Edgar captures the reader’s heart. He is so fragile and so vulnerable. While his bond with his grandmother is strong and loving, his relationship to his mother, Lucy, is distant and complicated. And with a father long dead and gone due to curious, unspeakable circumstances, Grandmother Florence is Edgar’s lifeline. When she dies, he finds himself gravitating toward another pair of welcoming arms – those of the man in the green truck. A troublesome entanglement ensues, and lives are shattered and rebuilt. The story brutally, yet tenderly, examines the ties, lies and secrets between parents, children, lovers and the lonely. This is an absolutely beautifully written and compelling novel. –review by Anita

 

eggshellsEGGSHELLS
Caitriona Lally
Vivian keeps her great aunt’s ashes in a box rather than an urn because “death in a box is more real than death in a jar.” She doesn’t like verbs because they expect too much. She always checks wardrobes for Narnia, and spends her days searching for the portal to take her back to her real world—wherever that may be. At the novel’s onset Vivian is advertising for a friend named Penelope (so that she can eventually ask her friend why her name doesn’t rhyme with antelope). When Penelope answers the ad, Vivian’s quest to find her rightful place in the physical world may actually begin. Hailed in Ireland for an unusual voice and creative plot, Lally’s novel is charming, quirky, and full of literary allusions. –review by Becky

 

exitwestEXIT WEST
Moshin Hamid
This is a beautiful and sensuous love story, told against the backdrop of war and devastation. In an unnamed city, Nadia and Saeed meet and fall in love. But as conditions in the city deteriorate, they plan their escape. In fact, “all over the world people were slipping away from where they had been, from once fertile plains cracking with dryness, from seaside villages gasping beneath tidal surges, from overcrowded cities and murderous battlefields”. The story has a mystical element where in order to escape these refugees must pass through a magic door to another location. Hamid captures the spirit, despair and longing of those forced from their homeland to places unknown. “…everyone migrates, even if we stay in the same houses our whole lives, because we can’t help it. We are all migrants through time.” –review by Anita

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