If We Were Villains
A debut novel which harkens back to the first volume released by Donna Tartt, The Secret History, in more ways than one. Readers are introduced to Oliver as he prepares to end a decade in prison and are then quickly shunted to Dellecher Classical Conservatory, at which he and his classmates toil over Shakespeare and other canonical plays in their final year studying theater. Pieces are quickly filled in as to why Oliver ended up in prison and how his life, and those of his friends, changed so abruptly. Rio’s characters can, at times, have a Breakfast Club feel to them, but are much deeper and well formed. I adored this book from the moment i picked it up - truly a must read!
The Warmth of Other Suns
Wilkerson’s book is easily in my top 10 of all time. This Pulitzer Prize winner offers a novelistic storyline following three southern African Americans and their journeys to new homes as part of the Great Migration. Between 1915 and 1970, nearly six million African Americans left the south for the west coast, the mid-west, and the northeast. Wilkerson performed exhaustive research and interviews to put together the stories of Ida Mae Gladney, George Starling, and Robert Foster. Her language is vivid and writing to engaging. A must read for those interested in African American studies, United States history, and the civil rights era.
A brutally, honest look at 1969 Chicago through the eyes of the 13-year-old son of a white civil rights activist and minister, Shiflett’s book shows no favoritism to any group, demographic, or generation. Simon Fleming, the protagonist, provides the reader with scenes from failed student boycotts, gang violence, racist police officers, and the universal struggle felt by young people of that era. I had trouble putting this book down, not so much to see what happens next, but in the hope I would be wrong about what I thought would happen next. Shiflett, an associate professor creative writing at Columbia College, offers up a great, if somewhat depressing, window into the aftermath of 1968 and its toll on Chicago.
I find it impossible to be in anything but a good mood when reading Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series, which chronicles the mishaps of Bertie Wooster, a wealthy, well-meaning, wastrel, and his valet, Jeeves. This collection has some of the wittiest and most fun filled shorts from the cannon. A must read for anyone who enjoys 1920s Great Britain, humor, and engaging stories suitable for one sitting.
What She Ate
I've long been a fan of Laura Shapiro's food histories and her latest work does not disappoint. What She Ate is an illuminating and fascinating glimpse into the lives of six very different women - including one of my favorite novelists - using the food they cooked and are as the framework to tell their stories. It's a book I wish I had written, if just for the joy of it's research.
Salt to the Sea
Salt to the Sea tells the story of the largest maritime disaster you've likely never heard of. It's a novel of historical fiction, told in multiple first-person narratives, giving it a haunting quality of many voices and verses of the same song.
It's the winter of 1945 and millions of people from thousands of little towns and villages in Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania, Poland, and East Prussia are fleeting from the advancing Russian troops. Children, mothers, old people, sick ones, on foot, trains, horse-drawn carts and bicycles, are making their way to the last evacuation points on the coast of the Baltic Sea. Boarding the Wilhelm Gustloff, they hope for rescue on a ship to safety. In a tragedy of unimaginable scale, the ship is torpedoed by the Russians... She sinks taking an estimated 9,000 people with her to the bottom of the frigid Baltic Sea off the coast of Poland.
Ruta Sepetys tells this story of courage and hope alongside cruelty and despair, through the eyes of four young people from different countries. It's a powerfully crafted tale of a tragedy six times deadlier than the Titanic.
At first, I didn’t know how to put into words how I feel about Circe. Now, I know that I adore it. In some of the smoothest, most silken prose, Miller weaves together Greek myths and legends into a single sinuous tapestry of a woman who grows from child to witch through trauma and torment, bearing witness to the might, magic, and majesty of the mortal and divine. What truly makes this a wonderful book is that it not only witnesses it all, it shows Circe’s imperfections as well. She is amazing in her growth, her emotion, and her ability to be flawed. I loved this story for so many reasons, but most of all because it was about a person who felt real, and that made every page as magical as the myths within them.
Seraphina’s tale is one of tragedy, brilliance, and the absolute magic of music and emotion. The princess’ new music instructor, Seraphina, is new to the court of a kingdom still wrathful over a war with the neighboring dragons. As intrigue, assassination, and secrets grow like weeds, she’s drawn ever deeper into a mess of politics she’d rather have absolutely nothing to do with.
Seraphina is pure gold. Heartfelt, emotional, and smart; Seraphina reaches out and fills you with joyous excitement and the thrill of fear, meanwhile pulling off an at once satisfying and intriguing conclusion. Even more, it is a unique and fascinating take on the oft trod mythology of dragons, while still focusing on a genuinely intelligent, clever, and skillful character that will keep you cheering every step of the way.
Finished this book in one sitting... It’s like the Turing test premise of Ex Machina, but with characters from a Raymond Carver short story. Foe was pretending to be about a lot of things - break ups, philosophical conundrums, “big brother” always watching - until I got to the end and realized I was a total sucker for my own perceived reality, and the story I’d bought into for 200 pages changed so drastically, even the title seemed dubious.
Reid’s other book, I’m Thinking of Ending Things, will be made into a movie directed by Charlie Kaufman (that weirdo behind Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind).
Sugarcane farmers and fishermen in the Florida Keys who speak Pidgin (but recite old poetry perfectly and sing along to Jimi Hendrix on an old radio) live in houses of dirt floors furnished with old automobile parts -- they sit on car seats and hang steering wheels on the wall for decoration. It's hard to say what's going on until you read it. This is a beautiful nightmare of a post nuclear apocalypse salvaged only by music (a clarinet and a ten million dollar music lesson, to be exact). It's funny the way Tortilla Flat is funny -- tragically. This book is for anyone able to admit they're at least a little afraid of human extinction.
My favorite collection of very short fiction. The stories are a little painful, but mostly ridiculous.