Jami Attenberg’s fourth book, The Middlesteins, is a darkly fascinating account of one woman’s battle with overeating. Edie Middlestein has struggled with her weight since childhood and now weighs more than 300 pounds. Diabetic and heading toward late middle age, Edie—who lost her job at a law firm because of her weight—receives more bad news: Richard, her pharmacist husband, is leaving her. Edie’s daughter, Robin, looks after her, although she’s embittered by her duties. Her son, Benny, is married to the gorgeous Rachelle, and their two teens will soon be celebrating their b’nai mitzvah. Despite surgery and her grandchildren’s forthcoming festivities, Edie continues to indulge, adding friction to an already stressed family environment. Attenberg’s timely, unforgettable story—told from shifting points of view—will strike a chord with readers. This is a well-crafted, provocative novel that’s tailor-made for reading groups and certain to spark spirited discussion.

Lovers of historical fiction will be entranced by The Chaperone, Laura Moriarty’s fascinating account of the Wichita housewife who watches over future silent-film star Louise Brooks on her first trip to New York City. The year is 1922. Louise is 15, gorgeous and ambitious when she travels to New York from her home in Kansas to train with a prominent dance company. Accompanying her is 36-year-old Cora Carlisle, a cautious wife and mother—and Louise’s opposite in every way. Louise isn’t thrilled by the presence of her chaperone, yet a bond develops between the two, and the weeks they pass in each other’s company will be life-changing for both. Cora has her own closely guarded motivations for traveling to New York, and her story proves to be as compelling as that of her movie-star charge. In the decades that follow their pivotal summer, both Cora and Louise will experience triumph and heartbreak. Moriarty’s contrasting heroines embody the changing times, and their differences lend nuance to this richly rewarding narrative.

In her delightful yet cautionary eighth novel, Flight Behavior, Barbara Kingsolver examines the ways in which global warming impacts a fictional corner of Appalachia. Strong-willed Dellarobia Turnbow lives in the rural hamlet of Feathertown, Tennessee, with her husband, Cub, and their two young children. When she spots an incredible assemblage of monarch butterflies on a nearby mountain, she knows she’s seen something special. The locals think she witnessed a miracle, and the incident is soon picked up by the media. A handsome African-American scientist named Ovid Byron arrives to study the butterflies, and what he discovers about them spells bad news for the natural world even as it places Dellarobia at the heart of a conflict that’s both personal and political. Kingsolver’s latest book has weighty issues at its core, yet it never seems heavy-handed, in part because of its charming cast of small-town characters. It’s a timely, penetrating novel that’s at once entertaining and illuminating—a balance Kingsolver seems to achieve almost effortlessly.

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