Lois Lonsdale is an enigma to those around her. The British literature professor is a respected academic, but also something of a threat to others in the department. That’s partly due to the former spelling bee champion’s striking looks, but her publishing success and standoffish nature don’t help.
It’s hard to follow a debut that immediately became an international phenomenon, was published in 40 countries and is in the works to become a movie (hopefully with the same mind-blowing visual effects Warner Bros. brought to movies like Inception, The Lego Movie and The Matrix). The thing that made Ernest Cline’s first book, Ready Player One, so good was a nearly impossible balance between where-the-hell-did-that-come-from originality and the familiarity of Gen-X pop-culture references. There’s no such balance in his second novel, Armada. Familiarity surpasses originality—intentionally.
Janis Cooke Newman, author of Mary: Mrs. A. Lincoln, once again brings history to life with her sophomore novel, A Master Plan for Rescue. Here, Newman explores New York City as World War II percolates across the Atlantic. Her remarkable novel is filled with stories within stories that recall the superhero serials that its gifted 12-year-old, Jack Quinlan, wholeheartedly believes in.
Raymond Chandler once said about writing fiction: “When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand.” In his first novel, Bull Mountain, firefighter Brian Panowich seems to have taken Chandler’s advice to heart: His characters brandish weaponry in a way that Charlton Heston might have found disconcerting. The result is a fast-paced and intricate revenge story culminating in a Shakespearean bloodbath.
Canadian author Leah McLaren walks a fine line in A Better Man, and following along as she navigates it is part of what makes her novel worth reading. A Better Man is a deft blend of comedy, wisdom and character, and it’s one of the most entertaining books of its kind you’re likely to find.
Louisa Hall’s fascinating cautionary tale is about the role artificial intelligence can and should play in our society.
British novelist Amanda Coe’s The Love She Left Behind is a tart family drama that examines how a selfish act of adultery mars the lives of adult children a generation after its occurrence. In this, her second novel, Coe demonstrates a keen eye for the intricate dynamics of family life and an even sharper ear for the language we use both to conceal and to wound.
Let Me Explain You is about the American dream: the good, the bad, the ugly and the hilariously relatable. It’s one family’s story of an old world clashing with a modern one. Thick Greek coffee goes up against Starbucks; microwave cereal stands alongside freshly butchered lamb; arranged marriages end in divorce; and traditions buckle against everything from homosexuality to Facebook.
The good and useful thing about scary stories is their variety. They may leave you sad, mad or contemplative—but all of the good ones make the hair on the back of your neck stand up.
Three novels explore the hardships, complexities and a few triumphs within families, from the 1920s homestead to present-day Europe, make for great group discussion this month.