A young boy heads to Coney Island for a birthday outing, his mother treating him to ice cream once they arrive. The word “cream” shows through a die-cut hole (“‘Ice cream,’ I say, my birthday surprise!”), and on the next spread, after the boy drops his snack, we read: “‘Oh no!’ I scream, with tears in my eyes.”
Dan Simmons is known for big, serious books like Drood and The Terror that mix real-life history with genre fiction. And while The Fifth Heart is certainly big, it’s also brisk, funny and a hell of a good time.
Sometimes being the smartest kid in your class doesn’t make you any friends. Sometimes the way you see the world is so different from “normal” that you’re not sure anyone can understand you. So it is for Nicholas Funes, the 11-year-old hero of If You Find This.
It is almost impossible to choose the most memorable thing about James Hannaham’s powerful and daring second novel, Delicious Foods (a title suggestive of Billie Holiday’s “Strange Fruit”). It might be that one of its narrators is crack cocaine, or that one of its main characters loses his hands. It might be the evocative African-American slang and dialect. Or it might be the way the novel can be read as an extended metaphor for the situation of blacks in America.
Lizzie Vogel has grown up in what she, even at age 9, understands is “a very good situation.” She has a nice home with a nanny and a chauffeur, two siblings and a dog. Then one day, her mother learns that Lizzie’s father has had an affair. The next thing Lizzie knows, her parents have split and she has been shuffled off to live in the country with her mother, brother and sister.
Families come in all forms. Ame Dyckman’s new picture book, illustrated by Zachariah OHora, is all about the most unlikely new family member for a bunny family of three. They arrive home one day, surprised to find a bundle on their front stoop—and it’s none other than a baby wolf.
What makes Rob Dunn’s narrative history of advances in heart research so fascinating is on vivid display in the opening chapter of The Man Who Touched His Own Heart. Here Dunn tells the story of a Chicago surgeon who performed the first-known repair to the pericardium, the protective sac around the heart. The year was 1893, and Chicago was abuzz over the World’s Fair. The patient, a railroad worker, had been stabbed in a knife fight at a local bar. The surgeon, a talented, ambitious African-American man, had been forced by racial prejudice to found his own poorly funded hospital, serving Chicago’s lower class. At a time when a knife to the heart was almost always fatal, the revolutionary procedure was delicate and complex because there was no technology to sustain the heart while a surgeon worked on it. To everyone’s amazement, the procedure succeeded.
Of the dramatic plot twists that routinely occur in suspense fiction, one character in Harriet Lane’s Her complains that they are “unsatisfying . . . nothing like life, which—it seems to me—turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings or disappointments, the things that it’s easy to overlook.” Lane’s novel, in which a vengeful woman infiltrates the life of an old acquaintance, features many potential shocks. But Her eschews cheap drama, instead building suspense by shedding light on two women’s inner worlds.
Scott Blackwood’s latest addition to the Texas literary canon, See How Small, is a brilliant, heartbreaking meditation on grief, parenthood and time.
Edith Pearlman has been publishing award-winning stories since the late 1970s, but became more widely known in 2012, when her story collection Binocular Vision won both the PEN/Malamud and National Book Critics Circle awards and was a finalist for numerous others. Her new collection, Honeydew, gathers tales from the last 15 years, each one a closely observed look at the ordinary graces and sorrows of everyday life.