In 1979, Iran became a revolutionary theocracy. Since then, to the outside world, the country has been identified with repression, false confessions, brutality, torture and worse. But as journalist Laura Secor demonstrates in her compelling, enlightening and often disturbing Children of Paradise: The Struggle for the Soul of Iran, there is another aspect of the country’s modern history, a “revolutionary impulse as complexly modern as the society that produced it.”
In The Hours Count, Jillian Cantor revisits a pivotal moment in American history and asks: What if Ethel and Julius Rosenberg—the only Americans to ever be executed for spying during the Cold War—were actually innocent?
Subversive historian Sarah Vowell offers another idiosyncratic chronicle of our nation’s coming-of-age with Lafayette in the Somewhat United States. This lively account of the Marquis de Lafayette and the American Revolution is of a piece with Vowell’s previous books, which include Assassination Vacation (2005), a tour of sites dedicated to murdered American presidents, and The Wordy Shipmates (2008), a raucous look at the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. These seem like sober subjects, but Vowell enlivens the proceedings with her prickly persona, her thing for slang and her taste for recondite factoids of Americana.
In 2012, Claire Vaye Watkins burst onto the literary landscape with her prize-winning short story collection, Battleborn. In Gold Fame Citrus, Watkins follows through on her literary promise with an excellent novel, set in a drought-ridden California in a future that feels alarmingly near.
Years before I read Eat, Pray, Love, I clipped a quote from Elizabeth Gilbert’s 2006 bestseller that I still have today. “Happiness is the result of personal effort,” she wrote. “You have to participate relentlessly.” This was not news I wanted to hear at the time, but a life spent waiting for the right bluebird to cross my path wasn’t working out too well, either. I started to put a little more shoulder into my efforts, and did, in fact, find myself enjoying life more. If you’re living a creative life (and news flash—you are), the same rules apply. In her latest book, Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, Gilbert contends that persistence and curiosity are the keys to pushing past your boundaries to live a bigger, happier life.
Lauren Groff explored the strengths of community in her first two novels, The Monsters of Templeton and Arcadia. In Fates and Furies, she narrows her focus to the ultimate microcosm: a marriage. Told in two parts, first by a husband and then a wife, this unsettling novel looks at the myriad ways even the most devoted of couples keep secrets, betray one another and risk deceiving themselves.
Last Bus to Wisdom is told by an orphan. He’s Donal Cameron, a Montana boy who is 11 years old in 1951. The flinty grandmother who raised him after his parents were killed needs an operation. This means Donny needs to go live with Gram’s somewhat estranged sister in Wisconsin. To do this he has to go Greyhound or, as they said back in the day, ride the dog bus. Having ridden the dog bus fairly frequently over the years, this reviewer braced herself for a horror story.
Descendants of the biblical farmer Cain can see the world through the shepherd’s eyes of his brother Abel in this memorable journey with today’s Abels, the Fulani nomads of Mali. Modern times encroach upon the ancient paths of their seasonal pilgrimages: New generations trade their Zebu cows and goats for the settled life, cellphones and urban good times. Overhead, warplanes commandeer the skies, working the ever-changing frontlines of terrorism in West Africa. Borders and rules—and risks—adjust with regimes. Climate change distorts the seasons, pummeling these travelers with untimely droughts and ravaging storms.
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.
A world-famous actor (a former Disney Channel star who’s back for a reunion special—think Ryan Gosling meets Justin Timberlake) walks into the small-town Florida bar where three 19-year-old friends are drinking their way through another dull night.