Sarah Wildman knew her grandfather, Karl, escaped from Vienna on the eve of the Nazi occupation. One day after his death, however, she discovered a box of letters and photographs hinting that there might be another, truer version of his story, one that included a girl nicknamed "Valy."
Eliza Granville’s suspenseful novel hearkens back to the fairy tales we remember from childhood—but not the sanitized Disney versions. These are the darker tales about witches, ovens and children lost in the deep woods, fleeing for their lives.
In December 1976, two days before the Smile Jamaica concert to promote political unity, armed gunmen walked into reggae star Bob Marley’s house at 56 Hope Road in Kingston and began shooting. Marley sustained injuries in his arm and chest; his wife, Rita, was hit as she raced to protect their children; and his manager, Don Taylor, was also injured. In Marlon James’ powerful new novel, A Brief History of Seven Killings, the attack is the centerpiece of a blistering commentary on Jamaica in the 1970s and its inextricable links both to Cold War politics and to the drug wars of the following decade.
It is 1922, and England and her citizens are still recovering from the upheaval of the First World War: High unemployment, disillusioned ex-soldiers and severely strained circumstances are commonplace. Twenty-seven-year-old Frances Wray and her mother are living in South London. Both of Frances’ brothers died in the war, and her father’s recent death left the two women close to financial ruin. Even with the dismissal of servants and Frances taking over the housework and meals, the Wrays no longer have enough to live on. Their decision to take in lodgers, or “paying guests” as they genteelly refer to them, leads to an event as ultimately life-altering as the war itself.
Rene Steinke, a finalist for the 2005 National Book Award for her novel Holy Skirts, makes an awaited return with Friendswood. Located outside of Houston, the town of Friendswood, Texas, is definitely all-American. The citizens are high on religion, high school football and the oil business. But then a hurricane uncovers not just buried toxic chemicals, but secrets and moral ambiguities that are crippling the town.
Set against the colorful backdrop of the Virgin Islands from 1916 to the 1970s, Land of Love and Drowning weaves an intricate tale of the legacy of an island family as it grapples with love, magic and death over more than six decades. A heartbroken patriarch purposefully sinks his ship into the Caribbean, leaving two daughters and their half-brother to make their own way, each in possession of a particular magic and unusual beauty.
A liberated Asian at odds with her conservative family or homeland is not a new story. Literature abounds with such declarations of independence in prose, doggedly demolishing superstitions and customs. This is especially true when it comes to an Asian woman's "proper" role in courtship and marriage, or non-role in the workplace. Jean Kwok's entertaining second novel, Mambo in Chinatown, thus breaks no new ground, except perhaps that it is her father, not her mother, who proves the protagonist's foil. Also: ballroom dancing!
Emma Straub’s delightful second novel, The Vacationers, is the best work yet from this Brooklyn-based writer, who previously penned the quirky short story collection Other People We Married and the historical novel Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures.
Ah, WASPs: Those guilt-ridden, uptight, real estate-obsessed traditionalists. In Perfectly Miserable: Guilt, God and Real Estate in a Small Town, Sarah Payne Stuart captures the essence of this distinctive culture, tracing both her own childhood in Concord, Massachusetts, and the lives of some of Concord’s famous residents, including Ralph Waldo Emerson and Louisa May Alcott.
Philippe Petit’s famous tightrope walk between the twin towers of the World Trade Center in 1974 was just one of many such performances by the artist. He made the crossing without a permit or permission to be in the building, so it’s little wonder he thinks of his actions as “coups” and has titled his book Creativity: The Perfect Crime. This is not a how-to book—it’s more of a this-is-how-I primer—but close readers will come away with both inspiration and useful instruction.