At the time of his death, Abraham Lincoln was immensely popular with the Northern public. The country’s political elite, however, regarded him as a good country lawyer ill-suited to deal with the heavy responsibilities of a wartime presidency. Influential writers and politicians of all stripes blamed him for a series of political blunders.
Wild, irregular and free, Henry Thoreau cut a distinctive figure in 19th-century Concord, Massachusetts, whether carving “dithyrambic dances” on ice skates with Nathaniel and Sophia Hawthorne or impressing Ralph Waldo Emerson with his “comic simplicity.” More at home in the woods than in society, Thoreau began the first volume of his celebrated journals with a simple word that also functioned as his motto: solitude.
The most exciting part of Carson Fender’s day was supposed to be his role in the fourth-biggest prank in Erik Hill Middle School history (it involved fainting goats). That all changed when a mysterious man pressed a mysterious package into Carson’s hands and ran away, only to be abducted by two men with painted white faces. In Codename Zero, by Chris Rylander, Carson learns quickly that crazy, frightening and awesome things can happen anywhere. Even in North Dakota.
In the winter of 2001, the tragedy of 9/11 is still fresh, especially for 16-year-old Aidan Donovan. There’s something to fear everywhere, and with this fear comes isolation. Only charismatic and vibrant Father Greg offers certainty, and maybe even love, in a world that seems to be falling apart. As Aidan turns to drugs, alcohol and a new set of friends, he begins to question his relationship with Father Greg. Faced with the possibility of a girlfriend for the first time and a classmate who may share Father Greg’s dirty secrets, Aidan has more to ponder, including his own sexuality and his belief system.
Taking a page straight out of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, Margaret Hawkins begins her third novel with the preparation for a dinner party. Each year, Lydia invites a group of friends over for a midwinter meal, where they devour food, sip wine and share secrets. Except this year, Lydia has the biggest secret of all. She has just been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer, and with only a few weeks to live, she has to share the devastating news so that she can properly say goodbye.
Leah Vincent is a good girl who loves her rabbi father. In her Yeshivish community—a sect within ultra-Orthodox Judaism—she’s a girl “who would never sneak a kosher candy bar that did not carry the extra strict cholov Yisroel certification.”
Jenny Hubbard’s outstanding debut novel, 2011’s Paper Covers Rock, was set at a boys’ boarding school in the 1980s, where a young man struggled to find his poetic voice while overcoming a personal tragedy. Hubbard’s second novel, And We Stay, explores many of the same themes from a female perspective.
The Tyrant’s Daughter is the existential story of a teenage girl living on the periphery of war, where she straddles the blood-soaked country she’s always called home and the new American land of bittersweet promise where she has since been exiled.
An unnamed, ingenue heroine. A dramatic location by the sea. A wealthy and cultured older gentleman. If this sounds like the plot of the beloved mystery Rebecca, it is—but Rachel Pastan’s third novel pays homage to the Daphne du Maurier classic while adding a few new twists. Alena’s young heroine is a curator at a small art museum in the Midwest. Visiting the Venice Biennale with her employer, she is introduced to Bernard Augustin, the wealthy and enigmatic founder of the Nauquasset, a museum on Cape Cod that specializes in cutting-edge work.
At the start of The Swan Gondola, Timothy Schaffert’s enchanting new historical novel, two elderly spinster sisters discover a man in their front yard who has fallen from the sky (or from a hot air balloon, at least). The man in question is Ferret Skerritt, a ventriloquist turned star-crossed lover with an incredible tale to tell.