The lush setting of Barbados — its rich history and tenacious people — is the backdrop of Naomi Jackson’s elegantly-written debut novel, The Star Side of Bird Hill.
Sixteen-year-old Dionne and her 10-year-old sister Phaedra are shipped to live with their tough grandmother Hyacinth in Barbados to lessen the burden on their ill mother. The culture shock of living in a world apart from their beloved Brooklyn and navigating the tumultuous waters of adolescence in a place foreign to them is starting to wear on their own sense of self and their relationship with each other.
Dionne’s desire to be a true American teenager — with parties, dates and taking risks — contrasts sharply with the Bird Hill neighborhood of close-knit women. Whispers of her own mother’s difficult teenage years follow her around, and she wants desperately to be both similar to and separate from that legacy.
Phaedra observes how the entire community leans on her grandmother for support, both in this world and beyond. Hyacinth’s practice of obeah, an ancient mysticism of the West Indies, lures Phaedra into learning as much as she can from her grandmother. As the festival time of Kadooment Day draws near, Dionne and Phaedra will have to reconcile their past selves with their new lives, and make a difficult decision about where they want to be.
Richly constructed and heartbreakingly honest, this beautiful novel should be at the top of the summer reading list for fans of Zadie Smith and Alice McDermott. Those looking for a new, bold literary voice will find one in Naomi Jackson.
Who doesn’t love a cookie? As a baker and lover of cookies and all things sweet, I couldn't pass up this book once I saw it on the new book shelf. Cookie Love by Mindy Segal is getting some love from the critics. It even made the Epicurious list of 30 spring cookbooks. They are excited about it, and for good reason.
Deliciousness abounds in eight chapters of various types of cookies, from drop to sandwich to twice baked. You'll want to bake all 60 recipes. Segal provides us with an introduction to each cookie, how she came to love it, tips for baking each cookie and information about the ingredients. As any baker knows, Segal says she never bakes a recipe just once, but rather tries to improve upon it each time. Segal is a James Beard Award-winner for Outstanding Pastry Chef, so this book is sure to please.
If you're looking to satisfy your sweet tooth, this is the book for you! The recipes are detailed enough that any baker new or old will be at home in the kitchen. I can’t wait to try out some of these recipes. Chunky Bars were my favorite candy bar as a child, so I'll be making Ode to the Chunky Bar very soon.
Sophie Kinsella, of Shopaholic series fame, returns with the new teen novel Finding Audrey. Protagonist Audrey is a 14-year-old British teen who has undergone severe bullying at the hand of her classmates. This has caused her a great deal of anxiety and depression, which leads to her leaving school, wearing dark glasses all the time and rarely leaving her house.
Audrey’s family is incredibly supportive of her, even if they don’t always understand her anxiety disorder. Her family, consisting of mom, dad, older brother Frank and younger brother Felix, provide levity throughout the story. Their antics, which Audrey records in a video diary that her supportive therapist suggests she make, are hilarious. When her brother’s friend, Linus, begins coming over to their house to practice for a gaming tournament, Audrey is pushed out of her comfort zone. She finds herself relearning how to interact with people other than her family. As Audrey becomes more comfortable with Linus, she finds herself wanting to push herself more, at times frustrated with what she thinks is her slow progress.
Kinsella has written an honest portrayal of a teen with anxiety — Audrey isn’t magically fixed, but has to work hard to make progress with a combination of therapy and medication. Finding Audrey is at times funny, sad and romantic — switching between video diary script and traditional prose. Kinsella has written a novel that will appeal to teen readers as much as it does to adults.
The novel In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware is a gripping page-turner guaranteed to become a must-read for the summer. Ten years ago, Leonora stopped going by Lee and became Nora. She left her past behind her, moved to a new location and became a successful and reclusive novelist. Nora soon receives a dubious email inviting her to a bachelorette party somewhere in the English Countryside to celebrate the nuptials of her old college friend, Clare. When the weekend is over, Nora wakes up in a hospital bed, severely bruised, having survived an apparent car crash. Scanning her recent memory, she can’t recall the events that lead her there, and with the arrival of the police, she realizes that something is very wrong. Someone at the party is dead, and Nora cannot be sure that she is not the murderer.
In a Dark, Dark Wood is a psychological thriller at its best. Ware keeps the reader as much in the dark as the menacing woods surrounding the house where the action takes place. The atmosphere is tense, taught and slightly disturbing, and the reader will feel an impending sense of dread right along with Nora. As each piece of the story is slowly revealed, the reader will be glued to the pages until the final outcome — great for readers who enjoy domestic suspense. Readers who enjoy this title may also want to try The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford, Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daly or Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty.
In The Sculptor by Scott McCloud, David Smith has made a deal with Death. He is given 200 days to make his mark on the art world — for the things he makes to come out just as he imagines them. But he's David Smith, awkward and angry, and a man of strong opinions and often hard edges, stiff and unbending. With his mortality in short supply, David has just met the love of his life.
The Sculptor is a great many things. It is made up of the countless small moments and memories that make up a life. It is made up of the big ideas that drive those moments. This is a metacommentary on the expression of life through art, and if that sounds intimidating, it shouldn't be because this story comes from the capable hands of Scott McCloud, who literally wrote the book on graphic novels as an art form (Understanding Comics, 1993).
With Understanding Comics, McCloud took apart graphic novels, studying how pieces large and small, overt and subtle, fit together to create tones, ideas, impacts and stories. The book is a masterwork of art criticism, necessary and friendly reading for anyone who wants to understand graphic novels or any other form of narrative art.
In The Sculptor, McCloud has put the parts he explained back together, and the result is nothing less than a masterpiece. This is not a book so much as it is a symphony, with great rising movements, drumming beats, soft counter melodies and a wave of pictures and people living through ordinary lives in extraordinary ways.
This is a big read, with questions about art, integrity, family, love, purpose. But it is also a peaceful read. Everything is colored in a soft, blue-gray that never stresses the eyes. David walks the simple, complex and bittersweet joys of growing into a new love. The images come with the wild energy of an artist pushing their boundaries as hard as they can, living alongside quiet domestic scenes, neither ever drowning each other out.
Which is better, to live a good life or to throw everything into a calling?
Virginia Boecker was able to cross an item off her bucket list when she published her debut novel The Witch Hunter. As an English history buff, Boecker was spending time in London when she was inspired to write the novel. Though this story takes place in a very different world, where witches and other paranormal creatures are common place, the setting is reminiscent of old world England.
It’s 1558, in a place known as Anglia, where witches and other creatures are pitted against the monarchy for the right to live and practice their beliefs freely. The country is divided with many wanting to see witchcraft practiced openly. King Malcom and his grand inquisitor do all they can to eradicate witches and witchcraft by having a small and elite band of witch hunters that tracks and captures witches who are later burned alive.
By day, Elizabeth Grey is a servant in the kitchen. By night, she is one of the king’s most capable witch hunters. When she is caught with a collection of suspicious herbs, she is arrested as a witch. It’s while she sits rotting in a cell and awaiting her execution that she finds an unlikely ally who leads her to question her black and white world. Could it be that she has been manipulated by the very people she trusts the most, or is she simply being misled?
This young adult novel is a wicked mashup of genres, from romance to adventure, with a healthy dose of historical paranormal fiction to tie it all together. If this is your magical brew, look to Sabaa Tahir’s An Ember in the Ashes for another gripping historical paranormal fantasy with a strong female protagonist, who also has a tendency to challenge authority.
Sarah Gerard’s unnamed narrator in Binary Star is channeled from a place most of us will never visit in our lifetimes. It’s a wonder that Gerard is capable of emerging from this place only to return again for the sake of siphoning creative energies, and her trial blurs the story in Binary Star into an unsettling reality.
The nameless protagonist in Binary Star is a young woman studying astronomy at Adelphi University in New York. She is anorexic and bulimic. Her boyfriend John lives in Chicago and is an alcoholic and an abuser of prescribed medication. The narrator is at a point in her life where she feels completely directionless. Though she’s intelligent enough to realize the cause of her misery is her failing health — she weighs just a hair over 90 pounds — she refuses to break the cycle she’s trapped in. John denies his condition with boisterous, masculine assertions, often leading to broken bones and bruised egos. Together, the two are a pathetic spectacle — but at least they’re something.
Gerard illustrates in Binary Star that sometimes people need each other in order to exist. Splashes of science parallel this tumultuous relationship:
A binary star is a system containing two stars that orbit their common center of mass. The relative brightness of stars in a binary system is important. Glare from a bright star can make detecting a fainter companion difficult.
They embark on a road trip with no real destination, which necessitates visits with old acquaintances and frequent stops at convenience stores. Through vegan literature collected during their journey, the couple becomes devoted to anarchy-fueled ecoterrorism. Will this new cause balance their orbit, or cause them to violently burn out?
Readers who enjoyed the classic anonymously written and narrated novel Go Ask Alice will find a lot of similarities in Binary Star. For more literary work on the topic of eating disorders, readers should look for How to Disappear Completely by Kelsey Osgood.
Maeve Kerrigan, detective constable with the London Metropolitan Police Force, is once again drawn into a case of multiple murders in Jane Casey’s The Kill. This time the circumstances are hitting close to home. The targets are all police officers on the job, performing their duty in the wake of the police shooting of an innocent teenage boy.
Hundreds of leads must be explored, including the personal lives of the victims. Unearthing the unflattering behavior of victims is a necessary, if unpleasant, part of the job. But when it’s your colleagues that have been viciously attacked it’s particularly painful. Maeve is also protecting a dark secret held by her boss, Superintendent Godley that threatens the success of the entire investigation. Her colleagues, sensing that something is shared between them, wrongfully accuse her of having an affair with the superintendent. While Maeve struggles with her conscience, she’s dealing with Inspector Derwent’s shockingly abrasive, frankly sexist personality. She’s also juggling her relationship with a fellow police officer whose work life is every bit as demanding as Maeve’s.
Casey is accomplished at layering complex situations and sophisticated relationships throughout this police procedural. The characters are raw and flawed; sometimes heroic and sometimes cowardly. Maeve’s voice is powerful, personal and painfully real. We are provided a very clear portrait of the life of a female homicide detective in a male dominated-world. But there is nothing whiny or weak about Maeve; she knows her job and is determined to make her mark.
Casey is the author of the Mary Higgins Clark Award-winning The Stranger You Know. The Kill is the fifth entry in the Maeve Kerrigan series, but is just as enjoyable as a standalone novel. After you’ve finished, the other novels in the series are compelling reads.
Robin Benway’s latest novel, Emmy & Oliver begins when the title characters, on a day that neither of them will ever forget. That day, Oliver’s father picks him up after school and runs away with him. From that point onward, Emmy’s childhood is filled with news media obsessed with the missing child case, nervous parents and a missing best friend. Even 10 years later, she’s still highly affected by Oliver’s disappearance—she still wonders about Oliver and keeps secrets from her parents to gain back some of the freedom she lost when Oliver disappeared. She has secretly learned to surf, keeping her surfboard hidden in her car, and applied to a college with a good surfing team—all without letting her parents know.
When Oliver suddenly reappears at age 17, both their lives are upended once again. All Emmy wants is to pick up where they left off. However, she and their other childhood friends, Caro and Drew, are cautioned to give him space to let him readjust. Whereas Oliver, who has missed his mom and his friends for 10 years, now finds himself missing his dad and having difficulties adjusting to his old life. Forced by their parents, the two begin spending time together again after Oliver has been home for a few weeks. Their initially uneasy friendship begins to turn into something else, as they discover they can share things with each other that they can’t tell anyone else.
Emmy & Oliver is a sweet novel with a heartbreaking premise. Benway creates characters that readers quickly feel like they’ve known for years. Fans of Gayle Forman and Sarah Dessen will enjoy Benway’s new novel.
A.J. Steiger’s debut novel Mindwalker is a futuristic dystopian novel geared toward young adults. Steiger received a fiction writing degree from Columbia University—so while this is her first novel, she’s no stranger to the writing process.
Mindwalker takes place in a future dictated by psychologists who determine people's mental stability, and their "class" in the U.S. region as a result. “Type ones” are mentally stable and given every opportunity that society has to offer. On the other end of the spectrum, “type fours” could be a danger to society, so they are fitted with collars and liberally given pills to facilitate suicide. Though this creates a society with less crime and violence, people live in a constant state of anxiety. Anything they do or say could cause their type to go up and their potential to go down. If a person’s type does go up, they can lower it by agreeing to mental reconditioning.
One form of reconditioning is known as mindwalking. A Mindwalker is a person with the ability to see into someone's mind and, at their request, remove traumatic memories in order to help them live a more fulfilling life. The novel’s protagonist, Lain, is a Mindwalker. She was passionate about her job and believed it to be completely rewarding until a fellow student, Steven, asked for a favor. When Lain finds that Steven's memories don't match reality, Lain begins asking questions that challenge her principles and make her question the whole structure of society.
With thought-provoking ideas regarding self-perception, plus a healthy dose of action, this dystopian romance is a quick read. For those who are hooked by the unique plot, its sequel Mindstormer is expected to be released next June. If you just can’t wait till then, look to Plus One by Elizabeth Fama for equal amounts of dystopian romance and action.