The Light Fantastic by Sarah Combs unfolds over three climactic hours on April Donovan’s 18th birthday. It’s April 19, 2013. The Boston Marathon bombers are still on the loose, and April recalls a litany of other horrific events that have taken place in her birth month — Oklahoma City, Waco, Columbine, Virginia Tech. April suffers from a rare memory condition that leaves her able to remember events from her past in exquisite detail, to make connections that most people wouldn’t notice.
April’s story is just one of seven threads in this engrossing, interwoven novel. What’s happening at April’s high school in Delaware? What’s happening with her childhood friend, Lincoln, now living in Nebraska, who moved away after his father died in the attack on the Twin Towers? How are they connected to a girl in Idaho and a boy in California?
Each story contains echoes of the others, and these coincidences and small repetitions are part of the beauty of the novel. These people and their stories are connected because everything is connected. It may not feel like it sometimes, but we are never alone in this world.
For more of Combs’ fiction, check out her debut Breakfast Served Anytime. For another story with an unorthodox structure about a heavy topic, check out John Darnielle’s Wolf in White Van.
In Ben Winters’ Underground Airlines, our world is exactly as we know it. Social media is humming, fast food chains are thriving and UPS is delivering. Except there was one event that changed the course of our history — Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on his way to his inauguration. The Civil War never happened. And slavery is still the practice in four states.
The United States is part-slave, part-free, with the "Hard Four" states adhering to the old ways. Winters explores all the questions raised by this intriguing alternative history. Who benefits from the slave trade? Where do new slaves come from? The answers are told through the story of a young black man named Victor. Victor chose freedom in exchange for agreeing to work as a bounty hunter for the U.S. Marshall’s Service, the agency responsible for capturing and returning runaway slaves. While he suppresses memories of a childhood on the plantation, he works to infiltrate an abolitionist cell known as the Underground Airlines. His latest case finds him in Indianapolis, on the trail of a runaway named Jackdaw. But this case is different as he finds himself dealing with an uncommunicative boss as well as a young woman and her child who Victor cannot ignore. As his pursuit intensifies, Victor discovers secrets behind our government’s arrangement with the Hard Four — secrets that are not meant to be exposed. Victor struggles with retaining his freedom versus revealing the corrupt truth.
This blend of dystopian fiction, police procedural and alternative history results in a thrilling, quickly paced read. The premise is explosive, the story is well-constructed and the conclusion is exhilarating. Winters handles a provocative topic with sensitivity, but isn’t afraid to challenge the reader by raising thought-provoking issues throughout the novel. This one will stay with you long after the last page, as The Washington Post noted, “Winters has written a book that will make you see the world in a new light.”
What would you do if your roommate disappeared into the night? Or if a mysterious stranger showed up in your small town? Would you be curious? Would you call the police? Would you do nothing? Such is the subject matter of Mary Kubica’s latest psychological thriller, Don’t You Cry. Addictive from the very first paragraph, you won’t be able to put this book down. Everyone has secrets, and these two have more than their fair share!
Twentysomething Quinn awakens one Sunday morning to find her roommate, Esther, missing from their apartment. In disbelief, Quinn waits around for her to return home. But as the hours go by, she slowly realizes something is amiss. Why did Esther take several large ATM withdrawals days before her disappearance? Why did she place an order to change the apartment locks? Why did she never speak of her former roommate or family? Who is Esther really? Did Quinn even know her? Will she find her?
Meanwhile, another story is being told by Alex, an 18-year-old living in a northern Michigan town. Skipping college to take care of his neglectful, alcoholic father, Alex spends his days bussing tables at a local restaurant. One day, an unknown woman appears. Calling her Pearl, he obsessively follows her every move. Why is she in a summer town in the middle of fall? Where is she from? How is this connected to Esther’s disappearance?
Kubica gives just enough clues to keep you guessing and frantically turning the page. Believe me, you will become obsessed with Esther’s disappearance and Pearl’s story. Filled with surprising twists, Don’t You Cry begs to be devoured quickly. But don’t you cry when you read the last word — Kubica has written two other thrillers, The Good Girl and Pretty Baby, just waiting to be read.
A great read whether you’re new to the genre or a seasoned veteran of horror fiction, Joe Hill’s The Fireman is a complex and unsettling book that will leave you with a lot of deep questions but thrilled that you came along for the ride.
The Fireman tells the tale of Harper Grayson, a school nurse who is living in New England when a plague erupts across the world. Dubbed “Dragonscale,” this parasite covers its victims in luminescent scales before eventually causing them to combust into a pyre of flames. Although infected and facing her end, Harper finds a new will to survive when she becomes pregnant, and decides that her child will survive even if she does not. She must attempt to survive the dangerous parasite as well as the groups of people who begin hunting and killing the infected to prevent its spread — a group that includes her husband.
This book has a subtle burn — a gentle build of horror that occasionally sparks into a blaze of terror but typically smolders in the background. Hill masterfully uses foreshadowing to build tension and unease, letting you know that disaster waits just ahead but leaving it agonizingly uncertain when and how it will strike. The real terror of this book, though, is not in looming villains or gory scenes, but the darkness in man. The story examines how evil can grow and live in all people, and how all it takes is circumstance to fan it into a flame. Impressively, the story also crafts a believable protagonist who maintains her positivity throughout, remaining strong despite the horrors she faces.
With his latest offering, the son has truly surpassed the father. Joe Hill, son of Stephen King, is one of the freshest and strongest voices in horror fiction. If you enjoyed The Fireman, I’d also recommend NOS4A2, an earlier work of his that also deals with a mother seeking to protect her child. I’d also recommend Stephen King’s Cell, which shares a focus on humanity trying to survive after an apocalypse.
As summer winds down, we look forward to cooler weather, pumpkin-flavored everything and fall television premiers! If you’re like me and you need to read the book before you watch it on screen, here are 10 new series premiering this television season based on books.
Hulu’s Chance, based on the book by Kem Nunn, is a psychological thriller set in San Francisco about a psychiatrist, his female patient with multiple personality disorder and her homicide detective husband.
NBC’s Emerald City is a modern reimagining of L. Frank Baum’s Land of Oz series featuring 20-year-old Dorothy Gale and a K9 police dog.
Fox’s The Exorcist, based on the 1971 novel by William Peter Blatty, follows a new family’s fight against demonic possession.
Amazon’s Good Girls Revolt is based on the true story of author Lynn Povich and 45 other women who sued Newsweek for sex discrimination in 1970.
Hulu’s The Handmaid's Tale is based on the classic dystopian novel by Margaret Atwood.
NBC’s Midnight, Texas is a supernatural drama based on the series by Charlaine Harris — also the author of the Sookie Stackhouse books which formed the basis for HBO’s True Blood.
NBC’s Powerless is a workplace comedy about an insurance company set in the DC Comics Universe.
CW’s Riverdale is a live-action teen drama based on the characters from Archie Comics, celebrating its 75th anniversary this year.
Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events is based on the children’s series by Lemony Snicket about three orphaned siblings.
ABC’s Still Star-Crossed, based on the teen novel by Melinda Taub, features the Montagues and Capulets in the aftermath of Romeo and Juliet’s tragic deaths.
For the ninth consecutive year, One Maryland One Book offers Marylanders the opportunity to connect by reading the same book at the same time. A Maryland Humanities program, One Maryland One Book is a statewide event that promotes reading with discussions, programming and author tours. Baltimore County Public Library (BCPL) is a proud partner in One Maryland One Book.
This year’s official selection is the critically acclaimed All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely.
Beginning September 1, look for free copies of All American Boys “wandering” about Baltimore County through the Wandering Books program. You may find one at a coffee shop, laundromat, park, restaurant or bus stop! From Cockeysville to Lansdowne, Owings Mills to Perry Hall and everywhere in between, look for a copy of the book wandering free. Want a clue to help? Follow BCPL on Twitter (@bcplinfo) and Facebook (bcplonline).
All American Boys was a BC Reads pick for 2016. You can read our Between the Covers blog review here.
BCPL will host discussions at branches throughout the county through September and October. Pick up a copy and join in:
- Towson Branch – Thursday, September 22 at 7 p.m.
- Pikesville Branch – Wednesday, September 28 at 7 p.m.
- Owings Mills Branch – Tuesday, October 4 at 7 p.m.
- North Point Branch – Tuesday, October 4 at 7 p.m.
- Catonsville Branch – Thursday, October 20 at 7 p.m.
The Baltimore County Public Library has been serving the citizens of Baltimore County since 1948. With 19 branches throughout Baltimore County, BCPL empowers and engages individuals for a more inclusive and connected Baltimore County community, and provides opportunities to explore, learn, create and connect. In addition to loaning books, library card holders may borrow DVDs, music, e-books and gain access to our research databases. Our 19 branches provide computer and Internet access, job search assistance and offer a multitude of daily learning programs for adults and children.
Fredrik Backman’s new novel Britt-Marie Was Here is a heartwarming story about second chances and unexpected friendships. Backman is revisiting a character we briefly encountered in his previous book, My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry. Readers may remember Britt-Marie as the annoying “Nag Bag,” but his new novel gives us the chance to get to know her a little better.
On the surface, Britt-Marie seems impossible to like. What she calls helpful and constructive criticism, the rest of the world considers passive aggressive snarking. It seems like Britt-Marie has an obsessive compulsive need to clean everything around her. This, along with her rigid adherence to schedule and her preferred way of doing things, drives everyone around her insane.
Then, at the age of 63, she does something uncharacteristic. Realizing that more of her life is behind her than ahead of her, she leaves her loveless marriage and life as homemaker. Due to the economic crisis in Sweden, the only job available to someone with virtually no work experience is in the wilting town of Borg as the community center’s caretaker.
Borg has lost most of its jobs and all of its hope. It “is a community built along a road. That's really the kindest possible thing one can say about it.” The citizens only seem to come alive when watching, playing or talking about football (or soccer, as it is known here in America). Like most people, they are not enamored with Britt-Marie upon meeting her.
But, because there simply isn’t anyone else, Britt-Marie finds herself coaching the town’s rag-tag youth team. The kids are loud, muddy and frequently irrational, but a bond is soon formed between Britt-Marie and the team. Though she knows absolutely nothing about soccer, she is superb at removing stains from uniforms. Through the team, others in town begin to take a second look at this nag bag and find that, perhaps, they were wrong about her after all.
Backman has a unique style and an unrivaled talent for creating characters we cannot imagine ever sympathizing with, then slowly revealing the wonderful people hidden beneath prickly exteriors. Readers who enjoy quirky characters and stories with all the feels will fall in love with this writer.