Looking for something a little more substantial than your average beach read, but not ready to make the 350-page commitment to the latest and greatest literary masterpiece? Karen Russell, author of Pulitzer Prize finalist Swamplandia!, is ready to oblige with her second short story compilation, Vampires in the Lemon Grove. Darkly humorous and always at least a little bit off-kilter, these eight tales sparkle with complex and fully realized characters that often can be so difficult to achieve in such a brief number of pages.
Though they are each quite different, all the stories share a common concern with perception that is repeatedly a driving psychological force for the characters, both internally and externally. Russell investigates how a person’s view of herself, of others, and of her surroundings affects how she acts and reacts. In some stories the manifestation of this interaction is stranger than in others. One character fights bitterness and hopelessness with determined optimism and disregard for his own illogic when year after year his team meets with inevitable defeat in the Antarctic. In one of the darker stories, a young woman’s acceptance of her very physical transformation into a silk-producing creature becomes the means of her own escape from bondage. And in the title story, a vampire and his wife who long for relief from their endless thirst find an illusory succor in sucking on lemons rather than necks, eventually leading to the demise of their relationship.
From the absurd to the chilling to the almost not quite ordinary, Russell uses this shorter format to excellent affect, creating a subtle yearning for each story to continue. Tantalizing and thoughtful, Vampires in the Lemon Grove is bursting with short summer treats that have just enough bite to keep you reading, whether you are stuck in the airport or relaxing on the beach.
As reform-minded voters were casting their ballots in Iran’s election last month, Iranian-born author Sahar Delijani was publishing her first novel. In her ambitious debut, Children of the Jacaranda Tree, opposition to the repressive regime led to a generation of displaced children in post-revolutionary Iran. Delijani gives voice to those left behind by the ensuing bloody purge that claimed thousands of lives. With her own family's experience close to heart, Delijani weaves together beautifully written and intimately entwined stories spanning from 1983 to 2011 of those lives forever changed for elusive freedoms past and future.
This was a revolution gone astray. Revolutionary guards, policemen, and morality guards patrolled the streets. So called "brothers and sisters" could not be trusted. The children of political activists, who ended up incarcerated or in mass graves, were left behind. They included Neda, born under horrific conditions while her mother was imprisoned in Tehran's notorious Evin prison. There is Sheida, whose mother keeps hidden her father's execution for fear her daughter will follow the same path 20 years later. There is three year-old Omid, whose parents' "papery lives" of forbidden books, poems, leaflets, led to their arrest straight from the kitchen table. There are the caregivers, too, like Leila, who tends her sisters' children while their mothers serve out jail sentences.
Delijani, who was born in an Iranian prison, connects her many well-drawn characters through shared experiences, as they wrestle with a past that repulses as much as it begs not to be forgotten. It is the symbolic Jacaranda tree, with its stunning purple-pink panicles, that serves as a reminder to fight for, and free, the tree inside. For those who enjoyed Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis or Vaddey Ratner's In the Shadow of the Banyan the weight of history upon the next generation will look familiar, as will the determination to move forward.
It was a funeral that drew him across the pond and back to England. Time on his hands – and perhaps the expectation of nostalgia – led him deeper into Sussex, to the property where his childhood home had once stood. He couldn’t say what it was that drew him further down the lane and deeper into reverie. A few minutes more and he had arrived: the Hempstock Farm at the end of the lane. Whispers of memory kicked up like fog as he left the lane walking toward the farmhouse…he had known someone here, a girl named Lettie he thought. She had been his friend Lettie, who had called a duck pond an ocean and whose family had once been like his own for a time.
In The Ocean at the End of the Lane, master wordsmith Neil Gaiman beguiles his readers with a new and haunting story - his first for adults since Anansi Boys. In a tale that treads the line between memoir and magical realism, Gaiman invites the reader to join an unnamed middle-aged divorcee as he sits along the bank of an ordinary pond in once-rural England. As he sits, the memory of a simultaneously terrifying and enchanting event in his childhood emerges. The memories of dangerous magic in improbable settings, of his own childhood helplessness, of his faith in Lettie and the Hempstocks, come roiling back to the surface with unexpected force and consequence.
This is a story that will engulf both the man and the reader alike, leaving each a little refreshed and a little bewildered at its conclusion. It is a story about true self. It is a tale of sacrifice, and above all it is a tribute to memories, those which haunt us and those which have the power to bring us home again, if only for a little while.
Charlie Davis is a political reporter for the Los Angeles Times, but becomes an investigator in search of his wife when she goes missing. Out of Range by Hank Steinberg is an action-packed adventure that leads Charlie and readers to Uzbekistan, the country where Charlie and his wife Julie fell in love. Six years ago, the young couple lived happily in Uzbekistan where he worked as a reporter and they were awaiting the birth of their first child. But tragedy soon struck as they were caught up in a massacre which wounded them both and took the life of their friends’ young son. Following that brush with death, Charlie resolved to keep his family safe. They returned to the security of the States and Charlie began his staid job at the Times.
Fast forward six years and the danger has resurfaced. While on a trip to Disneyland with their two children, Julie is forced from her car and vanishes. Following Julie’s kidnapping, Charlie becomes the police’s primary focus. Since the cops aren’t on the right trail, Charlie is determined to find out who took his wife. While investigating Julie’s days leading up to the disappearance, he finds clues indicating that perhaps Julie wasn’t the happy stay-at-home mom he thought she was. She’s been hiding secrets which now threaten her entire family. All roads lead Charlie back to Uzbekistan, and while attempting to rescue his wife, he must thwart a terrorist plot, outsmart his own kidnappers, and deal with MI6.
This debut thriller is from the creator of the television series Without a Trace. Steinberg illustrates the dangerous world of international espionage in a fast-paced tale that is full of twists and turns with an intriguing cast of characters.
What does the future hold for three young girls when their father dies expectantly? Well if the year is 1878 and you are living an impoverished neighborhood on the lower slope of Montmartre in Paris, the answer would be despair. These are the circumstances framing the setting of The Painted Girls, the newest novel by Cathy Marie Buchanan. In this story we meet the van Goethem sisters and follow their struggles as they put their childhood behind them and are forced to earn a wage to prevent being thrown penniless into the streets. The main role of caregiver is taken on by Antoinette, the eldest sister, filling in for their mother who is more interested in drinking absinthe than raising the children. Middle sister Marie abandons her education to join the Paris Opera with her youngest sister Charlotte. Training for the ballet pays seventeen francs a week, though it is still barely enough to put food on the table. Once she is discovered by Edgar Degas, Marie starts on a journey that will culminate in one of the artist’s most famous creations, Little Dancer Aged Fourteen.
This is an absorbing story based on the lives of individuals during this period of history. The author’s attention to detail paints the dire circumstances the girls find themselves in as well as the dark and seedy elements that threaten to engulf them. By observing how the sisters grow throughout the story and the importance of their love for each other, Buchanan creates a remarkable novel, as captivating as it is enlightening.
Fans of Sophie Kinsella’s novels can always expect a charismatic, slightly flighty heroine winding up in madcap situations. In Wedding Night, the reader will be delighted to find two heroines, sisters, relaying the adventure in alternating chapters. Lottie is fully expecting her boyfriend Richard to propose to her during a romantic dinner. When he fails to do so, she is inconsolable. Her sister Fliss worries that Lottie is about to make another one of her “unfortunate choices”. This choice comes in the form of Ben, an old boyfriend she had spent some time with in Greece. Ben is also unmarried, and he and Lottie decide to tie the knot. Fliss is going through a horrible divorce and is fully aware of how disastrous a rushed marriage can be. Ben’s friend and work colleague Lorcan also desperately needs to talk to Ben about some important business matters. This prompts Fliss, Lorcan, Fliss’s son Noah and Lottie’s ex-boyfriend Richard to head en masse to a high-class resort hotel on a romantic Greek island in the hopes of preventing an almost inevitable honeymoon baby.
Sophie Kinsella is a true queen of chick lit, and this stand-alone novel is sure to please her fans. Known for her Shopaholic series, fans will recognize that character slightly in Lottie, the more flustered and impetuous sister. But Kinsella also creates a more serious, thoughtful heroine in Fliss, the wiser, more careful sister who will do almost anything to protect her sibling. The characters form a nice balance and make a great story that is also comes complete with Kinsella’s signature humor.
Travel to the Jersey Shore as three childhood friends reunite in All the Summer Girls by Meg Donohue. The young women are supposed to be meeting in Vegas for a bachelorette weekend, but when Kate, the bride-to-be, is dumped by her fiancé, the three regroup and head to the familiar comfort of Avalon and its stretches of glorious beaches. Kate, Dani, and Vanessa spent memorable childhood summers together down the shore. While they have remained in touch since graduating from college, the bonds forged during those special seasons have loosened. Each still harbors feelings of loss, guilt, and grief from the fateful night eight years earlier when Kate’s twin brother Colin drowned. Between that tragedy and adult responsibilities, the connection between the three twenty-somethings is not as strong. But what the three don’t know is that each harbors secrets that could impact the others’ lives. And each is at a crossroads in her life.
It turns out that the day Kate got dumped was also the day she found out she was pregnant. Vanessa, the beautiful stay-at-home mom, has been conflicted for months since finding out her husband almost cheated on her. Her anger cannot be quenched and she has been tracking a former flame on the internet. Dani, the free spirit and wannabe writer, has just been fired from another job and is unable to control her alcohol or pill intake. This fast-paced tale features three realistic women facing their pasts and making decisions about their futures. It is a fabulous beach read with an authentic beach town setting. This girls’ weekend is all about forgiveness, with a little flirting thrown in for good measure.
Romance writers and readers are grieving the loss of a beloved author this week. Francis Ray, who wrote more than 50 contemporary romances, recently passed away. Her books have often appeared on the New York Times, USA Today, and Essence bestsellers lists. Throughout her long career, Ray won several awards including a Romantic Times Career Achievement award.
Two new books by Ray were published this summer. After the Dawn, the third book in her Family Affair series, brings together two unlikely characters to save a family business. Samantha Collins is shocked when her grandfather leaves her in charge of Collins Industry and also asks Dillon Montgomery, the man Samantha has been in love with for most of her life, to help her. Years ago, Samantha’s grandfather fired Dillon and cut ties with him, and Sam and Dillon haven’t been in contact since an awkward encounter years ago. Can the two of them make this work? All That I Need is the latest entry in Ray’s long running Grayson Friends series, which remains a fan favorite. This story features Lance Saxton and Fallon Marshall, two people who live very different lives. Both are forced to reexamine their priorities when they meet and fall in love.
German author Charlotte Link creates a gripping mystery with The Other Child, her first novel translated for an English audience. In a small town nestled on the coast of Yorkshire, a young woman finishes a babysitting job and heads home. The lighted path ahead is blocked, forcing her to choose a darker and more desolate route. She never returns home. Meanwhile, a group of characters gather to celebrate the pending engagement of Gwen Beckett and Dave Tanner. Gwen, painfully shy and living at home with her father, is not the average blushing bride. Her friends and family fear that Tanner is only interested in procuring her hand to gain access to the farm and fulfill his plan to turn the farm into a bustling hotel. Fiona Barnes, an old matriarch and a close family friend, rails against the pending marriage and creates a scene at a dinner party. It is not long before Fiona is also found dead with her head smashed in, much like the young woman that was discovered earlier that week. Enter Detective Valerie Almond, a nervous detective who is unsure of her place in the police force and her ability to solve a crime. Will she be able to piece together the clues before the killer strikes again?
Link creates a great atmospheric thriller with psychological intensity. She also incorporates a story within a story as Fiona recounts a situation that happened long ago during the height of World War II. Many of the characters are tremendously flawed and the cast of suspects will keep the reader engaged in solving the mystery. Fans of Ruth Rendell and P.D. James will easily gravitate to this novel and look forward to the next one.
Elizabeth L. Silver’s debut novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is the kind of book that leaves the reader thinking about it long after finishing the last page. As the story begins, Noa is on death row awaiting X-Day, the day of her execution, when Marlene Dixon, the mother of her victim Sarah, approaches her. Marlene is a prominent Philadelphia attorney who tells Noa that she has changed her stance on the death penalty. Marlene says that she has formed a new nonprofit organization called Mothers Against Death, and she offers to petition for clemency on Noa’s behalf. What she really wants is for Noa to explain why she shot Sarah. During her trial and sentencing, Noa did not speak to defend herself. She did not offer any explanation for Sarah’s death.
The story is told through narratives written by Noa as X-Day approaches and letters that Marlene writes to Sarah at the same time. The truth is a murky thing that Silver slowly reveals over the course of the novel. The idea that both guilt and innocence exist on a spectrum is at the heart of the story. Neither of the women is what she seems to be in the beginning, and both share the burden of guilt to some degree. As Noa’s execution draws near, the reader realizes the complexity of the situation and must consider the difference between moral guilt and legal guilt. The Execution of Noa P. Singleton is a complex, character-driven psychological thriller that will yield heated discussions at your next book club meeting.