In the summer of 2008, a Somali sprinter finished last in her heat in Beijing. Almost four years later in the spring of 2012, she drowned in the Mediterranean Sea trying to reach Italy. Her name was Samia Yusuf Omar.
Giuseppe Catozzella lends his voice to Samia's story, going back to a young 8-year-old girl who longs to be an athlete in Don't Tell Me You're Afraid. Catozzella focuses on the friendship between Samia and her coach, who also happens to be a child and a Darod, named Ali. In order to train, the children go out under the cover of darkness to practice in a bullet ridden stadium. To reach the stadium, Samia and Ali must evade Al-Shabaab's twitchy child soldiers enslaved by a drug named khat. Their efforts pay off, and eventually Samia achieves a national victory. Meanwhile, the city of Mogadishu crumbles and her coach is forced out of town due to his Darod ancestry. Upon her return from Beijing, Samia is faced with the reality that without a proper diet and training she may never become the athlete she was born to become. Then Al-Shabaab strikes. Catozzella deftly conveys the energy and longing that propelled Samia to Beijing and indignity and anguish she endured on the journey.
Reinhard Kleist introduces us to Samia, as she fails in her quest to be one of the greatest sprinters on earth in Beijing, with his stunning illustrations in An Olympic Dream: The Story of Samia Yusuf Omar. Kleist conveys the deep disillusionment on Samia’s face as she realizes she must leave Somali not only to achieve her Olympic Dream but for her own safety. Fans of Kleist’s work will also enjoy his earlier graphic novel The Boxer: The True Story of Holocaust Survivor Harry Haft.
Readers suffering from Olympic withdrawal can explore the lives of past Olympians by checking out Today We Die a Little!: The Inimitable Emil Zátopek by Richard Askwith or Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler’s Olympics by Jeremy Schapp.
The Girl on the Train is in theatres now, and audiences are rediscovering the magic of Paula Hawkins’ novel. For those seeking a similar blend of mystery and suspense, our bloggers recommend these titles.
Linda: Like The Girl on the Train, Siracusa by Delia Ephron combines high-stakes suspense with a jaundiced look at relationships. Two married couples travel to an ancient city in Sicily in hopes of reviving their marriages — or finishing them off for good. One couple brings along their preteen daughter to add a truly unpredictable element to the unfolding disaster. As in The Girl on the Train, an assortment of secretive, self-absorbed narrators gradually unfolds this tale of a Mediterranean vacation gone horribly awry.
Lori: In Try Not to Breathe by Holly Seddon, former superstar London reporter Alex Dale is on the fast track to liver failure — her inability to ban the bottle is making a shambles of her personal and professional lives. Alex stumbles into investigating the unsolved crime of a girl who, 15 years ago, was brutally assaulted and has been living in a nursing home in a coma ever since. Can Alex bring a vicious rapist to justice while battling her own addiction?
Christine: Who would you trust if your memory vanished every time you went to sleep? Your husband? Your doctor? Your journal? A fast-paced thriller, Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson will engross you to the very last word. As Christine Lucas attempts to figure out the truth about her accident, her son, her marriage, you will be overwhelmed as you feel her frustration and fear as she tries to figure out who wants to harm her. But is she correct? Be prepared to feverishly read this story, stopping only when you have read the last word!
Nick Mamatas manages the rare feat of making the reader feel utter disgust and laugh hysterically without having to turn a page in I Am Providence. Mamatas alternates between two narrators, an unsuccessful curmudgeon author and his platonic green-haired vegan roommate at a hotel in Providence, Rhode Island — one of whom tells their tale from the beyond after they are murdered and their face is removed. This particular disfigurement happens after it is revealed that the victim had been hired to act as a go-between in the sale of a book bound in human skin.
If you are curious as to why unsuccessful authors, book dealers, green-haired vegans, a face-removing murderer and a variety of other characters are all staying in a Rhode Island hotel, the obvious answer is notorious racist and occasional horror author H.P. Lovecraft. The Summer Tentacle is an annual con of sorts for fans of the Rhode Island native and his short story "The Call of Cthulhu." To keep things interesting, wine and social anxiety fuel this crowd, best summed up when Mamatas quipped; “The crowd drank with an intensity that only comes with the combination of free alcohol, unsuccessful writers and high stress.”
To those out there that have never heard of Cthulhu or find Lovecraft’s work to not your taste, don’t fret about not being able to enjoy Mamatas’ tale of murderous social commentary.
In the homogenous world of superhero film and television, everyone expected Netflix’s Luke Cage to be exceptional, but no one could have predicted the pure unadulterated joy that is Luke’s barbershop book club discussions with Pop. Luke is the well-read hero we deserve.
In the comics, Luke has been a leader of the Avengers, Heroes for Hire and even married Jessica Jones, but what he hasn’t been for 30 plus years is a solo act. So to craft a show around Luke that doesn’t involve Spider-Man, Iron Fist or Jessica Jones dropping by, the creators took inspiration from the world of detective fiction. Here are some of the many books and authors referenced in the new Netflix series.
“Donald Goines was a street poet."
Pop’s favorite detective hero is Donald Goines’ character Kenyatta, “the best black hero this side of Shaft” who fights to rid the streets of drug dealers and racist cops. Criminal Partners is the first book in the series.
“So you’re saying Kenyatta is better than Easy Rawlins?”
Easy Rawlins is the humble Vietnam vet who prefers to keep a low profile and get paid under the table while solving crimes in his community. He’s the best detective novel hero period, and I’m proud to claim him as a fellow Houstonian. Little Green by Walter Mosley is the book Luke is seen reading in episode two.
“George Pelecanos? Boom.”
Pelecanos was a writer for The Wire, a show that Luke Cage shares more than a few similarities (and actors) with. Right as Rain is the first book in his Derek Strange and Terry Quinn detective series, following two detectives fighting systemic racism in the police force.
Elsewhere, Chester Himes, Harry Bosch and Dennis Lehane get shout outs. Which books did you spot? Let us know in the comments.
As far as patent disputes go, this was a doozy. Graham Moore’s excellent new historical legal thriller, The Last Days of Night, plops us right into the hotbed of technological innovation that was in situ in late 19th century America. Readers are rewarded with the wonders of invention, dubious plots, a smidgen of romance and a peek into the wiring of the greatest minds of the day set amid Gilded Age New York.
So who really invented the light bulb? Neophyte attorney Paul Cravath finds himself embroiled in the legal wrangling between the inventor Thomas Edison and industrialist George Westinghouse. Cravath is hired to defend Westinghouse against a patent lawsuit filed by Edison. Edison says he holds the right to electrify a country still aglow with gas lamps. There is also the dilemma of alternating current (Westinghouse) versus direct current (Edison), with the winner transforming the world. Cravath is over his head and knows it in this highly readable retelling of the War of the Electric Currents that actually took place between 1888 and 1896.
Moore, author of The Sherlockian and the Academy Award-winning screenwriter of The Imitation Game, actually recreates the time period from 1888 to 1890. Along the way, we are introduced to familiar names, like J.P. Morgan, Alexander Bell and Viktor Tesla, as well as the birth and controversy of the modern electric chair. Cravath’s love interest, the singer Agnes Huntington, develops into a surprising multi-hued personality that adds the merest trifle of melodrama.
With a calibrated dose of legal and technical jargon, Moore’s fast-moving narrative is certain to carry broad appeal for readers wanting to get inside the heads of brilliant and visionary giants. For those wanting the real story, try the excellent Empires of Light: Edison, Tesla, George Westinghouse and the Race to Electrify the World by historian Jill Jonnes. A film adaption of The Last Days of Night is also in the works, starring actor Eddie Redmayne as Paul Cravath.
Spies. Monsters. Super powers. And…bureaucratic humor? In Stiletto, Daniel O’Malley delivers a riveting novel that covers all of the above and more. A follow up to his smash hit The Rook, this novel delves deeper into the world of the Rookery, a covert agency in the English government that employs individuals with unusual abilities to protect their country from threats internal and external.
In this book, the Rookery is looking to make nice with an age old foe. But how do you join two groups, when both have been raised since time immemorial to despise the other? Old wounds are re-opened and loyalties are tested when these organizations are forced to confront very real threats to themselves, their colleagues and to England itself.
While modern fantasy/espionage/horror/office humor is a pretty niche sub-genre, Daniel O’Malley does a great job of making this book accessible to all audiences. Funny and insightful one moment, terrifying and tense the next, O’Malley seamlessly blends genres to keep the reader engaged from start to finish. He also does a great job of mining his premise for unexpected humor — at one point they discuss how a Gorgon was driven from England not by an armed assault, but by a series of increasingly withering tax audits.
A great read for fans of urban fantasy, this book has humor, heart and a few good scares in store for its readers. If you enjoy this book, you could also check out The Atrocity Archives by Charles Stross, another series about English spies defending crown and country from the supernatural while dealing with bureaucratic red tape. Urban fantasy fans might also enjoy Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files; the first book in that series is Storm Front. It follows a modern day private investigator who also happens to be a wizard, mixing dry humor with thrilling action and some terrifying moments.
Delia Ephron is best-known for her humorous writing and for lighthearted screenplays like You’ve Got Mail and Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. But her latest novel, Siracusa, displays a decidedly more cynical view of relationships.
Siracusa begins with Lizzie, who thinks a vacation in Italy is just what she and her husband David need to revive their flagging writing careers and their dwindling passion for one another. They’re joined on the trip by another couple — Finn, Lizzie’s fun-loving old flame from college, and his uptight wife Taylor. Dragged along for the fun is Snow, Finn and Taylor’s sullen preteen daughter. If bringing an old boyfriend and his family along for a vacation sounds like a bad idea to you, you’d be right. In fact, few vacation disasters can rival the nightmarish results when this group makes its way to the ancient island of Siracusa.
Each main character takes a turn recounting the trip’s gradual descent into tragedy. Without exception, all of them are breathtakingly self-involved or delusional (or both). Thus none of them can see what the reader sees — the huge disaster heading straight for them.
Like The Girl on the Train and Gone Girl, Siracusa presents readers with difficult to like protagonists who never tell the whole truth. The crumbling city of Siracusa provides an excellent symbolic backdrop for Ephron’s well-written blend of dark domestic drama and deadly suspense.
Emma Straub has a certain knack for writing. Her latest novel, Modern Lovers, doesn’t disappoint. It is fun and engrossing while also offering hefty portions of wit and insight.
Two families living side by side in New York City’s Ditmas Park are spending the summer sorting out their tangled relationships. For Elizabeth, Andrew and Zoe, it hardly seems like two decades since they graduated from Oberlin — letting go their rock star aspirations and announcing the end of their band. Now, however, movie producers want to make a biopic about the fourth member of their band who went on to become an icon of their era before joining the 27 Club. The movie can’t be made unless the remaining members sign off on the rights to their lives and the use of a song Elizabeth wrote, which made Lydia a superstar. The prospect has unearthed a lot of buried secrets and strained relationships.
Zoe and Elizabeth have remained best friends. Elizabeth followed Zoe to New York, and when Elizabeth married Andrew, they moved next door to Zoe. The best friends’ kids have even grown up together. Now, however, Zoe’s wife wonders if Elizabeth being so close wasn’t really her just being in the way. Elizabeth no longer knows if it was wise to marry someone she met when she was so young, and Andrew is acting bizarre. To complicate things further, their kids are caught up in a summer romance of their own.
Straub has imagined a wonderful cast of characters. Though she isn’t shy about showing off their flaws, it is hard not to end up liking them, warts and all, and become totally swept up in their lives. I couldn’t put down this story about love and friendship in our modern age.
Fans will also enjoy her previous book, The Vacationers, and One Day by David Nicholls.