Music and history entwine in Bernice McFadden’s newest novel, The Book of Harlan, a story of one African American family spanning generations. McFadden found her inspiration for the title character of Harlan from her paternal grandfather, about whom the author says:
I never personally knew the man and neither did my father. All I had to recreate his life were a birth certificate, census schedules, a few newspaper articles and my imagination.
Emma is the cherished and respectable daughter of a Baptist minister in Macon, Georgia, until carpenter Sam Elliot sweeps her off her feet and, in the oldest story ever, Emma is pregnant. Newly married, Sam and Emma join the Great Migration of African Americans escaping the south and Jim Crow to find a better life, but leave baby Harlan behind with Emma’s parents. Landing in New York City in 1922, America’s prosperity trickles down to the Elliotts, who can finally bring their young son north with them. Harlan develops into a gifted guitarist who thrives in the Harlem Renaissance music scene and his job in a jazz band finds him touring in Paris on the eve of World War II. Hitler’s visions of extermination aren’t limited to Jews, and Harlan and his bandmate Lizard are caught up in an unimaginable nightmare.
McFadden does not sugarcoat the lives of the Elliott family, and by extension, the broader African American experience. Poverty, single motherhood, addiction, injustice and race-based prejudice cycle around again and again, making the upward mobility to which the Elliotts aspire a two-steps-forward, one-step-back journey. From the turn-of-the-century segregated south to the Newark riots of 1967, The Book of Harlan offers a sweeping view of 20th century African American life in which the constant is the unbreakable bonds of family and friends. Readers who enjoy Bernice McFadden’s perspective should also try The Turner House by Angela Flournoy.
The year is 2089 and humanity’s vices have only grown more severe with time; the only escape from the bleak reality of a world wrecked by pollution is to sugarcoat the dreary with flashy new virtual distractions. The neon-splashed cyberpunk future of Rick Remender and Sean Murphy’s Tokyo Ghost: Vol. 1 is equal parts entertaining and unsettling.
Constable Led Dent is a ruthless servant of the criminal overlords running Los Angeles, numbed to the horrendous acts of violence he commits by his seemingly unbreakable addiction to constant artificial audiovisual stimulation. Led’s only remaining link to the real world is his partner and lover, Debbie, whose unwavering dedication to finding a way to get Led clean lands them with a dangerous job in Tokyo, the last bastion of technology-free living in a world obsessed with staying connected.
Artist Sean Murphy and colorist Matt Hollingsworth are a flawless art team. Murphy’s dynamic lines and Hollingsworth’s masterful use of texture and color make for page after page of truly jaw-dropping artwork. Frenetic action sequences are rendered in hyper-detailed gory glory, the futuristic media projections are colorful and full of playful nods to current pop culture trends, and the tranquil landscapes of Tokyo stand in stark contrast to the gaudy streets of Los Angeles.
Remender often uses his stories to explore topical ideas pushed to their extremes, and Tokyo Ghost is no exception; while the exaggerated technology and over-the-top characters exist firmly in the realm of science fiction, you’re sure to latch onto at least one idea in this book that will make you examine the way that you interact with the world.
If you’re as blown away by the art in this book as I was, try The Wake, an Eisner Award-winning series that pairs the same art team with writer Scott Snyder and somehow manages to make fish people scary. Seriously.
Sleeping Giants by Sylvain Neuvel is a captivating new science fiction novel about a giant metal robot whose parts are strewn across different parts of the earth and the physicist determined to uncover its origins and purpose. Dr. Rose Franklin encountered the robot firsthand when she was a young girl. She was riding her bike when, suddenly, she fell through the ground and into the palm of a giant metal hand. Rose slowly learns that the hand is just one of many robot parts being discovered around the world, but it’s not clear what these robots were meant for. Making human lives easier? Destroying human lives? The story is told in journal entries, interviews and transcripts, so the reader feels the suspense of trying to piece the story together. Each interviewer and interviewee shares a new perspective to this mystery, and the results unfold at a thrilling pace.
This novel is engaging and moves quickly. Its realistic premise makes it a great read for fans of The Martian and science fiction lovers. Although the scientific and robotic concepts are realistic, the language and style of the story are easily digestible. Neuvel has an education in linguistics and a background as a software engineer, so his story is fun to both read and speculate about. It's the first book in a new series, so readers who enjoy this book can look forward to the next installment Walking Gods, coming out in April 2017.
When Detective Sergeant Manon Bradshaw arrives on the scene of the crime, the door is hanging open, there is an abandoned coat in the foyer and broken glass and blood splatter in the kitchen. These are the only clues to track in Missing, Presumed by Susie Steiner. The victim is Ph.D. candidate Edith Hind, daughter of eminent surgeon Sir Ian Hind. Sir Ian is highly connected, but despite pressure from the Home Secretary, there are very few clues to follow, and time is running out for Edith and the Cambridgeshire Police.
Manon’s frustration grows as the first 72 hours — considered the most vital in a missing person’s case — seep away. As the press circles the scene like vultures, devouring the most salacious details of Edith’s love life, Manon’s team scrambles to gather more clues. With the clock ticking and pressure on every side, Manon must delve the deepest secrets of a very private prominent family to unearth what really happened to Edith.
Steiner uses multiple perspectives from different characters to create a wholly believable story with psychological depth. She develops the characters through their distinct eccentricities; Manon listens to a police scanner to ease herself to sleep, her colleague Davy peppers police jargon throughout his conversations and the missing Edith can recycle anything into an art project. One revelation after another brings you to a conclusion you do not see coming. This police procedural has all the elements of a riveting psychological thriller. Missing, Presumed is a beautifully written novel by an up-and-coming writer.