Some books are beautifully written while others tell a fascinating story. And then there is Anthony Doerr’s new novel All the Light We Cannot See, which combines exquisite prose with an engrossing and layered tale of history, science and myth set in Europe during the era of World War II.
In August of 1944, the French coastal city of St. Malo was the location of a battle between the occupying Nazi troops and the Allied forces determined to drive out the Germans. In the city, Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a 16-year-old blind girl, is home alone, hiding under her bed when the shelling begins. Across town, German army private Walter Pfennig is stationed with his radio team in the basement of the Hotel of Bees.
Doerr moves his story back and forth within a 10 year time frame. Marie-Laure was living in Paris with her father, the locksmith for the vast complex of the National Museum of Natural History. The pair fled Paris as the Occupation began, possibly carrying with them a priceless diamond steeped in legend from the museum’s collection. As a boy, Werner lived in an orphanage where he repaired a radio discarded as trash. He and his little sister would tune in to French radio broadcasts about science. Gifted with an analytical mind, Werner is drafted by the Nazis, using his skills to hunt down amateur broadcasters for the Resistance. Doerr carefully unfolds each character’s narrative as they gradually converge in St. Malo.
The center of this story might be a peerless gem, as cursed as the Hope diamond, both precious and horrifying. It might be the realization that both good and evil — or caring and callousness — can live within one heart. All the Light We Cannot See is a finely crafted work and deserves its place on The New York Times best sellers list. Readers of World War II literary fiction might also enjoy Tan Twan Eng’s The Garden of Evening Mists, a 2012 Man Booker finalist.
We all have friends from yesteryear with whom we pine for the perfect, golden memories of whatever chapter of our lives we consider to be “the good old days.” Rufi Thorpe’s debut novel The Girls from Corona del Mar follows two best friends, Mia and Lorrie Ann, as their journeys take them from their California hometown to the far corners of the world and back again, testing their bond along the way.
Mia is convinced that her friend Lorrie Ann is her counterbalance in the universe. Beautiful, soft-spoken and otherwise perfect in every manner, she can do no wrong in her kindred spirit’s eyes. Lorrie Ann’s only flaw seems to be her terrible luck; despite being an elementally good person, she suffers three distinct, life-altering tragedies that leave her reeling and unsure of her purpose in life. Mia feels powerless, remorseful and guilty, as if her best friend was being punished for her own shortcomings.
As the two grow older, their lives become disparate; Mia marries and moves to Turkey to develop her career while Lorrie Ann is swallowed up by the world. After years of sporadic contact, Mia is shocked when her best friend turns up in Istanbul, battered and in need of help. What transpires after the two are reunited challenges the temper of their time-forged companionship.
The Girls from Corona del Mar is a tragic, beautiful reckoning of the worst catastrophes life can muster, and illustrates just how powerful and enduring friendship can be, despite the fragility of youth. Anyone who has lost a best friend to time or distance will sympathize as Mia and Lorrie Ann’s story progresses. Rufi Thorpe has written a wonderful debut that will be enjoyed by fans of literary fiction or women’s literature.
2013 was a banner year for Rainbow Rowell, having published two major hits: the popular Fangirl and the critically lauded Eleanor and Park, which won a Michael L. Printz Honor for Excellence in Young Adult Fiction. Rowell fans can rejoice as her hotly anticipated adult novel, Landline, hits BCPL’s shelves today.
Georgie McCool is on the verge of a major breakthrough in her career. She and her writing partner have a huge meeting with a studio executive the day after Christmas to pitch their very own TV show. It’s everything she’s ever dreamed of, but the meeting means her family won’t be able to go to Omaha to visit her mother-in-law. Georgie’s husband, Neal, decides to take their daughters anyway, leaving Georgie alone on Christmas to contemplate their marriage, her career and how her marriage has turned into something unfamiliar and uncomfortable. She goes to her mother’s house and finds an old-fashioned rotary phone in her childhood bedroom and uses it to call Neal in Nebraska. Neal answers, but not her husband of 14 years; it’s Neal of 1998, right before he is about to propose, and suddenly Georgie wonders if she’s destined to reroute their shared history by talking him out of their marriage before it even begins.
In Landline, unlike Rowell’s other novels, the main relationship isn’t a burgeoning romance: It’s a marriage of 14 years. There’s too much at stake to let it falter, and the tension between Georgie and the past and present Neals will keep readers itching to skip to the last page to see how it all turns out. There is a lot to laugh about in the book as well: funny, relatable characters; a pug in labor and tons of pop culture references. Landline is a winner for a great summer read, especially if you recognize the phone on the cover as something you had in your own bedroom (or just begged your parents for when you were in junior high).
To commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of World War I this summer, many new books have been and will continue to be released. They range from new analyses of battles, biographies of personalities of the era and wide-ranging assessments of how the ‘War to End All Wars’ set the history of the 20th and 21st century and its continuing conflicts in motion. A furry character study for young readers comes in Ann Bausum’s Stubby the War Dog: The True Story of World War I’s Bravest Dog. As the United States was at last pulled into the war in 1917, a stray, brindle-colored Boston Bull Terrier wandered onto a soldiers’ training ground at Yale University. The soldiers all took a liking to this sweet, short-tailed dog, but none more than enlisted man James Conroy.
Training complete (for both men and dog), the soldiers were sent to sea, and Conroy smuggled the pup onto the ship bound for France. Now considered a mascot, Stubby had been taught to stand on his rear legs and lift his right paw to salute high-ranking officers. This endeared Stubby to all he met, including women of the French resistance, who sewed him a natty uniform. The dog turned out to be a valiant and useful addition to the men in the trenches, as he aided with rat removal, alerted the men to enemies approaching and was even temporarily wounded in action while helping to discover landmines. Bausum illustrates the history of the four-legged hero with plenty of period photographs from the Conroy family collection and other ephemera of the WWI era. Her impeccable research is outlined in endnotes and an extensive bibliography. She also tells of this famous dog in Sergeant Stubby: How a Stray Dog and His Best Friend Helped Win World War I and Stole the Heart of a Nation, written for adult readers. This title covers even more of Stubby’s exploits during and after the war. Both books are published by National Geographic, and are excellent avenues into this period. They will be enjoyed by dog lovers as well as by history buffs.
Malla Nunn and Kwei Quartey present two African mysteries that are sure to thrill the armchair traveler looking for a suspenseful police investigation.
Racism and police corruption during Apartheid in Johannesburg, South Africa are the subjects Nunn tackles in her novel, Present Darkness. Emmanuel Cooper is a flawed detective who rose from the mean streets of Sophiatown to enter the police force and must hide the fact that he is in an illegal relationship with a woman of color. When a European couple is found severely beaten in their home and the main suspect is a Zulu named Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of Cooper’s friend and colleague, Cooper is cautioned strongly not to investigate. Cooper as he ignores the direct order of his supervisor in order to save the son of a man to whom he owes his life. Nunn’s exploration of this difficult time in South African history is compelling, and her thoughtful prose creates a chilling atmosphere that is sure to enthrall the reader until the novel’s heart-stopping conclusion.
In Murder at Cape Three Points, Quartey introduces the reader to Detective Inspector Darko Dawson, who works in Accra on the coast of Ghana. Late one night, a canoe is found drifting near an off-shore oil rig. In the canoe are the bodies of the Smith-Aidoos, an influential, highly educated couple. Darko digs deeper and uncovers corrupt real estate deals and bribery, all threatening to the local fishing trade and seeming to stem from the oil industry. With a growing list of suspects and a tenacious family member looking for results, Darko must put all of his skills to the test. Quartey has a more traditional approach to crime solving, and fans of police procedurals will enjoy this novel.
Both writers excel at detailed descriptions of their respective countries and will appeal to readers who love visiting an exotic locale. Readers who enjoy these selections can find earlier novels in the series from both authors. Those who like the African setting and are longing for more should try Michael Stanley and Deon Meyer.
Mimi Pond is an artist and illustrator, whose work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times and Seventeen and on the animated series, The Simpsons. In her new graphic novel biography, Over Easy, Pond revisits a unique time and place: the late 1970s in Northern California. During this time of transition, the beat and hippie cultures were fighting a rear-guard action to stay culturally relevant; punk was new on the scene and grabbing everyone by the throat, lyrically and sometimes literally; and disco was just starting to die a slow overly choreographed and elaborately coiffed death. Pond abruptly finds herself tossed out of art school in her final year when her financial aid runs dry. Sitting in the Imperial Café, a popular local diner and one of her favorite places to sketch, she takes a chance and asks the diner’s manager and comical free-spirit, Lazlo, for a job. He hands her an application and tells her to only write one thing: the funniest joke she can think of. Pond lands the gig and finds herself in the exalted position of dishwasher. The work is hard, long, and brutal, but it clearly gives Pond the perfect vantage point to observe the hothouse environment of the diner. From the sexual roulette and rabid drug use that seems to be her co-workers' chief occupations to the dreams and ambitions that each holds dear, Pond sees all. Seizing an unexpected opportunity, Pond graduates to waitress and takes the chance to reinvent herself personally, and finally finds acceptance as a member of the diner’s family.
Pond’s illustrations are cool and clear, the slight cartoonish-ness of them playing well against the serious themes. The monochromatic colors speak to the nature of the transitions happening in this period with the promise of color reserved for a world not yet born. The illustrations resemble a series of sketches done mid-shift on the back of napkins and menus, stolen moments of observation while clearing a four top. The unconventional tale moves at a staccato pace like a free-styling beat poet at open mic night. It is a story that stops but doesn’t really end; perhaps a hint of more to come? You will find yourself wondering what will become of this child of hippies on the cusp of the Reagan-era love of materialism and excess. Will she stay true to herself while navigating the changing times? Perhaps it isn’t too much to ask that Pond grace us with further unique volumes of her work and share her incredible talent as a storyteller.
For a Mature Audience due to themes of sex and drug use.
It’s 1938, and while San Francisco is prepping for a world’s fair and a war is percolating overseas, three young girls are focused on making it as showgirls in the city’s most exclusive Asian revue. Lisa See introduces us to Ruby, Helen and Grace in China Dolls, a captivating novel which takes readers to the dazzling and debauched world of burlesque while detailing the intricate relationships of women and the impact history and fate has on their lives and friendships.
Grace Lee, an American-born Chinese girl, has fled the Midwest and an abusive father. Helen Fong lives with her extended and very traditional family in Chinatown. And Ruby Tom is stunning, independent and ambitious, but has a closely guarded secret. These three young women from diverse backgrounds find themselves competing for the same jobs, but still become fast friends sharing secrets, hopes and dreams. Everything changes with the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As the U.S. government sends innocent Japanese citizens to internment camps, Ruby’s true heritage is exposed and she is sent to a camp in Utah. Did one of her friends betray her secret?
Paranoia and suspicion set in, and their friendships become increasingly fragile as the war intensifies. However, bleak times demand support, and the trio always manages to find a way back to one another. Lisa See once again delivers a faultlessly researched historical saga spanning a half century. This story of female friendship, ambition and betrayal is highlighted by the magnificent milieu of Asian burlesque entertainment. The colorful details create a beautiful backdrop for sharing the life journey of these three remarkable and dynamic women.
Where can you find out about the hottest new books before they’re published? LibraryReads features 10 new titles published each month that have caught the eyes of librarians across the country. The July LibraryReads list is a mix of books by returning favorite authors as well as some fresh debuts. Don’t forget to pack these two in your beach bag this summer!
Many American readers were introduced to Jojo Moyes when they read her runaway bestseller Me Before You, which Between the Covers blogger Laura told us about early last year. This summer, Moyes returns with One Plus One. Jess, single mom to a genius daughter and an outcast stepson, needs cash fast, so she embarks on a road trip to the Math Olympiad with her family in tow, hoping to use the prize money to pay her daughter’s tuition. Throw in one large, smelly dog and a disgraced tech geek to round out the party, and you have a charming story about a quirky band of misfits who somehow fit together. Fans of the movie Little Miss Sunshine will love this novel.
Told in alternating chapters, Lori Rader-Day’s The Black Hour brings together the stories of Amelia Emmet, a sociology professor recovering from a seemingly random shooting that left her injured and a student dead 10 months earlier, and Nathaniel Barber, her teaching assistant who wants to write his dissertation about the attack. Rader-Day masterfully builds tension as both Amelia and Nath seek answers about why the shooting happened. This darkly suspenseful debut is a perfect match for readers who enjoy novels by Gillian Flynn and S. J. Watson.
It’s the fall of 1941 in England, and the world stands on the brink of destruction. By night, the bombs drop. By day, exhausted Londoners go about their daily business. As do a network of spies – specialists in deceit – determined to stop Hitler and all he stands for. Maggie Hope never expected to be one of them. Shattered from her undercover experiences in Berlin, she is assigned to share her expertise in the training of future SOE agents.
Britain stands alone; the United States merrily jitterbugs, packing Bundles for Britain, remaining determined to stay out of European affairs. Winston Churchill despairs that FDR will never come to England’s aid. Determined to defend the realm whatever the cost, Churchill authorizes the development of chemical weapons.
But the war is about more than the plans of politicians. It’s about the people who must make deeply personal decisions about their involvement. When a dear friend of Maggie’s is accidentally affected by the secret experiments being conducted in Scotland, Maggie must decide how far she will go to find a killer, save a friend and her country.
Meticulously researched, and based on the stories of true spies, political and military events, The Prime Minister’s Secret Agent is sure to please historical fiction readers as well as lovers of mystery and suspense. Susan Elia MacNeal is a master at creating the backdrop of war and the heartbreak of those involved. Readers of Jacqueline Winspear and Laura Wilson will be delighted with this latest entry in the Maggie Hope series.
We asked some popular thriller authors what books kept them up all night. Their responses include a host of reading suggestions that will help you build the perfect summer reading list.
Chris Pavone, author of The Accident, recommends Donna Tartt’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Goldfinch. He writes, “I couldn't put down Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, which I suspect no one is referring to as a thriller, despite its tremendously thrilling elements. I think it's a great book in every way, but in particular I found it heartbreakingly beautiful on the sentence level–one wonderful sentence after another after another, for nearly 800 pages–and filled with moments of truth and insight. Then, of course, there's the terrorist bombing and the stolen priceless painting and drug deals and death by gunshot and hiding out in an Amsterdam hotel. How can you go to sleep with this type of stuff going on?”
Brad Meltzer couldn’t put down Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief, which he says is “[m]ore history, less thriller, but had me to my soul.” The novel, which has been a favorite of readers since its publication in 2006, was also recently made into a movie.
M. J. Rose, co-president of International Thriller Writers and author of The Collector of Dying Breaths, shared two of her favorite authors. “Two authors guaranteed to keep me up all night are Lee Child and Steve Berry – they both have new books coming out soon [that are] sure to be as un-put-downable as the last.” Find Child’s Personal: A Jack Reacher Novel (available to be placed on hold) and Berry’s The Lincoln Myth in BCPL's catalog. Rose continues, “Both of them are consummate professionals who never miss a chance to stop a chapter with a cliffhanger and get their characters into what seem like impossible situations. These guys can write!”
Matthew Quirk, whose new novel The Directive was just published, recommends a classic. “I recently re-read Marathon Man by William Goldman and couldn't put it down. It has a great voice and unforgettable scenes (you'll never look at a dentist the same way again). It taught me so much about what drives a thriller: relentless threats to your protagonist as you ratchet up the stakes.”