The American Library Association has announced the shortlists for the second annual Carnegie Medal. Named after business magnate and renowned Gilded Age philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, who provided a portion of his considerable wealth to the building and promotion of libraries nationwide, these two medals honor the best of the previous year in adult fiction and nonfiction categories. The three nominees in the fiction category are all heavy-hitters: Richard Ford, for Canada, his sprawling novel set both in the wilderness of Montana and north of the border starting in the 1950s; Louise Erdrich's The Round House, a novel that touches on moral and legal issues set in the Ojibwe community, which has already won the National Book Award; and This Is How You Lose Her, a collection of short stories examining the world of relationships, by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Junot Diaz.
The nonfiction shortlist also features three strong candidates: The Mansion of Happiness: a History of Life and Death, by Jill Lepore, which takes on the methods we use to examine the big questions of what our mortal time means; National Book Award-winner Timothy Egan for his biography Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis, the portraitist of so many Native Americans; and David Quammen's Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, which investigates the zoonotic microbes that move from animals to humans, such as rabies and ebola. The winners for Excellence in Fiction and Nonfiction will be announced in Chicago on June 30 at the American Library Association annual conference.
Fantasy fans have much to celebrate when Joe Abercrombie releases a new book and they will not be disappointed with his latest novel, Red Country. Leave it up to Abercrombie to pull off a successful mash-up of a fantasy and a western. Red Country is fun, bloody and action-packed. His latest will be celebrated by the most ardent Abercrombie fans and is sure to create a new fanbase to add to his legion. While Red Country is a stand- alone novel, fans will recognize several characters from this First Law series. At the center of Red Country is Shy South, a tough-as-nails heroine who is seeking vengeance. Her home has been burned, her brother and sister stolen. She sets off to rescue her siblings and is accompanied by Lamb, her timid stepfather who seems to have a mysterious past.
Red Country has everything Abercrombie fans have come to expect: deeply-flawed characters, bloody action, realistic dialogue and lots of black humor. Added to this, the novel also succeeds as a Western, complete with frontier towns, a gold rush, a few duels and more than a few ghosts. Abercrombie is often compared to George R.R. Martin of Game of Thrones fame. He now stands on his own as one of the freshest, most unique voices in fantasy. Together with his First Law trilogy, Red Country is a perfect introduction to readers who have not yet tried Abercrombie’s version of fantasy. Highly recommended for fans of George R.R. Martin and Patrick Rothfuss.
Taiye Selasi’s debut novel, Ghana Must Go, begins with an end. Sai family patriarch Kweku lies in the dewy grass before dawn, slowly dying in his garden amidst a riot of African color and beauty. Get up, call for help, the reader wants to shout at this Hopkins-educated physician; instead, Kweku passively waits for his heart to stop beating.
Selasi’s title refers to the forced expulsion of Ghanaians from neighboring Nigeria as well as to the distinctive, cheap carryall bags in which they stuffed their belongings. Dr. Kweku Sai is from Ghana and his wife Fola is Nigerian. They meet in Pennsylvania where he is completing surgical training and she is in law school. They marry, have four intelligent and driven children, move to Boston, and continue to rack up professional and personal accomplishments. The Sai family epitomizes immigrant success until one unjust and cataclysmic event causes the foundation of the family to crumble and collapse. Written in three sections, “Gone,” “Going,” and lastly “Go,” Selasi allows her characters to reveal the insecurities which enabled their family bonds to stretch, break, and perhaps reform. Recollections, some of which are poignant and others shocking, are integral to understanding each of the family members.
This is a story of Africa and of America, of third world attainment and stellar achievements by anyone’s first world standards, and of a family unraveled and lives destroyed. It is a story of putting one foot in front of the other when one foot is in Africa and the other foot stateside. It is a story of leaving and of rebuilding. With its image-rich prose, acidic observations, and perceptive take on family relationships, Ghana Must Go is also very much a story to enjoy.
Jennifer McMahon’s latest novel, The One I Left Behind, begins in 1985. Reggie is thirteen years old and a murderer is terrorizing her hometown of Brighton Falls, Connecticut. The serial killer, nicknamed Neptune by the local police and press, is kidnapping and murdering women, leaving their bodies to be found by local police days later. The fourth and final victim is Reggie’s mother Vera. Unlike the other three women, Vera’s body is never found. For years the case is left unsolved, leaving Reggie with no closure.
Twenty five years later in 2010, a woman is found at a homeless shelter and identified as Vera. Vera’s reappearance forces Reggie to face emotions she hasn’t dealt with in years. At the same time, it reopens the unsolved Neptune murder cases, and creates new questions—why was Vera allowed to live, and where has she been all these years? Reggie brings her ailing mother back to their hometown to stay somewhere familiar in hopes that it will make her more comfortable. As the residents of Brighton Falls learn that Vera is alive and in town, the desire to learn the identity of Neptune is renewed. When another woman is kidnapped, Reggie realizes that Neptune has returned and takes matters into her own hands, investigating the murders and new disappearance on her own.
Switching back and forth between Reggie’s childhood, the present, and excerpts from a book about the Neptune serial killer, The One I Left Behind gives readers multiple sides to this mystery, taking readers along for Reggie’s search for the truth about her mother’s disappearance. The One I Left Behind is a thrilling mystery that readers won’t be able to put down.
The darling daughters of Downton Abbey would surely have shopped at Selfridge’s, England’s first modern department store. In Shopping, Seduction, & Mr. Selfridge, Lindy Woodhead transports readers to a bygone era when nattily dressed ladies and gentlemen made shopping an event. Woodhead also shines a light on the man behind the mannequins, the inimitable Harry Gordon Selfridge.
Selfridge began as a stock boy working at Marshall Field’s in Chicago and eventually became a partner in that established business. His dreams were big and at the turn of the century he was able to make his magic happen in England. He wanted to bring to London a store that was unrivaled in extravagance. It took several years, but London’s first dedicated department store built from scratch opened in a halo of hype. The publicity was well-deserved, as the store really was larger than life. With six acres of floor space and every conceivable amenity, Selfridge’s was a legacy to limitless luxury. There were elevators and a bank, an ice skating rink and a restaurant with a full orchestra. Shopping was like an entertainment at Selfridge’s, where regular customers could mingle with celebrities such as Anna Pavlova and Noel Coward.
Woodhead tells the story of the retail revolution of the early twentieth century, but also focuses on the rise and fall of one visionary, but ultimately doomed man. Selfridge’s life was as large as his store and filled with mistresses, mansions, and money. This is the fascinating true story that inspired the Masterpiece series Mr. Selfridge, starring Jeremy Piven, currently airing on PBS.
Cities are constantly abuzz with activity in every direction. But how much of what goes on around a person is seen? And how much noticed? In her book On Looking: Eleven Walks with Expert Eyes, Alexandra Horowitz gets to the bottom of how people can do their best to take note of the world around them. The author starts by taking her dog around a large city block in Manhattan. As Horowitz is a dog behaviorist by training, she is well aware that the things a dog notices on a walk are not the same as those a human does. (Dog walkers, of course, notice more of the same things as dogs than do other humans.)
After this control walk, Horowitz then invites others to take similar walks with her. She takes along a sound designer, who notices much more of the clatter of the city, things that Horowitz herself had largely tuned out. She realizes, however, that along with the noise of traffic and construction she has also come to ignore pleasant sounds such as birds, and children playing. Another walk is with a child, whose perception and interests are considerably different from the author’s. Additionally, Horowitz accompanies a geologist, an artist, and a number of others, all of which expand her own horizons of what she can discover on a walk around the block. She urges all of us to simply pay attention, and the rewards of looking can be marvelous.
The disappearance of a child is a parent’s worst nightmare. Amity Gaige’s latest book, Schroder, is a kidnapping tale with a twist: it’s told from the perspective of the kidnapper, who is also the child’s father. Eric Kennedy is writing to his estranged wife from prison, explaining why he abducted their daughter Meadow and chronicling the time he spent on the run with her. His story becomes a broader reflection of his life and his misguided decisions and deceptions.
When Eric feels he’s being unfairly treated in divorce proceedings, he drives off with his daughter during one of his custody visits. Through the course of the story, the reader learns the history of Eric, who was born Erik Schroder in East Berlin. He and his father emigrated to the United States under murky circumstances, and Erik originally used the name Eric Kennedy to gain admission to a summer camp. The name sticks, staying with him into adulthood, although modern technology and identity tracking make it increasingly difficult for him to maintain a false persona. Gaige does an excellent job building two contrasting main characters: Meadow is an incredibly perceptive yet wholly innocent six-year-old, while Eric is a deeply flawed adult who puts his daughter’s safety at risk multiple times. There is a train wreck feel to the story as he makes one poor decision after another.
Gaige drew inspiration for this story from the famous case of Clark Rockefeller, whose multiple false identities were discovered after he kidnapped his daughter in 2008. The Man in the Rockefeller Suit by Mark Seal is an account of that story. In Schroder, Gaige manages to show that Eric is not a terrible person, just a “bad choicer”, as she refers to him in an interview with NPR.
Jennie Shortridge’s contemporary novel, Love Water Memory, takes the reader into the unsettled and uncomfortable mind of a woman suffering from dissociative fugue. In this uncommon condition, often caused by a traumatic experience, a person instantly develops a complete amnesia. As the book opens, Lucie is found wading in the waters of San Francisco Bay, hundreds of miles from the Seattle home she shares with her fiancé Grady.
Short chapters using the alternating narrations of Lucie, Grady, and Lucie’s estranged aunt Helen make for a compelling read. Grady, an engineer at Boeing with a dark past of his own tries his best to understand Lucie’s condition. With the help of his large Native American family, Lucie attempts to reconnect with the world that she has utterly forgotten. There are no easy answers; Lucie and Grady are only weeks from their planned wedding, but no longer truly know each other. Helen is the only family Lucie has, and the story of her connection and estrangement from Lucie ties many threads together. Grady’s point of view, as a person trying to understand an amnesiac, provides a good counterpoint to Lucie’s own thoughts. The theme of water flows through the book from the initial rescue of the wading Lucie, Grady’s connection to swimming and his own childhood tragedy, and the surfeit of tears shed during the reconnection process. Successful in taking a baffling medical condition and making it the focus of the novel, Love Water Memory is a look into a world few people ever experience.
Kimberly McCreight’s engrossing debut novel Reconstructing Amelia takes on the hidden life of a teenager. Kate Baron, a single mom and busy attorney, is in a meeting when she receives a call from her 15-year-old daughter’s school. Amelia is being suspended, and the school wants Kate to pick her up immediately. Kate leaves work and hurries to the school to find out what could have possibly caused her good girl daughter to be suspended, but when she reaches the school, there are emergency vehicles outside. She is stunned when they tell her that her daughter has fallen from the roof of the school and is dead. After an investigation, Amelia’s death is ruled a suicide. Weeks later, as a devastated Kate returns to work, she receives an anonymous text message that stops her in her tracks. “She didn't jump.” Could there be another explanation for this unimaginable tragedy?
Slowly, Kate begins to uncover the truth about the last months of Amelia’s life. Through text messages, emails, and social media posts, Kate unearths the secrets that Amelia kept, including a pile of notes in Amelia’s bedroom that say “I hate you.” How could there be so much about her daughter’s life that Kate never knew? McCreight intersperses chapters from Amelia’s perspective among those about Kate’s investigation to give readers a better understanding of what was really happening in Amelia’s life and at her exclusive private school. The story is both suspenseful and heartbreaking as Kate learns the reality of Amelia’s world and the truth about how she died. Reconstructing Amelia will appeal to readers who enjoy Jodi Picoult’s novels or William Landay’s recent bestseller Defending Jacob. Reconstructing Amelia’s emotional depth and exploration of current social issues make this a great pick for your next book club discussion.
Set in New Orleans circa 1920s-50s, The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow by Rita Leganski is an original family drama that mixes matters of the heart with elements of magical realism. Dancy, a waitress at the local diner, and William, a young lawyer, fall in love. Tragedy is destined to strike, but not before an extraordinary new life is created.
Meet Bonaventure Arrow and you will discover that he is as exceptional as his name. Although his vocal cords are healthy, he is born without a cry. Denied conventional speech, Bonaventure discovers that he possesses a supernatural sense of hearing. From the sound of dust falling from a moth’s wing to his mother’s cigarette smoke floating to the ceiling, he can hear what no one else can. However, this unworldly gift comes with great responsibility. When he hears a small sadness held inside a small box in a chapel wall and the painful secret hidden in his mother’s closet, he knows he can bring comfort and hopefully closure to his family, who are still plagued by the secrets of the past.
Inspired by the work of Flannery O’Conner and Ann Patchett, Leganski has created an earnest Southern hometown and populated it with mysterious characters. There’s the disfigured man only known as “The Wanderer,” Trinidad Prefontaine, a Creole woman who has her own mystic ability, and Brother Harley John Eacomb, a sham preacher who has a feverous following. Faith, love, and providence are all tested in this tale of charm, love and forgiveness.