Picking the brains of our library staff is revelatory, inspiring, and fun, and it’s one of my favorite jobs. What are the hidden gems, the best of the best-sellers? Every month, staff members from all over PPL send me their thoughtful insights, reactions and raves on a diverse range of library materials. We share favorite quotations, delve into meaningful subjects, and get personal about how what we’re reading affects us. Why do we love these specific books, or films, or graphic novels? Why might you love them, too? For me the posts are usually both heartening and enlightening, and I hope the way we talk about books with our community– whether in a conversation at the library or in writing– shows our attention, creativity, and care.
Reading the blog is just one way to get an inside scoop and to find something new and unexpected. Each month we focus on different themes or genres, like social justice, mysteries, or nature and science. In August, we’ve tackled new fiction. We share our favorite newer titles, novels that are hot off the presses, and a few books to look forward to in the coming months. Follow the title links to request your copy from the library, or see what’s available as eBooks or eAudiobooks through the cloudLibrary. And thanks for reading!
-Elizabeth, Reader’s Advisory
Sarah S’s Picks
Always on the lookout for good book club selections, I have high hopes for America for Beginners. It’s the story of a wealthy Indian widow who flies from Kolkata to New York, then travels from New York to California in search of her missing – or, according to her late husband, dead – son, who had recently shared that he was gay. Her travel guide is a young man from Bangladesh and they are “chaperoned” on their cross-country trip by a struggling American actress. During their journey, this unlikely trio learns more about each other and forms bonds that transcend their different backgrounds. This debut novel by Leah Franqui, an award-winning playwright from Mumbai, promises “a tender, funny, wrenching, beautifully executed tale of three lost souls who traverse the chasms of cultural, generational, and geographical divides to forge some bonds strong and true enough to withstand life’s gut punches” (Library Journal). If your book club likes literary, feel-good stories with well-developed characters and a good dose of humor, you might want to check this one out, too!
Fresh off a re-read of Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, I really got excited when I heard about Vox, which will be published in August. This debut novel by Christina Dalcher is set in a dystopian U.S. that has been taken over by religious extremists who limit women to speaking only 100 words per day (enforced via electric shock bracelet). Eventually women are no longer allowed to have jobs or bank accounts, and girls are no longer taught to read or write. The protagonist is a neurological scientist who watches in horror as women’s voices are being completely taken away. What will she do to protect herself and her daughter? I look forward to finding out! Perhaps equally as intriguing as the book’s premise of speech and language as instruments of control is the fact that its author has a doctorate in theoretical linguistics.
Finally, Khaled Hosseini (author of The Kite Runner) has a new book coming out in September. Sea Prayer is a 48-page illustrated letter from a father to his son, reflecting on the dangerous life they’re leaving behind and the dangerous sea voyage they are about to face. Hosseini’s new work was inspired by the heartrending image of Alan Kurdi, the three-year-old Syrian boy found drowned on Turkey’s shore in September 2015. This short, powerful book, written in response to the current refugee crisis, should not be overlooked.
“Have the people living here under untroubled circumstances and at so great a distance from the wars of others been afflicted with a poverty of experience, a sort of emotional anemia? Must living in peace – so fervently wished for throughout human history and yet enjoyed in only a few parts of the world – inevitably result in refusing to share it with those seeking refuge, defending it instead so aggressively that it almost looks like war?” –Jenny Erpenbeck
German author Jenny Erpenbeck’s recent gripping novel Go, Went, Gone (translated by Susan Bernofsky) tells the story of a recently retired Classics professor, Richard, and his relationship with a group of asylum seekers in Berlin. While reporting and academic accounts of the challenges and hardships experienced by refugees during their passages to Europe can be dry, primarily focused on numbers and logistics and not always exploring an individual’s life in depth over time (with Pietro Bartolo’s Tears of Salt and Patrick Kingsley’s The New Odyssey serving as exceptions), I appreciated German author Jenny Erpenbeck’s novel for its preoccupation with the emotions and relationships that develop between Richard and the people he comes to know more meaningfully. This extended narrative and the unique relationships it explores grant a rare perspective to the reader and is one of the greatest strengths of Go, Went, Gone.
Sheila Heti is an expert at dissolving the binary between what we might typically think of as fact and fiction and crafting something that masterfully inhabits both (or perhaps neither). As a reader who tends to prefer essays, memoirs, and other assorted nonfiction, Motherhood is the kind of novel that most captivates me. In prose that is loosely formed around a narrative, Heti approaches the eponymous subject with fearless yet gentle interrogation: What motivates many of us to become mothers? How is the decision to (not) be a mother related to the experience of having a mother? Heti’s narrator explores her own feelings and question about motherhood in such a way that manages to challenge this sacred subject without forcing any particular agenda about whether (or how, or when, or for whom, or for what reasons) it is “right” or “good” to become a parent. I found this to be a brilliant, honest exploration of a topic whose staggering complexity is often taken for granted.
I’m very excited about Stephen King’s new book, The Outsider. Like the Mr. Mercedes series before it, this is the beginning of a new mystery series by my favorite author. Not only is this a killer mystery that will leave you guessing until the last moment, but it wouldn’t be a King novel without a supernatural element in it! Plus, he brings back one of my favorite of his characters of all of his novels: Holly Gibney, from the Mr. Mercedes series. She is a really well-drawn character, something King is so talented at. He really makes you feel for his characters, and even the most evil-seeming ones have a soft underbelly in some way. When I wasn’t reading this book, I was thinking about it, and then when I was done, I kept thinking about the characters. Don’t miss it!
When I started All Systems Red, the first novella in Martha Wells’ The Murderbot Diaries series, I had no clue how much I would be laughing along, or how relatable a security robot that hacked itself could be. Murderbot, as it calls itself, is a rogue security unit that mostly wants to be left alone to catch up on its hundreds of hours of TV serials, but it goes through the motions of protecting its assigned humans as they work on their study of a foreign planet. Then Murderbot starts to notice threats to the scientists, and as the workers at a neighboring camp go missing, its curiosity gets the best of it. Martha Wells will draw you right into this accessible and award-winning novella about an introverted AI system — and I’m looking forward to settling in with the second in the series, Artificial Condition, tonight! If you are interested in reading more Science Fiction this summer, you should give this series of engaging novellas a try.
What new fiction have I loved in 2018 and what am I looking forward to? First: can I just be thankful that there are still new books to read all the time? Thanks, writers. Keep it up.
If you love dipping into the Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Mythology/Magical Realism melting pot: Trail of Lightning by Rebecca Roanhorse and Severance by Ling Ma both have glowing reviews and utterly different apocalyptic futures in store for you and both sound amazing. Go get ’em.
Moving (way) back in time…Circe from Madeline Miller was a great summer read; an incredible retelling of a powerful witchy woman who comes into her own: with herbal concoctions, magic, island life, learning from mistakes, and fighting the power(ful gods)…what’s not to love? I’m also excited about Wakétu Moore’s She Would Be King, which reimagines the founding of Liberia through brilliant, magically realistic characters with special powers. Meanwhile Emma Hooper’s forthcoming Our Homesick Songs tackles modern Newfoundland, the cod fishery, folklore, mermaids, music, and family.
Interested in plain old fantastic realistic fiction? If you haven’t snagged a copy yet, Tommy Orange’s novel There There is easily at the top of the year’s best literary fiction list and is one of my favorite reads of 2018; with a finely-drawn cast of characters who share their stories as they come together, each in their own way, for the first Big Oakland Powwow. And I’m looking forward to Ingrid Rojas Contreras’ Colombian-set Fruit of the Drunken Tree and Preti Taneja’s We That Are Young, a searing debut novel that explores power and corruption in modern-day India.
Eileen M’s Pick
When: July, 1964. Where: Belly-down on beach blankets after sand-studded peanut butter sandwiches and bottles of Orange Crush. Parental edict: No swimming for ONE HOUR after the last morsel has passed our tonsils. Our mission: Push the clock ahead, by whatever means necessary.
My mother sifts sand through her toes, reading in her low-slung beach chair as we, her three restless and cranky daughters, share the weight of supine impatience, hoping to whittle the wait down to 45, maybe 30 minutes. As it happens, she is even more intent on her noontime reading than usual, conveniently distracted from the slow sweep of the hour hand. Wily subterfuge proves unnecessary. She offers an absentminded nod of assent to our first plea for release. We are already shivering in the frigid New Hampshire surf when she realizes that we have won the daily battle for near constant immersion, defying the lurking threat of postprandial cramps that is always cited when we whine “but whyyyyy??”
Today, from my own canvas beach chair, my memory can just make out the title on the spine of her library book: The Spy Who Came In From the Cold.
For new-ish fiction this summer, my pick is 2017’s A Legacy of Spies by John le Carre which harkens back to his earlier novels: Mom’s spellbinding summer read The Spy Who Came In From the Cold (1963) and 1974’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy. Fifty-some years later, A Legacy of Spies gathers long ago loose ends into a political, ethical and moral knot of murky accountability in his trademark taut style. Thick with familiar characters, including George Smiley, and some new ones you’ll love to hate, it brings modern perspective and sensibilities to the deeply flawed double- and triple-dealing perpetrated by a compromised MI6 in the name of Cold War era Britain. Mr le Carre has never coddled a reader by over-explaining anything or sketching a scrutable character, so consider finding your way into the backstory with a satisfying (but not strictly necessary) first or second reading of the two earlier books before embarking on A Legacy of Spies.
Not generally a fan of spy novels, I make an exception for anything by John le Carre. I am partial to his early books with enigmatic Cold Warrior George Smiley, but anything from his rich backlist will hold you tight in its grip to the very last page. He always leaves me breathless and a little dismayed.
Dark? Oh, yes. Do follow my mother’s lead. Read him in the bright sun of a hot summer day. His Cold War intrigue will give you chills.
You can explore more new fiction (recently arrived or on order) for adults any time through our website here. Place your holds and then pick books up at the library when they are published and arrive.posted: , by Elizabeth