I’m certainly not one to declare the book review dead (but did anyone even see my Bring Out the Dogs review, I think not…), however I do think it’s the type of post that’s less engaging, less likely to be clicked on, less likely to be read… You get the idea. And, dear readers, I’m secure enough in my insecurity to admit I do want people to read what I write, if only to continue to share my love of whatever wonderful/quirky/clever/delightful/daunting/terrible book I just read. These are a few that made my honor roll, and here are the ones I don’t think you should miss.
The Widow of Pale Harbor // Hester Fox. I absolutely loved The Witch of Willow Hall (Fox’s first novel) and I’m happy to report her sophomore novel is equally as entertaining. Sophronia Carver, widow and town pariah, is the immediate suspect when a series of escalating town pranks strike Pale Harbor, Maine. When the pranks turn deadly, she begins to fear she’s being targeted. Gabriel, the town’s new preacher, is enchanted by the widow, and seeks to prove her innocence. With a bit of romance, Edgar Allen Poe, and a whole lot of Gothic-ky goodness (yes, that’s the technical term), The Widow of Pale Harbor is a delightful October read.
Last Ones Left Alive // Sarah Davis-Goff. Last Ones Left Alive by Sarah Davis-Goff surprised me. I was expecting a run of the mill zombie novel – perfect autumn reading – but not a thoughtful story of survival and loneliness. Living on an island off the coast of Ireland, Orpen’s childhood has been as idyllic as possible, given the skrake (zombies left to roam the countryside of mainland Ireland). Orphaned after the death of her mother and her partner Maeve, Orpen leaves the island in search of someone, anyone else left out there. She scours the country, her journey fueled by tantalizing scraps of decades old newspapers and flyers, searching for the banshees. Who and what they are? She has no idea. Davis-Goff’s novel is riveting, a tense road trip through a ravaged Ireland. Orpen grapples with isolation, loneliness, and fear, determined to find out if she’s the last one left alive. A solid addition to post apocalyptic literature.
The Bear and the Nightingale// Katherine Arden. This novel is an absolute delight. In the same vein as Spinning Silver and Uprooted, The Bear and the Nightingale was pure reading pleasure. Arden’s novel in rooted in Russian fairytales, following the Petronova family. Vasilisa is the primary character, though a few of her siblings are prominently featured, I enjoyed it from the first page until the last, and I can’t wait to read the next two in the trilogy.
The Daughters of Temperance Hobbs // Katherine Howe. This one has everything that appeals to me in an autumn novel: witchcraft, academia, cursed romance, and family secrets. The greater Boston area setting is just a bonus. In this novel we return to the world of PhD Connie Goodwin, her steeplejack Sam, and archives of the greater Boston area (Salem, Marblehead, etc.). If you enjoyed The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane, pick this one up, it’s such a lovely follow up.
Kitchens of the Great Midwest // J. Ryan Stradel. This one languished on my shelf for too long, and now since reading it, my review of it has been suffering the same fate. This charming novel, starring the once in a generation palate of Eva Thorvald, is a punchy, satisfying story of family in all its messy forms. It’s hard to say more than that, but Eva’s culinary adventures with her unique family will stick with me for a long time. It was an unexpected delight and I highly recommend it.
I’ve had this collection of stories for an embarrassingly long time, long enough that I don’t even want to admit how long. Let’s just say it was well before their eventual publication (thanks, Netgalley, and sorry for being such a deliquent!).
Will Mackin’s Bring Out the Dog is a collection of stories that depicts the absurdity and tragedy of modern warfare. The stories aren’t particularly gruesome, and there’s little in the way of the overt masculinity I associate with a Hollywood blockbuster depiction of war. Stories of war can easily translate to grandiose adventures and great acts of heroism. Thankfully, this is not that story, and despite it’s grim subject, it’s a humane collection – gritty and honest – laced with just the right amount of dark humor and boredom. I enjoyed it very much.
“I wondered if, one night, we’d drop out of the starry sky in our blacked-out helicopters and land near a walled compound in the desert. We’d run toward that compound with the rotor wash at our backs, through the dust cloud that had been kicked up by our arrival and out the other side. Through a crooked archway in the compound’s outer wall, we’d enter the courtyard. And there, among the fig trees and goats, we’d find an American tourist with a camera slung around his neck. Having served his time in Afghanistan, our fellow-American had gone home, fallen in love, got married, and had the two bow-haired daughters now hiding behind his legs. Maybe he’d wanted his girls to see how brightly the stars shone in the desert. Maybe he’d wanted to share with them all the strange places the Army had sent him, way back when. I imagined that he’d look over at us and then say, with understanding and remorse, “Dudes, war’s over.”
Highlight include “Crossing the River with No Name”, the story of a man who has already used his miracles, “The Lost Troop” (from which the paragraph above is taken), a story of a troop revisiting their interpreter’s petty childhood teacher, and “Great Circle Route Westward Through Perpetual Night”, which is the story of the death of the troop’s dog.
I picked this up based on the striking cover and the even more striking George Saunders recommendations. I was not disappointed. If you’re interested in the modern American experience in war but don’t know where to start, this is an excellent place to begin.
It’s (almost) the best time of the year. Apples! Apple cider! Apple cider donuts! Crunchy leaves! And my personal favorite, the return of sweater weather (and before the onset of parka weather). This also means it’s time to imbibe some peril. If you’re like me, it tends to mean mildly perilous. Having children has made me a bit squeamish, especially in regards to movies. I just don’t want anything bad to happen to anyone.* That being said, I’m sure one or two misfortunes will befall the lovely characters below. It is (almost) October, after all.
False Bingo // Jac Jemq. “The mundane becomes sinister in a disquieting story collection from the author of The Grip of It.” Yes, please.
The Institute// Stephen King. ” From #1 New York Times bestselling author Stephen King, the most riveting and unforgettable story of kids confronting evil since It—publishing just as the second part of It, the movie, lands in theaters.”
The Widow of Pale Harbor // Hester Fox. A town gripped by fear. A woman accused of witchcraft. Who can save Pale Harbor, Maine from itself?
The Choke // Sofie Laguna. “A brilliant, haunting novel about a child navigating an often dark and uncaring world of male power, guns and violence, in which grown-ups can’t be trusted and comfort can only be found in nature, The Choke is a compassionate and claustrophobic vision of a child in danger and a society in deep trouble.”
Picnic at Hanging Rock // Joan Lindsay. ” It was a cloudless summer day in the year nineteen hundred. Everyone at Appleyard College for Young Ladies agreed it was just right for a picnic at Hanging Rock. After lunch, a group of three of the girls climbed into the blaze of the afternoon sun, pressing on through the scrub into the shadows of Hanging Rock. Further, higher, till at last they disappeared. They never returned.” This is a classic I’ve never gotten around to, but I am here for it now.
Last Ones Left Alive // Sarah Davis-Goff. “Last Ones Left Alive is the story of Orpen, a young woman who must walk on foot across a ravaged Ireland in the desperate hope of saving herself, and her guardian Maeve, from the zombie-like menace known as the skrake. Sarah Davis-Goff’s strikingly original debut will appeal to readers of dystopian literary fiction such as STATION 11 or THE END WE START FROM.”
This is an ambitious list for me, as I’m not exactly a tv watcher (like 30 minutes a week, if that?), and I think I’ve failed this portion of the event every year. But it’s good to have goals.
1. IT Chapter 2. I’ll be watching this along with everyone else.
2. Picnic at Hanging Rock. The series, starring Natalie Dormer (The Tudors remains one of my favorites).
3. A Discovery of Witches. I’m a fan of this trilogy, but have been unable to watch the adaptation yet. First step is figuring out how to watch it.
4. Castle Rock. I did watch all of season one and enjoyed it. Skarsgard is so creepy. It’s fantastic.
*And no, I do not know how to explain my love of Stephen King’s IT. It’s a mystery.
Denver is not on board with autumn. Not at all. I feel like I’m melting, and I’m now pretty sure I’m only cut out for life in, say, Alaska. The silver lining of heading into September*, even if the thermometer doesn’t agree, is a whole host of new books to devour. What are you excited about? I, too, and excited about the new Atwood, but I feel like it’s been on every upcoming list, so I’ll try to keep it to books that may be flying under the radar.
False Bingo // Jac Jemc. MCD x FSG Originals, October 8. “In Jac Jemc’s dislocating second story collection, False Bingo, we watch as sinister forces―some supernatural, some of this earth, some real and some not―work their ways into the mundanity of everyday life. Fueled by paranoia and visceral suspense, and crafted with masterful restraint, these seventeen stories explore what happens when our fears cross over into the real, if only for a fleeting moment. Identities are stolen, alternate universes are revealed, and innocence is lost as the consequences of minor, seemingly harmless decisions erupt to sabotage a false sense of stability. “This is not a morality tale about the goodness of one character triumphing over the bad of another,” the sadistic narrator of “Pastoral” announces. Rather, False Bingo is a collection of realist fables exploring how conflicting moralities can coexist: the good, the bad, the indecipherable.”
The Dead Girls Club // Damien Angelica Walters. Crooked Lane Books, December 10. A supernatural thriller in the vein of A Head Full of Ghosts about two young girls, a scary story that becomes far too real, and the tragic–and terrifying–consequences that follow one of them into adulthood.
Red Lady, Red Lady, show us your face…
In 1991, Heather Cole and her friends were members of the Dead Girls Club. Obsessed with the macabre, the girls exchanged stories about serial killers and imaginary monsters, like the Red Lady, the spirit of a vengeful witch killed centuries before. Heather knew the stories were just that, until her best friend Becca began insisting the Red Lady was real–and she could prove it.
That belief got Becca killed.
It’s been nearly thirty years, but Heather has never told anyone what really happened that night–that Becca was right and the Red Lady was real. She’s done her best to put that fateful summer, Becca, and the Red Lady, behind her. Until a familiar necklace arrives in the mail, a necklace Heather hasn’t seen since the night Becca died.
The night Heather killed her.
Now, someone else knows what she did…and they’re determined to make Heather pay.
The Widow of Pale Harbor// Hester Fox. Graydon House, September 17. A town gripped by fear. A woman accused of witchcraft. Who can save Pale Harbor from itself?
Maine, 1846. Gabriel Stone is desperate to escape the ghosts that haunt him in Massachusetts after his wife’s death, so he moves to Maine, taking a position as a minister in the remote village of Pale Harbor.
But not all is as it seems in the sleepy town. Strange, unsettling things have been happening, and the townspeople claim that only one person can be responsible: Sophronia Carver, a reclusive widow who lives with a spinster maid in the eerie Castle Carver. Sophronia must be a witch, and she almost certainly killed her husband.
As the incidents escalate, one thing becomes clear: they are the work of a twisted person inspired by the wildly popular stories of Mr. Edgar Allan Poe. And Gabriel must find answers, or Pale Harbor will suffer a fate worthy of Poe’s darkest tales.
Last Ones Left Alive // Sarah Davis-Goff. Flatiron Books, August 27.Last Ones Left Alive is the story of Orpen, a young woman who must walk on foot across a ravaged Ireland in the desperate hope of saving herself, and her guardian Maeve, from the zombie-like menace known as the skrake. Sarah Davis-Goff’s strikingly original debut will appeal to readers of dystopian literary fiction such as STATION 11 or THE END WE START FROM.
Wyoming // JP Gritton. Tin House Books, November 19. A cross between Daniel Woodrell and Annie Proulx, Wyoming is about the stubborn grip of inertia and whether or not it is possible to live without accepting oneself.
It’s 1988 and Shelley Cooper is in trouble. He’s broke, he’s been fired from his construction job, and his ex-wife has left him for their next door neighbor and a new life in Kansas City. The only opportunity on his horizon is fifty pounds of his brother’s high-grade marijuana, which needs to be driven from Colorado to Houston and exchanged for a lockbox full of cash. The delivery goes off without a hitch, but getting home with the money proves to be a different challenge altogether.
Fueled by a grab bag of resentments and self punishment, Shelley becomes a case study in the question of whether it’s possible to live without accepting yourself, and the dope money is the key to a lock he might never find.
JP Gritton’s portrait of a hapless aspirant at odds with himself and everyone around him is both tender and ruthless, and Wyoming considers the possibility of redemption in a world that grants forgiveness grudgingly, if at all.
Red at the Bone // Jacqueline Woodson. Riverhead, September 17. Moving forward and backward in time, Jacqueline Woodson’s taut and powerful new novel uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships of these families, and in the life of the new child.
As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.
Unfurling the history of Melody’s parents and grandparents to show how they all arrived at this moment, Woodson considers not just their ambitions and successes but also the costs, the tolls they’ve paid for striving to overcome expectations and escape the pull of history. As it explores sexual desire and identity, ambition, gentrification, education, class and status, and the life-altering facts of parenthood, Red at the Bone most strikingly looks at the ways in which young people must so often make long-lasting decisions about their lives—even before they have begun to figure out who they are and what they want to be.
What Red Was // Rosie Price. Hogarth, August 27th. When Kate Quaile meets Max Rippon in the first week of university, a life-changing friendship begins. Over the next four years, the two become inseparable. For him, she breaks her solitude; for her, he leaves his busy circles behind. But knowing Max means knowing his family: the wealthy Rippons, all generosity, social ease, and quiet repression. Theirs is a very different world from Kate’s own upbringing, and yet she finds herself quickly drawn into their gilded lives, and the secrets that lie beneath. Until one evening, at the Rippons home, just after graduation, her life is shattered apart in a bedroom while a party goes on downstairs.
What Red Was is an incisive and mesmerizing novel about power, privilege, and consent–one that fearlessly explores the effects of trauma on the mind and body of a young woman, the tyrannies of memory, the sacrifices involved in staying silent, and the courage in speaking out. And when Kate does, it raises this urgent question: whose story is it now?
Olive, Again // Elizabeth Strout. Random House, October 15. Olive struggles to understand not only herself and her own life but the lives of those around her in the town of Crosby, Maine. Whether with a teenager coming to terms with the loss of her father, a young woman about to give birth during a hilariously inopportune moment, a nurse who confesses a secret high school crush, or a lawyer who struggles with an inheritance she does not want to accept, the unforgettable Olive will continue to startle us, to move us, and to inspire moments of transcendent grace.
Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts // Kate Racculia. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. October 8. Tuesday Mooney is a loner. She keeps to herself, begrudgingly socializes, and spends much of her time watching old Twin Peaks and X-Files DVDs. But when Vincent Pryce, Boston’s most eccentric billionaire, dies—leaving behind an epic treasure hunt through the city, with clues inspired by his hero, Edgar Allan Poe—Tuesday’s adventure finally begins.
Puzzle-loving Tuesday searches for clue after clue, joined by a ragtag crew: a wisecracking friend, an adoring teen neighbor, and a handsome, cagey young heir. The hunt tests their mettle, and with other teams from around the city also vying for the promised prize—a share of Pryce’s immense wealth—they must move quickly. Pryce’s clues can’t be cracked with sharp wit alone; the searchers must summon the courage to face painful ghosts from their pasts (some more vivid than others) and discover their most guarded desires and dreams.
A deliciously funny ode to imagination, overflowing with love letters to art, from The Westing Game to Madonna to the Knights of the Round Table, Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts is the perfect read for thrill seekers, wanderers, word lovers, and anyone looking for an escape to the extraordinary. Catherine at The Gilmore Guide to Books put this one on my radar.
Happy reading, fellow bookworms!
*It also means we’er approaching the best month of the year – October! Also, I genuinely sat on this post for 3+ weeks because I did not have time to grab all the book covers. In the end, I gave up.
Source of image unknown. If someone knows, please tell me!
As an alternative for a review, synopsis, or anything of the like, I decided to create a soundtrack for the book. Please note that quite a bit of this is intended to be playful and irreverent. I’m rarely serious and this post is no exception.
Wanderers by Chuck Wendig is a timely, apocalyptic novel. It primarily follows teenage sisters, scientists, and a religious radio host as the world as they know it begins to dissolve around them and political tensions rise. It’s a character and science driven novel, and all of the events are plausible, which separates it from a novel like The Stand (though, yes, they are similar). Engaging, relevant, and humane, Wanderers shines an uncomfortable light on human nature in the face of the unknown.
I know I know I know I am only a teenager, Dad reminds me, like, every day, and my sister reminds me that I’m still young, and I don’t care. I have so many things I want to do, so many boys I want to kiss and so many places to go and so many ways to change the world. I’m ready to get started. Because everything and everyone has to start somewhere, right? I’m starting now. Mom, if you’re out there, and if you ever read this, I’m sorry you won’t get to see what I do. Maybe you’ll come back to us again. Maybe I’ll find you, who knows? Maybe that’s what this is all about. Me finding you.
As she walked, she felt out of sync, receiving strange flashes of sound and sight and sensation that did not line up with this place. The girl did not know if these were memories, or if they were something else: She heard the crush of the ocean, saw sidewinders of desert sand sliding across the open highway. She saw mile markers and speed limit signs. She saw a dead man in a car, a gun stuck in his mouth, fixed there by bulging threads and struts of white fungus. She smelled blood. And mold. Crushed juniper, hot tar, seabrine. She heard murmurs of voices, saw smeary faces walking alongside her like ghosts – sometimes they were there, most times they were not, but even when they weren’t, she could feel them still.
His anger at her dissipated suddenly… If she’d lied to him, it was because she knew no other way. He reached out and touched her hand. A small gesture. But he saw her smile – a sad smile, to be sure, but a smile – in return.
It was like watching a fog roll out to sea, once more revealing the shoreline, and the moon, and the stars. Clarity came to Arav. He looked suddenly to the shotgun in his hand and quickly lifted the barrel to the sky, his other hand letting go of the stock and also raising in surrender. Benji moved toward him with an urgency to his step, quickly moving to disarm Arav. The young man, his friend, let him. It was over.
Except really, it wasn’t over. Not for any of them.
Little Vessels // The Lighthouse and the Whaler. I am not including a quote with this one, it could give away a bit of the plot.