Book List, Indie Next

Holiday Gift Giving: Historical & General Fiction

It’s time for our annual holiday gift giving recommendations! Check out all of the picks on display in the front corner of the store across from the wine bar!

Historical Fiction

All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This WWII historical fiction is my favorite of all-time. From the rich and unique settings, to the refreshing writing style (focusing on feelings and smells over sight), to the very real and emotional characters, this book gets everything right. So beautifully written, yet so sad and scarily suspenseful at points. The whole story keeps building and building until the very end, if you haven’t picked this up yet what are you waiting for!?

Rachele

From Anthony Doerr, the highly acclaimed, multiple award-winning author of Cloud Cuckoo Land, the beautiful, stunningly ambitious instant New York Times bestseller about a blind French girl and a German boy whose paths collide in occupied France as both try to survive the devastation of World War II.

Marie-Laure lives in Paris near the Museum of Natural History, where her father works. When she is twelve, the Nazis occupy Paris and father and daughter flee to the walled citadel of Saint-Malo, where Marie-Laure’s reclusive great uncle lives in a tall house by the sea. With them they carry what might be the museum’s most valuable and dangerous jewel.

In a mining town in Germany, Werner Pfennig, an orphan, grows up with his younger sister, enchanted by a crude radio they find that brings them news and stories from places they have never seen or imagined. Werner becomes an expert at building and fixing these crucial new instruments and is enlisted to use his talent to track down the resistance. Deftly interweaving the lives of Marie-Laure and Werner, Doerr illuminates the ways, against all odds, people try to be good to one another.

Doerr’s “stunning sense of physical detail and gorgeous metaphors” (San Francisco Chronicle) are dazzling. Ten years in the writing, a National Book Award finalist, All the Light We Cannot See is a magnificent, deeply moving novel from a writer “whose sentences never fail to thrill” (Los Angeles Times).

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Multi-generational stories are always fascinating to me. This story follows our main character as she visits Cuba for the first time, and her grandmother in the 1950s, leading up to her leaving Cuba. This story really examines family dynamics and one’s own identity. Cleeton also wrote 3 other books following this family, which can all be read as standalones if desired.

Athena

After the death of her beloved grandmother, a Cuban-American woman travels to Havana, where she discovers the roots of her identity—and unearths a family secret hidden since the revolution…

Havana, 1958. The daughter of a sugar baron, nineteen-year-old Elisa Perez is part of Cuba’s high society, where she is largely sheltered from the country’s growing political unrest—until she embarks on a clandestine affair with a passionate revolutionary…

Miami, 2017. Freelance writer Marisol Ferrera grew up hearing romantic stories of Cuba from her late grandmother Elisa, who was forced to flee with her family during the revolution. Elisa’s last wish was for Marisol to scatter her ashes in the country of her birth.

Arriving in Havana, Marisol comes face-to-face with the contrast of Cuba’s tropical, timeless beauty and its perilous political climate. When more family history comes to light and Marisol finds herself attracted to a man with secrets of his own, she’ll need the lessons of her grandmother’s past to help her understand the true meaning of courage.

Cinnamon & Gunpowder by Eli Brown

Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a tale of foodie obsession set on the high seas in the early 19th century on board a pirate ship captained by the flame haired and infamous Mad Hannah Mabbott! It is a fun and quirky read and is greatly loved by the members of my book club.

Sarah

Eli Brown’s Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a gripping adventure, a seaborne romance, and a twist on the tale of Scheherazade—with the best food ever served aboard a pirate’s ship

The year is 1819, and the renowned chef Owen Wedgwood has been kidnapped by the ruthless pirate Mad Hannah Mabbot. He will be spared, she tells him, as long as he puts exquisite food in front of her every Sunday without fail.

To appease the red-haired captain, Wedgwood gets cracking with the meager supplies on board. His first triumph at sea is actual bread, made from a sourdough starter that he leavens in a tin under his shirt throughout a roaring battle, as men are cutlassed all around him. Soon he’s making tea-smoked eel and brewing pineapple-banana cider.

But Mabbot—who exerts a curious draw on the chef—is under siege. Hunted by a deadly privateer and plagued by a saboteur hidden on her ship, she pushes her crew past exhaustion in her search for the notorious Brass Fox. As Wedgwood begins to sense a method to Mabbot’s madness, he must rely on the bizarre crewmembers he once feared: Mr. Apples, the fearsome giant who loves to knit; Feng and Bai, martial arts masters sworn to defend their captain; and Joshua, the deaf cabin boy who becomes the son Wedgwood never had.

Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a swashbuckling epicure’s adventure simmered over a surprisingly touching love story—with a dash of the strangest, most delightful cookbook never written. Eli Brown has crafted a uniquely entertaining novel full of adventure: the Scheherazade story turned on its head, at sea, with food.

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig

I love a good WWI book (there should be more!) and Lauren is one of my favorite historical fiction authors. She knows the time period well (having co-authored another WWI favorite of mine, The Glass Ocean) and her love for her characters also shines though. I delighted in getting to know Kate and Emmie and I’m sure fellow historical fiction lovers will love them as well!

Sarah

A group of young women from Smith College risk their lives in France at the height of World War I in this sweeping novel based on a true story—a skillful blend of Call the Midwife and The Alice Network—from New York Times bestselling author Lauren Willig.

A scholarship girl from Brooklyn, Kate Moran thought she found a place among Smith’s Mayflower descendants, only to have her illusions dashed the summer after graduation. When charismatic alumna Betsy Rutherford delivers a rousing speech at the Smith College Club in April of 1917, looking for volunteers to help French civilians decimated by the German war machine, Kate is too busy earning her living to even think of taking up the call. But when her former best friend Emmeline Van Alden reaches out and begs her to take the place of a girl who had to drop out, Kate reluctantly agrees to join the new Smith College Relief Unit.

Four months later, Kate and seventeen other Smithies, including two trailblazing female doctors, set sail for France. The volunteers are armed with money, supplies, and good intentions—all of which immediately go astray. The chateau that was to be their headquarters is a half-burnt ruin. The villagers they meet are in desperate straits: women and children huddling in damp cellars, their crops destroyed and their wells poisoned. 

Despite constant shelling from the Germans, French bureaucracy, and the threat of being ousted by the British army, the Smith volunteers bring welcome aid—and hope—to the region. But can they survive their own differences? As they cope with the hardships and terrors of the war, Kate and her colleagues find themselves navigating old rivalries and new betrayals which threaten the very existence of the Unit.

With the Germans threatening to break through the lines, can the Smith Unit pull together and be truly a band of sisters?  

The Ventriloquists by E. R. Ramzipoor

The Ventriloquists is something wholly unique – a NEW type of WWII novel. I was starting to think it’d all been done, but here we have an ode to the brave journalists who thought it worth risking their lives to expose the faults and lies of the dictators through humor. When we live in an era where a political cartoon can still get someone killed, it gives even more gravitas to those who risked their lives during the war to expose the oppressors.

Sarah

In this triumphant debut inspired by true events, a ragtag gang of journalists and resistance fighters risk everything for an elaborate scheme to undermine the Reich.

The Nazis stole their voices. But they would not be silenced.

Brussels, 1943. Twelve-year-old street orphan Helene survives by living as a boy and selling copies of the country’s most popular newspaper, Le Soir, now turned into Nazi propaganda. Helene’s world changes when she befriends a rogue journalist, Marc Aubrion, who draws her into a secret network that publishes dissident underground newspapers.

The Nazis track down Aubrion’s team and give them an impossible choice: turn the resistance newspapers into a Nazi propaganda bomb that will sway public opinion against the Allies, or be killed. Faced with no decision at all, Aubrion has a brilliant idea. While pretending to do the Nazis’ bidding, they will instead publish a fake edition of Le Soir that pokes fun at Hitler and Stalin–daring to laugh in the face of their oppressors.

The ventriloquists have agreed to die for a joke, and they have only eighteen days to tell it.

Featuring an unforgettable cast of characters and stunning historical detail, E.R. Ramzipoor’s dazzling debut novel illuminates the extraordinary acts of courage by ordinary people forgotten by time. It is a moving and powerful ode to the importance of the written word and to the unlikely heroes who went to extreme lengths to orchestrate the most stunning feat of journalism in modern history.

The Evening and the Morning by Ken Follett

It is 997 CE, the end of the Dark Ages. England is facing attacks from the Welsh in the west and the Vikings in the east. Those in power bend justice according to their will, regardless of ordinary people and often in conflict with the king. Without a clear rule of law, chaos reigns.

In these turbulent times, three characters find their lives intertwined. A young boatbuilder’s life is turned upside down when his home is raided by Vikings, forcing him and his family to move and start their lives anew in a small hamlet where he does not fit in. . . . A Norman noblewoman marries for love, following her husband across the sea to a new land, but the customs of her husband’s homeland are shockingly different, and it soon becomes clear to her that a single misstep could be catastrophic. . . . A monk dreams of transforming his humble abbey into a center of learning that will be admired throughout Europe. And each in turn comes into dangerous conflict with a clever and ruthless bishop who will do anything to increase his wealth and power.

Thirty years ago, Ken Follett published his most popular novel, The Pillars of the Earth. Now, Follett’s masterful new prequel The Evening and the Morning takes us on an epic journey into a historical past rich with ambition and rivalry, death and birth, love and hate, that will end where The Pillars of the Earth begins.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

I can’t think of a more perfect novel to recommend to book lovers than The Paris Library! Not only does it bring to life the true story of the heroic librarians of the American Library in Nazi-occupied Paris, its interwoven narrative of a bereft teenager in 1980s Montana who finds a kindred spirit in her mysterious, reclusive, and book-loving French neighbor is a feat of extraordinary storytelling. The Paris Library is a testament to the everlasting power of literature and literary places to bring people together and be a home for everyone, even during our darkest, most hopeless, and divided times.

Alyssa Raymond, Copper Dog Books, Beverly, MA

An instant New York Times, Washington Post, and USA TODAY bestseller—based on the true story of the heroic librarians at the American Library in Paris during World War II—The Paris Library is a moving and unforgettable “ode to the importance of libraries, books, and the human connections we find within both” (Kristin Harmel, New York Times bestselling author).

Paris, 1939: Young and ambitious Odile Souchet seems to have the perfect life with her handsome police officer beau and a dream job at the American Library in Paris. When the Nazis march into the city, Odile stands to lose everything she holds dear, including her beloved library. Together with her fellow librarians, Odile joins the Resistance with the best weapons she has: books. But when the war finally ends, instead of freedom, Odile tastes the bitter sting of unspeakable betrayal.

Montana, 1983: Lily is a lonely teenager looking for adventure in small-town Montana. Her interest is piqued by her solitary, elderly neighbor. As Lily uncovers more about her neighbor’s mysterious past, she finds that they share a love of language, the same longings, and the same intense jealousy, never suspecting that a dark secret from the past connects them.

“A love letter to Paris, the power of books, and the beauty of intergenerational friendship” (Booklist), The Paris Libraryshows that extraordinary heroism can sometimes be found in the quietest places.

The Mystery of Mrs. Christie by Marie Benedict

A delightful novel! While we will never know what happened to Agatha Christie during her 1926 disappearance, Marie Benedict has provided us with a compelling possibility. Keeping the reader guessing until the end, this is historical fiction that everyone is going to love!

Stefanie Lynn, The Kennett Bookhouse, Kennett Square, PA

The New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of The Only Woman in the Room returns with a thrilling reconstruction of one of the most notorious events in literary history: Agatha Christie’s mysterious 11-day disappearance in 1926.

In December 1926, Agatha Christie goes missing. Investigators find her empty car on the edge of a deep, gloomy pond, the only clues some tire tracks nearby and a fur coat left in the car—strange for a frigid night. Her World War I veteran husband and her daughter have no knowledge of her whereabouts, and England unleashes an unprecedented manhunt to find the up-and-coming mystery author. Eleven days later, she reappears, just as mysteriously as she disappeared, claiming amnesia and providing no explanations for her time away.

The puzzle of those missing eleven days has persisted. With her trademark historical fiction exploration into the shadows of the past, acclaimed author Marie Benedict brings us into the world of Agatha Christie, imagining why such a brilliant woman would find herself at the center of such murky historical mysteries.

What is real, and what is mystery? What role did her unfaithful husband play, and what was he not telling investigators?

Agatha Christie novels have withstood the test of time, due in no small part to Christie’s masterful storytelling and clever mind that may never be matched, but Agatha Christie’s untold history offers perhaps her greatest mystery of all.

Fans of The Secrets We KeptThe Lions of Fifth Avenue, and The Alice Network will enjoy this riveting saga of literary history, suspense, and love gone wrong.

Contemporary & Literary Fiction

The Great Circle by Maggie Shipstead

This book has just about everything I love to read about – female aviators, polar adventure, shipwrecks, spunky and strong-willed female heroines, I loved it all. Written in alternating timelines, I found myself fully immersed in them both, longing for each story while I was reading the other. It is the best sort of historical and contemporary fiction mashup to read as the weather gets colder.

Sarah

After being rescued as infants from a sinking ocean liner in 1914, Marian and Jamie Graves are raised by their dissolute uncle in Missoula, Montana. There–after encountering a pair of barnstorming pilots passing through town in beat-up biplanes–Marian commences her lifelong love affair with flight. At fourteen she drops out of school and finds an unexpected and dangerous patron in a wealthy bootlegger who provides a plane and subsidizes her lessons, an arrangement that will haunt her for the rest of her life, even as it allows her to fulfill her destiny: circumnavigating the globe by flying over the North and South Poles.

A century later, Hadley Baxter is cast to play Marian in a film that centers on Marian’s disappearance in Antarctica. Vibrant, canny, disgusted with the claustrophobia of Hollywood, Hadley is eager to redefine herself after a romantic film franchise has imprisoned her in the grip of cult celebrity. Her immersion into the character of Marian unfolds, thrillingly, alongside Marian’s own story, as the two women’s fates–and their hunger for self-determination in vastly different geographies and times–collide. Epic and emotional, meticulously researched and gloriously told, Great Circle is a monumental work of art, and a tremendous leap forward for the prodigiously gifted Maggie Shipstead.

Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

Morningside Heights is a novel beautifully rooted in the realities of everyday life. Focusing on the Steiner-Robin family of Pru, Spence, their daughter Sarah, and Spence’s son Arlo, Henkin weaves together a breathtaking portrait of family and friendship in what is also a love letter to the residents of New York. Each character feels like a friend or family member, all with foibles and faults, strong wills and deep feelings. I didn’t want to leave their world, one that reminds me so much of the city I know and love, and my own family and friends who call it home.

Sarah

When Ohio-born Pru Steiner arrives in New York in 1976, she follows in a long tradition of young people determined to take the city by storm. But when she falls in love with and marries Spence Robin, her hotshot young Shakespeare professor, her life takes a turn she couldn’t have anticipated.

Thirty years later, something is wrong with Spence. The Great Man can’t concentrate; he falls asleep reading The New York Review of Books. With their daughter, Sarah, away at medical school, Pru must struggle on her own to care for him. One day, feeling especially isolated, Pru meets a man, and the possibility of new romance blooms. Meanwhile, Spence’s estranged son from his first marriage has come back into their lives. Arlo, a wealthy entrepreneur who invests in biotech, may be his father’s last, best hope.

Morningside Heights is a sweeping and compassionate novel about a marriage surviving hardship. It’s about the love between women and men, and children and parents; about the things we give up in the face of adversity; and about how to survive when life turns out differently from what we thought we signed up for.

The King of Infinite Space by Lyndsay Faye

There are few things I love as much as a Shakespeare inspired work of fiction, particularly when the Ben in the story reminds me of my husband Ben and his great of love physics philosophy! I greatly enjoyed all the POV characters and their relationships with each other.

Sarah

In this lush, magical, queer, and feminist take on Hamlet in modern-day New York City, a neuro-atypical philosopher, along with his best friend Horatio and artist ex-fiancé Lia, are caught up in the otherworldly events surrounding the death of his father.

Meet Ben Dane: brilliant, devastating, devoted, honest to a fault (truly, a fault). His Broadway theater baron father is dead–but by purpose or accident? The question rips him apart.

Unable to face alone his mother’s ghastly remarriage to his uncle, Ben turns to his dearest friend, Horatio Patel, whom he hasn’t seen since their relationship changed forever from platonic to something…other. Loyal to a fault (truly, a fault), Horatio is on the first flight to NYC when he finds himself next to a sly tailor who portends inevitable disaster. And who seems ominously like an architect of mayhem himself.

Meanwhile, Ben’s ex-fiancé Lia, sundered her from her loved ones thanks to her addiction recovery and torn from her art, has been drawn into the fold of three florists from New Orleans–seemingly ageless sisters who teach her the language of flowers, and whose magical bouquets hold both curses and cures. For a price.

On one explosive night these kinetic forces will collide, and the only possible outcome is death. But in the masterful hands of Lyndsay Faye, the story we all know has abundant surprises in store. Impish, captivating, and achingly romantic, this is Hamlet as you’ve never seen it before.

Better Luck Next Time by Julia Claiborne Johnson

I have been anxiously awaiting Julia’s follow up to Be Frank With Me for five years and am happy to report that this is a very strong sophomore novel. I knew nothing of divorce ranches before reading, and the characters all leapt off the page and right into my heart (and I’ll always have a soft spot for a female aviator!)

Sarah

The dazzling second novel from the bestselling author of Be Frank with Me, a charming story of endings, new beginnings, and the complexities and complications of friendship and love, set in late 1930s Reno.

It’s 1938 and women seeking a quick, no-questions split from their husbands head to the “divorce capital of the world,” Reno, Nevada. There’s one catch: they have to wait six-weeks to become “residents.” Many of these wealthy, soon-to-be divorcees flock to the Flying Leap, a dude ranch that caters to their every need. 

Twenty-four-year-old Ward spent one year at Yale before his family lost everything in the Great Depression; now he’s earning an honest living as a ranch hand at the Flying Leap. Admired for his dashing good looks—“Cary Grant in cowboy boots”—Ward thinks he’s got the Flying Leap’s clients all figured out. But two new guests are about to upend everything he thinks he knows: Nina, a St Louis heiress and amateur pilot back for her third divorce, and Emily, whose bravest moment in life was leaving her cheating husband back in San Francisco and driving herself to Reno.

A novel about divorce, marriage, and everything that comes in between (money, class, ambition, and opportunity), Better Luck Next Time is a hilarious yet poignant examination of the ways friendship can save us, love can destroy us, and the family we create can be stronger than the family we come from.

The Arsonists’ City by Hala Alyan

A heartbreaking and beautiful story, with a beginning that will make you gasp in horror but make you want nothing more than to keep reading, THE ARSONISTS’ CITY is a book everyone should read and no one will forget. With expert writing and vivid detail, Hala Alyan brings to life Beirut, the struggles and horrors of the middle east, and the complexities of family and love. An absolute must read.

Marielle

A rich family story, a personal look at the legacy of war in the Middle East, and an indelible rendering of how we hold on to the people and places we call home

The Nasr family is spread across the globe—Beirut, Brooklyn, Austin, the California desert. A Syrian mother, a Lebanese father, and three American children: all have lived a life of migration. Still, they’ve always had their ancestral home in Beirut—a constant touchstone—and the complicated, messy family love that binds them. But following his father’s recent death, Idris, the family’s new patriarch, has decided to sell.

The decision brings the family to Beirut, where everyone unites against Idris in a fight to save the house. They all have secrets—lost loves, bitter jealousies, abandoned passions, deep-set shame—that distance has helped smother. But in a city smoldering with the legacy of war, an ongoing flow of refugees, religious tension, and political protest, those secrets ignite, imperiling the fragile ties that hold this family together.

In a novel teeming with wisdom, warmth, and characters born of remarkable human insight, award-winning author Hala Alyan shows us again that “fiction is often the best filter for the real world around us” (NPR).

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert

This is an entertaining novel, set in the 1940’s, from the author of Eat, Pray, Love. Vivian, who is 95 years old, is looking back and reflecting upon her life. At the age of 19 she was kicked out of Vassar because she did not attend class. So, her parents send her to New York City to live with her eccentric aunt who runs a playhouse and here Vivian is quickly embraced by the theater community and meets an interesting cast of characters.

Pam

Beloved author Elizabeth Gilbert returns to fiction with a unique love story set in the New York City theater world during the 1940s. Told from the perspective of an older woman as she looks back on her youth with both pleasure and regret (but mostly pleasure), City of Girls explores themes of female sexuality and promiscuity, as well as the idiosyncrasies of true love.

In 1940, nineteen-year-old Vivian Morris has just been kicked out of Vassar College, owing to her lackluster freshman-year performance. Her affluent parents send her to Manhattan to live with her Aunt Peg, who owns a flamboyant, crumbling midtown theater called the Lily Playhouse. There Vivian is introduced to an entire cosmos of unconventional and charismatic characters, from the fun-chasing showgirls to a sexy male actor, a grand-dame actress, a lady-killer writer, and no-nonsense stage manager. But when Vivian makes a personal mistake that results in professional scandal, it turns her new world upside down in ways that it will take her years to fully understand. Ultimately, though, it leads her to a new understanding of the kind of life she craves – and the kind of freedom it takes to pursue it. It will also lead to the love of her life, a love that stands out from all the rest.

Now eighty-nine years old and telling her story at last, Vivian recalls how the events of those years altered the course of her life – and the gusto and autonomy with which she approached it. “At some point in a woman’s life, she just gets tired of being ashamed all the time,” she muses. “After that, she is free to become whoever she truly is.” Written with a powerful wisdom about human desire and connection, City of Girls is a love story like no other.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

I think Mary Ann and Annie pull off their epistolary novel magnificently, and, like our protagonist/primary letter writer Juliet, I found myself fully immersed in the story of the one member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society who is not still on the island in 1946, the year the letters are all exchanged. It is definitely worth a read, or a listen, and takes the tried and true WWII novel and gives it an interesting spin.

Sarah

“I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb. . . .

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

Christmas at the Island Hotel by Jenny Colgan

I love Jenny Colgan, Scotland and a warm hearted Christmas novel that makes you feel like you’re curling up with a snuggly blanket and mug of hot chocolate. Or better yet, curl up with a snuggly blanket and mug of hot chocolate while reading this book! A lighthearted read, perfect to cold winter nights, I’m convinced one can never go wrong with a book by, as I call her, the British Elin Hilderbrand.

Sarah

Another heartfelt and delightful Christmas tale from the beloved New York Times bestselling author of The Bookshop on the Corner and Christmas on the Island.

New York Times bestselling author Jenny Colgan returns to the setting of Christmas on the Island and Endless Beach for a heartwarming new novel celebrating the season, and Scotland.

On the tiny, beautiful, and remote island of Mure, halfway between Scotland and Norway, a new hotel opening is a big event. New mother Flora MacKenzie and her brother Fintan are working themselves half to death to get it ready in time for Christmas. 

The new hotel’s impressive kitchens throw together two unlikely new friends: Isla Gregor is the hardworking young girl who has been a waitress in the island’s cafe, dreaming of a bigger, better life now that she’s at a proper fancy hotel. Konstantin Pederson is working his way up in the hotel’s kitchens too…but he is also, secretly, the only son of the Duke of Utsire. Konstantin has been sent to learn what it is to work hard for a living, before receiving his inheritance. Although he’s initially resentful, the place grows on him; he has never met anyone quite like Isla and her fellow Murians before. 

As the island’s residents and special VIP guests gather for the hotel’s grand opening gala, Christmas is in the air. But so are more than a few small-town secrets…

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union by Michael Chabon

A fascinating what if book that examines one of the most contentiuous areas in the world. What if the Slattery Report had been supported by the United States and followed though on creating a semiautonomous Jewish state, in Alaska. The Yiddish Policeman’s Union is a murder mystery as well as a cultural examinatoin of what makes us different, what unites us, what extremes people are willing to go to protect themselves when they feel they are alone, and who should be trusted. An absolute gem of a read this is a great little standalone novel!

Drew

The New York Times bestseller, now available in paperback—an excellent, hyperliterate, genre-pantsing detective novel that deserves every inch of its…blockbuster superfame” (New York).

For sixty years Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a “temporary” safe haven created in the wake of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. The Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. But now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end.

Homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. And in the cheap hotel where Landsman has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under his nose. When he begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy, word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, and Landsman finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.

At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen’s Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written.

The Music of Bees by Eileen Garvin

Comparing this book to Eleanor Oliphant left me a bit skeptical, but the comparison is fair and I’d even say that The Music of Bees stands on its own beautifully. Add in some interesting facts on bees and heartwarming stories of lovable, offbeat characters and you have a winner.

Pat Rudebusch, Orinda Books, Orinda, CA

Three lonely strangers in a rural Oregon town, each working through grief and life’s curveballs, are brought together by happenstance on a local honeybee farm where they find surprising friendship, healing–and maybe even a second chance–just when they least expect it.

Forty-four-year-old Alice Holtzman is stuck in a dead-end job, bereft of family, and now reeling from the unexpected death of her husband. Alice has begun having panic attacks whenever she thinks about how her life hasn’t turned out the way she dreamed. Even the beloved honeybees she raises in her spare time aren’t helping her feel better these days.

In the grip of a panic attack, she nearly collides with Jake–a troubled, paraplegic teenager with the tallest mohawk in Hood River County–while carrying 120,000 honeybees in the back of her pickup truck. Charmed by Jake’s sincere interest in her bees and seeking to rescue him from his toxic home life, Alice surprises herself by inviting Jake to her farm.

And then there’s Harry, a twenty-four-year-old with debilitating social anxiety who is desperate for work. When he applies to Alice’s ad for part-time farm help, he’s shocked to find himself hired. As an unexpected friendship blossoms among Alice, Jake, and Harry, a nefarious pesticide company moves to town, threatening the local honeybee population and illuminating deep-seated corruption in the community. The unlikely trio must unite for the sake of the bees–and in the process, they just might forge a new future for themselves.

Beautifully moving, warm, and uplifting, The Music of Bees is about the power of friendship, compassion in the face of loss, and finding the courage to start over (at any age) when things don’t turn out the way you expect.

Madam by Phoebe Wynne

Discover the secrets of Caldonbrae Hall in this riveting, modern gothic debut set at an all girls’ boarding school perched on a craggy Scottish peninsula.

For 150 years, high above rocky Scottish cliffs, Caldonbrae Hall has sat untouched, a beacon of excellence in an old ancestral castle. A boarding school for girls, it promises that the young women lucky enough to be admitted will emerge “resilient and ready to serve society.”

Into its illustrious midst steps Rose Christie: a 26-year-old Classics teacher, Caldonbrae’s new head of the department, and the first hire for the school in over a decade. At first, Rose is overwhelmed to be invited into this institution, whose prestige is unrivaled. But she quickly discovers that behind the school’s elitist veneer lies an impenetrable, starkly traditional culture that she struggles to reconcile with her modernist beliefs–not to mention her commitment to educating “girls for the future.”

It also doesn’t take long for Rose to suspect that there’s more to the secret circumstances surrounding the abrupt departure of her predecessor–a woman whose ghost lingers everywhere–than anyone is willing to let on. In her search for this mysterious former teacher, Rose instead uncovers the darkness that beats at the heart of Caldonbrae, forcing her to confront the true extent of the school’s nefarious purpose, and her own role in perpetuating it.

A darkly feminist tale pitched against a haunting backdrop, and populated by an electrifying cast of heroines, Madam will keep readers engrossed until the breathtaking conclusion.

They want our silence…
They want our obedience…
Let them see our fire burn

A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

Nao, a suicidal Japanese girl, postpones her death as she grows closer to her 104-year-old great-grandmother, a Buddhist nun. Ruth, an American author with writer’s block, discovers a diary washed ashore on her remote island in the Pacific Northwest. Ruth becomes obsessed with Nao and her diary, and readers will be drawn in as their stories intertwine. Ozeki’s creatively constructed novel, complete with footnotes, Japanese characters, and appendices, will have readers marveling at the leaps in time and connection that bring the two women together in this witty, daring, and thoughtful novel.

Cheryl Krocker McKeon, Book Passage, San Francisco, CA

In Tokyo, sixteen-year-old Nao has decided there’s only one escape from her aching loneliness and her classmates’ bullying. But before she ends it all, Nao first plans to document the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. A diary is Nao’s only solace—and will touch lives in ways she can scarcely imagine. Across the Pacific, we meet Ruth, a novelist living on a remote island who discovers a collection of artifacts washed ashore in a Hello Kitty lunchbox—possibly debris from the devastating 2011 tsunami. As the mystery of its contents unfolds, Ruth is pulled into the past, into Nao’s drama and her unknown fate, and forward into her own future.

Full of Ozeki’s signature humor and deeply engaged with the relationship between writer and reader, past and present, fact and fiction, quantum physics, history, and myth, A Tale for the Time Being is a brilliantly inventive, beguiling story of our shared humanity and the search for home.

The Slaughterman’s Daughter by Yaniv Iczkovits

An irresistible, picaresque tale of two Jewish sisters in late-nineteenth-century Russia, The Slaughterman’s Daughter is filled with “boundless imagination and a vibrant style” (David Grossman).
 
With her reputation as a vilde chaya (wild animal), Fanny Keismann isn’t like the other women in her shtetl in the Pale of Settlement—certainly not her obedient and anxiety-ridden sister, Mende, whose “philosopher” of a husband, Zvi-Meir, has run off to Minsk, abandoning her and their two children.
 
As a young girl, Fanny felt an inexorable pull toward her father’s profession of ritual slaughterer and, under his reluctant guidance, became a master with a knife. And though she long ago gave up that unsuitable profession—she’s now the wife of a cheesemaker and a mother of five—Fanny still keeps the knife tied to her right leg. Which might come in handy when, heedless of the dangers facing a Jewish woman traveling alone in czarist Russia, she sets off to track down Zvi-Meir and bring him home, with the help of the mute and mysterious ferryman Zizek Breshov, an ex-soldier with his own sensational past.
 
Yaniv Iczkovits spins a family drama into a far-reaching comedy of errors that will pit the czar’s army against the Russian secret police and threaten the very foundations of the Russian Empire. The Slaughterman’s Daughter is a rollicking and unforgettable work of fiction.

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

A mesmerizing debut novel for fans of Madeline Miller’s Circe.

Ariadne, Princess of Crete, grows up greeting the dawn from her beautiful dancing floor and listening to her nursemaid’s stories of gods and heroes. But beneath her golden palace echo the ever-present hoofbeats of her brother, the Minotaur, a monster who demands blood sacrifice.

When Theseus, Prince of Athens, arrives to vanquish the beast, Ariadne sees in his green eyes not a threat but an escape. Defying the gods, betraying her family and country, and risking everything for love, Ariadne helps Theseus kill the Minotaur. But will Ariadne’s decision ensure her happy ending? And what of Phaedra, the beloved younger sister she leaves behind?

Hypnotic, propulsive, and utterly transporting, Jennifer Saint’s Ariadne forges a new epic, one that puts the forgotten women of Greek mythology back at the heart of the story, as they strive for a better world.

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