The Promise of Space and Other Stories by James Patrick Kelly
I’m really not a huge sci-fi reader, but I enjoyed this collection very much! Kelly is skilled at short stories, and several of these tales blend genres. Really fun, thought-provoking, and entertaining!
The Anonymous Girl by Greer Hendricks
“When Jessica Farris signs up for a psychology study conducted by the mysterious Dr. Shields, she thinks all she’ll have to do is answer a few questions, collect her money, and leave. But as the questions grow more intense and invasive and the sessions become outings where Jess is told what to wear and how to act, she begins to feel as though Dr. Shields may know what she’s thinking…and what she’s hiding.” (jacket description)
Maine Becomes a State: The Movement to Separate Maine from Massachusetts by Ronald F. Banks
A very timely book with the upcoming bicentennial!
Midnight Chicken began as a blog, where Risbridger used cooking, writing, and feeding herself and those she loved as a way to pull herself out of a depression. Her recipes are the type of cooking you can do “a little bit drunk,” the cozy kind, the after-work kind. It’s food that you can craft out of what you have in your pantry or fridge.
But this is more than a cookbook. Recipes are included, of course, but it’s the writing style and the emotions that really pull you in.
Risbridger’s writing is so elegant and evocative, you feel that you’ve been pulled from a scene whenever you put the book down, and you remember the imagery as if you were there. Her descriptions of London fog, of sitting at the table as a child and looking at next door’s chickens, it’s all so gorgeously rendered.
And then there’s the depiction of food! I’ve read and enjoyed lots of food writers, bloggers, and cookbook authors, and Risbridger is truly my kitchen soulmate.
Elisa Cunningham’s art is perfect, too:
If you need even a little saving, as we all do sometimes, give this book a try. You can also read Risbridger’s writing over at her blog, Eating With My Fingers, if you’re like me and wanted more of her work.
IT’S OFFICIALLY SUMMER!! For all your summer reading needs, here are our staff favorites of the year so far. Enjoy by the lake, by the pool, in a hammock, on the porch, at the beach, and wherever else your summer takes you!
The Invited by Jennifer McMahon
1861: The Civil War Awakening by Adam Goodheart
Neck and Neck by Elise Parsley (picture book)
The Truth as Told By Mason Buttle by Leslie Connor (middle grades)
The Traitor Prince by C.J. Redwine (young adult)
It’s Not Yet Dark by Simon Fitzmaurice (adult memoir)
The Line Becomes a River by Francisco Cantu
Educated by Tara Westover
The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Sudden Sea: The Great Hurricane of 1938 by R.A. Scotti
Island of the Mad by Laurie R. King
The Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness
Circe by Madeline Miller
The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith
Circe by Madeline Miller
The Library Book by Susan Orlean
Miss Kopp Just Won’t Quit by Amy Stewart
I love the Kopp sisters novels–I’d somehow missed this one! In this installment it’s 1916 and an election year, and Constance Kopp will soon find herself working (or not) for a new sheriff. Her relationship with Sheriff Heath and the ins and outs of the election make up the meat of the story, though Kopp also has to rescue a woman falsely committed to an asylum. The ending has the sisters facing a new adventure and an uncertain future on the brink of war. Another wonderful entry in the series, can’t wait for the next!
Stella Fortuna is either the luckiest or unluckiest person in the world–she’s survived seven (or eight, depending how you count) near-death experiences. Now nearly a century old, her last near-death experience in 1988 left her partially lobotomized and hating her younger sister, Tina. Our narrator sets out to hear about the family history and try to uncover why this rift happened.
The tone is very chatty, very much the feeling of sitting at a kitchen table and hearing gossipy and dramatic family stories. Our narrator is never identified by name, but she’s one of Stella’s granddaughters, and the whole book leaves you feeling that you’re being let in on family secrets, some of them very dark and sad.
The characters, Stella especially, are great. Because of the family story aspect, there’s something almost mythical about them. There’s a bit of distance, and all of their attributes, good and bad, are larger than life. Grames sets this tone in her family tree included at the beginning of the book, with her little notes on who each character is (and thank goodness for that family tree! It’s essential for keeping everyone straight).
Grames richly describes her settings, from Calabria’s mountain villages to immigrant neighborhoods in Connecticut. There’s great texture to her storytelling, a wonderful sense of place.
This novel is also about the immigrant experience, an incredibly timely topic. Speaking to us in the present, the narrator mentions how now there are immigrants desperate to get into Italy, instead of out of it. The times and places change, but not the reasons for immigrating or the need for basic humanity and compassion.
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna is a compelling read with slightly larger than life characters, a fun tone and humor even in the darker parts, and a novel to really immerse yourself in.
In 1969, local golden boy Chase Andrews is found dead in the marsh outside Barkley Cove, North Carolina. Immediately the locals suspect Kya Clark, who is known as the “Marsh Girl.” As the investigation into Chase’s death occurs in the present, the narrative also explores Kya’s childhood and the experiences that led to her solitary life in the marsh.
Owens’ writing is so wonderfully evocative. She writes of the North Carolina marshes and coast with such love and admiration for its beauty and creatures. Even the human beings who inhabit it, set apart from the rest of the community, command a sort of respect and mystery. There’s a great sense of the small-town and all of its characters and history, too.
Kya is a resourceful, tough person–you’d have to be, after being abandoned in the swamp as a very young kid. But she finds beauty and hope and fulfillment in her solitary life. Less solitary, of course, after she becomes friends with a local boy named Tate, who teaches her to read, and then later, when she becomes acquainted with Chase Andrews. And from there, it’s a “did she or didn’t she” mystery as far as Kya’s role in Chase’s death.
There’s a real sense of magic to this story of a tough rural girl’s coming of age, and the lengths she’ll go to to keep herself safe. The stand-out part of the novel is the perfect sense of place and the depiction of Kya’s life out in the wild, where the crawdads sing.
Motherhood by Sheila Heti
This reflective novel is about a woman in her thirties who is trying to make a smart and moral decision about whether or not to have children. She uses everything from I Ching coin flips to introspective musing to conversations with others to try to make her choice. Heti’s observations and insights about the question of motherhood really ring true. A novel that will make you think and consider, whether you’re a mom or not.
Helen and Nate have decided to fulfill a dream–they’re going to build a house from the ground up with their own hands on a piece of land they’ve purchased in a tiny town in Vermont. Soon they learn that their land once belonged to a woman named Hattie back in the early 1900’s. Hattie was feared by the townspeople, so much so that they hanged her as a witch right on the property.
Helen, a history teacher, is fascinated by the story, and decides to learn more. And the more she uncovers the more obsessed she becomes with Hattie and her secrets. She even begins collecting objects for her house that are connected to Hattie, in hopes that she might conjure up some spirits.
The spirit of Hattie and her female relatives thread all through the story. As one character puts it, there’s magic in their veins. As always, though, McMahon has a pretty light touch with the supernatural and spooky elements–it’s there, but the focus really is on the all-too-human characters. She populates this small Vermont town with recognizable people, both past and present.
McMahon’s writing is incredibly vivid, and very rich in detail. You don’t want to miss a well-crafted sentence when you’re reading her books, and her scene-setting is amazing. The mystery she crafts in The Invited is compelling, too, just as much as the spooky scenes out in the bog.
The Invited is a different kind of haunted house story. If you liked The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters, give this a look!
Our unnamed narrator and his beautiful wife, Millicent, have found a great way to spice up their 15-year marriage: they murder young women and then devise ways to get away with it.
The couple has a nice house in the Florida suburbs. He’s a tennis pro, she’s a realtor. They have a son and a daughter. And both Millicent and her husband are stone cold in their own ways. Yet, since we’re in the husband’s head the whole time and hearing the story from his point of view, his necessary charm and ease come across really well, and you see why he’s so good at his half of what he and his wife are up to.
I don’t want to give away too much of this plot, because so much depends on surprises and twists and turns. I was enthralled the whole way through, and, as I said, the narrator is great–totally absorbing and convincing, and oh so charming, so good at appearing sympathetic. And so twisted.
The dynamic of their marriage is a fascinating one to read about. The husband projects so much onto Millicent, makes her into an almost other-worldly creature rather than a human woman, that you are left wondering what she’s really like. It’s another nice, unsettling touch to an already unreliable narrator.
The pace of this thriller is fantastic. It’s compelling all the way through, rockets through the last third, and the ending is a punch. Downing keeps up the suspense and never bogs the story down. Every detail is well-placed and the writing itself is very evocative, filled with mounting tension. There’s some great family detail as well, though, and some well-placed black humor. It’s not gory or explicit, either.
If you like Gillian Flynn’s books, give this one a try!