My mom used to yell at me to come out from the other side of the bed and play with my friends who had come over to visit. It wasn't that I didn't want to play; it was just that a book, pretty much any book, had caught my attention and carried me away. A reader since I was old enough to hold a book, it never occurred to me that a person could actually have a JOB where books and people could come together and one could actually earn money doing it. A brief stint at Waldenbooks at the old Crossroads Mall in Salt Lake City cemented my love for working in a bookstore. Even processing "returns" was fascinating to me. Next came a job at the circulation desk at the Salt Lake City public library which was really fun but not the same as retail. Many years and two kids later I found myself back in Salt Lake. The King's English has been my home away from home for almost 20 years now and I can't imagine doing anything else.
An unusual debut that has it all including an Irish countryside that is not emerald green and lovely to behold. Rather it is stark and full of hidden agendas that don't become clear until the very end of this terrific novel. I defy you to see the end of this one coming.
While this is billed as a novel, it seems largely the true story of Ayad Akhtar and his life as a Pakistani American up until about 2018. Asked where he is from in the story, he says, Wisconsin, which is true and yet his South Asian culture is never far from if not him, certainly his relatives. An astute and studied observer of people, Akhtar understood the implications both near- and far-reaching of 9/11 and has spent a lifetime thinking about it. A celebrated playwright, Ahktar is best at taking a topic such as racism or wealth or both of those topics together and turning them on their heads. He never takes the easy path; this is a story you have to think about as you read and I found myself the richer for it.
Remember these names: Gloria, Corinne, Debra Ann, Ginny, Mary Rose, Glory, Suzanne, and Karla. This story takes place in Odessa, Texas in the mid-‘70s and maybe the small-town oil patches were worse places than others for women but really, weren’t most places? Aren’t many places still? One terrible thing happens to Gloria and everyone else for miles around is left to interpret it as they see fit. Over the course of this amazing debut novel we get to know each of these females in their own voices and they are strong and sad and funny and you find yourself rooting for each and every one of them to get what they want whether it’s in Texas or far, far away.
It’s the late 1950s. The Korean War is over, and Vietnam is getting started. For brothers, Julius and Lee, newly home on leave, getting out of Kansas and starting anew in San Diego means the beginning of the American Dream. For Lee, it’s his new wife, Muriel and the promise of a house in the suburbs. For Julius, it’s less clear. These were still early days in the West; folks were watching atomic bombs blow up from the tops of hotels on Fremont street in Las Vegas, and decency laws still lived on the books and in people’s minds. As we follow Julius and Muriel alternately, we see two people, part of the Greatest Generation, trying to be true to themselves.
Over the course of 24 hours in a small Mississippi college town, our protagonist, Lou, picks up and drops off a wild and crazy array of folks who need a cab, either because they don’t have car, are drunk or planning to be, or are literally sick. As in, they are leaving the hospital and going either home or back to prison, it’s hard to tell with these people. What is clear is that Lou is too nice to be a taxi driver. He lets people cheat him out of money, convince him to drive them way out of his jurisdiction, wait while they have surgey (yes, the hospital bit) or just plain mistreat him. What will also be clear to you is that you will wish with all your heart that your next Uber driver is as great as Lou.
“The Sinaloa cartel thanks you…” Rice Morton isn’t who he appears to be. Charged with protecting a wildlife preserve deep in the remote Virginia forest, he can stay hidden. He’s just beginning to relax when he’s lead to a bear carcass and so begins a crusade against the poachers—a crusade that may prove his undoing. His do-it-yourself witsec program is no match for the cartel he’s bloodied the nose of, and an aggrieved FBI agent is pointing the cartel right at him. – Paula Longhurst
If you take the true grit of Mattie Ross and mix it with the disguises and daring-do of the Scarlet Pimpernel you get a glimpse of Jessilyn Harney in this amazing novel of the West when gunslingers were for hire and politics didn't look too different from the way they look today. After caring for her father until his death, Jess loads the only thing left to her, his rifle, and sets off to look for her runaway older brother. She doesn’t have to look too long or too far; he’s created quite a name for himself as an outlaw with a Robin Hood streak to his talents. I loved this story of the lengths people will go to to protect their families, blood-related or not.
Take a Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi scheme, a chic and difficult-to-get-to hotel on Vancouver Island, a touch of fantasy and a very diverse cast of characters and you’ve got what Emily St. John Mandel does so well…creates a narrative that grips you on page one and keeps you on tenterhooks until the last page. I know we often say we go back and start a book over after we finish but this one I really did flip over and begin again because I wanted to experience it anew. It’s run like a newsreel through my imagination ever since I finished it (the second time)!
A young girl and boy, step-siblings by marriage, are on the verge of adulthood and more. Add in missing fingers, mounting mah jong debts, a loyal house-boy, a were-tiger and more and you have a fantastical tale of magical realism in Malaysia in the early 1930's. Such a fun read!
Over the decades, Anne Tyler’s characters have become my friends. From the early days of Cody, Jenny, and Ezra in Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant to Macon Leary in The Accidental Tourist and more recently, Willa Drake in Clock Dance. They each offer a piece of themselves that I keep with me and smile when remembering their stories. And now we meet Micah Mortimer, a nice enough fellow but one so wedded to his routine that it threatens to undo even the tiniest bit of happiness thrust his way. An IT expert, he could make more money if he just upped his game a bit. He has a nice girlfriend who is looking for a little more but that would mean getting out of his routine for sure. He’s a chicken on Monday, fish on Friday kind of guy; so what happens when a teenager materializes at his back door claiming to be his son? You’ll have to become friends with Micah to find out!
Ruth Young’s father, professor Howard Young is in the early stages of dementia. Her mother has asked her to come home, for a year maybe, to help, and since her fiancé has left her for another woman, Ruth decides she might as well. She loves her father but he hasn’t always been faithful to her mother so she’s conflicted. But life is not black and white and when her father’s teaching assistant asks her to help him create a “pretend” class for her dad to teach, Ruth goes along with it. In the process, she learns that while the mind forgets some things, the heart doesn’t and love and forgiveness matter more than anything. This is Khong’s first novel and it’s both funny and sad; I loved it.
Ajatashatru Oghash Rathod, the fakir, flies from Rajasthan, India to Paris to purchase the Hertsyörbåk bed of nails advertised for a mere €99 by IKEA. Unfortunately, that model is out of stock until the next morning. Fortunately for the reader, Aja opts to spend the night in the “bedroom” section of the giant store and so his adventure begins. In a wild series of mistaken identities, misunderstandings, and pure mishaps, our fakir ends up traveling all over Western Europe (and Africa!) in a variety of contraptions including a hot air balloon. What could be contrived in less capable hands, is instead a lovely novel of the journey to find a bed and finding so much more.
Different from so many post-apocalyptic stories in that it feels like it could really happen. It's a time not too far in the future and basically, we have ruined everything for this new generation. Military service on the Wall is demanded of these young people. It's cold, unforgiving, and dangerous. I was immersed in this story and then, glad to be out of it, and in a warm house. Lanchester is a master of setting the stage and then inviting you into the scene.
In her first novel for adults, Jacqueline Woodson writes a very real story of four young girls growing up in Brooklyn in the ‘70s. And it may be a story about being black but it felt universal to me. August is a young woman coming of age and coming in to her power, and she understands some things and wonders mightily about others. But in the meantime, she does her homework, says no to boys when she needs to and goes off to college when some of her friends make other choices or have choices made for them. It’s the old adage, “We are all different, we are all alike”. I would have loved to have been friends with August.
Even Frank’s mother calls him a “character” and from the novel’s opening pages it’s clear the label fits. Everything about the 9-year-old, from the clothes he wears to his encyclopedic knowledge of the early days of Hollywood (and a little of everything else) is intriguing, and will have you eagerly turning the pages, dying to know what he’ll come up with next. Frank’s mother, Mimi, is on deadline to deliver a manuscript that doesn’t seem to be happening. The publisher sends its Gal Friday, Alice Whitley, to “help” Mimi finish the book. Mimi adamantly doesn’t want help and Frank needs help, or supervision anyway. So Frank and Alice are left to their own devices while the typewriter keeps up a clickety clack behind the closed door of Mimi’s office. Revealing too much about the plot would only ruin the surprise and delight that await you.