Greg and Erika Read…A Separation, by Katie Kitamura

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A Separation, a new novel by Katie Kitamura out this week, is an incredibly well-written, “introspective thriller” about a failed marriage. Erika and I both loved it!

Erika made it her pick of the week this week. She says:

With this quietly powerful novel about the end of a marriage, Kitamura establishes herself as not only a perceptive observer of human feelings, but a writer of real emotional range and depth.  Our narrator has mostly moved on from her marriage to a charismatic but flawed man…but when her estranged husband goes missing, she travels there to find him, and in the process, confronts her own complicated feeling about their relationship.  Kitamura manages to strike a balance between thoughtful introspection and coolly-removed examination of a sad event, and the result feels fresh, precised and above all, memorable.

I couldn’t agree more about Kitamura being a perceptive observer, and a writer with real range. These were two of my favorite aspects of this novel, as well. Here are my thoughts:

Katie Kitamura’s novel about a failed marriage isn’t like Gone Girl or any of the other tent poles of the recent entries into the “bad romance” genre. This is a wholly unique take on this type of novel, and it’s really terrific.

A Separation is a slow-burning, introspective, and incredibly astutely observed look at a relationship that has gone sour. It’s the story of an unnamed narrator and her husband Christopher, Londoners who have separated, ostensibly due to Christopher’s multiple infidelities.

Christopher has gone to Greece to work on a book, and then promptly disappeared. Christopher’s mother Isabel — a domineering, annoying woman who never warmed to the narrator because she “stole” her son — calls our narrator and asks her to go to Greece to find Christoper. Isabel doesn’t know the two have separated, and the narrator chooses to keep that secret.

So to keep up appearances, off to Greece she goes to find her soon-to-be-ex-husband. While she’s there, she begins to slowly reconsider her separation — or at least try to better parse her feelings for it and for Christopher, now that they’re even more separated than they were before. She literally has no idea where he is — didn’t even know he’d gone to Greece. What’s happened to him? Will she find him? Has he taken even more extraordinary means than are usually necessary to separate himself from her? Or is he just on another tawdry tryst?

Part of what makes this novel special is that it’s a novel about ambiguity, but told in language so precise and carefully chosen. Kitamura is an amazingly talented writer — her narrator can spend several pages watching a conversation between two people, describing their facial expressions and cadence, and tell us what she thinks they’re talking about. And it’s fascinating! But again, this is not a novel you’ll confuse with a thriller. Watching the introspection, watching her her puzzle things out as best she can with incomplete, indeed, ambiguous information is truly the strength of this great read.

Despite the commonality of failed relationships, this is also a novel about subverting what’s normal, what’s expected. To further this notion, the narrator tells a brief story about a friend who went on a date with a man she really liked. At the end of the night, he invites her up “for coffee.” Instead of inventing an excuse, she tells him she can’t because she’s on her period, which is actually true. On the surface, it’s a hilarious non-sequitur. But everyone knows coffee doesn’t mean coffee — only her friend has subverted the purposeful ambiguity of what it means to be invited up for coffee. The guy never calls her back.

It’s little touches like these that makes this a really terrific reading experience. There is a lot going on in this slim, taut novel, many themes (grief, loyalty, and whether monogamy is still pragmatic) intersect and augment each other. It’s a savagely smart and masterfully crafted novel — very highly recommended.

(Note: My post first appeared on my book blog, The New Dork Review of Books.)

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RoscoeBooks’ Favorite Immigrant Novels

immigrant-novels

One modest sliver of silver lining to the divisive state of our current politics is that many great backlist novels are getting second looks. Sure, that’s true for dystopian tomes like 1984 and Brave New World. But it’s also true for immigrant and refugee stories. If it’s true that reading engenders empathy (and we’re absolutely positive it does), then what better time to learn more about the lives of immigrants, to understand their trials and tribulations, and to reflect upon our own privilege.

So, to that end, we present our favorite novels about the immigrant experience.

Erika

middlesexMiddlesex, by Jeffrey EugenidesEugenides’ Pulitzer-winning masterpiece is a story about so many things, but it begins as the story of a Greek-American immigrant family, who comes to this country and settles in the Detroit area in the 1920s. Over the years, multiple generations of the Stephanides family witness everything from Prohibition to gentrification to the notorious Detroit race riots, all while trying to reconcile their own family’s history and their place in the larger world. This book is gorgeously written, and likely one of the most memorable things you will ever read.

behold-the-dreamersBehold the Dreamers, by Imbolo MbueMbue’s perceptive and utterly readable debut novel tells the tale of Jende and Neni Jonga, a Cameroonian immigrant couple who move to NYC in the middle of the last decade and attempt to carve out their piece of the American Dream, despite the looming recession, complicated relationships with Jende’s employers, and the constant threat of deportation. Mbue, herself a Cameroonian immigrant, isn’t afraid to give her characters real psychological depth, and the result is a modern-day immigration story that everyone should read.

Wayne

the-amazing-adventuresThe Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay, by Micheal Chabon — The story of Sam Clay and Joe Kavalier and their creation, the comic book creations The Escapist is the story of art and public life in the middle of The American Century.  But it couldn’t be that without it also being the story of Joe Kavalier, a refugee from Nazi Germany, who’s escape from certain death in his country inspires and haunts him throughout the story and leaves the reader with the idea that an essential part of the American story is the story of immigrants.

the-lazarus-projectThe Lazarus Project, by Aleksandar Hemon — Hemon is an Bosnian who got stranded in Chicago when the US led NATO forces bombed Kosovo in 1999.  He has lived here since, started a writing career and has become a staple of the Chicago and American Literary Scene. This novel follows Brik, a Serbian novelist living in Chicago and researching the shooting of Eastern European immigrant Lazarus Averbuch, under the assumption that he was an anarchist assassin.  This  is a fantastic and powerful novel  that plays with the idea of immigration, and whether the immigrant can ever be accepted by those in power.

Kelsey

inside-out-and-back-againInside Out & Back Again, by Thanhha Lai — This is an award-winning, semi-autobiographical novel told in spare, beautiful verse. It is told from the perspective of 10-year-old Ha, who lives with her family in Vietnam until they are forced to flee when the Vietnam War arrives on their doorstep. Ha remains hopeful as her family spends week sailing to an unknown land, and eventually ends up in Alabama, where she struggles to fit in and find her place in her new home. Lai’s book is an epic, but deeply personal account of displacement told with grace and empathy, and well-deserving of a read.

Greg

interpreter-of-maladiesAll of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novels, short stories — For my money, nobody writes more eloquently and relatably about the immigrant experience than Lahiri does in her two novels, The Namesake and The Lowland, and her two short story collections Unaccustomed Earth and (Pulitzer-winning) Interpreter of Maladies (“A Temporary Matter,” the first story in this collection, is one of my favorite short stories of all time.)  I really love all four of these books — Lahiri writes as clearly, as evocatively, and as smartly as anyone.

the-book-of-unknown-americansThe Book of Unknown Americans, by Cristina Henriquez — Simply put, this is a novel EVERY American should read. It tells the stories of several immigrant narrators from several Central American countries who all live in the same apartment building in Delaware. There are struggles, there is teenage love, there is heartbreak. But the strength of this novel is Henriquez’s ability to get readers to empathize and understand these characters. And ultimately the point is this, as expressed simply and eloquently by the immigrant landlord of the apartment building: “I know some people here think we’re trying to take over, but we just want to be a part of it. We want to have our stake. This is our home, too.”

Chelka

the-unamericansThe UnAmericans, by Molly Antopol — I typically find it difficult to care about the characters in short stories, making it hard to care about the plot. But somehow, Molly Antopol manages to convey her characters’ personalities, triumphs, challenges, and moral dilemmas authentically in a short amount of time. I found myself engrossed in these tales, even as I claim to be a short story hater! This book’s awards are well-deserved.

 

 

Some other favorites: The Infinite, by Nicholas Mainieri; The Sleepwalker’s Guide To Dancing, by Mira Jacob; Americanah, by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie; All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu; Open City, by Teju Cole; Everything I Never Told You, by Celeste Ng. And so many others.

We fully realize this is an incredibly small sampling of the vast number of immigrant novels out there. If you’d like to check out longer lists, here is a great collection from Buzzfeed,  and a very recent one specifically about refugees from the NY Times.

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RoscoeBooks Best Books of 2016

What a year in books! Perhaps most notably, J.K. Rowling delivered a new (well, sort of) Harry Potter story. Veterans like Jonathan Safran Foer and Zadie Smith published again for the first time in a more than a decade. And there were such a wonderful crop of debut novels: Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, Brit Bennett’s The Mothers, and Nathan Hill’s The Nix, just to name a few. Colson Whitehead wow’ed us again, and walked away with a much deserved National Book Award. And Paul Kalanithi and his wife made us all sob. Yep, it was a great year in books!

It was another great year for the store, as well, as we continue to do our best to best serve the diverse readers of the wonderful Roscoe Village neighborhood and the Chicago literary community as a whole.

But of course, it’s always about the books. And so here are the best books we all read this year. Please let us know what’s on your best-books-of-the-year list in the comments below!


Erika

erikas-best

The Mothers, by Britt Bennett — This is a wise and lovely debut, and Bennett is a true storyteller who writes with a full heart and a keen emotional intelligence. Just…read this!

The Last Days of Night, by Graham Moore — This fabulous piece of historical fiction recounts the “war of the currents” – the race between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse to provide the country with electric light. If you love legal thrillers or anything by Eric Larson, I promise you will love this book, too.

Sweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler — Danler’s writing about food is utterly exquisite in this impressive debut novel. But Danler’s real strength here is capturing what it’s like to be a 22-year-old with NYC as your playground.

When Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi — This quasi-memoir about a man dying of cancer asks a vital question: What exactly is meaning and what makes life meaningful? Absolutely beautiful, and a must read.

The Sport of Kings, by C.E. Morgan — Against the backdrop of a landscape that’s both exquisitely beautiful and stained by hardship and violence, Morgan tells us a family saga of a rich, prominent Kentucky family. This story is an exploration of big ideas, heritage, virulent racism,  evolution. It demands to be savored!


Wayne

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Stories of Your Lie and Others, by Ted Chiang — These stories are about normal people coming up against giant, incomprehensible things – aliens, a tower built to the heavens, angelic visitations. But he still manages to keep the stories focused on the characters.

The Apostle Killer, by Richard Beard — This wonderfully strange novel reimagines the Roman world right after Jesus’ crucifixion as a modern-day spy thriller. Funny, exciting, and inventive, I had a blast reading this book!

But What If We’re Wrong?, by Chuck Klosterman — In this book of essays, Klosterman takes a look at the state of the world of science and art, and discusses how the future might view the early 21st century. You will NOT agree with everything he says, but man is it fun to argue your way through this book.

Moonglow, by Michael Chabon — Loosely based on a week Chabon spent with his grandfather before he died, this story, which jumps around the 20th century to all its major events, is a funny, heart-warming, thought-provoking, and truly enjoyable novel.

All The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders — The author has delivered something really special here – a story of two outcasts, one who has magical abilities and one who is a science-fiction scientist. This novel delivers real emotionally resonant moments. I loved it!


Kelsey

kelseys

Homegoing, by Yaa Gyasi — This is a rich and ambitious debut novel about two separated half-sisters in Ghana and follows their bloodlines through 300 years of slavery, colonialism, and racial divides. But it doesn’t just take a look at big issues with society; it also delves into the deeply personal wounds that people — especially families — can inflict on each other. Despite this heaviness, this is a book that glimmers with hope and strives to open the reader to a new understanding of humanity.

Blackacre, by Monica Youn — With exquisite intelligence and lyricism, this collection of poetry is rooted in desire – more specifically, Youn’s desire for a biological child. Youn draws on and is influenced by everything from 15th century poetry to urban legends to film.

Problems, by Jade Sharma — Raw, gritty, and graphic, this novel follows Maya through her life of drugs, sex, and (expletive deleted) up relationships. A darkly humorous book punctured with thoughtful reflections, the voice in this novel is witty and uncompromising.

I’m Supposed To Protect You From All This, by Nadja Spiegelman — This is a brave, graceful memoir that traces the origin of the tense relationship she’s had with her mother, New Yorker art director Francoise Mouly. Compassion, understanding, and forgiveness weave through this memoir, as Spiegelman uncover surprising parallels between the lives of four generations of women.

One of Us Is Sleeping, by Josephine Klougart — Told in a series of poetic glimpses, we access the mind of a woman writer who is reeling after a devastating breakup and the news of her mother’s cancer. Klougart’s writing is heartbreakingly gorgeous in the way she captures grief and memory. I can’t wait until more of her works are translated.


Greg

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Version Control, by Dexter Palmer — This fascinating, fiercely smart novel is brimming with ideas — about technology, authenticity, causality, race, Big Data, and yes, even time travel. But it’s a novel firmly grounded in reality – humorous, heart-breaking, and just really fantastic.

Behold The Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue — This is an assured, stunningly profound, amazingly well-written novel about not only the difficulty for immigrants who come to this country for a better life, but also how the system as a whole is rigged against them. Mbue is a master at turning expectations on their ears – a truly wonderful reading experience.

A Gentleman In Moscow, by Amor Towles — Utterly spectacular! One of the more purely pleasurable reading experiences I’ve had in a long time, this novel follows charming, witty, urbane Count Rostov, holed up in Moscow hotel, through several major events of the 20th century. He’s not a character you’ll soon forget!

The Nix, by Nathan Hill — An expansive plot, covering 45 years from the violent protest in Chicago in 1968 to the protests in NYC in 2011, Hill’s novel of politics, trust, and loyalty is as entertaining, engaging, and smart as anything I’ve read all year.

Commonwealth, by Ann Patchett — This semi-autobiographical, deeply personal novel is among Patchett’s best. She’s interested here in family relationships, how they ebb and flow over time. You can’t choose your family, but sometimes you get a second chance at a new family when your parents do stupid things. A really fascinating, fun read!


Chelka

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The Girl Who Drank The Moon, by Kelly Barnhill — My favorite book all year, this is a beautifully written story about life, loss, truth, lies, hope, sorrow, family, and magic (also dragons!). If you’re looking for a stand-alone middle-grade fantasy, this one’s for you!

Lily and the Octopus, by Stephen Rowley — Written in accessible, breezy language, this is a little weird, a little quirky, and little funny. It’s a prefect vacation read…except that it’s about a dog dying of cancer. Be sure to pack your tissues. (Ed. note: I loved this book, too, but it absolutely destroyed me.)

The Fireman, by Joe Hill — This great post-apocalyptic novel uses the end of the world to explore human nature. In this case, Hill explores a very tiny pocket of humanity and we watch as they revert to cultish behavior. Great for Stephen King fans.

Mighty Jack, by Ben Hatke — Jack is stuck looking after his sister all summer while his mom is busy working two jobs. While it could be a dull few months, it could also be prime time for a classic adventure story! This twist on Jack and the Beanstalk features a magical garden, swordfights, friendship, and a healthy dose of family drama, all told in graphic novel form. Ben Hatke’s art is perfect as ever.

A Child Of Books, by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston — This is the type of picture book I buy for my friends instead of for their kids. Like the classic “Miss Rumphius” or Jeffers’ previous book, “The Heart and the Bottle,” the message speaks to adults who have forgotten their childhood dreams or otherwise lost their imaginations. “A Child of Books” will hopefully also appeal to kids who love books and the power held within them.


Alex

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The Female of the Species, by Mindy McGinnis — I love when authors introduce characters by each of them their own chapter(s). McGinnis does a great job of keeping the story flowing while also allowing the reader to get to know each character.

Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult — Picoult touches on a really difficult issue in this book that is still a huge problem in this day and age. Do you love YA but looking for something with a little more depth? This is the book for you.

Highly Illogical Behavior, by John Corey Whaley — Whaley really knows how to catch your attention right away. This is such a great fast-paced read that young and old will love.

Replica, by Lauren Oliver — I love that this book is two stories in one and you can start reading from the front or back. This gives readers unique takes on the book depending on how they read it. Couldn’t put it down!

If I Was Your Girl, by Meredith Russo — This book starts off as a typical high school love story but of course there is a twist. The main character Amanda used to be Andrew. Amanda’s character has such an important story to tell and Russo really tells it beautifully.

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Greg Reads…THE NIX: Utterly Spectacular

the nixWow. The Nix, by Nathan Hill, is really spectacular — about as engaging, spell-bindingly readable, smart, and funny as fiction gets. This is the Franzen novel to read if you don’t like Franzen the man — expansive, modern, political, and just immensely entertaining. There are shades of Don DeLillo, Donna Tartt (if you liked The Goldfinch, you’ll LOVE this), and (I don’t say this lightly) friggin’ David Foster Wallace here (yes, there’s a 12-page sentence, but even beyond that, Hill’s astute observations of us in the modern world are incredibly DFW-esque).

It’s a novel about what it means to engage with the world, to do your duty, even as the going gets tough. It’s a novel about how personal politics aren’t usually purely formed, similar to how some believe that by its very nature, altruism can’t be perfectly unselfish (because there’s always the good feeling for the doer of doing something good). And it’s a novel about trust and loyalty, between friends, lovers, and parents and children.

We span 45 years here, from the violent protests at the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968 to the less violent but still powerful protests of Occupy Wall Street and the 2011 Republican National Convention in New York City.

The story is about a woman named Faye who was involved in the 1968 protests. After the protests and then a sad, quiet life with her husband Henry and son Samuel, she suddenly leaves them (Samuel is 11) and disappears.

Samuel, now in mid-30s, is a failing writer, and an-about-to-be-fired English professor at a small Chicago college. (Brief interlude: There is a section right at the front of this novel showing Samuel confronting a student who has been caught plagiarizing a paper. It is the best, funniest 20 pages I’ve read in a long time.)

In the first scene of the novel, Faye re-emerges — she throws rocks at a right-wing presidential candidate visiting Chicago — and Samuel, who is about to be sued for not delivering the novel for which he received a big advance, is convinced by his agent Guy Periwinkle to write what will no-doubt be a runaway bestseller about his mother. (Second quick interlude: The conversations between Samuel and Guy throughout the novel are another highlight. Really damn funny.)

Samuel, still angry with his mother, agrees. And we go from there — back to Faye’s childhood in a small town in Iowa, forward to Samuel adulthood in Chicago and New York City, back to Samuel’s childhood in the generic Chicago suburbs, to the Iraq war, seedy bars, Norway, and just about everywhere else in between.

As I said, this book is expansive. Allen Ginsberg is in this book. So is a dude named Pwnage who is the champion of a World of Warcraft-like game called Elfquest. There are ghost stories. Sexting. A love story. Some funny stuff about publishing. Bullies and sexual abuse. Politics. Radical hippies. Traitors. It’s just AWESOME.

This is easily one of the best novels I’ve read this year. Despite how full it seems, it’s also the shortest 600-page novel I’ve ever read. What I mean is that it felt like it could’ve been three times its size, and I would’ve happily kept reading. I spent about 3 hours on just the last 20 pages, reading one page at a time, because I didn’t want it to end. This is a novel that, if you’re thinking of picking it up (and by all means, do), I am immediately jealous that you get to read it for the first time. Enjoy!

(This review originally appeared on my book blog, The New Dork Review of Books.)

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If You Liked Harry Potter, You’ll Definitely Like…

harry potter and the cursed chidlHave a craving for more Potter after reading Harry Potter and the Cursed Child? Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we will get more about Harry Potter himself, BUT your local booksellers have put together a list of titles we like to call “Potter Picks” that have similar characteristics to J.K. Rowling’s beloved series.

1. Akata Witch, by Nnedi Okorafor

akata witchMain character Sunny is a 12-year-old Nigerian albino who struggles with belonging until she discovers the world of the Leopard People who struggles with belonging until she discovers the world of the Leopard People and is plunged into a heroic fight of good vs. evil.  This novel is perfect for readers in the upper middle-grade, lower YA bracket…it’s like a female-led Harry Potter set in Nigeria!

2. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children, by Ransom Riggs

miss peregrine's
“We cling to our fairy tales until the price for believing in them becomes too high.” After a 16 year old boy witnesses his grandfather dying by the hands of a “monster,” he follows clues that lead him to an abandoned orphanage on a Welsh island. Little does he know that the orphanage is not abandoned and the people that live there are nothing but peculiar.

3. The Name of the Wind, by Patrick Rothfuss

the name of the wind
This novel opens with a silence of three parts and unfolds to reveal the story of the mysterious and legendary Kvothe. The first in a trilogy, this book focuses mostly on Kvothe’s journey from a member of a wandering tribe to his installment as a student at “the University,” where he begins to learn of his potential for magic and all of its wonders and dangers.  It is a novel full of magic, intrigue, and adventure in a high fantasy setting, and comes highly recommended by at least two of our booksellers (who are still eagerly awaiting the third installment …).

4. Skippy Dies, by Paul Murray

skippy dies

If you enjoy books about kids in a boarding school, “Skippy Dies” is a must-read. Sure, you know the ending, but that doesn’t mean you won’t love spending 650 pages with these goofy, naughty teens. It’s real world Harry Potter, uncensored!

5. The Unwanteds, by Lisa McMann

the unwanteds
In the land of Quill, creativity and artistic talent are seen as undesirable traits, and the children who possess these qualities are known as the Unwanteds. But when a mysterious magician named Mr. Today takes young Alex Stowe and his fellow Unwanteds under his wing, he shows them a secret world in which they can harness their powers for good. This seven-book series, which is perfect for older middle-graders, sets up a series of battles and quests between the Unwanteds and their adversaries (led by Alex’s twin brother, Aaron) in Quill…and the themes of bravery, adventure, and the endless struggle between good and evil will resonate with anyone who loved the goings-on at Hogwarts.

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RoscoeBooks Picks the Best of 2016…So Far

From heartbreaking memoirs to historical YA to Chipotle-like sci-fi (that’ll make sense if you read on, I promise!), our favorite books of 2016 are all over the place. But that’s a good thing!

Here’s our list of the best things we’ve read so far this year. And of course, we’d love to hear from you as well: Please comment below – what’s the best book you’ve read in 2016?

 

Erika picks…

when breath becomes airWhen Breath Becomes Air, by Paul Kalanithi — Paul Kalanithi was a brilliant surgeon and neuroscientist who began writing this memoir after he was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer at the tender age of 36. Despite the sad circumstances surrounding his writing, the resulting book is so much more than just a meditation on mortality — it’s a fascinating window into the work that neuroscientists do, and it asks vital questions about how both science and language contribute meaning to our lives. Though the end will likely have you in tears, this book is the epitome of essential reading. (Ed. note: Greg enthusiastically seconds this pick.)

 

sweetbitterSweetbitter, by Stephanie Danler — Sweetbitter was one of this spring’s most hyped debuts, and (in my humble opinion) deservedly so. Danler’s story of young Tess, who moves to New York City and immediately gets a job working at a big-time restaurant, clearly comes from a place of insider knowledge about the restaurant business, and her writing about food is lush and sensual. Just as impressive is her ability to capture the wonderful messiness of being a 22-year-old in big bad NYC. This book is one of the most purely enjoyable that I’ve read this year.

Wayne picks…

all the birds in the skyAll The Birds In The Sky, by Charlie Jane Anders — Anders, the editor-in-chief of io9.com, has delivered something really special here. In her first book for adults, Anders tells the story of two outcasts, one who has magical abilities and one who is a science-fiction scientist, as they form a friendship in childhood and meet again as adults. Filled with more quirk and playfulness than you can shake a stick at, it nonetheless remains character-focused and delivers real emotionally resonant moments. I loved it; a true blast to read.

 

Kelsey picks…

homegoingHomegoing, by Yaa Gyasi — Homegoing is a rich and ambitious debut novel about two separated half-sisters in Ghana and follows their bloodlines through 300 years of slavery, colonialism, and racial divides. But it doesn’t just take a look at big issues with society; it also delves into the deeply personal wounds that people — especially families — can inflict on each other. Despite this heaviness, this is a book that glimmers with hope and strives to open the reader to a new understanding of humanity.

 

 

Greg picks…

version controlVersion Control, by Dexter Palmer — This is a fiercely smart novel brimming with ideas — about technology, authenticity, race, loyalty, causality, history, science, Big Data, and yes, even time travel. But don’t be intimidated — it’s really fun and easy to read. The main plot-line of the novel is about a marriage — Palmer asks us to think about what really makes relationships thrive or fail. All through this novel, I kept thinking, “Man, I wish David Foster Wallace was still around to see this. He would’ve LOVED this book.” It’s a super-engrossing, hard-to-put-down read that’s as contemporary as contemporary fiction can be. Really loved it. (Full review is here.)

 

Alex picks…

girl in the blue coatGirl In The Blue Coat, by Monica Hesse — This book has been on all the new bestseller lists, and for good reason! What would you do if you spent your days secretly delivering black-market goods and someone asks, “Can you find a missing Jewish girl?” Set in 1943 Amsterdam, this book explores just that.

 

 

 

Chelka picks…

armadaArmada, by Ernest Cline — For what this book is, it’s fantastic – like the best Chipotle burrito you’ve ever had. It’s an homage to armageddon sci-fi movies, and it moves like one. The prose is on par with Christopher Moore’s: Funny, accessible, never flowery. Think of this as the book version of Supernatural or Chuck. Escapism at its best! (Ed. note: We realize this is a 2015 book, technically, but the paperback for Armada was published in 2016, so we’re counting it. Hey, it’s our blog. Our rules!)

 

 

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Greg Reads…Lily and the Octopus: Calling All Dog Lovers!

lily and the octopusThis is a tough one — how do I, in good conscience, recommend this novel, Lily and the Octopus, by Steven Rowley, which is about a dog with brain cancer? Especially considering that the dog is a dachshund. Especially considering my wife and I have two dachshunds. But I do — I recommend it wholeheartedly. Because as sad as it can be, it’s also charming, and funny, and often surprisingly profound. It’s a just good read that spans the emotional spectrum — and after all, that’s what you want from fiction, isn’t it? To feel? I do, for sure.

Okay, so technically, telling you the dog has cancer is a bit of a spoiler — Lily is the dog, and the octopus is a metaphor for a brain tumor. But if you decide to read this, you learn this fact pretty quickly, and in my opinion, you deserve to know this going in. As well, if you’ve read anything about this book before diving in, you’ll figure it out. And I’m sure glad I knew going in. The other piece of info worth knowing: This isn’t complete fictional, which actually adds another layer of emotional depth to this story. The author Rowley also had a dachshund which also had brain cancer, and so this novel is part memoir, part catharsis.

So we go back and forth in time to when the narrator (a guy named Ted) adopted Lily, has relationship troubles with his boyfriend, suffers through Lily’s back surgery (a common problem with the breed — luckily, neither of our dachshunds have had that issue yet), and tries to destroy the evil octopus that has perched itself on Lily’s head.

The highlight of this novel is the narrator’s voice — self-deprecating at times, defiant and fierce at times, vulnerable and sad at times, but always smart, interesting and fun to read. Of course, both Lily and the octopus talk, too. Talking animals are always a risky decision, but the whimsy with which this novel’s written makes this feel perfectly apt — talking animals fit in fine.

One of the gauges, though it’s almost a too-easy comparison, to whether or not you might like reading this is if you enjoyed Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain. I loved that novel, but like this one, it absolutely leveled me. I’ve had many conversations with dog lovers who could not read that one. So if that’s you, this probably isn’t the book for you, either. However, if you love dog books, and you love to put through an emotional wringer, this is DEFINITELY the book for you.

(This post originally appeared on my book blog, The New Dork Review of Books.)

Baxter and Yoshi

Our two dachshunds, Baxter and Yoshi. Fiercely loved.

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