17 October Books We're Buzzing About

The month’s best reads.
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There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor’s Baby by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya

Give the author credit for the most attention-grabbing title of the year. As evidenced above, Petrushevskaya, one of Russia’s best-known living writers, likes her fiction grim with a side of macabre. In these 19 tales, the supernatural mingles with the ordinary for reasons the 71-year-old author doesn’t bother to explain. Simply put, these stories are incredibly weird. But they linger in the mind as unsolvable puzzles: mysterious and undeniably seductive. In several narratives, a dead person comes back to life to haunt or console a loved one. In the title story, a woman plots the death of her friend’s daughter-she’s jealous of the child-and suffers a wicked retaliation. In "The Miracle," a mother finds her son "lying on the floor next to an overturned stool underneath a length of thin synthetic rope." And "The Fountain House" tells the story of a girl who is killed and then resurrected when her father eats a raw human heart. Petrushev-skaya boldly taps into the dark side of human nature. At times, she ventures into the afterlife, as in "A New Soul," where she writes, "It’s the former life that’s always dearest to us. That’s the life colored by sadness, by love-that’s where we left everything connected to what we call our feelings." While it’s best to think of these tales as bizarre dreamscapes, Petrushevskaya often leaves you wondering whether the ex-periences of her troubled characters are real or imagined, trans-forming what at first appears to be a harsh point of view into winking black comedy. Although there’s a structural sameness to these stories-a dark beginning, followed by an inevitably shocking and surreal twist at the end-Petrushevskaya is awfully good at those twists. Her suspenseful writing calls to mind the creepiness of Poe and the psychological acuity (and sly irony) of Chekhov. And when she goes full-on gruesome, as in "Hygiene"-about a rat-carried epidemic-well, Stephen King should watch his back. -Carmela Ciuraru Buy it here.

Normal People Don’t Live Like This by Dylan Landis

This debut collection of linked stories is a clear-eyed account of what it’s like to be a teenage girl: Leah Levinson is gripped by the sexual escapades of her classmates and enamored of mean girls (her "heart sprouted like a seed" when one phoned her). The tales in this bravura work, set in the 1970s, are timeless: They could easily belong to our daughters’ generation instead of our own. -Sara Nelson Buy it here.

Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls

Building on family history as she did in The Glass Castle, in her new, true-life novel, Walls tracks the history of her grandmother Lily Casey Smith. Whether detailing her relation-ship with her first husband (a "crumb bum") or explaining how she ranched across the Southwest (it was "nasty work"), Lily is blunt and tenacious. Walls perfectly evokes the voice of her clan, as when one character says, "If I owned hell and west Texas . . . I’d sell west Texas and live in hell." -Sara Nelson Buy it here.

The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis

The narrator is king in Davis’s inventive mix of short stories. A scientist doggedly examines fourth-grade penmanship; a rejected lover tries to tabulate the cost of an affair, in dollars per hour; a daughter tries to figure out what verb tense to use for a dying parent. Buy it here.

Dorothea Lange: A Life Beyond Limits by Linda Gordon

The fascinating life of one of the greatest American photographers comes into focus in this biography. Lange is most famous for Migrant Mother, an iconic image of the Depression. But in the 1940s, she became something of a poster girl herself: a working mother who relished her career and crisscrossed the U.S. to document and promote democracy. -Sara Nelson Buy it here.

Why Italians Love to Talk About Food by Elena Kostioukovitch

A bestseller in the author’s native Russia (and her adopted Italy), this written tour of Italy’s major regions is like a well-rounded meal. It’s packed with meditations on the country’s history, language, food and fierce local pride. Buy it here.

Sunflowers by Sheramy Bundrick

If you love historical fiction but need a break from Anne Boleyn, try Bundrick’s take on Vincent Van Gogh, as seen through the eyes of a French courtesan who witnesses Vincent’s insecurities, obsessions and inner demons in the midst of their love affair. Buy it here.

Anne Frank: The Book, The Life, The Afterlife by Francine Prose

The Diary of a Young Girl has long been recognized as a miraculous historical record. Through close reading, Prose argues that it is also a work of art. She marvels at the teenaged Frank’s skillfully natural narrative and ability to turn living people into characters. Buy it here.

Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving

In 1954, in the cookhouse of a logging and sawmill settlement in northern New Hampshire, an anxious 12-year-old boy mistakes the local constable’s girlfriend for a bear. Both the boy and his father become fugitives, forced to run from Coos County to Boston, to southern Vermont, to Toronto-pursued by the implacable constable. In a story spanning five decades, master storyteller John Irving depicts the recent half-century in the United States as "a living replica of Coos County, where lethal hatreds were generally permitted to run their course." Buy it here.

Enemies of the People by Kati Marton

From the author of The Great Escape comes a true-life thriller that exposes the cruel mechanics of the Communist Terror State in Hungary. Using secret police files on her parents as well as dozens of interviews that reveal how her family was spied on and betrayed by friends, colleagues and even their children’s babysitter, Marton searches for the truth about her family and finds they were pawns in a much larger game. Buy it here.

The White Garden by Stephanie Barron

In this novel of Virginia Woolf, Barron explores the missing weeks between Woolf’s disappearance and the recovery of her body in the River Ouse. An American named Jo Bellamy, who traveles to the famous White Garden in Sissinghurst discovers a notebook she suspects might be Woolf’s last diary-its first entry dated one day after Woolf supposedly drowned. Buy it here.

Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom

In his first nonfiction book since Tuesdays with Morrie, Albom brings together a Rabbi and a larger-than-life pastor to reflect on the role of faith in America. But it here.

Tales of the Ten Lost Tribes by Tamar Yellin

With imagery from the legend of the exiled ten tribes of Israel, these linked short stories follow the life of a wandering narrator who encounters a series of displaced persons: the uncle whose endless travels seem romantic but camouflage a life of failure; the girl student who may literally be invisible; the young man who spends his night hours obsessively writing and rewriting the slim volume he can never finish. Buy it here.

The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt

Olive Wellwood is a famous children’s book author who lives in a seemingly storybook world, surrounded by her seven children and adoring husband at their rambling country house. But the bright facades put on by Olive, her family, and their friends hide secrets darker than Olive’s tales of fairies and foundlings. As the Victorian era gives way to the devastating WWI years, lies are revealed, hearts are broken, and the damaging truth about the Wellwoods is slowly uncovered. Buy it here.

The Virago Book of Ghost Stories edited by Richard Dalby

Just in time for Halloween comes this collection of chilling and thrilling stories from such celebrated authors as Charlotte Bronte, Penelope Lively, Edith Wharton and more. Buy it here.

The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah

From the author of the international bestseller Little Face comes a compulsive new thriller. Sally Thorning is watching the news with her husband when she hears a name she never thought she’d hear again: Mark Bretherick. It’s a name she shouldn’t recognize. Last year, a work trip Sally had planned was cancelled at the last minute. But she needed a vacation from her busy family life, so she went away to a remote hotel. There she met Bretherick. All the details of his life are the same-except the photograph on the news is of a man Sally has never seen before. Buy it here.

Angel Time by Anne Rice

Rice has traded vampires and witches for deep faith, so don’t expect to find the undead here. Instead, this metaphysical thriller follows a contract killer who’s life of underground fame is disrupted by a seraph who offers him a chance to save rather than destroy lives. Buy it here.

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