5 New Must-Read Books

Our picks for spring’s best new reads

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Thirty Girls

by Susan Minot; Knopf

“To learn of another’s suffering is to confront one’s own shame,” thinks this novel’s heroine, Jane Wood, after interviewing three Ugandan girls who escaped back to their convent school after the rebels of the Lord’s Resistance Army made them witness, endure and commit atrocities more twisted than the imagination can fathom. Jane has come to central Africa after the death of her addict ex-husband with a desire to be anywhere but in her life and a vague idea of writing about the abductions. But Africa—described in Minot’s muscular, evocative and unflinching prose—offers itself up to Jane in all its beguiling beauty, its unremitting violence, and breaks her open like an egg. When she meets Esther Akello, whose time in captivity has left her silent and self-hating, the two recognize in each other something that needs healing, and together they create a transcendent moment (for the reader as well) in a “cracked and sad” world where “everything was lit and love happened.” —Pam Houston

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Bryan McCay

Love & War

by Mary Matalin and James Carville;  Blue Rider

Opposites attract, and in the case of political sparring partners Carville (D) and Matalin (R), what they attract is curiosity. As in, how have they stood being married to each other for 20 years? In this dual memoir, they take turns cheerfully rehashing what Matalin calls “a never boring, always loving—if not always blissful—relationship.” Unblissful? The excruciating 2000 Florida recount (Matalin: “He devolved into an anti-Bush Beelzebub”; Carville: “She kept howling like some GOP banshee”). On the upside—a life-changing move to post-Katrina New Orleans, where the couple teamed up to elect the mayor they both thought the city needed. If only all politics were local. —Amanda Lovell

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Bryan McCay


by Isabel Allende; Harper

This fast-paced novel begins with a simple premise: A group of teenagers and a grandpa play an online game in which they try to solve the case of Victorian-era serial killer Jack the Ripper. Real-life San Francisco soon presents them with a fresher task, investigating a spate of grisly murders. The key sleuth is quirky, engaging Amanda, a boarding school senior whose divorced mother is a New Age healer and the sensual catalyst for much of the action. One surprising ally: Amanda’s father, the city’s deputy chief of homicide, who shares details of the case with his daughter. Once this unlikely band is set in motion, Allende doesn’t miss a beat, smoothly exposing the underbelly of the city and the shenanigans of its wealthy elite. You might guess the identity of the killer before the last pages, but you won’t care—the shocks and unexpected twists will keep you riveted until the end. —Elaina Richardson

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Boy, Snow, Bird

by Helen Oyeyemi; Riverhead Hardcover

In the 1950s, a 15-year-old girl  named Boy, who is the motherless daughter of a violent rat-catcher, runs away from Manhattan to an idyllic New England town where she marries a widowed jeweler, inherits a motherless daughter named Snow, and gives birth to Bird, an unexpectedly dark-skinned girl. The book is as fantastic and unsettling as it sounds, and the narrative, like its characters, refuses to be one thing or another. It’s like a fairy tale, complete with magic, mirrors and an evil stepmother. And Who’s the fairest of them all? turns out to be even more about race than beauty —Catherine Newman

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"Glitter and Glue"

by Kelly Corrigan; Ballentine 

Kelly Corrigan’s mother has always been the chilly, pragmatic foil to her doting cheerleader of a father—the glue to his glitter, as the mom herself puts it. In her funny, sparkling memoir, Corrigan, now middle-aged, recalls how at 24 she set out to look for worldly thrills and ended up finding domestic insight. In suburban Australia, as nanny to a pair of newly motherless kids, Corrigan cannot stop hearing, and listening for, her own mother’s joy-killingly familiar but strangely enlightening voice. Family life ends up being an adventure—one requiring the guts, heart and common sense that (empathy alert!) her seemingly remote mother turns out to have had all along. —Catherine Newman

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Next: Decoding Modern Love: 5 Books on 21st Century Romance

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Bryan McCay

First published in the February 2014 issue

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