With their summer rentals, designer strollers and organic produce, hipster parents are prime parody material—so it’s all the more fun when their lives intersect in a summer soap opera that ranges from Cape Cod to Brooklyn to L.A. “The crowd,” as the tight-knit group of strivers in Sohn’s new novel calls itself, is obsessed with the children (“ ‘Sippies, floaties, onesies’—the parents spoke as though they were babies themselves’’). They have big grownup problems, though: Witness Rebecca, who opens the novel wondering how to hide the celebrity paternity of her red-haired son from her brown-haired architect husband. Fans of Sohn’s Prospect Park Westwill recognize Rebecca’s story—and despite some outlandish plot turns may also get a glimpse of their own.
If you would never imagine that an orchard full of peach trees could be the lodestar of a man’s life, or that a young woman would pass up a perfect marriage to preserve her ancestral home, or that a shy and solitary boy could find the courage to fight the forces of prejudice and fear, then you haven’t read this gorgeous new novel, set on a peach farm in post–Civil War Maryland. Tilghman has an uncanny ability to lay bare the hearts of his characters, whether they’re male or female, landed gentry or former slaves. “Love is about overcoming,” muses a young white man named Thomas about his forbidden romance with a black woman. “Love is not a state of mind or spirit, it is a reward.”
Set mostly in the Philippines at the dawn of Corazon Aquino’s presidency, Torregrosa’s memoir looks back on her heady days as foreign editor at a major newspaper and her headlong rush into love with a married woman, a reporter. “How little we know about passion,” she muses. “How wretched it is.” The book drifts from Manila to New York, from Phuket to Hong Kong, cloaked in a moody atmosphere reminiscent of Casablancaand the novels of Graham Greene. The explosive, doomed affair haunts the writer, who observes, “I have learned to live without her. I have learned to be alone. That is different from learning to live alone.”
At first glance, Carmen Garrett may seem an unlikely heroine, a beautiful middle-aged woman who is greatly (if guiltily) relieved by the death of her dorky, nice-guy husband and the “whole false happy life” she has endured for two decades. But just as she gets a whiff of freedom, she’s diagnosed with breast cancer, leading her to re-examine not only her marriage but also her ongoing affair with a married man and other thorny relationships. Funny, surprising and gratifyingly honest, this novel poses unsparing questions about love and betrayal and the reasons we make the choices we do.
Nick is a young husband with a wry sense of humor and a chip on his shoulder (“I have a face you want to punch,” he says). He’s a bit odd and self-involved, but did he kill his wife, Amy, who has inexplicably disappeared? “I was not good with angry women,” he confides. “They brought something out in me that was unsavory.” Interspersed with Nick’s narration are snippets from the diary of the missing Amy, an ex–New Yorker who is irritated and bored enough in small-town Missouri to have done . . . what? Flynn keeps us guessing with equal parts charm and menace. An addictive read.
This deliciously inventive spy thriller riffs on a wild what-if. The FBI has uncovered a Nazi plot to keep the U.S. out of the coming war by rigging the next election, but President Roo-sevelt doesn’t trust that weasel J. Edgar Hoover to foil the scheme. So he taps an unlikely undercover man to do the job: smooth but scrappy Harvard junior John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Dad Joe, ambassador to England (and perhaps in cahoots with the Germans), considers his sickly second son a wuss—but he doesn’t know Jack. As charming and complex as its hero, the novel offers a hot love affair, a young man’s brave struggles with physical and moral peril and a Gestapo goon with a grudge. A beachside scene involving five of the eight Kennedy kids—Jack; chubby eight-year-old Teddy; the favorite, Joe Jr.; intense Bobby; and bouncy Kathleen, known as Kick—can’t help but evoke the real futures awaiting the doomed dynasts.
She revered Rilke, pondered Freud, endorsed Castro’s revolution and honed her craft with the most vaunted directors of theater and film. “I want to be an actress, not an erotic freak,” insisted Marilyn Monroe, struggling against a hypermasculine industry that responded to her hungry intellect and unfettered sensuality by sentencing her to a life of playing the dumb blonde. Was she a “ ‘slave’ of the Hollywood system” or a heroic “precursor of 1960s feminism?” asks historian Banner, who proceeds to probe Monroe’s fraught relationship to her sexuality with an uncommonly insightful eye. But fans of Hollywood Babylon, take heart: Studious as she is, Banner also rakes the muck like a pedigreed newshound.
Not your usual girl group: New York debutante turned first lady Jacqueline Kennedy, intellectual powerhouse Susan Sontag and radical activist Angela Davis. Yet all three women spent their formative years in Paris—albeit in different decades—drinking in the city’s romance and fashioning the personas they would later reveal to the world. Sontag, for one, left behind her husband and son and found in the City of Light “a zone of intense sexual freedom and discovery,” which allowed her to shed her “scholar’s cocoon” and become a cultural renegade. Kaplan follows these women’s singular trajectories in lively and brilliantly lucid prose.
Imagine a family vacation in a drafty rent-a-manor on the Welsh border. Imagine Richard, the vacation’s sponsor; his new wife, Louisa; and her dangerously alluring daughter. Imagine Angela, Richard’s less wealthy sister, invited on holiday after years of estrangement; her three complex and agreeable children, two of them teenagers; and her husband, who has not been able to find work since his breakdown. This is the setting of Haddon’s latest novel, which scrolls through its characters’ thoughts, fears and desires, their best intentions and darkest fantasies, with the stunning deftness and alacrity of a news feed—switching point of view, at times, from paragraph to paragraph (even the ghost of Angela’s stillborn daughter gets her say). With humor, intelligence and compassion, and a deep bow to James Joyce’s Ulysses, Haddon creates a symphony of voices that defines, critiques and embraces the contemporary family.
An unexpected death can unite a -family—or explode it to bits. In this deeply human novel, it does both. On a July Fourth weekend in 2005, one year after Leo, a journalist, was killed in Iraq, the Frankels gather for a memorial service at their summer place in the Berkshires. The numbing loss has pushed Leo’s mother to leave her husband of 42 years, as she now reveals to their three daughters: Noelle, a former bad girl whohas found religion in Israel; Clarissa, 39, who has arrived late, having stopped at a motel to have sex with her husband in yet another failed attempt to conceive; and Lily, a combative lawyer who just wants to get the weekend over with. Into this volatile mix comes Thisbe, Leo’s widow, who has arrived from California with her three-year-oldson and a head full of secrets. Henkin skillfully portrays the exhausting emotional skirmishes that, surprisingly, help this grieving family survive.
When her troubled cousin resurfaces in her life, Avery, an African--American artist in California, has to decide where her loyalties lie—with the past and her family, who clawed their way out of Watts to give her a better future, or with the wealthy Italian lover who supports her in his lavish Hollywood Hills home. As she readies for a gallery show, Avery tells her story, alternating the voice of her younger self—raw and startlingly visceral—with the measured tones of the complicated woman she has become. Faced with people who think they understand everything there is to know about her, Avery proves that “just because somebody looks like something, it doesn’t mean they are something.”
If that old tea set could talk, what would it say? This endearing memoir takes an assortment of otherwise ordinary possessions and turns it into a series of delicate, resonant stories, some no longer than a paragraph—perfect little mint-on-the-pillow reads. A set of Balinese frogs holds the secret to a happy marriage. The $15 moonstone ring Raffel’s future husband bought in India on a romantic impulse finally fits her—and turns out to have real sapphires. The tea set, pristine, unused, pours out a tale of postwar anti--Semitism and unrealized potential. Things aren’t just things, Raffel seems to be saying. They’re fragments of our history; they underline the chapters of our lives.
The comedian’s new book is less a collection of funny, punny “messays,” as she calls them, than an emotionally searing autobiography, with jokes on the side. The cocreator of The Daily Show sounds like your best friend, if your best friend told you how she got pregnant the night she lost her virginity to a caddish hockey player and why she laughed at her father’s deathbed. Winstead revels in exposing her psychic Vajesus (her word), letting loose on everything from campaigning to be the Catholic Church’s first altar nonboy to discovering Rachel Maddow to avoiding babies—having or even holding them. Through it all, Winstead entertains and moves us by remaining painfully, gleefully, inexorably herself.—Pamela Redmond Satran
'Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story' by Dame Daphne Sheldrick
Sheldrick has bottle-fed baby elephants, donned cricket gear to ward off charging baby rhinos and shared bathtubs with dik-diks (tiny antelopes no taller than a ruler)—all in a quest to save Kenya’s endangered species. She would trade none of it, she reports in her new memoir, despite the dangers posed by ivory poachers and political unrest. Now in her seventies, the Kenyan-born author is herself a rare bird: Her Scottish forebears arrived in Africa in the mid-1820s, making her a third-generation white “settler.” Sheldrick never ducks the dark implications of her colonial past, but what shines through is her authentic love for the land and its creatures.—Lise Funderburg
Joining the ranks of Gabrielle Hamilton and Anthony Bourdain—people who can both cook and write—is the czar of the Red Rooster, a renowned restaurant in Harlem. Samuelsson’s delectable memoir, which begins in his native Ethiopia, showcases both talents; it is rich in prose and rife with good cooking tips (even the way he melts butter in a pan is educational). From Ethiopia his story moves to Sweden, where he was raised by adoptive parents. The memories he shares of his youth there—-picture an African boy shelling peas with his Swedish grandmother—sumptuously reveal how he turned his love into craft, and eventually into destiny. —J.M.
It’s almost always true, at least in fiction, that bad guys are more compelling than good ones; they’re more complex, more psychologically intricate. Much is made of such truths in this clever novel dissecting one of Shakespeare’s darkest and most impenetrable characters. The delights of this book, lushly set in Renaissance Venice, lie in Galland’s ability to take a series of tiny mistakes, deceptions and wrong turns and roll them into a juggernaut that Iago must ride to the end. He doesn’t exactly become sympathetic, but he does become fully human as the betrayals mount and his skin toughens to a monstrous carapace.— Elaina Richardson
Brilliant and beautiful, this debut is a cannily imagined hybrid—a coming-of-age/going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket novel set in the very near future. Its 12-year-old heroine, wry and watchful Julia, faces twin apocalypses: the metaphorical end of life as we know it that is adolescence; and an actual global cataclysm, the inexplicable slowing of the earth’s rotation, with increasingly lethal consequences. Will the world’s scientists figure out what every preteen must—how to live with change and uncertainty, to survive and thrive despite huge upheavals? One of the book’s many marvels is that the intimate dramas of middle-school life (involving mean girls, elusive boys, flawed parents) are as absorbing as the cosmic cliffhanger.—J.S.
Full disclosure: Virtually every character in this subtle, intricate novel desperately craves intimacy—and reliably deflects it. There’s Mitch, who flees to the Arctic to escape his needy girlfriend and her autistic son, and Mitch’s ex-wife, Grace, a therapist like him and so intense, she makes the men in her life duck for cover. There’s Grace’s onetime patient, Anne, a fledgling actress who safeguards her solitude with an artfully constructed “mask of indifference,” and suicidal Tug, the charming, despairing man Grace desperately wants to rescue, even as he keeps her at bay. “The gap between what he said and what she didn’t know swelled between them like a bubble that kept expanding; sometimes, when she reached out her arms to hold him, the bubble felt like all she could touch.” As these lives intersect over a decade, barriers crumble, secrets emerge, and this fictional jigsaw puzzle locks satisfyingly into place. —C.M.
A warning: Don’t even think of starting Williams’s tantalizingly unnerving thriller unless you’ve cleared your schedule for the next few hours. This tale of a serial killer on the loose in Victorian London is riveting, in part because it layers mystery upon mystery (is the beguiling sleuth falling prey to her own imaginings? Is the killer following a plan or choosing his victims at random?) and in part because the story is so firmly rooted in history. Debut novelist Williams conjures a city in which filth and desire are equally palpable. And she’s smart enough to keep the biggest shock of all until last. —E.R.
I am woman, hear me roar—but wait, that’s a real live lion in Ephron’s daring new novel. Two young hotties, fast friends since their difficult childhoods, are on the lam from their untenable lives. When the flat tire on their ailing convertible is fixed by a “once-trim, gone round” mystery lady, the duo becomes a threesome. Enter Marcel, the ex–circus lion who resides in the broken-down nightclub where the three women hide out. This wistfully wacky story features a stolen wedding dress, AA meetings, a driving instructor as romantic hero, a cranky nightclub owner and a God-fearing villain. As Marcel roars his wisdom, each woman becomes brave enough to free herself from her own cage.—Molly Peacock