New and novel literary fiction

Creatures

Creatures by Crissy Van Meter (Algonquin Books, Jan. 2020), is a provocative and compelling coming of age story.  Evie is abandoned by her mother and raised by her addict father in a wild land off of Southern California called Winter Island.  The narrative flows back and forth through time.  It is a tale of pain and heartbreak and love and suffering.  I could not put this book down.

The Girl with the Louding Voice

The debut novel by Abi Dare, The Girl with the Louding Voice, (Dutton, Feb. 2020) is a stunning story of a young Nigerian woman who is trapped into a life of servitude. Her one wish is for an education and to become a teacher.  This is a powerful tale about a girl who goes after her dreams despite the torture she suffers along the way.

Title: Long Bright River: A Novel, Author: Liz Moore

Long Bright River by Liz Moore, (Riverhead, Jan. 2020), is a tense thriller. A story of two sisters, one a cop and the other an addict and prostitute, is a riveting tale takes place in a gritty Philadelphia.  When the troubled sister disappears, the cop sister goes on a journey to find her.  The book involves a series of murdered prostitutes. which fuels the story’s quest to find the murderer.

Small Days and Nights

Tishani Doshi’s new book, Small Days and Nights (WWNorton, Jan. 2020), is another story of two sisters.  Set in contemporary India, this story follows Grace, a young woman who leaves the US to return to Pondicherry , a rural Indian town, in order to bury her mother.  Grace unexpectedly inherits a large house on an isolated beach, and a sister she has never known about.  The sister is four years older than Grace, and was put into a residential facility when she was a baby.  This is an emotional novel filled with love, secrets and sacrifice.

 

 

 

 

First-rate literary fiction of 2019

My top pick of the year is “On Earth We are Briefly Gorgeous” (Penguin, 6/19).  The writing is stunning.  The book is written as a letter from a young Vietnamese-American son to his illiterate mother.  At times shattering,  his language is poetic and beautiful.

The rest of the books are, in no specific order…

Disappearing Earth” (Knopf, 5/19)  is an interesting story as it begins with the horrific disappearance of two little girls in a remote Russian town. Instead of following up with that story, the book turns to how the disappearance affects the townspeople. Very engaging story.

Feast Your Eyes” (Scribner, 4/19) is written as catalog notes from a photography show at the MOMA.  It is narrated by the daughter of the show’s principal photographer.  A very original story about a female photographer dealing with single motherhood and artistic ambition.

This next title “Nothing to See Here” (Ecco, 10/19) is a bizarre story about the boundaries of friendship.  I found it hilarious at times, yet moving about a woman with nothing in her life who begins to care for two children with disturbing attributes.  It generates her newfound feelings of emotion and love.

Akin” (Little Brown, 9/19) is about a retired chemistry professor and widower who plans on celebrating his 80th birthday in the south of France where he was born.  As he is leaving from New York, he finds that his eleven-year old nephew has been left homeless.  He’s never met him.  But he needs someone to look after him.  Reluctantly, the professor decides to bring the young boy on his trip.  It’s a story is about two people, who are born two generations apart, and how they develop a special relationship.

Kate Atkinson, one of my top favorite authors has brought back an old lovable character — Jackson Brodie.  In “Big Sky,” (Little Brown 6/29), we have a new detective story revolving around Brodie, which introduces new characters along with some old favorites.  If you’re an Atkinson fan, you’ll love it!

Girl” (Farrar, Straus, 10/19) is a major change for Edna O’Brien whose many novels generally take place in Ireland.  This spare, haunting, and difficult book takes place in terror-ridden Nigeria.  With harrowing detail, we learn about a girl who tries everything to survive her violent and horrifying life.  The language is amazing in this very brief treatment.

The Nobel Prize winner, “Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead,” (Riverhead, 8/19), is a murder mystery.  Janina, the elderly main character is considered a recluse.  She tells her neighbors and anyone who will listen, that the dead bodies in the village are attributed to animal attacks.  It’s written with humor and imagination and turns out to be a great read.

A crime thriller based in Los Angeles, “Your House Will Pay” (Ecco, 10/19), is based on a real-life incident.  Two families, one Korean-American and one African-American, collide in a tale of violence and racism.  It’s a story on how two cultures struggle and face injustice and loss.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite 100 Picture Books

Title: Mother Bruce, Author: Ryan T. Higgins    The Little Engine That Could by Watty Piper  It's Okay to Be Different      Baabwaa and Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene, and Friendship       Title: We Came To America, Author: Faith Ringgold        Title: The Storybook Knight, Author: Helen Docherty       Title: Planting a Rainbow, Author: Lois Ehlert  Title: Miss Nelson Is Missing!, Author: Harry G. Allard Jr.

I’ve curated a list of the top 100 picture books at the request of a children’s library in Connecticut.  Here are my favorite picks, including classics and new titles, in alphabetical order. Enjoy!

Title Author/Illustrator
A Chair for Mama Vera B. Williams
A Tree is Nice Janice May Udry/Marc Simont
All Are Welcome Alexandra Penfold/Suzanne Kaufman
Anasi the Spider Gerald McDermott
and Tango Makes Three Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell/Henry Cole
Baabwaa & Wooliam David Elliott/Melissa Sweet
Best Pet of All, The David LaRochelle/Hanako Wakiyama
Blueberries for Sal Robert McCloskey
Bread and Jam for Frances Russell Hoban/Lillian Hoban
Brown Bear, Brown Bear Bill Martin, Jr./Eric Carle
Caboose That Got Loose, The Bill Peet
Caps for Sale Esphyr Slobodkina
Carrot Seed, The Ruth Krauss/Crockett Johnson
Chicka Chicka Boom Boom Bill Martin, Jr/John Archambault/Lois Ehlert
Chicken Soup with Rice Maurice Sendak
Chrysanthemum Kevin Henkes
Click Clack Moo Doreen Cronin
Complete Adventures of Peter Rabbit, The Beatrix Potter
Corduroy Don Freeman
Creepy Carrots Aaron Reynolds/Peter Brown
Curious George H. A. Rey
Day the Crayons Quit Drew Daywalt/Oliver Jeffers
Dear Zoo Rod Campbell
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus Mo Willems
Doorbell Rang, The Pat Hutchins
Dot, The Peter Reynolds
Dr. DeSoto William Steig
Dragons Love Tacos Adam Rubin/Daniel Salmieri
Draw Raul Colon
Dreamers Yuyi Morales
Each Peach Pear Plum Janet and Allen Ahlberg
Freight Train Donald Crews
George & Martha James Marshall
Go Away, Big Green Monster Ed Emberley
Good Night Moon Margaret Wise Brown/Clement Hurd
Gruffalo, The Julia Donaldson/Axel Scheffler
Harold & the Purple Crayon Crockett Johnson
Harry the Dirty Dog Gene Zion
Hello, Hello Brendan Wenzel
Here’s a Little Poem: a very first book of poetry Collected by Jane Yolen/Andrew Peters/Polly Dunbar
House is a House for Me, A Mary Ann Hoberman/Betty Fraser
I Like Me Nancy L. Carlson
If you Give a Mouse a Cookie Laura Joffe Numeroff/Felicia Bond
Interrupting Chicken David Ezra Stein
Ira Sleeps Over BernardWaber
It’s Ok to be Different Todd Parr
Joseph had a Little Overcoat Simms Taback
Julius, Baby of the World Kevin Henkes
Knuffle Bunny Mo Willems
Last Stop on Market Street Matt de la Pena
Leo the Late Bloomer Robert Kraus/Jose Aruego
Library Lion Michelle Knudsen/Kevin Hawkes
Lion and the Mouse, The Jerry Pinkney
little blue & little yellow Leo Lionni
Little Engine that Could Watty Piper/George & Doris Hauman
Little House Virginia Lee Burton
Little Red Lighthouse & The Great Gray Bridge, The Hildegarde H. Swift/Lynd Ward
Llama, Llama Red Pajama Anna Dewdney
Lon Po Po: A Red Riding Hood Story from China Translated by Ed Young
Madeline Ludwig Bemelmens
Make Way for Ducklings Robert McCloskey
May I Bring a Friend Beatrice Schenk deRegniers/Beni Montresor
Millions of Cats Wanda Gag
Miss Nelson is Missing Harry Allard/James Marshall
Miss Rumphius Barbara Cooney
Mother Bruce Ryan T. Higgins
Napping House, The Audrey Wood/Don Wood
Night Gardener, The Terry Fan
No David David Shannon
Officer Buckle & Gloria Peggy Rathman
Olivia Ian Falconer
Owl Babies Martin Waddel/Patrick Benson
Papa, Please Get the Moon for Me Eric Carle
Planting a Rainbow Lois Ehlert
Press Here Herve Tullet
Relatives Came, The Cynthia Ryland/Stephen Gammell
Runaway Bunny Margaret Wise Brown/Clement Hurd
Sheep in a Jeep Nancy Shaw/Margot Apple
Sick Day for Amos McGee, A Philip C. Stead/Erin E. Stead
Snowy Day, The Ezra Jack Keats
Stone Soup Marcia Brown
Story of Ferdinand, The Munro Leaf/Robert Lawson
Storybook Knight, The Helen Docherty/Thomas Docherty
Stray Dog, The Retold by Marc Simont
Strega Nona Tomie de Paola
Sylvester & the Magic Pebble William Steig
Ten, Nine, Eight Molly Bang
This is Not My Hat Jon Klassen
Three Pigs, The David Wiesner
Tomie DePaola’s Mother Goose Tomie dePaola
True Story of the Three Little Pigs, The Jon Scieszka/Lane Smith
Very Busy Spider, The Eric Carle
Very Hungry Caterpiller, The Eric Carle
We Came to America Faith Ringold
We’re Going on a Bear Hunt Michael Rosen/Helen Oxenbury
When Sophie Gets Angry Molly Bang
Where the Wild Things Are Maurice Sendak
Where’s Spot Eric Hill
Whoever You Are Mem Fox/Leslie Staub
Zin Zin a Violin Lloyd Moss/Marjorie Priceman

 

Fierce, Forceful Fiction of 2019

To Keep the Sun Alive: A Novel

It’s May 2019, and I have read 38 newly published so far this year.  The books have been thought-provoking, sad, meaningful, and altogether extremely engaging.

Here are some that you may find worthwhile…

A Woman Is No Man (Etaf Rum, Harper, March 2019).  A compelling novel explores three generations of Palestinian-American women.  It’s a moving and sad tale about brutal treatment, the arranged marriages, and suffering these women endure.

Searching for Sylvie Lee (Jean Kwok, Morrow, June 2019). Sylvie the beautiful, smart and successful older daughter of the Lee family, flies to The Netherlands to visit her dying grandmother, and then vanishes.  Amy, her timid little sister, flies there to figure out what happened to Sylvie.  As she searches for the truth, she unravels many secrets.  A very moving story about an immigrant family.

Ask Again Yes (Mary Beth Keane, Scribner, May 2019).  An engrossing tale of two neighboring families in a New York suburb.  The story revolves around the friendship between their two children.  As tragedy ensues, the book questions the power of forgiveness.

To Keep the Sun Alive (Rabeah Ghaffari, Catapult, January 2019).  A story set on the eve of the Iranian Revolution.  At an extended family get together for a spring lunch, secrets emerge.  The book explores the family members and their opposing allegiances to their beliefs.

The Other Americans (Laila Lalami, Pantheon, March 2019).  A suspicious death of a Moroccan immigrant brings a daughter home to discover what happened to her father.  Set in the California Mojave desert region, each chapter is narrated by different key characters.  It’s a family saga, a social commentary and a love story.  The author is a Pulitzer Prize finalist.

Nickel Boys (Colson Whitehead, Doubleday, July 2019).  Based on a true story of a reform school in Florida — this is a devastating narrative of two boys sentenced there.  Taking place in the Jim Crow 1960s, the violence, sexual abuse and corruption determine the boys’ fate.  Whitehead has won the Pulitzer and National Book Award for The Underground Railroad.

There are a few more titles which I recommend, and they have had so many great reviews; I will let you explore them for yourselves.  They are Normal People, Trust Exercise, and Those Who Knew.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Fresh New Adult Books

Washington Black (Esi Edugyan, Knopf, 9/18).  This book blew me away.  It begins with an 11 year-old slave on a Barbados sugar plantation, named Wash.  He’s chosen by his sadistic master’s brother to become his manservant.  The brother takes Wash under his wing and the adventure begins.  The question of personal freedom runs through the entire story.  I don’t want to reveal too much — it’s a complex and beautifully written story that I could not put down.

Fruit of the Drunken Tree: A Novel

Fruit of the Drunken Tree (Ingrid Rojas Contreras, Doubleday, 7/18).  A devastating and wonderfully written novel about a privileged young girl, alternating chapters with the story of their live-in maid.  Set in Bogota during Escobars’s reign of the guerrilla-occupied city, the story includes threats of kidnappings and assassinations.  The contrasts between the two provide a powerful narrative of coming-of-age in the midst of crossfire.

Tin Man: A Novel

Tin Man (Sarah Winman, Putnam, 5/18).  A heartbreaking book about loss, living, love and friendship.  Two 12 year-old boys become best friends in Oxford and their twosome expands to three when one of them marries.  A tender and emotional story that will move you.

French Exit: A Novel

French Exit (Patrick deWitt, Harper Collins, 8/18).  A humorous but dark book about an eccentric wealthy widow and her adult son.  They flee NY as a scandal and financial ruin descend upon them.  They then take off for Paris on a transatlantic voyage.  There, they encounter many off beat characters in this “tragedy of manners.”

Three Things About Elsie: A Novel

Three Things About Elsie (Joanna Cannon, Scribner, 8/18).  This is a story about 84 year-old Florence waiting to be rescued from a fall.  She thinks about her best friend Elsie and a devastating secret they had.  A heartfelt book about friendship, aging, and dementia, with suspense added into the mix.   A sad but very engaging book.

Three Trees to Hug

There are so many beautiful new picture books about trees — how does one choose?  Here are some to consider…

Image result for

The Things I Love About Trees,” (Candlewick, 2/18) is a gorgeous book that shows children celebrating the four seasons of trees.  It’s an ingenuous story with lovely illustrations.  Adjacent to the main text, the author includes in small print some interesting factual information.  Featured inside the front and back covers are depictions of various tree’s distinctive leaves.  This is a delightful picture book.

Everything You Need for a Treehouse

Everything You Need for a Treehouse,” (Chronicle, 4/18) lures you into a land of nature and imagination.  The book begins, “Everything you need for a treehouse starts with time and looking up and imagining a home of timber and rafters in wrangled, gnarled bark.”  It is a special story with engaging illustrations.  This picture book is a great read-aloud that will inspire your child to dream of their own treehouse.

A Tree Is Nice

I cannot leave out my personal favorite — a very old classic — and a Caldecott medal winner.  “A Tree is Nice,” (Harper Collins, 1956) is a very simple story about the everyday beauty of a tree.  “Trees are very nice.  They fill up the sky.”  You can climb on trees, or pick an apple off one, or hang a swing on one.  The delicate pictures are beautiful and sweet.  It’s an old fashioned treasure that leaves one happy with every reading!

Everyone Is Included

With a flurry of books being published on inclusion and acceptance, there are two new standouts.

Cover image - All of Us

All of Us,” by Carin Berger (Greenwillow, 5/18) is a bright and beautiful book about “everyone” — friends, family, neighbors, even strangers standing together –demonstrating cultural diversity.  Berger’s exquisite signature collages and her straightforward words conclude with “Love will never fail.”  I have been a huge fan of all of Carin Berger’s books, and this one is no exception.  It is a lovely and engaging picture book!!

All Are Welcome by Alexandra Penfold

Just out, “All are Welcome,” (Knopf 7/18) is a colorful and encouraging book.  We find a group of children during a day at school.  Everyone is welcome including kids of any religion, race or background.  The kids learn about each other’s customs, beliefs and traditions.  The text includes, “We’re part of a community.  Our strength is our diversity.  A shelter from adversity.  All are welcome here.”  This is a purposeful book with vibrant illustrations.