2016 Late Summer Reading

Fiction

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.

With chapters weaving between the aftermath of the crash and the backstories of the passengers and crew members–including a Wall Street titan and his wife, a Texan-born party boy just in from London, a young woman questioning her path in life, and a career pilot–the mystery surrounding the tragedy heightens. As the passengers’ intrigues unravel, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating storm of media outrage and accusations. And while Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, the authorities scramble to salvage the truth from the wreckage.

Amid pulse-quickening suspense, the fragile relationship between Scott and the young boy glows at the heart of this stunning novel, raising questions of fate, human nature, and the inextricable ties that bind us together. Amazon

 

The Girls by Emma Cline

Northern California, during the violent end of the 1960s. At the start of summer, a lonely and thoughtful teenager, Evie Boyd, sees a group of girls in the park, and is immediately caught by their freedom, their careless dress, their dangerous aura of abandon. Soon, Evie is in thrall to Suzanne, a mesmerizing older girl, and is drawn into the circle of a soon-to-be infamous cult and the man who is its charismatic leader. Hidden in the hills, their sprawling ranch is eerie and run down, but to Evie, it is exotic, thrilling, charged – a place where she feels desperate to be accepted. As she spends more time away from her mother and the rhythms of her daily life, and as her obsession with Suzanne intensifies, Evie does not realize she is coming closer and closer to unthinkable violence, and to that moment in a girl’s life when everything can go horribly wrong.

Emma Cline’s remarkable debut novel is gorgeously written and spellbinding, with razor-sharp precision and startling psychological insight. The Girls is a brilliant work of fiction – and an indelible portrait of girls, and of the women they become. Book Browse

Homecoming by Yaa Gyasi

A novel of breathtaking sweep and emotional power that traces three hundred years in Ghana and along the way also becomes a truly great American novel. Extraordinary for its exquisite language, its implacable sorrow, its soaring beauty, and for its monumental portrait of the forces that shape families and nations, Homegoing heralds the arrival of a major new voice in contemporary fiction.

Two half-sisters, Effia and Esi, are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery. One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day, Homegoing makes history visceral, and captures, with singular and stunning immediacy, how the memory of captivity came to be inscribed in the soul of a nation.

Generation after generation, Yaa Gyasi’s magisterial first novel sets the fate of the individual against the obliterating movements of time, delivering unforgettable characters whose lives were shaped by historical forces beyond their control. Homegoing is a tremendous reading experience, not to be missed, by an astonishingly gifted young writer.Book Browse

The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko: A Novel by Scott Stambach

The Fault In Our Stars meets One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest Seventeen-year-old Ivan Isaenko is a life-long resident of the Mazyr Hospital for Gravely Ill Children in Belarus. For the most part, every day is exactly the same for Ivan, which is why he turns everything into a game, manipulating people and events around him for his own amusement. Until Polina arrives.

She steals his books. She challenges his routine. The nurses like her.She is exquisite. Soon, he cannot help being drawn to her and the two forge a romance that is tenuous and beautiful and everything they never dared dream of. Before, he survived by being utterly detached from things and people. Now, Ivan wants something more: Ivan wants Polina to live. Amazon

 

Lily & the Octopus by Steven Rowley

When you sit down with Lily and the Octopus, you will be taken on an unforgettable ride.

The magic of this novel is in the read, and we don’t want to spoil it by giving away too many details. We can tell you that this is a story about that special someone: the one you trust, the one you can’t live without. For Ted Flask, that someone special is his aging companion Lily, who happens to be a dog. Lily and the Octopus reminds us how it feels to love fiercely, how difficult it can be to let go, and how the fight for those we love is the greatest fight of all. Remember the last book you told someone they had to read? Amazon

The Merman by Carl-Johan Vallgren, translated by Ellen Flynn

Set in a town on the Swedish coast. A Merman transforms the lives of a young brother and sister. The siblings are in a troubled family situation and a school bully. Then they encounter the merman in a friend’s fishing hut and then…. ( New Yorker, April 2016)

Montery Bay by Lindsay Hatton

In 1940, fifteen year-old Margot Fiske arrives on the shores of Monterey Bay with her eccentric entrepreneur father. Margot  has been her father’s apprentice all over the world, until an accident in Monterey’s tide pools drives them apart and plunges  her head-first into the mayhem of John Steinbeck’s Cannery Row.

Steinbeck is hiding out from his burgeoning fame at the raucous lab of Ed Ricketts, the biologist known as Doc in Cannery Row. Ricketts, a charismatic bohemian, quickly becomes the object of Margot’s fascination. Despite Steinbeck’s protests and her father’s misgivings, she wrangles a job as Ricketts’s sketch artist and begins drawing the strange and wonderful sea creatures he pulls from the waters of the bay.

Unbeknownst to Margot, her father is also working with Ricketts. He is soliciting the biologist’s advice on his most ambitious and controversial project to date: the transformation of the Row’s largest cannery into an aquarium. When Margot begins an affair with Ricketts, she sets in motion a chain of events that will affect not just the two of them, but the future of Monterey as well.

Alternating between past and present, Monterey Bay explores histories both imagined and actual to create an unforgettable portrait of an exceptional woman, a world-famous aquarium, and the beloved town they both call home. SF Chronicle, 7/17/16 & Amazon.

Never Missing, Never Found by Amanda Panitch

Some choices change everything. Scarlett chose to run. And the consequences will be deadly. Stolen from her family as a young girl, Scarlett was lucky enough to eventually escape her captor. Now a teen, she’s starting a summer job at an amusement park. There are cute boys, new friends, and the chance to finally have a normal life.

Her first day on the job, Scarlett is shocked to discover that a girl from the park has gone missing. Old memories come rushing back. And now as she meets her new coworkers, one of the girls seems strangely familiar. When Scarlett chose to run all those years ago, what did she set into motion? And when push comes to shove, how far will she go to uncover the truth … before it’s too late? Book Browse

Perfect Days : A Novel by Raphael Montes

A twisted young medical student kidnaps the girl of his dreams and embarks on a dark and delirious road trip across Brazil in the English-language debut of Brazil’s most celebrated young crime writer.

Teo Avelar is a loner. He lives with his paraplegic mother and her dog in Rio de Janeiro, he doesn’t have many friends, and the only time he feels honest human emotion is in the presence of his medical school cadaver—that is, until he meets Clarice. She’s almost his exact opposite: exotic, spontaneous, unafraid to speak her mind. An aspiring screenwriter, she’s working on a screenplay called Perfect Days about three friends who go on a road trip across Brazil in search of romance. Teo is obsessed. He begins to stalk her, first following her to her university, then to her home, and when she ultimately rejects him, he kidnaps her and they embark upon their very own twisted odyssey across Brazil, tracing the same route outlined in her screenplay. Through it all, Teo is certain that time is all he needs to prove to Clarice that they are made for each other, that time is all he needs to make her fall in love with him. But as the journey progresses, he digs himself deeper and deeper into a pit that he can’t get out of, stopping at nothing to ensure that no one gets in the way of their life together. Both tense and lurid, and brimming with suspense from the very first page, Perfect Days is a psychological thriller in the vein of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley—a chilling journey in the passenger seat with a psychopath, and the English language debut of one of Brazil’s most deliciously dark young writers. Amazon

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

England. A century ago, give or take a few years. 

An England where people who are wicked in thought or deed are marked by the Smoke that pours forth from their bodies, a sign of their fallen state. The aristocracy do not smoke, proof of their virtue and right to rule, while the lower classes are drenched in sin and soot. An England utterly strange and utterly real.

An elite boarding school where the sons of the wealthy are groomed to take power as their birthright. Teachers with mysterious ties to warring political factions at the highest levels of government.  Three young people who learn everything they’ve been taught is a lie – knowledge that could cost them their lives. A grand estate where secrets lurk in attic rooms and hidden laboratories. A love triangle. A desperate chase. Revolutionaries and secret police. Religious fanatics and coldhearted scientists. Murder. A London filled with danger and wonder. A tortured relationship between a mother and a daughter, and a mother and a son. Unexpected villains and unexpected heroes. Cool reason versus passion. Rich versus poor. Right versus wrong, though which is which isn’t clear.This is the world of Smoke, a narrative tour de force, a tale of Dickensian intricacy and ferocious imaginative power, richly atmospheric and intensely suspenseful. Book Browse

The Tea Planter’s Wife: A Novel by Dinah Jefferies

In this lush, sexy, atmospheric page-turner, a young Englishwoman, 19-year-old Gwendolyn, marries a rich and seductively mysterious widower, Laurence Hooper, after a whirlwind romance in London. When she joins him at his Ceylon tea plantation, she’s certain she’ll be the perfect wife and, someday, mother. But life in Ceylon is not what Gwen expected. The plantation workers are resentful, the neighbors, and her new sister-in-law, treacherous.

Gwen finds herself drawn to a Singhalese man of questionable intentions and worries about the propriety of her husband’s connection to an American widow. But most troubling are the terrible secrets in Laurence’s past that soon come to light and force Gwen to make a devastating choice. What happened to his first wife? And will the darkness of his past destroy their marriage and Gwen’s chance at happiness? Book Browse

The Trap by Melanie Raabe, Translator Imogen Taylor

For 11 years, the bestselling author Linda Conrads has mystified fans by never setting foot outside her home. Haunted by the unsolved murder of her younger sister–who she discovered in a pool of blood–and the face of the man she saw fleeing the scene, Linda’s hermit existence helps her cope with debilitating anxiety. But the sanctity of her oasis is shattered when she sees her sister’s murderer on television. Hobbled by years of isolation, Linda resolves to use the plot of her next novel to lay an irresistible trap for the man. As the plan is set in motion and the past comes rushing back, Linda’s memories–and her very sanity–are called into question. Is this man a heartless killer or merely a helpless victim? Book Browse/ Amazon

This Must Be the Place: A Novel by Maggie O’Farrell

An irresistible love story, an unforgettable family. Best-selling author Maggie O’Farrell captures an extraordinary marriage with insight and laugh-out-loud humor in what Richard Russo calls “her breakout book.” Perfect for readers of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

Meet Daniel Sullivan, a man with a complicated life. A New Yorker living in the wilds of Ireland, he has children he never sees in California, a father he loathes in Brooklyn, and a wife, Claudette, who is a reclusive ex–film star given to pulling a gun on anyone who ventures up their driveway. Claudette was once the most glamorous and infamous woman in cinema before she staged her own disappearance and retreated to blissful seclusion in an Irish farmhouse. But the life Daniel and Claudette have so carefully constructed is about to be disrupted by an unexpected discovery about a woman Daniel lost touch with twenty years ago. This revelation will send him off-course, far away from wife, children, and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

“O’Farrell’s prose manages to be both intimate and expansive and keenly perceptive in its insights about the complexities of marriage.  Beautiful and bittersweet, THIS MUST BE THE PLACE will make O’Farrell’s longtime fans swoon while prompting new readers to wonder why they’ve only just discovered her.” Amazon & Book Browse

 

Underground Airlines by Ben Winters

It is the present-day, and the world is as we know it: smartphones, social networking and Happy Meals. Save for one thing: the Civil War never occurred.

A gifted young black man calling himself Victor has struck a bargain with federal law enforcement, working as a bounty hunter for the US Marshall Service. He’s got plenty of work. In this version of America, slavery continues in four states called “the Hard Four.” On the trail of a runaway known as Jackdaw, Victor arrives in Indianapolis knowing that something isn’t right–with the case file, with his work, and with the country itself.

A mystery to himself, Victor suppresses his memories of his childhood on a plantation, and works to infiltrate the local cell of a abolitionist movement called the Underground Airlines. Tracking Jackdaw through the back rooms of churches, empty parking garages, hotels, and medical offices, Victor believes he’s hot on the trail. But his strange, increasingly uncanny pursuit is complicated by a boss who won’t reveal the extraordinary stakes of Jackdaw’s case, as well as by a heartbreaking young woman and her child who may be Victor’s salvation. Victor himself may be the biggest obstacle of all–though his true self remains buried, it threatens to surface.

Victor believes himself to be a good man doing bad work, unwilling to give up the freedom he has worked so hard to earn. But in pursuing Jackdaw, Victor discovers secrets at the core of the country’s arrangement with the Hard Four, secrets the government will preserve at any cost. Underground Airlines is a ground-breaking novel, a wickedly imaginative thriller, and a story of an America that is more like our own than we’d like to believe. Book Browse

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshen

Neurosurgeon Eitan Green has the perfect life–married to a beautiful police officer and father of two young boys. Then, speeding along a deserted moonlit road after an exhausting hospital shift, he hits someone. Seeing that the man, an African migrant, is beyond help, he flees the scene.

When the victim’s widow knocks at Eitan’s door the next day, holding his wallet and divulging that she knows what happened, Eitan discovers that her price for silence is not money. It is something else entirely, something that will shatter Eitan’s safe existence and take him into a world of secrets and lies he could never have anticipated. WAKING LIONS is a gripping, suspenseful, and morally devastating drama of guilt and survival, shame and desire from a remarkable young author on the rise. Amazon, The Guardian

Non Fiction

Chancers: Addiction, Prison,Recovery, Love, by Susan Stellin and Graham Macindoe

A heartrending dual memoir told from the perspectives of a reporter and photographer whose love story is cut short by heroin addiction only to be given a second chance when one of them is jailed on Rikers Island. Sandy Harris says, “This book will resonate with anyone whose life has been touched by drugs, prison or immigration problems. I highly recommend the stark reality shared on its pages.” Amazon

The Gene : An Intimate History By Siddhartha Mukherjee

“Even before the beginning of human history, people recognized that parents transmit something — call it “likeness” — to their children, and the children to their children, and so on down the generations. But how?

In the sixth century B.C., Pythagoras theorized that male semen conveyed the information into female bodies, which provided nourishment. Two hundred years later, Aristotle, observing that some Greeks resembled their mothers and grandmothers, proposed that women as well as men carry their likeness, in the blood. (We still speak of bloodlines and blood relatives.) Aristotle said, rightly, that creatures must pass along not just material, like wood for a carpenter, but a message: “the shape and the form.”

During the next two millenniums, little more was learned. When Charles Darwin published “On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection” in 1859, he was uncomfortably aware that his entire theory of evolution rested atop a foundation that could not be seen. A theory of heredity was yet to come. This missing science we now know as genetics. Its elusive fundamental particle, the essential unit of biological information, we call the gene. First the idea of the gene had to be invented. Then the physical entity, present in each cell of our bodies, in every living thing, had to be discovered. The story of this invention and this discovery has been told, piecemeal, in different ways, but never before with the scope and grandeur that Siddhartha Mukherjee brings to his new history, “The Gene.” He fully justifies the claim that it is “one of the most powerful and dangerous ideas in the history of science.”

As he did in his Pulitzer ­Prize-winning history of cancer, “The Emperor of All Maladies” (2010), Mukherjee views his subject panoptically, from a great and clarifying height, yet also intimately. Framing his story are pieces of his own family history: His cousin and two of his uncles “suffered from various unravelings of the mind,” and the specter of mental illness, presumably inherited or inheritable, haunts his family and his imagination. The books form a magnificent pair. “The Emperor of All Maladies” is, as Mukherjee notes, the story of the genetic code corrupted, tipping into malignancy. The new book, then, serves as its prequel.” NY Times by James Gleickmay 12, 2016

Grit by Angela Duckworth

In this must-read book for anyone striving to succeed, pioneering psychologist Angela Duckworth shows parents, students, educators, athletes, and business people—both seasoned and new—that the secret to outstanding achievement is not talent but a special blend of passion and persistence she calls “grit.”Drawing on her own powerful story as the daughter of a scientist who frequently noted her lack of “genius,” Duckworth, now a celebrated researcher and professor, describes her early eye-opening stints in teaching, business consulting, and neuroscience, which led to the hypothesis that what really drives success is not “genius” but a unique combination of passion and long-term perseverance. In Grit, she takes readers into the field to visit cadets struggling through their first days at West Point, teachers working in some of the toughest schools, and young finalists in the National Spelling Bee. She also mines fascinating insights from history and shows what can be gleaned from modern experiments in peak performance. Finally, she shares what she’s learned from interviewing dozens of high achievers—from JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon to New Yorker cartoon editor Bob Mankoff to Seattle Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll. Here are some of the topics:

*Why any effort you make ultimately counts twice toward your goal

*How grit can be learned, regardless of I.Q. or circumstances

*How lifelong interest is triggered

*How much of optimal practice is suffering and how much ecstasy

*Which is better for your child—a warm embrace or high standards

*The magic of the Hard Thing Rule

Winningly personal, insightful, and even life-changing, Grit is a book about what goes through your head when you fall down, and how that—not talent or luck—makes all the difference. Amazon & Book Passage

Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation by Anne Sebba

Paris in the 1940s was a place of fear, power, aggression, courage, deprivation, and secrets. During the occupation, the swastika flew from the Eiffel Tower and danger lurked on every corner. While Parisian men were either fighting at the front or captured and forced to work in German factories, the women of Paris were left behind where they would come face to face with the German conquerors on a daily basis, as waitresses, shop assistants, or wives and mothers, increasingly desperate to find food to feed their families as hunger became part of everyday life.

When the Nazis and the puppet Vichy regime began rounding up Jews to ship east to concentration camps, the full horror of the war was brought home and the choice between collaboration and resistance became unavoidable. Sebba focuses on the role of women, many of whom faced life and death decisions every day. After the war ended, there would be a fierce settling of accounts between those who made peace with or, worse, helped the occupiers and those who fought the Nazis in any way they could. Book Browse

Look at you now by Liz Pryor

In 1979, Liz Pryor is a seventeen-year-old girl from a good family in the wealthy Chicago suburbs. Halfway through her senior year of high school, she discovers that she is pregnant – a fact her parents are determined to keep a secret from her friends, siblings, and community forever. One snowy January day, after driving across three states, her mother drops her off at what Liz thinks is a Catholic home for unwed mothers – but which is, in truth, a locked government-run facility for delinquent and impoverished pregnant teenage girls.

In the cement-block residence, Liz is alone and terrified, a fish out of water – a girl from a privileged, sheltered background living amid tough, street-savvy girls who come from the foster care system or juvenile detention. But over the next six months, isolated and in involuntary hiding from everyone she knows, Liz develops a surprising bond with the other girls and begins to question everything she once held true. Told with tenderness, humor, and an open heart, Look at You Now is a deeply moving story about the most vulnerable moments in our lives – and how a willingness to trust ourselves can permanently change who we are and how we see the world. Book Browse

The Other Slavery: The Uncovered Story of Indian Enslavement in America by  Andres Resendez

Between 1670 & 1720 exported more Indians out of Charleston South Carolina than Africans into it. Tens of Thousands of Indians were sold for labor on plantations in Carribean. Indian slavery was illegal but the slavers were able to slip under the law for four centuries. Thorough account of that period in our history. SF Chronicle review by Greg Sarris, April 24-30, 2016

Thank you for looking at my booklist!

All reviews are from Amazon, Book Browse, Book Passage, SF Chronicle Book Review or me.

Tracy

 

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