Best New Books: Week of 8/14/2018

New Book Tuesday is upon us again, and with it comes another batch of exciting new titles! Highlights from this week include a glowingly-reviewed, post-apocalyptic office satire, the latest thriller from local favorite Lisa Scottoline, some high concept sci-fi, a unique romance story, some historical fiction, mystery, and even a look at the very nature of life itself. These and other books we have selected as the week’s best below should keep everyone busy reading at least until next Tuesday!



FICTION



Severance by  Ling Ma

severanceCandace Chen, a millennial drone self-sequestered in a Manhattan office tower, is devoted to routine. With the recent passing of her Chinese immigrant parents, she’s had her fill of uncertainty. She’s content just to carry on: She goes to work, troubleshoots the teen-targeted Gemstone Bible, watches movies in a Greenpoint basement with her boyfriend.

So Candace barely notices when a plague of biblical proportions sweeps New York. Then Shen Fever spreads. Families flee. Companies halt operations. The subways squeak to a halt. Her bosses enlist her as part of a dwindling skeleton crew with a big end-date payoff. Soon entirely alone, still unfevered, she photographs the eerie, abandoned city as the anonymous blogger NY Ghost.

Candace won’t be able to make it on her own forever, though. Enter a group of survivors, led by the power-hungry IT tech Bob. They’re traveling to a place called the Facility, where, Bob promises, they will have everything they need to start society anew. But Candace is carrying a secret she knows Bob will exploit. Should she escape from her rescuers?

A send-up and takedown of the rituals, routines, and missed opportunities of contemporary life, Ling Ma’s Severance is a moving family story, a quirky coming-of-adulthood tale, and a hilarious, deadpan satire. Most important, it’s a heartfelt tribute to the connections that drive us to do more than survive.

Description from Goodreads.

“Funny, frightening, and touching…. Ling Ma manages the impressive trick of delivering a bildungsroman, a survival tale, and satire of late capitalist millennial angst in one book, and Severance announces its author as a supremely talented writer to watch.” – The Millions

“Astounding . . . Ma’s engrossing, masterfully written debut transforms the mundane into a landscape of tricky memory, where questions of late-stage capitalism, immigration, displacement and motherhood converge in such a sly build-up as to render the reader completely stunned. It’s just an office novel, after all, with some worker-bee politics and consideration of the commute, the lunch break, the after-work cocktails. But Severance demands to be wondered at, only to flip around the gaze and stare back at you.” – BookPage

“A smart, searing exposé on the perils of consumerism, Google overload, and millennial malaise . . . an already established audience will be eager to discover this work.” – Library Journal

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Where the Crawdads Sing by  Delia Owens

where the crawdads singFor years, rumors of the “Marsh Girl” have haunted Barkley Cove, a quiet town on the North Carolina coast. So in late 1969, when handsome Chase Andrews is found dead, the locals immediately suspect Kya Clark, the so-called Marsh Girl. But Kya is not what they say. Sensitive and intelligent, she has survived for years alone in the marsh that she calls home, finding friends in the gulls and lessons in the sand. Then the time comes when she yearns to be touched and loved. When two young men from town become intrigued by her wild beauty, Kya opens herself to a new life–until the unthinkable happens.

Perfect for fans of Barbara Kingsolver and Karen Russell, Where the Crawdads Sing is at once an exquisite ode to the natural world, a heartbreaking coming-of-age story, and a surprising tale of possible murder. Owens reminds us that we are forever shaped by the children we once were, and that we are all subject to the beautiful and violent secrets that nature keeps.

Description from Goodreads.

“A painfully beautiful first novel that is at once a murder mystery, a coming-of-age narrative and a celebration of nature….Owens here surveys the desolate marshlands of the North Carolina coast through the eyes of an abandoned child. And in her isolation that child makes us open our own eyes to the secret wonders – and dangers – of her private world.” – The New York Times Book Review

“Evocative . . . Kya makes for an unforgettable heroine.” – Publishers Weekly

“Slow down and let this lush nature-focused story unspool….A mystery will pull you along, but stay awhile in the descriptions of shifting tides, shell collections, and the mottled light of coastal Carolina.” – Garden & Gun

Available Formats:

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Our Homesick Songs by  Emma Hooper

our homesick songsThe Connor family is one of the few that is still left in their idyllic fishing village, Big Running; after the fish mysteriously disappeared, most families had no choice but to relocate and find work elsewhere. Aidan and Martha Connor now spend alternate months of the year working at an energy site up north to support their children, Cora and Finn. But soon the family fears they’ll have to leave Big Running for good. And as the months go on, plagued by romantic temptations new and old, the emotional distance between the once blissful Aidan and Martha only widens.

Between his accordion lessons and reading up on Big Running’s local flora and fauna, eleven-year-old Finn Connor develops an obsession with solving the mystery of the missing fish. Aided by his reclusive music instructor Mrs. Callaghan, Finn thinks he may have discovered a way to find the fish, and in turn, save the only home he’s ever known. While Finn schemes, his sister Cora spends her days decorating the abandoned houses in Big Running with global flair—the baker’s home becomes Italy; the mailman’s, Britain. But it’s clear she’s desperate for a bigger life beyond the shores of her small town. As the streets of Big Running continue to empty Cora takes matters—and her family’s shared destinies—into her own hands.

In Our Homesick Songs, Emma Hooper paints a gorgeous portrait of the Connor family, brilliantly weaving together four different stories and two generations of Connors, full of wonder and hope. Told in Hooper’s signature ethereal style, each page of this incandescent novel glows with mythical, musical wonder.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] haunting fable about the transformative power of hope.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“This delicate elegy for a dying way of life crescendos into a love song binding family members across the waters.” – Kirkus Reviews

“With stark prose, Hooper captures the desperation and difficulty of life on the edge of civilization while maintaining the foundation of tenderness as her characters take care of one another in the face of near-insurmountable struggle. Heartbreaking and empathetic, Hooper’s fine novel is a haunting evocation of changing times and the power of place.” – Publishers Weekly

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MYSTERY & SUSPENSE



Feared by  Lisa Scottoline

fearedWhen three men announce that they are suing the Rosato & DiNunzio law firm for reverse sex discrimination—claiming that they were not hired because they were men—Mary DiNunzio and Bennie Rosato are outraged. To make matters worse, their one male employee, John Foxman, intends to resign, claiming that there is some truth to this case.

The plaintiffs’ lawyer is Nick Machiavelli, who has already lost to Mary once and is now back with a vengeance —determined to not only win, but destroy the firm. It soon becomes clear that Machiavelli will do anything in his power to achieve his end…even after the case turns deadly. The stakes have never been higher for Mary and her associates as they try to keep Machiavelli at bay, solve a murder, and save the law firm they love…or they could lose everything they’ve worked for. Told with Scottoline’s trademark gift for twists, turns, heart, and humanity, this latest thriller asks the question: Is it better to be loved, or feared…

Description from Goodreads.

“Rosato & DiNunzio return with a bang… Nobody delivers as consistently as Lisa Scottoline, who has outdone herself with Feared, one of her strongest novels yet and an absolute must-read for all fans of legal thrillers.” – The Real Book Spy

“…Scottoline, who obviously knows her readers inside out, hits every mark, and the results are never less than pleasurable, down to the last satisfying twist.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Colorful characters, breezy writing, and a sharp wit keep the tone light, while the ever-increasing stakes propel the story toward a … gratifying denouement. Scottoline insightfully explores the challenges facing powerful women at work and at home.” – Publishers Weekly

Available Formats:

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Sweet Little Lies by  Caz Frear

sweet little liesWHAT I THOUGHT I KNEW

In 1998, Maryanne Doyle disappeared and Dad knew something about it?
Maryanne Doyle was never seen again.

WHAT I ACTUALLY KNOW

In 1998, Dad lied about knowing Maryanne Doyle.
Alice Lapaine has been found strangled near Dad’s pub.
Dad was in the local area for both Maryanne Doyle’s disappearance and Alice Lapaine’s murder – FACT
Connection?

Trust cuts both ways . . . what do you do when it’s gone?

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] taut, psychologically twisted debut . . .  Readers will root for the spiky Kinsella, with her emphatic center, and hope to see more of her in future books.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

“Caz Frear’s Sweet Little Lies has been generating a lot of buzz (It’s even been optioned for TV by Carnival Films, the producer of “Downtown Abbey”), and with good reason: It is one of the best debuts I’ve read in some time.” – BookPage

Sweet Little Lies is a mesmerizing psychological murder mystery. An extraordinary debut novel that effectively takes a deep look at how we often struggle to cope with the realities of our darker past. [It] features an assortment of unforgettable characters and a plotline that is gripping, thought-provoking and genuine. . . . A captivating story.” – New York Journal of Books

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HISTORICAL FICTION



The Sea Queen by  Linnea Hartsuyker

sea queenSix years after The Half-Drowned King, Ragnvald Eysteinsson is now king of Sogn, but fighting battles for King Harald keeps him away from home, as he confronts treachery and navigates a political landscape that grows more dangerous the higher he rises.

Ragnvald’s sister Svanhild has found the freedom and adventure she craves at the side of the rebel explorer Solvi Hunthiofsson, though not without a cost. She longs for a home where her quiet son can grow strong, and a place where she can put down roots, even as Solvi’s ambition draws him back to Norway’s battles again and keeps her divided from her brother.

As a growing rebellion unites King Harald’s enemies, Ragnvald suspects that some Norse nobles are not loyal to Harald’s dream of a unified Norway. He sets a plan in motion to defeat all of his enemies, and bring his sister back to his side, while Svanhild finds herself with no easy decisions, and no choices that will leave her truly free. Their actions will hold irrevocable repercussions for the fates of those they love and for Norway itself.

The Sea Queen returns to the fjords and halls of Viking-Age Scandinavia, a world of violence and prophecy, where honor is challenged by shifting alliances, and vengeance is always a threat to peace.

Description from Goodreads.

“A seafaring epic with bloodcurdling raids and political intrigue to spare… Svanhild emerges as a complicated, talented, and shrewd warrior in her own right… Hartsuyker is a skilled storyteller, and the moral battles her characters wrestle with on and off the battlefield add compelling psychological depth to an old and epic tale.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Hartsuyker is a wonderfully descriptive writer equally adept at penning truly horrifying battle scenes as depicting life in ninth-century Norway. Fans of History Channel’s “Vikings” should find this novel equally compelling.” – Library Journal

“This is historical fiction at its best and shouldn’t be missed…Hartsuyker adds a rich, Shakespearean approach to characters and politics…All three main characters, Svanhild particularly, are so beautifully realized in their intelligence and emotional development that the descriptions of sea voyages, battles, and mead hall law-wrangling mesh seamlessly with the more personal stories.” – Historical Novels Review, EDITOR’S CHOICE

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The Sapphire Widow by  Dinah Jefferies

sapphire widowLouisa Reeve has it all: a charming, devilishly handsome husband with a successful business as a sapphire trader, a beautiful home in colonial Ceylon, a fledgling career of her own. Except for the one thing she longs for more than anything: a child.

After the couple experience a number of devastating miscarriages, Louisa becomes increasingly frustrated by Eliot’s unexplained absences. When a tragic accident causes Elliot’s sudden death, Louisa, wracked by grief is left alone to solve the mystery he left behind. Why was he driving to Colombo on the day of his death and not out sailing as he claimed to be? Who are the threatening men turning up on her doorstep?

When she finally discovers the shocking secret behind her marriage, Louisa’s world is turned upside down. Will she find the strength to piece together the truth and learn to live again?

Description from Goodreads.

“Dinah has the ability to create beauty and pain with the written word, to evoke feelings and to open minds. The pages waft scent, flavour, sound, I could almost stop, breathe in, and let the words settle around me. The story flows allowing you unfettered access, unease skittered across my awareness, heightening my anticipation and concern. The Sapphire Widow is a gorgeous captivating tale full of emotion, and it took me outside of myself into a different world.” – Love Reading

The Sapphire Widow is a heartbreaking but ultimately uplifting story, written with insight and empathy, and confirming Jefferies as one of our most exciting and creative historical novelists.” – Lancashire Post

“Jefferies ​once again weaves an intriguing tale of mystery and romance set in an exotic location that will please fans of her first book.” – Library Journal

Available Formats:

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ROMANCE



Blind Kiss by  Renée Carlino

blind kissPenny spends her afternoons sitting outside a sandwich shop, surrounded by ghosts. Fourteen years ago, this shop was her childhood dance studio… Now she’s a suburban housewife, dreading the moment her son departs for MIT, leaving her with an impeccably decorated McMansion and a failing marriage. She had her chance at wild, stars-in-her-eyes happiness, but that was a lifetime ago. After The Kiss. Before The Decision.

The Kiss was soulful. Magical. Earth-shattering, And it was all for a free gift card. Asked to participate in a psych study that posed the question, “Can you have sexual chemistry without knowing what the other person looks like?” Penny agreed to be blindfolded, make polite conversation with a total stranger, and kiss him. She never expected The Kiss to change her life forever and introduce her to Gavin: tattooed, gorgeous, and spontaneous enough to ask her out seconds after the blindfolds came off.

For a year, they danced between friendship and romance—until Penny made The Decision that forced them to settle for friendship. Now, fourteen years later, both of their lives are about to radically change—and it’s his turn to decide what will become of their once-in-a-lifetime connection.

Description from Goodreads.

“Carlino (Wish You Were Here) impresses and astonishes with this complicated, beautiful contemporary that shifts between past and present with devastating effect . . . [Her] sharp, incisive prose calls the traditional romance novel ending into question throughout. The expert characterizations and a constantly surprising plot are enthralling. Deep and complex, this heartbreaking and heartwarming tale will live in readers’ memories long after the final page is turned.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

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SCI-FI & FANTASY



Relic by  Alan Dean Foster

relicOnce Homo sapiens reigned supreme, spreading from star system to star system in an empire that encountered no alien life and thus knew no enemy . . . save itself. As had happened many times before, the basest, most primal human instincts rose up, only this time armed with the advanced scientific knowledge to create a genetically engineered smart virus that quickly wiped out humanity to the last man.

That man is Ruslan, the sole known surviving human being in the universe. Rescued from the charnel house of his home planet by the Myssari–an intelligent alien race–Ruslan spends his days as something of a cross between a research subject and a zoo attraction. Though the Myssari are determined to resurrect the human race, using Ruslan’s genetic material, all he wants for himself and his species is oblivion. But then the Myssari make Ruslan an extraordinary offer: In exchange for his cooperation, they will do everything in their considerable power to find the lost home world of his species–an all-but-mythical place called Earth–and, perhaps, another living human.

Thus begins an epic journey of adventure, danger, heartbreak, and hope, as Ruslan sets out in search of a place that may no longer exist–drawn by the slimmest yet most enduring hope.

Description from Goodreads.

“The stunning plot of Foster’s stand-alone novel will intrigue readers for not only the ‘last man in the universe’ trope but also the well-developed alien species. A true first contact novel on many different levels.” – Library Journal

“Foster’s sympathetic novel successfully surveys human frailty, the tendency not to learn from history, and an enduring capacity for adaptation and emotional attachment.” – Publishers Weekly

“A provocative read.” – The Washington Post

Available Formats:

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NONFICTION



The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by  David Quammen

tangled treeNonpareil science writer David Quammen explains how recent discoveries in molecular biology can change our understanding of evolution and life’s history, with powerful implications for human health and even our own human nature.

In the mid-1970s, scientists began using DNA sequences to reexamine the history of all life. Perhaps the most startling discovery to come out of this new field—the study of life’s diversity and relatedness at the molecular level—is horizontal gene transfer (HGT), or the movement of genes across species lines. It turns out that HGT has been widespread and important. For instance, we now know that roughly eight percent of the human genome arrived not through traditional inheritance from directly ancestral forms, but sideways by viral infection—a type of HGT.

In The Tangled Tree David Quammen, “one of that rare breed of science journalists who blends exploration with a talent for synthesis and storytelling” (Nature), chronicles these discoveries through the lives of the researchers who made them—such as Carl Woese, the most important little-known biologist of the twentieth century; Lynn Margulis, the notorious maverick whose wild ideas about “mosaic” creatures proved to be true; and Tsutomu Wantanabe, who discovered that the scourge of antibiotic-resistant bacteria is a direct result of horizontal gene transfer, bringing the deep study of genome histories to bear on a global crisis in public health.

“Quammen is no ordinary writer. He is simply astonishing, one of that rare class of writer gifted with verve, ingenuity, humor, guts, and great heart” (Elle). Now, in The Tangled Tree, he explains how molecular studies of evolution have brought startling recognitions about the tangled tree of life—including where we humans fit upon it. Thanks to new technologies such as CRISPR, we now have the ability to alter even our genetic composition—through sideways insertions, as nature has long been doing. The Tangled Tree is a brilliant guide to our transformed understanding of evolution, of life’s history, and of our own human nature.

Description from Goodreads.

“[Quammen] is our greatest living chronicler of the natural world. . . .There are vivacious descriptions on almost every page.” – The New York Times

“Quammen has written a deep and daring intellectual adventure. . . . The Tangled Tree is much more than a report on some cool new scientific facts. It is, rather, a source of wonder.” – The Boston Globe

“David Quammen proves to be an immensely well-informed guide to a complex story. . . . Indeed he is, in my opinion, the best natural history writer currently working. Mr. Quammen’s books . . . consistently impress with their accuracy, energy and superb, evocative writing.” – The Wall Street Journal

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Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret by  Craig Brown

ninety-nine glimpses of princess margaretShe made John Lennon blush and Marlon Brando tongue-tied. She iced out Princess Diana and humiliated Elizabeth Taylor. Andy Warhol photographed her. Jack Nicholson offered her cocaine. Gore Vidal revered her. Francis Bacon heckled her. Peter Sellers was madly in love with her. For Pablo Picasso, she was the object of sexual fantasy.

Princess Margaret aroused passion and indignation in equal measures. To her friends, she was witty and regal. To her enemies, she was rude and demanding. In her 1950s heyday, she was seen as one of the most glamorous and desirable women in the world. By the time of her death in 2002, she had come to personify disappointment. One friend said he had never known an unhappier woman. The tale of Princess Margaret is Cinderella in reverse: hope dashed, happiness mislaid, life mishandled.

Such an enigmatic and divisive figure demands a reckoning that is far from the usual fare. Combining interviews, parodies, dreams, parallel lives, diaries, announcements, lists, catalogues, and essays, Craig Brown’s Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is a kaleidoscopic experiment in biography and a witty meditation on fame and art, snobbery and deference, bohemia and high society.

Description from Goodreads.

“Rollicking, irresistible, un-put-downable . . . For anyone . . . who swooned to Netflix’s The Crown, this book will be manna from heaven.” – Vogue

“Brown ignores all the starchy obligations of biography and adopts a form of his own to trap the past and ensnare the reader ― even this reader, so determinedly indifferent to the royals. I ripped through the book with the avidity of Margaret attacking her morning vodka and orange juice . . . The wisdom of the book, and the artistry, is in how Brown subtly expands his lens from Margaret’s misbehavior ― sometimes campy, sometimes desperate ― to those who gawked at her, who huddled around her, pens poised over their diaries, hoping for the show she never denied them. History isn’t written by the victors, he reminds us, it’s written by the writers, and this study becomes a scathing group portrait of a generation of carnivorous royal watchers.” – The New York Times

“Craig Brown’s delectable Ninety-Nine Glimpses of Princess Margaret is not a novel, though its subject seems like a sublime work of fiction, too imperious to be true . . . Brown has done something astonishing: He makes the reader care, even sympathize, with perhaps the last subject worthy of such affection… His book is big fun, equal measures insightful and hysterical.” – The Washington Post

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Scarface and the Untouchable: Al Capone, Eliot Ness, and the Battle for Chicago by  Max Allan Collins & A. Brad Schwartz

scarface and the untouchableIn 1929, thirty-year-old gangster Al Capone ruled both Chicago’s underworld and its corrupt government. To a public who scorned Prohibition, “Scarface” became a local hero and national celebrity. But after the brutal St. Valentine’s Day Massacre transformed Capone into “Public Enemy Number One,” the federal government found an unlikely new hero in a twenty-seven-year-old Prohibition agent named Eliot Ness. Chosen to head the legendary law enforcement team known as “The Untouchables,” Ness set his sights on crippling Capone’s criminal empire.

Today, no underworld figure is more iconic than Al Capone and no lawman as renowned as Eliot Ness. Yet in 2016 the Chicago Tribune wrote, “Al Capone still awaits the biographer who can fully untangle, and balance, the complexities of his life,” while revisionist historians have continued to misrepresent Ness and his remarkable career.

Enter Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz, a unique and vibrant writing team combining the narrative skill of a master novelist with the scholarly rigor of a trained historian. Collins is the New York Times bestselling author of the gangster classic Road to Perdition. Schwartz is a rising-star historian whose work anticipated the fake-news phenomenon.

Scarface and the Untouchable draws upon decades of primary source research—including the personal papers of Ness and his associates, newly released federal files, and long-forgotten crime magazines containing interviews with the gangsters and G-men themselves. Collins and Schwartz have recaptured a bygone bullet-ridden era while uncovering the previously unrevealed truth behind Scarface’s downfall. Together they have crafted the definitive work on Capone, Ness, and the battle for Chicago.

Description from Goodreads.

“The scholarship displayed in Scarface and the Untouchable is extraordinary, probing deeply into the activities, interrelationships and mindsets of the many principal characters.” – BookPage

“Succeed[s] admirably. … Careful research combined with vivid pulp style.” – Booklist

“A gripping take on Chicago’s past that reads like a novel.” – Chicago Magazine

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Chesapeake Requiem: A Year with the Watermen of Vanishing Tangier Island by  Earl Swift

chesapeake requiemA brilliant, soulful, and timely portrait of a two-hundred-year-old crabbing community in the middle of the Chesapeake Bay as it faces extinction from rising sea levels—part natural history of an extraordinary ecosystem, starring the beloved blue crab; part paean to a vanishing way of life; and part meditation on man’s relationship with the environment—from the acclaimed author, who reported this story for more than two years

Tangier Island, Virginia, is a community unique on the American landscape. Mapped by John Smith in 1608, settled during the American Revolution, the tiny sliver of mud is home to 470 hardy people who live an isolated and challenging existence, with one foot in the 21st century and another in times long passed. They are separated from their countrymen by the nation’s largest estuary, and a twelve-mile boat trip across often tempestuous water—the same water that for generations has made Tangier’s fleet of small fishing boats a chief source for the rightly prized Chesapeake Bay blue crab, and has lent the island its claim to fame as the softshell crab capital of the world.

Yet for all of its long history, and despite its tenacity, Tangier is disappearing. The very water that has long sustained it is erasing the island day by day, wave by wave. It has lost two-thirds of its land since 1850, and still its shoreline retreats by fifteen feet a year—meaning this storied place will likely succumb first among U.S. towns to the effects of climate change. Experts reckon that, barring heroic intervention by the federal government, islanders could be forced to abandon their home within twenty-five years. Meanwhile, the graves of their forebears are being sprung open by encroaching tides, and the conservative and deeply religious Tangiermen ponder the end times.

Chesapeake Requiem is an intimate look at the island’s past, present and tenuous future, by an acclaimed journalist who spent much of the past two years living among Tangier’s people, crabbing and oystering with its watermen, and observing its long traditions and odd ways. What emerges is the poignant tale of a world that has, quite nearly, gone by—and a leading-edge report on the coming fate of countless coastal communities.

Description from Goodreads.

“[A] sweeping historical narrative. … Intimate, meticulously reported and captivating. … Earl Swift masterfully reveals Tangier as it is. … The definitive account of what once was and of what will soon be no more.” – The Washington Post

“Immersive, sensitive, and clear-eyed. [Swift] captures the grain of the place, all its nicks and whorls. … A mournfulness accumulates as we settle in to this beautifully peculiar pixel of America, knowing as we do that beneath those tidal rhythms ticks a very grim clock.” – Garden & Gun

“A masterful narrative of place, people, and nature.” – Christian Science Monitor

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