Best New Books: Week of 9/21/21

“The best arguments in the world won’t change a person’s mind. The only thing that can do that is a good story.” – Richard Powers, The Overstory



Bewilderment by  Richard Powers ★

Fiction.

The astrobiologist Theo Byrne searches for life throughout the cosmos while single-handedly raising his unusual nine-year-old, Robin, following the death of his wife. Robin is a warm, kind boy who spends hours painting elaborate pictures of endangered animals. He’s also about to be expelled from third grade for smashing his friend in the face. As his son grows more troubled, Theo hopes to keep him off psychoactive drugs. He learns of an experimental neurofeedback treatment to bolster Robin’s emotional control, one that involves training the boy on the recorded patterns of his mother’s brain…

With its soaring descriptions of the natural world, its tantalizing vision of life beyond, and its account of a father and son’s ferocious love, Bewilderment marks Richard Powers’s most intimate and moving novel. At its heart lies the question: How can we tell our children the truth about this beautiful, imperiled planet?

Description from Goodreads.

“Achingly current and wise.” – Washington Post

“Searing… seamlessly blends science, emotion and philosophy in a way that only [Powers] can.” – Newsweek

“Marvelous… Powers transforms the wrenching story into something sublime… The work of a master.” – Publishers Weekly

“Soaring descriptions and forthright observations about our planet… Offers rich commentary on the complex, often mystifying intersections between science, popular culture, and politics… As the best-selling The Overstory continues to reverberate, readers will be excited to turn to another deeply involving Powers novel.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


The Book of Form and Emptiness by  Ruth Ozeki ★

Fiction.

After the tragic death of his beloved musician father, fourteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices. The voices belong to the things in his house–a sneaker, a broken Christmas ornament, a piece of wilted lettuce. Although Benny doesn’t understand what these things are saying, he can sense their emotional tone; some are pleasant, a gentle hum or coo, but others are snide, angry and full of pain. When his mother, Annabelle, develops a hoarding problem, the voices grow more clamorous.

At first, Benny tries to ignore them, but soon the voices follow him outside the house, onto the street and at school, driving him at last to seek refuge in the silence of a large public library, where objects are well-behaved and know to speak in whispers. There, Benny discovers a strange new world, where “things happen.” He falls in love with a mesmerizing street artist with a smug pet ferret, who uses the library as her performance space. He meets a homeless philosopher-poet, who encourages him to ask important questions and find his own voice amongst the many.

And he meets his very own Book–a talking thing–who narrates Benny’s life and teaches him to listen to the things that truly matter.

With its blend of sympathetic characters, riveting plot, and vibrant engagement with everything from jazz, to climate change, to our attachment to material possessions, The Book of Form and Emptiness is classic Ruth Ozeki–bold, wise, poignant, playful, humane and heartbreaking.

Description from Goodreads.

“A great premise, one that perfectly captures how it feels to be a child falling into a lifelong love of reading. It’s a book for book people, exploring how books can offer meaning and – in this case, literally – speak to us.” – BookPage

“With her characteristic charm, empathy, and perspicacity, Ozeki writes Benny’s story of learning to hear, and manage, the voices, and hear himself along the way.” – The Millions

“If what you need right now is to sink into a big, warm, literary bath, this is the book for you. It’s not that Ozeki’s latest novel isn’t challenging, it’s just that it manages to be so while also being pure pleasure, especially if you’re the kind of person who once had mostly books for friends… It’s a big book in more ways than one, complex and ambitious and wide-ranging, but honestly also just so charming I found it hard to walk away from, even when I was done.” – Literary Hub

“[Ozeki] writes with bountiful insight, exuberant imagination, and levitating grace about psychic diversity, our complicated attitude toward our possessions, street protests, climate change, and such wonders as crows, the moon, and snow globes. Most inventively, Ozeki celebrates the profound relationship between reader and writer. This enthralling, poignant, funny, and mysterious saga, thrumming with grief and tenderness, beauty and compassion, offers much wisdom.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook


The Cause: The American Revolution and Its Discontents, 1773-1783 by  Joseph J. Ellis

Nonfiction / History.

George Washington claimed that anyone who attempted to provide an accurate account of the war for independence would be accused of writing fiction. At the time, no one called it the “American Revolution”: former colonists still regarded themselves as Virginians or Pennsylvanians, not Americans, while John Adams insisted that the British were the real revolutionaries, for attempting to impose radical change without their colonists’ consent.

With The Cause, Ellis takes a fresh look at the events between 1773 and 1783, recovering a war more brutal than any in American history save the Civil War and discovering a strange breed of “prudent” revolutionaries, whose prudence proved wise yet tragic when it came to slavery, the original sin that still haunts our land. Written with flair and drama, The Cause brings together a cast of familiar and forgotten characters who, taken together, challenge the story we have long told ourselves about our origins as a people and a nation.

Description from Goodreads.

“Ellis’s witty style and astute analysis make this essential reading for historians and enthusiasts at all levels who want to disentangle the complex historiography of the American Revolution.” – Library Journal

“[A] richly detailed, multivoiced history… Profiles of lesser-known figures including Continental Army soldier Joseph Plumb Martin and Mohawk chief Joseph Brant add depth and nuance to a familiar story. This expert account highlights the ‘improvisational’ nature of America’s founding.” – Publishers Weekly

“With his characteristically graceful prose, Ellis offers a short, straightforward history of a critical decade in the nation’s youth… [from] a master storyteller known for perceptive detailing. As is always the case with Ellis, he is brilliant at short takes―events, decisions, individuals… True to his own skills at bringing people alive, Ellis also includes sympathetic mini-profiles of normal, unsung participants in the period’s fraught events: loyalists, women, Native Americans, Joseph Plum Martin (‘the Zelig of the American Revolution’), and, perhaps the most captivating, Washington’s personal slave, Billy Lee… It’s hard to imagine a better-told brief history of the key years of the American Revolution.” – Kirkus Reviews

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | eAudiobook


Daughter of the Morning Star by  Craig Johnson

Fiction / Mystery / Western.

When Lolo Long’s niece Jaya begins receiving death threats, Tribal Police Chief Long calls on Absaroka County Sheriff Walt Longmire along with Henry Standing Bear as lethal backup. Jaya Longshot Long is the phenom of the Lame Deer Lady Stars High School basketball team and is following in the steps of her older sister, who disappeared a year previously, a victim of the scourge of missing Native Woman in Indian Country. Lolo hopes that having Longmire involved might draw some public attention to the girl’s plight, but with this maneuver she also inadvertently places the good sheriff in a one-on-one with the deadliest adversary he has ever faced in both this world and the next.

Description from Goodreads.

“A standout in the series…” – AudioFile

“Fans will hope the sheriff has no plans to retire soon.” – Publishers Weekly

“A mysterious adventure that spotlights the horrific experiences of Native women whose abuse is often unseen and unreported.” – Kirkus Reviews

Available Formats:

Print Book | Audiobook | eBook


The Escapement by  Lavie Tidhar

Fiction / Fantasy / Science Fiction.

Into the Escapement rides the Stranger, a lone gunman on a quest to rescue his son in a strange parallel reality. But it is easy to lose one’s way on an endlessly shifting, unpredictable landscape. Especially in a place full of dangerous mirror-images of a child’s beloved things: lawless heroes, giants made of stone, downtrodden clowns, spectacular symbol storms, and an endless war between gods and shadowy beings.

As the Stranger has learned, the Escapement is a dreamscape of deep mysteries, unlikely allies, and unwinnable battles. Yet the flower he seeks still lies beyond the Mountains of Darkness. Time is running out as the Stranger journeys deeper into the secret heart of an unimaginable world.

Description from Goodreads.

“A delightfully cacophonous novel, teeming with character.” – Kirkus Reviews

“Tidhar is a spellbinding stylist with a spell-casting imagination. Part fantasy, part sci-fi, part surreal mainstream, this novel plonks the reader into a vast, surreal landscape, the Escapement, in which clowns and stone monsters and cowboys and classic fictional characters coexist in a shifting tableau. The Stranger is our hero, a warrior searching for mythical flowers, even as in another universe he sits at his sick boy’s side in a hospital. None of this should work but all of it does, the author managing to evoke sadness, awe, and even humor. I could only compare my reading to old Philip K. Dick married to Samuel R. Delaney. The Escapement is a captivating triumph of imagination.” – Watch

“Those who enter the Escapement should strap themselves in for horrors and wonders galore. Filled with contorted fairy tales, myths, and familiar stories, Lavie Tidhar’s latest novel is both a fantastical diversion and a moving articulation of deep parental love.” – Foreword Reviews

Available Formats:

Hoopla eBook


Things We Couldn’t Say by  Jay Coles

Fiction / Young Adult.

There’s always been a hole in Gio’s life. Not because he’s into both guys and girls. Not because his father has some drinking issues. Not because his friends are always bringing him their drama. No, the hole in Gio’s life takes the shape of his birth mom, who left Gio, his brother, and his father when Gio was nine years old. For eight years, he never heard a word from her… and now, just as he’s started to get his life together, she’s back.

It’s hard for Gio to know what to do. Can he forgive her like she wants to be forgiven? Or should he tell her she lost her chance to be in his life? Complicating things further, Gio’s started to hang out with David, a new guy on the basketball team. Are they friends? More than friends? At first, Gio’s not sure… especially because he’s not sure what he wants from anyone right now.

There are no easy answers to love — whether it’s family love or friend love or romantic love. In Things We Couldn’t Say, Jay Coles, acclaimed author of Tyler Johnson Was Here, shows us a guy trying to navigate love in all its ambiguity — hoping at the other end he’ll be able to figure out who is and who he should be.

Description from Goodreads.

“A realistic depiction of challenging circumstances and first love.” – Kirkus Reviews

“…powerful… The issues of sexuality, identity, and parental abandonment are skillfully and sensitively addressed.” – The Hub

“Coles expertly showcases the grey zone when it comes to loving people who abandon you, the paradox of wanting them back in your life while also refusing them a spot in your heart for fear of them leaving you behind once more… this book will make you feel all the feels.” – The NERD Daily

Available Formats:

Hoopla eAudiobook


Under the Whispering Door by  TJ Klune

Fiction / Fantasy / Romance.

When a reaper comes to collect Wallace Price from his own funeral, Wallace suspects he really might be dead.

Instead of leading him directly to the afterlife, the reaper takes him to a small village. On the outskirts, off the path through the woods, tucked between mountains, is a particular tea shop, run by a man named Hugo. Hugo is the tea shop’s owner to locals and the ferryman to souls who need to cross over.

But Wallace isn’t ready to abandon the life he barely lived. With Hugo’s help he finally starts to learn about all the things he missed in life.

When the Manager, a curious and powerful being, arrives at the tea shop and gives Wallace one week to cross over, Wallace sets about living a lifetime in seven days.

Description from Goodreads.

“TJ Klune is doing powerful work that inspires and impresses. He is a gift to our troubled times, and his novels are a radiant treat to all who discover them.” – Locus

“Tenderness, wit, and skillful worldbuilding elevate this delightful tale.” – Publishers Weekly

“[A] winning story about grief, loss, and moving on. Readers will cry and be charmed by his wonderful characters.” – Library Journal

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook


Vanderbilt: The Rise and Fall of an American Dynasty by  Anderson Cooper Katherine Howe

Nonfiction / Biography / History.

When eleven-year-old Cornelius Vanderbilt began to work on his father’s small boat ferrying supplies in New York Harbor at the beginning of the nineteenth century, no one could have imagined that one day he would, through ruthlessness, cunning, and a pathological desire for money, build two empires—one in shipping and another in railroads—that would make him the richest man in America. His staggering fortune was fought over by his heirs after his death in 1877, sowing familial discord that would never fully heal. Though his son Billy doubled the money left by “the Commodore,” subsequent generations competed to find new and ever more extraordinary ways of spending it. By 2018, when the last Vanderbilt was forced out of The Breakers—the seventy-room summer estate in Newport, Rhode Island, that Cornelius’s grandson and namesake had built—the family would have been unrecognizable to the tycoon who started it all.

Now, the Commodore’s great-great-great-grandson Anderson Cooper, joins with historian Katherine Howe to explore the story of his legendary family and their outsized influence. Cooper and Howe breathe life into the ancestors who built the family’s empire, basked in the Commodore’s wealth, hosted lavish galas, and became synonymous with unfettered American capitalism and high society. Moving from the hardscrabble wharves of old Manhattan to the lavish drawing rooms of Gilded Age Fifth Avenue, from the ornate summer palaces of Newport to the courts of Europe, and all the way to modern-day New York, Cooper and Howe wryly recount the triumphs and tragedies of an American dynasty unlike any other.

Written with a unique insider’s viewpoint, this is a rollicking, quintessentially American history as remarkable as the family it so vividly captures.

Description from Goodreads.

“A dramatic tale expertly told of rapacious ambition, decadent excess, and covert and overt tyranny and trauma… With resplendent detail, the authors capture the gasp-eliciting extravagance of the Vanderbilt Gilded Age mansions… With its intrinsic empathy and in-depth profiles of women, this is a distinctly intimate, insightful, and engrossing chronicle of an archetypal, self-consuming American dynasty… Irresistible.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“Marked by meticulous research and deep emotional insight, this is a memorable chronicle of American royalty.” – Publishers Weekly

“A sturdy family history that also serves as a pointed lesson in how to lose a fortune.” – Kirkus Reviews

Available Formats:

Print Book | Audiobook | eBook | eAudiobook


When Ghosts Come Home by  Wiley Cash

Fiction / Mystery / Historical Fiction.

When the roar of a low-flying plane awakens him in the middle of the night, Sheriff Winston Barnes knows something strange is happening at the nearby airfield on the coast of North Carolina. But nothing can prepare him for what he finds: a large airplane has crash-landed and is now sitting sideways on the runway, and there are no signs of a pilot or cargo. When the body of a local man is discovered—shot dead and lying on the grass near the crash site—Winston begins a murder investigation that will change the course of his life and the fate of the community that he has sworn to protect.

Everyone is a suspect, including the dead man. As rumors and accusations fly, long-simmering racial tensions explode overnight, and Winston, whose own tragic past has followed him like a ghost, must do his duty while facing the painful repercussions of old decisions. Winston also knows that his days as sheriff may be numbered. He’s up for re-election against a corrupt and well-connected challenger, and his deputies are choosing sides. As if these events weren’t troubling enough, he must finally confront his daughter Colleen, who has come home grieving a shattering loss she cannot fully articulate.

Description from Goodreads.

“Writing with clarity and grace, best-selling Cash is a gem of a storyteller, combining the solitary journey of a young mother’s grief and a community’s relentless battle against racial injustice. The result is a tightly crafted whodunit with true depth that readers will simultaneously want to speed through and savor.” – Booklist, STARRED REVIEW

“[When Ghosts Come Home] is great work, a novel that will not disappoint… Readers will care, and care deeply, about the sheriff, his wife, and his daughter, each of whom is dealing with pain and regret.” – Wilmington Star News

“Although the plot alone is compelling enough to keep readers turning the pages, this is also a quietly moving look at how realistically flawed characters deal with the tragedies life throws at them. A gripping mystery with characters that will linger in readers’ minds long after they turn the last page.” – Kirkus Reviews

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook


The Wrong End of the Telescope by  Rabih Alameddine

Fiction.

Mina Simpson, a Lebanese doctor, arrives at the infamous Moria refugee camp on Lesbos, Greece, after being urgently summoned for help by her friend who runs an NGO there. Alienated from her family except for her beloved brother, Mina has avoided being so close to her homeland for decades. But with a week off work and apart from her wife of thirty years, Mina hopes to accomplish something meaningful, among the abundance of Western volunteers who pose for selfies with beached dinghies and the camp’s children.

Soon, a boat crosses bringing Sumaiya, a fiercely resolute Syrian matriarch with terminal liver cancer. Determined to protect her children and husband at all costs, Sumaiya refuses to alert her family to her diagnosis. Bonded together by Sumaiya’s secret, a deep connection sparks between the two women, and as Mina prepares a course of treatment with the limited resources on hand, she confronts the circumstances of the migrants displacement, as well as her own constraints in helping them.

Not since the inimitable Aaliya of An Unnecessary Woman has Rabih Alameddine conjured such a winsome heroine to lead us to one of the most wrenching conflicts of our time. Cunningly weaving stories of other refugees into Mina’s singular own, The Wrong End of the Telescope is a bedazzling tapestry of both tragic and amusing portraits of indomitable spirits facing a humanitarian crisis.

Description from Goodreads.

“The great strength of this latest novel from National Book Award finalist Alameddine lies in how it deftly combines the biographical with the historical; the small, more personal moments often carry the most weight. A remarkable, surprisingly intimate tale of human connection in the midst of disaster.” – Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW

“No one writes fiction that is more naturally an extension of lived life than this master storyteller… Engaging and unsettling in equal measure.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW

“Profound and wonderful… A wise, deeply moving story that can still locate humor in the pit of hell… A triumph.” – Publishers Weekly, STARRED REVIEW

Available Formats:

Print Book | eBook | Hoopla eBook



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