New Books October 2016

FICTION

The Gustav Sonata by Rose Tremain
Gustav Perle grows up in a small town in ‘neutral’ Switzerland, where the horrors of the Second World War seem a distant echo.  Gustav’s childhood is spent in lonely isolation, his only toy a tin train with painted passengers staring blankly from the carriage windows.  As time goes on, an intense friendship with Anton Zwiebel begins to define Gustav’s life. Jewish and mercurial, a talented pianist tortured by nerves when he has to play in public, Anton fails to understand how deeply and irrevocably his life and Gustav’s are entwined. Rose Tremain’s novel asks the question, what does it do to a person, or to a country, to pursue an eternal quest for neutrality, and self-mastery, while all life’s hopes and passions continually press upon the borders and beat upon the gate.

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Leon is nine, and has a perfect baby brother called Jake. They have gone to live with Maureen, who has fuzzy red hair like a halo, and a belly like Father Christmas. But the adults are threatening to give Jake to strangers, because Jake is white and Leon is not. As Leon struggles to cope with his anger, certain things can still make him smile – like Curly Wurlys, riding his bike fast downhill, burying his hands deep in the soil, hanging out with Tufty (who reminds him of his dad), and stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum. Evoking a Britain of the early eighties, My Name is Leon is a story of love, identity and learning to overcome unbearable loss. Of the fierce bond between siblings. And how – just when we least expect it – we somehow manage to find our way home.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia. All the slaves lead a hellish existence, but Cora has it worse than most; she is an outcast even among her fellow Africans and she is approaching womanhood, where it is clear even greater pain awaits. When Caesar, a slave recently arrived from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad, they take the perilous decision to escape to the North. Cora and Caesar’s first stop is South Carolina, in a city that initially seems like a haven. But its placid surface masks an infernal scheme designed for its unknowing black inhabitants. And even worse, Ridgeway, the relentless slave catcher sent to find Cora, is close on their heels. Forced to flee again, Cora embarks on a harrowing flight, state by state, seeking true freedom. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan
On a hot May day in 1996 a car bomb detonates in a Delhi marketplace. Just a ‘small’ bomb, but it is fatal for two Khurana school boys. Their friend Mansoor survives the blast bearing the physical and psychological effects of the bomb. After a failed stint at university in America, Mansoor returns to Delhi, where he becomes entangled with the mysterious and charismatic Ayub, a fearless young activist. Yet Mansoor isn’t the only one damaged by the bomb. Mr and Mrs Khurana are trapped in labyrinthine legal battles, desperate for justice to appease their grief. Young bomb maker Shockie, striving for the future independence of his Kashmiri homeland, is also in Delhi that day, and afterwards will be inextricably linked to the blast.

This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell
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 shooting at anyone who ventures up their driveway. He is also about to find out something about a woman he lost touch with twenty years ago, and this discovery will send him off-course, far away from wife and home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

 

MYSTERY / THRILLER

Confessions by Kanae Minato
When Yuko Moriguchi’s four-year-old daughter died in the middle school where she teaches, everyone thought it was a tragic accident. It’s the last day of term, and Yuko’s last day at work. She tells her students that she has resigned because of what happened – but not for the reasons they think. Her daughter didn’t die in an accident. Her daughter was killed by two people in the class. Before Yuko leaves, she has a lesson to teach. But revenge has a way of spinning out of control, and Yuko’s last lecture is only the start of the story.

Out by Natsuo Kirino
In the Tokyo suburbs four women work the draining graveyard shift at a boxed-lunch factory. Burdened with chores and heavy debts and isolated from husbands and children, they all secretly dream of a way out of their dead-end lives. A young mother among them finally cracks and strangles her philandering, gambling husband then confesses her crime to Masako, the closest of her colleagues. For reasons of her own, Masako agrees to assist her friend and seeks the help of the other co-workers to dismember and dispose of the body. The body parts are discovered, the police start asking questions, but the women have far more dangerous enemies -a yakuza connected loan shark who discovers their secret and has a business proposition, and a ruthless nightclub owner the police are convinced is guilty of the murder. He has lost everything as a result of their crime and he is out for revenge.

The Wednesday Club by Kjell Westo
1938. Hitler’s expansionist policies are arousing both anger and admiration, not least in Helsinki’s Wednesday Club. The members of this relaxed gentleman’s club are old friends of lawyer Claes Thune. But this year it is apparent that the political unrest in Europe is having an effect on the cohesion of the group. Thune has recently divorced and is at something of a loss, running his law practice with no great enthusiasm. Luckily he has the assistance of an efficient new secretary, Matilda Wiik, but behind her polished exterior she is tormented by memories of the Finnish Civil War. One evening, with the Wednesday Club gathered in Thune’s office, she hears a voice she hoped she would never hear again. She is suddenly plunged back into the past. But this time she is no longer a helpless victim . . .

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Down-on-his-luck artist Scott Burroughs would usually take the ferry back to New York from Martha’s Vineyard, but he is unexpectedly offered a spare seat on the Bateman family’s private jet. Then just minutes after take-off, the plane crashes into the ocean and of the eight passengers and three crew, only Scott and the Batemans’ small son, JJ, are left alive. The extraordinary nature of their survival, combined with the fact that David Bateman was CEO of a populist TV news channel, means that Scott will not be returning to anonymity. Along with the orphaned boy, he is engulfed by a maelstrom of speculation, which soon overtakes the official investigation into the tragedy. Who else was on the plane? Was there a bomb, a missile? Who is Scott Burroughs?

Dodgers by Bill Beverly
Dodgers is the story of a young LA gang member named East, who is sent by his uncle along with some other teenage boys including East’s hothead younger brother to kill a key witness hiding out in Wisconsin. The journey takes East out of a city he’s never left and into an America that is entirely alien to him, ultimately forcing him to grapple with his place in the world and decide what kind of man he wants to become.

 

NON-FICTION

The Library: A World History by James W. P. Campbell
This spectacular book tells the story of the library as a distinct building type, all around the world. Throughout the ages, book collections have served to symbolize their owners culture and learning, and the wealthy and powerful have spent lavishly on buildings to house them. In its highest form the library became a total work of art, combining painting, sculpture, furniture and architecture into seamless, dramatic spaces. The finest libraries are repositories not just of books, but of learning, creativity and contemplation, they embody some of the highest achievements of humankind.

Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War by Viet Thanh Nguyen
All wars are fought twice, the first time on the battlefield, the second time in memory. From a kaleidoscope of cultural forms – novels, memoirs, cemeteries, monuments, films, photography, museum exhibits, video games, souvenirs, and more – Nothing Ever Dies brings a comprehensive vision of the war into sharp focus. At stake are ethical questions about how the war should be remembered by participants that include not only Americans and Vietnamese but also Laotians, Cambodians, South Koreans, and Southeast Asian Americans. Too often, memorials valorise the experience of one’s own people above all else, honoring their sacrifices while demonising the enemy or, most often, ignoring combatants and civilians on the other side altogether. Viet Thanh Nguyen provides penetrating interpretations of the way memories of the war help to enable future wars or struggle to prevent them. Nguyen offers a lesson for all wars by calling on us to recognize not only our shared humanity but our ever-present inhumanity. This is the only path to reconciliation with our foes, and with ourselves. Without reconciliation, war’s truth will be impossible to remember, and war’s trauma impossible to forget.

The Life Project: The Extraordinary Story of Our Ordinary Lives ( Presented ) by Helen Pearson
In March 1946, scientists began to track thousands of children born in one cold week. No one imagined that this would become the longest-running study of human development in the world, growing to encompass five generations of children. Today, they are some of the best-studied people on the planet, and the simple act of observing human life has changed the way we are born, schooled, parent and die. This is the tale of these studies and the remarkable discoveries that have come from them. Touching almost every person in Britain today, they are one of our best-kept secrets.

 

CHILDREN’S PICTURE BOOKS

How Rocket Learned to Read by Tad Hills
Learn to read with an irresistible dog named Rocket and his teacher, a little yellow bird. Follow along as Rocket masters the alphabet, sounds out words, and finally . . . learns to read all on his own!

Rocket Writes a Story by Tad Hills
Rocket loves books and he wants to make his own, but he can’t think of a story. Encouraged by the little yellow bird to look closely at the world around him for inspiration, Rocket sets out on a journey. Along the way he discovers small details that he has never noticed before, a timid baby owl who becomes his friend, and an idea for a story.

The Skunk by Mac Barnett
When a skunk first appears in the tuxedoed man’s doorway, it’s a strange but possibly harmless occurrence. But then the man finds the skunk following him, and the unlikely pair embark on an increasingly frantic chase through the city, from the streets to the opera house to the fairground. What does the skunk want? It’s not clear but soon the man has bought a new house in a new neighborhood to escape the little creature’s attention, only to find himself missing something…

 

CHILDREN’S FICTION

A Handful of Stars by Cynthia Lord
When Lily’s blind dog, Lucky, slips his collar and runs away across the wide-open blueberry barrens of eastern Maine, it’s Salma Santiago who manages to catch him. Salma, the daughter of migrant workers, is in the small town with her family for the blueberry-picking season. After their initial chance meeting, Salma and Lily bond over painting bee boxes for Lily’s grandfather, and Salma’s friendship transforms Lily’s summer. But when Salma decides to run in the upcoming Blueberry Queen pageant, they’ll have to face some tough truths about friendship and belonging. Should an outsider like Salma really participate in the pageant-and possibly win?

All About Sam by Lois Lowry
At last Sam, Anastasia Krupnik’s irrepressible little brother, gets a chance to tell his own story. From his first days at the hospital, through his Terrible Twos, to his first days at nursery school, we see what Sam is really like. But things are never quite like they seem. In the delivery room, Sam’s first words, “Don’t drop me,” are heard only as “Waaaaahhhh!” And even though he has a perfectly logical explanation for flushing his sister’s goldfish down the toilet, no one understands. From training pants to moving day to nursery school, Sam continually tries to unravel the mysteries of the world at large, facing each crisis and adventure head on and responding with his own brand of humor, candor, and naive insight.

 

YOUNG ADULT

Stupid Fast by Geoff Herbach
My name is Felton Reinstein, which is not a fast name. But last November, my voice finally dropped and I grew all this hair and then I got stupid fast. Fast like a donkey. Zing! Now they want me, the guy they used to call Squirrel Nut, to try out for the football team. With the jocks. But will that fix my mom? Make my brother stop dressing like a pirate? Most important, will it get me girls-especially Aleah? So I train. And I run. And I sneak off to Aleah’s house in the night. But deep down I know I can’t run forever. And I wonder what will happen when I finally have to stop.

Nothing Special by Geoff Herbach
Andrew Reinstein has always believed he is destined for greatness. His brother is a star football player, his father was a champion tennis player, and his best friend is a genius musician. So, of course, Andrew will also be great. Until at age 16 he s confronted with the awful truth: he s not that good at anything. What follows is an impromptu road trip to Florida (aka desperate flight from all the talented people) and a bid for stardom (aka fronting a hotel rock band with escapees from a retirement community) as he searches for his place in the world.

I’m With Stupid by Geoff Herbach
Felton’s never been so great at stress to begin with, but this year…really, it could kill him. So he’s going to do it right. He’s going to make a list. What would he be if he weren’t a jock? He’ll try everything–comedian, partier, super student. But the list ends up giving him more trouble than clarity. Before Felton leaves his hometown forever, he must learn what he can’t control and what he can. He’ll have to figure out how to cast off the dark shadow of his father’s death and become his own man. And, most important of all, he must protect what he loves and who he loves, even if it sucks sometimes.

Highly Illogical Behavior by John Corey Whaley
Sixteen-year-old Solomon is agoraphobic. He hasn’t left the house in three years, which is fine by him. Ambitious Lisa desperately wants to get into the second-best psychology program for college (she’s being realistic). But how can she prove she deserves a spot there? Solomon is the answer. Determined to “fix” Sol, Lisa thrusts herself into his life, sitting through Star Trek marathons with him and introducing him to her charming boyfriend Clark. Soon, all three teens are far closer than they thought they’d be, and when their walls fall down, their friendships threaten to collapse, as well.