Books We Loved, Sep. 2018
In addition to our own Joan Schweighardt’s Before We Died (Rivers, Book 1), due out any day, here are a few suggestions for those soon-to-arrive autumn days, as well as one for those of us not yet prepared to let go of summer!
Fredrik Backman, Beartown (Washington Square Press, 2016)
Beartown, by the Swedish novelist Frederik Backman, differs in scope from the more intimate A Man Called Ove (my Books We Loved pick for April 2018), yet central to both novels is the relationship of individual to community. Backman is a master storyteller of tragedy and wit.
Beartown is an economically depressed town located “in a forest,” a sort of Everytown with a gamut of social classes that unites behind its local hockey team. A big win is critical for the town’s financial survival, but the exposure of an act of violence derails the team and the town. The town splits along lines that bring out the worst aspects of group-think and test loyalty, love, and grace.
The strongly defined characters of the heroes and antiheroes, girlfriends, parents and coaches, ex-players, local teacher, and town bartender make personal decisions with consequences that touch everyone. Just like people, towns change. Fictional Beartown stayed with me long after I’d finished the book as a portrait of truth.—AA
Bernard Cornwell, War of the Wolf (Harper, 2018)
Yes, it’s true, I’m an Uhtred fan. This always amazes me, as war is hardly my preferred topic in fiction, whether as reader or writer. But there is something special about Uhtred: his sass, perhaps, or his refusal to take himself seriously; his flashes of empathy and kindness, especially toward women and children in a world that often shows little regard for either; even his stubborn adherence to paganism in a rapidly Christianizing world.
By this, his eleventh, adventure—due for simultaneous UK and US release on October 2—Uhtred would be on the brink of collecting Social Security if he lived in our century. But in 942, in what will become England, he’s lucky if he can spend a few weeks at his fireside before old allegiances and new enemies summon him back into action. Here Uhtred responds to a call from Aethelstan, son of King Edward of Wessex by a marriage Edward is eager to deny on behalf of more recent pairings but whom Uhtred is sworn to protect. It soon becomes clear that the threat against Aethelstan is a ruse to get Uhtred away from his home, ensuring that he won’t be present to defend his son-in-law from marauding Danes. But Uhtred is not so easily deceived, and he is soon chasing wolf warriors—who smear themselves with henbane to harness the psychic and physical strength of the wolf—across Northumbria and its subsidiary territory of Cumberland, not an easy thing to do while under a curse delivered by a powerful sorcerer.
Uhtred is at the peak of his game here, despite his advanced age, and watching him mature from the rash youth we met in The Last Kingdom is part of the pleasure of this long-running and deservedly acclaimed series.—CPL
Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich, The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir (Flatiron Books, 2017)
Many memoirists will focus on a particular central event in their lives in order to tell the larger story of their whole lives. This gives them the freedom to move back and forth and over and around said event, as opposed to telling their story chronologically. Often it makes the memoir even more interesting to read.
What makes Marzano-Lesnevich’s memoir so unputdownable is that the reference event that she has chosen for her story is not based on an episode from her life at all. Rather, it is the true story of a little boy who is murdered by a pedophile in the swamplands of Louisiana. And while Marzano-Lesnevich tells the reader about the murder right up front, between chapters describing her early childhood with her family in affluent Tenafly, New Jersey, the little boy won’t actually be killed for years to come, and Marzano-Lesnevich won’t even know about the crime until years after that, when she is in law school. But when she does come to learn of it, she (and the reader) will begin to realize that many of the players in Marzano-Lesnevich’s life have in common certain “traits” with the people in the story of the murdered boy. And when Marzano-Lesnevich is out of law school and has made the decision to become a writer instead of a lawyer, the story of the boy’s murder will take on new significance as she begins her investigation into every detail of every aspect of the crime in her effort to learn as much as possible about the perverts, deniers, deceivers, and keepers of secrets that have impacted her own life.
The Fact of a Body is a true literary feat: a dazzling memoir, an exacting study of a particular crime, and a probe into the various ways we make sense of the past through the stories we choose to tell—all wrapped up into one great read.—JS
And, because we’re not quite ready for summer to end, even though Labor Day has come and gone:
Liz Moody and Clarkson Potter, Glow Pops (Random House, 2017)
Sometimes you want a novel. Sometimes you want an in-depth biography or a treatise on economics. But when it's hot, you want a popsicle! Liz Moody's book provides a fun, intelligent, and informative path to the best popsicles you can imagine. I've tried the fudge pop, made with avocado and dates, and it's as good as the old-fashioned Fudgesicle of my youth. Cantaloupe with ginger and mint, cardamom-cinnamon-sweet potato, spicy arugula jalapeño pineapple—all satisfy and delight while providing a wallop of nutrition.
The best-kept secret? The half a cup of spinach in the mint-chocolate chip popsicle! Directions are clear, ingredients are specific, and the little anecdotes at the start of each recipe are amusing and informative. Sometimes you need literature, and sometimes only a treat will do!—CHL