Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (Spiegel & Grau, 2015)
In these times of racial strife, when our divided nation sees Kanye West draw widespread condemnation for his controversial views, Kendrick Lamar win the Pulitzer Prize for music, and Trayvon Martin become a household name, this book is a must-read. Much as Hillbilly Elegy by J. D. Vance tore open the curtain on a “culture in crisis” and clarified to me and educated me on the concerns and values of a group of people I had no connection to, apart from as the butt of jokes, this searing and multiple award-winning book by the influential writer and cultural commentator Ta-Nehisi Coates tears away the veneer of color blindness and racial equality and shows the reader his world of black fear and white privilege.
Written as a letter to the author’s teenage son, this book is a punch in the gut and at times difficult to read. The father tells his son of other black boys who have died for wearing hoodies or playing their music too loud and outlines his fears for his son as a young black man. I put it down several times to compose myself—the writer’s rage against society felt personal and sometimes unfair—but I picked it back up and finished it … and thought about it … and read reviews … and thought about it again…. Brace yourself and read it.—DS
Kristen Harnisch, The Vintner’s Daughter (She Writes Press, 2014)
What was once a successful Loire Valley wine operation (in the late 1800s) comes to an abrupt end after Sara Thibault’s father, the vintner, is killed and her mother is forced to sell the business. Not only had Sara dreamed of taking over the vineyard herself one day, but the competitor who buys it happens to be her highly abusive brother-in-law. The results of his dark impulses compel Sara to take action (mirroring the resourcefulness we have seen her employ in the vineyard to save grapevines from blight), which in turn makes it necessary for Sara (and her sister) to flee to New York, where they will encounter additional challenges.
Throughout this beautifully rendered historical novel the reader learns much about winemaking and wine selling at the turn of the twentieth century. It is a fascinating time to read about and the perfect backdrop for a compelling story of a strong young woman who must balance what she knows to be her destiny with the immediate needs of the people around her. And for an interview with the author, see New Books in Historical Fiction.—JS
Ellen Notbohm, The River by Starlight (She Writes Press, 2018)
When Annie Rushton heads west to keep house for her older brother on his Montana homestead, she’s leaving marriage and motherhood behind her. Adam Fielding changes her mind, and the two of them establish a passionate, economically successful partnership that is missing only one element: a child. With each stillbirth, complicated pregnancy, and deadly childhood disease, the depression that destroyed Annie’s first marriage returns, driving her and Adam farther apart. Then the law intervenes….
This thought-provoking and beautifully written debut novel dives into the depths of family life and individual psychosis and uncovers a cast of complex and compelling characters that will keep you entranced to the last page.—CPL
Nancy Springer, The Oddling Prince (Tachyon Publications, 2018)
Lyrical and with a sense of melancholy, The Oddling Prince is a throwback to the days when high fantasy vibrated with idealism. True, the narrator, Prince Aric, has an increasingly disturbed king as a father. It’s probably not giving away too much to disclose that his father eventually confesses to some unsavory power struggles with relatives. However, Prince Aric, a young man of simple tastes and straight-forward allegiances, is a good-hearted type, patient with his irascible father and protective of his newly discovered brother, Albaric.
There’s an unexpected element to his new sibling: Albaric is part-elf, exiled forever from that ethereal world because of his quest to help their father, who has fallen under the spell of a ring. To the king the elf-son is an uncanny reminder of his time as a captive of the capricious elf queen. Aric, however, feels a deep bond to the lonely, loyal outcast.
Soon Aric is torn between his wish to please his father and his desire to help Albaric put down roots in this world. As various plans fail, he must find a way to protect his gifted but fragile brother and restore harmony to the kingdom.—GM