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Liana Liu’s second novel, Shadow Girl, is a teenage tale wrapped in a ghost story. Mei’s father has left home a couple of years before the book begins, and since then, she and her Chinese mother have struggled to make ends meet and keep her brother out of trouble. Now that Mei has graduated from high school, she’s making plans to earn money during the summer before attending the local city college in the fall.

After many years as a camp counselor and academic tutor, Mei gets a job tutoring a young girl named Ella Morison at her wealthy family’s summer house on Arrow Island. With room and board included along with generous pay, Mei is sure this is a great plan. When she gets to the island and meets Ella, Mei discovers the job may be harder than she expected. There is something wrong with the house and Ella’s family. Does Mei really see a ghost? Does Ella? What does the ghost want? While Mei tries to answer these supernatural questions, she also unties her own complicated feelings about Ella’s stepbrother, Henry, her goals in life and who she really is.

Liu’s writing style is compelling, making Shadow Girl difficult to put down. Readers may find it strange that the main character’s name is mentioned only once, in the second last chapter, in Chinese. Regardless of this irritation, Shadow Girl is a darn good read.

Additional info…

Written by: Liana Liu

Price: $17.99

ISBN: 9780062306678

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The Scots didn’t invent stubbornness, but they perfected it, raised it to a high art where irresistible force and immovable objects are sometimes locked like two neutron stars in a perilous dance. So, it is with American immigrant Johnny MacKinnon and his Scottish son, Corran, in Laura Lee Smith’s second novel, ‘The Ice House’.

The elder MacKinnon is the COO of Bold City Ice in Jacksonville; his son is a recovering heroin addict and oil rig worker living near Loch Lomond. And while an actual ocean separates father and son, a more disloyal emotional ocean strewn with a fair bit of ice separates the two as well. On top of that, Johnny’s business is facing a potential economic failure due to a suspicious industrial accident, and he has been diagnosed with what might either be a kind cyst or a life-threatening tumor in his brain. Against his wife’s wishes and his doctor’s advice, Mac Kinnon decides to hit the road to the auld sod in order to make amends; find closure with his separated son; Produce a long-overdue apology; all of these perhaps!

Smith has a flair for creating three-dimensional characters who are flawed and heroic in the small ways that most of us are, and while her literary milieu is more chamber music than symphony, she is able to rivet the reader for more than 400 pages, which is no wee accomplishment.

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Elif Shafak’s Three Daughters of Eve begins sharply, as Peri, a wealthy, middle-aged Turkish woman, makes her way to a dinner party. Suddenly, Peri finds herself face to face with a robber, who takes her purse and shakes free its contents, including a prized Polaroid.

Watching the Polaroid flutter to the ground, Peri recalls her early days at Oxford University, a time of personal doubt about the existence of God. She and the two women from the photograph, the sincere Mona and the skeptical Shirin are “the three daughters of Eve,” and together they take a seminar on God. Peri is instantly infatuated with the mysterious professor, and as he pushes her to question her beliefs, she falls deeper for him and begins to panic.

The novel alternates between the present, as Peri encounters snobby members of Istanbul’s middle class at the dinner party and her disturbing memories of what happened with her professor. In striking, lovely language, Shafak considers Islamophobia, teacher-student relationships and terrorism of many kinds. Fresh and timely, this is an approachable novel of big ideas.

Additional info…

Written by: Elif Shafak

Price: $27.00

ISBN: 9781632869951

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Sometimes you can’t see how something works until it breaks, and you can’t see that it’s broken unless you compare it to something that isn’t. In Little Broken Things, while Liz plans one of her classic summer parties, whose standard can’t be beat in Key Lake, Minnesota, her two daughters’ lives unravel at the seams.

Quinn is jobless and not pregnant, living in one of her mother’s rental homes with Walker, her artist husband, attractive but also unemployed. Nora resides in Rochester, without her own family, barely making ends meet while trying to keep her best friend’s life unbroken. But Nora’s surprise text to Quinn, “I have something for you,” sets events in motion that bring the two sisters and their mom together in unexpected and shocking ways. The “something” is a 6-year-old girl, and with the help of friends, each woman faces not only this fragile child but also skeletons in her own closet. Does a mended family work better than before it was broken?

Call it a mystery, a love story or a drama, Nicole Baart’s cleverly spun tale has enough suspense and plotting to keep any variety of reader engaged. Her characters are as real as we are, homegrown and colorful, tight-lipped as well as passionate. Each chapter, save a few, builds the story from the point of view of the character for which it is named. These “little broken things,” fractured further by this latest burden to bear, are made whole in chapters with no heading. In these sections, something looms larger than any of them – a spirit embodied by a central but mysterious figure who gives this story depth.

Liz claims her life is becoming, these events are not to be taken lightly, and the consequences could be dire. You won’t lose with this read.

Additional info…

Written by: Nicole Baart

Price: $16.00

ISBN: 9781501133602

Published: 11/21/2017

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Pronouns are confusing for Martin. So, when the narrative of Hilary Reyl’s debut, ‘Kids Like Us’ begins in the second person, the reader immediately experiences some of the same disorientation that Martin faces daily. As a teen with autism, Martin is deeply connected with his inner world. He’s currently attending a summer school while his mother directs a movie in the French countryside. Martin speaks French fluently in part because his father is French, and also because Martin is obsessed with Marcel Proust’s novel ‘In Search of Lost Time’. This obsession leads Martin to fill his life in France with an exciting level of meaning. At school, Martin believes that he has met his own Gilberte and gradually Martin develops a genuine relationship with the girl despite her neurotypical limitations.

Martin’s voice is original and completely immersive. Living in France strengthens his attraction for Proust, as everything – the madeleines, the hawthorn bushes, the French language itself is loaded with importance. It is here, far removed from the routine of his life back in Los Angeles, that he makes tremendous efforts in recognizing the distinction between his internal absorption and the independent emotional experiences of the people around him. Reyl makes it clear that Martin’s motivation for change is his own quest for broader emotional understanding rather than a need to “fix” his autism.

Kids Like Us is a beautiful and insightful debut novel that’s meaningful.

Additional info…

Written By: Hilary Reyl

Price: $17.99

ISBN: 9780374306281

Published: 11/14/2017

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Andrew Cohen is part of the New York City’s cultural elite. He is a New York University professor and prominent thinker who has designed his whole life around the finest of comforts and aesthetics. His urban apartment is sleek, although unwelcoming to his two daughters and he enjoys a relationship with a former student nearly half his age.

Andrew’s well-curated life is flicked on end when he starts having disturbing visions that leave him shaken and physically ill. They appear to be linked to an ancient ritual taking place in a Jewish temple. A secular Jew, Andrew doesn’t know what to make of the scenes flashing through his mind.

The Ruined House, which won Israel’s biggest literary award (the Sapir Prize), is a fascinatingly oppressive year inside Andrew’s mind. He is not a particularly likable man, focused as he is only on his reputation and physical appearance. Yet, as he falls away into the hellish clutches of progressively frequent visions, one can’t help feeling for him.

The story is in part of a thought on the isolation of the modern age, when one can live among millions of people in a lively city, yet still be absolutely alone. It’s also, not accidentally, set in the year before September 11, 2001, and a sense of doom flies over every lyrical page: “The sky blue of the river meets the water blue of the sky, divided only by the thin thread of the George Washington Bridge, stretching from bank to bank like the hint of a knowing smile: The day would come when all would return to what it had been and the world would revert to chaos.”

But at its core, The Ruined House is an examination of one man’s midlife crisis, and how we all are the sum of our inescapable, barely beneath-the-surface history.

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Written by:  Ruby Namdar

Price: $29.99

ISBN: 9780062467492

Published: 11/07/2017

Category: Fiction

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One sunny morning in 2010, a man streaks quite literally against morning drive-time traffic on Los Angeles’ 110 Freeway, the gray scar etched into the left side of the city’s face. Talk about a Kodak moment, and it’s observed by multiple characters in the latest novel by Ivy Pochoda (The Art of Disappearing, Visitation Street), who then backpedals from this freeze frame to uncover the forces that have provoked these human molecules to congeal in this space.

Switching back and forth between 2006 and 2010, Pochoda pulls on each character’s strand, untying it from the knot of LA traffic and the knot of interconnection to disclose a textile that is grittier than pretty. It extends a landscape that bounces from the upper-middle class to the poor, from Skid Row tents and Beverlywood McMansions to desiccated cabins in the high desert’s dystopian Wonder Valley.

We encounter good people who have done bad things, bad people who have done bad things (but at times can’t help doing good, if perhaps unintentionally) and a whole bunch of folks looking for, if not essentially improvement, at least a moment of grace. Pochoda is a master at homing in on the details of both exterior and interior landscapes and crafting characters so tangible that you can feel blood aching in their temples and streams of sweat fading off their necks.

It’s not a far stretch to consider Pochoda to be in the company of James Ellroy, Michael Connelly and T. Jefferson Parker, but the two novelists that most often leap to mind as peers are Walter Mosley and National Book Award finalist Kem Nunn. It wouldn’t be a big surprise to find Wonder Valley on the short list for several awards itself.

Additional info…

Written by Ivy Pochoda

ISBN 9780062656353 
Published 11/07/2017

Fiction / Literary Fiction

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Michael Chabon’s sparkling, richly satisfying new novel, Moonglow, is built from the stories of the so-called Greatest Generation. Precisely, stories told to him over the period of a week by his dying grandfather in 1989. While parts of the book are narrated by the author, and his mother and grandmother are prominent characters, this work of “fictional nonfiction” clearly belongs to the old man.

The novel unfolds in blinking threads showing different parts of his grandfather’s life, scattered with scenes featuring the author as narrator. Chabon learns that his grandfather is a brilliant, physical man, equally capable of fashioning and using a garrote and carving wooden horses for his daughter. We follow his work as a soldier tasked with kidnapping Nazi scientists before the Soviets can do the same; his postwar life loving a shattered, mysterious Frenchwoman during her ancestry into madness; and finally, his days as a widower in a Florida retirement community, stalking a python that targets upon small pets.

Despite heavy themes, wonderful exchanges abound. One of our favourites comes during the Florida years when Devaughn, community security guard and reluctant Sancho Panza in the snake hunt, warns this dotty old geezer that he risks going to jail. “I’ve been in jail,” Chabon’s grandfather says. “I got a lot of reading done.” “I might like to re-estimate my opinion of you,” Devaughn replies.

More than 25 years after his first novel, The Mysteries of Pittsburgh, there’s no need to re-estimate the view of Chabon. His writing is joyful, his timing and humor have grown only more flawless, and his characters still live with you long after you turn the final page.

Additional info:

Witten by Michael Chabon

$32.36 at Amazon

ISBN 9780062225559

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LITTLE SECRETS – What lies beneath


At a time when it seems like there’s a new psychological thriller released every other week whether it is a book or a movie, it is increasingly difficult to find one that stands out. Anna Snoekstra achieves that in her sophomore novel, Little Secrets. This is a must-read for fans of Gilly Macmillan and Lisa Gardner and is sure to be liked by most mystery lovers.

The Plot:

Best friends Mia and Rose know they are meant for bigger things than what the small Australian town of Colmstock has to offer. Once Rose’s journalism profession takes off, they can say goodbye to their dull shifts serving beer at Eamon’s, the local police hangout, and move into the city. Until then, the two young women have front-row seats to the town’s most interesting activities. When a series of fires ends in the death of a 13-year-old boy and distrustful dolls turn up on too many little girls’ doorsteps, the communal is thrown into a tailspin. Rose grabs the chance to launch her journalism career by printing an article about the hypothetical menace threatening the children of Colmstock. As doubts grow and angers rise, it becomes apparent that an ugly truth about the people of Colmstock will be revealed.

The Theme:

Like Snoekstra’s debut, Only Daughter, Little Secrets discovers the desperation that can live inside of us and what happens when people have opposing but similarly desperate desires. Readers will grow to care about the destinies of determined Rose and nurturing Mia, as well as the policemen working the case. In addition, readers will thirst to expose who is accountable for stirring up the community and abhorrently stealing the life of a child. Despair makes for shocking choices, and no one makes it to the other side of this mystery unaffected.

Additional details:

Written by: Anna Snoekstra

Price: $15.99

ISBN 9780778331094

Published 10/17/2017

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Pious Fashion: How Muslim Women Dress


Someone steeped in Islamic traditions may find Elizabeth Bucar’s exploration of style among Muslim women in Iran, Turkey and Indonesia to be a bit simplistic. Indeed, the key message in her book, ‘Pious Fashion: How Muslim Women Dress’, is quite basic: that fashion among Muslim women is diverse, highly individual and different, whether they are fully covered in an abaya/burqa or wearing a scarf/hijaab as a head covering, along with skinny jeans and a fur vest.

At times, Bucar explains, their style is purposely political and rebellious. At others, it is aimed purely at modesty, as the faith orders. And sometimes, it is all about fashion, beauty and personal delight.

Historians might be depressed, but this isn’t a book about revolution in Iran or colonialism in Indonesia. It isn’t even about the civilizations of batik fabric or styles of dress in the Ottoman Empire, although there is a bit of that here. Pious Fashion book is a look at modern dresses and how to see the “Muslim community” as a vast array of people, rather than a mystery.

For many Westerners, the Islamic covering is the ultimate sign of women’s domination. But Elizabeth Bucar’s take on dresses worn by Muslim women is a far cry from this older feminist attitude toward covering. She argues that modest clothing signifies much more than social control or religious belief. Today, scarfs/hijaabs are styled to frame the head and face in interesting ways, while colours and textures express individual tastes and challenge aesthetic presumptions. Brand-name clothing and accessories serve as conveyances of social differences and are part of a multimillion-dollar ready-to-wear industry. Even typical international chains are offering lines especially for hijabis. More than just a covering, this is pious fashion from head to toe, which engages with a range of aesthetic values related to moral authority, consumption and selfhood.

Writing in an attractive style based on first-hand accounts, Bucar calls readers to join her in three Muslim-majority nations as she surveys how women approach the question of “What to wear?” By looking at fashion trends in the bustling cities of Tehran, Yogyakarta, and Istanbul, and at the many ways ministers, designers, politicians and bloggers try to influence Muslim women’s choices, she concludes that pious fashion rests on local aesthetics and moral values, rather than the orders of religious principle.

Pious Fashion describes modesty in Islamic dress as an ever-changing social practice among Muslim women who much like non-Muslim women create from a range of available clothing items and accessories’ styles they think will look both appropriate and beautiful.