The Water Cure
In this chilling debut, three sisters reckon with the aftermath of the world we live in now. Three sisters, Grace, Lia, and Sky, live on an isolated stretch of land by the sea where they provide rest, relaxation, and a variety of physical and spiritual cures to women in distress who come ashore looking for healing from the ravages of the mainland and men. The sisters have only ever known one man: their father, King. When he dies, he leaves a bit of himself behind in the form of Grace’s pregnancy. When a trio of men wash ashore and beg entry to the secluded mansion, the sisters’ world is turned upside down, as each must forge her own path and choose whether to trust these unfamiliar creatures and extend a hand in friendship or rely on the warnings passed down from their mother. A must-read for fans of The Handmaid’s Tale.
The Truths We Hold
Kamala Harris grew up with activism and justice as key parts of her identity. Born to activist, immigrant parents who met as graduate students in Berkeley, Harris learned the importance of fighting for a better world early. In this book, she shares how this education at her parents’ knees brought her to law school and thence to her work as a District Attorney for San Francisco and later Attorney General of California. With strong leadership skills based in problem-solving and crisis management, Harris, now a United States Senator from California, is ready to share her path with her readers, as well as her philosophy that we share far more than we don’t. This and other truths guide her in her current work and into her hopes for a brighter, better future.
When Dani Shapiro got her DNA tested with Ancestry.com, she wasn’t expecting to discover anything earth-shattering. She even looked at her results, which marked her as only 52% Jewish, and barely blinked. After all, she knew who she was: the daughter of two Jewish parents, with a father whose ties and history in the community went way back and included famous and important rabbis and congregation founders. But then she discovered that this father was not, in fact, her biological father—there was a sperm donor somewhere in the mix. Suddenly reckoning with a host of family secrets, Shapiro starts searching for the man whose sperm gave her life, while trying to figure out what it means to be herself, now that much of what she’d built her identity on has been shaken.
Originally published in 2014 and now reissued, Ottessa Moshfegh’s debut novella is set in 1851, in a jail cell, where McGlue, our narrator, wakes up. Still drunk, he isn’t entirely sure why he is where he is, but soon he discovers that he’s been accused of killing his shipmate and best friend, Johnson. But why? Why did he kill him? And what is he to do now? As he slowly sobers up, McGlue’s fury succumbs to a strange set of memories that seem to betray the fact that he and Johnson were rather more to one another than either would have liked to admit. Stewing in his memory, in his filthy jail cell, McGlue lashes out at the world, while internally roiling at what he’s done, trying to reckon with his—and the world’s—capacity for cruelty.
The Woman Inside
E. G. Scott
Rebecca and Paul are a match made in hell, which is perhaps why they’ve been married for 20 years. When they first met, Paul was married, and Rebecca was drawn to him, recognizing something in him that he, in turn, saw in her. Even through years of lying—Paul about his infidelities, Rebecca about her opioid addiction—they somehow kept their relationship going, but things are coming to a head. Paul’s current mistress is stalking them, and Rebecca learns soon enough that he was planning to leave her for the new woman. Meanwhile, Rebecca’s boss’s horrible wife has gone mysteriously missing. As the lies build, the perspectives shift, and their sordid lives only get more entangled. You’ll wonder who’s telling the truth, and where they’ll all end up. Prepare to be up all night with this engrossing thriller.
The End of Loneliness
In Benedict Wells’s first novel to be translated into English, a trio of siblings suffer a terrible tragedy when their parents die unexpectedly, leaving them to be separated in a boarding school where their once-close relationships begin to shatter. Years later, the youngest, Jules, wants to rekindle the one friendship that gave him joy during his childhood, with a girl named Alva. He was in love with her then, and there is still some romantic yearning left, but Alva is now a married woman, having wed one of her and Jules’s literary idols from their schooldays. As Jules travels to the remote chalet where she and her husband now live, he begins to rekindle not only their friendship but also his passion for writing. In rediscovering his art, Jules may begin to see more of the connections he has with his siblings, however haunted by their past. A moving family saga about the complexities of grief amidst growing up and the loneliness that plagues us all.
If you love Pride and Prejudice, family novels, or books that are smart and political yet also incredibly fun and deliciously written, then Soniah Kamal’s new book is definitely for you. A retelling of Austen’s classic, Kamal sets her characters in new millennium Pakistan, where the Binat family is down on their fortune, relying on their eldest girls, Jena and Alys, to earn salaries as English literature teachers at the British School. Alys is a smart, headstrong, and modern woman, despite her mother’s (and most other mothers she knows) obsession with her daughters’ marriages. The stakes are different here than in Austen’s original, in part because unlike Austen, who barely, if ever, acknowledged her country’s colonial domination in her books, Kamal uses postcolonial Pakistani culture as a place to explore the aftermath of centuries of British rule, while never turning the book into a political polemic. A joyful, fun retelling that manages to ask some serious, important questions, too.
We Cast a Shadow
Maurice Carlos Ruffin
Maurice Carlos Ruffin’s debut novel centers around an unnamed black narrator and his biracial son, Nigel, for whom this father only wishes the best future. But how does a dad open doors for his son in a world that will damn a person for their skin color? Though the narrator himself has managed, despite his skin, to become a top lawyer at a law firm, there is no guarantee that his son will be able to do the same. Plus, Nigel has a dark birthmark on his face that is spreading, causing his concerned father to attempt to get rid of it by any means necessary. He hopes, ultimately, to be able to afford a hugely expensive experimental treatment that will sap his son of his melanin entirely, perhaps giving him the white man edge that is still rewarded more often than not. A satirical take on our still deeply racist society, Ruffin strikes to the core not only of this kind of injustice but to the lengths parents will go to try to protect their children.
In Claire Adam’s debut and the second book in Sarah Jessica Parker’s SJP for Hogarth imprint, a nuclear family in Trinidad faces difficult decisions. Clyde and Joy are married, and their twin sons, Paul and Peter, keep them working hard in an attempt to provide the boys with better lives. But the boys, though twins, are not alike: Peter is the golden boy, whip-smart and excelling at school, believed by his teachers and parents alike to be a genius. Paul, on the other hand, is awkward, strange, and from early on is believed to be less than intelligent, and certainly less worthy than Peter. Joy tries to keep the boys together, but Clyde is aware that he will only be able to afford to help one of them leave Trinidad for more lucrative pastures. When Paul goes missing and Clyde goes in search of him, he will discover numerous heartbreaking things about his son’s disappearance, shaking his certainties about his family to the very core. An affecting portrait of a family, and especially of a boy who is different and punished for it.
The Weight of a Piano
An upright Blüthner piano, made from Romanian wood and built in Leipzig, Germany, arrives at Katya’s doorstep in the Soviet Union when she is eight years old, in 1962. The piano becomes her most beloved, important possession. Years later, when she moves to the United States in a rush with her husband, she must leave the piano behind to be delivered later. In modern-day California, Clara has to move her piano—which she’s never learned how to play—to yet another new apartment after she and her boyfriend break up. Tired of lugging the thing around with her, she decides to sell it, even though it’s the last reminder of her parents, who died in a fire when she was 12 and gifted her the piano shortly before their deaths. One interested buyer isn’t willing to give up on it and he convinces Clara to take a trip with him as he photographs the piano in strange spots. As Katya and Clara’s narratives move towards one another, the power of art and music to heal, as well as to torture, becomes ever more complicated by love and grief.
The Au Pair
Get ready for a modern take on the gothic novel, with all the appropriate twists and turns and mysterious deaths to keep you riveted and questioning. When Seraphine’s father dies, she goes back to the Norfolk coastal estate where she, her twin brother Danny, and their older brother Edwin were raised in order to start the process of going through her dad’s affairs. In a photograph she’s never seen before, she’s given a shock: her mother, father, and Edwin are sitting together on the day of her and Danny’s birth, but her mother holds only one baby. Hours after the photo was taken, Seraphine knows, her mother jumped off a cliff and died. But as she keeps going through the estate, Seraphine discovers another disappearance occurred that day—an au pair she’s never heard of, who spent the summer caring for Edwin. As Seraphine tries to uncover the mysterious circumstances of her birth, she learns more and more about the secrets haunting her family.
In Un-su Kim’s first novel to be translated into English, an assassin serves as our protagonist. Reseng was raised into this work in an alternate South Korea, where guilds of assassins work hard in the hopes of getting more assignments from the plotters, the upper echelons of society who can afford to hire such ruthless killings. But Reseng, though loyal to Old Raccoon, the man who raised him, is disturbed when he discovers a colleague was killed after not following through with an assassination assignment. Though he’s not supposed to ask questions, Reseng takes this opportunity to start, and in an attempt at taking control of his life and learning who he’s working for, he lands himself in a whole mess of trouble. The Plotters is a thrilling crime novel that delves into our fascination with power and the violence that comes close behind it.
Mouthful of Birds
In this newest collection from Samanta Schweblin, the eerie and strange enters the everyday in ways you’ll least expect, making it an uncanny and unsettling read that’ll scratch any magical realism itch. In one story, a newly married woman is left at a gas station after she’s taken too long to pee and meets a host of other bereft and abandoned brides. In another, a man tired of living as a drone-like office worker escapes to the countryside only to get trapped in the train station where the station attendant and his wife keep various men captive, feed them good meals, and send them out during the day to do menial labor. In the title story, a father discovers his daughter has been eating birds—while they’re still alive. The dark, twisted mirror of ourselves that Schweblin holds up to us resonates because it is disturbing but also, somehow, familiar. Those who loved Carmen Maria Machado’s Her Body and Other Parties will gravitate towards this collection.
That Churchill Woman
You likely know that Churchill woman’s famous son, Winston, but what you may not know is that Jennie Jerome, later known as Lady Randolph Churchill, was a captivating woman all her own. A New Yorker, raised independent and capable of thinking for herself, Jennie fell for Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill because of his intellect and conversation. They married quickly, and as Jennie entered high society in England, her brash Americanism and beauty either turned heads or caused disapproving tsks to follow in her wake. It didn’t help, of course, that as her husband’s sanity began to deteriorate she got swept up in an intense affair with another man. Jennie’s place in English society, her ambition, which had to be played out through the men in her life, her husband, and that eventually famous son of hers—all of this and more is the stuff of Stephanie Barron’s delicious historical fiction.
Karen Thompson Walker
A spellbinding, riveting new book from Karen Thompson Walker asks us to consider the nature of consciousness. In a college town in Southern California, people begin falling asleep—and not waking up. They’re not dead, and their brains are showing far more activity than sleepers usually exhibit, indicating they’re dreaming in some heightened, perhaps hyper-realistic manner. But on the outside, the sleepers simply sleep. As the town slowly realizes there’s an epidemic on their hands and doctors figure out that an airborne virus is causing the deep sleep, it’s already too late. Dozens are falling asleep, and chaos, fear, and ethical questions begin to arise. One sleeper, for instance, is pregnant after her first sexual encounter but doesn’t know it, even as life stirs within her. Another sleeper, a father, unwittingly leaves his two daughters to fend for themselves. And those who are awake must band together and find each other, as they try to survive this strange, eerie illness.
The Unwinding of the Miracle
At times painful, at others hopeful, this meditation on a life fully lived is well-worth reading. Julie Yip-Williams was considered damaged in infancy when she was born with terrible cataracts that made her essentially blind. Her family never let that stop her, nor did she. Fleeing political strife in 1970s Vietnam with her Chinese family, Yip-Williams arrived in the US where she grew up, went to college and law school, became a successful lawyer, married, and had two children. And then, in her late 30s, she received a devastating diagnosis—metastatic colon cancer that was supposed to kill her very quickly. Over the next five years—Yip-Williams died in March of 2018—she chronicled her struggles, her life, her hopes, and the grief she felt at knowing she would never watch her daughters grow up. Throughout, she asks questions about how hard we’re meant to fight against death, how much pain and money should be spent on treatments, and how to reckon with a life we can see being cut short just ahead.
The Paragon Hotel
In 1921, the Paragon Hotel is where Alice, nicknamed “Nobody” since childhood for her chameleon-like ability to hide in plain sight, takes refuge. But as a white woman, she’s not automatically trusted by the black residents of the hotel, who are dealing with the Ku Klux Klan’s arrival in town in threatening numbers. Brought to the hotel by Max, a Pullman porter who found Alice injured by a gunshot on a train fleeing from Prohibition-era Harlem, Alice is doing her best to earn the trust of her new neighbors. When a child beloved by the hotel residents goes missing, she employs her talents from an adolescence spent among mobsters and bootleggers and begins an earnest attempt to find him. Meanwhile, she’s befriended by the hotel’s most gorgeous guest, a cabaret singer named Blossom Fontaine, who has as many secrets as Alice does. Echoing racist tensions in our day and modeling an ally-ship that has always existed, Faye’s new book is both incredibly relevant and a roaringly fun period thriller.
The Winter of the Witch
In Katherine Arden’s conclusion to the Winternight Trilogy, she brings us right back to where the last book ended (so before you get started on this one, make sure to catch up on books one and two, The Bear and the Nightingale and The Girl in the Tower). In this book, our heroine Vasilisa Petrovna must contend with new challenges. After a Firebird Vasilia couldn’t quite control destroyed much of medieval Moscow, Vasilia finds herself alone in the midst of chaos, with blame sitting squarely on her shoulders. Meanwhile, the fantastical realms ruled by brothers Morozko, the winter king, and Medved, a chaotic demon, are in danger. Navigating her worlds along with new sidekicks and a host of familiar characters, including Grand Prince Dmitri, Vasilia must make everything right again, even as real-world politics inch her closer to the beginning of a united Russia.
She Lies in Wait
In Gytha Lodge’s debut thriller, a mystery that is 30 years old is unearthed when a body is found. One summer night in 1983, Aurora and six other teenagers went camping in the forest. In the morning, Aurora was gone. Her companions, who included her older sister, all swore she was fine the last time they saw her, which was when she went to sleep. As Lodge alternates between that night in 1983 and the newly reopened investigation, the truth of what happened is slowly unveiled. In the present day narrative, our hero is Detective Chief Inspector Jonah Sheens, who was a young cop in 1983, is calling back the once-teenagers in order to interview them. After all, Aurora’s body was found in a place only they could have known about. Sink your teeth into this psychological thriller, and get ready for more, because two more Jonah Sheens books are already on the way.
Happy New Year! It’s 2019, which means it’s been 100 years since J. D. Salinger was born; 100 years since the Algonquin Round Table met for the first time; 100 years since Winesburg, Ohio by Sherwood Anderson came out. What will the next 100 years bring? Well, we’re not sure, but we bet a lot of talented writers and incredible books will surface. Read It Forward will strive in 2019 (as in the past few years) to reliably bring you our favorite monthly releases! Words, art, books, and stories—these sustain us through trying times and uplift us during joyous ones. With the continued goal of sharing our love for books and making it easier for you to choose what to read, please welcome our first entry in our monthly favorites series for 2019.