The Book of Memory.
By Petina Gappah.
Feb. 2016. 288p. Farrar, $26 (9780865479074).
Gappah’s vivid first novel, which follows
the story collection, An Elegy for Easterly
(2009), is an exploration into the mysterious grip of memory and perception. The
narrator, significantly named Memory, is a
young albino woman on death row in Zimbabwe’s Chikurubi prison, charged with the
murder of her white legal guardian, Lloyd.
Memory documents her life leading up to
her conviction, narrating a nonlinear tale
that alternates between her childhood and
her incarceration. Growing up in dusty Mu-fakose Township, Memory is haunted by her
mother’s unpredictable outbursts and the
death of her younger sister, events further
complicated by feelings of alienation due
to her unusual appearance. Memory’s fate
is indelibly altered when, at nine, she recalls
being sold to Lloyd and thus thrust into a
completely new world of privilege. As Memory mines her past, she must also navigate
Zimbabwe’s tricky political landscape and relationships with fellow prisoners and guards.
Eventually, her recollections are challenged
as realities come to light. Gappah offers a nuanced, engaging journey as Memory rights
the balance between truth and long-held assumptions. —Leah Strauss
The Dogs of Littlefield.
By Suzanne Berne.
Jan. 2016. 273p. Simon & Schuster, $25
The author of A Crime in the Neighborhood
(1997) peels back the respectable veneer of
a Massachusetts suburb to reveal the disillusionment and discontent of its residents.
Sociologist Clarice Watkins has come to Littlefield after seeing the town mentioned on a
“ten best places to live” list, with the intent of
studying the lives of people who are content.
But what Clarice finds is that the residents
of Littlefield are anything but: wives feel
ignored, husbands repressed, children misunderstood, and the whole town is divided by a
debate over whether dogs should be allowed
off the leash in a popular park. Clarice finds
this malaise well represented by the Downings: wife Margaret is engaged in a flirtation
with a local author after discovering the body
of his dog, husband Bill finds himself fixated
on his teen daughter’s friend as his attraction
to his wife wanes, and daughter Julia grapples
with her own unpopularity and her horrifically embarrassing parents. A look at suburban
life that manages to be both scathing and
sympathetic, Berne’s latest is a smart, amusing
satire. —Kristine Huntley
YA/M: Many teens might see themselves
in the outsider kids who populate Berne’s
By Janice Y. K. Lee.
Jan. 2016. 336p. Viking, $27.95 (9780525429470).
Lee ( The Piano Teacher, 2009) has a special
knack for getting into the minds of disparate
individuals, bringing those people together
in unique circumstances and then allowing
us to watch them work their way through
some pretty harrowing situations. In the
expatriates’ sector of Hong Kong, the lives
of three women converge. Margaret Reade
and Hillary Starr are Americans married to
high-powered, high-income husbands who
spend more time away from their wives than
with them. Margaret has three children.
Hillary has none, but not for lack of trying.
Mercy is a young, single, childless Colum-
bia graduate who has come to Hong Kong
from New York City more or less to find
herself. The theme of Americans being expa-
triated to foreign countries by corporations
is reminiscent of stories about early to mid-
twentieth-century oil-company employees,
making this feel dated. But the alternating
voices of the women, connected by moth-
erhood, make the stories worthwhile and
personal. —Donna Chavez
The Girl in the Red Coat.
By Kate Hamer.
Feb. 2016. 336p. Melville, $25.95 (9781612195001).
Hamer’s elegantly written first novel be-
gins on a fog-shrouded day in the English
countryside as Beth and her eight-year-old
daughter, Carmel, attend a festival. In the
midst of the crowd, they are separated, and
Carmel indulges in a pri-
vate child’s game of hiding
before realizing she is hope-
lessly lost. When a man tells
her that he is her estranged
grandfather, she takes his
hand in relief and disap-
pears. Her parents and the
police follow every lead for
years, while Carmel finds herself held captive
by a ragtag bunch of self-described miracle
workers directed by her “grandfather,” who
is convinced that she possesses a power that
will bring him wealth and salvation. With
chapters split between mother and daughter,
readers are drawn into both their worlds as
Beth struggles to hold on to hope and Car-
mel fights to remember her true identity.
Hamer’s lush use of language easily conjures
fairy-tale imagery, especially of dark forests
and Little Red Riding Hood. Although a
kidnapped child is the central plot point,
this is not a mystery but a novel of deep in-
quiry and intense emotions. Hamer’s dark
tale of the lost and found is nearly impossible
to put down and will spark much discussion.
YA/M: Older teens will find Carmel’s
part of the story most compelling, while
the fairy-tale elements resemble those of
many current teen titles. CM.
Good on Paper.
By Rachel Cantor.
Jan. 2016. 320p. Melville, $25.95 (9781612194707);
A rising star in academia, Shira Greene was
on her way to a PhD with a dissertation on
Dante’s Vita Nuova when she unexpectedly
became pregnant while traveling in India. Ten
years later, she is a single mom living with her
daughter, Andi, at the home of Shira’s child-
hood friend, Ahmad, and working a series of
uninspiring temp jobs in New York City. Then
a call comes in that could turn her life around.
Romei, a Nobel Prize–winning poet and au-
thor, chooses her to translate his newest work
from Italian. Shira envisions big commissions,
new writing opportunities, and the chance to
restart her faltered career. The idea sounds
good on paper, anyway. Unfortunately, the
work Romei sends seems to vaguely resemble
her own meager writing and her own life; it
even seems to mirror Dante’s themes. Is this
some elaborate game? Shira spends so much
time researching the translation, she begins to
neglect her family. While Cantor’s (A Highly
Unlikely Scenario; or, A Neetsa Pizza Employ-
ee’s Guide to Saving the World, 2014) frequent
Dante references can be befuddling at times,
the mystery and meaning of Romei’s uncon-
ventional tale keep the reader turning pages.
The Hundred Gifts.
By Jennifer Scott.
Nov. 2015. 384p. NAL/Accent, paper, $15
Bren Epperson usually adores everything
about the holiday season, but this isn’t her
year. An empty-nester with kids thousands
of miles away and a husband who’s more
excited about the fledgling rock band in his
basement, Bren feels adrift for the first time
in years. She stumbles into a part-time job at
the Kitchen Classroom, hoping that teaching others how to make her beloved holiday
recipes will help lighten her mood. When
the class bands together for a very unexpected project, Bren realizes just how fragile her
life is. Scott dives into Bren’s inner angst, laying her anxieties about herself, her children,
and her marriage completely bare. Bren is a
relatable and likable heroine, striving to be
a good wife and mother despite some selfish
tendencies. Scott fills Bren’s world with an
eclectic cast of supporting characters, some
of whom become increasingly important
as Bren’s Christmas project begins to take
shape, and her marriage begins to crack.
Fans of Scott’s previous work and the novels
of Mary Hogan and Sarah Pekkanen will enjoy this deeply touching story of release and
reconnection. —Stephanie Turza
It’s. Nice. Outside.
By Jim Kokoris.
Dec. 2015. 288p. St. Martin’s, $24.99 (9781250036056);
John Nichols has an unenviable task before
him. He must load up the family van with all
his teenage son’s possessions, including three
teddy bears, and drive from suburban Chicago to Charleston for his oldest daughter’s
wedding. It will be a trip filled with nonsensical outbursts, frequent pit stops, endless