Literary Fiction

BLOOMSBURY GIRLS by Natalie Jenner

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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publicist as part of the “Virtual Book Tour.”

Evie Stone was without question the most qualified candidate for the research assistantship at Jesus College, Cambridge. A member of the first class of women allowed to graduate from the College, she achieved higher honors than her male colleagues, and the most recent paper she collaborated on was ground-breaking. And yet, it is not at all surprising when one of her less-qualified male colleagues lands the position, and she winds up as a shop assistant in a bookstore. Now that the men are back from the war, it is a common enough story for women like her.

But Evie–as always–has a plan. With her demure exterior and her knowledge of rare books hidden underneath, she is certain she won’t have any trouble enacting that plan under the very noses of the misogynist male hierarchy at the shop. As she begins to form friendships with the other two women at the shop–an aspiring author who should really be running the fiction department and a mathematically minded mother of two, trapped in a toxic marriage–she wonders if she could trust them to become allies in her plan and if their little supportive sisterhood might empower them to pursue some dreams of their own.

Studded with literary giants like Daphne du Maurier and Samuel Beckett, BLOOMSBURY GIRLS explores the tensions between women’s ambitions and the social mores that sought to subdue them in post-WWII Britain. With a gradual start and several protagonists, this story is ideal for readers who enjoy settling into an immersive environment and befriending the characters who live there. The ending delivers a triumphant and joyful “down-with-the-patriarchy” climax that will have literature enthusiasts cheering. This title is an excellent pick for fans of women’s fiction and for book clubs!

A Special Message from the Author:

Dear readers,

I am immensely grateful for the outpouring of affection that so many of you have expressed for my debut novel The Jane Austen Society and its eight main characters. When I wrote its epilogue (in one go and without ever changing a word), I wanted to give each of Adam, Mimi, Dr. Gray, Adeline, Yardley, Frances, Evie and Andrew the happy Austenesque ending they each deserved. But I could not let go of servant girl Evie Stone, the youngest and only character inspired by real life (my mother, who had to leave school at age fourteen, and my daughter, who does eighteenth-century research for a university professor and his team). Bloomsbury Girls continues Evie’s adventures into a 1950s London bookshop where there is a battle of the sexes raging between the male managers and the female staff, who decide to pull together their smarts, connections, and limited resources to take over the shop and make it their own. There are dozens of new characters in Bloomsbury Girls from several different countries, and audiobook narration was going to require a female voice of the highest training and caliber. When I learned that British stage and screen actress Juliet Stevenson, CBE, had agreed to narrate, I knew that my story could not be in better hands, and I so hope you enjoy reading or listening to it.

Warmest regards,

Natalie

LAWLESS SPACES by Corey Ann Haydu

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Mimi’s sixteenth birthday isn’t what she’d hoped. She’s not surprised that her mother chooses to go on an impromptu trip with her boyfriend and leave Mimi alone for days. It’s just like her mom. But she is shocked when the news story breaks that her mother is the accuser in a high-profile sexual assault case that’s been all over the news.

Home alone, and unable to get in touch with her mom, Mimi isn’t sure how to handle this news–especially because of how her mom reacted about an incident in Mimi’s life last year, an incident which her mother seemed to think was all Mimi’s fault simply because of how her body is shaped. But as Mimi struggles to navigate these overwhelming revelations–all the while dealing with her own struggles with dating and her body image–she finds a stack of journals in the attic and begins to connect with the journey of the generations of women in her family before her, women who have had struggles that are dishearteningly similar to the sexism Mimi is still experiencing decades later.

Told through Mimi’s poetry, this story is beautifully told, but heavy. There are very few lighter moments in this book that deals with such important but difficult themes. It is a strong, feminist coming-of-age novel that will appeal most to older teens and twenty-somethings who want to immerse themselves in this struggle and come out the other side feeling connected to a community of women–generations of women–who have experienced gender-based violence and discrimination and feeling inspired to join them in the fight.

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS by Laurie Frankel

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Rosie wanted nothing more than a little girl that she could name after her sister, Poppy, who died of childhood cancer. So when she and Penn decided to conceive their fifth child, she did every superstitious thing imaginable to make sure that this time, that baby would be a girl. Maybe that’s why Claude was the way he was. While his four older brothers played in the mud and crashed toy train sets, Claude wanted to wear dresses and play princess. And when he grew up, he wanted to be a girl.

All Rosie and Penn want–for each of their children–is for them to be happy. And if being a girl will make their youngest happy, they will facilitate that change however they can, even if it means moving across the country to famously-tolerant Seattle. But in a new community, telling the story of Poppy-who-used-to-be-Claude turns out to be complicated, and almost immediately, Claude becomes a secret. He weighs on the family, especially Poppy’s older brothers. Only Poppy seems to have forgotten he ever existed. Unfortunately, secrets can’t stay hidden forever, and in the aftermath, it will take a journey to the other side of the world for Poppy–and Claude–to find themselves.

A beautifully told story with equal doses of humor and heart, THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS captures the emotional journey of parenting a nonbinary child. Despite the family’s unwavering love and support of their child, there are always questions Poppy will have to answer for herself and an undercurrent of uncertainty, Rosie and Penn never quite sure whether they are making too many decisions or not enough decisions or helping in the right ways or the wrong ways–in other words, parenting a nonbinary child is parenting. This is how it always is.

By joining Rosie and Penn in their emotional journey, readers will come to a deeper understanding of the complex challenges of navigating the world as a nonbinary person or an adult who loves a nonbinary child. Its unique perspective makes this novel an important addition to the slowly growing literature that authentically represents the diversity of queer experiences. I highly recommend it to readers of contemporary and/or literary fiction, adult book clubs, and all public library collections.

THE TELLER OF SECRETS by Bisi Adjapon

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Esi’s first experience with sex is the uncomfortable night she spent as a child in the same hotel bed with her father and his mistress. But when not long afterward, she is punished for being sexually assaulted, she figures out that the same rules do not apply to men and women. The disparity is further accentuated when her stepsisters experience brutal consequences for their own sexual choices. As Esi grows older, her sense of wrongness at this inequality grows with her, and she is determined to find a way to break out of the restrictions placed on her gender and take control of her own life.

With a powerful literary style, this novel explores heavy feminist topics through the historical context of 1960s Ghana. The voice, style, and thematic importance of the work set it in the same category as any of the great literature that might be studied in a college English department. This book is for the adult or mature teen reader who is looking for a book to savor and ponder.

DEAR MISS METROPOLITAN by Carolyn Ferrell

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In 2008, the BOSS MAN kidnapped three Black girls and spent the next ten years raping, torturing, aborting, and brainwashing them. Though two of them (and the infant daughter of the third) eventually break free, the trauma of captivity winds its way into their pasts and futures, coloring all of the smaller traumas of their childhoods with abusive or controlling parents and the blossoming possibilities in their future relationships with siblings, counselors, and friends. And as they sort through their memories and emotions to find the truth of what they experienced and who they are, the two survivors are always searching for the truth of what happened to Jesenia, the one who always gave them hope but who didn’t walk out of the house with them on the day of their freedom.

This novel is heavy, both in its subject matter and its experimental literary style. The poetic vignettes, often stream-of-consciousness, appear out of chronological order which creates a unique atmosphere. On the one hand, the jumbled puzzle pieces of the story and the constant effort of picking apart poetry and fantasy from reality prevented me from being fully immersed in the story. On the other hand, the disjointed confusion was an immersion of its own, a sharing in the main characters’ experience of their trauma, unsure of what happened when, what was real and what was imaginary. And the use of fantastical imagery for rape and torture somehow made those moments more graphic and disturbing than a more grounded account would have. Though a thread of mystery runs throughout the novel, this story is neither a mystery nor a thriller. It is a poetic exploration of trauma that will not be for everyone. But for readers who are looking for something to sink into, a story that will challenge them mentally and emotionally and stay with them long after they put the book down, I would recommend DEAR MISS METROPOLITAN.

THE SURVIVORS by Alex Shulman

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The police officer finds the three brothers on the front porch of their childhood home. Two of them are battered and bleeding. One of them is clutching an urn. It was Benjamin who made the emergency call, afraid that his two brothers were finally going to kill one another, the culmination of a lifetime of disagreements and tension. But as Benjamin remembers both the immediate past–the earlier hours that led to the police call–and the more distant past of a childhood with his alcoholic parents, he is forced to confront the complexities of their dysfunctional family life and the truth about a long-gone summer day that changed their lives forever.

Told by alternating the past and the present, THE SURVIVORS is a slow boil suspense-driven novel with a literary feel. Though suspense fans may grow frustrated with the novel’s gradual, relationship-centric start, readers who love stories of dysfunctional families will be hooked from the first chapter. Ultimately, the story is one of adults coming-of-age, reconciling with the consequences of their pasts on their futures. I’d recommend it to adult readers (and book clubs) who enjoy literary fiction about family dysfunction.

THE VIXEN by Francine Prose

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Simon was thrilled to be offered an editor position at a prestigious New York publishing house right out of Harvard, but he’s not off to an auspicious start. First, he had a confrontation with his disgruntled predecessor, who’d been fired for the “indiscretion” of becoming pregnant without being married. And then, his boss assigned him the manuscript: The Vixen, the Patriot, and the Fanatic, a terribly-written bodice ripper that makes a mockery of Ethel Rosenberg.

It has been a year since Ethel was executed for a crime she claimed not to commit. It didn’t matter what she claimed. McCarthyism had the country in its grip, and no one would dare suggest that the country’s most notorious Commie traitors were innocent–especially not Simon, who closely guards the secret that his mother used to live in the same tenement as Ethel. But he can’t shake his disgust at the way the deceased mother of two is portrayed in the novel. Against his better judgment, he decides to seek out the reclusive author, Anya Partridge, who is an inmate at a mental hospital, hoping to convince her to soften her portrayal of Mrs. Rosenberg. Instead, he gets drawn into a torrid affair with the enigmatic author. And when Anya disappears, the mystery she leaves in her wake is full of as much political intrigue as the Rosenberg case itself.

This literary historical novel has an immersive, noir feel that kept me turning pages throughout the slow-boil mystery. Rich characters and difficult moral questions propel a story that lingers long after the final pages. This novel has a classic feel that will appeal to intellectually-minded adult book groups and lovers of literary fiction.

Amazon.com: The Vixen: A Novel: 9780063012141: Prose, Francine: Books

ME (MOTH) by Amber McBride

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Since the car accident that took the lives of Moth’s parents and brother, she has been living with her aunt in a Virginia suburb where all the other kids (most of them white) do their best to ignore her. Moth doesn’t mind. She has been doing her best to make herself invisible. If she hadn’t lived so exuberantly before, maybe there would have been enough life available in that hospital for the rest of her family to walk out, too.

When a Navajo teen starts at her school just before summer break, Moth finds herself connecting with another person for the first time since her family’s death. Sani is a musician, always drumming on his desk, reminding Moth of her life before the accident, when she danced as easily as she breathed. And when Sani flees his abusive stepfather at the same time that Moth’s aunt vanishes, it seems like fate that the two should go on an adventure together, in search of healing and their history. On a roadtrip across the South toward Sani’s father in New Mexico, a romance blossoms as they each connect with their ancestors’ experiences and grapple with the magic and miracle of first love and their place in the universe.

This beautiful YA novel-in-verse explores the ways that our ancestral history and romantic love can both root us in the world and set us free. Poignant and surprising, the story brims with complex emotions and exquisite yet authentic poetry. Fans of Elizabeth Acevado and anyone looking for a thought-provoking, immersive literary novel will not want to miss this gorgeous debut!

SWITCH by A.S. King

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Time stopped on June 23, 2020. The world never stopped. The sun still rises and sets. People still wake up, go to school, come home. But the clocks and stopwatches and oven timers don’t move. Time no longer exists.

For two hours at the start of each school day, teenagers are tasked with brainstorming solutions to this problem. Tru is pretty sure she knows the cause. As with most global crises, it’s people who caused it–people who didn’t care enough about each other. Tru is an expert in the evils of humanity because she spent most of her life living with a bomb, the sister she hasn’t spoken to since she moved out. Sister left Tru’s family in tatters, her mom gone, her brother on edge, her father at the brink of insanity, turning their whole house into a series of plywood boxes, shutting off from one another and covering up the mysterious switch in the wall that no one’s allowed to touch. But just as her father spends his days pounding nails in, Tru spends her nights pulling nails out. And when Javelin throwing on the track team gives her an outlet for the incredible, almost superhuman energy that’s been building inside her, Tru realizes the solution. If a lack of human empathy cause the problem, only a swell of human emotion can break them out. And Tru is going to be the one to flip the switch.

Another stunning, powerful literary novel from A.S. King. Though the novel is slim, it is dense with poetry and heavy thematic content. This is one to savor. The sci-fi of this poetic book is unveiled symbolism for the brokenness of Tru’s family as they resist healing and connection, and I would therefore recommend it to fans of contemporary fiction and literary fiction–both teens and adults.

Switch by A.S. King: 9780525555513 | PenguinRandomHouse.com: Books

THE FOREST OF STOLEN GIRLS by June Hur

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Hwani hasn’t returned to the island of Jeju in years—not since the Forest Incident, when she and her sister were found near the body of a murdered young woman, an incident which Hwani cannot remember.

But Hwani’s father never forgot. The woman’s murder was the one case Detective Min never solved, and the continued disappearance of young girls from the forest caused him to return to Jeju over the past five years. Until the day he disappeared. Disguised as a boy and clutching her father’s journal, Hwani returns to the village of her birth, determined to find her father and solve the mystery of the stolen girls. But when the mystery brings her to the door of her estranged sister, Hwani discovers that the forest isn’t the only source of secrets, and she begins to wonder if finding the truth of her past will be worth the cost.

Set in 15th century Korea, this historical mystery is suspenseful, atmospheric, and thought-provoking. It gripped me from start to end. Though it is YA, adult historical fiction readers will find lots to love here, too. My favorite book of the year so far, and a must-read for YA mystery or historical fiction fans!