What to Read This Month…
From love, mystery and murder stories to books that honor Black History Month, there are many great choices for February. There are a few Valentine’s Day gift ideas on this list too! (I suggest Almost Romance, love after 50 between my childhood friend, Nancy Balbirer and her true love, Howard Morris, the producer of Netflix show, Grace and Frankie, and The Nineties, a recount of history that we all lived through.) What will be your favorite book of the month? Happy Reading!
Almost Romance Nancy Balbirer
Finding love is all a matter of timing in a surprising, complicated, and funny memoir by the author of A Marriage in Dog Years.
When a mysterious woman summons Nancy Balbirer to a Russian restaurant in New York City, the near stranger’s shocking purple hair and even more shocking news send Balbirer simultaneously reeling back to her past and hurtling toward a future that, at almost fifty years old, she never dreamed possible. This romantic-comedy memoir tells the true story of how a pack of Hollywood television writers and the denizens of a fabled but cursed Manhattan apartment building helped the author and one of her best friends turn a thirty-two-year almost romance into a real one.
Witty and heartfelt, Nancy Balbirer’s sublime memoir proves that love is possible anywhere, anytime, and at any age.
The Violin Conspiracy by Brendan Slocumb
A riveting page-turner about a Black classical musician’s desperate quest to recover his lost violin on the eve of the most prestigious musical competition in the world
“[A] galvanizing blend of thriller, coming-of-age drama, and probing portrait of racism … This flawless debut will do for classical music what The Queen’s Gambit did for chess.” —Booklist
Growing up Black in rural North Carolina, Ray McMillian’s life is already mapped out. If he’s lucky, he’ll get a job at the hospital cafeteria. If he’s extra lucky, he’ll earn more than minimum wage. But Ray has a gift and a dream—he’s determined to become a world-class professional violinist, and nothing will stand in his way. Not his mother, who wants him to stop making such a racket; not the fact that he can’t afford a violin suitable to his talents; not even the racism inherent in the world of classical music.
When he discovers that his great-great-grandfather’s beat-up old fiddle is actually a priceless Stradivarius, all his dreams suddenly seem within reach. Together, Ray and his violin take the world by storm. But on the eve of the renowned and cutthroat Tchaikovsky Competition—the Olympics of classical music—the violin is stolen, a ransom note for five million dollars left in its place. Ray will have to piece together the clues to recover his treasured Strad … before it’s too late.
With the descendants of the man who once enslaved Ray’s great-great-grandfather asserting that the instrument is rightfully theirs, and with his family staking their own claim, Ray doesn’t know who he can trust—or whether he will ever see his beloved violin again.
Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson
WINNER OF THE COSTA FIRST NOVEL AWARD
A NATIONAL BOOK FOUNDATION 5 UNDER 35
A stunning first novel about two young Black artists in London falling in and out of love by a new literary virtuoso and finalist for the BBC Short Story Award, twenty-six-year-old writer and photographer Caleb Azumah Nelson
“Open Water is tender poetry, a love song to Black art and thought, an exploration of intimacy and vulnerability between two young artists learning to be soft with each other in a world that hardens against Black people.” —Yaa Gyasi, author of Homegoing
In a crowded London pub, two young people meet. Both are Black British, both won scholarships to private schools where they struggled to belong, both are now artists—he a photographer, she a dancer—and both are trying to make their mark in a world that by turns celebrates and rejects them. Tentatively, tenderly, they fall in love. But two people who seem destined to be together can still be torn apart by fear and violence, and over the course of a year they find their relationship tested by forces beyond their control.
Narrated with deep intimacy, Open Water is at once an achingly beautiful love story and a potent insight into race and masculinity that asks what it means to be a person in a world that sees you only as a Black body; to be vulnerable when you are only respected for strength; to find safety in love, only to lose it. With gorgeous, soulful intensity, and blistering emotional intelligence, Caleb Azumah Nelson gives a profoundly sensitive portrait of romantic love in all its feverish waves and comforting beauty.
This is one of the most essential debut novels of recent years, heralding the arrival of a stellar and prodigious young talent.
The Christie Affair by Nina de Gramont
Nina de Gramont’s The Christie Affair is a beguiling novel of star-crossed lovers, heartbreak, revenge, and murder―and a brilliant re-imagination of one of the most talked-about unsolved mysteries of the twentieth century.
Every story has its secrets.
Every mystery has its motives.
“A long time ago, in another country, I nearly killed a woman. It’s a particular feeling, the urge to murder. It takes over your body so completely, it’s like a divine force, grabbing hold of your will, your limbs, your psyche. There’s a joy to it. In retrospect, it’s frightening, but I daresay in the moment it feels sweet. The way justice feels sweet.”
The greatest mystery wasn’t Agatha Christie’s disappearance in those eleven infamous days, it’s what she discovered.
London, 1925: In a world of townhomes and tennis matches, socialites and shooting parties, Miss Nan O’Dea became Archie Christie’s mistress, luring him away from his devoted and well-known wife, Agatha Christie.
The question is, why? Why destroy another woman’s marriage, why hatch a plot years in the making, and why murder? How was Nan O’Dea so intricately tied to those eleven mysterious days that Agatha Christie went missing?
Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson (soon to be on Hulu)
In this moving debut novel, two estranged siblings must set aside their differences to deal with their mother’s death and her hidden past—a journey of discovery that takes them from the Caribbean to London to California and ends with her famous black cake.
“At turns delightfully juicy and then stunningly wise, Black Cake is a winner.”—Taylor Jenkins Reid, New York Timesbestselling author of Malibu Rising
ONE OF THE MOST ANTICIPATED BOOKS OF 2022—Glamour, Bustle, Marie Claire, Essence, Parade, Business Insider, Town & Country, Vulture, PopSugar, W magazine, BookPage
In development as a Hulu original series produced by Marissa Jo Cerar, Oprah Winfrey (Harpo Films), and Kapital Entertainment
We can’t choose what we inherit. But can we choose who we become?
In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child, challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage, and themselves.
Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right”? Will their mother’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever?
Charmaine Wilkerson’s debut novel is a story of how the inheritance of betrayals, secrets, memories, and even names, can shape relationships and history. Deeply evocative and beautifully written, Black Cake is an extraordinary journey through the life of a family changed forever by the choices of its matriarch.
The Family Chow by Lan Samantha Chang
One of Literary Hub’s and The Millions’ Most Anticipated Books of 2022
A Goodreads Readers’ Most Anticipated Mystery of 2022
An acclaimed storyteller returns with “a gorgeous and gripping literary mystery” that explores “family, betrayal, passion, race, culture and the American Dream” (Jean Kwok).
The residents of Haven, Wisconsin, have dined on the Fine Chao restaurant’s delicious Americanized Chinese food for thirty-five years, content to ignore any unsavory whispers about the family owners. Whether or not Big Leo Chao is honest, or his wife, Winnie, is happy, their food tastes good and their three sons earned scholarships to respectable colleges. But when the brothers reunite in Haven, the Chao family’s secrets and simmering resentments erupt at last.
Before long, brash, charismatic, and tyrannical patriarch Leo is found dead―presumed murdered―and his sons find they’ve drawn the exacting gaze of the entire town. The ensuing trial brings to light potential motives for all three brothers: Dagou, the restaurant’s reckless head chef; Ming, financially successful but personally tortured; and the youngest, gentle but lost college student James. As the spotlight on the brothers tightens―and the family dog meets an unexpected fate―Dagou, Ming, and James must reckon with the legacy of their father’s outsized appetites and their own future survival.
Brimming with heartbreak, comedy, and suspense, The Family Chao offers a kaleidoscopic, highly entertaining portrait of a Chinese American family grappling with the dark undercurrents of a seemingly pleasant small town.
Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh
“Ms. Haigh is an expertly nuanced storyteller long overdue for major attention. Her work is gripping, real, and totally immersive, akin to that of writers as different as Richard Price, Richard Ford, and Richard Russo.”—Janet Maslin, New York Times
The highly anticipated new novel by acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Jennifer Haigh—“a gifted chronicler of the human condition” (Washington Post Book World)—is a tense, riveting story about the disparate lives that intersect at a women’s clinic in Boston.
For almost a decade, Claudia has counseled patients at Mercy Street, a clinic in the heart of the city. The work is consuming, the unending dramas of women in crisis. For its patients, Mercy Street offers more than health care; for many, it is a second chance.
But outside the clinic, the reality is different. Anonymous threats are frequent. A small, determined group of anti-abortion demonstrators appears each morning at its door. As the protests intensify, fear creeps into Claudia’s days, a humming anxiety she manages with frequent visits to Timmy, an affable pot dealer in the midst of his own existential crisis. At Timmy’s, she encounters a random assortment of customers, including Anthony, a lost soul who spends most of his life online, chatting with the mysterious Excelsior11—the screenname of Victor Prine, an anti-abortion crusader who has set his sights on Mercy Street and is ready to risk it all for his beliefs.
Mercy Street is a novel for right now, a story of the polarized American present. Jennifer Haigh, “an expert natural storyteller with a keen sense of her characters’ humanity” (New York Times), has written a groundbreaking novel, a fearless examination of one of the most divisive issues of our time.
The Swimmers by Julie Otsuka 2/22
From the best-selling, award-winning author of The Buddha in the Attic and When the Emperor Was Divine comes a novel about what happens to a group of obsessed recreational swimmers when a crack appears at the bottom of their local pool—a tour de force of economy, precision, and emotional power.
The swimmers are unknown to one another except through their private routines (slow lane, medium lane, fast lane) and the solace each takes in their morning or afternoon laps. But when a crack appears at the bottom of the pool, they are cast out into an unforgiving world without comfort or relief.
One of these swimmers is Alice, who is slowly losing her memory. For Alice, the pool was a final stand against the darkness of her encroaching dementia. Without the fellowship of other swimmers and the routine of her daily laps she is plunged into dislocation and chaos, swept into memories of her childhood and the Japanese American incarceration camp in which she spent the war. Alice’s estranged daughter, reentering her mother’s life too late, witnesses her stark and devastating decline. Written in spellbinding, incantatory prose, The Swimmers is a searing, intimate story of mothers and daughters, and the sorrows of implacable loss: the most commanding and unforgettable work yet from a modern master.
The Nineties by Chuck Klosterman
From the New York Times bestselling author of But What if We’re Wrong, a wise and funny reckoning with the decade that gave us slacker/grunge irony about the sin of trying too hard, during the greatest shift in human consciousness of any decade in American history.
It was long ago, but not as long as it seems: The Berlin Wall fell and the Twin Towers collapsed. In between, one presidential election was allegedly decided by Ross Perot while another was plausibly decided by Ralph Nader. In the beginning, almost every name and address was listed in a phone book, and everyone answered their landlines because you didn’t know who it was. By the end, exposing someone’s address was an act of emotional violence, and nobody picked up their new cell phone if they didn’t know who it was. The 90s brought about a revolution in the human condition we’re still groping to understand. Happily, Chuck Klosterman is more than up to the job.
Beyond epiphenomena like “Cop Killer” and Titanic and Zima, there were wholesale shifts in how society was perceived: the rise of the internet, pre-9/11 politics, and the paradoxical belief that nothing was more humiliating than trying too hard. Pop culture accelerated without the aid of a machine that remembered everything, generating an odd comfort in never being certain about anything. On a 90’s Thursday night, more people watched any random episode of Seinfeld than the finale of Game of Thrones. But nobody thought that was important; if you missed it, you simply missed it. It was the last era that held to the idea of a true, hegemonic mainstream before it all began to fracture, whether you found a home in it or defined yourself against it.
In The Nineties, Chuck Klosterman makes a home in all of it: the film, the music, the sports, the TV, the politics, the changes regarding race and class and sexuality, the yin/yang of Oprah and Alan Greenspan. In perhaps no other book ever written would a sentence like, “The video for ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ was not more consequential than the reunification of Germany” make complete sense. Chuck Klosterman has written a multi-dimensional masterpiece, a work of synthesis so smart and delightful that future historians might well refer to this entire period as Klostermanian.
Cleopatra and Frankenstein by Coco Mellors
For readers of Modern Lovers and Conversations with Friends, an addictive, humorous, and poignant debut novel about the shock waves caused by one couple’s impulsive marriage.
Twenty-four-year-old British painter Cleo has escaped from England to New York and is still finding her place in the sleepless city when, a few months before her student visa ends, she meets Frank. Twenty years older and a self-made success, Frank’s life is full of all the excesses Cleo’s lacks. He offers her the chance to be happy, the freedom to paint, and the opportunity to apply for a Green Card. But their impulsive marriage irreversibly changes both their lives, and the lives of those close to them, in ways they never could’ve predicted.
Each compulsively readable chapter explores the lives of Cleo, Frank, and an unforgettable cast of their closest friends and family as they grow up and grow older. Whether it’s Cleo’s best friend struggling to embrace his gender queerness in the wake of Cleo’s marriage, or Frank’s financially dependent sister arranging sugar daddy dates to support herself after being cut off, or Cleo and Frank themselves as they discover the trials of marriage and mental illness, each character is as absorbing, and painfully relatable, as the last.
As hilarious as it is heartbreaking, entertaining as it is deeply moving, Cleopatra and Frankenstein marks the entry of a brilliant and bold new talent.
Think of Me by Frances Liardet
From the New York Times bestselling author of We Must Be Brave comes a new sweeping historical novel about one couple’s journey through war, love, and loss, and how the people we love never really leave us.
1942, Alexandria, Egypt. Covered in dust, Yvette and James hold hands for the first time as bombs explode above them. As the war rages on, they will find their way back to each other time and again, their love a beacon for their survival. After the war, their happiness takes root in England and blossoms, until a tragic event drives a wedge between them. The way back to one another is uncharted territory that both must be brave enough to face.
1974. Ten years after his wife’s death and with his son now at university, James craves change. He moves to the beautiful English village of Upton not thirty minutes from the city where he brought his bride Yvette, nearly twenty-five years ago. There he discovers a scarf that lights the dark edges of his memory. Could it be Yvette’s? As James makes a new home for himself and gently presses into the feelings the scarf evokes, he begins to unlock new revelations about his past that change everything he believes. Revelations that just might give James a new reason to live and the possibility of new love at last, after ten years alone.
Captivating and inspiring, Think of Me explores the power of love to echo across the years.
All blurbs and summaries are copied/pasted from Goodreads and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.