Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan
As a girl, Anna Kerrigan visits Manhattan Beach with her father Eddie, and meets Dexter Styles, who has ties to the Syndicate. The sea calls to the three of them, and to Anna’s sister Lydia. Years later, Eddie is missing, Dexter owns a nightclub, and Anna has a tedious job at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Anna competes to be a diver at the Navy Yard, and pursues Dexter for answers about her father. We learn about Eddie’s adventures at sea, and the secrets the characters all have. While there are tender family scenes, the focus is on work, and on coworkers and crewmates. Anna takes risks and craves adventure, wanting to contribute to the war effort, reinventing herself more than once. Plenty of danger and intrigue add to the intensifying pace, leading to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion, with complex, memorable characters. Widely acclaimed, it’s a pleasure to read a book that lives up to high expectations. The first historical novel from award-winning novelist Egan, this is sure to be popular with book discussion groups.
Walking the Americas by Levison Wood
Levison Woods, former British Army paratrooper, takes readers on another adventure, this time with Mexican photographer Alberto Caceres. They hike from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, where Cortes landed in 1519 all the way through Central America to the Colombian border in South America. Eight countries, 1800 miles, in just over four months, including the dangerous jungle of Panama’s Darien Gap, visited by Balboa in 1513. The sense of adventure and occasional danger is a little artificial when I know that Wood has a support team and is filming a documentary mini-series, but the accomplishment is still impressive. Each country makes a different impression on Wood, from the people and culture to the landscape and food. While spider bites and river crossings are a real danger, along with quicksand and snakes, walking along sections of the highway for part of their journey seems the greatest hazard. There are funny parts, some awesome scenery, and the occasional silly mistake. Wood has previously hiked the Himalayas and walked along the Nile River, and his latest hike has been circumnavigating the Arabian Peninsula.
Wood’s adventures make very entertaining armchair travel reading, especially as Wood hikes through parts of Central America rarely seen by tourists.
On Turpentine Lane by Eleanor Lipman
Faith Frankel’s life is rather chaotic. Her boyfriend Stuart proposed with a ring made of red thread and set off to walk cross-country, posting frequent selfies in bars and with former girlfriends. Her father has left her mother and is painting faux Chagalls for bar mitzvahs. Faith is in some trouble at the private school where she works, supported only by coworker Nick Franconi. And the small house she’s impulsively purchased at a bargain price may have more history then she can handle, with one or more suspicious deaths. I enjoyed this frank and funny look at work, love, and family relationships, with great dialogue, appealing characters, and some very funny scenes. Enjoy!
The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon
Part mystery, part coming-of-age story, this first novel is set during the British heat wave of 1976. One Monday, Mrs. Margaret Creasy goes missing, and Grace Bennett, her 10-year-old neighbor, decides to investigate, along with her friend Tilly. They visit all the neighbors on their street, even Walter Bishop in #11, who has been shunned after being suspected of stealing a baby. Flashbacks to 1967 reveal some of the villagers’ secrets, but don’t solve the mystery. A possible image of Jesus captures the neighborhood’s attention at the peak of the heat wave, and almost everyone, even the new Indian family from Birmingham, gathers in the shade to visit and play canasta. I thought the plot quite clever, with some twists, and I enjoyed the occasional humorous scenes, the refreshingly ordinary girls, and the 1976 English village setting.
Year One by Nora Roberts
Bestselling romance and fantasy novelist Roberts goes in a new direction with this first book in a post-apocalyptic trilogy. A pandemic sweeps the globe from its start near a stone circle in Scotland. Returning home from a family holiday, Ross MacLeod and his wife bring the sickness to New York City. Their pregnant daughter Katie later continues the story. While many people die, some are immune and others, known as the Uncanny, develop paranormal powers. Reporter Arlys finished her final television broadcast, then heads west through the subway tunnels with intern Freddy, an Uncanny. Paramedic Jonah delivers Katie’s babies, and they head southwest with some others, ending up in New Hope, Virginia, where the small community thrives until challenged by enemies with paranormal powers. Several appealing characters and a fast-paced story showcase the author’s storytelling skills. While this isn’t the best post-apocalyptic novel I’ve read recently, it’s very good. For readalikes without the paranormal elements, try When the English Fall, by David Williams or Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. For post-apocalyptic novels with paranormal elements, check out Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling, the first book in The Change series.
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
Tom Hazard only travels through time in his memories, but they are vivid and go back to Elizabethan England. A member of the Albatross Society, Tom ages very, very slowly. As he has to move and reinvent his life every eight years to keep his condition a secret, he isn’t supposed to fall in love. Back in London as a history teacher, Tom has only to look out the window to see places from his own history, where his true love Rose was a fruit seller, and where he played the lute at Shakespeare’s Globe theatre. French teacher Camille thinks Tom looks familiar and may tempt him into a relationship, but Hendrich, the head of the society, sends Tom on a quick trip to Australia to recruit surfer Omai, who Tom first met while sailing the Pacific with Captain Cook. Enthralling yet bittersweet, full of history and adventure, a sure bet for readers of historical fiction or time travel. This novel is a February Library Reads pick.
The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan
If you like reading about books, village life, starting over, the Scottish highlands and/or romance, then you will probably enjoy this heartwarming contemporary novel. Nina is a librarian in Birmingham, where branch libraries are closing and books are no longer the main focus. When her roommate Surinder won’t let her bring any more books back to their apartment in case the stairs collapse, and she doesn’t get hired at the new main library, Nina buys a former bakery van in a Scottish village and converts it into a mobile bookstore. Surinder and a friendly train engineer help bring the books she’s acquired to Kirrinfief, and Nina’s adventure begins. Luckily, Nina’s able to rent a converted barn from sheep farmer Lennox, and a local dance and midsummer festival help her feel welcome. Nina has a real gift for finding the right kind of book for each reader, and finds enough customers at area farmer’s markets, even though the big van is hard to drive. I really liked the highlands village setting, and the descriptions of Nina’s challenges at starting over. I would have enjoyed more about the bookselling and a bit less romantic drama, but other readers will probably disagree. Readalikes include books by Alexandra Raife and Katie Fforde, along with The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald. Enjoy!