Mystery writer Martin Edwards has a thesis: British dominance of mystery writing during the period between world wars, in terms of output and quality, was nurtured by the Detection Club, a dining club that also served as a writer's group.
The book covers the careers of individual writers, such as the prolific and long-lived Agatha Christie, the highly regarded Dorothy L. Sayers, and British Poet Laureate Cecil Day-Lewis (who wrote mysteries as Nicholas Blake). It also explores the critical understanding of mysteries. Book blurb texts of the time concentrated on the puzzles to be solved, but Edwards contends many of the books of the day also included substantial themes of social significance. His most provocative point: the question of when murder may be the right thing to do came to the fore when Adolf Hitler came to power. Edwards also covers many members’ interest in and writings about true crime. He describes the club's efforts at collaborative fiction (including radio dramas) and its rituals. Members vowed, “To do and detect all crimes by fair and reasonable means; to conceal no vital clues from the reader; to honour the King's English...”
Why I picked it up: It wasn't just the lurid cover. I'm a mystery reader, and any book with a subtitle like this was going to attract my attention.
Why I finished it: Edwards, who is not only President of the Detection Club but also its archivist, knows his stuff. This ranges from the difficulties in getting writers to collaborate on The Floating Admiral to authors' personal tragedies and scandals, like Agatha Christie's disappearance and Dorothy L. Sayers' illegitimate child. Edwards even lets slip that “Yorick,” the human skull still used in the club’s initiation rites, may have been that of a woman.
Readalikes: This suggestive, argumentative book sent me to libraries and used book stores in search of the works it mentions, so it’s full of its own reading recommendations. Here are a few others. Julian Symons' Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel has, for decades, been the go-to critical history of the mystery, and Martin Edwards acknowledges his considerable debt to Symons and his work. The Department of Dead Ends by Roy Vickers collects ten inverted detective stories in which readers see the crimes committed -- the trick is to figure out how the detectives will solve them. (This is a form of detective story that became well-established in the Golden Age.) Finally, former Detection Club President Dorothy L. Sayers' Have His Carcase benefitted from workshopping with the group. According to Edwards, Sayers consulted with member John Rhode about cryptography (Sayers' sleuth demonstrates a nice probable word attack against a difficult (in that age) Playfair cipher) and with medical professionals in and outside the club about forensics.
A dazzling debut novel from an exciting new voice, The Mothers is a surprising story about young love, a big secret in a small community—and the things that ultimately haunt us most.
Set within a contemporary black community in Southern California, Brit Bennett's mesmerizing first novel is an emotionally perceptive story about community, love, and ambition. It begins with a secret.
"All good secrets have a taste before you tell them, and if we'd taken a moment to swish this one around our mouths, we might have noticed the sourness of an unripe secret, plucked too soon, stolen and passed around before its season."
It is the last season of high school life for Nadia Turner, a rebellious, grief-stricken, seventeen-year-old beauty. Mourning her own mother's recent suicide, she takes up with the local pastor's son. Luke Sheppard is twenty-one, a former football star whose injury has reduced him to waiting tables at a diner. They are young; it's not serious. But the pregnancy that results from this teen romance—and the subsequent cover-up—will have an impact that goes far beyond their youth. As Nadia hides her secret from everyone, including Aubrey, her God-fearing best friend, the years move quickly. Soon, Nadia, Luke, and Aubrey are full-fledged adults and still living in debt to the choices they made that one seaside summer, caught in a love triangle they must carefully maneuver, and dogged by the constant, nagging question: What if they had chosen differently? The possibilities of the road not taken are a relentless haunt.
In entrancing, lyrical prose, The Mothers asks whether a "what if" can be more powerful than an experience itself. If, as time passes, we must always live in servitude to the decisions of our younger selves, to the communities that have parented us, and to the decisions we make that shape our lives forever.
Tippi and Grace are sixteen-year-old conjoined twins. The girls look alike but have totally different personalities and aspirations. When they fight they cannot get away from the other.
The summer before their junior year, their parents tell the girls the state will pay for them to attend an elite private school. They have been homeschooled to this point to keep them sheltered from other kids' cruelty, so the idea of going to a "regular" school is exciting and terrifying. At school the girls manage to make friends. Because of the extra stress, though, Tippi falls down a lot (and takes Grace with her). After a series of tests, doctors discover Tippi’s heart is getting weaker. The family has to make a choice: if the twins stay conjoined, both could die but if the two girls are separated, their chances of survival are only slightly higher.
Why I picked it up: The cover, with two paper doll cutouts made from a single sheet of paper, caught my attention, particularly after I started noticing the subtle differences on the girls’ dresses.
Why I finished it: It was written in free verse, and I enjoyed the way it moved between Tippi's and Grace's voices. I first felt sorry for the girls but later I realized they didn’t want sympathy, they just wanted compassion and understanding like the rest of us.
It’s perfect for: I would love for my nephew and niece, Shelton and Reese, Irish twins whose birthdays are only eleven months apart, to read it. The two of them have never known life without the other. How many other newborns have been at their older brother's first birthday party?
Readalikes: Because it’s also in free verse, Ellen Hopkins' first YA novel, Crank, reminded me of One. Kristina is an innocent sixteen-year-old who goes to live with her father for the summer, and he gets her hooked on crystal meth. When Kristina is high, her alter-ego, Bree, comes out and she is the total opposite of shy, awkward Kristina. Despite its heart-wrenching topic, its poetic language helped me stay engaged throughout. One also reminded me of Wonder by R.J. Palacio, about a disfigured boy, Auggie, who was born with severe facial abnormalities and has also been homeschooled. When his parents decide he should start regular school, he expects the worst but wants friends and acceptance.
From the Booker short-listed author of Jamrach's Menagerie comes the extraordinary, moving, and unsettling tale of a woman, branded a freak from birth, who becomes an international sensation but longs for genuine human connection.
Pronounced by the most eminent physician of the day to be "a true hybrid wherein the nature of woman presides over that of the brute," Julia Pastrana stood apart from the other carnival acts. She was fluent in English, French and Spanish, an accomplished musician with an exquisite singing voice, equally at ease riding horseback and turning pirouettes—but all anyone noticed was her utterly unusual face. Alternately vilified and celebrated, Julia toured through New Orleans, New York, London, Berlin, Vienna, and Moscow, often hobknobbing with high society as she made her fame and fortune.
Beneath the flashy lights and thunderous applause lies a bright, compassionate young woman who only wants people to see beyond her hairy visage—and perhaps, the chance for love. When Julia visits a mysterious shaman in the back alleys of New Orleans, he gives her a potion and says that she'll find a man within the year. Sure enough, Julia soon meets Theodore Lent, a boyishly charming showman who catapults Julia onto the global stage. As they travel the world, the two fall into an easy intimacy, but the question of whether Theo truly cares for Julia or if his management is just a gentler form of exploitation lingers heavily with every kind word and soft embrace.
Stunningly written and deeply compelling, Orphans of the Carnival is a haunting examination of how we define ourselves and, ultimately, of what it means to be human.
An alien lands on a rooftop high in the city. He’s greeted by the mayor and an astronomer and makes his way ever lower into the city for a parade and an epic game of hide-and-seek. After an incident involving a massive tea party, the alien falls in love with a mermaid and they visit one of her friends deep beneath the city.
Why I picked it up: The front cover promises “a vertical story 10 feet tall” and the back includes a bunch of things to spot throughout, including eight ghosts, twenty birds, and ninety-four cakes. What?
Why I finished it: The design is brilliant. As the pages are flipped, new text appears under the current image. Folding out the pages creates one continuous image that tells the entire story. (The text is all on the back by the time you’ve opened and unfolded the entire book.) There are a huge number of details to get lost in after you’ve tracked the alien through the first time.
Readalikes: This immediately reminded me of Welcome to Mamoko and its sequels, which also have a ton of fun details to follow. There are a lot of different characters (including an alien), each of whom has a story revealed over seven huge, wordless, two-page images. And it’s super fun, just like Megalopolis.
This stunning new novel is Jodi Picoult at her finest—complete with unflinching insights, richly layered characters, and a page-turning plot with a gripping moral dilemma at its heart.
Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?
Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.
With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.
Violet lives in a beat-up old spaceship in a rough “trailer park.” Her father hauls junk, and her mother works in a garment factory. They struggle just to get by. Violet's world is shaken up when a space whale demolishes her school and her father goes missing. Her mother has a new job at a fancy design studio and is always working to keep them afloat. Convinced no one else is trying, Violet leads her friends on a dangerous mission to find her father.
Why I picked it up: Craig Thompson is one of my favorite graphic novelists. His work usually involves fantastically detailed art and an unsettling subject that challenges the status quo.
Why I finished it: This a great science fiction tale for kids that’s packed with bizarre aliens and delightfully complex environments from junkyards to factories to deep space, all filled with minute details. The level of detail Thompson puts into the illustrations is worth pouring over for a second or third time, and the amazing spaceships will inspire kids to start drawing their own. One of my favorite images is the anatomical cutaway of a giant space whale that shows its brain, spine, heart, and digestive system, which contains a spaceship in its depths.
Readalikes: This would be an excellent next step for any tween who read and enjoyed Zita the Space Girl. Both have a wonderful assortment of characters, humanoid and other, and a strong message about the value of friendship.
William Shakespeare’s The Tempest retold by Margaret Atwood, New York Times bestseller and winner of the Man Booker Prize.
Felix is at the top of his game as Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. His productions have amazed and confounded. Now he’s staging a Tempest like no other: not only will it boost his reputation, it will heal emotional wounds.
Or that was the plan. Instead, after an act of unforeseen treachery, Felix is living in exile in a backwoods hovel, haunted by memories of his beloved lost daughter, Miranda. And also brewing revenge.
After twelve years, revenge finally arrives in the shape of a theatre course at a nearby prison. Here, Felix and his inmate actors will put on his Tempest and snare the traitors who destroyed him. It’s magic! But will it remake Felix as his enemies fall?
Margaret Atwood’s novel take on Shakespeare’s play of enchantment, retribution, and second chances leads us on an interactive, illusion-ridden journey filled with new surprises and wonders of its own.
Levi is a seventy-year-old Jewish golem created to right injustices during the Holocaust. Having survived long past his original purpose, he tries to live simply, and is currently living as a middle-aged Mennonite to help calm his violent urges to wipe out evil beings. But when his bloodlust overcomes him, Levi goes to the Hub, a world where magical creatures congregate. There, while Levi is methodically hunting down a troop of kobocks (if you’re a D&D geek, think kobolds), he stops a ceremony and frees Ryder, a human woman who was about to be sacrificed. Protecting her and stopping the forces bent on freeing a mad god requires that Levi once again become an evil killing machine.
Why I picked it up: I wanted to read a book where a golem was the main character to learn more about their mythology.
Why I finished it: Levi's golem powers were unlike any I had seen in fantasy before, and he was very creative in using them. Right from the start, Levi changes his body structure, melding himself into a tunnel wall to ambush two kobocks as they meander past. He appears from nowhere and takes them out like Stallone in this moment from Rambo: First Blood Part II. Other times he molds his hands into cleaving instruments like axes or long blades, and creates a void in his body to store items. And his special golem blood enables him to take different forms.