How to Be Both
by Ali Smith
Ali Smith is an award winning author whose latest, How to Be Both, was her third book to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize. This book contains two novellas: one is set in present day London and focuses on George (short for Georgia), a teenager coping with the recent loss of her mother; the other is the story of Francesco, a 15th-century fresco painter and a young woman living as a man, whose spirit observes the mourning young woman in a museum. The book has been playfully printed in two versions, some beginning with George’s story and some beginning with Francesco’s. The Guardian’s review called Smith “dazzling in her daring” and said “the sheer inventive power of her new novel pulls you through, gasping, to the final page.”
The Strange Library
by Haruki Murakami, translated by Ted Goossen
2014 was a good year for Murakami fans in the U.S., with the release of two novels in a span of five months. The Strange Library is short but odd; it features a boy who has been trapped in the library by a Sheep Man who intends to eat the boy’s brain after it has been properly stuffed with knowledge. Publishers Weekly says “this dryly funny, concise fable features all the hallmarks of Murakami's deadpan magic” and Kirkus calls it “beguiling and disquieting—in short, trademark Murakami—a fast read that sticks in the mind.”
Africa39: New Writing from Africa South of the Sahara
Edited by Ellah Wakatama Allfrey, with an introduction by Wole Soyinka
This anthology celebrates the designation of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, as UNESCO's first World Book Capital and features authors from 16 sub-Saharan countries as well as the African diaspora. Familiar and noteworthy authors include Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Dinaw Mengestu in an eclectic collection that is “recommended for all lovers of world literature, especially those who enjoy discovering new talent” (Publishers Weekly).
by José Saramago, translated by Margaret Jull Costa
Saramago’s first work, considered a “lost novel”, was written decades before the Portuguese writer won the Nobel Prize. Initially snubbed by publishers, the author later declined to release it and it remained unpublished until after his death. Skylight is a post-World War II story set in Lisbon which connects the lives of six families that live in the same apartment building. Publishers Weekly characterizes it as “a work about the strictures of poverty and domesticity but also about momentary glimpses of beauty and fulfillment” and Kirkus Reviews gushes: “Rarely has a novel with a publication delayed as long as this one's proven such a pleasure.”
by Jennifer Marie Brissett
Jamaican-British American author Brissett, a former bookstore owner and web developer, offers a unique and challenging debut novel. The story takes place against a post-apocalyptic backdrop, and concerns Adrianne/Adrian, friend/sibling/lover Antoine/Antoinette, and a computer code that disrupts their narrative, each time causing the story to refresh itself with changes in gender, relationships, setting and time period. Publishers Weekly calls it a “punch of a debut” and says “Brissett deftly handles the challenge of a multitude of characters all being the same people in a multitude of places that are the same place, while exploring complicated questions about identity.”
The Penguin's Song
by Hassan Daoud, translated by Marilyn Booth
A family struggles with isolation during the Lebanese civil war. The young narrator, homebound due to a physical disfigurement, longs for the teenage girl who lives downstairs while his father’s health rapidly declines and his mother finds any excuse to leave the apartment. Originally published in Arabic in 1998, this novel was hailed as “the best Arabic novel of the year.” Publishers Weekly calls it “haunting” and “an elegiac account of loneliness and separation” and Library Journal says it “deftly explores how people cope with the aftermath of war and the tremendous struggle of rebuilding not only with bricks and concrete but with heart, hopes, and dreams.” You can read an excerpt here.
Butterflies in November
by Auour Ava Olafsdottir, translated by Brian Fitzgibbon
The unnamed, 33-year old heroine of this Icelandic novel finds herself at a remarkable crossroads: dumped by her husband and her lover on the same day, she then wins two lottery prizes and agrees to take temporary custody of her pregnant and ailing friend’s four year old son, who is deaf and has poor eyesight. The unlikely pair set off on a wild road trip in “a funny and bizarre travelog of Iceland's unique culture and landscape” (Library Journal). This novel by an award winning author is “thoughtful and fun… a novel of surprising tension and tenderness” (Kirkus Reviews).
The Boston Girl
by Anita Diamant
Diamant, the author of the perennially popular historical novel The Red Tent, has a new novel that spans the life of a Jewish woman in the 20th century. When Eighty-five-year-old Addie Baum’s granddaughter asks her about her life history, she muses over her past, from her tenement upbringing in Boston to her careers as a columnist, social worker and teacher to her happy marriage and family, touching on historical events, feminism, and popular culture along the way. Publishers Weekly calls it “a stunning look into the past with a plucky heroine readers will cheer for” and Booklist calls it “a resonant portrait of a complex woman.”
Vanessa and Her Sister
by Priya Parmar
This fictional biography reconsiders the story of artist Vanessa Bell and writer Virginia Woolf, dear sisters until their relationship is strained and broken over romantic jealousy. The personal and intellectual lives of the sisters and their circle of friends in the Bloomsbury group unfold through entries in Vanessa’s journal, telegrams and postcards. Publishers Weekly calls Parmar’s narrative “riveting” as she “successfully takes on the task of turning larger-than-life figures into real people.” Parmar writes with “passion and precision, delivering a sensitive, superior soap opera of celebrated lives” (Kirkus Reviews).
Last Days in Shanghai
by Casey Walker
Luke Slade has accompanied his boss, a sleazy and abusive Republican Congressman, on a mission to China. Everything spirals out of control after the Congressman, a born-again Christian and recovering alcoholic, goes on a bender and disappears, leaving Luke solo to attend a business meeting where a rural Chinese mayor hands him a briefcase full of cash. Things only get worse from there. “Slimy all-American graft oozes from beneath the economic aspirations of contemporary China in this witty, illuminating thriller” (Kirkus Reviews).
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