The Party Upstairs by
Starring: Ruby, 26, who grew up in the basement of a fancy NYC building, and her father Martin, the super. Both are aware, now more than ever, of the differences between them and the wealthy tenants upstairs.
What happens: A party in the penthouse sparks a crisis involving class distinctions, family bonds, and the expectations of privilege.
Read it for: a witty, fast-paced yet compassionate story that pries open a class divide in only 24 hours.
Sex and Vanity by
What it is: a dishy, escapist read that brings E.M. Forster's A Room with a View to the modern era, complete with snobby Mayflower descendants, gauche new-money families, and all the lavish luxury (this time in Capri and the Hamptons) that author Kevin Kwan (of Crazy Rich Asians fame) is known for.
Want a taste? "We're going to start small at first and offer an Ayurvedic juice bar, qigong, puppy yoga, breath work meditation, and maybe some sound healing."
Introducing: racially ambiguous, genderless, mute, and of unknown age, Pew is named by where they were found -- sleeping in a church.
What happens: Pew's muteness encourages the townspeople to share their stories; a reluctant confidante, Pew's own thoughts are communicated to readers alone. But fear of the unknown is strong, and soon the town's generosity turns to suspicion and mistrust.
Read it: to understand the pitfalls of human society and the dangers of insularity.
Mother Daughter Widow Wife by
Who is Wendy Doe? An unidentified amnesiac at the Meadowlark Institute of Memory Research...before she recovered her memory and returned to her life as Karen Clark.
Where's Karen? She's disappeared again, and her 18-year-old daughter Alice seeks out the doctors who helped her mom 20 years before for insight into her current behavior.
Read it for: all the twists of a psychological suspense novel plus the slower pace and themes of literary one (such as memory and identity).
The Round House by
What it's about: In North Dakota, the summer in 1988, 13-year-old Joe Coutts' mother, a tribal enrollment specialist on the Ojibwe reservation, is viciously attacked. Traumatized, she retreats to her bed, unwilling to identify her attacker. Frustrated with the official investigation's glacial pace, Joe sets out to find his mother's assailant and deliver justice.
Why you might like it: Imbued not only with Ojibwe culture and beliefs but also with Christian ideas and the philosophy of Star Trek: The Next Generation (Joe and his friends are hooked on the show), this is a thoughtful, perceptive take on the aftermath of a violent crime.
Women in Sunlight by
What it's about: For Camille, Susan, and Julia, traditional retirement communities hold no appeal; on something of a whim the four near-strangers decide to rent a Tuscan home for a year, where they meet a younger American expat and become fast friends.
Why you might like it: An upbeat, engaging novel, Women in Sunlight features lushly described settings and meals -- and brings Tuscany's best to your living room.
What it is: the recounting of Jamaica's complex history, framed by the ruthless cutting of a boy's 'locs in 1982, and the story his great aunt tells him of Alexander Bedward, a preacher who predated Rastafarianism and likewise got cut down by a repressive authority.
Why you might like it: Vivid writing elicits a strong sense of Jamaica, as does the author's use of dialect (he's Jamaican himself).
Reviewers say: Both the community and the individuals who form it are "sharp [and] sensitive" (Kirkus Reviews).
Tuesday Nights in 1980 by
Starring: Argentinian painter Raul, poised to make his mark, who's escaped his country's dirty war; art critic James, whose synesthesia allows him to describe art in profoundly unusual ways; and, finally, the muse -- beautiful Lucy, an Idaho native drawn to New York and its art scene by little more than faded photographs.
What happens: Over the course of one turbulent year, loss brings all three together in the gritty city they've come to call home.
Reviewers say: Marked by bold characters and vibrant details, this debut is "both ethereal and brutally realistic" (The New York Times).
The Risen by
Starring: two brothers, now in their sixties, have been estranged since the turbulent 1969 summer they spent with a free-spirited redhead who, it turns out, didn't leave town so much as disappear. And now her body's been discovered.
Why you might like it: Like much of Ron Rash's fiction, The Risen is a product of its setting, a small North Carolina town. However, unlike most of his oeuvre, this one offers a mystery as well.
Sing, Unburied, Sing by
What it is: a powerful story of how the past affects the present, and of deeply entrenched racism.
Featuring: 13-year-old Jojo, his addicted, grieving Black mother, and his incarcerated white father.
Why you might like it: A road trip to Dad's prison kick-starts the novel, which offers deeply affecting characters, a strong sense of rural Mississippi, and a touch of magical realism in appearances by the dead.
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