Bright Burning Things by Lisa HardingStarring: Sonya, a former stage actress whose unplanned pregnancy brings her career to a screeching halt -- leading to escalating bouts of blackout drinking that put her young son's life at risk.
What happens: Neighbors, family, strangers, and fellow addicts all step in to aid Sonya's rehabilitation. She must confront both present-day disappointments and unresolved childhood trauma to be reunited with her beloved son. The lingering question: is it too little, too late?
Hot take: Dubbed a "a blistering US debut" by Publishers Weekly, this Irish writer's deeply moving novel is also a Jenna Bush Hager book club pick.
A Little Hope by Ethan JoellaWhat's inside: Multiple residents of small-town Wharton, Connecticut draw readers into stories of their everyday lives. Their interconnected choices -- and relatable experiences of love, grief, triumph, and loss -- weave a compelling narrative that is far greater than the sum of its parts
Who it's for: Fans of character-driven stories that pack an emotional punch without becoming maudlin (think Meg Wolitzer, Matthew Norman, or Thornton Wilder's classic play Our Town).
People from My Neighborhood by Hiromi KawakamiPrepare for: a collection of stories that delightfully blend absurdist elements and magical realism -- each narrated by the unnamed residents of a small Japanese town. From the lottery winners whose prize is to care for a child in need to a woman advised for decades by a strange imp that inexplicably just appears, each story is its own microcosm of page-turning weirdness.
Why you'll like it: Brevity (some stories are only 2-3 pages long) and witty, offbeat humor make these thought-provoking tales surprisingly accessible rather than stuffy. Fans of Italo Calvino, Helen Oyeyemi, and/or Ludmilla Petrushevskaya will be most intrigued.
Small Things Like These by Claire KeeganSetting: the small town of New Ross, Ireland, 1985 -- a place firmly controlled by the Catholic church during Margaret Thatcher's tenure as prime minister.
The set up: While delivering coal to a local convent -- also allegedly a "training school" for underprivileged girls -- a devout Catholic father of five daughters (and himself the son of an unwed, teenage mother) discovers a ragged teen girl locked in a shed. Although she begs for his help, he at first demurs. Disgusted by church's continued exploitation of lower-class girls and his own complicity, he must confront the risks of going against the grain of entrenched local authorities.
The Family by Naomi KrupitskyFeaturing: Best friends since childhood, Sophia Colicchio and Antonia Russo are actually Family -- as in, their fathers are mafioso.
What happens: Inevitably, their coming-of-age stories become family dramas in this sweeping novel of a stalwart female friendship spanning the 1920s-1940s. Along the way the two women confront exactly what "family" really means, each choosing different paths but never truly drifting apart.
The buzz: "Mario Puzo meets Elena Ferrante in Krupitsky’s dynamite debut novel" (Booklist).
The Making of Incarnation by Tom McCarthyIntroducing: Mark Phocan, a chief engineer hired as a consultant by a studio filming a new SF movie, Incarnation.
Whoa, dude: Drawing upon the work of pioneering motion and efficiency expert Lillian Gilbreth (see also Cheaper by the Dozen) this nonlinear, unconventional literary novel treads the line between metafiction, metaphysics, and hard SF as it delves ever-deeper into the intersection of existentialism and technological advances.
High praise: "Pynchonian asides are filtered through a Joycean love of language....yet imbued with wry humor and devastating satire approaching profundity" (Booklist).
Dava Shastri's Last Day by Kirthana RamisettiIntroducing: incredibly wealthy 70-year-old Dava Shastri, whose terminal diagnosis prompts her to organize one last family gathering -- while leading the media to believe she is already dead.
Things don't go as planned: Dava looks forward to reading obituaries praising her philanthropy and other accomplishments. However, several dirty little secrets are revealed leading to family drama and forcing her to reconcile with her past mistakes.
What to read next: Maisy Card's These Ghosts Are Family.
Blue-Skinned Gods by SJ SinduWhat happens: Blue-skinned boy Kalki, believed to be the final incarnation of the god Vishnu, lives in an ashram organized by his father -- that is, until he fails the third test that would affirm his godhood. By age 21, Kalki is living a hard-partying life New York City, where the conflict between his past and present isn't going away.
Read it for: A leisurely paced, stylistically complex story that Kirkus Reviews calls "Remarkably moving in its explorations of faith, doubt, and what it might mean to be a charlatan."
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