An investigation of a late-19th-century crime in which a 13-year-old boy murdered his mother.
In the summer of 1895, Robert Coombes stabbed his mother, and he and his brother, 12-year-old Nattie, stole her money and took off to watch the local cricket match. Their father was a ship’s steward, kind and caring but often absent. Leaving their mother’s body upstairs in her bed, the boys enlisted the aid of John Fox, a fellow from the docks who had done odd jobs for their parents. With a look at late-19th-century social mores, the availability and quality of education, and the poor state of psychological help, former Daily Telegraph literary editor Summerscale (Mrs. Robinson's Disgrace: The Private Diary of a Victorian Lady, 2012, etc.) exposes how the young killer’s mind worked. Robert, an excellent student, was a voracious reader of the penny dreadfuls, adventure books aimed at the young. He was eccentric, morbid, prone to terrible headaches and periods of withdrawal, and obsessed with ghastly murderers. His mother comes off as a harridan: she often beat the boys, including once for stealing food (she often didn’t feed them), and she even threw knives at Nattie, who seems to have been oblivious to the direness of the facts but followed Robert without questions. After two weeks, the body was discovered in an advanced state of decay. The trial process was quick and fair, and Robert was remanded to the notorious insane asylum Broadmoor, where he was put in the gentlemen’s wing. The author explains the surprisingly kind treatment there, and she follows Robert’s transfer to a Salvation Army colony and move to Australia, where he finally found the adventures he had dreamed about.
This well-written story is not so much a true-crime tale or murder mystery as an excellent sociological study of turn-of-the-20th-century England.
The lives of three generations of women in Jamaica intersect as they try to build better lives.
Margot, a 30-year-old desk clerk at a hotel in Jamaica, has fallen into a side business of sex with the white men who visit the island looking for poor women to exploit. This, of course, is not the life Margot wants. She only does it to support her younger sister, Thandi, a 15-year-old schoolgirl who's destined to be successful and “make everything better” for the family. Thandi, however, is more interested in being thought beautiful and the type of success that goes along with that, spending her extra money on skin-lightening creams to turn her dark skin whiter. Thandi's and Margot’s tales intertwine with the story of their abusive mother, Delores, and the rest of their poverty-stricken community, set against the backdrop of wealthy white tourists. Margot finds a temporary refuge from the constant barrage of work and men in her romantic relationship with a local woman named Verdene, but she can't escape the fear of violence that same-sex couples in their society face. And, as past secrets come to a head, the poor black and wealthy white worlds of Jamaica collide. This debut novel from Dennis-Benn is an astute social commentary on the intricacies of race, gender, wealth inequality, colorism, and tourism. But these themes rise organically from the narrative rather than overwhelming it. Here are visceral, profound writing and invigorating characters. Here, too, is the deep and specific sensation of experience. Consider teenage Thandi’s first awareness of being watched by the boy she likes: “a pulse stirs between her legs and she hurries down the path, holding it in like pee."
Haunting and superbly crafted, this is a magical book from a writer of immense talent and intelligence.
Attention readers fed up with your jobs: call in sick tomorrow and dive into this debut crackling with the energy of handfuls of underpaid, underappreciated, tired-as-heck assistants hungry for what’s owed them.
Tina Fontana is a 30-year-old NYU graduate and executive assistant to billionaire Robert Barlow, CEO of major media company Titan Corporation. She knows the most intimate details of Robert’s life, saving the day for him constantly, and yet she’s stuck living paycheck to paycheck. What’s happened to her? How does she work so hard and never rise above being an assistant while the men around her make fortunes? The answer to Tina’s problems shows up in the form of an expense report. When she’s mistakenly reimbursed for a significantly large sum, she struggles with whether to report the error. For her, this could mean starting over debt free: “I could have savings….All at once I would become less anxious and more generous.” For Titan Corporation, the sum is measly. One major theme of Perri’s debut is this: “There is so much money.” Mostly in the hands of those who don’t deserve it. When Tina decides to keep the money and pay off her student loans, she doesn’t get off scot-free. Emily Johnson, the not-so-nice accounting assistant behind all the signatures, catches her. Now she has to figure out how to pay off Emily’s loans too (oh, and become her best friend), or Tina is as good as ruined. It doesn’t take long for rumors to spread and for Tina to become a hero, the Voice of the Assistant: “I could see how beneath all the lacquer these girls were hungry,” she realizes as her mission becomes greater than herself. Perri’s writing is quippy and the pace breezy; despite all the hurdles Tina has to leap over, things go pretty smoothly. Oh, and the hot, sensitive guy in the office? On her quest to take over Titan, Tina gets him too.
Don’t think too hard about this one—just enjoy the sweetness of plotting revenge over cocktails (expensed, of course). You’ll feel better after reading, promise.
There are three suns in the sky and it’s minus 6 degrees in Britain as Fagan’s gently apocalyptic new novel opens in November 2020.
The polar ice caps are melting and there's a prediction for 10 feet of snow, temperatures down to minus 40, and an iceberg heading toward the Scottish coast, but even in these extreme circumstances, Fagan depicts the band of misfits assembled in the harbor town of Clachan Fells with the same warmth she invested in the teenage outcasts of her ambitious, exciting debut, The Panopticon (2013). Dylan has just arrived from London, where the art cinema run by his family for 60 years has gone broke. He’s brought the ashes of his recently deceased mother and grandmother to this remote town, planning to scatter them on the nearby Orkney Islands, his grandmother’s birthplace. The grieving Dylan quickly becomes infatuated with Constance, a free-spirited single mother disdained by the town for her longtime simultaneous affairs with two men, and her 12-year-old daughter, Stella, who 13 months ago was a boy named Cael. Constance is helpless to protect her trans daughter from bullying at school, but in the caravan homes along Ash Lane she barely stands out among the porn star, Satan-worshipping stoners, and the man waiting for aliens to land. This oddball community digs in as the thermometer plummets through the winter, Stella tries to get hormone blockers, and Constance slowly succumbs to Dylan’s puppylike (although decidedly carnal) devotion. Not a whole lot happens, really, but that may be the point, as Fagan suggests humanity is capable of adapting to almost anything. The frozen landscape is as beautiful as it is menacing in Fagan’s evocative descriptions, and the vast snowstorm that closes the novel finds Dylan, Stella, and Constance safe and warm inside…for now. Tales of “sunlight pilgrims” from the north lyrically reinforce the author’s theme that the struggle for survival can be joyful.
Hernández portrays the scope of dreams, love, and the fashion industry in this literary debut.
Even before he spies escape in the pages of top fashion magazine Régine, Elián San Jamar knows, intrinsically and at a young age, that he does not belong with his working-class parents in ugly Corpus Christi, Texas. Against familial and geographical odds, he adamantly forges his own path through childhood, ascending to new heights when he earns a full scholarship to Yale, changes his name to Ethan St. James, and bonds with Madeline Dupre, a blue-blooded doll with privilege to share. The pair are soon befriended by Dorian Belgraves, the son of a famous model, forming a complex trio. His friends' enthusiasm encourages Ethan to follow his calling, seeking out and cultivating beauty—and when he earns an internship at Régine after graduation, it seems that all his dreams are coming true. But of course anyone who's read a fashion-industry roman à clef knows how twisted this road will inevitably become. Work at Régine is grueling and soulless, not remotely what Ethan expected when he styled himself in its image as a young adult. As an industry, fashion turns out to be quite fascist (hysterically so, at times), and it feeds ravenously on Ethan's innocence. Madeline and Dorian are hardly helpful in this regard. Exiting the enchanted, equalizing field of Yale, they can continue to romp where their hearts desire while Ethan has to pay rent. And how to make a living in a disconnected, capitalist world is something for which neither his passion nor his Ivy League education has prepared him. Writing in a fervently literary style that flirts openly with the traditions of Salinger, Plath, and Fitzgerald, Hernández is a diamond-sharp satirist and a bracingly fresh chronicler of the heartbreak of trying to grow up.
Honest and absurd, funny and tragic, wild and lovely, this novel describes modern coming-of-age with poetic precision.
In this witty and informative debut, popular Guardian science blogger and sometime stand-up comedian Burnett (Psychological Medicine and Clinical Neurosciences/Cardiff Univ.) describes “the weird and peculiar processes” of the brain and the bizarre behaviors that often result. “You have only to look at the thing to grasp how ridiculous it is; it resembles a mutant walnut, a Lovecraftian blancmange, a decrepit boxing glove, and so on,” he writes. “It’s undeniably impressive, but it’s far from perfect, and these imperfections influence everything humans say, do and experience.” Sustaining that tone throughout, the author traces the habits, traits, and inefficiencies of the organ that defines us. In vivid, highly accessible language, he explains how the brain controls appetite, sleep, memory, hearing, touch, attention, and other processes and how it works when we fall in love, become delusional, or convince ourselves that we’re brilliant when we are not. Why do we remember faces before names? Why do our egos often override accuracy? Why do emotional memories of negative events fade faster than positive ones? How is it that you can enter a room and have no idea why you decided to go there? Did you know that the thrill of fear and the gratification gained from sweets emanate from the same region (the mesolimbic pathway) of the brain? Whether describing the absurd inefficiencies of having both a primitive reptile brain (for survival) and a neocortex (governing advanced abilities) or explaining why less intelligent people are often more confident or why the Myers-Briggs personality test may not be that useful, Burnett manages to both entertain and inform in engaging ways that would benefit the performance of the most humorless pedant. In each instance, he piques readers’ interest with some whacky or puzzling behavior and thoughtfully explains the underlying neuroscience.
Burnett should give a TED talk. His book will appeal immensely to general readers and deserves a place on college reading lists.
From childhood to motherhood, comedian Klein’s fresh takes on the perplexities of womanhood in America.
Head writer and executive producer of the Emmy Award–winning Inside Amy Schumer, the author demonstrates storytelling verve and instincts for the absurd as she targets outlandish ideas about and expectations of women. With her polished skills, honed on the gritty comedy club circuit, The Moth radio series, and as a TV writer, Klein crafts spirited gems that run through readers’ heads like a sharp sitcom. In “How I Became a Comedian,” the author tracks her career in vignettes of ambition, insecurity, and fear of performing. She has been told that doing stand-up is a brave act, but she disagrees. Any courage she has found grew out of a “desperate, aching need,” and it took her years of therapy before she could get onstage. In the meantime, she was successful writing comedy for other people. Joan Rivers’ “force and lust and decisiveness” were inspirations for Klein to finally make the leap. Throughout the book, there is no shortage of ludicrous behavior to riff on. Having never quite outgrown her tomboy spirit, she’s confounded by the objectified images of women that persistently invade the female psyche, hers included. In “Bar Method and the Secrets of Beautiful Women,” Klein chronicles her suffering through tortuous exercise in hopes of a tighter backside. In the hilarious “Lingerie Dilemma,” the author, a cotton underwear sort of gal, prepares for a date with a new paramour by braving a French lingerie store where she tries on scanty undies under the watchful eyes of the “impossibly thin and beautiful” Frenchwomen who all look like Charlotte Gainsbourg. Ultimately, she writes, “lingerie is never really worth the agita.” In the end, though, all the aggravation that comes her way pays off in this lively, irreverent collection, leaving the impression of a strong woman with a sharp eye for the ludicrous.
A gifted comedian turns the anxieties, obsessions, insecurities, and impossible-to-meet expectations that make up human nature into laughter.
A teenage girl becomes obsessed with a family of reputed witches in this British author's North American debut.
The unreliable narrator, of never-mentioned race so likely white, approximate age 15, has recently moved from a city that might be London to an unnamed town on the sea with her emotionally absent mother after her father disappears. She never reveals her name, instead choosing to go by her “secret name,” River, once she manages to insinuate herself with the mysterious, reclusive Graces. (The Graces are also white; many of the minor characters seem by brief description to be either black or Indian.) Like everyone else in her school, River has a crush on glamour-boy Fenrin Grace, 17. Fenrin's twin, Thalia, frightens her, but it's their younger sister, River's classmate Summer, with whom she forms the strongest bond. Over and over River molds herself into a person who could be best friends with Summer Grace. River's desperate to be part of the Graces' world, for reasons that gradually, horrifyingly, become crystal clear despite River's repeated deceptions, both within the story and in the narration. The ending will make readers want to read the entire novel again, immediately, to admire the clues they missed before. Though the facts may be slippery, the prose never is; it’s precise, vivid, and immediate.
A woman learns to rebuild her life after a shocking revelation shakes her to the core.
By all standards, Caroline Hammond is living a pretty idyllic life, with a job as a museum curator, a marriage to her high school sweetheart, and a beautiful house in the Berkshires. But all the good in Caroline’s world falls away when she learns that her seemingly devoted husband, Adam, has been having an affair with photographer and artist Patrick Timothy. Stunned not only by his infidelity, but by the fact that he was attracted to men—a fact she never once suspected—Caroline must learn what it means to be single for the first time since she was 17. Luckily, she doesn’t need to do it alone. Suffering from her own recent breakup and layoff, her younger sister—the often rambunctious and fun-loving Ruby—offers to come for an extended visit, and Caroline begrudgingly accepts. Bolstered by her sister and her best friend, Jonathan, Caroline begins to unravel the truths and lies in both her relationship and her life. Not long after deciding that her marriage is indeed beyond repair, she's asked out by Neil, a colleague at the museum as well as a very recent widower with two young daughters. While that relationship begins to develop, Caroline can’t help but worry that she has fallen into another woman’s life. Still longing for her own marriage, Caroline is faced with some difficult and heartbreaking decisions. With charm and wit, Chase (The One That Got Away, 2015) creates characters a reader can truly care about. Exploring the complexities of life and love, she is generous in her depictions—even when it comes to Adam, the cheating spouse. Caroline’s story is nuanced and complex, an altogether addictive read.
A novel that doles out both laughter and tears, in the best possible ratio.
A man walks out of a bar and his life becomes a kaleidoscope of altered states in this science-fiction thriller.
Crouch opens on a family in a warm, resonant domestic moment with three well-developed characters. At home in Chicago’s Logan Square, Jason Dessen dices an onion while his wife, Daniela, sips wine and chats on the phone. Their son, Charlie, an appealing 15-year-old, sketches on a pad. Still, an undertone of regret hovers over the couple, a preoccupation with roads not taken, a theme the book will literally explore, in multifarious ways. To start, both Jason and Daniela abandoned careers that might have soared, Jason as a physicist, Daniela as an artist. When Charlie was born, he suffered a major illness. Jason was forced to abandon promising research to teach undergraduates at a small college. Daniela turned from having gallery shows to teaching private art lessons to middle school students. On this bracing October evening, Jason visits a local bar to pay homage to Ryan Holder, a former college roommate who just received a major award for his work in neuroscience, an honor that rankles Jason, who, Ryan says, gave up on his career. Smarting from the comment, Jason suffers “a sucker punch” as he heads home that leaves him “standing on the precipice.” From behind Jason, a man with a “ghost white” face, “red, pursed lips," and "horrifying eyes” points a gun at Jason and forces him to drive an SUV, following preset navigational directions. At their destination, the abductor forces Jason to strip naked, beats him, then leads him into a vast, abandoned power plant. Here, Jason meets men and women who insist they want to help him. Attempting to escape, Jason opens a door that leads him into a series of dark, strange, yet eerily familiar encounters that sometimes strain credibility, especially in the tale's final moments.
Suspenseful, frightening, and sometimes poignant—provided the reader has a generously willing suspension of disbelief.
Will someone help this poor young woman with her virginity?
Despite being reasonably attractive and chalking up a few near misses, Julia Greenfield has reached the age of 26 without having sex. Now it’s all she can think about. “Untouched. Like a flower suffocating in its own air. Like something pickling in its own juices. Something that badly needs to be turned inside out, banged right.” Her obsession with this issue is magnified by the fact that she’s lost the focus once provided by her nearly-but-not-quite Olympic swimming career. Since she hates her job, there’s nothing to keep her in the D.C. suburb where she’s moved after college, but she can’t go home because her parents have rented out their house and gone to Costa Rica. So she ends up spending the summer with her dowager Aunt Vivienne in North Carolina. Terrifyingly, Viv turns out to be a virgin, too, and the dull small town she lives in looks like part of the problem. Nonetheless, Julia forges gamely on. A contributor to the New Yorker's “Shouts and Murmurs” humor column, Rathbone (The Patterns of Paper Monsters, 2010) reliably wrings the humor out of this situation, but more impressively, she manages to evoke its poignancy. Julia’s longing is revealed in moments like this, watching a friend with her boyfriend: “he put his hand on her chest, kind of fit his fingers above her collarbone as if it was a ridge on a rock face and he was going to climb her. I’d thought about that for a long time.” Also nuanced is the uncomfortable relationship between aunt and niece, in which both withhold more than they give.
Amusing but also smart about people and unexpectedly sweet.