Saving lives is not just a job for Austin firefighter Cassie Hanwell; it’s core to who she is. But can she rescue herself from the emotional fortress she’s built and forgive those who have hurt her?
A decade ago, Cassie’s 16th birthday was a one-two punch of heartbreak. First, her mother abandoned her family. Hours later, a high school crush deeply violated her trust. Deciding that love is for the weak, Cassie replaced vulnerability with muscle mass and forged a career in emergency rescue. Ten years later, as the young firefighter is at the top of her game—accepted as one of the boys and receiving a service award—Cassie comes face to face with the high school boy who wreaked havoc on her life. In the first of many surprises in this tale of ever ratcheting stakes, Cassie loses her cool and sets off a series of events that land her at an old-school firehouse near Boston where she is the first woman to serve. Not only does Cassie face an unwelcoming crew, she begrudgingly moves in with her estranged mother, who is dealing with serious health issues and desperately wants to reconnect. Expertly crafting this page-turner, Center (How to Walk Away, 2018, etc.) creates a character you can’t help rooting for while constantly adding new tension to the story. Cassie learns that her job is on the line as the city budget has tightened. Perhaps the worst blow, though, is that she must compete with Owen “The Rookie” Callaghan, her only true friend, for a spot on the crew. Most vexing to the hardhearted Cassie is that The Rookie is nothing short of dreamy, with an easy smile and a washboard stomach. She promised herself long ago that she would never open her heart to romance—or forgive her mother. She's in for the fight of her life.
Center gives readers a sharp and witty exploration of love and forgiveness that is at once insightful, entertaining, and thoroughly addictive.
A moving family saga celebrates generations of bold, brave, and determined women.
Award-winning novelist Straight (Between Heaven and Here, 2012, etc.) makes her nonfiction debut with an eloquent, absorbing memoir. Addressed to her three adult daughters, the narrative weaves together stories that transcend time, place, race, and ethnicity to vibrantly portray her children’s rich ancestry. Straight is white: Her mother grew up in the Swiss Alps; her father, in Colorado. The couple settled in Riverside, California, a hardscrabble community of a wide variety of mixed ethnicities, all “dreamers of the golden dream.” When she was 14, she met Dwayne Sims, an African American high school classmate; years later, they married and eventually settled near their families. Straight taught English to refugees and at a city college; Dwayne worked at a juvenile correctional facility. Frugality was a way of life. When her youngest daughter was asked how the family fared, she replied, “Wait—what’s below humble?” They had been poor, Straight admits, finding furniture on the street and living without air conditioning in temperatures over 100 degrees, but “the safety and tether and history” of their families was ample compensation. “The women who came before you, my daughters, were legends,” writes the author, and their journeys—from Africa, Europe, and across the American continent—entailed convoluted “maps and threads” that culminated in her own girls, “the apex of the dream.” Her daughters inherited not only their ancestors’ “defined cheekbones and dimples and high-set hips,” but, more crucially, their beauty, intelligence, and defiant independence. Among those many women, Dwayne’s mother, Alberta, shines: “bemused and regal and slightly mischievous,” a warmhearted woman who unreservedly welcomed her white daughter-in-law. Listening to family stories and mining ancestry.com, Straight recounts the peril and hope, forced migration and fierce escapes, “thousands of miles of hardship,” that women endured. “All of American history,” she tells her daughters, “is in your bones.”
High school English teacher Alex Witt jumps from the frying pan into the fire when she takes a job at Stonebridge Academy, a Vermont boarding school.
Alex doesn’t love teaching, but it’s a living, and she’s hoping for a new start at Stonebridge after a debacle sent her packing from her last job. Dean Gregory Stinson, a friend of Alex’s famous author father, Len Wilde, is happy to give her a place on staff, but a bait and switch has her teaching creative writing instead of English. Alex isn’t thrilled but settles into getting to know her class. Her initiation isn’t easy: Someone leaves a dead rat in her desk, and strange, vaguely threatening notes keep appearing at her barely livable cottage. Weeding out the good eggs from the troublemakers isn’t easy, but Alex gives it the college try and even makes a few (maybe) friends among the staff. When a student named Gemma Russo makes Alex aware of an exclusive online forum called the Darkroom, where Stonebridge boys post photos and text about their sexual exploits and girls are vigorously scored, Alex can’t ignore what’s happening, but she’s not eager to put herself out there in the face of adult enablers and vicious boys who will do anything to keep their toxic traditions alive. Luckily, Gemma is quietly recruiting an army to take the nasty little cabal down, and Alex offers guidance, never guessing just how far things might go. In 2009, when this is set, the term “boys will be boys” wasn’t yet being truly challenged as an acceptable explanation for entitled, misogynistic male behavior, and questions of consent weren’t at the forefront. Stonebridge is a perfect example of this kind of dysfunctional, entrenched culture. Lutz (The Passenger, 2016, etc.) draws on the droll humor and idiosyncratic characterizations that make her Spellman novels so appealing, and just about no one is quite who they seem. But kindness and decency do manifest in surprising places, revealed through the alternating narratives of Alex, Gemma, and others.
An offbeat, darkly witty pre–#MeToo revenge tale. The patriarchy doesn’t stand a chance.
A multilayered, intimate look at what creates a “peace enclave” amid terrible violence.
Pursuing her research into how “even powerless-seeming people can find ways to resist the will of a violent state,” anthropologist and essayist Paxson (Solovyovo: The Story of Memory in a Russian Village, 2005) delved into Holocaust studies and ultimately focused on one peculiar region in France, Plateau Vivarais-Lignon. From the early centuries of religious war, when the region protected Protestants, to World War II, when there was a school of refugees sheltering hundreds of Jewish children, to today, when a thriving center for asylum-seekers houses innumerable refugees from places like Congo, Rwanda, and Chechnya, the cluster of villages possesses a remarkable history of “heroic altruism.” In order to tell the story of this extraordinary community, the author immersed herself in the history of the small rural area, somewhat isolated at 3,000 feet, full of farmers and sheep herders. Specifically, she absorbed the tragic wartime fate of Daniel Trocmé, who arrived to run a home for refugee children in the French backwoods in the fall of 1942. As he wrote to his parents, he wanted “to be part of the reconstruction of the world. I…wish not to be ashamed of myself.” Paxson is meticulous in her attention to fieldwork detail: the way people live, their language, the choices people make in times of violence when communities tend to close doors and “act in such a way as to maximize the best outcomes for ourselves.” Yet the opposite happened on the Plateau, where people sheltered the strangers as the Nazi occupiers made strangers enemies to be annihilated. The many layers in this engrossing, almost suspenseful work involve the author’s evolving relationships with the current refugee families at the asylum center, the revealing letters Trocmé sent to his family delineating his blooming personality and sense of purpose, and the author’s own growing determination in her research. Throughout, Paxson keeps asking questions and probing, never settling for assumptions.
An elegant, intensive study that grapples with an enormous idea: how to be good.
The further adventures of Candace and her man-eating friends.
Bushnell (Killing Monica, 2015, etc.) has been mining the vein of gold she hit with Sex and the City (1996) in both adult and YA novels. The current volume, billed as fiction but calling its heroine Candace rather than Carrie, is a collection of commentaries and recounted hijinks (and lojinks) close in spirit to the original. The author tries Tinder on assignment for a magazine, explores "cubbing" (dating men in their 20s who prefer older women), investigates the "Mona Lisa" treatment (a laser makeover for the vagina), and documents the ravages of Middle Aged Madness (MAM, the female version of the midlife crisis) on her clique of friends, a couple of whom come to blows at a spa retreat. One of the problems of living in Madison World, as she calls her neighborhood in the city, is trying to stay out of the clutches of a group of Russians who are dead-set on selling her skin cream that costs $15,000. Another is that one inevitably becomes a schlepper, carrying one's entire life around in "handbags the size of burlap sacks and worn department store shopping bags and plastic grocery sacks....Your back ached and your feet hurt, but you just kept on schlepping, hoping for the day when something magical would happen and you wouldn't have to schlep no more." She finds some of that magic by living part-time in a country place she calls the Village (clearly the Hamptons), where several of her old group have retreated. There, in addition to cubs, they find SAPs, Senior Age Players, who are potential candidates for MNB, My New Boyfriend. Will Candace get one?
Sometimes funny, sometimes silly, sometimes quite sad—i.e., an accurate portrait of life in one's 50s.
Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.
In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.
A family inheritance tears two Minnesota sisters apart—but years later, they might get a chance to reunite.
Edith Magnusson never expected to be famous for anything, let alone her pies. But the pies she makes at her humble nursing-home job put the place on the map, and soon people are traveling from all over to try a slice. At 64 years old, it seems she’s starting a new life...but Edith doesn’t know what’s in store for her future. Although she remains a talented baker, the years to come leave her widowed, underemployed, and taking care of her teenage granddaughter, Diana. The two of them manage to barely scrape by, but Edith often wonders how her life would have been different if she’d received her portion of the inheritance from her family’s farm after her father died. Instead, Edith’s younger sister, Helen, convinced their father to give her the entire inheritance so she could build a successful brewery with her husband. Helen made good on her promise, turning Blotz beer into one of the country’s most prominent brands, but it comes at a cost. Edith stops speaking to Helen, and Helen doesn’t reach out to fix the rift. Many years later, by coincidence, Diana ends up working in a brewery. She shows both an interest and skill in making beer, and soon she’s a rising star in the world of brewing. As Diana’s career takes off, she needs all the help from her family she can get—which just might mean a chance for Edith and Helen to reconnect. Stradal’s (Kitchens of the Great Midwest, 2015) writing is sharp and funny while still managing to treat each character with warmth and respect. His women are complicated and interesting people who find fulfillment in hard work—and, perhaps most refreshingly, he never mocks the career hopes of older women. Although the characters' lives are full of loss—Edith of her husband, Diana of her parents, all of them of various unfulfilled dreams—the story doesn’t wallow in grief or indulge in despair. Instead, this is an ultimately hopeful and heartwarming story that never feels sentimental or trite. Readers will love watching these truly original characters overcome their challenges and take care of each other.
An absolutely delightful read, perfect for a summer day with a good beer and a piece of pie.
Broom reassembles her sizable family tree, damaged by time and uprooted by Hurricane Katrina.
As the author suggests in her debut book, her clan’s tempest-tossed experience was practically predetermined. She was raised in New Orleans East, an especially swampy section of the city so poor and distant from the city’s romantic center that it never appeared on tourist maps. In 1961, when Broom’s mother purchased the house of the title, it was hyped as a boomtown “involving men and money and wetlands, dreaming and draining and emergence and fate.” But rapid development covered up a multitude of municipal sins that emerged once the rains came. (The title refers in part to the yellow aluminum siding that cloaked rotting wood beneath.) The youngest of 12 siblings and half siblings, Broom knew much of her family only via lore and later research (her father died six months after her birth), which gives this book the feel of a heartfelt but unflinching recovery project. In the early portions, the author describes her family’s hard living (her mother was widowed twice) and the region’s fickle economy and institutional racism. Private school gave Broom a means of escape—she lived in New York working for O, the Oprah Magazine, when Katrina struck—but she returned to reckon with “the psychic cost of defining oneself by the place where you are from.” As family members were relocated around the country, she scrambled to locate and assist them, kept tabs on the house, and took a well-intentioned but disillusioning job as a speechwriter for controversial New Orleans mayor Ray Nagin, insincerely hyping the city’s progress. Broom’s lyrical style celebrates her family bonds, but a righteous fury runs throughout the narrative at New Orleans’ injustices, from the foundation on up.
A tribute to the multitude of stories one small home can contain, even one bursting with loss.