Rendered in beautifully poetic prose, Murphy’s debut novel follows Capt. James McFarlane of Canada’s “A” Company, 1st Irish, into war.
Capt. James McFarlane is on the brink. It is September 1944, the eve of a great battle, he has not heard from his wife, and he is physically and mentally exhausted. He’s noticeably losing his grip. At first blush, though, McFarlane seems normal enough, “happy that he is in a situation where he can test himself to his physical, mental, emotional and spiritual limits.” He jokes with fellow soldiers and seems well-liked by fellow officers and his men. But piece by intricate piece, his motivations and fragile psyche are revealed. Tiny sips from a flask grow into a major drinking problem that leads him to strike an enlisted man, miss an important pre-battle inspection and ultimately send his assistant in search of rum in the midst of a firefight. Through dreams, flashbacks and letters, readers learn that his decision to join the army was more out of inadequacy and restlessness than patriotism, and this decision to voluntarily leave his new bride, Marianne, dealt a severe blow to his marriage. While exploring McFarlane’s inner landscape, Murphy meticulously conveys the realities of war, from the ruined Italian countryside to the mixture of boredom and anxiety haunting the soldiers. All is done in exquisite style that places readers squarely in the action: “Here and there, flash by flash, are illumined trees, houses, hills, recoiling guns and men in action, captured in flared snapshots, yellow and orange flicker, red glow, a purple bruise of clouds.” Murphy uses stream of consciousness throughout, but in the dénouement, that stream explodes into a roiling sea breaking on the various shores of McFarlane’s inner and outer realities.
An empathetic yet flawed man drives this wonderful novel, the first from an author ready for a glittering literary career.
Cole’s (The Pleasure of Memory, 2013) novel is equal parts snark-filled road trip and bittersweet confrontation of past sins.
Henry wakes up in a gas station bathroom, crusty with vomit and missing both a shoe and his wallet. Exiting, he finds himself in New Mexico, his car nowhere in sight and his memory lost to a weekend of boozing. This is his re-entry into a miserable life spent guilt-ridden over how he treated Zoe, his wife, who’s been dead for four years. Naturally, his first stop is a bar just steps away. Clarence, the philosophically inclined bartender, insists that he drink some water. During the ensuing back and forth, Clarence calls Henry out on carrying needless emotional baggage. Eventually, Henry leaves and begins hitchhiking; he meets a string of fascinating people, including Rev. Joshua White, a social worker named Mrs. Pena, and the stunning Alice—a dangerously perfect companion who’s on a yearly pilgrimage with her siblings. Henry joins Alice and company in their van, hoping to reach California while reluctantly cleansing himself of the idea that he’s no good for people. Has Zoe’s ghost trapped him, or can Henry be salvaged from this self-destructive epic outing? Cole’s tale of impossible redemption is, sentence for sentence, a textural feast. Fabulous lines like, “He collected friends the way a lumberjack collected trees...[they] only complicated his plans,” pop on every page. Equally marvelous is his dialogue; Clarence tells Henry, “You like the drama because it makes you feel important, gives you a sense of purpose, a reason for not being dead.” Readers will savor Cole’s narrative as it unfolds across a series of conversations that are by turns probing, poignant and hilarious. From his time with Rev. White, readers learn that Henry is a relentless cynic; from Mrs. Pena, that he’s softer than he appears. Alice, with eyes like bright green kryptonite, threatens all of his bourbon-drenched defenses. By the end, readers will wish these terrific characters could stick around longer.
A nonfiction picture book about a young Pakistani activist who believes that education is a basic human right.
Malala Yousafzai grew up in Pakistan’s Swat Valley, where her father ran a school for girls. She loved books, words and language, and in 2007, when the Taliban came to power in the area and tried to ban education for girls, she started writing brave blog posts asserting that education is a fundamental right. The Taliban infamously responded to the 15-year-old’s courage by shooting her in the head as she sat in her school bus.Malala became an international cause célèbre, shining a light not only on the Taliban’s injustices, but also on the work of activists like her who resisted the regime. After she recovered, she spoke at the United Nations and then took her message—“Every child. Every country. Free school”—around the world. Malala is a celebrity among politically conscious adults, and her story is exactly the sort that captivates kids: A relatable young teenager who stands up to injustice in a simple, powerful way. Leggett Abouraya (Hands Around the Library, 2012) gets off to a slightly shaky, abstract start on the book’s first page: “Malala Yousafzai did not celebrate her sixteenth birthday with a sleepover, but with a stand-up.” After that, however, her words and her storytelling are clear and moving, revealing a real talent for understanding young audiences. Instead of introducing or explaining the Taliban within the body of the story, for example, she leaves it to a longer endnote so the main narrative can focus on Malala herself. When Malala is shot, the author uses straightforward language that isn’t sensationalistic and doesn’t overpower the gravity of the act. The author also highlights elements of Malala’s bright personality, including her love of the color pink,and quotes often from Malala’s speeches and blog. Wheatley’s illustrations meet the high standards set by the text, using cut paper and occasional photographs to create skillful compositions.
A moving real-life story well-told and beautifully illustrated.
In this debut memoir, a young pianist recalls touring the United States with his program of contemporary American music while struggling with his closeted sexuality.
After graduating from music school with honors, Tendler came up with a bold idea: “I’d always wanted to travel, I loved modern American music, and I had nothing else to do. I would call it America 88x50—eighty-eight keys by fifty states.” His program showcased four American art-music composers—Charles Ives, Charles Tomlinson Griffes, Alberto Ginastera and Aaron Copland. After emailing his proposal—which he now describes as “a grandiose web of half-truths”—to 50 presenters, he got no positive responses. “Clearly, you are not a professional musician,” said one presenter in an email reply. He decided to tour anyway. Tendler was ill-prepared, at first lacking a website, publicist or even a poster. (He now has a website with sound files, photographs and reviews.) Nevertheless, Tendler lined up a handful of concerts and hit the road, playing wherever he could get a booking—a nursing home, an elementary school, a noisy coffee shop—and eventually, he reached his goal. Even nonmusical readers could become engrossed in Tendler’s narrative as he struggles with self-doubt, logistics, health and coming out, as well as the underlying fight to maintain his pursuit of artthrough the generosity of others when funding is slim and audiences tiny. The elderly, he discovered, are the most likely to take chances and show up, “while my own hipper-than-thou demographic of twenty-somethings could scarcely ever be found.” In many ways, his quest is personal, though Tendler “learned long ago that only by playing before an audience can a pianist really discover the truth about what they know or don’t know about a piece of music,” and his exploration of this relationship is fascinating. For instance, when he played his dissonant music at a Hurricane Katrina benefit and a disrupted family was in the audience, his host told him that, to them, “Your program made perfect sense.”
An honest, searching exploration of the artist as a young man.