Fiction Five: Intriguing new reads
My top five picks for July new books are thoughtful explorations of human connections that are insightful, charming, humorous and a little scary. The First Ladies is based on the real-life friendship of civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt. A retired librarian moves from solitary days to a life full of quirky and complicated characters in The Librarianist. The Door-to-Door Bookstore is a charming story of the power of books and unexpected friendship. A book club helps a group of neighbors and strangers bond and temporarily escape the difficulties of World War II. The Block Party is a fast-paced, suspenseful murder mystery.
1. The First Ladies by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray
This novel is based on the real-life friendship of civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune and Eleanor Roosevelt. Mary is the daughter or formerly enslaved parents. She won't let her work for civil rights be stopped by threats from white supremacists. Eleanor is a political wife with her own agenda and her own strengths.
The ladies meet before Franklin Roosevelt becomes president, but their friendship and collaborations expand after Eleanor moves into the White House. They will fight together for justice and equality.
“It's an utter joy to watch civil rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt forge a partnership that changed America: plotting over teacups, negotiating tricky conversations about race and privilege, celebrating their triumphs, and never giving up. The First Ladies is a wonder!" –Kate Quinn, New York Times bestselling author of The Diamond Eye
"While the depictions of the women's activism are inspiring, the novel really shines in the behind-the-scenes moments when the women support each other during personal struggles with marital infidelity, illness, and loss. This impeccably researched, relevant novel is a must-read and destined to be a book-club favorite."
2. The Librarianist by Patrick deWitt
Bob Comet is a retired librarian passing his solitary days surrounded by books and small comforts in a mint-colored house in Portland, Oregon. One morning on his daily walk he encounters a confused elderly woman lost in a market and returns her to the senior center that is her home. Hoping to fill the void he’s known since retiring, he begins volunteering at the center. Here, as a community of strange peers gathers around Bob, and following a happenstance brush with a painful complication from his past, the events of his life and the details of his character are revealed.
Behind Bob Comet’s straight-man façade is the story of an unhappy child’s runaway adventure during the last days of WW II, of true love won and stolen away and the purpose and pride in his vocation. Bob’s experiences are filled with melancholy but also a bright, sustained comedy. He has a talent for locating bizarre and outsize players to welcome to his life.
“Readers come to deWitt (French Exit, 2018) for his brand of slightly off-kilter storytelling blessed with exuberant characterizations, gleeful dialogue, and a proprietary blend of darkness and charm, all strung up in lights here. Gripping, random, and totally alive? Check, check, and check.” — Booklist
“A bittersweet tale of a retired librarian . . . DeWitt imbues the people he meets with color and quirks, leaving a trail of sparks . . . This one gradually takes hold until it won’t let go.” — Publishers Weekly
3. The Door-to-Door Bookstore by Carsten Henn
Small-town German bookseller Carl Kollhoff delivers his books to special customers in the evening hours after closing time, walking through the picturesque alleys of the city. These people are almost like friends to him, and he is their most important connection to the world.
When Kollhoff unexpectedly loses his job, it takes the power of books and a 9-year-old girl to make them all find the courage to rebuild their bonds with each other.
"Charming is an appropriate word to describe this gem of a story. The story is somewhat familiar – older person who is essentially alone makes a much younger friend who transforms their life, picking up more new friends along the way, ultimately transforming everyone’s life. This carries a powerful statement on the power of books to affect and connect people. If you enjoy feel-good, inter-generational stories, this one is for you." –It's All About the Book
4. The Air Raid Book Club by Annie Lyons
Gertie and her husband Harry shared the dream of their London bookstore. However, since Harry's death she's just not sure she wants to be a bookseller. Gertie is tempted to retire to the seaside.
It's 1938 and Jewish families in Germany are sending their children away for their safety. Gertie decides to take in a refugee, a headstrong teenage girl named Hedy. This girl reminds Gertie of herself at that age.
When the Blitz begins, Gertie and Hedy decide to start an air raid book club. The club's lively discussions and good books bolster the spirits of neighbors and bookshop customers. These temporary escapes build bonds that help members through the difficult times.
“The Air Raid Book Club is a warm and tender tale about the power and healing of friendship and community and the magic of books. A diverse cast of characters are drawn together through Gertie and her bookshop, and in the face of all the fear and uncertainty that war brings they find strength in unity, and escape and solace in books. Annie writes her characters with humanity, humour and respect and their stories will stay with me for a very long time. A wonderful, heart-warming read.” — Ruth Hogan, author of The Keeper of Lost Things
5. The Block Party by Jamie Day
The residents of the exclusive cul-de-sac on Alton Road are entangled in a web of secrets and scandal utterly unknown to the outside world, and even to each other.
On the night of the annual Summer block party, there has been a murder.
But, who did it and why takes readers back one year earlier, as rivalries and betrayals unfold―discovering that the real danger lies within their own block and nothing―and no one―is ever as it seems.
"The Block Party is suspenseful, fast-paced and funny all at once. With an intricate plot and memorable characters, it's a trip to the leafy suburbs where all is not as it seems, told by a master storyteller with wit and style." --William Landay, bestselling author of All That Is Mine I Carry With Me and Defending Jacob
“There’s more than potato salad and Kenny Chesney on the radio at the Alton Road annual block party. Someone gets murdered and as always, in searching for the killer, a slew of other juicy secrets are uncovered. Told from multiple points of view, this novel is like a firecracker on a hot summer night. If you like my novels, you’ll love The Block Party.” ― Elin Hilderbrand, #1 Bestselling author of The Hotel Nantucket