Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron

Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) by Delia Ephron
Pub. Date: August 26, 2014
Source: Finished copy via publisher (Thank you, Plume!)
Summary: Delia Ephron brings her trademark wit and effervescent prose to a series of autobiographical essays about life, love, sisterhood, movies, and family. From keen observations on modern living, the joy of girlfriends, and best-friendship, to a consideration of the magical madness and miracle of dogs, to haunting recollections of life with her famed screenwriter mother and growing up the child of alcoholics, Ephron’s eloquent style and voice illuminate every page of this superb and singular work.
Genre: Non-Fiction, Essays
Rating:

Two years ago the world lost a beloved writer, director, and all-around good person with Nora Ephron’s passing. I’ll admit that, until reading this book, I hadn’t realized just how much Nora did. As a bookseller I’m well aware of her books, but her movies? I’m ashamed to say I had no idea classics like Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail (an absolute favorite in our household!), and When Harry Met Sally were Nora’s creations. Anyone who enjoys rom-com, feel good films has Nora to thank.

Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) is Delia Ephron’s collection of essays, part memoir, part biographical, part musing on life. I wasn’t quite sure what to think going into it, but once I got started I couldn’t stop. Clocking in at a mere 220 pages, this book runs the gamut of emotion: I teared up at Delia’s recollection of Nora’s final moments (and coming to terms with the loss of her sister). I delighted at the passages about the bakeries and cafes she frequents. I laughed and smiled and wept at her thoughts on dogs (I’ll let you in on a little secret: add a dog into your novel and I’ll not only read it, but I’ll openly rejoice AND sob – unless it’s a happy story and all stories involving dogs should be happy ones).

Every so often I’ll get into a non-fic mood and Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) suited this perfectly. Because the essays are around ten pages (and that’s on the long side!), reading was a breeze. The day I read this was a day full of errands, including a trip to everyone’s favorite place: the DMV. There are moments when the universe aligns just so and that was one of them. What would have been a hassle and painful experience turned out to be a, dare I say it, rather enjoyable hour! The bite-sized stories in this book are absolutely fantastic for those odd chunks of time spent waiting, not to say that I equate Deliah Ephron’s work to spending the day at the DMV!

With a novel this small, there’s a surprising amount of substance! Delia’s humor positively shines (I especially adore her essay entitled #TheHairReport where she gives hair reports based on the weather – “Beautiful. A Beyonce day.” and “Cold. Sacrifice hair for ears. Wear hat.“), but just as quickly she’ll turn it upside-down with memories of her parents’ battles with alcoholism (a battle her mother ultimately lost).

Through musings on how her father would have loved Twitter to what Having It All really means (and how high school set the bar for success) to having her domain name stolen, Delia Ephron dishes out wit and charm in spades. Sister Mother Husband Dog (etc.) is the quintessential one-sitting read – though you’ll want to have a buddy on hand, there are so many passages that are virtually screaming to be read aloud!

NOTABLE QUOTES

(Verb tense has begun to confuse me. I have three sisters, I had three sisters. I have two sisters. I have three sisters. Nora is a national treasure.)

New Yorkers are born all over the country and then they come to the city and it strikes them: “Oh, this is who I am.”

(Actually you only have to watch Seinfeld to know everything. There is a Seinfeld episode for every single thing that happens in life, which is a remarkable achievement.)

Never underestimate the power of high school. It’s the identity everyone wants to live down, the approval everyone aspires to. Being able to check the boxes – marriage, children, career – is more important at a high school reunion than anywhere else, which is why I think that high school, not feminism, is the reason an idea of happiness got framed this way. It instantly creates the social world of high school: haves, have-nots, wannabes, and freaks. Freaks are those who aspires to other versions of life, who want to march to their own tune. Thanks to this definition of success, they will always be freaks. Freaks forever.

my week in pictures: time to head back to the real world

After a wonderful, wonderful, oh-so-wonderful ten days off, it’s time to head back to work tomorrow and I’m SO not ready to put on real clothes/make-up haha! Every year we head up to a cabin near Erie and relax. Our friends brought their kitten with them and we survived the week without murdering one another. Success!

Take another look at that photo of me and Matt. That hoodie I’m wearing? Yeah. Unfortunately, it was freezing the entire week. Mid 60s (I think two days it reached the low 70s – absolutely perfect weather the day we went on a 4-mile bike ride around the island!) and with the breeze coming off the lake it was way too cold to swim, which was a huge bummer. Instead, we got out and about and one of our stops was the Erie Zoo. For such a touristy city, the zoo is seriously tiny (they don’t even have an elephant!). Pittsburgh’s zoo is by far better. ♥ #StillerNation y’all.

Matt’s a HUGE Cirque du Soleil fan and when he found out Varekai would be in town he immediately bought the tickets. I’m a total newbie and had no idea what to expect – afterwards I was talking with a friend on facebook and described the show as “similar to Willy Wonka’s boat ride from hell – but in a good way.” The colors, the costumes, the music were all phenomenal! I took the photo of the stage from my seat; we were so close the performers would swing out over the stage and right above us. I’m still in awe of the athleticism and strength of the entire cast!

I don’t like being the center of attention. Unfortunately, Matt forgot to mention the bit about the act that comes out and interacts with the crowd… At one point Matt fell victim to their shenanigans and I was petrified I’d be next. Thankfully that didn’t happen and I would have died if I had been one of the people selected to go on stage.

Earlier that day we drove out to a teensy tiny winery (we love our wineries) for their peach festival. Wine, pie, pastries, we were in heaven. Sadly, today is my last day of vacation and I’m hoping to make the most of it!

In Case You Missed It (because of vacation, this will cover the past few weeks!)
July recap!
August’s Gotta Read It novels
Putting my Book Jar to use
2AM at the Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino is an incredible under-the-radar novel about a jazz club about to be closed, an elementary school teacher moving back home, and the sassiest nine-year-old I’ve ever come across. Told over the course of one day, this novel weaves their stories together and it was heavenly! 4/5
The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero is another book that didn’t generate a lot of buzz but was highly entertaining. I’m usually not big on epistolary novels, but this one sucked me in. A haunted estate, a mute Punk rocker, an age-old secret society, what’s not to love about this one? 3/5
Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen made Poe out to be a sex god, but other than that, I enjoyed this one. Quick-paced and engaging. 4/5
Omens and Visions by Kelley Armstrong are the first two novels in her new Cainsville series and I fell hard. 4.5/5

Omens and Visions by Kelley Armstrong


Omens (Cainsville #1) | Visions (Cainsville #2)
A big THANK YOU to Dutton for a finished copy of Visions!

Because I’m not a binge-reader, I rarely review series in one go. However, I’ve recently discovered vacations are the perfect opportunity to really dive into a new world for an extended visit. I’m also not a big reader of Urban Fantasy, so (spoiler!) I was completely shocked when I not only tore through both of these books, but that I really – REALLY – enjoyed them as well!

Olivia Taylor-Jones is a socialite’s socialite. As the heir to a department store empire, Liv had it all: vintage sports cars, an Ivy League education, the perfect fiance. Unfortunately, disaster struck when she discovered the secrets her parents kept from her all these years: not only was she adopted, but her parents? The notorious Larsens, locked away in maximum-security prisons after being found guilty of a string of serial murders. Oh, sure, Olivia’s still in the public eye, but in a much different way than she’s used to.

With her beloved father passed on and her mother suddenly not-so-doting, Olivia realizes she needs to get out. Now. Her world has turned upside-down – for the worst; she has no idea who she is, are her future-husband’s political dreams ruined? James claims he doesn’t care about her real lineage, but Olivia needs answers. She needs to talk to the Larsens and discover for herself who these people are.

Olivia finds herself in Cainsville, an odd little town that rallies around its own and isn’t quick to give up its secrets. Gargoyles decorate the town steeped deep in folklore and soon she’s remembering snippets of rhymes from her childhood. Poppies are harbingers of death, you never want to see a group of ten ravens, black cats are actually good luck. With the help of Gabriel Walsh, Pamela Larsen’s lawyer, Olivia looks into the murders her birth parents supposedly committed (along with finding out just who she really is and what these strange visions and rhymes mean). Through in a physic for a neighbor and a group of elders who are far more agile than they’re letting on, and you’ve got the makings of a great new series!

Brush up on your Welsh, folks. You’re going to need it with Cainsville! In an author’s note in Omens, Armstrong states she intentionally left out any kind of translation or contextual clues. I cheated a bit and Googled some of the phrases. Don’t worry, I won’t spoil those, but trust me: you’ll want to find out more! Cainsville definitely isn’t your normal sleepy town. Nope. Not at all. There are things going on here – Big Things.

Visions picks up almost immediately where Omens ended and, because I read them together, this transition was perfect. Olivia is a great character, she’s got substance to her. She’s in an incredibly crappy situation, but she’s making the best of it and, ultimately, comes out on top. Gabriel walks a fine, fine line between jerk and lovable jerk (his aunt is the town psychic, by the way!). Gabriel’s all no-nonsense and I felt their personalities meshed so well together. Don’t worry about romance bogging down the plot. After two books this pair still maintains a healthy business partnership: initially Olivia takes Gabriel on as her own lawyer only for Gabriel to later hire Liv on as an investigator for his firm. Sure there’s romance in the series, but not between these two (and, honestly, I’m a little disappointed! Fingers crossed for sparks to fly in book three!).

There’s so much to talk about, but anything I say would be a HUGE spoiler. If you’re a fan of mythology, folklore, mysterious towns, HELLHOUNDS, biker gangs, serial killers, omens and portents, and sassy cats, Cainsville is the series for you. I tore through these books – and they’re definitely not short reads. However, the writing is blindingly fast and the story completely sucked me in..these 400+-page chunksters were one-sitting reads. THAT is how much I loved these books. Only two things leave me upset: 1) I’ve never read anything of Armstrong’s before this (I’ve been missing out on some seriously good stuff!) and 2) I have to wait an entire year for the third book!

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen
Pub. Date: October 1, 2013
Source: Bought
Summary: The triumphant success of Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Raven” compels fledgling poet Frances Osgood to meet her literary idol, a mysterious, complicated man who soon has her under his seductive spell in an all-consuming affair. And when Edgar’s frail young wife breaks into their idyll to befriend her rival, Frances fears that deceiving Mrs. Poe may be as impossible as cheating death itself…
Genre: Historical fiction
Rating:

To say I’m a fan of Poe is a bit of an understatement. At the risk of sounding extremely pompous, I think of myself as an amateur (VERY amateur!) Poe scholar – and even typing that has me cringing. I’ve traveled to his gravesite multiple times, visited his home on numerous occasions, and basically try to read everything about him I can get my hands on. Mrs. Poe naturally caught my eye when it first came out last year, but it wasn’t until my recent vacation (bless you, book jar!), that I finally had the chance to sit down and read it.

As much as I love Biographical Fiction, I was a little hesitant going into this one; that blurb is terrible and makes Poe out to be some sleezy sex god who goes up and down the coast wooing women. While there’s no evidence to support the two had an affair, they wrote multiple poems to each other (both through subtle hints and on full display) and Frances received quite a few letters from her friends (namely Mrs. Elizabeth Ellet who went so far as to insinuate Poe was the father of Frances’s third child) urging her to break contact with the entire Poe family. There was even an instance where Mrs. Sarah Whitman wrote, simply asking about Poe’s health and Frances refused to reply (if you’re curious about any of these letters and would love to read an incredibly in-depth account of Poe’s life, hunt down a copy of The Poe Log by Dwight Thomas and David K. Jackson – it’s so worth it!).

I can easily see why a writer would be intrigued and latch onto these two, putting a romantic spin on their friendship. I actually enjoyed Mrs. Poe! Unfortunately, it’s received a LOT of hateful comments and I think people are forgetting the fiction aspect of historical fiction.

The novel opens with a newly-abandoned Frances Osgood attempting to pick up the pieces of her life and find a way to get back on her feet. Her husband Samuel, a well-known painter, has left her for someone far younger and richer and will remain gone until he gets bored. Frances is taken in by her friends, providing both Fanny and her daughters with a place to stay. Fanny’s first collection of poetry did reasonably well and she’s trying to recreate that success – unfortunately, these days, the public would rather read frightening tales like Mr. Poe’s than her love poems and flowery prose.

Mrs. Poe reads like a Who’s Who of the 1840s. Every single get-together and lecture is bursting to the brim with name-dropping (from Walt Whitman to Mathew Brady to the inventor of Graham crackers). Personally I enjoyed this and thought it was fun to see just who would show up. It’s at one of these conversaziones that Fanny and Poe are introduced, kickstarting a friendship that would soon lead to something more. Because the two are both married, any public display of affection would not only be frowned upon, but would utterly ruin their reputations. As such, they keep their feelings hidden, passing letters back and forth, publishing poetry, etc. Fanny even makes it a point of becoming friends with Mrs. Poe!

Once the two meet and the affair begins, the rest of the plot falls to the side and the novel turns into scenes where the two are put into situations where they can interact, be it a societal meeting, an innocent calling at the Bartletts’ home where Fanny is staying, or an invitation for a picnic with the Poe family. There seriously isn’t much in the way of plot, but I was okay with that. I don’t know if it was because I was on vacation when I read this and more open to a carefree read, but I truly didn’t mind the book’s focus on getting the two together. There were multiple chapters where Poe simply appears out of nowhere – Fanny’s walking down the streets in New York (not a tiny little village!) and Poe somehow always knows where to find her.

The one thing I didn’t like about the novel was Mrs. Poe herself. Virginia is made out to be a horrible, vindictive, selfish child. She all but throws tantrums when she doesn’t get her way and has no problem seeking revenge on those she feels have wronged her. Admittedly she’s a mere 23 to the others’ mid-30s, but this characterization rubbed me the wrong way. In reality Edgar and Virginia were very much in love – here, however, Poe mentions he can’t wait for her to succumb to her illness (“I’ll get rid of her,” and “But when she dies-,” are just two examples) and spurs her every move.

One other minor detail I noticed was a character that might have been Teddy Roosevelt..?

A mustachioed youth sauntered past, twirling a cane and arranging his face in a superior sneer, a task made difficult by the squint that was necessary to keep a monocle to his eye.
[...]
“Oh dear,” I said, “Does young Mr. Roosevelt realize what a ridiculous figure he cuts?”

My first thought was that this was meant to be Teddy. However, that can’t possibly be the case – he wasn’t born until 1858 – nearly ten years after Poe died. His father was also named Theodore and grew up in New York where this novel is set. This ‘young Mr. Roosevelt’ could possibly by Theodore Sr., but he would have only been 14 in this scene. Just who is this person?? Was it all an author error?

Apart from those grievances, I had a fun time reading Mrs. Poe – and that’s high praise coming from a Poe fan. The characters the reader is supposed to root for simply aren’t likable and the villains are completely maligned in their characterization. I suppose it’s odd that sentence comes right after my praise of the novel, but so be it. I feel that as long as you understand this is a work of fiction rather this historical fact, you should have no problem reading – and enjoying – Mrs. Poe.

One final annoyance that has nothing to do with the actual story: at the end of the novel there’s a Reader’s Guide complete with an author interview. While Poe’s name (Edgar Allan) was spelled correctly throughout the book, Simon & Schuster spelled it as Allen MULTIPLE TIMES in their interview questions. Oh dear..

vacation + the first book jar picks!

Today kicks off my vacation and I couldn’t be more thrilled! Things will be a bit quiet around here until I get back, but don’t worry – I’ve got some posts in the works that I’m very excited for!!

Remember that book jar DIY I posted a few weeks ago? :) I finally got a chance to put it to good use! Since I’ll be spending the majority of my time at the beach I didn’t want to go too overboard, so I only selected three stars:

Switch Bitch by Roald Dahl

A short story collection from one of my favorite authors? Could this be a more perfect vacation pick??? Barely 150 pages, easily read in tiny bits..♥ Definitely looking forward to this one!

The Beekeeper’s Lament by Hannah Nordhaus

One of my dreams is to become a beekeeper (haha, despite Matt’s protests against having tens of thousands of bees in our yard!) and this slim book focuses on one man, his truck, and his hives. With bees dying out all over the world, farmers are having a very difficult time growing crops. That’s where John Miller steps in. He drives his colonies around the country, visiting farms and allowing his bees to do what they do best.

Mrs. Poe by Lynn Cullen

If you know me you know I’m a HUGE Poe fan. Naturally any book featuring him is one I need to get my hands on!

Okay, so I’m loving these picks! They’re all pretty short and there’s an awesomely diverse selection: historical fiction, short stories, non-fic. VERY happy with these! I’ll keep my fingers crossed that they’re all as wonderful as they sound!

Have you read any of these? What did you think?? Is my vacation going to suck because of these books?

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero

The Supernatural Enhancements by Edgar Cantero
Pub. Date: August 12, 2014
Source: e-ARC via netgalley (thank you, Doubleday!!)
Summary: When twentysomething A., the unexpected European relative of the Wells family, and his companion, Niamh, a mute teenage girl with shockingly dyed hair, inherit the beautiful but eerie estate of Axton House, deep in the woods of Point Bless, Virginia, it comes as a surprise to everyone—including A. himself. After all, he never even knew he had a “second cousin, twice removed” in America, much less that the eccentric gentleman had recently committed suicide by jumping out of the third floor bedroom window—at the same age and in the same way as his father had before him . . .

Together, A. and Niamh quickly come to feel as if they have inherited much more than just a rambling home and a cushy lifestyle. Axton House is haunted, they know it, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the secrets they slowly but surely uncover. Why all the suicides? What became of the Axton House butler who fled shortly after his master died? What lurks in the garden maze and what does the basement vault keep? And what of the rumors in town about a mysterious gathering at Axton House on the night of the winter solstice?
Genre: Paranormal, Mystery, Epistolary
Rating:

Summertime isn’t exactly my preferred season for supernatural novels – they’re more for Halloween/fall – but this slim little novel caught my eye and my autoapproval on netgalley was all I needed to make the leap. To say The Supernatural Enhancements is a horror novel wouldn’t be correct, nor would labeling it a ghost story. While there are definite elements of the genre (okay, so there’s actually a ghost, but..!), this is far more a mystery and I was so set to take this ride.

When A., 23-years-old and never fully named, receives a letter declaring him to be the sole relative (and therefore heir) of the fabulously wealthy Ambrose Wells, he does what any reasonable adult would do: pack up his belongings and head across the Atlantic. With his friend (? girlfriend? companion?) Niamh, a mute, shaved-headed, punk-rock girl, they move into the sprawling Axton House. The house isn’t quick to give up its secrets, and there aren’t many around who are willing to talk: Ambrose followed in his father’s footsteps by committing suicide; the butler packed his belongings and fled; and the townsfolk definitely aren’t eager to get involved in anything dealing with the estate.

Told through a string of diary entries, telegrams, and Paranormal Activity-style camera footage, The Supernatural Enhancements delves into the life of a reclusive man, his estate, a ghost, encryption codes, and a mysterious garden maze. I’m typically not one for epistolary novels – I was never able to get into the story and get a good feel for the characters – but I lapped this one up. I plowed through it in a matter of hours (the formatting definitely helped with that!) and discovered an odd little novel that was seriously entertaining.

Hands down, the best thing about The Supernatural Enhancements was Niamh. Despite her handicap, Niamh is snarky and crass, always quick with a comeback and she never shies away from putting A. in his place. At her insistence they get a dog which they name Help (..so as to ensure he’ll assist us in case of peril) and, just like me, Help immediately took a liking to this girl. She knows how to Get Things Done; when they first start to experience strange things, she heads to town to arrange for security cameras to be installed. She’s always the first to figure things out and leaves both A. and the reader to play catch up.

To discuss the novel’s plot would be to give away the best part of the book – and trust me, uncovering the clues is half the fun! All I’ll say is that Wells wasn’t as reclusive as people thought. Sorry guys, that’s all you’re getting from me! To find out more you’re going to have to read The Supernatural Enhancements, but I promise it’s so worth it!

If you’re into creepy settings (This silence here was somewhat heavier, lonelier than the preceding one. The former was an elevator silence; this one was a walking-through-the-woods-by-night silence.), rooms that lead to nowhere, secret pasts, awesome characters, quirky formats, The X-Files, and historical fiction (the novel takes place in the 90s, but were it not for a few specific references to television shows, I could have easily believed this took place far, far earlier), this is the book for you. From what I can tell, this is Cantero’s debut in English. If the rest of his books are this fun, I’ll keep my fingers crossed for translations!

Leah’s GOTTA READ IT for August!

Confession time: I had only planned on highlighting 3 or 4, 5 tops..but there are so many awesome books coming out this month I couldn’t resist!

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Whiskey Tango Foxtrot by David Shafer | August 5

The Committee, an international cabal of industrialists and media barons, is on the verge of privatizing all information. Dear Diary, an idealistic online Underground, stands in the way of that takeover, using radical politics, classic spycraft, and technology that makes Big Data look like dial-up. Into this secret battle stumbles an unlikely trio: Leila Majnoun, a disillusioned non-profit worker; Leo Crane, an unhinged trustafarian; and Mark Deveraux, a phony self-betterment guru who works for the Committee.

2014 is the Year of the Awesome Debuts. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is being compared to William Gibson’s and Chuck Palahniuk’s works and its techno/cyberpunk themes bring on a wave of nostalgia – I was SO into that genre in high school.

The Magician’s Land (The Magicians #3) by Lev Grossman | August 5

The Magician’s Land is an intricate thriller, a fantastical epic, and an epic of love and redemp­tion that brings the Magicians trilogy to a magnifi­cent conclusion, confirming it as one of the great achievements in modern fantasy. It’s the story of a boy becoming a man, an apprentice becoming a master, and a broken land finally becoming whole.

Okay, so I’m cheating a bit with this one. I haven’t read the other two yet, but I grabbed the first from my library earlier this week and now that the third (and final) volume is out, I look forward to a serious binge session!

The Furies by Natalie Haynes | August 26

When Alex Morris loses her fiancé in dreadful circumstances, she moves from London to Edinburgh to make a break with the past. Alex takes a job at a Pupil Referral Unit, which accepts the students excluded from other schools in the city. These are troubled, difficult kids and Alex is terrified of what she’s taken on.

There is one class – a group of five teenagers – who intimidate Alex and every other teacher on The Unit. But with the help of the Greek tragedies she teaches, Alex gradually develops a rapport with them. Finding them enthralled by tales of cruel fate and bloody revenge, she even begins to worry that they are taking her lessons to heart, and that a whole new tragedy is being performed, right in front of her…

I love – LOVE – a good psychological tale and The Furies looks very promising. The addition of Greek tragedies doesn’t hurt one bit!

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The Hidden Girl by Louise Millar | August 26

Hannah Riley and her musician husband, Will, hope that a move to the Suffolk countryside will promise a fresh start. Yet when the snow comes, Will is working in London and Hannah is cut off in their remote village. Life in Tornley turns out to be far from idyllic, who are the threatening figures who lurk near their property at night? And why is her neighbour so keen to see them leave? Plus Will’s behaviour is severely testing the bonds of her trust.

Hannah has spent her professional life doing the right thing for other people. But as she starts to uncover a terrible crime, she realises she can no longer do that without putting everything she’s ever wanted at risk. But if she does nothing, the next victim could be her…

Last year I read Millar’s Accidents Happen and fell HARD. At work I came across another novel she wrote and immediately bought it. Although I can catch on fairly quickly and guess who the Bad Guy is, Millar’s novels are quick-paced and highly entertaining and I’m looking forward to this one! I guess I’m cheating a little with this book too – I have a copy from NG and plan on reading it on vacation.

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell | August 12

Told in gorgeous, insightful prose that delves deeply into the hearts and minds of its characters, The House We Grew Up In is the captivating story of one family’s desire to restore long-forgotten peace and to unearth the many secrets hidden within the nooks and crannies of home.

Atria gets me. Whenever I’m stuck in a rut, I grab one of their novels and know I’m in good hands. I love a good family drama where the Past Is Alive and everyone comes together to deal with old wounds. Odd as it may sounds, those stories are my Feel Good books. The House We Grew Up In focuses on a loving family that was torn apart after an Easter weekend. Years later, the kids are all grown and living their own lives until the day they’re called back home. I desperately want to know what happened that caused this family to crumble.

Friendswood by Rene Steinke | August 14

Driving the narrative powerfully forward is the suspenseful question of the fates of four Friendswood families, and Steinke’s striking insight and empathy. Inspired in part by the town where she herself grew up, this layered, propulsive, psychologically complex story is poignant proof that extreme public events, as catastrophic as they might seem, must almost always pale in comparison to the intimate personal experiences and motivations of grief, love, lust, ambition, anxiety, and regret.

Another novel that deals with a catastrophic event, only this time, instead of focusing on a family, Friendswood follows an entire town. A tiny Texas community is brought together after an industrial leak kills residents. From a mother dealing with the death of her teenage daughter, to a tormented high school football star and a young girl suffering from visions (possibly?) caused by the leak, Friendswood explores how people deal with an unexpected tragedy and I absolutely love character exploration. This is a novel I’m VERY excited for!

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Sweetness #9 by Stephan Eirik Clark | August 19

David Leveraux is an Apprentice Flavor Chemist at one of the world’s leading flavor production houses. While testing Sweetness #9, he notices that the artificial sweetener causes unsettling side-effects in laboratory rats and monkeys. But with his career and family at risk, David keeps his suspicions to himself.

Years later, Sweetness #9 is America’s most popular sweetener–and David’s family is changing. His wife is gaining weight, his daughter is depressed, and his son has stopped using verbs. Is Sweetness #9 to blame, along with David’s failure to stop it? Or are these just symptoms of the American condition?

What does it say about me that the majority of the books I’m looking forward to deal with tragedies? DON’T JUDGE ME. Really though, those seven sentences have me hooked. Darker fiction that could potentially turn into a reality? Oh I am so there.

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan | August 12

Richard Flanagan’s story — of Dorrigo Evans, an Australian doctor haunted by a love affair with his uncle’s wife — journeys from the caves of Tasmanian trappers in the early twentieth century to a crumbling pre-war beachside hotel, from a Thai jungle prison to a Japanese snow festival, from the Changi gallows to a chance meeting of lovers on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.

This one came out last year in Australia (have any of you read it?? Was it amazing??) and sounds like a total Leah novel: World War II, multiple eras, a forbidden affair. I had never heard of Flanagan prior to this novel, but it seems like he’s kind of a Big Deal and from what I can tell, his novels tend to be set in Australia. I recently discovered my reading isn’t as varied as I had hoped, particularly when it comes to settings. Australian novels would be a perfect start!

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton | August 26

Amsterdam, 1686. Nella Oortman, 18-years-old and recently married, arrives in the city, ready to start her new life. Nella receives a cabinet-sized replica of their house from her husband as a wedding gift and she sets about filling it with miniatures. Through these miniatures, Nella begins to uncover dark secrets and she soon learns of the dangers in store for Amsterdam.

You didn’t think I’d leave out Historical Fiction, did you?? My summary isn’t the best – the one on goodreads is much longer – but it sounds thrilling. and is being compared to Sarah Waters. That’s definitely a win in my book!

Have you read any of these? What did you think? What books are YOU looking forward to this month?