First up, we'll take a look at Today Will be Different, a followup to 2013’s brilliant Where'd You Go Bernadette, Semple, a former writer for the TV show Arrested Development, continues her unique blend of scattershot, witty skewerings of the domestic world. Following one day in the life of Seattle wife and mother, Eleanor, who wishes she could be someone else – someone who can navigate through the world with ease and confidence instead of teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. The plot, involving family and marriage secrets, isn’t as important as how Semple goes about telling it, and you’ll find yourself wanting to spend more time with the characters, listening in on their conversations and therapy sessions and musings about the mysteries that lay behind the food samples at Costco. Underneath the wit and humor, however, we always find depth, and I often found myself smiling and nodding over something of hers I read, and then I find myself thinking about it much later. Her words have a tendency to stick with you, and even though this might not be a big of a hit as Bernadette, be sure not to overlook this.
The latest in Tana French’s excellent Dublin Murder Squad series, The Trespasser follows Detective Antoinette Conway. She’s new to the squad, subject to hazing by her male coworkers, and is usually assigned dull, routine cases. Until one such case - a seemingly obvious domestic murder - sparks something in Conway, and as she pulls at strings, the story begins to unravel, and this case becomes unusually personal. French’s novels always have a wonderful balance between genre thrills and literary bite, and this is perfect for readers who like their crime and investigation with a keen sense of atmosphere, thoughtfulness, and depth. Even though you don’t have to read her series in order, recurring characters and the history of the department add to the pleasures of the novel. The tone is dark and gritty but never cheesy or exploitive, and French is a nice bridge between police thrillers and psychological fiction.
The Wangs vs. The World is Jade Chang’s delightfully satisfying debut novel. A modern road trip that is filled with family dysfunction, rollicking snark, and romantic catastrophes, as well as issues of the Asian-American immigrant experience. Charles Wang is a Taiwanese immigrant, a family patriarch, and a very successful businessman – until the financial crash of 2008 leaves him with almost nothing in the bank. Bundling his family into a cross-country trip to his eldest daughter’s home in upstate New York, driven by the ultimate dream of reclaiming ancestral property in China, The Wangs vs. The World is packed with inventive characters, observations on class and racial struggle, and is, at times, downright zany. This one absolutely deserves a chance to be read and might make a GREAT book club pick.
In a world where organization is fashionable – just check out Marie Kondo’s months-long domination of the bestseller lists with The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up – Messy by Tim Harford argues that disorder is a key part of creativity and innovation. Citing history, biography, art, and scientific research, Messy argues the cluttered desk is, truly, the sign of a creative mind. Harford, an accomplished author, magazine writer, essayist, and TED Talk speaker, is informative as well as entertaining, and this book might be just the thing to ride the pop-culture orderliness backlash. (This book needed to be around when I was a teenager any my mom was constantly after me to clean up my room.)
The concept of the “trainwreck” – a.k.a. the female celebrity who suddenly goes crazy in the public eye, like Britney Spears shaving her head and threatening reporters with an umbrella or Amy Winehouse’s very public battle with addiction in front of the British paparazzi - is not a new thing. In fact, Trainwreck author Sady Doyle argues that this trope has been with our society for a long time, even going back to Sylvia Plath and Mary Wollstonecraft. From the modern gossip blogs to the magazines at the supermarket checkout stand, we gain a certain amount of pleasure by putting women under tremendous public pressure and relishing their downfall. Doyle takes a smart yet humorous look at this phenomenon, and her book will be of interest to those who liked Jon Ronson’s So You've Been Publicly Shamed and Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy.
Popping up on many best-of lists even before publication, News Of The World by Paulette Jiles is slim but packs an big, emotional punch. Set in 1870 and involving a 70-year-old war veteran who travels through backcountry Texas reading newspapers aloud to people hungry for news of the wider world, he’s tasked to deliver a ten-year-old girl – recovered from a years-long kidnapping by the Kiowa tribe and who can’t even remember how to speak or understand English – to an aunt and uncle she’s never seen. The two form a bond, based on survival and mutual respect, traveling a frontier that’s harsh and savage, and both must make a deeply personal choice when their journey ends. Jiles, who was born in southern Missouri, delivers a mini epic, with her concise yet lyrical words mixing with the unforgiving yet beautiful landscape of the American Southwest.