This is Happiness by Niall Williams


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How did I miss this book in 2019?! Travel back to a simpler time in a small Irish parish with a young boy/man living with his grandparents.  Niall Williams’ language and turn of phrase will keep you savoring every twist and turn of the character’s experiences made so real you will think you are right there with him. A portrait of community and the power of stories.

“Warm and whimsical, sometimes sorrowful, but always expressed in curlicues of Irish lyricism, this charming book makes varied use of its electrical metaphor, not least to express the flickering pulse of humanity. A story both little and large and one that pulls out all the Irish stops.” ―Kirkus Reviews, starred review

“Williams has the eye of a poet and the raconteur’s knack for finding a tale in the most unpromising nook of everyday life.” ―The Daily Mail

“The beauty and power of Irish author Niall Williams’ writing lies in his ability to invest the quotidian with wonder. A truly peerless wordsmith, he even makes descriptions of gleaming white appliances and telephone wire sing…the book is hilarious among its many other virtues. Buy, rent, get your hands on this book somehow and savor every word of it. Its title says it all: Plunging into This is Happiness is happiness indeed.” ―BookPage, starred review

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The Late Show by Michael Connelly


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This was my first time reading the prolific Michael Connelly, and I loved this mystery that introduces us to Renee Ballard, a detective in LA working the overnight shift. Ballard is a great character and the cases she tries to solve in this first story are compelling.

The Late Show introduces a terrific female character: Detective Renee Ballard…The pacing of Ballard’s debut story is breathless…Ballard is complicated and driven enough to sustain the series Connelly doubtless has in mind for her.– “New York Times”

A hard-hitting police procedural that captures the imagination from page one.– “RT Book Reviews (4 stars)”

The most intriguing mystery in The Late Show, though, is Ballard herself. Connelly is too skillful to hand us her resume in one document dump; instead, he fills out her portrait with a subtle hand over the course of the novel, a little background here, a glimpse of her temperament there, the revelation of her unusual living conditions sketched in between.– “Tampa Bay Times”

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Notes on an Execution by Danya Kukafka 


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A man is set to be executed for murder, and as he waits out his final hours, we hear from him and the women in his life on how he ended up here. This dark, thought-provoking novel is hard to put down. 

“Kukafka crafts a disturbingly remorseless killer in Packer but infuses the events that draw readers to his final moments with raw empathy and lingering questions about human evil and the destruction left in its wake.”— Booklist (starred review)

“Unshakable, deeply compassionate . . . Kukafka wrings tremendous suspense out of a story that isn’t a whodunit or even strictly a why-dunit, suspense born out of a desire to see these women transcend the identities consigned to them. . . . A contemporary masterpiece that sits alongside The Executioner’s Song and Victim: The Other Side of Murder in the library of crime literature.” — Library Journal (starred review)

“At once blistering with righteous anger and radical empathy, Notes on an Execution is destined to become a contemporary classic.” — Esquire, The Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2022

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If I Survive You by Jonathan Escoffery


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A beautifully written collection of linked stories about a Jamaican family living in Florida that explores race, class, relationships, and trauma.

“A blazing success. . . . A profoundly authentic vision of family dynamics and racism in America . . . These eight stories are completely immersive, humorous yet heartbreaking. . . . Escoffery brings an imaginative, fresh voice to his deep exploration of what it means to be a man, son, brother, father and nonwhite immigrant in America.” ―BookPage (starred review)

“If I Survive You is a collection of connected short stories that reads like a novel, that reads like real life, that reads like fiction written at the highest level. This is a compelling hurricane of a book that sweeps the past, present and future together into one inextricable knot. This is where Jonathan Escoffery’s career begins. There are no limits to where he will go.” ―Ann Patchett, author of The Dutch House

“Escoffery’s debut of interconnected short stories confirms his already prize-winning status . . . The writing and characters are nuanced, with moments of brevity and humor but much more pain and trauma. Trelawny is a wonder, constantly trying to improve himself and yet battered again and again by his own actions or more likely, those outside his control, just like the ever present Miami hurricanes.” ―Booklist (starred review)

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The Book Eaters by Sunyi Dean


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 I loved the premise of this one – people who eat books for sustenance instead of food. It’s a bit dark in tone and feel – most like a goth fairy tale.

“A fascinating debut with shades of gothic fantasy and contemporary thriller, wrapped in a narrative full of vivid and detailed characters and worldbuilding, and an unusual premise.”―Library Journal, starred review

“Dean’s unputdownable debut gives the phrase “voracious reader” a new, very literal meaning … The fascinating magic system, impeccable and unusual worldbuilding, and well-shaded characters will keep readers riveted through every twist of this wild ride.”―Publishers Weekly, starred review

“A powerful story of overwhelming mother love, as something both powerful and potentially horrific. It’s a book that delves into the need to survive even when a system is built to break you or determined to crush you; a powerful queer story about difference that refuses to flinch away from difficult choices or the impact of trauma, both generational and inflicted. Readers will devour this compelling, rich fantasy.”―Booklist, starred review

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Stolen : Five Free Boys Kidnapped into Slavery and Their Astonishing Odyssey Home by Richard Bell


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“A well-told story… A deep dive into the extraordinary risks faced by free blacks in the antebellum era.”–Kirkus Reviews

“Opening an unknown world from an unsung tragedy that started in early national Philadelphia and stretched grimly South, Stolen offers a worm’s eye view of the leviathan of American slavery, and of some of its most dastardly perpetrators and its most remarkable survivors. Richard Bell has researched inventively and mastered a vast body of scholarship, as we would expect from so distinguished a historian. But he also imbues his tale with the deep humanity of a great novelist. Both riveting and heartrending, Stolen joins the great literature of America’s founding tragedy, earning a place alongside the work of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Edward P. Jones, and Toni Morrison.” – Jane Kamensky, Jonathan Trumbull Professor of American History, Harvard University

“Stolen is historical storytelling at its best. Bell makes brilliant detective work come alive with vivid, powerful writing. The saga of these five boys, kidnapped and smuggled from Philadelphia to Mississippi in the 1820s, captures both the powerful undertow of slavery in the free black communities of the North and the urgent dawning of the abolitionist movement. There’s been nothing like it since Northup.” –Adam Rothman, author of Beyond Freedom’s Reach: A Kidnapping in the Twilight of Slavery

“Rigorously researched, heartfelt, and dramatically concise, Bell’s investigation illuminates the role slavery played in the systemic inequalities that still confront Black Americans” (Booklist)

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Two Nights in Lisbon by Chris Pavone


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“An elegantly twisting, lyrical, rocket-paced international thriller of the first order. With sterling prose, layered characters, searing insights, and gripping suspense, Chris Pavone writes with a deep knowledge of the world we live in―its many injustices, flaws, and the bending, dangerous road we sometimes must take to justice.”―Lisa Unger, author of Last Girl Ghosted

“There’s no such thing as a book you can’t put down, but this one was close.”―Stephen King

“I absolutely loved Chris Pavone’s Two Nights in Lisbon, an unputdownable thriller that’s his best novel yet. It stars a strong and savvy heroine who wakes up one morning to find her husband missing, and the action never lets up. This is a masterly, sleek, and sophisticated novel about love, marriage, and truth. Read it!”―Lisa Scottoline, author of Eternal

“I defy anyone to read the first twenty pages of this breakneck novel, then try to put it down for five minutes. It can’t be done. The plot is too devious, the pace is too gripping, and the characters are seldom who they are supposed to be. This is smart suspense at its very best.”―John Grisham, author of A Time for Mercy

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Sweetness of Water by Nathan Harris


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At the very end of the Civil War, two newly freed slave brothers have no way to make a living and no where to go.  Running parallel to this story is the forbidden romance of two Confederate soldiers.  When these two stories collide, chaos ensues.  Written so deliberately and well paced, it is hard to believe it is a debut novel!

“Harris’s lucid prose and vivid characterization illustrate a community at war with itself, poisoned by pride and mired in racial and sexual bigotry. Prentiss and Landry are technically free, but they remain trapped by a lifetime of blighted hopes and broken promises. Reconstruction will prove to be yet another lie. Harris’s first novel is an aching chronicle of loss, cruelty, and love in the wake of community devastation.”―Lesley Williams, Booklist (starred review)

“Deeply moving… Harris’s ambitious debut explores the aftermath of the Emancipation Proclamation in rural Georgia… Harris peoples the small community with well-developed characters… [He] writes in intelligent, down-to-earth prose and shows a keen understanding of his characters.”―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“A timeless portrait of warring factions seeking peace… There is a shared longing at the heart of Harris’ novel… Harris draws readers into this sense of longing by exploring silences… Celebrating all manner of relationships that combat hate, this novel is a hopeful glimpse into the long legacy of American racial and civil tensions.”―Mari Carlson, Bookpage (starred review)

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Signal fires by Dani Shapiro


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I really enjoyed this book.  217 pages, not a wasted word, original story, characters that you believe in – an unfolding origami puzzle – just as the Booklist review below suggests.

“Acclaimed novelist/memoirist Shapiro (Inheritance) writes with compassion and a deep understanding of the damage that secrets wreak. Shapiro’s first novel in 15 years was well worth the wait.” —Library Journal

“I don’t know of anyone who writes about family with the same generous understanding and gem-cut sentences as Dani Shapiro. Signal Fires confirms her as an artist of the highest order.” —Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story

“Wise, deeply perceptive, suffused with light in spite of life’s darkness—Claire Messud, author of The Woman Upstairs

“Stunning in depth and breadth, this luminous examination of loss and acceptance, furtiveness and reliability, abandonment and friendship ultimately blazes with profound revelations . . . Like creating an intricate origami puzzle, Shapiro folds together the events that define these lives over decades, focusing on specific interludes to divulge old secrets or bury new ones. Returning to fiction after touching readers with her courageous and probing memoirs, including Inheritance, Shapiro delivers keen perceptions about family dynamics via fictional characters that exude a rare combination of substance and delicacy.” —Booklist [starred review]

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Sometimes People Die by Simon Stephenson


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Returning to practice after a suspension for stealing opioids, a young doctor takes the only job he can find: a post as a physician at the struggling St. Luke’s Hospital in east London…. Drawing on his experiences as a physician, Simon Stephenson takes readers into the dark heart of life as a hospitalist to ask the question: Who are the people we gift the power of life and death, and what does it do to them? (Amazon)

“This timely novel has it all: it’s a chilling literary thriller, an emotional dive into the joys and stresses of our health care workers, and a genre-bending story with a perfect dose of gallows humor. I loved this book.. and never want to visit a hospital again!”—Matthew Sullivan, author of Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore

 “Enjoyable…the novel’s tone shifts from dread to suspense as the narrator turns amateur sleuth when the facts don’t seem to add up.”—Publishers Weekly 

“The witty writing, quirky protagonist, and anecdotal descriptions of real-life medical villains combine to make Sometimes People Die a delightful read. I loved it.”—Kathy Reichs 

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