Best Books of the Month: Literature & Fiction Edition – July 2015

All books can be found on Amazon.com. The list is based on their monthly “Best Books of the Month” category.

BBoMJuly2015Lit&Fic 1. Circling the Sun: A Novel by Paula McLain

Paula McLain, author of the phenomenal bestseller The Paris Wife, now returns with her keenly anticipated new novel, transporting readers to colonial Kenya in the 1920s. Circling the Sun brings to life a fearless and captivating woman—Beryl Markham, a record-setting aviator caught up in a passionate love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen, who as Isak Dinesen wrote the classic memoir Out of Africa.

Brought to Kenya from England as a child and then abandoned by her mother, Beryl is raised by both her father and the native Kipsigis tribe who share his estate. Her unconventional upbringing transforms Beryl into a bold young woman with a fierce love of all things wild and an inherent understanding of nature’s delicate balance. But even the wild child must grow up, and when everything Beryl knows and trusts dissolves, she is catapulted into a string of disastrous relationships.

Beryl forges her own path as a horse trainer, and her uncommon style attracts the eye of the Happy Valley set, a decadent, bohemian community of European expats who also live and love by their own set of rules. But it’s the ruggedly charismatic Denys Finch Hatton who ultimately helps Beryl navigate the uncharted territory of her own heart. The intensity of their love reveals Beryl’s truest self and her fate: to fly.

Set against the majestic landscape of early-twentieth-century Africa, McLain’s powerful tale reveals the extraordinary adventures of a woman before her time, the exhilaration of freedom and its cost, and the tenacity of the human spirit.

2. Bull Mountain by Brian Panowich

“[Panowich] pulls off [a] daunting undertaking with astounding success . . . The storytelling is mesmerizing, with virtually every chapter set in a different timeline and focused on a single character, but the sense of immediacy carries over into each era. And while the violence is shocking in its coldhearted brutality, it’s as aesthetically choreographed as any ballet.”—Marilyn Stasio, The New York Times Book Review

“Brian Panowich stamps words on the page as if they’ve been blasted from the barrel of a shotgun, and as with a shotgun blast, no one is safe from the scattered fragments of history that impale the people of Bull Mountain.”—Wiley Cash, New York Times-bestselling author of This Dark Road to Mercy

From a remarkable new voice in Southern fiction, a multigenerational saga of crime, family, and vengeance.

Clayton Burroughs comes from a long line of outlaws. For generations, the Burroughs clan has made its home on Bull Mountain in North Georgia, running shine, pot, and meth over six state lines, virtually untouched by the rule of law. To distance himself from his family’s criminal empire, Clayton took the job of sheriff in a neighboring community to keep what peace he can. But when a federal agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms shows up at Clayton’s office with a plan to shut down the mountain, his hidden agenda will pit brother against brother, test loyalties, and could lead Clayton down a path to self-destruction.

In a sweeping narrative spanning decades and told from alternating points of view, the novel brilliantly evokes the atmosphere of the mountain and its inhabitants: forbidding, loyal, gritty, and ruthless. A story of family—the lengths men will go to protect it, honor it, or in some cases destroy it—Bull Mountain is an incredibly assured debut that heralds a major new talent in fiction.

3. Bradstreet Gate: A Novel by Robin Kirman

A tour de force debut about a campus murder for readers of Donna Tartt, Meg Wolitzer, and Jeffrey Eugenides

Georgia, Charlie and Alice each arrive at Harvard with hopeful visions of what the future will hold. But when, just before graduation, a classmate is found murdered on campus, they find themselves facing a cruel and unanticipated new reality. Moreover, a charismatic professor who has loomed large in their lives is suspected of the crime. Though his guilt or innocence remains uncertain, the unsettling questions raised by the case force the three friends to take a deeper look at their tangled relationship. Their bond has been defined by the secrets they’ve kept from one another—Charlie’s love and Alice’s envy, Georgia’s mysterious affair—and over the course of the next decade, as they grapple with the challenges of adulthood and witness the unraveling of a teacher’s once-charmed life, they must reckon with their own deceits and shortcomings, each desperately in search of answers and the chance to be forgiven.

A relentless, incisive, and keenly intelligent novel about promise, disappointment, and the often tenuous bonds of friendship, Bradstreet Gate is the auspicious debut of a tremendously talented new writer.

4. Speak: A Novel by Louisa Hall

A thoughtful, poignant novel that explores the creation of Artificial Intelligence—illuminating the very human need for communication, connection, and understanding

In a narrative that spans geography and time, from the Atlantic Ocean in the seventeenth century, to a correctional institute in Texas in the near future, and told from the perspectives of five very different characters, Speak considers what it means to be human, and what it means to be less than fully alive.

A young Puritan woman travels to the New World with her unwanted new husband. Alan Turing, the renowned mathematician and code breaker, writes letters to his best friend’s mother. A Jewish refugee and professor of computer science struggles to reconnect with his increasingly detached wife. An isolated and traumatized young girl exchanges messages with an intelligent software program. A former Silicon Valley Wunderkind is imprisoned for creating illegal lifelike dolls.

Each of these characters is attempting to communicate across gaps—to estranged spouses, lost friends, future readers, or a computer program that may or may not understand them. In dazzling and electrifying prose, Louisa Hall explores how the chasm between computer and human—shrinking rapidly with today’s technological advances—echoes the gaps that exist between ordinary people. Though each speaks from a distinct place and moment in time, all five characters share the need to express themselves while simultaneously wondering if they will ever be heard, or understood.

5. The Last Pilot: A Novel by Benjamin Johncock

“Harrison sat very still. On the screen was the surface of the moon.”

Jim Harrison is a test pilot in the United States Air Force, one of the exalted few. He spends his days cheating death in the skies above the Mojave Desert and his nights at his friend Pancho’s bar, often with his wife, Grace. She and Harrison are secretly desperate for a child-and when, against all odds, Grace learns that she is pregnant, the two are overcome with joy.

While America becomes swept up in the fervor of the Space Race, Harrison turns his attention home, passing up the chance to become an astronaut to welcome his daughter, Florence, into the world. Together, he and Grace confront the thrills and challenges of raising a child head-on. Fatherhood is different than flying planes-less controlled, more anxious-however the pleasures of watching Florence grow are incomparable. But when his family is faced with a sudden and inexplicable tragedy, Harrison’s instincts as a father and a pilot are put to test. As a pilot, he feels compelled to lead them through it-and as a father, he fears that he has fallen short.

The aftermath will haunt the Harrisons and strain their marriage as Jim struggles under the weight of his decisions. Beginning when the dust of the Second World War has only just begun to settle and rushing onward into the Sixties, Benjamin Johncock traces the path of this young couple as they are uprooted by events much larger than themselves. The turns the Harrisons take together are at once astonishing and recognizable; their journey, both frightening and full of hope. Set against the backdrop of one of the most emotionally charged periods in American history, The Last Pilot is a mesmerizing debut novel of loss and finding courage in the face of it from an extraordinary new talent.

6. The Gods of Tango: A Novel by Carolina De Robertis

From one of the leading lights of contemporary Latin American literature—a lush, lyrical, deeply moving story of a young woman whose passion for the early sounds of tango becomes a force of profound and unexpected change.

February 1913: seventeen-year-old Leda, carrying only a small trunk and her father’s cherished violin, leaves her Italian village for a new home, and a new husband, in Argentina. Arriving in Buenos Aires, she discovers that he has been killed, but she remains: living in a tenement, without friends or family, on the brink of destitution. Still, she is seduced by the music that underscores life in the city: tango, born from lower-class immigrant voices, now the illicit, scandalous dance of brothels and cabarets. Leda eventually acts on a long-held desire to master the violin, knowing that she can never play in public as a woman. She cuts off her hair, binds her breasts, and becomes “Dante,” a young man who joins a troupe of tango musicians bent on conquering the salons of high society. Now, gradually, the lines between Leda and Dante begin to blur, and feelings that she has long kept suppressed reveal themselves, jeopardizing not only her musical career, but her life.

Richly evocative of place and time, its prose suffused with the rhythms of the tango, its narrative at once resonant and gripping, this is De Robertis’s most accomplished novel yet.

7. Confession of the Lioness: A Novel by Mia Cuoto, translated by David Brookshaw

A dark, poetic mystery about the women of the remote village of Kulumani and the lionesses that hunt them

Told through two haunting, interwoven diaries, Mia Couto’s Confession of the Lioness reveals the mysterious world of Kulumani, an isolated village in Mozambique whose traditions and beliefs are threatened when ghostlike lionesses begin hunting the women who live there.
Mariamar, a woman whose sister was killed in a lioness attack, finds her life thrown into chaos when the outsider Archangel Bullseye, the marksman hired to kill the lionesses, arrives at the request of the village elders. Mariamar’s father imprisons her in her home, where she relives painful memories of past abuse and hopes to be rescued by Archangel. Meanwhile, Archangel tracks the lionesses in the wilderness, but when he begins to suspect there is more to them than meets the eye, he starts to lose control of his hands. The hunt grows more dangerous, until it’s no safer inside Kulumani than outside it. As the men of Kulumani feel increasingly threatened by the outsider, the forces of modernity upon their traditional culture, and the danger of their animal predators closing in, it becomes clear the lionesses might not be real lionesses at all but spirits conjured by the ancient witchcraft of the women themselves.
Both a riveting mystery and a poignant examination of women’s oppression, Confession of the Lioness explores the confrontation between the modern world and ancient traditions to produce an atmospheric, gripping novel.

8. Lovers on All Saints’ Day: Stories by Juan Gabriel Vasquez

From the award-winning, bestselling author of The Sound of Things Falling, a brilliant collection of stories that showcases why he is one of the best writers—in any language—working today.

Lovers on All Saints’ Day is an emotional book that haunts, moves, and seduces. Juan Gabriel Vásquez, the brilliant novelist, now brings his keen eye and rich prose to the themes of love and memory in these seven powerful stories.

Vásquez achieves an extraordinary unity of emotion with these fragmented lives. A Colombian writer is witness to a murder that will mark him forever. A woman sits alone in her house, waiting for her husband to return from an expedition to find wood for their stove, while he lies in another woman’s bed a few miles away, unable to heal the wound in his own marriage. In these stories, there are love affairs, revenge, troubled pasts, and tender moments that reveal a person’s whole history in a few sentences.

Set in Europe (the scene of Vásquez’s own self-imposed exile from Latin America) and never before available in English, this collection evokes a singular mood and a tone, and showcase Vásquez’s hypnotic writing. Vásquez is a humane, deeply insightful writer, and these stories leave one feeling transformed from the experience of reading them, with a greater vision of humanity and society, a greater understanding of relationships and of love.

9. The Flicker Men: A Novel by Ted Kosmatka

Brilliantly conceived and multilayered, Divining Light is a high-concept thriller that questions what it really means to be human

In Ted Kosmatka’s wildly original and genre-busting Divining Light, a groundbreaking new discovery changes the world forever.

Out of a job and struggling with depression and alcohol abuse after a breakdown, the brilliant quantum physicist Eric Angus is given a second chance after he’s hired on a probationary basis by an old friend who runs Hansen, a prestigious Boston-area research lab. Unable to find inspiration for a project, Eric stumbles upon old equipment used for Feynman’s double-slit experiment and decides to re-create the test in order to see the results for himself.

Eric probes deeper into Feynman’s theory, with the help of fellow scientists Satish and Mi Chang. After extensive tests on frogs, dogs, chimps, working their way up every phylum, class, and order in the animal kingdom, Eric and his team establish a link between conscious observation and an evolutionary trait that is distinctly human: the soul. Mass chaos ensues after they publish the results of their experiment and Eric is bombarded by reporters angling for exclusive interviews and wanting to debate the varying implications. Questions arise when certain people appear to be “soulless,” and after Satish mysteriously disappears, Eric risks everything to answer them.

10. You Don’t Have to Live Like This: A Novel by Benjamin Markovits

A frighteningly prescient novel of today’s America—one man’s story of a racially-charged real estate experiment in Detroit, Michigan

“You get in the habit of living a certain kind of life, you keep going in a certain direction, but most of the pressure on you is just momentum. As soon as you stop the momentum goes away. It’s easier than people think to walk out on things, I mean things like cities, leases, relationships and jobs.” —From You Don’t Have to Live Like This

Greg Marnier, Marny to his friends, leaves a job he doesn’t much like and moves to Detroit, Michigan in 2009, where an old friend has a big idea about real estate and the revitalization of a once great American city. Once there, he gets involved in a fist-fight between two of his friends, a racially charged trial, an act of vigilante justice, a love affair with a local high school teacher, and a game of three-on-three basketball with the President—not to mention the money-soaked real estate project itself, cut out of 600 acres of emaciated Detroit. Marny’s billionaire buddy from Yale, Robert James, calls his project “the Groupon model for gentrification,” others call it “New Jamestown,” and Marny calls it home— until Robert James asks him to leave. This is the story of what went wrong.

You Don’t Have to Live Like This is the breakout novel from the “fabulously real” (Guardian) voice of the only American included in Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. Using the framework of our present reality, Benjamin Markovits blurs the line between the fictional and the fact-based, and captures an invisible current threaded throughout American politics, economics, and society that is waiting to explode.

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