Marlena: A Novel by Julie BuntinFifteen-year-old Cat is lonely in her new hometown in rural Michigan, until she meets her beautiful, reckless neighbor, Marlena. The friendship that the two build is unlike anything either girl has ever experienced, but it is doomed. Within a year, Marlena is dead. Now in her thirties, Cat is still damaged by the loss. The book alternates between the two eras, creating a haunting portrait of an intense friendship -- and the adult perspective that sees things a little more clearly. Leisurely paced, this debut is "devastating; as unforgettable as it is gorgeous" (Kirkus Reviews).
American War: A Novel by Omar El AkkadA second American Civil War is underway as three southern states refuse to give up fossil fuels, despite rising waters (New Orleans, Washington D.C., and all of Florida are long gone) and summers that last from March to December. It's 2075, and coastal refugees are pouring into the Midwest, but young Sarat and her family seek shelter in a Mississippi camp. As she grows, she becomes a warrior for the Southern cause, delivering violence until her eventual capture. Vividly imagined, this terrifying dystopian novel is based on debut author Omar El Akkad's work as a journalist, combining disparate elements of reporting on climate change, the Arab Spring, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the war in Afghanistan.
Music of the Ghosts by Vaddey RatnerThirteen-year-old Teera and her aunt Amara were the only two members of their family to survive the Khmer Rouge, having fled Cambodia in 1979. Returning in 2003 after Amara's death, Teera finds herself in a country still feeling the effects of cruelties suffered (or inflicted) years ago. There, she meets a musician who claims to have known her father, who disappeared long ago. Her experiences of Cambodia in the present alternate with the musician's horrific memories of life in captivity with her father. As the title suggests, music is central to this lushly written tale of survival and loss.
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley: A Novel by Hannah TintiCareer criminal Samuel Hawley has spent much of his life on the road, dragging his young daughter Loo along, until she enters adolescence and he tries to leave his criminal past behind. They've moved to the Massachusetts town where Loo's long-dead mother grew up, and are cautiously making inroads into the community. But Loo's desire to understand her mother's death sets her at odds with her father, who still carries his late wife's makeup, shampoo, and robe to each new home. Told in their alternating perspectives (hers of their present, his of the twelve times he's been shot), this is a "breathtaking novel of violence and tenderness" (Booklist).
Spoils by Brian Van ReetSet in Baghdad in 2003, this unsettling debut novel is told from three points of view -- on different sides of the war. Cassandra and her fellow soldiers are guarding a roundabout when it is attacked by mujahideen; Sleed and his tank crew are looting a palace and fail to come to their rescue before Cassandra is captured. The third point of view is provided by a Muslim insurgent who is losing ground to an Islamist extremist. With spare, powerful prose, author Brian Van Reet (an Iraq War veteran) vividly portrays the horrors of war.
Save the Date by Mary Kay AndrewsThis charming, romantic read stars talented Savannah florist Cara Kryzik, whose innovative designs haven't quite found their market. Meanwhile, a pesky (but rather attractive) man seems to show up at every wedding she works, distracting her when she can least afford it (you can see where that's going, right?). She's getting desperate for that one career-making gig when the perfect opportunity arises. Unfortunately, it turns out to be a hefty load of work, right when everything else seems to be falling apart. But never fear, this humorous tale from bestselling author Mary Kay Andrews ends happily -- which makes it perfect for a quick afternoon pick-me-up.
Wallflower in Bloom by Claire CookDeirdre Griffin has always been a wallflower compared to her high achieving, high maintenance siblings. In fact, right now she's working to manage her brother's "brand" (he's "a cross between a rock star and a guru"). This doesn't leave her much time for herself, but in the wake of a setback in her personal life (and a lot of vodka), she uses what she knows to get herself a spot on Dancing with the Stars, where she finally might have a chance to change her life for the better. This fast-paced read (which unfolds over a single week) offers a host of quirky characters, and of course is a must-read for any fan of DWTS.
Season of the Dragonflies: A Novel by Sarah CreechGenerations ago, the Lenore women learned that they could influence the flowers that grew on their Blue Ridge Mountain property. Now, their perfume company, which depends on those flowers, is in trouble. The current owner's younger daughter has returned after a long absence, sharing troubling visions (also part of the Lenore skillset), upsetting the status quo, and threatening her older sister's career hopes. Just as worrisome, a client has threatened to expose their secret ability, and the flowers that sustain the company seem to be dying. Complex family relationships (especially between sisters), a hint of romance, and a little magic in the garden will entice fans of Sarah Addison Allen's Garden Spells.
The Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret DillowayIn her rose garden, prickly biology teacher Gal Garner blooms, tending her competition roses with patience and care. On dialysis since childhood, Gal is an expert at pushing others away, but her solitary and regimented ways come to an abrupt end when her teenage niece, Riley, arrives after her mother takes off for Hong Kong. Though it isn't an easy process, Gal and Riley eventually establish a relationship, and Riley helps Gal learn to connect with and reach out to others. As in Ramsey Hootman's Courting Greta, this exercise in compassion leads to reconciling with family members, participating in community life, and embracing new experiences.
The Girls in the Garden: A Novel by Lisa JewellVirginia Park is a bucolic setting where neighbors keep a genial eye out for one another and kids are safe to run free. Or, at least that was true until young Pip found her older sister, 13-year-old Grace, unconscious after a summer party. Grace can remember nothing about her attack, so many residents of the once-picturesque garden-square community come under suspicion. Mixing the suspense of a Paula Hawkins novel with the community concerns and family dramas of a Liane Moriarty bestseller, The Girls in the Garden ties in the long-ago death of a teenager, unspooling a riveting story from multiple perspectives.
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