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I count Tom Rachman in the same league as Colum McCann and Ann Patchett. The Rise & Fall of Great Powers is about a bookseller in Wales who has lived all over the globe, and now that she is somewhat settled, her history is something she prefers to keep quiet. But when an old boyfriend resurfaces, the mystery of her own past is raised again. I just love this book. It’s addictive in the very best way.
Emmy is a shy, sheltered 16-year-old when her mom, Kate, sends her to eastern Washington to an aunt and uncle she never knew she had. Fifteen years earlier, Kate had abandoned her sister, Beth, when she fled her painful past and their fundamentalist church. And now Beth believes Emmy’s participation in a faith healing is her last hope for having a child. Emmy goes reluctantly, but before long she knows she has come home. She feels tied to the rugged landscape of coulees and scablands. And she meets Reuben, the Native American boy next door. Here is a novel where land and place exist as their own characters; it is a quiet and lovely gem of a book.
Two narratives run parallel to each other in this elegant debut novel: a treasure hunt against time and an extraordinary romance. Tristan has been given a few weeks to claim a vast fortune left to his great-grandmother by her lover, a climber who perished on Mount Everest. Spanning 80 years and two continents, from the streets of Berlin to the World War I battlefields of Somme, this breathtaking novel filled me with wanderlust and awe.
This masterpiece tells the story of two children on opposite sides of World War II. Its chapters are short, captivating portraits that interweave narratives and build, one voice on top of the other. The bombs that fall in this book reverberate as real; the hope and love and bravery are originally told and vividly depicted. There are comparable titles that will give you some idea of All the Light We Cannot See’s power—The Book Thief, The English Patient—but this story is its own. No words or review can really capture the poignancy it holds. Put it at the top of your list.
In this darkly luminous novel, Michael Cunningham (The Hours) follows the Meeks brothers as each travels down a different path in his search for transcendence: Barrett, who, after witnessing a translucent light in the sky, turns unexpectedly to religion, and Tyler, a struggling musician, who is trying—and failing—to write a wedding song for his soon-to-be wife who is seriously ill. “Tender, funny, and sorrowful, Cunningham’s beautiful novel is as radiant and shimmering as Barrett’s mysterious light in the sky, gently illuminating the gossamer web of memories, feelings, and hopes that mysteriously connect us to each other as the planet spins its way round and round the sun.” —Booklist, starred review
There are two things that Ruth Reichl was put on this Earth to do: cook food and write about it. Thus it makes a lot of sense that her latest venture would be not only her first fiction ever, but that it would be about a young woman discovering the pleasures of food, and that, of course, it would be spectacular. I can imagine taking this book to the beach and spending hours devouring it. Sometimes you just need to read something really fun.
I have been a fan of Elizabeth McCracken ever since I read her novel The Giant’s House, a National Book Award finalist. McCracken’s vision is of a world slightly askew, and she has a wonderful way of blending the astringent and the sharp together with deep tenderness and understanding of longing and yearning. From the first story in this collection—an evocative and brittle but compassionate not-quite-ghost-story about a grieving mother—to the title story, which deals with a father’s acceptance of his daughter’s brain injury—McCracken writes with a no-holds-barred sensibility. The result is a unique and admirable collection that can be read and reread.
Three anthropologists find themselves on the island of New Guinea in the 1930s: Nell Stone, discerning and famous, à la Margaret Meade; Fen Stone, her jealous and rough husband; and Andrew Banson, the loner who lusts after Nell when he’s not meditating on the untimely death of his brother. Together, they unearth an ancient mystery and usurp a fragile peace among the Tam society. Perfect pacing and captivating voices make Euphoria one of my favorite books this year.