Moon Over Manifest by Clare Vanderpool: Abilene Tucker feels abandoned. Her father has put her on a train, sending her off to live with an old friend for the summer while he works a railroad job. Armed only with a few possessions and her list of universals, Abilene jumps off the train in Manifest, Kansas, aiming to learn about the boy her father once was.
Having heard stories about Manifest, Abilene is disappointed to find that it’s just a dried-up, worn-out old town. But her disappointment quickly turns to excitement when she discovers a hidden cigar box full of mementos, including some old letters that mention a spy known as the Rattler. These mysterious letters send Abilene and her new friends, Lettie and Ruthanne, on an honest-to-goodness spy hunt, even though they are warned to “Leave Well Enough Alone.”
Abilene throws all caution aside when she heads down the mysterious Path to Perdition to pay a debt to the reclusive Miss Sadie, a diviner who only tells stories from the past. It seems that Manifest’s history is full of colorful and shadowy characters—and long-held secrets. The more Abilene hears, the more determined she is to learn just what role her father played in that history. And as Manifest’s secrets are laid bare one by one, Abilene begins to weave her own story into the fabric of the town.
A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books by Nicholas A. Basbanes: One of the classics about book collecting, A Gentle Madness begins with the great library of Alexandria and extends through the massive thefts (not to sell, but to keep) of “book bandit” Stephen Blumberg. Basbanes definitely captures the “passion to possess books.”
The Secret of Lost Things by Sheridan Hay: In this charming novel about the eccentricities and passions of booksellers and collectors, a captivating young Australian woman takes a job at a vast, chaotic emporium of used and rare books in New York City and finds herself caught up in the search for a lost Melville manuscript.
Eighteen years old and completely alone, Rosemary arrives in New York from Tasmania with little more than her love of books and an eagerness to explore the city she’s read so much about. She begins her memorable search for independence with appealing enthusiasm, and the moment she steps into the Arcade bookstore, she knows she has found a home. The gruff owner, Mr. Pike, gives her a job sorting through huge piles of books and helping the rest of the staff—a group as odd and idiosyncratic as the characters in a Dickens novel. There’s Pearl, the loving, motherly transsexual who runs the cash register; Oscar, who organizes the nonfiction section and shares his extensive, eclectic knowledge with Rosemary, but furiously rejects her attempts at a more personal relationship; and Arthur Pick, who supervises the art section and demonstrates a particular interest in photography books featuring naked men.
The store manager, Walter Geist, is an albino, a lonely figure even within the world of the Arcade. When Walter’s eyesight begins to fail, Rosemary becomes his assistant. And so it is Rosemary who first reads the letter from someone seeking to “place” a lost manuscript by Herman Melville. Mentioned in Melville’s personal correspondence but neverpublished, the work is of inestimable value, and proof of its existence brings the simmering ambitions and rivalries of the Arcade staff to a boiling point.
Including actual correspondence by Melville, The Secret of Lost Things is at once a literary adventure that captures the excitement of discovering a long-lost manuscript by a towering American writer and an evocative portrait of life in a surprisingly colorful bookstore.
Compass Rose by John Casey: Rose is spunky with an inborn talent for theatrics, but being slightly overweight and unpopular at the fancy new school where she’s a scholarship student is bad enough. It doesn’t help that her single mother is at war with her; her fisherman father lives practically next door with his own wife and kids; and the whole of their insular, gossipy community knows she’s an illegitimate child. On the other hand, maybe it isn’t so bad being related to half the town and unofficially adopted by everyone.
John Casey’s magnificent new novel follows Rose and the complex constellation of family, friends, and foes that circle around her as the years go by, working their slow but irreversible changes on one another and on the rugged, magical landscape they inhabit, with its salt marshes, its creeks and rivers, and the ever-present ocean, whose rhythms and moods shape and reshape the lives of the men and women of Rhode Island.
Chalcot Crescent by Fay Weldon: Fay Weldon in top gear: a wickedly sharp, history-bending, cosmos-colliding novel that tells the story of Frances, Fay’s never-born younger sister. Its 2013 and eighty-year-old Frances (part-time copywriter, has-been writer, one-time national treasure) is sitting on the stairs of Number 3, Chalcot Crescent, Primrose Hill, listening to the debt collectors pounding on her front door. From this house she’s witnessed five decades of world history – the fall of communism, the death of capitalism – and now, with the bailiffs, world history has finally reached her doorstep. While she waits for the bailiffs to give up and leave, Frances writes (not that she has an agent any more, or that her books are still published, or even that there are any publishers left). She writes about the boyfriends she borrowed and the husband she stole from Fay, about her daughters and their children. She writes about the Shock, the Crunch, the Squeeze, the Recovery, the Fall, the Crisis and the Bite, about NUG the National Unity Government, about ration books, powercuts, National Meat Loaf (suitable for vegetarians) and the new Neighbourhood Watch. She writes about family secrets…The problem is that fact and fiction are blurring in Frances’ mind. Is it her writer’s imagination, or is it just old age, or plain paranoia? Are her grandchildren really plotting a terrorist coup upstairs? Are faceless assassins trying to kill her younger daughter? Should she worry that her son in law is an incipient megalomaniac being groomed for NUG’s highest office? What on earth can NUG have against vegetarians? And just what makes National Meat Loaf so tasty?
Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan: Lightborn, better known as ‘shine’, is a mind-altering technology that has revolutionised the modern world. It is the ultimate in education, self-improvement and entertainment – beamed directly into the brain of anyone who can meet the asking price.
But in the city of Los Sombres, renegade shine has attacked the adult population, resulting in social chaos and widespread insanity in everyone past the age of puberty. The only solution has been to turn off the Field and isolate the city.
Trapped within the quarantine perimeter, fourteen-year-old Xavier just wants to find the drug that can keep his own physical maturity at bay until the army shuts down the shine. That’s how he meets Roksana, mysteriously impervious to shine and devoted to helping the stricken.
As the military invades street by street, Xavier and Roksana discover that there could be hope for Los Sombres – but only if Xavier will allow a lightborn cure to enter his mind.
What he doesn’t know is that the shine in question has a mind of its own ..
And the Show Went On: Cultural Life in Nazi-Occupied Paris by Alan Riding: On June 14, 1940, German tanks rolled into a silent and deserted Paris. Eight days later, a humbled France accepted defeat along with foreign occupation. The only consolation was that, while the swastika now flew over Paris, the City of Light was undamaged. Soon, a peculiar kind of normality returned as theaters, opera houses, movie theaters and nightclubs reopened for business. This suited both conquerors and vanquished: the Germans wanted Parisians to be distracted, while the French could show that, culturally at least, they had not been defeated. Over the next four years, the artistic life of Paris flourished with as much verve as in peacetime. Only a handful of writers and intellectuals asked if this was an appropriate response to the horrors of a world war.
Alan Riding introduces us to a panoply of writers, painters, composers, actors and dancers who kept working throughout the occupation. Maurice Chevalier and Édith Piaf sang before French and German audiences. Pablo Picasso, whose art was officially banned, continued to paint in his Left Bank apartment. More than two hundred new French films were made, including Marcel Carné’s classic, Les Enfants du paradis. Thousands of books were published by authors as different as the virulent anti-Semite Céline and the anti-Nazis Albert Camus and Jean-Paul Sartre. Meanwhile, as Jewish performers and creators were being forced to flee or, as was Irène Némirovsky, deported to death camps, a small number of artists and intellectuals joined the resistance.
Throughout this penetrating and unsettling account, Riding keeps alive the quandaries facing many of these artists. Were they “saving” French culture by working? Were they betraying France if they performed before German soldiers or made movies with Nazi approval? Was it the intellectual’s duty to take up arms against the occupier? Then, after Paris was liberated, what was deserving punishment for artists who had committed “intelligence with the enemy”?
By throwing light on this critical moment of twentieth-century European cultural history, And the Show Went On focuses anew on whether artists and writers have a special duty to show moral leadership in moments of national trauma.