Here are the books that made it onto my to-read list from the latest issue of Bookmarks Magazine.
Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson
Goodreads blurb: Cassie Klyne, nineteen years old, lives in the United States in the year 2015—but it’s not our United States, and it’s not our 2015.
Cassie’s world has been at peace since the Great Armistice of 1918. There was no World War II, no Great Depression. Poverty is declining, prosperity is increasing everywhere; social instability is rare. But Cassie knows the world isn’t what it seems. Her parents were part of a group who gradually discovered the awful truth: that for decades—back to the dawn of radio communications—human progress has been interfered with, made more peaceful and benign, by an extraterrestrial entity. That by interfering with our communications, this entity has tweaked history in massive and subtle ways. That humanity is, for purposes unknown, being farmed.
Cassie’s parents were killed for this knowledge, along with most of the other members of their group. Since then, the survivors have scattered and gone into hiding. Cassie and her younger brother Thomas now live with her aunt Nerissa, who shares these dangerous secrets. Others live nearby. For eight years they have attempted to lead unexceptional lives in order to escape detection. The tactic has worked.
Until now. Because the killers are back. And they’re not human.
A Prayer Journal by Flannery O’Connor
Goodreads blurb: “I would like to write a beautiful prayer,” writes the young Flannery O’Connor in this deeply spiritual journal, recently discovered among her papers in Georgia. “There is a whole sensible world around me that I should be able to turn to Your praise.” Written between 1946 and 1947 while O’Connor was a student far from home at the University of Iowa, A Prayer Journal is a rare portal into the interior life of the great writer. Not only does it map O’Connor’s singular relationship with the divine, but it shows how entwined her literary desire was with her yearning for God. “I must write down that I am to be an artist. Not in the sense of aesthetic frippery but in the sense of aesthetic craftsmanship; otherwise I will feel my loneliness continually . . . I do not want to be lonely all my life but people only make us lonelier by reminding us of God. Dear God please help me to be an artist, please let it lead to You.”
O’Connor could not be more plain about her literary ambition: “Please help me dear God to be a good writer and to get something else accepted,” she writes. Yet she struggles with any trace of self-regard: “Don’t let me ever think, dear God, that I was anything but the instrument for Your story.”
As W. A. Sessions, who knew O’Connor, writes in his introduction, it was no coincidence that she began writing the stories that would become her first novel, Wise Blood, during the years when she wrote these singularly imaginative meditations. Including a facsimile of the entire journal in O’Connor’s own hand, A Prayer Journal is the record of a brilliant young woman’s coming-of-age, a cry from the heart for love, grace, and art.
Juliet by Anne Fortier
Goodreads blurb: Twenty-five-year-old Julie Jacobs is heartbroken over the death of her beloved Aunt Rose. But the shock goes even deeper when she learns that the woman who has been like a mother to her has left her entire estate to Julie’s twin sister. The only thing Julie receives is a key—one carried by her mother on the day she herself died—to a safety-deposit box in Siena, Italy.
This key sends Julie on a journey that will change her life forever—a journey into the troubled past of her ancestor Giulietta Tolomei. In 1340, still reeling from the slaughter of her parents, Giulietta was smuggled into Siena, where she met a young man named Romeo. Their ill-fated love turned medieval Siena upside-down and went on to inspire generations of poets and artists, the story reaching its pinnacle in Shakespeare’s famous tragedy.
But six centuries have a way of catching up to the present, and Julie gradually begins to discover that here, in this ancient city, the past and present are hard to tell apart. The deeper she delves into the history of Romeo and Giulietta, and the closer she gets to the treasure they allegedly left behind, the greater the danger surrounding her—superstitions, ancient hostilities, and personal vendettas. As Julie crosses paths with the descendants of the families involved in the unforgettable blood feud, she begins to fear that the notorious curse—“A plague on both your houses!”—is still at work, and that she is destined to be its next target. Only someone like Romeo, it seems, could save her from this dreaded fate, but his story ended long ago. Or did it?
The Weight of Water by Anita Shreve
Amazon blurb: “I wonder this: If you take a woman and push her to the edge, how will she behave?” The question is posed by Jean, a photographer, who arrives on Smuttynose Island, off the coast of New Hampshire, to research a century-old crime. As she immerses herself in the details of the case–an outburst of passion that resulted in the deaths of two women–Jean herself enters precarious emotional territory. The suspicion that her husband is having an affair burgeons into jealousy and distrust, and ultimately propels Jean to the verge of actions she had not known herself capable of–actions with horrific consequences.
The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession by Charlie Lovett
Goodreads blurb: Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.
As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.
Calling Me Home by Julie Kibler
Goodreads blurb: Eighty-nine-year-old Isabelle McAllister has a favor to ask her hairdresser Dorrie Curtis. It’s a big one. Isabelle wants Dorrie, a black single mom in her thirties, to drop everything to drive her from her home in Arlington, Texas, to a funeral in Cincinnati. With no clear explanation why. Tomorrow.
Dorrie, fleeing problems of her own and curious whether she can unlock the secrets of Isabelle’s guarded past, scarcely hesitates before agreeing, not knowing it will be a journey that changes both their lives.
Over the years, Dorrie and Isabelle have developed more than just a business relationship. They are friends. But Dorrie, fretting over the new man in her life and her teenage son’s irresponsible choices, still wonders why Isabelle chose her.
Isabelle confesses that, as a willful teen in 1930s Kentucky, she fell deeply in love with Robert Prewitt, a would-be doctor and the black son of her family’s housekeeper—in a town where blacks weren’t allowed after dark. The tale of their forbidden relationship and its tragic consequences makes it clear Dorrie and Isabelle are headed for a gathering of the utmost importance and that the history of Isabelle’s first and greatest love just might help Dorrie find her own way.
The Chrysalis by Heather Terrell
Goodreads blurb: Haarlem, Holland, seventeenth-century: The city’s chief magistrate commissions a family portrait from Dutch master painter Johannes Miereveld. But when the artist sees the magistrate’s daughter, Amalia, an illicit love affair begins. Miereveld creates a captivating masterpiece, The Chrysalis–a stunning portrait of the Virgin Mary, full of Catholic symbols, that outrages his Protestant patron and signals the death of his career.
New York, present day: Mara Coyne is one high-profile case away from making partner at her powerful Manhattan law firm, and now the client that is sure to seal the deal has fallen into her lap. The prestigious Beazley’s auction house is about to sell a lost masterwork, The Chrysalis, in an auction that is destined to become legendary. Standing in the way, however, is the shocking accusation that the painting belongs not to Beazley’s client but to Hilda Baum, the daughter of a Dutch collector who lost his paintings–and his life–to the Nazis.
The case brings an unexpected surprise when Mara discovers that Beazley’s in-house attorney is Michael Roarke, a man for whom she once had an intense attraction. But the same skills that make her a brilliant litigator also make Mara suspicious, and she begins to believe that Hilda’s tragic family story might be more than just heartbreaking–it might be true. And the man she’s come to love might not be who she thought he was at all.