This week, waking up in an asylum, the randy side of WWII, and an electrifying, true plane crash story. Plus: Khaled Hosseini's latest.
Shakespeare’s Pub: A Barstool History of London as Seen Through the Windows of Its Oldest Pub—The George Inn by Pete Brown (St. Martin’s) - This rich paean to the venerable George Inn—the last remaining pre-Reformation coaching inn that had patrons like Dickens and Churchill—crackles with literary wit, history, and pop culture. Brown, who is clearly well versed in the top shelves of bars and libraries, combines his personal knowledge of the place with plenty of research in this light-hearted yet informative portrait of the public house and the centuries of history.
King of Cuba by Cristina Garcia (Scribner) - In her new novel, Garcia explores the hatred Goyo Herrera, an expatriate geriatric Cuban, harbors toward his arch enemy El Comandante, a contemporary who still wields formidable power in their homeland. Interspersed with short narratives by Cubans from various walks of life, Garcia’s writing is laced with candor and wit as she portrays the lives of two men united by the past.
The Black Country by Alex Grecian (Putnam) - Set in 1890, Grecian’s startling and spooky sequel to The Yard charts the efforts of Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad to locate a missing married couple and their toddler in Britain’s industrial Midlands.
The Asylum by John Harwood (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) - Harwood evokes Charles Palliser and Louis Bayard in his engrossing third stand-alone Victorian thriller. In the first sentence, Georgina Ferrars declares, “I woke, as it seemed, from a nightmare of being stretched on the rack, only to sink into another dream in which I was lying on a strange bed, afraid to open my eyes for fear of what I might see.” Georgina finds herself in a Cornwall asylum, whose sinister director, Dr. Maynard Straker, tells her that she arrived the previous day.
And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (Riverhead) - Hosseini’s third novel (after A Thousand Splendid Suns) follows a close-knit but oft-separated Afghan family through love, wars, and losses more painful than death. The novel’s core is the sale for adoption of the Kaboor’s three-year-old daughter, Pari, to the wealthy poet Nila Wahdati and her husband, Suleiman, by Pari’s step-uncle Nabi. The tale is a powerful, harrowing depiction of Afghanistan, but also a lyrical evocation of the lives and enduring hopes of its resilient characters.
September Girls by Bennett Madison (HarperTeen) - When 17-year-old Sam accompanies his older brother and increasingly distracted father to a washed-out beach town for the summer, after his mother inexplicably bails on the family, he expects to spend long hours watching The Price Is Right. What he doesn’t expect are legions of gorgeous, though somehow strange blonde “Girls” (as Sam thinks of them) all eyeing him like he’s, well, special. After Sam meets and feels an instant connection with one of the Girls, DeeDee, the summer takes a crazy turn.
Nothin’ But Blue Skies: The Heyday, Hard Times and Hopes of America’s Industrial Heartland by Edward McClelland (Bloomsbury) - McClelland, author of Young Mr. Obama, sets out to chart the rise and fall of Great Lakes towns and the people who call them home. Whether he is talking about Flint, Mich., Detroit, Syracuse, N.Y., or Homestead, Pa., he details similar stories: mills started by men like Ford or Carnegie that create jobs, union wars that help workers reach unprecedented middle-class prosperity, market or political changes that create cracks in the business causing it either move, lose market share to international competition, or simply go bankrupt, thereby creating pensioner filled ghost towns devoid of jobs and youth.
The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) - Sometime in the late 1970s, the foundations of the American Century began to unravel. In this trenchant account, New Yorker writer Packer (The Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq) charts the erosion of the social compact that kept the country stable and middle class. Readers experience three decades of change via the personal histories of an Ohio factory worker, a Washington political operative, a North Carolinian small businessman, and an Internet billionaire.
What Soldiers Do: Sex and the American GI in World War II France by Mary Louise Roberts (University of Chicago Press) - This clear-eyed examination of what randy American soldiers got up to in France from D-Day through 1946 strips away the sentimentality from the overworked, clichéd portrayal of the Greatest Generation. Yes, the GIs fought, and fought well, Roberts acknowledges, but when they weren’t engaging the enemy, they were engaging—or trying to engage—local women. A convincing, focused alternative military history.
Into the Abyss: An Extraordinary True Story by Carol Shaben (Grand Central) - In this electrifying history, Canadian journalist Shaben chronicles a devastating plane crash and its ramifications on the four survivors. On an icy night in October 1984, a small commuter plane crashed in the Canadian wilderness. One of the four survivors was the author’s father, Larry Shaben, the country’s first Muslim cabinet minister. The others included the young pilot, a police officer, and the drifter he was escorting to face criminal charges.
P.S. Be Eleven by Rita Williams-Garcia (HarperCollins/Amistad) - Delphine and her sisters return to Brooklyn from visiting their estranged mother, Cecile, a poet who sent them off every day to a camp run by the Black Panthers in Williams-Garcia’s Newbery Honor–winning One Crazy Summer. Williams-Garcia excels at conveying defining moments of American society from their point of view—this is historical fiction that’s as full of heart as it is of heartbreak.