This week: time-traveling serial killers, a nautical Chariots of Fire, and dogs who save lives. Plus: Stephen King's latest.
The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (Little, Brown/Mulholland) - In the creepy opening chapter, set in 1974, sadist Harper Curtis, who’s on the prowl for one of his “shining girls” (“bright young women burning with potential”), approaches six-year-old Kirby Mazrachi, as she plays alone. After an initially friendly exchange turns nasty, Harper promises that he will see Kirby when she’s grown up. Fifteen years later, he keeps his promise, attacking her—but Kirby survives and leverages an internship into a private investigation of her assailant, who can travel through time.
The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown (Viking) - Brown follows the exploits of the University of Washington’s eight-man crew, whose national dynasty culminated in a gold medal at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Brown tells it as an all-American story of humble working-class boys squaring off against a series of increasingly odious class and political foes: their West Coast rivals at Berkeley; the East Coast snobs at the Poughkeepsie championship regatta; and ultimately the German team, backed by Goebbels and his sinisterly choreographed Olympic propaganda.
The Possibility Dogs: What a Handful of ‘Unadoptables’ Taught Me About Healing by Susannah Charleston (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) - You don’t have to be an animal lover to be moved by this beautifully written and impassioned account of the author’s work rescuing dogs from shelters and training them to be service animals. Some go on to assist the visually impaired, while others help soldiers returning from combat to deal with post-traumatic stress disorder. A rare book that can change minds about the reality of animals’ emotional lives.
Duel with the Devil: The True Story of How Alexander Hamilton & Aaron Burr Teamed Up to Take on America’s First Sensational Murder Mystery by Paul Collins (Crown) -With a novelist’s touch, Collins opens with the January 1800 discovery of a woman’s body in a Manhattan well, before flashing back six months to provide the back-story to that grim find. The victim proves to be Elma Sands, a Quaker woman who had disappeared from her lodging house under circumstances that led authorities to suspect carpenter and fellow boarder Levi Weeks. Fortunately for Weeks, his defense fell to two of the most prominent and skilled lawyers of the day—bitter political rivals Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr.
The Moon and More by Sarah Dessen (Viking) - Emaline has grown up happily in the quiet beach town of Colby, N.C. (a setting that will be familiar to Dessen’s many fans), where she lives with her mother, stepfather, and stepsisters. She’s been dating a handsome local boy, Luke, for four years; they both work for her grandmother’s property rental company and plan to attend East U in the fall. Then Emaline’s quasi-estranged birth father and her 10-year-old half-brother, Benji, show up, as does another out-of-towner—an ambitious and romantic filmmaker’s intern named Theo—upending Emaline’s life and aspirations.
The Silence of Animals: On Progress and Other Modern Myths by John Gray (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) – Gray, emeritus professor of European thought at the London School of Economics, carves a winding path through 20th century intellectual history to build an attack on liberal humanism, and questions the assumptions that humans cling to as proof of our inherent goodness and perfectability. Drawing on a history of atrocities, Gray asserts that “civilization is natural for humans, but so is barbarism.”
Joyland by Stephen King (Hard Case Crime) - A haunted carnival funhouse gives a supernatural spin to events in King’s period murder mystery with a heart. In the summer of 1973, 21-year-old college student Devin Jones takes a job at Joyland, a North Carolina amusement park. Almost immediately, a boardwalk fortune-teller warns that Devin has “a shadow” over him, and that his destiny is intertwined with that of terminally ill Mike Ross, a 10-year-old boy who has “the sight.”
Taipei by Tao Lin (Vintage) - For all its straightforwardness, Lin’s previous work—with its flat, Internet-inspired prose issued by small presses—has presented a stumbling stone for readers who fall outside his North Brooklyn contingent, for whom he is the standard bearer. This will change with the breakout Taipei, a novel about disaffection that’s oddly affecting. The story of Paul—with its book tours, Wikipedia binges, and on-again-off-again romances—is one told without an ounce of self-pity, melodrama, or posturing, making the glacial Lin the perfect poster child for a generation facing—and failing to face—maturity.
Red Sparrow by Jason Matthews (Scribner) - Matthews’s exceptional first novel will please fans of classic spy fiction. In Moscow, CIA agent Nathaniel Nash is running the most valuable asset in the CIA’s stable, a major general in the SVR, the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service. After Nate nearly blows his agent’s cover, Nate’s chief reassigns him to the CIA station in Helsinki. Meanwhile, SVR deputy director Ivan “Vanya” Egorov decides to use his beautiful 25-year-old niece, Dominika Egorova, as bait in a honey trap designed to kill a Russian mobster.
The Apprentices by Maile Meloy, illus. by Ian Schoenherr (Putnam) - Set in 1954, this sequel to The Apothecary features the same fun, fast-moving formula as the first book, with charming characters and exciting intrigue mixed with a handful of magic. As this story opens, Janie, now 16, is alone at an elite American boarding school, unaware of the whereabouts of her first boyfriend, Benjamin, and his apothecary father. After she is wrongly expelled, she realizes she is the victim of a nefarious scheme, which again poses a threat to world peace.
We Have Only This Life to Live: Selected Essays 1939-1975 by Jean-Paul Sartre, edited by Ronald Aronson and Adrian Van Den Hoven (New York Review Books) - Nothing disproves the ill-informed criticisms that philosophy is an obscure field better than a philosopher's writings on allegedly non-philosophical topics. This collection of essays from the existentialist philosopher covers topics like New York City, jazz, and The Sound and the Fury, as well as politics, war, and Americanization. Regardless of the topic, Sartre relates everything back to the human condition and our obligation to fully create the self: it's the only chance we'll get. Check out an essay from co-editor Aronson about the night Sartre became famous.