This week: the true story of the year-long quest to catch a Greenland shark, which can live up to 400 years.
Canny London tabloid reporter Kate Waters, the catalyst for Barton’s devastating debut The Widow, returns in this strong if more subdued psychological thriller centering on a trio of women unknowingly linked by long-buried secrets about to be unearthed. Book editor Emma Simmonds has been battling for decades with depression, as has the single mother, Jude Massingham, who threw her out of the house when she was just 16. Former nurse Angela Irving has never gotten over the kidnapping of her newborn daughter from a maternity hospital 28 years earlier, a heartbreak worsened by police suspicion of her and her husband. Emma, Jude, and Angela are each riveted, for reasons that will only gradually emerge, by an item in a newspaper reporting the excavation of an infant’s skeleton at an East London building site. Kate, who could really use another major scoop to help keep her job, is also drawn to the story. Readers patient with the relatively slow initial pace until the intertwining stories gain momentum will be rewarded with startling twists—and a stunning, emotionally satisfying conclusion.
Culture and capital clash in Basu's charming, funny debut, which finds middle-aged Anil and Bindu Jha flush with new money after Anil sells his phone directory website for a small fortune. The couple moves from their modest, cramped, noisy home in an East Delhi apartment complex to the gated community of Gurgaon, where keeping up appearances means hiring security guards and making extravagant purchases. As they try to adjust to their new lifestyle, their son, Rupak, struggles with his M.B.A. program and his own needs from halfway around the world in upstate New York, oscillating between white Florida native Elizabeth and Serena, also from Delhi, with whom he feels pressured by tradition to pursue companionship. Add to the mix Reema, Mrs. Jha's old friend from East Delhi who finds herself wooed by the brother of the Jhas' new neighbor, and Basu sets the table for a modern and heartfelt comedy of haves and have-nots. Shuttling between characters, the novel addresses a rapidly changing India from a plethora of perspectives, and the result leaves readers laughing and engrossed.
Galante’s deeply empathic novel—told in alternating chapters by 10-year-old Pippa and her 12-year-old brother, Jack—explores sibling bonds, parental fallibility, and coping with death. After Pippa and Jack’s mother dies from cancer, their father loses control of his work, their home, and their family life, though he does a good job of loving his children while faking competence. Jack and Pippa, who hasn’t spoken since her mother’s death, both demonstrate resilience as they slowly realize that, as much as their father loves them, they can no longer count on him to be a reliable caregiver. When he takes extreme measures to secure their financial stability (and involves Jack), the children finally understand the precariousness of their situation; though the father’s desperate act seems improbable, Galante (The World from up Here) renders it entirely believable. Narrated in first-person present tense, the story has immediacy and strong momentum, both in terms of plot and emotional development. Supportive secondary characters with strong backstories are fully dimensional, and the setting—modest homes on a lake in Vermont—comes wholly to life. Ages 8–12.
Eighteen-year-old Henry “Monty” Montague—scandal prone, acid tongued, and a bit too fond of boys, girls, and gin—is embarking on a grand tour of Europe, a last hurrah before taking up the mantle of lordship. The tour quickly veers off course for Monty, his longtime friend (and not-so-secret crush) Percy, and his headstrong sister Felicity when Monty and a young lady are caught in a compromising situation at Versailles, after which Monty absconds with a small trinket. Pursued by the Duke of Bourbon, Monty learns that the object may hold the key to unlocking powerful alchemical secrets. Without funds or connections, the three haphazardly make their way across the continent, crossing paths with secretive Spanish siblings, an inexperienced pirate crew, and others. It’s a gloriously swashbuckling affair, but Lee (This Monstrous Thing) doesn’t shy from addressing the era’s overt racism, sexism, homophobia, and prejudice regarding illness. Percy, a biracial epileptic, and Felicity, a young woman dreaming of medical school, are well-rounded and fascinating supporting characters, and the romantic relationship that develops between Monty and Percy is sure to leave readers happily starry-eyed. Ages 13–up.
British author Mukherjee’s outstanding debut and series launch combines a cleverly constructed whodunit with an unusual locale—Calcutta in 1919—portrayed with convincing detail. Capt. Sam Wyndham, a former Scotland Yard detective, has arrived in the Indian city wounded in spirit from the loss of his wife to the influenza epidemic and addicted to morphine after surviving the trenches of the Western Front. His experience lands him a position with the British Imperial Police Force in Bengal, and he soon receives a sensitive murder inquiry. Alexander MacAuley, a top aide to the lieutenant governor, has been found in an alley with his throat slit, some fingers cut off, and a bloodstained scrap of paper placed in his mouth on which is written: “English blood will run in the streets.” That warning indicates that Indian terrorists opposed to continuation of the Raj were responsible, but Wyndham finds the truth more complicated. The nuanced relationship between Wyndham and his Indian assistant, a sergeant known as Surrender-not Banerjee because the English can’t pronounce his first name correctly, adds even more depth.
Sachs vibrantly and vividly narrates the sprawling tales of Italian conductor Arturo Toscanini’s passionate life, drawing on a treasure trove of newly available material: almost 1,500 letters, more than 100 tape recordings of Toscanini in conversation with his family and friends during the last years of his life, and archives of institutions with which Toscanini was deeply involved, such as La Scala and the Met. In exhaustive detail, Sachs begins with Toscanini’s birth in Parma in 1867 and energetically chronicles his student days; his marriage; his remaking of La Scala; his tenure at New York City’s Metropolitan Opera; his opposition to Mussolini; his years at the New York Philharmonic, Bayreuth, Paris, and Salzburg; and his death, just a few months before his 90th birthday. Toscanini emerges as a creative genius possessing an “extraordinary aural memory” that allowed him to recall pieces of music that he had heard but whose scores he had never seen. On tour with an opera company to São Paulo as assistant chorus master and principal cello when he was 19, Toscanini was thrust onto the conductor’s podium one evening when the crowd rejected the principal conductor; it was Toscanini’s remarkable debut. Sachs’s entertaining and definitive portrait of Toscanini reveals a passionate musician characterized by intense concentration, personal magnetism, generosity, and commitment to his country and his family.
An epic fishing trip reels in fascinating sea lore in this briny eco-adventure. Norwegian journalist Strøksnes recounts his sporadic, year-long quest with artist pal Hugo Aasjord to catch a Greenland shark, a huge creature. Many specimens are blind from eye-worms and spectacularly long-lived (one clocked in at 400 years old). Their flesh contains a toxin that renders those who eat it “shark drunk”: incoherent, hallucinatory, unsteady on their feet. Baiting their hooks with shark delicacies such as rotting beef and cod liver, Strøksnes and Aasjord pass long days with nary a strike while they weather storms and view stunning scenery in Norway’s Lofoten archipelago, vividly rendered by Strøksnes’s prose in Nunnally’s vigorous translation. (“The sun isn’t visible to us, but it casts its light around and in between the rain... like gigantic spotlights slowly sweeping across the surface of the water.”) Meanwhile, the author ponders everything related to the ocean, including bizarre luminous squids of the inky depths, frolicking orca pods and sperm whales, ancient disquisitions on maritime monsters, flinty islanders who live off the sea, and the close, testy relationships between fishing friends. Strøksnes’s erudition, salty humor, and unfussy prose yield a fresh, engrossing natural history.
Tidbeck reimagines reality and the power of language in her dystopian sci-fi novel. Vanja lives in a world of small colonies where all produced objects revert back to primordial sludge if people do not constantly name them; the failure of one colony in this duty resulted in catastrophic loss of life. To avert similar chaos and destruction, a highly regimented communist collective tightly controls every activity (including recreation, job placement, and child-rearing) and encourages citizens to report any lapse in naming or other inappropriate behavior. The regime, however, has recently allowed some private enterprise, including Vanja’s employer, a producer of hygiene products. Despite her shyness, Vanja is sent to interview the inhabitants of the outer colony Amatka about what products would help them and their underground mushroom farms withstand the harsh tundra climate. In this new environment, Vanja encounters the small subversions of the local librarian trying to save history, her retired-doctor housemate whose questions rattle Vanja, and a famous poet who mysteriously disappeared years before. Emboldened by their actions, Vanja starts to doubt the commune’s motives and rapidly learns that there is more going on than anyone is willing to admit. Tidbeck introduces the mysteries and mechanics of her world slowly while leaving the origins of these pioneers opaque. Her ending takes a turn into much weirder territory, but her tense plotting, as well as the questions she raises about language, control, and human limits make this a very welcome speculative fiction novel.