The coronavirus pandemic has made this a difficult time to sell books, an unfortunate time to publish a book and a wonderful time for many to read.
In this edition of Talk of Iowa, it’s the annual summer books show. If you’re looking for powerful fiction, a read that might challenge your ideas and broaden your mind, poetry that explores the depths of joy, or a light-hearted escape, we have books for you.
The titles were chosen by Jan Weismiller and Tim Budd of Prairie Lights Bookstore in Iowa City and Kathy Magruder of Pageturners Bookstore in Indianola.
Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano
Twelve-year-old Edward is the sole survivor of a plane crash that claimed the lives of 186 passengers and crew members, including his parents and older brother. "The premise of this novel may seem depressing – and, yes, there is great sadness and grief here – but the book soon turns into an extremely uplifting and moving story about memory, connection with others, and finding beauty and love in small kindnesses."
The Bear by Andrew Krivak
Sometime in the future, a young girl and her father are the last two humans living; when the girl finds herself alone, a bear comes to her aid in the wilderness. "This slim novel is part adventure story, part fantasy and part love story to the world of nature -- it reminded me of a Native American folktale."
The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
This new novel, by the author of Station Eleven, follows Vincent as she leaves her bartending job at a resort hotel to become the kept girlfriend of a wealthy Ponzi scheme manager. "Superbly written, this is a novel about adapting to the transitions in life and the fragile, memorable connections we have with others."
Processed Cheese by Stephen Wright
A man named Graveyard is walking down the street when a bag of money falls from the sky, changing his life forever. "A very funny, very sharp satire about income inequality, material obsession, and the light and dark side of all that money!"
This Is Happiness by Niall Williams
Noel, in his seventies, recounts the summer of 1958 when, as a 17-year-old, he lived with his grandparents – the same summer when electricity finally came to their small Irish village. "A charming coming of age novel, with the naiveté of youth balanced against the wry remembrances of old age. Full of the eccentricities and personalities of country life, this reads like an Irish Lake Woebegone."
Real Life by Brandon Taylor
This coming-of-age novel is narrated by Wallace, a young, gay black man from Alabama who has come north for the first time to pursue a PhD in biochemistry at a large, midwestern university. It takes place over the course of one long summer weekend in which tension, both personal and racial, come to a head. "Taylor is one of the most precise writers imaginable and Real Life allows us insight into our riven culture without giving up an inch of complexity."
Rodham by Curtis Sittenfeld
Curtis Sittenfeld has written a historical novel based on a life of Hilary Rodham that might have unfolded had she not married Bill Clinton. "Sittenfeld, both humanist and historian, has written a book you won’t be able to put down."
Camino Winds by John Grisham
This is the second of John Grisham’s novels to feature protagonist Bruce Cable, owner of Bay Books in Florida. "He does a marvelous job of bringing the bookselling/publishing world into the world of true crime. The real sleuth is Nick, the college student slacker who is always reading mysteries behind the counter. The prescient Grisham has found a villain in a nursing home chain."
My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
This subtle and compelling novel is narrated by Vanessa, a young woman floundering in her early thirties. It is the height of the “me too” movement and Vanessa is forced to reconsider a relationship she had with a manipulative teacher when she was a precocious teenage scholarship student at a boarding school. "This book raises vital questions of agency, consent and complicity. Intimate and intense it confronts the shifting cultural mores that transform our relationships"
In the Not Quite Dark stories by Dana Johnson
This collection of bold stories is set mostly in downtown Los Angeles. They examine large issues - love, class and race - and how they influence and define our most intimate moments. "My husband and I came across Dana Johnson’s first collection of Stories: Break Any Woman Down when we were house cleaning in the early days of the pandemic. We have since read both her story collections and her Elsewhere, California. This is an amazing African American voice that has been with us for months."
Network Effect by Martha Wells
When Murderbot's human associates (not friends, never friends) are captured and another not-friend from its past requires urgent assistance, Murderbot must choose between inertia and drastic action. Drastic action it is, then.
This Tender Land by William Kent Krueger
In the summer of 1932, on the banks of Minnesota’s Gilead River, Odie O’Banion is an orphan confined to the Lincoln Indian Training School, a pitiless place where his lively nature earns him the superintendent’s wrath. Forced to flee after committing a terrible crime, he and his brother Albert, their best friend Mose, and a brokenhearted little girl named Emmy steal away in a canoe, heading for the mighty Mississippi and a place to call their own. Over the course of one summer, these four orphans journey into the unknown and cross paths with others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. With the feel of a modern classic, This Tender Land is an enthralling, big-hearted epic that shows how the magnificent American landscape connects us all, haunts our dreams, and makes us whole.
Beach Read by Emily Henry
Augustus Everett is an acclaimed author of literary fiction. January Andrews writes best-selling romance. When she pens a happily ever after, he kills off his entire cast. They’re polar opposites. In fact, the only thing they have in common is that for the next three months, they’re living in neighboring beach houses, broke, and bogged down with writer’s block. Until, one hazy evening, one thing leads to another and they strike a deal designed to force them out of their creative ruts: Augustus will spend the summer writing something happy, and January will pen the next Great American Novel. She’ll take him on field trips worthy of any rom-com montage, and he’ll take her to interview surviving members of a backwoods death cult (obviously.) Everyone will finish a book and no one will fall in love. Really.
The Heap by Sean Adams
Once standing 500 stories high, Los Verticalés is now collapsed into a massive pile of rubble called The Heap, where volunteers have created their own ad-hoc society of Dig Hands, removing trash, debris and bodies from the vast site. Orville Anders' brother--a radio DJ--has miraculously survived and is broadcasting from inside The Heap. The brothers' nightly conversations are a rating bonanza but Orville is cut off when he refuses to cooperate with corporate sponsors. The next night he hears "Orville" on the radio and determines to uncover the corruption at the core of their enterprise.
Conviction by Denise Mina
The day Anna McDonald's quiet, respectable life exploded started off like all the days before: Packing up the kids for school, making breakfast, listening to yet another true crime podcast. Then her husband comes downstairs with an announcement, and Anna is suddenly, shockingly alone. Reeling, desperate for distraction, Anna returns to the podcast. Other people's problems are much better than one's own -- a sunken yacht, a murdered family, a hint of international conspiracy. But this case actually is Anna's problem. She knows one of the victims from an earlier life, a life she's taken great pains to leave behind. And she is convinced that she knows what really happened.
The Angel of the Crows by Katherine Addison
In an alternate 1880s London, angels inhabit every public building, and vampires and werewolves walk the streets with human beings under a well-regulated truce. A fantastic utopia, except for a few things: Angels can Fall, and that Fall is like a nuclear bomb in both the physical and metaphysical worlds. And human beings remain human, with all their kindness and greed and passions and murderous intent. Jack the Ripper stalks the streets of this London too. But this London has an Angel. The Angel of the Crows.
Shakespeare in a Divided America by James Shapiro
James Shapiro looks at pivotal moments in America's history through the lens of the plays and productions of Shakespeare that were either being performed at the time or were used as examples to bolster current popular opinions. "You don't need to know Shakespeare's plays to enjoy this incredibly interesting look at the complex relationship between the US and the Bard of Avon. Utterly fascinating."
The Deviant's War: The Homosexual vs. The United States of America by Eric Cervini
The story of Frank Kameny, an early pioneer of the gay rights movement, and his battle for equality in the decade before the Stonewall riot. "I found myself filled with wonder and admiration for these men and women who displayed such bravery and perseverance in a time of real danger and persecution."
What It's Like to Be a Bird by David Allen Sibley
A famed birder and author of several bird guides, Sibley's new oversized book looks at the behaviors and science of the birds of North America. "Full of vibrant illustrations (many life-size) and interesting tidbits about how birds are able to do what they do, this is a book for both kids and adults. You'll be spellbound for hours."
The Splendid and the Vile by Erik Larson
In Winston Churchill’s first day as Prime Minister, Hitler invaded Holland. In The Splendid and the Vile, Erik Larson draws on diaries, archival material and once-secret intelligence reports released only recently to provide a new lens on London’s darkest year through the day-to-day of Churchill and those closest to him. The Splendid and the Vile takes readers out of today’s politics dysfunction and back to a time of true leadership.
Our Revolution: A Mother and Daughter at Midcentury by Honor Moore
Our Revolution follows the life of Jenny Moore - Honor’s mother - as she becomes involved in the great mid-twentieth century movements for peace and social justice. When she is diagnosed with cancer at 50 she bequeaths to her 27-year-old daughter her unfinished writing. As Honor pursued her own life as a writer she was haunted by her mother’s request. Our Revolution is the result of Honor’s re-engagement with her mother’s work and the new understanding she gains of a woman and of a time.
Joy: 100 Poems edited by Christian Wiman
Following Simone Weil’s statement, “A test of what is real is that it is hard and rough. Joys are found in it,” Christian Wiman has edited a collection of poems that are joyful in the deepest sense. It will buoy up the darkest moment.
Becoming Duchess Goldblatt by Anonymous
Part memoir and part joyful romp through the fields of imagination, the story behind a beloved pseudonymous Twitter account reveals how a writer deep in grief rebuilt a life worth living. Becoming Duchess Goldblatt is two stories: that of the reclusive real-life writer who created a fictional character out of loneliness and thin air, and that of the magical Duchess Goldblatt herself, a bright light in the darkness of social media. Fans around the world are drawn to Her Grace’s voice, her wit, her life-affirming love for all humanity, and the fun and friendship of the community that’s sprung up around her.
The Catalogue of Shipwrecked Books: Christopher Columbus, His Son, and the Quest to Build the World’s Greatest Library by Edward Wilson-Lee
At the peak of the Age of Exploration, Hernando Colón sailed with his father Christopher Columbus on his final voyage to the New World, a journey that ended in disaster, bloody mutiny, and shipwreck. After Columbus’s death in 1506, eighteen-year-old Hernando sought to continue — and surpass — his father’s campaign to explore the boundaries of the known world by building a library that would collect everything ever printed: a vast holding organized by summaries and catalogues; really, the first ever database for the exploding diversity of written matter as the printing press proliferated across Europe.