Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey
This debut from British writer Iona Grey feels like a classic old-time romance. With parallel love stories of Stella and Dan during WWII and Jess and Will in present day, I have a feeling that Letters to the Lost is unabashedly melodramatic in the very best way. Star-crossed lovers, the uncertainty of war, love enduring across time and space, a stash of decades-old love letters, a dying man’s last attempt to reach the woman he loves … I say bring on the tissues and enjoy this old-fashioned romance for every last minute of swooning, yearning, heartache it can bring you.
Audio published by Macmillan Audio. Available 6/2.
The Festival of Insignificance by Milan Kundera
I shan’t attempt to describe what internationally acclaimed Milan Kundera’s new novel is “about,” as anyone who has read Kundera’s previous works knows that doing so can only go one of two ways: a few brief sentences that mention wildly disparate people and events but fail to explain what they are doing in the same book together, or else rambling, incoherent paragraphs that still fail to explain anything at all. In my experience, it’s best not to try to define Kundera or summarize his convoluted, disjointed storylines. Just jump right in with the assurance that the experience will surely be like nothing else you’ve read and that while you may not be able to talk about the book, you will continue to think about the many different elements Kundera somehow pulls together long after you finish. After reading the publisher’s copy and numerous reviews, I still don’t really know what The Festival of Insignificance is “about,” but I have no doubt that it continues Kundera’s whimsical, ironic, philosophical, irreverent, amusing take on humanity.
Audio published by HarperCollins Publishers. Available 6/23.
Stalin’s Daughter by Rosemary Sullivan
Already receiving rave reviews, Stalin’s Daughter promises to be an intimate, revelatory biography of the only daughter of one of the 20th century’s most notorious dictators. Protected by Communist Party privilege, Svetlana Stalin was spared the turmoil, famine, and purges her father unleashed on Russia, but she was not untouched by the forces of her father’s will, eventually losing everyone she was close to, including a lover her father exiled to Siberia. More than a decade after Stalin’s death, at the height of the Cold War, Svetlana shocked the world and defected to the United States, leaving behind her two children and embarking on what would prove to be a life still tormented by her father’s legacy. With access to the CIA and Russian State Archives, as well as the close cooperation of Svetlana’s daughter, Rosemary Sullivan has given us a portrait of a woman who found herself unwillingly at the heart of one of the most brutal regimes in modern history, deftly showing us the epic scope of Svetlana’s tragic life without losing the intimacy of her human story.
Audio published by HarperCollins Publishers. Available 6/2.
The Theft of Memory by Jonathan Kozol
National Book Award Winner Jonathan Kozol turns his attention from his notable work with the nation’s poorest children to tell the deeply personal story of his father’s decline into Alzheimer’s. A noted neurologist, Kozol’s father self-diagnosed himself with Alzheimer’s at age 88, but lived with the disease beyond his 100th birthday. Though Kozol interweaves stories of his father’s remarkable career and touches on the politics and finances of extended old age, I get the sense that his primary focus here is on his relationship with his father, his insights on the progression of this extremely difficult condition, his own role as caregiver, and the lasting bonds of family. Recommended for readers with an interest in conditions of the elderly and aging, caregivers, and anyone with parents. Pair with Scott Simon’s March release, Unforgettable: A Son, A Mother, and the Lessons of a Lifetime for an emotional but cathartic journey through old age and loving and losing our parents.
Audio published by Blackstone Audio. Available 6/2.
Proof of Forever by Lexa Hillyer
Award-winning poet and co-founder of the successful literary incubator Paper Lantern Lit, Lexa Hillyer now bring us her debut novel, a coming-of-age YA story of friendship and second chances. Four 17-year-olds re-connect at a summer camp reunion after having a falling out two years earlier. Now, with the flash of the photo booth bulb they find themselves transported back to that fateful summer when everything changed and have to figure out together how to get “back to the future.” I have to admit, the mere two years between the “then” and “now” pieces of this story has me rolling my eyes a little but I suspect that the majority of readers will be in their early teen years, making the 15-year-old version of the four protagonists a tantalizing future and the 17-year-old version a distant dream. I’m also intrigued by Hillyer’s credits and background. Her experience as a poet makes me hopeful that this somewhat contrived and well-worn storyline will be told with language that makes it fresh and impactful. After several years as an editor for HarperCollins Children’s and Razorbill (an imprint of Penguin), she co-founded Paper Lantern Lit with NYT bestselling novelist Lauren Oliver, under a belief that MFA programs focus too much on craft without regard to commercial viability (a sentiment I share). PLL leverages Hillyer’s and Oliver’s understanding of publishing and sales potential to generate ideas and then pairs those ideas with talented writers, with an editorial team to guide the writers through the process of writing a book. It’s not a flawless model, but it’s definitely intriguing and I like the emphasis on craft and commercial viability. So I’m curious to see how Hillyer spins this tale to make it something new, and I’m hopeful that her experience guiding other authors means she has the fully developed characters needed to make a story like this work. In any case, the School Library Journal review sums up its appeal, saying that it’s “ideal for readers seeking something sweet tinged with a hint of sadness.”
Audio published by HarperCollins Publishers. Available 6/2.