Circling the Sun by Paula McLain
Fans of The Paris Wife need little encouragement to pick up McLain’s new novel, Circling the Sun. As in The Paris Wife, McLain takes her inspiration from history, exploring the love triangle of Kenyan aviator Beryl Markham, hunter Denys Finch Hatton, and Karen Blixen, better known by her pen name Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa. Set in colonial East Africa in the 1920s, McLain paints a portrait of both the wild Kenyan setting and the decadence of the white colonial characters dubbed the Happy Valley set. With an unconventional upbringing, Markham grew to be an independent woman who played by her own rules, loved freely and passionately, and eventually became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic from east to west. I’m a sucker for stories of independent women ahead of their time and I’m excited to read McLain’s telling of this remarkable life. When you finish it and want more, try Euphoria by Lily King, which released last July, and tells of another love triangle, this time in 1930s New Guinea, between anthropologists Andrew Bankson, and Fen & Nell Stone (based on true events in anthropologist Margaret Mead’s life). The audiobook of Euphoria, read by Simon Vance and Xe Sands, just earned a well-deserved Audie Award for Literary Fiction, and is a sublime listen.
Audio published by Random House Audio. Available 7/28.
Speak by Louisa Hall
The dangerous thing about making a living reading about upcoming books and telling other people about them is the effortless one-click pre-ordering enabled by online retailers. Don’t tell my husband, but I buy a lot of books immediately after reading the publisher sell sheet on them. It’s like getting my own personal pitch meeting every month. Speak, Louisa Hall’s second novel, was one of those books that I pre-ordered without a second thought. I can’t remember another book this ambitious from a writer so young. I am so eager to see if she pulls it off. Spanning four centuries and with five major characters—a Puritan woman traveling to the New World; an imprisoned Silicon Valley Wunderkind; a Jewish refugee; mathematician Alan Turing; and a traumatized young girl exchanging messages with an AI program—Hall has her work cut out for her in tying them all together. Exploring what it means to be human against the mirror of artificial intelligence, Hall illuminates our need for connection and the gaps that still exist between us even in the Communication Age. I get excited about a lot of books but this one makes me want to plan to take a vacation day on the 7th so I can just read the whole thing in one satisfying burst.
Audio published by HarperCollins Publishers. Available 7/7.
The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth
I love this twist on the “reimagined fairytale” trend. Instead of a new take on one of Grimm’s classic fairytales, Kate Forsyth makes Wilhelm Grimm himself the “prince,” in this tale of star-crossed lovers. When Napoleon Bonaparte conquers the German kingdom of Hesse-Cassel, the very poor Grimm brothers, Jacob and Wilhelm, quietly rebel by collecting the traditional stories of their heritage. Over nights of shared storytelling, Dortchen Wild finds herself falling in love with Wilhelm while providing some of the richest tales for his collection. Class, power, and war conspire to keep them apart but Dortchen is determined to pursue their love. This should be a lovely read for fans of historical fiction, fairytales, romance, and the power of storytelling.
Audio published by Blackstone Audio. Available 7/7.
The Country of Ice Cream Star by Sandra Newman
I’m weary of post-apocalyptic fiction but I’m intrigued by Sandra Newman’s forthcoming novel, set in the ruins of a future America in which everyone for generations has died by the age of 20 from a mysterious plague. When her brother begins showing signs of the disease, 15-year-old Ice Cream Star goes in search of the rumored cure, journeying across a treacherous landscape and encountering danger, love, and heartbreak. With starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly, Newman’s writing is being praised as inventive and ambitious, with much being made of her original use of language à la Anthony Burgess in A Clockwork Orange. The Guardian’s review gushes, “What sets [this book] apart from its rivals is the extraordinary, blistering insistence of its language … By the last page I was emotionally battered but euphoric: the book had held me so effectively hostage that I felt I had Stockholm syndrome.” I’m excited to hear how the audiobook narrator handles the patois and I think that this could be one of those books where the experience of the story is magnificently enhanced by listening to it read aloud. Add to that PW’s characterization of Ice Cream Star as an “unapologetic narrator, whose fantastically unbridled, wholly teenage point of view renders each page a pleasure to read,” and I think this could be a strong contender for next year’s Alex Award.
Audio published by Blackstone Audio. Available 7/2.
Orphan #8 by Kim van Alkemade
Based on true events, Kim van Alkemade’s debut novel explores revenge, obsession, forgiveness, mercy, and the complexities of human nature. In 1919, 4-year-old Rachel Rabinowitz becomes Orphan #8 at a Jewish orphanage in New York. There, Dr. Mildred Solomon conducts medical research on her, permanently disfiguring her with X-ray treatments. Years later, Rachel is a nurse at Manhattan’s Old Hebrews Home and when her patient is the elderly, cancer-stricken Dr. Solomon, Rachel becomes obsessed with making Dr. Solomon acknowledge her wrongdoing and exacting revenge on her. With rich historical detail, van Alkemade makes us question our choices and our role in shaping our own destinies.
Audio published by HarperCollins Publishers. Available 8/4.