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Readerly Top Picks – September 2015

a window opensA Window Opens by Elisabeth Egan (Simon & Schuster) Egan’s novel is an updated and surprisingly hefty take on the working-mother-trying-to-do-it-all novel. When Alice’s husband loses his job and she has to go back to work full-time, she finds herself juggling a job at a startup with questionable ethics, her father’s troubling medical diagnosis, and caring for three kids. While there are comedic moments, it’s the poignant scenes with Alice’s husband and her father that prove most memorable in this readable novel.–Gayle Weiswasser

did you ever have a familyDid You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg (Scout Press) Clegg’s stunning, beautiful debut novel opens on a tragedy: a house fire has killed a young bride-to-be, her fiancé, and many of her family. Did You Ever Have a Family tracks the now permanently interconnected lives of those left behind after the fire, exploring the many ways we carry guilt, regret and loneliness within ourselves and the power of hope in the most hopeless of times.—Kerry McHugh

Girl waits with gunGirl Waits with Gun by Amy Stewart (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) Stewart’s novel tells the story of the Kopp Sisters and the one moment that changes the course of their lives. A collision between the sister’s wagon and a dangerous silk factory owner’s automobile sets in motion a year of adventure. The factory owner, Mr. Kaufman, refuses to assist, apologize, or compensate the sisters for the accident, and after Constance Kopp confronts him he begins a harassment that lasts for months. With the help of the local sheriff, the sisters arm themselves and prepare to defend their property, earning a headline in the papers: Girl Waits with Gun. Based on true events, the story of the Kopp Sisters is great fun, with an ever-present danger that adds an unexpected grit that readers will love.—Jenn Ravey

Sisters in lawSisters In Law: How Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg Went to the Supreme Court and Changed the World by Linda Hirshman (Harper) How much could Supreme Court justices who came from different halves of the country and who were nominated by presidents of different parties really have in common? Actually a surprising amount, if they are the first two women on the Court: Sandra Day O’Connor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Hirshman’s joint biography of the two women, Sisters In Law, may look imposing, but it is an extremely compelling look at the lives of the two women and the ways in which their vastly different upbringings brought them to such an elite club. Hirshman is clearly extremely knowledgeable about legalities, political realities, and the day-to-day lives of both women. She presents them in such a rich and engaging manner that the pages will fly by as readers begin to understand the huge extent to which both women have shaped the lives of today’s American women.—Jen Karsbaek

SuperbetterSuperBetter by Jane McGonigal (Penguin Press) SuperBetter promises “a revolutionary approach to getting braver, stronger, happier and more resilient–powered by the science of games.” That’s no small claim, but researcher and game expert Jane McGonigal delivers, with a fun and accessible approach to self-improvement concepts founded in game theory. Full of power-ups, quests, and ideas on how to tackle your own personal “bad guys,” SuperBetter is a self-help book like no other. —Kerry McHugh

The grindThe Grind by Barry Svrluga (Blue Rider Press) The Grind follows the chronology of one year in the life of a baseball team (in this case, the Washington Nationals), told through the perspectives of several members of the extended franchise. Svrluga tells this story through the eyes of a veteran, a pitcher, a manager, a scout, a rookie, a spouse, and others. The Grind offers a fascinating insider’s look at the game, told in an easy to read, journalistic style that entertains while expertly conveying the physical and mental challenges of playing a 162-game season. Perfect for baseball lovers who can’t get enough of the sport.—Gayle Weiswasser

The hummingbirdThe Hummingbird by Stephen P. Kiernan (William Morrow) Deborah Birch slides her hand over a carving of a hummingbird before she meets each of her new hospice patients, preparing herself for an experience like no other. Her latest, Barclay Reed, is a retired—and discredited—history professor and Pacific War expert. He is a tough case, but her job is made tougher by her worries for her husband, whose third deployment to Iraq has left him a different man. At his request, Deborah reads the professor’s last book, about a Japanese pilot who bombed the Oregon coast during World War II, and she slowly learns how to help both of these hurting men, helping them to make peace with the past and move into the future. Ultimately, The Hummingbird is a beautiful, uplifting story of life, love, war, and death.—Jenn Ravey

The last septemberThe Last September by Nina de Gramont (Anchor Books) Part love story, part murder mystery, here is a beautifully written story about a marriage crumbling under the stress of a brother’s mental illness, a new baby, and a husband’s infidelity. de Gramont’s flawed characters are drawn so realistically that it’s hard not to get completely caught up in them not to mention the taut mystery of how one of them is tragically killed. Understated and engrossing, The Last September is highly recommended for fans of domestic fiction and mysteries.—Gayle Weiswasser

Bats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas DodsonBats of the Republic by Zachary Thomas Dodson (Doubleday) Bats of the Republic is an illustrated novel, an absolutely stunning physical object that is worth your time and attention whether you are interested in the story itself or not. Reminiscent of Marisha Pessl’s Night Film in its use of ephemera, Bats of the Republic is full of fragments of (fake) novels, communiques between characters, and a number of other documents. The story centers on a time one hundred years in the realistic past and two hundred years in an unrecognizable dystopian future. Besides being a beautiful piece of art, this is also an intriguing story about the way the past influences the future and what that means for a young man whose life is changed by the death of his grandfather.—Jen Karsbaek

fireshutupinmybonesFire Shut Up in My Bones by Charles M. Blow (Mariner Books) New York Times columnist Charles Blow grew up in poverty in a 1970s antebellum South not yet altered by the civil rights movement. Sexually abused by his uncle, Blow grows up in shroud of depression, isolated in his despair and with anger that only intensifies as he grows older. In this emotional memoir, Blow confronts his past, illuminating the struggle presented by his own conflicting sexual identity and our nation’s deep­seated racism.—Jenn Lawrence

if i knew you were going to be this beautifulIf I Knew You Were Going to Be This Beautiful by Judy Chicurel (Berkley) Chicurel’s debut reads more like a series of linked short stories than a traditional narrative novel, and it’s all the stronger for it. Set in the summer of 1972 in a small Long Island town called Elephant Beach, Chicurel’s stories center on Katie, who has just graduated from high school and spends this formative summer learning not only about herself but the world around her: the impacts of gentrification on the run-down town she calls home; the lasting and personal consequences of the Vietnam War on those she knows and loves; the ever-shifting role of family in a time and place poised on the edge of change.

MoriartyMoriarty by Anthony Horowitz (Harper Perennial) A masterful novel sanctioned by the Arthur Conan Doyle estate, Moriarty transports Sherlock Holmes fans back to the infamous Reichenbach Falls where the detective and his nemesis Professor Moriarty ostensibly fell to their deaths in the famous tale “The Final Problem”. Horowitz recreates Conan Doyle’s distinctive style with fluidity and ease as he reveals what truly happened that fateful day when Sherlock and Moriarty met. A must­read for Sherlock fans.—Michele Jacobsen

 reunionReunion by Hannah Pittard (Grand Central Publishing) Kate’s life is a mess. She is deeply in debt, on the brink of divorce, and hiding her troubles from her family. When she learns of her estranged father’s suicide she is forced to confront her childhood and her less than stellar choices in life. Reunion is a celebration of atonement and life’s second chances. Hannah Pittard’s empathetic storytelling and pitch-perfect tone create an insightful and satisfying read.—Jennifer Conner

 rock breaks scissorsRock Breaks Scissors by William Poundstone (Little, Brown and Company) People are, perhaps, most predictable when they’re trying to be random. By misunderstanding randomness, humans make fundamental mistakes playing games, making bets, and trying to outsmart hackers. In Rocks Breaks Scissors, William Poundstone engagingly explores numerical theories of randomness and offers simple tricks to guess, gamble and game better.—Kim Ukura 

 roomsRooms by Lauren Oliver (Ecco) People are, perhaps, most predictable when they’re trying to be random. By misunderstanding randomness, humans make fundamental mistakes playing games, making bets, and trying to outsmart hackers. In Rocks Breaks Scissors, William Poundstone engagingly explores numerical theories of randomness and offers simple tricks to guess, gamble and game better.—Kim Ukura

The Witches by Stacy SchiffThe Witches: Salem 1692 by Stacy Schiff (Little, Brown) Pulitzer Prize winner Stacy Schiff comes to colonial America for her latest meticulously-researched history, specifically to Salem and their eponymous witch trials. Schiff is both extremely through and endlessly interesting. She manages to explore the robust intricacies of the social and political history that influenced the famous event while not losing track of the human drama inherent in a bunch of teenage girls setting a town ablaze with accusations of witchcraft that spread far and wide.—Jen Karsbaek

The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith the cuckoo's calling(Mulholland Books) The Cuckoo’s Calling harkens back to old­school detective novels. Mirroring protagonist Strike’s detective work, the novel is quiet and methodical. The satisfactory and surprising resolution is built on the time and care Galbraith takes in developing the characters, establishing the plot, and using well­hidden clues and excellent red herrings. A refreshing upgrade on the classic murder mystery. —Michelle Shannon

the jewelThe Jewel by Amy Ewing (HarperTeen) Violet, a girl from a poor district, is bought as a surrogate for a royal couple who live in the Jewel. Violet is property, but changes are brewing, and Violet is as swept up in the intrigue as she is in a forbidden romance. With exquisite world building and pitch­perfect voice, Ewing explores the choices we make when our lives are not our own.—Lenore Appelhans

 the paying guestsThe Paying Guests by Sarah Waters (Riverhead Books) Atmospheric is not a strong enough descriptor for Waters’s The Paying Guests. The disruptive effects of losing a generation of men in World War I seem to ooze from the pages of this beautifully written and closely observed novel. Alone in a house that is now both too big and too expensive for them, Francis and her mother must take in lodgers– euphemistically called paying guests – an action that will change their lives more than they expected.—Nicole Bonia

 why do only white peopleWhy Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens by Illana Garon (Skyhorse Publishing)  Why Do Only White People Get Abducted by Aliens? is an uncensored look at inner-city education. It is about a young teacher coming of age with her students as she tries, incrementally, to make a difference. You’ll find outlandish, dangerous tales in these pages but also several crystallized moments of sweetness.—Kelly Massry