With its insider’s view of the literary expat world of 1920s Paris, The Paris Bookseller will appeal to fans of Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife.
With its insider’s view of the literary expat world of 1920s Paris, The Paris Bookseller will appeal to fans of Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife.
The second novel from Hannah Lillith Assadi draws its narrative style from the realms of poetry, making for an atypical and dazzling reading experience.
The second novel from Hannah Lillith Assadi draws its narrative style from the realms of poetry, making for an atypical and dazzling reading experience.
This tale of three besties whose orderly lives are disrupted by a planetary force of a woman named Isobel reminds us of the ties that bind—and sometimes gag.
This tale of three besties whose orderly lives are disrupted by a planetary force of a woman named Isobel reminds us of the ties that bind—and sometimes gag.
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For Americans who’ve traveled to Paris, the name Shakespeare and Company will ring a bell; it’s the famed English-language bookstore founded by Sylvia Beach in 1919, a bookstore that’s intimately linked to Lost Generation writers such as James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In The Paris Bookseller, novelist Kerri Maher tells the story of how Shakespeare and Company came to be.

Soon after returning to Paris, where she lived with her family as a teen, American Sylvia meets Parisian Adrienne Monnier, who runs a bookshop on the Left Bank. Sylvia is drawn to the cultured, literary Adrienne, and as their connection deepens, Sylvia decides to take on the mantle of bookseller, too: She’ll open the first English-language bookstore in Paris. And thus Shakespeare and Company is born.

The Paris Bookseller follows Sylvia from her bookshop’s first days to the end of the 1930s, as war approaches. Sprinkled throughout are Sylvia’s and Adrienne’s regular encounters, mostly at Shakespeare and Company, but also at dinners, parties and café gatherings with those literary luminaries—Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, Gertrude Stein and others.

Sylvia’s friendship with James Joyce is at the heart of the novel. James, lauded but struggling, can’t find a publisher for his latest work, Ulysses, as American and British publishers are too prudish to take on the modernist novel and its graphic passages. Out of friendship, Sylvia volunteers to publish Ulysses, a quest that turns epic as James misses deadlines, rewrites already typeset pages and demands much, sometimes too much, of Sylvia and other literary friends.

Amid Shakespeare and Company’s ups and downs—thriving in the 1920s, when American tourists begin to visit the shop in the hopes of glimpsing famous writers, and then struggling through the Depression—Sylvia and Adrienne create a loving partnership in a time when queer relationships were far less accepted, even in Paris. Background characters are occasionally placed a bit too far into the background, but this is Sylvia’s story, and Maher has stayed true to her. With its insider’s view of the literary expat world of 1920s Paris, The Paris Bookseller will appeal to fans of Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife.

With its insider’s view of the literary expat world of 1920s Paris, The Paris Bookseller will appeal to fans of Paula McClain’s The Paris Wife.

Elegant, melancholic and emotional, The Stars Are Not Yet Bells is lyrical from start to finish. The second novel from Hannah Lillith Assadi, a 2018 National Book Foundation “5 Under 35” honoree, draws its narrative style from the realms of poetry, making for an atypical and dazzling reading experience.

Part of the book’s uniqueness lies in its subject: Elle Ranier, an elderly woman with dementia. At the beginning of World War II, Elle and her husband, Simon, left New York City to move to Lyra, a small island off the coast of Georgia, where blue stones are rumored to lurk beneath the ocean. In the novel’s present, set in 1997, Elle reminisces about her younger years and grapples with the secrets and betrayals of a life lived and nearly forgotten.

Elle’s tenuous consciousness leads to a blurring of the lines between the current narrative and her flashbacks and dreams, and Assadi follows this lead by emphasizing Elle’s hallucinations and memories. Underneath Elle’s imaginative thoughts, however, lie clues to the novel’s plot, ingeniously scattered so that the book feels like a mystery, the reader’s mission being to take Elle’s ramblings and form them into a cohesive, linear storyline. Assadi’s willingness to trust her reader is evident, and the book consequently becomes more immersive and self-reflective.

Assadi takes great care in crafting each sentence, incorporating poignant and thoughtful language into the heart of the story. This focus allows Assadi’s themes to shine, taking readers along on a journey into what it means to remember and forget, to be young and old, to be satisfied and to long for something or someone. It’s rare for a novelist to so seamlessly bring their themes into the spotlight without relying primarily on narrative events, but Assadi is willing and able to take the risk. As a result, her themes are even more relatable and decipherable, and impart longer-lasting messages.

Eerie and spellbinding, The Stars Are Not Yet Bells is not for everyone; its plot is incredibly subtle, leading to some moments of confusion, and readers must be willing to work through these moments of doubt and be flexible as they continue. But for the right reader, Assadi’s work is the epitome of ingenuity. She has mastered the art of entering a character’s mind and bringing it to life.

The second novel from Hannah Lillith Assadi draws its narrative style from the realms of poetry, making for an atypical and dazzling reading experience.

Have you ever seen a simulation of what might happen if a rogue planet wandered into our solar system? The animation shows how the planet would be as disruptive as a cue ball, knocking heavenly bodies hither and thither. It might even push them out of their comfortable orbits. That’s essentially what happens to a group of women in Nikki May’s first novel, Wahala.

The rogue planet is a woman named Isobel, and the orderly, cozy solar system she fumbles into is comprised of three British Nigerian besties. Boo is a frustrated wife and mother with a part-time job that doesn’t satisfy her. Her French husband adores her and their bratty, bossy daughter but is one of those “fun dads” who leaves all the heavy lifting to his wife. Ronke is a dentist who has lousy taste in men and lacks her friends’ impeccable sense of style. And Simi’s husband is eager to have a baby, but she isn’t.

These well-heeled ladies, concerned as they are with clothes and shoes, weaves and gel manicures, brunches and lunches at chichi restaurants and, of course, men, are meant to be a London version of the “Sex and the City” quartet. Maybe, the reader might think, these women need to have their lives shaken up a bit. Maybe a bit of wahala, that word often used by Nigerians to describe chaos or trouble, isn’t such a bad thing.

As it turns out, the wild stuff on “Sex and the City” doesn’t come close to what happens to Boo, Ronke and Simi. That’s because Carrie, Miranda, Charlotte and Samantha didn’t have to deal with an Isobel. You’ve certainly heard of people like Isobel, and if you’ve run into one and lived to tell the tale, consider yourself lucky. She’s the person who wants to be everyone’s best friend, who showers you with expensive gifts if she’s rich enough to afford them, who beguiles you into confiding your disappointments, your uncertainties, your fears, your secrets.

For all its wittiness, fast-paced writing and recipes for Nigerian chicken stew and Aunty K’s moin moin, Wahala is a much darker read than you might expect. Many people get hurt—badly. It’s a story that reminds us of the ties that bind, and sometimes gag.

This tale of three besties whose orderly lives are disrupted by a planetary force of a woman named Isobel reminds us of the ties that bind—and sometimes gag.

Jabari Asim isn’t limited by genre or form. He’s a poet, essayist, children’s book author, cultural critic and novelist who is adept at navigating language and story.

Asim’s latest novel, Yonder, draws readers into the heart of plantation life and the existence of the “Stolen” who live there. Notably, Asim never uses words such as enslaved or slave in describing their stories, and skin color is rarely mentioned. Instead, Asim emphasizes the individual experiences of his characters, focusing on their humanity.

“As my William has said to me more than once, a story depends on who’s telling it, what they choose to mention, and what they leave out. There’s also the way they tell it, and the way they tell it has been shaped by everything that’s happened to them,” a character says early in the novel. Asim’s storytelling approach mirrors this explanation as he unravels the tale from five perspectives.

William is one of the strongest, most respected Stolen men at Placid Hall. Even William’s captor, a “Thief” called Cannonball Greene, holds begrudging respect for William after seeing him stare down a loose horse, stopping the runaway animal in its tracks before it plowed into a Thief child.

Cato is William’s closest friend. He’s frustrated by William’s spiritual skepticism and bereft after being torn from his love. Margaret is William’s lady. She’s captured his heart and wants to have his baby, but William has been permanently scarred by things he saw before arriving at Placid Hall. Pandora has also seen quite a lot, observing others at Placid Hall and drawing lessons from their behavior. She believes a better life is possible, despite the odds. Ransom is an itinerant preacher to whom William’s companions look for guidance, but William distrusts a man who can move freely through the country without interference from Thieves.

Asim weaves together these five voices in lyrical prose. He is a gifted storyteller, first building the world in which his characters are bound before setting in motion their united mission toward freedom. Throughout, the five main characters wrestle with their doubts, beliefs and hopes for something more. Yonder reminds us that even in despair, love and the human spirit can endure.

Like Jabari Asim’s talent, stories of slavery and racism transcend boundaries. His latest novel draws the reader into the hearts of five people pursuing freedom.

You know you’re in for a wild ride with the shockingly inventive collection Shit Cassandra Saw when one of the first stories is a piercing tale of women in New York acquiring supernatural powers that allow them to move through the city without fear of sexual assault. This is followed by a story that’s a one-star Yelp review written by Gary F., ostensibly about a Maryland restaurant called Jerry’s Crab Shack, but really about the man’s deeply dysfunctional relationship with his wife.

Other standout entries include a poignant look at a high school softball team that is reeling from a recent school shooting, and the tale of a woman who is having an affair and being judged by the priggish Colonial ghost who lives in her neighborhood.

So it goes, in dazzling story after story in this debut book from Gwen E. Kirby, a creative writing instructor and associate director at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference at the University of the South. Through humor, ferocity and sometimes a healthy dash of surrealism, Kirby meditates on the fears, joys and pains of being a woman throughout the centuries. Every story feels unique, yet they’re tied together by Kirby’s mind-bendingly confident writing and her clear fascination with strong yet vulnerable women.

And boy, does she know how to create a sense of place so strong you can feel and smell it. In “We Handle It,” for example, we meet teenage girls who are “at a summer music camp, our fingertips sore from strings, our backs sticky with sweat, and when we reach the lake we shed our summer dresses and leap from a boulder into the water, which is deep and clean. Around the lake are tall pines and the heavy hum of Southern bug life.”

Shit Cassandra Saw is pure pleasure with something for everyone, especially readers interested in thinking deeply about womanhood from every possible angle. Kirby’s characters are sometimes sinners and never saints, as complex as the real-life women we know and love.

The female characters in Gwen E. Kirby’s collection are sometimes sinners and never saints, as complex as the real-life women we know and love.

In the July 1845 issue of the Democratic Review, an editorial urged “the fulfillment of our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.” It’s believed to be the first time the expression “manifest destiny,” a staple of high school history papers for over a century, ever appeared in print.

The phrase doesn’t show up as such in Jonathan Evison’s epic seventh novel, Small World, but its presence—and its role within American immigrants’ and Native Americans’ destinies, spread across three centuries—is woven into every page.

There’s Amtrak executive Jenny, whose great-great-great-grandfather was a Chinese immigrant and forty-niner who parlayed his gold into intergenerational wealth; budding basketball player Malik, son of a single mother and descendant of an enslaved man; abuse survivor Laila, whose Miwok ancestor internalized white people’s cruelty; and retiring train conductor Walter, whose Irish forebear was on the crew that drove the golden spike that connected America’s coasts by rail in 1869.

In fact, it’s Walter’s 2019 train crash that kicks off the odyssey, as the engineer tries to imagine the lives of his passengers and “what circumstances, what decisions, had delivered them all to that moment.”

As Evison tells the tale of America through immigrants’, Native Americans’ and their descendants’ eyes, readers are treated to seemingly unrelated vignettes that jump back and forth across time and space. Piece by piece, Evison successfully corrals this sprawling history into a cohesive whole, coalescing it into a vivid mosaic.

Part of the reason this 480-page book seems like a novel half its girth is Evison’s ability to drop the reader into a scene. You can feel the bone-rattling lurch of a wagon carrying its hidden human cargo to freedom. You can smell the pinewoods as a young couple seeks a place to build their nest in the Sierra foothills. You can taste the congealed oats at a Dickensian orphanage. You can revel in the dreams of a young athlete on the verge of greatness.

Throughout it all, Evison underscores a sense of a shared America, not so much in the kumbaya mythology of the melting pot but a feeling—oft-neglected these days—that we are all in this nation-building adventure together. That’s a destiny worth manifesting.

Jonathan Evison underscores a sense of a shared America, that we are all in this nation-building adventure together. That’s a destiny worth manifesting.

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