Book Bites: Novel Ideas

It’s summer in Houston, and the days are long, hot, and humid. In other words, conditions are perfect for diving into a good book. Luckily, we have just what you need in order to practice a little shelf care. Here, dig into staff reviews of six new novels we think you’ll love. If you’re feeling factual, we’ve thrown in a nonfiction title, too—inspired by a classic novel written by the author’s father. Read on!

Adult Fiction 

One Two Three by Laurie Frankel

An honest novel telling the life of a set of teenage triplets, Mab, Monday, and Mirabel who live with their single mom, Nora, in small-town Bourne, a place where a former chemical plant left a devastating impact. While raising her unique girls, Nora, a therapist by day and a bartender by night, has been fighting to get legal reparations from the plant owners for the townspeople. Mab, a bright student who plans to ace the upcoming SAT test, her sister, Monday, the self-appointed town librarian who is obsessed with wearing yellow, and Maribel, a gifted girl who uses a wheelchair and communicates with an assisted technology device, suddenly must figure out what to do once they discover the grandson of that chemical plant owner now attends their local high school. A bit of clever but rogue behavior helps these girls find a solution. A well-written storyline that is filled with authentic characters and a strong sense of inclusivity. Laurie Frankel's stories have heart and this one really shines!

READ for the David-and-Goliath-meets-sweet-small-town vibes.

PASS if you want a book where you root *against* the protagonists.

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Rainbow Milk by Paul Mendez

A young Jamaican couple arrives in the English Midlands in the mid-1950s and starts to raise a family amid post-WWII reconstruction, racism, and economic and physical hardship. Two generations later, 19-year-old Jesse McCarthy, Black and gay, decides to leave his family and his predominantly white Jehovah's Witness community to strike out on his own in London where he finds a job waiting tables and making money as a rent boy. With succinct and evocative prose, intense and vivid dialog, and with lots of gay sex, the author explores what it means to be young, Black and gay in England today. And, eventually, the two stories are connected in a satisfying manner.

READ because this debut is going to find its way onto more than one year-end best lists.

PASS if you don’t mind missing out on buzzy debuts.

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Morningside Heights by Joshua Henkin

Pru Steiner, a young scholar, marries her charismatic Shakespeare teacher. For the next 25 years, she serves him as both wife and acolyte. When early Alzheimers comes, she and her daughter must learn to deal with this horrible disease. A son from a former marriage comes back and helps reconcile the family. It's a character-driven story with lots of heart.

READ for the beautiful writing and memorable characters.

PASS it along to whoever picks books for your book club.

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The Vixen by Francine Prose

In this roller coaster ride of a novel, the author takes her young and callow narrator on a journey to adulthood in the midst of the communist witch hunt of the early 1950s. Simon, a recent Harvard graduate and newly hired at a New York publishing firm, is given the job of editing a poorly-written and somewhat sleazy novel about a thinly disguised Ethel Rosenberg, who was executed in 1952 with her husband, Julius. Simon (whose mother was a one-time friend of Ethel Rosenberg) starts working on The Vixen, The Patriot and The Fanatic and enters into a relationship with its putative author, a resident of an asylum. As he finds out more about the author, the publisher, and the motives behind the writing of the novel, he finds that the glitzy world of New York publishing has many secrets.  The plot is full of surprises, summed up nicely by the author, speaking through Simon: "Narrative turns on those moments: The shock of finding out, the quickened heartbeat when the truth rips the mask off a lie....We enjoy these surprises. We demand them. They delight the child inside us, the child who wants to hear a story that turns in a starting direction." And this is exactly what Francine Prose has given us in this immensely satisfying piece of story-telling. 

READ because Alice’s first draft of this review included an exclamation point. We’re not even kidding.

PASS if you’re crazy, because Alice doesn’t throw around exclamation points lightly.

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Lorna Mott Comes Home by Diane Johnson

Lorna decides to leave her philandering second husband in France and comes back to America to reconnect with her adult children and with the successful art lecturer she used to be.  Through a litany of odd characters and circumstances, Lorna rediscovers her family and herself.  

READ because Diane Johnson is the modern-day equivalent of Jane Austen or Edith Wharton.

PASS if you’re looking for a bad book. This isn’t it.

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God Spare the Girls by Kelsey McKinney

When Luke Nelson, charismatic pastor of Hope Church, is outed for an affair, his two teenage daughters must figure out how to deal with the implosion of their family. Caroline, the younger one who is just finishing high school, is our narrator. Abigail is just a few weeks away from marrying Matthew, whom she does not love, after being jilted by fellow worshipper Connor. The girls (even with all their internal tension) run to their Nannie's North Texas farm which they have inherited. There, all secrets slowly rise to the surface. Tensions rise as more secrets become known to Caroline. Over the course of the weeks that they are there, many bonds are broken and sealed. It is a great character drama. For fans of Wiley Cash and Deb Spera, you will yearn to see these sisters figure out how to live their lives without their church. Or with their church.

READ because come on, we know you’re a sucker for a great book set in Texas.

PASS if you’re the one reader in the state who’s not a fan of Wiley Cash, Deb Spera, or books about Texas.

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Adult Nonfiction 

Home Waters by John N. Maclean

Using his father's novel, A River Runs Through It, as his inspiration, Maclean describes his family's history and their love of fishing the Blackfoot River in Montana. Norman Maclean's novel was a contemplative study of a family coming to terms with the murder of a family member. His son's chronicle seeks to fill in the actual details of family relationships, the natural beauty of Montana, his family’s involvement with the local community that kept them returning to their cabin year after year, more details about fishing the Blackfoot River and Seeley Lake, and the untimely death of the author's uncle Paul.

The way Maclean describes fishing makes me want to learn how to fish! This is a great companion to A River Runs Through It.

READ, for obvious reasons, if you loved A River Runs Through It.

PASS, for obvious reasons, if you have no idea what A River Runs Through It is.

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