Book Bites: Novelpalooza

You know how it is, shopping these days. We live in an era of unprecedented choice. Which can be great! But it can also be overwhelming—since when do there need to be 19 varieties of tortilla chips? We see it with books, too. Every week, scores (hundreds?) of new releases are published, and it seems like every one of them comes with a great blurb from a favorite author or a starred review from a major critic. How to choose? 

Well, we can help with that. We pride ourselves on our recommendations—we’re a staff of voracious Houston readers and we love getting to know our customers. Lately, we can’t stop thinking about the seven wonderful novels listed below. They come in all kinds of different flavors, but each one of them is a staff-approved gem. So read on and take your pick! 

Adult Fiction

Evvie Drake Starts Over by Linda Holmes

Evvie Drake is preparing to leave her husband when she learns he's been killed in a car accident, and she struggles with both guilt and grief. Dean was a successful major league pitcher in New York until suddenly he wasn't and he needs to get away. When Dean rents the apartment adjacent to Evvie's house in a small town in Maine, attraction blossoms as they both try to process events of the recent past and move towards the future. Clever dialogue as well as believable engaging characters make this a very enjoyable read! 

READ because this is a smart, engaging debut by NPR pop culture critic Linda Homes! What more do you need to know?
PASS if you'd rather read a grim, drizzly potboiler than a warm, witty romance.
Order your copy on our website. 

Fake Like Me by Barbara Bourland

The narrator, a no-name artist studying at the Academy, gets a chance to meet her idol, performance artist/sculptor Carey Logan, at an exhibition in New York, and her life is changed forever. Years after the chance meeting, the narrator, now a sought-after painter, is about to have her own showing at a New York gallery. Weeks before the big opening, all of her paintings are destroyed by fire in her cheap apartment loft. She will be ruined if the paintings, a collection of large scale modern works, are not somehow recreated—and now the clock is ticking to reproduce them.

As luck would have it, the painter has a friend that found studio space for her to work in the coveted art community known as Pine City. Carey Logan had helped establish the community, but three years ago she committed suicide by drowning in the lake attached to the property. When the painter arrives at Pine City, all is not what it seems. As she begins to work feverishly to reproduce her lost works, she becomes obsessed with understanding the drowning death of her idol.

Why did Carey die? How difficult is it to re-create lost works of art? How much sleep are you willing to lose to find out those two truths? What is fake and what is real?

READ because we think the world frankly needs more smart, funny, artsy thrillers.
PASS if you don’t have time to read this in one sitting—you won’t be able to stop turning the pages.
Order your copy on our website.

The Gifted School by Bruce Holsinger

Good schools, stately houses, safe neighborhoods, all set against a beautiful landscape. What else could a young family want? Four couples, all friends, find themselves in a pressure cooker when an exclusive new school is introduced into the mix with an elite new standard to meet. Could this be one pressure too many for the otherwise tightly knit group? Gradually, cracks begin to form, and children are pitted against one another for coveted spots at the "gifted" school. Some parents shock themselves with the lengths they are willing to go to in pursuit of prestige and recognition. This is a smart novel that provokes, skewers, forgives, and ultimately understands its keenly observed characters. It's a riveting tale of parenting and privilege.

READ because this is a timely, page-turning satire that we’d comp to Big Little Lies.
PASS if you’re too busy deciding which pre-K will best set your kids up for the Ivy League.
Order your copy on our website.

Haunting Paris by Mamta Chaudhry

Paris, 1989. Sylvie, in her late 50s, has recently lost the love of her life. Julien left his wife and had lived with Sylvie, a piano teacher, for the past 30 years. On one hand, this novel replays their early romance from both of their perspectives: Sylvie, grieving in her apartment, and Julien, now a revenant, a spirit walking the streets of Paris after his death. A second narrative tracks Sylvie's attempts to uncover a mystery that Julien had unsuccessfully pursued for nearly half a century—what had happened to one of his nieces who, along with 13,000 other Jews, had been rounded up in the Velodrome d'Hiver and then transported to German death camps in 1941. 

I was drawn in by the fine writing and the beautiful wistfulness in the descriptions of Sylvie's grief and Julien's secret burden of his past. Yes, it's another novel about World War II, but the focus on one family and one particular incident set in the context of Paris past and present gives it a slightly different treatment and tone. Recommended.

READ because few debut authors could explore dark themes with such beauty and light.
PASS if you’re just interested in breezy beach reads this summer—but come back to this one in fall.
Order your copy on our website.

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Chinese-American Natalie Tan is a young woman with big dreams—sadly at odds with the hopes and dreams of her mother Miranda. Natalie leaves San Francisco after a dreadful argument with her mother, doesn't speak with her for years, and travels the world, picking up cooking tips and styles along the way.  Upon learning of her mother's untimely death and with a relationship with her fiancé demolished, Natalie returns home to Grant Street Chinatown, and slowly becomes immersed in the lives of her mother's friends who are all small business owners. Natalie quickly realizes that the dereliction of the neighborhood and the lack of business must be reversed by an infusion of new energy and her singular talents as a chef. 

With great determination, the advice and guidance of her mother's friends, and the helpful discovery of her grandmother's famous recipe book (part food, part spell-caster) Natalie goes about working to re-open her grandmother's tiny restaurant. As she learns of the marital problems of one nearby family, she cooks a special meal that will bring renewed harmony and satisfaction to this couple; to another, who are feeling hopeless, she cooks a different meal; and by accident, she brings upon herself a new suitor with her delicious dumplings. This charming story is great for anyone who enjoys reading about food and Chinese customs, and it reminded me a great deal of Vanessa Diffenbaugh's The Language of Flowers.

READ because this exists in a fantastic Always Be My Maybe / Like Water For Chocolate / The Language of Flowers / Chocolat sweet spot. It’s delicious.
PASS on this one if you’re reading on an empty stomach. Or actually, don’t—there are real recipes sprinkled throughout the book.
Order your copy on our website.

FKA USA by Reed King

I don't believe I've ever read anything quite like this before. Set in a scarily possible future USA, Truckee Wallace is a low level factory worker when he is thrown into a scandal that will rock everyone's world. And what a world it is. With amazing writing skill, the author has you laughing at the satire and sitting agape at the sheer speed of terror in what could happen to our motley crew of outcast characters. Truckee is on a mission to save the President. Or not. You decide. Most highly recommended.

READ because Valerie has been eagerly waiting for this book to be released for over six months!
PASS. Or not. You decide.
Order your copy on our website.

The Tenth Muse by Catherine Chung

Catherine, a precocious math whiz and narrator of this novel, grew up believing that the Chinese woman who raised her was her mother and the American WWII vet who lived with them was her father. After her "mother" abandons Catherine and her father, Catherine is left with a lot of unanswered questions that follow her through her college and professional careers. It's the 1950s and '60s, and female mathematicians are given a hard time by their male peers, so despite a romantic involvement, Catherine decides to decamp to Europe on an academic fellowship to pursue her particular area of study. While she is in Germany, her research leads her to a mathematician who, she discovers, is connected to her in a personal way, and she starts finding answers to the questions about who her real parents were.

READ because this is an empowering intellectual thrill-ride set against a fascinating historical backdrop.
PASS if you prefer books that disenfranchise and bore the reader.
Order your copy on our website.