Menna van Praag’s stories, The House at the End of Hope Street, The Dress Shop of Dreams, and her newest novel, The Witches of Cambridge, all invite readers to a Cambridge where magic lurks around every historical corner. These three novels are not a series, although it makes perfect sense that an enchanted bakery, dress shop, and rooming house would all coexist perfectly with the tourists and academics of Cambridge, so readers can start with any book without confusion.
The House At The End of Hope Street might be my favorite. This is the story (or rather, one chapter of a long history) of a Cambridge boarding house that takes in women who need ninety days to transform their lives. When Alba, a brokenhearted and disgraced academic, becomes the newest resident, the house creates a library of fiction and perfect reading spots to take her mind away from her failed research. For Greer, a struggling actress, the house creates a costume closet for her, nudging her away from giving up hope and becoming a waitress. With the comfort of a snarkily magical home behind them, all the women of Hope Street begin to make changes in their lives. But, as the resident housemother warns, the house also has some terrible failures…
|Recommended by Meg Stivison||Thursday, February 4th, 2016||No Comments »|
We know how most stories are supposed to start. A child is given a choice to leave their home in favor of a fantastical journey that will forever change them. This is known as the “call to adventure.”
In Sarah Jolley’s The Property of Hate, that call is made by a sardonic carnival barker with a television set for a head. Still with me? Good.
The Property of Hate, like many adventure stories, features a vibrant and imaginative world full of wondrous creatures and characters. But unlike most adventure stories, our protagonist, a child known only as “The Hero,” has no idea what she’s doing there or why. Blithely following her guide (the aforementioned TV-headed man named RGB) into a realm where existence is literally dictated by thought and imagination, The Hero soon comes to realize that she is trapped in a place where ideas can actually kill you. On top of all this, it appears that this magical world is on the verge of collapsing, with The Hero trapped inside.
|Recommended by Marie Anello||Monday, February 1st, 2016||No Comments »|
Most people know that Elizabeth I wore wigs or that Vincent van Gogh cut his ear off. But did you know Alfred Hitchcock didn’t have a belly button or that Abraham Lincoln was bad with chicks? These are just some of the strange facts uncovered in James Gulliver Hancock’s animated biography book, Artists, Writers, Thinkers, Dreamers: Portraits of 50 Famous Folks & All Their Weird Stuff.
The book features colorful one-page portraits of famous people, each one annotated with quirky facts, some well-known and some not so well-known.
Hancock, who past illustrated books include All the Buildings in New York: That I’ve Drawn So Far, says the book is a love letter to the concept of objects. “Like possessions, small quirks reflect a person’s identity,” he says. “I’m a visual communicator and I always found it interesting when people have these props that become extensions of who they are.” From Abraham Lincoln to The Wright Brothers, Hancock’s book is a colorful salute to artists, thinkers, and their unique lives.
The book is on sale from Chronicle Books.
|Recommended by The Absolute Staff||Tuesday, January 26th, 2016||No Comments »|
This year’s Black Comic Book Festival held in Harlem drew swarms of fans obsessed with Luke Cage, Sherlock and Holmes, and other superhero faire. Whit Taylor‘s tiny booth of mostly autobio comics quickly caught my eye, and I left with a copy of her comic Ghost expecting it to be a light-hearted, philosophical look at society.
Boy, was I wrong.
Instead I was left with an unparalleled experience that shocked me with its raw honesty. And yes, it’s a “twist,” but it’s a good kind of twist. The kind that doesn’t cheapen itself or dumb itself down, but actually elevates itself into another realm. I could bore you with a quick summary, but Ghost is the type of comic that’s more powerful if you go in blind with no expectations. Equal parts funny, inspiring, and heartbreaking, Ghost is a comic that’s not easily forgotten.
|Recommended by Tiffany White||Wednesday, January 20th, 2016||No Comments »|
The infamous Salem Witch Trials have been a popular subject in both literature and media. From WGN America’s Salem to Arthur Miller’s popular play The Crucible, the horrific witch trials have haunted the public imagination for years.
She takes her time to lay out the personalities who started the Salem Witch Trials and painstakingly recounts the psychological factors that started the hysteria. Schiff points out that the darkness at night, the crippling fear of attack from neighboring Native American tribes, and local disputes all coalesced into the flames that would lead to the death of 20 people.
|Recommended by Amanda Ferris||Friday, January 15th, 2016||No Comments »|
This is only Korean author Kyung-sook Shin’s second novel to be translated into English. Her first, Please Look After Mom, hit the New York Time Bestseller list, but her second translated novel, I’ll Be Right There, is my favorite, exploring themes and territories that surpasses the ”Oprah book club”-esque nature of her past novels.
I’ll Be Right There follows Yoon, a woman who gets a sudden phone call from an ex-boyfriend she hadn’t spoken to in nearly 18 years. Her ex tells her that a beloved college professor is on their death bed. This triggers Yoon to go on a trip down memory lane, reminiscing of her college days during South Korea’s tumultuous ’90s, a time filled with political turmoil, protests, and tear gas.
But this is not a political novel. The politics play as a backdrop to the four pivotal characters, Yoon, Dahn, Myungsuh, and Miry, as they navigate past heartaches, idealism, and loneliness. There’s a lot of death in this novel — so much that it almost takes on a desensitizing effect. But probably what’s most impressive about the book is how it manages to be a page-turner despite having a minimal plot. At the end of the day, people die, people break up, and people live on despite their adversaries. But through friendship and the power of art, some can learn to charge through it.
|Recommended by Tiffany White||Thursday, January 7th, 2016||No Comments »|
By the end of Roadside Picnic “the Zone” is no clearer than it was from the beginning. Despite having gone through it various times, its expanse escapes complete definition, though some, like the gritty red-haired anti-hero Redrick “Red” Schuart, excel more than others at navigating into its unknowns. It is perhaps somewhere between an industrial wasteland and an alien planet, a fitting landscape considering it’s one of several areas “The Visitors” decide to land and pack up and go without even the slightest communication.
Roadside Picnic is the tale of an alien visit without the aliens. A genre novel that is an entirely different kind of science fiction, one that focuses on the crude, raw reality of society, one with its fantastic elements numbed, wiped by the tangible corporeal ground the novel writes from. There is less here to take one away than there is to bring one crashing face to face with humanity’s perversions, its ego, and its failings.
|Recommended by Rhys Dipshan||Wednesday, December 30th, 2015||No Comments »|