It's Not All Downhill From Here
It's like the characters from McMillan's 1995 paean to female friendship, Waiting to Exhale, are all grown up — in their late 60s and beyond — in this warm, witty novel about a group of old friends in California. The focus is on Loretha Curry, 68 (McMillan's age, too), whose life is running along predictably as she manages her beauty-supply company in California when her husband dies suddenly. Her world's upended by this and other twists in her life, yet she still refuses to believe that “it's all downhill from here,” as one pessimistic pal puts it. “If that's how you see it,” Loretha responds, “that's what you get."
The bestselling Dominican American author of In the Time of the Butterflies (1994) tackles weighty issues with a nice touch of humor in her new novel (which is on the shorter side, for anyone not in the mood for a big read). Antonia Vega is a recently retired and just-widowed English professor in Vermont, who, through a neighbor, meets a pregnant migrant woman desperate for help. Meanwhile one of her three sisters, Izzy, has gone missing. As Antonia somewhat reluctantly tackles both problems, the question at the story's core nags at her: What are our obligations when someone — relative or stranger — is in need?
Winslow, the international bestselling author of 21 novels, carves up deadly new territory with these six crime fiction novellas, all bringing crooks, cops, bounty hunters and innocent bystanders front and center. In the titular story, “Broken,” a New Orleans 911 dispatcher's two sons find themselves the unwitting targets for trouble. Jewel thieves put a cop on the run in “Crime 101,” which shows off Winslow's sense of humanity and his sharp humor. With prose as sharp and piercing as live bullets, the author takes on the how and why of vengeance, the very timely issue of immigration, and yep, even a pistol-packing chimp that needs to be disarmed before he gets into any more monkey business.
The Book of Longings
Sue Monk Kidd
What if Jesus had a wife — and she was a feminist writer? The beloved The Secret Life of Bees author spins new gold from one of the greatest stories ever told with a tale of the fictional Ana, who meets Jesus when he's just 18. Including John the Baptist, a deeply sympathetic Judas, Lazarus, Mary Magdela (as it's spelled in the book) and more, this is a deeply tender story of two outliers who find each other: a very human Jesus full of fire, yearnings and doubts about being the Messiah, and an even more fiery Ana (Jesus calls her “Little Thunder"), who refuses the traditional role of women to find her own voice, and promote the voices of all women. Provocative, passionate and extremely moving, this is both a love story for the ages and a portrait of a woman way ahead of her biblical times.
If It Bleeds
King's four new novellas might be bite-sized, but they still shine with his brilliant ability to tingle our spines. In “If It Bleeds,” old favorite Holly Gibney (Mr. Mercedes and The Outsider) explores a shape-shifting evil that feeds on pain and death. But most aren't so much scary as they are creepy, Twilight Zone-style, including “Mr. Harrigan's Phone,” which involves cellphone calls from a young man to his buried older friend, who might just be wreaking vengeance for him. The gentlest story, “The Life of Chuck,” (another character familiar to the author's fans) is about the ghosts we all have inside of us. King's genius is to temper his forays into the dark side of life with a sense of wonder about the world.
All Adults Here
OK, we realize this is the third book on the list featuring a widow. But that's about all that the three novels share — and this one is too perceptive and fun to leave off the list. It's, at least in part, about Astrid Strick, an older woman who's changed her priorities and romantic tendencies (she's fallen in love with a woman) since her husband's passing, and is feeling off-kilter after witnessing a longtime acquaintance hit by a bus. The story, written with humor by the author of Modern Lovers and The Vacationers, is just as much about Astrid's quirky now-adult children, who are unmoored by their mom's altered life while managing their own crises. All adults here sometimes have trouble acting like grownups.
Hard Cash Valley
Fans of Panowich will recognize McFalls County and Bull Mountain, but don't let the familiarity get you too comfortable, because the story's about to go high octane. Here haunted, no-stranger-to-tragedy arson investigator Dane Kirby is called in to consult with FBI Special Agent Roselita Velasquez on the Jacksonville, Florida, murder of small-time gambler Arnie Blackwell. It's no simple open-and-shut case, because the real target is Arnie's brother, a boy with Asperger's syndrome who's a genius with numbers — a mega-money-making talent who's got the Filipino mafia and the deadliest Southern crooks hot on his trail, with murder on their minds. But can Dane get to the boy first? This is country noir with a bite as sharp as a rattler's.
The Last Trial
When was the last time you read a legal thriller with an 85-year-old protagonist? Alejandro Stern (Turow has put him in just about every book he's written) takes on one last case before retirement, this time defending a friend of his, 78-year-old Dr. Kiril Pafko, an esteemed Nobel Prize-winning cancer researcher, accused of insider trading, fraud and murder when a dozen patients die after taking the wonder drug that he put on the market, g-Livia, while allegedly knowing its dangers. But as Stern discovers more and more about his friend he supposedly knew, Stern wonders: Is Pafko who he seems to be? And if he isn't, how far will Stern go to defend him? The verdict: a timely, whip-smart legal thriller about aging, justice and what we owe the people we love.
The Vanishing Half
By the author of the acclaimed 2016 book The Mothers, this is an outstanding, thought-provoking novel about twins, Desiree and Stella, and, decades later, their daughters. Light-skinned African Americans, the sisters flee their tiny Southern town as teenagers in the 1950s, and end up taking very different paths. Stella marries a white man and has a daughter, keeping her roots hidden from her new family and leaving Desiree bewildered and heartbroken. Each of the complex characters are affected differently by the long-ago lie that magnifies the folly of fixating on black-and-white labels.