This week, love and other foreign words, inside the ocean, and malevolent rabbits.
The Marathon Conspiracy by Gary Corby (Soho Crime) - The future of democracy itself is on the line in Corby’s outstanding fourth historical set in ancient Greece (after 2013’s Sacred Games). On the eve of elections in Athens, the city’s wise man, Pericles, enlists his inquiry agent, Nicolaos, to deal with a matter that could undermine the elections. In a cave outside Athens, two schoolgirls have discovered a skeleton that may belong to the tyrant Hippias, who defected to the Persians after his ouster, a move that led to the Battle of Marathon. With the remains are notes, apparently written by the dictator, which may identify still-living traitors who worked with him even after his defection. One of the schoolgirls was killed shortly afterward, and the other has vanished.
The End or Something Like That by Ann Dee Ellis (Dial) - “When your best friend dies, things happen. You lie under your bed. You plan spiritual visitations. You watch a lot of TV. You eat turkey burgers.” Writing in clipped, emotionally deadened prose that carries the weight of grief, Ellis (Everything Is Fine) catalogues 15-year-old Emmy’s struggle with her friend’s sudden death. Alternating chapters take readers between the present, with the one-year anniversary of Kim’s death approaching, and flashbacks to the preceding months. Following Kim’s collapse in the cafeteria, Emmy is mired in her pain, but when she starts seeing and interacting with her newly deceased earth science teacher, Emmy dares to hope a “visitation” from Kim might be possible.
The Sea Inside by Philip Hoare (Melville House) - Hoare (The Whale: In Search of the Giants of the Sea) takes readers on a leisurely and lyrical tour of the world's waters and their inhabitants. A regular visitor to the sea near his home in England, Hoare shares his love and fascination for nature of all kinds, from the Eurasian oystercatcher and seals to the vestigial structures humans possess that provide evidence of ancestry. Hoare's writing reads like a postcard or journal demarcating his travels. On the Isle of Wight, he discusses ravens and the life of pilgrims. He encounters sperm whales around the Azores, sharing how they hear sound and make vibrations, and blue whales in the Indian Ocean, contemplating how near they came to extinction due to hunting. Hoare's writing awakens the senses with visions, sounds, and smells of the ocean.
Natchez Burning by Greg Iles (Morrow) - Much more than a thriller, Iles’s deftly plotted fourth Penn Cage novel (after 2008’s The Devil’s Punchbowl) doesn’t flag for a moment, despite its length. In 2005, the ghosts of the past come back to haunt Cage—now the mayor of Natchez, Miss.—with a vengeance. His father, Dr. Tom Cage, who has been an institution in the city for decades, faces the prospect of being arrested for murder. An African-American nurse, Viola Turner, who worked closely with Tom in the 1960s and was in the end stages of cancer, has died, and her son, Lincoln, believes that she was eased into death by a lethal injection. Tom refuses to speak about what happened (he admits only that he was treating Viola), which prevents Cage from using his leverage as mayor to head off charges. The mystery is inextricably interwoven with the violence Natchez suffered in the 1960s, including the stabbing of Viola’s brother by Ku Klux Klansmen in a fight.
All the Rage by A.L. Kennedy (Little A/New Harvest) - With her latest collection, Kennedy (The Blue Book) delivers 12 galvanizing, elliptical tales about people caught up in the "fury of needing." In "The Practice of Mercy," a woman remembers a high school science class in which adding potassium to water created a "tiny blur of lilac flames, too angry to sink"; she is warmed by "the idea that every human body hid a pastel shade of outrage no one should view without safety glasses." The other stories are similarly colored by shades of anger and its "most usual precursors": fear and pain. They unsettle with their arresting phrases (a young boy proud of his head injury "holds it like a smile poured in under his hair"), sly evasions, and gradual revelations. In "Baby Blue," a woman mistakenly wanders into a sex-shop and browses contraptions "with which to astonish [her] privacy."
Love and Other Foreign Words by Erin McCahan (Dial) - Fifteen-year-old Josie Sheridan may have a genius-level IQ, but that doesn’t mean she understands everything. One concept she has trouble grasping is romantic love, especially when it comes to her older sister Kate’s inexplicable attraction to her nerdy librarian fiancé, Geoff. Josie is sure that Geoff is completely wrong for Kate, but persuading her sister of this truth before the wedding is proving a tall order. Meanwhile, Josie is sorting out her own relationships with the opposite sex, including her prom date, Stefan, who thinks he “could fall in love” with her; her 26-year-old sociolinguistics instructor, Ethan, on whom she has an enormous crush; and her best friend Stu, who perhaps understands her better than anyone.
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Scholastic) - In a book that reads like an homage to The Mysteries of Harris Burdick, Lindgren award-winner Tan (The Arrival) offers a sequence of paintings that represent a boy’s cumulative summer knowledge, framed as rules and populated by Tan’s now-familiar menagerie of one-eyed robots, malevolent rabbits, and windup dinosaurs. The rules appear on the left, while lavish, brilliant paintings of the accompanying disasters light up the opposite pages. An older boy yanks his younger brother away from a platter at a soiree full of glaring raptors (“Never eat the last olive at a party”); frowns when bats, lizards, and sea anemones move into the living room (“Never leave the back door open overnight”); and, after a fistfight, bundles the younger boy into a locomotive and sends him off through Siberian wastes (“Never lose a fight”).