This week, new Andrea Camilleri, unfriending your ex, and what the ocean tells us about ourselves.
The Stepsister's Tale by Tracy Barrett (Harlequin Teen) - Having reimagined Greek classics in novels like King of Ithaka and Dark of the Moon, Barrett offers a provocative inversion of the tale of Cinderella. Halsey Hall—the once-magnificent home of Lady Margaret Mountjoy and daughters Jane, 15, and Maude, 13—has been falling apart since the girls’ father squandered the family’s money and drank himself to death. With their mother in denial, Jane and Maude have been handling numerous household responsibilities like chopping firewood and tending to animals, making them tan and strong, but not proper ladies to present to society. When Lady Margaret suddenly remarries and presents her daughters with an entitled and haughty new sister, 13-year-old Isabella, conflict is inevitable.
Angelica's Smile by Andrea Camilleri, trans. from the Italian by Stephen Sartarelli (Penguin) - CWA International Dagger Award-winner Camilleri’s many fans will shout “grazie” for his 17th Insp. Salvo Montalbano mystery (after 2013’s Treasure Hunt). Montalbano, who, perhaps, loves his antipasto more than his detective work, looks into a rash of copycat burglaries in the Sicilian coastal village of Vigàta. Victims are carefully chosen for the fact that they have two homes to burglarize. One such victim is Angelica Cosulich, so drop-dead gorgeous that Montalbano can barely breathe, much less speak, in her presence. But the investigation must go on! Midnight stakeouts, threatening anonymous letters, and even a puzzling murder ensue, all to the tune of those requisite seaside lunches and Angelica’s alluring smile.
Rogue Elephant: Harnessing the Power of India's Unruly Democracy by Simon Denyer (Bloomsbury) - In this revealing panorama of Indian politics, Denyer, former Washington Post India bureau chief and current China bureau chief, presents a wide-ranging indictment of the country’s deep-seated problems: a corrupt, unaccountable, often criminal political class (being charged with violent felonies is no bar to Parliament); a government bent on extracting bribes rather than building infrastructure; a culture of lawlessness that turns a blind eye to rape and child-trafficking; brutal counterinsurgencies; rigid economic policies that stifle growth; terrible schools that produce unemployable graduates; vicious religious strife; and a callous indifference to the misery of the poor. Denyer explores these issues through well-told stories of activists, officials, crusading lawyers, and grandstanding television journalists who are fighting to expose and correct abuses, sometimes at considerable peril.
Complicit by Stephanie Kuehn (St. Martin's Griffin) - Jamie and Cate were adopted by the wealthy Henry family after their single mother was murdered—or maybe it was an accidental death. Younger sibling Jamie isn’t sure anymore. Jamie has worked hard to overcome his anxiety-ridden youth, and he’s doing well until Cate is released from jail after serving time for burning down a barn, killing several horses and badly burning another girl. Even more troubling, Jamie is suffering from debilitating neurological attacks that paralyze his arms and is losing track of long periods of time, all of which seems to be connected to his fears about Cate’s return. Believing there’s a secret in his past, Jamie searches for answers about his mother’s life and his turbulent childhood with Cate.
The Arsonist by Sue Miller (Knopf) - A small New Hampshire town provides the backdrop for Miller’s provocative novel about the boundaries of relationships and the tenuous alliance between locals and summer residents when a crisis is at hand. After years of being an aid worker in Africa, Frankie Rowley returns to the idyllic Pomeroy, N.H., summer home to which her parents have retired. But all is not well in Pomeroy, where a spate of house fires leaves everyone wary and afraid. Frankie, who may have seen the arsonist her first night home, contemplates her ambiguous future and falls for Bud Jacobs, a transplant who has traded the hustle and bustle of covering politics in D.C. for the security of smalltown life, buying the local newspaper. Meanwhile, Sylvia, Frankie’s mother, becomes concerned about her husband’s increasingly erratic behavior, fearful that it’s a harbinger of Alzheimer’s.
Deep: Freediving, Renegade Science, and What the Ocean Tells Us About Ourselves by James Nestor (HMH) - This exploration of the “human connection to the ocean” begins with free diving, the technique of depth diving on single breaths of air. While free diving may have earned YouTube notoriety as a danger-laden sport with “fringe disciplines” and stunning depth records, Nestor is only briefly fascinated by the “ego-driven competition,” and focuses instead on free diving as the elemental mode for accessing the wonders of the ocean. A surfer with a lifelong connection to the ocean, Nestor interpolates his own training to “go deep” with encounters with scientists researching at the limits of ocean knowledge.
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng (Penguin Press) - This emotionally involving debut novel explores themes of belonging using the story of the death of a teenage girl, Lydia, from a mixed-race family in 1970s Ohio. Lydia is the middle and favorite child of Marilyn Walker, a white Virginian, and James Lee, a first-generation Chinese-American. Marilyn and James meet in 1957, when she is a premed at Radcliffe and he, a graduate student, is teaching one of her classes. The two fall in love and marry, over the objections of Marilyn’s mother, whose comment on their interracial relationship is succinct: “It’s not right.” Marilyn gets pregnant and gives up her dream of becoming a doctor, devoting her life instead to raising Lydia and the couple’s other two children, Nathan and Hannah. Then Marilyn abruptly moves out of their suburban Ohio home to go back to school, only to return before long. When Lydia is discovered dead in a nearby lake, the family begins to fall apart.
Virtual Unreality by Charles Seife (Viking) - Digital information, according to Seife in this informative book, influences our actions and alters public dialogue in very subtle and devious ways. Seife, a professor of journalism at New York University, defines virtual unreality as the state of “living in a world where the real and virtual are no longer completely disentangled,” as data from the Web affect every one of us in a constant, persistent, and unfiltered manner. He discusses Web schemes that can damage reputations, such as the infamous “sockpuppetry” strategy, using a false identity for deception and gathering information. Intense and incisive, Seife’s exposé of potent tricks on the mesmerizing, overpowering Internet makes us very wary about anything that cannot be verified with our own eyes.
Unfriending My Ex and Other Things I'll Never Do by Kim Stolz (Scribner) - Stolz, a digitally obsessed former MTV host and news correspondent in 2008, decides to give up technology for one week. Attempting to live with “less interruption and more deliberateness,” she forgoes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Internet, texting, and reality TV, and her iPhone (she allows herself a landline). In a “fugue state” at first, Stolz soon begins reading Walden, likening her one-week technology fast to Thoreau’s lengthier seclusion. As she deals with her technology withdrawal, she investigates and considers the various effects of society’s (and particularly her generation’s) dependency upon technology, finding that texting and smartphones allow chatting without relationship-building, loneliness in spite of keeping in touch, and increased anxiety. She also finds that Facebook fosters jealousy, spying, and virtual affairs, and links the addiction to ADHD (she even unearths an expert who predicts that no one will be spared some sort of “iDisorder”). Though Stolz writes with humor, her insights are nevertheless disturbing, particularly for 18–30-year-olds who check their smartphones before getting out of bed (and sometimes during sex).
The Beekeeper's Ball by Susan Wiggs (Mira) - Wiggs's second in her Bella Vista Chronicles series (The Apple Orchard) juggles a modern love story with a heart-pounding chronicle of the Danish resistance in Nazi-occupied Copenhagen, creating a dazzling intergenerational tale of courage and hope. No-frills, 30-year-old Isabelle Johansen is busy organizing the opening of her cooking school, a new beekeeping business, and the wedding of her half-sister, Tess. She's doing all this from her grandparents' mission-style hacienda and farm in Sonoma, but gets thrown off balance by the handsome, globe-trotting journalist Cormac O'Neill. He's arrived to interview Isabelle's grandfather, Magnus, for a biography about his youth thwarting the Nazi occupation, protecting Jewish families, and his ultimate flight to America. The attraction between Isabelle and Cormac is immediate, but Isabelle's cautious heart won't open until she reconciles with the loss of parents she never knew – and confronts a violent lover who broke her trust and confidence.