Retellings, Adaptations, and Continuations of the Classics

The New Boy by Tracy Chevalier

You know you're getting to the end of one of Shakespeare's tragedies when the bodies start piling up, and Othello is a typical example. But what happens when the characters become 6th graders and the drama takes place on the playground, instead of a military barracks? That’s the question anyone who has read Othello will be asking themselves as they open New Boy. Surely the ground won’t be littered with 6th graders?! Or will it… Tracy Chevalier is a masterful writer and the reader is left guessing until the very end, and beyond.

She takes Shakespeare’s play about racism and jealousy in the Venetian army of the late-16th century and sets it on an elementary school playground in the late 1970s. The time period makes the racism much more pronounced, whereas in Othello, jealousy seemed more in the forefront, although racism definitely played a part. Chevalier’s main character becomes Osei (“O”), a Ghanaian diplomat’s son, starting his 5th new school in 6 years. He immediately hits it off with Dee, one of the most popular girls in the school.  To the shock and dismay of their classmates and teachers, their romance blossoms almost immediately.

Enter Ian, who, unlike Iago, is a known playground bully. He doesn’t exactly want Dee as his own girlfriend, but he certainly doesn’t want this black newcomer to have her either. So he manipulates a similar cast of characters as in the play to drive O and Dee apart (Desdemona’s handkerchief is replaced with a pencil case embossed with strawberries) and the plot follows similar lines to the play.

Like Othello, the action in New Boy is very compressed, happening all in a single day, giving the reader a slightly claustrophobic feeling. Unlike Othello, where Desdemona is the outsider in a military setting, in New Boy, O is the outsider, being literally the new boy in school. There are many other minor differences and similarities to the play, with the result being that anyone who’s read Othello will clearly see the play in the story, but the book is able to stand on its own, without having to rely on being a “retelling”.

Putney by Sofka Zinovieff (similar theme)
Hogarth Series (Shakespeare Retellings)

Mara Zonderman, Westhampton Free Library

Miranda in Milan by Katharine Duckett

Miranda is twelve years older than the last time we saw her in The Tempest. She, her father, Prospero, and Uncle Antonio have returned to Milan from exile and Prospero once again reigns while Miranda plans to move to Naples to marry Ferdinand.

Unfortunately, Miranda is left a virtual prisoner in Prospero's castle with no friends or family. All the servants hate and fear her. She is not allowed to show her face or go anywhere. Her only confidant is Dorothea, her servant witch. Together, they fall in love and discover the mystery of Miranda's mother's death thirteen years earlier and the treachery and betrayal of Prospero to his public and his daughter.

Filled with magic, ghosts, love, fear, and ruthlessness, Miranda in Milan is a fun sequel to Shakespeare's The Tempest. The language is not of the 17th century (narrative nor dialogue), the setting lacks description (except for the tunnels under the castle), and the characters could be better developed, but for a 200-page novella, an inventive imagining of Miranda's story. Not a page turner, but a relatively quick read.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden (Cinderella)
Lady Hotspur by Tessa Gratton (Henry IV)
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld (Pride and Prejudice)
Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (Taming of the Shrew)

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library 

The Winters by Lisa Gabriele

Have you read Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca? Don’t worry, it’s not a prerequisite. Besides, there’s a new Rebekah in town. Is she the unnamed protagonist of the story? Read and find out. Set on an exclusive island off Long Island near the luxurious Hamptons; a young woman, her fiancé and his daughter struggle with buried secrets, past lives, and unavoidable consequences.

The unnamed narrator arrives to Asherley; an opulent, secluded mansion; with her new, wealthy, politically charged, recently widowed fiancé. Never knowing luxury before, meeting Max Winters, was a fluke at best for this sunburned Cayman Island native. But living at Asherley, full of its memories of the first Mrs. Winters, and Max’s teenage daughter, Dani, sulking around the grounds angry and resentful; not only poses uncertainties about the estate’s secrets, but of the relationship between the future Mrs. Winters and Max Winters.

What do you do when the happiness you thought only existed in fairytales, becomes your life and there is a force determined to make it all come crashing down?

Full of a lot of detail and foreshadowing, The Winters is good, but not amazing. It’s worth the read if you haven’t read the classic Rebecca or if you have and don’t mind a loose, modernized “retelling” of an old favorite.

I wouldn’t say The Winters is a suspenseful read. Certainly, the psychological aspect is there, but not as significant as expected. I knew what was going to happen. I could anticipate the action; due to good writing and a well set up structure, I suppose.

Was the book as dark and ominous, as a psychological thriller intends, no, not really. But the encircling and tiptoeing of characters around one another added a creepy factor without pushing you over the edge. In more than a few spots I wondered who the crazy was in the story, which added mystery. I was pulled along, sometimes lulled by the writing, but in the end, there was no jolt, gasp, or frantic frenzy of trying to figure out how it all happened. Throughout the book I found myself screaming in my mind “NO!”, because I already knew the outcome and was just waiting for the story to prove me right.

I suggest going into reading The Winters with an open mind. Though I finished it and liked it enough to do so, it didn’t move me. I didn’t ask questions throughout it. I simply read it for the pleasure of reading, which is never a bad thing. Overall, I would give the book three stars. It was entertaining when not comparing it to its retelling.

Rebecca's Tale by Sally Beauman
Rebecca by Daphne DuMaurier
The Ghost Orchid by Carol Goodman
Alena by Rachel Pastan

Jocelyn Kaleita, Brookhaven Free Library

Hyde by Daniel Levine

Hyde is a 2014 retelling of Robert Lewis Stevenson's 1886 novella The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Stevenson tells his classic story through a rotating third-person narrative; major characters Henry Jekyll, Edward Hyde, Gabriel John Utterson, and Poole are shown to be unique individuals invested in the horrific changes occurring among themselves, while Levine's novel begins as a dual first-person narrative - equal explanation is given to both Jekyll and Hyde's thoughts, experiences, and memories. As the story progresses and Hyde begins to dominate Jekyll's personality and respectable 19th-century London life, so too Hyde begins to dominate Levine's narrative. By the end of the book, Hyde is the sole narrator, narrating his suicide. The book takes place over four days and is an engaging retelling and adaptation.

I believe I would have enjoyed Hyde more if I were not previously familiar with the original story. I found Levine's story confusing and overly complicated. There were several characters I felt were not properly introduced, the period language felt inauthentic, and the buildup to Hyde's death was not nearly as grandly theatrical as Stevenson made it. This book is a good pick for patrons seeking quick gothic and historical thrillers, but I would not recommend it to fans of the original Strange Case or those seeking easy reads.

The Casebook of Victor Frankenstein by Peter Ackroyd
Mayhem by Sarah Pinborough
Stoker's Manuscript by Royce Prouty 

Wendy Ambrozewicz, Patchogue-Medford Library

Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

A modern retelling of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Seventeen-year-old Cat Morland, the daughter of a vicar living in the English countryside, is offered the opportunity to travel to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with her wealthy neighbors, the Allens. (“The Fringe” is the world’s largest arts festival, lasting nearly a month. In 2018, it featured more than 55,000 performances of 3,548 different shows.) Mr. Allen is a successful investor in London theater, and easygoing Cat will be company for his wife, Susie.

In Edinburgh, Cat meets Bella Thorpe and her brother Johnny, who, it turns out, are friends of Cat’s older brother, James. When James turns up, Cat is struck by the growing romantic relationship between James and Bella, and finds herself too often in the company of Bella’s brother, an irritating blowhard. She is thrilled to meet the Tilneys: the handsome, intelligent Henry and his charming younger sister, Ellie. An invitation to the Tilneys’ vast historic estate, Northanger Abbey, follows. Cat, an avid reader of horror novels, is excited to discover the secrets she is certain the Abbey conceals and to spend as much time as possible with Henry.

The novel is a witty romance that will appeal to readers who enjoyed Jane Austen’s original and are curious about how the story translates to the 21st century. It would also be appropriate for young adults unfamiliar with the original. The setting is clever and the conniving Thorpes are remarkably similar to Austen’s characters. However, Cat, though she has been home-schooled and lived a sheltered life, is a little too naïve and fanciful for a girl her age. A subplot that has Cat wondering if the Tilneys might be vampires is sometimes treated as a joke, but occasionally as something Cat truly believes.

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld
By the Book by Julia Sonneborn
Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

Norah Gillman, Cold Spring Harbor Library

Circe by Madeline Miller

Circe by Madeline Miller is an exciting retelling of Greek legends and lore. Circe, daughter of the mighty God Helios is a strange girl and seems to be born without any particular powers unlike her brothers and sisters.   

Repeatedly shunned from her powerful father and manipulative mother, Circe turns to mortals for friendship and companionship. She soon realizes that she possesses the power of witchcraft and uses it to transform lovers and rivals into their true selves. After one such transformation she is banished to the deserted island of Aiaia by her father and Zeus.

During her time there, she is visited by many well-known figures known in mythology such as the Minotaur, Daedalus and his son Icarus, the dangerous Medea, and the persuasive Odysseus.
Spending year after year alone on an island, cultivating her herbs and potions, Circe welcomes the god Hermes, whose visits are full of news. He is a pleasant distraction for Circe, but even that grows wearisome.

Finally, Circe must choose between living a life with mortals or with the gods that made her.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. I’ve always been fond of mythology so this was a pleasant trip down memory lane. Madeline Miller does a fine job telling this exciting story using just the right amount of poetic prose. The characters are vivid especially the articulate and cunning Odysseus, who Circe falls in love with. This retelling seems to bring home the point that whether we are gods or just ordinary people we all will experience the joys and sadness that life has to offer. The story of Circe reminds us to stay strong and constant for all things do pass with time. 

The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin
House of Names by Colm Toibin

Karen Cognato, Harborfields Public Library

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi

Boy, Snow, Bird is a modern retelling of Snow White. It centers around Boy Novak, a twenty-something young woman from New York who can’t keep from noticing her reflection whenever she sees it. Growing up without a mother she knows nothing about, Boy flees to Massachusetts to escape her abusive father who catches rats for a living. While in Massachusetts, Boy tries to find her way by meeting new people and working several different jobs, hoping that the rat catcher will never find her. She begins dating a widower named Arturo Whitman who has a daughter named Snow. Everyone loves Snow and constantly dote on her. Over time, Boy and Arturo marry and have a child they name Bird. When Bird is born, she is noticeably African American, and her birth exposes the Whitman family, who have been passing as white for years. Because the story is set in the early 1950s, Boy is met with criticism and hate for having a black child. Boy begins to resent how much everyone loves her stepdaughter Snow instead of her baby daughter Bird, so Boy sends Snow away to live with other family members. As Bird grows up, she becomes more curious about her sister Snow who she doesn’t remember. She begins to correspond with Snow through letters and they become very close without ever meeting, especially over the fact that both girls don’t see their reflections when they look into mirrors. When Snow finally comes home for Thanksgiving, tensions run high among the Whitman family as the issues of race and vanity finally come up, as well as between Boy and Snow as they meet for the first time in years. As Boy’s father comes to find her all these years later, Boy finds out where she actually came from. 

This story is character driven with a fast almost magical pace. It is told in separate parts between Boy and her daughter Bird’s point of view. Snow’s voice is also evident as she writes letters to Bird. The setting of 1950s and 1960s Massachusetts still has an air of being racially intolerant as witnessed by the Whitman’s matriarch trying to give Bird away to her darker-skinned aunt, along with bullying at Bird’s school. While the setting of Massachusetts is discussed, the story tells more about what was happening culturally at the time. I think this story would appeal to readers of fiction who enjoy fairy tales, as well as readers who enjoy thought-provoking stories. 

Gretel and the Dark by Eliza Granville
Picking Bones from Ash by Marie Mutsuki Mockett
All the Ever Afters by Danielle Teller

Jessica Brown, Patchogue-Medford Library

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld is a modern-day reinterpretation of Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice set in Cincinnati, Ohio. It is the fourth book in the Austen Project, a series that couples contemporary novelists with Jane Austen’s novels. 

Liz is a magazine writer in her thirties living in New York City. She is clever and responsible, the most insightful member of the generally hopeless Bennett family. Her older sister Jane is a 40-ish yoga instructor who also lives in the City. They return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help out after their father has heart surgery. Once there, they find that the sprawling Tudor house they grew up in is falling apart just like their family.

Mrs. Bennett’s snobbery and self-pity are intact, but in this retelling, she is also a lover of trash television. Her current preoccupations include an addiction to a reality show called “Eligible,” featuring hunky bachelors.

Mr. Darcy has evolved into a pompous neurosurgeon. In one of the classic scenes in Pride and Prejudice, Mr. Darcy tells Elizabeth that he loves her while also listing the reasons he shouldn’t marry her. In Eligible, Darcy is even more insensitive: “You’re not beautiful, and you’re not nearly as funny as you think you are,” he says to Liz. “Sorry,” Liz replies, “but I still consider you a jackass.”

Sittenfeld, according to the New York Times reviewer, excels in her “clear, clean writing… in her general amusement about the world, her observations about behavior, character and motivation.” A witty, enjoyable read for women and men of all ages.

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
The Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

Grace O'Connor, Retired, West Islip Public Library

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler

Always in trouble at home, always in trouble at work, Kate Battista is an incorrigible pre-school assistant that has strong opinions on everything—this is Anne Tyler’s version of Shakespeare’s “shrew.” Kate’s father, a scientist doing self-aggrandized research, asks her to marry his assistant to avoid his deportation due to an expiring visa. Kate resists with every bone in her body. The two men conspire and work on Kate with pre-planned encounters and staged shenanigans until she eventually softens and seems to realize that marrying could actually give her a freedom that she has never known before.

This re-telling of Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew by Pulitzer Prize winning Anne Tyler (author of The Accidental Tourist, Breathing Lessons, A Spool of Blue Thread, et al.) is a light-hearted, easy read that can be devoured in one sitting. It’s not a deep or complex novel, but sometimes an effortless read is all that is required to satisfy. This is a softer version of the work by Shakespeare, which was not his most popular or well-received. Fans of Tyler’s other works may be disappointed. Tyler admits that she hates Shakespeare—and The Taming of the Shrew most of all—but she accepted the challenge to contribute to a series of re-tellings of the bard’s works. If you’re looking for a light read that is not too demanding, nor time consuming, this may be the book for you.

Hag-Seed by Margaret Atwood (The Tempest)
Shylock is My Name by Howard Jacobson (The Merchant of Venice)
Macbeth by Jo Nesbo
The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson (The Winter's Tale)

Deborah Fermosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library

Solsbury Hill by Susan Wyler

Eleanor Sutton Abbott receives a call from her aunt’s friend Gwen telling her that her aunt Alice is dying and would like to see her; on the same night Eleanor finds out some disturbing news about her boyfriend Miles. At first Eleanor isn’t sure what to do. Her clothing business in New York is just taking off and things with Miles are at a crossroads, but she’s drawn to her aunt Alice who lives in England. Even though Eleanor hasn’t seen her since she was a little girl, Alice is the only family she has left. Wanting to know more about her mother, Alice’s younger sister, and her family, Eleanor makes the journey to the Moors of England and the house she will inherit once her aunt passes on. It is at Trent House that Eleanor learns about her family, her legacy, and who she really is as a person. She also meets Meadowscarp (Mead), an orphan that her aunt took in after his mother died and his father couldn’t raise him. As Eleanor speaks to ghosts, including Emily Bronte, explores Trent House, and discovers the secrets of her past, she must make the decision on whether to go back to New York and her old life with Miles or to stay in England and take a chance on a new life with Mead.

Inspired by the classic novel Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, Solsbury Hill has the same atmosphere found in the original without the drama and angst. Although the setting is the same and parallels can be drawn between the orphans Heathcliff and Mead and other parts of the novel, most of the story is about how Eleanor is a descendant of Emily Bronte and is trying to break the curse that has plagued the women in her family – choosing the wrong man to love when two options are available – as well as trying to find out about her heritage and hopefully find herself in the process. Both Miles and Mead are much nicer than their counterparts in Wuthering Heights and Eleanor doesn’t bring any of the drama that Catherine surrounds herself in. The story is a romance, without the timeless quality of the original, wrapped up with a happy ending. Give this to women looking for a quick, beach read or general romance rather than someone looking for a continuation of their favorite classic.

Nelly Dean: A Return to Wuthering Heights by Alison Case
The Lost Child by Carol Phillips
Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library

Family Saga

The House at the Edge of Night by Catherine Banner

Once upon a story within a story, located off the coast of Italy, was a tiny island named Castellamare. The island was so small, it was often unvisited, and thus its inhabitants thought to rule themselves. The island’s remoteness lent it to power struggles, deeply rooted family drama, and many rumors turned age-old-tales. It is the perfect setting for a great saga.

In 1914 meet Amedeo Esposito. He is 40-years-old and arrives on Castellamare. Seeking a place to call home he becomes the island’s doctor, and so his story begins. Amedeo is a lover of stories – ones of miracles, of adventure, of history passed from teller to listener – and because of his love of stories he records stories, those he is permitted to, in a red notebook, he is rarely without. Page after page Amedeo’s life is written; from meeting and marrying the love of his life, Pina, to the birth of their three children, to building a café and bar business in the house at the edge of night. Like anyone with a life to live, Amedeo dreams, plans, expects, endures disappointment, and feels immense joy. His life’s story is so full it amounts to almost a century’s worth of tales.  

Amedeo’s story is a sweeping, four-generation saga – part love story with the island, with the characters you meet, with the house at the edge of night – part tragedy in choosing the right path, in doing the right thing for yourself and those you love. Written compassionately, vividly, and so lyrically, you will be transported to Castellamare and won’t want to leave. Amedeo’s story ensnares your thoughts with possibility. You’ll feel the saw dust under your feet at the bar and hear the wind blow through the town, you’ll mostly likely smell the sea through the house at the edge of night as you read. Amedeo’s family will pull you right into their lives. You’ll recognize the want and hope for a simple life and the complications rerouting your dream caused by the uncontrollable outside world.

House at the Edge of Night is a timeless story; told honestly and easily. Before you know it, you are fully involved in generation after generation of Amedeo’s family and will want to know more. There is no turning back, like with any family, once you are in, you are all in.


The House of Spirits by Isabel Allende
Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Nbue
The Strange and Beautiful Sorrow of Ava Lavender by Leslye Walton

Jocelyn Kaleita, Brookhaven Free Library

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin is a sweeping family saga set in New York City’s Lower East Side, beginning in 1969. The four Gold children become preoccupied with the idea of death after seeking out a fortune teller who claims to know when each of them will die. These prophecies follow the siblings for the next fifty years. Each chapter focuses on one sibling, as they travel diverse paths and deal with their looming death date. The distinct journeys propel the characters into different paths, such as Simon and Klara who believe in the prophecies and make life choices accordingly, as opposed to Daniel and Varya who do not. Three of the siblings all die on their predicted dates and the novel ends before revealing the fate of the fourth sister.  

This is a complex story immersed in Jewish lore and covering decades of American history from the San Francisco Aids crisis in the 1970’s to the ethical questions concerning animal research. The novel is told from a third-person omniscient narrator who presents one character’s point of view in each part of the story. Each character takes a different path as they approach their fate and fulfill their own idea of a meaningful life. Despite their diverse journeys, the siblings shared Jewish upbringing binds them together in a meditation of how family ties can both hurt and heal.  

At the heart of this novel is the question, how do we shape our own destinies? Is it fate or choice that determines our future and how can different people interpret the same event in such varied ways? The power of belief is a core theme, and this includes magic, faith, and storytelling. But it is the pull of family that holds the novel together in a mesmerizing saga. I highly recommend this thought-provoking story for a book discussion group.

The Wangs Vs. the World by Jade Chang
Eternal Life by Dara Horn
The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer

Novels by Donna Tartt or Celeste Ng

Candace Reeder, Northport-East Northport Public Library

America Is Not the Heart by Elaine Castillo

Elaine Castillo’s impressive debut tells the story of Geronima (“Hero”) and her extended family, both in their ancestral Philippines homeland and in 1990’s Milpitas, a San Jose suburb inhabited by many immigrant cultures. Once part of a wealthy, socially prominent family, Hero, an aspiring doctor, renounced her old life to become a field doctor for a guerrilla revolutionary group called the National People’s Party. Tortured and held captive for years, Hero is eventually released, disowned by her parents, and travels to America under the care of her aunt and uncle, Pol and Paz. Paz is the quiet heroine of the story, working double nursing shifts to support their large extended family, in Milpitas and in the Philippines. The daughter of Pol and Paz is the third generation of the tale. It is Hero’s contribution to care for Roni, their seven-year-old daughter. Hero grows to love her niece, and to make friends at a community restaurant where she eventually works. There she meets Rosalyn who becomes central to her life.

The story is character driven, and stylistically complex, as it moves back and forth in time and in Hero’s worlds. The writing is richly descriptive, filled with Filipino cultural detail, in descriptions of language, food, and garage band music. 


What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky by Lesley Nneka Arimah

Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue

Dear America: Notes from an Undocumented Citizen by Jose Antonio Vargas

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library

The Balcony by Jane Delury

“What if our homes could tell the stories of those who lived there before us?”
This debut is comprised of ten short stories connected by a house in Benneville, France.  Unfortunately, the manor doesn’t tell any story. The stories are connected by the characters who live or have lived in the manor for over 100 years.

None of the characters seem to love the house or have any feeling for it. They all hate Benneville because it’s such a small town where nothing ever happens, and the stories are depressing, dull, and uninspired. There is nothing new here.

Indeed, if the house could talk, we would’ve gotten some great stories: suicide, Jews hiding from the Gestapo, ex-courtesans, brothers who aren’t really brothers (we never find out if they’re told at Christmas), affairs, etc.

I loved the idea of this book and in the first story, when the woman of the house threw herself off the balcony, I was excited to see how the balcony played into each story. Unfortunately, it never did. There were too many characters to keep track of and I couldn’t remember who was related to whom from another story. Beautiful writing, but slow reading. Not a page turner.

The Book of Summer by Michelle Gable
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
Peculiar Ground by Lucy Hughes-Hallett
The Life She was Given by Ellen Wiseman

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library

Meadowlands by Elizabeth Jeffrey

Three days after the elaborate silver wedding celebration of Sir George Barsham, MP and his wife Lady Adelaide, Britain declares war with Germany (August 4, 1914). 

Over the course of the war, we follow the lives of the Barsham children, twins James and Ned and their sisters Millie and Gina. Both boys are sent to Flanders, James in the Army and Ned as a conscientious objector stretcher bearer. Millie learns how to drive an ambulance and ends up in Flanders as well. Only Gina remains at home and it is through her interactions with the local townsfolk that we see the effects the war has on those on the home front.

The story moves at a quick pace yet it is filled with historical details. The circumstances that each of the characters find themselves dealing with throughout WWI are vividly brought to life. Jeffrey’s characters are fascinating, realistic, and detailed. The children are down to earth, the servants “below the stairs” and estate workers are true to form, and Lady Adelaide is the typical lady of the manor … ‘I didn’t bring you up to do the work of a servant, Georgina,’ she remarked when Ruby had left the room. ‘Have you no respect for your position?’

Settle in with a good strong cuppa and a couple of biscuits for an engaging read.  

We That Are Left by Clare Clark
For Better, For Worse by Elizabeth Jeffrey
The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

Sue Ketcham, B. Davis Schwartz Memorial Library, LIU Post

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo by Michael David Lukas

When Joseph, the son of a Jewish mother and a Muslim father, receives a surprise package from his late father, he leaves Berkeley and goes to Cairo to uncover the history that binds the two sides of his family. He finds he is a descendant of generations of watchmen at the Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo, built at the site where the infant Moses was taken from the Nile. Joseph learns of his ancestor Ali, a Muslim orphan who nearly a thousand years earlier was entrusted as the first watchman of the synagogue and became enchanted by its legendary--perhaps magical--Ezra Scroll. 
The story of Joseph's family is entwined with that of the British twin sisters Agnes and Margaret, who in 1897 travel to Cairo from their places at Cambridge on a mission to rescue sacred texts that have begun to disappear from the synagogue.

The Last Watchman of Old Cairo is a story of the tangled relations that exist between fathers and sons, religion and love in places like Cairo marked by diversity, and the forces of love that try to bring them together.

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado
The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas

Grace O'Connor, Retired

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

With its cast of seemingly thousands, Kwan keeps the reader's interest throughout the 500+ pages. The characters are wild, crazy, extravagant, bizarre, get the idea. Crazy Rich Asians is more than a book about how ridiculously rich people sometimes spend their money ridiculously. It offers thousands of gems of history and more than a few surprises. Don't be intimidated by how many characters are in the book, you'll figure out early on which ones are the most important. 

The Windfall by Diksha Basu
The Garden Party by Grace Mazur
What We Were Promised by Lucy Tan
Family Trust by Kathy Wang

Kathy Carter, Riverhead Free Library

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell

This story is told simultaneously by three sisters, Lady, Vee, and Delph Alter. They say it is their collective suicide note. Suicide apparently runs in their family (they have a chart), as their great-grandmother, great-grandfather, grandfather, aunt, and mother have all killed themselves (gunshot, overdose of morphine, defenestration, cyanide, and drowning being the respective causes). Having collectively survived one round of cancer, divorce, and being widowed, with the onset of Vee’s second round of cancer, the sisters have decided to poison themselves and go all together.

The sisters’ apartment is crowded with the ghosts of these suicides (not actual ghosts; there’s nothing supernatural about this book). Delph has tattooed on her leg the biblical quote about the sins of the father, although there’s some disagreement about what the sin in question is. The prevalent theory is that they’re all paying for their great-grandfather’s development of mustard gas and Zyklon, but it’s possible that suicide itself is the sin.

And then the ghost walks in (again, not an actual ghost). Will this blast from the past and all the revelations that follow in her wake cause any or all the sisters to reconsider their suicide pact?

This dark, metaphysically heavy book is definitely not for the faint of heart. There’s really nothing cheering in it, although it is escapist in its own way.


My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
The Nix by Nathan Hill
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

Mara Zonderman, Westhampton Free Library

The Girl in the Castle by Santa Montefiore

Castle Deverill stands on land stolen from the O’Leary family and given, along with a title, to Barton Deverill in the 1600s for his loyalty to King Charles II. Maggie O’Leary cursed the family, and every Lord Deverill is doomed to remain between worlds, haunting the castle until an O’Leary returns to live on the land. Kitty Deverill knows this is true, because, like her grandmother, she can see and speak to the ghosts of all the previous Lord Deverills. Kitty was born in 1900 to a cold and unloving mother, and a father who is good-natured but preoccupied with hunting, fishing, and his mistress. She is closest to her grandparents, her cousin Celia, who visits every summer, and especially to Bridie Doyle, daughter of the castle’s cook.

As the girls grow up, Kitty falls in love with local boy Jack O’Leary, becomes involved in the Irish independence movement, and is eventually forced to leave the country she loves for her own safety and join Celia in London. Bridie also falls in love with Jack, and is crushed when she finds out he is in love with her best friend, Kitty. Tragic circumstances force her to leave Ireland as well, and she travels to America, where her fortunes reverse completely and she becomes a woman of means. Secrets, betrayals, affairs, WWI, the Irish independence movement, and assorted tragedies impact the lives of every member of the Deverill family. When Kitty and Bridie return to Ireland years later, their friendship seems like it might never recover and the future of Castle Deverill is uncertain. 

This novel is the first in a trilogy and would be a good pick for readers who enjoy Irish fiction, historical fiction, and stories that center on women’s friendships. It is lengthy, but action-packed and moves very quickly. There is a strong sense of place, and the world of Castle Deverill and the nearby town of Ballinakelly is well-developed.

Deverill Chronicles:
The Girl in the Castle
The Daughters of Ireland
The Secret of the Irish Castle

Carnegie's Maid by Marie Benedict
Cavendon Hall by Barbara Taylor Bradford
The Girls of Ennismore by Patricia Falvey
The Summer Wives by Beatriz Williams

Norah Gillman, Cold Spring Harbor Library

The Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan

A good race horse is the product of a strong genetic heritage. Might the same hold true for people? Are we simply the result of a genetic pool, or do we have the free will to determine our own destiny? 

We follow the evolution of three main characters—Henry Forge, his daughter Henrietta, and Allmon Shaughnessy, a bi-racial groom—from their familial roots to the present day. Treatises on everything from American history to domestic abuse to slavery and, eventually, horse racing are interjected as a reflection of the hierarchy of society. The Sport of Kings (to quote one review) “is no more about horseracing than Moby Dick is about whale hunting.”

For generations, Henry’s family has always been in the agricultural business. But Henry has a different idea. He’s wants to raise thoroughbred horses.  Henry’s daughter, a victim of sexual abuse, also rebels—by hiring a young black ex-convict to work on the farm then having a torrid affair with him. Allmon Shaughnessy comes from a broken, inter-racial family, lives in the grips of poverty, resorts to a life of crime, and spends time in jail. All three hang their hopes and dreams on a promising filly named Hellsmouth. The ways that each of these characters deals with the consequences and limitations into which they were born demonstrates that we all have more in common than we may realize.

This vast and complex novel, shortlisted for the Pulitzer Prize, is not a quick read. It can actually feel overwhelming. Morgan incorporates classic literature, mythology, and much more in extensive “interludes” throughout. Her writing style is reminiscent of classic writers such as Melville, Faulkner, and Shakespeare. Readers will be rewarded if they persevere. What starts out as a straightforward family saga evolves into an all-encompassing epic. There are many points of discussion for a book group if the readers are willing to commit to this sweeping novel.

Applehouse Supreme by Emeliye Akdjali
The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
The Known World by Edward P. Jones
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Some Luck by Jane Smiley

Deborah Fermosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

At Franny’s christening, Bert Cousins, who is married to Teresa and has 3 kids with one on the way, is introduced to Franny’s mother Beverly Keating and is instantly in love, or lust as some people might think. After sharing a kiss, the two go their separate ways eventually marrying over a decade later leading to a lot of hurt feelings and resentful kids. Beverly and her husband Fix have two daughters, Franny and her older sister Caroline. Once Beverly marries Bert, she takes the girls and moves from California, where Fix is, to Virginia, where Bert grew up. Neither girl wants to move since they both love and side with their dad, but they don’t have a choice. On the other side, Bert’s ex-wife Teresa decides to stay in California with their four children: Cal, Holly, Jeanette, and Albie. Every summer the Cousins kids visit their dad in Virginia and find themselves thoroughly ignored and on their own. When tragedy strikes one summer, secrets are kept and lives are changed. This one event changes everyone for better and worse and each character flounders or flourishes in his or her own way.   

The book is told back and forth in time starting with the meeting of Bert and Beverly then moving to the present with Franny visiting her dad who is dying of cancer. The reader learns about the past from Fix’s stories and flashbacks as well as through the eyes of the now grown children. Most of the story focuses on Franny and how lost she was for many years. Commonwealth becomes a book within the book as Franny tells her life story to an author she admires who then uses it to write a best-selling novel called Commonwealth. 

The novel is about family, both the one you’re born into and the one you make. It’s about connections to people, blood related or not, and how one small thing can change the direction of your life. It’s about how divorce and absentee parents can affect their kids’ lives and how not all kids are the same and thus need different treatment. 

Patchett’s writing is solid but the story meanders in spots. The reader mostly learns about Franny with small sections given to the other kids, but no one is completely fleshed out. The secret of what happened that one summer in Virginia shaped everyone’s life, but it takes a long time for the reader to find out what happened and because of some misdirection, the actuality of it is a bit disappointing. Commonwealth would be a good read for a book group as there’s a lot to discuss and is best suited for readers looking for a book with weight that doesn’t always have a happy ending but does show the ups and downs of a family. 

The Weird Sisters by Eleanor Brown
Three Junes by Julia Glass
Seating Arrangements by Maggie Shipstead
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

Azuree Agnello, West Babylon Public Library

The Mandibles: A Family, 2029-2047 by Lionel Shriver

According to Lionel Shriver, The Mandibles is about the “dystopic economic future” - these three words summarize the novel very well. For most of the book, the Mandible clan is composed of Douglas and his recent wife Luella, his children Carter and Enola, their children Florence, Avery, and Jarred, their children Willing, Savannah, Bing, and Goog, Florence’s partner Esteban, Avery’s husband Lowell, and Carter’s wife Jayne. Important but less active characters include Douglas’ first wife and children’s mother Mimi and Florence’s tenant Kurt. Throughout the novel, these 16 characters adapt to rapidly-changing domestic times in unique, deep, and remarkable ways. Set between 2029 and 2047, the book begins with U.S. president Dante Alvarado’s declaration that the national debt has been renounced and set to 0. Spurned, the rest of the world develops a global currency, the bancor, excluding the U.S. from all outside commerce. The country quickly goes downhill: the price of a cabbage soars to over $100, squatting becomes rife, and all legal, societal, and monetary laws and rules are disregarded. Nonetheless, the book is a hearty family saga, with generational angst, betrayal, love, animosity, and drama abounding.

Although I do not have a background involving finance, I found the plot accessible and engaging. Because much of the dialogue dissolves into terms I had to look up or infer; it detached me from the human, familial struggles presented in the novel. I believe this book will be most enjoyed by an audience with an interest in economics. 

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood
Before This Is Over by Amanda Hickie
When the English Fall by David Williams

Wendy Ambrozewicz, Patchogue-Medford Library

We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas

This story chronicles the family saga of Eileen Tumulty, born in 1941 to Irish immigrant parents in Woodside, Queens. Growing up in a house fueled by alcohol, failed ambition, and loss, Eileen dreams of a calmer life. She marries scientist Ed Leary who seems different in every way from all the men she grew up around, however she quickly discovers that her desire to achieve the American dream is not something that Ed necessarily shares. As Eileen continues to prosper in her career, she encourages Ed to want more for himself, more money, a better job, a nicer place to live, a bigger yard, etc. which he does not appear to view as important as she does. This ultimately brings conflict throughout their relationship, especially as it seems part of a deeper psychological issue with Ed. As their son Connell grows up, Eileen strives to give him more than she and Ed ever had, all this while everyone tries to hold onto what they think their ideal life should be like. The story continues to follow their complicated lives through good times and dark times as they deal with financial issues, struggles to find their own identities, and growing up in a changing world. 

While this story mainly focused on Eileen and how she handled life, it did touch a lot on Connell and how he interpreted things growing up in a dysfunctional household. It had great character development as you see how Eileen felt about her parents and their actions and how they shaped her growing up and becoming a wife and mother. The story touched on many issues including the ever-changing culture and ethnicities within New York City, as well as the pressure of fitting in with different socioeconomic groups. This would appeal to readers familiar with growing up after WWII. 

Ashes of Fiery Weather by Kathleen Donohoe
Within Arm's Reach by Ann Napolotano
Golden Age by Jane Smiley

Jessica Brown, Patchogue-Medford Library

Male Protagonists

The Story of Arthur Truluv by Elizabeth Berg

Arthur is in his late 80s and lost his wife, Nola, six months ago. He takes a bus to the cemetery every day to visit her grave while he eats lunch. He imagines the lives lived by the people buried nearby and notices a teenage girl, who is also a regular visitor. Maddy is a high school senior who is an outcast at school and finds a peaceful refuge in the cemetery. Her mother died when she was a baby, and she has a distant relationship with her father. The two become friends and Maddy calls Arthur 'Truluv" for his devotion to his late wife.

Arthur's next-door neighbor Lucille is also in her 80s, has never married or had children, and recently connected with her first love, Frank. When Frank dies suddenly and Maddy becomes pregnant, both Maddy and Lucille move in with Arthur. The three become a family of sorts and eagerly await the birth of Maddy's child. Arthur encourages both women and supports them in taking steps to overcome their fears and loneliness. Arthur is a very kind man, but for decades his world revolved around his late wife, and he finds new purpose in reaching out to Maddy and Lucille.

Though Arthur is the central character, parts of the book are written from the points of view of Maddy and Lucille. The story is simply told, warm, sentimental, and will appeal to readers who are looking for a cozy, pleasant novel. A sequel, Night of Miracles, will be published this year.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

Norah Gillman, Cold Spring Harbor Library

The Vineyard by Maria Duenas

Our story opens in 1861 as Mauro Larrea, a self-made millionaire who has made a fortune in Mexican silver mining, learns that he has lost it all in an unwise business transaction. Desperately hiding his misfortune, he tries to recoup his loss in a game of pool in which he wins a neglected vineyard in Spain. When he visits his new property to put it up for sale, widower Larrea meets and falls hard for Soledad, daughter of the house and herself a married woman. 

The Vineyard should appeal to anyone interested in Hispanic culture, men's responsibilities, or women's rights. 

Portrait in Sepia by Isabel Allende
Or the Bull Kills You by Jason Webster

Jackie Malone, Bellmore Public Library, Retired

Lawn Boy by Jonathan Evison

This is a coming-of-age story about a half-Mexican, 23-year-old man named Mike Munoz, who works as a landscaper and lives with is chain-smoking mother, his developmentally disabled older brother, Nate, and Freddy, his mom's boyfriend. Mike basically takes care of Nate most of the time while their mother is working, mostly by feeding him junk and sitting him in front of the TV to keep him calm. Mike perpetually struggles to get ahead and achieve the American dream, partly due to unreliable transportation and partly due to a resume that only includes working as a landscaper. Mike doesn't know what to do with himself and often daydreams about being a topiary artist and writing the Great American Landscaping novel.

Mike quits his landscaping job because he's tired of picking up dog poop and has difficulty finding work again throughout the story. When he does find work, the jobs aren't great and Mike often gets used. Through it all, Mike is trying to start a relationship with a girl names Remy and deal with his life-long friend Nick, who is becoming increasingly annoying.

The story is told in the first person with great amounts of humor and is an easy read. The dialogue between the characters seems authentic, and the cat of characters memorable and engaging. It is a very quick read with short chapters alternating between the present and memories of Mike's childhood. The story talks about real-life class struggles, immigrant lives, socioeconomic issues, homophobia, and racial issues through situations without being preachy. The story would appeal to young adults coming out of high school/college who are still trying to figure out who they are and what they want to do with their lives, as well as those who have tried to get ahead despite the many setbacks that have come their way. The author purposely wraps everything up with an ending that should satisfy readers.

The Sellout by Paul Beatty
In the Ditch by Buchi Emecheta
Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Jessica Brown, Patchogue-Medford Library

Waking Lions by Ayelet Gundar-Goshan

The novel is set in modern-day Israel with Dr. Eitan Green and his wife moving to Beersheeba after Dr. Green uncovers corruption at the hospital he worked at in Tel Aviv and is forced to take a less desirable position in the Negev desert. Driving home after a long shift at the new hospital, an exhausted Dr. Green takes his eyes off the road for a moment to take a look at the full moon and accidentally hits and kills a man who is walking down the road. Unable to do anything, Dr. Green flees the scene only to be found by the dead man's wife the next day after she discovers his wallet at the scene. She has an unusual demand, she will keep quiet about what happened if he agrees to meet her at night to treat an patient in an abandoned garage behind the cafe where she works. However, it isn't just one night and one patient, it's night after night and patient after patient. They are all illegal aliens who are refused medical care. These circumstances force Dr. Green to lie to everyone including his wife, the police detective assigned to the case.

This is a riveting read that you won't be able to put down.

The Fugitive Wife by Peter C. Brown
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan
Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell

Kathleen Carter, Riverhead Free Library

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Tom is a man with a secret. He may look 40, but he’s really almost 440. He’s got what a doctor from his past has termed anageria. He ages so slowly, it looks like he’s barely aging at all. Over the years he’s met famous people like the explorer Captain Cook and writer William Shakespeare, but who he really wants to meet again is his daughter Marion, whom he hasn’t seen in just over 400 years. As Tom searches for answers to what he is, he is taken in by the secret Albatross Society, sworn to keep people like him secret from the world no matter what the cost. Every 7 years or so, the Albatross Society relocates Tom to keep his condition hidden, but in return he has to do them a favor and try to recruit others like him. Tom is tired of the constant hiding and relocating and the promises of Hendrich, the head of the Society, to help him find his daughter. When Tom contacts Hendrich and says he wants to lead an ordinary life, Hendrich agrees to relocate him back to London as a history teacher at a private school. He must follow the rules, though, don’t tell anyone about his condition and never fall in love. Both prove difficult as Tom quickly makes friends with Camille, the French teacher, who recognizes him from a photograph taken in the 1920s. This starts a series of events that lead Tom to realize not everything is what he thought, and these changes might actually be for the better.

How to Stop Time is part historical, part fantasy, part romance, with just a touch of suspense. Tom’s memories take us back in time as we learn about his childhood, his mother, how he fell in love for the first time, and his adventures as he travels the high seas, plays the lute at the Globe Theatre, and plays piano at a jazz bar where he meets F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. In the present, as he teaches his students about history, most of it lived firsthand, he recreates the London of old, and tries not to talk to anyone lest his secret come out. Although an interesting premise, the back and forth in time sometimes slows down the readability of the book. Tom’s headaches and hiding become a bit repetitive and Hendrich’s tactics of keeping control of Tom are quite predictable. The ending is a bit of a surprise, but most readers will probably have figured out what’s going to happen and that Hendrich doesn’t really have Tom’s best interest at heart. How to Stop Time will appeal to both men and women with its historical references and light romance. Also recommend to readers looking for light fantasy, those who like time travel, and those who are fans of TV shows like Timeless and Forever.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald
Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
The Fifteen Live of Harry August by Claire North

Azurée Agnello, West Babylon Public Library

Before the Fall Noah Hawley

On a foggy summer night, eleven people leave Martha's Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs, a 40-something failed painter and a four-year-old boy, JJ, who is now the last remaining member of a wealthy and powerful media mogul's family.

Except for Scott and the crew, the passengers are movers and shakers. As their public and private intrigues become known, odd coincidences point to a conspiracy. Was it merely by dumb chance that so many influential people perished? Or was something far more sinister at work? Events soon threaten to spiral out of control in an escalating frenzy of media outrage and accusations.

Scott struggles to cope with fame that borders on notoriety, and his fragile relationship with JJ, while the authorities try to pin down the reason for the crash. Hawley explores the questions of fate, human nature, and the ties that bind us together in this literary thriller.

Fast-paced. Gritty language. Acquired by Sony Pictures with Hawley as the scriptwriter.

The Harder They Come by T. Coraghessan Boyle
Numero Zero by Umberto Eco
The Professor of Truth by James Robertson

Grace O'Connor, West Islip Public Library, Retired

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

Paulette Jiles’ News of the World was a nominee for the 2016 National Book Award. Set in post-Civil War Texas, this short novel is a western, an adventure story, and a beautifully written work that explores the boundaries of family, honor, trust and love.

It is 1870 in rainy, cold North Texas where we are introduced to 72-year-old widower, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd. The retired army Captain travels from town to town giving live newspaper readings to paying audiences, anxious to hear the news of the world. While in Wichita Falls he is offered a $50 gold piece to transport a young orphan to her distant relatives, 400 miles away.  Recently rescued by the U.S. army, 10-year-old Johanna had been captured four years earlier by the Kiowa Indians and raised as one of their own. She has forgotten English, eats with her hands and tries to escape at every chance. But as they travel together they form a bond that becomes impossible to break.

The chaos of the time and the difficult journey, interrupted by violent weather, bandits and Comanche raids create a sense of suspense and urgency. Most of the novel is told in 3rd person narrated by the Captain. This is a character driven story written with carefully chosen words (the author is a poet) about a journey and bonding between two strangers, the joys of freedom and the natural world, morality, and the violent and dangerous life on the frontier.

At only 213 pages, this is a brief but expansive read. The author is adept at packing a lot into a few words. With the current emphasis on “fake news” this fascinating story of a news reader reminds us of a long ago time when people had to wait and rely on expert readers to bring the news of the world to them.

One Thousand White Women - The Journals of May Dodd by Jim Fergus
True Grit by Charles Portis
The Removes by Tatjana Soli

Candace Reeder, Northport-East Northport Public Library

The Lighthouse by Allison Moore

Deceptively brief in length, The Lighthouse is a novel fraught with the psychological underpinnings of a man searching for redemption. After his wife leaves him, Futh decides that a week-long walking holiday through Germany will help him clear his head and put things in perspective. Each chapter in the book derives its title from things that spark memories for Futh - Violets, Oranges, Coffee, Camphor - and as the experiences associated with these smalls or objects have lingered and traumatized him from childhood into adulthood, the memories are, for the most part, unpleasant. The only source of comfort that Futh has is a small lighthouse-shaped vial that used to hold his mother's perfume - an object he keeps close at hand, often stroking it for reassurance. But even as the vial provides a sense of security, in the end it leads to an explosive situation - one the reader man not have seen coming, but very well may have felt coming. 

Merely 200 pages in length, this introspective novel moves slowly as it develops, but that's okay as it should also be read slowly, allowing for the digestion of Moore's deliberate and pensive prose. The atmosphere is dark, foreboding and suspenseful. More like an independent film than a Hollywood production, The Lighthouse may not appeal to everyone. But if you're interested in how past life experiences can affect the inner workings of a person's mind, this book provides much for discussion and reflection, and is a book for you.

Less by Andrew Sean Greer
The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
The Sky Manifest by Brian Panhuyzen

Deborah Formosa, Northport-East Northport Public Library

Men Without Women by Haruki Murakami

This book of seven short stories centers on men who find themselves alone. They are curious, funny, and odd, telling stories of the women in their lives, real or imagined; present or past.

In Drive My Car, a widower can’t figure out why his wife had affairs while married to him. He befriends his late wife’s lover and his new female chauffeur looking for answers. In Yesterday, the narrator remembers a friend of only a few months who’d asked him to date his girlfriend because he didn’t think he was good enough for her. A plastic surgeon falls in love for the first time with a woman he can never have; an isolated shut-in looks forward to stories from his nurse (about her unrequited love in high school); after his wife divorces him, a man quits his job and opens a bar that barely pays for itself as he listens to his jazz records by himself; in a nod to Kafka, Gregor Samsa returns to being human in an empty house and must relearn how to walk, dress, eat, etc. by himself. The title and final story centers on a man’s former girlfriend’s suicide. The narrator states: “It’s quite easy to become Men Without Women. You love a woman deeply, and then she goes off somewhere.”

The men in these stories are passive. Things happen to them rather than them doing things. (Perhaps this is why the women leave?) But, it doesn’t matter how or why the women leave, just that they do, and the men are left alone and isolated, trying to figure things out how to live without women.

A Kind of Flying by Ron Carlson
This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz
The Appearance of a Hero by Tom Levine

Lori Ludlow, Babylon Public Library

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North

Harry August is a kalachakra, a term which refers to the Buddhist idea of the Wheel of Time.  Kalachakras are people who are born again and again into the same life, with full memory of what they have done previously. Harry is born on January 1, 1919, the illegitimate son of a wealthy British landowner. His mother dies in childbirth, and he is adopted by a childless couple living on the estate.  So much is the same, over and over again. The rest of life differs, although it often follows a similar pattern from one life to the next.

Naturally, there is a society of kalachakras, which, while the individual members are only loosely connected, has very strict rules about changing the timeline. After all, when you’re reborn knowing what will happen throughout your lifespan, there’s lots of potential to wreak havoc. The Chronus Club also has mechanisms for communicating into the past or future, which is how Harry learns that the world is ending. As he is dying for the 11th time, in 1996, he is told that the world ends in a thousand years and that future generations are powerless to stop it.

Armed with this knowledge, Harry enters his next cycle and passes this information on to other members of the Chronus Club, which embarks on a long term plan (think, several lifetimes) to figure what’s causing the end of the world and how to stop it. In the course of this mission, Harry tells us a great deal about how he’s lived his previous lives. The bulk of the dramatic drive of the book, though, comes from the question of whether Harry will be able to solve the mystery of the end of the world, before he himself is destroyed.

This engaging, lyrical work of light science fiction will appeal to readers who enjoy philosophical musings on the nature of memory and time.

Life After Life by Kate Atkinson
How to Stop Time by Matt Haig
The 7 and a Half Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Thurton

Mara Zonderman, Westhampton Free Library

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

Ondaatje begins with one of the best opening lines: “In 1945 our parents went away and left us in the care of two men who may have been criminals.” That voice belongs to Nicholas, as he looks back after many decades on the strange events which began that day. Narrator Nicholas was 14 and his sister, Rachel, was 16 when their parents told them they were going away, to Singapore, for a year.  A man known as the Moth, with his unique cast of friends, became their caregivers, staying in their home and supervising their activities. Everything takes place in London just as the war has ended. “Warlight” is a major motif for the story: the city, still war damaged, slowly emerging from the enforced darkness of the war years, and the two children struggling to make their way in such confusing, shadowy circumstances. Another motif echoes this one: “Mein Herz ist schwer” (my heart is heavy) a phrase adopted by the children which well describes the pain of their nearly unreal existence.
Much of the story is painful, and some of it is violent. It is filled with secrets, lies and intrigue, and beautifully written. The writing is lyrical and creates a dream-like atmosphere well suited to the story told. It is character driven, peopled with unique, well developed individuals with compelling story lines. “Warlight” has an intricate plot, as the author reveals events through the memories of the now grown Nicholas. The revelation about his mother, while stunning, will not surprise the reader and pulls all the plot threads together.

God on the Rocks by Jane Gardam
The Labyrinth Makers by Anthony Price
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Suzanne McGuire, Commack Public Library