For so many of us, 2020 has been a year of tension, uncertainty and claustrophobia. Sometimes, I read to escape those realities, but every so often, it’s nice to read a book that reminds you that things could be worse.
Unassuming at first, but building to a terrifying crescendo, “Leave the World Behind” by Rumaan Alam is just that book.
“Leave the World Behind” begins, innocently enough, with a family leaving New York City to spend a vacation at a rented house near the beach. Through narration that cycles through each family member’s thoughts, we are introduced to a typical, middle-class family, with mundane lives and concerns. Their vacation at the remote house in the woods is a much-needed luxury.
After several dreamy days of swimming and sunning, their idyll is interrupted by a knock at the door, late at night. They open it to find an older Black couple, the owners of the house, who have fled a massive power failure in the city. They plan to stay at the house, too, escaping the uncertainty in the city to a place that feels safe.
Fact: In 1848 British explorer John Franklin and his expedition company of 129 men vanished into the frozen Arctic.
Fact: In the years following his disappearance his widow, Lady Jane Franklin devoted her life to searching for clues to his fate.
From these facts, Greer McCallister has created a tale of suspenseful adventure. McCallister says that she knew she wanted to write an empowering historical novel from a female point of view. She found Lady Jane’s obsession with finding her husband to be the kernel of truth she would use for her latest novel The Arctic Fury. From this little seed of fact McCallister created a fresh, original tale that is suspenseful and captivating.
The Invisible Life of Addie Larue will, without a shadow of doubt, leave a last impression.
It is the unique story of a young French girl in 1714 who wants more than her time period allows. More independence, more freedom, more choices in life. She spends years praying to the gods for freedom, but her requests go unanswered. In a moment of despair, right before she is supposed to marry the man her family chose for her, she prays after dark, and a god she knows better than to trust, better than to listen, answers.
A deal is made. She wins her freedom and immortality. She can have it until the day she is ready to give the god of the dark her soul.
She is free from a loveless marriage, but she is also free from everyone she loves, free from everyone that ever has or will cross her path. Because you see, the price for freedom is to be forgotten. She will meet someone now, and as soon as they walk way, they will forget meeting her. It is as if they've never met. She lives her life like nothing more than a shadow, something that is there one minute but not there the next. And the dark, who she calls Luke, he is there every year on the anniversary of her deal asking her to wield, demanding she give up.
After nearly 300 years defying Luke, with one chance encounter, everything changes. Addie finally meets someone that doesn't immediately forgets her. I wish I could tell you more about him, but I can't, not without giving away very important parts of this heartbreaking story.
Addie's life will crush you. How is a girl, hundreds of years ago, to find clothes, food, and shelter when no one remembers her for more than a moment? The things she has to do and endure will break your heart. This is a fantasy novel, but it also teaches valuable lessons about the things we can and cannot live without. About commodities we take for granted. About friends and family we love to complain about but would be destroyed if taken from us. About the true meaning of freedom and happiness.
It is hard to believe it is already December. At the same time, I am so very glad it is already December... I am sure I am not alone in that! And as such, it is time to look back at our fall bestseller list. I was really happy while putting this list together to see that 3 of our bestselling books this fall are from local authors. Here are the Inklings Bestsellers from September to date:
I have always enjoyed books that uncover the hidden and often overlooked influence strong women have had on historical events. When my copy of “Tsarina” by Ellen Alpsten arrived, I was excited to enter once again the world of Imperial Russia of the 1700s.
I met Rob Phllips a few weeks ago. He had on a mask. So, I might not be able to recognize him on the street after Covid-19. I have, however, read his Yakima Herald Republic column for years. I love the comfortable way he writes, never exuding the expert outdoorsman vibe that keeps others from wanting to participate in woodsy exploration. His writing is inviting and includes the reader in his adventures. He loves dogs, too, a fine character quality if you ask me. Rob wondered if Inklings might be willing to stock his book and he left our staff a reading copy of his book. When I told him we would be honored to stock it, he brought in an armful of books and a nice display to get us started. We’ve refilled the display four times and I’ve made another order for 30 more.
Rob is a guy who has made the most of this hunker-down time. He wrote a book! What did you do? I played Words with Friends, cooked and ate things. Rob redeemed the time with turning out a clever mystery firmly set in the mountains and valleys near Yakima, a region he knows very well.
I've always enjoyed reading Agatha Christie mysteries. They are gems in the mystery world that have remained very popular over the decades. A recent British author has been receiving deserved praise lately. Lucy Foley is a young English author who lives in England. She studied English literature at Durham University and University College London. She worked several years as a fiction editor in the publishing industry before becoming an author. She has a solid background and practical experience in British literature and knows how to create suspense and surprise in interesting contemporary plots. Foley's early books are The Book of Lost and Found, The Invitation, and The Hunting Party. Foley's newest mystery novel is The Guest List.
The plot of The Guest List follows a successful formula for British mysteries. A group of people, usually family and friends, are invited to a social event that is happening at an isolated location. In this case, the location is a small rocky island off of the Irish coast. The occasion is the wedding of a famous couple. The groom is the handsome star of a famous british television survival show. The bride is the publisher of a popular online magazine called the Download. The groom's guests are mainly lifelong friends he went to school with. The bride's guests are a few of her magazine's staff and some of her family.
Suffice it to say that Halloween is going to look a little different this year. Why not make Halloween 2020 an out-of-the-box experience? The crisp autumn weather makes the perfect time for a cozy family read along. Choose a ghost story, pop some corn or make some hot chocolate, and settle in for a spooky middle grades chapter book. These books are written at the 5th-6th grade reading level and would be perfect to read aloud to your upper elementary aged youngsters. Each is scary, but not too scary, and captivatingly suspenseful.
Trace, by Pat Cummings. This story’s most exciting events take place on Halloween in New York City. Trace's parents were recently killed in a tragic car accident and he has been sent to Brooklyn to live with his eccentric Auntie Lea. While working on a school project at the New York Public Library he finds himself wandering lost in a remote part of the vast basement. There he meets the ghost of a little orphan boy from 1863. It’s a terrific ghost story about grief, family, acceptance, and self-confidence.
If you were a middle grader in the nineties you may remember Wait Till Helen Comes, by the first lady of middle grades suspense, Mary Downing Hahn. In Wait Till Helen Comes three siblings deal with an entity who tries to lure the children into the pond behind their home in order to see them drown. Many consider Wait Till Helen Comes the flagship of children’s chapter suspense. Your audience will be in the palm of your hand!
Also by Mary Downing Hahn is Took: A Ghost Story. In this one, 13 year old Daniel moves from posh Connecticut to rural West Virginia. His new classmates tell him the mountain tale of the Ghost Witch who steals children, especially little girls. Daniel is pretty sure he is getting the “new kid treatment” until his little sister goes missing. Was she “took”?
Here are other recommended ghostly titles we have in the shop this week:
If you and I have talked about books in the past 3 months, you’ve heard me mention Hench. I’ve hand-sold it to countless friends, reviewed it on Libro.fm, and even wrote a short blurb about it for last week’s Scene. What’s so great about this book (I hear you asking)? Hench is one of the most exciting, fun, and thought-provoking books that I’ve read so far this year, and it provides a wonderful escape from the doldrums of daily life.
Hench follows the trials and tribulations of Anna, a millennial woman trying to make ends meet in a gig economy by taking temp jobs. It’s a familiar situation, but Anna’s industry is special: she’s a hench-for-hire, providing her talent for data analysis to villains, as needed. When Anna gets a permanent position working for mid-level villain the Electric Eel, it seems like things are looking up (even though she hates her coworkers and office, and isn’t too sure about Electric Eel, who asks people how they feel a little too often and ends every interaction with “namaste”). All of her hard-won progress falls apart, however, when Electric Eel brings her along to a press conference where things go terribly, terribly wrong. Anna is caught in the crossfire and suffers a gruesome injury at the hands of hero Supercollider.
And so, laid off from her job with a “thank you for your service” letter, and facing a long and painful recovery, Anna struggles to find meaning in her life. She discovers it in an unexpected place: in spreadsheets and algorithms, mapping out the true costs, in money and lives, of Supercollider’s “heroics”. As she digs deeper into Supercollider’s past, uncovering the myriad innocent lives he’s ended or ruined, she attracts the notice of the notorious supervillain Leviathan. A former ally of Supercollider, he understands, better than anyone, what an unchecked superhero is capable of. In Leviathan’s employ, Anna finds the things that her life has been missing: purpose, camaraderie, stability, and more. And together, Anna and Leviathan will change the way the world sees superheroes, forever.
Now, if you haven’t spent the past year living under a rock (and if you HAVE, may I join you there?), you’ll probably notice some similarities between the comic book series/show The Boys, another franchise that focuses on the dark side of heroism. And while the similarities are certainly there, Hench is a wholly original and enjoyable novel, and stands up well against comparison. Anna is an achingly relatable character, and you’ll cheer for her as she emerges from her shroud of self-doubt and unresolved trauma and becomes the anti-hero she was meant to be. Tackling issues like feminism, moral-ambiguity and office politics in the most exciting way possible, Hench is a thoroughly enjoyable piece of escapist literature. And right now, who doesn’t want to escape from the world, one chapter at a time?