It is no secret by now that I love to read. Books have been with me my whole life as an avenue to reflect, think, laugh, cry, connect, and be entertained. I am truly thankful for the authors, the bookstores, and the books that inspire me to read and recommend books each month to other readers. These 9 for November are a literary feast of fiction and nonfiction, true crime and fantasy, ghost story and coming of age, memoir and legal thriller. Thanks for reading!
I’ll Take You There by Wally Lamb
I’ll Take You There centers on Felix, a film scholar who runs a Monday night movie club in what was once a vaudeville theater. One evening, while setting up a film in the projectionist booth, he’s confronted by the ghost of Lois Weber, a trailblazing motion picture director from Hollywood’s silent film era. Lois invites Felix to revisit, and in some cases relive, scenes from his past as they are projected onto the cinema’s big screen. In these magical movies, the medium of film becomes the lens for Felix to reflect on the women who profoundly impacted his life. There’s his daughter Aliza, a Gen Y writer for New York Magazine who is trying to align her post-modern feminist beliefs with her lofty career ambitions; his sister, Frances, with whom he once shared a complicated bond of kindness and cruelty; and Verna, a fiery would-be contender for the 1951 Miss Rheingold competition, a beauty contest sponsored by a Brooklyn-based beer manufacturer that became a marketing phenomenon for two decades. At first unnerved by these ethereal apparitions, Felix comes to look forward to his encounters with Lois, who is later joined by the spirits of other celluloid muses.
Tim says: Wally Lamb has been a favorite author of mine for years. This book has a little bit of everything – ghost story to history lesson of Hollywood. It is also being released as an app on your phone with interactive features, but I insist on holding a book to read. Nothing beats turning those pages.
Faithful by Alice Hoffman
Growing up on Long Island, Shelby Richmond is an ordinary girl until one night an extraordinary tragedy changes her fate. Her best friend’s future is destroyed in an accident, while Shelby walks away with the burden of guilt. What happens when a life is turned inside out? When love is something so distant it may as well be a star in the sky? Faithful is the story of a survivor, filled with emotion from dark suffering to true happiness, a moving portrait of a young woman finding her way in the modern world. A fan of Chinese food, dogs, bookstores, and men she should stay away from, Shelby has to fight her way back to her own future. In New York City she finds a circle of lost and found souls including an angel who’s been watching over her ever since that fateful icy night. Here is a character you will fall in love with, so believable and real and endearing, that she captures both the ache of loneliness and the joy of finding yourself at last. For anyone who’s ever been a hurt teenager, for every mother of a daughter who has lost her way, Faithful is a roadmap.
Tim says: Alice Hoffman is a beautiful person and her new book is a good story with a memorable character. You will see yourself in Shelby as she faces the joys and sorrows of life. It also has that signature magical realism that Alice is known and loved for!
The Terranauts by T.C. Boyle
It is 1994, and in the desert near Tillman, Arizona, forty miles from Tucson, a grand experiment involving the future of humanity is underway. As climate change threatens the earth, eight scientists, four men and four women dubbed the “Terranauts,” have been selected to live under glass in E2, a prototype of a possible off-earth colony. Their sealed, three-acre compound comprises five biomes rainforest, savanna, desert, ocean, and marsh and enough wildlife, water, and vegetation to sustain them. Closely monitored by an all-seeing Mission Control, this New Eden is the brainchild of ecovisionary Jeremiah Reed, aka G.C. “God the Creator”, for whom the project is both an adventure in scientific discovery and a momentous publicity stunt. In addition to their roles as medics, farmers, biologists, and survivalists, his young, strapping Terranauts must impress watchful visitors and a skeptical media curious to see if E2’s environment will somehow be compromised, forcing the Ecosphere’s seal to be broken and ending the mission in failure. As the Terranauts face increased scrutiny and a host of disasters, both natural and of their own making, their mantra: “Nothing in, nothing out,” becomes a dangerously ferocious rallying cry.
Tim says: I loved the premise of this one. It is a telling tale of what human beings are capable of.
Swing Time by Zadie Smith
Two brown girls dream of being dancers — but only one, Tracey, has talent. The other has ideas: about rhythm and time, about black bodies and black music, what constitutes a tribe, or makes a person truly free. It’s a close but complicated childhood friendship that ends abruptly in their early twenties, never to be revisited, but never quite forgotten, either. Dazzlingly energetic and deeply human, Swing Time is a story about friendship and music and stubborn roots, about how we are shaped by these things and how we can survive them. Moving from North-West London to West Africa, it is an exuberant dance to the music of time.
Tim says: My first Zadie Smith book and not my last. This book centers on some timeless themes of family, friendship, and finding your way in life.
Heartless by Marissa Meyer
Long before she was the terror of Wonderland, she was just a girl who wanted to fall in love. Catherine may be one of the most desired girls in Wonderland, and a favorite of the unmarried King of Hearts, but her interests lie elsewhere. A talented baker, all she wants is to open a shop with her best friend. But according to her mother, such a goal is unthinkable for the young woman who could be the next queen. Then Cath meets Jest, the handsome and mysterious court joker. For the first time, she feels the pull of true attraction. At the risk of offending the king and infuriating her parents, she and Jest enter into an intense, secret courtship. Cath is determined to define her own destiny and fall in love on her terms. But in a land thriving with magic, madness, and monsters, fate has other plans.
Tim says: I love a retelling! Just like Gregory Maquire did with the Wicked Witch of the West, Marissa Meyer enters the world of Wonderland and tells us how “The Queen of Hearts” became the character we know today! It was fun, well-written, suitable for many ages, and you can tell Meyer put her whole HEART into this one.
The year was 1899 and the place a sweltering tobacco farm in the Jim Crow South town of Truevine, Virginia. George and Willie Muse were two little boys born to a sharecropper family. One day a white man offered them a piece of candy, setting off events that would take them around the world and change their lives forever. Captured into the circus, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York’s Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even “Ambassadors from Mars.” Back home, their mother never accepted that they were “gone” and spent 28 years trying to get them back. Through hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Beth Macy expertly explores a central and difficult question: Where were the brothers better off? On the world stage as stars or in poverty at home? Truevine is a compelling narrative rich in historical detail and rife with implications to race relations today.
Tim says: Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction. From the first page, this book shocked me. From the horrors of slavery to the love of a mother for her two sons, the story gave me all the feels.
Who Killed These Girls? Cold Case: The Yogurt Shop Murders by Beverly Lowry
The facts are brutally straightforward. On December 6, 1991, the naked, bound-and-gagged bodies of the four girls — each one shot in the head — were found in an I Can’t Believe It’s Yogurt shop in Austin, Texas. Grief, shock, and horror spread out from their families and friends to overtake the city itself. Though all branches of law enforcement were brought to bear, the investigation was often misdirected and after eight years only two men (then teenagers) were tried; moreover, their subsequent convictions were eventually overturned, and Austin PD detectives are still working on what is now a very cold case. Over the decades, the story has grown to include DNA technology, false confessions, and other developments facing crime and punishment in contemporary life. But this story belongs to the scores of people involved, and from them Lowry has fashioned a riveting saga that reads like a Russian novel, comprehensive and thoroughly engrossing.
Tim says: Not for the faint of heart, this true crime book was an intense look at a cold case from 1991. For fans of the documentary Making A Murderer and the podcast Serial Season 1, I found this account fascinating and highly recommend it. It dives into the reasons for false confessions, police interrogations, and DNA discoveries.
The Whistler by John Grisham
Lacy Stoltz is an investigator for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct. She is a lawyer, not a cop, and it is her job to respond to complaints dealing with judicial misconduct. After nine years with the Board, she knows that most problems are caused by incompetence, not corruption. But a corruption case eventually crosses her desk. A previously disbarred lawyer is back in business with a new identity. He now goes by the name Greg Myers, and he claims to know of a Florida judge who has stolen more money than all other crooked judges combined. And not just crooked judges in Florida. All judges, from all states, and throughout U.S. history. What’s the source of the ill-gotten gains? It seems the judge was secretly involved with the construction of a large casino on Native American land. The Coast Mafia financed the casino and is now helping itself to a sizable skim of each month’s cash. The judge is getting a cut and looking the other way. It’s a sweet deal: Everyone is making money. But now Greg wants to put a stop to it. His only client is a person who knows the truth and wants to blow the whistle and collect millions under Florida law. Greg files a complaint with the Board on Judicial Conduct, and the case is assigned to Lacy Stoltz, who immediately suspects that this one could be dangerous. Dangerous is one thing. Deadly is something else.
Tim says: Fiction this good should not be LEGAL! Despite his popularity, Grisham never rests on his laurels, and always delivers a finely crafted story with a thrilling plot. I read it in one sitting.
Moonglow by Michael Chabon
Moonglow unfolds as the deathbed confession of a man the narrator refers to only as “my grandfather.” It is a tale of madness, of war and adventure, of sex and marriage and desire, of existential doubt and model rocketry, of the shining aspirations and demonic underpinnings of American technological accomplishment at midcentury, and, above all, of the destructive impact and the creative power of keeping secrets and telling lies. It is a portrait of the difficult but passionate love between the narrator’s grandfather and his grandmother, an enigmatic woman broken by her experience growing up in war-torn France. It is also a tour de force of speculative autobiography in which Chabon devises and reveals a secret history of his own imagination. From the Jewish slums of prewar South Philadelphia to the invasion of Germany, from a Florida retirement village to the penal utopia of New York’s Wallkill prison, from the heyday of the space program to the twilight of the American Century, the novel revisits an entire era through a single life and collapses a lifetime into a single week. A lie that tells the truth, a work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is Chabon at his most moving and inventive.
Tim says: A work of fictional nonfiction, an autobiography wrapped in a novel disguised as a memoir, Moonglow is unique and moving.
Tim Ehrenberg is owner of Brand New – Nantucket, an innovative and creative marketing business with a diverse list of Island clients, including local bookstores Mitchell’s & Bookworks. An avid reader from a young age, Tim can always be found with a new book in his beach bag. For weekly recommendations and for the Island buzz on books, visit @nantucketbooks on Instagram!