Harlem Shuffle – Colson Whitehead

This is a very different book from Whitehead’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novels The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys. The setting is Harlem in the early 1960s, so a time of change in the racial dynamics of New York City. The principal character, Ray Carney, sells furniture but also occasionally sells or disposes of stolen items. On page 31, it is stated that “Carney was only slightly bent when it came to being crooked”. However, his ne’er-do-well cousin Freddie involves him in some serious criminal activity, so the story is enriched by gangsters, crooked cops and corrupt bankers. Ultimately this is a heist and crime story within the cultural context of Harlem. Overall, brilliant writing, as always. Thanks Amy, for giving me this fantastic book.

Humans of New York City Stories – Brandon Stanton

This is a remarkable book of street photography coupled with brief but insightful narratives from interviews with the subjects. The photos are outstanding but the narratives, the comments, are sometimes astonishingly candid. Comments range from the unbridled optimism of children to introspective insights from adults regarding loneliness and isolation that may include mental illness. This is a riveting book for NY-philes. Thanks Sarah, for giving me this book.

The Hidden Palace – Helene Wecker

A sequel to Ms. Wecker’s fabulous The Golem and the Jinni. Part of the charm of the story is the place, New York City from 1910-15, with tenements and factory fires and a Hebrew orphanage. Characters form the first book (Ahmad, Chava, Sophie) are supplemented by a tempestuous female jinni, Dima, in Syria, and Kreindel, an orphan with her own golem. Relationships are volatile; this is a historical epic story.

The Book of Accidents – Chuck Wendig

Nate, Maddie and their 15-year-old son Oliver move to rural Pennsylvania, and strange sinister things begin to happen. What follows is a Stephen King-like gothic thriller, with dark magic, alternate realities, a demon attempting to orchestrate the end of times (aka, the apocalypse). In short, a cracking good story.

Long Bright River – Liz Moore

Mickey is a patrol officer with the Philadelphia Police Department. Her routine patrol activities include searching for her sister Kacey, an addict and sex worker who is missing.  And there is a serial killer preying on young women. Overall a gritty relationship story: there are no completely good guys. Mickey in particular is deeply flawed and makes bad decisions. The plot is seductively delicious with a lot of misdirection. Thanks Amy, for this recommendation.

The Water Dancer – Te-Nehisi Coates

A novel examination of slavery in Virginia. Hiram Walker has a mysterious power, so he is recruited for the underground. Overall, a powerful story of families separated by duplicitous acts such as the sale of individuals into slavery, with the resulting conflict between the slavers and enslaved. Harriet Tubman is introduced as someone who shares Hiram’s power. This is Coates’ first novel, and predictably his writing is superb.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek – Kim Michelle Richardson

The setting is rural Kentucky in 1936. Cussy (aka Bluet) has a rare genetic condition that produces blue skin (met-hemoglobinemia). Without marriage prospects (by choice), Cussy joins the Pack Horse Library Project, delivering books to remote desperately poor hill communities. The transformative power of books and literacy is offset by shocking prejudice against “coloreds” and some crushing poverty. So be warned, readers will shed some tears. Thanks Joyce, for this recommendation.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue – V. E. Schwab

Ms. Schwab wrote the fabulous Shades of Magic trilogy and this new book is also a tour-de-force entry in the genre of speculative fiction. In 1714, Adeline (Addie) makes a Faustian deal with a devil (an old god of darkness) to avoid the tedium of an arranged marriage, asking for “time, a chance to live and be free”.  She is granted immortality, but with a curse: that everyone who meets her then forgets her instantly, making her invisible. For 300 years, she struggles to leave her mark in the world. Then in 2014, she enters a bookstore in New York and the bookstore worker says “I remember you” because she stole a book the previous day! This is a sweeping fantasy: a love story that explores the differences between needs and wants, art and inspiration. The final setting of New York City with a central role of a bookstore is, of course, very attractive. Highly recommended.

How a Woman Becomes a Lake – Marjorie Celona

A beautifully written story set in a small town in Washington state in 1986, a mystery about a missing person. Celona’s description of flawed family relationships is harrowing; guilt, shame, grief, and blame are all factors. The merciless weight of carrying secrets and the ongoing cost of keeping these secrets are dominant themes. And there is an intriguing treatment of an after-death perspective. Highly recommended.