"Games to Play After Dark" by Sarah Gardner Borden (Vintage, May 2011, PB $14.95)
Throughout the debut novel by Sarah Gardner Borden, "Games to Play After Dark," runs a thread of violence. Passed down through generations, domestic violence pervades marriages until one can break the cycle. Kate and Colin appear to be a happy and prosperous couple living in domestic stability with their two young daughters in southern Connecticut. The reader learns that Kate's father had a tendency for slapping his teenage daughter after he learned of her sexual dalliances with the boy next door, the knowledge of which changed the father-daughter relationship forever. In a fit of rage on a cold snowy day, Kate bruises her own daughter's cheek when she misbehaves. Tension is felt throughout Borden's novel until it implodes in a violent kitchen argument between Kate and Colin, upending their life and cementing in Kate's mind that she is no longer the mother nor the wife she appears to be on the surface. "Games to Play After Dark" is a read you will not put down.
"The White Woman on the Green Bicycle" by Monique Roffey (Penguin, April 2011, $16)
George and Sabine are newlyweds who find themselves in post-independence Trinidad in 1956, expatriates in a land challenged by racial segregation and political unrest. George is a tight-lipped Brit while Sabine is an emotionally voluptuous French woman who wants more out of life than what is set before her in Trinidad. Sabine finds herself fascinated by Eric Williams, Trinidad's new leader, and wiles away her time in the tropical humidity writing secret letters to him, stuffing them away in a shoebox and never mailing them. I was most attracted to the cover of this novel, and delightfully found myself enthralled and totally caught up in George and Sabine's marriage and life on Trinidad where they are "destined to remain outsiders in the only place they can call home." As The Independent (London) writes: "Roffey's Orange Prize-nominated book is a brilliant, brutal study of a marriage overcast by too much mutual compromise." You will get more from reading this novel than you thought.
"Tiny Sunbirds Far Away" by Christie Watson (Other Press, May 2011, PB $15.95)
Set in the Niger Delta during a time of unrest and boy soldiers, Watson tells a heart-wrenching story through the eyes of 12-year-old Blessing. When Blessing's mother finds her husband in bed with another woman, she takes her two children, Blessing and her asthmatic brother, Ezikiel, to live with her grandparents in their rural village far away from their comfortable apartment in Lagos. Life is fraught with poverty, political unrest and is dangerous outside the gate of the little house where Blessing now lives, rather unsettled and surrounded by a cacophony of numerous family members. Blessing's grandmother is the village midwife and takes Blessing under her wing to teach her all she knows. Meanwhile her mother starts dating a white man, against all family rules, and unknowingly casts Ezikiel out into the world of boy soldiers, inviting violence through the gate. Beautifully written, this powerful coming of age story shows us an Africa and their people that we would otherwise not know very well.
"This Life is in Your Hands" by Melissa Coleman (Harper Collins, May 2011, HC $25.99)
"This Life is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres and a Family Undone" is an honest and superbly written account of an idyllic reality gone awry. Coleman's hippie parents became disciples of Helen and Scott Nearing, a back-to-the-earth couple carving out a self-sufficient life in remote coastal Maine and digging into the sandy earth to create an organic lifestyle in the 1970's while raising a family. Macrobiotic diets, naked farmhands harvesting in summer fecundity, and the accidental drowning of their three-year-old daughter threaten the idyllic and simple life that Eliot and Sue Coleman are striving for. Melissa Coleman digs up her complicated past in elegant prose in "This Life is in Your Hands," making you wonder how she turned out to be so strong. I picked this up at the Fall NEIBA conference and could not put it down. Everything sounds so physically hard, not to mention the emotional turmoil her mother dealt with in the loss of her youngest child, coupled with her husband's sexual dalliances with the hard-bodied and naked female vegetable harvesters.
"This Burns My Heart" by Samuel Park (Simon and Schuster, July 2011, HC, $25)
It's not often that I go home for lunch when the real reason is to finish a book I am loving. And then I eat something, not really caring what it is because I am so engrossed. The plate gets shoved away and the only world that exists in those last few pages is that of the characters. "This Burns My Heart" by Samuel Park brought tears to my eyes. Park captured the longing of a love you cannot have but cannot let go. Park also shows how Korean customs in the 1960s placed a marriage on unequal footing and hindered a woman's desire to succeed. Toward the end, Park illustrates the bond between a mother and daughter that not even a doting father can transcend. Park understands the female emotions and our innate desire to nurture others before ourselves and brings this to us in his spellbinding, impassioned debut novel.
"Turn of Mind" by Alice LaPlante (Grove Atlantic, July 2011, HC, $24)
"At our Alzheimer's support group today, we talk about what we hate. Hate is a powerful emotion, our young leader says. Ask a dementia patient who she loves, and she draws a blank. Ask her who she hates, and the memories come flooding in." Dr. Jennifer White is a brilliant retired orthopedic surgeon with dementia, who is worsening rapidly. Did she hate her lifelong best friend, Amanda, so much to murder and sever her fingers with the precision of a surgeon's scalpel? Through unraveling complex family dynamics and intimate wounds of long ago, LaPlante creates a thrilling mystery set against a backdrop of a lost memory.