Every month, we’re profiling new-ish releases that are getting critical and commercial buzz. For January, we’re looking at WWII fiction inspired by a true story; a magical realism Western that focuses on the Chinese experience in 1800s America; a look at the gangster past of Hot Springs, Arkansas; and a new feature–a monthly spotlight on new audiobooks.
Kristin Harmel’s The Book of Lost Names (2020)*
When news about a mysterious code inside an old book starts circulating, an elderly librarian in Florida knows exactly what the code is. The memories take her back to her experiences in World War II, hiding from the Nazis in a rural French town and forging identity papers for young Jewish children who are being sent to safety in Switzerland. The code was how she and a fellow forger preserved the identities of the Jewish children too young to remember their real names, before an act of betrayal puts an end to their work. Based on a true story.
Recommended for those who enjoy the work of Heather Morris, Lisa Wingate, Karen Robards, Fiona Davis, and Taylor Jenkins Reid.
*Ebook and audiobook also available on Libby.
C Pam Zhang’s How Much of These Hills is Gold (2020)
Not many Westerns address the stories of the Chinese immigrants who came to the American West, though this imaginative debut novel works to address that literary gap. Lucy and Sam are the orphaned children of Chinese immigrants, and their quest to bury their father leads them on a dangerous fantastical journey. The alternative setting, with the presence of tigers, may turn off those who prefer more traditional Westerns, but the book has been lauded for its originality, gorgeous lyrical prose, haunting plot, and engaging characters.
Recommended for those who enjoy the work of Kawai Strong Washburn, Téa Obreht, and Yaa Gyasi.
David Hill’s The Vapors: A Southern Family, the New York Mob, and the Rise and Fall of Hot Springs, America’s Forgotten Capital of Vice (2020)**
When one thinks of 1920s mob bosses, one usually thinks of Chicago or New York since that’s where the likes of Al Capone, Lucky Luciano, and other notorious gangsters lived. Hot Springs, Arkansas, wouldn’t be on most people’s mob radar, but those who know their local history know that Hot Springs was, well, a mob hot spot–a favored vacation place for the rich and infamous. This book, by a native Arkansan, chronicles the rise and fall of Hot Springs as a Mob Mecca through the experiences of his own family.
Recommended for fans of true crime, mob books, and family sagas–especially when all 3 intertwine.
**Ebook is also available on Libby.
David Heska Wanbli Weiden’s Winter Counts audiobook (2020)
Virgil Wounded Horse makes his living as a paid vigilante. When his neighbors on the Lakota reservation in South Dakota are denied justice through more legal means, they request Virgil’s services for some measure of satisfaction. Things turn personal for Virgil, though, when his own nephew falls victim to the heroin that is infiltrating the reservation. Enough is enough, and Virgil decides to investigate on his own where the drugs are coming from.
Recommended for those who enjoy the work of Tommy Orange.
Note: After one of our readers requested more blog coverage of audiobooks, I’m pleased to be adding them to our monthly Book Buzz rotation, as well as our new monthly What a Wonderful World series. (I’ll also continue to note our digital ebook and audiobook offerings with asterisks.) Another non-digital audiobook I’d also like to draw attention to is our addition of the News of the World audiobook. I profiled this book a couple of years ago. It’s an excellent read, and a movie adaptation of it starring Tom Hanks was also recently released. So, now you can either read the book or listen to the audiobook!
What’s your favorite new-ish books? What books are you buzzing about these days? Have you read any of these books? Tell us in the comments! As always, please follow this link to our online library catalog for more information on any of these items or to place them on hold.