The New David Nicholls, Plus 5 Other Books To Engage You During The Quarantine
From the sweetness of first love to the grittiness of crime—we’ve got book recommendations for you
While one never truly forgets that first love, the memory can bring a wistful smile to one’s face, or be a reminder of the wrong road taken. You may also wonder what this Japanese-American author thinks he’s doing writing about an African-American gumshoe, but both Joe Ide and authoress/screenwriter Attica Locke are two of the more celebrated crime fiction novelists working today. And whether it’s very unique crime fiction, or a twisty mystery set in the world of wealth and privilege, two French writers we’ve recommended deliver the goods in true Gallic charm. Below, six more novels to keep you engaged during the quarantine.
Sweet Sorrow by David Nicholls
Author of popular novels One Day and Us, this is David Nicholls gifting us with a look back that’s both tender, funny, and ultimately, moving. It is a coming-of-age novel that deals with first love, but one suffused with a deep understanding about adolescence—and how incipient adulthood, friendships, family, and that explosion of emotions are all part of the crazy, never to be forgotten, scenario.
At the center of this story is 16-year old Charlie Lewis, described as the one who, years later, you don’t really remember in the school photograph. He lives at home with his father, with Charlie doing more of the taking care of things than the other way around. His refuge, as with so many boys at this stage of life, is with his ‘mates’, and trying to get out of the house as much as possible. And then Fran Fisher bursts into his life, and suddenly, there are hopes and dreams that include her, and bring vivid color into his life.
There’s nothing extraordinary about the two central characters; but what is extraordinary is Nicholls’ writing—how he puts everything into the details, and turns the story into something we can relate to, be nostalgic about, and be moved by. Fran is the artistic type, and there’s a great plot twist that has to do with Charlie joining the company to get close to Fran. The company being the Summer Amateur Theater Group that’s staging Romeo and Juliet. The weaving in of Shakespeare is precious, as is the derision Charlie will face from his ‘mates’, when word gets out that he’s joined the company. Very much a fun read!
The Truants by Kate Weinberg
A debut novel, Kate Weinberg has come up with something compelling, as her university story explores illicit first love, deceit, and the nature of obsession. Set within the framework of four ‘best friends’ at university, the initial common thread weaving between the four is how they’re attending the seminar on Agatha Christie, being given by Dr. Lorna Clay—herself a highly regarded, but controversial, personality. And you’ll love how Weinberg then uses Agatha Christie’s novels and life as a mirror to what transpires.
Jess Walker is our guide and narrator, as she falls in with a tightly knit group of strong-willed individuals who see themselves as more mature, more willing to break rules, than the others at the Norwich university. The other girl is Georgie, a well-connected socialite-aristocrat with a penchant for popping pills, and the men are Alec, who hails from South Africa and works as a journalist, and Nick, a geology major. While Georgie and Alec are an item; the plot twists and turns around Jess having a mad crush on Alec, even while carrying on with Nick, who sincerely likes Jess.
It’s these kind of entanglements, and how far people will go, that drive this novel. The mystery surrounding Alec, and just how charming, yet manipulative, he may be; keeps us alert while reading. And looming in the distance is the figure of Dr. Clay, and just how involved she may be in the lives of her students. There are strong mystery-thriller elements to this novel, and the Agatha Christie shadow is a perfect touch.
Wrecked by Joe Ide
Joe Ide grew up in South Central Los Angeles; and his favorite books growing up were the Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes series. Of Japanese-American persuasion, it may have seemed a stretch when his first novel, IQ, came out; and the main protagonist was Isaiah Quintabe, a neighborhood African-American private investigator. But critics and the reading public loved IQ, conferring it the Anthony, Macavity, and Shamus Awards for best debut novel. Wrecked is the third in the series.
The main narrative of Wrecked has to do with a young female painter approaching IQ to track down her long missing mother. That the painter is a woman of special interest, on a personal level, to IQ makes the case more interesting, as once again, we see how with all his logic and deduction skills, IQ is also a social klutz. Dodson, IQ’s sidekick, an ex-con and street hustler, is back—and even if we’re in Southern California, the ‘game’s afoot’.
Heaven, My Home by Attica Locke
A celebrated novelist and screenplay writer, Attica Locke has won the CWA Steel Dagger and an Edgar Award, and in 2016 copped the Harper Lee Prize for Legal Fiction. She’s worked on the adaptation of Celeste Ng’s Little Fires Everywhere and the Netflix series about the Central Park Five, When They See Us. Heaven, My Home is the second of her Highway 59 series, which chronicles the exploits of Darren Matthews, an African-American Texas Ranger.
While at its heart it’s a police procedural, Locke is adept at making her crime fiction transcend and become a powerful tool of social commentary, writing about race relations in the Deep South today—how rule of law only goes so far, and how Trump America is ‘two steps back’ in the battle to eradicate centuries old prejudices. The case this time is a missing 9-year old boy, son of an incarcerated Aryan Brotherhood Captain; and an old black man is the last one to have seen the boy.
The Godmother by Hannelore Cayre
Novelist, screenwriter, and film director; if all that weren’t enough to put on one’s resumé, Hannelore Cayre can add that she’s a practicing criminal lawyer. The Godmother is the Winner of the European Crime Fiction Prize and the Grand Prix de Littérature Policiére; and it was already optioned to be be turned into a film. Retitled Mama Weed, it stars Isabelle Huppert; and is set for release later in the year (originally set for March 2020 release, its been pushed back due to the COVID crisis).
Patience Portafeux is in her mid-fifties, a widow—with her mother in social care, and a daughter she rarely sees. Patience’s father was French-Tunisian, and her mother is Jewish. To make ends meet, Patience works as an underpaid Franco-Arab translator at the Ministry of Justice. Assigned to the wiretapping section, she stumbles upon very sensitive information regarding a smuggling operation; and driven by cunning and desperation, and a lot of luck, is soon sitting on 1,200 kilos of top grade cannabis. What she does with it, how The Godmother is ‘born’, and whether she’ll get away with it, all make for this novel filled with sly humor.
The Last of the Stanfields by Marc Levy
One of the best-selling translated French authors today, Marc Levy’s latest, is as charming and irresistible as the French can get. It’s 2016, and in London, Eleanor-Rigby Donovan, a NatGeo journalist, receives an anonymous letter that speaks of some crime and a missing fortune that her recently deceased mother was involved in. That’s followed by a letter instructing her to a rendezvous in Baltimore. Across the pond, in Quebec, George-Harrison Collins receives a similar letter about his mother, but she’s in a retirement home suffering from Alzheimer’s.
From this interesting premise, we’re whisked to Baltimore, where we meet the Stanfields, a family that used to hold sway over the commerce, industry, and high society life of that city. Levy introduces timeframes that jump from 2016, back to 1980 (when the mothers of both Eleanor and George were bosom friends), and to 1944 (when a Stanfield ancestor was sent to France on an undercover mission). A real page-turner, you’ll love the family history and deep secrets that comes to life in the course of this novel.
Lead photos from Amazon