Heat Things Up with a Romance

The Roughest Draft
by Emily Wibberley & Austin Siegemund-Broka

When Katrina “Kat” Freeling and Nathan Van Huysen met six years ago at a writers’ workshop in upstate New York, their writing styles and personalities just clicked, and the two quickly became the closest of friends and the co-authors of a well-received first novel. By the time their second book goes to print and is on its way to become a hugely successful best-seller, however, something has fractured their partnership and the two aren’t even on speaking terms.

Four years later, Kat and Nathan are still under contract to co-write a final book for their publisher who won’t take no for an answer. Kat very reluctantly agrees to write with Nathan once more, but only to please her agent/fiancé Sam. Nathan agrees, because he secretly thinks he can’t write without Kat.

The two reunite in the same house in the same Florida town they wrote their last book, the one that propelled them to fame, broke up their friendship and quite possibly destroyed Nathan’s marriage. Sequestered on Key Largo, long-buried sparks fly and closing the cover on their book and their relationship may not be as easy as it sounds.

Will they or won’t they? Did they or didn’t they? Told in the present time and through flashbacks, The Roughest Draft by co-authors and real-life couple Emily Wibberley and Austin Siegemund-Broka is a steamy, slow-burn of a romance that will definitely heat up your reading list.

-Carol

March is Women’s History Month

From pioneering scientists to determined suffragists to avant-garde artists to mothers, Women’s History Month celebrates the accomplishments of ordinary and trailblazing women in American society. You can celebrate by reading the works of female authors throughout the month. Below is a list of 31 inspiring, empowering, and entertaining titles by some of the most current female authors. Read one each day this month or throughout the year!

Matrix by Lauren Groff: Cast out of the royal court, 17-year-old Marie de France, born the last in a long line of women warriors, is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey where she vows to chart a bold new course for the women she now leads and protects.

Detransition, Baby by Torrey Peters: A trans woman, her detransitioned ex and his cisgender lover build an unconventional family together in the wake of heartbreak and an unplanned pregnancy.

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia: This reimagining of the classic gothic suspense novel follows the experiences of a courageous socialite in 1950s Mexico who is drawn into the treacherous secrets of an isolated mansion.

We Ride Upon Sticks by Quan Barry: Nearly three centuries after their coastal community’s witch trials, the women athletes of the 1989 Danvers Falcons hockey team combine individual and collective talents with 1980s iconography to storm their way to the state finals.

The Three Mothers: How the Mothers of Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcom X, and James Baldwin Shaped a Nation by Anna Malaika Tubbs: Much has been written about Berdis Baldwin’s son James, about Alberta King’s son Martin Luther, and Louise Little’s son Malcolm. But virtually nothing has been said about the extraordinary women who raised them, who were all born at the beginning of the 20th century and forced to contend with the prejudices of Jim Crow as Black women.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson: The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Warmth of Other Suns identifies the qualifying characteristics of historical caste systems to reveal how a rigid hierarchy of human rankings, enforced by religious views, heritage and stigma, impact everyday American lives.

Dog Flowers by Danielle Geller: Drawing on archival documents in a narrative account, Geller explores how her family’s troubled past and the death of her mother, a homeless alcoholic, reflect the traditions and tragic history of her Navajo heritage.

Love and Fury by Samantha Silva: In August of 1797, as her midwife struggles to keep her and her fragile daughter alive, Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of the famous novelist Mary Shelley, recounts the life she dared to live amidst the impossible constraints and prejudices of the late 18th century.

My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante: Beginning in the 1950s, Elena and Lila grow up in Naples, Italy, mirroring two different aspects of their nation.

Circe by Madeline Miller: Circe follows the banished witch daughter of the Titans as she practices her powers for an inevitable conflict with one of Olympus’ most vindictive gods.

Of Women and Salt by Gabriela Garcia: An affluent Cuban immigrant reckons with her daughter’s drug addiction and her own culpability in their self-destructive choices.

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich: Based on the life of Erdrich’s grandfather, The Night Watchman traces the experiences of a Chippewa Council night watchman in mid-19th century rural North Dakota who fights Congress to enforce Native American treaty rights.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women that a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall: In this collection of essays, Kendall explores how feminism has not acknowledged the many ways in which race, class, and sexual orientation intersect with gender. Through a biographical lens, Kendall examines how issues like food security, access to education, safe housing, and healthcare connect to feminist concerns, and ponders why they continue to be ignored by mainstream feminists.

Hunger: A Memoir of (My) Body by Roxane Gay: The best-selling author of Bad Feminist presents a frank memoir of food, weight, self-image, and learning how to feed one’s hunger in healthy ways.

The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore: Moore recounts the struggles of hundreds of women who were exposed to radium while working factory jobs during World War I, describing how they were mislead by their employers and became embroiled in a battle for workers’ rights.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel: In this memoir graphic novel, Bechdel offers a darkly funny family portrait that details her relationship with her father, a historic preservation expert dedicated to restoring the family’s Victorian home, a funeral home director, a high school English teacher, and a closeted gay man.

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law by Mary Roach: Join Roach on an irresistible investigation into the unpredictable world where wildlife and humans meet. What’s to be done about a jaywalking moose? A grizzly bear caught breaking and entering? A murderous tree? As Roach discovers, the answers are best found not in jurisprudence but in science: the curious science of human-wildlife conflict, a discipline at the crossroads of human behavior and wildlife biology.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh: In a four-color, illustrated collection of stories and essays, Brosh’s debut chronicles the many “learning experiences” she has endured as a result of her own character flaws, and the horrible experiences that other people have had to endure because she was such a terrible child. Possibly the worst child. For example, one time she ate an entire cake just to spite her mother.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: Fighting an ugly custody battle with an artistic tenant who has little regard for the strict rules of their progressive Cleveland suburb, a straitlaced family woman who is seeking to adopt a baby becomes obsessed with exposing the tenant’s past, only to trigger devastating consequences for both of their families.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: In early 1900s Korea, prized daughter Sunja finds herself pregnant and alone, bringing shame on her family, until a minister offers to marry her and move with her to Japan in the saga of one family bound together as their faith and identity are called into question.

The Queen of the Tearling by Erika Johansen: Coming out of exile to ascend her rightful throne, Princess Kelsea Raleigh Glynn, with a cadre of soldiers and the magical Tearling sapphire to protect her, makes a daring decision that evokes that wrath of the evil Red Witch, forcing her to embark on a quest to save her kingdom and fulfill her destiny.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie: Separated by respective ambitions after falling in love in occupied Nigeria, beautiful Ifemelu experiences triumph and defeat in America while exploring new concepts of race, while Obinze endures an undocumented status in London until the pair is reunited in their homeland 15 years later, where they face the toughest decisions of their lives.

The Duke and I by Julia Quinn: In an effort to keep himself footloose and single in spite of the efforts of the town’s matchmakers, Simon Basset, Duke of Hastings, begins a sham courtship with Daphne Bridgerton.

The Library Book by Susan Orlean: Orlean reopens the unsolved mystery of the most catastrophic library fire in American history, and delivers a dazzling love letter to a beloved institution: our libraries.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: Two half-sisters, unknown to each other, are born into different villages in 18th century Ghana and experience profoundly different lives and legacies throughout subsequent generations marked by wealth, slavery, war, coal mining, the Great Migration, and the realities of 20th century Harlem.

Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner: The Japanese Breakfast indie pop star presents a full-length account of her viral New Yorker essay to share poignant reflections on her experiences of growing up Korean-America, becoming a professional musician, and caring for her terminally ill mother.

The Other Wind by Ursula K. Le Guin: Haunted by dreams of the dead who seek to invade Earthsea through him, the sorcerer Alder enlists the aid of Ged, a former Archmage, who advises him to find the holiest place in the world, which holds the key to preserving Earthsea.

The Flowering: The Autobiography of Judy Chicago by Judy Chicago: In this provocative and resonant autobiography, world-renowned artist and feminist icon Judy Chicago reflects on her extraordinary life and career.

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado: Women and their bodies, and the violence done to them, occupy the center of Machado’s inventive, sensual, and eerie debut horror collection. These stories use situations at once familiar and completely strange to reveal what it is like to inhabit the female body.

We Are Never Meeting In Real Life: Essays by Samantha Irby: Sometimes you just have to laugh, even when life is a dumpster fire. In her second collection of essays, Irby explores what it means what it means to be “fat and black.”

Call Us What We Carry: Poems by Amanda Gorman: The presidential inaugural poet and unforgettable new voice in American poetry presents a collection of poems that includes the stirring poem she read at the inauguration of President Biden.

True Crime Book Review: Furious Hours by Casey Cep

Furious Hours: Murder, Fraud, and the Last Trail of Harper Lee by Casey Cep is three stories in one, told in three parts. The first part tells of the story of Reverend Willie Maxwell, a southern preacher and serial killer accused of murdering five people in order to collect the insurance money. Maxwell got away with each crime until he was shot to death at his last victim’s funeral by a family member. The second part of the story features Tom Radney, Reverend Maxwell’s attorney who then defended Maxwell’s killer, Robert Burns. Surprise! And with the trial of Robert Burns comes one Harper Lee. Readers learn about the reclusive author from her childhood, college experiences, and the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. By the 1970s is appeared that Lee was destined to never publish another book, until she heard about the murder of Willie Maxwell. Lee had helped her close friend Truman Capote when he wrote In Cold Blood, and she was determined to have her own success with a true crime book. To that end, Lee spent a year back in her native Alabama gathering information and even more time writing her account of the trial of the man who killed the serial killer. And yet, the book never made it to fruition. This book is part biography, part history lesson, and part true crime. It’s an interesting exploration of the life and times of Harper Lee, racial issues in the South, and the judicial system. The case of Reverend Maxwell was news to me and the most engrossing portion of the book.

This month Riverinos will we meeting in person to discuss the case of Dr. Linda Hazzard and the book Starvation Heights. See you Wednesday, March 16 at 7pm if you are interested!

Fiona and Jane

Request a copy of Fiona and Jane from the Library here.

Fiona and Jane (or Jane and Fiona, depending on who you ask) have been best friends since second grade. Over the years their closeness waxes and wanes, but they’re always within each other’s orbit, offering solace for heartbreak, family crises, identity struggles, and more. Beautiful, ambitious Fiona attracts attention wherever she goes and, having never known her father, keeps her mother close and the memories of their brief time in Taiwan even closer. She moves to New York with her boyfriend after college to attend law school and chase after internships, but a devastating heartbreak, loneliness, and financial ruin sends her back home to California. Jane, quieter and less confident than Fiona, is raised by her demanding and religious mother once her father moves to Taiwan for work. When Jane discovers and reveals her father’s secret, she finds her family changed forever.


Fiona and Jane has received considerable buzz, but I have mixed feelings about the book. I love Jean Chen Ho’s writing style. She packs an emotional punch in such simple language, and the characters are authentic and flawed. Chapters “Korean Boys I’ve Loved” and “Go Slow” are true standouts for how they tangle with the messy emotions of friendship and romantic love; Jean Chen Ho writes about how you can be competitive with a friend, but not jealous, and how you can feel lonely even within close relationships. The friendship between Fiona and Jane feels real. They move away, have misunderstandings, and keep secrets from each other, all while still being deeply concerned and invested in their friendship. Fiona and Jane is written as a series of short stories, with alternating viewpoints and time periods, and this is where the book loses its effectiveness. We only get to see glimpses of Fiona and Jane instead of witnessing their full journey; the book doesn’t offer much in terms of character development. Jane, in particular, could have closure or a full-circle moment when it comes to her father’s death and her queer identity but after spending the first few chapters with her, Jean Chen Ho doesn’t return to Jane until the end and ultimately bypasses the opportunity. We learn a lot about Fiona through her relationships with others, but her identity as she sees it feels largely hidden. Despite the structure, the little moments of friendship that Jean Chen Ho captures are beautiful. It’ll be worth seeing how her work develops after this debut.

Enjoy a Mystery, BCE

Disappearance of a Scribe is the latest mystery by Dana Stabenow. This second of a planned trilogy is set in Ancient Egypt, 47 BCE in the capital of Alexandria, where Cleopatra is Queen. Her dearest, lifelong friend Tetisheri is her new “Eye of Isis,” a title with the royal authority to investigate mysterious matters that are linked to the Queen. After solving the murder of her predecessor in the series starter, Death of an Eye, Tetisheri isn’t sure she is cut out for the role, but finds herself called to the scene after the bodies of two young men are found drowned in the Mediterranean Sea with their feet set in concrete.

Tetisheri enlists the help of Vitruvius, a famous architect, who identifies a rare additive in the concrete reserved solely for special projects for Cleopatra. As Tetisheri tracks down the people responsible for the murders, her investigations take her to many atmospheric and vibrant locations in Alexandria and put her own life in danger along the way. This historical mystery kept me turning pages with its strong female lead, plenty of political intrigue, atmospheric depictions of Egypt’s bustling capital, some steamy romance between Tetisheri and her handsome bodyguard Apollodorus and of course, its front seat journey through time to the Hellenistic Age. Maybe some crime-solving in Egypt is in your future, too. Pick up Disappearance of a Scribe, or better yet, start with Death of an Eye.

-Carol

New Nonfiction

From true crime to history to art, there are some excellent nonfiction books coming out this year. I thought I’d share a few of the titles I’ve added to my endless TBR pile.

Treasured: How Tutankhamun Shaped a Century by Christina Riggs
Publication Date: February 1, 2022. Request a copy from the Library here.
When it was discovered in 1922, the 3,300-year-old tomb of Tutankhamun sent shockwaves around the world, turning the boy-king into a household name overnight and kickstarting an international obsession with Egyptology that endures to this day. Professor of Visual Culture Christina Riggs offers a bold account of the tomb’s excavation, archeology and colonialism, tourism and cultural exhibitions, politics, and more – and all just in time for the discovery’s centennial anniversary. Get ready to have Steve Martin’s “King Tut” stuck in your head for weeks. How’d you get so funky? Funky Tut!

Sandy Hook: An American Tragedy and the Battle for Truth by Elizabeth Williamson
Publication Date: March 8, 2022. Request a copy from the Library here.
On December 14, 2012, a gunman killed twenty first-graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. A decade later, the Sandy Hook killings have been lumped into a messy cycle of conspiracy theories involving the JFK assassination, 9/11, the 2020 President election, and other events. Some people have insisted the tragedy never occurred or was staged by the government to prompt the passage of gun control legislation. Drawing on hours of extensive research, New York Times reporter Elizabeth Williamson provides a definitive account of the school shooting and the aftermath, including the work of Sandy Hook parents who fought to defend themselves and the legacies of their children against the frenzied distortions of conspiracy theorists.

Ancestor Trouble: A Reckoning and a Reconciliation by Maud Newton
Publication Date: March 29, 2022. Request a copy from the Library here.
Maud Newton’s ancestors have vexed and fascinated her since she was a girl. Her mother’s father, who came of age in Texas during the Great Depression, was said to have married thirteen times and been shot by one of his wives. Her mother’s grandfather killed a man with a hay hook and died in a mental institution. Maud’s father, obsessed with the “purity” of his family bloodline, traced his family back to the Revolutionary War. Diving headfirst into her genealogy, Maud Newton exposes the secrets and contradictions of her ancestors to show the transformational possibilities that reckoning with ancestors has for all of us.

Smashing Statues: The Rise and Fall of America’s Public Monuments by Erin L. Thompson
Publication Date: February 8, 2022. Request a copy from the Library here.
Since 2020, we’ve witnessed heated debates and outright protests and violent clashes over public monuments. Why do we care so much about hunks of marble? How do we decide which monuments should stay up and which ones need to come down? Erin L. Thompson, Professor of Art Crime at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, takes readers on a journey through America’s turbulent relationship with statues, particularly monuments concerning the Confederacy, slavery, and America’s founding fathers, and how we can better navigate the legal, political, and social concerns involved in our public monuments.

Gentrifier: A Memoir by Anne Elizabeth Moore
Publication Date: October 19, 2021. Request a copy from the Library here.
In 2016, a Detroit arts organization granted writer and artist Anne Elizabeth Moore a free house in Detroit’s Bangladeshi “Banglatown.” Accompanied by her cats, Moore moves to the bungalow where she gardens, befriends the neighborhood youth, and grows to intimately understand civic collapse and community solidarity. When the troubled history of her house comes to light, Moore finds her life destabilized by the aftershocks of the housing crisis and governmental corruption.

All the Living and the Dead: From Embalmers to Executioners, an Exploration of the People Who Have Made Death Their Life’s Work by Hayley Campbell
Publication Date: August 16, 2022. It’s still a little too early to request a copy of this gem, but keep checking back with the Library as we move closer to summer!
Inspired by a her longtime fascination with death, Hayley Campbell embarked on a three year trip across the US and the UK to met with a variety of professionals in the death industry to see how they work. She encountered funeral directors, embalmers, former executioners, anatomy students, homicide detectives, and more, and asked them the same question: Why choose a life of working with the dead? Campbell is already getting comparisons to Mary Roach so don’t miss this one.

A Taste for Poison: Eleven Deadly Molecules and the Killers Who Used Them by Neil Bradbury
Publication Date: February 1, 2022. Request a copy from the Library here.
As any true crime fan can tell you, poison is one of the most enduring and popular weapons of choice for a scheming murderer. It can be slipped into a drink, smeared onto the tip of an arrow or the handle of a door, or even filtered through the air we breathe. But how exactly do these poisons work to break down our bodies, and what can we learn from the damage they inflict? In a fascinating blend of popular science, medical history, and true crime, Dr. Neil Bradbury examines this most morbidly captivating method of murder from a cellular level.

How the Word Is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith
Publication Date: June 1, 2021. Request a copy from the Library here.
Beginning in his hometown of New Orleans, Clint Smith leads readers through an unforgettable tour of monuments and landmarks that offer an intergenerational story of how slavery has been central in shaping our nation’s collective history and ourselves. From Monticello to Whitney Plantation to Angola Prison to Blandford Cemetery, Smith shows how some of our country’s most essential stories are hidden in plain sight and how we can better reflect on the roles of memory and history.


Warm Up With a Book You Love

Happy Valentine’s Day! Why not use today as a good excuse to show some love to one of your favorite books and give it another read? Personally, I love to revisit A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. First published in 1962, this young adult fantasy novel won the Newbery Medal, the Sequoyah Book Award, and the Lewis Carroll Shelf Award.

Thirteen-year-old Meg Murry is unhappy. Although really smart, she struggles in school, she faces bullies on a daily basis and more than anything, wishes her missing physicist father would come home. Life for Meg is forever changed when she meets her eccentric new neighbors, Mrs. Whatsit and Mrs. Who, and their third companion, the disembodied voice of Mrs. Which. These three strangers are actually supernatural beings who transport Meg, along with her small brother, Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe on a journey through time and space in search of Mr. Murry, who disappeared while working on a government project.

When I first read A Wrinkle in Time as a middle-schooler, I loved the book for its girl-power messages and for how it introduced me to the idea of time travel and got me interested in science. Today, when I reread this adventure-filled, coming of age story about the fight between Good and Evil, it is like being wrapped in a cozy blanket of nostalgia. Go ahead and rediscover your own favorite book today.

-Carol

What We’re Reading Now…..

Cover image for The echo wife

The Echo Wife by Sarah Gailey

Evelyn is the leading scientist on genetic cloning. When she discovers a clone of herself at her ex-husband’s house, she realizes that he has stolen her research to make the perfect wife. Somehow, the husband ends up dead on the kitchen floor, and Evelyn and her clone have to cover up the murder in this science fiction-flavored domestic thriller. Shannon

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Reprieve by James Han Mattson

I just picked up this new novel that snagged a starred review in Booklist and am really excited to dig in. Described as a literary horror tragedy, this thought-provoking book looks at marginalization and systemic oppression through a classic haunted house story, with some contemporary twists. The haunted house in this tale is actually a full-contact escape room attraction, and a team of contestants must stay in the house to win thousands of dollars. That can’t end well, right? After each interlude of court documents or descriptions of that evening, the story moves to longer, more character-driven chapters, where readers get to know the key people in the large cast, including Kendra, a Black teenager new to Nebraska and Jaidee, a gay Thai college student. Nicole

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Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz 

I’m currently reading a YA book with a lot of crossover appeal.  Noble Blood fans rejoice! Dana Schwartz, host of the chart-topping podcast about history’s most infamous and ill-fated royals, has written a gothic mystery filled with grave robbers, dark magic, and 19th century science. Hazel Sinnett wants to be surgeon more than a wife, dressing in men’s clothes to attend courses at the Edinburgh Anatomist’s Society. When she’s discovered, she makes a deal: Pass the medical exam independently, and the University will permit her to officially enroll. The only problem? Hazel needs bodies to study. While she’s made the acquaintance of resurrection man Jack, Jack is trying to solve the mystery behind his missing friends and several graveyard secrets. Oh, and stay alive during a plague. Anatomy: A Love Story is the latest pick for Reese Witherspoon’s YA Book Club. Two additional titles that I love: The Prophets by Robert Jones Jr. (So exceptionally good, and a debut, and impossible for me to write an adequate blog review so I’m glad it can be shown off in some way), Real Life by Brandon Taylor. Thanks! Kari

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The Magnolia Palace by Fiona Davis

The story centers around the Henry Clay Frick family in 1919 and later his mansion/collections/museum which were given to the city of New York. Two models decades apart are drawn to the Frick family. I’m not sure how the novel will end but am enjoying the plot. This is a book for fans of historical fiction, art history and landmarks of New York. Emma

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A Head Full of Ghosts by Paul Tremblay

Paul Tremblay’s story of a televised exorcism and its aftermath does one of the things that I love about the horror genre; instill the reader with a sense of doubt. A Head Full of Ghosts gives multiple (and temporally varied) perspectives on a family’s experience having their lives turned into a paranormal investigation show when it is suspected that their eldest daughter is possessed. Tremblay gives the reader no certainty on what’s “really” going on and holds a tread of tension that I am unsure is ever broken. Greg

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The Unlikely Escape of Uriah Heep by H.G. Parry

This was a delightful novel about two brothers, Charley Sutherland, a college English professor who has a concealed magical ability he can’t quite control: he can bring characters from books into the real world, and his somewhat estranged brother Rob, who is left to reluctantly help clean up Charley’s messes. The real trouble begins when they discover there is another person with this summoning ability, and they are NOT using it for good. As the fictional world begins to threaten the real world, the brothers must unite to try and put things in order. I thought the ending was a little unrealistic at first, but then remembered that the whole book is about fictional literary characters living in the modern world, so I guess anything goes! Sara

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The Witch’s Heart by Genevieve Gornichec

Gornichec takes a largely overlooked member of Norse mythology, Angrboda, and tells her story, including her relationship with Loki. A relationship that directly results in the events that would induce Ragnarok and the end of the world. The Witch’s Heart takes a well-known pantheon and builds upon it an entirely new story that provides depth to characters both unknown and prominent in popular culture. Trent

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These Bones by Kayla Chanault

A multi-generational story about the Lyons family and their neighborhood, the Briar Patch. A short novel written with the most beautiful and haunting prose; it explores poverty, racism, ghosts, and otherworldly beings. Horror comes in many forms. Christine

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot

Lenni is seventeen and terminally ill. Margot is eighty-three and awaiting a series of heart surgeries. They unofficially meet at Glasgow Princess Royal Hospital when Margot, decked out in purple from head to toe, goes dumpster diving for a letter and Lenni distracts a nurse from discovering her. Margot and Lenni officially meet in the Rose Room, a therapy space where hospital patients can create art, when Lenni adamantly insists on joining the eighty and above class. When the two discover they’ve lived an astonishing one hundred years, they set out to create one hundred paintings commemorating the key moments of their shared century. Canvases of first kisses, birthday cakes, a baby in a too-small yellow hat, a night full of stars, and more celebrate their lives. Full of tenderness and quiet observations, The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is one you’ll want to finish with a box of tissues nearby.

While Margot and Lenni are perceptive, funny, and witty, it’s the cast of supporting characters that make this novel come alive. Hospital chaplain Father Arthur and Lenni banter back and forth about faith, loss, watercress sandwiches, and silverfish. Margot’s second husband, Humphrey, is such an enamored astronomer that he stands in the middle of the street, risking life and limb, to better observe the stars. “New Nurse” confides her career insecurities with Lenni and “The Intern” has a satisfying, full-circle moment when it comes to the hospital and the art space. Chicken stories are scattered throughout. Whimsical and sweet, but never saccharine, the novel is a celebration of life and death.

The inspiration behind The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot is personal. Author Marianne Cronin suffers from severe migraines; painting lets her temporarily escape the debilitating symptoms. Cronin also wrote her novel while earning a Ph.D. in Applied Linguistics after Lenni came to her “as a fully formed voice” in her head. Cronin did an author visit with the Cuyahoga County Public Library last summer that you can watch here. She is also featured on Episode 1109 of the Author Stories Podcast with Hank Garner and Episode 509 of the Reading and Writing Podcast.

A Net for Small Fishes

The court of King James I is a dangerous place, full of fierce political and religious rivalries. Even the slightest whisper of scandal could result in loss of land, position, and life. In the midst of this intensity, Lady Frances “Frankie” Howard marries the third Earl of Essex, Robert Devereux, in a political maneuver arranged by her powerful and influential Catholic family. The marriage is a nightmare. Devereux loathes the Howard family (I suppose that’s what happens when your in-laws are partly responsible for the execution of your father) and is increasingly violent and spiteful towards Frankie despite her efforts to make the marriage work and produce an heir. Frankie forms an inseparable, intimate friendship with Anne Turner, a talented albeit struggling fashion stylist and wife of the well-respected Dr. George Turner, when her mother enlists Anne’s services to make Frankie more attractive to her husband. Frankie ultimately wishes to annul her marriage and marry Sir Robert Carr, the King’s favorite, but a difficult, snide Thomas Overbury, royal courtier and Carr’s best friend, stands in her way. After a poisonous plot, the King’s justice seems to ensnare only the smallest of fishes.

Perhaps you’ve heard of Frances Carr before (if you’re unfamiliar with the Jacobean Era or need a quick introduction to Frances, I highly recommend Dana Schwartz’s Noble Blood podcast episode “The Schemes of Countess Frances Carr”), but Lucy’s Jago’s meticulously researched novel is a fresh interpretation. Women are typically absent from the historical record, but when they do appear, they are too often cast like Frances Carr: Scandalous, deviant, and improper. At the heart of A Net for Small Fishes is the story of female friendship, female morality, and women willing to stretch beyond the limitations placed on them by society. Jago gives voice to Carr and Turner, a glimpse into what their true, complex motivations might have been during the Overbury Scandal. Jago does an excellent job of portraying how any accident of fate could send a woman tumbling into poverty or disgrace. Her depictions of Jacobean society, including forbidden magic (the amount of astrology captured in this book makes me happy), aristocratic dress, and the narrow, filthy streets of London, are vivid and immersive. Historical fiction should be this imaginative and emotional. A stunning debut.