Spanning from China to Hawaii, Cecily Wong’s debut novel, Diamond Head, follows four generations of the Leong family through wars and betrayals. It’s a saga that takes sees the family through the Boxer Rebellion and World War II, one in which people’s fortunes turn around seemingly overnight. The patriarch of the family is Frank, a savvy businessman in China who disapproves of his brother’s radical inclinations and instead favors stability and wealth. The births and subsequent deaths of his infant daughters are an ominous sign, but the birth of his first son signals a change. Eventually, a move to Hawaii offers their small family a new start and wealth beyond their wildest dreams.
When we first meet the Leong family, however, all of this good fortune is long past. Frank has been dead for over two decades, the victim of a mysterious unsolved murder. The women of the Leong family have gathered for a different funeral altogether, and in their mourning, long-held secrets start spilling out.
Four years ago, Zedekiah (Zed) Harrow and Alyona (Aly) Miller were rising stars in the Philadelphia Ballet. A near-fatal car accident changed their lives. Zed lost his leg, effectively ending his dancing career. The two lost touch and haven’t seen each other since that day.
Four years later, Aly is the principal dancer of the Philadelphia Ballet, but she’s on leave following a violent breakdown in practice. She had been struggling with depression and an eating disorder for a long time before her breakdown, so she’s staying with her mother in Washington, D.C. while she tries to get better. A chance encounter at a cafe brings her back to Zed, who moved to D.C. after the accident and found work as a theater teacher. He’s also had to deal with his own demons over the past few years; in addition to coping with his new disability, he’s a recovering alcoholic. There’s a lot of unspoken hurt and anger between them, but it’s also as if no time at all has passed.
Verra, West Virginia is a small town comprised mostly of first- and second-generation immigrants. Many of the town’s inhabitants work hard for meager wages, and a lot of sons follow in in their father’s footsteps and become coal miners. Spanning from 1916 to 1969, Whisper Hollow follows the lives of two women who have lived in the town all their lives and whose fates are intertwined.
At the beginning of the book, Myrthen Bergmann’s twin sister dies in an accident. Myrthen blames herself and spends the rest of her life in mourning. She devotes her life to Catholicism, and when she finds what nuns are, her sole goal in life is to enter the sisterhood as soon as she’s able to. Meanwhile, Alta Krol daydreams of becoming an artist and seeing the world. When her glamorous aunt and uncle come for a visit from New York City, Alta can’t stop thinking of what life must be like outside Verra. But since her mother died young, Alta is now the one in charge of taking care of her brothers and her father. Both women are pushed into marriage under very different circumstances, but while Alta reluctantly accepts her fate, Myrthen makes a number of decisions that wreak havoc on Alta’s life.
There’s been a lot of excitement leading up to the release of Nova Ren Suma’s latest young adult book, The Walls Around Us. It’s been out for almost a full week now, and I’ve been seeing more and more blurbs claiming that the book is this year’s “Orange is the New Black Swan.”
Well…yes and no.
The book is about three teenage girls and is told from two of those girls’ perspectives (one of whom is now speaking from beyond the grave): Amber, who is imprisoned at Amber Hills juvenile detention center for murdering her stepfather; Violet, a well-off eighteen-year-old ballerina about to start her bright future at Julliard; and Orianna — Ori — Violet’s former best friend and and fellow ballerina, a girl from the wrong side of town whose mother left her when she was seven and who only really has ballet going for her. Ori was sent to Aurora Hills three years ago for the murder of two of their ballet classmates.
I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I have a major soft spot for pachyderms. All those news stories about violence against elephants kill me, so when I read the premise of Tania James’s new book, The Tusk that Did the Damage, I pretty much resigned myself to the fact that it would probably make me cry. Set in South India, The Tusk that Did the Damage weighs the costs of the ivory trade from three different perspectives: a poacher, a documentary filmmaker, and a elephant whom locals fear and refer to as the Gravedigger.
The Gravedigger witnessed the murder of his mother when he was a young calf; he’s captured and sold into captivity and suffers PTSD-like symptoms for the rest of his life. He alternately nods or lashes out violently when he’s overcome by the memories, and most of the handlers who work for his owner liken those actions to those of a madman. Once the Gravedigger breaks free of captivity, he’s known for killing people and then burying them in the gentle way that elephants do (hence his name).