As a reminder, books listed on a post titled "to read" are not books I have read but books whose listings I have come across and that sound interesting. Thus, they are "to read."
The Night Tourist by Katherine Marsh
Marsh, a New Republic editor making her children's book debut, reworks the Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice in a supernatural tale about a 14-year-old boy's quest through an underworld in New York City, in search of his late mother's spirit. After introverted ninth-grade prodigy Jack Perdu is involved in a near-fatal accident, he is sent to see a specialist in Manhattan. There he meets Euri, a self-proclaimed "urban explorer" who reveals herself to be a ghost—part of a vast and complex community of people who have died in NYC. (Euri tells Jack that he might be able to find his mother if she has not completed her unfinished business in the world and "moved on" to Elysium, which is "somewhere in the Hamptons," by her best guess.) Euri becomes his personal tour guide as they explore the city by night, when ghosts can leave the underworld to roam unseen. The pair tries to avoid capture by underworld authorities as they seek Jack's mother, in the process unraveling mysteries surrounding his parents' relationship and Jack's ability to infiltrate the spirit world. Mixing numerous references to mythology and classical literature with deft touches of humor and extensive historical details (former mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, Dylan Thomas and corrupt police captain "Clubber" Williams, among others, make cameo appearances), this intelligent and self-assured debut will compel readers from its outset, and leave them satisfied as it explores universal themes of love, loss and closure.
Death at the Priory: Love, Sex, and Murder in Victorian England by James Ruddick
A true-crime story with a plot that seems to have been ripped from the pages of an Agatha Christie novel. Who poisoned Londoner Charles Bravo? Was it the wife he cruelly dominated? Her loyal maid who couldn't get her story straight? Her jilted lover, a doctor? Or one of the servants he dismissed without cause? Journalist Ruddick reopens the never-solved mystery and emerges with a vivid portrait of Victorian marriage, solving the case once and for all.
Havoc, in Its Third Year: A Novel by Ronan Bennett
A woman may have committed a terrible crime. Will the governor of her small town follow the law or succumb to the general public who demands she be destroyed? Bennett's ambitious literary novel is set in 17-century England when religious extremism was rampant and destructive, but his themes are eternal. A thought-provoking book, an heir to The Scarlet Letter.
Fighting for Christendom: Holy War and the Crusades by Christopher Tyerman
The crusdaes are mentioned often in the press these days, but who really knows much about them? Christopher Tyerman does, and thanks to his book, you can too. Tyerman, a medieval scholar, introduces five hundred years of incredibly complex history in an appealing, highly readable, and accessible (only 250 pages here) book. He goes a step further too, explaining how current events are shaped by the foundations laid by the famous holy wars.
Early Bird: A Memoir of Premature Retirement by Rodeny Rothman
Rodney Rothman was burned out at 28 years old. Comedy writing for shows like Letterman had taken a toll, and he needed a break—a long one. Where do people go when they need long breaks after working? To retirement communities in Boca, of course. Rothman's account of his time living in a retirement community is charming, silly, funny, and sometimes even insightful look at the American way of old age.
The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien
The late Irish novelist Flann O'Brien had been nearly forgotten until the TV show Lost announced that The Third Policeman would appear in an episode of the series. Fans of the show went wild ordering copies, and in a matter of weeks, the book became the bestselling title in small press Dalkey Archive history. The surreal, comic novel is about an Irish murderer and the consequences of his crime. O'Brien wrote several novels, but The Third Policeman is his last and, by most accounts, best.