Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford

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You couldn’t cover up the smell of new money

At 26 years old, Evelyn Beegan is a late-blooming New York City society girl.  Raised outside of Baltimore by a self-made wealthy family, Evelyn climbed her way up the social ladder through Prep schools, Country Clubs and Ivy League acquaintances and made it to the big city.  But climbing the social ladder is a dirty business, and Evelyn soon discovers a Wharton-esque world of social responsibilities and anxieties she never could have anticipated.  From sailing etiquette and debutante balls to the art of the subtle insult, Evelyn in too deep with shallow pockets.

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The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

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The words you can’t find, you borrow

A.J. Fikry is a lonely bookstore owner with a deep appreciation for certain literature and a “purcupine heart.”  He calls himself old and decrepit, but he’s really just a quirky middle-aged man who forgot how to take care of himself.  Island Books used to be a hub of activity in its small town – filled with children, laughter, and happy customers.  But since his wife died, A.J. hasn’t cared for the bookstore the way he used to.  Island Books is still open and fully functional, but its reputation has soured since A.J. became a widower, shutting out the world and his heart.

But when a mysterious woman abandons her child in the store the same week his prized (and highly valuable) Edgar Allen Poe book is stolen, A.J. must abruptly awaken from his haze of grief, self-pity, and depression in order to save a life.  But A.J. needs saving more than anyone, so toddler Maya is just the breath of fresh air that he needs.

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Shirley by Susan Scarf Merrell

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Left or right’s no matter…just the fact of turning

As someone who’s mildly obsessed with the work of Shirley Jackson, I was a bit skeptical when I found out about this novel.  Told from the perspective of a house guest of Jackson and her husband Stanley Hyman, the novel takes place in 1964 and imagines what life might have been like inside the Hyman household.  But when I finished the first chapter, I suspected that this biographical novelization would be a sensitive and highly-charged delicacy for those who deeply savor Jackson’s literature.  And it is.

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Don’t Forget Me, Bro by John Michael Cummings

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You can’t, you shouldn’t, go home again.  Still you do, and must

John Michael Cummings’s recent novel is a heartbreaking and highly-charged portrait of one family’s struggle with abuse, mental illness, death and grief.  When narrator Mark Barr’s bother dies unexpectedly, he must return to his hometown of Alma, West Virginia after a decade of absence to honor Steve’s last wishes and bury him next to their grandfather.  But when Mark’s family cannot agree on how to handle Steve’s physical remains, emotions run high and each member of the family must face their personal demons before healing can begin.

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Thunderstruck by Elizabeth McCracken

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The soul is liquid, and slow to evaporate.  The body’s a bucket and liable to slosh.

A 2014 National Book Award finalist, Thunderstruck has certainly earned its place among competing titles.  Comprised of 9 short stories, Elizabeth McCracken’s collection is nothing short of haunting – and I’m not just saying that because we’re getting close to Halloween.  These unforgettable tales are mesmerizing and devastating as McCracken explores aspects of love, grief, family, death, companionship and loneliness.

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