These lists, I realize, have gone from more-or-less weekly to more-or-less monthly. I don't think I'm reading any less, it's just that the nature of my reading has changed. It's a great thing to get paid to read, but it means that I have much less time to read for pleasure. The jokes I used to make about prostituting my literacy aren't that funny any more (and probably never were). But these are five books that deserve your attention.
1. Laura Moriarty, WHILE I'M FALLING. Twenty-year-old Veronica is a college student struggling with her first major life decisions and processing her parents' divorce, after her mother's abortive one-night-stand with a roofer. Veronica's mother Natalie, who had been the perfect wife and mother for more than 25 years, is now barely hanging on, which she eventually can't hide from her daughter. There's humor here along with real tension and suspense, and the ending feels well-earned.
2. Joe Hill, HORNS. A year after the brutal murder of his girlfriend — a murder he was suspected of, but never charged with — Ignatius Perrish wakes up with horns sprouting from his forehead, and the power to make people confess and act on their darkest impulses. The first 70 pages or so of this book are among the most original, gripping horror stories I've ever read. The book eventually settles into a more traditional revenge thriller, but is still a powerful meditation on love, loyalty, betrayal, and grief. Everything about this book feels fresh and surprising, and Hill more than delivers on the promise of HEART-SHAPED BOX.
3. Ann Hood, SOMEWHERE OFF THE COAST OF MAINE. I listened to this on audio, and wasn't crazy about the reading; shouldn't someone reading a book set in New England look up the pronunciation of "quahog"? But the mediocre reading didn't interfere with the power of this book. Published more than 20 years ago, it's a lovely, heartbreaking novel about three college friends who follow very different paths into parenting and adulthood. Hood never takes the easy way out, and if the book doesn't wrap everything up neatly at the end, it's because life doesn't, either. This book shook me up in unexpected ways, reminding me of things I hadn't thought about in decades and making me tally up all the things I've gained and lost.
4. Chuck Hogan, DEVILS IN EXILE. A terrific, old-school revenge novel that could be the basis for a series. Chuck Hogan breaks new ground with each book; this is what a Stephen Hunter thriller might look like, if written by Richard Price. Neil Maven is a Special Forces veteran of the Iraq War who has no ideas how his skills might apply in the real world. The mysterious Brad Royce gives him not only a job but a mission, enlisting him as part of a group that robs drug dealers of their cash and destroys their product. It's a modern-day Robin Hood operation that seems too good to be true, and is. (Full disclosure: the author's a friend of mine. Check back tomorrow, when he answers Five Random Questions.)
5. Emily Arsenault, THE BROKEN TEAGLASS. I started this book over breakfast yesterday and finished it just after breakfast today, doing very little in between — which was bad, because I needed to get other things done yesterday. But I was absolutely enchanted by this first novel, which tackles the biggest questions of all, about how we define ourselves and forgive ourselves, and how the names we give things tell the story. Billy Webb and Mona Minot, junior lexicographers, discover a series of word citations that come from a nonexistent book, written by a nonexistent author. As Billy follows the trail, what started as an intellectual puzzle becomes a journey into the deepest mysteries of the human heart.