The days are getting longer, and that means one thing: more time for books. Start with six new page-turners—such as short-story master Lorrie Moore’s latest collection, Bark—recommended by Real Simple’s reader-review panel.
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Black Moon, by Kenneth Calhoun
Reviewer: Evan Sarah Epstein; age 32; public-relations manager; Seattle.
Evan's assessment This gripping dystopian novel follows four people—among them, a lost high school student and a husband searching for his wife—as an insomnia epidemic spreads across the globe, causing widespread panic. (People turn on one another violently as they slowly descend into madness.) Despite the farfetched premise, the characters are all completely relatable. I found myself rooting for their survival from page one.
Reviewer: Sarai Narvaez; age 27; graduate student; Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Sarai's assessment Loosely based on the author's own childhood (Kaysen also wrote the memoir Girl, Interrupted), this touching travelogue is narrated by a nine-year-old who must spend two years living in England, Italy, and Greece despite her fervent wish to be home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I really enjoyed the book (which reads a bit like a journal), in part because I just made a big move myself, from New York City to North Carolina. I loved the narrator's bittersweet realization that "home" isn't a physical locale, but rather a place that exists only in memories.
Reviewer: Carol Germinario; age 60; retired nurse; Secaucus, New Jersey.
Carol's assessment As the residents of a small southern town brace for the burial of seven soldiers killed in Vietnam, a string of violent murders hits their streets, launching the community into emotional chaos. Some of my family members fought in Vietnam, so I know the heartbreaking side effects that war can inflict on its survivors and their loved ones. I think that Cementville could be any American town in 1969. The novel is a moving representation of the nation's psychological state in that time of turmoil.
Reviewer: Andrea Bledsoe King; age 38; librarian; Memphis.
Andrea's assessment Taken together, the eight short stories in this remarkable collection form a complex and authentic portrait of dating, marriage, and divorce in middle age. The characters are undeniably real, from Ira, a man desperately trying to move on from a bitter breakup, to an unnamed woman who avoids an old friend, even when the friend is on her deathbed, because they once dated the same man. Moore gives every character, likable or not, humanity and vulnerability. And for that, not to mention her inventiveness and stunning prose, I think she is one of the greatest American writers of our time.
Reviewer: Jessica Underwood; age 24; chef; Waterloo, New York.
Jessica's assessment This story of eroding identity, faith, and relationships is not for the fainthearted, but it's beautiful all the same. After her partner of 25 years abandons her, 52-year-old Mercia decides to move from Scotland back to her native South Africa, where she is tasked with raising her alcoholic brother's five-year-old son. From there the narrative flashes back to Mercia's childhood and her past relationship, unveiling eerie differences between her happy memories and the grim realities that she actually faced. The jumps in time are often abrupt and difficult to follow, but the confusion works, as it's evocative of Mercia's mental distress.
Reviewer: Susan Talend; age 41; stay-at-home mom; Atlanta.
Susan’s assessment: When Boy, a beautiful blond woman, gives birth to a dark-skinned baby girl named Bird, she suddenly realizes that her husband and her stepdaughter, Snow, whom she had thought were white, are actually light-skinned African Americans who have been “passing.” Not wanting everyone to constantly compare Bird’s skin color with that of her stepsister, Boy cruelly sends Snow to live far away with her aunt. Through Boy’s observations of the harsh treatment of her daughter by her racially segregated community, the novel explores powerful themes, such as self-perception, race relations, and the role appearance plays in relationships.