We’ve all had a teacher or two who stand out in our formative years as going above and beyond, making the experience of education into something truly extraordinary. When we remember the debt of gratitude we owe these individuals, it’s easy to imagine why bestselling author Alyson Richman might write a novel like The Secret of Clouds—a book which Richman calls her “love letter to teachers.”
When speaking with Richman about her career, which amounts to no less than seven internationally bestselling novels, translated into a total of thirty languages, and an upcoming Hollywood adaptation of The Lost Wife, the role her parents played in shaping the unique Richman’s perspective, is immediately apparent. This, it should be noted, is the unique view of the world which has allowed Richman to create such rich and vibrant worlds on the page, worlds described as ‘beautiful and heartfelt,’ ‘evocative’, ‘riveting,’ and ‘captivating,’ by everyone from New York Times bestselling authors such as Kristin Hannah and John Lescroart, to publications such as The Library Journal and InStyle.
Richman’s father was an electrical engineer, who taught her to understand things by taking them apart and putting them back together. Her mother, on the other hand, was an artist, who would take her daughter to museums and point out how brush strokes and distance effect the image; how, when one looks at a sculpture, something new is revealed from every angle. Richman says she writes in these terms, and notes that her parents respective outlooks led to her own intellectual curiosity as well as a vivid, visual life. This makes total sense when you look at Richman’s body of work: each novel is set in a different country, during a different time period (from Paris in World War II, to pre-war Prague, to Chile under Pinochet) featuring and exploring different creative processes and famous creatives (Richman has tackled everyone from Van Gogh to The Little Prince author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.)
While her parents were without doubt the teachers who moulded Richman into the fascinating and versatile author she is today, it was another teacher entirely who inspired the plot of her latest novel, The Secret of Clouds.
Richman has a friend who teaches third grade, and every year for the past twenty or so years, she has assigned her class the same project: to write a letter to their eighteen-year-old future selves, outlining their hopes and dreams; a letter from the past, a message for the future. She takes on the responsibility of keeping these letters until the children reach high school graduation, at which time she mails them to the graduates. Understandably, Richman was blown away when she learned of her friend’s foresight in creating these written time capsules for her students, and wanted to write a story that honored not only teachers’ commitment to the children in their classes, but their ability to create a permanent print of someone’s childhood. But Richman also wondered: had any one instance or student stood out in the two decades her friend had been running this project?
The answer…was yes.
Richman’s ‘love letter to teachers’ is an ode to humanity, to the transformative bond and lasting impact a truly great teacher can have on a student, on a family, on a community. The Secret of Clouds begins in Ukraine’s capital city of Kiev, following a young couple. Katya, a rising ballerina, and graduate student Sasha fall in love shortly before a devastating tragedy befalls their nation. Later, after they have emigrated to the United States, their son Yuri is born with a rare health condition which prevents him from attending school. Enter Maggie, a dedicated teacher who, despite her own past trauma, agrees to tutor Yuri at home. Teacher and student form a powerful bond, with Yuri’s passion and curiosity inspiring Maggie to take steps to improving her own life, however “she’ll never realize just how strong Yuri has made her—until she needs that strength the most.”
Though not set in the past as Richman’s previous novels have been, fans of Richman will be pleased to learn that The Secret of Clouds still has history woven through it; the Chernobyl disaster sees Yuri as one of the many children born years later with devastating defects as a result of the radiation, while creative themes are explored through Maggie’s teaching abilities, and Katya’s past as a dancer in Kiev’s National Theater. PopSugar’s glowing review assures readers that “Richman’s first foray into a contemporary story will make you forget about the past,” while the Washington Independent Review of Books calls The Secret of Clouds “An exquisite story,” noting that “Richman’s great strength in designing the emotional ebb and flow of her engaging narrative should win accolades and a heap of new readers.” Booklist also comments that The Secret of Clouds “is tailor-made for book groups.”
So what are you waiting for? In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, get your copy of what New York Times bestselling author Pam Jenoff calls Alyson Richman’s ‘unforgettable gift of a book’ The Secret of Clouds, and remember those in your life who have taught you the most.
2019 promises to be a year of diverse, compelling, and topical books across all genres. Since 2018 promised to be a disaster and then pretty much followed through, this seems a bit more optimistic. While this isn’t a definitive list of every quality book to be released in 2019—which would probably take until 2019 to finish reading—it’s a sampling of both YA and adult titles to excite you month by month. So if your life plan for 2019 is less than certain, the least you can do is plan out your year in reading.
Maid by Stephanie Land
Stephanie Land writes: “my daughter learned how to walk in a homeless shelter.” As the gap widens between America’s wealthy and its underclass, Land’s work as a maid isn’t a door between these two worlds – instead, it’s only a window. The more Land struggles as an underpaid single mother, the more she witnesses the dark truth of what it takes to survive in a rigidly stratified society.
The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan
Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali is leaving soon: Caltech and her dream of becoming an engineer wait at the end of a few a few short months… which seem to get longer and longer. Although she tries to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, it’s hard not to react when they favor her brother and criticize her choice in clothing. It’s harder to hide her girlfriend. Swept off to Bandgladesh in a whirlwind of cultural panic, Rukshana realizes that she will have to fight for her love. But will she also have to lose everything?
Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James
Tracker is known far and wide for his skills as a hunter: “He has a nose,” people say. Engaged to track down a mysterious boy who disappeared three years earlier, Tracker breaks his own rule of always working alone when he finds himself part of a group that comes together to search for the boy. The band is a hodgepodge, full of unusual characters with secrets of their own, including a shape-shifting man-animal known as Leopard.
On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
Sixteen-year-old Bri wants to be one of the greatest rappers of all time. Or at least make it out of her neighborhood one day. As the daughter of an underground rap legend who died before he hit big, Bri’s got big shoes to fill. But now that her mom has unexpectedly lost her job, food banks and shutoff notices are as much a part of Bri’s life as beats and rhymes. With bills piling up and homelessness staring her family down, Bri no longer just wants to make it—she has to make it.
Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi
Influenced by the mysterious place gingerbread holds in classic children’s stories–equal parts wholesome and uncanny, from the tantalizing witch’s house in “Hansel and Gretel” to the man-shaped confection who one day decides to run as fast as he can–beloved novelist Helen Oyeyemi invites readers into a delightful tale of a surprising family legacy, in which the inheritance is a recipe.
The Fever King by Victoria Lee
In the former United States, sixteen-year-old Noam Álvaro wakes up in a hospital bed, the sole survivor of the viral magic that killed his family and made him a technopath. His ability to control technology attracts the attention of the minister of defense and thrusts him into the magical elite of the nation of Carolinia.
The son of undocumented immigrants, Noam has spent his life fighting for the rights of refugees fleeing magical outbreaks—refugees Carolinia routinely deports with vicious efficiency. Sensing a way to make change, Noam accepts the minister’s offer to teach him the science behind his magic, secretly planning to use it against the government. But then he meets the minister’s son—cruel, dangerous, and achingly beautiful—and the way forward becomes less clear.
Internment by Samira Ahmed
Set in a horrifying near-future United States, seventeen-year-old Layla Amin and her parents are forced into an internment camp for Muslim American citizens.
With the help of newly made friends also trapped within the internment camp, her boyfriend on the outside, and an unexpected alliance, Layla begins a journey to fight for freedom, leading a revolution against the internment camp’s Director and his guards.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews
One evening, eight Mennonite women climb into a hay loft to conduct a secret meeting. For the past two years, each of these women, and more than a hundred other girls in their colony, has been repeatedly violated in the night by demons coming to punish them for their sins. Now that the women have learned they were in fact drugged and attacked by a group of men from their own community, they are determined to protect themselves and their daughters from future harm.
In the Neighborhood of True by Susan Kaplan Carlton
After her father’s death, Ruth Robb and her family transplant themselves in the summer of 1958 from New York City to Atlanta—the land of debutantes, sweet tea, and the Ku Klux Klan. In her new hometown, Ruth quickly figures out she can be Jewish or she can be popular, but she can’t be both.
Home Remedies by Xuan Juliana Wang
This dazzling collection interrogates the fractures, collisions and glorious new alloys of what it means to be a Chinese millennial. Xuan Juliana Wang has the dark soul of an old poet’s inkwell, the deep knowing of an ancient remedy, and linguistic incandescence of a megacity skyline.
From a crowded apartment on Mott Street, where an immigrant family raises its first real Americans, to a pair of divers at the Beijing Olympics poised at the edge of success and self-discovery, Wang’s unforgettable characters – with their unusual careers, unconventional sex lives and fantastical technologies – share the bold hope that, no matter where they’ve come from, their lives too can be extraordinary.
These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Stirling
Hannah’s a witch. But even though she lives in Salem, Massachusetts, her magic is a secret she has to keep to herself. If she’s ever caught using it in front of a Reg (read: non-witch), she could lose it. For good. So, Hannah spends most of her time avoiding her ex-girlfriend (and fellow Elemental Witch) Veronica, hanging out with her best friend, and working at the Fly by Night Cauldron selling candles and crystals to tourists, goths, and local Wiccans. But dealing with her ex is the least of Hannah’s concerns when a terrifying blood ritual interrupts the end-of-school-year bonfire.
Evidence of dark magic begins to appear all over Salem, and Hannah’s sure it’s the work of a deadly Blood Witch. The issue is, her coven is less than convinced, forcing Hannah to team up with the last person she wants to see: Veronica.
Mostly Dead Things by Kristen Arnett
One morning, Jessa-Lynn Morton walks into the family taxidermy shop to find that her father has committed suicide, right there on one of the metal tables. Shocked and grieving, Jessa steps up to manage the business, while the rest of the Morton family crumbles.
Jessa struggles to salvage the failing taxidermy shop, seeking out less-than-legal ways of generating income, all the while clashing with her mother and brother. As their mother’s art escalates to include a figure of her dead husband and a stuffed buffalo in an uncomfortably sexual pose, Jessa must find a way to restore the Morton clan’s delicate balance, and that means first learning who these people truly are, and ultimately how she fits alongside them all.
The Grief Keeper by Alex Villasante
Seventeen-year-old Marisol has always dreamed of being American. She never pictured fleeing her home in El Salvador under threat of death and stealing across the US border as “an illegal”, but after her brother is murdered and her younger sister, Gabi’s, life is also placed in equal jeopardy, she has no choice, especially because she knows everything is her fault. If she had never fallen for the charms of a beautiful girl named Liliana, she and Gabi wouldn’t have been caught crossing the border.
But they have been caught and their asylum request will most certainly be denied. With truly no options remaining, Marisol jumps at an unusual opportunity to stay in the United States. She’s asked to become a grief keeper, taking the grief of another into her own body to save a life. It’s a risky, experimental study, but if it means Marisol can keep her sister safe, she will risk anything.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead
As the Civil Rights movement begins to reach the black enclave of Frenchtown, Elwood Curtis takes the words of Dr. Martin Luther King to heart: He is “as good as anyone.” Elwood is about to enroll in the local black college. But for a black boy in the Jim Crow South in the early 1960s, one innocent mistake is enough to destroy the future. Elwood is sentenced to a juvenile reformatory called The Nickel Academy, a grotesque chamber of horrors. Stunned to find himself in such a vicious environment, Elwood tries to hold on to Dr. King’s ringing assertion “Throw us in jail and we will still love you.”
Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a devastating, driven narrative that showcases a great American novelist writing at the height of his powers.
The Arrival of Someday by Jen Malone
Hard-charging and irrepressible eighteen-year-old Amelia Linehan could see a roller derby opponent a mile away. They don’t call her Rolldemort for nothing! What she couldn’t see coming, however, was the unexpected flare-up of a rare liver disorder she was born with. But now it’s the only thing she—and everyone around her—can think about.
With no guarantee of a viable organ transplant, everything Amelia’s been sure of—like her college plans, the mural she’d been commissioned to paint, or the possibility of one day falling in love—has become a huge question mark, threatening to drag her down into a sea of what-ifs she’s desperate to avoid.
Doxology by Nell Zink
Pam, Daniel, and Joe might be the worst punk band on the Lower East Side. Struggling to scrape together enough cash and musical talent to make it, they are waylaid by surprising arrivals—a daughter for Pam and Daniel, a solo hit single for Joe. As the ‘90s wane, the three friends share in one another’s successes, working together to elevate Joe’s superstardom and raise baby Flora.
On September 11, 2001, the city’s unfathomable devastation coincides with a shattering personal loss for the trio. In the aftermath, Flora comes of age, navigating a charged political landscape and discovering a love of the natural world.
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
The wait is over.
And so I step up, into the darkness within; or else the light.
When the van door slammed on Offred’s future at the end of The Handmaid’s Tale, readers had no way of telling what lay ahead for her – freedom, prison or death.
With The Testaments, the wait is over.
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett
Author Camryn Garrett | Image Via Vocally.com
Simone Garcia-Hampton is a black teen born HIV-Positive. Raised by loving queer parents who assure her that her diagnosis doesn’t define her, Simone must navigate a whole new world of fear, disclosure, and radical self-acceptance when she falls in love—and lust—for the first time.
No Mercy by Martina Cole
The brand new novel from Sunday Times No. 1 bestseller and ‘undisputed queen of crime writing’ (Guardian) Martina Cole. The biggest selling female crime writer in the UK, Martina’s unique and powerful novels have gripped their readers for twenty-five years, and include Dangerous Lady, The Take and Damaged.
Ninth House by Leigh Bardugo
The new series centers on Alex Stern, a 20-year-old California high school dropout with a criminal past who is mysteriously offered a second chance as a Yale University freshman. Ninth House, the first book, follows Stern’s freshman year, where she is charged with monitoring Yale’s secret societies, who engage in sinister occult activities.
The Devil in Paradise by James L Haley
The gripping naval saga by award-winning historian James L. Haley moves to a tropical setting as Captain Bliven Putnam takes on pirates in the Phillipines and diplomatic relations in Hawaii.
It’s 1818 and Bliven Putnam is now a captain in the American Navy. Doing battle with the deadly pirate Jean Lafitte, off the coast of Texas, Putnam has come into his own as a leader. But he’s plagued by thoughts of home, where his wife, Clarity, is managing the family farm, the fortune, and an extenstive building project. When their long-planned reunion is cut short by a new assignment, Clarity at last puts her foot down. If she can’t keep Putnam with her, then she’ll just have to go with him.
The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern
Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a strange book hidden in the library stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues — a bee, a key, and a sword — that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to a subterranean library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.
Shooting Cole Stone by SC Megale
Author S.C. Megale Image Via Wikipedia.org
Wednesday Books has bought Shooting Cole Stone, S.C. Megale’s #ownvoices debut YA novel. The book features irreverent Maeve, who has Muscular Dystrophy and plans to become an Oscar-winning film director, if only she can graduate high school and get some action with her leading man first. Publication is projected for winter 2019.
Featured Image Via Poisonedpen.com | Images and book blurbs via Goodreads.com
Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace is one of the most beloved works of literature and largely considered the author’s best work, closely followed by Anna Karenina.
The 19th century Russian novel explores the French invasion of Russia during the napoleonic wars and its subsequent spiritual, emotional, and physical effects on the various classes of Russian society during the time. Tolstoy’s historical perspective, memorable characters, and powerful language has cemented War and Peace as one of the most memorable and important literary works. Long after readers have put the novel down, the story has stayed with them, largely due to Tolstoy’s powerful and memorable lines. Here are 8 lines in War and Peace that took our breath away:
Featured Image Via Amazon Books/Steve Simon. All Quote Images Via QuoteFancy
As an author, you’ve got to have thick skin and a sure mind if you’re going to put your work out there. Criticism of your writing can feel bad, but accusations of plagiarism are so much worse. Dan Brown, author of The Da Vinci CodeandAngels & Demons, is now one of those authors accused.
Dan Brown. | Image Via Famous Authors
Brown has a plagiarism lawsuit on his hands for copyright infringement brought on by fellow author Jack Dunn. According to an article by Market Watch, Dunn has stated that Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code is terribly similar in plot points, scenes, and more to his 1997 book, The Vatican Boys.
Jack Dunn. | Image Via MarketWatch
It’s a little like deja vu because Dunn has brought this exact case against Brown to court in 2007. It was dismissed. This time he’s bringing it back to Brown’s publisher, Penguin Random House. Yikes!
The U.K. law firm taking on Dunn’s case recently sent a letter to the publishing company:
There are hundreds of similarities between The Vatican Boys and The Da Vinci Code which comprise copying portions of The Vatican Boys in the form of storylines, plots, characters, historical information, scenes, themes and even factual error which have been appropriated from The Vatican Boys by Mr. and/or Mrs. Brown in writing The Da Vinci Code.
At some point in the letter, the firm explains their belief that the Browns (Blythe Brown helps her husband, Dan Brown, with research) wrote the novel with Dunn’s book open right next to them. That’s crazy! Brown has had two previous authors file similar claims of copying, but also lost. That’s why Dunn took so long to file a suit after 2007. “After the judge kicked it out, I got a letter from Random House attorneys saying they were going to nail me for heavy-duty losses unless I signed off. I was tired and signed off.”
Image Via MarketWatch
Now Dunn is bringing it back with evidence to prove Brown both read and copied large portions of his book. For these two authors, I’d say the next few months will be as intense as their books.
There aren’t many things better than historical fiction, in which authors tackle history from a fictional character’s perspective. One of those few better things? Historical fiction from the perspective of real-life people. These books take on wildly different figures of varying degrees of fame and sympathy, but all share a commitment to bringing a world alive in all its detail and complication.
From his classic novels to his enduring image as a cigar chomping manly man, Ernest Hemingway has long lived in the popular imagination. His first wife, Hadley Richardson, has not. McLain attempts to correct that oversight with this novel, embodying Hadley’s voice to tell the story of the pair’s unlikely romance and eventual breakup amid the American expatriate scene in 1920’s Paris.
Mantel upped the historical fiction ante with this 2009 novel about Thomas Cromwell, advisor to King Henry VIII and schemer extraordinaire. Mantel knows her stuff, making an already explosive story vividly alive—and ripe for adaptation. If you like this one, there are two more after!
George Mallory made history as a member of the first British Expedition up Mount Everest, but he died on the mountain on 1924. From this somber fact, Archer expertly weaves a portrait of Mallory’s risky ambition as well as the friends and family who surround him—particularly Ruth, the wife he left behind.
Camille Pisarro was a Danish-French artist well-regarded for his Impressionist works. Much less well known, however, is his mother Rachel, a charismatic woman forced into marriage and early widowhood in a small Caribbean Jewish community who ultimately chooses to live her own life—the community’s judgment be damned.
Aaron Burr, the killer of Alexander Hamilton and a schemer who actually tried to form his own country in the expanse of the Louisiana Purchase, has earned a place in American history as one of our greatest villains. But Vidal, in his wisdom, dares to imagine Burr not as a greedy monster but as a flawed and complicated man made, in part, by the violent new cnation he calls home.
Bert Williams was one of America’s greatest performers, a pioneer who forged a path for African Americans working in the entertainment industry. He was also a black man confined to crude blackface comedy, a victim of ignorance who died full of sorrow and regret. Phillips covers all angles of Williams’ storied life, from his friendships to his romances and stage roles, never straying far from the mounting cost of misrepresentation for black entertainers of the early twentieth century.
In this eventful novel, Kidd turns her attention to the Grimké sisters, Angelina and Sarah—the real-life daughters of slaveholders who would grow up to be abolitionists—as well as Hetty “Handful”, a slave who grows up with the girls. But where the real Hetty died young of a beating and subsequent illness, Kidd’s Hetty gets to grow older and wiser, eventually coming in to her own just like her more privileged counterparts.
The “Arthur” of the title is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, famed creator of Sherlock Holmes, while “George” is the less famous but just as real George Edaji, a Parsi-English lawyer unjustly convicted of committing animal cruelty. Barnes follows both of their lives closely, building up to the point when their narratives will converge and make history. Barnes deserves credit for reviving this obscure story for a modern audience.
Empress Wu was one of only a handful of women to rule Imperial China, and she did so with great taste and skill. Still, her story is known to precious few—a state of affairs that Empress tries to remedy. Sa stays with Wu from her humble origins as an emperor’s concubine to the first wife position and, eventually, head of all China.
If you know anything at all about architecture, than you’ve probably heard the name Frank Lloyd Wright. For many, Wright was the face of American architecture, desigining hundreds of structures over his 91-year life. But Frank didn’t just spend all his time at the drafting table. Case in point: his passionate affair with Mamah Borthwick Cheney, a married woman who would soon die a grisly death at the hands of a servant in the seeming safety of Wright’s estate. But before the sorrow comes, we come to see Mamah not as a mistress, but as a person—making the ending all the more devastating.