Today’s releases include a magical historical novel that is an ode to stories and storytelling, another that is set at the (in)famous Dakota building in New York City, and the story of an already fractured family pushed to their limits.
Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield
When a man bursts into a riverside inn on the longest night of the year, covered in blood and carrying a dead child, the patrons of the Swan are beyond thrilled to find themselves in the middle of a swiftly unfolding tale—especially when the child is determined to actually be alive. Is the mute girl the long-missing daughter of a nearby wealthy family, or the bastard child of woman who threw herself in the Thames only a day or so earlier? Inquiring minds want to know. Weaving among the turmoil is a buoyant dance between science and superstition, as Darwin’s ideas, psychiatry, and scientific observation waltz with skullduggery, a curiously wise pig, and a man—or ghost—who patrols the Thames. As Setterfield (The Thirteenth Tale) juggles a colorful mob of characters whose lives are upended by the mysterious young girl, the joy of storytelling permeates every moment in this lively and wise historical novel. –Adrian Liang
The Dakota Winters by Tom Barbash
Anyone who has ever lived in New York knows that New York is ever changing. But there are periods that stand out in the imagination, and the late 70s/early 80s of Tom Barbash’s The Dakota Winters is one of them. It was a tough city, with rampant poverty, drugs, crime, and grime, but it was also a vibrant, creative, non-corporate place of creative ambition. So there’s a lot of warm nostalgia in this novel, and that’s not even mentioning the famous celebrities who find their way into the story. The Dakota in The Dakota Winters is the famous upper West Side building where John Lennon lived (he is in the novel). The Winters are a family that resides in the Dakota. Buddy Winter, the patriarch of the family, is a well-known talk show host who suffered a nervous breakdown several years ago (he’s fictional, don’t look him up). His son, Anton, who contracted malaria while on a post-college tour in the Peace Corps, has returned to secure his own small apartment in the Dakota and figure out where to go from there. The drama in this story begins when Buddy asks his son to help him get back on his professional feet. Set in and around New York, up in Lake Placid during those Olympics, and venturing as far as Bermuda, The Dakota Winters is warm and entertaining, very sharp in its observations, and feels a little itself like a novel from another era. –Chris Schluep
North of Dawn by Nuruddin Farah
What would you do if your son was a terrorist, responsible for the deaths of many and ultimately his own? Would you mourn the loss? Would you support his wife and stepchildren, sponsoring their livelihood and their move from Somalia to Norway? What would you do if his wife’s strict adherence to Islam and her violent past made it nearly impossible for her to assimilate? Would you trust her? Would you defend your son’s family? Do you encourage notions of freedom with his children? In North of Dawn, Nuruddin Farah confronts these questions head-on. Told from alternating vantage points and across several years, Farah weaves an emotional tale that pits the past against the future, pushing the limits of loyalty and love, family and religion, to their breaking points. –Al Woodworth