September Books

Return of the spies

By Romey Petite

Marita: The Spy Who Loved Castro, by Marita Lorenz

Even as an infant, Marita Lorenz was a survivor — her twin sister was stillborn. By the age of 7 she had endured both confinement and liberation from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and sexual assault by an American soldier. In 1959, at 19 years old, Marita was aboard her father’s ship in the port of Havana, barely a month after the Cuban dictator and capitalist puppet Fulgencio Batista had been deposed and driven out. It was then that Marita had her first meeting with her eventual lover, Fidel Castro. On another visit she was hired to slip Castro a fatal poison — an act she found herself ultimately unable to undertake. Called unreliable, a failed assassin, and the patron saint of conspiracy theorists, Marita Lorenz has lived an undeniably riveting life of chance encounters, crossing paths with characters ranging from Frank Anthony Sturgis (of the Watergate Five) to Lee Harvey Oswald. Her forthcoming memoir is the basis for the upcoming major motion picture Marita, starring Jennifer Lawrence.

A Legacy of Spies, by John Le Carré

Fans of The Spy Who Came in from the Cold and Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy have waited 25 years for author John Le Carré’s return to the form he mastered — the literary spy novel. His latest, A Legacy of Spies, serves as both a kind of prequel and a bookend to his other tales of espionage, and features the aging Peter Guillam — a disciple of spymaster George Smiley and the linchpin of Le Carré’s stories. Recruited into the British Secret Service, aka the Circus, as a young man, Guillam is called to London to account for the Machiavellian actions of his colleagues and himself during the Cold War. Splitting the narrative between many years ago and today, Le Carré illuminates the reader on the discrepancies between what Guillam tells the committee and what really happened. Characteristic of Le Carré, there is a kind of deftness with which he summarizes the unspoken aspects of one’s duty in a way that is quintessentially British. A Legacy of Spies is a tale that longtime fans of Le Carré will appreciate.

Little Fires Everywhere, by Celeste Ng

The idyllic and privileged suburbia of Shaker Heights, Ohio, is home to Mr. and Mrs. Richardson, their two sons (Moody and Trip) and two daughters (Lexie and Izzy). Their predictable model home changes when Mrs. Richardson returns from work one day to discover her house ablaze — not from a candle or appliance fire, but deliberately splashed gasoline. Author Celeste Ng uses this incident as a jumping off point to begin weaving a story from the ashes of the Richardsons’ home, beginning when the couple decides to take two new tenants into one of the duplexes they routinely rent out — an artist, Mia Warren, and her daughter, Pearl. While the tenants seem, at first, an agreeable pair, a wedge is driven between the two families as the Richardsons’ friends, the McCulloughs, adopt a little girl found abandoned at a fire station. Things come to a boiling point when the little girl’s biological mother reappears demanding the return of her daughter. A former recipient of the Pushcart Prize, Celeste Ng has also won Amazon Book of the Year for her first novel, Everything I Never Told You. Possessing a large cast, Little Fires Everywhere takes a little while to settle into, but will reward readers that are patient with its slow burning pace.

Five-Carat Soul, by James McBride 

James McBride is the author of the National Book Award-winning The Good Lord Bird and several best-sellers including, The Color of Water, Song Yet Sung, Miracle at St. Anna, and Kill Em and Leave: Searching for James Brown and the American Soul. A unifying theme in his collection of stories, Five-Carat Soul, is the promise of rediscovering lost treasure and the uncovering of forgotten lore. This treasure might be something literal — someone in search of a legendary antique trainset commissioned by Robert E. Lee for his son, or perhaps something more abstract like the boy who persists in the belief that his father is none other than Abraham Lincoln. Freedom, too, plays its part as a kind of priceless treasure, both sought and bestowed by unconventional characters. In “Mr. P & the Wind” a lion hopes to escape from the confines of a zoo, and in “The Fish Man Angel,” a monster not unlike The Creature from the Black Lagoon comes bearing prophetic wisdom to a slave drawing water from a well. McBride himself is a skilled craftsman, one that relishes the experience of spinning a good yarn. His prose teems with the subtle flourishes of character quirks. An intermingling of history and fabulism also lends his stories a kind of suspension of disbelief, even as they veer into the territory of magical realism.

Empress of the East: How a European Slave Girl Became Queen of the Ottoman Empire, by Leslie Peirce

Author Leslie Peirce has possessed a penchant for Ottoman history ever since her involvement with the Peace Corps in Turkey. Her latest book tells the story of Hurrem Sultan, the abducted Christian girl who became known as Roxelana. Roxelana played a controversially active role in the Ottoman Empire — a vast territory spanning the east Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Historians know little of her save that she was a Christian captive, as was custom for harem girls. Peirce begins with her own speculation on the girl’s unknown origins, then charts Roxelana’s rise, from her initial arrival in the harem, to being declared chief consort and eventually, and most unlikely of all, her enthronement as the wife of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent. Roxelana left a legacy that consists of charities, mosques, schools, fountains and women’s hospitals. Called a witch by those who feared her ambition and wise counsel to her husband, Empress of the East is the story of a woman who defied tradition, but remains mostly unknown in the West. 

Crash Override, by Zoe Quinn

Not everyone gets to choose his or her vocation. For Zoe Quinn, she thought it would just be a career in game design. Instead, she discovered another calling in founding an organization to end cyberbullying and online harassment. #gamergate was the hashtag heard around the world. It began as no more than a private quarrel and ended with a panel assembled before the United Nations. In 2014, over a matter of hours, Quinn watched as complete strangers commandeered a message board rant written by an ex-boyfriend and a coordinated campaign — fueled by rage and misogyny — was launched against her. For a time, her life was derailed, her personal history hijacked, and her privacy invaded by trolls. Crash Override tells the story of how Quinn, empowered through her own struggle as the target of mob hatred, founded a crisis helpline to assist other victims of online abuse, hate groups and impersonation. One thing Quinn makes abundantly clear in her book: This can happen to anyone who veers from the norm or dares to raise his or her voice.

The Trick, by Emanuel Bergmann

When Max Cohn’s parents divorce, they promise nothing will change for him, but it’s a promise they should never have made. Max blames himself for his parents’ irreconcilable differences. While his father is moving out, Max discovers a dusty scratched old LP with a cover featuring a magician called The Great Zabbatini. Listening to the album, Max hears Zabbatini speak of a powerful love spell and begins to believe that it alone can bring his parents together again. The Trick is told via two interwoven narratives bridging the past, Zabbatini’s humble origins as a dubious miracle child born to a rabbi and his wife; and the present as Max is prompted to seek out the old magician. Bawdy, tragic and whimsical, it is translator and teacher Emanuel Bergmann’s debut novel and certain to be a hit with readers of Heather O’Neill’s Lonely Hearts Hotel and Michael Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay.


By Angie Talley

The Mermaid, by Jan Brett

Beloved author/illustrator of such classic children’s books as The Mitten and Gingerbread Baby, Brett has written a stunningly beautiful undersea version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It’s sure to be the book for the fall. Jan Brett will visit Southern Pines Thursday, Nov. 29, at 5 p.m. Tickets to the event are available with purchase of The Mermaid through The Country Bookshop and are limited, so call 910-692-3211 to reserve your copy. All ages.

The Glass Town Game, by Catherynne Valente

Glass Town is a marvelous, magical world invented by sisters Charlotte, Emily and Ann, and their brother, Branwell, whose toy soldiers fight real battles with the Duke of Wellington and Napoleon Bonaparte. But when the “Beastliest Day” comes and Charlotte and Emily must go off to school, the siblings find themselves aboard the Glass Town Royal Express gliding through fields resembling Aunt Elizabeth’s handkerchief, where Officer Crashy looks suspiciously like one of the toy soldiers. Mere words make things come to life, and the mysterious Grog can bring life to those once thought lost. Fun and adventure with bits of history tossed in, The Glass Town Game has already received starred reviews and is children’s literature at its best. Catherynne Valente, also the author of the magnificent The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland series, will be at The Country Bookshop Wednesday, Sep. 13, at 4 p.m. This event is free. Ages 8-14.

Tumble & Blue, by Cassie Beasley

From The New York Times best-selling author of Circus Mirandus comes this story of a golden gator, a mysterious swamp, two cursed children, and the way the children take their destiny into their own hands. At once a story of magic, belief in the impossible, friendship, family and adventure, Tumble & Blue is a wonderful tale for young readers or for families who love to read together. Ages 10-12.

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