MISTER OWITA’S GUIDE TO GARDENING

by Carol Wall |

MEMOIR

If some of us are born with a green thumb, Carol Wall’s was decidedly brown. Wall had hated flowers since childhood because they reminded her of the funeral of her sister Barbara, who was born with Down syndrome and died at age 2. Now 52 and living with her husband in a tidy Roanoke, Va., neighborhood, Wall admits that her yard “wasn’t just rough around the edges. It had become a genuine embarrassment.” When she discovers that a local man has transformed a neighbor’s garden into a backyard oasis, she hires him to do the same. But what Wall learns from Kenyan immigrant Giles Owita is much more than how to prune her birches and fertilize her azaleas. As Wall struggles with multiple rounds of breast cancer and the health issues of her aging parents, Owita is dealing with his own secret illness and displaced family members. Their student-teacher relationship blossoms into a friendship as each learns to see life through the other’s eyes. In this profoundly moving memoir, Owita teaches Wall how to find grace amid heartbreak and to accept that beauty exists because it is fleeting—as in her garden, as in life.

—REVIEWED BY ANDREA WALKER

THE GOOD LUCK OF RIGHT NOW

by Matthew Quick |

NOVEL

Fans of The Silver Linings Playbook know Quick’s penchant for emotionally troubled, big-hearted characters, and Good Luck will satisfy those readers and new ones alike. At 38, Bartholomew Neil still lives with his mom and struggles with extreme social anxiety. When his mother dies, he finds refuge with a cast of misfits: a defrocked priest, a man obsessed with alien abductions and this man’s sister, on whom Neil develops a crush. In this gratifying romp, Quick’s characters find happiness in realizing “if there weren’t weird, strange, and unusual people” in the world, there could be no such thing as “normal” life.

—REVIEWED BY ANDREA WALKER

A LIFE IN MEN

by Gina Frangello

NOVEL

The tale of Mary Grace, a young woman with cystic fibrosis who makes the most of her time by collecting travel experiences and men, easily could have been a clichéd “seize the day” story. Instead it is original and fearless. Spanning from the Lockerbie bombing of 1988 through 9/11, it is a powerful portrait of human connection and individual triumph.

—REVIEWED BY ROBIN MICHELI

PLENTY OF TIME WHEN WE GET HOME

by Kayla Williams |

MEMOIR

Iraq veteran Kayla Williams gives a blistering account of war’s effects on her marriage to another soldier, who suffers from PTSD and traumatic brain injury. As he grapples with nightmares and rage, Williams laments how her country seems to forget that women also fight wars and deserve respect. Intimate and brave, her book is a testament to how love soldiers on.

—REVIEWED BY CAROLINE LEAVITT

THE WIVES OF LOS ALAMOS

by TaraShea Nesbit |

NOVEL

In 1943 the women were whisked to New Mexico’s high desert, where their husbands would labor in utter secrecy to create the atom bomb. It’s a great story, and Nesbit boldly uses the first person plural to tell it. Although this can be distancing (“We boarded trains in Philadelphia, or in Chicago”), she evokes the women’s days in lyrical, hypnotic detail: the mountains’ stark beauty, the sand penetrating every corner of the jerry-built houses, the infectious pettiness of people stuck in close quarters, the sudden bursts of patriotism.

—REVIEWED BY HELEN ROGAN

WHILE BEAUTY SLEPT

by Elizabeth Blackwell

NOVEL

Old-fashioned storytelling and historical fiction create a charming alchemy in this clever reimagining of Sleeping Beauty. The narrative, with prose stylized just enough to befit the medieval setting, follows Elise, a poor girl who becomes a personal servant to the Queen and a protector of the Princess, who’s been “cursed” by an evil crone. As desire clashes with duty, Elise’s emotional journey is charted with intimacy, and life inside the castle becomes vividly real. With its palace intrigue, romance and death, this is no fairy tale but enchanting nonetheless.

—REVIEWED BY ROBIN MICHELI

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