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Five picks for August

Cindy Burnett
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WHAT TO READ This month’s selections include a thrilling true crime novel, a contemporary fiction title that makes a great summer read, a compelling family drama, an engaging historical fiction tale set in the world of book binding, and a hopeful climate fiction story. (Photo: Cindy Burnett)

Buzz Reads is a column about books by reviewer Cindy Burnett. Each month, Cindy recommends five recently or soon-to-be released titles.

The Bookbinder by Pip Williams (historical fiction) – Lovers of literature will find this historical novel utterly engaging. Williams blends fact and fiction while celebrating words, books themselves, and the power of the written word. The story is set in Oxford amidst the backdrop of World War 1 as men are slowly drafted and recruited to fight. Since age 12, twin sisters Peggy and Maude Jones have worked as bindery girls at Oxford University's Clarendon Press where they bind the books but are explicitly told to not read, just bind. As the war rages, Peggy is wrapped into a secret project as well as volunteering with wounded soldiers, both of which open up her limited world. The true beauty of the book is how Williams captures this historical period from a woman’s perspective, the unprecedented and catastrophic impact of the war, and the arrival of the Spanish Flu. I was completely invested in the characters and their lives and was delighted with the focus on words and books, which are at the heart of this tale.

Broadway Butterfly by Sara DiVello (true crime fiction) – This meticulously well-researched and riveting debut novel takes place in 1923 New York City and chronicles the unsolved murder of flapper Dot King, who had connections to a wealthy “sugar daddy” from Philadelphia with prominent political connections as well as a violent gigolo boyfriend. Neither man has a good alibi, but there is pressure on the district attorney to solve the case quickly. The crime riveted New York City, and female reporter Julia Harpman doggedly worked the case, hoping to get a leg up on her male coworkers. DiVello keeps the story moving along and weaves together the various storylines effectively and seamlessly. She also includes a highly satisfying postscript that details what happened to all of the characters after the hubbub over the crime faded away.

The Connellys of County Down by Tracey Lange (fiction) – Fans of Lange’s debut We Are the Brennans will revel in her standalone sophomore outing, The Connellys of County Down. The three Connelly siblings, Geraldine, Eddie, and Tara, lost their parents when they were young, and life has not been easy for them since. When Tara is released from prison and returns home to live with Geraldine and Eddie, she upsets the uneasy equilibrium that her siblings had reached while she was gone. Things aren’t quite what they seem and, as secrets are slowly unveiled, the siblings struggle to keep their family together. I thoroughly enjoyed the sibling dynamics and am a huge fan of Lange’s writing and characters. This is a great choice for readers who love family dramas and solid character development.

The Great Transition by Nick Fuller Googins (speculative fiction) – Set in the future when climate change has drastically altered the landscape of Earth, Emi and her parents, Larch and Kristina, reside in Nuuk, Greenland after most of the United States is left to rewild following The Great Transition, a time when a movement of people banded together to save the planet and ensure that it remained habitable. When Emi’s mom goes missing and a dozen climate criminals are brazenly murdered, Emi and Larch head out in search of Kristina as they realize they may not know everything about her present-day activities. The story grabbed me from page one, and I loved the references to the “golden oldies” such as Taylor Swift and U2 as well as the vivid descriptions of what New York City may look like in the future. Told through several points of view as well as Emi’s school essays, and alternating between the past and the present, this stellar and hopeful debut will be one of my top reads of the year.

The Summer of Songbirds by Kristy Woodson Harvey (fiction) – In this ode to cherished relationships, Harvey captures the nostalgia of childhood summers particularly those spent at camp, the importance of lifelong friendships, and the enduring impact of first love. Daphne, Lanier, and Mary Stuart met at Camp Holly Springs when they were young and have remained close friends well into their 30s. When they discover that the camp is about to go under, the trio bands together to raise the money Daphne’s Aunt June needs to keep this slice of heaven for girls open. In addition to saving the camp, Daphne and Lanier are struggling with issues in their personal lives that may impact their friendship permanently. Chock full of humor, compelling characters, and a focus on the importance of treasured relationships, The Summer of Songbirds is delightful from beginning to end.

Editor’s note: Southside Place resident Cindy Burnett also writes our weekly Page Turners column. She hosts the Thoughts from a Page Podcast, is co-creator of the Houston literary event series Conversations from the Page, runs the Instagram account @thoughtsfromapage, and regularly speaks to groups about books.

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