11 Upcoming Books We Are All Excited to Read In November 2020
We’re almost through with 2020 boys and girls. November is coming and your girl is ready to cozy up with warm socks and read all these amazing upcoming books in the month of November.
Well, that’s the dream, of course, however, since I do not yet have a fireplace yet as of right now your girl will just settle with rolling up into a burrito to stave off the cold. That aside though, I am proud of how many books I have read so far in 2020. I’ve read around 30 books thus far, which is way more than what I have read in 2019, and I can only credit that to tenacity, hard work, COVID19. I mean, as much bad as coronavirus brought us this year, I think it also made us realize just how much of our time we give to others and not enough to ourselves.
In 2020, I learned so much more about myself––I mean how can you not when you spend 90% of the time quarantine at home alone, you feel? That aside though, I am extremely proud of all the things that I’ve accomplished and conquered this year, and so should you. We’re still alive and breathing to see another day, that’s victory enough in my book.
Now, with 2020 almost coming to an end, let’s see what other new books coming our way in November that are waiting to be devoured.
Genre :Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy
Publish Date :November 1st, 2020
The orphaned Elsie Camden learned as a girl that there were two kinds of wizards in the world: those who pay for the power to cast spells and those, like her, born with the ability to break them. But as an unlicensed magic user, her gift is a crime. Commissioned by an underground group known as the Cowls, Elsie uses her spellbreaking to push back against the aristocrats and help the common man. She always did love the tale of Robin Hood.
Elite magic user Bacchus Kelsey is one elusive spell away from his mastership when he catches Elsie breaking an enchantment. To protect her secret, Elsie strikes a bargain. She’ll help Bacchus fix unruly spells around his estate if he doesn’t turn her in. Working together, Elsie’s trust in—and fondness for—the handsome stranger grows. So does her trepidation about the rise in the murders of wizards and the theft of the spellbooks their bodies leave behind.
For a rogue spellbreaker like Elsie, there’s so much to learn about her powers, her family, the intriguing Bacchus, and the untold dangers shadowing every step of a journey she’s destined to complete. But will she uncover the mystery before it’s too late to save everything she loves?
Genre :Historical Fiction, Young Adult, Retellings, Romance, Fantasy
Publish Date :November 17th, 2020
The year is 1926, and Shanghai hums to the tune of debauchery.
A blood feud between two gangs runs the streets red, leaving the city helpless in the grip of chaos. At the heart of it all is eighteen-year-old Juliette Cai, a former flapper who has returned to assume her role as the proud heir of the Scarlet Gang—a network of criminals far above the law. Their only rivals in power are the White Flowers, who have fought the Scarlets for generations. And behind every move is their heir, Roma Montagov, Juliette’s first love…and first betrayal.
But when gangsters on both sides show signs of instability culminating in clawing their own throats out, the people start to whisper. Of a contagion, a madness. Of a monster in the shadows. As the deaths stack up, Juliette and Roma must set their guns—and grudges—aside and work together, for if they can’t stop this mayhem, then there will be no city left for either to rule.
In glittering Shanghai, a monster awakens.
Its eyes snap open in the belly of the Huangpu River, jaws unhinging at once to taste the foul blood seeping into the waters. Lines of red slither through this ancient city’s modern streets: lines that draw webs in the cobblestones like a network of veins, and drip by drip these veins surge into the waters, pouring the city’s life essence into the mouth of another.
As the night grows dark, the monster pushes itself up, eventually emerging from the waves with the leisure of a forgotten god. When it turns its head up, all that can be seen is the low-hanging, plump moon.
It breathes in. It slinks closer.
Its first breath transforms into a cold breeze, hurtling into the streets and brushing the ankles of those unfortunate enough to be stumbling home during the devil’s hour. This place hums to the tune of debauchery. This city is filthy and deep in the thrall of unending sin, so saturated with the kiss of decadence that the sky threatens to buckle and crush all those living vivaciously beneath it in punishment.
But no punishment comes—not yet. The decade is loose and the morals are looser. As the West throws its arms up in unending party, as the rest of the Middle Kingdom remains splintered among aging warlords and the remnants of imperial rule, Shanghai sits in its own little bubble of power: the Paris of the East, the New York of the West.
Despite the toxin trickling from every dead-ended alleyway, this place is so, so very alive. And the monster, too, is birthed anew.
Unknowingly, the people of this divided city carry on. Two men stumble out from their favorite brothel’s open doors, their laughter piercing and loud. The silence of the late hour stands in sudden contrast to the roaring activity they have emerged from, and their ears struggle to adjust, ringing loudly with the transition.
One is short and stout, as if he could lie on the ground and begin rolling down the sidewalk in the manner of a marble; the other is tall and gawky, his limbs drawn in right angles. With their arms swung around each other’s shoulders, they stumble toward the waterfront, toward the block of land by the sea where merchants arrive with commodities—day in, day out.
The two men are familiar with these ports; after all, when they’re not frequenting jazz clubs or downing the newest shipments of wine from some foreign country, they run messages here, guard merchants here, haul stock back and forth here—all for the Scarlet Gang. They know this boardwalk like the back of their hands, even when it is presently quiet of the usual thousand different languages hollered under a thousand different flags.
At this hour, there is only the muffled music from nearby bars and the large shop banners overhead ruffling with every gust of wind.
And the five White Flowers talking animatedly in Russian.
It is the fault of the two Scarlet men for not hearing the racket sooner, but their brains are clogged with alcohol and their senses are buzzing pleasantly. By the time the White Flowers are in sight, by the time the men see their rivals standing around one of the ports, passing a bottle, shoving shoulders with uproarious laughter, thumping chests with sturdy fists, neither party can back away without losing face.
The White Flowers straighten up, heads tilting into the wind.
“We should continue walking,” the short Scarlet man whispers to his companion. “You know what Lord Cai said about getting into another fight with the White Flowers.”
The gawkier one only bites down on the inside of his cheeks, sucking his face in until he looks like a smug, drunk ghoul.
“He said we shouldn’t initiate anything. He never said we couldn’t get into a fight.”
The Scarlet men speak in the dialect of their city, their tongues laid flat and their sounds pressed tight. Even as they raise their voices with the confidence of being on home turf, they are uneasy, because it is rare now for a White Flower to not know the language—sometimes their accents are indistinguishable from a Shanghai native.
A fact that proves correct when one of the White Flowers, grinning, bellows, “Well, are you trying to pick a fight?”
The taller Scarlet man makes a low sound at the base of his throat and aims a wad of spit at the White Flowers. It lands by the shoe of the nearest.
In a blink: guns upon guns, each arm raised and steady and trigger-happy, ready to pull. This is a scene that no soul bats an eye toward any longer; this is a scene that is more commonplace in heady Shanghai than the smoke of opium wafting from a thick pipe.
A whistle blows into the terse silence. The policeman who runs on site only expresses annoyance at the standstill before him. He has seen this exact scene three times already within the week. He has forced rivals into jail cells and called for cleanup when the members left one another dead and pierced with bullets instead. Weary with the day, all he wants to do is go home, soak his feet in hot water, and eat the meal his wife would have left cold on the table. His hand is already itching for his baton, itching to beat some sense into these men, itching to remind these people that they have no personal grudge against the other. All that fuels them is reckless, baseless loyalty to the Cais and the Montagovs, and it would be their ruin.
“Do we want to break this up and go home?” the policeman asks. “Or do we want to come with me and—”
He stops abruptly.
A growl is echoing from the waters.
The warning that radiates from such a sound is not a deniable sensation. It is not the sort of paranoia one feels when they think they are being followed down an abandoned junction; nor is it the sort of panic that ensues when a floorboard creaks in a house thought empty. It is solid, tangible—it almost exudes a moisture into the air, a weight pressing down on bare skin. It is a threat as obvious as a gun to the face, and yet there is a moment of inaction, a moment of hesitation. The short and stout Scarlet man wavers first, his eyes darting to the edge of the boardwalk. He ducks his head, peering into the murky depths, squinting to follow the choppy, rolling motions of the water’s small ripples.
He is just at the right height for his companion to scream and knock him down with a brutal elbow to the temple when something bursts from the river.
Little black specks.
As the short man falls to the ground and slams against hard dirt, the world is raining down on him in dots—strange things he cannot quite see as his vision spins and his throat gags in nausea. He can only feel pinpricks landing on him, itching his arms, his legs, his neck; he hears his companion screaming, the White Flowers roaring at one another in indecipherable Russian, then finally, the policeman shrieking in English, “Get it off! Get them off!”
The man on the ground has a thudding, thunderous heartbeat. With his forehead pressed to the earth, unwilling to behold whatever is causing these terrible howls, his own pulse consumes him. It overtakes every one of his senses, and only when something thick and wet splashes against his leg does he scramble upright in horror, flailing so extremely that he kicks free a shoe and doesn’t bother to fetch it.
He doesn’t look back as he runs. He scrubs himself free of the debris that had rained down on him, hiccuping in his desperation to breathe in, breathe in, breathe in.
He doesn’t look back to check what had been lurking in the waters. He doesn’t look back to see if his companion needs help, and he certainly doesn’t look back to determine what had landed on his leg with a viscous, sticky sensation. The man only runs and runs, past the neon delight of the theaters as the last of their lights wink off, past the whispers crawling under the front doors of brothels, past the sweet dreams of merchants who sleep with piles of money underneath their mattresses.
And he is long gone by the time there are only dead men lying along the ports of Shanghai, their throats torn out and their eyes staring up at the night sky, glassy with the reflection of the moon.
Genre :Contemporary Fiction, Young Adult, Romance, Fantasy
Publish Date :November 3rd, 2020
Chronic overachiever Prudence Daniels is always quick to cast judgment on the lazy, rude, and arrogant residents of her coastal town. Her dreams of karmic justice are fulfilled when, after a night out with her friends, she wakes up with the sudden ability to cast instant karma on those around her. Pru giddily makes use of the power, punishing everyone from public vandals to karaoke hecklers, but there is one person on whom her powers consistently backfire: Quint Erickson, her slacker of a lab partner and all-around mortal enemy. Soon, Pru begins to uncover truths about Quint, her peers, and even herself that reveal how thin the line is between virtue and vanity, generosity and greed . . . love and hate.
Quint Erickson is late.
I shouldn’t be surprised. I’m not surprised. I’d be more surprised if he was actually on time for once. But really? Today? Of all the days?
I’m simmering in my seat, my fingers drumming against the presentation board that’s folded up on our lab table. My attention is divided between watching the clock over the classroom door and silently repeating the words I’ve been memorizing all week.
Our beaches and coastal waters are home to some remarkable species. Fish and mammals and sea turtles and—
“Sharks,” says Maya Livingstone from the front of the room, “have been severely mistreated by Hollywood over the decades. They are not the monsters that humans have made them out to be!”
“Plus,” adds her lab partner, Ezra Kent, “who’s eating who here? I mean, did you guys know people actually eatshark?”
Maya glances at him, frowning. “Mostly just their fins. To be clear.”
“Right! They make soup out of them,” says Ezra. “Shark fin soup is, like, a super delicacy, because they’re, like, chewy and crunchy at the same time. Wrap your head around that! But I mean, I would totally try it.”
Some of our peers pretend to gag in disgust, even though it’s obvious Ezra is trying to get this exact reaction. Most people call him EZ, which I used to think might be a reference to numerous sexual escapades, but now I think it’s just because he has a reputation for being a jokester. Teachers at our school have learned not to seat him and Quint together.
“Anyway,” says Maya, trying to bring their talk back on point. She goes on about the horrible methods by which hunters catch the sharks and cut off their fins, then release them back to the water. Without their fins, they sink to the bottom of the ocean and either suffocate or get eaten alive by other predators.
The whole class grimaces.
“And then they turn them into soup!” Ezra adds, just in case anyone missed that part before.
Another minute goes by. I bite down on the inside of my cheek, trying to calm the nerves twisting inside of me. The same frustrated rant begins to repeat in my head, for the eight millionth time this year.
Quint. Erickson. Is. The. Worst.
I even reminded him yesterday. Remember, Quint, big presentation tomorrow. You’re bringing the report. You’re supposed to help me with the introduction. So, please, for the love of all things good and righteous in this world, this one time, don’t be late.
I’m a busy guy, Prudence. But I’ll do my best.
Right. Because he has so much to do before 8:30 a.m. on a Tuesday.
I know I can handle the introduction on my own. I’ve been rehearsing without him, after all. But he’s supposed to bring our papers. The papers that the rest of the class can then stare at while we talk. The papers that will keep their bored, disinterested eyes off me.
The class starts to applaud half-heartedly and I snap back to attention. I bring my hands together for one, two claps, before dropping them to the table. Maya and Ezra gather up their presentation board. I glance at Jude, in the first row, and though I can only see the back of his head, I know his gaze hasn’t left Maya since she stood up, and won’t leave her until she’s sitting back down and he has no choice but to either look away or risk drawing attention to the staring. I love my brother dearly, but his crush on Maya Livingstone has been well-documented since the fifth grade, and—if I’m being honest—has started to seem a little bit hopeless.
He has my sympathy. He really does. She is Maya Livingstone, after all. Pretty much the whole sophomore class has a crush on her. But I also know my brother. He will never have the guts to actually ask her out.
But, back to poor me. Maya and Ezra are dropping into their seats and there’s still no sign of Quint. No sign of the papers that he was supposed to bring with him.
In an act of desperation, I fish my red lipstick from my bag and quickly apply a new layer, just in case it’s started to wear off since I put it on before class. I don’t like to wear a lot of makeup, but a bold lipstick is an instant boost to my confidence. It’s my armor. My weapon.
You can do this, I tell myself. You don’t need Quint.
My heart has started to warble inside my chest. My breaths are quickening. I tuck the tube back into my bag and snatch up my index cards. I don’t think I’ll need them. I’ve practiced so many times, I talk about habitats and environmentalism in my sleep. But having them with me will help calm my jittery nerves.
At least, I think they will. I hope they will.
Until I have the sudden fear that my sweating palms might make the ink bleed, rendering it unreadable, and my nerves kick up into high gear again.
“That brings us to our last presentation of the year,” says Mr. Chavez, giving me a look that’s almost sympathetic. “Sorry, Prudence. We’ve delayed as long as we can. Maybe Quint will join us before you’ve finished.”
I force a smile. “It’s fine. I planned on doing most of the talking anyway.”
It is so not fine. But nothing can be done about it now.
I stand up slowly, tuck the notes into my pocket, and pick up the presentation board and the tote bag I brought full of bonus materials. My hands are shaking. I pause just long enough to fully exhale, to squeeze my eyes tight, to repeat the refrain that I always tell myself when I have to speak or perform in front of people.
It’s just ten minutes of your life, Prudence, and then it will be over and you can move on. Just ten minutes. You can do this.
Opening my eyes, I square my shoulders and make my way to the front of the class.
It’s not that I’m terrible at public speaking. I actually think I’m quite good at it, once I get started. I know how to project my voice so everyone can hear me. I always practice ad nauseum beforehand so I don’t trip over my words, and I work hard to be lively and entertaining.
It’s just the moments before I begin that are dreadful. I’m always convinced that something will go wrong. My mind will go blank and I’ll forget everything. I’ll start to sweat. I’ll turn bright red. I’ll pass out.
But once I get started I’m usually okay. I just have to start … and then, before I know it, the whole thing is over. And I’ll hear what I always hear: Wow, Prudence. You seem so natural up there. You’re such a great presenter. Nicely done.
Words to soothe my frantic soul.
At least, my teachers usually say stuff like that. The rest of my fellow students rarely bother to pay much attention.
Which is perfectly fine with me.
It takes me a few seconds to get set up, balancing the presentation board on the whiteboard tray and tucking my surprise bag of goodies off to the side. Then I pull over the small rolling table with the model I brought in before class started, still draped with a blue sheet.
With my index cards in one hand, I grab the stick that Mr. Chavez uses to point out details on his PowerPoint slides with the other.
I smile at my peers.
I try to catch Jude’s eye, but he’s doodling in his sketchbook and not open to incoming messages.
Gee whiz, Bro. Thanks for the support.
The rest of the class stares back at me, practically comatose with boredom.
My stomach twists.
It’s only ten minutes.
You’re going to be okay.
I take in a breath.
“I was going to have supplementary materials for you guys to look at,” I start. My voice pitches high and I pause to clear my throat before continuing, “So you could follow along with the presentation. But Quint was supposed to bring them and … he’s not here.” My teeth grind. I want to call out the unfairness of this. Everyone else’s partner showed up! But mine simply couldn’t be bothered.
“Oh well,” I continue, swiping the stick dramatically through the air. “Here we go anyway.”
I pace in front of the presentation board and exhale a clipped breath.
Beaming, I launch into my prepared introduction.
“One thing we’ve learned in regard to marine biology, thanks to the exceptional tutelage of Mr. Chavez”—I pause to point enthusiastically at our teacher. He points back at me, with markedly less emotion—“is that we are so lucky here in Fortuna Beach to have access to such thriving marine life. Our beaches and coastal waters are home to many remarkable species. Fish and mammals and sea turtles and sharks—”
“Sharks are fish,” Maya says.
I tense and shoot her a glare. Nothing can throw off a well-rehearsed presentation like an unnecessary interruption.
Interruptions are the enemy.
I reaffix my smile. I’m tempted to start over, but I force myself to get back on track. Fish and mammals and sea turtles and sharks … “Straight down to the rich ecosystems of plankton and plant life found in Orange Bay. These resources are a gift, and it is our responsibility not only to enjoy them, but to protect them. Which is why, for our semester project, Quint and I decided to focus our efforts on”—I pause for dramatic effect—“marine conservation by way of ecotourism!”
With a flourish, I take hold of the blue fabric and whisk it off the display, revealing my handcrafted model of Main Street, Fortuna Beach’s tourism hot spot that runs parallel to the beach and boardwalk.
I can’t resist glancing around to see my classmates’ reactions. A few in the front rows are craning their heads to see the model, but a fair number are staring blankly out the sun-streaming windows or trying to discreetly text with their phones hidden beneath the lab tables.
Mr. Chavez, at least, looks intrigued as he studies the model. And Jude has looked up, knowing firsthand the long, tireless hours I’ve put into crafting this presentation. He catches my eye and gives a subtle yet encouraging thumbs-up.
I move behind the table so I can stand over the diorama and point out the most notable features. My adrenaline has kicked in and I no longer feel like I’m going to crumple into a ball of panic. Now I’m energized. “Our new central tourism hub will be the Orange Bay Resort and Spa, which will cater to high-end clientele. Visitors who appreciate luxury, yearn for adventure, but—gosh darn it!”—I cheekily snap my fingers—“also care about protecting our environment.” I tap the stick against the high-rise building. “Featuring recycled building materials and numerous water-conservation and energy-saving features, this resort will be the talk of the town. But our tourists don’t just come here to sleep. They come here to explore. Which is why Fortuna Beach needs new electric bike rental stations positioned at both ends of the boardwalk”—I thunk the stick down on the little bike stands—“and electric boat rentals that jet off right from the resort’s private dock.” Thunk. “But what’s really going to draw in the clientele, what’s really going to set Fortuna Beach apart as a must-see destination for our eco-conscious travelers—”
The classroom door swings open, banging hard against the wall.
“Sorry, Mr. C!” comes a voice that makes the hair prickle on the back of my neck. My surprise vanishes, replaced with barely restrained rage.
My knuckles clench around the pointer as I slide my gaze toward Quint Erickson. He strolls between the tables and accepts a high five from Ezra, their usual daily greeting.
Part of me wishes he would have stopped by the front first and offered me a high five in greeting. It would have been a perfect opportunity to smack him with the stick.
I grit my teeth, scowling at the back of his head as he reaches our shared lab table in the back row and drops his backpack on top of it. The zipper is as loud as a jet engine. He starts to whistle—whistle—as he digs through the chaos of papers and books and pens and nine months of accumulated junk he keeps in that thing.
I wait. Someone in the class coughs. From the corner of my eye, I can see Jude beginning to fidget, uncomfortable on my behalf. Except, for some reason, I’m not uncomfortable. Normally, an interruption as enormous as this would turn me into a flustered mess, but right now I’m too busy strangling the pointer stick and pretending it’s Quint’s neck instead. I could stand here all day, awkward silence or not, waiting for Quint to realize what a disruption he’s caused.
But, to my endless frustration, Quint seems blissfully unaware. Of my annoyance. Of stopping me right in the middle of our report. Of the awkward silence. I’m not sure he even knows what awkward means.
“Aha!” he announces victoriously, pulling a neon-green folder from the bag. Even from here I can see that one corner is bent. He opens it and starts taking out the reports. I can’t tell how many pages. Three or four, probably double-sided, because who wastes paper on a report about environmentalism?
In a world where magic is sung, a powerful mage named Cadence has been forced to torture her country’s disgraced nobility at her ruthless queen’s bidding.
But when she is reunited with her childhood friend, a noblewoman with ties to the underground rebellion, she must finally make a choice: Take a stand to free their country from oppression, or follow in the queen’s footsteps and become a monster herself.
I light the candles and hum as the prayer chimes begin. The heat from each candle propels a tiny wooden fan connected to an individual music box. The bronze bells inside the boxes each emit one note, played over and over. The ringing metal blends in a mechanical harmony. I close my eyes and lose myself in the simple, familiar tune. The incense tickles my nose with lavender.
The prayer songs are meant to be performed a cappella and in an ensemble beneath the open sky, where Adela can witness, but most of us perform them alone now. Elene doesn’t prohibit prayer to Adela, but such public displays of piety and shared song have fallen out of fashion now that our queen worships another.
The double doors to my suite fly open behind me, but I don’t turn around or open my eyes. Today is a day for chaos, for pain, and I will cherish this peace for as long as I can. I’ve been preparing for this day all year, and still, it’s come far too soon.
“It’s time to go.” Lacerde’s voice cuts through the melody. My maid leans over my shoulder and blows out the first of the candles. The propeller stops, and one of the shrill voices dies. The melody falters, incomplete.
She blows out the other candles, but I hum the rest of the song anyway. She begins styling my hair while I’m still on my knees. Her deft, wrinkled fingers sweep through my hair and braid a small section into a crown.
“Your dress is waiting for you at the Opera Hall,” she says, dabbing my cheeks with white powder. “There is a carriage waiting for us outside.”
I nod and rise slowly to my feet. My legs are numb from holding the position for so long, and despite the prayer, my soul feels heavy, too. Lacerde helps me into a black traveling cloak and ties the hood so it covers most of my face.
She bustles me down the hallway and out into the palace courtyard, where a black carriage stands. The horses are plain brown palfreys, not the showy white stallions Elene usually favors. Today I must pass through Cannis unnoticed. The sight of me, before the event, could provoke a riot.
The driver helps Lacerde into the carriage, but I ignore the hand he holds out for me. The echo of the prayer bells still chimes in my head, and I want to hold on to the song for as long as I can. As a corporeal mage, it’s hard for me to focus on the ethereal prayers. My magic yearns for life, and if I touch something alive now, after connecting with the goddess, it will well up of its own accord, eager.
Hopping back up into his seat, the driver clicks his tongue, and the palfreys set off at a canter. We pass through the rear gates of Cavalia, and the guards pause their game of Tam to salute us.
“Are you warm enough?” Lacerde asks. Without waiting for me to respond, she drapes a fur over my lap. The cold autumn air seeps through the gaps in the carriage door, making the small hairs of my arms stand up.
I give her a little smile, even though I’m dizzy with nerves.
I expect the driver to veer right at the fork, onto the main road that leads to the city. Instead, he takes the left route that winds to the outer gates of Cannis and the farmlands beyond. I open the window and lean out. “This is not the route,” I call to him. “We’re to go straight to the hall.”
“No, Principal,” he says. “I have direct instructions from Her Majesty to take you this way.”
My stomach curls into a knot. There is only one place Elene would send me along the western wall. I sit back in my seat and look pleadingly at Lacerde. “Why are we going there?”
Lacerde reaches across and clasps my hand. Her fingers are clammy with sweat. She’s been my maid for three years now, the longest any of them have ever lasted, and she understands me better than anyone. “We’re not stopping, but I think the queen wanted you to see it. That’s what the chief justicar told me, anyway.”
“I’ve seen it before.”
“She wants you to remember.” She winces in sympathy, gaze focused on her lap.
The palfreys keep a steady pace, but I refuse to look out the window now. Beyond the majestic hunting park that flanks the palace’s rear gates lies the settlement of the Expelled: a swampy labyrinth of small alleys, ramshackle houses, and disease. The place I will end up if I disobey the queen.
The smells of human waste, sweat, grasses, and livestock blow into the carriage as we roll through the lush farmlands and pastures. I grew up on the lower streets of Cannis. I’m no stranger to the perfumes of life, in all their many varieties, but as we enter the settlement, the scent changes. Here, misery and loss cling to everything, their smells like burned hair and vinegar. Detectable only to a corporeal singer, they are the worst odors of all.
I pull my cloak up over my nose, trying to block them out, but after years of training with magic, my senses are over-tuned.
The carriage rattles to a halt. I pound on the side of the cab with my fist. Lacerde looks out the window and grimaces.
“I’m to stop here until you look out.” The driver’s voice trembles. He turns to face us, but he won’t meet my eyes.
He’s afraid of me, I realize. But not enough to go against Elene’s wishes.
I take a deep breath. Elene would be specific with her orders, especially today. I lean forward in my seat and glance out the window.
A group of elderly men huddle beside the crumbling western wall. They hold their hands out to the carriage but make no sound. Farther on, a town of broken buildings unfolds before us: houses made from scrap wood and metal, with holes in the roofs, all of them small, barely big enough to fit a horse inside. There is a shop selling rotten fruit, and a legion of barefoot, skinny women who trace their stories in the mud with sticks. They wear shirts so old and tattered they almost fall from their wearer’s bones. All of them bear the telltale, silver incision scar across their throats.
They are all ankle deep in mud. Elene sends a group of elementals to the settlement once a week to saturate the ground with so much rain it never dries. The fragile houses are continuously washing away in the floods.
No one may trade in the settlement. No one can hire an Expelled worker in Cannis. No one can offer them land to settle elsewhere or even a free room for the night. Those who have tried have ended up in prison, or dead. The inhabitants can leave, to beg in the city or take their chances foraging in the forest among the wolves and bears, but they have no other home to go to and no hope of finding one in Bordea.
A short, white woman with long silver hair points toward the carriage. The scars on her cheeks and across her throat are new, and I recognize her by the shape of her jaw and her fierce amber eyes. A bolt of fear courses through me. Once, Francine Trevale was one of the country’s most powerful corporeal mages. She had the ear of the old queen and was famed throughout Bordea for her abilities in war and healing. But she refused to bow to Elene’s wishes, and now she is here.
In the academy, they whisper that Francine’s strength was such that Elene did not dare have her arrested outright. Instead, they say that the queen sent Francine a chest of jewels to lull the mage into a sense of safety, to make her believe that Elene had chosen to listen to her point of view. Then Elene hired an assassin to sneak into Francine’s bedchamber and sever her vocal cords as she slept.
If I refuse what Elene has planned today, she will kill me—if she is feeling merciful. If she isn’t, she will exile me here.
“She’s seen it,” Lacerde growls. “Now drive on.”
A group of children dart past the carriage, making the palfreys shy. They sign excitedly to one another in the new language they’ve created and toss a dried sheep’s bladder among them as a ball. They hold a small, precious spark of joy that even Elene for all her cruelty hasn’t stamped out. Lacerde smiles at them, and I see her fingers twitch toward her purse.
A small ginger-haired girl misses her catch, and the makeshift ball sails over her head. Our driver snatches it from the air. He digs his nails into the thin, fragile leather until the ball bursts and goes flat. He stuffs it beneath his feet and flicks the reins at the horses to drive on, leaving the children with nothing.
1969: the height of counterculture and the year universities would seek to curb the unruly spectacle of student protest; the winter that Harvard University would begin the tumultuous process of merging with Radcliffe, its all-female sister school; and the year that Jane Britton, an ambitious 23-year-old graduate student in Harvard’s Anthropology Department and daughter of Radcliffe Vice President J. Boyd Britton, would be found bludgeoned to death in her Cambridge, Massachusetts apartment.
Forty years later, Becky Cooper, a curious undergrad, will hear the first whispers of the story. In the first telling the body was nameless. The story was this: a Harvard student had had an affair with her professor, and the professor had murdered her in the Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology because she’d threatened to talk about the affair. Though the rumor proves false, the story that unfolds, one that Cooper will follow for ten years, is even more complex: a tale of gender inequality in academia, a “cowboy culture” among empowered male elites, the silencing effect of institutions, and our compulsion to rewrite the stories of female victims.
We Keep the Dead Close is a memoir of mirrors, misogyny, and murder. It is at once a rumination on the violence and oppression that rules our revered institutions, a ghost story reflecting one young woman’s past onto another’s present, and a love story for a girl who was lost to history.
That first week of freshman year, 1963, everyone in Cabot House moved as one. It wasn’t just that they all ate together. All forty-five girls, it seemed to Elisabeth Handler, were under the impression they could fit at the same round table.
At one of those group lunches, Elisabeth looked around the room. Compared with her, the other girls carried themselves like they had been groomed for Radcliffe since preschool. Julie Spring, her roommate, was the daughter of a Unitarian minister. She wore wraparound skirts and round-collared blouses. Julie’s biggest worry about coming to college was whether she could learn to shave in the shower rather than in the tub. Elisabeth wasn’t sure if she had ever been so young.
But she also felt bad for being annoyed by Julie’s enthusiasm. To be at Radcliffe really was something to celebrate. It was the most prestigious of all the women’s colleges, and, at a quarter the size of Harvard, it was the more difficult of the two to get into. “I didn’t want to be the one bad apple in the bunch, where everybody else has this wonderful experience, and then this little grump in the corner is bitter about an education most people would kill for,” Elisabeth would later remember.
Just then another first-year came bounding into the dining hall. “I did it!” she announced to the room. “I got into a graduate seminar!”
Elisabeth didn’t even know what a graduate seminar was. How did an eighteen-year-old manage to weasel her way into—
“I need to do that!” Julie gasped. Elisabeth tried not to roll her eyes.
“OH FUCK,” a voice said, across the table.
Elisabeth looked up. The girl was striking. Her eyes were green and widely spaced. Her skin was a pale ivory. Her hair was so black it was almost blue.
Jane was “a kick in the pants,” Elisabeth remembered. “She was sort of like a combination of Groucho Marx and Dorothy Parker. Just without the mustache.” Jane wasn’t conventionally beautiful—she liked to say she was built like a brick shithouse—but she was magnetic. She smoked and eschewed hair-sprayed updos. She had a low voice and a deep laugh that erupted spontaneously, and when she was being particularly wicked, she would cock her thin eyebrows like a bow ready to spring. Jane’s room, it turned out, was right down the hall from Elisabeth’s, and the two quickly became inseparable.
Life in Cabot took some getting used to for both of them. First there were the spartan rooms with two wooden dressers, two small desks with a wooden chair each, and bunk beds. Jane slept on the lower bunk. There were no lamps, no curtains, no rugs. Jane’s room, at least, had a window that looked out onto the quad.
The girls shared a communal bathroom, and each floor came with its own ironing board and iron. In the basement, there were laundry machines (twenty-five cents per load) and hair dryers (ten cents per fifteen minutes). Telephones were shared one for every twenty-five, but the incoming calls were routed through the student on bell desk duty, which meant their social lives were on display. Everyone could tell how popular a girl was by the thickness of her stack of pink slips of missed calls. The sign-out books—in which girls wrote where they were headed and with whom—were open for all to see.
Then there were the rules. Radcliffe distributed a handbook that the girls were expected to memorize. They were required to do five hours a week of housework: bell duty, waiting on the cafeteria tables, and light pantry work. The handbook asked that students “be discreet when sunbathing” and specified that “good taste demands that discretion shall be shown in displays of affection on Radcliffe property and in all public places.” Smoking was allowed everywhere (except in bed), but alcohol was forbidden. Occasional exceptions were made for sherry.
And there were the social rules: as freshmen, they were allowed to sign out until 11:15 any night and were allotted thirty 1 a.m. sign outs per semester. But men weren’t allowed except during parietal hours, the time when members of the opposite sex could be in the dorm. All men needed to be signed in and out by their hostesses, and the girl was expected to shout “Man on!” to alert people in the hall.
Radcliffe had started as the Harvard Annex in 1879, but women had only been allowed into Harvard classes since 1943. And that milestone was less about equality than convenience: Professors resented having to give the same class twice when their Harvard classes were empty because of the war. On the ten year anniversary of joint instruction, the Crimson published an article about the Harvard instructors’ experience of teaching co-ed classes. One instructor said the women in his class wore curlers and no makeup so “it was something of a shock to see a girl in your section at a House dance and discover she actually had a face after all.” Another instructor said he liked dating Radcliffe students because “Wellesley girls are prettier, but that Radcliffe is more convenient.” Elliott Perkins, a history lecturer and the master of Lowell House, was nostalgic for the old days. Though he “really [couldn’t] tell the difference intellectually,” he felt that “the Yard looked better before, with just Harvard men.”
By the time Jane and Elisabeth were freshmen, Radcliffe girls were judged side by side with Harvard students: the same classes, the same professors, the same exams. Radcliffe diplomas had started also saying Harvard on them the June before Jane arrived. Nevertheless, they felt like second-class citizens. Cliffie didn’t have access to the same scholarship money and financial aid. They weren’t allowed to enter Lamont, the undergraduate library. They were required to have escorts walk them home from extracurriculars if they were to be out past 11 p.m. There were only nine women’s bathrooms on campus, and finding somewhere to eat in the Yard to avoid trekking all the way back to the Quad between classes wasn’t much easier. A freshman boy could invite a girl to eat in the all-male Freshman Union, but it was widely known that it was tradition for the men to clink their glasses with their forks when a girl walked into the dining hall—the evident goal being to make the women as uncomfortable as possible.
When classes started a week later, Jane convinced Elisabeth to try Anthropology 1a with her. The class met three times a week at 10 a.m. and was taught by Professors William Howells and Stephen Williams. Jane and Elisabeth sat together near the back of class. They would always giggle when the same boy screeched into class late and nearly fell into his seat.
They were entranced almost immediately by the world of anthropology. “I mean, hello,” Elisabeth would later say. At Radcliffe, “I might as well have been popped out in the middle of the deepest Amazon. So this idea of ‘here we will study culture, we will pick out things that will make it interesting and different, and we will not interfere, we will blend into the background with our notebook and pith helmet and everybody will be that much wiser about the subject?’ It makes perfect sense that that’s what I gravitated to.” There was an old joke that people who went into psychiatry were unhappy with themselves. Psychologists were unhappy with society. And anthropologists were people who were unhappy with their culture.
Early that semester, one of the teaching fellows for Anthro 1a threw a party at his house and invited some members of the class. Elisabeth went, and the boy who was always late to class was there, too. Elisabeth introduced herself. She confessed that she and Jane had in fact been sticking their legs out to trip him and apologized. The boy just laughed. He said he was so tired that he didn’t realize he was stumbling over anything but his own feet.
“Peter Panchy,” the boy said.
Elisabeth and Peter kept talking and drinking the punch—red wine with cloves floating in it. By the end of the party, Elisabeth was drunk for the first time in her life. She threw up on Peter’s shoes. He didn’t mind.
Soon, Jane, Elisabeth, and Peter became a pack. They would do silly things in the back of the classroom. Sometimes Ingrid Kirsch would join them. Sometimes one or the other of them would be depressed, and Peter would bring some hideous alcohol, and they would sit out on the steps of the school across the street from the Radcliffe dorms, in the Cambridge winter, and get hammered. They bonded over the fact that they each felt alien: Elisabeth because of where she grew up; Jane because she always felt on the outside of things; and Peter because he wasn’t born into the same privilege as so many of his classmates. Peter’s father was an Albanian immigrant who had to quit Harvard halfway through because his family’s grocery store was on the verge of bankruptcy. “Just because you’ve been invited, doesn’t mean you belong,” Peter would Later remember about his time at Harvard.
FBI Special Agent Nina Guerrera escaped a serial killer’s trap at sixteen. Years later, when she’s jumped in a Virginia park, a video of the attack goes viral. Legions of new fans are not the only ones impressed with her fighting skills. The man who abducted her eleven years ago is watching. Determined to reclaim his lost prize, he commits a grisly murder designed to pull her into the investigation…but his games are just beginning. And he’s using the internet to invite the public to play along.
His coded riddles may have made him a depraved social media superstar—an enigmatic cyber-ghost dubbed “the Cipher”—but to Nina he’s a monster who preys on the vulnerable. Partnered with the FBI’s preeminent mind hunter, Dr. Jeffrey Wade, who is haunted by his own past, Nina tracks the predator across the country. Clue by clue, victim by victim, Nina races to stop a deadly killer while the world watches.
The survivor of a vicious crime confronts her fears in a hunt for a serial killer.
Tossed into a dumpster when she was 1 month old, Nina Esperanza was raised in a series of foster homes. At 16, she was abducted and tortured. At 17, she won legal emancipation and a new surname. At 27, she’s an FBI agent who incarnates the female warrior of her chosen name, Guerrera. After a home video of her besting two assailants goes viral, a murdered runaway in a dumpster refers obliquely in death to Nina. The young victim looks like her—petite, Latina—and shows the same signs of abuse. And a cipher for “hope is dead” makes clear that the man who kidnapped Nina is targeting her again. She’s invited to join the Behavioral Analysis Unit to find him, though it means working with a BAU specialist she has reason to resent. And despite the exposure of her past during the investigation, Nina’s determination to catch the man now known as the Cipher for his increasingly complex coded messages only grows as he kills again to send her a message: that he won’t stop until he has Nina in his grasp once more.
Forensic analysis, violent action, and a tough heroine who stands up to the last man on earth she wants to see again.
Five years after a suspicious fire killed his ornithologist mother, a closeted Syrian American trans boy sheds his birth name and searches for a new one. He has been unable to paint since his mother’s ghost has begun to visit him each evening. As his grandmother’s sole caretaker, he spends his days cooped up in their apartment, avoiding his neighborhood masjid, his estranged sister, and even his best friend (who also happens to be his longtime crush). The only time he feels truly free is when he slips out at night to paint murals on buildings in the once-thriving Manhattan neighborhood known as Little Syria.
One night, he enters the abandoned community house and finds the tattered journal of a Syrian American artist named Laila Z, who dedicated her career to painting the birds of North America. She famously and mysteriously disappeared more than sixty years before, but her journal contains proof that both his mother and Laila Z encountered the same rare bird before their deaths. In fact, Laila Z’s past is intimately tied to his mother’s—and his grandmother’s—in ways he never could have expected. Even more surprising, Laila Z’s story reveals the histories of queer and transgender people within his own community that he never knew. Realizing that he isn’t and has never been alone, he has the courage to officially claim a new name: Nadir, an Arabic name meaning rare.
As unprecedented numbers of birds are mysteriously drawn to the New York City skies, Nadir enlists the help of his family and friends to unravel what happened to Laila Z and the rare bird his mother died trying to save. Following his mother’s ghost, he uncovers the silences kept in the name of survival by his own community, his own family, and within himself, and discovers the family that was there all along.
Tonight, five years to the day I lost you, forty-eight white-throated sparrows fall from the sky. Tomorrow, the papers will count and photograph them, arrange them on black garbage bags and speculate on the causes of the blight. But for now, here on the roof of Teta’s apartment building, the sheen of evening rain on the tar paper slicks the soles of my sneakers, and velvet arrows drop one by one from the annual autumn migration sweeping over Boerum Hill. Before stealing up to the rooftop, I drew the curtains across Teta’s window so she wouldn’t see. Still, I listen for her gasp at the window below me, any sign that she might wake to a street dashed with dying birds. I can’t bear to see her lying in the dark again, her mouth stitched shut by grief.
This mourning, at least, I can understand. Since the first time I closed my hand around a robin’s egg, I understood the love of birds the two of you shared, the way each egg was its own shade of blue, the way its warmth left behind the wild thrill of possibility, as though I could come home from school with a fistful of rainbow pipe cleaners and sticky goose down and build myself wings.
The sparrows’ feathers are brushstrokes on the dark sky. This I don’t have to imagine in watercolor or set down in charcoal. This night is its own witness, the birds’ throats stars on the canvas of the night, their wings thrown open against gravity. On the edge of the rooftop, I reach out over the wet street as the birds plummet down. The evening’s fog has lifted, leaving the city a smear of light. The lights must have blinded them. You used to say the city was dangerous for migrating birds. Until this moment, I never understood what you meant.
The sparrows thud onto the houses around me, old three- and four-story brownstones, generation homes with sculpted stoops, a handful recently bought from the families that have owned them for decades and gutted for resale. Something inside me is also shifting. If my foot were to slip and a neighbor were to find me, what would they think? Would they jot me down as a clear specimen, wings pinned, markings unmistakable? Or would they find the shapewear Teta gave me to smooth my belly and my hips, the one I cut at the ribcage in secret that now flattens the chest that hides the surface of me? Would they find these hidden things and realize I don’t fit into the borders they’ve drawn?
The birds come down like thunderbolts, clapping wet against brick and concrete. A strike, an uneasy pause, then another. They crash into cars and through skylights, thunk into steel trash cans with the lids off, slice through the branches of boxed-in ginkgoes. The sparrows drop, dead or dazed, toward Teta’s rooftop. It’s the kind of freak event that stops everything: traffic, public breakups, toddlers’ tantrums. Below us, people look up in wonder.
A single sparrow strikes my hands.
The impact bruises me, and the sparrow’s beak gashes my palm. His damp body falls at my feet. You taught me a long time ago to tell the species apart by the yellow patches around their eyes, their black whiskers, their white throats, and their ivory crowns. You were the one who taught me to imitate their calls: “Sam Peabody, Peabody, Peabody.” In your career as an ornithologist, you taught me two dozen East Coast birdcalls, things I thought you’d always be here to teach me. I reach down to scoop the bird from the rooftop. He weighs almost nothing, as though he were carved from mist. I realize for the first time how much of you—how much of myself—I will never know.
Maybe that’s why, since you died, the birds won’t leave me alone. The sparrows are the most recent and startling of a long chain of moments into which the birds, like you, have intruded. They arrive in unusual places: red-tailed hawks perched on the iron fire escape above Sahadi’s burgundy awning, the same female barred owl always alighting on Borough Hall when I emerge from the subway. For all my prayers the night you died, the divine was nowhere to be found. The forty-eight white-throated sparrows that plummet from the sky are my only companions in grief now, the omen that keeps me from leaning out into the air.
When Breen Kelly was a girl, her father would tell her stories of magical places. Now she’s an anxious twentysomething mired in student debt and working a job she hates. But one day she stumbles upon a shocking discovery: her mother has been hiding an investment account in her name. It has been funded by her long-lost father—and it’s worth nearly four million dollars.
This newfound fortune would be life-changing for anyone. But little does Breen know that when she uses some of the money to journey to Ireland, it will unlock mysteries she couldn’t have imagined. Here, she will begin to understand why she kept seeing that silver-haired, elusive man, why she imagined his voice in her head saying Come home, Breen Siobhan. It’s time you came home. Why she dreamed of dragons. And where her true destiny lies—through a portal in Galway that takes her to a land of faeries and mermaids, to a man named Keegan, and to the courage in her own heart that will guide her through a powerful, dangerous destiny…
Mists, shimmering silver fingers, rose over the pale green water of the lake. They twined and twisted toward a sky quietly gray, while in the east, over the hills, a pink blush waited, like a held breath, to waken.
In the chill of dawn, Keegan O’Broin stood by the lake and watched the day become. A day, he knew, of change and choice, of hope and power.
He waited, like that held breath, to do his duty, and his hope was he’d be back at the farm before noon. Chores to do, he thought, and more training, of course.
But at the homeplace. At the signal, he stripped off his boots and his tunic. His brother, Harken, did the same, as did near to six hundred others. They came not just from the valley, the young and the not-so- young, but from every corner of Talamh.
They came from the south where the Pious prayed their secret prayers, from the north where the fiercest of warriors guarded the Sea of Storms, from the Capital in the east, and from here in the west.
For their chieftain, their taoiseach, was dead, his life given to save the world. And as it was written, as it was told, as it was sung, a new one would rise, like those mists, on this day, in this place, in this way.
He didn’t want to be taoiseach any more than Harken did. Harken, a cheerful boy of twelve years—the youngest allowed to participate in the ritual—was a farmer, blood and bone. Keegan knew his little brother thought of the day, of the crowds, of the leap into the lake as great fun.
For Keegan, today he would keep an oath given to a man dying, a man who’d stood as his father since his own went to the gods, a man who’d led Talamh to victory over those who would enslave them, though it cost him his life.
He had no desire to lift up the staff of the taoiseach, to take up the sword of the leader of the clann. But he’d given his word, and so he’d dive into the water with all the other boys and girls, men and women.
“Come on then, Keegan!” Harken cajoled, his raven-wing mop of hair blowing in the spring breeze. “Think of the fun of it. If I find the sword, I’ll declare a week of feasting and dancing.”
“If you find the sword, who’ll tend the sheep and milk the cows?”
“If I rise up as taoiseach, I’ll do all of that and more. The battle’s done and won, brother. I grieve for him as well.” And with his innate kindness, Harken wrapped an arm around Keegan’s shoulders. “He was a hero, and never to be forgotten. And today, as he would want, as must be done, a new leader comes.”
With his blue eyes bright as the day, Harken looked around at the crowd on the shores of the lake. “We honor him, and all who came before him, all who will come after.”
Now Harken jabbed an elbow in Keegan’s side. “Leave off the brooding, it’s not as if either of us will come out of the water with Cosantoir in our hand. More like to be Cara, as she’s as clever in the water as a mermaid, or Cullen, who I know’s been practicing holding his breath under the water these past two weeks.”
“So he would,” Keegan muttered. Cullen, as a fine a soldier as was born, wouldn’t make a good chief. He’d rather fight than think.
Keegan, a soldier himself at fourteen, one who’d seen blood, spilled it, knew power, felt it, understood that thinking mattered as much as the sword, the spear, the powers.
More, come to that.
Hadn’t he been taught just that by his father, and by the one who’d treated him like a son?
As he stood with Harken, with so many others, all chattering like magpies, his mother moved through the crowd.
He wished she would dive today. He knew no one who could settle a dispute as handily, who could deal with a dozen tasks at one time. Harken had her kindness, their sister, Aisling, her beauty, and he liked to think he had at least some of her canniness.
Tarryn paused by Aisling—who chose to wait with her friends rather than the brothers she currently disdained. Keegan watched her tip up Aisling’s chin, kiss her cheeks, say words that made her daughter smile before she moved on to her sons.
“And here I have a scowl and a grin.” Tarryn ruffled Harken’s mop, gave the warrior’s braid on the left side of Keegan’s head a light tug. “Remember the purpose of this day, as it unites us, and speaks to who and what we are. What you do here has been done by those before for a thousand years and more. And all who took the sword from the lake, their names were written before ever they were born.”
“If the fates deem who rises, why can’t we see? Why can’t you,” Keegan insisted, “who sees the before and the yet to come?”
“If I could see, if you could, or any, it would take the choice away.” As a mother would, she put an arm around Keegan’s shoulders, but her eyes—bright and blue like Harken’s— looked out over the lake and through the mists.
“You choose to go into the water, do you not? And who lifts the sword must choose to rise with it.”
“Who wouldn’t choose to rise with it?” Harken wondered. “They would be taoiseach.”
“A leader will be honored, but a leader carries the burden for us all. So they must choose to lift that as well as the sword. Quiet now.” She kissed both her sons. “Here is Mairghread.”
Mairghread O’Ceallaigh, once a taoiseach herself, and mother to the one now buried, had shed her mourning black. She wore white, a simple gown with no adornments but a pendant with a stone as red as her hair.
They seemed to flame—the stone and her hair—as if they burned away the mists as she walked through them. She wore her hair as short as that of the faeries who streamed in her wake.
And the crowd parted for her, the chattering ceased to silence that spoke of respect and of awe.
Keegan knew her as Marg, the woman who lived in the cottage in the woods not far from the farm. The woman who would give a hungry boy a honey cake and a story. A woman of great power and courage, who had fought for Talamh, brought peace at deep personal cost.
He’d held her as she’d wept for her son, as he kept his word again and brought her the news himself. Though she had known already.
He’d held her until the women came to comfort.
And then, though he was a soldier, though he was a man, he’d gone deeper into the woods to shed his own tears.
Now she looked magnificent, and he felt a shudder of that awe inside his belly.
She carried the staff, the ancient symbol of leadership. Its wood, dark as pitch, gleamed in the sun, through the mists that thinned and broke in pieces.
Its carvings seemed to pulse. Inside the dragon’s heart stone at its tip, power swirled. When she spoke, even the wind fell silent. “Once more we have brought peace to our world with blood and sacrifice. We have,
through all ages, protected our world, and through it all the others. We chose to live as we live, from the land, from the sea, from the Fey, honoring all.
“Once more we have peace, once more we will prosper, until the time comes round again for blood and sacrifice. Today, as it was written, as it was told, as it was sung, a new leader will rise, and all here will swear their fealty to Talamh, to the taoiseach who will take the sword from the Lake of Truth and accept the Staff of Justice.”
She lifted her face to the sky, and Keegan thought her voice, so clear, so strong, must reach all the way to the Sea of Storms and beyond.
“In this place, in this hour, we call upon our source of power. Let the one chosen and choosing this day, honor, respect, and guard the Fey. Let the hand that lifts the sword be strong and wise and true. This, only this, your people ask of you.”
The water, pale and green with its power, began to swirl. The mists over it swayed. “So it begins.” She lifted the staff high. They raced toward the water. Some of the younger ones laughed or whooped as they
dived, as they jumped. Those on shore cheered. Keegan heard the din of it all as he hesitated, as his brother went into the water with a
cheerful splash. He thought of his oath, thought of the hand that had gripped his in those last moments of life on this plane.
In a small Northern Italian village, nine-year-old Luca Taviano catches a stubborn cold and is subsequently diagnosed with leukemia. His only hope for survival is a bone marrow transplant. After an exhaustive search, a match turns up three thousand miles away in the form of a most unlikely donor: Joseph Neiman, a rabbi in Brooklyn, New York, who is suffering from a debilitating crisis of faith. As Luca’s young nurse, Nina Vocelli, risks her career and races against time to help save the spirited redheaded boy, she uncovers terrible secrets from World War II—secrets that reveal how a Catholic child could have Jewish genes.
Can inheritance be transcended by accidents of love? That is the question at the heart of This Magnificent Dappled Sea, a novel that challenges the idea of identity and celebrates the ties that bind us together.
After a disastrous blind date, Darcy Lowell is desperate to stop her well-meaning brother from playing matchmaker ever again. Love—and the inevitable heartbreak—is the last thing she wants. So she fibs and says her latest set up was a success. Darcy doesn’t expect her lie to bite her in the ass.
Elle Jones, one of the astrologers behind the popular Twitter account, Oh My Stars, dreams of finding her soul mate. But she knows it is most assuredly not Darcy… a no-nonsense stick-in-the-mud, who is way too analytical, punctual, and skeptical for someone as free-spirited as Elle. When Darcy’s brother—and Elle’s new business partner—expresses how happy he is that they hit it off, Elle is baffled. Was Darcy on the same date? Because… awkward.
When Darcy begs Elle to play along, she agrees to pretend they’re dating to save face. But with a few conditions: Darcy must help Elle navigate her own overbearing family over the holidays and their arrangement expires on New Year’s Eve. The last thing they expect is to develop real feelings during a fake relationship.
But maybe opposites can attract when true love is written in the stars?
There was only so much chafing a girl could handle, and Elle Jones had reached her limit. Dodging strollers in front of Macy’s splashy holiday window displays and hustling to make it to the restaurant on time had caused the creep of her lace to quicken until her brand-spankin’-new underwear functioned more like a belt than the boy shorts they were. She could practically taste her spring-fresh laundry detergent.
Tugging through her dress had been futile. Shimmying certainly hadn’t done shit. Neither had casually leaning against the crosswalk pole and . . . gyrating? There was some hip action, but less trying to grind this pole to bring home the bacon and more bear in the woods with an insidious itch. Shoving her hand up her skirt had been a last resort, one with the unintended consequence of making it look like she was getting frisky with herself in front of Starbucks. The streets of Seattle had seen stranger things, but apparently not the dude leering from the passenger window of the mud-splattered Prius.
It was all because she’d chosen to wear this underwear, new underwear, sexier underwear than anything else wadded up in her dresser drawer. Not that she was expecting Brendon’s sister to see her underwear, but what if the date went well?
What if? Wasn’t that the million-dollar question, the spark of hope that kept her coming back for more time and time—and time—again? The butterflies in her stomach were a balm, each flutter of their wings soothing the sting of all those previous rejections and brush-offs until she could barely remember what it felt like when her phone didn’t ring. When the spark just wasn’t there.
First-date jitters? No, this feeling was magic, like glitter rushing through her veins. Maybe this dinner would go well. Maybe they’d hit it off. Maybe there would be a second date and a third and a fourth and—maybe this would be it, her last first date. Boom. End game. A lifetime of butterflies.
Wedgie-free, Elle stopped in front of the restaurant and breathed deep. Sweat darkened the powder blue cotton of her dress as she swiped her palms against her skirt, drying off her hands before reaching for the silver handle. She tugged and . . . the glass door barely budged, opening a fraction of an inch.
This restaurant was four-little-dollar-signs expensive, which begged the question—Were rich people seriously doing enough manual labor to have the muscle mass required to pry open these doors? Or were they ripped thanks to the personal trainers and private Pilates lessons they could afford? Elle pulled harder. Was there an access code? A buzzer she needed to press? Was she supposed to wave her credit card—with its admittedly dismal limit—in front of the door?
A hand with perfectly polished nails in the most boring shade of blush fluttered in front of her face through the glass. She straightened and—oh sweet Saturn. No wonder this place was so popular, prices and impossible doors be damned. With long, copper-colored curls and even longer legs, the hostess was the sort of unfairly gorgeous that graced the covers of magazines, pretty to the point it made her eyes hurt. Of course, it didn’t help that the glass reflected Elle’s own slightly blurry face. Her dishwater-blond bangs had separated and her liner had smudged around her eyes, making her look less smoky-eye sexy and more sweaty raccoon. Talk about a smack to the self-esteem.
“You’re supposed to push.” The hostess’s brown eyes darted down to the handle.
Elle pressed her palm to the glass. Featherlight, the door glided open smooth as butter. Despite the cool November air, her cheeks prickled with heat. Great going. At least her gaffe was only witnessed by herself and the hostess and not Brendon’s sister. Now that would’ve been a difficult impression to come back from.
“Thanks. They should really consider putting up a sign. Or, you know, not putting a handle on a push door.” She laughed and—okay, so it wasn’t funny, but the hostess could’ve done the decent thing and pretended. Elle wasn’t even asking for an enthusiastic chuckle, just the kind of under-your-breath puff of laughter that was polite because Elle totally had a point.
But no. The hostess gave her a tight smile, eyes scanning Elle’s face before she glanced down at her phone and sighed.
So far, the service sucked.
Rather than push her luck and make a bigger fool out of herself in front of the gorgeous hostess who’d rather futz around on her phone than do her job, Elle scanned the restaurant for someone who could be related to Brendon.
He hadn’t said much about his sister. Upon overhearing Elle discuss the perils of dating not only as a woman, but a woman who liked other women, Brendon had gotten this adorable, wide-eyed, puppy-dog look of excitement and said, You’re gay? So’s my sister, Darcy. Bisexual, but yeah, Elle was all ears. His smile had gone crooked, dimples deepening as his eyes sparkled with mischief. You know what? I think you two would really hit it off.
And who was she to say no when she’d been ranting to Margot about her shoddy luck in the love department? Saying no would’ve been silly.
All Brendon had told her was that Darcy would meet her at Wild Ginger at seven o’clock and, not to worry, he’d take care of their reservations. Maybe she was waiting at the bar. There was a petite blonde sipping a pink martini and chatting with the bartender. It could be her, but Brendon was tall and had broad shoulders. Perhaps it was the—
She spun, facing the hostess who was no longer staring at her phone but instead looking at Elle, brows raised expectantly. “Uh-huh?”
God, pretty people made her stupid.
The hostess cleared her throat. “Are you meeting someone?”
At least now she wouldn’t have to do the awkward thing and approach every lone woman in the joint. “Yeah, I am. Last name on the reservation should be Lowell.”
Enviably full lips pursed as the woman’s eyes narrowed minutely. “Elle?”
Hold on. “No, Darcy. Unless Brendon put my name on the reservation? With her last name? That’s a little presumptuous, but okay.” She snorted. “I’ve been on plenty of first dates and I’ve never had one go that well if you catch my drift.”
“No, I mean you are Elle,” the hostess spoke slowly. “I am Darcy.”
Elle’s heart thudded, skipping over one beat and quickening on the next. “Darcy . . . is you? You are Darcy?” So . . . not the hostess.
Of course this was Brendon’s sister. This was just Elle’s luck, and now that she knew, the resemblance was quite obvious. They were both tall and slender and unfairly attractive. Granted, Brendon’s hair was darker, but it was definitely red, and they both had freckles. So many freckles it was like Darcy’s skin was a peachy-cream sky covered in pale brown stars begging to be mapped out, connected into constellations. They spilled over her jaw and dotted her throat, disappearing under the collar of her green swing dress, leaving their path to Elle’s vivid imagination.
Her toes curled, face flushing when Darcy’s eyes dipped, mirroring her own unapologetic perusal. She bit back a grin. Maybe it was a good thing she’d worn this underwear after all.
Oof. Or not. “I am, and I’m really sorry about that. But there was—”
Darcy held up a hand, forcing Elle to swallow her excuse.
“It’s fine. I’ve had a long day and I already settled my tab at the bar.” She pointed over Elle’s shoulder toward the door. “I was calling a Lyft.”
“What? No.” She was late, yeah, but only by a few minutes. Okay, fifteen, but that wasn’t her fault. “I really am sorry. I wanted to text you, but my phone died and it was like mommy roller derby in front of Macy’s. And let me tell you, those women are vicious with their strollers when there are sales at stake. Vicious. I swear to God, you’d think it was Black Friday. Can you believe they’ve already got Christmas decorations up? I’ve still got cobwebs and Jon Bone Jovi hanging in my apartment.” Her face flamed at Darcy’s puzzled frown. “He’s, um, my apartment skeleton. We thought it’d be humerus. Because . . . anyway.” She squared her shoulders and gave Darcy her most heartfelt smile. “I’ve been looking forward to tonight ever since your brother mentioned he thought we might hit it off. Let me buy you another drink?”
She held her breath as Darcy deliberated, fingers pressed to the space between her brows as if she was staving off a headache.
After an excruciating moment of silence where Elle struggled not to squirm, Darcy dropped her hand and offered a ghost of a smile. “One drink.”
A riveting, deeply personal account of history in the making—from the president who inspired us to believe in the power of democracy
In the stirring, highly anticipated first volume of his presidential memoirs, Barack Obama tells the story of his improbable odyssey from young man searching for his identity to leader of the free world, describing in strikingly personal detail both his political education and the landmark moments of the first term of his historic presidency—a time of dramatic transformation and turmoil.
Obama takes readers on a compelling journey from his earliest political aspirations to the pivotal Iowa caucus victory that demonstrated the power of grassroots activism to the watershed night of November 4, 2008, when he was elected 44th president of the United States, becoming the first African American to hold the nation’s highest office.
Reflecting on the presidency, he offers a unique and thoughtful exploration of both the awesome reach and the limits of presidential power, as well as singular insights into the dynamics of U.S. partisan politics and international diplomacy. Obama brings readers inside the Oval Office and the White House Situation Room, and to Moscow, Cairo, Beijing, and points beyond. We are privy to his thoughts as he assembles his cabinet, wrestles with a global financial crisis, takes the measure of Vladimir Putin, overcomes seemingly insurmountable odds to secure passage of the Affordable Care Act, clashes with generals about U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, tackles Wall Street reform, responds to the devastating Deepwater Horizon blowout, and authorizes Operation Neptune’s Spear, which leads to the death of Osama bin Laden.
A Promised Land is extraordinarily intimate and introspective—the story of one man’s bet with history, the faith of a community organizer tested on the world stage. Obama is candid about the balancing act of running for office as a Black American, bearing the expectations of a generation buoyed by messages of “hope and change,” and meeting the moral challenges of high-stakes decision-making. He is frank about the forces that opposed him at home and abroad, open about how living in the White House affected his wife and daughters, and unafraid to reveal self-doubt and disappointment. Yet he never wavers from his belief that inside the great, ongoing American experiment, progress is always possible.
Our first spring in the White House arrived early. As the weather warmed, the South Lawn became almost like a private park to explore. There were acres of lush grass ringed by massive, shady oaks and elms and a tiny pond tucked behind the hedges, with the handprints of Presidential children and grandchildren pressed into the paved pathway that led to it. There were nooks and crannies for games of tag and hide-and-go-seek, and there was even a bit of wildlife—not just squirrels and rabbits but a red-tailed hawk and a slender, long-legged fox that occasionally got bold enough to wander down the colonnade.
Cooped up as we’d been through the winter of 2009, we took full advantage of the new back yard. We had a swing set installed for Sasha and Malia directly in front of the Oval Office. Looking up from a late-afternoon meeting on this or that crisis, I might glimpse the girls playing outside, their faces set in bliss as they soared high on the swings.
But, of all the pleasures that first year in the White House would deliver, none quite compared to the mid-April arrival of Bo, a huggable, four-legged black bundle of fur, with a snowy-white chest and front paws. Malia and Sasha, who’d been lobbying for a puppy since before the campaign, squealed with delight upon seeing him for the first time, letting him lick their ears and faces as the three of them rolled around on the floor.
With Bo, I got what someone once described as the only reliable friend a politician can have in Washington. He also gave me an added excuse to put off my evening paperwork and join my family on meandering after-dinner walks around the South Lawn. It was during those moments—with the light fading into streaks of purple and gold, Michelle smiling and squeezing my hand as Bo bounded in and out of the bushes with the girls giving chase—that I felt normal and whole and as lucky as any man has a right to expect.
Bo had come to us as a gift from Ted Kennedy and his wife, Vicki, part of a litter that was related to Teddy’s own beloved pair of Portuguese water dogs. It was a truly thoughtful gesture—not only because the breed was hypoallergenic (a necessity, owing to Malia’s allergies) but also because the Kennedys had made sure that Bo was housebroken before he came to us. When I called to thank them, though, it was only Vicki I could speak with. It had been almost a year since Teddy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor, and although he was still receiving treatment in Boston, it was clear to everyone—Teddy included—that the prognosis was not good.
I’d seen him in March, when he’d made a surprise appearance at a White House conference we held to get the ball rolling on universal-health-care legislation. Teddy’s walk was unsteady that day; his suit draped loosely on him after all the weight he’d lost, and despite his cheerful demeanor his pinched, cloudy eyes showed the strain it took just to hold himself upright. And yet he’d insisted on coming anyway, because thirty-five years earlier the cause of getting everyone decent, affordable health care had become personal for him. His son Teddy, Jr., had been diagnosed with a bone cancer that led to a leg amputation at the age of twelve. While at the hospital, Teddy had come to know other parents whose children were just as ill but who had no idea how they’d pay the mounting medical bills. Then and there, he had vowed to do something to change that.
Through seven Presidents, Teddy had fought the good fight. During the Clinton Administration, he helped secure passage of the Children’s Health Insurance Program. Over the objections of some in his own party, he worked with President George W. Bush to get drug coverage for seniors. But, for all his power and legislative skill, the dream of establishing universal health care—a system that delivered good-quality medical care to all people, regardless of their ability to pay—continued to elude him.
Which is why he had forced himself out of bed to come to our conference, knowing his brief but symbolic presence might have an effect. Sure enough, when he walked into the East Room, the hundred and fifty people who were present erupted into lengthy applause. His remarks were short; his baritone didn’t boom quite as loudly as it used to when he’d roared on the Senate floor. By the time we’d moved on to the third or fourth speaker, Vicki had quietly escorted him out the door.
I saw him only once more in person, six weeks later, at a signing ceremony for a bill expanding national-service programs, which Republicans and Democrats alike had named in his honor. But I would think of Teddy sometimes when Bo wandered into the Treaty Room and curled up at my feet. And I’d recall what Teddy had told me that day, just before we walked into the East Room together. “This is the time, Mr. President,” he had said. “Don’t let it slip away.”
The quest for some form of universal health care in the United States dates back to 1912, when Theodore Roosevelt, who had previously served nearly eight years as a Republican President, decided to run again—this time on a progressive ticket and with a platform that called for the establishment of a centralized national health service. At the time, few people had or felt the need for private health insurance. Most Americans paid their doctors visit by visit, but the field of medicine was quickly growing more sophisticated, and as more diagnostic tests and surgeries became available the attendant costs began to rise, tying health more obviously to wealth. Both the United Kingdom and Germany had addressed similar issues by instituting national health-insurance systems, and other European nations would eventually follow suit. Although Roosevelt ultimately lost the 1912 election, his party’s progressive ideals planted a seed: accessible and affordable medical care might one day be viewed as a right more than a privilege. It wasn’t long, however, before doctors and Southern politicians vocally opposed any type of government involvement in health care, branding it as a form of Bolshevism.
After Franklin Delano Roosevelt imposed a nationwide wage freeze, during the Second World War, meant to stem inflation, many companies began offering private health insurance and pension benefits as a way to compete for the limited number of workers not deployed overseas. Once the war ended, this employer-based system continued, in no small part because labor unions used the more generous benefit packages negotiated under collective-bargaining agreements as a selling point to recruit new members. The downside was that those unions then had little motivation to push for government-sponsored health programs that might help everybody else. Harry Truman proposed a national health-care system twice, once in 1945 and again as part of his Fair Deal package, in 1949, but his appeal for public support was no match for the well-financed P.R. efforts of the American Medical Association and other industry lobbyists. Opponents didn’t just kill Truman’s effort. They convinced a large swath of the public that “socialized medicine” would lead to rationing, to the loss of the family doctor and of the freedoms Americans hold so dear.
Rather than challenging private insurance head on, progressives shifted their energy to helping those populations the marketplace had left behind. These efforts bore fruit during Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society campaign, when a universal single-payer program partially funded by payroll-tax revenue was introduced for seniors (Medicare) and a not so comprehensive program based on a combination of federal and state funding was set up for the poor (Medicaid). During the nineteen-seventies and early eighties, this patchwork system functioned well enough, with roughly eighty per cent of Americans covered through either their jobs or one of these two programs. Meanwhile, defenders of the status quo could point to the many innovations brought to market by the for-profit medical industry, from MRIs to lifesaving drugs.
Useful as these innovations were, though, they also drove up health-care costs. And, with insurers footing the nation’s medical bills, patients had little incentive to question whether drug companies were overcharging or whether doctors and hospitals were ordering redundant tests and unnecessary treatments in order to pad their bottom lines. At the same time, nearly a fifth of the country lived just an illness or an accident away from potential financial ruin. Unable to afford regular checkups and preventive care, the uninsured often waited until they were very sick before seeking attention at hospital emergency rooms, where more advanced illnesses meant more expensive treatment. Hospitals made up for this uncompensated care by increasing prices for insured customers, which further jacked up premiums.
All this explained why the United States spent a lot more money per person on health care than any other advanced economy (eighty-seven per cent more than Canada, a hundred and two per cent more than France, a hundred and eighty-two per cent more than Japan), and for similar or worse results. The difference amounted to hundreds of billions of dollars a year—money that could have been used instead to provide child care for American families, or to reduce college tuition, or to eliminate a good chunk of the federal deficit. Spiralling health-care costs also burdened American businesses: Japanese and German automakers didn’t have to worry about the extra fifteen hundred dollars in worker and retiree health-care costs that Detroit had to build into the price of every car rolling off the assembly line.
In fact, it was in response to foreign competition that U.S. companies began off-loading rising insurance costs onto their employees in the late nineteen-eighties and nineties, replacing traditional plans that had few, if any, out-of-pocket costs with cheaper versions that included co-pays, lifetime limits, higher deductibles, and other unpleasant surprises hidden in the fine print. Unions often found themselves able to preserve their traditional benefit plans only by agreeing to forgo increases in wages. Small businesses found it tough to provide their workers with health benefits at all. Meanwhile, insurance companies that operated in the individual market perfected the art of rejecting customers who, according to their actuarial data, were most likely to make use of the health-care system, especially anyone with a “preëxisting condition”—which they often defined as anything from a previous bout of cancer to asthma and chronic allergies.
It’s no wonder, then, that by the time I took office there were very few people ready to defend the existing system. More than forty-three million Americans were now uninsured, premiums for family coverage had risen ninety-seven per cent since 2000, and costs were only continuing to climb. And yet the prospect of trying to get a big health-care-reform bill through Congress at the height of a historic recession made my team nervous. Even my adviser David Axelrod—who had experienced the challenges of getting specialized care for a daughter with severe epilepsy and had left journalism to become a political consultant in part to pay for her treatment—had his doubts.
“The data’s pretty clear,” he said when we discussed the topic with Rahm Emanuel, my chief of staff. “People may hate the way things work in general, but most of them have insurance. They don’t really think about the flaws in the system until somebody in their own family gets sick. They like their doctor. They don’t trust Washington to fix anything. And, even if they think you’re sincere, they worry that any changes you make will cost them money and help somebody else.”
“What Axe is trying to say, Mr. President,” Rahm interrupted, his face screwed up in a frown, “is that this can blow up in our faces.”
We were already using up precious political capital, Rahm said, in order to fast-track the passage of the Recovery Act, a major economic-stimulus package. As an adviser in the Clinton White House, he’d had a front-row seat at the last push for universal health care, when Hillary Clinton’s legislative proposal crashed and burned, and he was quick to remind us that the backlash had contributed to Democrats’ losing control of the House in the 1994 midterms. “Republicans will say health care is a big new liberal spending binge, and that it’s a distraction from solving the economic crisis,” Rahm said.
“Unless I’m missing something,” I said, “we’re doing everything we can do on the economy.”
“So what are we saying here?” I asked. “That despite having the biggest Democratic majorities in decades, despite the promises we made during the campaign, we shouldn’t try to get health care done?”
Rahm looked to Axe for help.
“We all think we should try,” Axe said. “You just need to know that, if we lose, your Presidency will be badly weakened. And nobody understands that better than McConnell and Boehner.”
I stood up, signalling that the meeting was over. “We better not lose, then,” I said.