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Rumaan Alam

That Kind of Mother

Ecco

Poet Rebecca Stone finds herself overwhelmed by the demands of her newborn son and the tedium of newborn motherhood. During her visits with the hospital’s lactation consultant Priscilla Johnson, she experiences a sense of peace, causing Rebecca to hire Priscilla on as her family nanny. Priscilla brings that same sense of peace and calm to the household and becomes a cherished member of the family. When Priscilla becomes pregnant by an unknown man and unexpectedly dies during childbirth, the Stone family dynamic is turned upside down. Rebecca feels compelled to adopt Priscilla’s black child as her own son and experience newborn motherhood in a whole new way. This book explores themes of race, privilege, motherhood, and what it means to be a family. Fans of Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng will enjoy this one.

After reading the first few chapters of That Kind of Mother, I flipped to the author’s bio to learn more about the woman who perfectly describes the simultaneous excitement, absorption, and monotony of newborn motherhood. I was shocked to learn that the source of such profound descriptions was not a mother, not even a woman, but a man! Bravo to Rumaan Alam for capturing that experience.

– Marilu Morgan

Elan Mastai

All Our Wrong Todays

Dutton / Penguin Random House

There is a theme running through time-travel fiction about the paradoxical dangers inherent in messing with the past, i.e. “By going back before one’s father’s birth and dropping an elephant on one’s grandfather, would one cease to exist?” Protagonist-narrator Tom Barren brings new concerns for Chrononaut wannabes—that peculiarity of space and time which dictates that sending someone back an hour would materialize the traveler thousands of miles away where the Earth was an hour before.

If one prefers tales of star-crossed lovers, Wrong Todays revolves around Tom’s pursuit of Penelope/Penny, his cross-dimensional love, and how Tom’s time-line altering mistake scrambles his affinity with her.

Mastai’s plot is a labyrinth, a hall of mirrors. His penultimate comment on the paralyzing possibilities of existence is “There’s no such thing as the life you’re supposed to have.” Readers need to bring their “A” game to this Toronto screenwriter’s story. It’s intriguing, and there are no disposable details in it.

– Wynn Parks

Alan Strauss-Schom

The Shadow Emperor

St. Martin’s Press

Historian Strauss-Schom started a big controversy years ago with his negative biography of Napoleon Bonaparte, making the case that the much-admired French emperor was probably a sociopath. He’s nicer to Napoleon’s nephew, Louis Napoleon (Emperor Napoleon III). Louis has long had the reputation of having been both tyrannical and inept. Strauss-Schom makes a good argument that much of what we love and admire about modern France—including the architectural splendors of Paris—was Napoleon III’s doing. Though he gets carried away with his logic at times, Strauss-Schom’s revisionist look at the late 19th century is worthwhile reading.

– Bruce Collier
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