Fiction

“A Fall of Marigolds," by Susan Meissner

Taryn Michaels specializes in hard-to-find patterns at an Upper West Side fabric shop. She is haunted by her failure to find a match for a scarf covered in bright marigolds, the same scarf she was holding when the Twin Towers fell in 2001, killing her husband. Unbeknownst to Taryn, the scarf began its life in New York on Ellis Island in 1911, when a very recently widowed Welshman carried it into the scarlet-fever ward of nurse Clara Wood. Clara, like Taryn, is hiding out in her work, having witnessed the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, watching the man she loved jump from an upper floor. When Clara discovers the terrible secret of the scarf's original owner, Lily, she must decide if she can accept the help of a handsome doctor and brave the ferry to Manhattan to find answers. Meissner's first mainstream women's fiction novel, after more than a dozen Christian-fiction titles, hits all of the right emotional notes without overdoing the two tragedies; instead, she seamlessly weaves a connection between two women whose broken hearts have left them in an in-between place. A good choice for Christian-fiction readers, for book groups, or for readers looking for a book of hope without schmaltz.

— Booklist

“The Lager Queen of Minnesota: A Novel," by J. Ryan Stradal

Stradal follows up “Kitchens of the Great Midwest” with a refreshing story about women who know how to take charge in a family that becomes involved in the brewing industry. Edith and her sister, Helen, are young Minnesotans in the 1950s, and though the unassuming Edith gains temporary fame for her scrumptious pies, Helen becomes obsessed with making beer after her very first sip. Both women marry, and while Edith and Stanley Magnusson struggle to make ends meet, Helen manipulates her ailing, beer-loving father by selling him on her capacity to make a beer of her own. After he dies, she takes Edith’s inheritance along with her own. Helen’s husband, Orval Blotz, is heir to his family’s failing brewing empire, and while Helen uses her inheritance and persistence to bring Blotz Beer back to popularity, Edith has difficulty forgiving Helen for her betrayal. The sisters lose track of one another for decades, but Edith’s teenage granddaughter, Diana, is drawn, seemingly by fate, into the brewing business. This is not a story of drinkers and drinking, but is rather a testament to the setbacks and achievements that come with following one’s passion. This story about how a family business succeeds with generations of strong and determined women at the helm makes for a sometimes sad, sometimes funny, but always winning novel.

— Publishers Weekly

Nonfiction

“Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy," by Eric Metaxas

In this weighty, riveting analysis of the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Metaxas (“Amazing Grace”) offers a comprehensive review of one of history's darkest eras, along with a fascinating exploration of the familial, cultural and religious influences that formed one of the world's greatest contemporary theologians. A passionate narrative voice combines with meticulous research to unpack the confluence of circumstances and personalities that led Germany from the defeat of WWI to the atrocities of WWII. Abundant source documentation (sermons, letters, journal entries, lectures, the Barman Declaration) brings to life the personalities and experiences that shaped Bonhoeffer: his highly intellectual, musical family; theologically liberal professors, pastoral colleagues and students; his extensive study, work, and travel abroad. Tracing Bonhoeffer's developing call to be a Jeremiah-like prophet in his own time and a growing understanding that the church was called "to speak for those who could not speak," Metaxas details Bonhoeffer's role in religious resistance to Nazism, and provides a compelling account of the faith journey that eventually involved the Lutheran pastor in unsuccessful attempts to assassinate Hitler. Insightful and illuminating, this tome makes a powerful contribution to biography, history and theology.

— Publishers Weekly

“Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know," by Malcolm Gladwell

In this thoughtful treatise spurred by the 2015 death of African-American academic Sandra Bland in jail after a traffic stop, New Yorker writer Gladwell (“The Tipping Point”) aims to figure out the strategies people use to assess strangers—to “analyze , critique them, figure out where they came from, figure out how to fix them,” in other words: to understand how to balance trust and safety. He uses a variety of examples from history and recent headlines to illustrate that people size up the motivations, emotions, and trustworthiness of those they don’t know both wrongly and with misplaced confidence. He relates, for example, the story of a whole cadre of American spies in Cuba who were carefully handpicked by American intelligence operatives, all of whom turned out to be pro-Castro double agents. Gladwell writes in his signature colorful, fluid, and accessible prose, though he occasionally fails to make fully clear the connection between a seemingly tangential topic such as suicide risk and the book’s main questions. In addition to providing an analysis of human mental habits and interactions, Gladwell pleas for more thoughtful ways of behaving and advocates for people to embrace trust, rather than defaulting to distrust, and not to “blame the stranger.” Readers will find this both fascinating and topical.

— Publishers Weekly

Others

“Ross Poldark," by Winston Graham (fiction)

“The Eyre Affair," by Jasper Fforde (fiction)

“NeuroTribes: The Legacy of Autism and the Future of Neurodiversity, by Steve Silberman (nonfiction)

"Think Like a Cat: How to Raise a Well-Adjusted Cat—Not a Sour Puss," by Pam Johnson-Bennett (nonfiction)