As the calendar has turned to September, and people are back to work and school, the need for moments to unwind becomes important, and there are three new novels that are a perfect way to spend that time: Ravage & Son, by Jerome Charyn; Counting Lost Stars, by Kim van Alkemade; and The Air Raid Book Club, by Annie Lyons.
Ravage & Son
By Jerome Charyn
Bellevue Literary Press; paperback, 288 pages; $17.99
Jerome Charyn is the author of more than fifty works of fiction and nonfiction, including Sergeant Salinger; In the Shadow of King Saul: Essays on Silence and Song; and A Loaded Gun: Emily Dickinson for the 21st Century. He has been named a Commander of Arts and Letters by the French Minister of Culture and has been longlisted for the Mark Twain American Voices in Literature Award.
In Charyn's new novel Ravage & Son, a lurid tale of revenge told in a wildly evocative, suspenseful noir. It captures the lost world of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, the cradle of Jewish immigration during the first years of the twentieth century, viewed through a dark mirror.
Abraham Cahan is the editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, and he serves as the conscience of the Jewish ghetto teeming with rogue cops and swindlers. He rescues Ben Ravage, an orphan who was in a trade school, and sends him off to Harvard to earn a law degree.
When he returns, Ben rejects the opportunity to move on from this gritty area and instead becomes a detective for the Kehilla, a quixotic gang backed by wealthy patrons from uptown, to help the police rid the Lower East Side of criminals.
Ben is tasked with rooting out the Jewish "Mr. Hyde," a half-mad villain who attacks the prostitutes of Allen Street. As he is searching for him, Ben discovers that his fate is tied to that of the violent, sinister man.
Charyn says of his novel, "What was the Lower East Side really like at the beginning of the twentieth century? It may have been the cradle of Jewish immigration, but it was also the cradle of Jewish crime. The poor suffered as they suffer now and the politicians and police milked them as much as they could, but there was a dark poetry in the landscape and this is the poetry I tried to capture with Ravage & Son.
"My own grandparents lived on the Lower East Side. Some of my greatest earlier adventures were carousing the streets, its Yiddish theatres, and its restaurants. It was my own personal cradle. And whenever I visit, I always feel as though I am coming home."
Counting Lost Stars
By Kim van Alkemade
William Morrow; paperback, $19.99; Ebook, $11.99; digital audio, $31.99
Kim van Alkemade is the New York Times bestselling author of the historical novels Orphan #8 and Bachelor Girl. The Manhattan native was a professor at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania and now is a full-time writer.
Counting Lost Stars is van Alkemade's new novel, and it is a historical saga in which an unmarried college student, who's given up her baby for adoption, helps a Dutch Holocaust survivor searching for his lost mother.
In 1960 New York City, college student Rita Klein is a pioneering woman in the new field of computer programming. That changes when she unexpectedly becomes pregnant and at the Hudson Home for Unwed Mothers, she is pressured by social workers to surrender her baby for adoption.
Rita is struggling to get on with her life when she meets Jacob Nassy, a charming yet troubled man from the Netherlands who is traumatized by his childhood experience of being separated from his mother during the Holocaust. When Rita learns that Hollerith punch-card computers were used to organize Hitler's Final Solution, she sets out to find the answers that will help Jacob heal.
The gripping story then jumps to 1941 in The Hague, where Cornelia Vogel is working as a punch-card operator at the Ministry of Information when a census of Holland's population is ordered by the Germans. After the Ministry acquires a Hollerith computer that's made in America, Cornelia is tasked with translating its instructions from English into Dutch.
Cornelia seeks help from her fascinating Jewish neighbor, Leah Blom, an unconventional young woman whose mother was born in New York. When Cornelia becomes aware that the census is being used to persecute Holland's Jews, she risks everything to help Leah escape.
When Rita reveals a connection between Cornelia Vogel and Jacob's mother, long-buried secrets come to light. Jacob and Rita will then find out if the shocking revelations tear them apart, or whether learning the truth about the past enables them to face the future together.
The Air Raid Book Club
By Annie Lyons
William Morrow; hardcover, $30.00; Ebook, $14.99; Digital Audio, $27.99
Annie Lyons had a career in bookselling and publishing, she published numerous books in the United Kingdom, and USA Today bestseller The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett in the United States. When not working on her novels, she teaches creative writing.
The Air Raid Book Club is Lyons' new novel, and it is a heartwarming story of found family, love, and making connections through books set against the bombing of London during World War II.
The story begins in 1938 in London, where Gertie Bingham doesn't feel the same in her bookstore since the death of her beloved husband, Harry.
Bingham Books was a dream they shared, and without Harry, Gertie ponders whether it's time to take her faithful old lab, Hemingway, and retire to the seaside, but fate has other plans for her.
In Germany, Hitler is on the rise, and Jewish families are making the heart-wrenching decision to send their children away from the growing turmoil. Gertie is nudged by her dear friend Charles to take in one of these refugees, a headstrong teenage girl named Hedy.
Gertie is reminded of herself at the same age when she sees who willful and fearless Hedy is, and shows her that she can't give up just yet. With the threat of war on the horizon, the world needs people like Gertie and her bookshop.
When the Blitz begins and bombs whirl overhead, Gertie and Hedy come up with the idea to start an air raid book club. Neighbors and bookstore customers come together to hold lively discussions of everything from Winnie the Pooh to Wuthering Heights.
A good book can do wonders for people, even in the worst circumstances, but even the best book can only provide a temporary escape. As the tragic reality of the war hits home, the book club faces unimaginable losses. They will need all the strength of their stories, and the bonds they've formed through the book club to see them through with the hope of brighter days ahead.