Amy Scribner

The Cabrelli family has lived on the Italian coast for generations as local jewelers and pillars of their community. On her 80th birthday, family matriarch Matelda is grappling with her slowly failing health and unresolved family traumas. As Matelda takes stock of her life during a series of visits with her granddaughter Anina, she reflects on the great love stories woven through her family history and the bitter losses the Cabrellis have endured.

In 1939, Matelda’s mother, Domenica, is sent from her home in Viareggio, Italy, to work in a French hospital alongside other young women from around the world. Domenica’s initial homesickness quickly subsides as she and the other nurses go to pubs and dance on the pier. When anti-Italian sentiment sweeps through much of Europe, the hospital nuns move her to a convent in Scotland. There, Domenica meets the first love of her life. But after tragedy befalls their young family, Domenica brings 5-year-old Matelda back to the family home in Viareggio, where Domenica finds a second chance at love with a childhood friend, and Matelda begins her new life in a strange country.

Adriana Trigiani is the author of many beloved books, including Big Stone Gap and The Shoemaker’s Wife. The Good Left Undone is deliciously told, with fully explored characters, mouthwatering descriptions of Italian food and charming yet quirky towns. What’s exceptional about The Good Left Undone is how seamlessly Trigiani knits together different stories from many places and times, bringing it all together in one poignant and satisfying book.

This is a gorgeously written story about intergenerational love and heartbreak, the futility of regret and the power of a life well lived. It’s also a love letter to Italy and its beautiful and painful history. As a character in the novel says, “This is the place where the worst happened, my deepest pain and highest dream. Both reside in me, but I’ve learned that the love is greater than any hurt.”

Adriana Trigiani’s The Good Left Undone is a gorgeously written story about intergenerational love and trauma and the power of a life well lived.

Edgar Smith is not one of the names that comes to mind when one thinks of storied American killers, but according to the superb crime writer and journalist Sarah Weinman, he was at one point “perhaps the most famous convict in America.” Convicted for the brutal 1957 murder of 15-year-old Vickie Zielinski in New Jersey, Smith spent years on death row claiming he was innocent. His story caught the eye of conservative millionaire William F. Buckley Jr., who befriended Smith and helped him publish his story in a bestselling book. After years of legal wrangling, Smith was released from prison and became a passionate advocate for prison reform.

But then? Smith was caught attempting to abduct a woman in California in 1976. After he stabbed and beat her, the woman managed to escape. He confessed to killing Zielinski while being tried for his second crime, and ultimately died in prison in 2017. Scoundrel is the electric story of a man who managed to fool everyone around him: his wife, his mother, the famous neoconservative who founded the National Review and even the legal system.

The most interesting detail Weinman uncovered during her research for Scoundrel is that Smith had an affair with his editor, Sophie Wilkins—or at least as much of an affair as one can have from the confines of prison. Weinman found a trove of correspondence from Smith to Wilkins, some of which are love letters and others of which are more sexually graphic. “Those long letters, exceeding twenty single-spaced pages, weren’t sent through the Trenton State prison system, lest snooping censors create problems and revoke the privileges of its increasingly famous Death House inmate,” Weinman writes. Instead, Smith gave the letters to his lawyers, who passed them along to Wilkins. Wilkins would later claim she was only using Smith’s affection to produce the best book possible, but the letters suggest a more complicated and sincere relationship between the pair.

Despite his crimes happening more than 60 years ago, Weinman paints a complete portrait of Smith in all his complexity, with an unsettling ending that left me breathless. A chilling and deeply satisfying read, Scoundrel injects life into a story nearly forgotten by time.

Scoundrel is the electric story of a killer who managed to fool everyone around him, as told by the superb crime writer Sarah Weinman.

You know you’re in for a wild ride with the shockingly inventive collection Shit Cassandra Saw when one of the first stories is a piercing tale of women in New York acquiring supernatural powers that allow them to move through the city without fear of sexual assault. This is followed by a story that’s a one-star Yelp review written by Gary F., ostensibly about a Maryland restaurant called Jerry’s Crab Shack, but really about the man’s deeply dysfunctional relationship with his wife.

Other standout entries include a poignant look at a high school softball team that is reeling from a recent school shooting, and the tale of a woman who is having an affair and being judged by the priggish Colonial ghost who lives in her neighborhood.

So it goes, in dazzling story after story in this debut book from Gwen E. Kirby, a creative writing instructor and associate director at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference at the University of the South. Through humor, ferocity and sometimes a healthy dash of surrealism, Kirby meditates on the fears, joys and pains of being a woman throughout the centuries. Every story feels unique, yet they’re tied together by Kirby’s mind-bendingly confident writing and her clear fascination with strong yet vulnerable women.

And boy, does she know how to create a sense of place so strong you can feel and smell it. In “We Handle It,” for example, we meet teenage girls who are “at a summer music camp, our fingertips sore from strings, our backs sticky with sweat, and when we reach the lake we shed our summer dresses and leap from a boulder into the water, which is deep and clean. Around the lake are tall pines and the heavy hum of Southern bug life.”

Shit Cassandra Saw is pure pleasure with something for everyone, especially readers interested in thinking deeply about womanhood from every possible angle. Kirby’s characters are sometimes sinners and never saints, as complex as the real-life women we know and love.

The female characters in Gwen E. Kirby’s collection are sometimes sinners and never saints, as complex as the real-life women we know and love.

When we think of women’s contributions to World War II, what often comes to mind are bandanna-headed Rosie the Riveter types taking over factory work while the men were away. However, women journalists also reported on the war, facing challenges that male journalists did not, and their contributions are frequently overlooked.

Biographer Judith Mackrell’s wonderful new book, The Correspondents: Six Women Writers on the Front Lines of World War II, examines the war through the eyes of six reporters from this time. Mackrell posits that, though these women had a harder time accessing the front lines or the important political and military figures of the day, creative workarounds led to more nuanced and interesting coverage. “Over and over again,” Mackrell writes, “it was the restrictions imposed on women which, ironically, led to their finding more interestingly alternative views of the war.”

The six women Mackrell focuses on are Virginia Cowles, an American correspondent who started her career as a New York City society reporter; Sigrid Schultz, a brilliant and brave Berlin-based reporter whom readers may remember from Erik Larson’s In the Garden of Beasts; Clare Hollingworth, an ambitious and idealistic young Brit; Helen Kirkpatrick, whose college internship in Geneva led to a lifelong love of covering international relations; Virginia Cowles, an upper-class Bostonian who covered the war while remaining “disconcertingly glamorous in lipstick and high heels”; and Martha Gellhorn, a dazzling writer whom history primarily, and unfairly, remembers as Ernest Hemingway’s third wife.

Mackrell effortlessly weaves together the personal and professional stories of these six journalists, producing a hearty biography that feels almost like a novel with its rich details. She brings each woman to life, tracing her childhood and entry into journalism, as well as her work and romantic life, against the backdrop of a simmering conflict that boiled over into a disastrous war. Although these women covered hard news, delivering scoops about impending military moves, they also wrote human stories that almost certainly would have been underreported had the war been left entirely to male correspondents.

For example, Martha Gellhorn, one of the first reporters to bear witness to the Dachau concentration camp, wrote about one Polish inmate in the camp infirmary who was so wasted that his jawbone “seemed to be cutting into his skin.” After that experience, she wrote, “I know I have never again felt that lovely easy lively hope in life which I knew before, not in life, not in our species, not in our future on earth.”

Judith Mackrell’s biography of six female journalists during World War II feels almost like a novel with its rich details.

In the opening chapters of Dave Eggers’ latest chilling novel, we get a glimpse at a dystopian future in which privacy is a thing of the past and humankind is completely in the thrall of technology. True connection and meaningful communication are withering away. Even the secretary of state tweets dancing rainbow emoji from the official U.S. Department of State account.

At the center of this new world order is the Every, a megacorporation that has acquired Amazon, all the major search engines and social media platforms, and thousands of other companies. Enter Delaney Wells, a young idealist (is there any other kind?) whose parents lost their small-town Idaho store to the Every and now must work for the Every’s Whole Foods-esque grocery service. Delaney believes the Every is “not only a monopoly but also the most reckless and dangerous corporate entity ever conjured—and an existential threat to all that was untamed and interesting about the human species.”

Delaney’s goal is to tear down the Every from the inside. She gets a job at its headquarters and enters an otherworldly corporate culture where everyone dresses the same, steals each others’ ideas and pledges cultlike allegiance to the Every. Delaney begins proposing increasingly outlandish ideas: How about an app that listens to your conversations, tracks the participants’ vital signs and assesses the quality of the interaction? Or artificial intelligence that measures art so we no longer need to decide for ourselves whether “The Last Supper” is beautiful? Or an app called HappyNow? that tells you whether you’re happy with your recent purchases?

To Delaney’s horror, the more ridiculous her pitches, the more enthusiasm they generate, both within the Every and among consumers. She realizes her plan to turn public opinion against the monolithic company has just one flaw: Consumers no longer care about privacy or free will.

Eggers has long established his almost supernatural storytelling skills, and this new book is positively mesmerizing and wholly original. The Every, a companion book to The Circle, will likely scare the bejesus out of readers. The vivid future he depicts feels fantastical but just realistic enough to make you want to unplug your smart speaker and toss your fitness watch.

Unplug your Alexa and toss your Apple Watch. The Every, a companion book to The Circle, will likely scare the bejesus out of you.

Before she was the world-famous creator of #MeToo, the movement that sparked a reckoning with the mistreatment of women, especially women of color, Tarana Burke was a community organizer and journalist. Her experience as a reporter will be no surprise to anyone who reads Unbound: My Story of Liberation and the Birth of the Me Too Movement, her unflinching, open-hearted, beautifully told account of becoming one of the most consequential activists in America.

Burke was molested by a neighborhood boy in the Bronx when she was 7. Over the years, despite the presence of several loving adults in her life, Burke was repeatedly sexually assaulted. “I was a grown woman before I truly understood the word rape and was able to relate it to my experience,” she writes. “Language like rape, molestation, and abuse were foreign to me as a child. I had no definitions and no context. Nobody around me talked like that.”

In spite of her trauma, Burke writes with humor and gratitude about her experiences. She delves into the rich history of her family, led by a granddaddy who “believed in celebrating Blackness in as many ways as possible” and a mother who was a devout Catholic. In school, Burke was both academically gifted and an agitator who spent time in the principal’s office. A high school leadership program led Burke to Selma, Alabama, where she laid the groundwork for #MeToo after realizing there was an utter lack of programs to support and protect young women as they spoke their truth about sexual abuse.

Burke also writes honestly about her reaction to #MeToo becoming a viral phenomenon on social media in 2017, initially without her knowledge or participation. After spending more than a decade traveling around the country, conducting workshops and speaking on panels about surviving sexual assault, she worried social media would water down or misuse her work.

Ultimately Burke realized that “all the folks who were using the #metoo hashtag, and all the Hollywood actresses who came forward with their allegations, needed the same thing that the little Black girls in Selma, Alabama, needed—space to be seen and heard. They needed empathy and compassion and a path to healing.”

Unbound is not just a thoroughly engrossing read. It’s also an important book that helps us understand the woman who has been so influential as our country struggles to acknowledge women’s trauma.

In the audio edition of ‘Unbound,’ Tarana Burke’s story is rendered all the more potent by her confident voice.

Unbound is Tarana Burke’s unflinching, beautifully told account of founding the #MeToo movement and becoming one of the most consequential activists in America.

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