Coffee Club Reads: December 2019

Wednesday, 4 December, 2019

A beautiful story of love and loss with a touch of magic, grisly murders that make everyone a suspect, and coming-of-age memoir … here are our top reads for the month of December!

Where the Forest Meets the Stars

 by Glendy Vanderah

Recovering from the loss of her mother and her own battle with breast cancer, field biologist Jo throws herself into her graduate research on nesting birds in rural Illinois, working from dusk until dawn. Her isolation is interrupted by a young girl, Ursa, who shows up at her cabin barefoot and covered in bruises, claiming to be sent from the stars. The mystery of Ursa’s origins draws in both Jo and her reclusive neighbour, Gabriel, forcing all of them to confront some painful secrets they’ve kept buried to protect themselves.

It might read like magical realism, but this is a contemporary novel that explores the biggest mystery of the universe: the human condition and the heaviness of love and loss. Where the Forest Meets the Stars is a beautiful but intense story with flawed, relatable characters who are very real and honest. It explores some difficult themes and you’re left wondering what the truth is for most of the book. It’s a mesmerising read that will tug at your heartstrings, and you might need to take some time afterward to recover from this unforgettable debut novel. 

 What Happened at the Lake

by Phil M. Williams

The Palmer family goes to the lake for a week of fun in the sun … but not everyone makes it back home. Alex Palmer thought a week-long trip to the lake would heal his family – but a brutal double murder, a disappearance, and a serial killer will turn their family vacation into a nightmare. All Alex Palmer wants to do is keep his family safe. To do that, he needs to know – what happened at the lake?

This is a dark psychological thriller that will keep you glued to every word. It’s definitely not for the weak of heart – it delves into depraved acts of violence and sexual assault, along with intense family drama that quickly spirals out of control. This book will shock you and disturb you, but the intensity is addictive. You might find yourself losing sleep to find out what really happened at the lake…

 My Salinger Year

by Joanna Rakoff

My Salinger Year is a memoir about literary New York in the late nineties, a pre-digital world on the cusp of vanishing. At 23, after leaving graduate school to pursue her dream of becoming a poet, Joanna Rakoff moves to New York City and takes a job as assistant to the storied literary agent for J.D. Salinger. She spends her days in a plush, wood-panelled office – where Dictaphones and typewriters still reign, and old-timers doze at their desks after martini lunches. 

Rakoff is tasked with answering Salinger’s voluminous fan mail. But as she reads the heart-wrenching letters from his readers around the world, she finds herself unable to send the agency’s decades-old form response. Instead, drawn into the emotional world of Salinger’s devotees, she abandons the template and begins writing back. The results are both humorous and moving, as Rakoff, while acting as the great writer’s voice, begins to discover her own.

Rakoff’s memoir is wonderfully written and entertaining as hell, poignantly weaving cameos of Salinger into Rakoff’s story of growing up in the rapidly changing publishing industry. The young writer transitions into adulthood while ‘The Agency’ simultaneously tries to ignore the internet age. If you’re a little bit bookish, you can’t help but fall in love with this ‘Mad Men’-esque portrait of literary New York in the 90s, and the romanticism of a naïve writer making her way in the big city while trying to find her feet as a poet and author in her own right. 

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