Francis Spufford, Golden Hill
It’s November 1746, and Richard Smith has just arrived in the small town of New York. He visits a countinghouse and produces a note for 1,000 pounds — a huge sum. The denizens of New York don’t know what to make of him: Is he simply a rich man planning to explore the pleasures of a new place? Or is he some kind of fraud, spy, or scoundrel? As Smith explores the city, he gets into various kinds of financial, political, and romantic trouble, but it’s not till the end of the novel that his true purpose is revealed. I really enjoyed this book, which apes the picaresque adventures and digressive style of 18th-century novels. It does a good job of pointing out the social ills of the period (such a slavery) without being anachronistic or preachy. It’s also just plain fun to follow the possibly roguish Smith around and try to figure out what he’s up to, though the ending is a bit of a heartbreaker. But I’d still heartily recommend this book to historical fiction fans!
David Sedaris, Holidays on Ice
This book is a collection of holiday-themed stories and essays, some of them autobiographical and most previously published elsewhere. “SantaLand Diaries” chronicles the time Sedaris worked as a Macy’s elf, “Christmas Means Giving” follows two families as they compete to see who can best demonstrate the true meaning of the season, and “Jesus Shaves” sheds some light on different cultures’ Easter traditions. These short works contain some hilarious moments, but frankly, a lot of them are dark and depressing. One story ends with the murder of a baby, while in another, parents sell their children to a pedophile. So if you’re looking for light, fun stories to get you in the holiday spirit, I’d recommend skipping this one! But if you’re of a more cynical disposition during this time of year, then it could be just the thing for you. For me, it was a mixed bag and probably not a keeper.
Megan Bannen, The Undertaking of Hart and Mercy
This book is a weird but winning genre mashup of romance, fantasy, and Western. Hart Ralston is a marshal in a fantasy world similar to our own, but with zombielike creatures called drudges; his job is to kill them and take their bodies to the nearby undertakers. One such undertaker is Mercy Birdsall, who loves her job but is desperately trying to keep the family business afloat, despite a sick father and uninterested brother. Hart and Mercy fight constantly, but their mutual antagonism is concealing very different feelings, which emerge when they become anonymous penpals. So basically, the book is The Shop around the Corner/You’ve Got Mail with a bit of zombie action and a Western flavor…which sounds like it shouldn’t work, but it totally does! I didn’t need quite as much world-building and would have preferred more of a buildup to the romance, but overall I loved this one and would recommend it if the premise sounds appealing.