The Book of Strange New Things by Michael Faber

The Book of Strange New ThingsThe Book of Strange New Things, by Michael Faber

Reviewed by Michelle Richmond

forthcoming from Crown Publishing, October, 2014.

When a missionary from England arrives in a distant galaxy as the latest employee of a corporation called USIC, he is surprised to find that the native population is far from hostile. In fact, the Oasans have been waiting for him. He soon discovers that he is not their first pastor; the previous missionary,  Kurtzburg, walked away and never returned. Gradually, Peter comes to understand the reason he was hired: USIC’s continued relations with the locals were in jeopardy.

Together, Peter and the locals build a church while he shares with them the gospel from The Book of Strange New Things. As his church rises from the ground and he becomes further and further disconnected from the USIC settlement fifty miles away, Peter’s pregnant wife Bea sends desperate missives from home. The world is falling apart–mass warfare, starvation, unprecedented natural disasters. As the distance grows between Peter and Bea, so does the distance between the pastor and his fellow workers at USIC. One wonders: will he “go native” like (Kurtz)burg?

Faber skillfully avoids the expected tropes of colonization. The corporation does not wish to obliterate or assimilate the locals, but to live peacefully alongside them. Miscommunication, however, is inevitable. Aside from Kurtzburg and a linguist who also disappeared, the employees of USIC have done little to understand the language or daily lives of the Oasans. Instead of bringing disease, USIC brings medicine, for which the locals trade food that they have painstakingly harvested and prepared. But the trade proves to be unequal: the medicine cannot save the locals from the thing that threatens them most.

Satisfyingly reminiscent of Ray Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, with nods to The Heart of Darkness, The Book of Strange New Things is a brilliant work of hybrid fiction. Part love story, part sci-fi thriller, part cautionary tale, Faber delivers an unforgettable novel that raises important questions about faith, fear of the unknown, and our place in the universe.

Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of Golden State and The Year of Fog

A review copy of this book was provided by NetGalley.




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What to Read This Weekend

Childhood Stories, a short memoir by Irina Howell:

In this exquisitely detailed memoir, Howell examines her Soviet childhood—the boundaries crossed and secrets kept within her broken family. The author was raised in Soviet Russia with a fighter pilot for a father. Her work explores the complexities of individual lives played out against the backdrop of the collapse of the Soviet Empire.

From Fiction Attic Press


Shine Shine Shine, a novel by Lydia Netzer

What can I say? I read this book more than a year ago, and I still think about it frequently. A young mother navigates a complicated suburban life on earth with her autistic son while her husband is in space, on a mission that has gone terribly off course. This book came out long before the film gravity, but if you liked Gravity, you’ll love Netzer’s novel. I’m excited that she has a new novel, How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky, coming in July. Visit Lydia Netzer’s website to learn more.


If You Serve Your Country, Do You Have to Serve God? by Emma Green for the Atlantic Monthly

A growing number of atheists in the military have called for the appointment of humanist chaplains to serve their needs. But Congress, the US Army War College, and others are still fighting for a narrower definition of religion and belief. Emma Green explores the bias against atheists in the military and the slow but certain changes taking place.

Michelle Richmond‘s most recent books are the the story collection Hum and the novel Golden State (“There’s no denying the suspenseful thrill” -Washington Times).



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A Review of FLYING SHOES by Lisa Howorth


When Oxford, Mississippi resident Mary Byrd Thornton receives word from a Virginia detective that the thirty-year-old investigation into the assault and murder of her half-brother, Stevie, is being reopened, she must travel to her hometown to confront her family’s heartbreaking past. Her current life doesn’t stop for the investigation, however. As Mary Byrd is preparing for the arduous journey through a killer storm, the daughter of Mary Byrd’s housekeeper, Evagreen, is arrested for the murder of Angie’s abusive husband.

In Flying Shoes, Lisa Howorth (co-owner of Oxford’s beloved institution Square Books) provides a smart, provocative glimpse into an often misunderstood culture. While the story of the search for Stevie’s killer plays backseat to the larger story of Mary Byrd’s life as a wife, mother, friend, and inhabitant of Oxford, the specter of Stevie’s loss, and Mary Byrd’s guilt over her possible connection to the crime, haunts the entire novel. The wide cast of deftly drawn characters–a homeless Vietnam vet named Teever, an insufferable but too-famous-to-be-ignored photographer, a hard-drinking love interest from an old but fallen family, and Mary Byrd’s dear friend Mann–offers a glimpse into the complexities and contradictions of Mississippi’s plantation-era past, which has deep-seated implications for racial relations in the present day.

Poignant and unputdownable, Flying Shoes is told with humor and verve. Highly recommended.

Bloomsbury USA, Hardcover, 9781620403013, June 17, 2014

Reviewed by Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of Golden State and The Year of Fog

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6 Great Novels to Read & Give

longingsofwaywardgirlslovestoryI’ve had the good fortune to read several incredibly good novels in the past couple of months. What ties all of these novels together is a combination of tremendous thoughtfulness and keen insights into human nature. Some are hot off the presses, while others have been around for a while. Every one of them left me slightly stunned, all for different reasons. Every one of them has given me reason to pause, not to mention lose sleep.

Someone Else’s Love Story, by Joshilyn Jackson

Shine Shine Shine, by Lydia Nester

The Impossible Lives of Greta Wells, by Andrew Sean Greer

Is This Tomorrow,  by Caroline Leavitt

The Longings of Wayward Girls, by Karen Brown

The Beauty of Ordinary Things, by Harriet Chessman




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snowblindby Christopher Golden

reviewed by Michelle Richmond

It is the dead of winter, and the small New England town of Coventry is bracing for a blizzard. By the time the apocalyptically brutal storm has passed, many of Coventry’s citizens will be dead or vanished. Among the victims is little Isaac Schapiro, whose brother Jake laughed off Isaac’s terrified description of the Ice Men, until he realized that the phantoms Isaac saw in the wind outside their window were real. Niko Ristani, who is engaged to Isaac’s mother Allie, is also dead. Some of the lost citizens of Coventry suffered violent, inexplicable injuries; others simply vanished into the storm.

Twelve years later, the loved ones of the dead and missing have repaired their lives to varying degrees, moving on but rarely flourishing. Several of the living are shrouded in guilt. Police Detective Joe Keenan is haunted by his failure to save a young boy who was electrocuted while out sledding, and still confounded by the disappearance of the boy’s father. Doug Manning, who didn’t make it home to save his wife Cherie, has turned to a life of petty crime.  TJ, a musician, left his mother on her own that night to be with a woman named Ella on whom he’d long had a crush. Now, TJ’s marriage to Ella is crumbling.

As the new monster storm descends upon Coventry, those who remember the earlier blizzard that cost their town so much shudder at the memories. And then strange things begin to happen. A family of three crashes into the frozen river, but the body of the couple’s young son is nowhere to be found. Eleven-year-old Grace, TJ’s daughter, begins acting so strangely that he hardly recognizes her. A young police officer named Torres seems bent on reminding Keenan of his failure to save the life of the young Wexler boy. Miri Ristani receives a phone call from her dead father.

Snowblind builds with a sure, inescapable tension that will keep readers turning pages. One feels deeply for the characters, particularly Jake, as they face their individual and all-too-real demons. The climactic spirits-versus-humans fight scene that plays out over dozens of pages seems designed for the big screen and may cause some readers to toss the book aside in frustration. That said, readers who buy into the bigger-than-your-average-ghost fantasy will race to the end to find out what becomes of these broken, courageous characters. In Snowblind, Golden has created a terrifying, utterly gripping modern-day ghost story that will force  you to consider the choices you would make if someone you loved, and tragically lost, were to suddenly appear on your doorstep.

St. Martin’s Press, January 21, 2014  ISBN 978-1250015310

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Reviewed by Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog and Golden State.

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