CBS New York Book Club, select our end-of-summer Readers’ Choice
They are the final FicPicks for the final days of summer! The CBS New York Book Club team has selected three fiction books. These FicPicks have plots and/or authors connected to New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut.
So which book should #ClubCalvi read for the next five weeks?
Below you will find information on our “FicPicks,” including excerpts. Cast your voted now! The poll closes Sunday, July 23 at 6 pm.
We will announce the “Readers’ Choice” on Tuesday, July 25. These books may have adult themes.
Prefer to listen? Audible has a 30-day free trial available right now.
“Good Fortune” by C.K. Chau
From the publisher: This debut reimagines Pride and Prejudice, set in contemporary Chinatown, exploring contemporary issues of class divides, family ties, cultural identity, and the pleasures and frustrations that come with falling in love.
When Elizabeth Chen’s ever-hustling realtor mother finally sells the beloved if derelict community center down the block, the new owners don’t look like typical New York City buyers. Brendan Lee and Darcy Wong are good Chinese boys with Hong Kong money. Clean-cut and charismatic, they say they are committed to cleaning up the neighborhood. To Elizabeth, that only means one thing: Darcy is looking to give the center an uptown makeover.
Elizabeth is determined to fight for community over profit, even if it means confronting the arrogant, uptight man every chance she gets. But where clever, cynical Elizabeth sees lemons, her mother sees lemonade. Eager to get Elizabeth and her other four daughters ahead in the world (and out of their crammed family apartment), Mrs. Chen takes every opportunity to keep her investors close. Closer than Elizabeth likes.
C.K. Chau is based in New York
“Thicker Than Water” by Megan Collins
From the publisher: Two sisters-in-law are at painful odds when the man who connects them-the brother of one, the husband of the other-is accused of a brutal crime.
Julia and Sienna Larkin are connected by Julia’s husband and Sienna’s brother, Jason. More than that, the two are devoted best friends and business partners, believing that theirs is a uniquely unbreakable bond. To Sienna, her protective brother can do no wrong, and although Julia knows he’s not perfect, they’ve built a comfortable life and family together. Recently, Jason has been putting in long hours to secure a promotion at work, so when his boss is found brutally murdered-his lips sewn shut-the Larkins are shocked and unsettled, especially as local gossip swirls.
A few days later, Julia and Sienna’s lives are upended when Jason gets into a car accident and is placed in a medically induced coma. Worse, the police arrive with news that he’s the prime suspect in the murder investigation. With Jason unable to respond-and with Julia and Sienna working to clear his name-the two women find their friendship threatened for the first time: Sienna staunchly maintains her brother’s innocence, but as their investigation uncovers a complicated web of secrets, Julia is less sure she’s willing to defend her husband.
Megan Collins lives in Connecticut
Note: Atria/Simon & Schuster is owned by CBS2’s parent company Paramount.
“Tropicália” by Harold Rogers
From the publisher: In the heady days before a New Year’s Eve party on the bustling sands of Brazil’s Copacabana Beach, a family reckons with a matriarch’s long-awaited return, causing old secrets to come to light in this debut that explores the heartbreak and hope of what it means to be from two homes, two peoples, and two worlds.
Daniel Cunha has a lot on his mind. He got dumped by his pregnant girlfriend, his grandfather just dropped dead, and on the anniversary of the raid that doomed his drug-dealing aunt and uncle, his mother makes her unwanted return, years after she fled to marry another American fool like his father.
Misfortune, however, is a Cunha family affair, and no generation is spared. Not Daniel’s grandfather João-poor João-born to a prostitute and forced to raise his siblings while still a child himself. Not João’s wife, Marta, branded as a bruxa, reviled by her mother, and dragged from her Ilha paradise by her scheming daughter, Maria. And certainly not Maria, so envious of her younger sister’s beauty and benevolence that she took her vicious revenge and fled to the States, abandoning her children: Daniel and Lucia, both tainted now by their half-Americanness and their mother’s greedy absence.
There’s poison in the Cunha blood. They are a family cursed, condemned to the pain of deprivation, betrayal, violence, and, worst of all, love.
Harold Rogers lives in New York City.
Excerpt: “Good Fortune” By C.K. Chau
Presenting the Chens of Essex Street—of Chinatown, of Manhattan, of the city so nice they named it twice, of gold mountain, of the italicized, of the hyphenated, of mei gwok, of zung gwok, of the center of the world to the center of the world. Call it America. Call it the neighborhood. Call it around the turn of the millennium, give or take a few years. They came by way of two parents, Jade and Vincent—not their natural names, but the useful ones—in the usual fashion and the standard cadence. They came with similar teasing, small eyes, raffish black hair, and pert mouths; they came with red faces and squalling voices; they came easily, laboriously, frantically, lazily, and in the middle of the night, and landed in New York Presbyterian. There were five of them and what bad luck, all of them girls—Jane, the loveliest, the sweetest, the Goat (the Ram, the Sheep); then Elizabeth, sharpminded and sharper tongued (the Monkey); Mary (the Ox); Kitty (the Rabbit); and Lydia (the Dragon)—who became, collectively and in short, the Chen girls.
Their parents survived as many in the neighborhood did—hand- to- mouth and on odd jobs, by the skin of their teeth. Relief seamstress here, overnight janitor there, you get the picture, until they stepped into their current roles as the operators of Lulu’s, a takeout joint specializing in cheap lunches for the time-starved office worker. Sesame beef and chow mein, MSG and egg drop soup, dripping grease and satisfaction. Vincent aspired to small business ownership and daughters who wouldn’t have to work with their hands; Jade set out to win the lottery. Neither achieved success. So Jade pursued a realty license, Vincent ran somebody else’s restaurant, and they called it an American Dream.
They came for a better life, for opportunity, for the e pluribus unum of potential earnings. They ended up with seven in a two-bedroom in a fourth-floor walk-up with leaking pipes, flaking paint, inconsistent heat, quarrelsome neighbors, and a landlord who remembered them only when the rent was due. Better than many, they admitted, and better than before, but not quite what they imagined. Seven hundred square feet among seven people—little to go around. Little space, little privacy, and little peace. What they had, they shared; what they shared, they resented. Jade and Vincent in one bedroom, and four girls in the other, split across two sets of bunk beds, with a rotating fifth on the sofa—trying to imagine anything else besides bills and student loans and the rent due, and the fruit of their dreams yet to bear.
And what burdens those dreams were! Money, success, happiness, and Chinese husbands, to name a few, doctorates and devoted daughterhood, but most of all, the ends justifying the journey. But as the aunties might warn you, there’s no counting on these American girls, these bamboo daughters. For despite their most promising start, the girls remained ungracious, unrefined, ungrateful, and, most unfortunate of all, unemployed and living at home. Long story short, those aunties considered them unremarkable girls from an unremarkable family, decidedly of the neighborhood. Their achievements were fair, but nothing of distinction. Their Chinese, with its juvenile vocabulary, American inflections, and poor grammar, was worse, if still comprehensible—and please note the Chinese here is, alas, Cantonese, which may be a meaningful distinction in many other places around the country and around the world, if not in downtown Manhattan. Just please don’t call it a dialect. Their lives came with a persistent low-balance warning.
Lately, their troubles took the shape of a once-beloved, currently down-on- its- luck, or what the myopic might call derelict, community space on Forsyth and Canal. In 1993, it proudly launched itself as the Greater Chinatown Neighborhood Youth Recreational Center. The decade since hadn’t been kind. Now, fading away under graffiti tags, tax liens, aggressive mold, and years of skipped maintenance, the building listed itself as ripe with potential, if desperate for the attentions of a Jade Chen type to rescue it from certain condemnation. Lucky, then, for the neighborhood that there was a Jade Chen, who muscled her way to brokering any property no other agent would touch and received little for her efforts but ingratitude, indigestion, chronic migraines, asthma, heart palpitations, and acid reflux. Had the owner heeded Jade’s many kind, if unsolicited, warnings and hints as to how to get it into selling shape? No. Had he taken her up on any of her generous offers to oversee the listing for a steal of a fee at 5.5 percent? Of course not. Some people couldn’t ever see the forest for the trees—or, in this case, the entrepreneurial genius in stirrup pants—just because of some paperwork.
But no longer. After years of neglect and weeks of Jade’s psychological disintegration, prosperity loomed on the horizon. Realtor license or not, nothing changed minds faster than hearing all cash.
“Girls,” she cried, shouldering her way past the front door of their apartment, groceries in hand. “You won’t believe it! You won’t believe what your mama did!”
Four girls, in various collapsing postures and states of undress, blinked at her from across the room.
At five foot three and undisclosed weight, with gossamer inches layered on by the perm of her hair, Jade Chen resembled many of the unassuming grandmothers around the block, at least until she opened her mouth. Nothing could be said, if not said loudly; nothing could be done without fanfare or frustration; and nothing ever happened without her first hearing about it. Two days’ worth of groceries swung wide from her clenched fists.
Kitty leaned back on the sofa while Lydia flipped through TV channels with a yawn. “Did what, Mother?” Elizabeth took the groceries from her mother’s hands and unpacked damp bags of gai lan and radish onto the counter. “Destroy Chinatown.”
“LB aaaa,” Jade whined, clicking her tongue. “Neih gong matyeh, aaaaa?“
Don’t be alarmed—this is no clerical error or wail of sudden calamity, no wrathful god striking Jade suddenly unable to speak. An aa can be worth thousands of words. Whining or flat, long or short, rising or falling, it’s a punch of seasoning on a complaint or a question, a musical interjection, and an all-season accessory to highlight how you might really feel.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “Mou je aa,” she conceded.
Of course, no one speaks italics, and if they did, they wouldn’t speak it at home. That’s for you. All the better to dodge the thorny consonants and yowling vowels of Chinese, the jagged edges of its rises and falls, the traps of vocabulary. Show a little gratitude. What they spoke might be called Chinese, though their parents would dispute that classification, threaded with English, but it was in all other ways the usual bull****—sibling rivalries and spending money, test scores and expectations, ressentiments of daughterhood.
Copyright © 2023 by C.K.Chau. From GOOD FORTUNE by C.K. Chau, published by HarperVia, a division of HarperCollins, Inc. Printed by permission.
Excerpt: “Thicker Than Water” by Megan Collins
We don’t talk about the wallpaper. Not its age: thirty years, hung there by Sienna and Jason’s mother when they were still in grade school. Not its condition: faded in places, peeling in others. Not even its pattern: fist-sized splotches of blood.
“It’s not blood,” Sienna said the one time I mentioned it, two weeks into my marriage to her brother. Her eyes tightened with irritation, and that was enough for me to clamp my reply between my teeth.
She was right, though; it isn’t blood. It’s roosters. Dark red roosters with bulbous chests and feathery combs, stamped onto gauze-white paper that lines the family room walls. I’ve lived here, in Jason and Sienna’s childhood home, for fifteen years—a little longer than Aiden’s been alive—and still, as I look around, I don’t see roosters; I see wounds.
“Our mom loved roosters,” Jason said, shrugging, that single time I brought it up. Unlike Sienna, he wasn’t irritated, just sad, like I’d offended the woman I never got to meet. “I can’t imagine taking it down.”
So we didn’t. Sadness, irritation—those aren’t emotions I want to inspire. But I’ve tried to cover the paper as best I can, hanging my favorite photographs on the walls: Jason, Sienna, and me on the courthouse steps the day Jason and I got married; Aiden cheering on Jason’s shoulders at a Red Sox game; Sienna and me doubled over with laughter in front of the ocean.
Still, behind and around it all—blood.
“Jules, are you listening?” Sienna asks now. “These people think a woman did it.”
It being murder. The reason I’m watching the walls instead of the news. On Friday night, someone stabbed Jason’s boss, Gavin Reed, then smothered him, before sewing up his lips like a rip in a seam.
“Only a woman has that much anger,” Gavin’s neighbor tells the reporter, averting her gaze. Just before the camera cuts away, it catches her swallowing, and in that swallow, there are words left unsaid. I recognize it immediately, her stuffed-down silence.
Another neighbor, a man this time, agrees the murderer was female. He chuckles before launching his opinion: “Everyone’s still all ‘Me Too’ these days. He probably called her ‘sweetheart’ or something.”
Sienna scowls at the TV. “F*****.”
Gavin’s murder has been the lead story in Connecticut ever since his body was discovered two days ago. Like these neighbors, people have been quick to theorize, desperate to make sense of it—how a successful, respected businessman can turn up dead.
And not just dead. Sewn.
“We’re breaking the rules,” I say.
Movie Night is for movies, not TV, not even the made-for-TV movies we like to dub with our own script. (Sienna’s specialty is turning crime stories into sitcoms; I like making every character Swedish.) But when we turned on the TV and heard Gavin’s name, Sienna stiffened, and my eyes drifted, the roosters snagging my gaze.
“Shh!” Sienna says.
The reporter is reminding viewers of the facts of this case. Gavin Reed’s body was found in the backyard of his lake house. He was forty years old, owner of Integrity Plus Home Services, a home improvement company he took over after his father’s death six years ago. Gavin was last seen leaving a regional sales conference (Jason’s conference, I reflexively think) on Friday. But on Sunday, a kayaker on the lake spotted Gavin, prone and unresponsive on his lawn, his clothes still drenched from the sobbing, furious rainstorm that began late Friday night and continued until Sunday morning, washing away the killer’s DNA.
There was a cut, three inches long, across Gavin’s abdomen, and he’d been suffocated, but without fibers in his lungs, it seems likely that someone did it with their bare hands. Gavin had been drunk—his blood alcohol level over twice the legal limit—something that might have made him easier to take down. But those aren’t the details anyone cares about. It’s Gavin’s lips they keep coming back to.
“He was sewn up!” The news is back to the interview with the male neighbor. “Clearly the work of a woman! I don’t think I know a single man who even owns a needle and thread. Let alone knows how to work ’em.”
“Seriously, f*** that guy,” Sienna says. “Jason’s known how to sew since he was twelve. Our mom taught him so he could sew on his boy scout badges himself.” She nudges her chin at the man on TV. “This guy can go choke on his own tongue.”
Cool your fire, I’m about to say. It’s my usual mantra for Sienna, words meant to soothe her anger. But Sienna speaks first: “I bet Gavin deserved it.”
I snap my gaze toward her. “How can you say that?”
“Because most men deserve it.”
I consider the flush in her cheeks, the same shade of pink that swamps her skin whenever we speak of her ex-boyfriend. “Is this about Wyatt?”
“What? No,” Sienna scoffs. “I haven’t seen Wyatt in months. I’m over him.”
“Clive Clayton?” I ask carefully. Not an ex. But someone who ruined her all the same.
“Everything’s about Clive,” she seethes. “But also, no, just in general: men are trash.”
Sienna’s assertion reminds me of my mother, who raised me with a single warning: Never trust a man. She repeated it so often that, for much of my childhood, I thought it was a regular household proverb—something to be embroidered onto pillows, woven into welcome mats.
“Oh, really,” I say. “So, Jason’s trash?”
“My brother is an impeccable human being.”
“What about Tom Hanks? Is he trash?”
Sienna waves a dismissive hand. “Tom’s fine.”
Copyright © 2023 by Megan Collins from THICKER THAN WATER published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
Excerpt: “Tropicalia” by Harold Rogers
Call me Daniel, I was telling the american girls. Mateus met them this morning and asked me to pull up, thinking I needed a rebound after his cousin dumped me. So the four of us were out here chilling under the hard sun, the sun mean like it was trying to scorch us into order. The turista girls shining pretty, soaked in the day’s slow progress. Our kiosk watched by the bronze frozen gaze of Princesa Isabel, the statue the police were all posted under, cradling their machine guns like gifts for the people. Sweeping the beach with their military stare. But how could you sweat that? With the pigeons all plump, plopped weary on the calçadão cobblestones, with those malandra vultures circling their black spirals in the sky, with the kiosk cover band batucando nice?
Copacabana was bustling!
The muvuca all crowded around to hear the band go into País Tropical.
Eu moro! num país tropical!
And I couldn’t help but think of my Leticia. Who wasn’t mine anymore. Because she dumped me yesterday. For cheating. Or not listening. Or something.
Mateus was going, Daniel, ô Daniel!
As minas wanna do things.
Oh yeah? Wanna go see the Christ?
Rachel got quiet and looked away. Olivia kinda mumbled something.
Mateus said in portuguese, Dude, an american family got killed there like two days ago.
How bout the Pão de Açúcar then? It’s a hundred percent safe!
Perfect. We can get in for free. How does that sound?
Rachel said, Sounds good to me.
That smile of hers!
We all boarded the bondinho.
Rachel said, So what is there to see up there?
For one, micos. These thieving little monkeys that live up there. They’ll come right up to you and take food out of your hand. They’re too cute.
Mateus heard that and said, São malandra demais!
Now I’m excited.
The bondinho rose higher and higher as the day wound down in the city around us. The sun dipped as we rose, floating over the dense forest that looked sinister as the day changed. Everything was looking sinister to me. But the sun enveloped Rio in a way where it really did look noble, like this city really was marvelous.
We walked down a big ramp into the shadowy grove where we could hear low chirps of birds and bugs and micos, buzzing together like a Pixinguinha samba. I could hear brusque quibbling not far off, and I knew those pesky germans had followed us. We walked until there was a clearing, looking over the hillside at the wide expanse of the Botafogo beach. The sun was dropping, coloring the few clouds in late day pinks and reds.
Rachel said, Woah, catching the view. Olivia was speechless.
I sat down on a rock and looked out over the abyss.
The city looked immense, and I was panged with pride by its enormity.
But we were loose up here, a deep drop if we slipped. Despite the thick trees and the natural hillside ledges, if you fell, you were probably f*****.
But then I saw something truly amazing. Perched there on the hillside, barely noticing our presence, was an enormous bird. With a bright red color and a huge curved beak.
It flew off, wings beating against the air.
That’s an Ibis, I didn’t know they could get this high, Mateus said.
Is that a good or bad sign?
I don’t know.
When kid showed up, Rachel was taking pictures of Olivia. Me and Mateus were leaning against the rocks, chilling. I heard some rustling in the bamboo, and who else would it be but the german boy? Looking at us like it was no problem he was invading the private space we’d made with our presence, like it was no problem he was altering our whole environment. No, he belonged here. No family trailing him. Alone.
He climbed out to the area adjacent to us where the rocks jutted out, dangerous and unstable. Kid being teimoso, precarious as hell. It was late and everything was getting dark. A big tree that grew from the abyss hung over us, draped in shadows, its mute branches twisted around like ominous warnings.
We all stopped, just watched him, tense. As if a snake had snuck up on us. And then his family showed up. His mom walked to the edge of the bamboo and started scolding him, motioning him to rejoin them. But he wouldn’t even look at her.
I heard stirring from the dark tree.
I looked up and it was a mico! Against the blood red backdrop of the falling day, the sun crowning his head like a saint. Climbing out on the branch, chirping, squeaking, real cute.
I said, Look! And a gasp rose from the gathered group. The babaca father emerged carrying an H. Stern bag, but as soon as he saw the mico, he dropped the bag and pushed past his wife to get a picture.
The mico regal as the city on that high branch.
And then! sprouting like fruit from within the tree, six or seven of his subjects went to join their solitary king on the end of the branch, on the edge of the abyss. The whole court coming out to confront us like we had landed on their shores, unwelcome. They were nearest to the kid who was walking out closer and closer to the tree, closer to the abyss, close enough to where he could reach out and touch one.
The air around us congealed into a thick, hot tension. He swung his backpack around and started digging through it, his movements the focus of our collective gaze. With a nefarious look, he pulled out a banana. The banana glowing golden in the sunlight. Like a treasure for the micos. They stopped chirping and stared. We were silent. I wondered if maybe I had misjudged this kid, if he was about to offer some benefaction to the true residents of this mountain.
But no. He started waving the banana around taunting their attention, and then he fake threw it off the cliff as if he wanted the micos to jump for it and fall to their deaths. Those malandra micos didn’t budge. Instead, the kid lost his balance, stumbled, tried to catch himself, failed, and we all watched as he tumbled over the cliff, becoming a fading amplification of ahh!
Copyright © 2023 by Harold Rogers from TROPICÁLIA published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.