PositivePasteThe mystery at the heart of The It Girl is as propulsive as any of her other stories, thanks to Ware’s deft use of two alternating timelines to both push the narrative forward and flesh out the life of the dead girl at its center. The constantly shifting time periods...are inextricably intertwined in such a way that they build organically toward a dramatic and explosive final confrontation ... Its central mystery may not be as complicated as some of Ware’s other efforts, the realistic character work, and compulsively readable prose will be enough to draw anyone into the story and keep them there ... While Hannah, Will, and the other characters are certainly left haunted both by the hole April’s death punched in their lives and the media frenzy that followed them for years afterward, the story isn’t great at showing us what she truly meant to any of them in life ... Ware is particularly talented at making it seem as though virtually any character we meet at any point in the story could be a suspect ... But the story isn’t a breathless page-turner like some of the author’s other work. Instead, The It Girl deftly delves into the lingering effects of trauma and survivors’ guilt, showing us the ways that one girl’s death forever has forever changed those who knew her.
PositivePaste MagazineAlison Wisdom’s The Burning Season isn’t your typical story about a cult...Technically, the Church of Dawes at the center of her story isn’t a cult per se—but there’s very little daylight between the fundamentalist Christian group at the center of this novel and the concept of cults as we understand them...Yet, what makes Wisdom’s book so compelling is the deft way it explores this unique setting and characters without judging them or mocking their circumstances...Yes, the story unflinchingly portrays the dangerous and misogynistic elements at work in the larger group, but it is also sympathetic to the experiences of the people who have been taken in by the promises of its leaders...The story follows Rosemary, a young woman who, desperate to save her marriage, moves with her husband Paul to a tiny town in Texas and joins an ultraconservative Christian sect run by a man named Papa Jake...The uber-controlling community forbids women from even sitting next to men during church services and of course, they aren’t allowed access to things like cars, phones, or social media apps...And Rosemary, a liberal feminist who loves day drinking and Instagram, goes along with it, initially throwing herself into this almost completely alien life out of guilt over her own infidelity...Two years later, she is deeply unhappy, fudging the dates on her period tracker and questioning where she belongs.
RavePaste... in many ways, [Reid\'s] second novel manages to surpass her first ... Marlinchen’s journey is not an easy one. Nor is she always a particularly easy heroine to love. Her passiveness in the face of her father’s abject and repeated cruelty is stomach-turning at times, as is her seemingly boundless willingness to forgive him, which the story occasionally blames on the power of his magic, but I think is actually more all the more devastating if we assume it’s simply because abuse is a cycle ... A fairytale that reads much more like a warning label than a Disney fantasy, Juniper and Thorn is a pitch-black tale of trauma, abuse, and survival, set in a world teeming with literal monsters and monstrous men. And, yet, Marlinchen’s story is ultimately not a hopeless or unhappy one, despite the fact that its setting is grim and its pages full of death: At the end of the day, the long-suffering daughter still triumphs, though she must accept and even embrace the worst parts of herself in order to do so. (And carry scars that will never fully heal.) It’s a nontraditional happy ending, but perhaps that’s what makes it feel so right.
RavePaste... a deliciously dense, character-rich exploration of the world of horse racing that still manages to make some stinging observations about the modern-day state of race in America. Told across dual timelines set in both 1850s Kentucky and 2020s Washington, D.C. (with an intriguingly weird stop in 1950s New York in which Jackson Pollock makes an appearance), Brooks deftly explores the deep roots and pervasive persistence of structural racism ... A hard narrative swerve toward the end of the novel toes the line of melodrama but drives home the point that, as much as we’d like to believe differently, the poisonous legacy of slavery and racism is still alive and well in America today. But Brooks’ story is at its best during the segments which illuminate both Jarret’s life and the largely unexplored stories of the other Black grooms, trainers, and jockeys who all played a central role in the antebellum thoroughbred industry ... eeply interested in illustrating just how much of what we understand as the world of horse racing today is due to the stolen labor of these same men, many of whom’s names have been lost to time ... while Horse is occasionally a bit preoccupied with the strange, almost fanciful serendipities of the animal’s life and death ... this is what Brooks gets right: the monstrous and the magical at the heart of the myth of America, and the uncomfortable ways that our history doesn’t always look that different from our right now.
RavePaste MagazineWhite is crossing over into the adult market this year, but her contemporary debut is perhaps one of the furthest from the work we’ve seen from her before. (And that’s a compliment, by the way). Hide is a dark horror story that’s full of blood, gore, and a secret society of elites murdering the young, marginalized, and poor in order to secure the success of their own families ... But though her adult debut is very much a grisly tale of horror, it also features many of the same elements that make White’s other worlds so appealing, from its fast-paced, page-turning plot to its diverse cast of memorable characters and the complex, often unlikeable heroine at its center, who is wrestling with a dark past of her own ... White skillfully balances tense group dynamics with the individual experiences of solo players, even as she interweaves snippets of the park’s dark history and the people behind its current state. Hide’s constantly shifting narrative, peppered with loads of tension and intense dread, is incredibly propulsive, and the novel’s slim page count means that no aspect of the story is wasted or feels superfluous ... The setting is deeply creepy, fully realized, and genuinely frightening at multiple points ... Hide’s ending is also intriguingly open-ended. Not in the sense that it feels like White is angling for a sequel—far from it—but more of a choose your own adventure vibe where you as the reader can decide what’s most likely to have happened on the black page after the final period.
PositivePaste... something about the contemporary, urban setting seems to free something in Black’s writing, allowing her to really dig into a story that is, at its heart, about trauma. From absentee parents and child abuse to toxic living situations and a magical system that involves no small amount of bodily mutilation, this is her messiest, most complicated book yet. (And I mean that in all the best ways) ... it does take a bit for Book of Night to find its groove—much of the first half of the book is dedicated to general character set-up, the broad strokes of world-building, and an explanation of this universe’s magical system that tends to err very heavily on the \'show not tell\' side, even when a bit of a primer on the rules and capabilities of shadow magic would be really helpful. Technically, there are several types of gloamists and a distinct hierarchy between them all, but I have to admit I’m still not entirely sure how to explain what they are or how they relate to one another ... Still, there’s plenty in Book of Night to hold your attention, and the story builds to an exciting climax that will certainly leave you crossing your fingers for a sequel.
RavePaste\"The Atlas Six is actually just as good as everyone online said it was ... a dense, complicated story that’s heavy on the character work and light on the plot until the last third or so of the novel kicks things into incredibly high gear, you’ll spend a lot of time simply hanging out with these characters and digging into what makes them tick. As a writer, Blake is wonderfully stingy with her exposition ... Her characterizations are rich and thorough—none of the six are especially good people or even likable most of the time. (In fact, several of them are kind of huge jerks!) They all make selfish choices and often downright dumb decisions. But, the emotional underpinnings of their various behaviors have been so carefully laid out throughout the story that it makes their mistakes, if not wise, at least understandable ... The Atlas Six doesn’t offer us any easy answers, but it certainly is an enjoyable ride.
RavePasteArriving in the dark days of February, Lucy Foley’s The Paris Apartment nevertheless feels like the most entertaining sort of summer thriller, a fast-paced, twisty bit of escapism that mixes compelling, messy characters, deft narrative red herrings, shifting perspectives, and a few genuine surprises to create a story that’ll keep you up reading well into the night ... Short, snappy chapters and Foley’s propulsive prose make The Paris Apartment an easy title to get swept up in ... The character’s voices are distinct and strong, and though none of them—even supposed heroine Jess—are tremendously likable as people, it doesn’t mean they’re not a heck of a lot of fun to read about.