RaveBookreporter... a gorgeously written book with a satisfying mystery at its heart. Though I found Ruth’s naivete a bit unbelievable at times, I thoroughly enjoyed her journey through motherhood. Johnson covers many surprising themes in her jewel of a book, but her passages on motherhood were some of the most emotional for me. Grappling with the belief that she gave her son up and therefore has no right to know him now, Ruth’s desperate need to find him and know that he is safe will tug at the heartstrings of any parent. Her own parental trauma adds some glorious depth to her character and makes clear the stakes of her search. That said, the real strength of this book came from Johnson’s ability to take on headfirst the myriad complex and seemingly unsolvable issues that plague Black America; though Ruth is her protagonist, she doesn’t waste a word or character when it comes to her supporting cast ... At once a mystery, a heartfelt portrayal of motherhood and a searing exploration of the struggles faced by Americans in the wake of the 2008 recession, The Kindest Lie is a perfect tapestry of what it means to be American today --- Black or white. With laser precision, Johnson unpacks how class inequalities have fueled racial tensions within the communities that have been largely forgotten, ignored and put into downright dangerous positions by wealthy white politicians and those who vote for them. Through Ruth, Johnson lays bare the many ways that Black families are forced to find loopholes within the system to draw a path to success. Through Midnight, she makes clear the ways that the 1% have redirected the rage of lower-class whites at their Black peers ... This is a nuanced but accessible portrayal of our nation, and though Johnson does not shy away from painful, horrifying truths, she maintains a stunning air of hope through her complex, instantly relatable characters. Through them, she explores the distance between our journeys and the lies we tell ourselves about them --- kind or not ... Beautifully written, endlessly profound and sharply drawn, The Kindest Lie is a heart-wrenching and deeply necessary book for all readers.
RaveBookreporter... a slight but poignant chronicle ... In six breathtaking chapters, Hunt chronicles the moments both life-changing and mundane that make up Zorrie’s life. Writing in lyrical but economic prose, he masterfully paints a detailed portrait of a remarkable woman with the finest details while still managing to weave in sweeping historical events without ever distracting from his main character ... full of life and as inevitable as the seasons, but also full of fragile and delicate truths. Zorrie is a novel that feels like it lives and breathes, and Hunt’s ability to interweave unimaginable beauty with poignant, deep longing makes it an instant American classic.
RaveBookreporter... a magical combination of tenderness and grief starring an unforgettable protagonist ... an instantly engaging novel, with Faye addressing the reader directly, pleading for someone to believe and understand her out-of-this-world story. She is equal parts humble, vulnerable and witty, giving the book an almost conversational feel that is immediately inviting and warm. Fisher writes gorgeous, lyrical prose, and every scene is infused with magic and heart. With a skillful hand, she focuses on tiny, life-changing moments with a keen and compassionate eye, drawing natural but thought-provoking questions in a way that feels universal and timeless. You’ll have to suspend your disbelief a little, of course, but Faye’s delivery of her straight-out-of-science fiction tale is so straightforward and honest that even the more fantastical elements feel perfectly real and authentic. (I love that Fisher makes no effort to explain the science of time travel in Faye’s world. Her acceptance of the phenomenon forces the reader to follow along and, ironically, provides all the explanation you need without ever giving it) ... Fisher’s exploration of motherhood --- and the women who become our mothers --- is moving and engaging, nearly spiritual in its depth. She is careful to write every mother in her novel not as a superwoman or goddess but as a flawed, real woman who has illicit interests and makes bad mistakes but is irreplaceable in her child’s life and all-powerful in her love for that child ... Full of emotionally drawn scenes and careful ponderings about faith, spirituality and love, Faye, Faraway is riveting, surprising and deeply touching.
RaveBookreporterEllie Eaton makes her debut with The Divines, which combines the boarding school drama of novels like The Secret History with the emotional grit of works like True Story ... Ellie Eaton is a tremendously skilled writer who is able to bring to life the double-edged sword of freedom and claustrophobia that comes with youth and examine it from a distance ... even more skilled is the way that Eaton tracks these memories from the past and lays them bare against the present, forcing both Josephine and her readers to wonder about the power of perception and how we can reconcile our present with our past ... Provocative and full of insightful takes on toxic friendships, female sexuality and socioeconomic classism, The Divines is a must-read.
RaveBookreporterGrushin skillfully unpacks every aspect of fairy tales, such as the unbelievability of insta-love, the bindings of the rules of magic, and even the ways that evil witches may have been trying to help all along. As Grushin makes clear, the same fairy tale laws that make magic possible also bind their characters and limit their worldviews ... The idea of a fractured fairy tale is instantly compelling in its subversiveness...But what Grushin does by focusing on an adult Cinderella takes the fractured fairy tale to the next level, not only challenging the stories we have been spoon-fed since we were children, but also drawing painfully relatable real-life parallels on topics like weight and beauty, aging and, of course, the dissolution of a once-happy relationship ... Though the toils of the fantasy world can occasionally be hard to follow, Grushin makes a valiant effort to include nods to other fairy tales, push the limits of the demanding, exacting magic system, and throw in a bit of whimsy as she goes ... Sophisticated, inventive and endlessly witty, The Charmed Wife is a fresh and wildly original take on fairy tales, marriage and one woman’s search for happiness.
PositiveBookreporter... dark, multilayered ... As a mystery, Before the Ruins is fairly predictable, though no less engrossing for it. Gosling handles the gothic, the tragic and the unexplainable well, often tackling multiple storylines at once and weaving them together for a grand reveal. But the book is not only --- or even mostly --- a mystery. It is much more an examination of adulthood and the disappointments that come with it. Andy’s journey from rough-and-tumble teen to sought-after professional is both shocking and painfully familiar, and I have no doubt that her ennui will resonate with readers of a certain age. Combining the real mysteries at the heart of the book with the all-encompassing, unsolvable mystery of adulthood makes this novel heady and dreamy, much more than your average English mystery ... Although I enjoyed the general plot and found much to love about the characters, especially Andy, I was often distracted by the writing. Gosling’s prose is poetic in style, and though there were several lovely passages, I often found myself distanced from the heart of the book trying to figure out what she was saying. There were times when I was not sure who was speaking --- an important fact in a group of five! --- and I had to reread sections to be sure. I would read another novel by Gosling, but I’d like to see her try her hand at something less plot-based and more character-driven, for that is where she truly shines.
RaveBookreporter... spellbinding and suspenseful ... suspenseful but is propelled much more by emotion than murder or sabotage, with Libby’s coming-of-age driving the bulk of the novel’s plot. With Libby and her siblings learning about the grittiness of the world and still fighting for their place within it, helping one another through and over and under, the book takes on a propulsive pace, even when the action is all emotional and internal. Mannion is a fantastic writer and infuses every scene with wisdom and tenderness, all while fleshing out the tremendous atmosphere of the children’s mountain home and Libby’s Kingdom. This gripping study of anger, resentment and dysfunction is both tightly plotted and full of possibility ... announces the arrival of a brilliant new talent, an author as adept at creating compelling characters as she is at putting them through the wringer. This poignant, entrancing novel will stay with you for a very long time.
RaveBookreporter... romantic and poignant ... Hoover unwinds a complex tale of tragedy, love and guilt. What makes Layla such a compelling read is how grounded it is in reality, even though so much of it deals with that which cannot be explained. All the elements of a good paranormal romantic mystery are here, but there’s a lot of heavy emotional work too, including Leeds’ initial sense of loss, the strain that caring for Layla puts on him, and the guilt he feels at wanting something that might not be there anymore ... While Layla initially reads a bit like a manic pixie dream girl, the change in her personality and confidence after the shooting was so stark and so fully realized that I found myself missing her quirks and idiosyncrasies, and seeing how thoroughly real they made her character. But it was Leeds who was the real star of this novel, despite its title. His journey from depressed musician to lovelorn boyfriend to beleaguered caretaker to romantic hero was as riveting as it was satisfying. His emotional conflict carried the plot and made the book an incredibly intense and emotional read ... Although Layla deals with the paranormal, I would encourage those who do not typically read this genre to give it a try. Hoover brings her trademark poignancy and addictive prose to the novel, and the bulk of the plot is based in real tragedies and emotions enough that even the more fantastical elements feel real.
PositiveBookreporter... a tender and harmonious tribute to the powers of love and music ... With its compelling combination of magic and love, The Lost Love Song reads like a holiday romance in all the best ways. Darke is a clever constructor of novels; she excels at dropping in little side plots and subtly tying them into the larger narrative ... Some scenes are overwritten and contrived, which does a disservice to the magic that the book produces. The writing of the final third especially could have been tightened to let Darke and Diana’s creation fully shine. That said, The Lost Love Song remains a wholly satisfying, truly magical novel as smartly written as it is romantic and tender, and perfect for fans of Love Actually and Me Before You.
RaveBookreporter... spectacularly rendered ... Naya is very much the heroine of her own story, but Williams’ careful handling of trauma and defense mechanisms adds some complex layers to this already inspiring and well-developed character ... Emotional abuse can be hard to quantify, but without showing it to us in a voyeuristic way, she is able to perfectly tabulate its effects on Naya and her relationships ... As Naya’s romance with Jake develops, readers are treated to scenes that are as funny as they are emotional, as sexy as they are sensual ... What makes How to Fail at Flirting so successful is not only the swoony, steamy romance, but seeing how Naya learns to fall in love with herself and demand to be treated the way she deserves. This is a cathartic, knockout hit that will remind readers everywhere that consent, autonomy and equality are some of the sexiest parts of any romance, and that gouda cheese puns are always useful in queso emergency.
RaveBookreporterBellefleur announces herself as an incredible new talent. Although the book is about two queer women searching for love, she steers clear of homophobic side characters and sadness, reveling instead in the pure joy of two women finding love. While the fake-dating trope will be familiar to romance readers and rom-com watchers, Bellefleur writes it like you’ve never seen it before. She constantly finds ways to transform and uplift her characters in the process, and produces some of the best banter I have had the fortune of reading in any romance novel. Combined with a knock-your-socks-off meet-cute, plenty of steamy but believable love scenes, and just the right amount of woo-woo, Written in the Stars feels fresh and original, heartfelt and fun.
Alix E. Harrow
RaveBookreporter... spellbinding and empowering ... Alternating perspectives among the three sisters, Harrow pens a story of hurt and betrayal, but also one of all-encompassing sisterly love. They couldn’t be more different from one another, but their shared history and hopes for the future bring them together at a comfortable but emotionally charged pace ... At over 500 pages, The Once and Future Witches is no brief foray into Salem and witchcraft, yet I read the entire book in one breathless sitting. Harrow writes as if she is possessed, crafting secret societies, forming uprisings and, somehow, writing believable and relatable female characters at the same time. It reads like magic itself, riddled with secret spells and surging with power and activism. Framing the reclamation of magic against the very real (and timely) struggle for the vote, the author reminds us what fantasy does best: allows readers to see how different characters respond to adversity and apply their learnings to our own problems ... Combining an imaginative and fully realized system of magic, stellar worldbuilding and characters who grow, expand and subvert readers’ expectations on every page, The Once and Future Witches is the perfect brew of magic and power. With themes of intersectional feminism, motherhood and the deep scars of trauma, Harrow provides readers with an intoxicating mix of fantasy and reality that will speak to both the powerless and the empowered, igniting a new fury within all who read it.
Cecily Von Ziegesar
PositiveBookreporter... a difficult novel to summarize. There is no grand narrative, but the microcosms of the characters’ individual storylines touch at surprising points, making nearly every occurence a spoiler. This is very much a character-driven novel, as the many players here push the plot forward little by little while advancing their own developments and encounters with the bizarre. While each character has a definite conflict and motive, there were so many of them that I often struggled to orient myself whenever I resumed reading. That said, taken as a whole, this is a thoroughly enjoyable and tension-filled novel that reads a lot like a grown-up Gossip Girl book. Von Ziegesar is skilled at character development and creating chaotic, practically combustible scenes of love, community and desire ... Though I do not feel like I can safely describe the plot without spoiling it, I can discuss the characters: Roy and Peaches were highlights for me, but the magic of this book is that every reader will find a different protagonist to root for ... For all of the issues it explores, Cobble Hill is not the deepest of books; eating disorders and mental illness are touched upon only lightly, and some of the motivations of the characters, like Mandy, were dreadfully under-explored. But this did not affect my enjoyment of the novel, which reads very much like a television program. As a light, humorous look at a pretentious Brooklyn neighborhood, it excelled. Von Ziegesar examines everything from trendy eateries to fancy schools with a keen eye, and her wit flowed through her characters’ observations in a way that was as self-aware as it was funny.
RaveBookreporter... a hope-filled and joyful story about two unlikely women on the journey of a lifetime ... hopeful and heartwarming, but it is an equally atmospheric and vibrant read that touches on not only the results of war, but also the joy of travel and the excitement of discovery. Joyce effortlessly weaves feelings of hopelessness, danger and misadventure with themes of resilience and endurance, resulting in a completely captivating and absorbing novel. Though the premise feels familiar in some ways, I loved that the book was about two women striking out on their own, and not about chasing men or pursuing typically women-filled roles. Miss Benson’s role as a spinster makes her unique enough, but her passion for finding the Golden Beetle fills even airheaded Enid with warmth and envy, and adds an interesting element of science and history to the story ... Margery and Enid are absolutely unforgettable, and the way that Joyce pushes each of them into growth and change is equal parts touching and laugh-out-loud funny. I cannot begin to count the number of times I found myself giggling at either the situation ... Although Miss Benson is our protagonist, Enid is such a perfect foil that she practically leaps off the page in every scene, and the ways in which she encourages Miss Benson to do the same are masterful. Joyce pays careful attention to detail and pacing so that their development feels natural and organic ... If you’ve been longing for a book about fully realized women helping one another grow through kindness and acceptance, this \'happy\' book with a lot of depth is exactly what you need ... this delightful mix of sweet and witty --- with just a hint of mystery --- will sweep readers off their feet.
Emily Gray Tedrowe
RaveBookreporter[A] fast-paced and compulsively readable novel, a magnetic character study about one unforgettable woman ... an absolute hoot. Becky Farwell is the protagonist readers dream of: charming, brilliant and just bad enough to be completely electrifying ... Tedrowe has crafted an unforgettable heroine living in an unforgettable time, and her use of art and capitalism is as educational as it is plain fun to read ... a rip-roaring journey.
RaveBookreporter... riveting and highly immersive ... reads like a Sherlock Holmes mystery populated by characters from an Agatha Christie novel and set inside a game of Clue ... Sara is a perfect complement to Arent: soft where he is hard, quick-thinking where he is slow, and completely sure of herself where he is insecure. Together the two make an enviable crime-stopping duo, with Sara quickly becoming my favorite Turton character yet ... Sara is everything I could have hoped for in a book like this ... Readers of The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle will not be surprised by Turton’s ability to weave complex and intricate mysteries, but I suspect that even those who expect greatness from his sophomore release will be surprised by how much he has grown and matured as a writer. Where his debut was inventive and genre-bending, this latest effort is every bit as technically brilliant, but even more fleshed out and beautifully described. I had forgotten about his ability to skillfully expose his characters’ innermost fears and ambitions without information-dumping, but I was quickly reminded of his talent when I felt as though I knew about the motives of each and every character only a few chapters in. Rather than spoiling the surprises of the plot, these character reveals allowed me to fully immerse myself in the mystery of the book, and I loved guessing who would do what next ... Turton is an inventive and vivid storyteller, and while it should come as no shock that he excels at pacing and dealing out suspenseful plot twists, I found that The Devil and the Dark Water also exposed his ability to fully immerse readers within the narrative. Whether describing life on the Saardam or the body of a twice-killed leper, he has an innate ability to charm, scare and tease you all at once --- and that’s before you even get to marvel at his superb plotting and plain genius. If a mad scientist was set loose on a board game after reading nothing but the best mystery stories for a month, you would have as close to Stuart Turton as I think we will ever see again. But if you can’t pull those materials together, just go out and buy this book. You will not regret it.
Romy Hausmann, Trans. by Jamie Bulloch
RaveBookreporter... chilling ... a twisty and convoluted story, but it unfolds perfectly, with each character revealing another oddity, another brush with darkness and a violent past ... a perfect mash-up of books like Room and Don\'t Look for Me, but don’t ignore this one just because you’ve read others like it. Hausmann has an innate talent for writing chills into the most innocent of scenes, and her crafting of the mystery at the heart of the novel is cinematic in its scope. I loved how she focused on the moments directly after Lena’s escape, rather than her time in captivity. So often we forget that victims of crimes will live with their trauma for much longer than the time they were held captive or assaulted, and Hausmann has clearly researched the psychological effects of events like these. Each victim in the story reacts differently, and she handles their journeys to acceptance with grace and compassion, even as she refuses to shy away from the darker, more violent scenes ... This is a truly chilling book, and though it feels ripped from the headlines, I feel confident that few readers will know what to expect from it. You may be good at guessing endings, but this one will absolutely shock you, even if you\'re convinced you’ve figured it all out ... I’m usually hesitant to read translated works, and though I raced through this book, I thought that several transitions were too abrupt, to the point that they were distracting. I couldn’t put it down, but I still felt a bit disconnected from the plot, almost as if the syntax was too flat. It is obvious that Hausmann is talented, so I am hoping that something was lost in translation, but I can see other readers being turned away from the occasionally disjointed narrative ... Shocking, raw and absolutely horrifying, Dear Child marks the emergence of a bright new talent and a perfect addition to any thriller reader’s library.
PositiveBookreporter... atmospheric and nuanced ... As the week drags on, Alam flits between his characters’ minds, providing readers with sharp observations and tension-filled scenes dripping with microaggressions and other nuanced behaviors ... positively engrossing in its tone, pacing and atmosphere. Alam fills his scenes with tension and then backs away just enough that the space between his characters’ actions and his own hand can be filled by his readers’ minds, preconceived notions and familiarity with different genres. I do not believe that any two people will come away from this novel with the same understanding of the conflict, nor the same expectations of the resolution. Alam’s greatest strength lies in his ability to thrust opposites together, allow them to coexist for just long enough, and then throw something completely unexpected into the mix, forcing his characters to take the next step, whatever that may be. Age/youth, Black/white, wealthy/middle-class --- Alam combines all of these opposites and more to create an exceptionally observed and, frankly, chilling portrait of a world gone wrong ... That said, I found the book to be a tad overwritten. There was often too much detail where there could\'ve been none, and though many scenes were impactful and thought-provoking, I caught myself skimming the less action-packed parts unintentionally. The overall feeling of danger and apocalyptic drama was enticing, but it wasn’t until the final third of the novel that I felt myself fully pulled in, unable to look away or stop myself from turning pages ... a genre-bending novel that combines the poignant and terrifying observations of Get Out and When No One is Watching with the survivalist drama of books like The Dreamers and All the Little Children. Claustrophobically tense and provocatively primal, Alam’s third novel is a masterclass in pacing, attention to detail and a keen understanding of the world in which we live and its proximity to destruction.
M. O. Walsh
RaveBookreporter... a big-hearted and magical novel about fate, identity and the loyalties of a small town ... Walsh weaves in several poignant and thought-provoking themes, most obviously the notion of a life’s potential and the power of a second chance --- but, just as masterfully, loyalty to one’s friend, the value of a legacy, and how we can remind those we love that we appreciate them ... Though The Big Door Prize is full of heart and complicated debates, it is every bit as full of humor and small-town hijinks. The cast of characters is as broad as it is varied, and as he did in My Sunrise Away, Walsh proves that he can juggle multiple storylines, perspectives and even ages and genders with a deftness that makes it seem as though he has been writing these books forever ... Walsh writes about the feeling of being wanted and coveted just as beautifully and tenderly as he writes about the opposite side of desire, and the underappreciated feeling of finding your home in another person, even if it is not always fireworks and fireside lovemaking ... Combining the humor and heart of small-town cozy fiction with the poignancy of literary fiction and the drama of domestic suspense, M.O. Walsh proves once again that he is a writer who needs to live on your bookshelves.
Peace Adzo Medie
RaveBookreporter... a vibrant and inspiring debut ... Afi is an immediately likable character. She is in a bizarre situation, and though she wields little power initially, she is sharp and witty, and her observations on marriage, in-laws and wealth will quickly endear her to any reader ... Medie gives readers a modern feminist fairy tale where the woman saves herself. His Only Wife is already being heralded as a tale of empowerment, but what I loved most about it was how carefully Medie tracked Afi’s journey. This is not the story of a woman brought into an arranged marriage who withholds herself from finding love unless it is on her own terms, nor is it about a romantic young girl who learns the truth about love the hard way...Afi’s slow awakening to her own autonomy is one of the most believable and heart-stirring that I have read in quite some time, yet Medie never preaches or talks down to her readers ... Afi’s love of dressmaking and her drive to learn complicated designs was a real highlight of the book, and I loved how her ambition helped her advocate for herself in her family, marriage and dreams for her future ... Combining heart and humor with a hearty dose of feminism, Peace Adzo Medie’s debut is an illuminating and empowering read with a heroine you will remember for a long time. Perfect for readers of Candice Carty-Williams and Oyinkan Braithwaite, His Only Wife ushers in a stunning new talent and an unforgettable story about what it means to be a woman, wife and daughter.
RaveBookreporter... timely and sinister ... an expertly crafted thriller that succeeds on almost every level. Cole manages to unpack centuries of American history in a way that is neither boring nor distracting, and somehow, at the same time, she weaves a sinister and horrifying novel that is terrifying in its familiarity. She spaces out her reveals tremendously well, with one coincidence after another popping up to terrorize Sydney --- first slowly, and then building in frequency until even Sydney herself feels like a crazed conspiracy theorist. But her paranoia is rooted in something painfully real, and even as she questions herself, readers will see that there is a lot at play behind the scenes ... Though it should never fall on Black writers to educate and enlighten us, Cole takes on this task bravely and unapologetically, demanding that her white readers open their eyes to see how easily racism and greed can hide in plain sight, and how systems like gentrification, prisons and even banks have been stealing and benefiting from people of color for centuries. Even those who consider themselves aware and allied to the cause of Black empowerment will be made uncomfortable when reading When No One is Watching, and that is truly a gift from Cole, who somehow manages to make you turn pages at lightning speed, even when you are sitting in your own feelings of discomfort and guilt. Combining the act of self-reflection with literal fear really drives her themes home and makes you think ... Though it was excellent and truly genre-defining for about 80% of the book, the last 20% fell apart for me, pacing-wise. She writes such credible characters and sets the scene so masterfully that it was disappointing to see the conclusion come so quickly and with so many questions left unresolved. When No One is Watching is absolutely chilling, and though I did not expect Cole to answer every question, the otherwise magnificent plot felt deserving of so much more than a rushed ending ... That said, 80% of an informative and simultaneously hair-raising thriller is more than we often get from even the best suspense writers, and the ending is by no means a reason to skip this one.
RaveBookreporterCombining the drama-filled world of telenovelas with the hilarity of a romantic comedy, Alexis Daria’s You Had Me At Hola is an unforgettable romance perfect for fans of Beach Read and shows like \'Jane the Virgin\' ... With both actors working through their own personal issues, Daria seamlessly weaves reality into fiction, with each element propelling the other forward ... But what truly sets You Had Me At Hola apart is Daria’s careful handling of consent and healthy, communicative sexual relationships. Even when the characters’ chemistry is practically leaping off the pages --- and believe me, it gets steamy --- she effortlessly incorporates issues like consent and enjoyment in ways that never once distract from the sensuality, reminding readers that, as the slogan says, \'Consent is sexy!\' ... I would be remiss if I did not mention the equally stellar handling and inclusion of diversity, which is as encouraging and joy-fueled as the romantic aspects of the narrative ... though Daria doesn’t dwell on over-defining foreign language terms or over-explaining cultural celebrations, she still manages to invite readers of all races and backgrounds to delight in and groan at the main characters’ families. Once again, she shows her audience how easy it is to champion others and create safe spaces without distracting from the fun, professionalism or comfort of the plot ... a fully realized romance novel where each of the characters easily could stand alone in their own books. Both Jasmine and Ashton have completely fleshed-out and satisfying character arcs, and though I loved the romance, I found myself even more moved by the development of their personal careers and ambitions. This pitch-perfect work is searingly timely, bravely hopeful and out-of-this-world sexy, and I can’t wait to see what Daria comes up with next.
RaveBookreporterWith stories that linger and characters brewing with malcontent, Cline’s first collection proves that The Girls was no fluke and she is here to stay ... Each of these stories is interesting enough on its own, but what unites them is an overwhelming feeling of discomfort and inadequacy. All of Cline’s characters stand on their own, but each is at a low point ... Cline deftly digs into her characters’ insecurities, laying them bare on the page, and immersing readers into their lives with swiftness and accuracy. This is a talent that always leaves me in awe, but in short stories it is especially necessary, and she wastes no time setting each of her stories straight and getting her audience acclimated ... Cline finds strength in these moments, pushing her characters right to the edge and letting readers put together the pieces of how they got there. This is an intellectual but thrilling collection that thrives on discomfort and plain awkwardness, be it from the tension of a difficult conversation, the pain of losing a loved one, or the subtleties of the relationships between men and women ... Though I cannot say that I found any of the 10 stories here to be weaker than the rest, there are certainly highlights ... a complex and sharply observed collection of stories from a brilliant young author that will leave readers hungry for her next novel.
RaveBookreporter... a poignant, instantly compelling novel about love, change and the power of timing ... far more perfectly paced than this review makes it seem. Leavitt layers every page with suspense and potential --- both for celebration and devastation --- and measures them out in equal parts, letting the narrative ebb and flow in ways that are both comfortably predictable and jump-out-of-your-chair shocking. This is a deeply moving novel, and the way that Leavitt plays with fate, the shifting of time and her own characters’ growth drives the emotion home to make it all the more intimate and personal ... Although Stella is technically the main character, it is Simon who experiences the most growth and has the most satisfying story arc. Leavitt allows him to surprise and upend readers’ and his own expectations at nearly every turn, while still keeping his character grounded and believable ... This is an unflinchingly raw and honest novel, but it is also propulsive and suspenseful. The characters are so wholly realized and developed that they seem to move on their own, with Leavitt simply pulling the strings above them. She is a brave and risk-taking author, and With or Without You is a perfect picture of what she can do when left with a spark of inspiration and a gripping premise.
Kate Reed Petty
RaveBookreporterWith sections written in prose, college admissions essays, movie scripts and more, this is a fresh and wholly original take on an all-too-common horror story ... Petty weaves a poignant, riveting novel about the power of a story --- and how differently that power can be wielded depending on who is telling it. What is initially so striking about True Story is how easy it is to feel for and even root for Nick and his friends. In only a few short pages, Petty gives us intimate access to their sensitive sides, their insecurities and the ways that toxic masculinity has harmed and shaped them. Nick is a perfect protagonist, keenly observant and oftentimes wise beyond his years, but still coddled by society and told that he is exceptional because he is white, male and heterosexual ... Alice is also a highlight of the novel. With her talent for voice, the passages written in her hand read like a nearly academic character study in the best ways. Petty uses Alice\'s own college admissions essays, screenplays and interviews to tell us more about her than seems possible, and once again forces us to consider the power of voice and stories. It would be a huge disservice to reveal too much about Alice in this review, but I can say that her journey is one of the most shocking I’ve ever read, and it will certainly stay with me for a long time ... In writing about the power of the rumor at the heart of True Story, Petty turns her novel into an almost meta exploration of story. She pulls at her readers’ emotions, dragging them along every dark possibility and then just as swiftly upends their expectations, forcing them to consider how easily they can be swayed by a good storyteller --- and Petty is one of the very best. Her use of different formats and voices never once fails to meet the incredibly high standards she has set for herself. Yet somehow, even when I was not quite sure where her writing was taking me, I always ended up dumbfounded by her talent and breathtaking observations about life, womanhood and power ... an inventive and completely original novel, even when judged on format and technical ability alone. But if you take Petty’s skillful writing and combine it with her timely commentaries on sexual assault and consent, and add to that the sheer poignancy of her characters\' transformations, you have something else entirely: a true masterpiece.
RaveBookreporterEvoking the same heightened emotion she so masterfully cultivated in Drowning Ruth and drawing upon the real Bonnie’s \'ripped from the headlines\' lifestyle, Schwarz introduces readers to the lady behind the legend, a romantic young girl with the passion of a woman and the naivete of a child ... short, compulsively readable chapters ... As Clyde bounces back and forth from prison to half-assed crime spree to Bonnie’s arms, Schwarz sets the scene of America’s Depression-era Wild West beautifully. The sense of place and time is not only immersive but educational, and though we may not be reading the facts of what Bonnie and Clyde’s beginnings were like, Schwarz certainly provides a plausible, reasonable explanation for their passion and debauchery ... Though Schwarz easily highlights the thrill of the outlaw life and the draw of the notoriety, especially for Bonnie, she is careful to provide both sides of the story, stripping away the glamour and explaining that Bonnie and Clyde often felt trapped when they were on the run, a contradiction that made Bonnie feel hopeless. Schwarz explains how the reports of Clyde’s early crimes were exaggerated, but also how careless he was with details ... My one complaint about Bonnie is that it can get bogged down in detail, particularly near the end when the book reads more like a rap sheet than a work of fiction. Schwarz is careful to relay every detail of Bonnie and Clyde’s crimes. Although prolific, the duo was not very creative, so every repeated crime tends to drag the narrative down rather than propel it forward. Similarly, as Schwarz becomes more immersed in the actual history, she occasionally loses the threads of the characters’ interiors --- their motivations, fears and shared passions. Through about two thirds, Bonnie is a dreamy, believable exploration of the interior life of Bonnie Parker the woman. But the final act rests on the mythos of Bonnie the criminal, making the book feel almost incomplete, if only because Schwarz so masterfully rendered her Bonnie in the beginning ... Schwarz is, hands down, one of the most beautiful writers I’ve had the pleasure of reading. She writes with the romantic overtones of V.C. Andrews and Anne Rice, but her prose is never overly flowery or heavy-handed. Instead, she is able to summarize major points, complex emotions and nuanced subjects with pointed, sharp turns of phrase that read almost like song lyrics ... the book is written with tremendous care and a mastery of language that feels singular in its talent ... well worth reading and recommending, particularly for fans of Marie Benedict and Megan Collins.
RaveBookreporter... an engrossing, heartfelt debut ... The book is divided into three parts, each taking place over the course of a month. Within each part, we are given the perspectives of six different characters. Although this ultimately proves to be a very interesting way to tell the story, I found it difficult to attach to any one character when I began reading. For those who struggle with multiple perspectives, I urge you to read on anyway --- the Adler family and their friends are close-knit enough to keep every character in the forefront, and the structure of the novel allows each storyline to live on its own while furthering the plot as a whole ... a perfect generational saga that explores the depths of the risks we are willing to take to protect those we love. The Adlers are complicated, and their decision to protect Fannie may seem unbelievable, but Beanland renders them so beautifully that she manages to pack the full breadth of human emotion into nearly every scene. Her prose is tender and frank, but it is her keen eye for emotional nuance that makes the book soar. It is not easy to begin a novel with such a gripping tragedy and convince your readers to sit with their heartache as they read on, but Beanland writes with such grace and compassion that the book is instantly engrossing, even for those who prefer \'happy\' stories ... announces the arrival of a tremendous new talent and is sure to top many \'Best Of\' lists in a year that needs more heartfelt, unforgettable fiction.
RaveBookreporter... a laugh-out-loud, emotionally resonant exploration of love, writing and, yes, death cults ... Emily Henry is absolutely masterful in her dialogue. She never wastes a word, and though the banter is every bit as sarcastic and punchy as you’d expect in a rom-com, it never feels forced or unnatural ... January is a perfectly riveting protagonist, and I loved her for her sweetness, her loyalty and her limitless (if momentarily suspended) belief in love and happily-ever-afters. True to its title, Beach Read is the perfect beach read, and I suspect that Henry will have many readers itching for her next foray into romance.
RaveBookreporterThis meticulously plotted thriller manages to be just as chilling during the quiet moments as it does the more action-filled ones. Barry is a careful plotter, and although the book feels very current, I do not believe that the conflicts in it will become dated. She unpacks decades of misogyny and discrimination, and the women’s grief, fear and rage are universal in their portrayals ... Those who enjoyed Freefall may find Don\'t Turn Around just a bit too twisty. Though Barry metes out the dread and darkness easily and powerfully, you’ll have to suspend your disbelief when the action scenes kick in. That said, it is the real-world issues that make the book strong and powerful; Barry elevates the genre by writing about such universal themes and highlighting the ways that they can become deeply personal. The twists do not stop with the thrills, either. Both Cait and Rebecca have some rocky pasts that will shock readers and upend their expectations just as quickly as the plot twists will surprise ... a splendid addition to the new list of #MeToo titles and a fantastic thriller as well.
RaveBookreporter... a pitch-perfect summer novel with a scintillating combination of drama, heart and lovely prose that will stay with you long into autumn ... With each of the Gordon siblings leading the way, The Second Home unfolds quickly, with some details a bit more glossed over than I would have liked. Some early plot elements require more explanation, or at least a suspension of disbelief, but if you can accept them, the story moves along smoothly and clearly from there. Ann, Poppy and Michael are distinct in their motivations and backgrounds, and Clancy balances their chapters well. Although I feel that many readers will find Ann unlikable and Poppy a little too flighty, they both serve the story well and make for plenty of interesting drama. Despite her ignorance and occasional lies, I actually loved Ann ... Masterfully plotted with fascinating, original characters, The Second Home is a riveting and dark family saga with plenty of vivid descriptions of the Cape Cod beaches and historic homes to keep you dreaming of sunny days.
RaveBookreporter... tautly plotted ... the greatest strength of the book is how perfectly imperfect each of them is; all three are wholly realized, believably complicated and layered, and self-conscious without being self-absorbed. Though Eleanor, Nancy and Mary are all obsessed with the opinions of one another, Hall uses their microcosm to unpack the multiple pressures, impossible expectations and horrible judgments that women face every day in society, at work and in their relationships ... Hall does not disparage men or dispute the existence of good men in her book, but she certainly does remind us that even as women are harmed emotionally and physically every day, men almost always have a way out of their guilt for it ... Readers who enjoyed Our Kind of Cruelty will be delighted to see that Hall has maintained her talent for dark characterizations and vivid descriptions of violent, obsessive love, but this is not quite the same psychological thriller. IMPERFECT WOMEN is much more nuanced and intellectual; while a murder has been committed, this is not a jump-scare-filled or particularly shocking suspense novel (though there is a satisfying murder mystery simmering in the background at all times). The thrills here are much more thought-provoking and insightful ...You’ll buy this one for the comparisons to Paula Hawkins, but you’ll remember it for the sharply observed and brilliantly explored observations on women and their various --- but always criticized --- roles in society.
PositiveBookreporter...a propulsive, psychologically driven novel ... In Lizzie and Alice, we get different variations of the same journey, but neither woman is exactly relatable or endearing. Wasserman keeps them at arm’s length to let them define themselves, a choice that is equal parts successful and frustrating, as it is difficult to get through a novel with no one to really root for ... This is an incredibly stimulating and brainy novel, but it is also compassionate and compelling, even when the plot gets a little ahead of itself ... This is a carefully plotted and well-constructed novel—written in a tone that feels provocative and wicked.
RaveBookreporter...a generous and sharply observed chronicle of grief, sexuality and identity. With the pacing of a thriller and the heart of a romance, it more than lives up to its hype ... Capturing the full breadth and journey of each relationship in powerful, vivid snapshots, Masad lays bare the fullness of human sexuality and love ... an astute and sharply millennial unpacking of anxiety and intimacy ... Witty, sharp and unexpectedly warm, All My Mother\'s Lovers is a wonderfully modern chronicle of grief and identity. Masad braids together the strands of Iris’ life with care and compassion, painting a fabulous portrait of a complicated woman. This is a tautly plotted and incisive book that will upend your expectations and challenge your beliefs, but it is also a compelling and fast-paced thrill ride.
RaveBookreporterWhen I read Watch Me Disappear I was struck by Brown’s gorgeous prose, but found myself wondering what might happen if she pushed herself just a little further and tightened up her characters a bit more. I am thrilled to report that she does just that in Pretty Things, combining razor-sharp character arcs with poignant, thought-provoking questions to give readers one of the most unputdownable novels I have read in several months. She unites themes of poverty, privilege, mental illness and the influence of social media in tight, clever ways that elevate the mystery at the heart of her book, rather than weighing it down ... Brown excels at immersing readers in both women’s heads, allowing us to relate to them equally to the point that every situation, tense encounter and furthering of the plot becomes elevated by moral grayness, ambiguous motives and brilliant combinations of privilege and power. This is a smart novel, clearly influenced by the social media age, but it is also an emotionally resonant one that will leave you thinking not only about what you choose to post online, but why you have chosen to post it ...
While that alone might be enough to call this book a must-read, it is Nina and Vanessa who make it unforgettable. It is rare for an author to present hero and victim so equally, but here Brown reminds us that we are all complicated, layered and flawed, and the pace at which she reveals her characters’ motives is breakneck and endlessly compelling ... I am absolutely on the edge of my seat anticipating her next book. She gets better and better every time, and it is thrilling to be able to watch her talent grow.
Lyssa Kay Adams
PositiveBookreporterLyssa Kay Adams once again employs men reading romance as clever and thought-provoking advice to explore what women want and how society fights against them getting it ... I have to say I did not love this sequel as much as I did the original. Whereas the first book included extracts from regency romance novels and had a more even balance between love and emotion, this one was much more suspense-driven than I was anticipating. As this is only book two in the series, I will be interested to see if future volumes also mimic the books that the Club is reading. I am really hoping for more of those romance extracts, rather than seeing the characters only act out the books they are reading ... Although The Bromance Book Club is the stronger of the two titles, Undercover Bromance is still a must-read for anyone who enjoyed the opening installment.
Mary Pauline Lowry
PositiveBookreporter... humorous, deliciously messy ... Because the book is composed entirely in letters, there is a lot of “telling, not showing,” which normally would render a novel a complete fail. Yet Lowry exceeds at giving her readers just enough nuance and depth to create a fully realized portrait of Roxy, even when she is not entirely honest in her correspondences. Roxy is equal parts funny and irritating, and you will laugh just as frequently at you will roll your eyes at her. But she is definitely unique, and The Roxy Letters is an intriguing addition to the realm of 20-something literature that will appeal to millennials and older readers alike ... Roxy is her own worst enemy, and Lowry excels at highlighting not only the best parts of her, but how she often stands in the way of her own success, all without judgment or rebuke ... That said, I can see how Roxy could be grating on many readers, and I, too, found her unbearably vapid at times...Still, I found it impossible to break away from her and her letters ... Roxy is not the lovable Bridget Jones or the controversial Bernadette of Where\'d You Go, Bernadette. She is entirely original and completely in ownership of her own flaws and shortcomings, which may deter some readers for being just a little too real. In exposing her protagonist so clearly on the page, Lowry has given us someone to love and to hate, a plethora of witty new phrases to use, and, above all, a laugh-out-loud trek into the mind of a millennial everywoman.
RaveBookreporterWritten with empathy, a keen love of Austen and her family, and a hearty dose of Austen-like wit, this is a captivating tale for lovers of both Jane Austen and historical fiction ... takes on the suspenseful air of a mystery as Cassandra races to find every letter she needs to save Jane’s legacy. With skillful pacing and a flair for suspense, Hornby also reveals the contents of those letters and how they could damage the Austens’ reputation ... Interwoven with historical research about the roles of women at the time (and the judgment of spinsters like the misses Austen), the story of Cassandra’s life draws a heartfelt and emotionally tense picture of a woman at odds with her time ... Those who are not as invested in the life of Jane Austen will still find something to enjoy in Miss Austen, as Cassandra’s story takes the forefront, and her narrative is fleshed out by strong, detail-filled historical fiction. But it is lovers of Austen’s work who will find themselves enthralled by Hornby’s masterful portrait of Cassandra and, through her loving eyes, of Jane herself. Even more impressive is the way that Hornby’s writing mirrors that of Jane’s; she manages to effect the same keen observations and wit, making the book a lovely homage to the writer ... an emotionally resonant, deeply complex imagining of the real contents of these letters --- and a humbling respect for their disappearance and the woman who orchestrated it.
Shilpi Somaya Gowda
RaveBookreporter... a poignant, painful and unforgettable novel about how one family falls apart --- and comes back together --- following a life-changing tragedy ... Gowda invites readers into the full depths of the Olander family’s pain and dissolution ... As she settles into college life, once again feeling like an outsider, Karina becomes the star of the novel. Gowda writes her pain and guilt so beautifully that it reads like poetry ... Gowda’s descriptions of their grief, coping mechanisms and bad decisions are as compassionate as they are profound. This is clearly a writer who has studied the full spectrum of human emotion, but even more impressive is her ability to render it so beautifully on the page. She never once dulls the intensity of her characters’ emotions, but still manages to make them palatable, digestible and, through it all, universal. This is by no means a novel for the faint of heart --- the emotions held within are too strongly felt, too expertly rendered --- but it is one that will resonate deeply with anyone who has felt the crushing weight of guilt, grief or isolation ... This is my first time reading one of Gowda’s works, but I have already purchased her entire backlist and plan to continue following her. If The Shape of Family is any indication of her talent, I know that I have found a new favorite author.
PositiveBookreporter... a sharp, smartly written novel about the intersections of class, gender and race ... Though Privelidge is, at its core, the story of a rape trial gone terribly wrong, Adkins covers so many other types of privilege and their trappings in this smart, poignant book ... This is a novel full of \'gray areas,\' and though I would argue that the rape is not one of them, Adkins is thorough and careful in her rendering of the reactions on campus ... Weaving a story all too common to readers familiar with the #MeToo movement with thought-provoking commentaries on race and class, Adkins forces readers to consider not only their own privileges, but how they have perpetuated dangerous and toxic cycles of racism, sexism and classism themselves ... This is an ambitious book, and though Adkins has a strong handle on each of her themes, her prose failed to dig as deep as I would have liked. Bea in particular felt ignored at times, and it would have been nice to see far more of her experience as one of the few POC students at Carter and in the Justice program. Her actions vacillated between hopelessly naive, needlessly reckless and downright absurd, and I wanted her to be more fully developed, especially as her role in the story was one of the most interesting, as a woman defending a rapist. Adkins accomplished so much with Annie and especially Stayja that Bea’s chapters felt rushed and devoid of the same intellectual prodding that she has proven herself adept at ... All in all, Privelidge is a thought-provoking and timely novel about the ways in which each of us hold and fight against both our own privileges and those of others. Though sexual assault is the book’s main theme, I was impressed by Adkins’ bravery and willingness to confront other types of privilege. I just wish she had pushed even further when it came to race.
PositiveBookreporter... a sultry gothic mystery set in the Italian Alps that plunges readers into the depths of one family’s legacy --- and how far they are willing to go to preserve it ... I feel as though readers will fall on one of two sides with Bert: they will either read along for the mystery and tense air and think very little of her, or find her far too easygoing and submissive. She’s not the most compelling or memorable protagonist, but The Anscestor is about so much more than its characters. The castle, the village and the mountains themselves are all characters in their own right, and though it’s possible that Trussoni could have pushed Bert just a bit further, I found the novel to be perfectly enjoyable and unputdownable all the same ... I was expecting a luscious, wine-fueled gothic mystery with plenty of Renaissance-inspired imagery. I got precisely that and far more. Trussoni is a gifted and cadenced writer. Even when the premise is somewhat unbelievable, Trussoni keeps you glued to the page with her vivid descriptions, lyrical prose and inviting mysteries ... perfectly gothic in its atmosphere, and the mystery, though tantalizing, is the kind that sinks into your bones rather than turn you away with cheap gimmicks. There are no jump scares here, but the Montebianco family will still chill you to your core.
RaveBookreporter... a literary thriller written in the vein of greats such as Laura Lippman and Chloe Benjamin ... Confronting us with the darkest part of the city, Mullen beckons readers not only to see the women she writes about, but to really look at them and their stories ... Focusing not on their mistakes or flaws, Mullen highlights the unfairness of the myriad expectations placed on women and how the tension can often lead them to fall ... Combined with the viewpoints of Clara and Lily, Luis’ side gives us a complete 360-degree view of Atlantic City, and the juxtaposition of glamour and degradation is enough to horrify and depress any reader. And yet, somehow, Mullen uses her exquisite prose and thought-provoking insights to push readers forward. This was a book I wanted to put down so many times --- not because it was bad, but because it was too vivid, too painful, too real --- but I could not do it once. Alluding to her book’s title, Mullen begs her readers to see these girls. As impossible as it seems, she is able to explore every Jane Doe’s background, every fatal flaw and every slide into danger, never once losing her audience in the horrors of it all ... not like anything I have read before. Mullen’s prose is so beautifully rendered and her pace so careful that you almost forget there is a mystery at the book’s core. The girls’ lives are too gripping to focus on the killer, and Mullen proposes too many painful questions to care about the \'whodunit.\' But this is the glory of her work --- there is no spotlight on violent or rage-fueled men, but rather on the women who suffer at their hands. I will say that the ending shocked me in the most stunning way ... Mullen is a bright new talent, and I was constantly in awe of the fact that this is her debut; she is so skilled and so cadenced, with every word chosen with the care of a poet. I foresee a long career for her, and I cannot wait to find out where she turns her literary eye next.
Isabel Allende, Trans. by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson
RaveBookreporter... an ambitious and epic novel spanning generations, continents and the full spectrum of human emotion ... gripping ... Allende is unflinching in her portrayal of the nightmare that was the Spanish Civil War ... Allende at her best --- not only is she masterful in her depictions of families and their generation-long bonds and resentments, she is also passionate about her country’s history. The historic facts she weaves into and throughout the book are difficult to read, but never more necessary than now. One cannot read about the Republican refugees arriving at France’s closed borders only to be placed into internment camps without thinking of America’s current refugee crisis at its Mexican border. As Allende shows us, when one country fails, it is up to others to step in and demand humanity in a world ripped apart by monsters ... Of course, it is easy to think of our own political climate when reading about the Spanish Civil War and the Chilean backlash against Communism, but the novel is far more personal to its author than that. To read about Chile’s storied and resolute people in Allende’s words is to be given a gift of culture, fortitude and wisdom. That her characters are as equally fleshed out and imagined as her setting is no surprise --- this is Isabel Allende, after all --- but that does not make them any less impressive, any less relatable or any less moving ... Combining the best of Allende’s many talents, A Long Petal of the Sea is a gorgeous work about hope, home and humanity. Possibly her best book since The House of the Spirits.
RaveBookreporter... a slow burn suspense story, made sharper and more immediate by its characters. They are all writers themselves, so the ways that they share stories, swap dialogue and describe events with one another are full of nuance and hidden meanings. Add to that the collegiate setting, and you get the perfect recipe for drama, yet the book is so much more than that. Zancan possesses a keen mind and a writing style that, while reminiscent of authors like Sally Rooney and Lauren Groff, is entirely her own. Every word is carefully selected, and even the most clichéd phrases are brandished expertly, revealing more about her characters than simple descriptions could alone ... a sharp critique of academia and the notion that one can \'teach\' good writing. It is about not only stories, but storytellers, and what binds the two together while angling them apart.
RaveBookreporter... fresh, original ... Blending humorous and witty takes on life’s idiosyncrasies with a raw and deeply human main character, Dicks pens the perfect between-the-holidays book ... Using sparse but vivid and immediate prose, Dicks unpacks the anxiety- and love-filled life of Dan Mayrock, and how he discovers the truth(s) about love ... Dan constantly strays from the realm of believability by choosing the least certain and most foolhardy ways to improve his situation, but through it all, he maintains a real sense of heart and earnestness ... a truly wonderful protagonist ... what makes him extraordinary is the reader’s raw, limitless access to the inner workings of his mind. Dicks writes with complete humility and grace, elevating ordinary Dan to someone you want to root for, even when you are grimacing at his choices. He is also deeply anxious --- and not just about his failing bookstore, but about his wife, his career path and so much more --- and the unique list format mirrors his anxieties in a way that makes the book feel totally immersive ... As you speed through these lists and bounce from subject to subject, your own heartbeat increases, and before you know it, you’re ready to make some anxiety-fueled lists, too. I truly do not know how he’s done it, but Dicks has crafted a book that feels a bit like a rollercoaster, with a pacing that is perfectly in tune with its main character’s emotions ... Because of the limits that lists present, Dicks has taken great care and effort to select every word carefully so that each and every one is packed with meaning. Even when Dan’s lists veer from the immediate plotline, they provide tons of depth into his character ... a lightning fast read. Poignant though they may be, Dan’s lists read very quickly, but I recommend you savor this one.
RaveBookreporterPairing her keen eye for characterization with a taut pace and a finely tuned ear for suspense, Singh has produced a thrill ride that will keep readers turning pages long past sundown ... an atmospheric novel above all things. Singh crafts the setting so meticulously and expertly that you can feel the daytime sun bearing down on you as easily as you can hear the crashing waves and feel the lush greenery around you. It would be easy and true to say that the setting is a major character in the book, but that is not all Singh brings to the metaphorical table. Her characters feel fully fleshed out and familiar, yet compelling. I think what I loved most about them was the way they formed a separate character entirely as the town of Golden Cove. As desperate as I was to learn their secrets and histories, I was equally conscious of wanting to respect their community. This dissonance not only kept me reading, but immersed me in the story more fully than if I simply wanted answers. This is no small feat for an author, especially in a stand-alone novel ... While the book is certainly suspenseful, I would draw the line at calling it a thriller. While there is a missing girl and threats of violence at its center, I felt that it was more slow burn than I would expect from a thriller. Many of the mysteries at the heart of the novel were playing out internally between characters rather than with bloody knives and fingerprints, making it more of a mystery than a thriller, but it was every bit as riveting. Singh clearly has an ear for personal dynamics, and it was these relationships that really moved the story along for me ... stellar; it has everything it needs to succeed and plays upon its author’s previous talents beautifully. I look forward to seeing where Singh turns next.
Lyssa Kay Adams
RaveBookreporter... equal parts hilarious and intelligent, feminist and romantic. Combining deservedly popular tropes with a fresh premise and some purely delightful characters, [Adams] invites a whole new world of readers to swoon with one of the most beautiful romances of 2019 ... not just a hilarious comedy; Adams digs deep into the problems that many couples face and puts her characters to work to use books to examine their own lives and relationships ... This is one of those rare books that is just as funny as it is heartwarming, and just as romantic as it is intelligent. Adams does an outstanding job of unpacking toxic masculinity --- and not just the myriad ways it affects women. She also explores the dangers for men, and how they can stand against it for themselves and the women around them. At the same time, she champions the romance genre and reminds us that, as a branch of literature written by and for women, it\'s a place where female desires, experiences and emotions are given center stage. And it’s a heck of a good time ... one of the most heartwarming romances I’ve read in some time. Additionally, the members of Gavin’s book club add tons of terrific commentary and sarcastic jabs ... Written with brilliance, humor and a true love of the romance genre, The Bromance Book Club is perfect for readers of all ages, backgrounds and genders.
Daniel Jose Older
RaveBookreporterPacked tight with lively dialogue, historical sensitivity and a hearty dose of magical realism, Older\'s departure from stories for young readers is an epic saga from an author at the absolute top of his game ... Older captures the attention of his readers instantly ... not an easy read --- violence lurks on every page, and Older crafts a sense of unease that permeates even the lightest moments. But what makes The Book of Lost Saints even more interesting is its third person narrator, a spirit who can see and know all, except for her own history. This perspective can be difficult to adjust to at first, especially during Marisol’s more vulgar moments. Older never holds back from any detail, no matter how uncomfortable, and this can be jarring, but he is sharp and perceptive with his gaze. Never once does he give us an unwieldy or uninteresting detail --- and, perhaps even more impressively, never once does he stray from the expansive and explosive timeline of Cuba’s past, present and future ... [Older] effortlessly switches between Spanish and English, peppering in numerous colorful Cubanismos that are so full of meaning that anyone can understand them, regardless of how many languages you speak. In including this dose of culture, he also points out the differences in dialects and native tongues, creating a vivid and passionate tone that makes his dialogue an absolute joy to read ... Equal parts violent, pensive and magic, The Book of Lost Saints is a masterwork of culture, history and trauma.
RaveBookreporterHibbert writes the couple’s various meet-cutes with such biting humor and raw irony that you cannot help but laugh ... [Hibbert] does not merely drop weighty subjects onto the table; she unpacks them, weighs them against one another, and asks her readers to approach them with empathy and compassion --- the same way she treats her characters ... what sets Get A Life, Chloe Brown apart is the depth that Hibbert gives her characters. For many authors, it would be enough to give us a chronically ill woman of color, check off the \'diversity\' box and call it a day --- but Hibbert really shows readers of all backgrounds what it is like to live in Chloe’s body. We feel her pain and celebrate her milestones, and through it all, we see how deeply human she is and how thoroughly her illness affects her life --- without defining it. Chloe’s emotional pain takes longer to show itself, but when it does, you will want to have the tissues ready and, ideally, a fluffy pet to snuggle ... Despite the heaviness of emotion that Hibbert infuses into this book, it is still a delightfully fun and sexy rom-com ... Hibbert has long strived to celebrate and uphold marginalized voices in her work, and I think Get A Life, Chloe Brown is truly the book that will propel her --- and her wonderful, beloved characters --- into the mainstream. Her compassion, curiosity and endless patience for her characters and readers speaks wonders, and I am so happy that this is just the first in a series
PositiveBookreporter... a keen-eyed and sharp novel with more than a few surprises up its sleeve ... Cate is a wonderful protagonist: stuck in life and full of potential, but with a bevy of frustrating flaws that make her feel as real as your own best friend, lover or coworker. Her passion for set design is a terrific lifeline in the book: I learned a ton about historical accuracy, the importance of size and placement, and, of course, the theater. But what is more interesting about Cate is her apparent cognitive dissonance with her life ... This is my first time reading a book by Carol Anshaw, and I was absolutely blown away by her careful and economic writing. Though the novel does not feel forced in any way, it is obvious that she chooses each word with careful precision --- there is no single wasted sentence or clichéd phrase ... Anshaw observes her characters and their emotions and actions sharply and vividly, so that each portrait is so fully fleshed out that there is no need to prattle on. However, her portrayals of some characters --- like Cate, Maureen and Neale --- are so perfectly sharp that others fall flat. You may care for Cate, but it is difficult to apply that feeling to Anshaw’s supporting characters, who can lessen the weight of her powerful statements about life and its hardships ... As much as Cate feels stuck in her life, Anshaw’s writing sometimes feels stuck in a lack of action. Few major plot points occur here, and the biggest does not unfold until midway through. Despite Anshaw’s snapshot-like writing propelling the reader forward, I can see why some may put this book down too early, hoping for more \'oomph.\' The pacing is, unfortunately, painfully realistic, which can feel daunting in fiction ... That said, if you can handle a slow burn, you will definitely be rewarded by Anshaw’s clever, keenly observed writing, her astute and remarkably familiar characterizations, and, of course, the story of how one woman becomes stuck --- and how she can ever move past her own complacencies.
Alix E. Harrow
RaveBookreporter... spellbinding, lush and captivatingly imaginative ... not just a book, but a true experience, an ode to storytelling and every book lover’s dream ... instantly gripping, with January’s wit, lyrical turns of phrase and sharply written observations about doorways and life immediately drawing you in ... a breathless and compelling pace. While the story moves quickly, it is not action-packed with danger or fighting, but Harrow keeps the plot believably dark by focusing instead on real-world issues of race and privilege ... The premise is, of course, intriguing, but Harrow’s characters are so wholly realized that they barely need the setting or plot to feel real ... even if fantasy isn’t your thing, Harrow’s gift for prose makes this a can’t-miss read. She infuses every word with magic and possibility, as well as a resounding love for storytelling, but what truly stands out is the overwhelming sense of longing --- for adventure, for hope and for acceptance. This is a gorgeous, richly imagined work that reads like one book lover talking to another, and Harrow’s observations about the power of stories is not only poignant, but also heartfelt and empowering. This jewel of a novel reads, at times, like a call to action, and paired with clever musings on doorways and new beginnings, this theme of encouragement leaps off the page ... Enchanting, colorful and powerful, The Ten Thousand Doors of January transcends genre and is sure to make a new fan out of anyone who encounters it.
RaveBookreportera staggering portrait of the immigrant experience, not only in 1965, but also today. Combined with Ana’s coming-of-age storyline, this makes for a book perfect for anyone who has ever felt lonely, stagnant or trapped. But most of all, it is for the families who have waited far too long to have their stories told --- families who gave up homes, lives and loved ones for something greater, only to be faced with hatred, discrimination and a different kind of political turmoil. America comes alive through Ana’s eyes, with all of its benefits and flaws, and her story of resilience is one that will stick with anyone who reads it.
RaveBookreporterWhere McLean shines, and where the real strength of the book lies, is in her pitch-perfect character development and creation of a sense of place. The setting of Australia is a character in and of itself, and McLean immerses her readers in it seamlessly and beautifully; you can practically feel the sun beating down on you and smell the stench wafting up from the river through the gully as you read. At the same time, the dialogue between the young girls is delightful ... This is every bit a coming-of-age story, and the sense of menace and melancholy that hangs over it are enough to draw in any sort of reader. Equal parts The Virgin Suicides and Picnic at Hanging Rock, with a ton of Australian personality thrown in, McLean’s debut novel is sharp, endearing and unforgettable.
RaveBookreporter... remind[s] us of our capacity for love, empathy and hope ... From the very first page, Christy Lefteri’s book is gripping and poignant ... Lefteri presents readers with a powerful and unflinching look at the refugee crisis and reminds us that we cannot look away any longer ... Lefteri never shies away from an honest description, from dead bodies to snipers and even rape, but she makes it clear that this is only one story, and the world is full of others that are possibly even more horrifying. Regardless of how closely you have followed the refugee crisis, I am sure that all readers will take something new away from this book ... Their love story is the heart of the book, and Lefteri writes it as deftly and gorgeously as she pens even the most devastating war scene ... [Lefteri] writes with the compassion and horror of a person who is seeing the crisis for the first time, and it adds a whole new level of urgency and terror to her beautifully written book. Even when she is describing the absolute worst sides of humanity, Lefteri writes lyrically and poetically, using every word to its fullest extent without wasting a moment of her readers\' time ... Haunting, illuminating and exploding with awareness, The Beekeeper of Aleppo represents the greatest gift of fiction: to inspire empathy in all readers.
RaveBookreporter...poignant and resonant ... Populated with strong, believable characters, fresh and original side stories, and lots of heart, Things You Save in a Fire is a gorgeous and inspiring book that will make readers eager for more from Center ... The book is full of emotional highs and lows, but I believe my favorite parts were about the brotherhood among the firefighters. Center clearly did her research, and the way she opens up the semi-private society and invites readers right into the firehouse is incredible. When I first picked up this book, I was definitely expecting to feel things and cry, but I never thought I would learn so much about firefighting, firefighters and firehouses. I loved that Center fleshed out these scenes so well and found myself giggling at the pranks more than a few times ... a rare book. It is nearly flawless in its writing, and Center balances the emotional depth with just the right amount of lighthearted firefighter pranks and jokes that add some much-needed levity without distracting from the main themes. Cassie is the kind of character readers dream about: strong, brave, a little flawed and full of potential. She is truly someone you root for in every way ... Katherine Center is gifted beyond words, and her plots, characters and exquisite attention to detail make her a must-read author --- and a new auto-buy for me.
MixedBookReporterWhat initially seems like a quick beach read quickly turns into something much darker ... This is a steamy novel, no doubt about it, and the unlikable characters make the sensuality seem that much more depraved and reckless in a \'can’t look away\' kind of way. I cannot say for sure whether I liked any of the characters or supported their actions, but I could not stop reading ... Cheek is a solid writer, that much is certain. His portrayal of Cape May feels like a character in and of itself, and I am sure I will not be alone in saying that I craved the crisp coolness of a gin and tonic while reading this book ... Cheek’s writing is atmospheric, and his setting is positively tangible, but I wanted a bit more in terms of character development. It is one thing to write unlikable characters --- a trope that I love in books --- but the denizens of Cape May felt flat and unmotivated ... a quick, fun read, and the erotica is nicely metered out --- but ultimately it feels a bit inconsequential ... As much as I love a quick read, this is one book that I would have liked to see a bit more fleshed out.
RaveBook ReporterIf you’ve eagerly devoured [Dugoni\'s] previous works for their cinematic pacing, tautly written thrills and wonderfully developed characters, you’re in for all of that and so much more ... Whenever I pick up one of Dugoni’s books, I know that I will be greeted with a hard-hitting issue that truly feels \'ripped from the headlines\'...Dugoni does a fabulous job of filling in just enough fiction to offer his readers a reprieve from the news ... As always, I am blown away by Dugoni’s ability to tackle any genre, any setting and any type of character with any background...From the start, he pulls his readers in with an instantly likable yet complex character ... if you are willing to suspend your disbelief a bit, you will be treated to a truly action-packed, fast-paced and absolutely exhilarating thrill ride --- and, perhaps in Charles Jenkins, your new favorite character.
Kate Hope Day
RaveBookreporter\"If, Then is a masterpiece of a character-driven book. I read it eagerly and unflinchingly, and it epitomized for me all the best parts of strong, well-developed characters. I loved each of Day’s characters equally... and yet I never felt as though I had to race through one chapter to get to the next to see where a previous character was in his or her journey. They are each so fully realized and wonderfully fleshed out that it felt a bit like playing with a dollhouse, with each doll firmly in your line of sight ... I can assure you that every bit of the journey to the truth will be worth your while. Day is a remarkable and careful writer, and I cannot wait for scores of readers to find this book in whichever reality they inhabit.\
RaveBookreporter\"Decadent and captivating ... Mesmerizing, wickedly sexy and full of girl power, The Age of Light is historical fiction for the modern reader. This unflinching portrait of one of the most iconic and yet often underlooked female artists will fill in many of the blanks in your knowledge of art history, while simultaneously reminding you to celebrate women’s contributions to the industry. Whether you have a Lee Miller print hanging in your home right now or have only ever heard of Man Ray, The Age of Light will immediately pull you in.\
RaveBook ReporterBenedict illuminates both sides of this complex woman’s life in a way that only a gifted writer can, resulting in a glittering, spell-binding tale of glamour, intrigue and fierceness ... Despite her later fame, Hedy truly feels like \'one of us\' in Benedict’s deft hands ... Benedict develops a perfect portrait of this memorable woman, and reveals a forgotten, covered-up and necessary portion of history ... As always, Benedict’s research is thorough yet not overwhelming. She is a true master of the historical fiction genre, and her portrayals of strong women never fail to amaze ... the perfect work of historical fiction for our time. Benedict has done Lamarr true justice, and I feel certain that she would love this book.
RaveBookreporter\"Because this novel is intensely character-driven, it would be a disservice not to discuss Zgheib’s careful, tender rendering of Anna ... Zgheib writes with a compassion and an intensity that may scare away some readers, but I believe that her brilliance and authenticity make this book a must-read ... This is not a happy story, but it is a hopeful one, and perhaps the perfect book for anyone feeling alone, depressed or like they have truly lost control.\
PositiveBookreporter\"The Au Pair is, without a doubt, a very well-written novel. Rous toys with her readers’ minds expertly, and her ability to juggle two perspectives over two timelines demonstrates a talent for pacing and big reveals. That said, I believe that whether or not you will love or hate this book depends very much on your willingness to suspend your disbelief at some of the most important twists ... In terms of sheer pleasure and thrill, The Au Pair is a very good read, and one that I would easily recommend to thriller lovers, but I would love to see Rous pare down her plot points in future works and focus more on one big reveal. Her wonderful characters and distinctive settings deserve it.\
MixedBookreporter\"... vivid, keenly observational and often highly uncomfortable tales ... Roupenian is skilled at forcing her readers to confront some painful truths, but her questions about life and society form a foundation for the wild situations in which her characters find themselves ... I’ll be the first to admit that not every story connected with me ... That said, I applaud her willingness to explore various genres, and cannot wait to see how she grows as a writer, as she is clearly off to a tremendous start.\
Lynda Cohen Loigman
PositiveBookreporter\"With tension that is palpable on every page, The Wartime Sisters is a compelling and heartfelt look at sisterhood and the pains of comparisons between two wildly different women ... The Wartime Sisters is not your typical World War II novel. The war is felt on every page, but this is not a book full of battles and collateral damage ... Loigman brilliantly captures the dynamics that take hold of sisters, especially when they are very different. Her portrayals of resentment and jealousy are poignant and captivating, and I love that she shows readers how every small hurt and indiscretion can add up in a complex but believable way.\
MixedBookreporterIn When the Lights Go Out, Mary Kubica’s fifth book in as many years, Jessie Sloane is living a walking nightmare ... As with each of Kubica’s books, the final twist completely takes everything you thought and turns it on its head. She is a master at redirecting, and I am always amazed by her ability to take me by surprise. That said, the twist in When the Lights Go Out borders on unbelievable and finds itself a bit beneath the standard that she has set with her first four books. I could have done without the last few pages, though I loved the journey getting there more than enough to make up for it. Fans of Kubica will find it to be a quick, engrossing read.
PositiveBookreporter\"The Clockmaker\'s Daughter is not a book you can settle into easily, and I will be the first to admit that Morton makes her readers work for answers, but I can assure you that the satisfaction of tying up all the loose ends is worth every ounce of confusion ... Morton’s characters tugged at my heartstrings and made the story unputdownable. Even her supporting and minor characters felt intensely personal, and it is not difficult to find a reason to connect with each and every one of them ... For those looking for a leisurely and thoughtful read full of lush settings and vivid characters, The Clockmaker\'s Daughter is the perfect blend of mystery, nostalgia and love. Morton’s passion for intertwining plotlines is at its height here, and longtime fans will appreciate the lengths to which she has pushed herself, though newcomers might be better off starting with an earlier, shorter title from this gem of an author.\
RaveBookreporterIn Small Animals, Brooks seeks not to defend herself or walk readers through the grueling years of court dates, panic and punishment that followed that sunny March day. Instead, she explores the \'why\' of it all ... Brooks explores both the legal and cultural forces shaping American parenting, fearlessly and brilliantly illuminating the influences of the media, socioeconomic class and the watchful gaze of other parents ... Reading Small Animals feels like enjoying a particularly stimulating conversation with a friend over coffee. Brooks does not whine, cajole or beg; she simply asks the questions ... Refreshingly, Brooks is not afraid to confront her own privilege ... Brooks does speak to women of different races and classes, but does not claim to be able to tell their stories ... What she can do, and has done beautifully in Small Animals, is ask her readers to give mothers the right to be rational.
PositiveBookreporter...a domestic thriller perfect for fans of B.A. Paris, Megan Miranda and Liane Moriarty ... Reading about the trial through his young eyes is painful but illuminating. Harding really dives into the depths of evil here, and her stark, vivid writing never once holds back ... Harding is an adept and skillful writer who writes suspense remarkably well, with seemingly little effort. That said, in Her Pretty Face she gives away just a bit too much too early on ... Still, there is enough depth in Harding’s writing to make this a solidly enjoyable novel, with just the right amount of suspense to make it a real page-turner.
PositiveBookreporterA Steep Price is both compelling and politically relevant, a perfect addition to this beloved series ... One of the strongest elements of Dugoni’s books has always been his ability to balance numerous plotlines, characters and twists without ever confusing or distracting the reader. In A Steep Price, he is at his absolute best, juggling several timely, personal and riveting storylines without a single misstep ... Dugoni is compassionate and thoughtful in his exploration of motherhood, and it adds a whole new depth to the series as a whole ... A Steep Price is without a doubt one of the best books in the series.
RaveBookreporterThat said, When Katie Met Cassidy is not only a pitch-perfect nod to Nora Ephron’s classic. Perri also achieves two distinct and impressive feats in this book. First, she offers readers a romance that has both feminine and masculine traits, but without any of the toxic masculinity we have come to tolerate and begrudgingly accept ... Second, Perri graciously allows readers who perhaps have never encountered people like Cassidy a glimpse inside her head ... I feel as though I cannot rave about this book enough ... Both a lighthearted romance and a deeply nuanced exploration of identity, When Katie Met Cassidy truly has it all.
Rave20 Something ReadsWhereas some authors might craft a perfect, sympathetic character to hurl into the storm of ALS, Genova takes a far more interesting path. Richard is not someone the reader might like to date, marry or even be friends with, but there is something deeply sad about watching this concert performer lose his only talent, his only means of supporting himself and his only love ... Genova crafts a much more elegant storyline, giving her readers a nuanced yet crushingly realistic look at illness, marriage and the process of dying ... That said, I did find the pacing to be a bit jumbled. Perhaps Genova was attempting to mimic the pacing of the disease itself, with its incremental losses and punctuations of relief. I would have liked to see more of Richard’s and Karina’s stories, and particularly to have been given greater insight into their failed marriage. Of course, I raise this criticism only because Genova has written such memorable characters that I wanted to continue to love, rage and grow with them for longer than the mere 300 pages I was given ... That is the power of a Lisa Genova novel: to raise awareness and hope through compassionate storytelling, raw science and a tremendous amount of love.