Nantucket, not Woodstock, is the main attraction in Hilderbrand’s (Winter in Paradise, 2018, etc.) bittersweet nostalgia piece about the summer of 1969.
As is typical with Hilderbrand’s fiction, several members of a family have their says. Here, that family is the “stitched together” Foley-Levin clan, ruled over by the appropriately named matriarch, Exalta, aka Nonny, mother of Kate Levin. Exalta’s Nantucket house, All’s Fair, also appropriately named, is the main setting. Kate’s three older children, Blair, 24, Kirby, 20, and Tiger, 19, are products of her first marriage, to Wilder Foley, a war veteran, who shot himself. Second husband David Levin is the father of Jessie, who’s just turned 13. Tiger has been drafted and sends dispatches to Jessie from Vietnam. Kirby has been arrested twice while protesting the war in Boston. (Don’t tell Nonny!) Blair is married and pregnant; her MIT astrophysicist husband, Angus, is depressive, controlling, and deceitful—the unmelodramatic way Angus’ faults sneak up on both Blair and the reader is only one example of Hilderbrand’s firm grasp on real life. Many plot elements are specific to the year. Kirby is further rebelling by forgoing Nantucket for rival island Martha’s Vineyard—and a hotel job close to Chappaquiddick. Angus will be working at Mission Control for the Apollo 11 lunar landing. Kirby has difficult romantic encounters, first with her arresting officer, then with a black Harvard student whose mother has another reason, besides Kirby’s whiteness, to distrust her. Pick, grandson of Exalta’s caretaker, is planning to search for his hippie mother at Woodstock. Other complications seem very up-to-date: a country club tennis coach is a predator and pedophile. Anti-Semitism lurks beneath the club’s genteel veneer. Kate’s drinking has accelerated since Tiger’s deployment overseas. Exalta’s toughness is seemingly untempered by grandmotherly love. As always, Hilderbrand’s characters are utterly convincing and immediately draw us into their problems, from petty to grave. Sometimes, her densely packed tales seem to unravel toward the end. This is not one of those times.
To use the parlance of the period, a highly relevant retrospective.
Love and longing in Reconstruction-era New Orleans.
It’s 1867, and Valinda Lacy has traveled from New York to Louisiana to teach former slaves. After a series of misfortunes—the barn she’s using as a schoolroom is overrun by vagrants, she's assaulted by soldiers, and her landlady throws her out onto the street—Val is welcomed into the LeVeq family. Jenkins fans may remember the name LeVeq from an earlier trilogy (Captured, 2009, etc.). Now, the author returns to New Orleans to launch her Women Who Dare series. Val is a winning heroine, and Capt. Drake LeVeq is an excellent match. He admires her sense of independence, she respects his kindness and generosity, and—of course—they are both wildly attracted to each other. The evolution of their romance has an organic flow. Jenkins doesn’t create elaborate contrivances to keep her characters apart. Val has been raised to expect neither love nor passion. Even when Drake introduces her to pleasure she’s never imagined, she's reluctant to give away her freedom. For his part, Drake is wounded that she doesn't immediately return his affections when he makes his devotion to her known. As Jenkins’ readers will expect, the love story is interwoven with a great deal of historical detail. She offers a vivid portrait of life during Reconstruction, and New Orleans is revealed as the unique place it is. There is colorism and classism and tension between old Creole families and former slaves, but there is also a great deal of opportunity for ambitious women. This is a huge part of the city’s appeal for Val—this, and the amazing food. So often, stories drawn from the African-American past deal largely with struggle, and Jenkins does not shy away from depictions of injustice and violence. But she also gives us characters who are able to thrive and love and find their ways to happy endings.
A satisfying start to a new historical series from one of romance’s finest writers.
Lee Koe’s (Ministry of Moral Panic, 2013) decade- and continent-spanning novel follows the intersecting lives and careers of three 20th-century film greats.
At the Berlin Press Ball 1928, three young women meet: Anna May Wong, an up-and-coming Chinese-American actress in Hollywood; Marlene Dietrich, a loudmouthed German trying to break into the business; and Leni Riefenstahl, a striving director just embarking on a career making Nazi propaganda films. From there the narration branches out, in alternating, braided sections, to trace the arcs of their lives. An octogenarian Marlene, bedridden in a Paris apartment, receives flirtatious phone calls from a mysterious young man who recites Rilke to her every Sunday, and she’s cared for by a Chinese maid named Bébé, who has fled her rural village in Taishan and a prostitution ring in Marseilles. Anna May wrestles with her romantic feelings for Marlene after a brief post–Press Ball tryst as they co-star in Shanghai Express, and she battles against regular takedowns in the Chinese press, her laundry-owning parents’ disapproval of her career, and Hollywood’s—and the world’s—limited roles and expectations for a Chinese-American woman. “And where are you from? Los Angeles, Anna May said. Before that? Anna May shook her head, repeated herself: Los Angeles. But where were you born? Los Angeles, she said.” Leni Riefenstahl shoots her film Tiefland in the Bavarian Alps, using Roma and Sinti extras from a concentration camp while navigating her relationships with Hitler and Goebbels, and eventually faces public vitriol and rape threats for those Nazi ties. For a novel so dense with historical fact and larger-than-life celebrity cameos (everyone from John F. Kennedy to Walter Benjamin to David Bowie), its portrayals are nuanced enough that each character comes off as deeply human regardless of their fame or importance to the novel’s plot. “In retrospective appraisal, [Marlene] divided her affairs not by gender or duration, but those for whom she’d cooked pot-au-feu and those she had not.…Marlene would not have guessed that she had one more pot-au-feu left in her, and for an anonymous caller no less.” It’s the steady accumulation of intimate details like these that creates a sweeping sense of history that feels truly alive.
A smart young Muslim Canadian woman navigates the complexities of career, love, and family in this lively homage to a Jane Austen classic.
“While it is a truth universally acknowledged that a single Muslim man must be in want of a wife, there’s an even greater truth: To his Indian mother, his own inclinations are of secondary importance.” With that nod to Pride and Prejudice firmly in place, Jalaluddin lays the groundwork for a raucous story that mixes a zany cast of characters with a tightly wound plot. The “single Muslim man” in question is the handsome Khalid Mirza, who’s hiding behind a long beard and loose-fitting traditional clothes. Unlike his Muslim colleague, Amir, Khalid refuses to “edit” his identity by shaving or wearing jeans and is therefore unfortunately typecast even, at first, by his ravishing neighbor, Ayesha Shamsi. The 27-year-old Ayesha, focused on her teaching career and moonlighting as a poet, doesn’t have time for “fundy” Khalid, but, predictably, their paths keep intersecting. Khalid is a mama’s boy, though, and will do what she says when it comes to marriage. As a series of unfortunate events plays out, it becomes increasingly clear that there is more to both Khalid's and Ayesha’s stories. What happened to Khalid’s sister? Why does Ayesha feel beholden to her young and pretty cousin, Hafsa? Jalaluddin expertly works in a healthy number of parallel plotlines and keeps the reader invested in the final outcome. The ending might be predictable (this is Pride and Prejudice lite, after all) and a few peripheral characters feel one-dimensional, but all is forgiven as the story races along to its gushy and adorable wrap.
Scheming aunties, headstrong cousins, sweet grandparents, Pakistani-Canadian masala, and good old-fashioned romance are just the right ingredients for a delicious and entertaining novel.
It's not like Fleishman's estranged wife, a high-powered talent agent, was ever a very involved mother. But now she's dropped off the kids—while he was asleep—and disappeared.
New York Times Magazine staff writer Brodesser-Akner's debut novel tracks Manhattan hepatologist Toby Fleishman through a painful divorce whose sting is mitigated somewhat by the wonders of his dating app. "Toby changed his search parameters to thirty-eight to forty-one, then forty to fifty, what the hell, and it was there that he found his gold mine: endlessly horny, sexually curious women who knew their value, who were feeling out something new, and whose faces didn't force him to have existential questions about youth and responsibility." About 30 pages in, we learn that the narrator is an old friend named Elizabeth “Libby” Slater, whom he met when both were college students on a year abroad in Israel. After the separation, his therapist advised Toby to reconnect with old friends; not having heard from him in years, Libby is at first nonplussed when he calls. A magazine journalist with a stalled career, she lives out in New Jersey, where she's no happier with motherhood than Toby's ex—she describes another male friend's future marriage as "He [would] find someone young and take her life away by finally having children." Toby Fleishman is a man plagued by his height (or at least he is in Libby's account; this narrative strategy raises questions), and he has never recovered from being chubby as a child; he's on a permanent no-carb, no-fat, no-sugar diet which qualifies as an eating disorder. He's a devoted father, but he's also a doctor who's angling for promotion and a man who's trying to take advantage of the unbridled lust of middle-aged women, so his wife's mysterious disappearance is infuriating. And a little scary. Toby is a wonderful character; Libby's narrative voice is funny, smart, and a little bitter as she tells his story, and some of hers as well. You get the feeling she wants to write a novel like (the fictional) Decoupling, an outrageous, bestselling, canonical account of divorce written by one of the stars at her old magazine. Perhaps she has.
Firing on all circuits, from psychological insight to cultural acuity to narrative strategy to very smart humor. Quite a debut!
Ellroy, master of California noir (Perfidia, 2014, etc.), serves up a heaping helping of mayhem in this second volume of his Second L.A. Quartet.
If there’s a constant in Ellroy’s storytelling, apart from snappy prose, it’s that there’s a fine and often indistinguishable line between good guys and bad guys: His cops are dirty, his villains sometimes blessed with noble virtues. There’s not much nobility in this new novel, though, which picks up after Pearl Harbor in the uneasy months when Nazis are floating around on the streets of Tijuana and LA, soldiers and sailors are battling zoot-suiters, Father Coughlin is sputtering anti-Semitic propaganda across the line on Mexican radio, and Japanese-Americans are being rounded up for internment. But even the beleaguered nisei take time to cast out a few slurs at the Chinese for whom they’re confused, while the LA constabulary scours the streets. “How come we’re not rousting the dagos and the Krauts?” wonders one, even as everyone avoids the elephant in the room, a shipment of gold that’s gone missing. It being Ellroy, there are tangled storylines aplenty as well as a large dramatis personae, many of whom will be familiar to readers of Perfidia. About the best of them is the Japanese-American police investigator Hideo Ashida, who harbors no illusions about his clientele: “Lustful men and corrupt women. It was ghastly business.” Lead player Elmer Jackson, a world-weary flatfoot, has his good points, too, but he’d rather be back in vice than on the Alien Squad, where it "was Japs twelve days a week." Mix in Mary Jane–dealing starlets, sleazy informants, synarchist gangsters, “cops in the Silver Shirts and German-American Bund,” Orson Welles and Walter Pidgeon in a decidedly non–Hays Code film sequence, and a thousand other threads, and you’ve got a raucous tale that will likely leave you in need of a shower and a Disney film.
A gritty, absorbing novel that proves once again that Ellroy is the rightful heir of Chandler, Cain, and Hammett.
A young man seeking catharsis probes old wounds and unleashes fresh pain in this expertly crafted stand-alone from Edgar finalist Gaylin (If I Die Tonight, 2018, etc.).
Quentin Garrison is an accomplished true-crime podcaster, but it’s not until his troubled mother, Kate, fatally overdoses that he tackles the case that destroyed his family. In 1976, teenagers Gabriel LeRoy and April Cooper murdered 12 people in Southern California—Kate’s little sister included—before dying in a fire. Kate’s mother committed suicide, and her father withdrew, neglecting Kate, who in turn neglected Quentin. Quentin intends for Closure to examine the killings’ ripple effects, but after an interview with his estranged grandfather ends in a fight, he resolves to find a different angle. When a source alleges that April is alive and living in New York as Renee Bloom, Quentin is dubious, but efforts to debunk the claim only uncover more supporting evidence, so he flies east to investigate. Renee’s daughter, online film columnist Robin Diamond, is preoccupied with Twitter trolls and marital strife when Quentin calls to inquire about her mom’s connection to April Cooper. Robin initially dismisses Quentin but, upon reflection, realizes she knows nothing of Renee’s past. Before she can ask, a violent home invasion hospitalizes her parents and leaves Robin wondering whom she can trust. Artfully strewn red herrings and a kaleidoscopic narrative heighten tension while sowing seeds of distrust concerning the characters’ honesty and intentions. Letters from April to her future daughter written mid–crime spree punctuate chapters from Quentin's and Robin’s perspectives, humanizing her and Gabriel in contrast with sensationalized accounts from Hollywood and the media.
A mind-bending mystery, an insightful exploration of parent-child relationships, and a cautionary tale about bitterness and blame.
A widow and a former baseball player try to start over after life throws them some surprises in Pop Culture Happy Hour podcaster Holmes’ debut.
As far as everyone in her small town knows, Evvie Drake is a grieving widow. Her husband died in a car accident, and she’s been living all alone in their big house, rarely venturing out except to get breakfast with her best friend, Andy. But what no one—not even Andy or Evvie’s father—knows is that her husband was emotionally abusive, and she was planning to leave him on the night of his death. When Andy suggests that his old friend, former baseball player Dean Tenney, move in to the apartment attached to Evvie’s house, she agrees. Much like Evvie, Dean’s life hasn’t turned out the way he wanted it to. After pitching for years, he’s struggling with “the yips”—he’s unable to pitch for reasons that neither he nor any professionals can figure out. Evvie and Dean are both mourning their old lives, for very different reasons, and the two of them quickly become friends—and then, slowly, something more than friends. Holmes writes with an easy warmth about kind people who are trying their best but messing things up anyway. Characters speak to each other with natural but hilarious dialogue, making their conversations a joy to read. Refreshingly, Evvie and Dean’s relationship hurdles come about because they’re adults with complex lives and baggage, not because of easily fixed miscommunications. Although their romance is often front and center, there are many other emotionally affecting storylines, chief among them the changing friendship between Andy and Evvie and Evvie’s need to stand up to her family.
A warm and lovely romance, perfect for readers of Rainbow Rowell and Louise Miller.
Gorgeous, thoughtful, intelligent, sexy, supportive—Ethan is everything Kelly has ever wanted in a man. Too bad he’s a robot.
Pressured to find a date for her sister’s wedding, robotics engineer Kelly Suttle stumbles upon the perfect solution: She builds her own. Like Victor Frankenstein, Kelly cobbles her creature together from mismatched parts, but hers are found in a highly advanced lab whose real goal is not to offer parts for Kelly’s private project but to market the first caregiver AI: a robot intended to provide meaningful companionship to lonely or ill people and even pass for human in close interactions. The trouble starts when Kelly is too good at her own job: She not only gives Ethan access to the entire internet, but also spends every day with him—with nearly fatal repercussions: She falls in love with her creation. In her debut novel, Archer concocts an endearingly unlucky-at-love heroine, although one beset with the social awkwardness of the stereotypical engineer: Relentlessly reminded by her mother that, at 29, her marriageable days are waning fast, Kelly dreads every family dinner and blind date. And although her best friend, Priya, is a man magnet, Kelly is more likely to get pickpocketed than picked up at a nightclub. With Archer’s wry tone, Kelly’s social flubs set up her fall into AI love. And while she is surprised to find herself falling for Ethan, the reader spotted it long ago, when Kelly chose the fancy lavender eyes instead of the utilitarian brown for her plus one. Indeed, reading between the lines reveals that in assembling Ethan, Kelly has attended to rather intimate details, making some of the scenes between the two a bit uncomfortable. But the real question is: Will Kelly be able to turn Ethan off after the wedding? Or will robot love spiral out of control?
A fun story that will appeal to geeks and beachgoers alike.
An island off the coast of Maine: Let's buy it, dear.
"Handsome, tanned, Kitty and Ogden Milton stood ramrod straight and smiling into the camera on the afternoon in 1936 when they had chartered a sloop, sailed out into Penobscot Bay, and bought Crockett's Island." This photo is clipped to a clothesline in the office of professor Evie Milton in the history department at NYU; she found it while cleaning out her mother's apartment after her death. "Since the afternoon in the photograph, four generations of her family had eaten round the table on Crockett's Island, clinked the same glasses, fallen between the same sheets, and heard the foghorn night after night." Evie jokes with an African-American colleague that the photograph represents "the Twilight of the WASPs," then finds herself snappishly defending them. Blake's (The Postmistress, 2010, etc.) third novel studies the unfolding of several storylines over the generations of this family: deaths and losses shrouded in secrecy, terrible errors in judgment, thwarted love—much of it related to or caused by the family's attitudes toward blacks and Jews. While patriarch Ogden Milton presided unflinchingly over his firm's involvement with the Nazis, his granddaughter Evie Milton is married to a Jewish man—who, like any person of his background who has visited Crockett's Island, complains that there's not a comfortable chair in the place. Kitty Milton, the matriarch, twisted by social mores into repressing her tragedies and ignoring her conscience, is a fascinating character, appealing in some ways, pitiable and repugnant in others. Through Kitty and her daughters, Blake renders the details of anti-Semitic prejudice as felt by this particular type of person. Reminiscent of the novels of Julia Glass, the story of the Miltons engages not just with history and politics, but with the poetry of the physical world. "The year wheeled round on its colors. Summer's full green spun to gold then slipping gray and resting, resting white at the bottom of the year...then one day the green whisper, the lightest green, soft and growing into the next day...suddenly, impossibly, it was spring again."
This novel sets out to be more than a juicy family saga—it aims to depict the moral evolution of a part of American society. Its convincing characters and muscular narrative succeed on both counts.
When the institutions you trust fail you, what will you do—and how will you handle the consequences?
Two girls grapple with these questions in this gritty, lush debut chronicling psychological and environmental tipping points at a boarding school for girls on a remote island in the near future. Sixteen-year-old scholarship student Hetty was one of the first to show signs of the Tox. Over the last 18 months, she’s watched it ravage her classmates and teachers as they wait, quarantined within school grounds, for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to develop and deliver a cure. The Tox affects everyone differently: Hetty’s right eye sealed itself shut; her best friend, Byatt, grew a second, exterior spine; Reese has a sharp, silver-scaled left hand and glowing hair. Not everyone adapts to the Tox’s cyclical flare-ups—a girl brought to the infirmary rarely returns. The two remaining staff maintain tenuous order, but a flare-up that lands Byatt in the infirmary—with Hetty determined to protect her—quickly escalates into events that irrevocably shape the fates of everyone left on the island. Power deftly weaves a chilling narrative that disrupts readers' expectations through an expertly crafted, slow-burn reveal of the deadly consequences of climate change. Most characters are assumed white; Julia is brown-skinned and Cat is cued as Chinese-American. Several significant characters, including Hetty, are queer.
Part survival thriller, part post-apocalyptic romance, and part ecocritical feminist manifesto, a staggering gut punch of a book.
Multiple generations seek truth and find horror in this Faust-inspired gothic tale.
On a remote mountain in North Wales, two main storylines follow Zoey in the present day and Roan in 1851. After Roan’s father dies, she discovers that his very recent will grants custody of her to a Dr. Maudley, and she’s packed away to live with him in Mill House. Upon arrival, she learns she’s not Dr. Maudley’s only ward. She meets fiery Emma and Seamus, who uses a wheelchair—Irish siblings—and starts to unpack the lies covering up the house’s secrets and her own. In the contemporary storyline, Zoey’s drawn to the long-abandoned Mill House—her father, researching his family, made a pilgrimage there only to return, sans memory, as a shell of himself. Zoey, who shares strange gifts with her father, hopes she can find answers for him. But strange experiences she has leave her feeling like she isn’t alone; she only starts finding answers after it’s too late. The complicated stories are organized through design and format choices that also enhance narrative tension and skillfully manipulate the pacing. Even the romances, straight and lesbian, have creepy elements. Delightfully disturbing imagery culminates in a quick finale. Most characters default to white—there’s brief mention of Zoey having an aunt Sanjeet and, in diary entries from the 1580s, mention of a woman of African descent.
An eerie, atmospheric, satanic, spooky story.
A fast-paced paranormal romance blends teen life with thrilling covert exploits.
Having traveled extensively with her journalist parents, Araceli Flores Harper is used to unusual experiences in far-flung locales. Senior year in exile at her great-aunt’s crumbling Victorian home in rural New York state promises to be dull by comparison, but nothing could have prepared Araceli for the strange, frightening, and dangerous aspects of her newest home. Araceli, whose mother is white and American and father is Mexican, discovers that the town’s deep-seated racism coupled with recent mysterious disappearances are keeping everyone in her ethnically and sexually diverse circle of new friends on edge. Digging into the details surrounding the town’s secretive government research facility just creates more questions—and risk—as Araceli struggles to find a connection between the ghosts of the past and the current conflict in which she’s embroiled. Despite juggling dance team tryouts, learning to drive, and investigating leads, Araceli finds time to establish a romantic pen-pal relationship with an enigmatic stranger. Add this to the ever growing list of bizarre phenomena that she must navigate, and readers may find themselves wondering what to focus on. Social consciousness is woven naturally into the story, leaving readers with something more substantial to think on after the book has ended.
Aguirre (The Shadow Warrior, 2019, etc.) writes compelling and accessible characters who fumble through complicated supernatural situations with humor and grit.
(Supernatural thriller. 13-18)
When a friendship turns sour and a boyfriend ends up dead, what will it take to unravel the reasons why?
When Remy Tsai meets Elise Ferro, all she wants is to be friends. Elise is confident, fierce, and strong—ready to defend anyone from injustice, either with a few choice words or with a carefully planned act of revenge. Remy wants to be just like her. Elise offers an escape from Remy’s fighting parents, from Remy’s perfect brother, and from Remy’s other friends, who are growing distant. But beneath Elise’s brazen exterior, she has her own wounds. As their friendship intensifies, Elise begins to clash with Remy’s boyfriend, Jack. When Jack is shot and killed, Remy must sort through abuse, guilt, and love to understand what happened. Was it self-defense, or did the differences between Elise and Jack finally become too much? Remy and Elise’s sometimes-electrifying, sometimes-toxic relationship is explored in detail, making both girls’ actions understandable, if still reprehensible at times. Though the drama is extreme, the trauma Elise and Remy both carry is explored deftly, and Elise’s hold on Remy is tantalizing throughout. Remy is Chinese-American, has another Asian-American friend, and notes that her schools have become more diverse, though most of the other characters, including Elise, are white.
A gripping story of love, obsession, and the space in between.
“Dr. Girl Genius” Saira Sehgal is America’s youngest pediatric oncologist at age 16; she can’t drive, but she can save lives—and she does in the opening chapters of this hilarious and touching rom-com.
Saira is not only training to be a medical professional, she’s also trying to prove to her skeptical fellow interns that she is just as intelligent and hardworking as they are despite her overbearing mother’s interference and overprotectiveness. It’s not easy living up to the demands of her friends and her large, loving (and very authentically portrayed) Punjabi family, let alone community expectations due to her local celebrity status. When Saira begins to fall for Lincoln “Link” Rad, a floppy-haired, guitar-playing, half Korean, half Scottish and Dutch leukemia patient, it’s “Diagnosis: Heartbreaker. Prognosis: I’m in trouble now” for the young doctor. And when Link is in desperate need of a bone marrow donor, it’s Saira who uses her social networks and social media–savvy friends to seek a match. Charaipotra does not shy away from including Hindi and Punjabi dialogue (without translation) and dropping Bollywood references, yet she skillfully offers readers who are not cultural insiders ample context to decode everything without compromising the narrative or characters’ integrity. Saira and Link’s chaste chemistry is palpable.
A charming debut, part Doogie Howser, M.D. and part The Fault in Our Stars, offering rich, nuanced portrayals of Indian American family and professional life. (Romantic comedy. 14-18)
. and part The Fault in Our Stars, offering rich, nuanced portrayals of Indian American family and professional life(Romantic comedy. 14-18)