A plastic surgeon presents insights into patients’ motivations based on his practice and empirical research.
In this medical book, Constantian (Rhinoplasty, 2009) analyzes patients who have undergone multiple cosmetic surgeries and are unsatisfied with the results, finding that their reactions can often be connected to disturbing childhood experiences. The author combines anonymous anecdotes from his patients with peer-reviewed research into the lasting impacts of traumatic events in childhood to show that many cases are the result of patients’ reactions to family dysfunction or abuse. He argues that the pursuit of elective cosmetic surgery—rhinoplasties, or nose jobs, in Constantian’s practice—should be understood in that context. The deeply researched book (each chapter includes several pages of endnotes, and full credit is given to existing rubrics like the Mellody model) takes readers through existing literature on human psychology, including body dysmorphic disorder, an exploration of how behaviors related to body image can be a response to trauma, and the physiological effects of painful experiences. He concludes that patients can be best served by developing a sense of resilience and dealing with the underlying issues as opposed to going to surgeons who simply accede to requests to lengthen or shorten their nose tips by a few millimeters. The author urges physicians to understand the “intensity of emotion” that may be involved in a case and to acknowledge the connections between emotional state and physical health.
The writing here is strong, though certainly technical, and it is clear from the opening pages that the book is intended as a professional reference rather than casual reading material. The target audience is surgeons, and understanding that keeps the authoritative narrative tone from becoming overbearing (“Physicians see the effects of this neglect in patients who become childlike following surgery, or in Internet conversations where patients give medical advice to each other or pose questions that should be directed to their surgeons—or not even asked”). Although the patients who appear in the work’s many anecdotes may appear extreme (one’s “six-page letter read like the Unabomber Manifesto”), Constantian provides a level of detail and empathy that renders them entirely plausible, allowing readers to see how domineering parents, the lasting effects of physical abuse, or other childhood traumas can shape patients’ enduring unhealthy relationships with their bodies. The volume’s conclusions are based on solid science, and the author acknowledges socio-economic factors that may further shape patients’ responses. The occasional bits of humor (“If I were marooned with her for three days, she could probably turn me into Prufrock”) add a distinctive touch without detracting from the treatment of a serious subject. The concrete and actionable information provided gives readers useful takeaways, like comparisons of satisfaction rates between patients correcting real deformities and those having features that appear normal to a casual observer. There is some discussion of how patients can develop the resilience that seems to be the most effective way of managing these disorders, but the book remains focused on its readers, providing surgeons with guidance on improving their interactions with troublesome patients.
A solid, well-researched, and well-argued analysis of the behavior of plastic surgery patients.
In this debut memoir, a Jewish American woman charts her family’s escape from Nazi-occupied Europe and celebrates the memory of a sibling she never met.
It was a hot afternoon in July 1956 when Halperin discovered that she had a sister. The 11-year-old author was enjoying a picnic with her parents in Bear Mountain State Park in New York when her father, Ignas, had a chance encounter with a fellow Polish refugee. The meeting led to a revelation that the author’s older sibling, Yvonne, had died while the family was fleeing Nazi-occupied Europe for America. However, Halperin had been unaware of her existence. The author begins the narrative by documenting her parents’ lives in Poland before World War II. She describes how her mother spoke of her youth in Lodz as “a great life…a life full of family all around.” Her parents married in 1935 and later relocated to Brussels, where Ignas opened a shoe shop. Yvonne was born in 1938, and the following year, Germany invaded Poland. By 1940, the family joined the crowds of desperate refugees intent on escape. Halperin follows her family’s passage through Bordeaux, France, to Portugal and onward to Jamaica where, tragically, Yvonne died following a bicycle accident. Presented in landscape orientation and in full color, the book records a journey of terror, hope, and loss, using family photographs, letters, and legal documents. It’s like being allowed access to a family’s private archive, and Halperin’s erudite, tender prose carefully explains the significance of each and every slip of paper. For instance, regarding her mother’s application for a U.S. immigration visa, she writes, “Hala tightened her grip on the pen. She pictured the marble stone they placed above Yvonne’s grave and with a heartache that was unbearable, she wrote: ‘I have no children.’ ” The author’s laconic but powerfully evocative style allows the reader to step back to the very moment when this heartbreaking declaration was made. Overall, this is an important and deeply personal memoir that vividly documents the struggles of a refugee family.
A thoroughly researched and intensely moving remembrance.
Suspense novelist Regan (Aberration, 2013, etc.) tells the story of a woman victimized by a twisted kidnapper and sexual predator.
At the book’s outset, readers find out that Claire Fletcher was kidnapped on her way to school 10 years ago, when she was 15. In the very next chapter, set in the present, 25-year-old Claire is in a bar, where she seduces off-duty Detective Connor Parks of the Sacramento Police Department, whose own personal and professional life is in shambles. They have a tryst at his apartment, but she quickly leaves so that she can return to her kidnapper before he realizes that she’s missing; she leaves Connor with her family’s address, trying to let them know that she’s still alive. When he finds out about Claire’s true situation, he becomes determined to find her. He gets help from his buddies on the force and from private investigator Mitch Farrell, an old family friend of the Fletchers. Claire was abducted by a twisted man with a dark past. For years, he’s been tying Claire up and brutalizing her—all the while declaring his love for her and telling her that she will come to love him. Eventually, though, she’s allowed a very small amount of freedom—which she uses to her advantage. Her kidnapper is assisted by a young woman named Tiffany, a runaway who sees Claire as a rival. The story effectively toggles between first-person narration (from Claire’s point of view, in captivity) and a third-person perspective, which usually focuses on Connor. Regan’s pacing is a marvel—one moment, she’s lingering on the grotesque, brutal treatment of Claire, and the next, she shifts gears to show Connor’s frantic pursuit of the kidnapper. The latter is truly a monster, and his portrayal will disturb readers’ sleep. Claire, meanwhile, is believably shown to be gutsy and resourceful under conditions that would crush even the toughest people. Tiffany’s minor role becomes a star performance, mixing evil with apparent innocence.
A wonderfully written crime tale that favorably compares to the work of Michael Connelly, James Lee Burke, and Elmore Leonard.
Lee (Sacred Space, Pine Hollow, 2014) recounts her first trip to Ireland in search of ancestral roots.
The author writes that she’d always been under the impression that she was of Scottish, Scotch-Irish, and English descent—a familial narrative that turned out to be inaccurate. She discovered that all four of her maternal grandmother’s grandparents were Irish, and a DNA test confirmed Lee’s Irish lineage, which stretched back thousands of years. Eager to unearth a genealogical line that her relatives suppressed “out of shame at being at the bottom of the cultural heap in anglophile America,” Lee organized a trip to Ireland with her two sisters, Liz and Jennie, and her cousin Josie. The four of them meet in the town of Lahinch in County Clare on the western coast of the country, and they set off on an exploration of their ancient homeland and on a search for distant cousins. Lee’s account eclectically and charmingly leaps from the personal to the historical, provocatively suggesting that the two can’t always be neatly separated. She provides a synoptic but companionably readable history of Ireland along the way, touching on its earliest inhabitants, its history of conflict, and the famine that ravaged its people in the 19th century. She also supplies a running commentary on its remarkably diverse culture, including its love of language and its quintessential cuisine, and she offers quirky, parenthetical sidebars, such as a note on the “high incidence of red hair in Ireland.”
Lee’s ambitious book is brimming with photographs; hand-drawn art, including maps and notable visual spectacles; and original poetry. Her lucid prose often achieves a delightful, pensive elegance: “It’s a strange phenomenon to emotionally attach oneself to a name and a place as I had, as if mystical filaments float out of the ground to the soul longing for connection.” Her research is impressively rigorous, and she tackles her trip with scrupulous zeal. The remembrance concludes with an appendix that seems designed to help first-time Ireland visitors, but it’s likely to be more helpful as a spur to future research; her own travel experience is likely too personally idiosyncratic for others to successfully emulate. Much of the memoir has an intimately confessional feel; for instance, the author candidly admits that she’s “afraid to be rejected as an outsider in Ireland” and anxious that the people of her newly discovered homeland won’t reciprocate her affections. Her memoir becomes a searching philosophical treatise on what it means for members of a diaspora to form a cultural identity: “Non-natives in America, Australia, and other long-time displaced peoples are characterized by this cultural amnesia. We are separated from our ancestral story as unnaturally as a shadow is separated from its body.” The narrative can be a touch disjointed, as the author moves quickly, and sometimes jarringly, from historical lessons to personal travel chronicles to family genealogy. However, Lee’s style is ultimately more eccentric than scattered, and her kaleidoscopic approach properly reflects her own arc of self-discovery.
A woman recollects her frightening confrontation with leukemia and the ways in which it changed her outlook on life.
Debut author Lee was born in 1962 on the far-flung island of Guam in the Pacific; as a result, her happy childhood was largely insulated from the political tumult and cultural upheaval that engulfed the U.S. mainland. Her upbringing was far from common, though—she was raised in a classic pagoda-style home, a 24,000-square-foot “fortress” that housed a large multigenerational clan that included her parents, six siblings, grandparents, and extended family. In addition, the head of the clan, her grandfather, was a successful businessman who openly kept a second wife and family in China. The horizons of the author’s unusual, if cloistered, childhood were expanded when she spent summers in Manila and San Francisco—the latter became her “Shangri-La,” an idealized representation of freedom and sophistication, and she eventually moved there to attend college. But Lee’s world was shattered by a sudden illness—in 1988, she become increasingly sick and then suffered a stroke. She eventually learned she was suffering from leukemia and could only be saved by a combination of radiation, chemotherapy, and a bone marrow transplant, which would prevent her from having children should she survive. The author, writing in deeply introspective prose, astutely examines the ways in which the disease compelled a revision of her worldview, puncturing the illusions of her youth. She turned to her family, especially her mother, for consolation amid her trials, a dependence she writes of affectingly: “I am also certain that if I had died, the mere sound of my mother’s voice would have sustained and guided me through whatever stages were ahead. The strength and power in her words would have been a beacon.” Lee’s story is a poignantly inspirational one—after her recovery, she became a patient advocate, intent on helping others. Her memoir is notably forthcoming and meditatively sensitive—with a gimlet-eye, she limns both tragedy and her triumph over it to find a meaning that encompasses both.
A cancer survivor’s affecting and elegantly composed remembrance.
A debut manual offers a perspective on fitness that incorporates meditation, awareness, and energy patterns.
From the very beginning, Wise sets her book apart from other works by fitness experts by focusing on the “BodyLogos story,” which the author describes as the gift of “total alignment.” Throughout the title, Wise sets out to show readers how to reach this goal through a practice regimen that builds awareness of breathing, the mind, and the body. Steering readers through different workouts, she explains the spiritual and psychological significance of each part of the body. With exercises and in-depth explanations, the author teaches readers how to target various muscles. For example, she explains that many smaller muscles and joints typically interfere with a biceps exercise. Removing the effect of these elements can be “helpful” for understanding “what an isolated biceps contraction feels like.” Skillful graphics by debut illustrator Elefante and concise text boxes help instruct readers on performing an exercise with perfect awareness of a specific muscle. The book’s effective design, which includes photographs by Sanders (Chino, 2011, etc.), offers logistical advice about each exercise, along with spiritual guidance. The volume encourages readers to practice meditation and mindfulness and channel gratitude and compassion. Perhaps one of the most compelling sections discusses anger, an important concept for anyone facing physical challenges. “You can identify resistance to genuine emotion by recognizing whether you are opposing or ignoring your experience,” Wise explains. “When you are in resistance to having an experience, you are in judgment of the experience.” These thoughtful passages throughout the book make the title more than just a useful addition to the fitness and health genre. The volume provides readers with valuable tips on promoting inner development and bolstering the mind.
A captivating, successful, and well-illustrated guide to strengthening the mind and body.
When a young woman who can enter fictional worlds decides to change their plots, she faces fierce resistance in this debut contemporary novel.
“Sometimes I just want to shout the truth about me and what I’m capable of at the world,” says Elana Black, but she knows that’s a terrible idea. Who would believe that Elana can depart her current reality and step into novels, TV shows, movies, and even comic books? She can’t explain it herself: “There’s a lot that I don’t know. I don’t know most things.” In an old sitcom, Elana for the first time meets someone like herself, Paolo, who explains they’re not alone; they’re “travelers of a kind.” They can tap into the Knowing—learning people’s tales—and all worlds are real. Thinking of the suffering she’s read or seen, Elana is deeply unsettled, and after entering a favorite episode of the Doctor Who–like show Eternity Pilgrim, she prevents a minor character’s destruction. This success gives her a new sense of purpose: “I’ve decided to rewrite history as a full-time hobby.” But Elana has dangerous, angry foes who don’t want her to upset the balance of things and are willing to use her friends as pawns. Elana must learn more about herself and her abilities to stand up for the principle that every story matters. In this series opener, Bell (Warning Call, 2017) offers a nice twist on the portal fantasy, with Elana able to enter any kind of world that fiction can describe. It’s almost too soon that the tale turns to its complications, because the intriguing notion is worth more exploration. Elana is a sympathetic heroine with some challenges (social anxiety, a low-status bookstore clerk job) but a strong moral compass that points true. Friendship, too, is a theme of the novel, and Elana must learn to trust that she can rely on her circle. As she explains, with an appropriate fictional reference, she’s not a lone wolf, she’s “Buffy Summers, someone who needs a family.”
An entertaining premise, effective voice, and underlying warmth make a strong start to this fantasy series.
Author/illustrator Linenthal (Look Look Outside, 2012, etc.) turns to the Silk Road in this picture book.
Young Jaya’s mother has been summoned to King Kanishka’s palace to bake her famous apricot cake for his birthday celebration. Jaya is sad to see her go, but Mama leaves her with a necklace of three golden coins. After waving goodbye, Jaya searches for her father, only to discover that he, too, has instructions from the king. He must carve a magnificent statue of the peaceful Buddha, a figure he has never seen. Jaya makes a wish to know what this mysterious Buddha looks like, and the great god Shiva appears from one of the coins on her necklace to aid her. Jaya and her father complete the statue and then must convey it to the palace. On their journey, they encounter more obstacles, which they overcome through the power of Jaya’s necklace and the help of the gods Inanna and Hercules. This fun, engaging read-aloud tale offers plenty of action (“From out of the coin leapt the strongest of the gods, Hercules, carrying a ferocious-looking lion skin”). The adventure is richly illustrated by Linenthal in bright, celebratory colors. At the end of the story, there is useful historical information about the Kushan Empire and the multicultural nature of the Silk Road as well as a recipe for Mama’s apricot cake.
An enjoyable tale that should spark conversations about the ancient world and diverse cultures.
In this trilogy opener, Blackwood pulls readers into the world of fallen angels through the eyes of Ariel, a spunky college freshman.
Blackwood starts the action almost immediately, barely introducing Ariel before she’s attacked by someone demanding she give him something called the Piece of Home. She’s knocked out during the encounter and wakes up in a hospital to find Michael, the most gorgeous guy ever, who takes a sudden interest in Ariel that sometimes verges on being bipolar (although that’s explained later). Ariel continues to be randomly attacked, which leads her to force some answers out of Michael. She finds out that she was adopted and that Michael is a Descendant, a half-human child of an Exile, or fallen angel. The angels that fell from heaven split into two groups—those still following Lucifer and those who realized their mistake. Ariel learns that her biological mother found the family’sPiece of Home and the angels believe Ariel now has it. The book’s fast-paced action is easy to follow while still being suspenseful, and despite some one-note duds, most of the characters feel natural and help add depth to Ariel’s adventure. Especially likable is Barnaby, the goblin she befriends in the Exiles' sanctuary, who watches her back mostly via text message. Smart, strong Ariel is fairly likable, although she has an annoying habit of making acronyms out of seemingly everything. Her supposed love of complicated vocabulary isn’t particularly flattering since she tends to use big words sparingly, like someone trying to impress friends with words he or she doesn’t quite understand. Michael, on the other hand, is a stiffer character, and some of his actions don’t seem to make much sense. For this volume, their budding romance stays in an awkward stage that doesn’t really affect the plot, although that’s sure to change as the story progresses. Some solid twists and turns make for a quick, enjoyable read that promises to grow deeper in the next chapters.
An intriguing premise navigated by an affable heroine.
In this second installment of a YA series, a teenager has an inexplicable link to an enigmatic crystal that Lucifer’s fallen angels desperately covet.
Seventeen-year-old Ariel Robinson is in love with Michael, who’s one of the Descendants. They’re the half-human offspring of the Exiles, fallen angels who have since gone straight. The fallen angels still on Satan’s side are the Enemy, who currently pose a threat to Ariel. They want the Piece of Home, a crystal that sticks to Ariel (even if she attempts to discard it) and burns anyone else who touches it. So Michael assigns Ariel a bodyguard: his ex-fiancee, Rosamund, who patently despises the teen for stealing her boyfriend. Ariel tries to live a typical teen life, attending classes at Montana State University, but it isn’t long before some of the Enemy abduct her. She luckily receives unexpected help along with the ominous news that the abundance of Enemy spies means that Ariel can’t trust anyone. In a concurrent plotline from 16 years earlier, lawyer Lucian Castlewhite, who’s also a Descendant, is defending someone on trial for murder. That trial—as well as its verdict—ultimately connects to the present day and, surprisingly, may put Ariel in more danger than she’s already facing. Blackwood’s (Siren Song, 2012) fantasy novel is generally lighthearted despite the Enemy’s perpetual menace. For example, Ariel’s lamebrained abductors apparently have to resort to written instructions in the midst of her kidnapping. Many of the characters are entertaining and vibrant, particularly Ariel’s goblin cohort, Barnaby, and her suitemate/best friend, Samantha. But romance is minimal, and readers, at least in this installment, will see few indications as to what made Ariel fall for Michael. But the tale is running at full tilt by the final act, which features twists aplenty, from the trial’s defendant (unnamed for much of the story) to a potential betrayal. A smashing cliffhanger and lingering questions will surely leave readers impatiently awaiting Book 3.
A breezy, winsome fantasy sequel populated by a delightful batch of characters.
An elite American soldier is captured in Nicaragua during a time of brutal rivalry between the Contras and Marxist rebels in this historical novel.
In 1985, the U.S. government was committed to helping the Nicaraguan Contras push back the Sandinistas and established a clandestine base of operations in Honduras that could launch supply missions. That base came to be known as Constable Outreach and operated only at the vacillating whims of Honduran President Roberto Suazo Córdova. Now, the program is about to be shut down, and Lester Russell, a C-123 loadmaster, goes on one last flight into Nicaraguan territory. But after the plane takes enemy fire, he’s ejected from it with the supplies. He’s badly injured, sinking into a coma, and is captured by Sandinista troops. His operations manager, Tom McKay, is desperate to retrieve him, but his access to electronic surveillance has already been pulled, and he encounters an entangled web of political resistance. Cadmus (Anger’s Journey, 2001) vividly depicts the historical horizon within which the story occurs—a troubled Latin America roiled by its own intramural tensions as well as the contest between the U.S. and Soviet Union on its soil. The author also chronicles the view from the inside—two revolutionaries, Miguel Velasquez and Juanita Maria Perez, meet and fall in love in Cuba and move to Nicaragua. Miguel becomes a legendary hero for his support of the Sandinistas, and his son is captured by the Contras as retribution for his deeds. Cadmus’ research is remarkable—he provides astute insights into the historical currents that ushered in the plot’s moment in time and displays a mastery of Latin American politics. In addition, he deftly dramatizes the way in which craven political interests can stymie the effective management of military operations. But the author’s writing can be awkward and melodramatic: “Caught in your own dichotomy. Two desires of equal import, coming together in the mind of one man. How does one choose? Commitments signed and sealed.” Nevertheless, the sheer intelligence of the novel—and its historical nuances—overcomes its uneven prose.
This 10th installment of a series focuses on a sheriff with a new case rooted deep in a Michigan county’s history.
When the remote farmhouse that once belonged to his dead predecessor, Orville Hentzler, goes up in flames—its basement stockpile of guns and ammunition providing an explosive finale—Cedar County Sheriff Ray Elkins is tasked with discovering why. He knows that it’s arson, probably just some bored teenagers or a closet pyromaniac. Then Hentzler’s grave is vandalized. “When he was alive, people either loved him or they hated him,” remembers the cemetery’s groundskeeper. “He and his boys, you know, his deputies, they liked to crack heads....But he’s been gone awhile.” Could these incidents have anything to do with a hippie commune that Hentzler ran out of town back in the 1960s, the buildings of which were also subsequently and mysteriously burned down? Two duck hunters later report a cackling gunman shooting at their decoys with an automatic weapon. Soon after, a toddler is discovered abandoned in a snowy ditch, and the child’s mother is found dead, lying in her own house. These incidents—their variety and strangeness—demand some creative investigation from Ray and his partner, DS Sue Lawrence. All clues seem to suggest that these crimes are connected to the events of 40 years ago, but most of the people involved are long gone. What happens if a killer comes to town hoping to target Hentzler only to learn that he’s dead? Who will the killer go after then? Stander’s (Gales of November, 2016, etc.) prose is controlled and sparse, evoking both Ray’s deliberative personality and the midwinter Michigan landscape: “He lifted his head and watched as the truck quickly disappeared into the swirling snow. Then he looked around. The mangled remains of a snowmobile were mired in mud just below him in the ditch.” While certain aspects of the plot are a tad predictable, others are wonderfully unexpected, and the author’s practiced pacing should keep readers engaged throughout. Fans of the series should be pleased with this engrossing episode.
A well-told mystery that involves Midwesterners forced to grapple with their town’s past.
A job interview leads to an unexpected offer—and a potential lover—for a widow reinventing her life and career in this debut novel.
Alesandra “Andie” Halzer is devastated when her husband of 25 years, Nick, dies unexpectedly following routine surgery. Two years later, Andie interviews for the position of director of special projects for Johnathan “Jack” Devlan’s company, Devcor Diversified, Inc. Jack is impressed with her credentials, expertise, and strong work ethic. Although Jack selects another candidate for the position, he has a different job in mind for Andie. Jack wishes to pursue new business opportunities, but he does not want the attention of eligible women to interfere with that goal. He needs someone to pose as his date at various social events, and Andie is his ideal candidate for the role. Intrigued but cautious, Andie agrees to Jack’s terms, including the stipulation that neither becomes emotionally attached. Over the course of three months, Andie accompanies Jack to award luncheons, wine tastings, and dinner parties. What starts as a business arrangement soon turns personal when Jack discovers he has fallen in love with Andie. With time running out on the contract, Jack begins a campaign to convince Andie to stay in his life forever. Capen’s book is a fresh and sharply written contemporary romance featuring dynamic characters and a unique and surprisingly tender love story at its center. Andie is an appealing heroine whose concerns about re-entering the workforce after her husband’s death are relatable. In a well-drawn scene, she confronts her fears about interviewing for the position with Jack’s company (“What was I thinking? I’m too old for this job. But how do they expect someone to have all that experience without being at least thirty-five or forty”). Jack is a hard-driving businessman who has avoided emotional entanglements since the death of his wife, Maggie. Although Andie and Jack’s relationship begins as a contractual arrangement, a loving connection gradually develops, grounded in part by their shared grief over the deaths of their spouses. That said, there is an inconsistency in the rendering of Jack’s first name. It is spelled “Johnathan” and “Jonathan.”
A man recalls his college battle with leukemia in this debut memoir.
February 1990. College junior Brown was enjoying a year abroad in Lancaster, England, when he felt uncharacteristically winded after a mile-long jog: “It’s been at least the past few days—or maybe closer to a week, I don’t know—that I’ve been feeling more beaten down than normal. Nothing obvious, nothing specific, just steadily higher levels of crushing fatigue.” Then the bruises started appearing on his body: on his calf, his thighs, his right hand. There was blood in his spit and then in his urine. A visit to the school infirmary turned into a trip to the local hospital, where samples were taken and tests were done. After a few days, he received the news: He had leukemia. He was quickly flown home to Seattle to undergo treatment—his condition, acute myeloid leukemia, was particularly fast-acting—including chemotherapy and bone marrow biopsies. Then more chemo. As this happened, Brown was visited by his family and friends from high school, causing him to look back on his memories with renewed gratitude for what he had seen and done. Throughout, he had his doctor’s words on his life expectancy at the front of his mind: “Your odds aren’t ten percent, or twenty, or even fifty. You either survive or you don’t. Period.” Brown’s writing is lively and lyrical, with moments of intense description offset by humorous ones. He often imagines his life as though it were being made into a film: “This brief hospital stay in London is as good a place as any for a rapidly-edited montage. No words necessary, saving the cost of paying actors and actresses portraying the hospital staff for speaking lines in what, ultimately, will be a cameo appearance in my life.” The author’s bout with leukemia was relatively compressed (though subsequent brain infections required a second hospitalization), allowing him to methodically document each development, treatment, and result. For those interested in seeing the toll leukemia can take on a young, healthy person, Brown’s account offers the details in searing prose.
Debut novelist and veteran journalist Delaney offers a thriller set in a modern China that, in the mid-2000s, hasn’t become the open society that many have hoped for.
It’s the beginning of the new millennium, and the Chinese government is feverishly working to change the cityscape of Beijing in time for the 2008 Olympics—and trying to make people forget things like the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre. Journalist Jake Bradley’s friend Qiang left a good job in California’s Silicon Valley to come back to his native land and make a documentary about its rapid changes. This draws the attention of the government’s Public Security Bureau, and Qiang goes missing; Jake, who’s in love with Qiang, vows to find and rescue him. In his quest, he has the help of Qiang’s sister, Diane, and Qiang’s ex-husband, Ben. If they can blow the lid off a massive bribery scandal involving the Olympics, they’ll have enough leverage to get Qiang freed. At the same time, Delaney tells the story of Dawei, a hapless young man from the Chinese provinces who also gets mixed up in the main plot. Delaney has been covering China since the mid-1990s for such outlets as Dow Jones Newswires, Bloomberg News, and the South China Morning Post (where he’s currently the U.S. bureau chief), and he’s clearly the right person to tell this story—a trustworthy guide and a fine example of “write what you know.” He ably tells a tale of a China in the midst of transformation, as in a poignant vignette in which a starving Dawei stands transfixed outside a Häagen-Dazs ice-cream parlor, trying to make sense of it all. The author also shows how urban renewal also means urban upheaval, using choking dust and smog as a visible metaphor throughout the narrative. The book offers a thoughtful love story, as well; Ben is willing to take risks to free a man who divorced him, and Jake takes those same risks, not knowing if Qiang will ever reciprocate his love.
An observant debut novel in which the characters’ selflessness shines through the haze.
Two wallflowers bond over books in this debut historical romance.
Lizbeth Trethow is a “determined spinster and future lady’s companion,” but the prospect of a love match changes her mind. Her charming courtship with Roddam begins in a library, where they’ve both sought refuge from a tiresome party. Their shared interest in books arouses Lizbeth’s intellect and sparks her desire, but she has trouble locating her mystery man once they part ways. After an unfortunate mix-up with him and his raffish cousin Drake, the duke of Annick, Lizbeth learns that her Mr. Roddam is actually Sebastian, the earl of Roddam. Her Aunt Hazel says the nobleman is a highly desirable match for a woman of her station, but Lizbeth won’t settle for a marriage of convenience. And Sebastian, who harbors a terrible secret from his childhood, fears emotional intimacy. When he discovers that he and Lizbeth both live in cities connected to King Arthur, Sebastian’s idol, she seems almost too good to be true. Even the frosty dowager duchess begrudgingly approves of her. The historical touches within each decadent ball, the allure of Sebastian’s castle restoration project, and the discussion of old books like Samuel Richardson’s Pamela when they were much newer enhance the 1790 setting. And the mystery of Sebastian’s haunted past lends intrigue to Golden’s series opener long after the couple say I do, expanding its scope. Meanwhile, Lizbeth’s sister, Charlotte, is willing to marry for status. That is, until she weds Drake and finds that she’s lonely. (He may be a rake, but his sense of humor makes him worthy of a second chance in the sequel.) Both romantic plotlines continue well beyond the initial happily-ever-after, offering unexpected twists and further character development. The author adds a few extra ingredients to the romantic formula, with pleasing results.
In this fantasy novel, a powerful magic wielder searches for his wife, who apparently left him for another man, as well as a villainous “voider” with similar powers.
Master Voider Democryos, nicknamed “Dem,” works out of the citadel for King Andrej X. He teaches talented pupils to use peach-pit–shaped voidstones, which allow one to see and manipulate matter in the “indivisible” realm (“Everything in our creation is built out of infinitesimal building blocks, called the indivisible”). One morning, Dem finds a letter from Lady Marine, his wife of five years, stating that their marriage is over. An investigation of her bedchamber reveals that she left in haste, likely with another man. Later, Dem and the king discuss the ongoing war with the Southern Kingdom. Andrej demands more voidstones and “voiders” with the skill to use them despite the scarcity of each. The king insists that a woman from his harem, Chimeline, must sleep with Dem. Instead, Chimeline and Dem go on a quest to find a hidden forest laboratory where Chimeline says that a mysterious voider conducted torturous experiments on her and other women. Also in the lab is an airship that’s designed to fly on principles that are known best to voiders. Dem and Chimeline take it south on a hunt for Marine and the rogue voider, little realizing that the voidstones’ true nature may change society forever. In this series opener, Wozniak (An Obliquity, 2017, etc.) straddles science fiction and fantasy while commendably exploring questions of spirituality. The effulgents, a religious sect who don’t believe in ownership or relationships, provide an energetic counterpoint to the materialism that’s thrown two kingdoms into war. Wozniak’s medieval world, as described, is a beautiful one; from the sky, it “looks like thousands of curved pieces of glass” covering everything “in blues and greens.” The book also wonderfully handles the notion of a preindustrial society discovering the atomic structure of nature. Yet the plot’s human elements—which include romance, drug addiction, and trust across philosophical lines—often shine brightest. Revelations and combat converge in the propulsive finale, and Wozniak’s strong imagination will rope fans in.
A series starter that trips across fantastic terrain with a human touch.
A debut memoir recalls a juror’s momentous decision and his struggle with religious faith.
In 2009, Dubler was summoned to jury duty in Colorado’s Arapahoe County, and his 10-week service in a double-murder trial changed his life. The charges in the case were grim—a drug dealer was accused of a coldblooded shooting—and the stakes were dauntingly high; if the defendant was found guilty, he could face the death penalty. The author was emotionally overwhelmed by the gravity of his role, torn by a dilemma that he poignantly recounts: “I could choose mercy and offend everyone who clamored for the full extent of justice. Or I could choose the death penalty and offend everyone who said that there had already been enough tears, suffering, and death.” Dubler situates the trial within his own painful crisis of faith. Raised as an evangelical Christian, he was taught that the line between sin and righteousness was inflexible; he also says that he was generally seen by others as a man who was filled with divine spirit. However, despite his commitment to his faith, he felt disappointed in God as he languished in a dysfunctional marriage. While reconciling himself with the enormity of his judgment as a juror, Dubler felt compelled to confront his inclinations toward moral judgment. In this book, he sensitively portrays his duties as a juror, filling these moments with nuance, introspection, and self-doubt. Despite the monstrousness of the crime, Dubler recounts how he resisted thinking of the defendant as the personification of evil, as he detected “glimpses of his humanity.” Throughout, the author’s personal recollections are remarkably forthcoming and unguarded; he even discusses how sexual abstinence before marriage affected his relationship with his wife and how uncomfortable he was about sex’s “mechanics and messiness.” Still, the highlight of the book is his running comparison between his uneventful upbringing and the defendant’s traumatic one and the ways in which both virtue and chance indelibly shape a life.
An emotional, edifying remembrance written with power and clarity.
In Brittain’s (Marriage Roulette, 2006) novel, a callow Kentucky teen joins a traveling Christian revival group and learns quickly about the ways of the world.
Young Michael Boone is dropped off with his Aunt Elizabeth in Calhoun, Kentucky, while his parents look for work. Three years later, he’s all but abandoned there and anxious to earn some money. When his aunt takes him to a Christian revival headed by the charismatic Brother Daniel, an opportunity presents itself when the group needs a new truck driver. Initially, Michael is startlingly unworldly—he seems unaware that there are religious believers other than Christians—but he’s quickly disabused of his innocence by the troupe’s decadence. Brother Daniel is unreservedly lecherous, particularly toward very young girls, which Brittain unflinchingly depicts: “Brother Daniel had mastered the skill of touching interesting areas of the female form in such a manner that it was unclear, to those watching, whether it was blatant fondling or merely fatherly care.” Michael begins a romantic relationship with fellow teenager Ruth,one of Mother Daniel’s daughters, who’s desperate to run away and escape the sexual advances of her stepfather, Brother Daniel. Michael thinks about running away with Ruth, but he’s unsure if he truly loves her—and he’s also having sexual trysts with her mother. Then, one day, he’s presented with an uncommon opportunity to leave the revival and secure a better life. Brittain seems finely attuned to the absurdity that can be found in rank hypocrisy, and he expresses it in a manner that’s impressively reminiscent of Tom Wolfe’s work. Brother Daniel, for instance, is portrayed as an avaricious, racist pedophile who nonetheless strenuously preaches the gospel of Jesus. The revival introduces Michael to sexual libertinism, “racial vitriol,” unrestrained alcoholism, and bottomless avarice—but not the Lord. Indeed, if Michael learns anything at all on his trip, it’s how to lie. However, the author also tempers the salaciousness of Michael’s experience with an immersion in canonical literature—a gift bestowed by his hilarious but tantalizingly complex tutor, Bert.Overall,Brittain conveys his story with a literary realism that never devolves into cheap cynicism.
A moving Southern bildungsroman written with verve.
Thuss’ (Fertility Zero, 2015, etc.) sci-fi novel tells the story of a small group of people trapped in a nightmarish town in the Nevada desert.
Every four years, Dale B. Yeager rides his antique BMW motorcycle 2,600 miles from Virginia to southern California so that he may place flowers on his parents’ graves. During his latest trip, at age 67, the divorced millionaire decides to stop in tiny NoTown, Nevada, which turns out to be aptly named, containing only a “cinder block motel,” a “gas station with two old rusted pumps,” and “an old rail car diner with a flickering red and blue neon sign.” The Rest Stop Motel seems to be a well-preserved but unremarkable relic of a bygone era. Upon check-in, Cyndy Ferguson, the young woman at the desk, makes some odd comments regarding the length of Dale’s planned stay. He takes a nap and wakes up to find that he looks 27 again. “You’re not crazy, Dale, and you’re not asleep,” Cyndy assures him when he returns to the lobby, alarmed. It turns out NoTown exists at an intersection where the 11 dimensions of time and space meet, and it’s impossible to leave the place by simply driving or walking away. Cyndy, like Dale, is in her 60s but looks as if she’s in her 20s; she’s a microbiologist who’s been trapped in NoTown for more than a year. Also, there are predators roaming the night that abduct humans and do unspeakable things to them. Dale decides to call them “Súls”: “what stood out most to me were the eyes, and Súl was the Irish word for eye.” With the help of other trapped travelers, Dale and Cyndy must find a way to escape the place before their wills are destroyed and they succumb to apathy, madness, or worse.
The novel’s premise offers its readers a finely constructed puzzle that becomes increasingly and maddeningly complex as the story goes on, with rules that seem fixed but are revealed to be several degrees more complicated than they initially appear. Thuss’ prose effectively gets across the narrative shifts in tension, from long expositional conversations to more surreal moments, as in this passage, when Dale takes in his diner surroundings: “Everything was late 1940’s early 1950’s style: The plates, the silverware, all the decorations hung on the walls, and the red color of the vinyl in the booths. Everything but the small, decahedron shaped boxes mounted near the ceiling at each end of the rail car. We’re being watched, I realized.” The story is generally fast-paced and immersive, its twists are mostly surprising, and the ending comes before it overstays its welcome. Although the Súls are ultimately revealed to be a rather familiar foe, Thuss handles them well over the course of the novel, and he cultivates them into a truly terrifying adversary. Sequels appear to be planned, and they will be welcome when they arrive.
A fun and often riveting novel that features mysteries of time, space, and unknown life forms.
Teens with elemental powers become the first students in three millennia to attend a school, which shadowy forces have targeted, in this launch of a YA fantasy series.
In the world of Gaia, the three Elemential Schools are Fujita (Wind and Wisdom), Sereni (Water), and GroundStone (Earth and Rock). Each sends its top four students to attend Harahm’be in the Valley of Gaia, the first time in over 3,000 years the former School of Fire has accepted students. S’rae is an outcast at Fujita because, unlike richer schoolmates, she wasn’t born in the Wind region. But she’s excited that her adoptive brother, Vayp, is at Harahm’be, as the two haven’t seen each other in years. Vayp is a troublemaker at GroundStone; he and S’rae don’t make friends easily but soon display impressive abilities at the school’s arena. Meanwhile, Harahm’be Headmaster, Gabrael, the God of Fire and King of Gods, reads to the students from the enigmatic Book of Eve. It largely centers on Destrou, “the boy who never lived,” and S’rae sees parallels between her life and Destrou’s. Meanwhile, a traitor reveals the school’s secret location to a villain controlling giant lethal robots (Mechas) and plotting an attack on Harahm’be. The anonymous author introduces a magical world while skillfully incorporating recognizable adolescent turmoil. S’rae’s bully from Fujita, for example, joins her at Harahm’be, and initially unlikable Vayp bullies delightfully kooky Han’sael. Dialogue, even within the Book of Eve, befits the teen characters, who see things as “awesome” or “sooo amazing.” Han’sael’s speech is particularly bizarre but often amusing: “I’m sorriorry....” The novel’s action scenes showcase different students’ various powers as well as the formidable Mechas—and even deadlier PriMechas. While this book is clearly setting up future series installments, there’s a resolution (e.g., the traitor’s identity) and twisty conclusion. Rykyart’s illustrations are awash in color as characters are silhouetted against resplendent backdrops of blues, greens, etc.
Distinctive characters and magic-infused action should leave readers craving the next volume.
In this second installment of a YA series, a group of students still mastering magic will have to confront a Shadow Army that’s intent on obliterating the world of Gaia.
Teenage siblings S’rae and Vayp are at odds, stemming from events in the preceding fantasy novel. In fact, each is determined to murder the other. In Vayp’s case, he believes killing S’rae will bring back his dead Sol Mastery—an animal who deeply links to a particular human. Gabrael, the God of Fire and King of Gods, knows a world-destroying Shadow Army has risen. Only fire can kill the Shadows. As Headmaster of Harahm’de, the School of Fire, Gabrael enlists his son, Retro’ku, to train others in the fiery craft. Meanwhile, to fulfill part of her destiny, S’rae attends GroundStone, the School of Earth and Rock, to retrieve the Earth orb via an arena challenge. She faces many obstacles, most notably that she’s the only person she knows who’s never connected to a Sol. But S’rae soon realizes that someone is trying to kill her. In a concurrent story set in the past, Destrou, “the Boy Who Never Lived,” endures a challenge of his own. But his tale, which Vayp is reading in the Book of Eve, ultimately ties to one of the siblings. Anonymous’ (A Warrior’s Past, 2019) sequel, which is consistent in tone and pace with the series opener, deftly propels character development. S’rae, for example, learns she may have a special Sol different from the others. She’s the most engaging character in this book, as her story is more diverting than Destrou’s somber account. That’s primarily due to a lighthearted teen romance: She literally drools over Retro’ku but also finds herself attracted to GroundStone’s new male professor (who’s only a few years older than she is). Each chapter opens with RyKyArt’s (A Warrior’s Past, 2019) rich artwork that’s specific to the character, like icy blue for Destrou and sunset orange for S’rae. The novel does run a bit long (over 450 pages). The inevitable battle with the Shadow Army is rousing but merely a small part of the narrative. Nevertheless, as in the earlier installment, some plotlines conclude with occasional surprises while the ending smoothly sets up another volume.
A lengthy but entertaining entry in an evolving fantasy saga.