A new mother turns to old acquaintances for help when her future is under threat.
Karin’s boyfriend, John, is dead. He’s left Karin with a big, beautiful house on the lakeside, an infant daughter named Dream—and the Swedish Economic Crime Authority on her trail. John’s criminal career had previously ensured Karin’s comfort, but now that he's gone, she has little left but loose change. In the middle of a frigid Scandinavian winter, after she gets word from the authority that her house and car will be seized within days, Karin—accompanied by Dream—reaches out to some of John’s old associates in the hope that there might be a way, legal or not, to ensure her financial stability. But Karin quickly realizes that the people she thought of as her closest friends are no longer keen to help. Though the plot of Ramqvist’s English debut may make it sound like a crime thriller, the pace is lulling, the writing sensuous and patiently observed. So much of the book, in fact, consists of long scenes of Karin nursing Dream or spending hours watching the infant play that the book feels, more than any thriller, like an allegory of parenting. Karin’s life as a new mother is as gray and unchanging as the winter sky. When she tries to return to her old life, even temporarily, she feels alien and vulnerable. Ramqvist repeatedly shows Karin struggling with the physical weight of her daughter, trying to push a stroller through snow, or teetering off balance with a heavy car seat on her arm. And as Karin, quite literally, works to keep Dream alive against a backdrop of violence and deception, readers root for both characters to find their way.
Things go dangerously wrong when a middle-class wife and mother impulsively opens her home to a homeless teen and her tiny baby in Kubica’s sophomore novel.
When Heidi Wood, a woman who can’t help herself from helping others, spots a teenage girl with a small baby on the platform of Chicago’s train system, her heart goes out to them. Not only is it cold and raining, but the pair is obviously in need of help. Soon, Heidi has spotted the homeless teenager again, and, being the nurturing type, she feels compelled to reach out to her. That annoys her husband, Chris, and selfish 12-year-old daughter, Zoe. But Heidi ignores her husband’s misgivings—after all, he’s distracted by the new girl at work, Cassidy Knudsen, a lissome blonde who always seems to be nearby when Heidi calls. So when she brings the girl, Willow, and Ruby, her baby, into their condo, it only widens the gap between Heidi and Chris. And, through some clever foreshadowing, the reader knows, almost from the outset, that this isn’t going to turn out so well for the Wood family. Kubica skillfully weaves the story together, with Chris, Heidi, and Willow all narrating portions of the tale. As bits and pieces of Willow’s story are revealed, the other characters keep the story moving forward toward what the reader knows will be disastrous results. Kubica's debut novel, The Good Girl (2014), also employed multiple points of view and timelines, but Kubica serves up a much more cohesive tale this time around—the story is almost hypnotic and anything but predictable. The writing is compelling, but Kubica’s strong point is being able to juggle a complicated plot and holding the reader’s interest without dropping any of the balls she has in the air.
This book will give insomniacs a compelling reason to sit up all night.
The search for a missing boy is seen through the split perspective of his frantic mother and the police detective determined to solve the case, despite its deleterious effect on his psychological health.
Newly divorced photographer mum Rachel Jenner thought she was giving her 8-year-old son, Ben Finch, a bit of freedom when she let him run ahead during a walk in a Bristol park. But when Ben vanishes, Rachel immediately blames herself, and the media is quick to paint her as a neglectful parent, too. Macmillan, in her debut, leans a bit hard on the “bad mother” trope, one that’s been well-trodden in recent fiction, but she creates a compellingly complex investigator in DI Jim Clemo. The narrative is split not only between Rachel's and Clemo’s perspectives, but also Clemo’s post-investigation sessions with a department-ordered shrink, indicating that however the Finch investigation turned out, it wasn’t pretty. As Rachel waits and frets at home, often in the company of her high-achieving older sister, Nicky, who clearly knows more than she lets on, Clemo and his fellow officers, including his secret girlfriend, DC Emma Zhang, whom he perhaps unwisely recommended as Family Liaison Officer for the case, try to piece together a case from a dearth of physical evidence. The requisite family secrets come to light, though Macmillan gets credit for some truly clever red herrings.
While there’s little new ground broken, the missing child scenario, when done reasonably well, as it is here, is a reliable hook, and with Macmillan’s taut pacing, this is an engaging debut.
Sixteen years after her twin sister, Savannah, was found dead in a derelict house on the edge of town, a bestselling thriller writer begins to uncover what really happened.
In Strecker’s (Night Blindness, 2014) latest, Cady Martino is at a crossroads: her marriage is on the rocks, endangered by lack of communication and problems with infertility, and the sudden rekindling of a high school crush has Cady questioning what she's willing to risk to find happiness. She has a core group of friends, including her best friend since forever, Gabby, and her brother, David, but her husband’s fascination with her wealth and her own weight issues continue to prey on her self-esteem. Most of all, however, she has never come to terms with her grief for Savannah. When she gains access to interview a convicted serial killer as research for her current book and, at the same time, the local police decide to reopen her sister’s case, Cady begins to discover things about Savannah’s life and death that lead her closer to the truth. The plot may seem somewhat familiar to suspense readers and the romance angle a bit contrived and exaggerated, but the novel offers a very appealing protagonist in Cady. She's plucky without being annoying, self-aware without being maudlin, and fiercely loyal without being blind. Her group of friends has an enviable bond, and the mystery focuses on personalities and relationships as much as it aims to reveal “whodunit.” In the end, this is a novel about great loss and refusal to surrender to the pain of this loss, showing instead how one can learn to live with it and, ultimately, find forgiveness and love as a survivor.
Hilarious, surreal, and bracingly original, Walker’s ambitious debut avoids moralistic traps to achieve something rarer: a genuinely subversive novel that’s also serious fun.
At just over 300 pounds, Plum Kettle is waiting for her real life to start: she’ll be a writer. She’ll be loved. She’ll be thin. In the meantime, she spends her days ghostwriting advice to distraught teenage girls on behalf of a popular teen magazine (“Dear Kitty, I have stretch marks on my boobs, please help”), meticulously counting calories (“turkey lasagna (230)”), and fantasizing about life after weight-loss surgery. But when a mysterious young woman in Technicolor tights starts following her, Plum finds herself drawn into an underground feminist community of radical women who refuse to bow to oppressive societal standards. Under the tutelage of Verena Baptist, anti-diet crusader and heiress to the Baptist diet fortune (a diet with which Plum is intimately familiar), Plum undertakes a far more daring—and more dangerous—five-step plan: to live as her true self now. Meanwhile, a violent guerrilla group, known only as “Jennifer,” has emerged, committing acts of vigilante justice against misogynists. As her surgery date nears and Jennifer’s acts grow increasingly drastic, Plum finds she’s at the center of what can only be described as a literal feminist conspiracy—and she’s transforming into a version of herself she never knew existed. But while it would be easy for the book to devolve into a tired parable about the virtues of loving yourself just the way you are, Walker’s sharp eye and dry humor push it away from empty platitudes and toward deeper and more challenging turf. Ultimately, for all the unsettling pleasure of Walker’s splashier scenarios—and there are many—it’s Plum’s achingly real inner life that gives the novel its arresting emotional weight.
Part Fight Club, part feminist manifesto, an offbeat and genre-bending novel that aims high—and delivers.
A couple driven to desperation by the challenges of raising an extraordinary 13-year-old and her younger sister moves off the grid with a charismatic parenting guru.
From the first sentences of this unusual and compelling novel—“In another world, you make it work. In another world, you never even hear the name ‘Scott Bean’ ”—pages turn with the momentum of an emotional thriller. But Parkhurst (The Nobodies Album, 2011, etc.) offers much more than the gradual dealing out of the disaster that awaits the Hammond family after they give up their lives in Washington, D.C., to move to a wilderness camp in New Hampshire led by maverick autism counselor Scott Bean. The characters of Alexandra Hammond, her husband, Josh, and their daughters, Tilly and Iris, go straight to your heart via three intertwined narrative threads. One belongs to Iris, 11: the story of what happens at Camp Harmony unfolds through her sharp, Harriet-the-Spy–esque eyes. Each family has one kid who’s different, she realizes, though they are different in very different ways; she’s the “normal” one, the “good” one. When she overhears her mother describe her as “NT” she hopes it means something like Natural Talent; it’s disappointing to find out it’s just “neurotypical.” Alexandra tells the story of the family’s life leading up to the move: her marriage to her teenage sweetheart, the births of their daughters, the realization of Tilly’s difference, the ever growing stress associated with it. “Here are some of the things you’re not posting on Facebook during February of 2010: Alexandra Moss Hammond’s daughter has changed the name of Shel Silverstein’s poetry collection to 'Where the Pussy Ends.' Alexandra Hammond’s daughter just said in the post office, 'Your tits are huge. Did I really used to suck on those?' " A third series of chapters is written by Tilly at some unspecified future date, brilliant, funny, and beautiful monologues that show how deeply Parkhurst understands what she’s writing about.
Suspenseful, moving, and full of inspiration and insight about parenting a child with autism.
This take-no-prisoners satire puts politically correct urbanites in their place for real.
Karen Kipple and her husband, Matt, both career activists in the nonprofit sector, have righteously enrolled their daughter in their zoned public elementary school, where “the white population…hovered around 20 percent.” However, Karen, like some other white parents, is concerned that she's sacrificed quality education for diversity. Among other dubious accomplishments, her daughter can recite the wedding date of Coretta and Martin Luther King—because “every month was Black History Month—except when it was Latino History Month.” A scuffle on the playground between a Jayyden and a Maeve further divides the parents along racial lines: “What that kid needs is a serious whupping” versus “With all due respect, violence is not the answer to violence.” Karen is so beached in the mud of responsible domesticity that it has affected even her dreams, “the majority of them so prosaic that she sometimes felt embarrassed when she woke up.” But this pill of a woman, depicted in deadpan, grimly hilarious detail, is about to cut loose—starting an extramarital affair with a billionaire she's canvassing for her nonprofit, stealing gas bills out of the trash so she can move her daughter to a whiter public school, then performing an insane Robin Hood maneuver that could land her in that most racially imbalanced environment of them all. Rosenfeld (The Pretty One, 2013) depicts Karen with such pitiless disdain that it's a welcome surprise when the plot gives her a chance at redemption. From its James Baldwin epigraph—“White people cannot, in the generality, be taken as models of how to live”—to the final pages, in which Karen decides not to inquire about the fate of young Jayyden to avoid appearing “like one of those well-meaning, college-educated white liberals who fetishize the deprivations of the underclass,” this book takes dead aim and doesn’t miss.
Comin’ at you “with a copy of Karl Marx’s Capital in one hand and a raisin bagel in the other.” Right on, Rosenfeld.
A dogged insurance investigator suspects that a perfect wife’s accidental death was anything but. He doesn’t know the half of it.
Even after they both lost their jobs, Tom and Ana Bacon seemed to have it all—good looks, a great home, a wonderful 3-year-old daughter—until Ana fell from the deck of their cruise ship into the waters of the Caribbean a few months after taking out a $5 million insurance policy with a double indemnity clause. Three months later, Tom’s waiting impatiently for Insurance Strategy and Investment to pay up, while Ryan Monahan, a statistics-smitten investigator who was retired from the NYPD by a gunshot, is determined to do his best to make sure his company doesn’t have to. His job won’t be easy. Although he had a strong motive to kill a wife who may have been worth more dead than alive, Tom’s also got a strong alibi: three people saw him at the ship’s pool when his wife went over the side. Nor is it easy to believe that Ana, who’d just discovered that she was pregnant, would have killed herself, even with 5 million reasons, even though her body has never turned up. Holahan (Dark Turns, 2015) alternates chapters detailing Ryan’s patient, thorough investigation with flashbacks to Ana’s point of view in the days leading up to her death, or maybe just her disappearance. It’s a structural cliché that hardly ever works, but this time it does thanks to Holahan’s uncanny skill in pacing her intertwined stories and doling out complications in both of them with a master’s hand.
The result is one of those rare thrillers that really will keep you reading all night, especially if you pack it to take on your next Caribbean cruise.
Middle-aged parents and hormone-addled teenagers all have some growing up to do—entertainingly—in the course of one hot Brooklyn summer.
Straub’s last novel, The Vacationers (2014), took place on Mallorca and was a perfect vacation between two covers. Her new book is set in a grittier locale, but in Straub’s fond gaze, it too feels like an enchanted land out of a Shakespearan comedy: “Ditmas Park was great in the summertime. The sycamores and oaks were full and wide, leaving big pools of shade along the sidewalks. Families were on their porches…Neighbors waved.” She takes us inside two of the area’s rambling yet run-down Victorian houses and introduces their owners: Elizabeth, a real estate agent, and Andrew, whose family trust has allowed him to get to his late 40s without much of a career, and their sweet son, Harry; and Zoe and Jane, who own a busy restaurant and live with their daughter, Ruby, who describes herself as having a “bad attitude.” Years ago, Elizabeth, Andrew, and Zoe were in a band together at Oberlin, which would have been completely forgotten except that their fourth band mate, Lydia, had a smash hit as a solo artist with one of Elizabeth’s songs, “Mistress of Myself,” before dying of an overdose. Now Hollywood has come calling, wanting to make a movie about Lydia, but for some reason Andrew doesn’t want to sell their rights to the song. Meanwhile, Zoe thinks she wants a divorce, Harry and Ruby start sleeping together when they’re supposed to be studying for the SAT, Andrew is hanging out at a creepy yoga studio, and Elizabeth frets that their idyllic life might be changing and tries to hold them all together. In chapters whose points of view rotate among the players, Straub pays close and loving attention to what foods her characters eat, what they have hanging on their walls, where their money comes from and goes, and the subtle fluctuations of their varying relationships. She’s a precise and observant writer whose supple prose carries the story along without a snag.
Straub’s characters are a quirky and interesting bunch, well aware of their own good fortune, and it’s a pleasure spending time with them in leafy Ditmas Park.