McCall Smith knows how to turn a phrase, but this novel never rises above a low simmer.

THE SECOND-WORST RESTAURANT IN FRANCE

McCall Smith’s sequel to My Italian Bulldozer (2017, etc.) switches its focus from Italy to a small French village where the earlier novel’s hero, a Scottish food writer, falls into very mild adventures while trying to improve the local restaurant.

After finishing his recent food guide to Tuscany, 36-year-old Paul Stuart has returned to Edinburgh and is living “part-time” with his editor/girlfriend, Gloria. But Gloria’s cats prove an annoying distraction whenever Paul sits down to write his newly contracted book on the philosophy of food. When the already lukewarm romance with Gloria sputters out, he accepts an invitation from a relative known to their family as “Remarkable Cousin Chloe” to join her in a village near Poitiers. He’s hoping he’ll have the quiet and peace to finish his philosophy tome before his publisher’s six-month deadline. Instead he ends up hanging out with 50-something Chloe and the landladies of the villa she has leased. These older women involve him in various escapades surrounding the local restaurant described by the novel’s title. The waitress is busy hiding from her new baby’s nefarious father, so Chloe and Paul volunteer to take over for her; the owner, who has no cooking skills, falls for Chloe while Paul finds an unlikely ally in turning the food service around. Paul comments that Chloe strikes him as belonging to an earlier era “when people made tactless remarks and rarely apologized for what they were.” Actually, Chloe’s list of ex-husbands, her mysterious, rather daring career, and her New Age–y politics of kindness make her seem a more contemporary, as well as more intriguing, character than Paul himself. He’s a young fogey who exhibits the formal, bloodless sensibility of someone around 70 (McCall Smith’s age)—affronted by students playing loud music, he rejects passes from several young women and is tired of song lyrics about love.

McCall Smith knows how to turn a phrase, but this novel never rises above a low simmer.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5247-4829-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 13, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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Heartfelt and funny, this enemies-to-lovers romance shows that the best things in life are all-inclusive and nontransferable...

THE UNHONEYMOONERS

An unlucky woman finally gets lucky in love on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.

From getting her hand stuck in a claw machine at age 6 to losing her job, Olive Torres has never felt that luck was on her side. But her fortune changes when she scores a free vacation after her identical twin sister and new brother-in-law get food poisoning at their wedding buffet and are too sick to go on their honeymoon. The only catch is that she’ll have to share the honeymoon suite with her least favorite person—Ethan Thomas, the brother of the groom. To make matters worse, Olive’s new boss and Ethan’s ex-girlfriend show up in Hawaii, forcing them both to pretend to be newlyweds so they don’t blow their cover, as their all-inclusive vacation package is nontransferable and in her sister’s name. Plus, Ethan really wants to save face in front of his ex. The story is told almost exclusively from Olive’s point of view, filtering all communication through her cynical lens until Ethan can win her over (and finally have his say in the epilogue). To get to the happily-ever-after, Ethan doesn’t have to prove to Olive that he can be a better man, only that he was never the jerk she thought he was—for instance, when she thought he was judging her for eating cheese curds, maybe he was actually thinking of asking her out. Blending witty banter with healthy adult communication, the fake newlyweds have real chemistry as they talk it out over snorkeling trips, couples massages, and a few too many tropical drinks to get to the truth—that they’re crazy about each other.

Heartfelt and funny, this enemies-to-lovers romance shows that the best things in life are all-inclusive and nontransferable as well as free.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2803-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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