Boston readers might enjoy the close attention to city landmarks, but there’s not much else to recommend this thriller.

METROPOLIS

An eclectic cast of characters converges in a self-storage warehouse where crime lurks in every unit.

“Metropolis” is the name of a seedy self-storage facility in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where several renters are hiding more than old furniture and paperwork. Liddy, a wealthy housewife with a violent husband, spends drug-fueled afternoons in a unit stuffed with her children's old toys. Jason, a lawyer fired from his prestigious firm and left by his wife, hangs a shingle outside his unit and practices law from a makeshift office inside. Marta, a brilliant Venezuelan graduate student whose visa has been revoked, lives in her unit while on the run from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The building’s owner, Zach, and his employee, Rose, look the other way when renters break the law by occupying units intended for inanimate objects. These arrangements might have continued peacefully were it not for a violent incident, foreshadowed on the first page, in which a man is seriously injured in the building’s elevator shaft. Through chapters narrated from the perspectives of several characters, the story of the incident—and its aftermath—unfolds slowly. Unfortunately, the characters are wooden, making it difficult to invest in their demise or salvation. The attempt to create a racially diverse cast flounders due to careless reliance on stereotypes. Black characters, including Jason, consistently curse more than White characters, both in unconvincing dialogue and in interior monologue. Marta, the undocumented immigrant, has little storyline beyond her panicked desire to stay in America. A snappy plot or spirited sentences might partially salvage the stock characters, but this novel has neither.

Boston readers might enjoy the close attention to city landmarks, but there’s not much else to recommend this thriller.

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-61620-958-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

HORSE

A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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A unique story of transcendent love.

LAYLA

An aimless young musician meets the girl of his dreams only to have his newfound happiness threatened by several inexplicable—and possibly supernatural—events.

The story opens as Leeds Gabriel meets with a detective while his girlfriend, Layla, is restrained in a room one flight above them. Through the interview, readers learn that Leeds was wasting both his time and his musical talent playing backup for a small-town wedding troupe called Garrett’s Band when he spied Layla dancing her heart out to their mediocre music at a wedding. When Leeds approaches Layla, their connection is both instant and intense. A blissful courtship follows, but then Leeds makes the mistake of posting a picture of himself with Layla on social media. A former girlfriend–turned-stalker wastes no time in finding and attacking Layla. Layla spends months recovering in a hospital, and it seems the girl Leeds fell for might be forever changed. Gone is her special spark, her quirkiness, and the connection that had entranced Leeds months before. In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, he brings Layla back to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. When they get there, though, Leeds meets Willow, another guest, and finds himself drawn to her in spite of himself. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Willow will either be the key to saving Leeds’ relationship with Layla or the catalyst that finally extinguishes the last shreds of their epic romance. Told entirely from Leeds’ point of view, the author’s first foray into paranormal romance does not disappoint. Peppered with elements of mystery, psychological thriller, and contemporary romance, the novel explores questions about how quickly true love can develop, as well as the conflicts that can imperil even the strongest connections. Despite a limited cast of characters and very few setting changes, the narrative manages to remain both fast-paced and engaging. The conclusion leaves a few too many loose ends, but the chemistry between the characters and unexpected twists throughout make for a satisfying read.

A unique story of transcendent love.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0017-8

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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