Lots of characters. Not a lot of depth.

A Booker Prize–shortlisted author chronicles the lives of graduate students at a Midwestern university.

There’s a perverse energy to writing workshops. The ostensible goal is for writers to help each other improve their writing by critiquing it, but what everybody in the room—aside, maybe, from the presiding genius—wants is affirmation. Taylor captures this tension wonderfully in the opening scenes of his new novel. The central figure here is Seamus, a poet who not only refuses to praise “personal history transmuted into a system of vague gestures toward greater works,” but also dares to reveal his honest evaluation of another poet’s work. In addition to writing poetry, Seamus cooks for hospice patients. He’s an interesting character, and even readers who think he’s a jerk—an easily defended assessment—are almost certainly going to care about what he does and what happens to him. The opening chapter—Seamus’ story—could stand alone as a piece of short fiction, but the same is not true of what follows. In the next chapter, Taylor follows Fyodor and begins to introduce more characters than a reader can reasonably be expected to get invested in or even remember. The characters begin to lose specificity. Noah is a dancer, as is Fatima. Ivan was a dancer, but now he’s studying finance and making money via something that looks like OnlyFans. Fyodor works in a slaughterhouse, and his partner is a vegetarian. But Taylor only intermittently gives these characters and their situations the same attention he gave Seamus, and there are characters swirling around the periphery who barely register but require keeping track of. Complicated and unhappy relationships and sex that seems more like a reflex than a choice are the main motifs throughout much of the novel. Some readers might see the introduction of a new point-of-view character on Page 231 as a fresh start. Other readers might just give up.

Lots of characters. Not a lot of depth.

Pub Date: May 23, 2023

ISBN: 9780593332337

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2023


A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.

Three woman who join together to rent a large space along the beach in Los Angeles for their stores—a gift shop, a bakery, and a bookstore—become fast friends as they each experience the highs, and lows, of love.

Bree is a friendly but standoffish bookstore owner who keeps everyone she knows at arm’s length, from guys she meets in bars to her friends. Mikki is a settled-in-her-routines divorced mother of two, happily a mom, gift-shop owner, and co-parent with her ex-husband, Perry. And Ashley is a young, very-much-in-love bakery owner specializing in muffins who devotes herself to giving back to the community through a nonprofit that helps community members develop skills and find jobs. When the women meet drooling over a boardwalk storefront that none of them can afford on her own, a plan is hatched to divide the space in three, and a friendship—and business partnership—is born. An impromptu celebration on the beach at sunset with champagne becomes a weekly touchpoint to their lives as they learn more about each other and themselves. Their friendship blossoms as they help each other, offering support, hard truths, and loving backup. Author Mallery has created a delightful story of friendship between three women that also offers a variety of love stories as they fall in love, make mistakes, and figure out how to be the best—albeit still flawed—versions of themselves. The men are similarly flawed and human. While the story comes down clearly on the side of all-encompassing love, Mallery has struck a careful balance: There is just enough sex to be spicy, just enough swearing to be naughty, and just enough heartbreak to avoid being cloying.

A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-778-38608-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022


The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

This historical fever dream of a novel follows the flight of a servant girl through the Colonial American wilderness, red in tooth and claw.

As in her last novel, Matrix (2021), Groff’s imaginative journey into a distant time and place is powered by a thrumming engine of language and rhythm. “She had chosen to flee, and in so choosing, she had left behind her everything she had, her roof, her home, her country, her language, the only family she had ever known, the child Bess, who had been born into her care when she was herself a small child of four years or so, her innocence, her understanding of who she was, her dreams of who she might one day be if only she could survive this starving time." Those onrushing sentences will follow the girl, “sixteen or seventeen or perhaps eighteen years of age,” through the wilderness surrounding the desperate colony, driven by famine and plague into barbarism, through the territory of “the powhatan and pamunkey” to what she hopes will be “the settlements of frenchmen, canada,” a place she once saw pointed out on a map. The focus is on the terrors of survival, the exigencies of starvation, the challenges of locomotion, the miseries of a body wounded, infected, and pushed beyond its limit. What plot there is centers on learning the reason for her flight and how it will end, but the book must be read primarily for its sentences and the light it shines on the place of humans in the order of the world. Whether she is eating baby birds and stealing the fluff from the mother’s nest to line her boots, having a little tea party with her meager trove of possessions, temporarily living inside a tree trunk that comes with a pantry full of grubs (spiders prove less tasty), or finally coming to rest in a way neither she nor we can foresee, immersion in the girl’s experience provides a virtual vacation from civilization that readers may find deeply satisfying.

The writing is inspired, the imaginative power near mystic, but some will wish for more plot.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2023

ISBN: 9780593418390

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2023

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