An intriguing premise turns disappointingly banal.

A Venezuelan family living illegally in Trinidad is forced to work for a crime lord in this comic novel.

Twenty-four-year-old Yola Palacio and her extended family are having a backyard barbecue when a man holding a gun strides into the gathering, introduces himself as Ugly, and announces that Yola’s recently deceased Aunt Celia owed him a large sum of money, which the entire Palacios family must pay off by working for him—on pain of death or deportation back to the dysfunctional Venezuela they fled two years earlier. The four Palacios households begin receiving waves of illegal immigrants, whom they must house, feed, and entertain for free. Shuttling these refugees is Ugly’s handsome enforcer, Román, toward whom Yola feels an immediate and bewildering carnal pull. Soon the Palacios settle into a sort of rhythm: Every few months, they host “a mix of fleeing intellectuals, political refugees, impoverished asylum seekers, and a smattering of adventurers just looking for a new start,” befriending their kinder guests and tolerating the obnoxious ones. Everyone, that is, except Yola's Aunt Milagros, who becomes suspicious of the refugees and eventually shoots a child living in her home. Román tells Yola—they’ve become lovers who bond over their “shared love of books”—that he’s sent Milagros back to Venezuela and told Ugly that she’s dead, and the remaining Palacios are forced to work in Ugly’s clandestine high-end strip club in various capacities. Debut author Mackenzie maintains a jangly, casual sort of humor throughout (“My father was born for safe-housing illegal migrants…he fell upon our new houseguests with all the bonhomie of a Sandals Resort manager, bearing three buckets of fried chicken and a bottle of rum”). But just as often her prose is choked with clichés—“With a thunder crack, in a perfect display of pathetic fallacy, the clouds split.” And while the novel provides a much-needed view into the many double binds of illegal immigration, it also, troublingly, seems to prop up stereotypes. At one point, Yola curses her “inability to thwart all those genetically wired impulses that allow pop culture to accurately peg Latin women as 'feisty,' 'fiery,' and 'mothafuckin’ crazy as shit.' ” Really?

An intriguing premise turns disappointingly banal.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982128-91-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: 37 Ink/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020


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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