A well-crafted mash-up of romance and prison life.

Song of the Blackbird

In this first installment of a planned, prison-set series, a new doctor takes a job where her half brother is incarcerated, but she hides their relationship from the attractive warden.

Emma Edwards arrives for her first day as a doctor at California’s Albatross Prison, outside of LA, to witness warden Maxim Chambers giving a disciplinary beating to an inmate. She’s particularly appalled at this, due to her sympathy for prisoners. Her younger half brother, Sam Morris, is doing time for having drugs on him when he was interviewed by police, after killing his abusive father to protect Emma’s now-deceased mother. Emma took this job to find and reconnect with Sam, and she soon discovers that he works as one of the prison doctors’ porters. He warns her to leave, because if authorities find out that she’s hiding their kinship, it would hurt her career. He’s also traumatized by his own past and troubled by new prison pressures. As Emma tries to get Sam and other prisoners better medical assistance, she and Maxim spar over their different attitudes toward inmates as well as their growing attraction to each other. Emma soon learns the sad reason for Maxim’s tough attitude, which drove the wealthy man to take a job as a warden. Maxim, meanwhile, feels new emotions in Emma’s presence, including an urge to protect her and jealousy over her dealings with Sam and a handsome prison psychiatrist. By novel’s end, after several deaths and scary physical attacks, Emma and Maxim eventually arrive at a clearer understanding of each other, their love, and past tragedies. Debut novelist Michaels, a doctor herself, brings verve and veracity to this smooth-flowing hybrid romance/suspense tale. Emma’s clinic scenes, which showcase both prisoners’ manipulations and their mitigating circumstances, are particularly realistic and resonant. Michaels also weaves in lovely, literary through-lines, such as the half siblings’ mutual love of birds and comets, which becomes a linchpin in the overall plot. Although the romance has some over-the-top, fairy-tale elements, such as the convenient fact that the brawny warden is also wealthy, Michaels has produced a captivating story overall.

A well-crafted mash-up of romance and prison life.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Dream Tower Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2016

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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