A well-developed and enchanting odyssey involving an apparition who ends up aiding the living.

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LITTLE DID I KNOW

Helping a spirit to find peace allows a woman to put to rest some of the ghosts in her own life in this debut novel.

Saaina’s fetching protagonist is Jaya, an overworked medical student and researcher in Nashville. Jaya had fled to the United States from her native India to escape her life of privilege and her suffocating family. She’s content with her busy lifestyle, although she develops a yearning for a place of her own. Jaya is drawn to a quaint fixer-upper in the suburbs, which she falls in love with. There is only one problem she hadn’t expected: It’s haunted. One night, she hears noises in a vacant room upstairs, and there, she discovers the diary of Tara, the house’s previous resident. Tara died of cancer, and the diary contains her bucket list, which she had been unable to complete. So Jaya decides to finish the list for Tara to help her spirit move on, with the support of the woman’s old neighbor Leo. At first, the tasks are simple, such as dating a man in uniform and singing karaoke. But she balks when she spots the item “solve a cold case.” In the midst of this crusade, Jaya rushes home to India when her beloved grandmother becomes ill. She also continues working on Tara’s list without realizing that the ghost has been guiding and assisting her all along. The most enjoyable part of Saaina’s novel is watching Jaya evolve from a somewhat self-involved woman to one who goes out of her way to help a perfect (albeit, dead) stranger. While doing so, Jaya gets reconnected to her extended family, which she had tried to leave behind. She even considers the previously unlikely possibility of getting married—to a childhood friend. Saaina, who’s also a native of India, successfully unveils that nation’s upper-caste society, a world unknown to many readers. The author skillfully weaves together seemingly disparate elements—Tara’s list, Jaya’s volunteer cancer research, an Indian cold case, and a charred psychiatric hospital—into a compelling narrative. Jaya’s selfless act results in her ultimately enjoying a fuller life.

A well-developed and enchanting odyssey involving an apparition who ends up aiding the living.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5486-5862-5

Page Count: 362

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2018

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Print the bumper sticker—"I'd Rather Be Living in an Elin Hilderbrand Novel."

WHAT HAPPENS IN PARADISE

Back to St. John with the Steele family, whose tragic loss and horrifying discovery have yielded an exciting new life.

In Winter in Paradise (2018), Hilderbrand introduced Midwestern magazine editor Irene Steele and her adult sons, Baker and Cash, then swept them off to the island of St. John after paterfamilias Russell Steele was killed in a helicopter crash with his secret mistress, leaving a preteen love child and a spectacular villa. While the first volume left a lot up in the air about Russell’s dubious business dealings and the manner of his death, this installment fills in many of the blanks. All three Steeles made new friends during their unexpected visit to the island in January, and now that’s resulted in job offers for Irene and Cash and the promise of new love for single dad Baker. Why not move to St. John and into the empty villa? Mother, sons, and grandson do just that. Both the dead mistress’s diary and a cadre of FBI agents begin to provide answers to the questions left dangling in Volume 1, and romantic prospects unfold for all three Steeles. Nevertheless, as a wise person once said, shit happens, combusting the family’s prospects and leading to a cliffhanger ending. On the way, there will be luscious island atmosphere, cute sundresses, frozen drinks, “slender baguette sandwiches with duck, arugula and fig jam,” lemongrass sugar cookies, and numerous bottles of both Krug and Dom Pérignon, the latter served by a wiseass who offers one of his trademark tasting notes: “This storied bubbly has notes of Canadian pennies, your dad’s Members Only jacket, and…‘We Are Never, Ever, Ever Getting Back Together.’ ” You'll be counting the days until you can return to the Virgin Islands with these characters in the concluding volume of the trilogy.

Print the bumper sticker—"I'd Rather Be Living in an Elin Hilderbrand Novel."

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-43557-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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Honeyman’s endearing debut is part comic novel, part emotional thriller, and part love story.

ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE

A very funny novel about the survivor of a childhood trauma.

At 29, Eleanor Oliphant has built an utterly solitary life that almost works. During the week, she toils in an office—don’t inquire further; in almost eight years no one has—and from Friday to Monday she makes the time go by with pizza and booze. Enlivening this spare existence is a constant inner monologue that is cranky, hilarious, deadpan, and irresistible. Eleanor Oliphant has something to say about everything. Riding the train, she comments on the automated announcements: “I wondered at whom these pearls of wisdom were aimed; some passing extraterrestrial, perhaps, or a yak herder from Ulan Bator who had trekked across the steppes, sailed the North Sea, and found himself on the Glasgow-Edinburgh service with literally no prior experience of mechanized transport to call upon.” Eleanor herself might as well be from Ulan Bator—she’s never had a manicure or a haircut, worn high heels, had anyone visit her apartment, or even had a friend. After a mysterious event in her childhood that left half her face badly scarred, she was raised in foster care, spent her college years in an abusive relationship, and is now, as the title states, perfectly fine. Her extreme social awkwardness has made her the butt of nasty jokes among her colleagues, which don’t seem to bother her much, though one notices she is stockpiling painkillers and becoming increasingly obsessed with an unrealistic crush on a local musician. Eleanor’s life begins to change when Raymond, a goofy guy from the IT department, takes her for a potential friend, not a freak of nature. As if he were luring a feral animal from its hiding place with a bit of cheese, he gradually brings Eleanor out of her shell. Then it turns out that shell was serving a purpose.

Honeyman’s endearing debut is part comic novel, part emotional thriller, and part love story.

Pub Date: May 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2068-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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