An oddly quotidian tale built around a fantastic premise.

A NEW CHANCE

A man dies and becomes reborn as a troubled teenage girl in this literary novel.

In an attempt to avoid arrest for possession, 18-year-old Naomi Donnelly swallowed an entire bag of drugs. Now she’s been in a coma for months with no sign of improvement. Army veteran Mark Kelleher is rushing to a Tinder date when he’s involved in a terrible accident on the highway. Before he can escape the wrecked vehicle, he is engulfed in the resulting flames. He wakes up in a hospital bed screaming about a fire—but he’s no longer in his own body. Instead, he has somehow inhabited the body of Naomi Donnelly: “It was Naomi’s slim hands that lifted up to feel her face and grab a strand of hair to inspect. Yes, long blonde hair, kind of dirty and oily, it seems to have some gooey stuff in it. What has happened to me? Am I still Mark? Or, have I become someone else? Am I crazy?” He decides that, because Mark died in the fire, he must live as Naomi. The new Naomi discusses the issue with her psychotherapist, Dr. Partridge, who believes her story and helps her get released from the mental health facility in which she’s being kept. Partridge also finds her a place to live in the home of the Morrisons, a Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints couple who recently lost their daughter in a drunken driving accident. Naomi decides to enroll in a local college and become a nurse. While working as a nursing intern, she meets Jesse Manzanares, a veteran of the war in Afghanistan and a SWAT member who was shot in the line of duty. The two fall for each other, but their relationship is strained when Naomi decides to enlist as a nurse in the Army Reserve. Like Mark and Jesse before her, Naomi is called to serve in Afghanistan. Throughout her experiences, Naomi runs into strange coincidences that have to do with Mark—but what will she do with this second chance at life?

Ready’s prose is lucid and straightforward, as here where he describes Naomi’s new outfit: “Part of her first paycheck from Kentfield Farms had gone downtown to the big western wear emporium. The jeans were standard skinny-leg, boot-cut women’s jeans, but they had plenty of decorative shiny rivets and rhinestones down the leg seams and on the pockets.” While the premise may sound familiar, this novel is no body-switching comedy. In fact, Mark largely disappears from the story after the first act, subsumed into the much more powerful (if memoryless) Naomi. Nor does the book deal with the issue of switched gender. Rather, the tale—which seems long at over 350 pages—is primarily about Naomi’s development from patient to nursing student to Army nurse. The plot moves slowly, and the characters, for all the time readers spend with them, are disappointingly flat except for Naomi. What’s more, the narrative’s themes—life cycles, growth, learning from mistakes—are somewhat vague and confused. It ends up being a rather sentimental story, though not one that will stir many deep feelings in readers.

An oddly quotidian tale built around a fantastic premise.

Pub Date: June 1, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 370

Publisher: Saint Gardens Press

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2020

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A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

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PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION

A travel writer has one last shot at reconnecting with the best friend she just might be in love with.

Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. She loves wearing bright colors while he prefers khakis and a T-shirt. She likes just about everything while he’s a bit more discerning. And yet, their opposites-attract friendship works because they love each other…in a totally platonic way. Probably. Even though they have their own separate lives (Poppy lives in New York City and is a travel writer with a popular Instagram account; Alex is a high school teacher in their tiny Ohio hometown), they still manage to get together each summer for one fabulous vacation. They grow closer every year, but Poppy doesn’t let herself linger on her feelings for Alex—she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship or the way she can be fully herself with him. They continue to date other people, even bringing their serious partners on their summer vacations…but then, after a falling-out, they stop speaking. When Poppy finds herself facing a serious bout of ennui, unhappy with her glamorous job and the life she’s been dreaming of forever, she thinks back to the last time she was truly happy: her last vacation with Alex. And so, though they haven’t spoken in two years, she asks him to take another vacation with her. She’s determined to bridge the gap that’s formed between them and become best friends again, but to do that, she’ll have to be honest with Alex—and herself—about her true feelings. In chapters that jump around in time, Henry shows readers the progression (and dissolution) of Poppy and Alex’s friendship. Their slow-burn love story hits on beloved romance tropes (such as there unexpectedly being only one bed on the reconciliation trip Poppy plans) while still feeling entirely fresh. Henry’s biggest strength is in the sparkling, often laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, particularly the banter-filled conversations between Poppy and Alex. But there’s depth to the story, too—Poppy’s feeling of dissatisfaction with a life that should be making her happy as well as her unresolved feelings toward the difficult parts of her childhood make her a sympathetic and relatable character. The end result is a story that pays homage to classic romantic comedies while having a point of view all its own.

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0675-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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