A razor-sharp, oddly fun but sometimes clunky romp through the American West.

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ANNA INCOGNITO

A borderline recluse in California with a few mental problems embarks on a road trip to her psychologist’s wedding in this novel.

Anna Beck suffers from an uncommon condition. She has trichotillomania, a disorder that leads her to pull every hair out of her body. She also has obsessive-compulsive disorder, so accomplishing ordinary tasks can be quite difficult. Nonetheless, she possesses a witty and sardonic sense of humor and goes to great lengths to tackle her problems. As a germophobe, she finds a laundromat called the Fluffitorium disgusting, so she arranges with the owner to clean the place after it closes so she can disinfect it while free from other people contaminating the premises. As it happens, she met her psychologist, Dr. Edward Denture, at the Fluffitorium when he boldly used her reserved washing machines (“I know that’s an unusual place to meet someone who would change the course of your life, but we both had run out of underwear,” Anna muses). Now, an envelope arrives in the mail, inviting Anna to Edward’s wedding in Colorado. Six months before, she thought she was in love, or at least lust, with Edward but now he is engaged to April Fennimore-Klein. With Anna’s disorders, travel is next to impossible but she cannot fathom Edward’s getting married and wants to stop the wedding. She coerces her friend Petra into securing a car for her, and then, armed with an inordinate amount of hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, puts her wig on straight and heads out on the road. Things go smoothly for a while, but a bizarre, transient mother and daughter latch on to Anna, throwing her already madcap life into further disarray. The protagonist’s acerbic wit and mordant tone work well in the difficult material in Preble’s unconventional road novel. With a downstairs neighbor from Flatbush, Brooklyn, added to the mix, Anna’s small world is full of biting humor effectively used to deal with personal pain, and it keeps the story from getting too heavy. Flashbacks to sessions with Edward are handled well and have insightful moments, though Anna’s reticence to reveal things slows the tale down a bit. Unfortunately, the only other major characters, the troubled mother and daughter, are mostly an annoyance until the story is too far along for it to matter.

A razor-sharp, oddly fun but sometimes clunky romp through the American West.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64307-136-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Mascot Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 12, 2020

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Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

DEAR EDWARD

A 12-year-old boy is the sole survivor of a plane crash—a study in before and after.

Edward Adler is moving to California with his adored older brother, Jordan, and their parents: Mom is a scriptwriter for television, Dad is a mathematician who is home schooling his sons. They will get no further than Colorado, where the plane goes down. Napolitano’s (A Good Hard Look, 2011, etc.) novel twins the narrative of the flight from takeoff to impact with the story of Edward’s life over the next six years. Taken in by his mother’s sister and her husband, a childless couple in New Jersey, Edward’s misery is constant and almost impermeable. Unable to bear sleeping in the never-used nursery his aunt and uncle have hastily appointed to serve as his bedroom, he ends up bunking next door, where there's a kid his age, a girl named Shay. This friendship becomes the single strand connecting him to the world of the living. Meanwhile, in alternating chapters, we meet all the doomed airplane passengers, explore their backstories, and learn about their hopes and plans, every single one of which is minutes from obliteration. For some readers, Napolitano’s premise will be too dark to bear, underlining our terrible vulnerability to random events and our inability to protect ourselves or our children from the worst-case scenario while also imagining in exhaustive detail the bleak experience of survival. The people around Edward have no idea how to deal with him; his aunt and uncle try their best to protect him from the horrors of his instant celebrity as Miracle Boy. As one might expect, there is a ray of light for Edward at the end of the tunnel, and for hardier readers this will make Napolitano’s novel a story of hope.

Well-written and insightful but so heartbreaking that it raises the question of what a reader is looking for in fiction.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-5478-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Intense passion is concealed behind a facade of British modesty in this understated yet blazing story of hearts wounded and...

WE MUST BE BRAVE

This chronicle of an Englishwoman’s life across the middle of the 20th century radiates love and suffering through a caring but incomplete marriage, war, and aching affection for other people’s children.

In scenes lit by small yet plangent detail, Liardet’s U.S. debut offers a slow reveal of a story, piecing together Ellen Calvert’s life in the English village of Upton. Born into a wealthy family, Ellen was 11 in 1932 “when things started disappearing,” the first indication of the financial ruin that would lead to her father’s suicide and the family’s shameful, swift descent into poverty and hunger, leavened only by the unspoken kindness of a small local community. Ellen emerges from this emotional crucible a determined, clearheaded, reserved young woman who recognizes, at 18, that love could be hers in the form of 39-year-old mill owner Selwyn Parr. But Parr was damaged in World War I, and although his feelings for Ellen are tender and complete, they will never include a sexual relationship. Liardet does a fine job of seeding the past into the present, dropping hints of Ellen’s terrible early suffering while introducing married, practical Ellen in 1940 as she opens her home to Pamela, the 5-year-old survivor of a bombing raid in nearby Southampton. Unexpectedly, and without, at first, Selwyn’s blessing, Ellen finds herself falling into the devoted role of Pamela’s mother. Quicksilver Pamela, however, is only hers temporarily. The novel’s long arc reaches far beyond the end of the war; by the 1970s, Ellen is a widow, suddenly awoken again, through the needs of another desperate child, to the bright spirit of Pamela. Lovely, unshowy prose—“Outside the air was like milk. We had these fogs from time to time”—gives lyrical life to the countryside, the seasons, and to Ellen’s sensitivities during a long span of endurance and profound emotion.

Intense passion is concealed behind a facade of British modesty in this understated yet blazing story of hearts wounded and restored.

Pub Date: Feb. 26, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1886-4

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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