A moody gothic tale that deftly explores gender fluidity in a genre setting.

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CONCESSION STREET SECRETS

In this historical mystery, an intersex detective attempts to save her unrequited love from execution.

Canada, 1868. Alex O’Shea really wants to be a detective but instead works as a journalist and novelist, authoring mysteries to satisfy his crime-solving urges. While on assignment in Ottawa, he encounters a woman dressed in black who seems not to know where she is despite having lived all her life in the town. Mary Baker is kept as a veritable prisoner in her house by her own relatives, and the smitten Alex feels compelled to discover more about her. Eliza Malkins works as a printer for a Kingston newspaper, where her male co-workers ridicule her large size and resent her for doing “a job that rightfully belonged to a man.” She has feelings for Alex but fears to act on them due to her secret: She has both male and female sexual organs. When the death of her mother finally allows her the opportunity to try something new, Eliza decides to live as a man named Timothy Fairlight. As Tim, she aids Alex in his ever-more-obsessive investigation into the lives of the Bakers until, in an ironic twist of events, Alex becomes the suspect in a murder. Now Eliza—or rather, Tim—must assume the role of sleuth to prove Alex’s innocence. Smith’s (Deep Bright, 2013) prose is delightfully ominous, creating a gothic atmosphere that adeptly recalls the novel’s Victorian setting: “The street was deserted. The tall houses seemed to be leaning over to conspire with each other. He stepped in horse manure and used a pocket handkerchief to wipe it off. He risked walking under a streetlight to read his pocket watch, 11:58.” The identity-shifting Eliza makes for an intriguing hero with desires that are simultaneously familiar and complex. While the other characters mostly hew closely to their archetypes, the story is satisfying in the heightened way of a good whodunit. In the author’s capable hands, Ottawa and Kingston have never seemed so mysterious.

A moody gothic tale that deftly explores gender fluidity in a genre setting.

Pub Date: April 17, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5255-4754-6

Page Count: 300

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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