A sometimes-problematic story that relies too heavily on its protagonist’s supposed flawlessness.



A young woman begins a modeling career to escape from her hometown in Zahr’s novel.

Rimahas been training to be a concert pianist ever since she received a piano for her 12th birthday. She loves making music, but her ultimate goal is to get out of her Russian hometown of Kursk and make a life for herself in the West. While vacationing on a cruise ship, she’s discovered by a modeling scout who’s taken with her beauty. Rima feels conflicted at first but eventually sees that modeling might be her ticket out of Russia. While temporarily living in Moscow before a modeling job, she meets an American named Alexander Loft, for whom she develops romantic feelings. As she becomes prominent in her field, she continues to think about what she really wants out of life. Zahr is a proficient writer, and her prose is often well crafted. However, the story that she tells isn’t particularly exciting. As a protagonist, Rima is a bit too perfect to be fully engaging: She’s a skilled musician who’s breathtakingly beautiful and becomes successful at modeling with relatively little effort. The overall plot has very low stakes aside from one questionable point of conflict that many readers will find offensive: Alexander has been intimate with a man in the past, and he’s seeing a therapist as a result, spurred by Rima’s assumption that he’s somehow confused about his sexual orientation. Alexander learns that he’s bisexual, but when he eventually gets a boyfriend, the story troublingly paints his bisexuality as a stop on the way to being gay—and also notes that he only managed to love Rima because she was “so perfect.”

A sometimes-problematic story that relies too heavily on its protagonist’s supposed flawlessness.

Pub Date: Oct. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951933-80-7

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.


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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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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