All posts filed under: Reviews

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Lucky Alan and Other Stories by Jonathan Lethem

Prolific writer Jonathan Lethem explores the absurb and the arcane in his new short story collection, Lucky Alan. Jonathan Lethem’s career in writing has garnered him much praise for his ingenuity and his handling of both the novel and short form. More than anything, his new collection, Lucky Alan, is an example of his diversity as a storyteller, or rather of his refusal to adhere to rules and structure. With a Salingerian total of nine stories, the new book charts a rambling journey across surrealism and pop culture, through sharp observations and comic absurdity alike. Its diversity is both its strength and weakness insofar as it shows off much of Lethem’s literary scope, yet requires much commitment and elasticity from the reader. The first story, which takes its name from the collection’s title, finds the narrator entranced by a famous theater director named Sigismund Blondy, with whom he begins to develop a comfortable camaraderie over bad films and wine bars. Blondy is an elusive figure who radiates a certain New York brand of charm. When …

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Poison Bay by Belinda Pollard

Belinda Pollard’s debut novel tells the story of eight friends whose lives were shattered one fateful night ten years ago, when one of their own made a tragic decision. Reuniting in New Zealand for a hike to commemorate their mutual loss, Callie finds herself looking into the familiar faces she hasn’t seen in a decade. Conservationist Bryan is heading the group, with outdoorsman Adam and handsome lawyer Kain among the crew, as well as Jack, now a reverend, whom no one ever gave much thought to; there’s also petite nurse Erica, sweet-tempered Rachel, and dowdy, unassuming Sharon. What begins as a hopeful tribute and quirky reunion, however, soon becomes a crusade of nightmarish proportions as betrayals are revealed and someone among their group dies. Thrown into shock and at the mercy of the harsh mountain elements, Callie and her seven companions will risk everything to survive as loyalties are tested, truths are revealed, and the stark tragedy of their past finally catches up with them. Poison Bay is the rare debut that feels as though …

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The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

In her new novel, The Nightingale, Kristin Hannah shows readers a Nazi-occupied France through the eyes of the women kept prisoner in their own homeland. Kristin Hannah’s newest novel is the story of sisters Isabelle and Viann, young women still feeling the aftershocks of the First World War, which uprooted their lives and made their father a stranger to them. After their mother’s death, the ties that bound their family seemed altogether severed; Isabelle was sent off to boarding school after boarding school while Viann married the young love of her life and began trying to stitch together a new story for her new family in the country. But when World War II erupts in Europe and Nazi officers begin occupying France, Viann and Isabelle’s lives are pushed and pulled again – joined together, ripped apart, even as they both fumble with the ultimately indestructible tatters of their sisterhood. There’s so much to The Nightingale that touches the heart – so much sorrow, so much courage, so much importance – that it becomes a bit …

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Damaged Goods by Jack Everett and David Coles

Having penned five novels together, authors David Coles and Jack Everett are back with the first in their new Inspector White series. Damaged Goods intertwines the stories of a tortured American soldier on a rampage and the crafty British cop on his trail, two very different men whose paths cross in the ultimate test of will. DI Stewart White, newly arrived in Leeds to head up the area police office, is investigating a string of murders that seemed to have been committed by a preternaturally skilled warrior. Robert Cleghorn, a former Special Forces operative governed by severe mental and emotional trauma, is determined to reunite with the British woman who stole his heart – whatever, or whomever, the cost. As Cleghorn tears his way through the country, the clock is counting down for White to figure out his motive, his identity, and his ultimate end-game. Damaged Goods is a superb start to a promising new series, with a consistently engaging story from beginning to end. The authors write from several different angles in this novel: …

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Murphy’s Law by Rhys Bowen

In Murphy’s Law Rhys Bowen introduces readers to amateur sleuth Molly Murphy and a colorful reimagining of turn-of-the-century New York City where mystery, romance, and murder await. Molly Murphy is a smart and quick-witted Irish woman on the run from the police in her home country. With a stroke of luck, she befriends a woman who helps gain her passage across the Atlantic. Once arrived at Ellis Island, Molly finds the New York of 1901 more challenging than her dreams suggested – especially when a murder is committed before her party even sets foot on Manhattan. Now the prime suspect, Molly will have to track the real murderer across this strange new world in order to clear her name. When one first reads Murphy’s Law it’s easy to see how the book paved the way for a beloved series. It’s a novel filled with charm, wit, and suspense; Bowen’s titular creation seems to jump off the page and directly into the hearts of her readers with all her honest gumption and mischievous curiosity – not …

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A Lark Ascending by John B. Campbell

Following up his 2012 debut, John B. Campbell sets his sights on Whitechapel in A Lark Ascending to tell the story of Malcolm Roberts, a young EastEnder whose curiosity leads him into the middle of a treacherous mystery. It’s the 1920s and racial tensions are high across London as Chinese locals continue to face prejudice and even danger. When Malclom stumbles across a plot by local radicals to eradicate the Chinese population of Limehouse, his simple life in the East End becomes the target of sinister shadows lingering at every corner. After a devastating murder hits close to home, Malclom must join forces with his friend Sid, a young woman named Katja, and a street urchin named Jun to solve a mystery and unravel a vicious plot. In A Lark Ascending John Campbell builds on his talent for cultivating the vivid atmosphere of an historical setting. The East End becomes at once familiar and brand new to readers as we witness its complexity and grit through the eyes of a young local. Malcolm adds particular …

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Secret of a Thousand Beauties by Mingmei Yip

Mingmei Yip’s new novel, Secret of a Thousand Beauties, follows the tumultuous life of a young woman in 1930s China. Spring Swallow is only seventeen when she becomes a ghost bride. Determined to avoid a passionless life of servitude and deference, she devises an escape from her vicious aunt and conspiring in-laws. Her journey takes her to Soochow and a house full of women who create sweeping embroideries. Under the watchful eye of the admonishing matriarch, Aunty Peony, Spring Swallow unlocks a hidden talent for embroidery, and slowly she begins to build her life anew. But her quiet existence is soon interrupted when Aunty Peony’s mysterious past catches up with them all and new tragedies begin to impact Spring Swallow’s life. Memories of her ghost husband seem to linger ominously, even after she meets handsome revolutionary Shen Feng. As the trajectory of her life begins to tilt in overwhelming new directions, taking her from rural Soochow to the bustling city of Peking, Spring Swallow must rely on her own courage and newfound skills to overcome …

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A Rose for the Crown by Anne Easter Smith

Anne Easter Smith’s A Rose for the Crown shapes fiction from fact during the life of Richard III. The novel sweeps her reader up into all the romance, tragedy, and intrigue of the War of the Roses as the author spins a story about the king’s illegitimate children and the woman who bore them. There’s a fascinating marriage of history and creative exploration in the premise of the story: while the mother of Richard’s children has never been discovered, Smith has crafted a heroine for the role inspired by a woman who existed in Richard’s time and had connections with the king: Katherine Haute. Using one of history’s most convoluted monarchs and a fictional woman drawn from the silhouette of truth, Anne Easter Smith crafts a sweeping and beautiful epic of secret love and ruthless war; of the true heart of family, and most especially of the impossible bonds that connect us throughout life. A Rose for the Crown also struck me as being very much a tribute to the forgotten women of the 15th …