Maddie fell hard for Ian, British security detail, when she taught English in Bulgaria and her BFF Joanna was a humanitarian working in Macedonia before and during their civil war. He’s hard to pin down, even after she marries him despite Joanna’s inexplicable hostility toward him. He insists on moving from NYC to her small, Kansas hometown, though he spends much of his time in the Eastern bloc, working in a security business he started with his brother after leaving his government position. The story unfolds in layers as it goes back and forth in time and around the globe to explain the horrible murder. Ward does an excellent job evoking sympathy for Maddie, who appears to be on the receiving end of Ian’s PTSD. This novel portrays young American idealists who get caught up in tragedy, differences in maturity levels of best friends, and how lack of self-awareness contributes to obfuscation, as a mismatched romance leads to its horrifying conclusion. I was fortunate to receive this brilliant story from the publisher Park Row Books through NetGalley.
The main character is a self-proclaimed misanthropic, remorseless pedophile. Yet Dear Reader is compelled by his story, so strange and vulgar, as he recounts how his life intertwined with the wicked girl of the title, Elsie, the girl he cannot forget. She’s one of those girls that brings out the desire in others to care for her and make her their own, frustrating John immensely in his attempts to analyze her. Dear Reader will also work on determining who are the puppets and who are the masters in this twisting tale of control and deceit. Olokita’s sparse writing style serves this story well, as the characters interact and relate in odd ways, each with a tenuous grasp on reality, and a skewed idea of truth. The punchline will send Dear Reader back to the beginning of the book to wrap up everything. Olokita is a unique voice whose works catapult readers through stories without investing them too deeply in the chaos. One wonders how the tone has changed in the translation from Hebrew. His novels are always interesting. I was given a digital copy of this story translated into English by the author for an honest review.
After leaving a California psychiatric prison, Sean Suh relocates to Austin, Texas, where he spends his days drawing people and their auras at a local Disneyland knockoff. A girl with a copper aura tempts him despite his understanding that he need protect her from himself. He witnesses her kidnapping, but no one believes him based on his mental health and conviction record, and suspicion falls more heavily on him as he conducts his own investigation. He learns interesting things about this girl he has immediately fallen for, but he could not have foreseen who did it. Heard brilliantly leads the reader through Sean’s emotional turmoil at each new piece of information; this could well be a manual for becoming a serial killer. Flashbacks from Annabelle’s point of view would have given her more depth. Being privy to Sean’s thoughts exposed his internal struggle, a fascinating insight that almost (but not quite) invokes compassion. Fans of Liane Moriarty and Gillian Flynn will appreciate this novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this fantastic thriller from the publisher through NetGalley.
Katie suffers post-partum OCD in silence for fear of destroying her life, but loses that life when her husband Callum realizes that he’s ignored her problem too long and feels their marriage is irreparable and their daughter is in danger. She disappears and he raises Maisie alone, with support from his best friend Jake, cutting out Katie’s sister Delaney also. In a jarring coincidence, Katie’s artistry brings her in contact with her daughter, who believes her mother died, and she sees evidence of inherited OCD. She must convince Callum, a man whose past blinds him to his family’s needs. With Callum’s pregnant second wife included in the family picture, alliances shift, romances are roused, and a little girl teaches adults how to behave. Though the repetition can be nettlesome to the reader, Katie’s constant fears and reminders demonstrate the experience of OCD. There may have been a bit much to the back and forth of convincing Callum, since Katie’s argument never really shifts. Persistence seems to be the key to OCD. It’s clear the author did her research and she acknowledges her resources. This is a good story to read for a sympathetic, but not pitying, representation of living with a mental illness.
Finn told police the half-truth about Layla disappearing from a rest stop on their vacation in Fonches, France. More than a dozen years later, strange happenings at home in England make Finn believe that Layla is alive and upset that he is about to marry her sister. Paris leads the reader on a wild adventure, implicating culprits right and left, with Finn alternately dismissing suspicions and accusing friends aggressively. Hints of Layla show up in objects significant to her life and emails with information only she would know, causing Finn dreadful hope. The author brilliantly traverses through the landscape of a troubled mind, then reverts to a trope of spelling out the resolution in a lengthy letter, a bit disappointing after such magnificent writing. The resolution itself may astonish the most clever reader in its unique take on the concept. It’s a definite must read. I was fortunate to receive an ARC of this fantastic thriller from the publisher through NetGalley.
Anna “Bencke” Grieve’s life changed after Tsar Alexander II’s assassination. In fear for their lives as Jews, her mother, a privileged servant, asked her employers Count and Countess Chernovski to take Bencke and her older sister Esther with them to Canada. The Chernovski’s later adopt them, believing their parents to be dead. Bencke does her best to care for Esther, who suffers episodes from traumatic memories that incapacitate her at times, as she herself tries to fit her eccentric personality into Countess Chernovski’s picture perfect household. Decades later, Anna receives a phone call from the Winnipeg police informing her that her sister has committed suicide by stepping in front of a train. She heads to Canada seeking the truth. The story alternates between this investigation and a backstory of a life fully lived, from Anna’s forced relocation to NYC, to circumstances causing her to be deported to Russia during WWI. In the investigation, Anna learns her sister’s secrets and must live with them now.
Chisvin brings history to life in Anna’s story, as dear reader sees her torn from her family as a child after her country’s leader is killed and Jews are blamed, and as an activist for women’s rights alongside Margaret Sanger. She becomes a part of the melting pot that is NYC, falls into the fear of Americans who deport her in the war, and witnesses the disorder of Russia as essentially an outsider. Chisvin brings closure to Anna in her mixed emotions of finally being free of her sister as it breaks her heart. The last line of the book is brilliant in its imagery of this closure.
I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this beautiful story from the publisher through NetGalley.
Patricia sacrifices her social life and romance to care for her mother, whom everyone assumes is going through “the change.” Patty knows better, but doesn’t know how to help her mother find herself after accommodating her husband their entire marriage. As she and her siblings come of age, they move on and away from their parents, becoming distinctly different individuals who come together in the end for Patty’s wedding. Told in short story form, going back generations, the women in Patty’s ancestry lay a foundation of accommodation and depression that she is determined to escape. The women in these stories are strong, but historical convention keeps them in check, and they don’t have the tools to continually fight social mores of gender expectations. The writing flows so well that the stories lead right into each other, though they can, and have (and won prizes), stand alone. Together, they show the pattern repeated by each generation of women in choosing partners to “save” them from their families, judging poorly based on immediate escape. That they stay with their ill choices is more a matter of their time in history, as shown by Patty’s mother being unable to get a driver’s license without her husband’s or father’s permission.
The tales in this book depict would-be heroines succumbing the constraints of patriarchal society, straining to be free. That Patty’s father has a “heart attack” when her mother announces that she is leaving him will be familiar to many women. Thus she stays out of obligation, a heart-rending decision.
Vanessa struggles to move on after her divorce from a self-made, influential businessman. She recalls him controlling her every move. He recounts her episodes of irrational behavior that led to his decision to divorce her. The journey to the truth bends back upon itself time and again as Vanessa reaches out to her replacement to warn her.
The cliffhangers skillfully expose each character. The writing is so tight that there’s no unraveling the narrative to reveal these secrets too soon. I love the unconventional ending that brings everyone back down to earth.
Readers who love unreliable narrators, complicated romance, and impossible situations will enjoy this story.
Thank you to Netgalley.com for the opportunity to read this ARC.