Incense and Sensibility by Sonali Dev

The Raje family series continues with Yash Raje campaigning for Governor of California. At a rally, his bodyguard and best friend is critically injured, leaving Yash with panic attacks that interfere with his campaign. His family refers him to India Dashwood, a family friend who just happens to be a stress management coach they trust to be discreet. Of course, they don’t know that Yash broke her heart a decade earlier. Dev seamlessly coalesces the different perspectives of each character into the family story as a whole through each new novel. My favorite aspect of her books is that she always has two main characters that will make the most stubbornly self-proclaimed non-romance fan swoon. The novels are standalone, but are much better when building on the previous ones. I highly recommend anything by Sonali Dev, and especially the Raje series. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher / author through NetGalley.

What You Can See From Here by Mariana Leky

This story opens with an omen of a village matriarch dreaming of an animal she’s only seen in photographs, setting everyone on edge, since this has always been followed by a death in the village. This is really her granddaughter Luise’s story, how she becomes a part of the larger world while staying in her village. Though foretold by the omen, the death comes as a shock to the entire village, tugging connections and shifting perspectives, grief overshadowing all. I love how the author infuses a little bit of magic into the story through the unusual perspectives, beliefs, and seemingly accurate superstitions. Leky’s characters are all laid out for the reader, since everyone seems to know everything about everyone else, and she lets us in on all the secrets. Though emotional, it’s easy to stand back from the story and see the whole picture. I was fortunate to receive this wonderful story from the publisher Farrar, Straus, and Giroux through NetGalley.

Collodian by Greg Morgan

UPDATE: The author has contacted me to politely inform me that he did indeed have sensitivity editors, several specialists in the field of autism and one on the spectrum, as well as a Cherokee native. He was highly professional in his response.

This book started out promising, with a quirky main character who falls Forest Gump-like into fame as a photographer of Civil War battles. When he meets his soulmate, a young woman dressing as a man for her job as embalmer and also because it suits her, it feels fateful. However, Lou, who has been diagnosed with a “syndrome,” and Osborn, who appears to have the same “syndrome,” come across as childlike if not cartoonish / buffoonish, and it’s harmful to people who are on the spectrum. The author throws in the token black, the token Native American, etc. I finished the book because it was a compelling storyline otherwise, and I wanted to give an informed review. To make matters worse, the ending is super creepy. I don’t need to relate to a character to appreciate a good tale, but I expect this character was meant to be endearing, not criminal (I suspect it was intended to be romantic, but no, it was not). Also, NetGalley does not provide the information that books are part of a series. Morgan is a great storyteller, if he could toss the stereotypes out of his storyline, maybe by investing in a sensitivity editor. I received a digital copy from the author through NetGalley.

Rabbits by Terry Miles

A real-world game pulls people in and gets them killed. There’s something wrong with the game that’s causing the world to rupture. For some reason, the narrator is the savior of the game, though he appears to be the only one unaware that he is actually playing the game. Like most of the story, the climax is smoke and mirrors, as if the main character awakes from a dream at the end. This book feels like gorging on junk food and ending up in a stupor of satisfaction despite the queasiness. Like the answer to a secret taken to the grave, it leaves the reader with a suspended sense of closure, prolonging the unease of real-life unanswerable questions. For some reason, this works for me, and I really wanted the game to be real despite the death toll, because that would never happen to me, right? Read this book and explain it to me! I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Del Ray Books through NetGalley.

The Rooftop Party by Ellen Meister

I don’t generally relate to the main character, so I don’t care if they’re unlikable, and Dana is not endearing. She’s a mess, but not a charismatic mess, just a mess. When she appeared to be a murderer, I didn’t hold my breath, because she was too obvious (and I found out this is a series, which NetGalley doesn’t mention). The real murderer was unlikely and brought in at the moment of reveal, when the murderer lingered while they discussed the whys and hows. Up until that point, the book was moving along swiftly, albeit with a mess of a main character (how does she have friends?), and even the last minute climax doesn’t make it a dealbreaker. It’s a fun read if you don’t need clues / hints in a whodunit. I received a digital copy from the publisher Mira through NetGalley.

Stork Bite by L.K. Simonds

This book started off with a great story of a young boy caught in an impossible situation, a black teenager killing a Klansman in self-defense in 1913. The second section, a young woman unknowingly marrying a mobster, began another storyline that intersected tangentially with the first. This was really two distinct stories, both good, but not related enough to be in one novel. It tries to be historical fiction by mentioning historical events, but the characters are not really affected, just referencing them. Even with these niggles, the characters are solid, interesting, and endearing, even the ones who struggle the most to be good, and I recommend it for that alone. It’s really like getting two stories in one, actually. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the author through NetGalley.

Liberty Farm: A Family Portrait by Izai Amorim

Intertwined throughout Brazil’s history is this multi-generational story of strong familial obligation despite heartbreak over parental preferences. Amorim is a storytelling force, with his characters responding to historical events. I highly recommend this book for its nitty gritty perspective of Brazil and the dynamics of a family beset by tragedy. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the author through NetGalley.

Local Woman Missing by Mary Kubica

There are a lot of twists and turns in this story of two missing women and a girl. My niggle is that the plot twist came out of nowhere, with no hints to back it up and provide the reader with that aha moment, so it didn’t come across as credible as it might have. Kubica is great at representing the messy, ambivalent, guilt-ridden emotions of human nature. I definitely like her work. I just wish she had led up to her climax more ambiguously, so that her red herring didn’t come across so clunky. I do recommend her for her storytelling talent. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Park Row through NetGalley.

The Newcomer by Mary Kay Andrews

I will read anything by Mary Kay Andrews. In her latest, Letty takes her niece from New York to a little motel in Florida after finding her sister murdered. Letty discovers her sister’s past and a potential romance that she cannot allow herself. Andrews tackles big subjects with a light touch, making this an easy beach read that’s hard to forget. I always recommend her work. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher through NetGalley.

I Thought You Said This Would Work by Ann Garvin

Estranged friends Sam and Holly go on a road trip to rescue their sick friend’s dog from her ex-husband across the country. Ann Garvin’s writing feels as though she’s telling you the story right there in person, with all the animation and emotion pouring forth as you sit rapt, laughing out loud, sighing, and crying along with her. Although the humor often feels deflective, it’s generally always relatable, since we all do it. The emotions can be a bit overwhelming if you don’t like to cry. The carefree Summer character comes off as a plot device to move the story forward, which makes her feel a bit ethereal, actually sort of suiting her character ironically, as though she might be Sam’s alter ego. Maybe she was! In any case, I will read anything by Ann Garvin, because she is a fabulous storyteller. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy from the publisher Lake Union Publishing through NetGalley.