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The Binding

Bridget Collins. Morrow, $26.99 (448p) ISBN 978-0-06-283809-4

Collins’s solid first adult novel (following several YA novels) is a haunted, Dickensian fantasia. At the story’s outset, teenage Emmett is a farmer’s son in an alternate England at an indeterminate point in the past whose mind is riddled with gaps due to an unspecified illness. He receives a letter that calls him for an apprenticeship with a bookbinder, Seredith, who’s reputed to be a witch. Emmett quickly discovers that Seredith is not your run-of-the-mill bookbinder: she draws traumatic memories out of people’s minds and hides them away in books, thereby removing the memories from their minds. The first client Emmett meets is a man named Lucian Darnay; their encounters unsettle and even enrage both of them, but neither knows why. Emmett eventually discovers there is a book with his name on it, and it holds an essential secret about him. The relationship between Emmett and Lucian plays out satisfyingly, but the novel suffers from portentous conversations and a few plot points that the characters don’t realistically react to. Emmett is a YA protagonist, too—sullen, reluctant, wrapped in victimhood. This is an enjoyable novel for readers of any age, but the story remains YA at its heart. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Alchemy of Noise

Lorraine Devon Wilke. She Writes, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-63152-559-9

Wilke’s rewarding novel (after Hysterical Love) follows the relationship between a black sound engineer and the white manager of the club where he works. Chris Hawkins and Sidonie Frame enjoy the time they spend working together at the Church, a popular club in present-day Chicago. They soon begin dating, and eventually Sidonie asks Chris to move in with her. Sidonie experiences firsthand the treatment Chris receives at the hands of police, when, in a traffic stop, he is questioned about the sound equipment in his car and dealt with in a demeaning manner. When Chris is arrested for criminal trespassing and resisting arrest, and brutally beaten by police, Sidonie supports him as he decides whether to go to trial or take a plea deal. But the possibility that he may be implicated in another, more serious crime causes a fracture in their relationship that may be irreparable. Wilke’s story will satisfy readers with its emotional depth and strong characters, making for a memorable novel. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Prince of Monkeys

Nnamdi Ehirim. Counterpoint, $26 (288p) ISBN 978-1-64009-167-2

Ehirim’s dense and incisive debut throws a harsh spotlight on a diverse group of friends as they come of age in politically corrupt and economically divided Nigeria during the late 20th century. Set in Lagos, Nigeria, and stretching from 1985 to 1998, the story follows the lives of three boys—nicknamed Pastor’s son, Mendaus, and Maradona—who are preteen as the novel begins. Their friend, Ihechi, narrates; he’s a directionless student who likes playing soccer, watching movies with Mendaus’s beautiful older cousin Zeenat, and going to the Afrobeat mecca Afrika Shrine. But when Zeenat is killed during an antigovernment riot in 1992, the tragedy sends ripples through the group, prompting Ihechi’s mother to send him to live with his aunt far from the turmoil. Over the next six years, the teenagers mature and adopt leadership positions on different sides of political party lines—a reality that tests their friendship, as well as their belief in their country and faith in themselves. An abrupt end involving an infamous prostitution ring and an immoral general adds an ill-fated, gruesome twist to the otherwise idea-driven narrative. Ehirim writes with a heavy hand, using stilted metaphors and catchphrase parables that sometimes detract from the narrative flow. Still, the novel is a vivid, astute portrait of Nigeria—and its people—in the throes of upheaval. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Bright

Duanwad Pimwana, trans. from the Thai by Mui Poopoksakul. Two Lines, $16.95 trade paper (184p) ISBN 978-1-931883-80-1

Pimwana’s enchanting debut (the first novel by a Thai woman translated into English, according to the publisher) captures the vivid life of a small Thai child abandoned by his family. After an argument with his wife, the father of five-year-old Kampol Changsamran leaves him at the center of the rundown housing complex where they live and says he will return soon. The neighbors first take pity on Kampol, but as his father’s absence continues into a second day, they begin to argue over who will care for him. Then, Mon, the mother of one of Kampol’s friends, and Chong the grocer step in. In episodic, slice-of-life stories, Kampol has adventures in his small community. Some are very funny, such as Kampol’s feeling of envy over a girl’s treatment after being bit by the wealthy landlady’s dog, or the neighborhood kids causing extreme competition between two flea market merchants. But real sadness also lingers, especially when Kampol’s parents briefly return and Kampol shows signs of premature wisdom, such as his dissatisfaction with the fads his classmates can’t get enough of. Readers will enjoy Kampol’s antics, the colorful side characters, and glimpses of Thai culture in this melancholy-tinged but still exuberant novel. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Bitter

Francesca Jakobi. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, $24.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-4746-0756-8

In 1934, the wealthy father of Gilda Meyer, the narrator of British author Jakobi’s engrossing first novel, pushes her at 17 into marrying Frank Goodman, a business associate of his more than twice her age. Gilda, a student at a Surrey boarding school where she’s ostracized because she’s a German Jew, feels unprepared for marriage. In 1939, she gives birth to a son, Reuben, but severe postpartum depression prevents her from bonding with him. At the center for European refugees where she gets a job teaching English, she falls madly in love with Leo Zubek, a teacher from Poland. After she tells Frank about Leo, he agrees to a divorce if she relinquishes full custody of Reuben. Over the years, her relationship with her son grows distant. After Reuben marries Alice, a non-Jew, in 1969, Gilda becomes unhealthy involved in their lives. She spies on the couple obsessively, even secretly entering their London home. An inadvertent remark by Gilda’s mother brings secrets to the surface, and Gilda realizes her life isn’t what she believed it to be. Gilda’s personal trials will keep readers in thrall to the bittersweet ending. Agent: Felicity Blunt, Curtis Brown (U.K.). (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Little Lovely Things

Maureen Joyce Connolly. Sourcebooks Landmark, $15.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-4926-7249-4

Debut author Connolly explores the emotional devastation that plays out after a woman’s young daughters mysteriously disappear. In 1991 Chicago, medical resident Claire Rawlings is driving her daughters to their daycare when she feels nauseous and stops at a gas station and rushes to the rest room and passes out. When she regains consciousness, Claire discovers that her car and her daughters, four-year-old Andrea and 15-month-old Lily, are gone. Police have few clues about who may have taken the girls. The impact on the lives of Claire and her husband, Glen, is shattering, and their marriage begins to unravel. As years pass and Claire can’t shake the guilt about feeling responsible for the disappearance of her daughters, she questions why Glen has never voiced his blame of her. Claire eventually meets with Jay White, a drifter who has given police some information that has assisted them in their investigation of the abduction of Lily and Andrea; Claire believes he may have psychic powers, leaving her with a sense of hope that her daughters are still alive. Connolly’s lyrical writing style and the fast-paced narrative draw in the reader right away. This is a riveting novel bolstered by its flawed, believable characters. Agent: Heather Karpas, ICM Partners. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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Grievous

H.S. Cross. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $27 (544p) ISBN 978-0-374-27995-0

Cross (Wilberforce) tells the story of John Grieves and his charge, young Gray Riding, in this rich novel. Grieves—nicknamed Grievous—is a housemaster at St. Stephen’s Academy in 1931 Yorkshire who watches Gray’s struggles through adolescence. At 14, Gray is an exceptionally intelligent student who has been moved ahead in school and is younger than the other boys in his class; his creativity emerges in a fantasy book he works on to help him through prep school. During the three terms that Gray is in the “Remove,” the year before entering the “Upper School,” he engages in adventures with his friends, and also experiences and witnesses abusive corporal punishment. Gray even finds young love in Grieves’s 13-year-old goddaughter, Cordelia. As housemaster, Grieves can’t replace Gray’s dead father, but he can attempt to understand the battles of youth in an old-fashioned school filled with adolescent boys, whose personalities range from emotional to athletic and from friendly to bullying. Although elements of the writing style (disjointed dialogue and slang) may require some patience from the reader, the complex characters lend an intriguing poignancy to this tale. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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The Goodbye Café

Mariah Stewart. Gallery, $16 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-5011-4512-4

Stewart (The Sugarhouse Blues) makes a charming return to tiny Hidden Falls, Pa., in this breezy contemporary, which is loaded with appealing down-home characters and tantalizing hints of mystery that will hook readers immediately. Sisters Allie, Des, and Cara—who are scattered around the U.S.—received a major surprise after their father, Franklin “Fritz” Hudson, died. His will stated they would get their inheritances only after living together in the Hudson family home and restoring the town’s theater. Des and Cara have lost their hearts to local men, and now it’s Allie’s turn: soon after she relocates with her daughter, Nikki, she falls for the chief of police, Ben Haldeman, who’s recovering from the deaths of his wife and son. When the sisters’ aunt Barney impulsively buys the titular café, the social hub of the town, everyone’s pressed into service, from Allie waiting tables to Nikki baking brownies. Nikki’s frenemy, Allie’s ex, and Ben’s grief are bumps in the road to a heartwarming finale. Stewart expertly combines the inevitable angst of a trio of sisters, a family secret, and a search for an heirloom necklace; it’s an irresistible mix that will delight readers. Masterful characterizations and well-timed plot are sure to pull in fans of romantic small-town stories. Agent: Nick Mullendore, Vertical Ink. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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This Is Home

Lisa Duffy. Atria, $16 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-5011-8925-8

Authentic characters resonate throughout this engrossing novel from Duffy (The Salt House) as a woman tries to understand why her husband, a soldier with PTSD, has left her. Quinn Ellis’s husband, John, was deployed twice in their five years of marriage; after the last tour, he came back to their home in Massachusetts but soon after disappeared. Quinn’s work as a nanny is the only thing keeping her anchored while she tries to find John and waits for him to get in touch with her. After receiving a notice that her lease won’t be renewed, Quinn accepts an offer from John’s former sergeant, Bent Winters, a local cop in Paradise, Mass.: she can stay on the first floor of the triple-decker he lives in with his sisters, Lucy and Desiree, and his teen daughter, Libby. Alternating points of view from Libby and Quinn provide the contrasting perspectives of a teenage girl on the brink of adulthood and a wife coping with the sorrow and guilt of her fractured marriage. Over time, Quinn and Libby come to see each other as family, healing their mutual loneliness. A healthy dose of humor balances the sadness of Quinn’s story. Intensely real and deeply emotional, Duffy’s rich novel is worth savoring from the very first page. Agent: Danielle Burby, Nelson Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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There’s a Word for That

Sloane Tanen. Little, Brown, $27 (384p) ISBN 978-0-316-43716-5

This canny dark comedy of errors from Tanen (Bitter with Baggage Seeks Same) invites readers to indulge in the idiosyncrasies and misadventures of the dysfunctional Kessler clan. Aging celebrity author Bunny Small and her hedonistic, synthetic opioid–addicted ex-husband Marty Kessler, a famous film producer, and their progeny bicker, battle, and express love in their own unique ways as they all convene for the first time in more than a decade. For each of the children and grandchildren, familial and societal obligations bubble up as unresolved traumas in startling ways: 17-year-old Hailey, Marty’s granddaughter through an earlier marriage, suffered through a neglected adolescence; Janine, Marty’s grown daughter, resents the fame that came with being the daughter of Hollywood royalty; and Henry Holter, Bunny’s 20-something son through another marriage, is emotionally exhausted from being named after one of his mother’s well-known characters. While very little happens, much resolution is found between the characters. Tanen’s memorable wry humor (“I’m not inert, I just know my limitations”) and sharp dialogue will leave readers fully invested the rebuilding of relationships despite years of distance, trauma, and pain. Tanen’s refreshing tale of a nontraditional family legacy will appeal to fans of tightly plotted dramas in the vein of Maggie Shipstead’s work. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 02/22/2019 | Details & Permalink

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