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Thank you Jenny (yes, her readers are on a first name basis, so there; read Broken and you can be too!), you have given me at least a couple months’ worth of ab muscle workouts. I’m certain my neighbors secretly wanted in on whatever was happening in my condo the past two nights as I doubled over from long and very loud bouts of laughter, snorts, and whoops. Jenny shares dark times too, including an extended new low, a new treatment with uncertain longevity, and endless battles with a barbarous medical insurance system. But she always delivers the reader back to hilarity. Off with the sun lamp - there’s a fabulous new Jenny Lawson book to devour!!!
— Kay Wosewick
This book was one of the most stunning ways to begin 2021. I absolutely love this book. First, this is my only (but surely not the last) experience with Matt Haig’s writing. He crafts his story by masterfully taking the reader by the hand and - quite literally - jumps through time and space of the main character’s life (or, lives). The story is easy and enjoyable to follow. It was definitely a satisfying page turner that remained thought provoking even when I wasn’t reading. Second, I am a nerd for how words are strung together to convey descriptions. For example, when the reader is faced with the physical sensations of how depression grips the main character’s body, it’s some of the most beautiful yet painful sentences I’ve ever read. From what I know about the author, perhaps only someone who has truly experienced the physicality of such low moments could be able to illustrate them so clearly. And, if one can relate to these sensations, it makes the writing all the more powerful. Haig’s descriptiveness allows the reader to share in the lows and highs of every emotion and situation the main character gets into, and it’s part of what makes this novel so great. The reader is placed in her shoes, exploring life with her - if not as her. Lastly, I would highly recommend this for anyone interested in existential questions that deal with the self and introspection or philosophy that deals with solitude and the development of the self. Overall, it’s such an inspiring and refreshing read.
— Rose Camara
Stuck at his suburban Atlanta high school, Neeraj (Neil) Narayan simply doesn’t have the drive of his older sister Prachi or the other striving families in his community. But then, through his on-again, off-again friend Anita, he learns the true meaning of the adage, ‘when life gives you lemons…’ Why are little bits of jewelry disappearing from the families of Hammond Creek? And how far can Anita and Neil go in the pursuit of ambition, especially when they settle in the Bay Area, paradise on Earth for the tech striver? I love the way Gold Diggers solders imagery onto the story, whether the tale of the Bombayan prospector Neil is researching or Kanye West’s ‘Gold Digger’ wafting through the high school dance. It reminded me that despite the tension (did I mention this is also a caper novel?) and the likely heartbreak (we all can’t get what we want), this engaging and insightful novel is a comedy, and there will be a wedding at the end.
— Daniel Goldin
We split in two sometimes: move to a new city, change a hairstyle, gain a new nickname. The other half vanishes, unused, like a dream, or perhaps a box of pictures in the attic. Desiree Vignes lost her other half years ago, when her twin sister Stella decided to pass as white, leave her family behind, never return. Some people can do that. What they don't realize is that the vanishing halves have a way of returning, spotting you across the room, looking you in the face and seeing the real you, the one you left behind. From start to finish, Brit Bennett's follow-up to The Mothers is a revelation. This is a novel you want to savor, even as it unfolds so naturally and beautifully that you can't help but devour it. If her first novel made her a new author to look out for, this one proves that Brit Bennett is here to stay.
— Rachel Copeland
There are different ways to write historical fiction, but one of my favorites is when writers such as Geraldine Brooks fill in the gaps in history, and that’s what Maggie O’Farrell has done with her triumphant novel Hamnet. Despite Shakespeare living during the Plague, he never specifically touched on it in his plays, but he did lose his son Hamlet to the disease. O’Farrell connects that tragedy to the play Hamnet, noting that in Old English, the two names are the same. But she goes a step further, sending Shakespeare into the background of the story and bringing to the center his wife and two children to tell this story of love and loss. Such beautiful writing!
— Daniel Goldin
A poignant novel set in New Mexico, The Five Wounds follows the lives of the Padilla family: 33 yr. old Amadeo, his pregnant 15 yr. old daughter, Angel, the family matriarch Yolanda, and Tio Tive, who has initiated Amadeo into the hermandad and casted him to portray Jesus in their reenactment of the crucifixion. Jobless, living with his mother, and estranged from his teenage daughter, Amadeo searches for purpose and perhaps redemption. His daughter Angel has shown up unannounced and eight months pregnant, and Yolanda returns home with a life-altering secret. Amadeo and Angel’s fragile relationship starts to mend as they navigate through daily life and welcome the newest member into the family. Kirstin Valdez Quade tells a captivating story about family, loss, redemption and the power of faith. I could not put this book down! You will laugh, cry, get angry, and want to hug these characters. Masterful storytelling!
— Jen Steele
It’s a small northern Wisconsin town, tucked up against a massive forest, a place where they know Milwaukee folks won’t understand. Sometimes you just shoot coyotes when their numbers cross a line and you start losing cows. It’s a place where two young boys have father problems, and the problems suddenly get big, so the kids run. There’s a young new sheriff in town who had to leave his home, too. He was looking for a quiet place away from his Houston mistakes, maybe a dog, and some distance from complications, but he won’t get that now. The boys are out there alone, and distance doesn’t work anymore. Their stories drew me in right away. Many of the characters seem familiar because they’re like me. Any glimpse of close human connection brings a sense of both need and dread, in equal measure. The suspense works well, too, as lines get drawn and necessarily crossed. The emotions feel true, as an intense fight for survival draws out their full force. I enjoyed the ride!
— Tim McCarthy
Hype follows the rise and fall and rise and fall of Billy McFarland, the serial entrepreneur/scam artist of Fyre Festival and assorted other shenanigans, including social media app Spling and the Magnises VIP card, which I remember reading about in a not particularly negative story in The New York Times. Using this as a jumping off point, Bluestone touches on business scammers, political scammers, and social media influencer scammers. McFarland is the through line in the story, and it is what Bluestone knows best, as she was Executive Producer of the Fyre documentary for Netflix, but I find it interesting that from what I can see, McFarland's story is downplayed. After Hype, I’m even more apt to question social media and influencers, but as my experience shows, the fabrications documented in this book wind up slipping into traditional media as well. It’s entertaining to read about these foibles if you didn’t fall victim to the scams, but probably a lot more disturbing if you’ve been successfully targeted.
— Daniel Goldin
By now, anyone who’s paying attention at all knows what happens to the families on the losing end of gentrification. And if we’re being honest, we don’t care – that’s development, that’s progress, catch up or get left behind. That’s the starting place for Vlautin’s latest. Lynette wakes up before the sun to work shifts at two crappy jobs (plus her sex work side hustle) as she tries to scrape together enough cash to buy the house she lives in with her alcoholic mother and developmentally disabled brother from their absentee landlord. Vlautin brings a razor-sharp eye for detail to his dirty realism version of ‘the night of crime that changes it all.’ This isn’t just what happens when a person is pushed over the edge – Vlautin is unflinching about staring back at the economic, social, and familial pressures can shove a person over the cliff. It’s also a tour of the “before” photo of Portland – definitely the latest & greatest book for those who dig glimpses of the parts of cities that lousy new money hasn’t ruined yet. Also, I’ll say that the vibe of the novel is that of an Eagles song turned into a book by someone who hates the Eagles because they’re too soft. This a compliment. I think I’ll be walking around Vlautin’s Portland in my head for a long time to come.
— Chris Lee
Give it some time. That’s my advice about Brood. Let the book peck at you for a while and you’ll be rewarded. I didn’t know that I completely loved it until the last three pages. Then I suddenly knew. Completely. This book is all of life told in the story of four backyard chickens. Our narrator’s voice comes straight at us - a bit sassy, sly, mostly sure-minded - even as she maintains a subtle neighborhood diplomacy. The contrast is wonderful. Chickens help her tell us boldly about loss and the inescapable hardships of living, but she’s not bitter. She sees the beautiful workings of her simple birds, and of people: her chicken-hesitant friend Helen, her staunchly independent mother, her very reasonable husband Percy, the awkward neighbors, and how all of life creates dust. Mix in Minnesota’s climate extremes and a changing neighborhood. You’ll get a growing sense that you’re reading something very special, richly human. Let Brood peck at you. There’s nothing quite like it.
— Tim McCarthy
When our nameless narrator muses that her four chickens – Miss Hennepin County, Gloria, Darkness, and Gam Gam – have no memory of the past or anxiety about the future, it is meant with desire, not disdain. Our heartland chicken keeper must confront both large and small losses all while making sure she’s got just the right kind of pellets. I’m not giving anything important away in this hauntingly meditative yet often funny novel by saying there’s a sort of an And Then There Were None element to the plotline - my inner voice kept trying to cajole the narrator to just buy another chicken. Several folks have compared the voice to Jenny Offill and Olivia Laing, but my thoughts ran to another Minnesota sleeper that was a bookseller favorite, Julie Schumacher’s Dear Committee Members.
— Daniel Goldin