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
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
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
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
When Jane, an elementary school teacher, moves to tiny Boyne City (a real place!), Michigan, she hardly suspects the complications that will ensue when she takes up with Duncan, the older woodworker who moonlights as a locksmith. Let’s just say he has a lot of ex-girlfriends. A lot! But on the guffaw-meter, Early Morning Riser was literally off the charts in the number of times I laughed out loud. If Heiny had stayed in the romantic comedy lane, I would have been perfectly content. But she throws a curveball when Jane gets a happy ending, only not the way she expected, and that turns out to not be the end of the story. Heiny has a rare gift for bringing characters to glorious life, warts and all. Sometimes, in the case of Jane’s mother or her neighbor’s husband Gary, perhaps all warts. I love Jane’s voice and the way she can see the absurdity in the everyday. And I love the way that Heiny plays with all different emotions, not just laughter, to create this story of family and community.
— Daniel Goldin
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
Cat has been summoned to Edinburgh by her mirror twin’s husband Ross, who tells her El is missing and assumed dead. The twins haven’t spoken since Cat left for California ten years ago; still, Cat doesn’t believe El is dead because she doesn’t feel it. El and Ross live in the house the twins grew up in, shockingly restored and refurnished to replicate the house as it was when they were children. Long-buried memories flood Cat when she arrives. The next day, Cat receives the first of many texts from ‘johnsmith,’ which give clues to a treasure hunt, a game right out of the twin’s childhood. The clues lead Cat to pages from El’s diary, which further awaken Cat’s memories of the fantasy world she and El had lived in, with pirates, cruel tooth fairies, nasty clowns, and more. The treasure hunts and memories alternate with uneasy interactions with Ross, detectives, and local folks. This thriller is a marvelous combination of complex and fascinating stories from the past and present, brilliantly drawn characters, terrific twists and turns, and an end that knocked off my shoes.
— Kay Wosewick