Nicole Dennis-Benn’s Here Comes the Sun, called “a lithe, artfully-plotted debut” and the “ultimate antibeach novel” by Jennifer Senior in her review in The New York Times is a good, solid read.
Set in and around a Montego Bay resort in Jamaica, the plot revolves around two sisters: Margot who works long hours at the resort while also turning tricks for tourists and those in the hotel who can further her career, and academically promising high school student Thandi, whose education is being paid by her big sister Margot. Each of these young women hides an inner tumult – for Margot it’s her love for another woman, and for Thandi it’s a desire to be released from her academic path – from each other and from their community.
Rich and evocative, with threads of race and class, sex and sexuality, and family and identity layered throughout, Here Comes the Sun is as much about a complex Jamaica and her people as it is about the relationship between these two complicated sisters. I’m interested to read what Dennis-Benn writes next.
Available November 2017
The End We Start From begins with the birth of a child called Z, born in a storm-flooded near-future London to a woman and R, her partner. Z is both the end of the alphabet and a beginning; a child born to a new generation, one that will come of age in a dystopian UK where transience is necessary and survival is key.
Megan Hunter’s brief and lyrical first novel beautifully explores themes of motherhood, survival, death and renewal, and home, while layering in all-too-real environmental terror and post-apocalyptic realism. It’s minimal and poetic. A strong debut.
Conspiracy of Ravens is the second in Lila Bowen’s The Shadow series starring Nettie Lonesome. Conspiracy of Ravens picks up right where Wake of Vultures ends; Nettie, now fully identifying as Rhett Hennessy, gathers his strength in the wilds of Bowen’s fantastical Southwest and sets out with his posse to hunt evil, monsters and men, as the Shadow.
I loved Wake of Vultures and liked Conspiracy of Ravens. Both are surprising, intense, bloody, and groundbreaking, though Bowen’s plot blocking and narrative structure started to feel formulaic and mechanical in this second book.
The transformation of Bowen’s mixed-race trans hero/ine, from Nettie to Rhett, from gritty boyish girl to the Shadow, offers a new and refreshing coming-of-age story in a genre where so many main characters in fantasy are young white cis men who go to wizard school and discover their great magic skills.
If book stacks, libraries and indie bookstores, reading nooks, and that amazing new book smell thrill you to the core, this lovely little volume is for you. Compiled by Silent Book Club founder (and personal friend) Guinevere de la Mare, I’d Rather be Reading is an ode to books and the reading life. The book, an elegant package with muted colors and a beautifully curated selection of words and images, includes an essay by Guinevere on becoming a reader, plus additional essays by Ann Patchett, Gretchen Rubin, and Maura Kelly, as well as contemporary illustrations and artworks by Jane Mount of Ideal Bookshelf, Lisa Congdon, Sophie Blackall, and many more.
If you happen to be in San Francisco this evening, August 24th, go to the book launch party for I’d Rather Be Reading at Green Apple Books!
Thanks to Chronicle Books (my old employer) for my copy of I’d Rather be Reading.
Young author (she’s 24) Danya Kukafka’s Girl in Snow is getting a good dose of buzz as a compelling who-done-it thriller. It’s a promising debut with some graceful writing, though the plot is unsurprising and the characters are formulaic.
The narrative follows three different characters in the aftermath of a high school girl’s murder in a small Colorado town. Each of these narrators, the high school girl who despised the murdered girl, the teenage (probably on the spectrum) neighbor boy who was obsessed with her and is now a key suspect in the investigation, and a police officer investigating the murder, offers the reader a different perspective on the dead girl and the town. Because all of the characters are familiar stereotypes, the Girl in Snow murderer is an easy guess and most suspense readers will figure out the twist by the middle of the book.
Looking past the predictability of the characters and the plot, there is a brightness to Kukafka’s writing; parts glimmer with a real understanding of human nature. I’ll be interested to read what Kukafka writes next.
Originally published in 1979 and recently reissued by Counterpoint, Sex and Rage by L.A. party girl turned writer Eve Babitz is a hazy coming-of-age novel starring Jacaranda Leven, a party girl turned writer who bares a striking resemblance to Babitz. On the surface the book is all sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll, Babitz painting a glamorous and destructive path of self discovery for her surfer girl heroine. Below the surface we catch glimpses of something tangible, Jacaranda’s vague smartness, her unabashed sexuality, her drifty desire for something more meaningful than sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.
Though Babitz evocatively pins down that coked-up, gold-adorned, smoggy sun glare of 70’s LA to the page, it was as much a surprise to me as the characters around Jacaranda that she could pull it together and focus on something other than herself long enough to become a published writer. Sex and Rage is all atmosphere and little depth, and I was left feeling bored and ambivalent.
Fredrik Backman, author of A Man Called Ove and My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry, has managed to write another wonderfully accessible, character-driven novel with loads of personality and emotion, complex relationships, and a good dose of hope and heartache.
In Beartown ice hockey is everything. Surrounded by dense forest, Beartown is small and remote, devoid of industry and running low on hope for the future. As the town unites behind the young ice hockey team poised to bring home the championship and bring new lifeblood into Beartown, the community is rocked by a violent act upon a young girl.
Once again I was impressed with Backman’s ability to write evocative scenes and characters with depth while addressing serious issues with humor and heart. A great read.
I love a good thriller. And I had high hopes for Riley Sager’s Final Girls, which has received starred reviews from Library Journal, Kirkus, and Booklist, and was praised by Stephen King as the “first great thriller of 2017.”
Like most books in the suspense/thriller genre, there’s a twist. I guessed the reveal within the first 20 pages, so when I finally got to the end it felt eye-rollingly predictable. The slasher action takes center stage over character development and the characters felt flat and stereotypical, their pain laughable and gratuitous. I wasn’t sad when the book ended.
Also, isn’t it interesting that more and more male authors are taking gender-ambiguous pseudonyms in an attempt to sell suspense books to women?
Hannah Tinti’s The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, my book club’s pick for August, is a fantastic read full of adventure, suspense, and heart.
Hawley, a complicated father and a dangerous man, and his young daughter Loo return to the town where Loo’s mother grew up. After years on the run they set down roots and stir up old emotions.
Constellations, literal and metaphorical, run though Tinti’s narrative: Loo looks to the stars for stability and her path, Hawley’s old criminal network is a constellation both intricate and menacing, and Hawley’s body is a map baring a constellation bullet scars.