Fri, 08/07/2020 - 7:33am by muffy
“Step Away from the Mean Girls…and say bye-bye to feeling bad about your looks. Are you ready to stop colluding with a culture that makes so many of us feel physically inadequate? Say goodbye to your inner critic, and take this pledge to be kinder to yourself and others.” ~ Oprah Winfrey
In Kate Stayman-London’s debut One to Watch, (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook), 30-year-old Bea(trice) Schumacher is a plus-size fashion and lifestyle blogger with a devoted following and a growing number of commercial sponsors. When her drunken late-night blog post raging against the lack of body diversity representation on Main Squeeze, a reality TV show (think The Bachelor) goes viral, she finds herself tapped to be the next star of the show, where 25 contestants compete for her hand. Still smarting from a hurtful break-up and hopeful the exposure will advance her brand, Bea signs on.
For 8 weeks, Bea is styled, pampered, polished and whisked off to exotic locales to be dazzled by her 25 suitors. While many are good, smart, and kind, not all of the men are there for the right reason. And a lifetime of body shaming has left her skeptical - whether she could truly find romance; and how the complex standards of female beauty affect the way we define ourselves, and who deserves to be seen...and loved.
“Peppered with chatlogs, text messages, social media reactions, and splashy People articles, Stayman-London's debut is chatty and fun, brilliantly capturing the highs, lows, and drama of reality TV.” (Publishers Weekly)
“A long and entertaining if overstuffed novel about reality TV, romance, fat-shaming, and self-esteem that will appeal to rom-com fans…” (Library Journal)
Thin Girls * by New Zealand native Diana Clarke (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook) is a brutally honest examination of toxic diet culture and the tyranny of body image, but also the bond of twinhood; and the redemptive power of love and friendship.
Lily and Rose Winters have the special bond that twins share - they feel each other's emotions, and taste what the other is feeling, until high school. Peer pressure, teenage angst and family dynamics drive them towards the opposite spectrum of the eating disorder - Rose stops eating and Lily consumes everything Rose won't.
Now in their 20s, Rose, the narrator is about to mark her one-year anniversary in a rehabilitation facility when she notices Lily, her sole visitor, is also struggling. A kindergarten teacher, Lily is involved with the abusive, married father of one of her students. To please him, Lily joins a cult diet group. Rose realizes she is the only one who could save Lily. To do that, she must start eating. When Rose and Lily seem to be at their breaking point, support and kindness come from the most unlikely sources, at once cathartic and life-affirming.
“This page-turner makes for an illuminating, ultimately hopeful look at the constant struggle women face regarding their body image.” (Publishers Weekly)
“The story (Rose) tells is as gripping as a thriller, but it’s Clarke’s language that truly makes this novel special. She writes with a lyricism that not only encompasses the grotesque and the transcendent, but also sometimes commingles the two… Incisive social commentary rendered in artful, original, and powerfully affecting prose.” (Kirkus Reviews) For fans of Dietland by Sarai Walker.
* = Starred review
Fri, 07/31/2020 - 12:28pm by muffy
When Summer Sanderson, her best friend since high school, invited her on an all-expense paid week in the Mediterranean aboard her billionaire boyfriend's yacht, struggling-actress/cocktail-waitress Belle Carter just could not turn the offer down. But the minute she stepped aboard the Lion’s Den, she began to have second thoughts. Her passport, cell phone were taken away and she found herself locked in her cabin at night. Then she saw mysterious visitors boarding the yacht in the dead of night, and every move she and her fellow passengers made were scheduled and monitored by their host, John Lyon.
When her cabin-mate, a young brassy sexpot went overboard after a vicious argument with Summer, Belle knew she must keep her wits about her - and her own big secret closely hidden - if she were to make it off the yacht alive.
“St. John’s sizzling debut sparkles with yacht and fashion porn, and smart, decent Belle is easy to root for as the panic reaches its peak. Blingy, swingy fun plus a well-crafted, socially conscious suspense plot: Anchors aweigh! “ (Kirkus Reviews)
Fabulous Fiction Firsts #746, “What a difference a day made, 24 little hours…” ~ Stanley Adams, American lyricist and songwriter
Thu, 07/23/2020 - 6:09pm by muffy
Lee Conell’s The Party Upstairs : A Novel * is set in an Upper West Side co-op building over the course of a single day. An early morning argument between the building’s super, Martin and his grown-up daughter, Ruby sparks a crisis that will, by day’s end, change the course of many lives.
24 year-old Ruby is back living in the basement apartment with her parents, after 4 years at a prestigious small liberal arts college failed to land her a job, and her trust-fund boyfriend broke up with her. The novel opens on the day Ruby is scheduled for a job interview at the American Museum of Natural History, courtesy of her “oldest best friend” Caroline, while her father fields calls from demanding and demeaning tenants with their innocuous and embarrassing requests, constantly fearing for his job. Caroline’s family occupies the penthouse but despite their economic disparity, the girls are able to keep up a close friendship since childhood. Now Caroline is a successful artist and is throwing a party at her father’s penthouse, a party Ruby looks forward to and dreads in equal measure.
“Conell’s debut perfectly captures the co-op’s ecosystem and the ways class informs every interaction, reaction, and relationship inside it...A slow-burning debut that keenly dissects privilege, power, and the devastation of unfulfilled expectations.“(Kirkus Reviews)
May we also suggest Apartment by Whiting Award-winner Teddy Wayne. It is a New York Times Editors' Choice, longlisted for the 2020 Simpson/Joyce Carol Oates Literary Prize, and one of Vogue’s Best Books of 2020 So Far, “a careful meditation on class and power."
Alex George’s The Paris Hours (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook), is his first historical novel set in Paris where he once practiced law. Paris between the wars teems with artists, writers, and musicians (Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, Marcel Proust, and Maurice Ravel), a glittering crucible of genius. On one summer day in 1927, amidst the dazzling creativity of the city’s most famous citizens, four regular persons are searching for something they've lost, or on a quest to right a past wrong.
When Marcel Proust instructed his maid Camille to burn all of his notebooks, she saved one for herself, but is now desperate to find it before shameful secrets are revealed. Souren, an Armenian refugee, performs puppet shows for children that are nothing like the fairy tales they expect. Lovesick artist Guillaume, down on his luck, is running from a debt he cannot repay. And Jean-Paul, a journalist dreaming of America, interviews expats, because his own story is too painful to tell.
“George expertly crosscuts between various plots, coaxing them closer and closer as evening draws on. The tinder has been set and the fire is lit as the action converges on a raucous cabaret in Montmartre. “It’s not just objects that warp and disappear in the flames’ embrace,” it’s the characters’ notions of what they’re capable of doing, of what sort of people they’ve become in this combustible present.”(The New York Times Review)
Here is a list of other novels that take place in a single day: Saturday by Ian McEwan; Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf; The Hours by Michael Cunningham; Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney; and Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple.
* = Starred review
Thu, 07/16/2020 - 7:52pm by muffy
Award-winning crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, James Queally has covered hundreds of homicides, as well as national use-of-force controversies and the Black Lives Matter Movement. Line of Sight * * is his debut novel.
Former Newark crime reporter Russell Avery now works as a private investigator, mostly running interference for cops facing disciplinary reviews, or in crosshairs of the Internal Affairs Department. He is indebted to his contacts on the Newark PD for fast-tracking his PI license when he was furloughed and grateful for the work. That is until his friend Keyonna Jackson, a social justice activist, introduced him to Austin Mathis whose son Kevin, a low-level drug dealer was killed by the police. What piqued Russell’s interest was a troubling cell-phone video Kevin took that showed snippets of questionable use-of-force of another young black man.
“Avery plunges into a miasma of police corruption and reconnects with former girlfriend Dina, a reporter bent on unmasking crooked cops. The deeper he investigates, the more Avery becomes convinced that he's been looking for heroes and villains in a city that breeds only survivors--and where protecting and serving are too often reduced to doing evil so that good may result. This scalding exposé of human failures, in which friendships go tragically sour, powerfully updates Raymond Chandler's mean streets. Queally is definitely a writer to watch.” (Publishers Weekly)
* * = 2 starred reviews
Thu, 07/09/2020 - 1:50pm by muffy
The Margot Affair (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Paris-born Sanae Lemoine (MFA, Columbia) which the New York Times reviewer called “a gorgeous debut novel." It brings to mind Ian McEwan’s Atonement, in which one impulsive decision of a 17 year-old shatters the lives of those around her in ways she could never have imagined. The plot is also foreshadowed by references to Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse, a bittersweet tale of another 17 year-old whose meddling in her father's love life leads to tragic consequences.
17 year-old Margot Louve is the secret child of Bertrand Lapierre, the French Minister of Culture and stage actress Anouck. While loving and kind, Bertrand is married and has another family with a woman from a prominent family, leaving Margot to be raised by a self-absorbed, uninvolved Anouck in a small apartment on the Left Bank.
At one of Anouck’s opening night receptions, Margot meets well-regarded journalist David Perrin. Tired of subterfuge and lack of recognition, Margot leaks her parents' affair, hoping to force her father’s public acknowledgement. The fallout couldn’t have been more devastating.
“As Margot struggles with the consequences of her decision, she turns to David and his wife, Brigitte, and forms a secret life of her own....The eclectic cast and rich Parisian backdrop deepen this dramatic exploration of family and the trials of early adulthood. Francophiles and anyone who appreciates an emotionally rewarding story will enjoy Lemoine's lush, well-crafted tale.” (Publishers Weekly)
Fri, 07/03/2020 - 1:22pm by muffy
Another one of Harper's Bazaar’s 14 LGBTQ+ Books to Look For This Year and already optioned for TV series, Exciting Times : A Novel * by Naoise Dolan (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook) is “(d)roll, shrewd and unafraid - a winning debut.” ~ Hilary Mantel
Trinity College (Dublin) grad Ava moves to Hong Kong, teaching English to wealthy kids. To avoid petulant roommates in a cramped apartment, she moves in with Julian, a British banker. When Julian’s job takes him back to London temporarily, Ava stays, and finds herself increasing taken with Edith, a cambridge-educated unambiguilous-gay Hong Kong lawyer, from a conservative Chinese family. While they are able to keep their affair secret, Julian’s return will likely force Ava to make a decision.
“Already drawing comparisons to Sally Rooney’s work, Exciting Times,”...has many of the familiar tropes of the “millennial novel” covered: Jealousy and obsession, love and late capitalism, sex and the internet all come whirling together in a wry and bracing tale of class and privilege.” (New York Times Book Review)
Narrator (also named) Sam, a recent LA transplant, leaves behind a life littered with failed relationships and failed dreams. But the challenges of sobriety and the bone-deep hurt of failed relationships have left him broken. At a dinner party, he learns of a shaman in Portland, Ore. that "could fix everything wrong with you in three days". After some contrary resistance, and with the blessing of his AA sponsor, Sam agreed to try it.
“Set within the vividly realized framework of addiction recovery and gay life in America, this remains the story of one man's deep personal struggles while at the same time speaking to and for all the broken people in this world.” Readers might also want to check out Entertainment Weekly’s interview with Sam Lansky.
Forthcoming titles to watch:
16-year-old Max, a German immigrant thrives in his new home in America - he makes the football team, goes to church for the first time, and even makes friends. When Max meets Pan in Chemistry class, they embark on a quixotic, strange, and consuming relationship, and share secrets.
Max tells Pan about his witchy powers, Pan tells Max about the snake poison initiations of a local church. But the boys aren't sure whose secrets are darker, or what is more frightening - their true selves, or staying true in an intolerant Alabama.
On an Ojibwe reservation called Languille Lake (Northern MN), two men enter into a secret romance. Marion Lafournier, a midtwenties gay Ojibwe man, begins a relationship with his former classmate Shannon, a heavily closeted white man.
Then Marion unknowingly brings to life the spirit of a dog from the elementary school playground that leads him to the grave of Kayden Kelliher, a young Ojibwe basketball star who was murdered. While investigating the fallen hero's death, Marion discovers family connections and an old Ojibwe legend that may be the secret to unraveling the mystery he has found himself in.
With his rock star Dad making a comeback, Luc O'Donnell fears he is back in the public eye. To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship, and Oliver Blackwood is definitely the perfect boyfriend material - a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he's never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. Unfortunately apart from being gay & single, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common, so they strike a deal!! But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating.
* = Starred review
Fri, 06/26/2020 - 12:00am by muffy
Battered and broke, Hope Wright arrives in the dead of night at the Orchard House, her late-mother’s family home in Northern Michigan with her daughter, a silent 10 year-old Tink in tow, both still traumatized by recent events. Their welcome is conditional - it’s cherry harvest, and they will work alongside Aunt Peg who runs the farm with Abel, a kind and quiet former marine.
The days are long and the work is back-breaking but the remoteness of the orchard allows Hope space and time to heal. Peg, with her own guarded secrets, is determined not to get emotionally involved knowing they would eventually move on. But in the meantime, she manages to draw out the sullen Tink by offering to show her how to shoot a rifle. As Hope and Tink look forward to making a home among new friends and family, their past comes back to haunt them.
The House of Deep Water is Grand Rapids native Jeni McFarland’s debut (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook), that “explores motherhood, trauma, love, loss, and new beginnings found in a most unlikely place: home.”
Three spirited women find themselves reluctantly returning to River Bend (MI), the small town they once couldn’t wait to escape. 30something Linda Williams leaves her upward-mobile corporate lawyer husband in Houston, hoping to reconnect with sisters Page and Skylar, who at 16, is living at Grandmother Dana’s farm. She could not explain why she immediately takes up with the much-older Ernest DeWitt, though she remembers his Casanova reputation around town.
Paula, Linda’s estranged mother, left her children 15 years ago to be raised by their step-father now returns to River Bend, to ask her long-abandoned husband for a divorce. Elizabeth DeWitt, one of River Bend's only black daughters and a mother of two, finds herself back in her father Ernest’s house when her marriage and career fall apart. When these three women find themselves sheltering under one roof, tension is high. And when Ernest suffers a stroke, the women are left to confront their past and paths not taken in order to find their way forward, and home.
“Just like life, McFarland's debut is big, messy, and complicated while also being a completely engrossing portrait of her characters and their hometown. She deftly weaves in issues of race and consent. Perfect for those who like books about family dysfunction, this would also make a great book discussion selection.” (Booklist) "McFarland's layered tale will appeal to readers who liked Tayari Jones's An American Marriage." (Publishers Weekly)
* = Starred review
Fabulous Fiction Firsts #741,“With a little effort, anything can be shown to connect with anything else: existence is infinitely cross-referenced.” ~ Martha Cooley, The Archivist
Fri, 06/19/2020 - 8:36am by muffy
30 year-old Kate Aitken, a former journalist is relieved to finally be moving on, accepting a temporary archivist position in Northern California after her career imploded, the result of a sexual harassment complaint against her superior that polarized the New York paper where she worked.
She is hired to organize the papers and personal effects of Miranda Brand - a famed photographer who died under mysterious circumstances at the height of her career. Still emotionally fragile, Kate is looking forward to working in solitude at the historic Brand House. So she is surprised (and a little dismay) to find Theo, Miranda’s son and her employer living there with his 2 young children, an arrangement complicated by his recent divorce.
As Kate sifts through Miranda’s letters, receipts, and prints, she begins to suspect Miranda was murdered, though the Police ruled it a suicide. Despite her growing attraction to Theo, Kate could not dispel the persistent rumor that a young and disturbed Theo killed his mother. When she stumbles across Miranda's diary, her curiosity spirals into a dangerous obsession.
“Sligar delivers an intriguing mystery while tackling big themes, especially sexism and the societal restraints placed on women’s bodies and minds. The results are spellbinding. A raw and sophisticated debut.” (Kirkus Reviews)
* = Starred review
Fri, 06/12/2020 - 8:14am by muffy
Set in Michigan’s idyllic North Bear Shores (fictional), 29 year-old Romance writer January Andrews is broke, and smarting from the discovery of her father’s long-standing extramarital affair when she inherits his secret lake house. Her new next door neighbor is none other than Augustus Everett, her grad school (UM, Creative Writing) nemesis and the darling of the literary fiction world. Unbeknownst to her, he is also suffering from severe writer’s block. As a challenge, they decide to swap genres, and whoever finishes and sells their book first, wins.
“To prepare, Augustus will bring January along for his research, and she'll take him on outings that inspire romance. They find pleasure in this work and even more in each other…January's first-person narration is suitably poetic and effervescent, the small-town beach setting is charming, and the romance is achingly swoony.” (Booklist) For fans of Susan Mallery and Elin Hilerbrandt.
Andrea Tang, a high-powered attorney dreads Chinese New Year when her spinsterhood (at 33) is once again the topic of conversation, and disappointment among her extended Chinese Malaysian family. Online dating yields lackluster prospects and a constant hangover, problematic when she has partnership at the law firm in sight. Then she meets billionaire Eric Deng (at a BOOK CLUB!!) who would definitely check all the boxes with her family. As Andrea's relationship with Eric heats up, an unexpected twist in the form of her office frenemy Suresh Aditparan complicates matters.
“The combination of an appealing lead, a glamorous setting, and relatable, funny portrayals of relationships and workplace politics make this debut one of the must-read escapist pleasures of the summer.” (Library Journal)
Kwana Jackson’s (writing for the first time under her new pen name), Real Men Knit (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook) “crafts a cute friends-to-lovers romance with a diverse cast of characters that emphasizes the importance of community and found family." (Booklist)
Shop assistant Kerry Fuller at Strong Knits, a Harlem yarn store is sure when owner Mama Joy dies unexpectedly, her four adoptive sons would sell the business. Instead, she is surprised when Jesse Strong, a commitment-phobic heartthrob (and her secret crush) asks her to help keep the store open. As they work together to reinvent the business for a new generation of knitters, the chemistry builds between them.
“Jackson eschews manufactured drama and miscommunication, giving her couple a relatively painless path to love. Jesse's delightful brothers bring an extra helping of light and laughter to the story, and their distinct personalities will have readers excited for them each to find love of their own in future installments. This smooth romance goes down easy.” (Publishers Weekly)
A Taste of Sage (eBook and also in audiobook) by Yaffa S. Santos is a June Indie Next List Pick!, and Entertainment Weekly "New Books to Read May 2020". This hilarious rom-com about chefs, cooking, love, and self-discovery will please fans of The Hating Game and Sweetbitter.
When Lumi Santana’s restaurant closes, wiping out her savings and shattering her dream of bringing eclectic fusion cuisine to her Inwood (Manhattan) neighborhood, she is forced to accept a position as sous chef at Dax - a traditional, Michelin-starred French restaurant in midtown, owned by Julien, the acid-tongued, smug and dictatorial task-master. Things get off to a shaky start when Lumi improvises on a ratatouille recipe and she vows never to taste his cooking, little does she know that her resolve doesn't stand a chance against Julien's culinary prowess and that flaming red hair and brilliant smile.
Then, there is Esme, Julien’s secretary - blond, efficient, watchful and regards Lumi as a serious problem. As the attraction between Lumi and Julien simmers, Lumi’s gift of synesthesia (she can perceive a person's emotions just by tasting their cooking) could put her in grave danger.
* = Starred review
Fri, 06/05/2020 - 8:45am by muffy
This “smart, heartfelt debut” (Publishers Weekly) - All My Mother's Lovers * (also in downloadable eBook and audiobook) by Ilana Masad is picked as one of Harper's Bazaar's "14 LGBTQ+ Books to Look For in 2020”; and O Magazine’s LGBTQ Books That'll Change the Literary Landscape in 2020."
When 27-year-old Maggie Krause rushes home to Oxnard (CA) for her mother Iris’s funeral, to find her college-age brother Ariel despondent and her father, Peter, catatonic with grief. Among her mother’s papers are 5 sealed envelopes addressed to men she has never heard of. Hurt and curious, Maggie decides to hand deliver these letters, and to discover the truth about Iris, who made no secret of her discomfort with Maggie’s sexuality.
“Told over the course of a funeral and shiva, and written with enormous wit and warmth, All My Mother's Lovers… is (a) unique meditation on the universality and particularity of family ties and grief, and a tender and biting portrait of sex, gender, and identity.” (Publisher)
Another one of O Magazine’s LGBTQ Books That'll Change the Literary Landscape in 2020”; and Electric Lit’s 14 Highly Anticipated LGBTQ+ Books Coming This Spring, Kept Animals * by Kate Milliken, is “a riveting page-turner, an unforgettable story of loss and renewal," (Library Journal) that sweeps back and forth from Topanga Canyon in 1993 to Little Snake, WY, in 2015.
15-year-old Rory Ramos, stable hand at Leaning Rock Ranch where her stepfather Gus Scott is the lead horse trainer is also a skilled rider. She trains with wealthy (wild and undisciplined) twins June and Wade Fisk who both pursue her; but Rory is more intrigued and confused by her feelings for Vivian, the daughter of movie star Everett Price. After Gus is involved in an accident that kills Vivian's little brother, relationships get extremely complicated as a devastating wildfire engulfs the canyon.
“In a separate narrative, Rory's daughter, Charlie, must untangle what actually happened between the group of friends 22 years earlier. Changing perspective throughout, Milliken excels at capturing each character's unique voice and perspective--particularly Rory's guarded quietness and Vivian's performed jadedness. Her attention to details of place and time, as well as the casual cruelties those of privilege can inflict on those who have less, provide astute undercurrents to the propulsive plot. Milliken's electric tale keenly documents the power of first love and the lingering hurt of trauma.” (Kirkus Reviews)
Successful child-star turn showrunner Jo Jones is photographed on the red carpet sharing a private moment with her assistant Emma Kaplan, and rumors fly. The scandal threatens Jo’s upcoming new film, and their “no comment” response just inflames the Paparazzi. As Jo and Emma spend more time together to launch the film project, and getting along famously, they begin to realize the rumor might not be so off base after all !!
“Their romance burns tantalizingly slowly as they navigate their professional relationship and budding feelings; Wilsner makes sure the reader knows both women intimately before allowing them to be intimate with one another, making the eventual payoff that much more rewarding. The supporting cast--among whom Emma's sister, Avery, especially shines--adds depth and dimension to this charming rom-com. This is a gem.” (Publishers Weekly)
* = Starred review
* * * * = 4 starred reviews