Category Archives: Fiction

Pieces of Her

Pieces of Her: A Novel by Karin Slaughter (William Morrow, 2018)

This engrossing novel technically hasn’t been published yet – I picked up a an Advance Reader’s Edition off a table at the American Library Association annual convention this week. You’ll definitely want to read it when it comes to a library or bookstore near you. It’s almost 500 pages of fast-paced action about a young Georgia woman and her mysterious mother. The story alternates back and forth between 2018 and 1986, shortly before the younger woman’s birth. There are some episodes of graphic violence which are key to the plot but not easy to read. The younger woman learns that her mother is in the federal witness protection program and the whole story of her life is a lie, but the real story is gradually revealed during a dangerous journey as well as through the flashbacks to 1986.

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The map of salt and stars

The map of salt and stars by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar (Touchstone, 2018)

This novel is two stories intertwined: the tale of a medieval Arabic mapmaker and his apprentices (one is a girl), and the story of a modern day Syrian refugee family. Although the main character in the modern story is a young teenage girl, her mother is also a mapmaker. So maps of the Middle East and North Africa are important to both stories, and the people follow similar paths in their journeys. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel about a Syrian family before, but it is very timely. I learned a lot about their language and culture. Some of the poems were lovely. There were also distressing similarities between the horrific situations and traumatic losses that this Syrian family had to endure before they found safety in a new home, and the situations encountered by the undocumented immigrants to the US that I read about in another recent novel. There’s a lot of bad stuff going on out there in the world.

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How to stop time

How to stop time: a novel by Matt Haig (Viking, 2017)

This is one of those non-traditional style science fiction books where everything is normal and Earth-based except for one major alternative-world premise. In this case, the premise is that a few lucky people age 10 times more slowly than normal, so they live for 800-1,000 years. The main character is a man who appears to be in his forties but is actually over four hundred years old. Of course this kind of thing has a few problems, like outliving your spouse and scaring medieval witch hunters by your eternal youth. It’s not a time travel novel per se, but has some of the same elements. This is a good story based on a unique plot device.

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Census

Census: A novel by Jesse Ball (Harper Collins, 2018)

This was a much stranger novel than the book jacket described. Although the back flap says Jesse Ball was “born in New York” it doesn’t say where he lives now, and what country he imagines this story to take place in. It is certainly not the United States. I guess it takes place in a fictional country. He doesn’t bother to name the towns; he literally labels them A through Z. Conveniently there is a train running from Z back to A. I could buy the idea that a dying surgeon living alone with a Down syndrome son decides to travel the country working for the census bureau until he dies, but in modern times the census bureau mails you the form, the census takers don’t visit you in person. And they most definitely do not tattoo you to prove you’ve been counted. The novel is a vehicle for some worthwhile commentary about people and their attitudes towards individuals who are different, but it has a very strange vibe overall. There is an obsession with birds (specifically cormorants) and clowns that I don’t even begin to understand.

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The Mothers: A Novel

The Mothers: A Novel by Brit Bennett (Riverhead Books, 2016)

This is not a terrible book, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I guess I thought it would be about young married moms in their twenties and thirties, but it wasn’t. The title seems to refer to two groups of women: the judgmental older women (mostly grandmothers) who keep a black church in Southern California going, and the two young adult best friends who grew up in the church and went on to become very young mothers. Actually one of them did not become a mother, because she had an abortion, but she spends the rest of the book regretting both that choice and the choice to leave her first boyfriend who would have been that baby’s father. The novel is set in a present day African-American community, and promotes the idea that abortion is a mistake.

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Now that you mention it

Now that you mention it by Kristan Higgans (HQN Books, 2017)

The overall plot of this novel is so much like a Hallmark movie that the main character comments on that fact early in the book. For those of you who are not Hallmark movie fans, they all go like this. Young woman in her thirties gets in a accident, breaks up with her boyfriend, and takes a leave from her high-powered big city job to go back her hometown and reconnect with her family. While there she rediscovers an old flame, falls in love, and decides to stick around in small town America. In this story though, the details are a little darker than Hallmark would allow. Nora (a Boston doctor) not only got hit by a van in a freak accident, she was also still getting over a narrow escape from a man who broke into her apartment and tried to kill her. Her hometown family consists of a single mother on an island off Maine; her father left when she was a child and her sister is in jail in Seattle. A high school classmate, still bitter about her getting the Tufts scholarship he expected, is now a drug addict and an ongoing violent threat during her summer visit. Ultimately, there are some surprises you’d never see in a Hallmark movie that keep this novel from being a cliche.

 

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The Music Shop

The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce (Random House, 2017)

This is a new novel by an accomplished British writer I haven’t run across before, though she has published several previous novels. It is set in 1988 in a run down suburb in England, in a music shop obviously. The main character Frank runs the music shop, which stocks only vinyl records, no CDs. He has a knack for interviewing customers and determining what music would be perfect for their needs. Unfortunately this is not enough to keep his shop in business. The story centers around a mysterious woman customer to whom Frank gives music appreciation lessons, and of course falls in love with. I won’t spoil the plot but it is very sweet.

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