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Goodreads Choice AwardNominee for Best Mystery & Thriller (2016) Her eyes are wide open. Her lips parted as if to speak. Her dead body frozen in the ice…She is not the only one. When a young boy discovers the body of a woman beneath a thick sheet of ice in a South London park, Detective Erika Foster is called in to lead the murder investi...Details, rating and comments
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Against all odds, Katniss Everdeen has won the Hunger Games. She and fellow District 12 tribute Peeta Mellark are miraculously still alive. Katniss should be relieved, happy even. After all, she has returned to her family and her longtime friend, Gale. Yet nothing is the way Katniss wishes it to be. Gale holds her at an icy distance. Peeta has turn...Details, rating and comments
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#1 NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER A landmark volume in science writing by one of the great minds of our time, Stephen Hawking’s book explores such profound questions as: How did the universe begin—and what made its start possible? Does time always flow forward? Is the universe unending—or are there boundaries? Are there other dimensions in space...Details, rating and comments

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THE BOY WHO FOUND HIS VOICE
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Tyler’s words always get “STUCK.” “Long words. Short words. Silly words. All words.” In his head Tyler can speak “loudly” and “proudly” tell knock-knock jokes and “even reveal the real reason why that chicken crossed the road.” Yet in reality “his tongue [gets] tied and his words just [won’t] come out right” a predicament vividly expressed via tangled scrawls and a spread depicting Tyler with a long loop-laced tongue. Still Tyler won’t give up. His mother encourages him and together they paint and practice saying “short words long words silly words” to describe their work. But at school his stutter makes it hard for Tyler to find friends; kids stare and laugh when he stammers during show and tell. Again his mother reassures him. Her ability to understand his paintings even when they’re imperfect gives Tyler an idea. At the next show and tell Tyler proudly unveils his self-portrait…and his audience goes “WILD!” Rhythmic rhyming and repeated phrases give the text strong read-aloud appeal; Gordon’s animated endearing cartoon illustrations readily convey Tyler’s apprehension determination and joy. An author’s note explains that Gordon was born deaf and acquired a stutter after undergoing surgery to improve his hearing. Tyler and his mom are Black; his classmates are diverse.


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LAKE COUNTY
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Aunt Jean as she does with some regularity has traveled to the (fictional) town of Hockta to “[claw] her way back to normal” in her friend’s care after one of her downward slides. A major part of her problem is Siebert Rix the nasty obsessed photographer she has known since childhood who has followed her from Los Angeles and demanded she return there with him. The plot breaks down into three components: Rix’s twisted pursuit of Marilyn/Jean who drifts in and out of different personalities in trying to protect Addie and her family; the Tampa mafia’s pursuit of Addie’s impetuous boyfriend Truitt after he accidentally kills the nephew of the mob boss; and the local sheriff’s determined efforts to protect Truitt and his mother whose no-good husband was gunned down by the mob. Dead bodies litter the landscape including that of a female store clerk who spends most of the novel in the trunk of Rix’s car and propped up in Addie’s living room a deluded local man who thought the movie star was going to marry him. Ultimately Marilyn/Jean isn’t the only one good at playing roles. Addie finds herself playing the part of someone strong enough to help her mother. In a fit of rage her father “turned into someone none of us had ever seen.” The Marilyn/Jean switches don’t always make sense and ultimately the plot strands are tied up too neatly. But Roy keeps things taut and tense throughout springing surprises and making all her characters count.


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YOU'RE SAFE HERE
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Stephens’ debut begins in “Zone 874 Pacific Ocean 29 Days Post-Launch” where we find one of our two heroines Maggie alone and afloat in a vessel called a WellPod which is about to serve her a so-called latte made of mushrooms and root vegetables. "When Maggie could see the brown sludge that coated the bottom of the mug she placed it back on the coaster triggering its descent into the table at the same time her gratitude journal slid out from a lower compartment.” A passion for worldbuilding continues to drive this story of Lenses Devices Injectibles Pohvees WellNests EarDrums and much much more as we go landside and meet Maggie’s live-in partner Noa who works at WellCorp’s Malibu campus where she and Maggie have been assigned a high-tech apartment. With wildfires earthquakes and drought having wiped out most of the rest of California volunteering for a Pod voyage was Maggie’s only option for getting out of town—and she really needs a break to figure out what to do about her unexpected pregnancy. Oops. In chapters dated by number of days pre- and post-launch a complicated story unfolds. One has to do with corporate malfeasance and whistleblowing at WellCorp—were the Pods really ready to launch and is there a major storm underway? Others involve infidelities and betrayals both past and present. It’s hard to keep up with which scary threat you’re supposed to be worrying about and which characters you’re rooting for—and the constant explanations and exposition dry up the juice. The novel is happiest when preparing and serving futuristic meals. “The hatch of her NutriStation opened and Maggie reached inside for her plate. The diagram projected through her Lens mapped out the baked coconut bacon sun-yellow cherry tomatoes cooked in lab-grown avocado oil and coated in ancient grains aside tempeh topped with a dollop of collagen- and protein-fortified macadamia nut labneh.” Sounds better than the latte anyway.


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INCIDENTS AROUND THE HOUSE
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Set in the fictional small town of Chaps Michigan near the other made-up places in dread specialist Malerman’s novels the story involves a deeply troubled family. Bela’s actual mommy has been cheating on her father Daddo whose friendliness and good cheer clash with his wife’s dark streak. Wrapped up in their squabbling and work demands they’ve neglected to pay attention to Bela. Sweetly seductive in the beginning Other Mommy offers Bela who blames herself for the whole mess a solution. They will trade places with the Babadook-like presence reincarnated in the girl and the girl...who knows where she’ll go. “Whatever you do most of all don’t allow someone else’s meanness someone else’s cruelty to get inside of you” Daddo lectures Bela. Soon enough a screaming shape-shifting version of Other Mommy is revealed to everyone leading the family to run off to an assortment of supposedly safe places and bring in experts in the spirit business to get rid of Other Mommy. Leave it to Mom and Dad to get so caught up in their plight that they miss half of what Bela has to say. As a result of long monologues about secrets and lost innocence and such the book loses some of its edge. And though Bela may well be little more than a stick figure by design that deprives the novel of a deeper dimension. That said Malerman keeps us in his grip as he did in his best book Bird Box (2014). The novel isn’t the original that Neil Gaiman’s Coraline is but it still deserves a place alongside it on anyone’s Halloween bookshelf.


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THE YELLOW BUS
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Deftly invoking the anthropomorphized objects in books of old (as in the works of Virginia Lee Burton) Long introduces readers to a small town and the yellow bus that serves it. Using charcoal and graphite the author/artist portrays a mostly black-and-white world; he relies on colorful acrylics to depict those who enter the bus (who's described with female pronouns) including children ferried to school. Time goes on and the bus is repurposed to take the elderly around town. Later she’s abandoned near an overpass but finds a new role sheltering unhoused people. Finally she’s taken to a farm where she becomes a playground for goats. With each iteration we hear the sounds of her passengers human and otherwise and the repeated phrase “And they filled her with joy.” At long last a damming project leaves her underwater but fish find a home in the bus and make her happy. A final view of the town displays a single wavery point of yellow visible beneath the water. Backmatter explains both Long’s inspiration and the model town he made as a visual aid. Though this is a tale of decay over time the book’s gentle narration fun sound effects and empathy grant the old vehicle dignity in her deconstruction. Characters are diverse.


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APPLE BLACK ORIGINS
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In the kingdom of Youta on the Eden Continent 13-year-old Willow Wantmore a Black girl with vitiligo dreams of joining the Youta Guild but her tribe faces discrimination. Her estranged sorcerer father Uzoh Olaocha bestowed upon her a coveted and rare Golden Wand named Novajinx that she uses to keep her pale locs tied. Just as Willow achieves entry into the Guild her life is thrown off course when she unexpectedly finds herself on a quest with Uzoh’s sworn adversary Gideon Banburi a Black man with albinism. As Willow unearths hard truths about her family and herself she must choose what family truly means in hopes of saving herself and her kingdom. Williams’ novelization of Oguguo’s high-octane series is ambitious but ultimately sags under its overstuffed plotting and clunky construction. The magic systems are overly complex and fussy and feature an unrelenting barrage of artifacts wands and elixirs that pop up conveniently and arbitrarily. The stiff and contrived prose often tells rather than shows and will likely leave readers feeling that the story was best left in its original graphic novel form. Despite these flaws Willow’s characterization is well wrought making her a hero to root for as readers follow her journey of not only coming to terms with her differences but ultimately celebrating them. Oguguo’s skillful art enhances some pages.


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DINNER AT THE BRAKE FAST
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Socially isolated due to her work schedule and some bullies at school Tacoma becomes cautiously excited when a musician’s tour bus breaks down at the truck stop stranding the driver’s 13-year-old son Denver along with the band. The two kids team up on a quest to retrieve a stolen Brake Fast memento from an adult bully named Crocodile Kyle and then buy groceries for Tacoma’s first-ever dinner menu at the Brake Fast Truck Stop which serves only breakfast foods all day long. What begins as hijinks turns to melodrama as the pair absorb a third member—Tacoma’s mean classmate and Crocodile Kyle’s nephew Hudgie—and each begins to reveal their personal challenges and traumas over the course of the day. The author treats issues such as anxiety parental depression and verbal abuse with sensitivity though the kids divulge their vulnerabilities with implausible speed blunting the power of the emotional arc. The rural Washington setting provides a wealth of quirky characters and locales and the one-day time frame lends a satisfying immediacy to the kids’ adventures. It also requires a time warp allowing three kids to cook a multicourse dinner for 18 people in just a couple of hours and leaving time for a public showdown with Crocodile Kyle. Physical descriptions are minimal; most characters are apparently white.


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EVEN BETTER THAN SPRINKLES
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Skeers lists the attributes of a good friend as a blissful montage depicts two children taking part in a variety of activities. A friend will agree to wear your unicorn costume with you—even if that means being the back half. A friend will let you take the coveted role of knight when you play make-believe (“even though you were the knight the last time. And the time before that”). And a friend listens attentively when you sing loudly and off-key. As the story unfolds we get a portrait of a loving yet slightly one-sided friendship. But when one child “accidentally-on-purpose” blows out the candles on the other put-upon friend’s birthday cake conflict erupts. How to make things right? A little reflection on the part of the candle-blower and “a whole bottle of glue and three kinds of glitter.” The chastened youngster makes an “I’m sorry” card and the two hug it out. While sprinkles are mentioned in the title they don’t figure that prominently in the story. Bright candy-colored backgrounds set a playful mood though the round-headed round-eyed characters have a somewhat generic look. Although many kids will relate to the subject matter (who among us hasn’t clashed with a friend?) the story borders on being didactic; most kids won’t be asking for rereads. One of the children presents Black; the other appears to be white.


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WE GO TO THE PARK
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Positioning the park as a liminal space the spare poetic text and beautifully unsettling art explore its endless possibilities as children play and wander: “It is the land beyond. / In the park anything can happen.” The paintings many of them two-page spreads showing trees fields and playgrounds are arresting and reminiscent of Fauvism. Many evoke a raked theater stage with the background appearing to rise in elevation. The flatness of the human figures and the absence of detailed facial features are characteristics that feel intentionally childlike standing in juxtaposition with the sophisticated color palette and unusual perspectives: Readers often view scenes from some height and distance or at times very close up with headless torsos dominating the foreground. The art is free-flowing with many of the images lacking black outlines. As readers explore these surreal dreamlike landscapes that contain both rich dark colors and bright intense ones they become immersed in text that can be interpreted as a meditation on childhood’s fleeting and changeable nature: “The trees have stood here for a thousand years / and they plan to stand here longer still. // We are like the trees: we don’t want to leave either.” Contemplative teens on the cusp of independence and adult readers nostalgic for the mysteries and wonders of their early years will linger and ponder.


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THE OUT-OF-TOWN LAWYER
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Destiny Grace Harper was pregnant with daughters afflicted by rare twin-to-twin transfusion syndrome that condemned them to likely death unless their mother underwent fetoscopic laser surgery a procedure she rejected at the behest of Rev. Jeremiah Tipple the pastor of the Church of Our Lord’s Rapture. Now that she’s fled her home and delivered two babies one stillborn the other dead within minutes the state of Alabama has put her on trial for capital murder. Her mother LeAnn Harper whom the good pastor excommunicated after her cancer surgery offers little help beyond urging her to replace public defender Aruna Patel Higgins with someone more effective; Rev. Tipple refuses to testify about Destiny’s motives; and Judge Merle Barraclough purges the jury pool of anyone who supports abortion. So Elvis Henderson the former local boy turned attorney whose boss in Laredo takes on the case pro bono has his work cut out for him. “My client is being tried for felony pregnancy” he maintains and it would be hard to disagree with him in a more sympathetic venue. As the story unfolds Elvis’ attempt to prove that his client acted out of religious convictions that no one close to her is willing to document gets increasingly tangled with his own checkered past in Cole’s Crossing a past that’s won him more than his share of enemies. Even though the case revolves around whydunit not whodunit Rotstein does an admirable job keeping up the tension en route to a series of surprising surprises.


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AT THE EDGE OF EMPIRE
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Wong whose father immigrated from China in 1967 grew up in Washington D.C. knowing little about his family’s lives in China and how his father made the decision to come to America. Stationed in Beijing for the Timesfrom 2008 to 2016 the author an expert journalist learned more about his father’s convoluted life journey which is the primary focus of this fascinating ambitiously textured narrative. His father’s parents were Cantonese merchants who “moved effortlessly between Hong Kong with all its trappings of imperial Britain and the subtropical countryside of neighboring Guangdong Province in China.” The author’s father endured Japanese occupation and saw his older brother Sam depart to America on the eve of the communist takeover. He ventured north to Beijing Agricultural University and embraced the ideals of the new communist leadership. Promised a career at the air force academy in Harbin as the Korean War broke out he was rerouted to the remote region of Xinjiang where he spent “six years in hard postings…in places most Chinese citizens feared going.” With the Great Leap Forward widespread famine emerged and he began to question the party’s leadership and to plot his journey to join Sam in America. First he went to Hong Kong “a significant step away from the bleak future that awaited…if he stayed under the Communist system.” The author chronicles his other visits to China—e.g. his 2023 trip to Beijing accompanying Secretary of State Antony Blinken—and he closes with an account of his time in Hong Kong in 2019 as violent protests were breaking out just before the stringent antidemocratic National Security Law was passed. Throughout Wong capably interweaves intimate details with broader truths.


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A GENTLEMAN AND A THIEF
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Jobb the author of The Case of the Murderous Dr. Cream lands quite the subject with Arthur Barry an Irish kid who hanging out in the streets of a gritty Massachusetts factory town learned to mimic the manners of the upper crust and put his gift to advantage. He charmed his way into the inner circle of the British royal family and after one quick job he wandered away with the equivalent of $250000 in precious gems. Barry as Jobb deftly paints him was a man of parts: a war hero who returned home to don debonair disguises and sneak into the soirees and homes of the very wealthy but who even though remembered by a socialite as “a rather gallant burglar” also was not above using violence to achieve his nefarious ends. Setting aside deadly force a would-be jewel thief could learn a thing or two about the trade from reading Jobb’s vivid account of Barry’s career. Like any good tactician Barry believed in endless planning and intelligent action. Would-be victims might learn too that it’s rarely a good idea to appear with one’s best jewels on the society page. Even though Barry’s haul in the 1920s alone was $60 million in today’s dollars he frittered away much of that money. Reflecting on the fact that he’d also spent nearly two decades in prison he also expressed regret to an interviewer. In listing his crimes he said “When you put down all those burglaries…be sure you put the big one at the top. Not Arthur Barry…robbed the cousin of the King of England but just Arthur Barry robbed Arthur Barry.”


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PROGRESS NOTES
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Nussbaum chief education officer at Denver Health and author of The Finest Traditions of My Calling agrees that the 19th-century introduction of science into medical education was an admirable revolution that converted medicine to a profession based on human physiology rather than folk beliefs. The result has been miraculous advances in curing diseases and repairing broken bodies but people still get sick and die. Indeed they often stay sick longer take longer to die and have limited access to appropriate cures. Nussbaum maintains that medical education now based on the “textbook of the body” should expand to include the “textbook of the community.” He makes his case by describing a pilot program at the University of Colorado where he is a professor of psychiatry and similar programs are being instituted at a few other schools. Medical students traditionally spend their third year in a hospital rotating through the specialties (surgery obstetrics psychiatry etc.). The author describes seven students who do not follow doctors but patients accompanying them to clinics emergency rooms and surgical procedures as well as to their homes and communities. This approach as Nussbaum demonstrates has proven transformative especially because research shows that “social determinants have more effect on a patient’s health than a physician’s clinical care.” The author also describes how in the past few decades medical schools have started paying greater attention to communication skills and classes now include far more women and people of color. Nussbaum lays out his concepts with refreshing clarity though he notes that his vision of medical education remains a work in progress. Given the success of the pilot programs so far readers will hope that the work continues to improve and spread to more medical schools and hospitals.


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MURDER AT AN ENGLISH SÉANCE
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Looking back over the past year Edwina can hardly believe all the changes to her life since she reluctantly invited American adventurer Beryl to share her home at The Beeches a gracious but costly Victorian house in the small village of Walmsley Parva. Never would she have imagined that she’d learn to drive write a book open her home to her former gardener or start a detective agency with her brave but impulsive housemate. Even police constable Doris Gibbs admits that the pair have a knack for resolving their fellow villagers’ dilemmas. When Muriel Lowethorpe the vicar’s wife asks them to persuade organist Hazel Moffat to stop providing music at Maude Dinsdale’s séances they agree that working with a medium is not an appropriate side hustle for a church musician. But when Hazel turns up dead in Maude’s spirit guide’s sarcophagus it’s PC Gibbs who solicits the private investigators’ help. Gibbs knows that together conventional Ed and unconventional Beryl have their fingers squarely on Walmsley Parva’s collective pulse. Not even Maude’s second sight can predict the ways their foray into the world beyond will rock their own world leading to an even greater expansion of The Beeches’ bespoke extended family.


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ATTACK OF THE FORTY-FOOT CHICKEN
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Chronically overprepared Barker Mifflin has just started his second year of picking strawberries at McFadden Farm receiving one essentially worthless McToken for each flat delivered. His stellar performance and survivalist know-how bring him to the attention of Megan McFadden the farm owners’ 11-year-old daughter who offers him a spot as a row commander and enlists his help solving an unusual problem. Her mother has mysteriously shrunk down to the size of a doll—apparently the work of Megan’s father Maverick a scientist who used to work at Colossal Chemistry. And before long Barker crosses paths with the enormous chicken. It’ll take all his talents and maybe a little luck to avoid complete disaster while getting to the bottom of things. Though occasionally meandering this second series installment is chock-full of wild antics wacky wordplay just enough scares to create suspense and a generous sprinkling of Barker’s always entertaining sometimes useful Survival Nuggets. Familiarity with the first entry in the series is recommended though Carman has made a strong effort to keep this story accessible to newcomers. Characters’ descriptions are minimal.


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FARMER EVA'S GREEN GARDEN LIFE
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Inspired by the scent of herbs at a local market Eva Sommaripa started small by growing parsley dill and basil for her family on a parcel of land between the ocean and a forest. Martin’s lyrical verse describes the pleasure that Eva experienced: “Tending plants under the blue sky / soil on her hands birdsong all around / Eva’s best good time.” Eventually she added other greens and herbs with enough to spare for local chefs and her farm workers’ lunches. Eva’s curiosity about the life beneath her work boots led to research about the creatures living there from worms to microbes. Richly textured spreads and spot art composed of prints and collage elements illuminate the vital roles of those “critters” and display Eva’s “compost buffet” which includes coffee husks and “fish and chips” (seaweed and shells). “Eva’s Garden” has now been in business for more than 50 years; her nurturing has expanded to local children and new farmers who come to discover her sustainable methods. The joy Eva finds in the natural world culminates in her annual potluck held in honor of the solstice. Eva’s community is a diverse one.


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WHEN THE NIGHT COMES FALLING
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Blum author of Night of the Assassins Dark Invasion and other bestselling books characterizes Moscow Idaho as a “quaint” and “churchy” town that also happened to be home to a university known for being “the best party school in the state.” Beneath the pleasant exterior a disturbing history—which included drug trafficking brutal murders and allegations of pedophilia and sexual assault against respected members of a local church—quietly lurked. Blum reveals how the stabbing deaths of Kaylee Goncalves Maddie Mogen Xana Kernodle and Ethan Chapin on November 13 2022 revealed in their shocking senselessness Moscow’s unacknowledged dark side. The police investigation ultimately yielded a suspect a troubled criminology doctorate student named Bryan Kohberger and circumstantial evidence pointed to Kohberger’s guilt. However there were no significant connections between the indicted killer and any of the victims which has since led to multiple postponements of the trial: “And so now after all the tedious exasperating delays whenever it finally does take place it will be a footnote to the larger ineluctable events….Besides what will the trial reveal? The dialectics of the courtroom would inevitably prevail and opposing teams of experts will be summoned to go at one another.” Blum suggests that a second tragedy—the effect the murders have had on victims’ families—exists alongside the actual murders themselves. In their frustration with the criminal system and desire for justice Goncalves’ parents and siblings offered support for death penalty legislation that would permit death by a firing squad effectively making them victims of a “raging all-consuming anger” that would mark them for life. Blum capably maintains the suspense and thoughtfully probes into the motives of key players in this intriguing yet profoundly unsettling story.


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SKYLIGHT
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Thirteen-year-olds Sofia and Cara have always been together so it’s a relief that their families are both moving from Colorado to Los Angeles (their moms have the same employer). The pair have barely settled into their new homes when they’re whisked away to the kingdom of Tropos a land of clouds. Horned winged royal guards escort the girls to the palace where Sofia who struggles with panic attacks is greeted with the revelation that she’s Jao Ying Saengfaa the lost crown princess. Her royal parents sent her away as an infant to protect her from Muet the leader of the Night Army. Muet is raging war and she believes that Sofia is the key to conquering the three realms and reclaiming what she believes is rightfully hers. While the girls receive combat training the Oracle drops hints about Cara’s role in the kingdom. The introspective third-person narration toggles among different characters’ perspectives including that of octopuslike shape-shifting Plaek who’s Muet’s servant and is tasked with helping to carry out her campaign. While the premise of the novel and many of the plot twists are compelling the quick buildup and easy resolutions of the climax and the somewhat pedestrian writing style will leave readers wishing for more depth. Lingering questions set the story up for a sequel.


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PLEASE STOP TRYING TO LEAVE ME
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Norma is 27 years old unhappy anxious desperate to break up with her girlfriend and not totally convinced that the world around her is real. But what she really needs she insists to her new therapist is to finish her manuscript. Norma’s refrain continues as she meets with her therapist twice a week panicking about climate change skewering famous billionaires and occasionally revealing a glimpse of her childhood. Interspersed with their therapy sessions are Norma’s stories which she emphasizes are fiction. Although the stories are nearly identical to her life this distinction is crucial to Norma. To Norma life is a story everyone is a character and reality is a concept that cannot be defined by something as flimsy as genre. “When I was stuck in oblivion” she tells her therapist “my head used the second person a lot. As if the author was whispering secrets to the character and the author and the character had the same voice so it was hard to distinguish one from the other.” As Norma navigates her relationship her mental health crisis and her manuscript she works toward believing her therapist’s words: “You Can Get Better.” This portrait of mundanity is scattered with memento mori that plead to be noticed. There are times when Saab leans too heavily on her narrative devices and the meta nods and storytelling stunts struggle to support the work as a whole. Still Norma is acerbic tenderhearted and clever. The majority of the novel takes place in her mind and it’s as fascinating a setting as any other.


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FLASHBACK
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Fifteen years ago San Diego PD Detectives Todd Williams and Paula Chase’s search for Alyssa Morgan a paraplegic single mother who’d gone missing ended with the discovery of her hanging in Tecolote National Park. As it turned out Alyssa would be the second of five young women the Bayside Strangler had killed before mysteriously stopping his work. Now Chloe and Sloane Morgan the two daughters who’d dedicated their lives to finding out who made them orphans have vanished as well. There’s no way that Kendra Michaels a music therapist who was once blind and is now hypersensitive will walk away from an appeal to join the hunt for them. The road to answers is strewn with both obstacles and distractions from Kendra’s continuing romantic pursuit by freelance negotiator Adam Lynch to the murder of Paula Chase whose retirement doesn’t keep her safe from an intruder looking for clues the Morgan sisters have dug up to the return of the strangler who seems determined to outdo his earlier tally in the present day. The authors reveal the killer’s identity early on link his criminal enterprise to the shadowy Dayton Group—which has attracted the attention of the former attorney general in Washington—and give him a personal vendetta against Kendra. None of this imparts the slightest heft or urgency to this generic serial-killer-with-highly-placed-government-connections saga.


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woman-stock-portrait "Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."G.K. Chesterton.

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