“The Map of Salt and Stars” by Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar
2018 Publication , 5 star , novel / October 25, 2018

Sometimes you walk past the ‘new books’ section at the library and pick up a book because the cover is pretty. And then you start reading the book and have to take frequent breaks because the book is so powerful and emotional. And then after you’re finished reading it you have to take a break and not read anything else for a while. This is what happened when I read Jennifer Zeynab Joukhadar’s “The Map of Salt and Stars.” “The Map of Salt and Stars” is an interwoven story: that of the present day Nour and her family, and that of a 13th century apprentice mapmaker who travels the same area Nour does in order to make an accurate map as part of the first atlas of the entire world. While Rawiya faces down military forces of fighting kingdoms and is stalked by an immense Roc, it is Nour that faces more realistically deadly threats as her family attempts to flee Syria. They’d already fled New York, after their dad died of cancer. Nour’s mother took her and her two older sisters back to Syria. Well, for her mom and sisters it was “back.” Nour was born in the USA…

“Giant Days,” by Non Pratt
2018 Publication , 3 star , novel / October 16, 2018

If I weren’t such a John Allison fan I’d rate Non Pratt’s prose volume of “Giant Days” a bit higher, but Pratt can’t quite measure up and doesn’t fully capture Allison’s tone. That said it’s a solid piece of work that continues to explore the relationship of Esther, Daisy, and Susan as well as go into their own histories and needs. Pratt covers some of Susan’s emotional motivation, why she closes herself off, which was very interesting. In the book, Esther tries to make a new friend who turns out to be a complete asshole; Susan grapples with her ability to maintain friendships and her history with McGraw; and Daisy trying to find a place in the world and a community and finding… essentially a yoga cult. Yes, a cult around Yoga. The book really focuses on Daisy, or at least that’s how it seems to be. I’m curious if there’s going to be other books focusing on Esther and Susan. I’d absolutely pick them up if that’s case, especially if it’s a Susan book. I feel like i’ve a good handle on Esther as I’ve been following her antics since “Scary Go Round” days. This is a solid book,…

“The Au Pair,” by Emma Rous
2018 Publication , 3 star , novel / September 24, 2018

“The Au Pair,” by Emma Rous, follows Seraphine Mayes as she works to untangle the true story of her parentage and the reason her grandmother seems to prefer her twin brother, Danny, over her. Is there a mystery as to her true parentage? Is that what her father was hinting at when he said he needed to talk to all the kids just before he died unexpectedly in a home repair accident? Or is she just overwrought with grief and lashing out, looking for something to keep her occupied? Or is she… going crazy? I received this book for free as part of a promotion. My opinions are my own. “The Au Pair” is a fast read, I consumed it in about a day, and follows the lives of two linked women during important times of their lives: Laura, as she au pairs for a family living on the coast of Norfolk in a palatial manse; and Seraphine who is the daughter of the family Laura au paired for up until her birth. Laura is dealing with her own trauma and mysteries, while Seraphine tries to track down who her parents actually are… although she has no real reason to…

“Two Girls Down,” by Louisa Luna
4 star , mystery , novel / September 21, 2018

“Two Girls Down,” by Louisa Luna, is a quick and intense read about a bounty hunter searching for two missing girls. Alice Vega, the bounty hunter, has a good track record finding missing kids and charges appropriately. The girls’ mother is desperate and with her wealthy mother’s help engages her. Despite her reputation, Vega gets no help from the local police, who are already understaffed and underfunded. They’re more invested in mundane local matters like the ongoing meth and opioid epidemic. They don’t have the manpower for a hunt for two kids. Vega manages to connect with private investigator Max Caplan, a former cop who took the fall for someone and who has lived in disgrace since then. He leans on his former fellow cop who owes him and is able to get leads. Both Vega and Caplan are very aware that there’s a time limit on finding missing children. If they’re gone too long they invariably wind up dead. They have to push themselves and everyone around them to track down every clue and follow it up, no matter how thin. This leads to some delicious red herrings and twists. I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting the…

Schrodinger’s Dog by Allan Brewer
2 star , 2018 Publication , novel , Science Fiction / August 9, 2018

“Schrodinger’s Dog” is a very fine short story stretched out over the course of a novel, filled with tedious exposition and infodumps that detract heavily from the ideas of the book which involve time travel and killing/not killing a dog. I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway. “Schrodinger’s Dog,” a book with an exciting summary of its plot, fails utterly to live up to the expectations it raises. A book about time travel, and about killing/not killing a dog (as with the famous Schrodinger’s Cat never-actually-performed experiment, or thought exercise), is bogged down by nothing happening but exposition and some kissing until literally halfway through the book. I slogged through this on a kindle fire and nothing of note happened until 51% of the way through. I don’t lean too heavily on gifs outside of twitter, but this particular scene kept running through my head. When ARE they going to get to the fireworks factory? The idea of the book is an exciting one, so why does nothing of import happen until halfway through the book? Oh, things DO happen before then. The protagonist is married but separated to a woman who put her career on hold to raise…

“Hunger,” by Roxane Gay
2017 Publication , 4 star , memoir , novel , Own Voices / July 31, 2018

“Hunger,” by Roxane Gay, is one woman’s attempt to grapple with the state and size of her body and the way it interacts with the world and the world interacts with it. It’s also a story of endurance, and survival: a story of sexual violence, of eating disorders, of being treated as less than for her weight. Gay is a brilliant writer and accurately portrays the way fat bodies are treated, and the way we take up space and are denied space. She shares the common thing fat people do when entering a room… who am I fatter than? Who is fatter than I am? She talks about the accommodations so often lacking for fat people: proper sized sturdy chairs, booth tables that aren’t too close to benches, stairs, patience. Gay also discusses her sexual history, which includes a gang rape when she was a child– when she was twelve– that shattered her and deeply affected her forever. Gay is Very Fat. She is Obviously Fat. She is I’m Just Concerned About Your Health Fat. She is Can’t Shop In Regular Stores Fat. She is Can’t Shop In Specialty Stores Fat. She is Morbidly Obese, or as some put it,…

“The Summer Wives,” by Beatriz Williams
2018 Publication , 3 star , female author , novel / July 27, 2018

“The Summer Wives,” by Beatriz Williams, is the story of new money, old money, and no money colliding on an island in the north east coast, told primarily from the point of view of the wealthy (by marrying into it) Miranda. As she spends her first summer on Winthrop Island, among people who’ve been summering their for generations and among the people who live there year round, she’s swept up in the wake of her dramatic new step-sister Isobel. In the few short months she’s there, Miranda gets caught up in a secret of the island, and in the arms of a handsome fisherman/light house keeper. I received a copy of this book in exchange for a review. The novel bounces around in time a bit to build a story around specific characters and maintain a sense of mystery. The “mystery” is blatantly obvious to anyone who’s picked up a book before, leaving the reader to do a bit of math to figure out exactly how old people are at different points in the story. That said, the descriptions of the island, the residents (mostly part time but a few full time), and the drinking culture of the era(s) are…

“The Woman in Cabin 10,” by Ruth Ware
4 star , female author , novel , thriller / June 28, 2018

“The Woman in Cabin 10,” by Ruth Ware, was published in 2016 and became a New York Times Bestseller… a reputation it deserves. I devoured the book in one day, deeply regretting that I hadn’t taken it with me on a train ride and wait at a doctor’s office (my husband was with me and I wanted to be polite and not ignore him for a book, foolish decision). Note: I won this book from a Goodreads giveaway. My opinions are my own. Laura “Lo” Blacklock is a struggling writer at travel magazine “Velocity.” She’s been there for years without a promotion when, due to the illness of a higher up, a plum assignment drops into her lap. She gets a chance to cover the cruise ship “Aurora,” a sparkling miniature gem of a ship that will intimately house rich and influential people. Her task is to interview and report on them and the exciting ship, and hope she can hobnob her way into advertising money for the magazine. Things kick off to an inauspicious start two days before she’s scheduled to leave, though, when a burglar breaks into her flat, robs her, and barricades her in her room. Luckily…

“Caged,” by Ellison Cooper

“Caged,” by Ellison Cooper, is a fast paced thriller about FBI neuroscientist Sayer Altair, who winds up leading the hunt for an especially twisted serial killer. Said serial killer is kidnapping young women and locking them in cages, dosing them with psychoactive drugs, priming them with mythology about death and dying, and then starving them. It’s a long, slow, scary way to die. Altair and her team are eager to end the cycle of killings and prevent any more girls from being tortured and killed. I won this book in a Goodreads Giveaway, but my opinion is my own. Content Note: forced outing of someone intersex/trans There’s really cliched words used to describe thrillers: roller coaster, page turner, gripping, full of twists, etc. “Caged” is all of those and more. “Caged” is a very fast read with a few great red herrings that come across not as cheap or cheating but as organic parts of the story. When I was fooled, so were the rest of the characters, in a very believable way. Cooper does a great job using our expectations against us. Cooper’s characters are interesting as well: flawed, hurting Altair and her incredible grandmother; her partner Vik; FBI…

“The King’s Justice” by E. M. Powell
2018 Publication , 4 star , novel / June 18, 2018

“The King’s Justice” is a medieval murder mystery/thriller by E. M. Powell, the first in a new series and thus a good jumping on point for people who are interested in murder mysteries/thrillers set in the medieval period. I won this book in a goodreads giveaway and this review is my own opinion. Content Note: threatened sexual assault to more than one party, domestic violence It’s 1176 and Aelred Barling, a clerk in the traveling court of King Henry the II, is sent to a small hamlet in the middle of nowhere to investigate a murder. As a representative of the king, he is there to make sure that proper procedures are followed and justice is served. He brings along an assistant, Hugo Stanton, a messenger that also works for the court. They don’t like each other very much but have to learn to work together… which is a common enough trope but Powell manages to make it feel realistic and organic, not a cliche. The case initially seems obvious. The suspect is locked in a cell and the townsfolk and lord are certain he’s guilty. Barling is ready to give approval for the execution and go home, until Stanton…