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Following on the heels of her bestselling third novel, Dear Edward (a 10-episode adaptation was recently released on Apple TV+), Ann Napolitano offers a lively homage to Little Women with Hello Beautiful. Chronicling the lives of the four Chicago-based Padavano sisters and one of their suitors, this sprawling drama stretches from 1960 through 2008, tracing the arc of their family dynamics, including the ties that forever bind them as well as circumstances and betrayals that tear them apart. Like Little Women, Hello Beautiful also thoughtfully examines the comforts and challenges of home life, work and romantic love, but with a distinctly modern perspective.

The novel begins with William Waters, whose life has been defined by the death of his 3-year-old sister just days after his birth. The tragedy casts a permanent pall over his parents’ days, and they ignore William thereafter—to a perhaps unbelievable degree. As William realizes, “They’d only ever had one child, and it wasn’t him.” Basketball becomes his primary source of stability, and he leaves his suburban Boston home after earning a basketball scholarship to Northwestern University. At school, he meets self-assured, determined Julia Padavano, who decides during their first conversation that he’s the one for her.

The two marry, and slowly but surely, William becomes part of the Padavano clan, which also includes long-suffering mother Rose, goodhearted father Charlie and Julia’s three sisters: artistic Cecelia and nurturing Emeline, who are twins, and literary Sylvie, who kisses boys in the library stacks while waiting for a “once-in-a-century love affair.” Julia repeatedly warns Sylvie about her idealism: “The kind of love you’re looking for is made up,” she says. “The idea of love in those books—Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina—is that it’s a force that obliterates you. They’re all tragedies, Sylvie. Think about it; those novels all end with despair, or death.”

Julia’s prophecy proves to be apt, with slow-simmering events reaching a shocking culmination as a benign moment turns “dangerous, like a shining dagger.” The family is torn apart in dramatic fashion, despite the fact that the four sisters “had beat with one heart for most of their lives.” 

As Napolitano switches narrators throughout the book, readers become fully enmeshed in the sprawling lives of her characters, watching them change and grow over decades. They’re a likable bunch, and as with real friends and family, readers may sometimes want to intervene, or at least offer some advice, as they make life-altering decisions. Napolitano goes to great lengths to explain and justify her characters’ choices—at times, at the expense of action and dialogue. Still, William and the Padavano sisters remain memorable, and Napolitano’s sharp plotting provides a gripping conclusion that radiates love and kindness, the sort you wish that all feuding families might find their way to. 

This bighearted domestic novel reaches comforting highs and despairing lows as Napolitano examines the many ways that families pull each other together and apart.

This bighearted domestic novel from the author of Dear Edward reaches comforting highs and despairing lows as it sharply examines the many ways that families pull each other together and apart.
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One hot August in the well-to-do community of Kitchewan, New York, an act of violence tarnishes the veneer of security and shine. The insular suburb may have “great schools, upscale people, and gorgeous river views,” but just like a body of water, the surface never tells the whole story.

Indian American immigrant Babur Singh and his daughter, Angie (formerly Anjali), are making their way in a very white world, neither of them knowing the rules that others seem to intrinsically grasp. In a traumatizing instant, Angie is thrust into the very spotlight she wants to avoid: Walking home from swim practice, she finds handsome, popular jock Henry McCleary stabbed on the football field. Biases reveal themselves as public opinion solidifies in predictable ways, and soon all fingers point to Chiara Thompkins, one of the only Black students at Kitchewan High School, who has disappeared.

From this bang of an opener, Vibhuti Jain’s debut novel is marked by crime and prejudice, building to a story of human nature at its most vulnerable and manipulative. The lives of Chiara, Henry, Angie, Babur and Didi (Chiara’s cousin) grow more and more entwined in the aftermath of the incident, which is not as straightforward as everyone believes. The characters’ tumultuous minds are captured in arresting detail, although the chapters that incorporate multiple perspectives and points in time are a bit muddled. Still, Jain excels at developing multidimensional characters and an atmosphere of intrigue while also calling attention to the complicated web of class and race dynamics. 

Everyone in Our Best Intentions carries a secret shame: something they want to conceal or protect, even as they also wish to be free of it. Angie especially is looking for absolution in the midst of all her tangled teenage emotions about what really happened between Henry and Chiara. Babur is looking for the light in his daughter’s eyes and the laugh in her voice to return. And although the authorities may be looking for Chiara, not enough people in Kitchewan are searching for the truth. But eventually the truth will out, as it always does. 

Crime and prejudice mark Our Best Intentions from the beginning, building to a story of human nature at its most vulnerable and manipulative.

Tony Zhang has always been willing to do what is necessary in his pursuit of a better life. He left his fishing village in China, seeking education and opportunities in the big city of Dalian, and found love along the way. In the early 1990s, he and his wife, Kim, lived comfortably, supported by his successful engineering career and her medical practice. But they dreamed of more—a TV, a refrigerator, a house, possibilities—so they left China and their careers for New York City.

As Tony and Kim’s daughter, Tammy, grows up, she struggles to understand her father, whose expectations feel impossibly high. Tony calculates how quickly Tammy can graduate college and then law school. He wants her to have access to the level of wealth displayed in the Rosewood, the upscale co-op on the Upper West Side where Tony works as a door attendant. But Tammy doesn’t know why her father has invested so much in a future she isn’t sure she wants.

Oliver is a 26-year-old white attorney who lives in the Rosewood. Eager to be seen as a good guy, the kind of person who knows his door attendant’s name, Oliver strikes up a friendship with Tony. After a dramatic incident in which a man tries to steal a Rosewood tenant’s purse, Tony becomes a hero, and Oliver devotes even more attention to him, quickly intertwining himself with the Zhang family. Tammy becomes Oliver’s protégé, first taking piano lessons from him and eventually following in his professional footsteps. 

In chapters that shift between Tony, Tammy and Oliver, charting their past and present motivations over the course of several decades, Paper Names explores how we’re shaped at the points where we intersect with others. While Tammy’s sections account for slightly less than a third of the book, her chapters are the only ones told from a first-person perspective, subtly communicating that the young woman’s life is the novel’s center. And although Tammy spends decades learning from both her father and Oliver, she retains blind spots about their lives—spaces where their stories move outside her view.

Debut novelist Susie Luo executes the jumps between her characters’ perspectives well, allowing the shifts to feel as natural as revisiting one’s own memories. This is a well-woven tale about the legacies that are passed down through generations, even when family members upend their lives in search of distance from one another.

Susie Luo’s debut novel is a well-woven tale about the legacies that are passed down through generations, even when family members upend their lives in search of distance from one another.
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Genetic engineering and mutations are a staple of fiction; think The Island of Dr. Moreau, Brave New World or, more recently, Jurassic Park. Ramona Ausubel’s sparkling novel The Last Animal focuses on a young scientist’s impulsive attempt to revive an extinct species and the impact this has on her children, who are traumatized by the accidental death of their father. 

Graduate student Jane is the only female member of a scientific team working in the Arctic Circle, searching for traces of the wooly mammoth and hoping to reignite an ecosystem that could possibly reverse the effects of global warming. She is accompanied (begrudgingly) by her two teenage daughters, the fiery, sarcastic Eve and sweetly obedient Vera. The girls crave routine and stability, and they are fiercely protective of their mother as well as each other. 

Eve and Vera’s accidental discovery of a perfectly preserved baby mammoth in the Siberian permafrost brings a flurry of excitement. But once back at the University of California, Berkeley, Jane is still washing pipettes in the lab while research grants are handed out to her male colleagues. At a departmental fundraiser, Jane has a chance encounter with a glamorous woman named Helen, who has a palatial estate and home zoo in Italy, complete with giraffes and an elephant. This leads to Jane implanting a genetically modified embryo, based on the baby mammoth’s DNA, into Helen’s elephant. The next thing you know, Jane and her daughters are flying to Lake Como to meet an animal that’s been extinct for hundreds of years. 

The Last Animal whizzes around the planet—from the steppes of Siberia to the shores of Iceland to a remote alpine village—with a dizzying, almost madcap speed, but at the novel’s heart are the deep ties between mother and daughters, sister and sister, human and animal. Though Jane, Eve and Vera are grieving, they never lose their sense of adventure and love of scientific discovery. Ausubel crafts this moving story with wit and depth, allowing readers to witness a family drawn together by both loss and a sense of wonder at an ever-changing planet.

Ramona Ausubel crafts this moving story with wit and depth, allowing readers to witness a family drawn together by both loss and a sense of wonder at an ever-changing planet.
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Aisha Abdel Gawad mixes family drama with a coming-of-age narrative in her debut novel, resulting in a gripping, intimate portrait of a Muslim family in the post-9/11 United States.

Amira and Lina are twin sisters living in Brooklyn who will soon graduate from high school, but their celebration is cut short by life-changing news: Their brother, Sami, is being released from prison. At the same time, during the holy month of Ramadan, their Muslim neighborhood is experiencing hateful attacks. As their brother readjusts to society and the twins teeter on the precipice of adulthood, they all find that, although family and faith tie us together, such bonds can also be used to restrict and smother.

Between Two Moons is narrated primarily by Amira, the more bookish twin. She is ready for a fresh start, and college promises a profound reinvention. Unfortunately, freeing herself from the chains of family, specifically her two siblings, is far easier said than done. Although Lina looks up to Amira, Amira has always felt overshadowed by her freewheeling twin, who aspires to be a model.

Meanwhile, Sami remains cloaked in mystery; the twins have never known the reason he went to prison, and their adolescent memories of him are defined by his rage and destruction. However, when Sami returns, he doesn’t go back to making drug deals on the corner or getting into screaming matches with their parents, a shift that initially makes the twins uneasy. But soon, the family learns to be together again: Sami works with their dad at his butcher shop, and the five of them take a trip to Coney Island in a heartwarming scene of unity. 

Such rosy moments are fleeting, as Islamophobia casts a long shadow over the story. Characters frequently make jokes or references to the Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prisons, but this comes from their collective pain, the torture they have experienced under the threat of hate. Some characters find ways to resist this malice, such as Faraj, Amira’s love interest and a community organizer who tries to teach Amira about bringing people together. Meanwhile, Sami devotes himself to his faith, developing a “third eye” mark on his forehead from praying. 

By the end of Between Two Moons, it is unclear whether these efforts make any tangible change, but that isn’t really the point. Coming together, feeling for one another no matter what each of us have been through—this is what Abdel Gawad’s novel advocates for. There is no more powerful message.

In Aisha Abdel Gawad’s powerful novel, although family and faith tie its characters together, such bonds can also be used to restrict and smother.
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What happens when dreams don’t pan out? That’s the question that Malcolm and Jess Gephardt both face after years of marriage in Mary Beth Keane’s engrossing fourth novel. 

Like her bestselling 2019 novel, Ask Again, Yes, The Half Moon is set in the fictional town of Gillam, New York, modeled after Keane’s hometown of Pearl River. While the events of Ask Again, Yes spans 40 years, The Half Moon focuses on a week or so in the Gephardts’ lives, exploring how events of the past have led to their discontent and an ultimate reckoning.

Malcolm’s lifelong dream has been to own the Half Moon, the bar where he’s worked for years. He finally does, although menacing creditors are knocking at his door, and he doesn’t have the cash to transform it the way he’d like—years of futile fertility treatments have exhausted the couple’s savings. Early in the book, he muses that “middle age was looming and he could already see the headline that would arrive with it: that a person could be extraordinarily good at something and still fail at it.” And he is good—a gregarious guy who’s got the charm to manage any situation. 

Jess is a lawyer, although her heart isn’t really in her career—or anything, for that matter. After moving out and away from Malcolm, she is trying to figure out next steps. In flashbacks, we learn that she has been increasingly attracted to Neil, a divorced lawyer who is the primary caregiver of his three young children and has recently moved to Gillam. In a struggle that seems quite real, Jess desperately tries to stave off these stirrings, wondering if it’s “possible to dance at the edge of a precipice and keep dancing for the rest of your life.”

Then a blizzard descends on Gillam, paralyzing the lives of its residents and emphasizing the feelings of entrapment felt by not only Malcolm and Jess but also a host of other wonderfully portrayed characters who work in and frequent the bar. As the story unfolds, the many fascinating behind-the-scenes details about running a bar range from heartbreaking to humorous. It’s a masterful setup, laid out in a careful, intriguing way. The disappearance of one of the bar’s patrons during the storm, lends a sense of urgency to the plot and adds a layer of impending doom that plays out in both emotional and physical terms.

Keane’s down-to-earth characters in Gillam are reminiscent of Anne Tyler’s wonderfully authentic Baltimore personalities. They’ll tug your heartstrings as they try to make their way through this world with steps forward, back and sideways.

Mary Beth Keane’s down-to-earth characters in Gillam are reminiscent of Anne Tyler’s wonderfully authentic Baltimore personalities.
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T.C. Boyle has never been afraid to torment his characters or draw from real life, and he does both in Blue Skies, putting his cast through just about every climate-related calamity to make the contours of the crisis so prominent that no one could miss them.

He begins this bicoastal adventure—the action toggles between Florida and California—with, of all things, jewelry. But it’s “living jewelry,” a Burmese python purchased by influencer Cat to wear around her neck. Boyle, the unparalleled stylist, describes Cat’s thought process in gorgeous prose: She thinks snakes are beautiful, “as if somebody had dipped a brush in acrylics and traced the lines that radiated in a widening V from their mouths to draw reticulate patterns across their backs and down their sides.”

Plenty of descriptions as unforgettable as that one follow as Boyle introduces multiple characters and complications, from the self-inflicted to the unforeseen. Cat’s ambition is to gain online followers and show off her Florida beachfront home. She lives there with her Tesla-driving fiancé, Todd, whose job involves drinking and partying to promote a rum brand. To Cat’s chagrin, it also involves a lot of time away from home.

Across the country in California are other members of Cat’s family. Her brother, Cooper, is an entomologist, disparaged as “Bug Boy” by classmates when he was growing up but who now conducts field research to study ticks and other arachnids. Their mother, Ottilie, is so deeply impacted by Cooper’s warnings about harming the planet that she begins cooking with crickets, making everything from cricket cobbler to cricket-infused cookies and brownies.

The disappearance of Cat’s snake is only the mildest of calamities to befall this group. Ever the maximalist, Boyle inflicts one disaster after another to show the perils of climate change. If anything, there’s too much incident. Fewer would have made his point more effective.

But wealth is better than poverty, and Boyle doles out ample riches. The pace never lets up, and he blends many other timely themes into his narrative, from aversion to parenthood to the ruthlessness of the media. Blue Skies may not be top-flight Boyle, but it’s Boyle at his most urgent. “What good was beachfront property if there was no beach?” Ottilie asks. As Boyle warns us, take the planet for granted, and don’t be surprised if, like a snake, its luxuries slither away.

Ever the maximalist, T.C. Boyle inflicts one disaster after another to show the perils of climate change in his novel Blue Skies.
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Mary Beth Keane grew up around bars. “Most of my uncles owned bars or worked in them,” she says. Which is why, when the world entered COVID-19 lockdown, Keane found herself yearning for the indoor camaraderie of a really packed bar. But besides socializing with her husband and two sons, the best she could do was drive around Pearl River, New York—the town where she grew up and now lives—hoping to spot a friend to chat with from afar. 

To compensate, Keane immersed herself in writing The Half Moon, named for the townie bar at the novel’s center. The wonderfully unpretentious, gifted writer explains this by phone from Bozeman, Montana, where she’s researching her next novel. (Its Western setting will herald a marked change from her beloved 2019 novel, Ask Again, Yes, and The Half Moon, both of which are set in Gillam, a fictionalized version of Pearl River.)

Read our starred review of The Half Moon.

In the novel, Malcolm Gephardt has worked at the Half Moon for years, and now he finally owns the place, with dreams to update and transform it. Unfortunately, creditors are at his heels, his marriage is on the rocks, and in the midst of a blizzard, a patron goes missing—setting the stage for plenty of riveting internal and external drama.

“This is a COVID book,” Keane says, “even though it doesn’t seem that way.” The pandemic is never mentioned, and there are no masks in sight. But Keane poured her loneliness and isolation right into Malcolm’s character, and the winter storm that paralyzes the town for a week or so accentuates the fact that a number of her characters feel trapped in their lives.

When asked about the impetus for The Half Moon, Keane explains that, at age 45, she’s starting to see couples get divorced and then, 18 months or so later, share Facebook posts showing “a whole new set of people and a new life,” she says. “I was thinking about to what degree we can change our lives once we reach a certain point. . . . I’m a very working-class child, and I grew up in a very Catholic community, and I don’t know whether it’s just me and the way I was raised, [but] I literally do not know how to do that.”

Not that she wants to, she adds quickly. “I’m very happy with my life. But part of being a writer is observing and watching other people, and I guess I just like thinking about things that I can’t imagine.” A friend of Keane’s recently commented that her books “are an argument for staying together, over and over,” which surprised the author. “Although it’s so obvious when I think about it now,” she says.

In The Half Moon, however, the odds of an intact marriage seem low. Malcolm’s wife, Jess, a lawyer, has been dreaming of having a child, but after years of unsuccessful fertility treatments, she has moved into the arms of someone else. Keane writes that Jess is weighed down by “Hormones. Grief. Boredom. The growing sense that life was passing her by and if she didn’t do something she’d leave nothing behind to prove she was even there.” Jess and Malcolm have had bitter disagreements over the financing of the bar, which she recognizes is his “baby,” his lifelong dream. 

“Every bartender in my family already thinks this book is about them.”

In crafting Jess and Malcolm’s rocky marriage, Keane had no idea what would happen between the couple, and she reported to her editors that she had “tried every [outcome] you could possibly suggest,” including some wildly dramatic ones. Such is the “jigsaw” style of Keane’s creative process. “It seems like a piecemeal, haphazard way to write, but that’s the way I do it,” she says.

In a 2019 essay for the New York Times, she describes growing up without books and how her earliest literary influence as a kid in the late 1980s was the Reader’s Digest column “Drama in Real Life.” In a way, Keane says, her upbringing was freeing, especially when it came to choosing books at the library. “Boy, did I learn a lot from those Danielle Steel books,” she says, laughing. She wrote her first stories on the back of paper plates, then read them aloud to her mom. Her first clue that she might have a talent came after writing a fourth-grade essay about a baked potato. Later, at age 13, she wrote a short story for a school literary magazine about a girl whose sister had committed suicide; it was so convincing that her mother began getting condolences from friends who said they didn’t realize that she had an older child.

“I knew [early on] that it didn’t have to be true; it just had to be good,” Keane says. “So I always leaned toward fiction. I felt in my gut that I was better at writing than I was at other things.” As she grew older, her childhood reading habits allowed her to remain free from the burden experienced by many writers who try to measure up to certain literary reputations. “I really don’t care what everyone thinks is good or not. I just read for myself. And I think that is a gift that not every writer has.” 

“As soon as I open a book and someone’s in therapy or playing tennis, I just don’t care.”

While Keane was at Barnard College, novelist Mary Gordon told her, “You have a subject.” At the time, however, Keane had no clue what it was. “Suddenly,” she says, “I was with people who’d been all over the world, and they had read everything. They were writing about things like anorexia, bulimia, sex—things that just seemed beyond me. But what was interesting to me then, and I think still is, is work and what people do for a living.”

Keane is the daughter of two Irish immigrants; her mother had various jobs, and her father was a “sandhog,” a New York City tunnel worker. For Ask Again, Yes, Keane interviewed members of the New York Police Department to collect accurate details for her police officer characters, but with The Half Moon, she simply turned to family, gleaning insider bar knowledge about things like jukebox earnings, free swag from breweries, beverage distribution and state liquor licensing authorities. Her cousins tended to be more helpful than her uncles. “Irish people, they clam right up if they think you’re asking too many questions, especially since I’m a writer,” Keane says. With a laugh, she adds, “Every bartender in my family already thinks this book is about them.”

The novel’s fictional bar takes its name from the ship that English explorer Henry Hudson sailed on his 1609 voyage to discover a Northwest Passage; a variety of places and products in the Hudson Valley share the Half Moon name. The moniker is apt, since readers will wonder whether Malcolm and Jess’ marriage is waxing or waning. “I also like that the name isn’t overtly Irish,” Keane admits. “It sort of bothers me when everyone describes [my work] as ‘Irish people’ and ‘an Irish novel.’”

Book jacket image for The Half Moon by Mary Beth Keane

The hallmark of a classic Keane character isn’t their background or heritage, but rather their inability to articulate what’s bothering them. “I’m more familiar with and more sympathetic to people who would sooner either tamp it way down and pretend it’s not there—or throw a beer bottle against a wall,” she says. Malcolm, for instance, can charm customers with his gift of gab for hours, but at home, he’s not so much of a talker. In fact, one of his truest, most memorable forms of self-expression comes when he throws a cup of coffee at someone’s car. “These are my people, I guess,” Keane says. “As soon as I open a book and someone’s in therapy or playing tennis, I just don’t care.”

Keane has spent a lifetime observing people in fiction and real life, and in both cases, she likes to keep things simple. “We’re just a disaster from beginning to end,” she says with a laugh. “Nobody gets any smarter. It’s just that kids look up to us. But I want to say all the time, ‘I have absolutely no clue what I’m doing, but I’m going to drag you along with me, and we’re going to do our best. You know, try to be kind to the people you love. And that’s about it.’”

Photo of Mary Beth Keane by Martin Hickey

When the world entered COVID-19 lockdown, author Mary Beth Keane (Ask Again, Yes) found herself yearning for the indoor camaraderie of a really packed bar. To compensate, she immersed herself in writing The Half Moon, named for the townie bar at the story’s center.

From the outside, the Gardners of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, have a life anyone would envy. But as Adrienne Brodeur (Wild Game) reveals in her thoughtful first novel, a shiny exterior often conceals secrets and deceptions no admiring outsider could imagine.

Set during the spring and summer of 2016, Little Monsters focuses on Adam Gardner, the family patriarch, and his two adult children, Ken and Abby. Adam is a prominent marine biologist who’s dangerously stoking a manic phase of his bipolar disorder to discover the secret of whale communication he is certain will earn him scientific immortality. Ken, on the verge of a move into the major leagues of real estate development, is plotting a congressional campaign in the next election cycle, but there are worrisome cracks in the foundation of his marriage to Jenny, the daughter of a prominent Boston family. And Abby, a talented but underappreciated painter, looks forward to the exposure a profile in a major art magazine will bring, while dealing with the early stages of pregnancy. All of this is complicated by the arrival of Steph Murphy, a Boston cop and young mother who’s spending the summer on the Cape and inching closer to the Gardner family for a reason they can’t grasp. 

As the gorgeous seaside summer rolls on, Ken and Abby plan a party to celebrate Adam’s 70th birthday. The siblings see it as a way to honor their father’s life and achievements, while he perceives it as another signpost on his inexorable slide into professional irrelevance. In this process, shards of the Gardners’ past—ones that carry them back more than three decades to the sudden death of Ken and Abby’s mother shortly after Abby’s birth, its impact on the children’s relationship growing up and the echoes of that tragedy into the present—emerge in unpredictable and even dangerous ways to reopen old wounds and inflict new ones. 

Brodeur effectively juggles these interlocking perspectives in chapters that shift seamlessly among the viewpoints of the Gardners, Jenny and Steph, sustaining the novel’s tension until a climactic scene at Adam’s elegant birthday party. Brodeur, who grew up and still has a home on Cape Cod, makes effective use of her familiarity with the captivating qualities of that setting, its natural beauty and wildlife, to lend texture to the story. William Faulkner’s reminder that “the past isn’t dead. It’s not even past” is one that applies with considerable emotional force to this quietly engaging novel.

William Faulkner’s reminder that “the past isn't dead. It’s not even past" applies with considerable emotional force to Wild Game author Adrienne Brodeur’s quietly engaging first novel.
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A Los Angeles dive bar packed with personalities. A sibling dynamic that runs the gamut from nourishing to obliterating. A mysterious woman who promises to be a kind of guru to a narrator on the brink of self-destruction. All this and more can be found in Ruth Madievsky’s debut novel, an exploded view of a conflicted young woman’s brain that delivers page after page of witty, often heartbreaking narration.

The unnamed protagonist of All-Night Pharmacy is a teenage girl just out of high school who’s swept up in the life and adventures of her older sister, Debbie, a stripper and party girl who encourages her younger sibling to go out and live, no matter the consequences. But in between swallowing random pills and taking shots at a local bar called Salvation, the narrator begins to wonder if Debbie is anything more than a master manipulator and chaos agent. When their clash of personalities turns bloody, Debbie disappears, but this is only the beginning of the narrator’s search for meaning and understanding. 

With her sister gone, the narrator turns to Sasha, a charming and spellbinding woman who offers spiritual and psychic guidance—an appealing offer for the narrator, whose life has become a wormhole of pills, bad decisions and confusion about her sister’s disappearance. Together Sasha and the narrator embark on a sexual, psychological and emotional awakening.

The tensions of the narrator’s life and the persistent sense of searching that permeates her brain make All-Night Pharmacy hum with energy from the very first page, imbuing Madievsky’s narrative with a sense of darkly comic unpredictability that never overwhelms the emotional beats of her character’s journey. Along the way, the novel touches on the scar tissue of growing up in the former Soviet Union, the trauma of European Jews in the 20th century and the calculated risks that come with opioid addiction and selling drugs. Madievsky is also a poet, and her knack for crafting imagery is on full display, merging the mundane and the profound to ensure her novel is thrilling all the way down to a sentence level.

Madievsky displays tremendous storytelling range, capturing all that is bitter and hilarious, heartbreaking and enlightening, wise and foolish within the well-developed mind of a single central character.

Debut novelist Ruth Madievsky displays tremendous storytelling range, capturing all that is bitter and hilarious, heartbreaking and enlightening, wise and foolish within the well-developed mind of a single central character.
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Thirty-somethings Lewis and Wren fall in love in a promising meet cute as he endures a bad date with someone else and she watches and eavesdrops upon it all unfolding. Idealistic Lewis is an aspiring actor and playwright turned teacher, and careful Wren, born to a teenage single mother, works in finance for stability and security. In due course, Wren and Lewis get married, and like any couple, they share and grow together while keeping some thoughts to themselves. 

The “normal” trajectory of their relationship is interrupted by a startling diagnosis: A Carcharodon carcharias mutation has befallen Lewis, causing him to transform into a great white shark before their first anniversary. As her new husband morphs more and more rapidly, Wren buys scuba equipment and installs an aboveground pool. Lewis eats cans of tuna and boiled shrimp around the clock while still trying to teach and write for as long as he can.

The knowledge of their imminent separation forces decisions and conversations they didn’t plan to tackle so early in their marriage. As Shark Heart winds through both their pasts (Wren’s especially), poignant and meaningful moments abound as they search their memories and experiences to help them navigate an uncertain future. 

Debut novelist Emily Habeck has crafted a story that is surprisingly moving, oddly heartwarming and deeply contemplative beyond its tragicomic premise. Habeck, who has a background in theater and theology, has a real dramatic flair, capturing her characters’ conflicts and buried longings in the face of undesired transformation. The “ever illusory margin between human and animal” is a key element of the novel’s world, one where people can become pregnant with birds or turn into zebras or Komodo dragons.

The short chapters and stylistic changes (some sections are formatted with only dialogue, while others are just a few sentences) do occasionally distract, but the depth of visceral emotion helps offset any affectation. Interspersed with Wren and Lewis’ story is the history of Wren’s mother, Angela, revealing much about who Wren is and why this parting with Lewis is so hard for her. 

This story of love and connection—between mother and daughter, husband and wife, and friends that are like family—vividly explores both the fragility and tenacity of humanity. Shark Heart’s questions are universal: How do we let go of the ones we love? How do we move on after loss? And how do we—can we—open ourselves up to joy again? Like Wren, we survive, exist and begin again in the “terrifying and sublime journey” that is life.

Debut novelist Emily Habeck has crafted a story that is surprisingly moving, oddly heartwarming and deeply contemplative beyond its tragicomic premise: a new husband’s transformation into a great white shark.
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Time travel narratives are so ubiquitous in our culture that we all must have, at some point, considered what it would be like to go back in time. Not just to remember, but to actually go back—to observe our parents when they were young, to take fresh note of textures and colors and shapes and situations and emotions we didn’t notice or understand when we were children. In Edan Lepucki’s novel Time’s Mouth, a grandmother and granddaughter share this ability, which is as much an affliction as it is a blessing.

Born in 1938, Sharon begins to “transport” when she’s a teenager, shortly after the death of her despised, abusive father. She leaves home, takes on the name Ursa and moves into a creaky mansion hidden away in a redwood forest. There she comes to govern a weird hippie commune populated by broken women, each given the honorific of “mama,” and their children.

The children’s lives swing between a sort of indentured servitude and a not-so-benign neglect. With the exception of Ursa’s son, Ray, none of the children are allowed to go to school or see a doctor, lest their existence be discovered. But Ray’s privilege is Ursa’s mistake. His knowledge of the outside world lets him see how twisted this village of mamas is. He and his secret girlfriend, Cherry, escape, but Cherry leaves him when their daughter, Opal, is just a baby. Inevitably, Opal, who inherits her grandmother’s fantastic gift, wants to know why.

This gift is tangled up with each woman’s experiences of motherhood and daughterhood, going back generations. Ursa leaves behind her own mother who refused to protect her, then later transports to reclaim Ray, and Opal uses her powers to learn more about her own absent mother. But even mothers who are present aren’t necessarily good enough, as is seen in the commune’s derelict mamas. 

Ursa is Latin for “bear,” and mama bears are famous for being fiercely protective of their cubs. But Lepucki’s Ursa is more fierce than protective. She is, to be blunt, a psychopath. She has no use for the nonservile; her love is conditional, if not transactional; and if she’s thwarted, she reacts with mind-bending violence.

The bestselling author of Woman No. 17 and California, Lepucki displays a real talent for giving readers a new perspective—whether on the passions of motherhood in particular, or on the nature of parenthood in general—and emphasizes the power of real love (and a bit of New Agey therapy) to heal.

In her third novel, Edan Lepucki displays a real talent for giving readers a new perspective—whether on the passions of motherhood in particular, or on the nature of parenthood in general—and emphasizes the power of real love (and a bit of New Agey therapy) to heal.
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Yara is a young wife, mother of two girls, a teacher and graphic designer at a North Carolina college, and one day she comes to a startling conclusion: “Everything in her life had been a succession of things that she hadn’t really wanted to do.” Following her bestselling 2019 debut, A Woman Is No Man, Etaf Rum returns with an introspective second novel, Evil Eye. Both books tell universally appealing, tightly focused stories about Palestinian American women and explore multigenerational issues of inherited trauma, misogyny, the difficulty of balancing career and motherhood, and what makes a fulfilling marriage and a well-lived life.

The daughter of extraordinarily protective Palestinian immigrants, Yara had a sheltered childhood in Brooklyn and often watched longingly through a window as her brothers were allowed to do whatever they pleased. Now, living in a North Carolina college town with her workaholic husband, Yara realizes she still doesn’t have the freedom she has long craved—to travel, be creative and shape her own life. In the art class that she teaches, she bristles at expectations to “center whiteness as the custodian of high art.” No, Yara thinks, “she had not worked this hard over the years—rushing through her degrees while raising two kids and maintaining a home and standing up to her mother-in-law and trying to succeed in a world that did not value her contributions—so she could stand in front of a classroom and perpetrate the very injustices that had colored her entire life.”

“I’m a sheltered artist who grew up in a sheltered world, so I can’t escape the fact that some of the novel is autobiographical.” Read our interview with Etaf Rum.

Yara is a volcano waiting to explode, and she finally does, calling out a colleague on their racism in an incredibly well-told scene. There’s immediate fallout, with Yara put on probation and assigned to receive therapy. Rum excels at writing internal dialogue and keeping readers immersed in Yara’s fight for freedom, friendship and, ultimately, a purpose in life. Though resistant to her forced therapy, Yara eventually begins journaling at her therapist’s suggestion, and she finds herself carefully examining not only her life but that of her mother and beloved grandmother, Teti, giving readers an intriguing glimpse of how trauma, aspirations and cultural expectations have shaped each woman, and how political events have ongoing personal ramifications for legions of Palestinian and Palestinian American families.

Rum’s observations about the intersections of Arab and Southern traditions and their similarities in art, history, media and food are particularly strong. Yara gradually befriends a gay man, Silas, who lends support as she slowly but boldly becomes the person she yearns to be. Just like A Woman Is No Man, Evil Eye has the power to reach readers of all ages and cultures, who will undoubtedly cheer Yara on as she forges a new path.

Just like A Woman Is No Man, Evil Eye has the power to reach readers of all ages and cultures, who will undoubtedly cheer Yara on as she forges a new path.

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