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We All Want Impossible Things is ostensibly a novel about death—but it pulses with life.

Ash is a food writer who is separated from her husband, Honey. Their relationship is basically over, but they’ve been too lazy and cheap to file for divorce. Even so, Honey often visits, offering food and emotional support in equal measure. Their eldest daughter is away at MIT and mostly communicates via emoji-laden text messages. Their younger daughter often skips school to watch HGTV and has, on more than one occasion, caught Ash in the midst of a romantic encounter. 

Ash is surrounded by people; they wend their way through her world much like the cats that circle her feet. And Ash needs all of them, because her best friend, Edi, is dying. 

Edi and Ash have been in each other’s lives since nursery school. They love each other well, quickly forgiving sanctimonious moments but just as easily calling each other on their bull. For three years, Edi has had ovarian cancer, and now her doctors are predicting that she will die in a week or two. Every hospice in New York City has a waitlist, so Ash recommends an option near her home in western Massachusetts, and Edi’s husband reluctantly agrees.

But death doesn’t come quickly. Instead, We All Want Impossible Things is full of moments both mundane and painful, hilarious and heartbreaking, as Ash waits for life after Edi. The complications of love, parenting and saying goodbye all mingle together in rich detail as Ash, who is nonreligious, seeks some sort of divine kindness in the face of death.

Catherine Newman, who has previously authored two memoirs and several books for children, drew from her experience of caring for her dying best friend (which she wrote about in the essay “Mothering My Dying Friend,” published in the New York Times in 2015) to craft her first novel for adult readers, and she fills it with heart-rending, lovely moments.

We All Want Impossible Things is full of moments both mundane and painful, hilarious and heartbreaking.
Review by

After inviting readers into a small world of everyday people with his first novel, A Little Hope, Ethan Joella sets his second novel in a similar ​community​, one full of folks whose uniquely challenging lives eventually intertwine. 

A Quiet Life is indeed quiet, in that there’s no cross-country adventure or mysterious plot, just a snowy Pennsylvania winter and endless ruminations. It is quiet in the way of ordinary life, yet even this small domestic sphere contains shocking moments of tragedy and chaos. A dead wife, a missing little girl, a murdered father—difficult losses and sudden fractures swiftly disrupt previously enjoyable ​lives. But in the time it takes to have a few drinks at a bar or stop at a gas station, love can be found, friendships discovered and hope renewed. 

Once again, Joella’s characters are as real as they come. With an observant eye and poetic sensitivity, Joella captures poignant moments and intense feelings, leaving the reader with a sense of recognition and comfort. There’s widower Chuck, who receives daily visits from his well-meaning friend Sal. Grieving 20-something Kirsten might be falling for both her divorced boss and handsome co-worker, and distraught mother Ella waits in agony for any news after her ex-husband took their daughter and disappeared. 

As these stories come together, Joella extols what is common to all of humanity: We need each other, both in celebration and in mourning. One of the most meaningful things a person can say is simply “I’m here,” and this is the level of profound connection that Joella evokes without ever straying into cliche.

A Quiet Life reminds readers that all of us are “victorious in a small way for having lived.” 

One of the most meaningful things a person can say is simply “I’m here,” and this is the level of profound connection that Ethan Joella evokes without ever straying into cliche.
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If you’re one of the millions of Americans who are (still) hooked on the groundbreaking reality TV series “Survivor,” the intriguing debut novel from memoirist and long-distance dog-sledder Blair Braverman will feel familiar—at first. In Small Game, five strangers are dropped off in a forest, where they must live off the land and work together to claim the prize money, and it’s all filmed for a new show called “Civilization.”

Protagonist Mara is an employee at a survival school. She can identify edible plants and build a fire. After a childhood shaped by paranoia—her off-the-grid conspiracy theorist parents worried their phones were being tapped and believed her mother’s miscarriages were due to a government conspiracy to control the population—Mara finds the “Civilization” cameras almost soothing. “She didn’t have to consider the surreality of dark figures spying, or cameras in the trees,” Braverman writes. “There was nothing to research, to doubt or to believe. The cameras were real, and everyone knew it. The eyes were always there.”

The other contestants include Kyle, an eager 19-year-old Eagle Scout from Indiana and a bit of a know-it-all; Bullfrog, a quiet and weathered carpenter who spends his time building a shelter, seemingly to avoid the others; and Ashley, a “magazine-gorgeous” competitive swimmer who’s using this opportunity as a springboard to fame. The fifth competitor, James, drops out almost immediately, sensing that something is deeply awry. 

Turns out, James’ prescience might have saved him. Within weeks, the “Civilization” production crew disappears, leaving the four remaining cast members stranded with few resources and virtually no information. They don’t know where they are, where the crew has gone and if they will return. After a grisly accident, the group sets out to find help. 

As a harrowing account of smoky, itchy, bloody wilderness survival, Small Game is extremely enjoyable. On a deeper level, it’s also a deeply satisfying exploration of how humans persevere and adapt in the era of constant intrusion, whether from cameras or social media. And ultimately, it’s a hopeful read, because even in the face of almost certain disaster, Braverman’s characters still find moments of connection and joy.

As a harrowing account of smoky, itchy, bloody wilderness survival, Small Game is extremely enjoyable. On a deeper level, it’s also a deeply satisfying exploration of how humans persevere and adapt in the era of constant intrusion.
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Throughout history, female healers have been cast out, feared and labeled as witches, even though their work in herbalism and midwifery helped shape medicine as we know it today. In fiction, the witch—that wise, rebellious female character—can be even more disruptive, her healing gifts even more supernaturally powerful.

Nettle & Bone 

T. Kingfisher’s dark (but still extremely funny) fantasy novel is full of female characters who carve out power for themselves: protagonist Princess Marra, who cherishes the peace of her convent home; the Sister Apothecary at Marra’s convent; and two frighteningly powerful fairy godmothers. But the only witch of the bunch is the dust-wife, and folks, she is an icon. A necromancer who tends a graveyard, the dust-wife can talk to the dead, keeps a demon-possessed chicken as a familiar, and agrees to help kill Marra’s sister’s abusive husband even though she believes their quest will fail—because wicked men should be held accountable. Despite her ruthlessly realistic view of the world, the dust-wife values the optimism of other characters, even Marra’s fairy godmother, Agnes, a sweet older dear who gives only good health as a blessing and frets over baby chicks. The dust-wife and Agnes bicker their way to becoming ride-or-die besties, and I would read an entire series about their adventures. 

—Savanna, Associate Editor

Little Witch Hazel

If you look up charming in the dictionary, I’m pretty sure you’ll find the entry illustrated with a portrait of the titular hero of Phoebe Wahl’s delightful picture book, Little Witch Hazel. In four short tales—one for each season of the year—Wahl captures the close-knit forest community to which Little Witch Hazel belongs. In “The Blizzard,” we see Little Witch Hazel make her rounds, visiting a chipmunk with a toothache, a mole with an injured paw and Mrs. Rabbit and her four new kits. Wahl also conveys how the residents of Mosswood Forest care for Little Witch Hazel: Her friends Wendell and Nadine encourage her to take a much-needed break from her errands on an idyllic summer day, and later in the year, Otis the owl rescues her from a fierce snowstorm. With a classical tone, Wahl offers a still-revolutionary portrayal of a female healer and the difference she makes in her community.

—Stephanie, Associate Editor

Year of Wonders

Geraldine Brooks’ Year of Wonders fictionalizes the true story of a small English village that was nearly overcome by the bubonic plague in 1665. When the local rector convinces the town to close their gate to prevent the plague’s spread, young widow Anna Frith finds herself quarantined with a few hundred of her neighbors, watching their numbers dwindle over the course of an extraordinary year. Among those neighbors are Mem and Anys Gowdie, an aunt and niece whose extensive knowledge of herblore gets them accused of, then executed for, witchcraft. When Anna visits the Gowdies’ abandoned house shortly after, she realizes that all of their dried herbs and foraged weeds, their tinctures and potions—the very things that had gotten them killed—are what had kept the pair from catching the Black Death before their violent ends. As Anna learns the Gowdies’ trade and brings their healing knowledge to the rest of the town, the novel becomes a moving portrait of women’s community-centered heroism in the face of unjust persecution.

—Christy, Associate Editor

A Discovery of Witches

Tenured professor Diana Bishop is a brilliant woman—a formidable entity in her own right—but she is also a witch with impressive magical powers. The hero of Deborah Harkness’ bestselling All Souls trilogy turned away from the magical community after her parents’ untimely death, swearing off her family legacy and instead creating a name for herself in academia. But her worlds crash together when she discovers a long-lost enchanted manuscript, which awakens an enormous power within her. Diana is the first person to have seen the manuscript in 150 years, and suddenly the whole magical community is after her. A centuries-old vampire named Matthew Clairmont becomes her protector as she navigates a dangerous world that she had purposely avoided for most of her life. Hunted for her power and knowledge, Diana realizes that she can no longer hide from her destiny. She must embrace her power, her magical legacy and herself—her whole self.

—Meagan, Brand & Production Designer

Red Clocks

Human interdependence is at the heart of Leni Zumas’ 2018 novel, which shifts among the stories of four adult women and one girl, all living in a small Oregon fishing town. But this is no gentle sisterhood novel, as Red Clocks finds female characters pitted against one another in an America where reproductive freedoms have been severely limited and single-parent adoption is outlawed. Gin Percival, a reclusive healer who’s feared as a witch by superstitious fishermen, lives firmly outside the expectations placed on women: She’s messy and smells like onions, prefers animals over people and is “uninterested in being pleasing to other persons.” She also provides herbal remedies and menstrual care for the women who visit her, which means she’s operating outside the law. Through Gin’s story, which culminates in her arrest and subsequent trial, Zumas draws a connection between the 17th-century practice of blaming women for any misfortune and our contemporary society’s concern with women who buck social norms and don’t care one bit what you think about it.

—Cat, Deputy Editor

All hail the menders, rebel healers and witchy women.
Review by

Billington, Texas, might be a small town, but readers of Bobby Finger’s exquisite debut novel, The Old Place, will quickly fall in love with this boondock burg and its make-you-laugh, break-your-heart characters.

“Even a town in decline never really stops growing,” writes Finger early in the novel. “People may leave, but their stories remain, reverberating in the bones of all those left behind.” That’s certainly the case in Billington, where generations of comings and goings pulsate with bitter secrets, old hurts and unresolved feelings—in other words, small-town drama at its best.

Reminiscent of Alice Elliott Dark’s novel Fellowship Point (a tale of two New England dowagers), The Old Place focuses on best friends and neighbors Mary Alice and Ellie and their deeply intertwined past and present. Both lost their sons immediately after the boys’ high school graduation, and Finger artfully doles out just enough tidbits from the neighbors’ pasts to keep tension high.

Mary Alice has been forced to retire from teaching math at Billington High, and she hardly knows what to do beyond having Ellie over for coffee every morning. Their new routine is upended when Mary Alice’s sister, Katherine, unexpectedly arrives from Atlanta, delivering bombshell news that Mary Alice has desperately been trying to avoid. The big reveal gradually builds toward an explosive conclusion at the much-anticipated annual church picnic.

One of the most remarkable things about The Old Place is how Finger, a 30-something Texas native and Brooklyn podcaster (“Who? Weekly”), has so superbly captured the hearts and souls of this trio of 60-ish women. The novel is an extended meditation on the great joys and enduring heartaches of long-term relationships—and the hard work that’s required to maintain these bonds. Finger is fully cognizant of his characters’ many flaws, noting, for instance, that stubborn Mary Alice has at times been capable of raising “so much hell they almost had to call in an exorcist.” His portrayal of Mary Alice and Katherine’s love-hate relationship over the years is particularly poignant.

A broad supporting cast adds depth, drama and even romance to the mix. There’s also plenty of humor, with lines like “And then something wonderful happened: he sawed his damn finger off.” Mary Alice’s teaching replacement, Josie Kerr, is a newcomer to Billington, and she provides an outsider’s point of view. (She also seems like an intriguing candidate to anchor a sequel.)

Finger has created his own kind of Lake Wobegon: a vibrant literary locale that readers will be loath to leave. Here’s hoping for more tantalizing, tempestuous tales.

With his debut novel, Bobby Finger has created his own kind of Lake Wobegon: a vibrant literary locale that readers will be loath to leave. Here's hoping for more tantalizing, tempestuous tales.
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First we met Evelyn Hugo in The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo. Then came Daisy Jones of Daisy Jones & The Six, followed by Nina Riva from Malibu Rising. Author Taylor Jenkins Reid brings her quartet of novels about fictional female celebrities to a close with the highly anticipated Carrie Soto Is Back, about a tennis player’s major comeback. In anticipation of its release, we volleyed over a few questions about the author’s favorite bookstores and libraries.

What are your bookstore rituals?
I seem to have a habit of hitting up the front fiction shelves, then making a beeline for the cookbooks and then hitting up fiction again. It’s very hard for me to leave a store without a novel or a cookbook. Not sure it’s ever happened.

What is your ideal bookstore-browsing snack?
A very fancy—perhaps even artisanal and overpriced—flavored black iced tea.

“I love literature but also deeply love architecture. Libraries are such a beautiful way of exploring both.”

What’s the last thing you bought at your local bookstore?
One of the volumes of the Bad Guys series by Aaron Blabey. My daughter absolutely loves that series, and it is such a treat to take her to the store and let her buy a new one. I love watching her come home and go right to her bedroom so she can devour it cover to cover.

Bookstore cats or bookstore dogs?
I love all animals, but my heart belongs to dogs!

How is your own personal library organized?
By color and sections that make sense only in my brain. To me, the organizing principle of a home library is “How will you best remember where the book is?” and so I do that by color of the book and a general “vibe” that defies logic but works every time for me.

While writing your books, has there ever been a librarian or bookseller who was especially helpful?
When I first started writing, I was trying to absorb as many of my contemporaries as I could. I was voracious. At the Beverly Hills Public Library, they had a Friends of the Library store, and that store would have a used book sale two times a year. I used to go in there and ask the volunteer behind the desk what books I should get and come home with a stack of 20. It was such a lovely way to read outside of my own taste, picking those used books up for a dollar or two each.

Tell us about your favorite library from when you were a child.
The library at my elementary school felt like such a special place. We only really went there during specific free periods or during the coolest, most magical time of the year: the Scholastic Book Fair. That sense I still get in a library or bookstore, that there are so many books I want to read and so little time, started right there.

Do you have a favorite library from literature?
I’m forever intrigued by Jay Gatsby’s library—all real books and none ever read. 

Do you have a “bucket list” of bookstores and libraries you’d love to visit but haven’t yet?
Oh, absolutely. I love literature but also deeply love architecture. Libraries are such a beautiful way of exploring both. I was blessed to go to college near the Boston Central Library, which may have formed my taste in libraries. It is such a gorgeous building. 

I hope one day I get to see some of the libraries at Oxford, the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial in Spain and the George Peabody Library in Baltimore.

Photo of Taylor Jenkins Reid by Michael Buckner.

So many books, so little time! The bestselling author of Carrie Soto Is Back discusses bookstore rituals, her devotion to cookbooks and more.
Review by

In Craigslist’s “Missed Connections” section, you can almost always find a titillating headline or two, something like “Goth Woman in Piggly Wiggly Produce Section” or “Saw You at Six Flags’ Drop of Doom, May 17.” We all have a story about the one that got away, but not everyone takes that obsession to the lengths the hero does in Freya Sampson’s charming second novel, The Lost Ticket.

Smitten with a young woman he met on London’s 88 bus line in 1962, Frank Weiss has spent a considerable portion of his adult life riding public transport in hopes of meeting her just once more. Only problem is, there are 9 million people in London, Frank doesn’t know the woman’s name, and the information he has on her (red hair, art student, bus rider) is several decades old. Oh, and one more problem: Frank is evincing the beginning stages of dementia, so if he’s going to find her while he still remembers her, the clock’s ticking pretty loudly. 

As luck would have it, the 88 bus affords Frank a second meet cute. This time, it’s a young woman named Libby Nicholls, who is in the midst of her own relationship crisis. Intrigued by Frank’s plight, she decides to distract herself from her own problems by taking on his. She enlists the help of Frank’s caregiver, Dylan, and his friend Esme, who has Down syndrome, to leaflet along the bus route in hopes of turning up a clue. This is how you find a lost cat, after all, so why not a lost love?

Meanwhile, Libby is thrown a few curveballs, both emotional and physical, that make her efforts for Frank more challenging. We discover that, just like unconsummated rendezvous, words left unspoken can provoke profound repercussions. And while all this is going down, occasional chapters introduce a character named Peggy, who may or may not be connected to—or even be—the object of Frank’s affection. 

Sampson’s true gift is bringing to life an improvised family of three-dimensional characters with real struggles and real humanity. In a way, The Lost Ticket is the ultimate literary British Invasion, uniting the Beatles’ “With a Little Help From My Friends” with the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.” As Mick Jagger says, if you try sometimes, well, you might find you get what you need.

The Lost Ticket is the ultimate literary British Invasion, uniting the Beatles' "With a Little Help From My Friends" with the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want."
Review by

What does it mean for a story’s setting to really act as an additional character? It can’t just be a well-defined place where players act out their roles. Rather, it must feel like an extra layer where secrets might be kept—and possibly revealed. An apartment building on Mallow Island, South Carolina, beautifully illustrates this principle in Sarah Addison Allen’s sixth novel, Other Birds.

Zoey never felt at home with her father and stepmother in Tulsa, Oklahoma, so after turning 18, she moves to the island to live in the apartment left by her late mother. Zoey finds herself at the Dellawisp, a quirky old building that hosts a flock of nosy, noisy birds for which it is named. So, too, has it become a home for a number of interesting people. From Zoey’s artist neighbor, Charlotte, to the property manager, Frasier, each tenant of the Dellawisp is haunted by ghosts—of who they were, whom they love, pasts they don’t understand or want to flee. In time, each resident seeks to be understood, to build connections with one another and to understand how their lives are intertwined.

Magical elements are hewn into the marrow of Other Birds. Ghosts and birds—imagined or real, but all mysterious—guide the meandering cast, allowing opportunities for joyful circumstances. The fictional dellawisps—curious, loud and loitering—shape both the setting and how the characters interact within it. Zoey even has a bird named Pigeon that only she can see. Pigeon prods and cajoles Zoey, helping her grow.

If you’re looking for a bit of mystery, whimsical characters and a keen sense of place, Other Birds offers all these delights and more. Allen immerses readers in this island world, as well as in the process of self-discovery, the experiences of being haunted and the gift of surrendering to what we can and cannot control.

If you're looking for a bit of mystery, whimsical characters and a keen sense of place, Other Birds offers all these delights and more.

“Adulting” is hard, and no one knows this better than Angela Appiah, the feisty 20-something protagonist of Shirlene Obuobi’s bighearted debut novel, On Rotation. As the dutiful eldest daughter of Ghanaian immigrants, Angie has spent most of her life striving to meet her parents’ sky-high expectations that she become a well-paid, respected doctor and secure an acceptable husband (meaning: a lawyer, engineer or doctor, preferably of Ghanaian descent). 

At the start of her third year of medical school, Angie thinks she’s finally got all her ducks lined up, only for everything to spectacularly fall apart. Her lawyer boyfriend dumps her hours before a family event, and rather than rocking the most important test of her med school career, she receives an embarrassingly low score. Now her entire future as a doctor hangs in the balance. 

Right when she’s at her lowest, Angie meets Ricky, a smooth-talking, disconcertingly sincere artist who gives her atrial fibrillations in the best possible way. The chemistry between them is off the charts, but Ricky is off the market, so Angie decides to refocus on grinding her way to the top. But fate, it would seem, has other plans, and she and Ricky keep crossing paths. Angie soon discovers that in love—and in life—the best decisions come not from listening to your head but by letting your heart take the lead.

Like its multihyphenate creator (Obuobi is a Black physician and cartoonist who now adds author to her impressive list of accomplishments), On Rotation goes above and beyond, blending rom-com, medical drama, women’s fiction, coming-of-age tale and immigrant story. Even more incredibly, it balances all these elements well, tackling them in interesting and satisfying ways. 

Obuobi’s choice to explore various types of love—platonic, familial and self—rather than focus exclusively on romantic love, is particularly gratifying and refreshing. It’s clear that Obuobi appreciates and respects her characters, all of whom are quirky and dynamic but—critically—never caricatures. Buoyed by Obuobi’s vibrant and strong authorial voice, Angie, Ricky and their friends leap off the page, their dreams and aspirations made palpable alongside their fears, flaws and hangups.

A genuine delight from start to finish, On Rotation will appeal to fans of Rainbow Rowell, Talia Hibbert and Ali Hazelwood, and resonate with any reader who enjoys multicultural, multifaceted, inclusive love stories starring unapologetically strong and complex women.

Shirlene Obuobi’s bighearted debut novel is a genuine delight from start to finish. Her exploration of various types of love—platonic, familial and self—is particularly gratifying.
Review by

“Tradition!” booms Tevye the Milkman in Fiddler on the Roof as he explains how his community has survived for centuries in czarist Russia. Traditions remind us of who we are, Tevye insists. Meanwhile, in Shirley Jackson’s iconic story “The Lottery,” residents of a small town annually stone one person to death to honor a “tradition” they don’t even pretend to understand.

Traditions may have the power to guide us, but clarity of purpose can quickly turn opaque if an outdated custom goes unquestioned for too long. This concern is at the heart of Nigerian American author Tomi Obaro’s rich novel, Dele Weds Destiny, a moving story of three college friends who reunite at a wedding in Lagos in 2015, three decades after they last saw each other.

The bride, independent and ambitious future doctor Destiny, is the only daughter of Funmi, the wealthiest of the three friends. After rebounding from a relationship with a revolutionary, Funmi married a shady military figure. Now she has everything that money can buy but also lives an empty existence, with no emotional security outside of controlling her daughter. There’s an utter lack of communication between Funmi and Destiny, who finds her fiancé, Dele, to be bland and privileged. Throughout the novel, Destiny suffers in silence, allowing herself to be manipulated while waging a kind of passive strike against the elaborate wedding traditions her mother obsesses over.

Enitan, the brainiest of the three friends, escaped her oppressive Christian mother by marrying Charles, an American Peace Corps volunteer. He came from a white New England family and, with an exoticized image of Africa that he absorbed from reading Ernest Hemingway, taught at the women’s university, where he met and seduced Enitan. Enitan and Charles moved to New York, their marriage failed, and she raised their daughter, Remi, alone. Enitan brings now-19-year-old Remi to Nigeria for the lavish wedding.

Zainab is the final member of the trio. She’s an empowered writer and bookish dreamer, a clever Hausa Muslim woman who entered into an ill-advised marriage with an older academic colleague. Her partner is now bedridden and needs Zainab’s constant care.

These women know each other well, so readers won’t encounter any shocking revelations or buried secrets. Rather, Enitan, Funmi and Zainab reunite with old sorrows as they reflect upon the heady days of the 1980s, when student unrest shaped their lives for decades to come.

Along with the women’s pasts, Dele Weds Destiny offers a memorable portrait of a country that has long been divided between a Christian south and a Muslim north. The vividly rendered wedding weekend is split as well, with a secular Nigerian wedding preceding a Christian “white wedding,” which is held in a church and considered the “official ceremony.” The novel is pure sterling when describing the traditional Nigerian celebration. No guest list is needed; everyone is welcome, and hundreds, if not more, will attend. They’ll feast on delicious cuisine and shower the new couple with money. They’ll wear their finest in the tradition of aso-ebi, in which the couple chooses a brightly colored cloth from which their guests make elaborate dresses, suits and robes for the ceremony, as well as gèlè, huge headdresses in matching material.

The climactic wedding in the novel’s final pages delivers just what readers hope for in terms of surprises, and it’s well worth the wait. There are no fiddlers on roofs, but old traditions bounce and jolt along to great energy and expense, eventually falling away to herald new traditions as well as a new Destiny.

The nature of tradition is at the heart of Tomi Obaro’s rich novel about three college friends who reunite at a wedding in Lagos after three decades apart.
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A former college roommate drops into Ava Wong’s seemingly perfect life after 20 years and wreaks havoc in Counterfeit, Kirstin Chen’s lively caper about importing counterfeit high-end handbags from China. Chen’s third novel is a breezy read with unexpected twists, carried along by Ava’s seemingly heartfelt narration as she confesses her involvement to a police detective. Along the way, there are plenty of fascinating details about luxury goods and the shadow industry of fake designer products. (Even readers who aren’t fashion devotees will likely find themselves checking the prices of crocodile Birkin 25s and Hermes Evelynes as the plot thickens.)

Ava, a Chinese American graduate of Stanford University and law school at the University of California, Berkeley, is a corporate lawyer on leave with a toddler son and a surgeon husband. She’s given little thought to former roommate Winnie Fang, who abruptly left college and returned home to China after what appeared to be an SAT scandal. Upon their unexpected reunion, Ava is amazed by Winnie’s transformation from an “awkward, needy . . . fresh off the boat” college freshman into a glamorous, successful businesswoman.

Rather quickly, Winnie inserts herself into Ava’s life. The timing is just right for such an intervention, as Ava is particularly vulnerable: Her mother recently died, her son throws nonstop tantrums, and Ava can’t stand the thought of returning to her legal firm.

Eventually Winnie recruits Ava to join her scheme: buying high-end handbags from luxury stores, returning imported counterfeits to the stores and then selling the real bags on eBay. Winnie maintains that it’s a victimless crime: “Those luxury brands, they’re the villains.” As the women dart back and forth to China and Ava falls in line with Winnie’s ways of thinking (“That level of audacity, daring, nerve—well, it was intoxicating.”), the novel explores questions of status, commerce and how the two are intertwined. As Winnie notes, “A Harvard degree is not so different from a designer handbag. They both signal that you’re part of the club, they open doors.”

Chen, author of Soy Sauce for Beginners and Bury What We Cannot Take, is a versatile, savvy plotter, and Counterfeit readers will be easily drawn into this morally complicated world.

Kirstin Chen is a versatile, savvy plotter, and Counterfeit readers will be easily drawn into this morally complicated world of high-end counterfeit handbags.

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