Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler
At twenty-two, Tess leaves her small town and moves to Brooklyn because can’t not. She lands a plum job as a backwaiter in an upscale Union Square restaurant where she falls under the spell of Jake and Simone, both older, who share a relationship with each other that Tess cannot, nor will never, be able to understand, but it doesn’t stop her from longing to be a part of each of them, though not together. Tess quickly leaves about food and wine, working hard to secure her place on the staff, feeling as if she is exactly where she is meant to be. Some lessons, though, don’t come as easily for Tess as the importance of terroir and she makes some missteps as she negotiates her new city and life, never losing her humor or resolve and she gains a new self-awareness and self-reliance that surprises her. Danler is poised to be a major new voice in fiction with this honest and visceral novel; the characters are real, open and honest, the details of Tess’s new life believable and tantalizing in this compulsive read.
Modern Lovers by Emma Straub
Oberlin College (Ohio) in the 1980’s seems very far away to Elizabeth and her husband Andrew who, with their friends Zoe and Lydia, had a band that never quite got out of college. Lydia, however, went out on her own, recording one of the songs Elizabeth wrote, “Mistress of Myself”, a song that became her signature song and something of a cult classic when Lydia died of an overdose before she was thirty. Elizabeth and Andrew, their son Harry, and Zoe, with her wife Jane and daughter Ruby, are all living adult lives in Ditmas Park in Brooklyn. Zoe and Jane have a restaurant but are having marriage troubles, Andrew, who never quite got the hand of being an adult and having a fulltime job is refusing to give a Hollywood production company the rights to “Mistress of Myself” so the story of Lydia’s life can be filmed and ends up involved with an odd, new-agey type of center, Harry and Ruby are having sex with each other, and Elizabeth, a Realtor, is the fixer, trying to help everyone else keep their lives together while ignoring her feelings of longing for what she left behind to be a responsible adult.
Though not old enough to have experienced mid-life herself yet, Straub has captured a group of people facing mid-life with all the day-to-day problems, the regrets of things left undone, and the urgency of having a meaningful future. The gentrification of Brooklyn, focusing on the microcosm of Ditmas Park is carefully detailed, the characters flawed but honest, and the observations keen and on point; the narrative moves along as the daily lives of these four friends is examined from many different angles and infused with new energy.
Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman
Luisa "Lu" Brant, following in her father's footsteps, has just been elected state's attorney in Howard County, Maryland, the first woman to hold this office. The first murder case she tries, a homeless man who has beaten a woman to death, begins to call to mind memories of a death her brother AJ was involved in many years ago, that saved the life of one of his friends. As Lu recalls the events she witnessed as a child with an adult's perspective, she wonders if she misunderstood the situation or if there was more to it than was revealed. Brilliantly paced, the story is told in the present with reflective flashbacks; once Lu begins to see a clearer picture of her current case and its connections to the other incidents, the surprises do not stop coming. Complicated characters, a complex plot with unexpected twists and turns, this is a stunning novel.
The After Party by Anton DiSclafani
In 1950’s Houston, Joan Fortier is the darling of the night clubs and gossips----both columnists and her friends. Her lifelong friend, also Joan, redubbed Cece early on in school, has done more than be Joan’s friend and go through the typical childhood and teenage angst girls do, she has become Joan’s protectorate over the years and maybe has become a little bit obsessed with Joan. As Cece and her friends marry, start families and take their places in Houston society, Joan continues on her own, self-destructive path, endangering not only her friendship with Cece, but putting Cece’s marriage in jeopardy as Cece doggedly continues, out of love, duty, habit, or even jealousy, to try and save her friend as she has always done. As the women’s relationship grows more complex, secrets about each are revealed and each must put their past aside, including perhaps their relationship, to allow productive futures, at last for Cece, a future of her own choosing.
A richly captured portrait of a specific time and place, the setting of the story depicts the glamour of nightclubs, cocktail hour with a new set of glasses, and knowing the proper outfit to wear to the garden club meeting. Joan and Cece have a much more complex relationship than Cece realizes and it is Joan who must harshly snap Cece out of her created reality so she is able to live the life she has chosen, in the world where Cece belongs. Complex characters and complex relationships set against the wealth of Texas in the 1950’s will keep readers’ attention from start to finish.
City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong
There is one unsolved homicide that has always haunted Detective Casey Duncan: the one she committed twelve years ago, the one that has just caught up with her. When her abused friend Diana suggests that she and Casey apply to Rockton, a town where people go to disappear, Casey is skeptical but is the ever devoted, protective friend and agrees to go along with Diana’s plan and a short while later, the two arrive in Rockton, though Casey has been told she is there on a temporary basis only. Upon her arrival, Sheriff Eric Dalton informs Casey that the town has had several unexplained deaths, possibly murders that she will be investigating. But Casey, who has always relied on her gut instinct, has a hard time getting a handle on things in a town based on secrets. As she works her way into the town, Casey slowly learns the secrets, including the ones that brought her to Rockton in the first place, changing the entire view of things thus far and possibly changing the course of her life, shifting her very foundation. Fast-paced, disturbing and intriguing with a laugh-aloud last scene, this very different novel from the author of the Otherworld series is not to be missed.
I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
Five-year-old Jacob is killed in a hit and run in Bristol, England, an event that sends the police on a seemingly wild goose chase for the driver. Jenna Gray flees to Wales to mourn the loss of her son and recover from her distressing past. As Jenna slowly heals, she is able to create a life for herself even as she still mourns the loss of her son. As the year anniversary of Jacob's still unsolved death approaches, a tip to police results in an arrest and just when all seems said and done, secrets emerge, creating a very different picture than what was originally thought. This self-assured debut with a clever plot that challenges the readers’ beliefs combines jaw-dropping moments with complex, believable characters and an ending that is hard to see coming.
Seven Days Dead by John Farrow
Detective Emil Cinq-Mars has retired and taking his first summer vacation in either his or his wife Sandra’s memory. Grand Manan, an island off the coast of Maine is picturesque, but has a history full of secrets that are about to come to the surface with deadly results. Maddie Orrock races through a torrential storm from the mainland to reach her father’s bed before he dies, but she is too late. Never close to her father, Maddie is not terribly distraught at the man’s death, though the realization that she now owns much of the island and the business on it is a bit overwhelming. Her grief is intensifies with the revelation of a horrific murder committed on the island the same night as her father’s death, a death that sets off a chain of events and brings Emil out of retirement, much to his wife’s displeasure, for a few short days and with an outsider’s eye, Emil sees things that those closer to the island, islanders and their history are unable to see. A picture of deception and a lifetime of lies begin to emerge and the killer ratchets things up as Sandra is drawn into the web of danger. Fast paced with well-drawn characters and an ending that few will see coming, this second entry into the “Storm Murder” trilogy will appeal to fans of Louise Penny.
Redemption Road by John Hart
Detective Elizabeth Black has been suspended pending an investigation into the rescue of a kidnapping victim, Channing, a rescue that turns deadly, the two suspects dead, shot a total of eighteen times. But Liz is hiding something about that night and so is Channing and the FBI and Liz’s captain know it. Former cop Adrian Wall, convicted of killing Julia Strange thirteen years ago. Wall is scheduled to get out of prison and Gideon, Julia’s fourteen-year-old son plans to be waiting for him to avenge his mother’s death. Wall has maintained his innocence throughout his time in prison and was forced to endure much abuse not only from the inmates but from the guards and warden as well, abuse that he suspects will continue upon his release because of something they think he knows. Almost immediately upon Wall’s release from prison, another woman is murdered in the same manner as the first victim, making Wall the obvious suspect. Liz is the only one who believes in his innocence, having a strong attachment to the veteran cop who she feels saved her life when she was seventeen; a victim herself, with a strong sense of justice, Liz is also very attached to Channing and Gideon, trying to protect them with little regard for her safety or freedom and before she knows it, she is in the sites of a killer, a killer who is closer than she realizes. Set against the sultry North Carolina landscape, this action-packed novel grabs hold from the first page and doesn’t let go until the final unsettling, but inevitably and oddly hopeful, conclusion.