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  • Writer's pictureFive Directions Press

Books We Loved, Jan. 2021

Ilona Andrews, Emerald Blaze (Avon, 2020)

Catalina Baylor is the titular Prime of House Baylor, where she and her crew, including her dangerous cousin Leon, engage in detective work. She’s also secretly the Deputy to the Texas Warden, charged with keeping the potent serum that creates magical powers out of the hands of evildoers.

She’s just picked up the pieces of her broken heart and set her mind to keeping her extended family safe when a new challenge disrupts her life. Four of Houston’s most powerful houses have a business deal with a nasty old codger by the name of Lander Morton. The focus of it is the swampy Pit, which is full of magical hazmat. Once it’s cleaned up, there’s a fortune to be made in real estate development.

When Lander Morton’s son is tortured and killed onsite of the Pit, Morton is convinced one of the other Houses is behind it. In addition to hiring Catalina to conduct the investigation, he hires a suave Italian assassin to kill whoever Catalina identifies as the perpetrator. The problem—the assassin is Alessandro, Catalina’s ex, who walked out on her without warning and left her bereft.

Now Alessandro claims he took the job with Morton in order to protect her. But can she believe him?

An entertaining and fun read with romantic sizzle. Interview with the author at New Books in Fantasy.—GM

Ann Napolitano, Dear Edward (Dial Press, 2020)

Twelve-year-old Edward Alder and his family (older brother Jordan and parents Bruce and Jane) are en route from New York to Los Angeles when their plane crashes in Colorado. One hundred and ninety-one people on board die. The only survivor is “Eddie,” who becomes Edward (his aunt’s decision, but an appropriate one given the magnitude of the catastrophe) sometime during his hospitalization.

This beautiful literary novel tells the story of Edward’s recovery—not so much his physical rehabilitation as the much more challenging rebuilding of his spirit and his heart. Supporting him through the process—even though it means making major adjustments in their own lives—are his Aunt Lacey and Uncle John, relatives who were practically strangers to him before the accident. Additionally, the neighbors across the street—Shay, a girl his age, and her single mother—open their home to him when Edward finds he can’t sleep in his aunt and uncle’s spare bedroom, which was meant to be a nursery for a child they never had.

The chapters describing the fits and starts of Edward’s efforts to move forward in his life occur between chapters that take the reader back onboard the plane, where we get to know some of the other passengers, who they were, where they were going, what their lives were like, who they will leave behind. Coming to care for them—particularly Edward’s beloved brother—and simultaneously knowing they won’t make it adds up to double heartache for the reader, but it is balanced by a discovery that Edward and Shay make in the locked suitcases that they come upon in the garage behind Edward’s aunt and uncle’s house.

Dear Edward was this reviewer’s favorite book in 2020, hands down. It is profound, exquisitely written, and surprisingly uplifting. Napolitano’s ability to look at the world through the eyes of someone so young will remind readers of The Age of Miracles, by Karen Thompson Walker, another extraordinary novel.—JS

Connie Palmen, Your Story, My Story

(Amazon Crossing, 2021)

Reading fiction, we are told, builds empathy by exposing us to the points of view of people unlike ourselves. Nowhere is this truth more evident than in Connie Palmen’s remarkable novel Your Story, My Story, originally published in Dutch and now appearing in a fluid and delightful English translation.

The marriage of the poet Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide in 1963, and her husband Ted Hughes (also a poet) has been the subject of a vast literature on the poet’s life and death. Plath has become an iconic figure. Non-scholars passed judgment on her and her husband long ago. Yet Connie Palmen does an exemplary job of overturning our expectations by presenting the couple’s relationship from Ted Hughes’ point of view. Moreover, she succeeds without sugar-coating Hughes’ personality. A fast, engrossing, and thought-provoking read, this is a novel well worth seeking out. Written interview with the author on my blog.—CPL

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