Rachael Bloome, Puzzle Pieces (2019)
Free download at author’s website
Elle is an app developer whose claim to fame is Puzzle Pieces, an app which aims to find a person’s perfect match. Inspired by her parents’ storybook romance and still mourning their deaths years later, she is unnerved when she learns that her best friend from school, Graham, has returned to town for his brother’s wedding. There’s a history between them that unfolds bit by bit as the story progresses, and while in many stories a similar history might feel predictable, Puzzle Pieces was such a fun and refreshing story it didn’t even occur to me to expect it—I wanted to watch it unfold for myself as it unfolded for them. Short and sweet, it didn’t disappoint.
I read this adorable novella back in February, and have been sitting on it simply because I enjoyed it so much, I didn’t want to subject anyone else to the same disappointment I felt over the fact that this is so far Rachael Bloome’s only book. There are others in the pipeline, but as soon as I read the last page of this Valentine’s Day story, I wanted more, and I didn’t want to have to wait.
It’s a testament to Ms. Bloome that I felt that way, since as much as I love sweet romance novels—both reading them and writing them—it’s unusual for me to devour one as quickly as I did this and immediately start looking for the next book. She has an engaging writing style and was easily able to pull me into the story of Elle and Graham, characters I could easily see myself befriending in real life. Puzzle Pieces is a memorable first step into what will surely be a long and successful publishing career—and even better, it’s free when you sign up for the author’s newsletter.—CJH
Delia Owens, Where the Crawdads Sing (G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 2018)
This novel takes place in a marsh somewhere along the coast of rural North Carolina—perhaps on one of the islands of the Outer Banks—beginning in the 1950s. Kya Clark is the youngest of five children, all of whom, with the exception of Kya, leave the marsh sometime after their beloved mother packs up and leaves. Mother and children go for the same reason: the father/husband in the story is an abusive alcoholic who keeps them living in isolation and poverty. Once her mother and siblings are gone, Kya, who is only six at the beginning of the book, must learn to get along with her father in order to survive, and once he leaves too, a few years later, she must learn to survive on her own.
The plot (which includes a murder mystery and an excellent court scene) and presentation of this novel alone would be enough to win over fans of Alice Hoffman and Karen Thompson Walker. But as a bonus, first-time novelist Delia Owens happens to be a zoologist and bestselling nature writer. Her descriptions of marsh life are as lush and irresistible as the events that bring this book to life.—JS
Ann Weisgarber, The Glovemaker (Skyhorse Publishing, 2019)
When a strange man knocks on Deborah Tyler’s door one January evening in 1888, she faces a difficult decision. She can guess that her visitor is a criminal, because who else would travel to her isolated Utah community in the dead of winter? And her husband, who normally handles such situations, left home five months ago and has not returned. She is tempted not to answer, but that will only send the unwanted traveler to the next house in Junction, endangering her younger sister and her sister’s children.
Besides, most of the criminals who arrive on Deborah’s doorstep are not thieves or murderers but polygamists evading arrest for what the US government has recently declared a felony. Deborah has little sympathy for plural marriage or the men who practice it, but she is a loyal Mormon who distrusts those inclined to persecute her faith and cares about the families left destitute when their breadwinners flee.
Deborah makes her choice. But the next day, a federal marshal arrives in pursuit. Threatened with prosecution for aiding and abetting a felon, Deborah fights to protect herself, her community, and those she loves from unpredictable consequences that draw her ever deeper into a web of secrets and lies.
I love the vivid writing with which Ann Weisgarber brings to life the frontier world of late nineteenth-century Utah and the moral compromises that plague even the most conscientious of us. Find out more from my interview with the author at New Books in Historical Fiction. As for me, I’m already digging into the author’s previous novel, The Promise—CPL