Quick Review: THE COMPANIONS by Katie M. Flynn (Gallery/Scout Press)

FlynnKM-CompanionsUSAn unsettling novel about a future in which the dead can be uploaded to machines and kept in service by the living.

In the wake of a highly contagious virus, California is under quarantine. Sequestered in high rise towers, the living can’t go out, but the dead can come in — and they come in all forms, from sad rolling cans to manufactured bodies that can pass for human. Wealthy participants in the “companionship” program choose to upload their consciousness before dying, so they can stay in the custody of their families. The less fortunate are rented out to strangers upon their death, but all companions become the intellectual property of Metis Corporation, creating a new class of people — a command-driven product-class without legal rights or true free will.

Sixteen-year-old Lilac is one of the less fortunate, leased to a family of strangers. But when she realizes she’s able to defy commands, she throws off the shackles of servitude and runs away, searching for the woman who killed her.

Lilac’s act of rebellion sets off a chain of events that sweeps from San Francisco to Siberia to the very tip of South America. While the novel traces Lilac’s journey through an exquisitely imagined Northern California, the story is told from eight different points of view — some human, some companion — that explore the complex shapes love, revenge, and loneliness take when the dead linger on.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from The Companions. The premise was intriguing, and dipping into the first pages suggested it was going to be a very well written, thought-provoking novel. I was not disappointed, and I found this to be an excellent, even moving read about life, how we define it, who has autonomy, and a powerful will to survive. Continue reading

Quick Review: MOLLY BIT by Dan Bevacqua (Simon & Schuster)

BevacquaD-MollyBitUSThe story of the stratospheric rise of an enigmatic Hollywood star and her legacy

A tragic death was not part of the script.

Molly Bit doesn’t believe she’s destined for success — she knows it.

This certainly helps her get through the countless auditions featuring actors who look and dress just like she does; helps her swallow the indignity of less talented actors landing roles; even helps her endure the industry’s aggressive over-sexualizing of young women.

When Molly is offered a lead role in a major film, she knows, too, that to seize this opportunity she must sacrifice everything. Even her commitment to an old friend.

It’s her big break, and Molly becomes a star. But she soon learns the hardest part of fame is everything after.

Molly Bit begins as a portrait of the artist as a young woman and transforms into an ode to the strange, personal magic of moviemaking, and our obsession — public and private — with performance. In Molly Bit, Dan Bevacqua announces himself as a force of wit and insight with his profound reflections on celebrity, beauty, violence, and the power of art.

I was initially intrigued by this novel for two reasons: its connection to Hollywood, and also the pitch stated that it was akin to Daisy Jones and the Six, one of my favourite novels from 2019. Having read the novel, I’m not sure that connection is as strong as they might hope, but I understand why they chose it. Molly Bit is an interesting novel with a lot to say about Hollywood, celebrity, and an individual’s legacy. Continue reading

Quick Review: YOUR HOUSE WILL PAY by Steph Cha (Ecco/Faber)

ChaS-YouHouseWillPayUSTwo families, connected by a decades-old tragedy

A powerful and taut novel about racial tensions in Los Angeles, following two families — one Korean-American, one African-American — grappling with the effects of a decades-old crime

In the wake of the police shooting of a black teenager, Los Angeles is as tense as it’s been since the unrest of the early 1990s. But Grace Park and Shawn Matthews have their own problems. Grace is sheltered and largely oblivious, living in the Valley with her Korean-immigrant parents, working long hours at the family pharmacy. She’s distraught that her sister hasn’t spoken to their mother in two years, for reasons beyond Grace’s understanding. Shawn has already had enough of politics and protest after an act of violence shattered his family years ago. He just wants to be left alone to enjoy his quiet life in Palmdale.

But when another shocking crime hits LA, both the Park and Matthews families are forced to face down their history while navigating the tumult of a city on the brink of more violence.

This is the second of Steph Cha’s novels that I’ve read — the first being the author’s debut, Follow Her Home (which is also rather good). Your House Will Pay takes a look at race relations from the perspective of members from two minorities — Korean- and African-Americans. It’s sharp, often emotionally wrenching and thought-provoking. It’s also difficult to review without spoilers, but I will do my best. In short, though: I really enjoyed this novel. Continue reading

Upcoming: THESE WOMEN by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco)

PochodaI-TheseWomenUSThe next novel by Ivy Pochoda, the author of the acclaimed Wonder Valley (which I still have to read), has been unveiled: These Women, a new crime novel that is described as “a serial killer story like you’ve never seen before — a literary thriller of female empowerment and social change”. Due to be published by Ecco in April 2020, I’m really looking forward to this one. Here’s the synopsis:

In West Adams, a rapidly changing part of South Los Angeles, they’re referred to as “these women.” These women on the corner… These women in the club… These women who won’t stop asking questions… These women who got what they deserved…

In her masterful new novel, Ivy Pochoda creates a kaleidoscope of loss, power, and hope featuring five very different women whose lives are steeped in danger and anguish. They’re connected by one man and his deadly obsession, though not all of them know that yet. There’s Dorian, still adrift after her daughter’s murder remains unsolved; Julianna, a young dancer nicknamed Jujubee, who lives hard and fast, resisting anyone trying to slow her down; Essie, a brilliant vice cop who sees a crime pattern emerging where no one else does; Marella, a daring performance artist whose work has long pushed boundaries but now puts her in peril; and Anneke, a quiet woman who has turned a willfully blind eye to those around her for far too long. The careful existence they have built for themselves starts to crumble when two murders rock their neighborhood.

Pochoda’s Wonder Valley, also published in North America by Ecco, is available in the UK published by The Indigo Press. I couldn’t find anything about a UK release for These Women, at the time of writing.

Follow the Author: Website, Goodreads, Twitter

 

Quick Review: THE SUBSTITUTION ORDER by Martin Clark (Knopf)

ClarkM-SubstitutionOrderUSA clever, intricately plotted and amusing novel about a lawyer’s refusal to concede defeat.

Kevin Moore, once a high-flying Virginia attorney, hits rock bottom after an inexplicably tumultuous summer leaves him disbarred and separated from his wife. Short on cash and looking for work, he lands in the middle of nowhere with a job at SUBstitution, the world’s saddest sandwich shop. His closest confidants: a rambunctious rescue puppy and the twenty-year-old computer whiz manning the restaurant counter beside him. He’s determined to set his life right again, but the troubles keep coming. And when a bizarre, mysterious stranger wanders into the shop armed with a threatening “invitation” to join a multimillion-dollar scam, Kevin will need every bit of his legal savvy just to stay out of prison.

I hadn’t heard of Martin Clark’s novels before I saw this available for review. It sounded rather interesting, however, so I decided to give it a try. And I’m very glad that I did — in addition to solid prose, Clark is able to weave quite the twisty, quirk tale that kept me hooked and guessing until the end. Continue reading

Quick Review: ORMESHADOW by Priya Sharma (Tor.com)

SharmaP-OrmeshadowA moving novella about family, story, and overcoming hardship

Burning with resentment and intrigue, this fantastical family drama invites readers to dig up the secrets of the Belman family, and wonder whether myths and legends are real enough to answer for a history of sin.

Uprooted from Bath by his father’s failures, Gideon Belman finds himself stranded on Ormeshadow farm, an ancient place of chalk and ash and shadow. The land crests the Orme, a buried, sleeping dragon that dreams resentment, jealousy, estrangement, death. Or so the folklore says. Growing up in a house that hates him, Gideon finds his only comforts in the land. Gideon will live or die by the Orme, as all his family has.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Ormeshadow when started reading it. I wasn’t familiar with the author’s other work, but the synopsis caught my attention. The fantasy elements are rather more in the background until later, but the thing that stood out to me was Sharma’s writing and characters: both a quite excellent, and I was quickly hooked. Continue reading

Quick Review: CHANCES ARE… by Richard Russo (Knopf/Allen & Unwin)

RussoR-ChancesAreUSFriends for decades, three men reunite for a summer and a mystery from their past resurfaces…

One beautiful September day, three men convene on Martha’s Vineyard, friends ever since meeting in college circa the sixties. They couldn’t have been more different then, or even today — Lincoln’s a commercial real estate broker, Teddy a tiny-press publisher, and Mickey a musician beyond his rockin’ age. But each man holds his own secrets, in addition to the monumental mystery that none of them has ever stopped puzzling over since a Memorial Day weekend right here on the Vineyard in 1971: the disappearance of the woman each of them loved — Jacy Calloway. Now, more than forty years later, as this new weekend unfolds, three lives are displayed in their entirety while the distant past confounds the present like a relentless squall of surprise and discovery. Shot through with Russo’s trademark comedy and humanity, Chances Are… also introduces a new level of suspense and menace that will quicken the reader’s heartbeat throughout this absorbing saga of how friendship’s bonds are every bit as constricting and rewarding as those of family or any other community.

Chances Are… is the latest novel by one of my favourite authors. This time, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls (among many other great novels and short stories) adds an element of mystery into his fiction. It’s very well done, but his sharp observation and characterization remains at the core of this novel. I really enjoyed this. Continue reading