Upcoming: CONSENSUAL HEX by Amanda Harlowe (Grand Central / Atlantic)

HarloweA-ConsensualHex

Consensual Hex has been pitched as “The Craft for the #MeToo era,” which is a pretty intriguing premise. (Very much a fan of The Craft, which I may have seen in the cinema.) Amanda Harlowe‘s debut is a campus novel with a difference, perhaps in the same sub-genre are Leigh Bardugo’s Ninth House and Lev Grossman’s The Magicians series, but with a dash of The Power?

Anyway, I’m really looking forward to reading this. Here’s the synopsis:

When Lee, a first year at Smith, is raped under eerie circumstances during orientation week by an Amherst frat boy, she’s quickly disillusioned by her lack of recourse. As her trauma boils within her, Lee is selected for an exclusive seminar on Gender, Power, and Witchcraft, where she meets Luna (an alluring Brooklyn hipster), Gabi (who has a laundry list of phobias), and Charlotte (a waifish, chill international student). Granted a charter for a coven and suddenly in possession of real magic, the four girls are tasked by their aloof Professor with covertly retrieving a grimoire that an Amherst fraternity has gotten their hands on. But when the witches realize the frat brothers are using magic to commit and cover up sexual assault all over Northampton, their exploits escalate into vigilante justice. As Lee’s thirst for revenge on her rapist grows, things spiral out of control, pitting witch against witch as they must wrestle with how far one is willing to go to heal.

CONSENSUAL HEX is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive portrait of a young woman coming of age, uncovering the ways in which love and obsession and looking to fit in can go hand in hand. Lee, an outstanding, magical anti-heroine, refuses to be pigeonholed as a model victim or a horrific example. Instead, her caustic voice demands our attention, clawing out from every page, equally vicious and vulnerable as she lures us, then dares us, to transgress. Dark, biting, and archly camp, CONSENSUAL HEX announces Harlowe as a significant talent.

Consensual Hex is due to be published by Grand Central Publishing in North America (October 6th) and Atlantic Books in the UK (October 8th).

Follow the Author: Goodreads, Twitter

Quick Review: GROWN UPS / ADULTS by Emma Jane Unsworth (Gallery/Scout / Borough Press)

UnsworthEJ-GrownUpsUSAn amusing, observant novel

Jenny McLaine’s life is falling apart. Her friendships are flagging. Her body has failed her. She’s just lost her column at The Foof because she isn’t the fierce voice new feminism needs. Her ex has gotten together with another woman. And worst of all: Jenny’s mother is about to move in. Having left home at eighteen to remake herself as a self-sufficient millennial, Jenny is now in her thirties and nothing is as she thought it would be. Least of all adulthood.

Told in live-wire prose, texts, emails, script dialogue, and social media messages, Grown Ups is a neurotic dramedy of 21st-century manners for the digital age. It reckons with what it means to exist in a woman’s body: to sing and dance and work and mother and sparkle and equalize and not complain and be beautiful and love your imperfections and stay strong and show your vulnerability and bake and box…

But, despite our impossible expectations of women, Emma Jane Unsworth never lets Jenny off the hook. Jenny’s life is falling apart at her own hands and whether or not she has help from her mother or her friends, Jenny is the only one who will be able to pick up the pieces and learn how to, more or less, grow up. Or will she?

This novel received a good deal of buzz before it was released. Pitched in part as being akin to Fleabag, it promised to be a funny, honest and maybe painful look at modern life. As it turns out, it is. I quite enjoyed this. Continue reading

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