Though disappointing in its execution, this well-researched book addresses a momentous period rarely covered in fiction.

FORBIDDEN CITY

Hua’s ambitious second novel explores China’s Cultural Revolution through the eyes of an idealistic teenage girl.

On the day of Mao Zedong’s death in 1976, Mei Xiang, a waitress in a San Francisco Chinatown restaurant, recalls the incredible journey that took her from a remote, impoverished village to the heart of political power in Communist China. When Secretary Sun, a Party official, arrives in the summer of 1965 to recruit young girls for mysterious duties in the capital, the patriotic 15-year-old Mei is so eager to become a model revolutionary that she subtly blackmails the village headman into guaranteeing her selection. Arriving at Beijing’s walled Lake Palaces, once home to emperors and now the Chairman’s residence, Mei soon learns from Teacher Fan that her job will be to dance with the Party elites. That first evening she attracts the Chairman’s attention, earning the enmity of another ambitious girl, Midnight Chang. The quick-witted Mei soon becomes the Chairman’s lover and confidante; when he recruits her to trick and undermine his political rival, she seizes the opportunity for revolutionary action with fervor. But her doubts grow as Mei observes the harrowing violence and brutality sweeping the country. Inspired by documentary footage of Mao surrounded by adoring young women and drawing on the life of his personal secretary, Zhang Yufeng, Hua vividly captures the cult of personality that enabled the manipulation of girls like Mei. But her narrative pace is surprisingly slow; most of the action takes place within the isolated confines of the Lake Palaces, where Mei obsesses over her rivalries with Midnight Chang and Madame, the Chairman’s wife. Mei’s narrow viewpoint also limits the novel’s emotional impact, as she remains detached from the traumatic events of the Cultural Revolution until the contrived climax.

Though disappointing in its execution, this well-researched book addresses a momentous period rarely covered in fiction.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-399-17881-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

BOOK OF NIGHT

A former thief who specialized in stealing magical documents is forced back into her old habits in Black's adult debut.

Charlie Hall used to work as a thief, stealing for and from magicians—or rather, “gloamists.” In this world, gloamists are people with magical shadows that are alive, gaining strength from the gloamists' own blood. A gloamist can learn to manipulate the magic of their shadow, doing everything from changing how it looks to using it to steal, possess a person, or even murder. Gloamists hire nonmagical people like Charlie to steal precious and rare magical documents written by their kind throughout history and detailing their research and experiments in shadow magic. Gloamists can use onyx to keep each other from sending shadows to steal these treasures, but onyx won't stop regular humans from old-fashioned breaking and entering. After Charlie’s talent for crime gets her into too much trouble, she swears off her old career and tries to settle down with her sensible boyfriend, Vince—but when she finds a dead man in an alley and notices that even his shadow has been ripped to pieces, she can’t help trying to figure out who he was and why he met such a gruesome end. Before she knows it, Charlie is forced back into a life of lies and danger, using her skills as a thief to find a book that could unleash the full and terrifying power of the shadow world. Black is a veteran fantasy writer, which shows in the opening pages as she neatly and easily guides the reader through the engrossing world of gloamists, magical shadows, and Charlie’s brand of criminality. There's a lot of flipping back and forth between the past and the present, and though both timelines are well plotted and suspenseful, the story leans a touch too hard on the flashbacks. Still, the mystery elements are well executed, as is Charlie’s characterization, and the big twist at the end packs a satisfying punch.

Hits the marks for spooky thrills and mysterious chills.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-250-81219-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Tor

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

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REMINDERS OF HIM

After being released from prison, a young woman tries to reconnect with her 5-year-old daughter despite having killed the girl’s father.

Kenna didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend, Scotty. When her baby girl, Diem, was born, she was forced to give custody to Scotty’s parents. Now that she’s been released, Kenna is intent on getting to know her daughter, but Scotty’s parents won’t give her a chance to tell them what really happened the night their son died. Instead, they file a restraining order preventing Kenna from so much as introducing herself to Diem. Handsome, self-assured Ledger, who was Scotty’s best friend, is another key adult in Diem’s life. He’s helping her grandparents raise her, and he too blames Kenna for Scotty’s death. Even so, there’s something about her that haunts him. Kenna feels the pull, too, and seems to be seeking Ledger out despite his judgmental behavior. As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other. Told alternatively from Kenna’s and Ledger’s perspectives, the story explores the myriad ways in which snap judgments based on partial information can derail people’s lives. Built on a foundation of death and grief, this story has an undercurrent of sadness. As usual, however, the author has created compelling characters who are magnetic and sympathetic enough to pull readers in. In addition to grief, the novel also deftly explores complex issues such as guilt, self-doubt, redemption, and forgiveness.

With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2560-7

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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