Classical illustrations with muted colors, involving details, and fine lines complement this nostalgic historical tale set in a lonely boathouse that’s been encroached upon by time and nature. There, a dilapidated boat remembers the boy who once loved to take him out on the lake, searching for adventures. Celebrations of the natural world weave through this haunting story of an incalculable loss—and about the healing power of the long-delayed return of summer fun.
MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (February 27, 2022)
In Edwin Hill’s novel The Secrets We Share, love and deception intertwine through murders connected to one family.
As a child, Natalie came across her father’s body in the woods. Now a grown woman, Natalie is a police officer, and her relationships with her mother and her sister, Glenn, have grown distant; her romantic relationships have ended in heartbreak and failure. When Natalie’s niece, Mavis, stumbles upon the body of their neighbor, Natalie and Glenn confront their differences to uncover a deeper murder plot.
Battling the suspicions of the press, their community, and the police, Natalie and Glenn realize that people from their pasts may be guilty of crimes. Natalie’s coworkers’ inquiries lead Glenn to become uncertain in her marriage and in community relationships, unveiling that more is behind her neighbor’s death than it seemed.
Capturing the whimsical throes of childhood in their romantic and curious perspectives, Natalie, Glenn, and Mavis are caught in adult games of cheating and emotional espionage. Mavis’s innocence shows as she decides to enter an abandoned building when she’s dared to by her crush; its mortar has decayed and its “bricks have disintegrated.” On the other hand, there’s a cutthroat tone to the novel’s coverage of investigations, and of suspects and their relationships, which confront convoluted adult affairs past and present. As characters react to accusations and events, they edge on being bombastic, but the book’s action and revelations are thrilling.
In the multigenerational mystery novel The Secrets We Share, women find the courage to face their complex emotions and their troubled community.
ALEENA ORTIZ (February 27, 2022)
What young woman wouldn’t want to discover a secret basement room filled with sequined gowns, feather boas, and wigs? In Amy Tector’s novel The Honeybee Emeralds, Alice Ahmadi is that lucky woman. And then she puts her hands in the pocket of a velvet jacket and pulls out a fabulous diamond and emerald necklace.
Alice, an intern at a failing Parisian magazine, launches a full-tilt effort, with the magazine’s limited staff, to discover the necklace’s provenance. They’re counting on the story capturing the imagination of their readers and ensuring the magazine’s survival. They call themselves “The Fellowship of the Necklace,” and their research uncovers startling information about Napoleon III, Mata Hari, and Josephine Baker. The stakes increase when a rival magazine, run by a ruthless competitor, also begins chasing the story.
Alice is distinctive from the very first page. She’s Iranian and “used to racism and condescension,” which keeps her from opening up to others with ease. The other members of the Fellowship are also treated in terms of their inner voices and secret desires: they are imminently human, and their foibles are humorous. As they trace the ownership of the necklace back in history, the tale of the previous owners, and of how they came to possess the jewelry, is revealed in a seamless, exciting manner.
The Honeybee Emeralds is a lighthearted novel peopled by diverse and interesting individuals, each of whom is determined, for their own reasons, to solve the mystery of a necklace’s origins. In the grand scheme of things, however, unlocking that mystery proves less important than unlocking Alice’s heart.
KAREN MULVAHILL (February 27, 2022)
Scenes from a Turbulent Year
Nick Rennison’s history text 1922 peers a century into the past, when the world was emerging from a deadly pandemic and facing new kinds of social upheaval. Told via a few dozen short essays about important events around the world, the book is an entertaining retrospective, showing how a single year can move history.
1922 is organized by month, starting in January with the controversial second murder trial of silent film star Fatty Arbuckle, who probably didn’t commit the crime, but who lost his career and reputation amid the scandal nonetheless. It ends in December, with the official formation of the Soviet Union. In between, the discovery of Tutankhamun’s tomb; the collapse of the Ottoman Empire; and the Teapot Dome scandal of Warren G. Harding. But beyond such global stories, 1922 also includes mentions of a prominent cricket championship tournament in England, the first film directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and a terrible zeppelin crash that presaged the famous Hindenburg fifteen years later.
Many of these stories include quotes and analysis from the time, some of which have not aged well, including predictions that Hitler’s antisemitism was not as serious as he made it sound, and dismissive takes about works of art like Ulysses. The book makes regular use of hindsight—not only to shame wrong predictions, but to show how events played out in real time, and how they still reverberate a century later. While this approach could work well for any year, Rennison writes, “Of all the years in this dramatic decade, 1922 was the most turbulent. It was a year which altered the map of the world.”
The result is an enjoyable biography of an important year that serves as another reminder of how much history just twelve months can contain.
JEFF FLEISCHER (February 27, 2022)
Two sisters search for their grandmother in Kris Spisak’s novel The Baba Yaga Mask.
After their grandmother Vira disappears on a trip to Poland, Larissa and Ira rush to Europe to look for her. The only clues to her whereabouts are incomplete scraps of family history, an improbable trail of sunflowers, and versions of Baba Yaga, a mythical witch who only helps those who deserve it. As the sisters follow Vira’s trail, they discover the painful secrets that their willful grandmother lived with for decades.
The sisters’ frantic search takes them from homely apartments to perilous mountain trails, with each location transforming from mundane to labyrinthine the more that they try to solve its mysteries. The narrative switches between Larissa, an overresponsible mother who needs to be in control at all times; free-spirited Ira, who is convinced she will die young; and flashbacks to Vira’s rebellious youth in wartime Ukraine. Each brings her own priorities and perspectives to the story, but Vira remains at the heart of it all. Her stubborn independence and harsh experiences taught her early on the benefits of being as old, ugly, and devious as Baba Yaga—a lesson that her granddaughters have yet to learn.
No matter how reluctant they are to inherit Vira’s culture or physical traits, they are the sisters’ inheritance nonetheless. Larissa is ambivalent about their heritage, which now becomes significant. And Ira, who was always closer to their culture, weaves Ukrainian folktales throughout the story. But whether any of the stories contain truth is beside the point: they are real enough to lend strength to the women in their hours of need, and that is the true source of their power.
With hints of the fantastical, The Baba Yaga Mask is a multigenerational story of endurance and survival.
EILEEN GONZALEZ (February 27, 2022)