Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Anxious People

This clever, dark comedy about human nature and relationships starts with a real estate open house that goes dreadfully awry when a bumbling bank robber shows up.

 Swedish author Fredrik Backman has entertained readers worldwide, drawing them into fictional realms with ordinary people facing the absurdities of life and death. In Anxious People, he mines similar terrain, cleverly assembling an ensemble cast of characters, some of them utterly exasperating. He sets them in a darkly comic predicament that will challenge them as a group and personally, opening the story to larger themes about the foibles, pitfalls and traps of living.


Backman's construct is straightforward: an open-house apartment viewing. What could possibly go wrong? Everything, especially when a gun-wielding bank robber targets a cashless bank and winds up, through a series of mishaps, at the open house. In bumbling, snowballing desperation, the robber takes eight people, high-maintenance strangers at the viewing, hostage. When the robber ultimately escapes, two police officers--a father and son facing personal struggles of their own--investigate the crime and try to make sense of the who, how and why of this topsy-turvy, totally-gone-awry robbery scenario and all involved.


Backman (Us Against You) skillfully employs an omniscient narrative voice and short, focused chapters that unwind an intricate plot through interspersed--extremely telling and very funny--police interrogation scenes. Readers are kept off-balance by details of the hostage siege as characters reveal their personal dilemmas. This intensifies the narrative tension and drama, upping the literal and figurative anxiousness of the book's title. Backman's signature storytelling wit and wisdom--the way he unravels his puzzle while peeling back layers of complex relationships, personal burdens and secrets carried by all--enables this fresh, quirky, over-the-top comedy to coalesce into poignant profundity.

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman

Atria, $28.00 Hardcover, 9781501160837, 352 pages

Publication Date: September 29, 2020

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (September 8, 2020), link HERE


To read the longer form of this review as published on Shelf Awareness for the Book Trade (August 14, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

The Chicken Sisters

A fun, lively story about the long-simmering rivalry between two legendary families that serve "the best" fried chicken in Kansas.

Comfort food and family feuds are centerpieces of the fun, first novel by KJ Dell'Antonia (How to Be a Happier Parent). The author plunges readers deep into the complicated lives of two families, the Moores and Pogociellos--rivals who share roots dating back to the 1800s in Merinac, Kan., where two sisters originated a fried chicken business. Familial tensions flowed through generations, down to Amanda Moore, who worked for her mother's traditional, old-school fried-chicken establishment, Chicken Mimi's--and fell in love with and married Frank Pogociello. Amanda's romantic choice created a mother-daughter rift that deepened when Amanda went to work for Chicken Frannie's, the competing restaurant offering a more innovative fried chicken menu.


With both eateries facing financial crises, Amanda reaches out to a reality TV show where two restaurants compete for a $100,000 prize. Once Amanda's pitch is accepted, it's game on for the fighting, frying families. Amanda enlists her widowed mother-in-law at the helm of Chicken Frannie's to battle against the Chicken Mimi's team: Amanda's estranged mother and Mae, Amanda's Brooklynite sister, who returns to Merinac after her successful TV career and marriage suddenly start to fray.


As the two eateries face off ruthlessly amid the limelight of TV cameras and producers eager to stir the drama pot, long-simmering family history infused with old resentments and scandalous secrets rises to the surface. Dell'Antonia's delightful story dishes up juicy messages about the strength and fortitude of the female spirit, the meaning of happiness and the valuable bonds of family.

The Chicken Sisters: A Novel by KJ Dell’Antonia

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, $16.00 Paperback, 9780593085141, 304 pages

Publication Date: December 1, 2020

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (December 4, 2020), link HERE

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Truth, Lies, and Second Dates

A snarky romance--and well-crafted whodunnit--about a successful airline pilot forced to revisit the long-ago murder of her best friend.

MaryJanice Davidson (The Love Scam) writes romance across genres, from comedy to horror to paranormal. In Truth, Lies, and Second Dates, she incorporates elements of a thriller. Ava Capp is a snarky, flawed heroine with an unresolved past. Not yet 30 years old, Ava is already an accomplished pilot for a commercial airline. Her need to fly away began years before. As a teenager, she and her best friend, Danielle, were inseparable--until Danielle was brutally murdered when the girls were 16. The tragic loss of Danielle and her unsolved murder led Ava to abuse drugs and alcohol, until she dried out, turned her life around and became a pilot--one plagued with romantic commitment issues.


One day, on a routine flight, she crosses paths with Danielle's twin brother, Dennis, who invites Ava to a 10-year memorial service for his sister. The invitation brings Ava back to her hometown, Minneapolis, Minn., where she's welcomed coolly by Danielle's family--especially by her mother, who still suspects Ava killed her daughter. When things go dreadfully awry at the service, and Ava leaves abruptly, she meets Dr. Tom Baker. When Baker was 13, the grisly murder of Danielle intrigued him so much that it launched him into a career as a medical examiner. As Ava and Tom strike up a friendship (on the way to romance), mysterious happenings resurrect the past and begin to threaten Ava's sanity and safety.


Readers will root for the flawed heroine and the pull of romance. However, they'll be more apt to keep turning pages, eager to solve the suspenseful whodunnit embroiled in the midst of it all.

Truth, Lies and Second Dates: A Novel by MaryJanice Davidson

St. Martin’s Griffin, $16.00 Paperback, 9781250053176, 320 pages

Publication Date: December 15, 2020

To order this book on INDIEBOUND, link HERE


NOTE: This review is a reprint and is being posted with the permission of Shelf Awareness. To read this review on Shelf Awareness: Reader's Edition (December 29, 2020), link HERE