For the Love of April French by Penny Aimes

April French doesn’t do relationships and she never asks for more.

A long-standing regular at kink club Frankie’s, she’s kind of seen it all. As a trans woman, she’s used to being the scenic rest stop for others on their way to a happily-ever-after. She knows how desire works, and she keeps hers carefully boxed up to take out on weekends only.

After all, you can’t be let down if you never ask.

Then Dennis Martin walks into Frankie’s, fresh from Seattle and looking a little lost. April just meant to be friendly, but one flirtatious drink turns into one hot night.

When Dennis asks for her number, she gives it to him.

When he asks for her trust, well…that’s a little harder.

And when the desire she thought she had such a firm grip on comes alive with Dennis, April finds herself wanting passion, purpose and commitment.

But when their relationship moves from complicated to impossible, April will have to decide how much she’s willing to want.

Review:

Oh, how I love this book – let me count the ways.

The quickfire oh-so-good:

  • First, this is an incredibly sweet romance. It’s a kink-based relationship and the love and care are utterly melt-worthy.
  • Romance featuring a trans woman, written by a trans woman! Woo!
  • It does not read like a debut at all. The voice is assured, and considering some of the tricks Aimes pulls off? Woah.
  • One of the most interesting things, as a long-time romance reader, is the way she plays with narrative. The story isn’t completely linear, but it’s not a chopped salad of events, either. Everything makes sense, and the way it plays with conflict and expectations is amazing.
  • Speaking of – reader expectations are subverted on the regular in the most interesting way.
  • With the non-traditional narrative and subverted expectations, the conflict comes from places you rarely see it, and it’s worked through in similarly non-traditional ways. I would love to get into more details, but the last thing I want to do is spoil it for anyone, please forgive.
  • Dennis is a Black millionaire and April is a white trans woman, and they recognize that they’ve both faced oppression and microaggressions while also recognizing that one person’s experience doesn’t equal the other’s. That, being white, April doesn’t have the same interactions with police that Dennis does. That Dennis will never know what it’s like to move through the world, and more specifically Texas, as a trans person.
  • The bits that could be repetitive aren’t, and it’s so carefully plotted.
  • Both characters go to therapy for great reasons! And we see two therapy sessions with different people and dynamics! And Dennis gets a Dom mentor to go over the emotional side of being a top, which I’ve never seen before!
  • Each character has a bestie, but they are very different, not only from the person they’re besties with, but the relationship itself. Jason is a white guy who has been friends with Dennis forever and they can read each other’s moods and expressions with ease. Fatima is a hijabi woman who’s lunch friends with April at work, and over the course of the book we see their relationship deepen and grow.
  • …did I mention that it’s sweet and melt-worthy?

The only less-than-perfect things for me are details of a subplot and not even worth mentioning here.

If you like romance and are open to reading a (sweet!) kink-based relationship, you have to give For the Love of April French a try, and feel free to shout my way on social media as you do!

Content notes: BDSM/kink including impact play; mentions of surgery; misgendering; a short, mini panic attack on the page

Thanks to Carina Press and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

The Hate Project by Kris Ripper (The Love Study #2)

Oscar is a grouch. That’s a well-established fact among his tight-knit friend group, and they love him anyway.

55422666Jack is an ass who’s always ready with a sly insult, who can’t have a conversation without arguing, and who Oscar may or may not have hooked up with on a strict no-commitment, one-time-only basis. Even if it was extremely hot.

When Oscar is fired (answering phones is not for the anxiety-ridden), he somehow ends up working for Jack. Maybe while cleaning out Jack’s grandmother’s house they can stop fighting long enough to turn a one-night stand into a frenemies-with-benefits situation.

The house is an archaeological dig of love and dysfunction, and while Oscar thought he was prepared, he wasn’t. It’s impossible to delve so deeply into someone’s past without coming to understand them at least a little, but Oscar has boundaries for a reason—even if sometimes Jack makes him want to break them all down.

Review:

After thoroughly enjoying The Love Study I was primed to love The Hate Project, but some elements hit too close for me to enjoy myself fully.

The good:

  • Oscar comes off as a grouch in the first book and here we learn why – he has social anxiety that can lead to panic attacks. It made past actions understandable and gave me more appreciation for how Ripper set up that first book.
  • The dynamics of the friend group are becoming clear and I love the way they interact and support each other. Oscar’s friendship with Ronnie is particularly interesting and they shine on the page together. We also learn more about Mason, one of the MCs of the next installment, through his relationship with Oscar. The found family elements, which felt a little forced in the first book, are in delightful full force.
  • Jack’s grandma is an awesome lady, a no-nonsense grandma that gets her own mini story arc and characterization.
  • Ripper pushes the edges of what’s considered du rigueur in romance and I am here for it. The Love Study has an HEA without a solid commitment, and here sex does not lead to the ‘I love you’ realization that it does in many romances.
  • Some people may find the anxiety rep empowering and comforting, however…

The not-so-good:

  • …Oscar’s thought spirals are so similar to ones I’ve experienced (thank you, birth control!) I found myself skimming whole sections. And while Oscar’s single PoV works well for the story it also means we’re always in his head, close to that anxiety.

I have all the love and respect for what Ripper is doing but unfortunately this book wasn’t the one for me. I’m very much looking forward to the next book – a poly relationship, yay!

Content notes: anxiety including panic attacks, grief, disordered eating

The Love Study by Kris Ripper

53710329._SY475_Sure, The Love Study has a sweet couple whose romance I enjoy, but the way it examines the nature of love is even better.

First the setup – Declan abandoned his last boyfriend at the altar and has avoided dating for years, thinking that relationships are beyond him. His heart has healed in the meantime, though, and he might be ready to try meeting people again.

Enter Sidney. They’re a relationship advice YouTuber looking to start a new video series – The Love Study – and Declan is the perfect subject. Sidney will set him up on dates, and after each they’ll discuss what worked and what didn’t. But as they spend more time together, Declan realizes the only person he has chemistry with is Sidney.

Before I get into the review proper, some rep – Ripper is genderqueer and so is Sidney. Yes, the jacket copy says “nonbinary”, probably because it’s a more recognizable term, but in the book Sidney prefers “GQ” to “enby”. Declan has anxiety including panic attacks, but it’s not overly detailed and didn’t end up bothering me. There are also mentions of homophobia, transphobia, and racism.

The little things make me feel safe reading this book, and most boil down to respect. When Declan and Sidney make plans options are offered including the option to do nothing, no pressure. They brainstorm solutions, like when trying to figure out what to call each other – partner? lover? datemate? companion? They’re comfortable talking out their feelings, even when they don’t have all the words for them yet. This kind of respect should be the foundation of all relationships, not just intimate ones, and I love seeing it.

Related – Declan is used to spilling the beans about his sexual escapades to friends, but Sidney wants to keep things private and he respects that, even grows to like it after a while. Sidney’s wishes end up affecting us readers as well – this is a closed door romance, so there’s no explicit sex on the page.

The respect is great but my favorite thing about this book, hands down, is how it made me think about the nature of relationships. By watching Declan’s dates – never disasters, but always lacking somehow – Ripper examines what it means to be “romantic” and how different people have different definitions. Sidney laments how “romantic” gestures often have a gendered element, even in queer relationships – someone offering to pay for dinner, opening doors, giving chocolate on Valentine’s Day. That it feels more like playing a role than being genuine.

There are thoughtful discussions on whether dating is the best way to get to know someone, and the “goal” of relationships. Now that everyone can marry, should that be the universal goal? Is long-term commitment sufficient? Heck, is it necessary? How much are thoughts around queer marriage are bound up with it being not only a personal statement, but also a political one?

In examining these issues Ripper is also taking a meta look at the Happily Ever After in romance. Many books end with a marriage or similar, but can the main characters simply like each other a lot and have that count as an HEA? There were times that I would put the book down and stare off into space, thinking about everything Ripper is laying down.

As much as I love this book there are a couple of things that didn’t quite work for me. I would have preferred a higher heat level, while recognizing that it would have brought a genderqueer character’s genitals into the conversation, which is never ever a requirement. There’s a found family element but it felt a bit forced to me. Then again, I think that dynamic takes a couple of books to develop. And the ending was… fine. A bit predictable, not bad, just fine.

If you are a thematic reader, if you would like to examine the nature of love and relationships, and if you are looking for a comfortable, safe space to go in these uncertain times, there’s nothing better than The Love Study. I’m an instant fan of Ripper and can’t wait to dive into zir backlist.

Thanks to Carina Press for providing a review copy.

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall (True Colors #1)

Luc O’Donnell’s rock star parents split when he was young, and now that the father that he’s never met is making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material.  So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating.

 

I wasn’t completely with this book at the start – Luc is a bit of a disaster in more  ways than one, and I was looking forward to the stability Oliver was sure to bring. And what’dya know, he did.

The good:

  • Once I got into the groove of things I laughed out loud every few chapters – some of the characters are ridiculous and over the top in good ways. If you’re looking for a rom com bordering on lovingly silly this book is for you.
  • There’s complex emotional stuff going on here with both heroes, including with their families. Luc and Oliver support each other as best as they are able and pull away when they need a break, but it’s never left to fester long. Both are dealing with some fairly major stuff and we get to watch them talk about it and grow, both as people and in the relationship.
  • I love that some situations aren’t cut and dry – hard conversations with no right answers. No best way to console someone who’s crying his heart out. But our heroes do their best and it ends up being enough. More than enough.
  • I think it’s interesting that while Luc and Oliver are both gay they surround themselves with completely different kinds of people. Luc found a home in the LGBTQIA+ community when he needed one most, while Oliver’s circle of friends is almost completely straight. Both are presented as okay and valid – having mostly straight friends doesn’t make you any less queer.
  • The side characters are fleshed out and interesting. From Luc’s parents to the posh donors at a charity party, we get a solid feel for everyone as people.
  • There’s a nod at how difficult family can be when a couple decides they don’t want children (‘but we want grandbabies!’) and as someone without children myself I appreciate it.
  • Thanks to libro.fm I received the audiobook for review and my god, Joe Jameson does an amazing job with the narration. Luc’s fumbling is natural, more natural than it looks printed on a page, Oliver’s baritone is sexy, and the voices of women, especially, blew me away.

The neither-good-nor-bad:

  • The sex is infrequent and of the fade-to-black variety. If you’ve been wanting to try an m/m romance but were looking for something more tame in that department, this book is a great place to start.

The not-so-good:

  • I’m sad that we don’t have any chapters from Oliver’s point of view. At first I wanted to get out of Luc’s head for a while – he really is a disaster in the beginning – but I think seeing some scenes from Oliver’s POV would have added some depth.
  • It wouldn’t have worked for plot reasons, but I was dying to see Oliver get mixed up in Luc’s group of friends. How would he react? Would he become looser or clam up? Love them or like them? (There are no other options, natch.)
  • Some scenes got long, especially in posh dining rooms.

I ended up reading Boyfriend Material in a combination of print and audio and with such amazing narration I ended up liking the latter more. Three stars for the print, four stars for the audio, averaging out to 3.5 overall.

Thanks to Sourcebooks Casablanca and libro.fm for providing review copies.

Just Like That by Cole McCade (Albin Academy #1)

49875508._SY475_Summer Hemlock never meant to come back to Omen, Massachusetts. But with his mother in need of help, Summer has no choice but to return to his hometown, take up a teaching residency at the Albin Academy boarding school—and work directly under the man who made his teenage years miserable.

Forbidding, aloof, commanding: psychology instructor Iseya is a cipher who’s always fascinated and intimidated shy, anxious Summer. But that fascination turns into something more when the older man challenges Summer to be brave. What starts as a daily game to reward Summer with a kiss for every obstacle overcome turns passionate, and a professional relationship turns quickly personal.

Yet Iseya’s walls of grief may be too high for someone like Summer to climb…until Summer’s infectious warmth shows Fox everything he’s been missing in life.

Review:

Just Like That is this month’s addition to the Carina Adores line, huzzah! I’ve been meaning to read McCade and this is a fine introduction.

Before I go any further I want to point out that there are tropes with squick potential including age gap (24/pushing 50) and the fact that this is a teacher/former student romance. The content warnings are detailed at the front, but I especially want to point out anxiety (including a panic attack on the page) and suicidal ideation.

The romance is hurt/comfort in both directions – Summer has a bright, soft personality and is continuing a lifetime struggle with anxiety, while Fox has built up prickly armor around a traumatic event from his past. Both are psychology teachers, so it should be no surprise that the conflict is entirely internal. Expect lots of talking and ruminating with a fair side of angst.

Let’s start with the good, at least for me. McCade’s writing is descriptive and flowery, and it won’t be for everyone. It was just what I wanted right now, though – flowing and lyrical in a way that felt comforting.

Fox is half-Japanese/half-Western and grew up in Japan to age 14. I found one small bobble in the Japanese culture references, which is pretty good considering how much authors usually get wrong.

As for the not-so-good, the believability isn’t quite there for me. Fox and Summer have make out sessions in their classroom on the regular, the assistant principal doesn’t even blink an eye when he walks in on them. There’s a side character that shares living space with Summer, but he disappears as soon as he’s not needed for the plot. And while I get the romance, I’m not completely sold on Summer and Fox as a couple.

Speaking of, to the reviewers saying that a formerly straight guy goes gay for his student – stop. Fox never said he was straight. There is something called bisexuality, let’s not forget it.

Between the squick potential and the writing style it’s hard to recommend Just Like That to everyone, but I’m sure it will have its fans. I’m looking forward to reading another book by McCade to get a better feel for what he can do.

Thanks to Carina Press and NetGalley for providing a review copy.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

Danika Brown knows what she wants: professional success, academic renown, and an occasional roll in the hay to relieve all that career-driven tension. But romance? Been there, done that, burned the T-shirt. So Dani asks the universe for the perfect friend-with-benefits—someone who knows the score and knows their way around the bedroom.

When brooding security guard Zafir Ansari rescues Dani from a workplace fire drill gone wrong, it’s an obvious sign: PhD student Dani and ex-rugby player Zaf are destined to sleep together. But before she can explain that fact, a video of the heroic rescue goes viral. Now half the internet is shipping #DrRugbae—and Zaf is begging Dani to play along. Turns out, his sports charity for kids could really use the publicity. Lying to help children? Who on earth would refuse?

Review:

3.5 stars

I love Hibbert’s novels. She does so many things right – rep of all sorts (as evidenced by own voices reviews), characters who use their words and treat each other with respect, and comedy. She also does angst well but alas, angst isn’t my thing. As a result I love her fun, rompy novels like the mega hit Get a Life, Chloe Brown and have complicated feelings about the rest.

I want to be clear, Take a Hint is a very good book. The first third is full of laugh out loud fun – Dani making entreaties to a sex goddess with her bestie, banter, a routine evacuation drill that goes wrong and leaves Dani stranded in an elevator. Zafir, former rugby player turned building security guard, carries her out of the building Cinderella style and #DrRugbae is born. Everyone thinks they’re a couple, and Zafir could use the publicity to promote a charity he runs, so would Dani continue the fake relationship for a good cause. Of course. It’s not like Zafir isn’t tall, dark, and handsome. And definitely not kind. Nope.

The good:

  • Again, all the rep including Black bisexual woman, Punjabi Muslim guy, anxiety including panic attacks.
  • Content warnings are front and center when you open the book, great for those who want them.
  • Hibbert makes my least favorite tropes bearable, and here it’s secrets. It’s not ‘if I tell him this he’ll hate me’. Instead it’s ‘I’m not ready to face this myself, and I’m sure as hell not ready to tell him’. But before long words are used because we are all adults here.
  • The funny parts are really funny and had me grinning.
  • There’s a great message about mental health, seeking help, and not going it alone.

Neither-here-nor-there:

  • I love me a gender flipped trope, and here stereotypical roles for men and women are reversed. Dani is a workaholic, is only looking for a fuck buddy (her words), and has given up on love and relationships. Zaf has been to therapy, is emotionally fluent, reads romance novels, and helps Dani come to realizations about her past and herself. I recently read another novel that tried to do this and failed, but Hibbert delivers. It works.

The not-so-good-for-me:

  • After the first third we go deeper into the waters of internal conflict and angst. Not my thing, but I know a lot of people love it.

The not-so-good:

  • The plotting feels a little off. The conflict gets wishy washy in the middle, making the book easy to put down. And while the emotional work at the end is superb and the reason for the extra .5 star, the end feels a bit disjointed. It’s almost like we get an HEA, a black moment is thrown in, followed by another HEA.

If you like more angst in your romance you will love where Take a Hint, Dani Brown ends up. It’s not my thing so I didn’t like this one quite as much as Chloe’s installment, but it’s easy to recognize all that Hibbert is doing right and I love where she went at the end. I’m sad that there’s only one Brown sister left.

Thanks to Avon and Edelweiss for providing an advance copy.

Well Met by Jen DeLuca (Well Met #1)

43189874._SY475_Emily knew there would be strings attached when she relocated to the small town of Willow Creek, Maryland, for the summer to help her sister recover from an accident, but who could anticipate getting roped into volunteering for the local Renaissance Faire alongside her teenaged niece? Or that the irritating and inscrutable schoolteacher in charge of the volunteers would be so annoying that she finds it impossible to stop thinking about him?

The faire is Simon’s family legacy and from the start he makes clear he doesn’t have time for Emily’s lighthearted approach to life or her endless suggestions for new acts to shake things up. Yet on the faire grounds he becomes a different person, flirting freely with Emily when she’s in her revealing wench’s costume. But is this attraction real, or just part of the characters they’re portraying?

Review:

I was excited to read this book after hearing some wonderful reviews, but I have to admit, for the first 40% I was wondering what the fuss was about.

The beginning is all first book awkwardness, the scaffolding of an enemies-to-lovers romance bare and hanging in the wind. Simon is shown as an arse early and often, and other plot elements are predictable. The love triangle fake out dude, the reason Simon’s brother left – all incredibly obvious, at least to me.

But once the Ren Faire starts, look out! Simon’s character, a swashbuckling pirate, is out to woo Emily’s character, a tavern wrench. Sparks fly, but as soon as they get out of their costumes it’s back to the bickering status quo.

These two have plenty of stuff happening in their real lives – Emily was recently dumped in an ugly way by her near-fiancee, and Simon feels like his life has been set into motion for him with no choice but to go with the flow. The Faire lets them shed the baggage, but the real trick is working through that emotional load once the festival is over.

There’s a lot to like – competence porn, fun secondary characters, grand gestures, and good grovel when it’s required. Hot sex, dramatic human chess match scenes, and people talking through their problems? All here.

I wasn’t a fan of Emily’s thinking near the end, though. She’s suddenly riddled with misgivings, questioning and misinterpreting every little thing that’s said to her by both Simon and others. I’ve encountered this in several romances recently so I may be more sensitive to it, but I’m not a fan of driving conflict by having the heroine think, ‘he doesn’t love me after all’ after a single stray comment. The women are strong until they get buried in self-doubt. Gah.

Still, this is a strong showing for a debut. I’m looking forward to the next book in the series – several of the secondary characters are due their own Happily Ever Afters, methinks.

Thanks to Berkley and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

43092891Chloe Brown is a chronically ill computer geek with a goal, a plan, and a list. After almost—but not quite—dying, she’s come up with seven directives to help her “Get a Life”, and she’s already completed the first: finally moving out of her glamorous family’s mansion. Another item? Do something bad. What Chloe needs is a teacher, and she knows just the man for the job.

Redford ‘Red’ Morgan is a handyman with tattoos, a motorcycle, and more sex appeal than ten-thousand Hollywood heartthrobs. He’s also an artist who paints at night and hides his work in the light of day, which Chloe knows because she spies on him occasionally. Just the teeniest, tiniest bit.

But when she enlists Red in her mission to rebel, she learns things about him that no spy session could teach her. Like why he clearly resents Chloe’s wealthy background. And why he never shows his art to anyone. And what really lies beneath his rough exterior…

Review:

Trigger warning for discussion of a previous abusive relationship.

How I love this book. Let me count the ways.

The good:

  • First and foremost is the rep. Some of it is own voices (both Hibbert and the heroine are Black British women with chronic pain) but every single bit feels well considered and empathetic and full of love. Other rep includes fibromyalgia, migraines, fat rep, positive depictions of therapy, and other stuff I’m surely missing. There are some great reviews by own voices folks, which gives me even more confidence, and just seeing the way she handles wearing glasses made me, as a useless-without-my-specs person, feel seen.
  • The book is British without screaming it. The spelling is American (I’m going to guess that was the publisher’s call) but there’s much more emphasis on class differences than you find in American romance, or even Britain-set romances written by Americans. It felt real and not the least bit stereotypical.
  • Their relationship is a slow burn in the way I like – getting to know the other person, and finding them more attractive the more you know.
  • Red is a-ma-zing. He expertly walks a line of being considerate of Chloe and her limitations without being mothering or infantilizing her. His consent is first rate and the respect and love he feels are all over the page.
  • There is a cat and it’s actually important to the plot, not forgotten as the romance heats up. Huzzah!
  • The banter is good, but the communication is better. There’s a bit of foot-in-mouth syndrome going on, but after the initial anger passes they get together to talk things out like adults. I am not a fan of Big Miscommunications, so the way romance has been evolving away from it has been amazing.
  • Do you need a warm hug right now? Of course you do. This book is that warm hug, full of love.

I inhaled Get a Life, Chloe Brown during a 24 hour readathon and have no regrets on the binge. It’s an easy recommendation for almost any romance fan, as well as for those who are thinking about getting into the genre.

Thanks to Avon and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Better Off Red by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Vampire Sorority Sisters #1)

10161265It’s rush but college freshman Ginger Carmichael more has important things on her mind, like maintaining her perfect GPA. No matter how much she can’t stand the idea of the cliques and the matching colors, there’s something about the girls of Alpha Beta Omega—their beauty, confidence, and unapologetic sexuality—that draws Ginger in. But once initiation begins, Ginger finds that her pledge is more than a bond of sisterhood, it’s a lifelong pact to serve six bloodthirsty demons with a lot more than nutritional needs.

Despite her fears, Ginger falls hard for the immortal queen of this nest, and as the semester draws to a close, she sees that protecting her family from the secret of her forbidden love is much harder than studying for finals.

Review:

I love Weatherspoon but her next book is half a year away (gah!) so I’ve decided to dip into her backlist. Better Off Red, a paranormal erotic romance, is her first book.

The good:

  • Huzzah for own voices queer romance! And if you’re looking for hot sapphic sex, we have lots of it here.
  • The plot is built around an interesting idea – that vampires would use a somewhat secretive institution, like a sorority, to recruit people to feed on. The world building in general is deeper and more well thought out than I was expecting in a debut.
  • I didn’t even think about rushing a sorority, so I like the look and observations about a corner of college life I know little about.
  • I’m a fan of the vampire mythology and ethos. Humans aren’t used merely as food – they’re carefully selected and protected for their entire life. It’s a loving relationship, both in feeling and deed.

The not-so-good:

  • There are some typical debut wobbles. The plot gallops a bit at the end, and I’m not sure I buy everything that happened.

Not amazing, but enough for me to pick up the next book in the series.

A Place for Us by Fatima Farheen Mirza

37789271._SY475_A Place for Us unfolds the lives of an Indian-American Muslim family, gathered together in their Californian hometown to celebrate the eldest daughter, Hadia’s, wedding – a match of love rather than tradition. It is here, on this momentous day, that Amar, the youngest of the siblings, reunites with his family for the first time in three years. Rafiq and Layla must now contend with the choices and betrayals that lead to their son’s estrangement – the reckoning of parents who strove to pass on their cultures and traditions to their children; and of children who in turn struggle to balance authenticity in themselves with loyalty to the home they came from.

Review:

Trigger warning for drug abuse.

This is exactly the kind of book I was hoping to read for the Booktube Prize – something that I’m interested in, but probably wouldn’t have picked up anytime soon. A Place for Us is a multi-generational family saga of sorts, which originally made me wary, but I ended up liking it. A bunch.

What makes the entire book for me, on top of great writing and character work, is the structure. The first major section is told from the perspective of the three children. We watch them grow up – moments between them, how they interact with the community, major events that shape their lives, even though they may not look significant to start. We bounce around in time, which made me nervous at first, but once we learn a couple of milestones (the eldest going to college, a particular birthday party or conversation) the timeline becomes easy to keep track of. Based on the kids’ stories we form some ideas why Amar is no longer part of the family.

The second section is from the point of view of their mother, and while some parts overlap she adds more information and another way of looking at things. We learn about conversations the kids had no idea about as well as the thoughts behind her actions, and it both interleaves a layer of story and changes our ideas and who is most wrong.

The father gets his say in the last section in a note written directly to Amir. He explains what he did and why, and realizes he may have gone wrong somewhere but isn’t sure how. The overall affect is a story that is told both straightforwardly as well as intricately.

The way everything is woven together is masterful and a bunch of interesting themes are explored – growing up as a brown person in the US during 9/11, how each person approaches their Muslim faith differently, the roles different children are expected to fill and why. I love that the religious elements are both so important and not explained in a Islam 101 manner. We aren’t spoon fed info about the faith, and I think the book is stronger for it.

All in all it’s hard to believe this is a debut. I actually enjoyed a multi-generational family story of sorts… I don’t think that I’m coming around to the sub-genre, necessarily, but this book is an outstanding example of it.