igloo book buzz

“It was Time to Tell the Truth.” Welcome to John Hodgman’s VACATIONLAND

Peddling fake facts was John Hodgman’s stock in trade on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and in his three bestselling books.  That all changed with the release of VACATIONLAND: True Stories from Painful Beaches, published by Viking on October 24 and featured as this week’s Igloo Book Buzz selection.  Hodgman writes about his journeys, navigating three distinct wildernesses: one, rural Western Massachusetts where he spent much of his youth; two, coastal Maine, home to the most painful beaches on earth; lastly, the metaphoric wildernesses of middle age.  

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Hodgman says, “My first three books were, first of all, BESTSELLERS, and second of all, packed to the margins with absurdist false history and invented trivia.  It was fun writing about the secret history of the nine US presidents who had hooks for hands.  But after my third book of false knowledge, THAT IS ALL, came out, I looked up and realized I was 40. I had changed, and the world was changing as well. Now EVERYONE is doing fake facts, at every level of our media and society. It’s neither new nor funny anymore. And disarmed of falsehood, I was confronted with the mere and awful truth: that I am a dad, husband, and middle-aged white male monster with bad facial hair facing down the second half of his life (or so I hope) who could not think of one more single joke about zeppelins or mole-men. It was time to tell the truth.” Hodgman answers the following three questions truthfully: The book's title VACATIONLAND refers to the nickname for Maine, but you also focus many of the chapters on the “vacationland” of your youth (Western Massachusetts) in addition to your wife’s (Maine), where you now spend much of your time. Do you think having those escapes can be formative in both childhood and adulthood? How has it shaped you throughout your life? Joe McLellan was the permanent French department substitute when I was attending Brookline High School. I liked him. He once told me that the academic calendar—9 months on to work hard, 3 off to recover and reflect—is the most suitable calendar for human happiness.  And he rode a motorcycle and wore a beret, so he knew what he was talking about.  I’m lucky to have married a teacher and to be sufficiently self-employed that, for now, we get to share time and travel with our kids. It is important to show them different people and ways of life, and to learn how easily one life can be left behind if it doesn’t make you happy.” Why do you compare middle age to “navigating a wilderness?” Being in middle age feels like following a path in the forest that was very clear and easy for a while. If you’re lucky, you reach some destination you were hoping for. But even if you don’t, time passes, and before you know it, night comes and you are scared. You can’t follow the path back, and you don’t know which direction to take next, or if it is better to simply stop here forever. But you have to keep going. After you have reached the age which, in previous centuries would have marked the likely end of your life, you have to find a new path forward. Like the wilderness, age is painful, full of unexpected drops and heights, and it doesn’t care whether you live or die. Another good metaphor for it would be MAINE.” You describe Maine as a hellish place, but seem to have a deep fondness for it. What is it about the state that can cause such conflicting feelings? It is undeniably beautiful, but its beauty is rugged bordering on harsh, and the sky gets gray quick and the fog envelops you. See above: it has metaphoric power if you are morbidly minded.  And then it reveals incredible beauty in the rose light across more sky than you are used to seeing. You swim in the ocean and scream from the cold but then you get used to it. Maine’s pleasure is that you survive it. “

Discover James McBride’s FIVE-CARAT SOUL

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection is FIVE-CARAT SOUL, the new story collection from James McBride, published by Riverhead Books on Tuesday, September 26.  This represents the first new fiction from McBride since his last novel, THE GOOD LORD BIRD, which won the 2013 National Book Award for Fiction.  He is also the author of two other bestselling novels, a James Brown biography, and his #1 bestselling memoir, THE COLOR OF WATER: A Black Man’s Tribute to His White Mother.   In FIVE-CARAT SOUL, McBride writes stories with humor and insight, about how we struggle to understand who we are in a world we don’t fully comprehend. 

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[caption id="attachment_7917" align="alignright" width="200"] Jake Morrissey[/caption] Riverhead Books Executive Editor Jake Morrissey edited this book and says, “As James McBride is both an extraordinary writer and a talented musician, it was fascinating working with him on FIVE-CARAT SOUL to help discover the melody in the collection itself, harmonizing and counterpointing the stories, and finding the right tones for his characters. The result is a terrifically readable, even musical, riff on identity and humanity.” When McBride was asked what it’s like to write stories instead of a novel, he responded:  “Writing a short story is like picking up a 747 and flinging it into the air. You heave it skyward and hope it flies.  Except it’s a heavy item to pick up. Novels give you a runway to get started. You have the space to gather speed and get it rolling before it eases off the ground. Short stories involve a lot more muscle. They’re harder to do. You have to engage the reader and keep them engaged.” [caption id="attachment_7918" align="alignleft" width="200"] James-McBride
Credit: Chia Messina[/caption] Looking at the characters in FIVE-CARAT SOUL and their lives on the page, McBride says, “I’m every one of those characters. I’m the talking animals. I’m the toy collector. I’m the kid who thinks Abraham Lincoln is my dad. I’m all of them.  You have to be all those characters if you want them to be strong enough to get up and walk across the room.” What draws the stories in this collection together? McBride says, “The stories are drawn together by my desire to show we are more alike than we are different. We all want the same thing: love, family, comfort, comedy. The stories are meant to be funny and illuminating. They’re relief from a world that doesn’t seem to be working well. That’s why I wrote them. I wanted relief. I needed an out, and they gave me one. They allowed me to see the possibility of the good and understanding that humans are capable of. If I didn’t have the desire to feel or see that, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed in the morning.”  

RESET: Ellen Pao’s Rallying Cry and Call to Action

Our new Igloo Book Buzz  selection is Ellen Pao’s RESET: My Fight for Inclusion and Lasting Change,  to be published on Tuesday, September 19, by Spiegel & Grau.  In 2015, Ms. Pao sued a powerhouse Silicon Valley venture capital firm, calling out workplace discrimination and retaliation against women and other underrepresented groups. Her suit rocked the tech world – and exposed its toxic culture and its homogeneity.  RESET is a rallying cry – the story of a whistleblower who aims to empower everyone struggling to be heard, in Silicon Valley and beyond. 

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[caption id="attachment_7806" align="alignright" width="200"] Emi Ikkanda
Photo Credit: Matthew Dunivan Photography[/caption] Spiegel & Grau Senior Editor Emi Ikkanda: “I was alongside the many across the country who were rooting for Ellen Pao during her gender discrimination trial, and I was thrilled when we first had a chance to meet to discuss what would become this extraordinary book, RESET. She was among the first in tech to stand up when too many were afraid to, and I was inspired speaking with her and hearing about how she wants to tell her story to help empower others. Far too many women and people of color will recognize their own office experiences when they read Pao’s book, and I love how she then talks about how people can come together to drive change. She writes about how, when she was CEO of Reddit, her team shut down revenge and child porn and the worst harassment sites. She also talks about how what started as friends sharing tech experiences over take-out grew to into a team that launched the award-winning, nationally recognized advocacy nonprofit Project Include. I can’t wait for her book to be out in the world, as so many are joining her efforts to make lasting change.” [caption id="attachment_7805" align="alignleft" width="200"] Ellen Pao
Photo Credit: Helena Price[/caption] Ellen Pao: “I wrote the book to take people into my experiences so readers can recognize their own struggles or empathize with others with similar experiences. I called it RESET because the tech world needs a complete reset. We need to clear the biases and power imbalances from tech to give everyone a fair chance to succeed. And that might mean shaking out the people who don’t believe in real inclusion, and replacing them with people who have been unfairly excluded. When I had first joined tech, I believed it was a meritocracy, and I was shocked when I was yelled at when I asked for equal pay and when I realized that there was no way for me to get promoted. It didn’t matter how much money I brought in, or how strong my relationships were with entrepreneurs. I didn’t have the right gender. Attitudes are starting to change as more voices come forward, but we have a long way to go. What’s important is that we’re telling our stories and standing up for ourselves and for one another. If we do not share our stories and shine a light on inequities, things will not change.” Here is a sampling of early praise RESET has received: “Necessary and incisive. As Pao detailed her experiences, while also communicating her passion for the work men often impeded her from doing, I was nothing short of infuriated. It was great to see a highly accomplished woman of color speaking out like this and hopefully this book will encourage more women to come forward, give voice to their experiences in the workplace, and contribute to meaningful change.”—Roxane Gay “When women assert ourselves, we confirm the bias against us, unconscious and otherwise. When we speak out, we identify ourselves as troublemakers. This is why I look forward to reading Ellen Pao’s account of her tribulations in Silicon Valley.”—Catherine Mayer, New York Times “Vivid [and] fascinating reading…The Broadsheet covered the Pao trial extensively, but it’s a very different experience to read her words now…. Her willingness to come forward paved the way for [other] whistleblowers… The ‘Pao effect’…is real—and, it seems, just beginning to make its influence felt.”—Fortune “Ellen Pao courageously confronted Silicon Valley’s venture capital world by calling out bias and discrimination. She emerged from a public trial, media frenzy, and a fierce battle against online harassment with her strength, spirit, and voice intact. In RESET, with deep intelligence and a gift for storytelling, Pao movingly and passionately recounts her path to activism and advocacy. Her book offers a rare glimpse into the gender roles and stereotypes that still pervade one of the world’s most profitable trading centers.”—Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Nathan Englander Invites Readers to DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection is award-winning author Nathan Englander’s DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, published by Knopf to much acclaim.  This timely political thriller unfolds in the highly charged territory of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and pivots on the complex relationship between a secret prisoner and his guard.  Nathan has woven a powerful, intensely suspenseful portrait of a nation riven by insoluble conflict, even as the lives of its citizens become fatefully and inextricably entwined, interrogating the anguished, violent division between Israelis and Palestinians, and dramatizing the immense moral ambiguities haunting both sides. 

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Nathan offers personal insights into his latest novel with responses to the following three questions:
[caption id="attachment_7732" align="alignright" width="300"] Nathan Englander
Credit: Joshua Meier[/caption] How would you describe the genesis of DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH? I trace it back to the collapse of the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and the end of my time in Jerusalem (where I lived from 1996 to 2001). I never got over the opportunity lost. And I’ve always wanted to explore that impossibly complicated conflict in a novel. What were the most challenging and rewarding aspects of writing this book? The most challenging? That’s easy. Part of what obsesses me about the subject, is the circular nature of the fighting. Everyone always avenging those who died avenging. Everyone, on both sides—I promise you—right now preparing for the next round. I wanted DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH to reflect that spiral in its structure. So, though it reads in a linear fashion, it’s built up of maybe a half dozen different timelines, and with characters playing dual roles. As for the rewarding aspects, it was a lot of fun to build a spy who is, in many ways—mercy upon him—as neurotic as I am. What elements of DINNER AT THE CENTER OF THE EARTH do you think will resonate most strongly with readers? I’d say my guess is as good as yours. But, it’s actually worse. I’ve only done two public events so far, and I’ve already learned so many things about what’s in the book, and how it will be read. Last night, I was in conversation with Jonathan Safran Foer and he asked a question about the parallels between the two critical dinners at the end of the novel that was so smart, so different from how I’d thought about it, it made me see the ending in a whole new light.

Cooking and Activism Join Together in Alice Waters’ New Memoir

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection is Alice Waters’ COMING TO MY SENSES: The Making of a Counterculture Cook, which Clarkson Potter published this week.  Alice retraces the events that led her to open the doors of Chez Panisse, arguably America’s most influential restaurant, in Berkeley, California in the early 1970s.  She chronicles the tumultuous times that emboldened her to find her own voice as a cook when the prevailing food culture was embracing convenience and uniformity.   

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Alice Waters’ editor, Pam Krauss, said, “Even before I had the opportunity to work with Alice on her cookbooks, I was a huge admirer of her efforts as a food activist and her determination to reshape the conversation around food in this country. So I was excited both as an editor and as a fan when Alice finally agreed to tell her own story, and sketch the circuitous route that brought her to Chez Panisse. Given the parallels between the political climate now and when she first opened the restaurant in 1972, this insider’s account of the counterculture feels incredibly relevant.” Moving from a repressive suburban upbringing to Berkeley in 1964 at the height of the Free Speech Movement and campus unrest, Alice was drawn into a bohemian circle of charismatic figures whose views on design, politics, film, and food would ultimately inform the unique culture on which Chez Panisse was founded. Fueled in equal parts by naiveté and a relentless pursuit of beauty and pure flavor, she turned her passion project into an iconic institution that redefined American cuisine for generations of chefs and food lovers. Dotted with stories, recipes, photographs, and letters, COMING TO MY SENSES is at once deeply personal and modestly understated, a quietly revealing look at one woman’s evolution from a rebellious yet impressionable follower to a respected activist who effects social and political change on a global level through the common bond of food.
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Creating a Personal Playbook for Jump-Starting Each Day

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection is Lisa Currie’s SURPRISE YOURSELF: Get Out of Your Head & Into the World, published this week by TarcherPerigee.

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 Ms. Currie, an artist and author living in Melbourne, Australia, says, “My new book, for me, is about trying to make every day feel [caption id="attachment_7591" align="alignright" width="200"] Lisa Currie
Credit: Nick Dale[/caption] special in some way. It might be a little thing, like learning something interesting about a co-worker, or something big like taking yourself on an adventure to explore a new neighborhood.  I've always loved the idea of never having the same day twice, but I'm also an introverted person who feels very snug in my comfort zone and routine. So this book grew into a collection of the little tricks and nudges and ideas I've collected over the years to see the world with fresh eyes and enjoy more of it in small ways. Like a friend who says, ‘let's try this!’ To be able to fall asleep every night and (at the very least) think, ‘oh that was fun, or that was new!’
“You know those sticker reward charts we had as kids? I love those. The satisfaction of seeing your progress visually, a little more each day or week. In SURPRISE YOURSELF, I made a few ‘reward chart’ pages with a list of every activity in the book. So the first thing I’d do is tear out those pages (they’re in the back of the book), stick them somewhere you’ll see it every day, like on the fridge, and color-in each activity as you complete it. At a glance you’ll be both proud of what you’ve already done and inspired to pick the next idea.” Marian Lizzi, Editorial Director, TarcherPerigee, offers these insights: “Working with Lisa is an editor’s dream.  She’s always brimming with ideas, and her excitement for the material is palpable. And because she creates both the words and the images in her books, I like to say she’s ‘the whole package.’ As an editor, I try to experience the material as a typical reader would. So I take a step back and pretend this is my first time seeing Lisa’s work. What jumps out as the most engaging and inviting? What’s intriguing, but could use a bit more clarification? Is there any repetition, or (this is always the hardest part) something missing that would take things to the next level? In general, I point out the places where I have a question or concern, and Lisa comes up with a solution. It’s a creative conversation, back and forth, that’s similar to hanging out with a super-talented friend (Lisa) who’s able to write and draw and entertain and problem-solve in surprising ways. It’s a fun and positive process that keeps us both in a state of flow.”                      

Why Ayobami Adebayo’s STAY WITH ME is So Powerful and Relevant

Our new Igloo Book Buzz selection is Ayobami Adebayo’s debut novel STAY WITH ME, published by Knopf  today.  The title was an Editors Book Buzz pick at Book Expo 2017 and enthusiastically presented by Jennifer Jackson, Senior Editor, Knopf Doubleday.

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 “Within ten pages of reading STAY WITH ME I knew I was in the hands of an exceptional storyteller,” said Ms. Jackson.  “The voice is so powerful. Comparisons to Chimamanda Adichi and Chinua Achebe feel nearly blasphemous in their audacity, but it’s impossible not to think of these great Nigerian writers when reading Ayobami’s work. And even though STAY WITH ME is set mostly in 1980s Lagos, it feels devastatingly relevant in its examination of the personal and the political, the pressure a society exerts over women’s bodies and their fertility.  Like the very best fiction, STAY WITH ME takes us to a different time and place and shows us ourselves more clearly along the way.”   When asked if a particular incident inspired the writing of her novel, Ms. Adebayo revealed, “When I was in my late teens, a couple of friends passed away suddenly. This was quite distressing but after a while, as tends to happen when one is once or twice removed from grief, I stopped thinking about them all the time.  Still, whenever I saw their mothers, I was moved by how they’d become physically transformed by what had happened to their children. I wondered how they found the strength to get out of bed every day after such a devastating loss, and questioned why these women were expected, after a period of mourning, to continue life as normal. In 2008, a few days after an encounter with one of them, I wrote a short story that would later morph into STAY WITH ME.” The author added, “I’m so happy that STAY WITH ME found a home at Knopf. It’s wonderful to be part of such a prestigious list and I’m delighted with the care and enthusiasm with which the wonderful Knopf team is publishing it.” In STAY WITH ME, Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant. Which, finally, she does–but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, STAY WITH ME asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.

HOME FIRE: Humanizing the Dilemmas of Our Moment

This week’s Igloo Book Buzz, HOME FIRE by Kamila Shamsie, was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker Prize and published by Riverhead Books on August 15.  Suspenseful and heartbreaking, this is the story of an immigrant family driven to pit love against loyalty, with devastating consequences. 

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Ms. Shamsie revealed, “The idea of adapting Sophocles’ Antigone in a contemporary context was first suggested to me by a man called Jatinder Verma, who runs a theatre company in London. Hedidn’t define a particular contemporary context but this was atime when the papers were full of stories of young British Muslim men going to Syria to join the Islamic State, and the government was wanting to respond by stripping them of their citizenship.  I very quickly saw how those stories in the headlines could be laid on to an ancient Greek story about two sisters who are forbidden from burying their brother, because of his crimes against the state – one accepts the state’s edict, the other doesn’t. The more times I read the play the more it struck me as being so filled with potential because it’s about large themes of justice and the state vs. the individual while also being the story of characters whose lives are entwined by blood and by love.”   [caption id="attachment_7435" align="alignright" width="250"] Kamila Shamsie
Credit: Zain Mustafa[/caption] The book’s editor, Riverhead Vice President and Editorial Director Rebecca Saletan, said, “Though I’d long admired Kamila’s work, this was my first time publishing her. To my delight, that involved some of my favorite kind of editorial work—helping her to figure out, in conjunction with her longtime editorial team at Bloomsbury, how to fine-tune some of the emotional dynamics as she finished transposing the story from classical Greek drama to thrilling contemporary novel.  HOME FIRE would have been a pleasure to publish at any time, but it is so—what’s the right word, empowering?— to have it to bring before the world at this moment when aggressive xenophobia is being fueled from on high. A teenager goes astray, a family who have lived in a country for decades are suddenly ‘other’ – it humanizes powerfully and inescapably the dilemmas of our moment.”   Reviewer praise for HOME FIRE has been unequivocally rapturous: “Ingenious and love-struck … HOME FIRE takes flight. … Shamsie drives this gleaming machine home in a manner that, if I weren’t handling airplane metaphors, I would call smashing. … Builds to one of the most memorable final scenes I’ve read in a novel this century.” —The New York Times “This is a haunting novel, full of dazzling moments and not a few surprising turns … HOME FIRE  blazes with the kind of annihilating devastation that transcends grief.” —The Washington Post “All of Shamsie’s novels are deeply moving and morally complex, leading to the kind of rich reading experience most of us hope for in every novel we pick up. Her newest has all of that and more.” —San Francisco Chronicle “Shamsie’s timely fiction probes the roots of radicalism and the pull of the family.” —O, the Oprah Magazine

How the Kellogg Brothers Transformed Breakfast and Wellness

“What’s more American than Corn Flakes?” Bing Crosby once posed that rhetorical question and would probably have enjoyed reading our new Igloo Book Buzz selection, Howard Markel’s THE KELLOGGS: The Battling Brothers of Battle Creek, published by Pantheon.  

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What inspired Markel, a doctor, professor, historian, and author, to write this book?  He said, “After finding a treasure trove of papers and other archival materials documenting the Kellogg brothers’ lives, I knew there was a remarkable story worth telling. This family saga was more than the story of the creation of corn flakes or a feud between brothers, it was a compelling and important tale of modern medicine, nutrition, industry and wellness in America.”   Vicky Wilson, who edited the book, said, “The story of the Kellogg Brothers is a great American saga of know-how, instinct, curiosity, invention and determination.  It’s the building of a vast industry that changed how America lived and ate for more than seven decades, from post-Civil-War America, through the gilded age up to the Second World War.  It’s a kind of Magnificent Ambersons, mid-western American saga that gives us a changing world in the heart of the industrial age.” [caption id="attachment_7390" align="alignright" width="199"] Howard Markel
Credit: Joyce Ravid[/caption] THE KELLOGGS has garnered much praise from media outlets as well as authors: “A tale of grit, controversy, faith and the emergence of the ‘wellness’ movement. In the hands of Markel, a trained historian, physician, seasoned writer and chronicler of America, this tale comes alive. A fabulous read.” —Abraham Verghese, author of CUTTING FOR STONE “Howard Markel’s riveting, deeply researched new book covers vast territory: the saga of the squabbling Kellogg brothers (“magnificent showmen, resolute empire builders, and unwavering visionaries”), their mass-branding of breakfast cereals, their concept of ‘wellness,’ and their enormous influence on the diet of millions of Americans.  This book arrives at a pivotal moment in our own history when mass-marketing, showmanship, and the media deserve particularly deep study.  Markel’s incandescent scholarship and his incisive analysis shine through this book.  THE KELLOGGS can certainly be read as a biography of two visionaries (and their extended families), but it also deserves to be read as a case study by generations of future readers.” — Siddhartha Mukherjee, Pulitzer Prize -winning author of The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer “This incredible story by itself would be sufficient for a book. Markel, however, goes much further . . .an engrossing adventure about the rise of Midwest America from the pioneering days of the Kellogg family to World War II with all of its failures and successes. Medicine, breakfast foods, and the Seventh Day Adventist Church are part of the story.” — Robert S. Davis, New York Journal of Books

More Twists in Fiona Barton’s New Novel, THE CHILD

“A slow-burn portrait of loss and survival” is how Entertainment Weekly describes this week’s Igloo Book Buzz selection, THE CHILDFiona Barton’s new psychological suspense novel, on sale this week from Berkley.  Ms. Barton burst onto the scene last year with her bestselling debut thriller, THE WIDOW, one of the top breakout books of 2016.

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[caption id="attachment_6981" align="alignright" width="225"] Danielle Perez[/caption] Berkley Executive Editor Danielle Perez says, “Fiona is such a pleasure to work with. Her novels are exquisitely suspenseful and twisty, but there’s also an impressive complexity and depth to her characters.  I think Fiona’s background as a journalist gives her deep and compassionate insight into people.  Both of Fiona’s novels, THE WIDOW and THE CHILD, have stunning twists and emotionally satisfying endings that are really earned.  We’re so thrilled that THE CHILD is receiving much-deserved stellar reviews.  Kate Waters, the journalist from THE WIDOW, is an important part of THE CHILD; readers who really responded to her character in THE WIDOW will love her in THE CHILD.” TIME called THE CHILD one of the “Top 10 thrillers to read this summer,” while a PEOPLE reviewer wrote, “Satisfying…. Long after their secrets are revealed, the author’s compassion for her wounded characters lingers.” And from a Boston Globe review: “This being a Barton thriller, there’s more to pretty much everything than meets the eye.”