Odessa by Jonathan Hill

In Jonathan Hill's Odessa, three siblings search for their mother in a post-apocalyptic United States, several years after a major earthquake has separated California from the rest of the country. Since this is the first book in a series, it spends a lot of time world-building and ends on a cliffhanger. The pacing felt rushed when it came to the conflicts and action that take place along the siblings' journey. Those moments resolved a little too quickly and neatly. The bickering between the siblings was a bit overdone and started to feel like filler. But the art is fantastic and the premise is cool. Odessa held my attention, and the book left me feeling like I must read the sequel(s)…

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Murder with Oolong Tea by Karen Rose Smith

I was in the mood for a cozy mystery, and Karen Rose Smith's Murder with Oolong Tea delivered. I loved the tea shop setting and was glad to find recipes in the back. I don't normally jump into the middle of an unfamiliar-to-me series, but the author dropped just enough detail that it was easy to keep track of the characters' relationships and histories. The main character and amateur sleuth, Daisy, is not perfect - I found her kind of uptight and judgy at first - but she grows, and you really get a sense of her kind, loving nature. You know what to expect going into a cozy mystery, to some degree, but all the charm and twists I…

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Earthlings by Sayaka Murata

"My body is not my own." I'm speechless and my stomach is in knots. The social commentary in Sayaka Murata's Earthlings (translated by Ginny Tapley Takemori), about the expectations and pressures society puts on people, and how people put those pressures on each other, is delivered so matter-of-factly and dealt with so aggressively that it heightens disturbing events to a level of disturbing I didn't think was possible. And THAT ENDING, what the hell?! Murata does not hold back. Earthlings is so incredibly weird, devastatingly sad, and deeply distressing, and then the ending got gruesome and even WEIRDER. This would make a good pick for the bravest of book clubs, because you would have endless things to talk about, and…

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Father Guards the Sheep by Sari Rosenblatt

The Iowa Short Fiction Award consistently gives us wonderful short story collections like Sari Rosenblatt's Father Guards the Sheep. These are strong, character-driven stories focusing on different ways fathers watch over their families, from the perspectives of their children, in different ages and stages of their lives. Each story stands alone, but they're also loosely connected in a way that rounds out and finishes the collection well. Rosenblatt writes interesting, complex, and realistic characters. Pick up this book when you want to cozy up with some good people stories.

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