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September 2, 2022

George Ernsberger
Posted 9/2/22

Alias Emma by Ava Glass (Bantam).

A superfast spy thriller, set in London; the action—not combat, mostly fleeing, if they can move fast enough and stealthily enough—it’s not …

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September 2, 2022

Posted

Alias Emma by Ava Glass (Bantam).

A superfast spy thriller, set in London; the action—not combat, mostly fleeing, if they can move fast enough and stealthily enough—it’s not just hostile eyes but deadly weapons they’re trying to remain in- visible to. And it’s so nonstop, and yet rendered so deeply and realistically, that we con- tinue to believe every word. London, we’re told and con- vinced, is the most, and most constantly, camera-moni- tored big city in the world. The overall feel that’s created by this book put this New Yorker in mind of my first days in that great beehive; those days were well before this level of camera density, of course, but the quality, the character of “everywhere busier than the place we just left” quality of life there is vividly evoked here, and we see that it’s about peo- ple scared by (or whatever; maybe just aware of ) a lot more than just traffic in the streets and pushcarts on the sidewalks.

Sister Mother Warrior by Vanessa Riley (Morrow).

Sweeping historical novel and also a war novel; the setting, vividly present here, is the the revolution that freed Haiti from French colonial domination (enslavement, essentially) and created an independent nation in the Caribbean, on half of its island home—the other half, Spanish rather than French, would become Santo Domingo (The Dominican Republic). It’s interesting enough as history, but then there are two great, inspiring women at its center — an empress of Haiti and a West Africa-born warrior who led that rebellion and drove the French slavers from the island — and in our hands now, an intelligent and lively writer, too, making for a great story and a great read.

Mika in Real Life by Emiko Jean (Morrow).

Light but emotionally stirring novel, inform the sort of story that’s called a romance, by a writer best known for YA fantasy fiction — but noticeably both more in earnest and more comfortable with real-life ironies and contradictions than “romance” suggests. Issues of race and adoption, emotional breadth if not great depth, but including sadness, are factors realisti- cally and compassionately portrayed. It is entertainment, rather than art (again, the central thread, by itself, would be called a category “romance”) but thoughtful, even enriching.

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister (Morrow).

And another almost-romance with enough emotional complexity and irony — and a fantasy, near-science fiction plot — to elude that sort of category labeling. Time doesn’t go backward — that is, clocks don’t — but, for our central character only, a likable woman with a dreadful problem to solve, the calendar does: each day, she wakes
up to the day just before the one she fell asleep in. She’s charming and endearing and we root for her to find ways to make life better for herself and others while this dizzying process proceeds.

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