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Bring Me Back by B. A. Paris, St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan Publishers, US $26.95, Pp 292, June 2018, ISBN 978-1250151339

Upstate by James Wood, Farrar, Straus and Giroux/Macmillan Publishers, US $26.00, Pp 224, June 2018, ISBN 978-0374279530

Remind Me Again What Happened by Joanna Luloff, Algonquin Books, US $26.95, Pp 288, June 2018, ISBN 978-1565129221

Another Side of Paradise: A Novel by Sally Koslow, HarperCollins Publishers, US $26.99, Pp 352, May 2018, ISBN 978-0062696762

The story started ten years ago. Finn and Layla were young and in love. They were planning to get married. During their holidays in France, the couple was driving along the highway when Finn stopped at a service station. He went inside the service station to use the restroom while Layla stayed in the car while she waited for him. When Finn came back, Layla was nowhere to be seen. Where had she gone? Police investigated but are unable to recover her even after ten years. During the last ten years, the shared grief brought Finn and Layla’s sister, Ellen, closer and the two are now engaged to get married. But Finn is still not very sure of Ellen. He still has doubts about Ellen. Ellen is no Layla and Finn has to convince himself that he really loves her. But before the two can get married, Finn gets a strange phone call from Exeter-based police detective Tony Heddon who claims that an ex-neighbor of Finn and Layla’s have seen Layla outside of their old cottage in Devon and claims she is in hiding. Finn realizes that strange things like long-lost items from Layla’s past had been re-appearing in Finn and Ellen’s house for some time now. He had also received emails from unknown people who seemed to know too much – warnings and reminders. Ellen finds a little Russian nesting doll on the sidewalk in front of their house, similar to the one that was found at the place where Layla disappeared. Soon similar dolls begin appearing everywhere. The emails get more ominous. Finn chases the clues without much success. Are they from Layla? Is she really alive? Where is she hiding? What does she want? Bring Me Back is a psychological thriller with too many twists and turns. Bring Me Back is a daring, stay-up-all-night love story. This should be next on your reading list if you love to read thrilling love stories.

B.A. Paris is the internationally bestselling author of Behind Closed Doors and The Breakdown. She grew up in England but has spent most of her adult life in France. She has worked both in finance and as a teacher and has five daughters. Bring Me Back is her third novel.

*****

Upstate is set in early 2007 but the theme and the questions the story raises are timeless. Alan Querry is a 68-year-old successful property developer and father of two young daughters. His elder daughter Vanessa has moved to America to teach philosophy at a university. Busy at home in Northumberland in northern England, Alan Querry has not been able to visit Vanessa in America. Helen, his younger daughter, a Sony music executive in London, is also too busy in her job like her father to visit her sister. Neither sister has been able to fully recover from their parents’ bitter divorce and early death of their mother. One day, Alan Querry and Helen receive a phone call from Vanessa’s new boyfriend who tells them that Vanessa is suffering from severe depression and he is really worried about her safety. This is sad and worrying news. It seems Vanessa needs help from the family. Alan and Helen decide to visit Vanessa in upstate New York in America as soon as possible although Alan is having some serious business problems and Helen some marital problems. Vanessa seems to be torn between an urge to return to England and the fear that the move would ruin her relationship with Josh. When the family reunites in Saratoga Springs, they discuss the question that can be called the theme of this novel: Why living is so much harder for some people than others? Can we learn to be happy or are we destined to be unhappy? Does reflection lead to happiness or obstruct it? Is living the only serious enterprise? If yes, how should we live? At one point, Vanessa asks, “What if despair…kept on returning?” James Wood explores the existential questions that agitate almost all of us, which makes Upstate extraordinarily captivating and enjoyable for everyone.

James Wood is a book critic at The New Yorker and the recipient of a National Magazine Award in criticism. He is the author of essay collections, the novel The Book Against God, and the study How Fiction Works. He is a professor of the practice of literary criticism at Harvard University.

*****

Charlie and Rachel quickly realize that Claire is suffering from near total loss of memory when Claire wakes up in a hospital room in the Florida Keys. Claire was traveling as a journalist in India where she was bitten by a mosquito and contracted Japanese encephalitis, leading to seizures and brain damage. She is unable to recognize either Charlie, her husband, or Rachel, their best friend. She tries to piece together a few things by looking at the old photos but has become confused about certain things. She asks if Charlie is still her husband and Rachel still a friend. Everything appears a mystery to her. Claire has been having an emotional issue with Charlie of late. Claire and Charlie and their dearest friend, Rachel, have a long and complicated history of friendship. Rachel and Charlie had met for the first time in a modernist poetry seminar when she was studying in England. They soon developed a romantic but shy relationship. Charlie moved with her to Boston to go to a graduate school when she completed her studies in England. After Rachel’s parents died in a car accident, first Claire and then Charlie moved into her home to take care of her in difficult times. As it turned out, Charlie and Rachel got involved in a romantic relationship and Rachel soon become pregnant and decided to keep it. Rachel also decided to turn away from Charlie. Claire quickly took her place as his romantic partner to help Charlie overcome melancholy. Claire has been helping both Charlie and Rachel through their lives. But now it’s Claire who needs help. Claire slowly regained her memory but their lives are forever changed. In Remind Me Again What Happened, debut novelist Joanna Luloff shows that our relations are forever changing. If you are exploring human nature and human relationships, you should be looking for a copy of Remind Me Again What Happened. It is a powerful and mesmerizing story with unforgettable characters.

Joanna Luloff received her MFA from Emerson College and her Ph.D. from the University of Missouri. Before all of those years of graduate school, she served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Baddegama, Sri Lanka. Her short stories have appeared in The Missouri Review, Confrontation, Western Humanities Review, Memorious, and New South, and her collection The Beach at Galle Road was released in October 2012. She is an Assistant Professor of English at the University of Colorado Denver.

*****

Another Side of Paradise is set in Hollywood in 1937 when the star of gossip columnist Sheilah Graham was rising while literary icon F. Scott Fitzgerald’s star is setting. Alcoholic Fitzgerald, who writes scripts for the Hollywood movies for a living, can still attract gorgeous women like Sheilah Graham, who writes gossip columns. Sheilah (nee Lily Shiel) was born into a poor Jewish family in London and was sent to an orphanage by her family. She married a much older but rich man named John Graham Gillam but they divorced later. This made it possible for her to move to America where she plans to pursue a career in journalism. Once married to Zelda, Fitzgerald fell for Sheilah Graham. Sheilah uses her charms to achieve her goals. She helps Fitzgerald revive his career until he dies three years later. Sheilah has to struggle hard to hide her poverty-stricken childhood and Jewishness. Scott also tries hard to help overcome her complexes but does not have much success. When Scott tells her that most of Hollywood’s movie moguls are Jewish and that many of movie stars are known by their “nom de guerre,” she is not convinced. Scott has a bad luck as a screenwriter. He is fired from such iconic films as Gone with the Wind and The Women. Another Side of Paradise is the fictionalized story of writer Scott and gossip columnist Sheilah Graham and their love affair during the last three years of Scott’s life. It is definitely an oft-told story but Sally’s brilliant writing style makes it more interesting and captivating than most other accounts. Sally Koslow’s writing is vibrant and colorful and brings Graham, Scott, and Sheilah to life. Most importantly, her depiction of 1930s Hollywood is fascinating and brings the 1930s Hollywood to life.

Sally is the author of several novels including The widow waltz, her fourth novel, The late, Lamented Molly Marx, With friends like these, and her debut novel, Little Pink Slips. Her books have been published in a dozen countries. Sally often writes essays and articles for magazines, newspapers, and websites, including The New York Times, O the Oprah Magazine, Real Simple, The Boston Globe, Good Housekeeping, The Forward, AARP Magazine and Reader’s Digest. Sally lives in Manhattan. She is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she met her husband. They are the proud parents of two sons.

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