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book review

Our Little Secret

By Roz Nay

Simon & Schuster Canada, 256 pages, $22.99

Heading to a cottage this weekend and need a guaranteed good read? Bring this book. Trust me: you're likely to read it in one breathless sitting. When you return to reality, it will be well past midnight and everyone else will have gone to bed. British Columbia resident Roz Nay's debut begins as a young love story: Angela is the new kid in town and HP (his initials stand for something, of course, but it's a secret he only tells her later, once their more-than-just-a-friendship is as solid as cement) is the high school dreamboat. Not the athletic kind, though. The kind that has longish hair and can most often be found slouching in his hoodie, but also the kind who paints nature scenes and then writes you long letters over top of his paintings. The kind that, when it comes to the teenage heart, is serious trouble. The problem with this love story is that it's being told in a police interrogation room. Years have passed, HP has spurned Angela for a woman named Saskia, and Saskia is missing. What follows is a winding, deceptive descent towards the truth about what happened. I didn't see it coming, and neither will you.

The Gypsy Moth Summer

By Julia Fierro

St. Martin's Press, 400 pages, $37.99

One of the best things about this novel is how vividly Julia Fierro paints the setting (an islet called Avalon off the coast of Long Island) and the time period (summer of 1992; you can smell the Love's Baby Soft and taste the Lip Smackers). Avalon could be an idyll, but this summer, it's not. First off, there's a gypsy moth infestation that's causing insects to rain down like a biblical plague. All you have to do is listen and you'll hear them chewing their way through the precious tree canopy; all you have to do is look up and a gummy caterpillar is likely to plop onto your forehead. The infestation is the perfect backdrop for a story that is complex, relevant and a delight to read. Racism, classism, bigotry, abortion, domestic abuse, business ethics (or lack thereof), terminal illness, marital strife – it might sound like too much but it turns out to be just enough and this novel ultimately becomes one about the power those we love and trust have to destroy us, slowly at first and then in unstoppable waves (like a biblical plague) but also the restorative, strengthening power of love meant to last. The world is full of both kinds and, Fierro's writing suggests, you'll never quite know until you're in the thick of it which kind of love you've got. But don't stop living, even with the threats. There's beauty in everything.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

By Taylor Jenkins Reid

Atria, 400 pages, $22

The fifth novel by women's fiction darling Taylor Jenkins Reid is a departure. Previously she's written, endearingly, about domestic life and what-if scenarios. Here, she's taken on something new: a sweeping, ambitious novel about a fictional starlet named Evelyn Hugo who contains multitudes – and has the seven ex-husbands to prove it. Rookie journalist Monique Grant is hand-picked by Hugo herself to tell her story, finally, in a national glossy. Monique's future career prospects depend on whether she can hold her own in interviews with the notoriously private and prickly Hugo. But as she manages to peel away the layers of this formidable starlet, she realizes it's about more than just a magazine story. The rise of Hugo – once Evelyn Herrera, the daughter of Cuban immigrants – is a cinematic tale with hardscrabble roots, staggering highs and sickening lows. The novel reads like a celebrity tell-all, and this makes it delicious. But it's also got heft, because Hugo's story is one of overcoming adversity, racism and sexism to get to the top. She fails, falls, triumphs and learns difficult lessons about the things that really matter. With this riveting novel, Jenkins Reid has created an exceptional character with the wherewithal to take on the patriarchy, a character I would be delighted to see dominate the real-life silver screen in the future.