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What does it say about me that I didn’t hate this book?

Maestra is destined to become one of those books that everyone reads, but no one wants to admit to reading. It’s brash, graphic, disturbing, and totally unapologetic about being all of those things. The plot is a convoluted mess, the narrator a sociopathic social climber obsessed with brand names and anonymous trysts. Still, despite all that, I read the entire thing in two sittings.

It reminds me a lot of James Bond movies—if James Bond were a woman, and instead of working for the government, worked only to increase her own wealth and status. In fact, I think what makes this book feel so edgy is the simple fact that main character Judith is female. Identical actions performed by a male character would be so pedestrian as to be yawn-inducing—ooh, he kills someone and covers it up? He likes hooking up with strangers, no strings attached? He steals a valuable piece of art to pad his own pockets? He values people solely for how physically attractive or rich they are? Seriously, what part of this would sound at all shocking, if it happened in a book or movie in which the main character was a man?

Still, I’m guessing Maestra is going to end up in a lot of beach bags this summer. It’s the kind of quick and dirty read that everyone wants while they’re on vacation, and it has enough shock value to ensure continued word-of-mouth buzz. You'll want to read it just to be in the loop when everyone is inevitably talking about it around the water cooler.

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Sometimes publisher blurbs do good books a real disservice. I was only lukewarm-excited to read Shelter, because from what I understood, it was about a modern family in the midst of a debt crisis brought on by living above their means. And that's just not the kind of book I'll line up to read, you know? I don't have much patience for people who get themselves into financial pickles by spending money they don't have.

Guess what? That's not what the book is about, at least not centrally. Yes, there is a cash-strapped family, but the real crisis is about so much more than foreclosure and high interest rates. As beleaguered husband and wife Kyung and Gillian show a realtor around their home and pray they can get more for it than they still owe, they look out and see a naked woman running through the field behind their house. How's that for an attention-grabbing opening scene? And when Kyung recognizes the woman as his mother, I was hooked.

So forget the debt angle. This is a literary thriller of the highest order. Kyung is struggling to make sense of not only what happened that day, but his entire lifetime preceding it. He has some major emotional baggage to unpack, and the upbringing he had with his traditional Korean parents didn't equip him for anything but avoidance and silent fuming. While Shelter doesn't quite match the pitch-perfect tone of Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You, it strikes a similar chord with its deep exploration of a flawed family and what made it that way.

With regards to Picador and Goodreads for the advance copy, which I was gobsmacked (but happy!) to win in a recent giveaway. On sale March 15.