Starred Library Journal Review of Skin Deep

Check out the nice review of Skin Deep from Library Journal!

Despite her Asian features, her father really is Irish, her mother Norwegian. Her name is Siobhan O’Brien, never mind everyone’s surprise when trying to gauge the incongruity between her face and that moniker. Short answer: Siobhan is a Korean-born, upstate New York–raised transracial adoptee. At 40, she’s just inherited a private investigation agency since her boss of two years has suddenly dropped dead (of natural causes). The business has enough banked to last three months, or she could sell and net a comfy $20,000-ish. Inexperience aside, she chooses to stay open, and her first case turns out to be a doozy: to reunite her late best friend’s younger sister with her missing teenage daughter, Siobhan will need to infiltrate a radical womyn’s group at a nearby college, agree to trespassing, check into a yoga center, get poisoned by mushrooms, avoid a multinational billionaire’s posse, and, in between, maybe even risk falling in love.

VERDICT: With just the right mix of clever twists, endearing charm, looming threats, and contemporary issues (identity, privilege, cultural appropriation, the ugliest parts of the beauty trade), literary novelist Woo (Love Love) debuts quite the absorbing new mystery series, hopefully with multiple volumes to come.

Reviewed by Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC , Jun 12, 2020

Library Journal – https://www.libraryjournal.com/?reviewDetail=skin-deep

Kirkus Review of Skin Deep

The second review is in, and it’s also good!

Woo strikes out in a wholly new direction with this soft-boiled debut mystery about a private eye’s search for a frenemy’s missing daughter.

On the day she’s celebrating her second anniversary with the Ed Baker Investigative Agency, Korean American adoptee Siobhan O’Brien, nee Kim Shee-Bong, finds her boss unexpectedly dead, leaving her the sole proprietor of a business worth maybe $20,000 on a good day. Will Siobhan, an ex-reporter of 40, shut the place down? Not if pushy Josie Sykes, the younger sister of Siobhan’s late friend Marlene, has anything to say about it. Josie’s daughter, Penelope Hae Jun Sykes, who, like Siobhan, was adopted, has vanished from Llewellyn College, where she was a first-year student. The members of the Womyn of Llewellyn, who took her in and maybe did a number on her, insist that she’s fled the emotional abuse of her overbearing mother and that they don’t have to answer to her. Siobhan, who interviewed Llewellyn president Vera Wheeler shortly after her appointment, finds that an awful lot has changed on campus in the five years since. Wheeler seems determined to admit no one but beauty queens and make over the college into a temple of state-of-the-art cosmetology. Her plans have put her at odds with the Krishna Center in nearby Hawthorne, New York, where Penny’s allegedly hunkered down—or maybe, as Siobhan gradually learns when she goes undercover at Llewellyn and Krishna as a reporter, they haven’t after all. Woo’s vision of the Stepford College is logistically shaky but metaphorically resonant.

The prize is a heroine who’s by turns wide-eyed, gravely amused, susceptible, and plenty cool enough for an encore.

Kirkus Reviews – https://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/sung-j-woo/skin-deep-woo/

Less, by Andrew Sean Greer

I did not know who Andrew Sean Greer was until I heard he’d won this year’s Pulitzer prize for fiction, and I continued to not know him and his sixth novel Less until I heard him read an excerpt in the New Yorker Radio Hour.  That was it; I was sold.  That short story was about Arthur Less, a nonfamous writer invited to Turin, Italy, by a minor literary prize, and it ran from one hilarious moment to the next.  Greer is one of these incredibly blessed people who just write funny.  Like how he describes the airplane lunch: “Tuscan chicken (whose ravishing name reveals itself, like an internet lover, to be mere chicken and mashed potatoes)”.

There are two things about Less that bear mentioning on a craft level (because they are absolutely crafty in the best sense of the word):

1) Greer sprinkles flashbacks judiciously throughout this novel, and he’s quite deft in the way he sneaks them in.  Example: in the last chapter, there’s this part: “…he sees a few people waiting on the dock, and among them — he recognizes her through her clear umbrella — is his mother.”  It’s not his mother, of course; rather, it’s a woman who is wearing a very similar scarf.  But this moment of misrecognition gives the reader the perfect way into this memory.

2) This novel is narrated by an unnamed character, one who acts in an omniscient manner about 95% of the time, but then there are these startling confessional first-person moments.  It’s so smart — Greer gets to have his cake and eat it, too, because he has the flexibility to play god and go wherever he wants, whenever he wants, and yet he also preserves the closeness of the first-person narrator when he wants to deliver an extra helping of heart.

This is just a wonderful novel, gentle and loving and funny and sad.  Unlike many literary novels, things actually happen in this book, lots of things, tons of things.  It is, after all, a travelogue of sorts, with Less jumping from country to country, continent to continent, to avoid his former lover’s wedding and his impending 50th birthday, so there’s serious propulsion in the narrative.

The writer Greer reminded me most was another favorite of mine, Brian Morton.  Fans of Starting Out in the Evening or A Window Across the River will find a great friend in Less.  I can’t wait to read the rest of Greer’s fiction.