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Best Popular Fiction of 2014

Deservedly popular Moriarty invigorates the tired social-issue formula of women’s fiction through wit, good humor, sharp...

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BIG LITTLE LIES

After last year’s best-selling The Husband’s Secret, Australian Moriarty brings the edginess of her less-known The Hypnotist’s Love Story (2012) to bear in this darkly comic mystery surrounding a disastrous parents' night at an elementary school fundraiser.

Thanks to strong cocktails and a lack of appetizers, Pirriwee Public’s Trivia Night turns ugly when sloshed parents in Audrey Hepburn and Elvis costumes start fights at the main entrance. To make matters worse, out on the balcony where a smaller group of parents have gathered, someone falls over the railing and dies. Was it an accident or murder? Who is the victim? And who, if anyone, is the murderer? Backtrack six months as the cast of potential victims and perps meet at kindergarten orientation and begin alliances and rivalries within the framework of domestic comedy-drama. There’s Chloe’s opinionated, strong-willed mom, Madeline, a charmingly imperfect Everywoman. Happily married to second husband Ed, Madeline is deeply hurt that her older daughter wants to move in with her ex-husband and his much younger, New-Age–y second wife; even worse, the couple’s waifish daughter, Skye, will be in Chloe’s kindergarten class. Madeline’s best friend is Celeste, mother of twins Max and Josh. It’s hard for Madeline and the other moms not to envy Celeste. She's slim, rich and beautiful, and her marriage to hedge fund manager Perry seems too perfect to be true; it is. Celeste and Madeline befriend young single mother Jane, who has moved to the coast town with her son, Ziggy, the product of a one-night stand gone horribly wrong. After sweet-natured Ziggy is accused of bullying, the parents divide into defenders and accusers. Tensions mount among the mothers' cliques and within individual marriages until they boil over on the balcony. Despite a Greek chorus of parents and faculty sharing frequently contradictory impressions, the truth remains tantalizingly difficult to sort out.

Deservedly popular Moriarty invigorates the tired social-issue formula of women’s fiction through wit, good humor, sharp insight into human nature and addictive storytelling.

Pub Date: July 29, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-399-16706-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

An unsettling, near-perfect effort by Cain (Let Me Go, 2013, etc.) that leaves you eagerly awaiting the next installment.

ONE KICK

Abducted by a child pornography ring when she was 6 and held captive for five years, Kick Lannigan, 21, has turned herself into a lean, mean fighting machine. When a boy named Adam is reported missing, she springs into action to save him.

The first book in a new series by Cain captures the age of the Amber Alert with hard-edged insight. All these years removed from her ordeal, Kick is the most viewed subject on porn sites. Still struggling with psychological baggage, she's dedicated herself to martial arts and marksmanship (she packs a Glock). She also is working at perfecting skills her abductor taught her, including picking locks. When the mysterious John Bishop, a wealthy former gun dealer working with the FBI, drops into Kick's life and demands that she go with him to the site of the latest abduction, she fiercely resists. But she slowly learns to trust him. Except for her tech-geek friend James, with whom she was held captive, she doesn't care about anyone else. Her mother, who wrote a best-seller about her daughter's abduction, is still milking the story as an expert on TV. With Bishop, a taciturn stud with his own painful secrets (and a private plane and helicopter at his disposal), Kick returns to places she was held as "Beth." Her unnerving confrontation with her abductor exposes a horribly complicated relationship. Distinguished by a wealth of details about how child porn rings operate, this is a gripping thriller in which Kick must apply everything she's learned, and things she's forgotten, to survive again.

An unsettling, near-perfect effort by Cain (Let Me Go, 2013, etc.) that leaves you eagerly awaiting the next installment.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4978-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

A rich and densely plotted story that will make Winston Churchill buffs admire the man even more.

DOMINION

What did you do in the war, Pater—eh, Vater?

Let’s suppose, as Sansom does in this long, engaging bit of speculative fiction, that the Nazis had won the war. Or, perhaps more specifically, that they had stared the British down, won concessions from Lloyd George (who had “spent the thirties idolizing Hitler, calling him Germany’s George Washington”) and effectively made the United Kingdom a satellite of the Third Reich. Winston Churchill, pressed to join the Quisling government, instead spearheads a vee-for-victory resistance movement, while German racial purity laws gradually come into effect on the streets of London, with most residents only too glad to be rid of the Jews; meanwhile, critics of the regime, such as W.H. Auden and E.M. Forster, have been silenced. To judge by his name and appearance, David Fitzgerald should have no trouble in the new Britain, but his bloodline tells a different tale: “He knew that under the law he too should have worn a yellow badge, and should not be working in government service, an employment forbidden to Jews”—even half-Jews, even Irish Jews. His wife, for her part, is content at first to keep her head down and her mouth shut until the Final Solution comes to the sceptered isle. If there is hope, it will come from America, where, as one dour Brit remarks, “they love their superweapons, the Americans. Almost as bad as the Germans.” Sansom’s scenario is all too real, and it has sparked a modest controversy among it-couldn’t-happen-here readers across the water. More important than the scenario is his careful unfolding of the vast character study that fascism affords, his portraits of those who resist and those who collaborate and why. That scenario, after all, is not new; Philip K. Dick, Len Deighton and Philip Roth have explored it, too. What matters is what is done with it, and Sansom has done admirably.

A rich and densely plotted story that will make Winston Churchill buffs admire the man even more.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-25491-5

Page Count: 450

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

The scariest thing of all is to imagine King writing a happy children’s book. This isn’t it: It’s nicely dark, never...

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MR. MERCEDES

From the Bill Hodges Trilogy series , Vol. 1

In his latest suspenser, the prolific King (Joyland, 2013, etc.) returns to the theme of the scary car—except this one has a scary driver who’s as loony but logical unto himself as old Jack Torrance from The Shining.

It’s an utterly American setup: Over here is a line of dispirited people waiting to get into a job fair, and over there is a psycho licking his chops at the easy target they present; he aims a car into the crowd and mows down a bunch of innocents, killing eight and hurting many more. The car isn’t his. The malice most certainly is, and it’s up to world-weary ex-cop Bill Hodges to pull himself up from depression and figure out the identity of the author of that heinous act. That author offers help: He sends sometimes-taunting, sometimes–sympathy-courting notes explaining his actions. (“I must say I exceeded my own wildest expectations,” he crows in one, while in another he mourns, “I grew up in a physically and sexually abusive household.”) With a cadre of investigators in tow, Hodges sets out to avert what is certain to be an even greater trauma, for the object of his cat-and-mouse quest has much larger ambitions, this time involving a fireworks show worthy of Fight Club. And that’s not his only crime: He's illegally downloaded “the whole Anarchist Cookbook from BitTorrent,” and copyright theft just may be the ultimate evil in the King moral universe. King’s familiar themes are all here: There's craziness in spades and plenty of alcohol and even a carnival, King being perhaps the most accomplished coulrophobe at work today. The storyline is vintage King, too: In the battle of good and evil, good may prevail—but never before evil has caused a whole lot of mayhem.

The scariest thing of all is to imagine King writing a happy children’s book. This isn’t it: It’s nicely dark, never predictable and altogether entertaining.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-5445-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

Summer reading doesn't get better than this.

THOSE WHO WISH ME DEAD

Hiding a teenage murder witness among a bunch of delinquent kids in a survival-training program in Montana seemed like a good idea. But when two coldblooded killers track him there from Indiana, everyone's life is at grave risk.

The program is run by Air Force veteran Ethan Serbin, who lives with his wife, Allison, in a mountain cabin. She distrusts Jamie Bennett, a federal marshal and former trainee of Ethan's who shows up in the middle of the night, having recklessly driven into a blizzard, to plead for their help. Jamie says the boy, Jace Wilson, is too hot for even a witness protection program. When Jace arrives, it's anonymously, under the name Connor Reynolds. He's badly lacking in confidence but proves adept in handling himself outdoors. Just as he's settling in, though, the killers—two brothers with a creepy way of conversing with each other even as they're about to commit an atrocity—infiltrate the mountain community. Knowing what they're capable of, Jace/Connor drifts away from the pack, teams up with a female fire ranger who feels responsible for her boyfriend's accidental death and fervently hopes an escape route he devised as part of his training will lead them to safety. Having joined the ranks of the very best thriller writers with his small-town masterpiece, The Prophet (2012), Koryta matches that effort with a book of sometimes-unbearable tension. With the exception of one plot turn you'll likely see coming from a mountain pass away, this novel is brilliantly orchestrated. Also crucial to its success is Koryta's mastery of the beautiful but threatening setting, including a mountain fire's ability to electrify the ground, radiate a lethal force field—and create otherworldly light shows.

Summer reading doesn't get better than this.

Pub Date: June 3, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-12255-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

Beukes gave us a time traveling serial killer in The Shining Girls, and the monsters in her latest tale, whether they’re...

BROKEN MONSTERS

A genuinely unsettling—in all the best ways—blend of suspense and the supernatural makes this a serial-killer tale like you’ve never seen.

Set in a crumbling contemporary Detroit, Beukes’ fourth novel (The Shining Girls, 2013, etc.) seamlessly alternates between the points of view of a single mother homicide detective; her 15-year-old daughter; a wannabe journalist; a homeless man; and an artist with deep-seated psychological issues. At the scene of the crime, Detective Gabriella Versado can’t remember the last time she’s seen something so brutal: The top half of 11-year-old Daveyton Lafonte is fused with the hind legs of a fawn in a hideous display of human taxidermy. While it’s obvious that the five storylines will eventually join together, Beukes never takes the easy route, letting each character develop organically. Versado’s daughter, Layla, cautiously navigates high school in the digital age; homeless scavenger Thomas “TK” Keen warily patrols the streets; Detroit transplant Jonno Haim tries to make a name for himself by chronicling first the city’s art scene and then the hunt for the killer dubbed the Detroit Monster; and sculptor Clayton Broom’s creations begin to take on lives of their own. Versado’s dogged pursuit of the killer, under the glare of the media spotlight, is as compelling a police procedural narrative as Broom’s descent into madness and the horrors of his dream world are a truly terrifying horror story.

Beukes gave us a time traveling serial killer in The Shining Girls, and the monsters in her latest tale, whether they’re real or imagined, will keep you up all night.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-21682-1

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 24, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2014

Beautifully written, poignant and thought-provoking, this novel refuses to succumb to stereotypical reader expectations,...

ACCIDENTS OF MARRIAGE

Meyers puts a Boston family overwhelmed by a tragic accident under the literary microscope.

Maddy and Ben have been married for 15 years and have three children: smart-mouthed, somewhat bratty teen Emma; sensitive, intelligent Gracie; and Caleb, a quirky kid who can’t seem to keep his mouth closed. Their home in trendy Jamaica Plains appears to be in a constant state of flux, but Maddy, a social worker who's in perpetual motion, doesn’t seem capable of taming the various components of her life. That’s driven a wedge between her and her short-tempered, controlling husband. An attorney with a father whose legacy proves impossible to live up to, Ben rages through life, while Maddy spends her time trying to put out the fires. The kids sap her energy, and the heat inside their big old Victorian—with ancient wiring Ben refuses to fix so the air conditioning can be upgraded—provides fuel for their fights. The morning after another argument, Ben has an angry encounter with a fellow driver and the resulting accident puts Maddy in a coma. Through most of the book, the family tries to adjust to their new normal, with mostly disastrous results. Meyers, who has a background working with victims of domestic violence, examines the effects anger and violence can have on family members, as well as the courage that can be born from a new perspective and the lack of happily-ever-after in these real-life situations. The characters labor under intense pressure, and some crack while others rise to the challenge, giving Meyers’ tale both realism and a bittersweet quality that, in the hands of a lesser writer, could have ended up simply maudlin and contrived.

Beautifully written, poignant and thought-provoking, this novel refuses to succumb to stereotypical reader expectations, making it even more memorable.

Pub Date: Sept. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-7304-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

Nothing should be taken at face value in this jealousy- and hormone-soaked world except that Abbott is certainly our very...

THE FEVER

The lives of teenage girls are dangerous, beautiful things in Abbott’s (Dare Me, 2012, etc.) stunning seventh novel.

At Dryden High School, 16-year-old Deenie Nash and her best friends Lise Daniels and Gabby Bishop are an inseparable trio. The daughter of Tom, a popular teacher, and younger sister of hockey star Eli, Deenie radiates the typical teenage mixture of confidence and vulnerability. When Lise suffers an unexplained and violent seizure in the middle of class, no one is quite sure how to react. Until another girl and then another exhibit the same symptoms. The rumors seem to spread as fast as the mysterious affliction, which is blamed on everything from a rotten batch of vaccine to female hysteria. Abbott expertly withholds just enough information to slowly ratchet up the suspense until the reader is as breathless as Deenie at the arrival of each new text message or cryptic phone call and the school vibrates with half-formed theories and speculations. Finding herself becoming slowly more isolated with each incident, Deenie must not only sort through the infinitely complex social and emotional issues ignited by the events—she’s also dealing with her first clumsy sexual experience—but also the very real fear that something in the town is causing the fits, and it’s only a matter of time before she’s next. 

Nothing should be taken at face value in this jealousy- and hormone-soaked world except that Abbott is certainly our very best guide.

Pub Date: June 17, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-316-23105-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 7, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

Heart-wrenching and uplifting, with witty dialogue, emotional depth, and details that give substance and texture to an...

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HEROES ARE MY WEAKNESS

Sick, broke and homeless, Annie Hewitt must retreat to the cottage her mother left her, even if it is on a remote island off the coast of Maine—and even if Theo Harp, the boy who tried to kill her when they were teenagers and who is now a best-selling horror author, is ensconced in the Gothic mansion next door.

After making her narcissistic mother’s last days as pleasant as possible, Annie falls ill with pneumonia and bottoms out financially. Desperate, she makes her way to Moonraker Cottage, the small home Mariah loved and bequeathed to Annie, along with a deathbed promise of a valuable legacy hidden there. Annie has avoided the island since she was a teen, when she developed a huge crush on Theo—the psychopathic boy who played on her emotions and ultimately tried to kill her. She’d like nothing better than to never see him again, but once she arrives, in the dead of winter, she finds herself drawn into the lives of the people at Harp House: Jaycie, the injured housekeeper with a tragic past; her mute daughter, Livia; and Theo himself, sexy as sin and, she realizes, completely different from the evil teen she remembers. The longer Annie stays, the more it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want her there, but for the first time in her life, she feels a sense of purpose and belonging, and she’s not going anywhere without a fight. Harp House and Moonraker Cottage both conceal a wealth of secrets, and finding the truth could offer the whole island a better future. Ventriloquist Annie, with her cozy puppets and emerging fierceness, might save everyone—especially Theo, whose past has convinced him he's a villain but who is really a hero at heart. Romance star Phillips takes a new and intriguing direction that reads like an homage to the classic gothic novel yet maintains her typical pitch-perfect characters and compelling, complex plot.

Heart-wrenching and uplifting, with witty dialogue, emotional depth, and details that give substance and texture to an already entertaining, engrossing story.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-210607-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

Strong storytelling driven by emotionally complex characters: first-rate commercial fiction.

ALL I LOVE AND KNOW

Frank chronicles the difficult adjustments of a gay family formed by tragedy in her compelling follow-up to Crybaby Butch (2004).

As the novel opens, Matthew Greene, a self-described “normal, young, shallow queen,” is on a plane to Tel Aviv with his devastated partner, Daniel Rosen, whose twin brother, Joel, and sister-in-law, Ilana, have just been killed by a suicide bomber. It’s been four years since Matt fled the New York City whirl of drugs and casual sex to move in with the older, more sober Daniel in Northampton, Massachusetts, and both men are still slightly stunned by their opposites-attract relationship. The news that Joel and Ilana named Daniel guardian of 5-year-old Gal and baby Noam appalls her parents, devout Holocaust survivors, nor are the secular, American elder Rosens very happy about their grandchildren being raised by Matt, whom they don’t really like. But the real problems, once Gal and Noam are settled in Northampton, stem from the overwhelming grief that makes Daniel a virtual specter in his new family. He’s emotionally distant and critical of Matt’s more relaxed parenting style; their conflicts are exacerbated by the volatile Gal, understandably given to acting out in the wake of hideous loss and traumatic relocation to a new nation, culture and language. It seems quite possible the men’s relationship will not survive these stresses, which Frank explores in depth and without reassuring sentimentality. She also excels at the social backdrops for her characters’ drama, from the fraught political climate in Israel (Daniel and Matt are both left-wing proponents of the peace process) to the cozy, gossipy world of gay and lesbian life in Northampton. Daniel isn’t always very likable, but his disabling sorrow and controlling ways are believable impediments to his love for Matt and make it all the more moving to watch them work through to reconciliation.

Strong storytelling driven by emotionally complex characters: first-rate commercial fiction.

Pub Date: July 15, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-230287-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2014

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