Sometimes this young author’s tale of young people, chronicled by a young narrator, just feels young. Sometimes it is...

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AN INVISIBLE SIGN OF MY OWN

Bender’s first novel, following a successful collection of stories (The Girl in the Flammable Skirt, 1998), is exasperating and charming in about equal measure.

Narrator Mona Gray becomes a math teacher at age 20. Her life is a constellation of numbers, worries, and activities abandoned. She finds a riff in every utterance, a digression in every observation, and her creator indulges every one. Especially in Part One, story development jerks and sputters; some of the asides, like drum solos, roll out of control into tedium. One reason the jamming doesn’t work is that the narrative voice is a shopworn compendium of self-consciously pomo gags and gimmicks: asynchronous dialogue, deadpan presentation, incongruous details, looping compound sentences followed by staccato bursts of fragments. Mona would be a more effective storyteller if she simply trusted her tale. When the story finally emerges from the overlush undergrowth, it features moments of real charm and poignancy. We meet the science teacher, a disarmingly self-assured young eccentric who encourages his students to act out symptoms of diseases; Lisa Venus, a second-grader tormented by her mother’s cancer; and Mona herself, bemused and befuddled by her mysterious life. As her father succumbs to an unnamed, slowly debilitating disease, Mona retreats into a protective cocoon of numbers and signs that neither she nor anyone else can factor. When the science teacher’s arrival offers both love and a threat to Mona’s affectless retreat, then numbers metaphor shifts from cute and quirky to emotionally expressive, and the prose lifts from riff to song.

Sometimes this young author’s tale of young people, chronicled by a young narrator, just feels young. Sometimes it is exuberantly, heartbreakingly youthful.

Pub Date: July 18, 2000

ISBN: 0-385-49223-5

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2000

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Despite the false start, this heartwarming story sweetly balances friendship and mother-child bonding with romantic love.

WINDOW ON THE BAY

Macomber (Be a Blessing, 2019, etc.) threatens to set her latest beach read in Paris, but her characters have other plans.

Maureen Zelinski and Jenna Boltz have been friends since college. Years ago, their plans to go to Paris were thwarted when Maureen found out she was pregnant. Now that they’re both single mothers whose children have left the nest, the time is right to dust off their passports and try again. In a somewhat disappointing turn of events, Maureen and Jenna don’t make it to Paris just yet. Instead, they stay in Seattle and pursue new love interests. Jenna, a nurse, meets orthopedic surgeon Dr. Rowan Lancaster in the emergency room after her mother falls and hurts her hip. Maureen, against her better judgment, accepts a date with Logan, a union plumber who frequents the library where she works. Jenna is afraid to date a co-worker after her workplace romance with her ex failed, but when Rowan proves to be a good listener, she’s more willing to discuss her options. Maureen doesn’t think she’ll fit in with Logan and his beer-drinking buddies, but she’s surprised when she enjoys their date at a football game. Meanwhile, Jenna worries about her children, Allie and Paul, as they navigate college and life. Though the story is primarily told from the two mothers’ perspectives, Allie breaks into the narrative with a surprising connection to Rowan. Maureen’s daughter, Tori, also takes on the role of confidante. The happy endings (and potential travel plans) unfold with a touch of realism to contrast the idyllic backdrop of the Pacific Northwest.

Despite the false start, this heartwarming story sweetly balances friendship and mother-child bonding with romantic love.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-18133-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2019

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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