A perceptive novel about human connection that sometimes gets lost in its own thoughts.

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SEVEN PHOTOGRAPHS

A grieving graphic designer forms a unique bond with a depressed neighbor in Rossman’s debut novel.

It’s been a year and a half since Owen and Janey Conway’s son, Aaron, died. To deal with his grief, Owen has been attending a support group called SOS. He’s also interested in a neighbor named Wilson Lacy, a retired scientist and teacher. Owen barely knows him, but he’s seen him tooling around the neighborhood in his 1950s sports car. Because Owen is sad, he’s drawn to what he senses is Wilson’s sadness, so he approaches his neighbor with a proposal. Owen’s a graphic designer, and he wonders if Wilson might want to take part in a project involving seven photographs, carefully chosen to represent significant points in the neighbor’s lifetime. Wilson, whose wife has recently left him due to his depression, agrees to the plan. “Maybe he was beginning to see something else in his photographs that could be used to shed some light on his darkness—and that glimmer moved him with an amalgam of desperation and hope,” narrates Owen. His plan involves what he calls “visual literacy” (“The idea is that there is meaning engraved in all visual images”), and he presents the project to Wilson as a kind of science experiment. Then Sophie, the hostess at the local pub, enters the picture; Owen introduces her to Wilson without fully realizing the effect that she might have. Rossman’s novel about grief and its aftermath is truly heartfelt in its execution. Over the course of the story, the author clearly describes his protagonist’s complicated thought processes as he wades through grief on the way to acceptance. The characters are all thoughtful people who are clearly interested in finding answers to hard questions, and Rossman elegantly expresses Owen’s efforts to connect with a possibly kindred soul. The novel is long-winded, however, and the dense prose can make some of the book’s loftier concepts a bit hard to grasp. An extensive epilogue with photographs provides helpful insights, but other parts of the story remain hazy.

A perceptive novel about human connection that sometimes gets lost in its own thoughts.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5320-6531-6

Page Count: 354

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2019

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A sweeping romantic tale of thwarted love.

THE STATIONERY SHOP

Sixty years after her first love failed to meet her in a market square, Roya Khanom Archer finally has the chance to see him. But will he break her heart again?

Back in 1953, she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl, raised in a progressive home in Tehran, where her father encouraged Roya and her sister, Zari, to take advantage of the recent reforms that allowed women to go to university. While he hoped she might become a chemist, Roya loved escaping into novels, which sent her to Mr. Fakhri’s stationery and book store every Tuesday afternoon. There she first sees Bahman Aslan, a breathless young man already well-known as a political activist. Kamali (Together Tea, 2013) sets Roya and Bahman’s love against the tumultuous days of Mohammad Mossadegh’s rise and fall as prime minister of Iran, infusing their affair with political passion and an increasingly frantic sense of the shortness of time. Tuesday after Tuesday, the couple falls more deeply in love, and Bahman soon proposes marriage to Roya. While Roya’s family welcomes Bahman—although Zari warns Roya that his heart cannot be trusted—Bahman’s emotionally volatile mother refuses to accept the engagement, because she has already chosen Shahla, the daughter of a man closely allied with the shah, for her son. Roya determines to weather her future mother-in-law’s storms, but when Bahman and his family disappear, she can only turn to Mr. Fakhri for help. Although he cannot tell Roya where Bahman has gone, Mr. Fakhri offers to exchange secret letters between the lovers. The plan works, and the two even plan to elope, but Bahman does not show up in Sepah Square. Sixty years later, Bahman’s confession will finally expose the secrets that cast shadows over the lovers so long ago.

A sweeping romantic tale of thwarted love.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0748-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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