A lighthearted, magical quest setup that’s poorly served by awkward presentation.

THE WORLD’S OLDEST, MOST POWERFUL SECRET SOCIETY

In Arungundram Mohan’s (The Under-Ordinary Life of Mangamma Uppertoe English, 2016) middle-grade fantasy novel, a group of children search for a magic book to bring their friend back to life.

In the India of 261 B.C.E., after a particularly brutal battle to subdue a neighboring state, King Ashoka declares that he’s done with war. Peace reigns throughout his empire, and Ashoka gathers together nine learned men to form a secret society. He tasks them with writing books on various types of potentially destructive power, including alchemy, time travel, and communication with alien life, but he also orders them to hide these books, once written, lest they fall into the hands of those who would disrupt the peace. Thousands of years later, in 2006, nine children are born on the same day in an apartment building called River Falls near the city of Chennai in southern India. They grow up as close friends, doing everything together until, one day, Gopal, one of them, is killed by an errant cricket ball. The friends are grief-stricken until Leela, another member of the group, meets an old man who tells her a story about the hidden books of power—which, he says, could possibly bring someone back from the dead. Only those who are worthy can find the books; do Leela and her friends have what it takes? The premise of Arungundram Mohan’s story is wonderfully imaginative and inviting, mixing the history and mythology of ancient South Asia with a colorful portrait of modern India. However, the writing doesn’t rise to the occasion, as it’s full of awkward syntax (“The groans from the soldiers were the response to this announcement, but their discipline made them keep their calm and not cause a riot”) and odd details, as when Arungundram Mohan mentions that Gopal was killed when the cricket ball hit him in his genitals. More polished narration and more fully developed characters would have made this a highly readable middle-grade adventure.

A lighthearted, magical quest setup that’s poorly served by awkward presentation.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 142

Publisher: White Falcon Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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