A knotty, philosophical mystery dense with lingering regrets.

THE HAPPY VALLEY

In Harnett’s debut novel, a middle-aged man reflects on his adolescence while searching for his missing first love and the contentedness that has eluded him.

In the year 2033, the 52-year-old narrator’s old flame, June, contacts him and asks him to look after her cat. She then disappears—precisely as climate protests in the United States give way to a dissolution of government. As the nation is reborn in small pockets of local administration, the narrator returns to his hometown, Harmony Valley, in search not only of June, but of the simplicity of childhood. The unnamed narrator was 12 years old and June 15 when they first met at school. She pulled him into a half-real fantasy, shadowing the school janitor and uncovering the meeting room of a secret society—the L.E.F (“The Order of Friends of Liberty”). While the narrator lost interest and drifted into an unsatisfying life, June took the L.E.F. seriously. Around that time, Vietnamese lawyer Tiffany Ho joined the law firm of Jeremiah & Jeremiah, a generational enterprise that has long acted for one important client. How are June, Tiffany, and the L.E.F. connected? Sifting through his memories, can the narrator finally make sense of the past and seize hold of the happiness he let slip through his fingers? Harnett writes in the first person, crafting a wistful work that reflects both the uncertain child and the nostalgic adult. The prose grows wild and heavy with description, the narrator feeling his way and making no attempt to cut extraneous recollections or orientate the reader regarding the political upheaval. The tale is thus heavily immersive—and all the better for it (though readers who prefer clarity will appreciate the appended timeline of events). As is so often the way with memoir, the young narrator emerges more clearly than his older self. June is a force of nature, as enigmatic in later life as she was in school. Other characters come and go via well-drawn vignettes. The story must slowly be pieced together, like a jigsaw puzzle, and the sorting is perhaps more satisfying than the final picture. Nonetheless, there is plenty here to reward the reader’s commitment. Numerous full-page black-and-white illustrations accompany the text and recall the excitability of middle-grade stories.

A knotty, philosophical mystery dense with lingering regrets.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2022

ISBN: 979-8-9867445-4-4

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Serpent Key Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2022

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Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

IT STARTS WITH US

The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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