An earnest but uneven guide to an oft-overlooked period of Croatian history.

THE LABYRINTH OF VUKOVAR

A young Croatian girl dreams of America in this debut historical novel.

In this book, Raguz tells the story of Marta Tomic, a girl growing up in the Croatian city of Vukovar during the reign of Yugoslavian dictator Josip Tito in the 1970s. Her father loses his job due to his involvement in the Croatian Spring political movement years earlier, and her family is under constant scrutiny because of their Roman Catholic faith and refusal to join the Communist Party. But Marta finds solace in watching American movies and acting in school plays. When she’s chosen to participate in a student exchange program in New York City, she’s overjoyed. She’s even more excited when she meets her host family and finds that the parents have a handsome son, Ian. But even in America, life is not all sunshine and rainbows. The daughter in her host family becomes jealous of Marta’s acting talent, and the father is stern and sometimes downright abusive to his children. And more conflicts await Marta when she returns to Croatia, as a change in regimes threatens to spark a war between the Communists and the nationalists. Throughout the many changes in her country and her own life, she keeps up her love for and connection to the U.S.—and to one American man in particular—while struggling to cultivate her talent for the theater. The narrative moves along at a quick pace despite the book’s length. Marta makes a sympathetic protagonist, and when she and her loved ones are in danger, it’s easy to care about what happens to them. One weakness of the story, though, is that it spends too much time on exposition laying out the political climate of Croatia and how Marta’s family feels about it and not enough time building scenes that show the characters’ internal conflicts. The dialogue also tends to feature many sentences beginning with “as you know” and such on-the-nose statements as “What’s going to happen to me?” uttered by characters in immediate, mortal danger.

An earnest but uneven guide to an oft-overlooked period of Croatian history.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 414

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2017

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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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IT ENDS WITH US

Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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

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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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