Fantastik

McGroarty’s debut novel tells the story of a troubled ex-con and a city bus driver who has visions.
The story focuses on the strangely intertwined lives of Jake Mott and Charlie Boone. Jake is a man just exiting prison after a stay of 30 years, and bus driver Charlie is a young husband and father with a troublesome past and disturbed sleep. Jake fears God but has never confessed the extent of his crimes; Charlie sees imaginary people and hears voices. Charlie’s marriage is suffering, his job performance isn’t up to snuff, and his catatonic mother doesn’t recognize him. His wife, Lisa, takes him to a psychic, who tells him that he’s destined for a hard, lonely life; meanwhile, his escalating visions seem to have something to do with a wildfire in California. At the same time, Jake settles into a camper in a park nearby. When the two men’s paths converge when Charlie’s son loses his puppy, Charlie is immediately struck by a strong sense of recognition. It soon becomes clear that the two men share a connection that neither could have ever anticipated. When they meet again in a neighborhood bar, Charlie thinks, “This was it. It was all about this man.” It turns out that there’s a spot in the California desert where remnants of Jake’s past lie buried. On their way to find it, Jake and Charlie take a journey that transforms and restores them both. McGroarty handles his diverse cast of characters well, from aging felon Jake to Charlie’s severely mentally ill mother. The members of the Boone family, as well as the Mott family of Jake’s memory, respond realistically to hardships and share sometimes-strained bonds. McGroarty’s decision to put his protagonists on the road allows him to vividly detail who they are and who they become against the backdrop of the Midwest and West. He also includes rich regional nuances and even an appropriate musical soundtrack: “She was reminded of a line from that Nat King Cole song. ‘When I give my heart, it will be completely.’ Well, years ago she’d given her heart to Charlie, and there’d be no taking it back...ever.”

A well-told story of destiny and redemption set against a distinctly American backdrop.

Pub Date: May 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0615977539

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Basking Ridge Publishing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2014

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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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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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