An enjoyable novel about sisterhood and independence—not as addicting as coffee, but still smooth and satisfying.

THE SECOND CRACK

A woman frantically searches for her twin, who’s missing in more ways than one.

Diaz-Ludden’s (Mandela’s Reach, 2014, etc.) latest novel opens with Anne, the narrator, drinking from a porcelain teacup with cracks that have been filled with gold: “I think that if people were repaired the same way; foreheads etched with brass hairline fractures, chips of silver embedded along fingers, bolts of gold shot through hearts, then we would know the places to be careful with.” Though Anne might not be threaded by silver and gold, readers still learn about her most delicate relationships—to her Portland, Oregon, coffee shop, The Bean; and to her twin sister, Suz. The Bean is Anne’s passion—her beloved coffee addiction is well-documented throughout the book—and she’s fighting against Portland’s new infrastructure plans, which threaten the store’s location. But even more precarious is her relationship with Suz, who technically co-owns the shop but whose abandonment of the business has created distance in their once tight bond (always fascinated by Nelson Mandela, Suz has moved to South Africa to do humanitarian work). The story begins when Suz, in town visiting from Johannesburg, seemingly disappears after a drunken night out with her sister. Anne, their friends, her brother and father try to find her but to no avail, and Anne’s memories of the last night they had together are hazy. Though she frequently syncs up with Suz—a side plot involves Anne suddenly being able to inhabit Suz’s body, an ability she’s had since they were quite young—that superpower is of little help. To find her sister, Anne turns to Suz’s online presence and discovers the secret life her beloved sister has been living. The writing is polished in this strong narrative, though there are a few clichéd lines: “Coffee, like life, is complicated” or “Besides, the world is more comprehensible when things stay exactly where they belong.” Anne and Suz’s syncing plot feels unnecessary, but the narrative’s slow unraveling—particularly related to how the twins’ mother lived and died with alcoholism—strengthens its characters, especially Anne, whose actions to save her sister and store make more sense in light of her mom’s revealed history. At times, though, it feels like the author bit off more than she can chew: She dedicates quite a bit of energy to Suz’s obsession with Mandela, a well-worn idea that doesn’t feel fully realized here. Still, Diaz-Ludden captures the casual camaraderie of coffee shop clientele and the easy dialogue between family and friends.

An enjoyable novel about sisterhood and independence—not as addicting as coffee, but still smooth and satisfying.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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