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THE FINALISTS

A little slow in the beginning but ultimately a compelling account of how far some people will go to achieve their dreams.

A scholarship competition goes horribly awry in this unusual academic suspense novel.

Six ambitious students agree to lock themselves up in an old Victorian building for eight hours in hopes of winning a full ride to the fictional Hyde College. Totally secluded and far from campus, they have to impress college vice president Troy Gaines, a man nearly as desperate for money as they are, and Nicholas Hyde, the delinquent heir to the Hyde family fortune. Before they even step inside the house, though, things start to go wrong. Outside, there’s a political protest concerning new discoveries about the college founder’s activities in the Civil War. Nicholas Hyde shows up late and inebriated. Campus police escort the protestors away from the building as the crowd starts to get violent. Once the competitors—an eclectic group of students with nothing in common but financial need—give up their electronics and are locked in the house by the campus chief of police, things quickly get even worse. There is a clear and ever present distaste for Nicholas Hyde and his money among the house’s other inhabitants, despite it being the thing everyone is there to compete for—even Gaines, the narrator, who, in addition to helping run the competition, is desperate to convince Hyde to make a large donation to keep the college afloat. Gaines strives to remain neutral and understanding toward every student, but it might be harder for the reader to remain sympathetic to many of them. It’s certainly realistic for college students to be pretentious and grandiose, but it can be grating. Once people inside Hyde House start to drop like flies, the book takes a turn for the better, pitting the students and even Gaines against each other while exploring age-old questions of morality and duty.

A little slow in the beginning but ultimately a compelling account of how far some people will go to achieve their dreams.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-19870-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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HOME IS WHERE THE BODIES ARE

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

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Three siblings on very different paths learn that their family home may be haunted by secrets.

Eldest daughter Beth is alone with her fading mother as she takes her final breath and says something about Beth’s long-departed brother and sister, who may not have disappeared forever. Beth is still reeling from the loss of her mother when her estranged siblings show up. Michael, the youngest, hasn’t been home since their father’s disappearance seven years ago. In the meantime, he’s outgrown his siblings, trading his share of the family troubles for a high-paying job in San Jose. Nicole, the middle child, has been overpowered by addiction and prioritized tuning out reality over any sense of responsibility, much to Beth’s disgust. Though their mother’s death marks an ending for the family, it’s also a beginning, as the three siblings realize when they find a disturbing videotape among their parents’ belongings. The video, from 1999, sheds suspicion on their father’s disappearance, linking it to a long-unsolved neighborhood mystery. Was it just a series of unfortunate circumstances that broke the family apart, or does something more sinister underlie the sadness they’ve all found in life? In chapters that rotate among the family’s first-person narratives, the siblings take turns digging up stories and secrets in their search for solace.

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9798212182843

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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