A pro sports bildungsroman with the excitement of a Federer-Nadal match but none of its grace.

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TROPHY SON

A tennis prodigy struggles with his overbearing father and what it truly means to win.

Brunt, who in previous novels has tackled finance (Ghost of Manhattan, 2012) and politics (The Means, 2014), returns with a fast-paced take on the world of pro sports. The novel follows Anton Stratis, the son of two former Olympic athletes, and chronicles his life and career as a tennis player, from auspicious beginnings as a child prodigy to his triumphs and failures on the pro circuit. Anton’s path is never an easy one, beset by girl troubles, performance-enhancing drugs, and, above all, the specter of his domineering father, whose presence hovers over every scene and who pushes Anton to succeed at the expense of his own happiness. For all the thrilling tennis matches he depicts, Brunt ultimately cares less about whether his protagonist will find success on the court than about whether he will ever find peace off it. In his struggle to find self-actualization and happiness, however, Anton is never quite a believable character, and the conflict he faces between his own desires and his father's win-at-all-costs mentality never feels like anything more than a narrative contrivance. Indeed, the novel as a whole, while never dull, suffers from a persistent heavy-handedness in tone and plotting. Elements like an oft-mentioned rival feel thinly sketched, present only because prior sports fiction necessitated their inclusion, and dialogue alternates between cringeworthy and merely wooden, with turgid, on-the-nose lines like, “But a person is happy in his life only if he finds meaning in it, and meaning in life is positively correlated with choice in life. While I wasn’t conscious of that fact then, I suffered from it unknowingly,” appearing far too often.

A pro sports bildungsroman with the excitement of a Federer-Nadal match but none of its grace.

Pub Date: May 30, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-11480-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

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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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A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

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IN FIVE YEARS

After acing a job interview and accepting a marriage proposal, Dannie Kohan has had the perfect day. That is, until she awakens to find herself five years in the future with a completely different man.

Just one hour in that alternate reality shakes Dannie to her core. After all, highly ambitious Dannie and her boyfriend, David, have plotted out their lives in minute detail, and the sexy man in her dream—was it a dream?—is most certainly not in the script. Serle (The Dinner List, 2018) deftly spins these magical threads into Dannie’s perfectly structured life, leaving not only Dannie, but also the reader wondering whether Dannie time traveled or hallucinated. Her best friend, Bella, would delight in the story given that she thinks Dannie is much too straight-laced, and some spicy dreaming might push Dannie to find someone more passionate than David. Unfortunately, glamorous Bella is in Europe with her latest lover. Ever pragmatic, Dannie consults her therapist, who almost concurs that it was likely a dream, and throws herself into her work. Pleased to have landed the job at a prestigious law firm, Dannie easily loses her worries in litigation. Soon four and a half years have passed with no wedding date set, and Bella is back in the U.S. with a new man in her life. A man who turns out to be literally the man of Dannie’s dream. The sheer fact of Aaron Gregory’s existence forces Dannie to reevaluate her trust in the laws of physics as well as her decision to marry David, a decision that seems less believable with each passing day. And as the architecture of Dannie’s overplanned life disintegrates, Serle twists and twines the remnants of her dream into a surprising future.

A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3744-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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