Twists aplenty in this searing murder mystery should leave readers dizzy, in the best way possible.

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THE WEIGHT OF LIES

In this thriller, a tell-all about a celebrity novelist examines her most famous horror book, which may be more truth than fiction.

People often recognize 20-something Meg simply for being the daughter of renowned author Frances Ashley. The writer’s bibliography is extensive, but her 40-year-old debut, 1976’s Kitten, is her most revered tale. The story of a shocking island murder has reached cult status, and rabid fans known as Kitty Cultists litter the internet with fan fiction and conspiracy theories. One hypothesis, that Frances based her novel and characters on a real-life killing, is the reason the author’s new assistant, Asa Bloch, asks Meg to write a memoir. Though Asa genuinely wants proof that Kitten is thinly veiled nonfiction, Meg eventually agrees, seeing it as a chance to disclose her volatile relationship with a cold, neglectful mother. She heads to the tale’s setting, Ambletern Hotel, on an island off the Georgia coast. Dorothy Kitchens has since closed the hotel she inherited, having suffered harassment from fans who believe she’s the living counterpart of a murderous Kitten character. But what Meg finds on the island is a bevy of lies—and a killer who doesn’t want the truth uncovered. Carpenter’s (Burying the Honeysuckle Girls, 2016) convoluted but rousing plot piles on an array of storylines. There are soapy bits (a hush-hush lawsuit and Meg eying groundskeeper Koa and his abs); heaps of mystery (cryptic notes in a fan-notated copy of Kitten that Frances inexplicably has at her apartment); and too many suspicious characters to count. Carpenter deepens the intrigue by filling her pages with haunting, sometimes-ominous passages: “The worst thing my mother ever did, her gravest sin, wasn’t something I intended to share with anyone.” Meg’s a novice investigator, giving her first-person narrative credence; she’s just as surprised—reading her mom’s book for the first time—as readers will likely be, and her ideas generally come from TV shows like Law & Order. Carpenter amps the tension by paralleling Meg’s story with Kitten snippets prefacing each chapter—with both building toward revealing climaxes—and ties off the subplots with clarity and thoroughness.

Twists aplenty in this searing murder mystery should leave readers dizzy, in the best way possible.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4778-1843-5

Page Count: 380

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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

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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