Reads like a factual memoir, but for fiction there’s too much history and not enough plot.

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EXPIATION

The new novel from Messel (Sunbreaks, 2009) is a story of true love deterred as high school sweethearts are torn apart by the social upheaval of the ’60s and ’70s, only to find each other again on the eve of the new millennium.

Dan is a father, widower and successful writer for The San Francisco Chronicle. When he returns to his childhood home of Seattle for his mother’s funeral, he unexpectedly reunites with his high school sweetheart Katie. They begin to pick up where they left off years ago, and Dan wonders why the perfect couple of the handsome quarterback and gorgeous cheerleader ever parted in the first place. The novel may be fiction, but it’s set in the very real and contentious history of California during the ’60s and ’70s and is at its best when the characters are directly involved in the time period. The chapters dealing with the Berkeley riots are especially vivid and exciting, as Dan drags his college girlfriend (and eventual first wife) through clouds of tear gas for the scoop that will jumpstart his journalism career. Other newsworthy happenings, from Vietnam to the Zodiac killings, along with more modern milestones such as Y2K and the “Battle of Seattle,” are mentioned but never play as large of a role as the events in Berkeley, and the novel sometimes feels more like an account of how minor the impact of historical events can be on two people’s lives rather than the other way around. Once Dan and Katie are back together there’s little conflict, with the book focusing more on how Dan strayed from Katie and eventually found his way back. The couple comes across natural enough when together, though the stiff, overly verbose dialogue occasionally distracts from their chemistry.

Reads like a factual memoir, but for fiction there’s too much history and not enough plot.

Pub Date: March 8, 2010

ISBN: 978-1426928543

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2010

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Heartfelt and funny, this enemies-to-lovers romance shows that the best things in life are all-inclusive and nontransferable...

THE UNHONEYMOONERS

An unlucky woman finally gets lucky in love on an all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii.

From getting her hand stuck in a claw machine at age 6 to losing her job, Olive Torres has never felt that luck was on her side. But her fortune changes when she scores a free vacation after her identical twin sister and new brother-in-law get food poisoning at their wedding buffet and are too sick to go on their honeymoon. The only catch is that she’ll have to share the honeymoon suite with her least favorite person—Ethan Thomas, the brother of the groom. To make matters worse, Olive’s new boss and Ethan’s ex-girlfriend show up in Hawaii, forcing them both to pretend to be newlyweds so they don’t blow their cover, as their all-inclusive vacation package is nontransferable and in her sister’s name. Plus, Ethan really wants to save face in front of his ex. The story is told almost exclusively from Olive’s point of view, filtering all communication through her cynical lens until Ethan can win her over (and finally have his say in the epilogue). To get to the happily-ever-after, Ethan doesn’t have to prove to Olive that he can be a better man, only that he was never the jerk she thought he was—for instance, when she thought he was judging her for eating cheese curds, maybe he was actually thinking of asking her out. Blending witty banter with healthy adult communication, the fake newlyweds have real chemistry as they talk it out over snorkeling trips, couples massages, and a few too many tropical drinks to get to the truth—that they’re crazy about each other.

Heartfelt and funny, this enemies-to-lovers romance shows that the best things in life are all-inclusive and nontransferable as well as free.

Pub Date: May 14, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2803-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2019

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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