A touching exploration of identity and reinvention painted with gentle yet precise brush strokes.

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BLUE SUN, YELLOW SKY

In Hoang’s assured debut, a young artist makes peace with a crushing diagnosis and takes a stab at reinvention.

What would you do if your very identity were about to be erased? That’s the fundamental question Aubrey Johnson must answer—quickly. At the novel’s outset, the young, talented painter is handed a damning diagnosis: retinitis pigmentosa, a genetic disorder that will blind her in six to eight weeks. As Aubrey tries to wrap her head around her condition, she runs into an old friend, Jeff Anderson. Jeff and Aubs had been best friends in high school before life took them on separate paths. Now Jeff is back, suggesting Aubrey accompany him on a trip around the world. Aubrey grabs at the chance to pack as many life-altering experiences as she can in a few weeks, while Jeff in turn is seeking some clarity in his own personal life. The novel’s central premise—a gifted painter losing her vision—might seem too neat a hook on which to hang a story, yet Hoang successfully prevents the narrative from spiraling into cliché. Insights that Aubrey slowly gathers—“Maybe the question you should be asking yourself is why you feel like what you have isn’t enough”—sometimes come across as trite life lessons, but they are more than made up for with flashes of inspired writing. Aubrey narrates the story, which has touches of romance, in the first person, and Hoang’s characterization is so impressive that the novel reads like a memoir. Readers see the world (China, India, Jordan, Israel, Brazil, Peru) through Aubrey’s artistic point of view, the result of which is often refreshing. She describes the Dead Sea, for example, as a place with “a lack of visual noise.” Despite having been dealt a cruel hand, Aubrey still has a lot going for her, including caring friends and a career that blossomed early. Her imagination first flourished after a visit to the Rothko Chapel in Houston, known for its dark, somber modern art. In contrast—and reassuringly—Aubrey’s artistic vision continues to shine plenty of light even as the natural world around her slowly fades to black.

A touching exploration of identity and reinvention painted with gentle yet precise brush strokes.

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Hey Jamie

Review Posted Online: Dec. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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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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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

IT ENDS WITH US

Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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