Dizzying and overwrought but salaciously entertaining nonetheless.

THE FAVORITE SISTER

Knoll (Luckiest Girl Alive, 2015) turns her cynical eye to sibling rivalry and the twisted—and, in this case, murderous—world of reality TV.

Meet the entrepreneurial ladies of the New York City–based reality show Goal Diggers. Brett Courtney is the youngest cast member. She’s been known to reach for a second doughnut and is committed to convincing the clients of her popular WeSPOKE spinning classes that being skinny is not the key to being healthy. Her engagement to her girlfriend, Arch, is the icing on the reality show cake. Stunning Stephanie Simmons is the only African-American cast member and a bestselling author, but her struggle with depression threatens to hold her back. Juice bar guru and famously vegan Jen Greenberg indulges in secret turkey bacon binges, and dating website creator Lauren Bunn is known as Lauren Fun! Brett’s older sister and business partner, Kelly, a single mother whose 12-year-old daughter is a showstopper, is the new cast member and is everything that Brett has never been: thin, beautiful, and, as far as Brett is concerned, always their parents' favored daughter. Executive producer Jesse Barnes turns the screws and showrunner Lisa Griffin cracks the whip as Brett and Stephanie detail the production of Season 4 in alternating first-person narratives. Opening and closing the book (and sprinkled a few times in between) are sections narrated by Kelly in which she sits down with Jesse for on-camera interviews in the aftermath of Brett's death, but the truth of how Brett died isn’t revealed until the final act. Knoll explores the pressure society places on women to be everything to everyone and do it all without a strand of hair out of place. There’s enough conniving, scandal, and snark to rival the most shocking episodes of Real Housewives, and these cutthroat divas play to win even if it means blurring the line between truth and lies. In the end, murder seems inevitable. Season 4 will end with a bang, and there will be blood.

Dizzying and overwrought but salaciously entertaining nonetheless.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5319-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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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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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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