An artfully crafted portrayal of a woman who learns about herself as she weighs an unexpected choice.

LAND OF LAST CHANCES

A midlife pregnancy triggers an executive decision in this debut drama.

Marketing professional Jeanne Bridgeton is a vice president at Salientific and has connections to its shot-callers. However, she doesn’t yet have what she’s always wanted: a chief officer title. She also finds herself having to make a choice that could have major consequences—not just for her, but also for other key characters in the story. She’s pregnant, and she’s debating whether she should get an abortion. At first, she ponders the question as dispassionately as she would a budget-line item—until her doctor tells her that, because she’s 48, this could be her last opportunity to give birth. She never wanted to have a child before, but the finality of the decision causes her to vacillate almost daily until her state’s 24-week legal abortion limit. She knows that the father is either Vince—a major investor in Salientific and her boyfriend of a year—or Jake, the company’s troubled CEO, with whom she had a one-night stand. Her deepest concern, however, isn’t paternity, as marriage is not in her DNA. Instead, she’s anxious about the risk of the baby having developmental challenges, and whether gambling on motherhood would be irresponsible. Another wild card also consumes her: Did her father die from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease? If so, would Jeanne’s child be at risk of inheriting the disease—or of becoming an orphan at a young age? Cohen offers an adeptly written genetic detective story in this novel. In Jeanne, she creates a sympathetic and multidimensional character that avoids outdated stereotypes that one often sees in portrayals of women executives. Readers meet a tough corporate player in the early chapters, but the author develops many other facets of the character over the course of the book, as when she must confront the possibility that her mother, now deceased, lied to her about her father’s condition. The central choice of the novel, which may polarize readers, effectively deals with extremely relevant issues.

An artfully crafted portrayal of a woman who learns about herself as she weighs an unexpected choice.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-63152-600-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: July 8, 2019

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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 deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

THE UNSEEN

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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