A compelling family tale with convincing, psychologically perceptive writing.

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A fractured family seeks a way out of a series of crises in this debut novel.

Tom Holder is a tenured professor of philosophy employed by Barnes College in Maine. He likes teaching but not writing and churns out “just enough pedagogical crap to maintain tenure.” He has recently completed the first draft of a book written with the intention of “lancing Trump with a sharp-edged pen” and pissing off “people in high places.” The latter objective is achieved immediately, as the work’s contents land Tom in the crosshairs of the “loathsome” college president, Amos Whitely. Meanwhile, Tom’s wife, Hannah, is discontent with being a stay-at-home mom. Before Tom received his tenure, she was the main breadwinner, working in a bank in Boston in a management training program. Her prospects of becoming a professional were derailed with the move to Maine, where she grew resentful of Tom’s success. Their children, Madison, 14, and Dillon, 15, have their own problems. Madison is the target of a homophobic slur in high school. Meanwhile, sophomore Dillon is brought home by a police officer after being caught drinking. The status quo of the family is further disrupted when Hannah decides to take the LSAT with the hope of returning to Boston and attending law school. Tom also learns that his estranged father, whom he has not seen in over 20 years, has been diagnosed with cancer. As pressures build, Tom and Hannah find their marriage under considerable strain.

The story is poignantly recounted in intimate alternate chapters from the perspectives of Tom and Hannah. Moot writes with a succinct eloquence, creating a cast of psychologically plausible characters. For instance, when Hannah learns that Madison has been called a “dyke” by a boy at school, the intensity of her shifting emotions is palpable: “Digest, process, breathe. Calm, thoughtful mother. No, fuck that. Rage. Protect your daughter. ‘I’m calling his mother.’ ” The chapters written from Tom’s point of view are sufficiently distinct in tenor to convince readers that the narrative is being delivered by a different person. Tom is contrastingly self-involved and self-pitying: “I rolled out of bed, fed Bart and let him out. A man’s best friend. A man’s only friend. I put on a pot of coffee and showered while it brewed.” Moments such as these capture an everyday routine with which most readers will be familiar, and the difficulties faced by the Holder family are easy to relate to. The reasons behind Tom’s becoming estranged from his father add an extra element of intrigue to an already strong plot, and Moot’s examination of family secrets and teenage rebellion proves thought-provoking. On rare occasions, Tom’s narrative feels stiff and contrived, as though it has been lifted from an academic study, although this may be an intentional reflection of his professional diction: “Religion supplies answers for some. It soothes our existential anxiety by reassuring us that there is a higher power with a larger plan.” This does not detract from a carefully conceived and sharply written novel with characters that are impossible not to root for.

A compelling family tale with convincing, psychologically perceptive writing.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73458-002-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Roads End Books LLC

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

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PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION

A travel writer has one last shot at reconnecting with the best friend she just might be in love with.

Poppy and Alex couldn't be more different. She loves wearing bright colors while he prefers khakis and a T-shirt. She likes just about everything while he’s a bit more discerning. And yet, their opposites-attract friendship works because they love each other…in a totally platonic way. Probably. Even though they have their own separate lives (Poppy lives in New York City and is a travel writer with a popular Instagram account; Alex is a high school teacher in their tiny Ohio hometown), they still manage to get together each summer for one fabulous vacation. They grow closer every year, but Poppy doesn’t let herself linger on her feelings for Alex—she doesn’t want to ruin their friendship or the way she can be fully herself with him. They continue to date other people, even bringing their serious partners on their summer vacations…but then, after a falling-out, they stop speaking. When Poppy finds herself facing a serious bout of ennui, unhappy with her glamorous job and the life she’s been dreaming of forever, she thinks back to the last time she was truly happy: her last vacation with Alex. And so, though they haven’t spoken in two years, she asks him to take another vacation with her. She’s determined to bridge the gap that’s formed between them and become best friends again, but to do that, she’ll have to be honest with Alex—and herself—about her true feelings. In chapters that jump around in time, Henry shows readers the progression (and dissolution) of Poppy and Alex’s friendship. Their slow-burn love story hits on beloved romance tropes (such as there unexpectedly being only one bed on the reconciliation trip Poppy plans) while still feeling entirely fresh. Henry’s biggest strength is in the sparkling, often laugh-out-loud-funny dialogue, particularly the banter-filled conversations between Poppy and Alex. But there’s depth to the story, too—Poppy’s feeling of dissatisfaction with a life that should be making her happy as well as her unresolved feelings toward the difficult parts of her childhood make her a sympathetic and relatable character. The end result is a story that pays homage to classic romantic comedies while having a point of view all its own.

A warm and winning "When Harry Met Sally…" update that hits all the perfect notes.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0675-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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