Family secrets bloom into nightmares in these skillful, chilling stories.

CARDIFF, BY THE SEA

Creeping dread and dark violence haunt parents and children in four novellas of suspense.

In her latest collection, the indefatigable Oates returns to the theme of parents and what they will—or won’t—do to protect their children. The title novella is the story of Clare Seidel, an art historian in her 30s. Adopted as a toddler, she’s never been curious about her birth family until, out of the blue, she receives a call from a lawyer in the (fictional) Maine town of Cardiff, informing her that a grandmother she’s never heard of has died and left her a bequest. Soon she has discovered an eccentric trio of living relatives as well as the terrifying story of her long-dead immediate family. But every answer she gets about her past only raises new questions, and dangers. In Miao Dao, 12-year-old Mia is having a rough year. After her parents divorce, her mother finds a new man who makes the girl uneasy. Mia is also disturbed by the physical changes that adolescence brings. Her only solace is a nearby colony of feral cats, from which she rescues a tiny white kitten with strange black eyes that might or might not be her savior. Phantomwise: 1972 is the story of Alyce, a bright but naïve college student. She becomes involved with both her ambitious young philosophy professor and her kindly, older writing professor, a famous poet who tells her she reminds him of the girl in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. When she becomes pregnant, she goes down a very bad rabbit hole. The literary allusion that haunts The Surviving Child is the life and death of poet Sylvia Plath. In Oates’ fictional take, the poet is N.K., a brilliant, successful, but troubled woman. The story takes place several years after the murder-suicide that killed N.K. and her toddler daughter but left her young son alive. Told from the point of view of Elisabeth, who becomes the second wife of N.K.’s formidable husband, it’s a twisted tale of toxic patriarchy.

Family secrets bloom into nightmares in these skillful, chilling stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-5799-7

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mysterious Press

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Fast, furious Clancy fare, fun even though you already know who wins.

TOM CLANCY TARGET ACQUIRED

Bentley keeps Jack Ryan Jr.’s life exciting in this latest grand-scale Tom Clancy adventure.

Ryan is in Tel Aviv on an “asset-validation exercise” for a private company referred to as The Campus, and he takes time to hang out at the beach. There, he sees a woman with a child who he can tell is autistic, and he saves her from a knife-wielding attacker. She’s flummoxed; who’d want to hurt her? When mother and son leave, Ryan wants to return the boy’s dropped Captain America toy. “What could go wrong with that?” he muses naïvely. Only three hell-raising threats in one day. Almost immediately he meets agents from Israeli security, Shin Bet. Who is he? What’s he doing there? But though he doesn’t lie about his name, no one ever exclaims, “Wow, you have the same name as the U.S. president. Any connection?” Anyway, Chinese State Security is also interested in the woman, and Jack doesn’t know why. And then mother and son are kidnapped. True to the Clancy style, what begins as the attempted return of a toy mushrooms into a threat of global conflict—“no good deed goes unpunished” is an apt cliché. Other enemies include Iran's Quds Force, an apocalyptic cult—and some smart jihadis, because “the dumb jihadis died a long time ago.” Ryan is a fierce warrior when the need arises, and he refuses a direct order to return to the U.S.: “Sorry, sir…no can do. I’ve got two innocents still at risk—a mother and child.” So even when the bad guys try to crucify him, “nobody did cornered junkyard dog better than Jack.” Meanwhile, an airborne threat may destroy Tel Aviv. The story has some nice wordplay, with helicopters “clawing for altitude like homesick angels,” and the F-35 being “part ballerina, part racehorse, and all killer.” While on the ground “blood flowed and bones broke,” and a female fighter jock has the final say.

Fast, furious Clancy fare, fun even though you already know who wins.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18813-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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More of a curiosity for political junkies than a satisfying story of international intrigue.

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WHILE JUSTICE SLEEPS

A progressive superstar pens her first political thriller.

Anyone who follows the news knows Abrams as a politician and voting rights activist. She's less well known as a novelist. Using the pseudonym Selena Montgomery, Abrams has published several works of romantic suspense. Her new novel begins when Supreme Court Justice Howard Wynn falls into a coma. His clerk Avery Keene is shocked to discover that her boss has made her his legal guardian and granted her power of attorney. The fate of one of the most powerful men in the world is in her hands—and her life is in danger. Abrams gives us nefarious doings in the world of biotech, a president with autocratic tendencies and questionable ethics, and a young woman struggling to unravel a conspiracy while staying one step ahead of the people who want her out of the way. Unfortunately, the author doesn't weave these intriguing elements into an enjoyable whole. Abrams makes some odd word choices, such as this: “The intricate knot she had twisted into her hair that morning bobbed cunningly as she neared her office.” The adverb cunningly is mystifying, and Abrams uses it in a similar way later on. There are disorienting shifts in point of view. And Abrams lavishes a great deal of attention on details that simply don’t matter, which makes the pace painfully slow. This is a fatal flaw in a suspense novel, but it may not be the most frustrating aspect of this book. For a protagonist who has gotten where she is by being smart, Avery makes some stunningly poor decisions. For example, the fact that she has a photographic memory is an important plot point and is clearly a factor in Justice Wynn’s decision to enlist her help. When she finds a piece of paper upon which is printed a long string of characters and the words "BURN UPON REVIEW," Avery memorizes the lines of numbers and letters—and then, even though she knows she’s being surveilled, she snaps a shot of the paper with her phone, thereby making the whole business of setting it on fire quite pointless.

More of a curiosity for political junkies than a satisfying story of international intrigue.

Pub Date: May 11, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-385-54657-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2021

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