Even with flaws, Brown’s complex and haunting piece is better than average.

THE LONGINGS OF WAYWARD GIRLS

Brown (Little Sinners, and Other Stories, 2012) expands her repertoire in her first novel, a psychological suspense that grabs readers from the start but loosens its grip a bit before the conclusion.

Back in the '70s, a quiet middle-class neighborhood is rocked by the disappearance of two young girls who vanish five years apart. Sadie Watkins bears a close resemblance to the first, 9-year-old Laura Loomis, and is grudgingly forced to play with the second, Francie Bingham. Francie, with her awkward appearance, unhappy home life and a desire to be liked, makes an easy target for Sadie and her best friend, Betty. They resent Francie’s intrusion into their games and conversations but soon turn her presence into a source of cruel amusement. More than 20 years later, Sadie’s still living in the same neighborhood and has settled into her own life with a loving husband and two young children. Her past is long buried—or so she thinks—until musician Ray Filley returns to town. As Ray pursues her with single-minded persistence, Sadie’s former actions and feelings haunt her, and she finds herself turning into someone she remembers all too well. Brown effectively ensnares the reader in a tangle of gloom, intrigue and drama where family homes and a peaceful, hidden neighborhood attraction might be mere facades for dark secrets and tortured lives that lie hidden somewhere within. Switching between past and present, Sadie’s life slowly unravels as she’s finally forced to confront past and present actions and determine who she really is and unresolved issues ultimately achieve some semblance of closure. Although the author combines the elements of good suspense writing to achieve an entertaining and nerve-jangling suspense novel, there are a few weaknesses that might bother the reader. The introduction of the pregnant waitress and her husband does little to enhance the suspense and, in fact, detracts from the story. And the ending is a bit too contrived and just doesn’t fulfill the promise of Brown’s earlier narrative.

Even with flaws, Brown’s complex and haunting piece is better than average.

Pub Date: July 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-4767-2491-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Washington Square/Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2013

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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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