A well-crafted university story that speaks to the human spirit.

TOO HAPPY

In this novel, a veteran teacher faces ethical boundaries as she invests in the academic and personal lives of her students.

Jane Frost has been teaching in the English as a Second Language program at McBee University in Iowa for more than 20 years. This tale primarily examines the triumphs and struggles of the international students enrolled in Jane’s ESL Low Intermediate Grammar/Writing class. Jane goes above and beyond to teach her students the intricacies of English so they can pass the Test of English as a Foreign Language exam in order to move on and enroll in American universities. She encourages her students of varying ages and cultural backgrounds to come together and find rapport. In particular, Jane takes an interest in her two Japanese students for very different reasons: Chika Yamamoto, an uninterested young woman with flunking grades, and 60-something Yumi Murata, an affable, hardworking woman and stellar student with some secrets of her own. When the usually gleeful Yumi begins withdrawing and her grades start to slip, Jane tussles with getting involved; in the past, she has been chastised by Kaye Bibber, the program director, for her liberal boundaries when it comes to the affairs of her students. Additionally, Jane is challenged by her new mentee, first-year teacher Donna Bittner, whose provocative clothing and odd, lackadaisical teaching style rattle McBee’s ESL department. In this finely constructed novel, Kasten (Wildwood, 2013, etc.) deftly focuses on Jane’s lessons, including teachings and conversations in class about dialogue, diction, grammar, and idioms of American vernacular. But the “twist” at the end of the tale is abrupt; a more thorough explanation would have been helpful. Jane is a strong character but she would have benefited from a more in-depth back story. Although there are a few anecdotes about her childhood memories and brief mentions of siblings, Jane also fleetingly alludes to her raucous time in the 1960s and her early adulthood “living communally and holding up hostile signs in front of certain corporate headquarters and military installations.” Fully explored, this would have added a nice layer to the narrative.

A well-crafted university story that speaks to the human spirit.

Pub Date: May 23, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2017

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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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