HOW TO PARTY WITH AN INFANT

From the plucky heroine whose life is not very hard to the easy potshots at stereotypical monster-moms, this novel is so...

From Hemmings (Juniors, 2015, etc.), a potato-chip–thin comedy about a single mother in San Francisco hoping to win a cookbook competition.

Thirtyish recipe blogger Mele is a struggling (with help from rich parents in Hawaii) but adoring single mom to 2-year-old Ellie. When she was pregnant, Mele's boyfriend, Bobby, dumped her for a woman he calls “the love of his life,” and he's finally marrying her in three weeks. Bobby wants Ellie to be the flower girl; Mele agrees but then obsesses about attending the wedding herself. Meanwhile, she enters a cookbook competition sponsored by the San Francisco Mother’s Club. If such an organization actually exists, no one would want to join it after reading Mele’s description of her horrible experiences with snobby members or the obnoxious online postings by monster-moms which are sprinkled throughout. Hemmings structures the novel as Mele’s answers to a questionnaire that competition entrants must fill out. Mele turns for inspiration to her own makeshift parent group that gathers at the unfashionable Panhandle playground, creating recipes inspired by stories from each member. Financially strapped mother-of-three Georgia worries about her teenage son, Chris, until they connect over In-N-Out burgers. Punkish, highly educated graphic artist Annie lets the goody-goody babysitter she shares with a monster-mom intimidate her but gets revenge with a special brownie. (Annie’s kitchen skills, equal to Mele’s, create a bit of sloppy plot redundancy.) Anxious realtor Barrett is aghast when her newly popular middle school son throws a “hood party” based on ugly racial and sexual attitudes. And then there is rich, handsome, sensitive Henry, whose wife is having an affair and whose friendship with Mele may be edging toward something more.

From the plucky heroine whose life is not very hard to the easy potshots at stereotypical monster-moms, this novel is so contrived it’s hard to believe it comes from the same author as the emotionally wrenchingThe Descendents (2007).

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-0079-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2016

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THE GREAT ALONE

A tour de force.

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In 1974, a troubled Vietnam vet inherits a house from a fallen comrade and moves his family to Alaska.

After years as a prisoner of war, Ernt Allbright returned home to his wife, Cora, and daughter, Leni, a violent, difficult, restless man. The family moved so frequently that 13-year-old Leni went to five schools in four years. But when they move to Alaska, still very wild and sparsely populated, Ernt finds a landscape as raw as he is. As Leni soon realizes, “Everyone up here had two stories: the life before and the life now. If you wanted to pray to a weirdo god or live in a school bus or marry a goose, no one in Alaska was going to say crap to you.” There are many great things about this book—one of them is its constant stream of memorably formulated insights about Alaska. Another key example is delivered by Large Marge, a former prosecutor in Washington, D.C., who now runs the general store for the community of around 30 brave souls who live in Kaneq year-round. As she cautions the Allbrights, “Alaska herself can be Sleeping Beauty one minute and a bitch with a sawed-off shotgun the next. There’s a saying: Up here you can make one mistake. The second one will kill you.” Hannah’s (The Nightingale, 2015, etc.) follow-up to her series of blockbuster bestsellers will thrill her fans with its combination of Greek tragedy, Romeo and Juliet–like coming-of-age story, and domestic potboiler. She re-creates in magical detail the lives of Alaska's homesteaders in both of the state's seasons (they really only have two) and is just as specific and authentic in her depiction of the spiritual wounds of post-Vietnam America.

A tour de force.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-312-57723-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2017

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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