An often enjoyable but slight shaggy dog tale that focuses on the journey, not the destination.

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SOMETHING

Polman’s (Seven Layer Cake, 2019, etc.) offbeat novel offers two alternating stories that run along parallel tracks and involve the same narrator.

In a plotline set in 2016, 56-year-old James is trying to find his dog, Kodiak, after it runs off with a pack of strays. He follows the animals on foot and finds himself far from his neighborhood with a dead cellphone, unable to call home. He winds up stopping to visit his elderly father and his adult daughter, Emma; he also encounters a host of strangers, all while tracking signs of where the pack may have gone. In the other story track, set in 1985, 25-year-old James takes a solo bike ride from Louisiana to Tennessee and back. He meets a lot of new people on the road during this journey, as well, and tests his ability to survive on his own. In both tales, James has flashbacks that build a picture of his entire life, including his relationship with his divorced parents and with Emma, who’s still struggling to overcome the trauma of a break-in in the later story. Overall, this is a fast read, and James is an engaging, likable character. The two-tiered structure helps keeps the plot moving forward, and it never dawdles too long in one place. Polman’s prose is mostly straightforward and clear, outside of his predilection for occasionally distracting punctuation and formatting; at one point, for instance, he writes, “Never a dull moment. (Mostly.) Now THERES an idea for a gravestone inscription! As quickly as these stories pass, however, they never get terribly deep. James contemplates his father’s mild drinking problem and Emma’s troubles but never comes to any compelling conclusions about either. Most strangers enter and leave his life quickly and don’t seem to have much impact on him. Also, a few sequences make little sense; during “the most terrifying experiences of the tour,” for example, younger James sees a church sign that he thinks is creepy, finds a deserted camp site, and hides from a police car for no discernible reason.

An often enjoyable but slight shaggy dog tale that focuses on the journey, not the destination.

Pub Date: May 25, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5466-6729-2

Page Count: 298

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 12, 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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A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

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IN FIVE YEARS

After acing a job interview and accepting a marriage proposal, Dannie Kohan has had the perfect day. That is, until she awakens to find herself five years in the future with a completely different man.

Just one hour in that alternate reality shakes Dannie to her core. After all, highly ambitious Dannie and her boyfriend, David, have plotted out their lives in minute detail, and the sexy man in her dream—was it a dream?—is most certainly not in the script. Serle (The Dinner List, 2018) deftly spins these magical threads into Dannie’s perfectly structured life, leaving not only Dannie, but also the reader wondering whether Dannie time traveled or hallucinated. Her best friend, Bella, would delight in the story given that she thinks Dannie is much too straight-laced, and some spicy dreaming might push Dannie to find someone more passionate than David. Unfortunately, glamorous Bella is in Europe with her latest lover. Ever pragmatic, Dannie consults her therapist, who almost concurs that it was likely a dream, and throws herself into her work. Pleased to have landed the job at a prestigious law firm, Dannie easily loses her worries in litigation. Soon four and a half years have passed with no wedding date set, and Bella is back in the U.S. with a new man in her life. A man who turns out to be literally the man of Dannie’s dream. The sheer fact of Aaron Gregory’s existence forces Dannie to reevaluate her trust in the laws of physics as well as her decision to marry David, a decision that seems less believable with each passing day. And as the architecture of Dannie’s overplanned life disintegrates, Serle twists and twines the remnants of her dream into a surprising future.

A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3744-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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