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A complex, poetic tale, strongly linking past and present through folk art’s rich traditions.

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When their grandmother disappears in Warsaw, two sisters follow her trail around Eastern Europe in this debut literary novel.

Is it really a good idea for a 91-year-old woman to travel from the United States to Warsaw by herself? Vira Bilyk’s 30-something granddaughter, Larissa, is doubtful, but her baba has always been strong-willed and is determined to make the trip to the International Folkdance exhibition on her own. Vira will be staying with Panya Stefa, an old friend of Larissa’s mother. After the flight, Stefa calls to say that Vira never showed up either at her apartment or the dance exhibition. Trying not to panic, Larissa and her younger sister, Irena, called Ira, jump on a plane for Warsaw. There, they follow—in a kind of anxiety dream journey—what seems to be a breadcrumb trail to Slovakia and Hungary, locations where Vira sought refuge in World War II after having to leave her home in Galicia in western Ukraine. Flashbacks from Vira’s viewpoint set in 1941 and ’42 illustrate her wrenching losses and the wily courage that helped her survive. The ending, where all these paths meet, brings several kinds of reconciliation. In her novel, Spisak lyrically interweaves elements from Ukrainian culture, such as traditional dance, matryoshka nesting dolls, and tales. Each motif illuminates Vira’s character, as with the dolls hidden within one another, speaking to her lifesaving abilities in disguise, deceit, and concealment. Of particular significance is Baba Yaga, a usually fearsome fairy-tale witch who, Ira argues, is “fierce but not always bad.” The witch helps those who are strong and brave like Vira, whose ferocious strength comes to her own rescue.

A complex, poetic tale, strongly linking past and present through folk art’s rich traditions.

Pub Date: April 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-954332-31-7

Page Count: 294

Publisher: Wyatt-MacKenzie Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2022

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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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A weird, wild ride.

Celebrity scandal and a haunted lake drive the narrative in this bestselling author’s latest serving of subtly ironic suspense.

Sager’s debut, Final Girls (2017), was fun and beautifully crafted. His most recent novels—Home Before Dark (2020) and Survive the Night (2021) —have been fun and a bit rickety. His new novel fits that mold. Narrator Casey Fletcher grew up watching her mother dazzle audiences, and then she became an actor herself. While she never achieves the “America’s sweetheart” status her mother enjoyed, Casey makes a career out of bit parts in movies and on TV and meatier parts onstage. Then the death of her husband sends her into an alcoholic spiral that ends with her getting fired from a Broadway play. When paparazzi document her substance abuse, her mother exiles her to the family retreat in Vermont. Casey has a dry, droll perspective that persists until circumstances overwhelm her, and if you’re getting a Carrie Fisher vibe from Casey Fletcher, that is almost certainly not an accident. Once in Vermont, she passes the time drinking bourbon and watching the former supermodel and the tech mogul who live across the lake through a pair of binoculars. Casey befriends Katherine Royce after rescuing her when she almost drowns and soon concludes that all is not well in Katherine and Tom’s marriage. Then Katherine disappears….It would be unfair to say too much about what happens next, but creepy coincidences start piling up, and eventually, Casey has to face the possibility that maybe some of the eerie legends about Lake Greene might have some truth to them. Sager certainly delivers a lot of twists, and he ventures into what is, for him, new territory. Are there some things that don’t quite add up at the end? Maybe, but asking that question does nothing but spoil a highly entertaining read.

A weird, wild ride.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18319-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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