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THE BARRENS

A poignant and engaging thriller with a formidable lead character.

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Two young college women embark on a canoe trip down the Thelon River in Canada’s Barren Lands when a tragic accident turns a wilderness adventure into a battle for survival in this debut novel.

Experienced canoeists Kurt Johnson and Ellie Johnson, a father-daughter writing team, present a vibrant, tender novel of love, loss, stamina, and self-discovery. It’s 2019, and friends and lovers Lee Harvey and Holly Stone met at Brown University six months ago. Holly has paddled the Thelon once before, and she’s anxious to reexperience the beauty, excitement, and tranquility of the vast preserve in Canada’s north country. Less than two weeks out, after the pair transport their heavy packs to the top of a canyon, they stop to take photos, and Holly falls off the cliff into the river’s swirling waters. Lee scrambles down the trail and along the riverbank, keeping her eyes on Holly as the rapids spit her out just past the eddy. Racing into the frigid water, Lee grabs hold of Holly’s life jacket and pulls the unresponsive woman to shore. She finally gets Holly to cough and begin taking a few shallow breaths, but Holly remains unconscious. It’s a grabber of an opening, and the authors effectively leave readers hanging during the next 10 chapters as Lee, the narrator, begins to fill in the backstory that brought the women to this point. Holly is effectively shown to be a woman who wants “her life to read like a collection of unique stories, one adventure after another,” but it’s Lee who spins out the episodic tales of her own troubled childhood, a narrative device that builds Lee into a fully fleshed-out character. The character development continues as Lee endures grueling challenges in the Barrens’ magical but forbidding wilderness. The work also draws on the authors’ expertise, offering a wealth of detailed information about the techniques, equipment, and minute-to-minute decision-making involved in a canoeing adventure, which will appeal to aspiring paddlers.

A poignant and engaging thriller with a formidable lead character.

Pub Date: May 3, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-950994-48-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2022

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE

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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