Not as entertaining or absorbing as it means to be.


Mystery and skulduggery in an upscale Colorado subdivision.

A vandal is disrupting the peaceful facade of Cottonwood Estates, spray-painting graffiti, bashing carved pumpkins, and breaking a window in a private home. This miscreant is an emblem of what lies beneath this family-friendly community—secrets, lies, betrayals, and worse. The story focuses on three members of the Cottonwood Book Club: Annie Perley, who has a complicated past and a teenage daughter suddenly acting strangely; Jen Pagano, who’s put her career on hold to deal with her violence-prone 13-year-old son; and Lena Meeker, a new book-club recruit who’s older, wealthier, and lonelier than the others. Something terrible happened in Cottonwood 15 years ago, and Lena was directly involved (exactly how, we don’t know). Author Heller interrupts the present-day narrative with occasional flashbacks that provide clues about who did what to whom. Overall, the novel is intended as frothy fun with serious undertones. There are some clever digs at suburbia—for example, Annie’s worried musings about her kids: “Should Hank and Laurel be composing oboe concertos? Why haven’t they written cookbooks for charity?” And the book club’s selections are amusingly eclectic, from Lolita to something called The Spicy Hot Marriage. As for drama, Jen’s anguish over son Abe—who may or may not be the vandal—seems authentic. But much of the book is overly familiar. The characters are hard to differentiate at first, and it's hard to care about them. The plot twists often seem arbitrary, if not unbelievable. Too many of the characters “feel a bitter taste in their throat”—or words to that effect—in tense moments. And the big reveals at the end may leave readers a bit puzzled.

Not as entertaining or absorbing as it means to be.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-20581-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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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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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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A well-turned, if predictable, installment in the popular series.


With the United States the “closest [it’s] been to war” in a lifetime, intelligence operative Jack Ryan Jr. faces stiff odds in trying to avert disaster with China.

Trouble with China begins brewing (yet again in the Clancy books) with the rendition of a Chinese scientist and the killing of his American brother, a specialist in machine learning. With a sniper attack on the German outpost of The Campus, Ryan’s “off-the-books” agency, and the downing of an American plane over the South China Sea, U.S. efforts to recover a Chinese undersea glider capable of detecting a $3 billion American stealth submarine are in jeopardy. Things look especially grim with the capture of crash survivor John Clark, Ryan’s boss and a close compadre of his father, President Jack Ryan Sr. With Ryan Sr. still shaken by the abduction of his wife a year ago and Ryan Jr. doubtful of his abilities as a team leader, it's up to intelligence director Mary Pat Foley to calm the waters with her expertise and strong will. One possible outcome is a Chinese attack on Taiwan. In Bentley’s third outing in the series, it takes a while to get past cookie cutter stuff: Many pages go by before the reader knows what all the tense language, chase scenes, and international travel are about. But the book's cool, checkerboard efficiency eventually takes hold. And the streaks of vulnerability that run through the Ryans impart a human dimension that most such thrillers lack. Bentley also takes pains to distinguish the novel from fake fiction: “Unlike in the movies, getting struck by a rifle round moving at several thousand feet per second was not insignificant.”

A well-turned, if predictable, installment in the popular series.

Pub Date: May 23, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422786

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023

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