Beautifully wrought even if marred by minor discrepancies.

SILENCE IS A SENSE

A young Muslim woman watches her neighbors as she comes to terms with her own tragic history.

In AlAmmar’s second novel, a young woman has arrived in a quiet English town after months of difficult travel. Having fled her native Syria, the woman, who goes unnamed, journeyed through much of Europe before arriving, nearly catatonic. Now somewhat recovered, she sits and watches her neighbors through their windows: An old man eats alone; an abusive husband terrorizes his wife and children; a young man exercises obsessively. The contradiction at the heart of this lovely and intense novel is that the young woman, who doesn’t speak aloud—she allows her neighbors to think she’s deaf—narrates the novel. No one hears her voice but the reader, and it is a strong, formidable voice. In fact, she has so much to say that she begins writing a magazine column under the moniker “The Voiceless.” AlAmmar’s narrator may be a voyeur, but she is frankly critical of the voyeuristic tendencies of her editor, Josie, who asks that she write less often about politics and more about her own memories. “In [Josie’s] emails,” the narrator tells us, “she assures me that such articles are always topical, and it’s all people are wanting to read about given the state of the world, and could I tweak this and that before she publishes it.” It’s a smart, sharply constructed critique. So is the narrator of this fine book. But it isn’t a perfect novel: Not all the characters cohere into three-dimensional figures, and there are dream and memory sequences that can be difficult to follow—particularly an erotic one involving Edgar Allan Poe. Still, the narrator’s accounts of her own trauma, and the way that she is increasingly drawn into the life of her community, feel moving and fresh.

Beautifully wrought even if marred by minor discrepancies.

Pub Date: March 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64375-026-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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