The Woman Behind the Waterfall

A young girl must harness the power of her maternal line to help her mother in this debut novel.

Angela lives for the beauty of Ukraine in a simple life with her mother, Lyuda. While Angela discovers that she can become a bird, Lyuda slips into a depression, aided by the vodka she sips at night. Her own mother is dead, Angela’s father has left them, and while Lyuda’s childhood friend Sveta is their neighbor, she has not spoken to her in years. One afternoon by the river, Angela meets the spirit of her grandmother and is tasked with bringing out the memories in Lyuda that haunt her. The ethereal realm collides with reality as Lyuda is shown a different life: one where Volodiya, Angela’s father, stays to love her and provide her with an elegant home. But something is missing from this alternative universe: there is no daughter. She aches for Sveta’s daughter, Maria, to be her own, even as heartbreaking news about her own fertility is revealed. Which life is more worth living, the one without Volodiya, or the one without Angela? The spirit of her mother and daughter both will have to work hard to bring epiphany to Lyuda’s heavy heart. The scenery that Meriel’s tale inhabits is lush, with lilac bushes, golden sunshine, and delicious food. The narration switches liberally from character to character and from first person to third person, which can make it occasionally hard to follow, especially when Angela assumes her bird form. But while the magical realism of this evocative novel is sometimes-opaque, the story is never lost, grounded in Lyuda’s internal monologue and vivid memories. There are some chapters that lack nuance, such as the scenes written from Volodiya’s perspective, that of a young man burdened by his abusive father and, later, Lyuda’s pregnancy. By far, the book’s women are the most compelling characters, especially when Lyuda’s hard-earned acceptance of one of her paths is expressed in the final chapters. Readers looking for a classic tale of love and loss will be rewarded with an intoxicating world, especially if they can follow the more magical plotlines.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2016


Page Count: 271

Publisher: Granite Cloud

Review Posted Online: Aug. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...


Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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