An intriguing but meandering volcano tale with little to balance its bleak worldview.

UTAH!

In this debut literary novel, a young family begins a wildfire-inspired road trip across the Beehive State.

Seasonal wildfires continue to decimate the Western United States, and the town of Logan, Utah, is in danger of being consumed. Young married couple Lee and Becca Smith are about to hit the road—not a moment too soon. Lee has his mind on the Yellowstone supervolcano, which is apparently getting quite fidgety, while Becca doesn’t know if she can stand any more time alone with their infant daughter, Analise: “The two of them walked outside and Lee locked the front door of their tiny duplex behind them, Becca sarcastically thinking that the imminent destruction of the planet via a volcano or earthquake or wildfire seemed more pleasant to her than marriage or motherhood.” As they make their unhurried way across the state of Utah to a family wedding at Zion National Park, the couple fret about the parenthood that forced them into marriage and the many untaken roads in their separate lives. Along the way, they encounter a gaggle of friends, relatives, and strangers, including both Lee’s and Becca’s mothers and an unhinged veteran–turned–domestic terrorist. Rogers’ plainspoken prose deftly depicts ordinary life interspersed with images of personal and societal doom. Lee’s dreams feature “images of the bubbling caldera under Yellowstone,” its yellow and red lava “hissing, creeping, slowly making its way to the surface of the earth. The wolves and mountain lions and grizzly bears all fleeing from the impending disaster in the area in their mammalian omniscience.” The story is a bit too long and a bit too slow, with the human drama taking a back seat to the ominous climatic and volcanic imagery and literally apocalyptic conclusion. (Readers learn, in the introduction, that this volume is meant to be read as a manuscript found beneath the rubble of the former state of Utah.) While the title, premise, and Tolkien-inspired state map at the book’s beginning all suggest a work of levity—or at least satire—the actual novel is a largely dreary tale of people enacting the Freudian death drive. As pressures build in their own lives, so too do the pressures beneath the ailing Earth’s crust.

An intriguing but meandering volcano tale with little to balance its bleak worldview.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63752-975-1

Page Count: 318

Publisher: Atmosphere Press

Review Posted Online: March 19, 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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