Fun to read, as always with Moriarty's books, but try not to think about it or it will stop making sense.

NINE PERFECT STRANGERS

Nine people gather at a luxurious health resort in the Australian bushland. Will they have sex, fall in love, get killed, or maybe just lose weight?

Moriarty (Truly Madly Guilty, 2014, etc.) is known for darkly humorous novels set in the suburbs of Sydney—though her most famous book, Big Little Lies (2014), has been transported to Monterey, California, by Reese Witherspoon's HBO series. Her new novel moves away from the lives of prosperous parents to introduce a more eclectic group of people who've signed up for a 10-day retreat at Tranquillium House, a remote spa run by the messianic Masha, "an extraordinary-looking woman. A supermodel. An Olympic athlete. At least six feet tall, with corpse-like white skin and green eyes so striking and huge they were almost alien-like." This was the moment when the guests should probably have fled, but they all decided to stay (perhaps because their hefty payments were nonrefundable?). The book's title is slightly misleading, since not all the guests are strangers to each other. There are two family groups: Ben and Jessica Chandler, a young couple whose relationship broke down after they won the lottery, and the Marconis, Napolean and Heather and their 20-year-old daughter, Zoe, who are trying to recover after the death of Zoe's twin brother, Zach. Carmel Schneider is a divorced housewife who wants to get her mojo back, Lars Lee is an abnormally handsome divorce lawyer who's addicted to spas, and Tony Hogburn is a former professional footballer who wants to get back into shape. Though all these people have their own chapters, the main character is Frances Welty, a romance writer who needs a pick-me-up after having had her latest novel rejected and having been taken in by an internet scam—she fell in love with a man she met on Facebook and sent money to help his (nonexistent) son, who'd been in a (nonexistent) car accident. How humiliating for a writer to fall for a fictional person, Frances thinks, in her characteristically wry way. When the guests arrive, they're given blood tests (why?) and told they're going to start off with a five-day "noble silence" in which they're not even supposed to make eye contact with each other. As you can imagine, something fishy is going on, and while Moriarty displays her usual humor and Frances in particular is an appealing character, it's all a bit ridiculous.

Fun to read, as always with Moriarty's books, but try not to think about it or it will stop making sense.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-250-06982-5

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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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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DEVOLUTION

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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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