A mostly solid historical novel hampered by its simplistic approach to midcentury Southern racism.

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A PEACH FOR BIG JIM

In this debut historical novel, a young white girl crosses social boundaries in South Carolina in 1947.

Thirteen-year-old Chloe Mason is part of an old Southern family that was once wealthy before the Civil War but is now struggling to get by. She sometimes follows her brother Caleb on hunting expeditions in the swamp, and at other times, she loses herself in books; both activities serve as distractions from her heavy-drinking father’s harsh behavior. She eventually befriends Big Jim, the reputedly “feebleminded” adult son of her neighbor’s black housekeeper, and she teaches him to read. Chloe knows that she has to keep the reading lessons secret from her racist father and neighbors; however, she later discovers a family connection between herself and Big Jim that defies the rules of her community. Belmont is clearly knowledgeable about her setting, and her strong prose vividly describes the rural atmosphere, with references to ceaseless humidity, veneration of Confederate-era ancestors, and local folk songs. She depicts the violent hatred that fills Chloe’s world with equal clarity; characters frequently use racial epithets and even threaten lynchings. However, the racism is presented primarily through the eyes of the white characters (“He don’t mean nothing by it,” Chloe says to Big Jim after her father whips him, “it’s just the way he was brought up”). Even though Chloe is young, it’s frustrating that she’s so slow to grasp that Big Jim is in far more danger than she is (“When it came right down to it, I was more entrapped than he was”). The story also leans on the white-savior trope (“That’s all I wanted. To free Big Jim”), and the childlike and “fragile” Big Jim, with his “certain purity” and willingness to follow Chloe’s lead, never becomes a fully realized character. That said, the novel’s resolution is largely satisfying.

A mostly solid historical novel hampered by its simplistic approach to midcentury Southern racism.

Pub Date: July 31, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 321

Publisher: King's House Press

Review Posted Online: June 19, 2019

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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