No question about this author’s gift for striking imagery and vivid scene-setting, but her characterizations could be...

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THE LOVED ONES

Hughes (Double Happiness, 2010, etc.) follows a family reeling from the loss of a child through two disordered years in New Jersey and London.

It’s not just the death of 8-year-old Cubbie that’s weighing on Nick, Jean, and Lily Devlin as the novel opens in 1969. Nick has been pressured by his manipulative, amoral brother, Lionel, to take a London-based job with volatile cosmetics tycoon Billy Byron, and Jean is unhappy about relocating to England from their home in Gooseneck Cove, a wedding present from her adored father that she’s turned into a showcase. Eighth-grader Lily is struggling to master the intricacies of early-adolescent social interactions; her self-assurance isn’t bolstered by the condescension of her mean-girl best friend, Margaret, and she displays an unfortunate weakness for boys who alternately entice and reject her. The first few chapters are a whirl of names and relationships that don’t yet make a lot of sense, since Hughes is lavish with allusions and sparing with concrete information, which tends to arrive piecemeal. It’s quickly clear, however, that Jean is fonder of her brother-in-law than she should be, even though Lionel has landed Nick into serious trouble before, and that Nick likes to indulge himself with intoxicants and extramarital sex, a tendency that will only worsen in London. The family dynamic is somewhat reminiscent of Hughes’ previous novel, Wavemaker II (2001), as is the mood of lurking dread. Here, the withholding narrative style effectively induces in readers the same state of disorientation that envelops all three Devlins in London (whose business and social scenes are depicted as vicious and corrupt), but it also tends to alienate us from the characters. Final plot twists and long-delayed revelations back in the U.S. are shocking but delivered in an elliptical manner that muffles their emotional impact.

No question about this author’s gift for striking imagery and vivid scene-setting, but her characterizations could be deeper, and she might consider the possibility that atmosphere is not everything.

Pub Date: June 2, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2249-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2015

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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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A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

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IN FIVE YEARS

After acing a job interview and accepting a marriage proposal, Dannie Kohan has had the perfect day. That is, until she awakens to find herself five years in the future with a completely different man.

Just one hour in that alternate reality shakes Dannie to her core. After all, highly ambitious Dannie and her boyfriend, David, have plotted out their lives in minute detail, and the sexy man in her dream—was it a dream?—is most certainly not in the script. Serle (The Dinner List, 2018) deftly spins these magical threads into Dannie’s perfectly structured life, leaving not only Dannie, but also the reader wondering whether Dannie time traveled or hallucinated. Her best friend, Bella, would delight in the story given that she thinks Dannie is much too straight-laced, and some spicy dreaming might push Dannie to find someone more passionate than David. Unfortunately, glamorous Bella is in Europe with her latest lover. Ever pragmatic, Dannie consults her therapist, who almost concurs that it was likely a dream, and throws herself into her work. Pleased to have landed the job at a prestigious law firm, Dannie easily loses her worries in litigation. Soon four and a half years have passed with no wedding date set, and Bella is back in the U.S. with a new man in her life. A man who turns out to be literally the man of Dannie’s dream. The sheer fact of Aaron Gregory’s existence forces Dannie to reevaluate her trust in the laws of physics as well as her decision to marry David, a decision that seems less believable with each passing day. And as the architecture of Dannie’s overplanned life disintegrates, Serle twists and twines the remnants of her dream into a surprising future.

A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3744-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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