Shallow characters and an obviously manipulated plot defeat the usually winning trifecta of friendship, marriage, and...



There are unexpected consequences after four 30-ish women share a weekend of drinking and revealing—or not revealing—secrets in this debut Australian novel.

Joni, Deb, Trina, and Eden first bonded as Scorpios with surnames ending in C while they were high school freshmen in 1993. Joni, who brought them together, has always been the rule follower, Deb the pretty, popular one, Trina, of Chinese descent and raised by a single mother, the tough athletic one, and Eden the shy, easily led one. By 2016, when the four gather at a rented beach house for the vacation weekend they have shared annually since they were 21, each has married and begun a career of one sort or another. Joni, feeling less connected because she’s the only one who's childless, comes up with an idea to “restore their friendship,” suggesting that each woman write down a secret on the beach house computer and print it out to share anonymously with the others. Shortly after Eden’s letter is read, Joni comes across a half-burned fifth letter that reveals that one of her friends secretly hates someone else in the group and sometimes has violent feelings toward that person. Joni is shocked. Her attempts to figure out who is telling which secrets are often misguided, influenced by her resentments toward the other women and her insecurities about her marriage. In fact the most serious secrets may not even be revealed in the letters. While her friends have moments that hint at psychological complexity, central character Joni remains annoyingly whiny and judgmental. More seriously, the sense of mystery and intrigue the novel is attempting to develop remains lukewarm. Too often the truths revealed are anticlimactic compared to the buildup, and the italicized interludes spread throughout the novel, in which Joni “confesses” to a remarkably progressive priest, add little except a too-cute romantic twist.

Shallow characters and an obviously manipulated plot defeat the usually winning trifecta of friendship, marriage, and motherhood.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-241356-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 6, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2016

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


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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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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