A folk tale–style novel set in medieval China, but readers may want more to hold on to.

The Story of Little Ai

ADVENTURES OF A LITTLE GIRL IN THIRTEENTH CENTURY CHINA

In her novel, Gurian adopts a mythlike tone while incorporating historical events into the story of a young girl in 13th-century China under Mongol rule.

Little Ai and her mother, seamstress Sui San, join a troupe of actors when all Chinese are expelled from the Mongolian capital following an assassination. They travel across China, observing the friendships and rivalries of the actors, slowly becoming part of the extended family, until Sui San goes missing and is presumed dead. The troupe disbands when they reach their destination, and Little Ai is left with a neglectful aunt. The narrative has a folk tale–like quality, from its formal dialogue—“The heir to the throne has returned suddenly in order to render sacrifice to the gods. He demands your presence. Do not delay carrying out the command of the one who sends for you”—to its vivid depiction of a bygone world: “Peasants in straw sandals drove their donkeys which were hardly visible underneath tall baskets full of silk cocoons. Small-time merchants were screaming in various voices; wandering chefs were clattering their dishes; a fortuneteller was setting up his tent by a mat on which a doctor had laid out his medicines for skin and eye diseases.” Chapter titles (“How the Lamp Went Out Three Times,” “How Little Ai Met Her Big Brother”) complement the folk-tale feel as well. The plot is less satisfying, with many chapters presenting minor conflicts and adventures that have little impact on the ultimate resolution. Titular Little Ai is present for much of the action, but she remains in the background, displaying no evolution over the course of the narrative and offering little emotional connection to the reader. Take, for instance, her response to Sui San’s apparent death, several chapters later: “I haven’t seen Mother in her coffin, and therefore I don’t believe it. My daughterly duty is to fulfill Mother’s will, even if she isn’t alive.”

A folk tale–style novel set in medieval China, but readers may want more to hold on to.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5174-1390-3

Page Count: 200

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 7, 2019

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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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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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IT ENDS WITH US

Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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