HONOR AND POLYGAMY

In this debut novel, a married American is kidnapped in Afghanistan and ends up falling in love with an Afghan woman.
Nicholas Blake, an American diplomat working for the U.N., is asked by his boss, Bob, to take an assignment in Afghanistan even though he’s just returned from being abroad. Weighing his desire to be with his wife and daughter against their need for income, Nick decides to honor Bob’s request. While out with Charlie, an old friend from the Army, Nick’s companions are killed and he is taken hostage by insurgents under the direction of Molawee Abdul Satar. Brought to a remote location, Nick undergoes deprivation and imprisonment and is forced to go on camera condemning the U.S.’s involvement in Afghanistan. Eventually, he escapes and is given asylum by Gulbaz, an elderly farmer who renames Nick “Naikee” and marries him to his 16-year-old daughter, Shaista, as a means (through tribal custom) of protecting him from Satar. While Nick/Naikee hopes to leave, he ends up falling in love with Shaista despite the fact that he knows his family back home will not understand. The book moves along at a lightning pace due in no small part to Farhad’s decision to use present tense, which prevents him from getting mired in detail but too often makes the text comes across as cursory and superficial. Readers are meant to believe that Nick loves his wife and child but only in the generic way that we expect any husband and father to; without taking the time to flesh out the characters, Farhad leaves the reader with little reason to care for them. To his credit, Farhad captures the complexity of the relationships between the characters, who are influenced by their religious and political beliefs without becoming mere reflections of them. But any goodwill is lost in the book’s disastrous ending, in which all of the complications that Farhad takes the time to establish—Nick’s wanting to live both lives and his being unable to reconcile his feelings—are dispensed with entirely in a deadly confrontation with the Iranian border patrol.

A slight, breezy novel with a promising premise and poor execution.

Pub Date: May 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-1491732953

Page Count: 132

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2014

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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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