Occasionally touching but ultimately insubstantial.

GHOST FOREST

Spurred by her father’s illness, a Chinese Canadian woman explores her family’s past.

When the unnamed narrator is 3, her family immigrates to Vancouver—she, her mother, and her grandparents. Everyone, that is, except her father, who helps them settle in but then returns to Hong Kong, worried that he won’t be able to find a job to support them in a new country. They become an “astronaut family”: “It’s a term invented by the Hong Kong mass media. A family with an astronaut father—flying here, flying there.” In very short, matter-of-fact fragments, the narrator accumulates memories of growing up, adjusting to life in Canada, and handling an often difficult relationship with a father she sees only twice a year. These memories mingle with those of her mother and grandmother, which the narrator begins collecting after her father falls ill from liver disease and the family assembles in Hong Kong. Her mother recalls high school basketball triumphs and, later, the process of caring for the narrator’s younger sister, born with a blood tumor; her grandmother relates, with impish humor, a childhood spent reading classical Chinese novels by night amid war (“Sometimes we couldn’t turn the lights on after sunset or we would get bombed”) and the one time she happened to write an opera. At one point in this nonlinear book, the narrator studies abroad in China during college and learns a spare technique of Chinese ink painting called xieyi. “They left large areas of the paper blank because they felt empty space was as important as form, that absence was as important as presence,” she tells us. “So what did they seek to capture instead? The artist’s spirit.” Debut author Fung seems to be describing her own narrative technique as much as this historical style, and its spareness does occasionally lend the narrative a fittingly agile sense of itinerancy. Largely, though, the details come across as somewhat mundane: They never really cohere into something bigger than their sum, and the characters remain unconvincing collections of attributes. As a result, the ending in particular feels merely sentimental rather than moving.

Occasionally touching but ultimately insubstantial.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-23096-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

more