An evocative and deeply felt narrative portrait.

TO KEEP THE SUN ALIVE

On the eve of the Iranian Revolution, a large extended family splinters as all of its members evaluate their places—or lack thereof—in the rapidly changing country.

From a busy Parisian street corner on the day of a solar eclipse in 2012, Shazdehpoor—an elderly Iranian expatriate—reminisces about a day 30 years earlier when “the moon slowly swallowed the sun” in what now feels like an alternate universe. On that day, in a lush, apple blossom–scented orchard belonging to Bibi-Khanoom and her husband, retired judge Akbar-Agha, the family gathers for its first spring lunch. But even as they dine together, secrets and familial strife hum beneath the surface. Akbar-Agha debates the limits of governmental justice with his brother, the firebrand mullah Haj-Agha; Bibi-Khanoom’s niece, Ghamar, barks at her meek tailor husband, Mohammad-Agha, masking an insidious marital conflict; and their daughter Nasreen sneaks off among the cherry trees on a tryst with Shazdehpoor’s son Madjid. The absence of Madjid’s opium-addicted brother, Jamsheed, is also palpable. But when a deadly conflict between two young men breaks out in the town square and inflames the bitter rift between a pro-Islamic faction and its opponents, the family is drawn into the unrest it spurs. As the mullah and Jamsheed take the side of the "martyr" who killed his "elitist" foe, Madjid—newly a university student and eager to help shape the country’s future—is caught in a deadly trap by a sinister political group. When the eclipse approaches and danger spreads through the region, the family members must each weigh their allegiances to their blood and beliefs. In her lush and atmospheric debut, author Ghaffari sketches a complex portrait of a country on the brink of revolution and explores the poignant ways political unrest can bind or tear families apart. Although Nasreen and Madjid’s romantic plotline sometimes veers into predictable territory, the story’s generous emotional core offsets it in a nuanced, character-driven exploration of a formative moment in a country’s complicated history.

An evocative and deeply felt narrative portrait.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948226-09-7

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Catapult

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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