An introspective tale that offers a beautiful ending but few surprises.


A dying millionaire reads the Persian poet Rumi on his deathbed in this novel.

Walter is a successful businessman who has earned money above and beyond even the wildest dreams of his youth, when he was nothing more than a scrappy kid raised in foster care. But Walter is dying. He’s laid up in bed, knowing that his muscles have already started to fail him and will soon quit entirely. There is no cure. His family visits: his ex-wife, Polly, who chose to end their marriage; his grown daughter, Paula, who has inherited his business acumen; his estranged son, Gavin, who has been in and out of rehab during his adulthood. But it is only when Paula leaves Walter a book of Rumi’s poetry that his perspective on life (and his impending death) starts to shift. He begins to fully understand how he built his life around his work—becoming a slave to his job—and that before he dies, he can make new choices. In his fifth novel, Alther impressively tackles what many writers call “the bathtub story” because the protagonist can only sit and think—in a bathtub or, in Walter’s case, a bed. Working within these deliberate constraints, the story shines the most through moments of humor that break the initial melancholy and acerbic tone. For instance, Irma, Walter’s nurse, brings in a high school a cappella group to serenade her patient, and it’s a humorous moment because it’s so unexpected. The situation is doubly amusing because Walter doesn’t know that “these talented young people contribute to Elderly Services that gets funded by United Way” and that he is “their Platinum Placard donor.” The author clearly intends this book to be a meditative novel, one that is driven by Walter’s character traits and interactions with Rumi’s poetry rather than a flashy plot. And yet the tale moves slowly, often frustratingly so. Perhaps some of this annoyance stems from the fact that Walter’s journey can feel as if it has an expected outcome, and it’s not clear whether there will be a payoff. While there is indeed a striking conclusion, it’s still hard to engage with Walter, especially when readers can guess his character arc fairly early on.

An introspective tale that offers a beautiful ending but few surprises.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64428-163-5

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Rare Bird Books

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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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

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Fast, furious Clancy fare, fun even though you already know who wins.


Bentley keeps Jack Ryan Jr.’s life exciting in this latest grand-scale Tom Clancy adventure.

Ryan is in Tel Aviv on an “asset-validation exercise” for a private company referred to as The Campus, and he takes time to hang out at the beach. There, he sees a woman with a child who he can tell is autistic, and he saves her from a knife-wielding attacker. She’s flummoxed; who’d want to hurt her? When mother and son leave, Ryan wants to return the boy’s dropped Captain America toy. “What could go wrong with that?” he muses naïvely. Only three hell-raising threats in one day. Almost immediately he meets agents from Israeli security, Shin Bet. Who is he? What’s he doing there? But though he doesn’t lie about his name, no one ever exclaims, “Wow, you have the same name as the U.S. president. Any connection?” Anyway, Chinese State Security is also interested in the woman, and Jack doesn’t know why. And then mother and son are kidnapped. True to the Clancy style, what begins as the attempted return of a toy mushrooms into a threat of global conflict—“no good deed goes unpunished” is an apt cliché. Other enemies include Iran's Quds Force, an apocalyptic cult—and some smart jihadis, because “the dumb jihadis died a long time ago.” Ryan is a fierce warrior when the need arises, and he refuses a direct order to return to the U.S.: “Sorry, sir…no can do. I’ve got two innocents still at risk—a mother and child.” So even when the bad guys try to crucify him, “nobody did cornered junkyard dog better than Jack.” Meanwhile, an airborne threat may destroy Tel Aviv. The story has some nice wordplay, with helicopters “clawing for altitude like homesick angels,” and the F-35 being “part ballerina, part racehorse, and all killer.” While on the ground “blood flowed and bones broke,” and a female fighter jock has the final say.

Fast, furious Clancy fare, fun even though you already know who wins.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18813-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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