This enjoyable Yuletide tale deserves a place under many a Christmas tree.

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THE NOEL LETTERS

The latest addition to the author’s Noel Collection is chock-full of holiday spirit.

Noel Book is a New York City book editor who’s named after her birthday. She flies to Salt Lake City to visit her estranged father, Robert Book, before he dies of cancer and stay with him until his passing. Sadly, he dies hours before her arrival. “He tried to hold on for you,” her father’s friend says. “His last words were ‘Tell Noel I’m sorry.’ ” She desperately wants to return to New York, but then she's fired from her job while still in Utah. Meanwhile, she inherits Dad’s beloved bookstore and $1 million of life insurance along with his house and everything in it, “including all his personal belongings, which includes his automobile, his Lladró and rare book collection.” Now “he’d created roots to keep me here. Roots or chains?” She is an angry woman who thinks God (if such there be) hates her. She’d rejected her father’s love after her mother's death in a car accident years earlier, and in “the last two months I’d lost my marriage, my apartment, my father, and now my job.” Next, she breaks off a budding romantic relationship and alienates Dad’s devoted friends. “You spread pain everywhere you go,” she’s told. In a word, she’s being a jerk. Luckily, Dad’s love was unconditional. He’d had a thriving business, a life surrounded by the books he loved, and friends who loved him deeply. In his final days, he wants his daughter to be happy. Throughout the story, she receives a series of wisdom-filled anonymous letters, handwritten in feminine script and signed “Tabula Rasa.” Who could be sending them? The reader will guess, but Noel guesses wrong. There’s a Dickensian arc that will make readers break out the eggnog and Christmas cookies. It evokes Tiny Tim’s exhortation: “God bless us, every one.”

This enjoyable Yuletide tale deserves a place under many a Christmas tree.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-2960-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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ANXIOUS PEOPLE

Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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