Oddly interesting but unsatisfying, especially if one thinks about it too much.

READ REVIEW

THE NOEL STRANGER

Barely recovering from her now ex-husband’s arrest for bigamy, Maggie decides to buy a Christmas tree to cheer herself up and winds up meeting the sweet, sexy lot owner who sweeps her off her feet. Until she discovers he has a few dark secrets of his own.

Maggie is a Salt Lake City caterer who retreated from life after her husband was arrested for bigamy. Her friend Carina, who has taken over day-to-day operations for the company, encourages her to get out more or at least bring some life into her home. For instance, through a Christmas tree. When Maggie visits a local tree lot, she is immediately attracted to the owner, Andrew. The two become an item very quickly; he invites her to Mexico, they have an amazing time, they come back. Carina has Googled him. There are Things. To. Be. Concerned. About. Maggie abandons him. She reconsiders. He tells her the truth, then decides she’s too good for him and abandons her. People who love them intervene and try to save their romance. An aside: Maggie’s real name is Agnetha—after the woman in ABBA. Growing up in Oregon, her friends called her Aggie, but in Utah, she changed it to Maggie, since the Utah state university teams are called the Aggies and the name became tiresome. Does this aside sound random? Does the review sound a little choppy and simplistic? There’s a reason. While the book has witty and interesting moments, it reads at times like an encyclopedia of interesting facts (who knew a squid was so terrifying?) and at times like a travel site (readers will want to jump a flight to Cabo), and while we root for Andrew and Maggie, in the end, readers might also wonder lots of things, such as how Maggie wouldn’t have Googled Andrew herself, given all the mysterious clues he drops and her own vulnerabilities; or why Andrew never tells her the truth until he’s decided to abandon her; etc.

Oddly interesting but unsatisfying, especially if one thinks about it too much.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7205-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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