A plodding and confusing story that’s hampered by a lack of believability and awkward prose.

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WHAT ARE THE ODDS?

THE CALCULUS OF COINCIDENCE

A young man meticulously plans a yearslong plot to avenge his mother’s abuse at the hands of a powerful political figure.

Marci Davis is on the fast track to success. The Louisville native is among the first African American women to earn a degree from the University of Kentucky in the 1950s. She becomes a “key aide” to the state’s governor, Bentley Wellington, but this comes to an end after he brutally rapes and impregnates her. She moves to New Jersey to start a new life, even changing her name to Marci Davis Jeffries. Much later, in 1975, she tells her son, Sean, the truth about his conception, and he devotes himself to exacting revenge on his mother’s behalf. His plan is exasperatingly convoluted, however, which is typical of Hilliard’s meandering, ill-disciplined narrative. It involves Sean’s acquiring “an intimate working knowledge of the thoroughbred racing industry” in order to strike at the Wellingtons’ most successful holdings, “one of the premier breeding operations in the nation.” Even when the Wellington business empire falls on hard times, the breeding business is still a shining success, although Beau Bentley, Sean’s half brother, threatens to destroy it himself through his illegal financial dealings. Meanwhile, Jorge Hauptmann, one of Sean’s friends, discovers that the father who abandoned him as a child, Fabian, worked undercover against the Nazis during World War II and that his mother, Gretchen, was a Nazi collaborator. Jorge is reunited with his dad after Fabian learns that Gretchen is under threat from a “domestic far-right-wing political group with neo-Nazi elements.” These two seemingly incongruent storylines eventually intersect in a thoroughly unbelievable manner. Hilliard’s literary ambition is certainly impressive. Over the course of this book, he constructs a generationally sweeping tale and attempts to bind its disparate parts together with a single overarching theme: the corrosive power of family secrets. However, the story is excessively and frustratingly complex—there are far too many subplots, and the author’s seemingly endless cast of characters becomes a burden to the reader. As a result, the novel reads like a collection of short stories that seem to be connected by only the slightest of threads. Also, the author practically buries the reader under mountains of detail that are incidental to the story at hand. At one point, for example, he provides the biographies of a company’s board members; later on, he describes, with excruciating thoroughness, an official document that must be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. To make matters worse, the prose doesn’t generate any feelings of authentic passion; instead of a vibrant human drama, it feels more like a still-life painting. This passage from a sex scene, for instance, somehow manages to be simultaneously lurid and mechanical: “ ‘Give it to me hard!...Piledrive me!...Ahhhhhhh!’ And then it was over. The sexual fireworks he’d just experienced set a really high bar for the pyrotechnics to come outside.”

A plodding and confusing story that’s hampered by a lack of believability and awkward prose.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-977217-59-2

Page Count: 332

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2020

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A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

GHOSTED

In Walsh’s American debut, a woman desperately tries to find out why the man she spent a whirlwind week with never called.

Sarah has just separated from her American husband and is visiting her hometown in England when she meets Eddie. He’s kind and charming, and although they only spend one week together, she falls in love. When he has to leave for a trip, she knows they’ll keep in touch—they’re already making plans for the rest of their lives. But then Eddie never calls, and Sarah’s increasingly frantic efforts to contact him are fruitless. Is he hurt? Is he dead? As her friends tell her, there’s a far greater likelihood that he’s just blowing her off—she’s been ghosted. After trying to track Eddie down at a football game, Sarah starts to become ashamed of herself—after all, she’s almost 40 years old and she’s essentially stalking a man who never called her. But as Sarah slowly learns, she and Eddie didn’t actually meet randomly—they both have a connection to an accident that happened years ago, and it may have something to do with why he disappeared. The tension quickly amps up as the secrets of Eddie’s and Sarah’s pasts are revealed, and the truth behind their connection is genuinely surprising and heartbreaking. The barriers between Sarah and Eddie seem insurmountable at times, and although their issues are resolved in a tidy manner, the emotions behind their actions are always believable. Walsh has created a deeply moving romance with an intriguing mystery and a touching portrait of grief at its heart.

A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52277-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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