A coming-of-age and kidnapping story that is certain of its characters but confused about its identity.

What Happened to Clara?

Halleson (The Origin of Fear, 2015, etc.) makes picturesque Wisconsin farmland the backdrop of disturbing crimes in this novel.

As Silje Reiersen grows from adolescence to young adulthood in the 1950s, she shares the same concerns as most of the girls in her rural Wisconsin area: her grades, her shifting friendships with female classmates, and her growing interest in boys. Silje chafes at the restrictions in her life, such as the loneliness of existence on her farm and her Norwegian-American family’s taboos against showing emotion. She escapes into books, imagining the day that she can flee for good into the world outside of the farm. Her imagination also causes moments of paralyzing fear, such as when her mind runs wild with terrible possibilities on a night when her parents are late coming home from a trip. But she has reason for her trepidations to be concrete. Children and teens keep disappearing from all over Wisconsin. Unbeknown to their parents, or to the authorities, they are being kidnapped by multiple individuals who take advantage of their victims’ isolation and funnel the captives to larger child-trafficking rings in Chicago. As Silje ages, the abductions start hitting closer and closer to home, until it seems like anyone, even Silje, could be next. Halleson clearly has a strong understanding of the Norwegian-Americans who populate her novel, and their depictions seem extremely authentic. She’s equally skilled at representing the criminal mind, and the passages from the perspective of a kidnapper are chilling. But these talents are at odds with each other, to the point that it seems that two separate novels, a coming-of-age story and a thriller, are happening simultaneously. The work tries to force a connection between the narratives, as when Silje learns how to drive the family tractor a few pages after a kidnapper calls his victim a “prize heifer,” but the two agricultural references only highlight the plotlines’ stark differences. It is unclear if the book’s focus is meant to be Silje’s experiences of growing up in the country or an increasingly implausible abduction yarn that seems custom-made for a “stranger danger” public service announcement. Either would make an absorbing tale, but together they are discordant.

A coming-of-age and kidnapping story that is certain of its characters but confused about its identity.

Pub Date: July 1, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 152

Publisher: Gjerda Media

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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IT ENDS WITH US

Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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