A long but well written story of friendships and growth in the 20th century.

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STEFAN’S PROMISE

A sprawling debut novel focuses on two men and their perspective-shifting friendship.

This book opens in 1968, as Alan Young fails his United States Naval Reserve physical. But the ailment is minor and the prospect of being sent to Vietnam becomes a possibility. Alan throws himself into campaigning for Eugene McCarthy for president in the meantime and makes his way through the end of college with his friends, particularly Stefan Kopinski. When Alan is drafted after graduation, he declines his influential father’s attempts to find a safe role for him and decides to immigrate to Canada. He deals with the challenges of expatriate life, finds and loses new friends, and eventually marries Jeanne McCarran, the daughter of his Canadian mentor. After Jeanne gives birth to their daughter, Mary, Alan has a crisis of conscience and decides to return to America to stand trial for evading the draft. Jeanne follows him and makes a new life for herself in St. Louis, where the family settles after Alan is released from prison. The book’s second part follows Stefan, who heads to law school after college and gradually stops responding to Alan’s frequent letters. When Alan has a mental breakdown, Stefan reluctantly goes to see him. As he reconnects with Alan, he begins to reevaluate his life, including his relationships with his wife, ex-wife, and daughters. Ultimately, Stefan decides to leave his law firm to fight for the change he wants to see in the world.

Rennick is a thoughtful writer and makes insightful observations about men’s relationships with one another as well as exploring broader questions of commitment and obligation in employment and marriage. The tale’s omniscient narrator has a tendency to wrap the storytelling in various pronouncements (“The McCarthy campaign, weakening daily, was not so perceived by Alan, who remained optimistic and immensely dedicated”). These, along with the lengthy tangential dialogues on topics like Quebec’s independence movement, are well written, but may be too much at the periphery for readers who prefer a more concise narrative. (The book’s 546-page length is also assisted by a 20-page depiction of the dream that inspires Alan to accept his punishment for draft evasion and a detailed look at the inner life of the man who sues one of Stefan’s clients for employment discrimination.) Though some of the female characters eventually develop into well-rounded contributors to the overall plot, nearly all are introduced with an assessment of their physical attributes (“She had fine, firm hips and superbly proportioned thighs and calves”; “the shapely girl who was leading them to their seats”; “her bosom was large”; “her bulging breasts”; “unquestionably still an attractive woman, despite a rough menopause not quite played out”). For several women, their sexual availability is their defining characteristic. But the story’s principal players are for the most part thoroughly developed and exist to make substantive contributions to the plot and themes. Although the page count may deter some potential readers, the novel is on the whole an enjoyable read, and one that feels easier and much less daunting than it may seem at first glance.

A long but well written story of friendships and growth in the 20th century.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-948261-20-3

Page Count: 562

Publisher: Hugo House Publishers

Review Posted Online: March 13, 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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A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

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IN FIVE YEARS

After acing a job interview and accepting a marriage proposal, Dannie Kohan has had the perfect day. That is, until she awakens to find herself five years in the future with a completely different man.

Just one hour in that alternate reality shakes Dannie to her core. After all, highly ambitious Dannie and her boyfriend, David, have plotted out their lives in minute detail, and the sexy man in her dream—was it a dream?—is most certainly not in the script. Serle (The Dinner List, 2018) deftly spins these magical threads into Dannie’s perfectly structured life, leaving not only Dannie, but also the reader wondering whether Dannie time traveled or hallucinated. Her best friend, Bella, would delight in the story given that she thinks Dannie is much too straight-laced, and some spicy dreaming might push Dannie to find someone more passionate than David. Unfortunately, glamorous Bella is in Europe with her latest lover. Ever pragmatic, Dannie consults her therapist, who almost concurs that it was likely a dream, and throws herself into her work. Pleased to have landed the job at a prestigious law firm, Dannie easily loses her worries in litigation. Soon four and a half years have passed with no wedding date set, and Bella is back in the U.S. with a new man in her life. A man who turns out to be literally the man of Dannie’s dream. The sheer fact of Aaron Gregory’s existence forces Dannie to reevaluate her trust in the laws of physics as well as her decision to marry David, a decision that seems less believable with each passing day. And as the architecture of Dannie’s overplanned life disintegrates, Serle twists and twines the remnants of her dream into a surprising future.

A heartwarming portrait of a broken heart finding a little healing magic.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3744-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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