Making a strong return to the Eastern European setting of his acclaimed novel The Glass Room (2009), British author Mawer...

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PRAGUE SPRING

During the calm before the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, two European couples in Prague get caught up in the era's false promise of love and freedom.

Oxford students James Borthwick and Eleanor Pike visit Prague on a whim while hitchhiking across Europe. He's a first-year science student from the north of England; she's a strong-willed socialist with a classier background who's studying English in her second year. The other couple consists of Prague-based British diplomat Sam Wareham and local student and part-time journalist Lenka Konecková. Separated from his girlfriend in the diplomatic service, Sam becomes smitten with Lenka and her beauty and youthful spirit. Much of the book tells the story of the twosomes on parallel tracks. For a long stretch, relatively minor concerns such as James' insecurity in his romantic pursuit of Ellie are front and center, with occasional timeouts for brief lessons in Czechoslovak history. But Mawer (Tightrope, 2012, etc.), playing a neat cat-and-mouse game with the reader, gradually turns up the temperature of the novel, shaking us out of our comfort zones with a surge of dark events. Into Sam's reluctant care falls a world-famous Russian pianist who pleads for asylum for himself and his violinist girlfriend. As the Soviet threat intensifies and Czechoslovak leader Alexander Dubcek's bold promise of "socialism with a human face" fades, the characters' personal lives and the past traumas that inform them are put in a new perspective. "What had Lenka and her friends, with their 15 minutes of freedom, imagined would happen?" comments the third-person narrator. "This was reality. The last eight months had been but a dream."

Making a strong return to the Eastern European setting of his acclaimed novel The Glass Room (2009), British author Mawer limns the Cold War to affecting and ultimately chilling effect.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-59051-966-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Other Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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

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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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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