A compelling and poignant journey of self-discovery that spans continents and generations.

MADRID AGAIN

A Spanish American professor uncovers her rich family history in Maura’s novel.

In the 1960s, Odilia falls for a man named Zimmerman after she attends one of his lectures in Madrid. She finds out that they were both raised in Spain, but the rest of Zimmerman’s background remains mysterious. Rumors suggest that he works for the CIA, partly because he spends considerable time in the United States. After a whirlwind courtship, he convinces Odilia to move with him to upstate New York, where she serves as his teaching assistant at a small college. They marry, and Odilia gives birth to Lola—the narrator, who later becomes a professor herself; she relates the story of her parents over the course of the novel. Soon after Lola’s birth, Zimmerman disappears. Lola and her mother live in small-town Vermont and then in Massachusetts, frequently visiting Odilia’s family in Spain. Lola struggles without a father figure: “I secretly hoped he was dead, because that was the only excuse that would justify the fact that he was not with us.” As an adult, she pieces together her family history—learning, for example, that her father was in fact a prominent anti-fascist and a member of the CIA’s Congress for Cultural Freedom. The depiction of Odilia’s background feels rushed, with quite a bit of summary, but the novel shines when Lola narrates her own life. Maura vividly captures Lola’s multifaceted childhood, as in this description of her grandmother’s kitchen, where the cook pummels veal cutlets with “the menacing blows of her large gray stone, shaped like a rather flat Idaho potato.” By comparison, New England, where the adults “seem sad” and “have cottage cheese for lunch,” feels bleak, indeed. There’s a well-crafted moment when Lola is on a flight to Spain, during which she clutches motion sickness bags, chews Dramamine pills, and resents the smell of “American brewed coffee…that wafted out of the airborne kitchenette.” It’s a stunning sequence that effectively dramatizes her conflicted feelings about the two countries she calls home.

A compelling and poignant journey of self-discovery that spans continents and generations.

Pub Date: Nov. 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-951627-12-6

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Arcade

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

NEVER

A complex, scary thriller that feels too plausible for comfort.

Republican President Pauline Green is trying to steer the United States through a dangerous world. China spends billions in Africa to extend its global influence, while North African countries like Chad are beset by criminals and terrorists. But that’s secondary to the real problem: Rebels in North Korea try to overthrow the Communist dynasty and reunite the North and South, which scares the bejesus out of China. They fear the peninsula’s reunification, “a euphemism for takeover by the capitalist West.” The Chinese believe America and Europe want to destroy China “and would stop at nothing," so the last thing they need is a bordering nation with West-leaning sympathies. And domestically, Green faces “blowhard” wannabe president Sen. James Moore, who thinks there’s no point in having nukes if you won’t use them. Even her personal life is complicated: Her husband “was a good lover, but she had never wanted to tear his clothes off with her teeth.” In fact, the first spouses are quietly drifting apart. Yet she “could not fall in love” with another man. “It would be a hurricane, a train crash, a nuclear bomb.” Speaking of which, both superpowers have ironclad commitments to protect their allies, even if some crazy third parties get their hands on nuclear weapons. Will China and the U.S. be drawn into all-out war neither wants? This novel deals with the same great-power issues as Elliot Ackerman and James Stavridis’ recent 2034, and both will give you the willies. Follett could have cut back on the North African subplot and delivered a tighter yarn, but then you mightn’t have learned that “a helicopter glides like a grand piano.” Anyway, that’s Follett: You’ll be so absorbed in the story threads that you’ll follow them anywhere—and you’ll suddenly realize you’ve read hundreds of pages.

On one level, it’s great entertainment; on another, a window into a sobering possibility.

Pub Date: Nov. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-59-330001-5

Page Count: 816

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2021

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