A steadily escalating dual plot of romance and action enlivens this tale; a long and satisfying, genre-defying read.

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Touched by a Phoenix

A romantic thriller features a strong-willed corporate attorney’s clash with a genius surveillance expert.

The story of this debut novel centers on forceful and emotionally scarred Alexandria “Alexis” Saunders, senior corporate attorney for AAS, a company run by her father that specializes in providing communications and surveillance equipment and systems for the military. Byron performs a smoothly skillful job of making Alexis a believable combination of personal vulnerability and formidable intelligence. But this mix is so precariously balanced that it promptly begins to fall apart when Alexis meets Brad Scott, the company’s new senior executive vice president of technology and development, a sexy and charismatic genius with five degrees and a personal history almost as complicated as hers. The two experience the jolt of instantaneous attraction that’s standard issue for romance novels; neither is at all what the other expects, and that surprise fuels the highly charged intrigue they feel for each other. And although Byron not infrequently lapses into the purple prose of the genre (“she stole his breath and his heart with that one single kiss,” etc.), she keeps her narrative moving forward, weaving in complications. The breakthrough technology that Brad develops for AAS draws the attention of a host of well-organized enemy operatives. The tech-thriller aspects of the novel kick into high gear and yet manage to live comfortably alongside the escalating romantic heat between Alexis and Scott. The dialogue is often wooden (including internal musings: “If they gained access to the technology on Brad’s computer…They would have power…too much power!”), but the personal tension between the two leads makes up for a multitude of such oversteps, and Byron’s fanciful sci-fi elements are grounded enough to feel gripping. The Christian and mystical elements that come to the fore at the story’s climax feel forced, but as a first novel in a projected series, the book works with an infectious energy.

A steadily escalating dual plot of romance and action enlivens this tale; a long and satisfying, genre-defying read.

Pub Date: April 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-39203-4

Page Count: 606

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

THE HONEY-DON'T LIST

A toxic workplace nurtures an intoxicating romance in Lauren’s (The Unhoneymooners, 2019, etc.) latest.

Rusty and Melissa Tripp are the married co-hosts of a successful home-makeover show and have even published a book on marriage. After catching Rusty cheating on Melissa, their assistants, James McCann and Carey Duncan, are forced to give up long-scheduled vacations to go along on their employers' book tour to make sure their marriage doesn’t implode. And the awkwardness is just getting started. Stuck in close quarters with no one to complain to but each other, James and Carey find that the life they dreamed of having might be found at work after all. James learns that Carey has worked for the Tripps since they owned a humble home décor shop in Jackson, Wyoming. Now that the couple is successful, Carey has no time for herself, and she doesn’t get nearly enough credit for her creative contribution to their media empire. Carey also has regular doctor’s appointments for dystonia, a movement disorder, which motivates her to keep her job but doesn’t stop her from doing it well. James was hired to work on engineering and design for the show, but Rusty treats him like his personal assistant. He’d quit, too, but it’s the only job he can get since his former employer was shut down in a scandal. Using a framing device similar to that of Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, the story flashes forward to interview transcripts with the police that hint at a dramatic ending to come, and the chapters often end with gossip in the form of online comments, adding intrigue. Bonding over bad bosses allows James and Carey to stick up for each other while supplying readers with all the drama and wit of the enemies-to-lovers trope.

When a book has such great comic timing, it's easy to finish the story in one sitting.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3864-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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