Evocative and thoughtful, but too thin to prove a success.

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A STUDENT OF LIVING THINGS

In the aftermath of a political murder, a young woman opts for vengeance in this thriller-paced family drama.

In the Washington, D.C., of a not-too-distant future, in the midst of mysterious bombings and red alerts and a Justice Department tightening the screws, law student Steven Frayn is shot on the steps of his university’s library. The FBI soon concludes that this was not just another random terrorist attack (cousin Bernard lost a leg to a bomb at a convenience store) but an assassination—someone wanted Steven dead. The murder unravels a close-knit family. Steven’s father retreats to the small hangar in the yard of their Bethesda home, where he is rebuilding an old plane—never mind that he doesn’t know how to fly. Mother Julia rants and makes suspect lists for the FBI. Uncle Milo decides what the family really needs is music, and so buys a piano. But it is the novel’s narrator, Steven’s sister Claire, who becomes embroiled in an unlikely plot to bring Steven’s killer to justice. A biology student (with a musty bedroom filled with dead and living things), Claire returns to school after the murder and (not so accidentally) meets Victor Duarte, a young radical who claims to have known Steven, and may have answers as to who killed him. The magnetic Victor convinces Claire that Benjamin Reed, a music student in Michigan and son of Charles Reed, head of the Justice Department, is Steven’s killer. Victor creates an elaborate plan to trap Benjamin, and Claire, in her shock and sorrow, can’t see the absurdity of the scheme. As Benjamin and Claire begin to exchange love letters of sorts—music that they compose—Claire begins to question what she knows about Victor, Steven and herself. Shreve’s storytelling, smart and economic, is in danger here of being too spare—her grand collection of characters is beautifully outlined, but not fully realized, and for a novel trading in emotional upheaval, that is no small flaw.

Evocative and thoughtful, but too thin to prove a success.

Pub Date: May 4, 2006

ISBN: 0-670-03758-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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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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