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THE MONK UPSTAIRS

Farrington has offered some lively, character-driven fare in the past; this time around is dismal.

An aimless sequel to The Monk Downstairs (2002) begins with the marriage of Mike, the former monk, to Rebecca, his artsy landlady.

It seems things may not bode well for the couple when Mike is late for the wedding—he was off in the woods praying while the full church was waiting—but Rebecca doesn’t seem to mind; she’s just glad he hasn’t backed out of the nuptials. The two are then off to Hawaii for their honeymoon, where they have a fine time, except when they argue. Once they return to San Francisco, Mike tries to find a job—not easy when you’ve spent the past 20 years in monastic contemplation—while Rebecca carries on with her graphic-design business and raising seven-year-old sweetie Mary Martha. Sound rather plotless? It is. The few points of conflict—Mike brings Mary Martha to church (despite Rebecca’s distrust of Catholicism); ex-husband Rory has demolished their kitchen as part of a remodeling (and pot-induced) “surprise”; Mike displays an inability to engage in normal friendships—are resolved quickly. There are a few references to Mike’s kindness, but he, like all the characters, lacks the weight or charisma needed to propel a story dependent on character. The one exception is Rebecca’s mother, Phoebe. Having had a stroke, she begins to falter mentally and physically, until she longs for a peaceful death. There is much Bible-quoting, and it is apparent that Farrington is creating a kind of discourse about the place of God in a secular world. Unfortunately, his conduit for the discussion—the bland, embarrassingly self-centered Mike—is a poor choice. Instead, there is a lot of talk about Phoebe reaching a peace with death, and Rebecca accepting the changes in her life. But it’s relayed in so tepid a tone, that it feels more like approaching sleep than meditation.

Farrington has offered some lively, character-driven fare in the past; this time around is dismal.

Pub Date: May 8, 2007

ISBN: 0-06-081516-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2007

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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