Lee’s smoothly competent writing can’t save this bland, by-the-numbers race to save the world.

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THE LINE BETWEEN

A prion disease originating at an Alaskan pig farm is causing people to lose their memories. One young woman holds the key to a cure.

It’s a cold winter’s day in rural Iowa when 22-year-old Wynter Roth is unceremoniously booted from the compound of apocalyptic cult New Earth as its founder, Magnus Theisen, looks on. Wynter is devastated, but luckily, Julie, her mother’s former best friend, offers her a home beyond New Earth’s formidable gates. Wynter was a small child when her mother brought her and her sister, Jaclyn, to New Earth, and she was never a thoroughly willing convert. Nonetheless, her faith in God has been inevitably shaped by the ravings of Magnus Theisen, a millionaire and self-styled prophet who has convinced his followers that the end is coming with all the fire and fury of a vengeful God behind it. Soon after Wynter leaves New Earth, people start falling ill with an affliction that causes a form of dementia, and society begins a slow, rolling collapse, helped along by cyberattacks by vaguely defined foreign threats. After Julie’s husband, Ken, conveniently an epidemiologist, is called away to help, Jaclyn—who is married to Magnus—shows up with tissue samples and implores Wynter to get them to a veterinarian in Colorado and get her 5-year-old daughter, Truly, out of New Earth. So, Wynter sets off across a chaotic, increasingly deadly landscape where she eventually meets up with Chase Miller, a handsome ex-Marine who offers help. The book’s strongest sequences, interspersed throughout, take place during Wynter’s formative years at New Earth. Wynter narrates, giving us an eye-opening look at how cults groom their faithful masses, and her integration back into the outside world feels realistic. Christian novelist Lee (Firstborn, 2017, etc.) offers a pragmatic, down-to-earth approach to faith, and Magnus is creepy enough to rival anything that prion disease can throw at poor Wynter. However, Lee misses an opportunity to put a unique spin on stale societal-collapse tropes, and Wynter’s travails will barely make seasoned genre readers flinch.

Lee’s smoothly competent writing can’t save this bland, by-the-numbers race to save the world.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4767-9862-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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