Although Kowalski (The Innocence Device, 2014, etc.) drives this brief tale toward an inevitable conclusion, it’s still an...

EPIC GAME

A professional poker player gets a surprising legacy from her only friend.

Kat Thomas learned to play poker from an expert: her own father. Although he carefully instructed her on how to read other people, how to bluff, how and when to go all in, and how to win, he lost almost everything of value in his life except for Kat. Since his death, the rule she’s embraced most completely is to play with her head and not her heart. The news of her friend Josie's death throws Kat off her game. Josie’s last wish was for her 10-year-old son, David, to stay with Kat for a month until his father could finish up some business abroad and collect him. Kat is stunned at the prospect of being even a temporary guardian. She knows nothing about children and has less feeling for them, and she’s trying to qualify for a big poker tournament in Vegas with a $1 million prize. As for David, who’s still in shock over losing the only parent he knows, he’s no happier with the arrangement than she is. But it doesn’t take long for the two to crack each other’s defenses. And when David’s father shows up early to collect him, Kat realizes that she may have been playing by the wrong rules all her life.

Although Kowalski (The Innocence Device, 2014, etc.) drives this brief tale toward an inevitable conclusion, it’s still an agreeable journey with a smart, sassy heroine who’s not nearly as tough as she likes to think she is.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4598-1049-5

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Raven Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2016

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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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Another artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer.

A THOUSAND SPLENDID SUNS

This Afghan-American author follows his debut (The Kite Runner, 2003) with a fine risk-taking novel about two victimized but courageous Afghan women.

Mariam is a bastard. Her mother was a housekeeper for a rich businessman in Herat, Afghanistan, until he impregnated and banished her. Mariam’s childhood ended abruptly when her mother hanged herself. Her father then married off the 15-year-old to Rasheed, a 40ish shoemaker in Kabul, hundreds of miles away. Rasheed is a deeply conventional man who insists that Mariam wear a burqa, though many women are going uncovered (it’s 1974). Mariam lives in fear of him, especially after numerous miscarriages. In 1987, the story switches to a neighbor, nine-year-old Laila, her playmate Tariq and her parents. It’s the eighth year of Soviet occupation—bad for the nation, but good for women, who are granted unprecedented freedoms. Kabul’s true suffering begins in 1992. The Soviets have gone, and rival warlords are tearing the city apart. Before he leaves for Pakistan, Tariq and Laila make love; soon after, her parents are killed by a rocket. The two storylines merge when Rasheed and Mariam shelter the solitary Laila. Rasheed has his own agenda; the 14-year-old will become his second wife, over Mariam’s objections, and give him an heir, but to his disgust Laila has a daughter, Aziza; in time, he’ll realize Tariq is the father. The heart of the novel is the gradual bonding between the girl-mother and the much older woman. Rasheed grows increasingly hostile, even frenzied, after an escape by the women is foiled. Relief comes when Laila gives birth to a boy, but it’s short-lived. The Taliban are in control; women must stay home; Rasheed loses his business; they have no food; Aziza is sent to an orphanage. The dramatic final section includes a murder and an execution. Despite all the pain and heartbreak, the novel is never depressing; Hosseini barrels through each grim development unflinchingly, seeking illumination.

Another artistic triumph, and surefire bestseller, for this fearless writer.

Pub Date: May 22, 2007

ISBN: 1-59448-950-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2007

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