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MISTER YAM

An alluring but uneven mystery in the Murakami mold.

A man searches for a missing friend in this debut novel.

Mister Yam—yes, he’s aware it’s a strange name—is a 25-year-old man from Malaysia with a corporate job in San Francisco. He isn’t as gung-ho about the business world as his friend Lorenzo de Medici, who is desperate to land a job—any job. One day, Mister Yam gets a phone call from a mysterious woman who makes fun of his name—“Are you the one they call the purple starch?”—before revealing that she knows far more than she should about his sandwich-making habits. Later, on a train, a bald stranger gives Mister Yam a wooden box that he claims he’s never been able to open. “Ciao,” says the man as he disembarks at the next stop. “And whatever you do, don’t get lost.” Not long after, Mister Yam learns that Lorenzo has vanished—in fact, he’s been missing for weeks. So begins a journey to connect these puzzling threads, one that leads Mister Yam through a string of encounters with unusual people in dive bars, ranches, and hotels. Can he follow the enigmatic trail of clues in order to discover what happened to his friend? Or is he simply being led on a wild goose chase into the madness of the American dream? Tan’s cerebral novel is reminiscent of Haruki Murakami both in its structure and its dreamlike prose, which is always surprising though sometimes difficult to follow in Mister Yam’s narration: “Perceptiveness was not an adjective I’d ever use to describe myself, but it was clear that something was off. Like cucumber on a steak, the mismatch was obvious. But if strangeness was the cucumber, then the silence was its sauce, which descended upon me as I sat in the deserted space.” The tale’s tone is charmingly offbeat, keeping readers invested despite how slowly the author dispenses information about the narrator and his quest. Even so, the audience will eventually become frustrated with the lack of direction. The story dawdles along to a twist ending that is neither satisfying nor even terribly original, and readers will be left feeling as though they are the ones who have been led on a wild goose chase.

An alluring but uneven mystery in the Murakami mold.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2021

ISBN: 979-8450939674

Page Count: 236

Publisher: Independently Published

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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HAPPY PLACE

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

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Exes pretend they’re still together for the sake of their friends on their annual summer vacation.

Wyn Connor and Harriet Kilpatrick were the perfect couple—until Wyn dumped Harriet for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. They’ve been part of the same boisterous friend group since college, and they know that their breakup will devastate the others and make things more than a little awkward. So they keep it a secret from their friends and families—in fact, Harriet barely even admits it to herself, focusing instead on her grueling hours as a surgical resident. She’s ready for a vacation at her happy place—the Maine cottage she and her friends visit every summer. But (surprise!) Wyn is there too, and he and Harriet have to share a (very romantic) room and a bed. Telling the truth about their breakup is out of the question, because the cottage is up for sale, and this is the group’s last hurrah. Determined to make sure everyone has the perfect last trip, Harriet and Wyn resolve to fake their relationship for the week. The problem with this plan, of course, is that Harriet still has major feelings for Wyn—feelings that only get stronger as they pretend to be blissfully in love. As always, Henry’s dialogue is sparkling and the banter between characters is snappy and hilarious. Wyn and Harriet’s relationship, shown both in the past and the present, feels achingly real. Their breakup, as well as their complicated relationships with their own families, adds a twinge of melancholy, as do the relatable growing pains of a group of friends whose lives are taking them in different directions.

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780593441275

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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