An often moving story of recovery and rebirth, but one that’s weighed down by excessive detail and dialogue.

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Cloud at Dawn

A NOVEL BY TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY SURVIVOR

A survivor of a traumatic brain injury traces the path of a woman’s life before and after an accident in Xiao’s debut novel.

Mary, 39, is idling in the midst of a drawn-out divorce in California’s Silicon Valley. She’s interested in a film career, and she takes it as a sign when a teacher tells her it doesn’t matter what you know in Hollywood but “who you know.” After she’s reminded of a friend who’d dreamed of making a film but never did so, she finds a connection in Los Angeles to help her. After she moves to LA, she’s set up with a man named Mike. The two quickly fall into a romance, but it isn’t long before it sours: the strong-willed, reckless Mike breaks up with her at Disney World but still pursues her, even after stating that he wants to see other people. His actions later cause a life-defining change; he crashes his car while driving them home from the Renaissance Faire, and Mary sustains a traumatic brain injury. Afterward, she’s plagued by double vision, short-term memory loss, and numbness on her left side. Once released from the hospital, Mike takes sexual advantage of her and then kicks her out. Her new life is filled with PTSD-fueled fantasies of vengeance against Mike, dulled only by visions of angels who swoop in to soothe her. It takes her years to recover, but she eventually begins the journey toward making a film about her life. Xiao offers an uplifting and overwhelmingly comprehensive narrative of Mary’s accident and its aftermath, often told in long passages of uninterrupted conversation. Mike and Mary, in particular, read as complex and real. However, the book’s overreliance on dialogue renders other characters flat; a tighter focus on plot would have lended it much-needed tension. As is, the story meanders until the car accident radically shifts the pace halfway through the novel. After that point, though, the author effectively shows how Mary’s resilience and bright spirit allow for an inspiring, battle-born woman to emerge.

An often moving story of recovery and rebirth, but one that’s weighed down by excessive detail and dialogue.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 222

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2016

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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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