An intriguing but dense philosophical tale with supernatural elements.

HIDDEN IN THE FLOWERS

A Japanese teenager in Texas discovers a strange connection to a missing person case in this philosophical novel.

When Japanese exchange student Hanabusa Saichi lands in Texas, he feels every inch a foreigner. Despite his severe anxiety, he’s decided to come to America for his freshman year of high school in hopes that the change of environment will help him break out of his shell. His new temporary home is the city of McKinney, Texas, and the Greenes are his host family: police officer Richard and his wife, Sandra; daughter, Kate; and son, Eric. The suburban charm of McKinney belies the ominous shadow looming over the city: four recent disappearances that the police believe could be the work of a kidnapper. Saichi becomes particularly interested in the case when, during one of his long walks, he discovers a hidden glen of flowers in the nearby forest. The glen not only feels like home in a way that no other place ever has before, but among the flowers Saichi also receives visions—including one regarding the fate of one of the missing people: Lauren Winters. As Saichi grows closer to the Greene children, he becomes increasingly obsessed with the case. Were these kidnappings, murders, or even suicides? When Eric disappears, solving the mystery becomes Saichi’s single concern. He wants to find Eric and protect Kate: “The answer presented itself boldly for him to make into his reason for being; he thought, if I can save Kate and Eric, then I’ll be able to save everyone else, including myself. Every mistake made before could be undone if he could triumph over the darkness of the world here.” Can the secret of the disappearances lead Saichi to the greatest mystery of all: understanding why he’s always felt out of place in the world?

Jordan’s prose is categorized by long, ornate passages deftly describing both the physical setting and Saichi’s psychological state: “Standing there just past the willow leaves he’d parted, Saichi hesitated to step in any further for fear of trampling on any individual member of the beautiful world he’d stumbled upon; to leave his mark in this negative manner would surely tarnish his heart forevermore.” While the premise is a captivating one, the novel turns out to be not a mystery so much as a ruminative exploration of Saichi’s conflicted psyche. The story crawls along at a pace that seems almost engineered to frustrate readers. (The first half-dozen pages are devoted to the last few minutes of Saichi’s flight from Los Angeles to Dallas, during which almost no information about him is given, but three separate announcements by the pilot are included in full.) For all the psychology, there is little recognizable humanity to be found: Even within the claustrophobic Greene household, Saichi feels like a brain floating by itself in a void. The other characters are flat and ghostly. The book is over 300 pages and manages to somehow feel twice that length. In forsaking accessible characters or a compelling story, the author leaves readers few reasons to stick it out to the end.

An intriguing but dense philosophical tale with supernatural elements.

Pub Date: Jan. 24, 2021

ISBN: 979-8-58-836220-7

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: March 24, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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