WONDERLAND

What starts as a creepy slow burn fizzles in the homestretch.

A plot of land becomes a family’s prison.

Ballet dancer Orla Moreau has long been the Moreau-Bennett clan’s breadwinner, but now that she’s 41, it’s time for her to retire and watch the kids while her husband, 38-year-old painter Shaw Bennett, pursues his dream. Nature inspires Shaw, and their money will go further up north, so they put their New York City co-op on the market and start house hunting. When a realtor shows them a dilapidated dwelling on six remote acres in the Adirondacks, they pass; although Shaw feels drawn to a 500-year-old Eastern white pine that occupies the property, an isolated fixer-upper isn’t what they had in mind. In the ensuing months, though, Shaw grows obsessed with the tree—dreaming about it, painting it—so when the price drops, they take the plunge and sink their savings into renovations. Orla, Shaw, and their children, 9-year-old Eleanor Queen and 4-year-old Tycho, move in after Thanksgiving, anticipating an idyllic winter in the country. Instead, Shaw turns manic and distant, Eleanor Queen senses an entity trying to communicate with her, and the homestead is beset by inexplicable phenomena. Attempts to leave are not only thwarted, but punished. Orla resolves to figure out what is tormenting her family and why, but she might not like the answer. Author Stage perfectly captures the fears and frictions that accompany household moves and career changes; indeed, her keen portrayal of domestic upset is what grounds the story and imparts verisimilitude. Regrettably, the book’s bigger emotional beats fail to resonate, blunting the tale’s impact, and a silly denouement further disappoints.

What starts as a creepy slow burn fizzles in the homestretch.

Pub Date: July 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-45849-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 28, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

THE FURY

More style than substance.

Michaelides takes a literary turn in his latest novel, employing an unreliable narrator, the structure of classical drama, and a self-conscious eye to dismantling the locked-room mystery.

The novel starts off with a murder, and with seven people trapped on an isolated Greek island lashed by a "wild, unpredictable Greek wind." The narrator, soon established as Elliot Chase, then zooms out to address the reader directly, introducing the players—most importantly movie star Lana Farrar. We meet her husband, Jason Miller, her son, Leo, and her friend Kate Crosby, a theater actress. We learn about her rise to fame and her older first husband, Otto Krantz, a Hollywood producer. We learn about Kate’s possibly stalling career and Leo’s plan to apply to acting schools against his mother’s wishes. We learn about Jason’s obsession with guns. And in fragments and shards, we learn about Elliot: his painful childhood; his May–September relationship with an older female writer, now dead; his passion for the theater, where he learned “to change everything about [himself]” to fit in. Though he isn't present in every scene, he conveys each piece of the story leading up to the murder as if he were an omniscient narrator, capable of accessing every character's interior perspective. When he gets to the climax, there is, indeed, a shooting. There is, indeed, a motive. And there is, of course, a twist. The atmosphere of the novel, set mostly on this wild Greek island, echoes strongly the classical tragedies of Greece. The characters are types. The emotions are operatic. And the tragedy, of course, leads us to question the idea of fate. Michaelides seems also to be dipping into the world of Edgar Allan Poe, offering an unreliable narrator who feels more like a literary exercise. As an exploration of genre, it’s really quite fascinating. As a thriller, it’s not particularly surprising.

More style than substance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2024

ISBN: 9781250758989

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

LAYLA

A unique story of transcendent love.

An aimless young musician meets the girl of his dreams only to have his newfound happiness threatened by several inexplicable—and possibly supernatural—events.

The story opens as Leeds Gabriel meets with a detective while his girlfriend, Layla, is restrained in a room one flight above them. Through the interview, readers learn that Leeds was wasting both his time and his musical talent playing backup for a small-town wedding troupe called Garrett’s Band when he spied Layla dancing her heart out to their mediocre music at a wedding. When Leeds approaches Layla, their connection is both instant and intense. A blissful courtship follows, but then Leeds makes the mistake of posting a picture of himself with Layla on social media. A former girlfriend–turned-stalker wastes no time in finding and attacking Layla. Layla spends months recovering in a hospital, and it seems the girl Leeds fell for might be forever changed. Gone is her special spark, her quirkiness, and the connection that had entranced Leeds months before. In a last-ditch effort to save their relationship, he brings Layla back to the bed-and-breakfast where they first met. When they get there, though, Leeds meets Willow, another guest, and finds himself drawn to her in spite of himself. As events unfold, it becomes clear that Willow will either be the key to saving Leeds’ relationship with Layla or the catalyst that finally extinguishes the last shreds of their epic romance. Told entirely from Leeds’ point of view, the author’s first foray into paranormal romance does not disappoint. Peppered with elements of mystery, psychological thriller, and contemporary romance, the novel explores questions about how quickly true love can develop, as well as the conflicts that can imperil even the strongest connections. Despite a limited cast of characters and very few setting changes, the narrative manages to remain both fast-paced and engaging. The conclusion leaves a few too many loose ends, but the chemistry between the characters and unexpected twists throughout make for a satisfying read.

A unique story of transcendent love.

Pub Date: Dec. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0017-8

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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