Oddly interesting but unsatisfying, especially if one thinks about it too much.

THE NOEL STRANGER

Barely recovering from her now ex-husband’s arrest for bigamy, Maggie decides to buy a Christmas tree to cheer herself up and winds up meeting the sweet, sexy lot owner who sweeps her off her feet. Until she discovers he has a few dark secrets of his own.

Maggie is a Salt Lake City caterer who retreated from life after her husband was arrested for bigamy. Her friend Carina, who has taken over day-to-day operations for the company, encourages her to get out more or at least bring some life into her home. For instance, through a Christmas tree. When Maggie visits a local tree lot, she is immediately attracted to the owner, Andrew. The two become an item very quickly; he invites her to Mexico, they have an amazing time, they come back. Carina has Googled him. There are Things. To. Be. Concerned. About. Maggie abandons him. She reconsiders. He tells her the truth, then decides she’s too good for him and abandons her. People who love them intervene and try to save their romance. An aside: Maggie’s real name is Agnetha—after the woman in ABBA. Growing up in Oregon, her friends called her Aggie, but in Utah, she changed it to Maggie, since the Utah state university teams are called the Aggies and the name became tiresome. Does this aside sound random? Does the review sound a little choppy and simplistic? There’s a reason. While the book has witty and interesting moments, it reads at times like an encyclopedia of interesting facts (who knew a squid was so terrifying?) and at times like a travel site (readers will want to jump a flight to Cabo), and while we root for Andrew and Maggie, in the end, readers might also wonder lots of things, such as how Maggie wouldn’t have Googled Andrew herself, given all the mysterious clues he drops and her own vulnerabilities; or why Andrew never tells her the truth until he’s decided to abandon her; etc.

Oddly interesting but unsatisfying, especially if one thinks about it too much.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7205-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Sept. 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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