Alam captures something truthful and essential about the push-pull of friendship—the desire for closeness as well as the...

RICH AND PRETTY

This debut novel about two close childhood pals trying to maintain a friendship as their adult paths gradually diverge has an amiable familiarity.

Lauren and Sarah have been BFFs since sixth grade, when Lauren, an 11-year-old from a middle-class New Jersey family, snagged a scholarship to a fancy private school in Manhattan and was immediately befriended by popular Sarah, her ambassador to the world of the wealthy. Sarah is rich. Lauren is pretty. Sarah volunteers for worthy projects and works part time in a charity thrift store, goes to the gym, lunches with friends, has Sunday night dinner with her conservative political adviser father and her mother, a retired singer of moderate renown, in their large, eclectically elegant home. Lauren lives in a tiny yet stylish Brooklyn apartment and ekes out a modest living in book publishing, slowly climbing the editorial ladder and, for a while anyway, bedding the temp. Sarah lives in a Manhattan two-bedroom with a foyer, a separate kitchen and ample closet space (ah, fiction) and is busily planning her wedding to her doctor fiance—trying on dresses, sampling slices of cake. Lauren, her maid of honor, is uninterested in committing to a romantic relationship and not above a casual tryst with, say, a waiter at a resort hotel during Sarah’s pre-wedding girlfriend getaway. These women still understand each other in a way no one else may, but they’ve drifted apart since the days of middle school sleepovers, high school and college parties, and a stint as post-college roomies. “Things change, in life—of course they do,” Alam writes, of Sarah’s perspective. “People grow up, become interested in new things, new people. Our way of being in the world is probably a lot less fixed than most people think. But Lauren is a part of her world, and she’s a part of Lauren’s.” Lauren, though, wonders if her friendship with Sarah has survived solely by “force of habit.” Although Alam seems to have no deep new insight to share and his story is thin on plot, his characters are real and rounded enough to escape being entirely cliché, and he displays a robust understanding of and affection for the nuances of female friendships as they evolve over time.

Alam captures something truthful and essential about the push-pull of friendship—the desire for closeness as well as the space to define ourselves—and admirably resists the urge to look down on his characters.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-242993-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2016

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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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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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