No surprises in this story of slow, achingly anticipated self-discovery, but the journey is engaging.

MONA IN THREE ACTS

Three episodes in a young woman’s life expose the parental pressures that shape her personality and the consequences as she moves into adulthood.

The long chain of cause and effect within families is exposed in all its subtle, cumulative force in Flemish author op de Beeck’s second novel, her first to be translated into English. Spanning some 25 years, it opens in 1976 with Mona, a 9-year-old middle-class girl, shut in the dark, a punishment inflicted by her strict mother, Agnes. But then Agnes dies in a car accident, and her withdrawn husband, Vincent, quickly remarries, delivering a needy, manipulative stepmother, Marie, to Mona and her young brother, Alexander. Sensitive Mona, constantly anxious not to disappoint or anger her parents, feels responsible for taking care of Alex and, later, her new half sister, Anne-Sophie—even, at times, Marie too. In the second section, Mona is 24, living independently and holding down a prestigious job in the theater. She has friends and a lover who’s an established writer, but people treat her poorly and she permits it, tolerating second-rate relationships rather than confronting them. The last section heralds change, as Vincent succumbs to a life-threatening illness and begins to open up to his daughter about his real affections, about Agnes’ abusive father, and about the circumstances of Mona’s birth. These revelations, and a stranger’s pointed advice—“We forget what we’re worth and don’t dare believe that we genuinely deserve something good”—help Mona to begin the process of change. It’s a simple, predictable scenario and a long one, but there are poignant moments, especially in the late scenes with Victor; and seeing boundaries finally being drawn brings perennial satisfaction.

No surprises in this story of slow, achingly anticipated self-discovery, but the journey is engaging.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-0544-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Amazon Crossing

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2019

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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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With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

LOVE AND OTHER WORDS

Eleven years ago, he broke her heart. But he doesn’t know why she never forgave him.

Toggling between past and present, two love stories unfold simultaneously. In the first, Macy Sorensen meets and falls in love with the boy next door, Elliot Petropoulos, in the closet of her dad’s vacation home, where they hide out to discuss their favorite books. In the second, Macy is working as a doctor and engaged to a single father, and she hasn’t spoken to Elliot since their breakup. But a chance encounter forces her to confront the truth: what happened to make Macy stop speaking to Elliot? Ultimately, they’re separated not by time or physical remoteness but by emotional distance—Elliot and Macy always kept their relationship casual because they went to different schools. And as a teen, Macy has more to worry about than which girl Elliot is taking to the prom. After losing her mother at a young age, Macy is navigating her teenage years without a female role model, relying on the time-stamped notes her mother left in her father’s care for guidance. In the present day, Macy’s father is dead as well. She throws herself into her work and rarely comes up for air, not even to plan her upcoming wedding. Since Macy is still living with her fiance while grappling with her feelings for Elliot, the flashbacks offer steamy moments, tender revelations, and sweetly awkward confessions while Macy makes peace with her past and decides her future.

With frank language and patient plotting, this gangly teen crush grows into a confident adult love affair.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-2801-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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