Kirkus Interview

Elaine Kozak refers to herself as a “restless soul.” Even before publishing her debut novel, she already had several fascinating careers; she designed and sold information systems in the early days of the internet, worked on agreements and policy to expand international trade, and, most recently, founded her own winery. Twenty years ago, however, Kozak found that characters had camped out in her brain and were clamoring to have their stories told. Stealing hours away from her busy schedule, Kozak found time to bring those characters to the page with her murder mystery, Root Causes,and her upcoming release, The Lightouse, which centers around Leah Larson, a tortured young woman in New Mexico with more than her share of family drama.

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Kirkus Review for Rhapsody in a Minor Mode

Ayoung musician learns a secret that throws his life into disarray in Kozak’s novel.

Niels Larsen, a cellist, has always has wondered who his biological father was. He is stunned to learn from his newly discovered aunt that the most likely candidate, along with two others, drugged his then-teenaged mother and raped her. Learning he’s a product of sexual assault throws Niels for a loop, and he ends up dropping out of school during his final semester. He runs away from his family and friends in British Columbia, first cooking at a dive in Halifax, then on container ships. He travels to Seville, Spain—the hometown of his new work buddy, Daniel—and meets a man who changes his destiny. Tiago, an elderly busker, becomes his friend and mentor and introduces him to the world of flamenco (“The neck was warm and smooth in my hand. Despite needing tuning, the guitar’s tone was rich and darker than that of the others I had tried, as though it were coming from deep inside the instrument’s throat”). Suffering from cancer, Tiago leaves Niels in charge of his legacy, willing him some cassette tapes that turn out to be the only recordings of his original music. The author wisely builds her novel around the quirky Niels; he isn’t particularly relatable, but he is understandable. Niels had an odd upbringing, raised by his grandparents, both of whom are academics. A music nerd, he’s not the most socially adept individual—still, Niels is flexible and bold enough to handle whatever circumstances come his wayfrom fatherhood to creating a touring production. Kozak gives him the supporting cast he needs, including Tiago; his lesbian friend, Jax; and his ex-girlfriend, Aude. The book is well-researched and feels authentic. The satisfying story begins with Niels running away from a shock and eventually finds him running toward a brighter future.

An engaging story with winning characters and an absorbing backdrop.

Find full review here.

The Lighthouse featured in Booklist Magazine

The Lighthouse was featured in May’s edition of Booklist Magazine. These books are recommended by BlueInk Review, a fee-based review service devoted exclusively to self-published books. Every month, BlueInk compiles a list of their favorites for Booklist, as a service to librarians hoping to incorporate self-published work into their collections. Booklist brings this curated collection of the best in self-publishing for adults and youth to their audience.

BlueInk Review for The Lighthouse

The Lighthouse is richly detailed and beautifully told with many layers of history, viewpoints, and mysteries, each revealed and resolved with perfect timing. Kozak is a master of showing the characters’ inner lives and writing richly evocative scenes, such as when Leah first arrives at the Lighthouse, and “for a brief moment she felt her grandfather’s presence, like a muscle rippling under the grainy warmth of the structure’s adobe skin.”

Only two passages disappoint. The first is when, soon after Leah begins assimilating back into her family’s life, the narrative shifts to show the other family members’ histories and points of view, leaving readers wondering what’s happening in Leah’s life. The second arrives at a pivotal moment as Leah confronts a troubling person from her past; the scene and details are incomplete and rushed, making this crucial character seem two-dimensional, unlike the other fully rendered characters in the story.

Despite these lapses, The Lighthouse is a well-wrought, multi-generational family saga inhabited by people readers care about. Its tight plot, well-paced narrative, emotionally resonant characters, and rich language make it hard to put down.

Kirkus Review for The Lighthouse

After 10 years away, a 26-year-old woman returns home to confront her past and rediscover her family in Kozak’s (Root Causes, 2013) novel. 

While in a coffee shop, Leah Larsen does an online search for her parents—as she’s done every so often since running away from home at 16—and discovers that her mother has died. Using what little money she has left, Leah travels to Taos, New Mexico, returning to the family ranch and the prestigious resort that her late grandfather designed, the Lighthouse. There, she finds her beloved aunt and uncle; her father, who greets her with expected “condemnation and contempt”; and Niels, the son whom she’d abandoned after her teenage pregnancy. Another figure, who’s unfamiliar to Leah, is Theo Wilde, her older cousin who tends to the stables. He’s a bit of a black sheep, as she is—a handsome artist who leaves the care of his own young son mostly to his uncle. He immediately feels connected to Leah, the cousin he barely knew, and encourages her to stay. When Theo’s brother Ben also feels compelled to come home to help get the resort’s struggling finances in order, the entire family is together for the first time in a decade. Leah finds herself on a path to uncover deep truths about her own past and her family’s complicated history, all while experiencing motherhood and a surprising new romance. Throughout this novel, Kozak pays particular attention to setting, surrounding her characters with gorgeous mountain scenery and a ranch that’s layered with memories of departed family members; Leah can feel her grandfather’s presence, for instance, “rippling” beneath the walls. The family’s extensive wealth and privilege lowers the stakes, at times—there’s an embezzlement subplot, but there’s little worry that they’ll run out of money—and the book’s unexpected romantic connection may raise eyebrows. But Kozak has crafted warm, inviting, and thoughtful characters here; there’s family bickering, of course, but they mostly speak to one another with fierce intelligence and admirable honesty. Even in dark moments, it’s a pleasure to spend time with them.  

A peculiar but engrossing family drama, elevated by truly rich characters.

– Kirkus Reviews

Find full review here.

Kirkus Review for Root Causes

After her boyfriend is killed, a Canadian woman finds herself in danger and must unravel secrets from his past in Kozak’s debut mystery.

Clare Tamm is not a colorful woman. Tall and plain, she wears suits in neutral colors with white blouses, works in an accounting firm and looks forward mainly to financial independence. When she first starts dating Leo Barsoni, she notes, “I wondered at Leo’s lack of sexual interest in me, but wasn’t surprised.” The relationship gradually becomes more intimate, and after three years of dating, Leo asks her to move in. Leo dies in a car crash, and Clare believes her life “would revert to the dull plod it had been before.” But she learns that the crash was no accident and that Leo has left her some surprises: a lot of money and some property on South Salish Island. There, she is even more surprised to learn, he planned to start a vineyard. Clare makes friends among some islanders while being threatened by criminal figures; some of the thugs die violently near Clare, which raises police suspicion. Not trusting the authorities, she investigates Leo’s past for herself. Altogether, unassuming Clare is an unlikely heroine for a book with all the elements of a mystery—a woman in jeopardy, a mysterious legacy, buried secrets, money at stake, revenge and murder. But she does become a heroine—in a restrained, quiet way. Kozak writes well, skillfully managing characterization, plot and dialogue. Clare is a careful observer of scenes and people. Her inner spark is so quietly expressed though, she can seem drab. Her big moment, when she risks everything on a “crazy idea,” is far less dramatic than seemingly intended. Many novels would provide Clare with a substitute romantic interest. It’s an interesting choice to let her stand on her own.

A well-written mystery with a strong but restrained female lead.

– Kirkus Reviews

Find full review here.