After telling Barbara a sad story, Seiji introduces her to the concept of awaré—“graceful sorrow.” It’s an apt description...

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PLUM WINE

A story of love and secrets in postwar Japan.

It’s 1966, and an American student named Barbara Jefferson is teaching English classes at a Japanese college. When the story begins, Nakamoto Michiko—Barbara’s closest friend in Japan, and her foster-mother—has died, leaving the young woman a strange inheritance: a case of plum wine. Barbara soon discovers that the papers in which the bottles are sealed is covered in calligraphy, and, once they’re translated, learns the story of Michi’s life. She also falls in love with Okada Seiji, the man she turns to for help with the translation. Their relationship is overshadowed by the fact that Seiji is hibakusha: He survived the attack on Hiroshima, and the resulting guilt and ignominy still poison his spirit. Barbara learns that Michi was a survivor, too—a truth the older woman concealed when she was alive. Everyone in this book has a secret, a private hurt or a hidden shame, but Davis-Gardner is not interested in melodrama. Even the most disturbing revelations are dispassionately delivered; they create a deep and quiet resonance, rather than cheap sensation. For example, Barbara is shocked to learn that hibakusha are ostracized—that they’re punished for being the innocent victims of an atrocity. Davis-Gardner does not turn this fact of postwar life into an indictment of Japanese mores. Instead, she situates the survivors’ silence within the more general code of honor and restraint that defines so much of Japanese culture. This reticence—the influence of which is also felt in the author’s unadorned prose style—provides a powerful, affecting counterpoint to the overwhelming reality of Hiroshima. It also offers a salutary alternative to the American literary tradition of telling all until it’s fit for the daytime talk-show circuit.

After telling Barbara a sad story, Seiji introduces her to the concept of awaré—“graceful sorrow.” It’s an apt description for the feeling that suffuses this elegant, moving novel.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-299-21160-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Terrace Books/Univ. of Wisconsin Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2006

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Another success for the publishing phenom.

UNDER CURRENTS

An abused boy fights back, escapes, then returns as an attorney to his beloved hometown, but just as he’s falling in love with a transplanted landscaper, a series of attacks from shadowy enemies jeopardizes their happiness.

“From the outside, the house in Lakeview Terrace looked perfect.” Which of course means that it wasn't. We're introduced to the horrifying Dr. Graham Bigelow, who beats his wife and, increasingly as the boy gets older, his son, Zane. On the night of Zane’s prom, a particularly savage attack puts him and his sister in the hospital, and his father blames Zane, landing him in jail. Then his sister stands up for him, enlisting the aid of their aunt, and everything changes, mainly due to Zane’s secret diaries. Nearly 20 years later, Zane leaves a successful career as a lawyer to return to Lakeview, where his aunt and sister live with their families, deciding to hang a shingle as a small-town lawyer. Then he meets Darby McCray, the landscaper who’s recently relocated and taken the town by storm, starting with the transformation of his family’s rental bungalows. The two are instantly intrigued by each other, but they move slowly into a relationship neither is looking for. Darby has a violent past of her own, so she is more than willing to take on the risk of antagonizing a boorish local family when she and Zane help an abused wife. Suddenly Zane and Darby face one attack after another, and even as they grow ever closer under the pressure, the dangers become more insidious. Roberts’ latest title feels a little long and the story is slightly cumbersome, but her greatest strength is in making the reader feel connected to her characters, so “unnecessary details” can also charm and engage.

Another success for the publishing phenom.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20709-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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