On message, but with refreshing subtlety.


Indian author Nair’s first US publication offers a quietly powerful feminist message in the story of a middle-aged spinster, one who finds the courage and support to live independently as she and her fellow passengers on an overnight train share their stories.

Like so many travelers linked by chance and circumstance—here the six-berth overnight Ladies Coupe—the women tell their stories to pass the time, while Akhila, the protagonist, listens and adds her contributions. Now 45, Akhila gave up her education when her father died and she became the family breadwinner. She’s spent her life providing for them and now is taking a vacation to decide what she should do with the time left to her. Her siblings are shocked that she wants to live alone—she should be with the family, contributing her salary to their well-being—but Akhila is tired of their greed and self-absorption, and wants to live as she pleases. Listening to the other women, Akhila soon realizes that her feelings are not unusual. Between each story, Akhila adds her own: her brief affair with Hari, a younger man; a Christian friend who introduced her to eggs, a food her devout Hindu family thought unclean; and her thwarted efforts to live alone after her mother’s death. The first passenger’s tale is told by the elderly Janaki, who recalls how a visit to her son convinced her to live only for her husband, whom she loved deeply, rather than her selfish children. Sheela, a teenager, remembers her closeness to her imperious grandmother, who has just died; Margaret, a chemistry teacher, describes how she finally got even with her tyrannical, and possibly perverted, husband; wealthy Prabha, a wife and mother, tells of recapturing her independence when she learned to swim; and Mari, who was raped as a teenager, relates how she hated the son she bore as a result, even indenturing him to gain money, until she was ashamed of what she had done. As the journey ends, Akhila is ready to act.

On message, but with refreshing subtlety.

Pub Date: July 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-312-32087-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2004

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


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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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...


Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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