A brilliant character study encased in a gripping plot with a fabulous final twist.


Walking across London after dark, an artist reviews her past and fears the future in McAfee’s pitch-black new novel.

Eve Laing grows and then paints plants in jewellike works that have garnered her some success but also condescension as a dainty, feminine artist. This infuriates her almost as much as the fame of her one-time friend, a confessional performance artist Eve dissed years ago with a widely reprinted wisecrack: “Wanda Wilson’s sole talent is for monstrous self-pity.” She’ll live to regret that remark in the jaw-dropping finale to a masterfully orchestrated narrative that fully justifies its pervasive atmosphere of lurking dread. When we meet Eve, she’s looking through the window of the town house where she used to live with her husband, Kristof. Eve left him five months ago, consumed by her new project and by Luka, the young assistant who has become her lover. At 60, Eve has decided to finally silence her patronizing critics with Poison Florilegium, a seven-panel depiction of deadly plants “lovely as their innocent sisters, venomous as snakes”; she views it as a tribute to “all those female artists…who laboured in the shadows.” As her memories unfold during her walk, we learn that Eve’s bitter determination stems from ancient wounds: an unhappy childhood, a humiliating affair with her famous art teacher, frustrations as a wife and mother. These injuries have rendered her both cruel and vindictive: “stringy Nancy, with her unfortunate recessive chin” is among Eve’s kindest comments about her daughter; and her revenge on an old friend who had a fling with Kristof is shockingly excessive. Eve isn’t meant to be likable—McAfee’s whip-smart text implicitly makes the point that no one objects to male artists being selfish and unkind—but she’s desperately human. We understand her rage and wince at her blindness to the dangers right under her nose in a text as studded with red-flag clues as it is with penetrating insights.

A brilliant character study encased in a gripping plot with a fabulous final twist.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65829-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2020

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.


Three woman who join together to rent a large space along the beach in Los Angeles for their stores—a gift shop, a bakery, and a bookstore—become fast friends as they each experience the highs, and lows, of love.

Bree is a friendly but standoffish bookstore owner who keeps everyone she knows at arm’s length, from guys she meets in bars to her friends. Mikki is a settled-in-her-routines divorced mother of two, happily a mom, gift-shop owner, and co-parent with her ex-husband, Perry. And Ashley is a young, very-much-in-love bakery owner specializing in muffins who devotes herself to giving back to the community through a nonprofit that helps community members develop skills and find jobs. When the women meet drooling over a boardwalk storefront that none of them can afford on her own, a plan is hatched to divide the space in three, and a friendship—and business partnership—is born. An impromptu celebration on the beach at sunset with champagne becomes a weekly touchpoint to their lives as they learn more about each other and themselves. Their friendship blossoms as they help each other, offering support, hard truths, and loving backup. Author Mallery has created a delightful story of friendship between three women that also offers a variety of love stories as they fall in love, make mistakes, and figure out how to be the best—albeit still flawed—versions of themselves. The men are similarly flawed and human. While the story comes down clearly on the side of all-encompassing love, Mallery has struck a careful balance: There is just enough sex to be spicy, just enough swearing to be naughty, and just enough heartbreak to avoid being cloying.

A book begging to be read on the beach, with the sun warming the sand and salt in the air: pure escapism.

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-778-38608-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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