A novel written for and about mothers but not for the faint of heart; it offers no easy answers.

THE PUSH

A finely wrought psychological study of motherhood and inherited trauma.

Blythe stands outside, watching a perfect family as they move through the small joys of their Christmas Eve preparations. She has come to deliver her written story, one that occasionally includes flashbacks to her mother's and grandmother's lives, so that she may explain to this family—her former husband, his second wife, their child, and, most of all, Blythe’s own daughter—what went wrong. The book that unfolds is this novel, and while it begins with a college meet-cute between Blythe and Fox, it truly begins with the story of Etta, who “tried very hard to be the woman she was expected to be” but battled depression that eventually led to suicide, and her daughter, Cecilia, who left altogether when Blythe was 11. Interweaving memories of her life with Fox and their daughter, Violet, with the memories and voices of these two women is meant to establish a pattern: Because she comes from a line of struggling mothers, Blythe herself could only expect to struggle as a mother, and struggle she does. Violet is a difficult baby who becomes a troubled child, but Fox sees little evidence of her problems and blames Blythe for not loving her enough. When they have a son who dies in infancy, in a terrible accident, their marriage falls apart. Blythe continues to worry for, and even fear, Violet, and then her loneliness drives her to befriend Fox’s new wife. Her delivery of the pages of her story on that frosty Christmas Eve is meant as both repentance and warning; she fears that Gemma and Fox’s son could be in danger from Violet.

A novel written for and about mothers but not for the faint of heart; it offers no easy answers.

Pub Date: Jan. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-98-488166-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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A poignant and lyrical novel that asks what is worth sacrificing for peace—and provides some answers.

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NORTHERN SPY

Berry delivers a taut and compassionate thriller as young mother Tessa is drawn into working as a double agent in the Irish Republican Army to protect her sister.

It's been years since the Good Friday Agreement was signed, but tensions in Northern Ireland remain at a constant simmer. Tessa moves through the simple motions of her life: taking care of her infant son, working at the BBC News Belfast bureau, spending time with her mother and sister. The physical isolation and beauty of her home village hint at the possibility of a world in which one doesn’t always have to be alert for terrorists; Tessa is old enough, however, to remember the Troubles, and she fears that the IRA will never truly surrender. Still, it comes as a shock at work one day when she sees a video of her sister participating in an IRA robbery. But even more shocking is the revelation that comes from Marian herself once she is able to reach out to Tessa: She's been a member of the IRA for seven years, drawn in by their talk about economic inequality, and has recently begun feeding information to MI5 in order to create space for peace talks. After a bomb she created for the IRA failed to blow up, though, she's under constant surveillance and can no longer meet with her British handler. And so Tessa joins her sister as a double agent: She's accepted by Marian’s crew and asked to do increasingly dangerous tasks for the IRA, which she then reports to her handler. Days of espionage are balanced by quiet moments with her son as Tessa comes to realize that putting herself in danger is justified, even necessary, if she wants him to grow up in a safer Ireland. Berry's use of short chapters, often divided into several smaller episodes, is particularly effective in reflecting Tessa's fragmented sense of loyalty and safety. This is not a book of action, though there is plenty, but instead a greater reflection on personal choice and consequence.

A poignant and lyrical novel that asks what is worth sacrificing for peace—and provides some answers.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-73-522499-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2021

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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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