A novel that glosses over some aspects of Swift’s life but adroitly portrays the world in which he made his mark.




Tucker (On a Darkling Plain, 2014) presents a work of historical fiction based on the life of the legendary Anglo-Irish writer Jonathan Swift.

At the outset of the story, set around 1676, famed satirist Swift is a precocious 9-year-old who’s being flogged for acting up in school. The youngster may be talented in Latin and Greek, but he’s also quite the prankster. Swift is 16 when he goes off to Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, where his passions include poetry, flirting, and, of course, more pranks. He graduates in 1686 with the embarrassing distinction on his diploma that he did so only “by special grace.” His precocity remains when he goes on to work for the writer Sir William Temple before striking out on his own. Swift becomes an Anglican priest, and in this role, he learns much about the poverty of Ireland. He earns a doctorate in divinity in 1702 and takes his talents to London, where he becomes a thorny satirist, unafraid of ruffling feathers. After gaining notoriety in the English capital, Swift goes back to Dublin, where he does his most famous work, including penning the novel Gulliver’s Travels and harshly criticizing English-Irish relations. Throughout Swift’s journey, readers are kept abreast of his love affairs—particularly his long, complicated relationship with a woman named Hetty Johnson, whom he called “Stella.” The book also details Swift’s associations with famous figures, such as Alexander Pope. Readers come to understand how Swift’s “talent makes him powerful” and to appreciate the dichotomy of a man who loved both God and ribald humor. Tucker’s version of the Swift story sometimes unfolds rather quickly, but at others, it’s a rather slow burn. For instance, the author extensively examines Swift’s awkward romantic relationships, but he gives some other elements short shrift, including the years that Swift spent getting his doctorate, for instance. This choice will leave readers with some questions about Swift’s life, although it does allow the book to focus on how the writer was perceived by others, exposing multiple facets of his famous persona. For example, Tucker presents a man who eloquently championed the poor but also once brutally beat his servant in a fit of rage. What truly steals the show here, though, is the author’s consideration of the time period that produced the famous figure that we know today. Swift’s writing was risky, but he was able to publish it anonymously; the publishers who printed it, however, could not hide behind false names, and as a result, they were open to reprimand. Modern readers in the United States, who are used to saying just about anything they like, will find that this book offers a deep exercise, indeed, imagining a world of dire consequence for satire. Swift’s success shows the triumph of the pen over the sword, but Tucker’s text dutifully reminds readers of just how dangerous that process was.

A novel that glosses over some aspects of Swift’s life but adroitly portrays the world in which he made his mark.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-60489-220-8

Page Count: 342

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 5, 2018

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.


A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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