A scattershot and thematically confusing collection.

UNDER SONORAN SKIES

PROSE AND POETRY FROM THE HIGH DESERT

Six Arizona-based authors present an anthology of poetry, essays and short fiction from their collective works.

Covering topics as diverse as the craft of writing, relationships, aging and even “Business, Culture and Society,” this compendium showcases the work of six writers hailing from Tucson, Ariz. Divided into 11 sections, their material is indexed as “General Essays,” “Historical Essays,” “Reflective Essays,” “Poetry” and “Short Stories.” But these varied forms and voices don’t always blend into a unified whole. Noble’s reflective essays, in particular, seem out of place; with titles like “Clearing the Deck for Success,” “How to Be a Millionaire” and “How to Be Really, Truly Well,” each essay reads like a chapter lifted from a self-help manual encouraging readers to “Say YES to Life” and “Say YES to Creativity.” Burrows-Johnson’s historical essays are interesting, if not thorough; her “Early History of Tucson and Her Cemeteries” never mentions the beautiful Binghampton Cemetery, established in 1899 in the Catalina Foothills and named Tucson’s best cemetery in 2007 by Tucson Weekly. General essays cover everything from bringing home a new cat (“Joshua Finds a Home,” Cosby-Patton) to putting up with a retired husband (“Retirement,” Lesh). Even the politcal makes an appearance in Sakin’s “A Declaration of Complete Independence.” Sakin also offers up a polemic blaming most societal ills on Starbucks in “Addled.” The pieces are generally quite brief, somewhat humorous and fairly casual. They often read more like blog entries than the sort of well-developed essays fans of the form expect to find in places like Best American Essays. The strongest section in the collection is the poetry, especially that of Cosby-Patton and her “Homage to My Thighs,” which pays homage to Clifton’s “Homage to My Hips,” and “As a Jewel in the Crown,” which asks for “a tried angel / an angel whose silver-stranded / tangled hair / slips beneath a tarnished halo.” Ultimately, this collection would have been more cohesive and successful if the authors had chosen to focus on a particular theme or genre.

A scattershot and thematically confusing collection.

Pub Date: July 20, 2011

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 230

Publisher: Imaginings Press

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2012

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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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