An ambitious, if somewhat stilted, coming-of-age tale.



A novel tells the story of a young American poet driven to find himself in the mountains during the late 1960s.

After the tumultuous summer of 1968—when assassinations and riots killed whatever optimism had flourished in the decade’s early years—Jason Follett leaves his Illinois home to attend divinity school at Vanderbilt University. But he isn’t doing it out of any love of God: “By luck, and the recommendation of a college professor, I applied to Vanderbilt Divinity School, was accepted, got my 4-D deferment, and, for at least two years, put off military service.” In addition to the disconnect he feels from the politics of his conservative parents, he is confused by his own gay urges, which he is forced to keep quiet to avoid persecution. At Vanderbilt, Jason, who writes poetry, meets Erling Duus, a fellow student who loves the transcendentalists and plans to open a school in the Cumberland Mountains. “It builds on folk traditions that are being lost in the rapid-paced urban and industrial society,” Erling explains. The purpose of the school is to get back to a purer democratic way of life according to the customs of the region. Though it’s difficult to explain exactly how the folk school fits into Jason’s ministry, he goes all-in on the project, moving to the mountains and studying fresh lines of thought. As he engages in dramatic affairs with women—and men—Jason attempts to shed old hang-ups and find a new way to exist. But the rest of America cannot be kept at bay. News of the Stonewall Riots, Kent State, and other events reaches as far as the folk school, and suspicious locals become a threat. As the ’70s dawn, Jason must decide what sort of man he must be to meet the new world. Spang (Description of the Thrush, 2014) writes in a quiet, literary prose that deftly captures Jason in all his passion and vexation: “I skipped a few services as the summer days shortened. I’d been cashing in my wages of sin at a rate that frightened me. Much as I tried to deny it, my attraction to Stephen who slept at the log cabin with me became an obsession.” The book introduces a captivating world where academic radicals mix with conservative working people, a fertile environment for examining the tensions of the time period. But Jason is perhaps not quite as intriguing as his surroundings: Compared to the other characters’ difficulties, his problems are generally less urgent, and he is less active in confronting them. Much of the novel is reported as exposition, which slows down the pacing and deadens the vitality of what should be fairly emotional content. That said, the story feels more than a little topical in the current cultural climate, when every young person seems to be involved in some existential crisis, and where every choice feels political, even going off to talk about poetry in the woods. Spang engages with real ideas about the ways individuals and societies can function, exploring human flaws and human aspirations in equal measure.

An ambitious, if somewhat stilted, coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: May 29, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944393-89-2

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Piscataqua Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 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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