This historical novel’s evocative descriptions of fin de siècle France and skillfully drawn characters add up to a sensitive...

THOMAS AND BEAL IN THE MIDI

The lushly written third novel in a family saga follows an interracial American couple after they emigrate to escape bigotry in 1892.

Tilghman won acclaim for his previous two novels about the Mason family of Maryland, Mason’s Retreat (1996) and The Right-Hand Shore (2012). This book is a prequel to those, moving back a generation to Thomas Bayly, whose mother is heir to the thousand-acre Mason farm. The story begins with Thomas and his bride, Beal Terrell, landing in France after crossing the Atlantic by ship. They have been friends since childhood—Thomas' white family owned Mason’s Retreat, Beal’s black family worked it, first as slaves, later as employees. But the young newlyweds can’t live as a married couple in the United States, so they depart on their wedding day. Their first months in Paris are dazzling as they learn the language and find their way around the metropolis, befriended by a group of American art students. The students jockey for the right to paint a portrait of Beal, a tall beauty with striking pale eyes. Her choice of Arthur Kravitz, a gruff New Jersey native, begins with him blackmailing her by saying he'll reveal her secrets but blossoms into a lifelong friendship. Meanwhile, Thomas is casting about for a profession and develops an obsession with winemaking. That leads to the couple’s move to a farm in the rugged Languedoc, a place that Thomas falls instantly in love with but that Beal struggles to adjust to after the joys of Paris. Tilghman tells the story of their marriage over four decades; their struggles have little to do with race, much more to do with fidelity and communication. A recurring theme of innocent, even naïve Americans coming to understand worldly Europe recalls Henry James, as do the novel’s astute psychological insights. Tilghman’s prose can be seductively lovely, and he creates engaging, often surprising characters.

This historical novel’s evocative descriptions of fin de siècle France and skillfully drawn characters add up to a sensitive and satisfying portrait of a marriage.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-374-27652-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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