Baldacci’s muscle-bound style doesn’t do subtle: He is best at choreographing fight scenes, rescues and dire brushes with...

ONE SUMMER

Baldacci (Hell's Corner, 2010, etc.) departs from thriller mode to pen this often-maudlin tale of familial reinvention.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, Jack earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, but it appears that the appointment in Samarra he dodged has been waiting for him in Cleveland, Ohio. As Christmas nears, he is dying of an unnamed but always terminal disease, surrounded by his two boys, Jackie and Cory, prickly teenage daughter Mikki, wife Lizzie and mother-in-law Bonnie. On Christmas Eve, Lizzie rushes out into a snowstorm to fill Jack’s pain-med prescriptions and is killed in a crash. Bonnie supervises the dispersal of the children to various relatives, and Jack is consigned to a hospice. One day, he finds he’s breathing on his own. Painstakingly, he recovers and even gains back his former fitness level as an Army Ranger. He gathers the children and moves them to Lizzie’s beloved South Carolina seaside home, nicknamed the Palace, in hopes of fulfilling what turned out to be Lizzie’s last wish. Once in S.C., Jack finds the Palace and adjacent lighthouse in considerable disrepair. A trained contractor, he sets to work with his crusty, Harley-driving partner Sammy. Mikki, a singer/songwriter, finds a kindred spirit in fellow rocker Liam, whose mother Jenna, a corporate lawyer turned wisecracking restaurant owner, hires Jack to soundproof Liam’s studio. The stage is set for new love, but first Jack must overcome his obsession with fixing the lighthouse beam and turn the searchlight on his children. Especially since Bonnie is scheming to get custody of the youngsters. It doesn’t help that Jack is only too willing to tangle with small town toughs, or that Mikki has run afoul of the local mean teen queen and her high-school football henchmen.

Baldacci’s muscle-bound style doesn’t do subtle: He is best at choreographing fight scenes, rescues and dire brushes with severe weather, all of which, thankfully, are here in abundance. Overall, though, the stilted language and trite sentimentalism are yawn-inducing.

Pub Date: June 14, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-446-58314-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

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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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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