A striking novel filled with the violence borne of a bitter life.

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CARIBOU ISLAND

A bleak Alaska serves as backdrop for this unforgiving glimpse into the many miseries that shape a marriage.

The novel opens with Irene sharing a rarely visited childhood memory: the day she came home to find her mother swinging from the rafters. The spare foreboding of the scene shapes Vann’s taut tale of a misbegotten marriage. Decades of resentment, of small acts of unkindness, of a too-isolated life in Alaska, have brought Irene and Gary to this point of reckoning. Disillusioned with their conventional life and comfortable house in the woods, Gary has bought land on the unpopulated Caribou Island. He wants to build a cabin by hand, without plans or expertise, but with just dreams of an alternate life of self-sufficiency to guide him. He tells Irene the cabin (one room, one bed, no plumbing) is for the two of them, that they will spend the winter there alone, and be happy. But Irene isn’t fooled—she can only agree to help with the cabin; if she refuses, she’s sure he’ll leave her. After the first disastrous trip to bring supplies to the island (a brutal storm, a required stoicism), Irene comes down with a headache that grinds her down for weeks. As the marriage disintegrates (made visible in the form of the ramshackle cabin Gary’s building—gaps between the logs, untrue angles, a doorframe angrily nailed on to the outside), their daughter Rhoda finally gets all she has wanted, a marriage proposal from dentist Jim. But while Rhoda fantasizes about a wedding in Hawaii, Jim has been wining and dining and screwing an East Coast trust-fund baby road-tripping in Alaska. Vann’s brilliance lies in is his willingness to expose all—the nasty feelings Gary and Irene harbor for each other, those conversations filled with the kind of cold fury that seem to feed bad marriages. The novel’s end—desolate, violent, heartbreaking—is as inevitable as Rhoda’s own blind plunge into a doomed marriage.

A striking novel filled with the violence borne of a bitter life.     

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-187572-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2010

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

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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