A well-crafted mash-up of romance and prison life.

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Song of the Blackbird

In this first installment of a planned, prison-set series, a new doctor takes a job where her half brother is incarcerated, but she hides their relationship from the attractive warden.

Emma Edwards arrives for her first day as a doctor at California’s Albatross Prison, outside of LA, to witness warden Maxim Chambers giving a disciplinary beating to an inmate. She’s particularly appalled at this, due to her sympathy for prisoners. Her younger half brother, Sam Morris, is doing time for having drugs on him when he was interviewed by police, after killing his abusive father to protect Emma’s now-deceased mother. Emma took this job to find and reconnect with Sam, and she soon discovers that he works as one of the prison doctors’ porters. He warns her to leave, because if authorities find out that she’s hiding their kinship, it would hurt her career. He’s also traumatized by his own past and troubled by new prison pressures. As Emma tries to get Sam and other prisoners better medical assistance, she and Maxim spar over their different attitudes toward inmates as well as their growing attraction to each other. Emma soon learns the sad reason for Maxim’s tough attitude, which drove the wealthy man to take a job as a warden. Maxim, meanwhile, feels new emotions in Emma’s presence, including an urge to protect her and jealousy over her dealings with Sam and a handsome prison psychiatrist. By novel’s end, after several deaths and scary physical attacks, Emma and Maxim eventually arrive at a clearer understanding of each other, their love, and past tragedies. Debut novelist Michaels, a doctor herself, brings verve and veracity to this smooth-flowing hybrid romance/suspense tale. Emma’s clinic scenes, which showcase both prisoners’ manipulations and their mitigating circumstances, are particularly realistic and resonant. Michaels also weaves in lovely, literary through-lines, such as the half siblings’ mutual love of birds and comets, which becomes a linchpin in the overall plot. Although the romance has some over-the-top, fairy-tale elements, such as the convenient fact that the brawny warden is also wealthy, Michaels has produced a captivating story overall.

A well-crafted mash-up of romance and prison life.

Pub Date: June 21, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Dream Tower Publishing

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2016

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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 strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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