An engaging tale of family dysfunction and intractable senior citizens.

READ REVIEW

Things Unsaid

A NOVEL

A contemporary story follows three middle-aged siblings who struggle to care for their aging parents. 

In her debut novel, Paul (Women in Buddhism, 1985, etc.) narrates from the perspectives of Julia “Jules” Foster, Joanne Grant, and Andrew Whitman, the three grown children of Aida and Robert “Bob” Whitman. The novel opens as Jules is summoned to the local police station to retrieve her elderly parents after her father sideswipes a parked automobile and drives through a fence onto a soccer field. As she drives her parents back to Safe Harbour, their elegant assisted living facility, Jules fails to convince her father to acknowledge his diminished faculties and relinquish his license. She also confronts her parents about their mounting debts and her inability to support their extravagant lifestyle. Her parents rely heavily on her financial support, and she finds herself sacrificing the goals and dreams of her daughter, including a college education, to continue bankrolling her folks. As the book progresses, readers meet Joanne, the doting divorcée whom Aida always preferred over Jules, as well as Andrew, who refuses to send his parents so much as a Christmas present. Through many flashbacks and reflective moments, the siblings reveal that during their childhood, Aida was a selfish, overbearing mother with inappropriate behaviors and that Bob was aloof and sometimes cruel. Now that their flawed parents are incapable of caring for themselves, the siblings must decide where to draw the line between obligation and total martyrdom. Throughout the novel, the narrative bounces among the siblings, providing varying perspectives on the characters of Aida and Bob, as well as the multifaceted personal dilemmas facing each of the children they raised. With a grace that is absorbing and deft, Paul tackles many difficult questions, including filial responsibility, depression, marital strife, and sexual identity. She elucidates the challenges of caring for aging parents as well as the pain inherent in losing independence. The author depicts several heart-wrenching conundrums as the three siblings are forced repeatedly to evaluate their personal priorities. This book should particularly appeal to readers facing similar caretaking situations.

An engaging tale of family dysfunction and intractable senior citizens.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-63152-812-5

Page Count: 270

Publisher: She Writes Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 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 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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