Melodramatic contrivances test the reader’s credulity, but appealing characters and a deft, non-linear structure generate...

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KEEPING THE HOUSE

Baker’s sprawling debut recounts the woes of a wealthy Midwestern family from the turn of the 20th century to the dawn of the 1950s.

The imposing, vacant Mickelson house attracts the attention of 20-year-old housewife Dolly Magnuson when she arrives in Pine Rapids, Wis., in 1950. Her husband Byron, part owner of a Chrysler dealership, is content with their undistinguished bungalow, but Dolly, ambivalent about a life of dutifully following Good Housekeeping recipes and other dictates for happy homemaking, dreams of restoring and someday owning the Mickelson mansion. She pieces together its history while attending gossipy meetings of the local Ladies Aid and befriends one of the family’s youngest and most troubled members. The narrative circles back to follow a second story line beginning in 1896, when newlyweds John and Wilma Mickelson move into the house built by his father, Knute, a Norwegian immigrant who amassed a fortune in the lumber industry. Wilma, a talented pianist who sacrificed school for marriage, is instantly smitten with her brother-in-law Gust, and he with her. Although they repress their desires, her less-than-wifely feelings torment Wilma, especially after Gust dies in a logging accident. Years later, her grief is compounded when favorite son Chase joins the Marines with his older brother Jack and is killed in World War I. Built on land that may be cursed, the house seems to doom successive generations to lucklessness in love. Jack’s daughter Elissa falls for a Southern corporal who unwittingly holds a catastrophic family secret; her alcoholic brother JJ, who lost part of his leg in World War II, has an unsettling effect on his Uncle Harry’s fiancée—and on Dolly, when she meets him. But Dolly and JJ, as well as the other remaining Mickelsons, may yet find the means to forge their own destinies.

Melodramatic contrivances test the reader’s credulity, but appealing characters and a deft, non-linear structure generate interest and suspense.

Pub Date: July 17, 2007

ISBN: 1-4000-6635-2

Page Count: 544

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2007

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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 sweeping romantic tale of thwarted love.

THE STATIONERY SHOP

Sixty years after her first love failed to meet her in a market square, Roya Khanom Archer finally has the chance to see him. But will he break her heart again?

Back in 1953, she was a 17-year-old schoolgirl, raised in a progressive home in Tehran, where her father encouraged Roya and her sister, Zari, to take advantage of the recent reforms that allowed women to go to university. While he hoped she might become a chemist, Roya loved escaping into novels, which sent her to Mr. Fakhri’s stationery and book store every Tuesday afternoon. There she first sees Bahman Aslan, a breathless young man already well-known as a political activist. Kamali (Together Tea, 2013) sets Roya and Bahman’s love against the tumultuous days of Mohammad Mossadegh’s rise and fall as prime minister of Iran, infusing their affair with political passion and an increasingly frantic sense of the shortness of time. Tuesday after Tuesday, the couple falls more deeply in love, and Bahman soon proposes marriage to Roya. While Roya’s family welcomes Bahman—although Zari warns Roya that his heart cannot be trusted—Bahman’s emotionally volatile mother refuses to accept the engagement, because she has already chosen Shahla, the daughter of a man closely allied with the shah, for her son. Roya determines to weather her future mother-in-law’s storms, but when Bahman and his family disappear, she can only turn to Mr. Fakhri for help. Although he cannot tell Roya where Bahman has gone, Mr. Fakhri offers to exchange secret letters between the lovers. The plan works, and the two even plan to elope, but Bahman does not show up in Sepah Square. Sixty years later, Bahman’s confession will finally expose the secrets that cast shadows over the lovers so long ago.

A sweeping romantic tale of thwarted love.

Pub Date: June 18, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-0748-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2019

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