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THE CURSING MOMMY'S BOOK OF DAYS

There have been many great satires of the domestic world (Fay Weldon comes to mind), but Frazier’s Cursing Mommy seems...

Nonfiction writer Frazier (Travels in Siberia, 2010, etc.) delivers his first novel, an uneven comedy of domestic disasters.

Inspired by his “Shouts & Murmurs” character from the New Yorker, the Cursing Mommy, in page-length doses, is hilarious. She skitters from one impossibly ruinous situation to the next, ending the day with a boozy balm under the covers. Her daily blog offers advice and meditation techniques for other harried ladies, though the Cursing Mommy, an odd pastiche of foulmouthed comic and Martha Stewart, ends most posts either furious or defeated by the treasures life flings her way. The question is whether Frazier can move his Mommy from the compact page to the full-length narrative. Alas, Cursing Mommy’s shtick grows old, and there is little plot to prop her up. Husband Larry is foundering at work, but Cursing Mommy might be able to smooth the problem with her questionable charm, as the Boss is besotted by her violent outbursts. Sons Kyle (who swoons and rashes up at school) and Trevor (heavily medicated to prevent either sociopathy or pranking) bring little joy to Cursing Mommy, as most of her weekends are spent “volunteering” for school building repairs or bringing Trevor to his therapist. She takes seriously the self-help advice of modern-day sage M. Foler Tuohy, a composer of opaque bons mots. But when the red-faced guru runs off with her best friend, she curses the day she got her book group to switch from anti-Bush biographies to Tuohy’s goofy inspirationals. There is some closure to the year’s travails, though one suspects the Cursing Mommy is simply cursed, unable to escape the Promethean-like tragedies of domestic life.

There have been many great satires of the domestic world (Fay Weldon comes to mind), but Frazier’s Cursing Mommy seems trapped within her own joke.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-374-13318-4

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Sept. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2012

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

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. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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