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THE SOUTH RIM TRAIL

From the Big Bend Country Mystery series , Vol. 2

A well-paced mystery with an authentic setting and numerous engaging characters.

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A young sheriff’s life is complicated by a conflicted girlfriend, a teenage TV star, and a murdered artist in the second book in Rusz’s (The Window Trail, 2019) Big Bend Country Mystery series.

Professor Claire Harp’s 18-year-old brother, Alex Harp, is the star of a television sitcom who’s just about to launch a film career. He’s visiting her in West Texas, accompanied by his friend Piper Robinet, who plays his love interest on the TV show. Alex wants to camp overnight with Piper in Big Bend National Park, but their public relations people soon turn their hike on the South Rim Trail into a media event. Later that night, however, Piper goes missing from the campsite; it soon becomes clear that the circumstances of her disappearance could also help investigators determine who killed an artist some time ago, who’d been painting in the park. Potential perpetrators include drug runners or, closer to home, the artist’s stepdaughter and an ambitious young photographer. Once again, Claire’s boyfriend, the handsome and stalwart Sheriff Clayton Shoot, is seeing the case through by interacting with colorful locals and sorting through various clues with other law enforcement officials. Meanwhile, he and Alex bond at Clayton’s family ranch, where the actor is staying to avoid his fans and members of the press. Clayton’s abrasive older sister, Beatrice, bonds with Alex, too, over their mutual interest in his upcoming starring role in a film production of Romeo and Juliet

Puzzlingly, Claire has a less active and less sympathetic role in this series entry; in the first, she helped Clayton solve a brutal crime. Here, she wrestles with her mixed emotions about Clayton—he proposed, she refused—and wonders whether to move on in her life as she fields job offers from prestigious publishers and universities. She’s certain that Clayton, who’s now the sheriff of the largest county in Texas, is too deeply invested to ever want to leave it. Their relationship issues thread through the novel, and the author eventually gives Claire an epiphany, only to abruptly undercut it in the book’s last scene—an overly obvious setup for the next book. Claire also spends an inordinate and off-putting amount of time trying to determine if Alex is gay. For the most part, though, the novel is an appealingly nimble, character-driven tale, deepened by the author’s informed, eloquent recreation of the series’ far–West Texas setting, where a switchback is described as “lined by rocks that might have dropped from the moon” and the “sweeping panoramas of distant mountains and flat fields of skeletal bushes” are said to be “freaky, brutal, yet oddly beautiful.” A sighting of a sheeplike “aoudad” may send readers to the encyclopedia. The cast is as diverse as the locale is: Claire, Clayton, Alex, and Piper are among the white characters; Piper’s boyfriend, Tyler Tribble, and Chief Ranger Velma Furcron are African-American; a minor teenage character named Gracie Allen Yazzie is Navajo; and Clayton’s deputy, Alonso Rangel, is Hispanic.

A well-paced mystery with an authentic setting and numerous engaging characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-69478-366-0

Page Count: 273

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2019

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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