The cheerful complexity of Conaway's novel rivals the richest, most nose-worthy, palate-pleasing Cabernet.

NOSE

Conaway (Vanishing America, 2008, etc.) pens a lighthearted novel centering on oenophiles cavorting in a lush, grape-growing California valley.

Conaway’s catalyst for his wine-country appreciation is an unlabeled bottle of Cabernet. The bottle ends up on the sampling table of Clyde Craven-Jones, known to wine lovers as CJ, head of the mega-influential Craven-Jones on Wine. CJ is a British expat and something of a corpulent, self-absorbed snob. His wife is the younger, winsome Claire Craven-Jones, who escaped Arkansas trailer-living by marrying the wine expert. It’s Claire to whom Clyde has assigned the task of determining the origin of the unlabeled bottle—“Big nose, briary, just enough forward fruit. Fine tannins”—the first California Cab he believes worthy of 20 points, a rating never before awarded by Craven-Jones on Wine. To trace the bottle's origins, Claire hires Les, farm boy turned reporter, out of work and unable to settle his bar tab, and so he’s pretending to be an investigator, thanks to recommendations from ponytailed Ben, owner of the Glass Act, a decrepit bar stocked with expensive, exotic wines. There’s Sara Hutt Beale, daughter of Jerome, a less-than-scrupulous developer now deep in debt after turning a valley vineyard into Hutt Family Estates, a modern high-end wine factory. Sara’s own land adjoins that of melancholy Cotton Harrell, a river ecologist turned philosopher turned vintner, mourning the death of his lover. Like blending Merlot-Malbec grapes for the perfect Bordeaux, Conaway uses this cast, and an assortment of quirky supporting players, to weave multiple narratives into a cozy, no-murder and not-quite mystery, all set in motion after CJ accidentally dies when he becomes stuck in a giant metal tank of wine. Les helps the conservative Claire reenergize Craven-Jones on Wine—and her love life—while simultaneously using an anonymous blog to decant murky wine-country secrets, the most damaging of which is Jerome’s machinations to turn part of the Hutt Family Estates vineyard into a forest of McMansions. 

The cheerful complexity of Conaway's novel rivals the richest, most nose-worthy, palate-pleasing Cabernet.

Pub Date: March 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-1-250-00684-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2012

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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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Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

PRETTY THINGS

The daughter of a grifter plans to fund her mother’s cancer treatment with a revenge con.

Rich people suck, don’t they? Nina Ross found this out in her adolescence, when her romance with Benny Liebling was broken up by his status-obsessed, old-money father, who found them screwing in the guest cottage of the family’s Lake Tahoe estate. Back then, Nina had a future—but she’s since followed her con-artist mother into the family business with the help of a handsome blue-eyed Irish confederate named Lachlan. “Here’s my rule,” Nina tells him. “Only people who have too much, and only people who deserve it.” Of course, he agrees. “We take only what we need.” With her art history background, Nina is usually able to target a few expensive antiques they can lift without the rich dopes even noticing they’re gone. But now that Nina's mother is hovering at death’s door without health insurance, she’s going after the $1 million in cash Benny mentioned was in his father’s safe all those years ago. So back to Lake Tahoe it is. The older Lieblings are dead, and Benny’s in the bin, so it’s his sister Vanessa Liebling who is the target of the complicated caper. Vanessa is a terribly annoying character—“I couldn’t tell you how I went from a few dozen Instagram followers to a half-million. One day, you’re uploading photos of your dog wearing sunglasses; and the next you’re begin flown to Coachella on a private jet with four other social media It Girls…”—but, in fact, you’ll hate everyone in this book. That is surely Brown’s (Watch Me Disappear, 2017, etc.) intention as she’s the one making them natter on this way. She also makes them vomit much more than is normal, whether it’s because they’re poisoning each other or because they’re just so horrified by each other’s behavior. Definitely stay to see how it all turns out.

Why you double-crossing little double crossers! Fiendishly clever.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-47912-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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