A bleak but eloquent portrait of a woman’s attempts to survive poverty and violence.

DARCY LANE

In this slice-of-life novella set in Lancashire, England, a young woman with a tragic past cultivates a dream of security and comfort that her destitute life seems unlikely to deliver.

Little Elise Rose is only 7 years old when she witnesses her mother Grace’s brutal murder at the hands of one of the many men who regularly bring trouble into their lives. This horrible night of violence cuts short Grace’s attempt at a new start in a low-income housing project, living under the protection of her father, Emmett, a shop owner who adores his daughter and granddaughter. It also sets Elise on a downward spiral that leads to her eventual commitment to a mental hospital for two years. She is 20 when she is deemed well enough to be released, “unsure if this was the start of something new or the continuation of something old and troublesome.” Returning to the home she shared with her grandfather, Elise teeters between the hope of a new life, symbolized by a snug cottage she sees on Darcy Lane at the end of a bus line, and the self-destructive habits that lead her back to the Phonebox, the alley bar frequented by her old associates. Two influences seek to tip the balance: her mother’s journal, left for her in hopes that Elise might profit from Grace’s mistakes, and Jack Clapham, a shady character who is likely to prove dangerous. Graham’s compact narrative is well crafted, evoking the pervasive hopelessness of working-class life, in which dead-end poverty leads all too often to crime and violence and people drift passively and repetitively into trouble. Hope appears in garden imagery, interwoven throughout the text in Grace’s and Elise’s “daisy blonde hair,” the ritual visit to the mental hospital’s garden before the latter’s release, and the peace and normality represented by the unattainable cottage on Darcy Lane. But Elise’s submissiveness is frustrating, and the work’s short length necessitates the underdevelopment of certain plot elements, such as the importance of Grace’s journal. Still, captivating snatches of phrases, like the description of Emmett as “a hunch of a man,” paint a vivid picture of the difficulty of life in an English housing project.

A bleak but eloquent portrait of a woman’s attempts to survive poverty and violence.

Pub Date: Oct. 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-398-40017-7

Page Count: 130

Publisher: Austin Macauley

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Fast, furious Clancy fare, fun even though you already know who wins.

TOM CLANCY TARGET ACQUIRED

Bentley keeps Jack Ryan Jr.’s life exciting in this latest grand-scale Tom Clancy adventure.

Ryan is in Tel Aviv on an “asset-validation exercise” for a private company referred to as The Campus, and he takes time to hang out at the beach. There, he sees a woman with a child who he can tell is autistic, and he saves her from a knife-wielding attacker. She’s flummoxed; who’d want to hurt her? When mother and son leave, Ryan wants to return the boy’s dropped Captain America toy. “What could go wrong with that?” he muses naïvely. Only three hell-raising threats in one day. Almost immediately he meets agents from Israeli security, Shin Bet. Who is he? What’s he doing there? But though he doesn’t lie about his name, no one ever exclaims, “Wow, you have the same name as the U.S. president. Any connection?” Anyway, Chinese State Security is also interested in the woman, and Jack doesn’t know why. And then mother and son are kidnapped. True to the Clancy style, what begins as the attempted return of a toy mushrooms into a threat of global conflict—“no good deed goes unpunished” is an apt cliché. Other enemies include Iran's Quds Force, an apocalyptic cult—and some smart jihadis, because “the dumb jihadis died a long time ago.” Ryan is a fierce warrior when the need arises, and he refuses a direct order to return to the U.S.: “Sorry, sir…no can do. I’ve got two innocents still at risk—a mother and child.” So even when the bad guys try to crucify him, “nobody did cornered junkyard dog better than Jack.” Meanwhile, an airborne threat may destroy Tel Aviv. The story has some nice wordplay, with helicopters “clawing for altitude like homesick angels,” and the F-35 being “part ballerina, part racehorse, and all killer.” While on the ground “blood flowed and bones broke,” and a female fighter jock has the final say.

Fast, furious Clancy fare, fun even though you already know who wins.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18813-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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