Warm and affirming, yes, though Clayton still stretches the credulity.

THE SCHOOLING OF CLAYBIRD CATTS

Owens’s third about the Sims and Catts family of north Florida (Myra Sims, 1999, etc.) can too often seem a reworking of its two predecessors.

Clayton “Catbird” Catts, now in high school, is a problematical young narrator, seeming too perceptive and knowledgeable for his age—though he says often enough that he’s stupid and dumb and should have been more astute. Labeled dyslexic (he was in Special Education during elementary school), he recalls for us how he came to move out of his own grand but haunted house and into his aunt Candace’s smaller one. But his life really changed, he contends, when he was 11 and his father, Michael, died from cancer—and when Uncle Gabe, his father’s younger brother, came home for the funeral and then stayed. The dead Michael had worked hard, eventually became rich, and had married Myra Sims, who’d once lived next door with her abusive father. Michael fixed up an old house in the country where he and Myra raised their three children—Sim, Missy, and Clayton. Michael was the perfect father, and although Clayton loved his mother, he sensed something strange about her—his best friends said she was a vampire because she came out only at night—and the day Michael died was the worst day of Clayton’s life. Gabe, who’d come home at the request of the dying man, after a year married Myra, having loved her since childhood. The children seemed not to mind—they liked Gabe, who reminded them so much of Michael—but on the weekend before he started high school, Clayton’s grandmother absent-mindedly remarked that Clayton resembled his daddy Gabe more each day. Hurt and shocked, Clayton thus moves in with his aunt, who tells him the truth about his family. And his mother, who also tells all, helps him accept the idea that Michael was his father in every way but the biological, and that Clayton can mourn him still.

Warm and affirming, yes, though Clayton still stretches the credulity.

Pub Date: March 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-06-009062-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2003

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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