Strong, well-developed portraits of veterans' experiences and relationships are undermined by a lurid, unrealistic ending.

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THE HEART YOU CARRY HOME

On the road with PTSD: vets on bikes travel to the heart of darkness to heal their wounds.

Miller (The Year of the Gadfly, 2012, etc.) starts her novel with a tease: a letter to someone named Willy from someone named CO Proudfoot that includes the unexplained line: "I wish you hadn't ruined our friendship with all that. But you did, so here I am." This epistolary thread is one of several plotlines in this complicated novel about damaged veterans and the people who love them. The series of letters reveals bit by bit a horrific event in Vietnam that affected several of the characters, foremost a man named King Keller. Known in his hometown "as the Landmine due to his unpredictable outbursts," King is the father of 21-year-old Becca, recently married to Ben, himself an Iraq vet and also the son of a Vietnam vet. Ben's storyline details the experiences in Iraq that have turned a gentle young man into a drunken wife-beater. After Ben attacks her, Becca runs to her dad's house and ends up joining him and a posse of vets on a cross-country motorcycle trip to a desert compound in Utah. There, the author of the letters, CO Proudfoot himself, is running a cult, offering vets like King a form of healing "as powerful and terrible—and perhaps as unthinkable—as his trauma." Searching for both his runaway wife and for his lost sense of self, Ben is on his way to the compound as well. So is Becca's mother, Jeanine, who gave up on King years ago and joined a Christian group called the Hands of God Church. Once everybody meets up, the story takes a dizzying turn into Game of Thrones territory, as a violent contest involving heavy hallucinogens in a heated hogan is held to determine who will take the place of the CO when he steps down.

Strong, well-developed portraits of veterans' experiences and relationships are undermined by a lurid, unrealistic ending.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-30055-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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