A good old-fashioned read on the venerable theme of marriage.

READ REVIEW

CARNEGIE HILL

The secret lives of the board members and service staff of a stuffy old apartment building on the Upper East Side of Manhattan are full of drama.

Upon moving into the Chelmsford Arms with her rich, handsome, but oddly irritating asset manager fiance, Penelope "Pepper" Bradford takes a position on the building's board in hopes of meeting people and developing job prospects better than answering phones in her mother's friend's third-tier art gallery. She is the youngest person by far on the board, a coterie of moth-eaten old farts ruled by the ancient Patricia Cooper—"Empress Pat. The Czarina. The Duchess of Carnegie Hill"—and her crazed Pomeranian, with assistance from an elderly housekeeper who is the only African American in the building save the young gay porter, Caleb. The board's main function seems to be to preserve the all-white, no-children makeup of the building, to ensure that none but a short list of overpriced, incompetent contractors ever crosses the threshold, and to prevent tap-dancing, parakeets, and other violations of decency. Despite her early doubts, Pepper becomes close with several of her neighbors. Francis (a philosophical and literary Jewish man) and his wife, Carol, have hit a rough spot in their marriage of 50 years, as have George and Birdie (retired boss and secretary from Montreal), and serious health and mental health issues are cropping up everywhere. As Pepper prepares for her wedding to Rick—and then recovers from it—she can find little inspiration for her long-term marital prospects. The only happy couple in the building is made up of two men, the porter and the doorman, and they are so deep in the closet that nobody knows it. By the end of the book it's time for another board election; Patricia's reign of "corruption and thievery" may be over at last. She appears "holding her sleeping Pomeranian like a muff," wearing "a long red douppioni-silk coat embroidered with dragons"—ready to do battle. Will the Chelmsford Arms and its residents move at last into the 21st century? Vatner's debut novel is absorbing and comforting in its omniscient perspective and delicate handling of its carousel of characters.

A good old-fashioned read on the venerable theme of marriage.

Pub Date: Aug. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-17476-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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