An endearing tale of coping with loss.

READ REVIEW

ACT THREE

Two women find joy as they endure the hardships of aging.

Ward’s (Girl Under Construction, 2013) bittersweet novel begins dramatically: The husband of Stel, an active senior, unexpectedly dies. Blindsided by grief, she wonders what she will do with “Act Three” of her life. Determined to not become a burden for her daughter, Stel sells her house and moves to Singing Pines, a residence for independent seniors. Her longtime friend Merci is also a widow. Despite declining health, Merci is desperately determined to live at home. Told through first-person letters the two friends write to each other, this breezy read is often lighthearted but sometimes deeply poignant. Faced with difficult choices, the women must learn to adapt to change. Once at Singing Pines, energetic Stel is disappointed by the many gray heads and walkers she sees. And instead of an exciting community, she’s dismayed to find intrusive rules—she has to push a red button every morning to let the staff know she’s OK. Meanwhile, Merci argues with her daughter, who wants her to move in with her. The characterization in Ward’s drama is strong, and Stel and Merci are likable, realistic women. Although the story is full of quips—Merci calls her breasts “the hanging baskets”—the protagonists are not stereotypical little old ladies. For example, Stel astutely observes after she begins tutoring children: “I might have gone for hours of counseling with psychiatrists and therapists to discover what was missing from my life, when all along it was connection with the circle of life.” The two women blow off steam about daughters, but there are sympathetic glimpses of the younger “sandwich” generation: Merci’s daughter is trying to raise a family while worrying about mom falling down at home alone. Offering a ray of hope (the two pals begin writing a guide for seniors), moments of sadness (Merci deals with grief), and plenty of laughs (Merci wears a lampshade to a library’s Storytime), Ward tenderly paints an honest portrait of the ups and downs of aging.

An endearing tale of coping with loss.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2018

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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 strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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