Beautifully written and real to the core.

COAST TO COAST WITH A CAT AND A GHOST

An engaging novel about overcoming loss and picking up the pieces.

When Judy’s husband, Jack, dies of cancer, she takes off in her RV in hopes of piecing together her shattered heart piece by piece and state by state as she travels across the country. She temporarily leaves her home and grooming business behind in sunny California and makes her way out to a friend in Florida. In addition to the radio, she’s joined by her new cat and a man-sized doll she made (whom she refers to as Jack Incarnate) for the 5,000 miles to Florida and back. In between new places and new faces, Judy thinks back to the relationship she had with Jack: when they first met at an AA meeting while drinking coffee, the time he was almost put behind bars for spousal abuse, etc. Though rough-around-the-edges Jack certainly had his fair share of baggage, he truly loved Judy, and she loved him back. Now that he’s gone, Judy has to make her way without him and count up all the good and bad that came with their relationship. In her debut novel, Howard conveys pitiless reality with beauty and eloquence. “I felt like a dried leaf clinging to a branch, hoping to hang on as the cold harsh wind blew cruelly against my brittle spine,” she writes. Despite the numerous brutal, intense battles between Judy and Jack, it’s nearly impossible not to relate to her on some level, as she’s so real and vulnerable. Most of all, she’s a survivor who manages to move on from the relationship that dictated much of her life. Though it could be easy to write off Jack as a villain, Howard portrays in him the many layers that each of us contend with—it’s what makes us all so complex. She doesn’t make excuses for his behavior, but there’s a sense of sadness in everything he himself suffered, which, to a certain degree, made him who he was. The frivolous title doesn’t capture the mature spirit of Judy’s mindset.

Beautifully written and real to the core.

Pub Date: July 18, 2011

ISBN: 978-1461153788

Page Count: 260

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2012

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An engaging childhood memoir and a deeply affectionate tribute to the author’s parents.

THIS TIME NEXT YEAR WE'LL BE LAUGHING

The bestselling author recalls her childhood and her family’s wartime experiences.

Readers of Winspear’s popular Maisie Dobbs mystery series appreciate the London investigator’s canny resourcefulness and underlying humanity as she solves her many cases. Yet Dobbs had to overcome plenty of hardships in her ascent from her working-class roots. Part of the appeal of Winspear’s Dobbs series are the descriptions of London and the English countryside, featuring vividly drawn particulars that feel like they were written with firsthand knowledge of that era. In her first book of nonfiction, the author sheds light on the inspiration for Dobbs and her stories as she reflects on her upbringing during the 1950s and ’60s. She focuses much attention on her parents’ lives and their struggles supporting a family, as they chose to live far removed from their London pasts. “My parents left the bombsites and memories of wartime London for an openness they found in the country and on the land,” writes Winspear. As she recounts, each of her parents often had to work multiple jobs, which inspired the author’s own initiative, a trait she would apply to the Dobbs character. Her parents recalled grueling wartime experiences as well as stories of the severe battlefield injuries that left her grandfather shell-shocked. “My mother’s history,” she writes, “became my history—probably because I was young when she began telling me….Looking back, her stories—of war, of abuse at the hands of the people to whom she and her sisters had been billeted when evacuated from London, of seeing the dead following a bombing—were probably too graphic for a child. But I liked listening to them.” Winspear also draws distinctive portraits of postwar England, altogether different from the U.S., where she has since settled, and her unsettling struggles within the rigid British class system.

An engaging childhood memoir and a deeply affectionate tribute to the author’s parents.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64129-269-6

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

UNCOMFORTABLE CONVERSATIONS WITH A BLACK MAN

A former NFL player casts his gimlet eye on American race relations.

In his first book, Acho, an analyst for Fox Sports who grew up in Dallas as the son of Nigerian immigrants, addresses White readers who have sent him questions about Black history and culture. “My childhood,” he writes, “was one big study abroad in white culture—followed by studying abroad in black culture during college and then during my years in the NFL, which I spent on teams with 80-90 percent black players, each of whom had his own experience of being a person of color in America. Now, I’m fluent in both cultures: black and white.” While the author avoids condescending to readers who already acknowledge their White privilege or understand why it’s unacceptable to use the N-word, he’s also attuned to the sensitive nature of the topic. As such, he has created “a place where questions you may have been afraid to ask get answered.” Acho has a deft touch and a historian’s knack for marshaling facts. He packs a lot into his concise narrative, from an incisive historical breakdown of American racial unrest and violence to the ways of cultural appropriation: Your friend respecting and appreciating Black arts and culture? OK. Kim Kardashian showing off her braids and attributing her sense of style to Bo Derek? Not so much. Within larger chapters, the text, which originated with the author’s online video series with the same title, is neatly organized under helpful headings: “Let’s rewind,” “Let’s get uncomfortable,” “Talk it, walk it.” Acho can be funny, but that’s not his goal—nor is he pedaling gotcha zingers or pleas for headlines. The author delivers exactly what he promises in the title, tackling difficult topics with the depth of an engaged cultural thinker and the style of an experienced wordsmith. Throughout, Acho is a friendly guide, seeking to sow understanding even if it means risking just a little discord.

This guide to Black culture for White people is accessible but rarely easy.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-80046-6

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2020

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