A breezy, engaging family saga about spirited women and their beloved horses.


A Texas matriarch and her nieces come of age Old West style in this debut novel.

Ginny Spangler’s father, a horse thief, is gunned down by Texas Rangers when she is 11 years old. Ginny escapes on a stolen Appaloosa and rides all the way to Oklahoma. There, she meets an aging widow and her gay farmhand and joins their motley family, growing up to marry a local Choctaw boy. But tragedy seems to follow Ginny: Not long after her marriage, she loses both her husband and their unborn baby. Even so, she finds a way to continue, helped in part by her deep love of horses. She later marries a New York businessman transplanted to Texas and has two sons. As the years pass, she takes her three nieces—the half-Choctaw daughters of her first husband’s sister—under her wing: Scottie, Rory, and Georgie O’Brien. The girls, who don’t get much attention from their parents, find role models in the figures of Ginny and the fictional detective Nancy Drew—going so far as to refer to themselves as the Drew Crew. Ginny’s son Sam is particularly taken by Georgie. Unfortunately, as the girls age—and especially after the deaths of their parents in a car accident—they begin to rebel against Ginny and her family’s attempts to help them. Even as they travel and find love, the big skies of Texas call them home, and the Drew Crew will have to work together when confronted with tragedies like rape, kidnapping, murder, and possibly even the loss of Ginny’s beloved ranch. “We’ll call this adventure, The Secret of the Old Ranch,” jokes Scottie. “What do you think?” Yet some adventures may be too big for even this unusual family.

Brenner’s prose is light and bouncy even when dealing with fairly difficult topics. She savors the folksy cant of her characters as much as they do: “During Ginny’s talk, Fitz sat very quietly, smiling at his wife. He loved to listen to her. She murdered the Queen’s English, but her philosophy of life, her salty language, and the use of Texas sayings never failed to enchant him. He could listen to Ginny talk all day.” The plot covers some 60 years and its tendrils snake out in many unexpected directions, but new characters are established economically, and the narrative speeds along. The story is essentially a soap opera, with mostly contrived problems emerging out of the blue. Even serious developments or horrific tragedies are not given much emotional weight. (“I guess my daddy’s most likely dead,” Ginny tells her horse in an early scene that sets the dramatic tone of the book, “so we might as well cross on over and see what we can find.”) The author clearly loves the milieu as well as the idea of prototypical strong Texas women. Readers who share such interests and ideals will likely enjoy this fast-but-not-deep river of a novel as it flows across the plains.

A breezy, engaging family saga about spirited women and their beloved horses.

Pub Date: Dec. 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73433-681-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Brenner Pathways

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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