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

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APPALOOSA SKY

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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

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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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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