A low-key, offbeat, and winsome story of hurts healed.



A group of disparate characters reconstruct a formal garden and find unexpected connections in Spencer’s debut novel.

Katy Bodden has returned to Mississippi to live in a house bequeathed to her by the late George Trotter, her grandparents’ gardener. There, she has a new employee—a gardener named Daniel. Katy spends her days painting images of trees and flowers in her attic studio. Her habit of cutting herself suggests that she’s suffering from the effects of a childhood trauma, traces of which come through in italicized passages. One day, Daniel and Katy see a red plane flying overhead. The pilot, Martin Rainer, is the new caretaker of the local airstrip, and his deliveries make him a regular visitor at Katy’s. When Martin helps Daniel prune an overgrown hedge, they discover a hidden meadow, and Katy emerges from her numbness to launch into a new project—re-establishing George’s garden. In the meantime, she and Martin fall in love. The book has some beautiful descriptive passages (“the sawing trill of cicadas…the breeze that moved languidly into the attic windows”), and Spencer uses flashbacks and recurring items—a lizard cage, newspapers—to create a gentle sense of mystery. The objects, in particular, cleverly ground the book in the physical world as Katy’s isolation (and her belief in George’s ghostly presence) make early chapters feel dreamlike and slightly disorienting. The central characters struggle with major issues: Katy was in foster homes after her mother’s death; Daniel was a journalist in war-torn Afghanistan and has an estranged son; and Martin has a prosthetic leg due to a plane crash that killed his parents and brother. However, through a combination of chance and design, they start to experience emotional restoration, stemming from an event 22 years ago. The links between the characters will require readers to suspend their disbelief, and Spencer sometimes overloads her story with significance, as in the final paragraph, which takes on a cosmic scope. Readers will forgive these relative minor flaws, however, as they’re embedded in appealingly smooth and literary prose.

A low-key, offbeat, and winsome story of hurts healed.

Pub Date: Oct. 29, 2018


Page Count: 417

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 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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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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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.


When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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