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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Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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