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

SEARCHING FOR GEORGE'S GARDEN

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

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 417

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2018

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth/Crown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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