Struggles with structural issues but still shines thanks to its compelling (albeit enormous) cast and vividly constructed...

FIERY STAR

THE JOURNALS OF EMMA ROSE LIGHTFOOT

A colorful world of actors and outlaws comes to life in a debut historical novel from Rivers.

Sixteen-year-old Emma Lightfoot lives in 1856 Placerville, California, one of many towns spawned by the gold rush. Her mother and siblings are dead, but she adores her father and closest companion, C.E. “Emmett” Lightfoot. They write and print the local newspaper, the Placerville Rattler, and at the book’s opening, they both look forward to attending and reviewing the touring Star Troupe’s play featuring Edwin “Ted” Booth, son of renowned actor Junius. But tragedy strikes when Emmett gets a splinter that becomes infected. Within a matter of days, Emma is the sole living Lightfoot. Saddled with her father’s secret debts, Emma tries to turn a one-day gig as the theater company’s washerwoman into a seasonlong engagement, and the troupe’s iron-willed but kind co-manager, Hattie Burnham, brings her on after a strange fire destroys much of Placerville. Emma’s new theatrical “family” includes brooding and handsome Booth; Hattie and her loutish husband, Ben; charming and privileged Harry; coquettish teen actress Sophie; 7-year-old “Fairy Star” Louise; and other eccentrics. The troupe tours the camps and towns of the Sierra Nevada foothills, experiencing great triumphs—largely thanks to Booth’s creative brilliance—and enormous setbacks. Most troublingly of all, a string of destructive fires points to a possible “firebug” in the troupe’s ranks. The novel’s large, colorful supporting cast demands readers’ engagement. Each character is distinct and troubled in his or her own way, such as Emma’s resilient best friend Evangeline’ turning to prostitution after her parents’ death; Hattie’s battling about finances with her gambling husband; or Booth’s struggling with the shadow of his famous father. Secondary characters, in fact, sometimes outshine Emma, who more than once quietly eavesdrops on explosive conflicts in the personal lives of people around her. The story lacks a proper climax, but several scenes and plotlines stand out for their tension and intrigue—a section describing a rescue attempt during a massive, town-consuming fire is knuckle-whitening.

Struggles with structural issues but still shines thanks to its compelling (albeit enormous) cast and vividly constructed world.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-0-9998514-0-1

Page Count: 402

Publisher: Sierra Muses Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2018

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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TRUE BETRAYALS

Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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