An unforgiving story about abuse in a fractured and ruined family.


On A Fool's Errand

A young girl struggles through life with an alcohol-swilling mother and a violent stepfather in this debut novel.

Liz Burke, age 9, is growing up hard in a coal-mining town in Pennsylvania in the 1940s. She has two brothers—one older, one younger—named Patrick and Matthew, and a dictator of a mother named Clare. Dad died years before in an accident at work, and Clare struggles to make ends meet working at the local brewery. One day, Liz and Patrick cut school to go to the river, and Patrick hits his head and drowns. Liz blames herself for the accident and now has to endure grief, problems at school, and a mother who is drinking heavily. She also needs to take care of Matthew, a sensitive boy who is just starting first grade. Unable to make rent, Clare begins to bring home gentlemen in the evenings, and Liz faces taunts at school for her mother’s descent into prostitution. Seeking a permanent mate, Clare latches on to Nick Sinclair, a veteran who has started working at the brewery. It is not long before he and Clare are brawling in the kitchen in drunken spats. Nick also physically abuses the kids and later rapes Liz. She tells no one of the crime, and the insanity at home continues. By the time Liz is 12, she is pregnant with Nick’s child, and the veteran, who fears exposure, takes her to Seattle. Clare, who had abandoned the family in disgust, is reunited with Matthew, while Liz begins anew in Washington under the impression she is in a loving relationship with Nick. Wammer’s narrative about wartime life in coal country describes the sometimes-brutal realities faced by his characters with a good deal of emotion and does well to add several kindhearted characters to the madhouse, including Liz herself and the departed dad. But parts of the story strain credulity. Too many people believe the often told lie that Liz is almost 18, and an additional sexual pairing with her and another man in Washington is unnecessary. Through a series of about-face personality changes from several characters and a tale that spans decades, the sad novel begins to feel overdone and a tad gratuitous.

An unforgiving story about abuse in a fractured and ruined family.

Pub Date: March 25, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5333-6849-2

Page Count: 346

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 23, 2016

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.


A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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