A coming-of-age story hijacked by Grand Guignol.

THE EARTH HUMS IN B FLAT

Murder, suicide, madness and awful food: An artless Welsh child must deal with them all in this dire first novel from Strachan, a resident of West Wales.

Gwenni Morgan dreams every night of flying above her small seaside town in North Wales. Her reasons for escaping the here-and-now are clear. In her cramped home, the 12-year-old must share a bed with her hostile big sister Bethan. A bigger problem is her Mam (Mom). When she’s not burning the pudding, Magda Morgan is on her daughter’s case: Do this; don’t do that. And why must she be so odd? Gwenni is an imaginative child who gives personalities to household objects. Her Tada (Dad), a gentle, passive stonemason, tolerates this, but Magda rules. There is another unhappy family in town. Ifan Evans is a shepherd, his wife Elin a genteel, sympathetic teacher; they have two small daughters. Rumor has it that he abuses his wife and kids; he may even have killed two of their babies in the past. Sometimes Gwenni helps Elin look after the girls, and she’s very good with them. For half its length the novel, narrated by Gwenni, putters along like an old-fashioned YA story. The main activity in town is gossip; the period is the dreary interval between World War II and the arrival of television. The gossips have a field day when Ifan disappears and his body is found floating in the reservoir. Detectives question Gwenni. Two arrests are made, and a minor character kills herself (slashed wrists, lots of blood) before attention shifts back to Gwenni’s family. Mam is becoming increasingly agitated over the dead shepherd. Were they lovers when Tada was off in the war? Skeletons tumble out of the closet in a last-minute rush, including revelations of madness and suicide (wristwork again) one generation back. Gwenni has her first period. When Mam becomes hysterical, calling her Satan, it’s time for the needle. The doctor obliges.

A coming-of-age story hijacked by Grand Guignol.

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-84767-192-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Canongate

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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