A very human, very pleasing makeover of the standard Americans-abroad narrative.

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Hacienda

A SOUTH AMERICAN ROMANCE

A lighthearted comic tale about three friends who move to a South American villa and get more than they bargained for.

Charlier’s (Drive for Dough, 2014, etc.) latest short novel features a trio of Iowa friends: practical, cerebral Katie, high-strung Lisa, and compassionate, thoughtful narrator Monica. They met in group therapy in Des Moines, Iowa, two years earlier; after getting to know one another, they decided to uproot themselves from their settled, slightly boring existences and take a chance. It’s an adventure that will be familiar to readers of books such as Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence (1989) or Frances Mayes’ Bella Tuscany (2000): they travel to a foreign land to have a go at a new life. Five years before, Monica bought Hacienda Nusta in arid, south-central Bolivia, but when she and her friends decide to go there to turn it into a tourist destination, it’s fallen into discouraging ruin: “The courtyard itself was nothing but weeds, bare dirt, and broken paving stones. The fountain I had taken pictures of five years before was missing.” As the three women grapple with the protracted repairs to give their hotel dream a chance of success, they try to adapt to their new surroundings. At the same time, the inherent tension of the situation brings strong emotions to the surface and tests the bonds they formed back in Iowa. Charlier effectively peppers her familiar scenario with plenty of plot complications, including an alluring stranger who’s camped out on the hacienda’s property (and quickly becomes Monica’s love interest) and rumors of a “werecat” prowling the chaparral. The author’s keen ear for dialogue is reliable and enjoyable, and she has sure instincts when dramatizing the spiky nature of adult friendship, relating the women’s story with natural pacing and humor. At one point, when most of the plot complications have settled down, one character asserts that “[y]ou have to learn to look forward in your life for joy.” In this novel, Charlier has crafted a confidently joyful story.

A very human, very pleasing makeover of the standard Americans-abroad narrative.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2014

ISBN: 978-1502597038

Page Count: 280

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2015

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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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