The Hills make amiable companions, but after awhile charm alone is not enough to sustain interest in a narrative of small...

JULY AND AUGUST

A bucolic if bittersweet summer-long family reunion takes place nine years after a similar reunion that marked Clark’s first novel in her trilogy about the Hills family of Towne, Mass (The Hills At Home, 2003).

Matriarchal Aunt Lily, 75, is running a thriving fruit and vegetable stand business. She has invited her niece Ginger, languishing with cancer, to stay in her comfy big house for the summer along with Ginger’s daughter Betsy and six-year-old granddaughter Sally. Sally quickly makes friends with Cam, daughter of Cambodian refugees who run a local Italian restaurant. Much of the novel follows the children’s play, which is remarkable for its 1950s-like innocence and its precocity. Ginger’s brother Alden (abandoned by his wife in A Way From Home, 2005) lives down the road. Shortly before July 4th, his three sons, two of them immensely successful techy entrepreneurs traveling in their own Winnebago, also arrive to spend the summer. So does his daughter Julie, who lives in England. She announces that she is engaged to a British geologist and wants to have the wedding at Lily’s house in early September. Preparations begin with much to-do although Julie’s vagueness about the absent groom leads to half-serious speculation among her brothers and their girlfriends that perhaps the wedding is a sham. Clark richly, albeit romantically, captures the minutia of small town life and the complicated dynamics of family. The Hills suffer minor—very minor—altercations and misunderstandings. They sell vegetables and have wonderful, leisurely meals. They read Trollope and C.S. Lewis. With help from Sally and Cam, Julie finds the perfect wedding dress. Real sorrow exists here—Ginger clearly is slipping toward death—and all the characters display prickles and pettiness at times, but good-heartedness and New England virtues prevail. In this idealized contemporary world, even the twentysomethings’ worst expletive is “flip.”

The Hills make amiable companions, but after awhile charm alone is not enough to sustain interest in a narrative of small moments lacking forward momentum.

Pub Date: June 10, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-375-42329-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2008

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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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