A slow-burning thriller that reveals the seedy politics of higher learning in America.

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FROM THE MIDST OF WICKEDNESS

Cover (Danced by the Light of the Moon, 2013) offers a thriller about a college professor whose career and life are threatened when he learns about his university’s acceptance of shady donations.

Thomas Simpson is an associate professor of communications at Sessions University, where his best friend, Zoltan Vastag, is a senior cancer researcher. One night at the university’s faculty club they encounter Frank Lusby, the chief consultant of university president Bryan Q. Fitz-Hugh’s Campaign for Progress. He asks Thomas, “If you had one word of advice for the president, what would it be?” Thomas suggests that Fitz-Hugh should use podcasts and printed think pieces to inform his constituency about the campaign, which aims, among other goals, to make Sessions energy self-sufficient within five years. Lusby then invites Thomas and Zoltan to a campus reception, where they meet free-spirited billionaire Mark Berger, who’s on Sessions’ board of trustees. Berger quickly takes a liking to Thomas, and Lusby later suggests Thomas parlay the relationship into a donation to the campaign. Fitz-Hugh has already secured millions for the Beijing Center, which is integral to placing Sessions on the global stage. But when Thomas eventually learns the reality behind Fitz-Hugh's campaign, he’s already in too deep, thanks in part to the seductive Ursula Mueller, who works at the university. In this novel, Cover effectively portrays the struggle of many American professionals trying to balance life at work and at home. To that end, Thomas’ family members are well-developed: 15-year-old daughter Sarah is brilliant but bored in high school; his younger son, Tommie, has a developmental disorder that he and his psychologist wife, Janet, are reluctant to label. Cover also interestingly parallels Tommie’s obsession with loud, shiny firetrucks and Thomas’ entanglements in Fitz-Hugh’s machinations. Thomas isn’t a very sympathetic narrator, though, as he easily glides into an affair with Ursula and smugly describes his wife on the couch as reading “the latest deep and meaningful historical novel selected by her book club.” Overall, however, the narrative’s modest pace and eerie plausibility succeed.

A slow-burning thriller that reveals the seedy politics of higher learning in America.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-944037-68-0

Page Count: 292

Publisher: Epigraph Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2017

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...

FIREFLY LANE

Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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