Despite quibbles, a fine read that lays bare a less-than-glorious side of America’s recent past. Fans of courtroom dramas...

VERDICT IN THE DESERT

A detail-rich novel about an Arizona murder trial, prejudice, and American culture in the late 1950s.

Without question, María Sánchez Curry killed her husband, Ben, with whom she fought all the time. Indeed, she “had never seen him so peaceful” as when he lay dead with a kitchen knife in his chest. María is arrested and charged with first-degree murder. She had feared for her life and insists she didn’t mean to kill Ben. Judge Morton assigns the unwilling Michael Shaw to defend her. Michael is a hard-drinking lawyer deeply unhappy with his wife, Jenny, and his job at his father’s law firm. But no matter, he says. “My clients never know I’m hung over. I’m that good.” The court assigns Antonia Teresa “Toni” García as a translator so that Spanish-speaking María and English-speaking Michael can understand each other. In time, Michael and Toni fall in love, with abundant complications following—their affair gets everyone’s notice, including his father’s and his wife’s. Viewpoints shift frequently, showing the deep anti-Mexican attitudes in the community. Many think the “white” Ben should never have married a Mexican anyway, that the Mexicans are just here in America to cook and clean. The courtroom scenes feel realistic, and many descriptions are beautifully done. There's plenty of back story, and the plot doesn't hurtle forward like a courtroom drama generally does. While these digressions slow the pace, they are never long, and they provide depth for the more important characters. María and Toni seem the most true-to-life, while Michael is the smart gringo attorney with more than the usual emotional baggage.

Despite quibbles, a fine read that lays bare a less-than-glorious side of America’s recent past. Fans of courtroom dramas will enjoy it as will anyone who enjoys a meaningful story.

Pub Date: March 30, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-55885-823-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Arte Público

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2016

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A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.

THE CHASE

From the Briar U series

In this opener to Kennedy’s (Hot & Bothered, 2017, etc.) Briar U romance series, two likable students keep getting their signals crossed.

Twenty-one-year-old Summer Heyward-Di Laurentis is expelled from Brown University in the middle of her junior year because she was responsible for a fire at the Kappa Beta Nu sorority house. Fortunately, her father has connections, so she’s now enrolled in Briar University, a prestigious institution about an hour outside Boston. But as she’s about to move into Briar’s Kappa Beta Nu house, she’s asked to leave by the sisters, who don’t want her besmirching their reputation. Her older brother Dean, who’s a former Briar hockey star, comes to her rescue; his buddies, who are still on the hockey team, need a fourth roommate for their townhouse. Three good-looking hockey jocks and a very rich, gorgeous fashion major under the same roof—what could go wrong? Summer becomes quickly infatuated with one of her housemates: Dean’s best friend Colin “Fitzy” Fitzgerald. There’s a definite spark between them, and they exchange smoldering looks, but the tattooed Fitzy, who’s also a video game reviewer and designer, is an introvert who prefers no “drama” in his life. Summer, however, is a charming extrovert, although she has an inferiority complex about her flagging scholastic acumen. As the story goes on, the pair seem to misinterpret each other’s every move. Meanwhile, another roommate and potential suitor, Hunter Davenport, is waiting in the wings. Kennedy’s novel is full of sex, alcohol, and college-level profanity, but it never becomes formulaic. The author adroitly employs snappy dialogue, steady pacing, and humor, as in a scene at a runway fashion show featuring Briar jocks parading in Summer-designed swimwear. The book also manages to touch on some serious subjects, including learning disabilities and abusive behavior by faculty members. Summer and Fitzy’s repeated stumbles propel the plot through engaging twists and turns; the characters trade off narrating the story, which gives each of them a chance to reveal some substance.

A steamy, glitzy, and tender tale of college intrigue.    

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-72482-199-7

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 28, 2019

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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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