An engaging and hope-filled novel that serves as a reminder of the difficult but joyful game that family life can be.

A STOP IN THE PARK

Dissatisfied with his crumbling marriage, hectic workload and chaotic family life, a Washington, D.C., attorney with anger management issues resolves to change his life.

Strack’s moving novel depicts a desperate modern family’s struggle to restore the sense of simple fun and romance that once united them. Since his recent promotion to attorney manager, Michael Stolis is overworked but making enough money to temporarily patch the holes of his life. When his two daughters aren’t watching television or eating junk food, it’s only because Michael is berating them and his wife, Jamie, for allowing it. Jamie, a former journalist who left her career to become a mom, is equally miserable. To distract herself from the poisonous atmosphere, she spends hours shopping online and flirting with other men on Facebook. Michael has numerous passions—chess, running, healthy eating. One day, while walking through Dupont Circle toward another disappointing family dinner, Michael slips away from the family in search of a blitz chess competitor and meets Rufus, a retired black man Michael immediately envies for his “demeanor [that] exuded serenity.” A jovial, sagelike presence, Rufus is an excellent player but doesn’t care about winning, a fact ever-competitive Michael fails to comprehend, especially after he gets creamed. But when Jamie finally boots Michael from the house, which “could be the beginning of the marriage bust” that neither person wants, Rufus may be just the man to help him restore the lighthearted nature of his early marriage. Hopping back and forth between Michael’s and Jamie’s perspectives, Strack delivers piercing dialogue and intense emotional struggle that fashions a chesslike battle for their daughters’ approval and the upper hand. Filled with moments of tenderness and insight, particularly in Michael’s attempts to make his wife and daughters laugh, Strack’s novel expertly captures the nuances of a complicated marriage, including the small tics that can become explosions of contempt. Certain metaphors feel heavy-handed (after discovering a hornets’ nest outside the kitchen window, Jamie sprays it and later notes how, like the nest, “She had a body, but it was vacant”), and the story often errs on the side of melodrama, but Strack writes with clear, thoughtful and passionate prose, making for a tense and compulsively readable story of family redemption.

An engaging and hope-filled novel that serves as a reminder of the difficult but joyful game that family life can be.

Pub Date: Sept. 20, 2012

ISBN: 9781475150995

Page Count: 366

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 6, 2012

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

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APPLES NEVER FALL

Australian novelist Moriarty combines domestic realism and noirish mystery in this story about the events surrounding a 69-year-old Sydney woman’s disappearance.

Joy and Stan Delaney met as champion tennis players more than 50 years ago and ran a well-regarded tennis academy until their recent retirement. Their long, complicated marriage has been filled with perhaps as much passion for the game of tennis as for each other or their children. When Joy disappears on Feb. 14, 2020 (note the date), the last text she sends to her now-grown kids—bohemian Amy, passive Logan, flashy Troy, and migraine-suffering Brooke—is too garbled by autocorrect to decipher and stubborn Stan refuses to accept that there might be a problem. But days pass and Joy remains missing and uncharacteristically silent. As worrisome details come to light, the police become involved. The structure follows the pattern of Big Little Lies (2014) by setting up a mystery and then jumping months into the past to unravel it. Here, Moriarty returns to the day a stranger named Savannah turned up bleeding on the Delaneys’ doorstep and Joy welcomed her to stay for an extended visit. Who is Savannah? Whether she’s innocent, scamming, or something else remains unclear on many levels. Moriarty is a master of ambiguity and also of the small, telling detail like a tossed tennis racket or the repeated appearance of apple crumble. Starting with the abandoned bike that's found by a passing motorist on the first page, the evidence that accumulates around what happened to Joy constantly challenges the reader both to notice which minor details (and characters) matter and to distinguish between red herrings and buried clues. The ultimate reveal is satisfying, if troubling. But Moriarty’s main focus, which she approaches from countless familiar and unexpected angles, is the mystery of family and what it means to be a parent, child, or sibling in the Delaney family—or in any family, for that matter.

Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-22025-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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