A sometimes-unfocused but emotionally resonant novel.

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UNCLE CUTCH

From the Folksong Suite series , Vol. 3

An anonymous, dying poet unmasks himself to neighbors and family members in Schell’s (Woody, 2016, etc.) conclusion to the three-novel Folksong Suite.

Irene Louise McIntyre Nelley, known as Rainey, is a housewife living with her sassy Irish mother, her two precocious children, and her caring trucker husband in her beloved hometown of Stonyville, West Virginia, in the year 2000. She struggles to feel fulfilled while writing short stories and sporadically attempting to publish them. Her life changes forever, though, when her quiet, next-door neighbor, the elderly Cutch Anson Voltz, tells her a secret: he’s the revered, pseudonymous regional poet known as “Cabbage Smith.” Cutch, dying of cancer, asks her to read his poems at his eventual funeral. An awed Rainey agrees to share her own stories with him, and a careful description of her grandmother’s farm leads to an even bigger revelation: Cutch is, in fact, her mother’s long-lost brother. He quickly becomes an integral element of Rainey’s family, and numerous flashbacks demonstrate how he positively affected Rainey’s life in the past by encouraging her daughter to play music, for example, or by supporting Rainey’s brief attempt to run a natural-foods store. As Cutch’s death grows closer, the circle of people who know his secret grows wider and wider: first Rainey’s mother, then Cutch’s eccentric but brilliant barber, and finally the entire town. Schell gives his characters verbose, sometimes-poetic dialogue and finds striking images in Rainey’s everyday life (as when the family’s pet duck, mourning his deceased mate, finds solace by embracing his own reflection in a window). The plot can feel scattered as the flashbacks move the narrative back and forth in time; some elements also lack clear meaning, such as Rainey’s aforementioned store, whose true significance to her remains vague. Still, Rainey’s first-person voice is undeniably compelling throughout. The book’s last 70-plus pages consist of Uncle Cutch’s final work, the poetry collection Cross Street. Its verses are tedious when they descend into abstract wordiness but quite enjoyable when they embrace vivid imagery, as when one describes pansies as “Dark-eyed innocence shrouded in yellow; / dainty white noses with feline whisker.”

A sometimes-unfocused but emotionally resonant novel.

Pub Date: Dec. 22, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5412-1308-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 18, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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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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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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