A poorly edited but well-plotted novel with a strong narrative voice provides an insightful look into the 19th-century Irish...

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THE TIMES OF JOY

An Irish veteran of the Crimean War and the Civil War tells his story of survival and loss to a priest.

In this historical novel, O’Meara (Going Home for Apples and Other Stories, 2015) borrows the format of a play script, with occasional stage directions (“JOY MOVES TOWARD THE BUNK AND REMOVES HIS BRITISH UNIFORM”) punctuating John Patrick Joy’s series of monologues. The veteran tells his story in the form of a confession made after his regiment suffers severe losses during the Battle of Gettysburg, but his narrative has its roots in his Irish childhood; the potato famine destroyed his family and set him on a globe-trotting military career. In five sections labeled “tales,” the lead, speaking in a dialect made clear and distinctive in the text (“I wandered into the center of the wee town, droopy ‘n dreamin’; wanderin’ more than marchin’, searchin’ for Johnny Callahan”), tells the story of his impoverished childhood and the devastating loss of his immediate family, his work with dead bodies that allowed him to earn a living and survive the years of famine, a stint in the British army that took him to the Caribbean, Canada, and the Crimea (“soldierin’ provides a man some clothes, a fine healthy uniform of sorts, some shoes ‘n a kit o’ personals”), and his eventual immigration to the United States, where he settled in New York’s Five Points neighborhood and had a brief period of moderate comfort and happiness that included a wife and children before he joined the Union Army in order to provide for his family, returning to the horrors of combat. The book’s well-defined narrative voice and keen sense of historical detail (a vivid scene of bleeding animals for food lays bare the perilous nature of the Irish famine) combine to create an often enjoyable novel, but the book’s frequent errors in spelling, typography, and editing detract from the quality. Arabic numbers are used in Roman numerals (Tale III is rendered as “Tale 111”), and many homophones are used incorrectly (“waive” for “wave,” “heals” for “heels,” “loose” for “lose”) while other words are misspelled even allowing for the use of dialect (“diein’,” “peet,” “pense,”). “It’s” is frequently used as a possessive. The plot is solid, and Joy is a compelling and sympathetic narrator. The unusual drama-style format is well-suited to the novel, placing Joy’s narrative in the tradition of Irish storytelling and drawing the reader’s attention to the unique voice. O’Meara is clearly knowledgeable about the time period, and the book demonstrates an acute understanding of the psychological effects of deprivation and violence. However, the book needs editing of its many grammatical and formatting errors before it is in a position to bring Joy’s story to a discerning audience.

A poorly edited but well-plotted novel with a strong narrative voice provides an insightful look into the 19th-century Irish experience.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 53

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2019

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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