A promising premise is scuttled by mawkish writing, dithering dialogue and a meandering plot.

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IF WISHES WERE HORSES

A horse-therapy program helps mitigate the tragic consequences of a drunk-driving accident, in businessman Barclay’s debut.

The author's concept is solid. In a Boca Ratan auto crash, a drunk driver and the occupants of the vehicle he hit are killed. Five years later, Wyatt Blaine, whose wife Krista and son Danny died in the accident, and Gabrielle “Gabby” Powers, widow of the drunk driver, meet. Their minister has persuaded Wyatt to admit Gabby’s troubled son, Trevor, to an equine-therapy program at the Blaine family's Flying B Ranch. Wyatt and Gabby are understandably wary of one another, and Trevor thinks Krista caused the accident. With such material, why is this earnest first novel about as riveting as a five-hour PowerPoint presentation? Perhaps it's the sluggish narration and excessive attention to preliminaries. The equine therapy doesn’t even start until some 100 pages in. The program’s impact on Gabby’s son Trevor, whose combativeness in school, not helped by his retro–James Dean get-up, has him on the verge of expulsion, is never really shown—one minute he’s slouching and not making eye contact, the next minute he’s respectful to adults, having exchanged his greaser persona for a Stetson and cowboy boots. The attraction between Gabby and Wyatt is as rote as the appeal of Barbie for Ken, a pair they also resemble physically. Two minor characters threaten to run away with the story. Ramsey (Ram) Blaine, founder and patriarch of the Flying B, is desperately trying to stave off Alzheimer’s and hold on to the reins as benevolent dictator and champion of underdogs like Trevor and Gabby. Then there is Mercy, a ranch hand who cleans up as well as any filly but can out-wrangle any guy, whether at horsemanship, poker or drinking. Her only weakness is her unrequited passion for Wyatt. Several interesting conflicts are introduced but not developed—the preposterously catastrophic close hardly makes up the drama deficit.

A promising premise is scuttled by mawkish writing, dithering dialogue and a meandering plot.

Pub Date: Jan. 25, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-196688-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2010

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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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With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in...

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LITTLE FIRES EVERYWHERE

This incandescent portrait of suburbia and family, creativity, and consumerism burns bright.

It’s not for nothing that Ng (Everything I Never Told You, 2014) begins her second novel, about the events leading to the burning of the home of an outwardly perfect-seeming family in Shaker Heights, Ohio, circa 1997, with two epigraphs about the planned community itself—attesting to its ability to provide its residents with “protection forever against…unwelcome change” and “a rather happy life” in Utopia. But unwelcome change is precisely what disrupts the Richardson family’s rather happy life, when Mia, a charismatic, somewhat mysterious artist, and her smart, shy 15-year-old daughter, Pearl, move to town and become tenants in a rental house Mrs. Richardson inherited from her parents. Mia and Pearl live a markedly different life from the Richardsons, an affluent couple and their four high school–age children—making art instead of money (apart from what little they need to get by); rooted in each other rather than a particular place (packing up what fits in their battered VW and moving on when “the bug” hits); and assembling a hodgepodge home from creatively repurposed, scavenged castoffs and love rather than gathering around them the symbols of a successful life in the American suburbs (a big house, a large family, gleaming appliances, chic clothes, many cars). What really sets Mia and Pearl apart and sets in motion the events leading to the “little fires everywhere” that will consume the Richardsons’ secure, stable world, however, is the way they hew to their own rules. In a place like Shaker Heights, a town built on plans and rules, and for a family like the Richardsons, who have structured their lives according to them, disdain for conformity acts as an accelerant, setting fire to the dormant sparks within them. The ultimate effect is cataclysmic. As in Everything I Never Told You, Ng conjures a sense of place and displacement and shows a remarkable ability to see—and reveal—a story from different perspectives. The characters she creates here are wonderfully appealing, and watching their paths connect—like little trails of flame leading inexorably toward one another to create a big inferno—is mesmerizing, casting into new light ideas about creativity and consumerism, parenthood and privilege.

With her second novel, Ng further proves she’s a sensitive, insightful writer with a striking ability to illuminate life in America.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2429-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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