LESSONS IN LAUGHING OUT LOUD

An unhappy and overweight single Londoner finds her world transformed after donning a very special pair of shoes.

As the reliable and trusted underling to gleefully ruthless talent agent Victoria Kincade, Willow Briar is used to fading into the background, especially when surrounded by Victoria’s celebrity clients. Attractive but heavy, she has seen numerous opportunities—and men—pass her by. A bit of a recluse outside of work, she remains close with her twin sister Holly, a slim, sweet mother of 4-year-old girls who lives in the suburbs. Holly is a living reminder of everything Willow could have been. So when Victoria insists Willow hide waifish starlet India Torrance in her dingy flat after an on-set romance goes bad, she knows she doesn’t really have a choice. After reluctantly agreeing, she walks into a vintage shop on a random block and walks out wearing a fabulous pair of sexy pumps. Almost instantly Willow feels better about herself, and begins to get positive attention from friends and strangers alike. And then Chloe, the pregnant teenage daughter of her ex-husband Sam, shows up on her doorstep. It was Sam, a ruggedly handsome wine merchant, who called off their marriage, but Willow blames herself. Losing Chloe in the process was extremely painful for both of them. Still smarting from Willow’s perceived abandonment, Chloe has attitude to spare, and insists Willow make it up to her by allowing her to crash at her place as well. With Chloe and the young movie star holed up and bonding, Willow tries out her new shoe-inspired confidence on her longtime best friend Daniel, a photographer with a thing for models. Willow meets up with Sam again, too, as they try to figure out what is best for Chloe. But when Willow sabotages a chance for new love, she realizes that unresolved issues from her past have kept her from a fulfilling life. Eager to change that, she takes a brave trip back to her hometown to confront an ugly family secret—before it’s too late. Coleman (The Home for Broken Hearts, 2010, etc.) seems to be trying to do too much in this novel, and the shift from comedy to drama is a bit jarring. But Willow manages to be quite a sympathetic creation. One woman’s attempt to take charge of her destiny—with a side of magic realism.    

 

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-0641-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more