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

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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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Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it...

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THE DUTCH HOUSE

Their mother's disappearance cements an unbreakable connection between a pair of poor-little-rich-kid siblings.

Like The Children's Crusade by Ann Packer or Life Among Giants by Bill Roorbach, this is a deeply pleasurable book about a big house and the family that lives in it. Toward the end of World War II, real estate developer and landlord Cyril Conroy surprises his wife, Elna, with the keys to a mansion in the Elkins Park neighborhood of Philadelphia. Elna, who had no idea how much money her husband had amassed and still thought they were poor, is appalled by the luxurious property, which comes fully furnished and complete with imposing portraits of its former owners (Dutch people named VanHoebeek) as well as a servant girl named Fluffy. When her son, Danny, is 3 and daughter, Maeve, is 10, Elna's antipathy for the place sends her on the lam—first occasionally, then permanently. This leaves the children with the household help and their rigid, chilly father, but the difficulties of the first year pale when a stepmother and stepsisters appear on the scene. Then those problems are completely dwarfed by further misfortune. It's Danny who tells the story, and he's a wonderful narrator, stubborn in his positions, devoted to his sister, and quite clear about various errors—like going to medical school when he has no intention of becoming a doctor—while utterly committed to them. "We had made a fetish out of our disappointment," he says at one point, "fallen in love with it." Casually stated but astute observations about human nature are Patchett's (Commonwealth, 2016, etc.) stock in trade, and she again proves herself a master of aging an ensemble cast of characters over many decades. In this story, only the house doesn't change. You will close the book half believing you could drive to Elkins Park and see it.

Like the many-windowed mansion at its center, this richly furnished novel gives brilliantly clear views into the lives it contains.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-296367-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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