A hopeful but sometimes saccharine story about family renewal and the power of prayer.

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The Frayed Ribbon

Hart goes straight for the heartstrings in his debut novel about a virtuous woman determined to smooth out the rifts within her family.  

While Gail Rollins is on bed rest in the hospital during her pregnancy, a nurse brings a little girl named Lexie into her room and into her life. Lexie survived a car crash, but her parents were taken to a different hospital. Gail promises the injured girl that she’ll be there for her. To cement that promise, she gives a small stuffed dog toy to Lexie (after detaching it from a stuffed-dog “family”). But just after Lexie returns from surgery, Gail is discharged and leaves the girl behind in the hospital, alone. Sixteen years later, Gail is still haunted by her inability to keep her promise. In the throes of prayer, she receives a strong “impression” that compels her to hold a family reunion in her house at Christmastime. During the reunion, Gail butts heads with her neglectful sister-in-law, cleans up after her tornado of a nephew, manages her own two children, and reconnects with her brother Dale, a diplomat. She also has an unexpected encounter with long-lost family members at the food court in the mall. The sweetest relationship in the book is between Gail and the prodigal Dale—one marked by frustration and misunderstanding as well as tenderness and forgiveness. Mostly, though, Gail passes the reunion putting out fires. Throughout, Hart focuses a good deal on Gail’s reliance on prayer and on what the family is eating. At one point, for example, due to a kitchen mishap, Gail’s homemade food is replaced at the last minute by a local caterer’s canceled order for a Mexican feast. Characters opine on the dangers of Mexican cuisine, becoming gratuitous and slightly xenophobic in their fixation: “I’ll need to buy some air fresheners for the house by the time your family has eaten Mexican food for a week.” The opening scenes at the hospital are the most narratively potent and stirring portion of the book. The remainder of the story, though, tends to be sentimental and righteous in tone.

A hopeful but sometimes saccharine story about family renewal and the power of prayer. 

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4917-8429-7

Page Count: 202

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2016

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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