A strained tale that may only satisfy diehard polo enthusiasts.

Witnessing a suicide prompts three friends to reevaluate their lives in Elphick’s tale of drive and discovery amid the celebrated world of polo.

Jessica Peters, a 48-year-old flamboyant beauty and onetime polo star, has just jumped off the roof of an eight-story chapel in Claremont, Calif. Burton, Mike and Danny are skateboarding in the church parking lot when they hear the ominous thump. Jessica’s suicide provokes 22-year-old Burton to investigate the familiar woman’s background since he, too, had attempted his own hanging after his father suddenly abandoned him and his mother. The angry, short-fused youngster propels himself into Jessica’s world of high-stakes polo and determines to write a book about the starlet’s fame and downfall. But polo thrusts a spell upon him, and he forfeits everything in favor of the sport. Mike and Danny jump on the life-change bandwagon as well, which leads Danny to a career in firefighting and Mike to live his dream of surfing the waves of Australia. While Elphick ekes out a few treats and surprises, the forced prose and implausible relationships—Burton falls in love instantly with an array of girls, including the dead woman—prevent suspension of disbelief. Contrived dialogue, clichés and intrusive italicized side-thoughts further ruin the experience. The things that do work are Elphick’s surprisingly moving denouement, and some anticipative plot threads, such as uncovering the secret Burton’s father, Reid, has been harboring for many years. The heart of the story surrounds Burton, including his tumultuous relationship with Reid, where each is prone to sudden unnatural outbursts in the course of gentle exchanges, and Burton’s disturbing oedipal obsession with his mother. Polo fans might find more favor, as Elphick based the story on Deborah Couples, the real-life polo champ, who succumbed to depression following her public divorce from her golf pro husband, Fred Couples.

A strained tale that may only satisfy diehard polo enthusiasts.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2007

ISBN: 978-1425984120

Page Count: 497

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2012


An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

A study of swimming as sport, survival method, basis for community, and route to physical and mental well-being.

For Bay Area writer Tsui (American Chinatown: A People's History of Five Neighborhoods, 2009), swimming is in her blood. As she recounts, her parents met in a Hong Kong swimming pool, and she often visited the beach as a child and competed on a swim team in high school. Midway through the engaging narrative, the author explains how she rejoined the team at age 40, just as her 6-year-old was signing up for the first time. Chronicling her interviews with scientists and swimmers alike, Tsui notes the many health benefits of swimming, some of which are mental. Swimmers often achieve the “flow” state and get their best ideas while in the water. Her travels took her from the California coast, where she dove for abalone and swam from Alcatraz back to San Francisco, to Tokyo, where she heard about the “samurai swimming” martial arts tradition. In Iceland, she met Guðlaugur Friðþórsson, a local celebrity who, in 1984, survived six hours in a winter sea after his fishing vessel capsized, earning him the nickname “the human seal.” Although humans are generally adapted to life on land, the author discovered that some have extra advantages in the water. The Bajau people of Indonesia, for instance, can do 10-minute free dives while hunting because their spleens are 50% larger than average. For most, though, it’s simply a matter of practice. Tsui discussed swimming with Dara Torres, who became the oldest Olympic swimmer at age 41, and swam with Kim Chambers, one of the few people to complete the daunting Oceans Seven marathon swim challenge. Drawing on personal experience, history, biology, and social science, the author conveys the appeal of “an unflinching giving-over to an element” and makes a convincing case for broader access to swimming education (372,000 people still drown annually).

An absorbing, wide-ranging story of humans’ relationship with the water.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-61620-786-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Jan. 4, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020



A straightforward tale of kindness and paying it forward in 1980s New York.

When advertising executive Schroff answered a child’s request for spare change by inviting him for lunch, she did not expect the encounter to grow into a friendship that would endure into his adulthood. The author recounts how she and Maurice, a promising boy from a drug-addicted family, learned to trust each other. Schroff acknowledges risks—including the possibility of her actions being misconstrued and the tension of crossing socio-economic divides—but does not dwell on the complexities of homelessness or the philosophical problems of altruism. She does not question whether public recognition is beneficial, or whether it is sufficient for the recipient to realize the extent of what has been done. With the assistance of People human-interest writer Tresniowski (Tiger Virtues, 2005, etc.), Schroff adheres to a personal narrative that traces her troubled relationship with her father, her meetings with Maurice and his background, all while avoiding direct parallels, noting that their childhoods differed in severity even if they shared similar emotional voids. With feel-good dramatizations, the story seldom transcends the message that reaching out makes a difference. It is framed in simple terms, from attributing the first meeting to “two people with complicated pasts and fragile dreams” that were “somehow meant to be friends” to the conclusion that love is a driving force. Admirably, Schroff notes that she did not seek a role as a “substitute parent,” and she does not judge Maurice’s mother for her lifestyle. That both main figures experience a few setbacks yet eventually survive is never in question; the story fittingly concludes with an epilogue by Maurice. For readers seeking an uplifting reminder that small gestures matter.


Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2011

ISBN: 978-1-4516-4251-3

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Howard Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2011

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