Hampered by an anemic protagonist and a lack of content, this is a very short novel that feels too long.

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THE ROAD FROM LA CUEVA

Will a wronged woman escape from a marriage gone bad? Don’t hold your breath.

This debut novel from Santa Fe Community College president Ortego features Ana Howland, a hospital employee in Santa Fe who does blood work. She lives in the hills 30 miles outside of town with her husband Frank and their young daughter Emmy. Ana has fond memories of her Cajun father, who embraced freedom; she is less fond of her mother, a strict churchwoman. Ana never felt good enough for her mother’s church, which bred in her a feeling of inferiority. Used to Sunday School rules, she agreed before marriage to follow Frank’s rules, which forbade her to have her own friends. Once she threatened to leave Frank, a foreman with a construction company, when Emmy was still a baby, but her courage failed her. The story opens with Ana meeting Michael Woods, a nurse at her hospital and a part-time potter. When Ana notices that “the gold in his eyes matched the fire cracks in his pottery,” we know where this is headed. The attraction is mutual, and the pottery lesson turns into passionate lovemaking, yet Ana still cannot bring herself to leave Frank; eventually, Michael, disgusted, ends the relationship. Ana accepts all the blame and quits her hospital job, stalling this already low-energy novel. As filler, Ortego throws in the story of Ana’s neighbor Margaret, an ailing Apache woman who lost her sweetheart to Vietnam and their daughter to an accidental drowning. When Ana finally leaves Frank, there are no fireworks. She moves into town with Emmy, and Frank (who’s just a rough sketch of a blue-collar bully) is surprisingly acquiescent, but she may have waited too long to regain Michael. “You love a man and you’re too chickenshit to do anything about it,” Margaret tells her. There’s no arguing with that.

Hampered by an anemic protagonist and a lack of content, this is a very short novel that feels too long.

Pub Date: April 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-86534-588-1

Page Count: 140

Publisher: Sunstone Press

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2008

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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MERCY

Despite kilt-wearing characters right out of Brigadoon, Picoult (Picture Perfect, 1995, etc.) persuasively explores a mercy killing in a small Massachusetts town and the subject of spouses who love too much. Wheelock has been home to the tradition-upholding MacDonalds and their hereditary chieftains since the 18th century, when the clan fled Scotland after the British defeated them in battle. Each clan chief has inherited more responsibilities over time, and the current laird Cam MacDonald is, like his father before him, the local chief of police. Cam yearns to travel and, though married, finds wife Allie's devotion stifling. Allie, a florist, has in turn suppressed all of her own opinions and pleasures for the sake of making Cam, whom she adores, happy. As the story begins, another MacDonald, James, has demonstrated his overwhelming love for wife Maggie in a very extreme form: James turns himself in to cousin Cam after admitting that he has smothered Maggie at her request because she was terminally ill with cancer and could no longer stand the pain. While the quality and wisdom of James's devotion to his wife will be tried in public, Allie's love for Cam will also be tested as free spirit Mia arrives in town. Mia has been everywhere and seen all the places Cam dreams of; she is also a whiz with flowers and gets immediately hired by Allie. While Allie helps James's lawyer find witnesses who will attest to his devotion to Maggie (he's now being tried for murder), Cam and Mia have an affair. A heartsick Allie learns of it, throws Cam out, sells all of his belongings, and then tries to forget him. But true love is resilient, and Allie, like James, having learned the price of being ``the one who loves more,'' will now try for greater balance. Overly predictable characters aside, Picoult does manage this time to bring trendy, headline-grabbing themes to life. (Literary Guild alternate selection)

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 1996

ISBN: 0-399-14160-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1996

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