Atmospheric, romantic, yet refreshingly acerbic—Joinson’s timely portrayal of the difficult relationships between different...

THE PHOTOGRAPHER'S WIFE

In Joinson’s second exploration of British misadventures abroad (A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, 2012), a lonely 11-year-old in 1920 Jerusalem witnesses and inadvertently participates in adult intrigues, both political and personal, which haunt her later life as a troubled artist. 

After her mother’s commitment to an asylum, Prue is living at Jerusalem’s Hotel Fast with her father, Charles, an architect planning a system of English-style gardens for the city. Ignored by Charles, Prue attaches herself to Eleanora, the young British wife of Arab photographer Khaled Rasul, and to Ihsan, who’s been hired to teach Prue Arabic. Encouraged by Ihsan, Prue spies on the adults around her, often misconstruing events and relationships, especially after the arrival of the emotionally damaged British Word War I pilot William, whom Eleanora knew in England. As the arrogant British powers that be reluctantly try to confront an officer running amok killing locals, Prue finds herself in the middle of horrendous violence. Interwoven with Prue’s childhood is the story of her life as an artist and mother back in England. In 1937, Prue has left her foppish British husband, Piers, and lives in Shoreham with her small son, Skip; she's preparing a show of her sculpture when William pays her a visit. A moving, disturbed, and disturbing character in his own right, William tells Prue that Ihsan has died and asks for an envelope Ihsan left with her on a visit to England in 1933. While Joinson layers on a John le Carré–lite plot involving British intelligence, what matters are the memories that flood back for Prue, showing how the demons from her childhood have contributed to both her creativity and her difficulties as a wife and mother. While Prue and William have dark pasts, Joinson wisely allows for degrees of redemption and growth in each.

Atmospheric, romantic, yet refreshingly acerbic—Joinson’s timely portrayal of the difficult relationships between different cultures is rivaled by her heartbreaking delineation of the fragile relationships between individuals.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-62040-830-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

A WEEK AT THE SHORE

A middle-aged woman returns to her childhood home to care for her ailing father, confronting many painful secrets from her past.

When Mallory Aldiss gets a call from a long-ago boyfriend telling her that her elderly father has been gallivanting around town with a gun in his hand, Mallory decides it’s time to return to the small Rhode Island town that she’s been avoiding for more than a decade. Mallory’s precocious 13-year-old daughter, Joy, is thrilled that she'll get to meet her grandfather at long last, and an aunt, too, and she'll finally see the place where her mother grew up. When they arrive in Bay Bluff, it’s barely a few hours before Mallory bumps into her old flame, Jack, the only man she’s ever really loved. Gone is the rebellious young person she remembers, and in his place stands a compassionate, accomplished adult. As they try to reconnect, Mallory realizes that the same obstacle that pushed them apart decades earlier is still standing in their way: Jack blames Mallory’s father for his mother’s death. No one knows exactly how Jack’s mother died, but Jack thinks a love affair between her and Mallory’s father had something to do with it. As Jack and Mallory chase down answers, Mallory also tries to repair her rocky relationships with her two sisters and determine why her father has always been so hard on her. Told entirely from Mallory’s perspective, the novel has a haunting, nostalgic quality. Despite the complex and overlapping layers to the history of Bay Bluff and its inhabitants, the book at times trudges too slowly through Mallory’s meanderings down Memory Lane. Even so, Delinsky sometimes manages to pick up the pace, and in those moments the beauty and nuance of this complicated family tale shine through. Readers who don’t mind skimming past details that do little to advance the plot may find that the juicier nuggets and realistically rendered human connections are worth the effort.

A touching family drama that effectively explores the negative impact of stress on fragile relationships.

Pub Date: May 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-11951-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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