Narrative sweep and an evocative sense of place keep this from sinking under the weight of its contrivances. The...

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WINDFLOWERS

Stouthearted men and plucky young women take on the Australian outback.

Ellie, at 14, is on the road with her jobless father during the 1930s when a killer dust storm overtakes them, suffocating him. Crying bitterly, Ellie buries him in the baked earth and trudges on alone until rescued by two young men on horseback, shy Joe and his hell-raising brother Charlie. They take her for the boy she claims to be and bring her to Warratah, her aunt Aurelia’s cattle station in Queensland. Aurelia, a formidable but kindly woman who smokes a pipe, is happy to see her niece, though her mother Alicia isn’t. Aurelia loves Australia and has never returned to her native England and wealthy parents, but her sister Alicia, a haughty gold-digger, wants nothing more than to swan it in London again and pick up another rich husband. So Ellie is raised by Aurelia and tags around after Joe and Charlie. When WWII breaks out, Joe enlists, along with most of the men in Australia, while, bereft, the women of Warratah soldier on through a terrible drought. War’s end brings changes, good and bad: Joe is presumed dead in action, and so Ellie develops a crush on Charlie, whose war wound (in his skull) makes him behave strangely. He rapes her during a drunken interlude, and Ellie later realizes to her horror that she’s pregnant. Joe’s unexpected return precipitates a crisis with far-reaching consequences. Charlie dies before he can marry her, but Joe steps up to do the right thing. As the years go by, a complex inheritance arrangement fosters rancorous conflict between Ellie’s daughter by Charlie (Claire) and her daughter by Joe (Leanna). By the close, though, the firm guidance of Aunt Aurelia leads all to reconciliation.

Narrative sweep and an evocative sense of place keep this from sinking under the weight of its contrivances. The Australian-born McKinley (Matilda’s Last Waltz, not reviewed) is no Colleen McCullough, but this is fine even so.

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2002

ISBN: 0-312-30750-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2002

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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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