Darlington’s wry wit and all-encompassing compassion help us love her characters, even those least like us.

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MAYBE BABY

Not all dysfunctional families are alike, as first-novelist Darlington (stories: Madame Deluxe, 2000) shows in a swift-moving and accomplished take on the parent-child wars.

Gretchen Glide, with hirsute boyfriend Ray, a performance artist, sneaks into her childhood basement bedroom in Fort Cloud, Wisconsin. Upstairs, father Rusty, home from his auto salesman job, hangs his trousers and jacket at the door, heads for the kitchen for a six-pack of beer, then settles in to watch David Attenborough on PBS. Mother Judy arrives next from her job teaching gym instead of home economics at the high school, pads to the kitchen in her nylon stockings to slide out a pair of mauve heels from under the sink, and reaches for the butterscotch schnapps behind the crock-pot. Downstairs, Gretchen and Ray struggle out of their ski gear and make love, conceiving a child. Gretchen, her brother Carson, who left home to join a cult in his teens, and their older brother Henry, who ran off to start a rock band, have all rebelled violently against their parents. Now, Gretchen’s pregnancy, and her involvement with a group of Chicagoans interested in “gender-neutral” parenting, set family reunion and confrontation into motion. Mom, Dad, and Gretchen all get a say in this remarkably balanced story. Rusty’s take on Ray (“the Chimp”) can be hilariously on target, as can Judy’s yearning to be an involved grandmother and Gretchen’s gradual awakening to a sense of her parents as human beings. Judy tries to fit in, knitting black “onesies” for the baby and spending time with Gretchen’s guru, who is raising two gender-neutral youngsters named after galaxies (M16 and M64). Their sex is to be a secret until they’re five, but there are clues: M64 has a forbidden Barbie doll. By the time Gretchen comes home from the hospital with her baby, the family has been transformed.

Darlington’s wry wit and all-encompassing compassion help us love her characters, even those least like us.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2004

ISBN: 0-316-00075-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Back Bay/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2004

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A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

GHOSTED

In Walsh’s American debut, a woman desperately tries to find out why the man she spent a whirlwind week with never called.

Sarah has just separated from her American husband and is visiting her hometown in England when she meets Eddie. He’s kind and charming, and although they only spend one week together, she falls in love. When he has to leave for a trip, she knows they’ll keep in touch—they’re already making plans for the rest of their lives. But then Eddie never calls, and Sarah’s increasingly frantic efforts to contact him are fruitless. Is he hurt? Is he dead? As her friends tell her, there’s a far greater likelihood that he’s just blowing her off—she’s been ghosted. After trying to track Eddie down at a football game, Sarah starts to become ashamed of herself—after all, she’s almost 40 years old and she’s essentially stalking a man who never called her. But as Sarah slowly learns, she and Eddie didn’t actually meet randomly—they both have a connection to an accident that happened years ago, and it may have something to do with why he disappeared. The tension quickly amps up as the secrets of Eddie’s and Sarah’s pasts are revealed, and the truth behind their connection is genuinely surprising and heartbreaking. The barriers between Sarah and Eddie seem insurmountable at times, and although their issues are resolved in a tidy manner, the emotions behind their actions are always believable. Walsh has created a deeply moving romance with an intriguing mystery and a touching portrait of grief at its heart.

A romantic, sad, and ultimately hopeful book that’s perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-52277-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

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THE STARLESS SEA

A withdrawn graduate student embarks on an epic quest to restore balance to the world in this long-anticipated follow-up to The Night Circus (2011).

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a typical millennial introvert; he likes video games, escapist reading, and drinking sidecars. But when he recognizes himself in the pages of a mysterious book from the university library, he's unnerved—and determined to uncover the truth. What begins as a journey for answers turns into something much bigger, and Zachary must decide whether to trust the handsome stranger he meets at a highflying literary fundraiser in New York or to retreat back to his thesis and forget the whole affair. In a high-wire feat of metatextual derring-do, Morgenstern weaves Zachary's adventure into a stunning array of linked fables, myths, and origin stories. There are pirates and weary travelers, painters who can see the future, lovers torn asunder, a menacing Owl King, and safe harbors for all the stories of the world, far below the Earth on the golden shores of a Starless Sea. Clocking in at more than 500 pages, the novel requires patience as Morgenstern puts all the pieces in place, but it is exquisitely pleasurable to watch the gears of this epic fantasy turn once they're set in motion. As in The Night Circus, Morgenstern is at her best when she imagines worlds and rooms and parties in vivid detail, right down to the ballroom stairs "festooned with lanterns and garlands of paper dipped in gold" or a cloak carved from ice with "ships and sailors and sea monsters...lost in the drifting snow." This novel is a love letter to readers as much as an invitation: Come and see how much magic is left in the world. Fans of Neil Gaiman and V.E. Schwab, Kelly Link and Susanna Clarke will want to heed the call.

An ambitious and bewitching gem of a book with mystery and passion inscribed on every page.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-54121-3

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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