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NERO

Splendid storytelling about ambition, cruelty, and power.

A sweeping novel of ancient Rome and the early days of Nero.

To borrow a philosopher’s phrase opining on another era, life in ancient Rome was nasty, brutish, and short—and being on top of the heap didn’t seem to help much. In the year 37 CE, the brutal Emperor Tiberius is dying. Agrippina is related to him by marriage and has a young son, Lucius, who will one day become known as Nero. Sit back and enjoy—or cringe at—this bloody tale that is littered with the bodies of the powerful, the ambitious, and the innocent. The story roughly follows Agrippina and her son, Lucius, who carry cruelty in their genes. She, for example, poisons her husband, Italus, a centurion who seems only to have treated her well. When the wretched Tiberius dies, Agrippina’s brother becomes emperor. He is Gaius Julius Caesar, nicknamed Caligula, or Little Boots, and he is “quite mad…as dangerous as any scorpion.” “It was death to touch” Caligula, even to rescue him from a dangerous fall. He exiles his sister on a vague suspicion, but after she eventually returns, she marries his uncle Claudius, who spits on his nephew’s corpse. In time, she and Lucius accompany Claudius on his campaign to conquer Britannia. Then—no spoiler, this—Agrippina tells the lad that one day he’ll be Emperor Nero. The novel seems to follow historical events as accurately as possible, considering the passing of two millennia. “Life was violence,” and so at times was birth, as in one horrific scene with Caligula’s son. The fact that Nero murders his mom will have to wait for a sequel.

Splendid storytelling about ambition, cruelty, and power.

Pub Date: May 24, 2024

ISBN: 9781639366545

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2024

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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TOM CLANCY ACT OF DEFIANCE

Well-paced excitement as the Ryans come through again.

Echoes of Tom Clancy’s The Hunt for Red October reverberate four decades after the late author’s famous debut.

In 1984, Dimitri Gorov plans to deliver details of the advanced Soviet submarine Red October to the Americans, but Marko Ramius has already defected and delivered the boat itself. Gorov dies and now, decades later, his son Konstantin captains the Belgorod, Russia’s most advanced sub. Said sub goes rogue along with its nuclear-tipped torpedoes that can penetrate American defenses and blow up some of our coastal cities, or “wipe the American Atlantic fleet off the map.” Driven by multiple grievances, Konstantin wants to do just that, but a painful illness may bring him down. Meanwhile, young Navy lieutenant Kathleen (Katie, please) Ryan plays one of several key roles in trying to stop World War III. She’s smart and appealing and tries hard to downplay the fact that she’s President Jack Ryan’s daughter—“Daddy’s little girl,” as a snarky officer says to her face. In one nail-biting scene a helicopter tries to transfer her from a ship to a submarine in the open ocean. As with every novel in the series, readers are treated to a ton of technical details and asides that slow the reading occasionally, but without which it would not be a Clancy yarn. And of course, there is the obligatory establishment of what fine all-around Americans the Ryans are. Plenty of well-crafted characters, Russian and American, make up the cast. War begins to brew as a Russian MiG is shot down and troubles threaten to escalate. At one point, Katie “felt like the entire world was barreling toward oblivion and she was the only one who could stop it.” But wait: Late in the game, Konstantin muses, “There is nothing the Americans can do to stop me.” Who is right? Hmm, that’s a tough one. In her proud father’s mind, Lieutenant Ryan becomes “Katie—my little girl turned naval officer overnight.”

Well-paced excitement as the Ryans come through again.

Pub Date: May 21, 2024

ISBN: 9780593422878

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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