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MONARCH

A strong collection, better when blunter.

A gutsy, grungy collection centering troubled souls.

More than a collection of stories, Tobias’ debut is a selection of gritty, emotional character studies. Bettie, the protagonist of “Nova,” fixates on her mysterious companion, Jones, as the two set off on a violent road trip through California. “First time I laid eyes on Jones,” she says, “I didn’t know how I would be tortured, gently, how I would come to rest just beneath her skin.” In “Red Cardboard Hearts Hanging From Strings,” Liza reminisces on past love and a miscarriage as she marries her lover. And in “Under Her Cellophane Skin,” Lemon, a heroin addict living on the streets of Seattle, converses with a lonely old man at a bar. Brimming with pure Americana, not unlike the movies Wild at Heart or Thelma and Louise, Tobias’ stories pull no punches. Readers are given descriptions of characters’ troubled mental states, which, like their bodies, ache and ooze. “Her body’s an arsenal of anger,” Tobias writes about Georgia, the title story’s protagonist, “enough stored for a fallout shelter with full reserves, but the weight, the weight she carries in pain and pounds somehow softens her sorrow, consumes any energy leftover for a fight.” Tobias’ writing has strength in its hardiness and weakens when it’s trying to sweeten, as in “What My Momma Knows Is True,” in which a child grapples with the death of her grandmother. The strongest stories in the collection, like “Monarch,” are tough and unnerving and mean. And yet the book is consistently loving toward its characters, as Tobias writes in a reader’s guide at the end of the book: “All characters share an ability to change relative to their wounds against harrowing transformative obstacles.” Indeed, this collection carries on with the thesis that each character, each person, has the opportunity to grow in spite of their circumstances.

A strong collection, better when blunter.

Pub Date: May 17, 2024

ISBN: 9781625570857

Page Count: 195

Publisher: Black Lawrence Press

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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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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IT STARTS WITH US

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

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The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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