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THE PARIS NOVEL

A somewhat ridiculous novel, nicely marbled with fine food and travel writing.

A stiff, lonely young woman takes a life-changing trip to Paris.

After suffering a miserable childhood at the hands of her narcissistic mother, Stella St. Vincent is surprised to receive an envelope labeled “For My Daughter” after Celia’s death in 1983. In it is a piece of paper that says “Go to Paris”; the money to pay for the trip will only be released after it’s booked. This is just the beginning of a silly story with a wildly overcaffeinated plot and characters that are not even close to real people, foremost among them an annoying protagonist who can’t stop shooting herself in the foot even as she miraculously finds her tribe and discovers her extraordinary gifts for eating and cooking. Though she lacks the instincts of a fiction writer, Reichl fills her second novel with the high-flying writing about food, wine, places, and clothes that have made her nonfiction work a well-deserved success. In fact, according to an author’s note, this book grew out of her editor’s request that she expand a chapter from her memoir about trying on a little black dress in Paris. Unfortunately, a few too many ingredients have been added, including a search for a forgotten 19th-century woman painter; appearances by culinary figures like Marc Meneau and Jean Troisgros and literary figures like John Ashbery, James Baldwin, and Allen Ginsberg; a nasty Mr. Darcy–style love interest; and the search for Stella’s father, whom she either does or doesn’t want to find depending on the page. But the food writing is almost worth the price of admission, ranging from the horrific to the euphoric. Here’s Stella eating ortolans, whole baby birds: “All her senses were concentrated in her mouth as her teeth crashed down again and again. She felt the skull crackle and tasted what must be brain. It was hot, it was primitive. It was exciting.”

A somewhat ridiculous novel, nicely marbled with fine food and travel writing.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9780812996302

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 5, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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HAPPY PLACE

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

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Exes pretend they’re still together for the sake of their friends on their annual summer vacation.

Wyn Connor and Harriet Kilpatrick were the perfect couple—until Wyn dumped Harriet for reasons she still doesn’t fully understand. They’ve been part of the same boisterous friend group since college, and they know that their breakup will devastate the others and make things more than a little awkward. So they keep it a secret from their friends and families—in fact, Harriet barely even admits it to herself, focusing instead on her grueling hours as a surgical resident. She’s ready for a vacation at her happy place—the Maine cottage she and her friends visit every summer. But (surprise!) Wyn is there too, and he and Harriet have to share a (very romantic) room and a bed. Telling the truth about their breakup is out of the question, because the cottage is up for sale, and this is the group’s last hurrah. Determined to make sure everyone has the perfect last trip, Harriet and Wyn resolve to fake their relationship for the week. The problem with this plan, of course, is that Harriet still has major feelings for Wyn—feelings that only get stronger as they pretend to be blissfully in love. As always, Henry’s dialogue is sparkling and the banter between characters is snappy and hilarious. Wyn and Harriet’s relationship, shown both in the past and the present, feels achingly real. Their breakup, as well as their complicated relationships with their own families, adds a twinge of melancholy, as do the relatable growing pains of a group of friends whose lives are taking them in different directions.

A wistfully nostalgic look at endings, beginnings, and loving the people who will always have your back.

Pub Date: April 25, 2023

ISBN: 9780593441275

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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