LOOPHOLE

A thought-provoking story that suffers from a crisis of identity.

Hugie’s provocative work of speculative fiction is set in a world where people’s virtue is evident on their faces.

Recent high school graduate Alannah Merlot has a few months free before she begins classes in an art program at the local university. Wanting some experience in her future career field, she lands a temporary job as a staff assistant and part-time cartoonist at the same Colorado Springs magazine where her “goody two-shoes” brother, Tuck, works as an acclaimed journalist. Alannah’s penchant for finding loopholes in systems gets her into trouble when she begins to question how Visage—a mysterious mechanism that tracks people’s net morality by blemishing their skin to indicate transgressions—really works. Was a person with a clear complexion really a stalwart of moral living? Was a person whose skin was covered in gray splotches a criminal? While uncovering a grand-scale conspiracy involving corrupt government officials and the police, Alannah finds herself entangled in a deadly conflict involving anarchist criminals, a repressed homeless population being targeted by systemic injustice, and a group of vigilantes attempting to enforce social balance. Character development is a definite strength of the novel. The author brings Alannah alive; she’s an insightfully portrayed character with an irrepressible sense of humor and wit. The pacing is impressively brisk throughout, and the plot is intricate enough to keep readers on the edges of their seats. The complete lack of an explanation of Visage, however, is a problem. Why, and how, was it created? How does it work? Are humans implanted with a microchip at birth? Are people worldwide affected by Visage? This murky narrative vagueness radically undercuts the power of the story. The lack of elucidation grows more pronounced as the story transforms from what initially seems to be an SF-inflected government conspiracy yarn into a paranormal fantasy, replete with over-the-top characters with superpowers.

A thought-provoking story that suffers from a crisis of identity.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2023

ISBN: 9781685133269

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Black Rose Writing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2023

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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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