Like the ghosts who inhabit its pages, the novel lingers long after you’ve put it down.

UNSEEN CITY

A ghost story that focuses not on a single spirit but on an entire city whose layered history haunts its occupants.

“Meg had the unsettling sense that she was seeing all the layers of the city transposed over one another, like scrims in a play going haywire.” Meg Rhys proudly carries her “Spinster Librarian card” and does not believe in love, thank you very much. Instead she believes in ghosts, and in New York City there is no shortage of phantasmal company. Haunted by (accompanied by?) the ghost of her sister, who died at 25, Meg armors herself with the weapons that might otherwise be used to attack her: She’s 40 and single, she’s a librarian, and she has a cat named Virginia Wolf (a misspelling only Meg finds funny as well as a wink toward Shearn’s fondness for multi-comma’d sentences). When handsome Ellis Williams approaches Meg at her Brooklyn library to help him uncover the truth about a rental property his father owns in Bedford-Stuyvesant, the circumstances seem ripe for a traditional romantic comedy—that is if their trauma and grief weren’t compounded by the occult. The two of them undertake an obsessive research project as they peel back the layers of the house, and the city itself. Largely focused on Meg, the omniscient narrator occasionally switches to the perspective of a young Black girl whose story is slowly revealed. At times Shearn’s exploration of topics as weighty as gentrification, police brutality, and Black trauma comes off oversimplified and overfiltered by the White heroine. That said, it is clear that Shearn has done her research—and details about the free Black settlement Weeksville in particular are treated with sensitivity and knowledge. Ultimately, the novel is as much a haunting by the geography of New York as it is the story of a few souls who live—or have lived—there.

Like the ghosts who inhabit its pages, the novel lingers long after you’ve put it down.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59709-367-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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