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OLGA

A historical novel about a mismatched couple spends too little time with its most interesting character.

In a story that sweeps across a century, a woman who stays home is more engaging that her lover who explores the world.

Born near the end of the 19th century in a small town in Poland, Olga Rinke endures a childhood marked by poverty and loneliness. After her parents’ deaths, she’s raised by her cold German grandmother in a village in Pomerania. A bright and curious student, Olga finds solace in school and in her friendship and, later, more with Herbert Schröder, son of the richest man in the village. When they fall in love, his family disapproves, so they pursue their affair in secret. Restless and self-centered (and none too bright), Herbert is colonialism on the hoof. As a soldier in South West Africa during Germany’s genocide against the Herero people, he feels an occasional twitch of empathy: “But they had perished with their cattle and like cattle; they had been lying on the ground, and he had been on horseback.” Herbert, obsessed with travel and exploration, is often gone for months or years, but Olga remains faithful to him. Her instincts for community and stability run counter to his—she becomes a teacher, forms friendships, joins unions and churches, and creates a comfortable home for herself. She waits uncomplainingly for Herbert’s visits and, even after he leaves her life for good, carries a torch. Later in life, working as a seamstress, she grows close to Ferdinand, the young son of an employer. He takes over the book’s narration, recounting Olga as a mother figure and an intellectual equal with whom he remains friends for the rest of her life. The novel covers more than a century, and its swathes of historical exposition take the reader away from Olga; it’s strongest when it pauses to explore the intimate texture of her life, but those pauses are too brief. She’s an intriguing character, but Herbert isn’t, making her devotion to him a puzzle. A couple of big reveals about Olga are telegraphed so early and so broadly that they lack punch when they come.

A historical novel about a mismatched couple spends too little time with its most interesting character.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-311292-6

Page Count: 288

Publisher: HarperVia

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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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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THE GOD OF THE WOODS

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Many years after her older brother, Bear, went missing, Barbara Van Laar vanishes from the same sleepaway camp he did, leading to dark, bitter truths about her wealthy family.

One morning in 1975 at Camp Emerson—an Adirondacks summer camp owned by her family—it's discovered that 13-year-old Barbara isn't in her bed. A problem case whose unhappily married parents disdain her goth appearance and "stormy" temperament, Barbara is secretly known by one bunkmate to have slipped out every night after bedtime. But no one has a clue where's she permanently disappeared to, firing speculation that she was taken by a local serial killer known as Slitter. As Jacob Sluiter, he was convicted of 11 murders in the 1960s and recently broke out of prison. He's the one, people say, who should have been prosecuted for Bear's abduction, not a gardener who was framed. Leave it to the young and unproven assistant investigator, Judy Luptack, to press forward in uncovering the truth, unswayed by her bullying father and male colleagues who question whether women are "cut out for this work." An unsavory group portrait of the Van Laars emerges in which the children's father cruelly abuses their submissive mother, who is so traumatized by the loss of Bear—and the possible role she played in it—that she has no love left for her daughter. Picking up on the themes of families in search of themselves she explored in Long Bright River (2020), Moore draws sympathy to characters who have been subjected to spousal, parental, psychological, and physical abuse. As rich in background detail and secondary mysteries as it is, this ever-expansive, intricate, emotionally engaging novel never seems overplotted. Every piece falls skillfully into place and every character, major and minor, leaves an imprint.

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Pub Date: July 2, 2024

ISBN: 9780593418918

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2024

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