THE WATERS

Atmospheric, well written, and generally satisfying despite some overly familiar elements.

Familial and communal conflicts roil a swampy corner of Michigan.

A fairy-tale atmosphere coexists with harsh realities from the opening sentence: “Once upon a time M’sauga Island was the place where desperate mothers abandoned baby girls and where young women went seeking to prevent babies altogether.” The island is home to elderly Hermine “Herself” Zook, who fabricates medicines from wild plants that populate the wetlands separating the island from the town of Whiteheart, and her 11-year-old granddaughter, Donkey. The girl is nicknamed for the animal milk that nourished her as an infant after her mother, Rose Thorn, left her with Hermine. Rose was raped by Titus Clay Sr., the father of her true love, and chose flight over telling Titus Jr. She lives in California with her sister, Primrose, who broke up the Zook family by having an affair at 17 with Hermine’s husband, her adopted father. Women are not merely victims, and men are not only predators in Campbell’s complex portrait of rural society, which includes several scenes with a drunken chorus of local men displaying confusion over their place in the world—as well as an ongoing fascination with the beautiful Rose Thorn, who makes periodic appearances to unsettle poor Titus Jr. Third sister Molly, nurse at a nearby hospital, also drops by to proclaim the dangers of Hermine’s off-the-grid lifestyle and the urgent necessity of sending her niece to school. Donkey, more comfortable with math and animals than people, is torn between her desire for an education and loyalty to her grandmother, both revered and stigmatized by the locals who buy her potions but view her as more or less a witch. The wise woman privy to nature’s secrets has become an overused fictional trope, but it’s mitigated here by Campbell’s sharply drawn characters and her refusal to make easy judgments about them. A birth rather predictably reconciles the town’s men with the Zook women, but the new arrival does not solve everyone’s problems. Campbell’s thoughtfully rendered characters find life rewarding and bewildering in equal measures.

Atmospheric, well written, and generally satisfying despite some overly familiar elements.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2024

ISBN: 9780393248432

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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