THE FRIENDS OF ALLAN RENNER

Some portions of this tale drag, yet the likable protagonist’s final destination will surprise readers.

A debut novel focuses on the coming-of-age of a cinephile.

If Allan Paul Renner is anything, it’s affable. Renner was born near the end of the 1970s in Ohio, though he later moved with his parents to Florida. He enjoys films, music, and being kind to delivery drivers. The narrative takes place largely around 2016. Both Donald Trump and Hurricane Irma loom large in the present and near future. On a more personal level, Renner is in store for a few pivotal life changes. The book, though, as the title suggests, provides extensive details about Renner’s acquaintances. There is Akhil Das, an amateur astrophysicist who battles alcoholism and enjoys heavy discussions. Sadie Guildwood was once a singer in a semipopular band in Los Angeles and is now in her 40s and resides in Minnesota. Despite their geographic separation, she and Renner still talk. Fred Seelenfreund is a filmmaker and Renner’s former teacher. He helps Renner discover movies the younger cinephile has never heard of. Philip and Alice are Renner’s kindly parents while Ruby the havapoo (a Havanese-poodle mix) rounds out the family as the lovable dog. Carmen Villela is a beauty who exposes Renner to music he has never heard before while her son, Anxo, shows the protagonist a video game he has never previously played. Readers will follow along as such people move in and out of Renner’s personal orbit. It all winds up leading to a place that will throw even this eclectic group a curveball.

In Andrae’s novel, Renner’s relationships take him to some disparate places. After all, his friends are not just a diverse mix, they also have their own complex, engaging background stories. Whether Renner is having a crossbow pointed at him after talking about films or waiting for a potentially dangerous convict to audition for a part in a movie, the sympathetic hero, no matter how kind and good-natured he may be, has the potential to land in some sticky situations. But there are parts of the tale that lack much in the way of conflict. Renner spends a good deal of the book living at his parents’ home in Florida and enjoying the company of Ruby. He goes so far as to purchase a trailer for his bicycle, which also transports the canine. The purchase and subsequent use of a “medium-sized Pet Safe Solvit HoundAbout” could have been played for laughs or at least some turmoil. But it is not. Man and dog going for a bike ride is simply as much a part of Renner’s life as other activities, such as watching movies. In other words, there are times when there is not a whole lot happening to Renner. Nor is he having much of an impact on the world. But things take a decidedly odd turn in the final pages. Renner’s seemingly tranquil existence ultimately becomes upended in a way that neither he nor his friends could have ever imagined. For the audience, this is the intriguing part. Renner can’t simply enjoy an easy life in Florida forever. What shall disrupt it? The big reveal comes only at the end.

Some portions of this tale drag, yet the likable protagonist’s final destination will surprise readers.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64970-128-2

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Kaji-Pup Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2020

THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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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