A tightly knit story about a mother’s loss that too often veers into melodrama.

TEA BY THE SEA

A young mother goes on a quest to track down the father of her child, who abducted their baby daughter shortly after her birth.

When Plum Valentine is in high school in Brooklyn, her immigrant parents plan a seemingly routine visit to their native Jamaica. Once there, however, the parents insist that Plum stay behind, leaving her at a strict boarding school to keep her from getting into trouble. As it turns out, trouble manages to find the pretty 17-year-old anyway. After Lenworth, a 25-year-old chemistry lab assistant, tutors Plum, the two end up having an illicit relationship. As the novel opens, Plum is in the hospital, recovering from having given birth to their daughter, when she discovers that Lenworth has abducted the baby. Plum realizes she has been abandoned yet again. But that pain pales in comparison to the yawning emptiness she experiences at the loss of her child. Traveling back to Brooklyn, Plum tries to set her life back on a path to normalcy. Determined to find her daughter, however, she sets off repeatedly, over the course of more than a decade, to track her ex-lover and their little girl. Hemans delivers a cat-and-mouse chase that brings Plum back to Jamaica over and over again even as she leads a parallel life in the United States. The taut storyline sacrifices character development with the net result that both Plum and Lenworth come across as caricatures, their motivations and desires one-dimensional and murky till the end. Lenworth’s sudden embrace of spirituality as he realizes his profound error of judgment also feels forced. By concentrating mostly on the minutiae of the chase, the narrative misses mining the deeper emotional range it could have achieved had it addressed Plum’s grief with more nuance.

A tightly knit story about a mother’s loss that too often veers into melodrama.

Pub Date: June 9, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59709-845-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Red Hen Press

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 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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