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I AM AYAH

THE WAY HOME

An enjoyable romance brings Black history into the present.

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A Black couple’s romance ties together the past and the present in Hill’s novel.

The author interweaves a present-day storyline—photographer Alessandra Fleming leaves Manhattan for her hometown of Sag Harbor, New York, after her widowed and estranged father is hospitalized—with a series of first-person narratives that relate the story of Ayah, a woman kidnapped and enslaved in the 19th century. When she returns to Sag Harbor, Alessandra meets her neighbor’s grandson Zach Renard, an ethnographer studying the history of free Black communities on Long Island. The two feel an instant connection that intensifies as Zach supports Alessandra through her father’s final days. She is determined to understand the family secrets her parents kept from her as well as the increasing number of unnerving experiences she has been having, sensing sights, sounds, and smells that are not there. When Alessandra discovers a chest full of newspaper clippings, photos, and other artifacts, Zach brings his research skills to bear, and together they uncover Alessandra’s family history and its place in the Black diaspora. The emotionally satisfying love story is complemented by the book’s solid historical grounding as well as a cast of well-developed supporting characters—Zach’s grandmother Grace Oweku; Alessandra’s elderly neighbor Edith Samuels; and her longtime best friend, Traci Howard—who come with backstories that could fill a separate novel. The writing and pacing are solid, making it easy to get hooked by the story. The book’s supernatural elements (“When she opened the door to her space, a sudden flash of seeing herself stepping into a dim, lantern-lit room that smelled of damp wood, sea moss, and dirt floors leaped in front of her. The surreal moment seized her breath. She gripped the doorframe, shook her head, and the image scattered like startled birds”) echo those in Octavia E. Butler’s Kindred while allowing Alessandra’s story to remain entirely its own. The narrative explores issues of systemic racism, slavery, generational wealth-building, and chosen families, addressing them organically without overwhelming the reader with heavy-handed messages. Distinguished by its intense and passionate love story and its insistence on the contemporary relevance of historical events, this engaging tale will keep the reader turning pages until the end.

An enjoyable romance brings Black history into the present.

Pub Date: May 23, 2023

ISBN: 9781649371454

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Sideways Books

Review Posted Online: April 10, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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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