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BESIDE HERSELF

A moving look at the heartbreaks and high points of a long relationship.

After her husband cheats on her, a woman attempts her own affair to settle the score.

Hannah thinks she and her husband, Joel, have a happy marriage. That is, until she snoops on his phone to find out if he’s planning a surprise birthday party for her and discovers the unthinkable—he's cheated on her. Joel swears it was a one-time thing and urges Hannah into couples counseling, but Hannah can’t put it behind her. So she proposes a radical solution: She’ll have an affair of her own, just to make things even. Joel, desperate to convince Hannah that he’s sorry, agrees to her preposterous plan. Hannah’s problem? She doesn’t really want to have an affair, but her anger and unquenchable desire for revenge push her to sign up for dating apps and suffer through some abysmal first dates. Hannah’s frustration also stems from the fact that she’s the de facto contact person for Joel’s father, who’s in a nursing home. When Hannah learns that Joel’s parents went through relationship difficulties but remained married, she starts to think that perhaps she should give Joel another chance. Hannah’s best friend, who’s going through her own miserable divorce, encourages Hannah to work things out with Joel. Hannah isn’t sure what to do—despite all her bad dates, she does feel some chemistry with Reuben, the kind, charming social worker at her father-in-law’s nursing home. But eventually, Hannah has to do what’s best for her family—and, most importantly, for her. It’s difficult to invoke sympathy for a man who cheats on his wife and a woman attempting to cheat on her husband, but LaBan (Not Perfect, 2018, etc.) pulls it off. Given the situation, Hannah’s rage makes complete sense, and LaBan provides enough details about Hannah and Joel’s past to help readers see why Hannah would struggle with the idea of leaving him. Refreshingly, LaBan resists making any of her characters into stereotypical villains, instead painting them as complex, flawed human beings.

A moving look at the heartbreaks and high points of a long relationship.

Pub Date: Oct. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-9372-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Lake Union Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THEN SHE WAS GONE

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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