An enjoyable debut that will appeal to fans of this iconic era.

SONGS IN URSA MAJOR

A young musician rises and falls and rises again in the 1970s music industry.

Inspired by the folk rock scene of the late 1960s and '70s, Brodie’s debut novel follows Jane Quinn, an ethereal and talented musician, as she navigates love, loss, and stardom. A seventh-generation native of Bayleen Island, off the coast of Massachusetts, Jane has always led a life imbued with music; her mother was a minorly successful songwriter before her disappearance a decade ago, and Jane is the lead vocalist and guitarist in the Breakers, a local band. The novel opens in 1969 at the annual Island Folk Fest, where Jesse Reid—music’s unassuming, blue-eyed, and handsome megastar—is set to headline. After an accident leaves Jesse unable to perform, Jane and the Breakers are unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight of the main stage—and their lives change forever. As Jesse recovers on the island, he and Jane are drawn to each other through their mutual passion for music and shared sense of loss. After recording their new album and making a few high-profile enemies, the Breakers hit the road as the opening act for Jesse’s 1970 tour. Jane insists on keeping her relationship with Jesse a secret because she wants to be known for her music above all else: “She feared that, if the world knew her as Jesse’s love interest before she’d ever opened her mouth on a national stage, that was all she’d ever be.” When Jane makes a shocking discovery on tour, her life is blown up, and she returns to the island. As she comes to terms with long-kept secrets, she throws herself into her music and writes her magnum opus, Songs in Ursa Major. Throughout the novel, Brodie thoughtfully probes the different ways men and women were treated in the music industry: the men coddled and protected in the face of their faults while the women (especially rule breakers like Jane) were taken advantage of, undercut, and vilified. If the plot feels formulaic at times, Brodie’s writing—about music, family, and grief—elevates the novel.

An enjoyable debut that will appeal to fans of this iconic era.

Pub Date: June 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31862-1

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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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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Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

THE MAIDENS

A blend of psychological mystery and gothic thriller puts a psychotherapist in pursuit of a serial killer on the campus of Cambridge University.

The author’s second novel features a psychotherapist as its main character, as did his 2019 debut, The Silent Patient (whose main character makes an appearance here). This book’s protagonist is Mariana, who has a busy practice in London specializing in group therapy. At 36, she’s a widow, reeling from the drowning a year before of her beloved husband, Sebastian. She’s galvanized out of her fog by a call from her niece, Zoe, who was raised by Mariana and Sebastian after her parents died. Zoe is now studying at Cambridge, where Mariana and Sebastian met and courted. Zoe has terrible news: Her close friend Tara has been murdered, savagely stabbed and dumped in a wood. Mariana heads for Cambridge and, when the police arrest someone she thinks is innocent, starts her own investigation. She zeroes in on Edward Fosca, a handsome, charismatic classics professor who has a cultlike following of beautiful female students (which included Tara) called the Maidens, a reference to the cult of Eleusis in ancient Greece, whose followers worshipped Demeter and Persephone. Suspicious characters seem to be around every ivy-covered corner of the campus, though—an audacious young man Mariana meets on the train, one of her patients who has turned stalker, a porter at one of the college’s venerable houses, even the surly police inspector. The book gets off to a slow start, front-loaded with backstories and a Cambridge travelogue, but then picks up the pace and piles up the bodies. With its ambience of ritualistic murders, ancient myths, and the venerable college, the story is a gothic thriller despite its contemporary setting. That makes Mariana tough to get on board with—she behaves less like a modern professional woman than a 19th-century gothic heroine, a clueless woman who can be counted on in any situation to make the worst possible choice. And the book’s ending, while surprising, also feels unearned, like a bolt from the blue hurled by some demigod.

Eerie atmosphere isn’t enough to overcome an unsatisfying plot and sometimes-exasperating protagonist.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-30445-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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