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HULA GIRLS

A wonderful evocation of a time and place and a woman’s indomitable spirit.

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A debut novel tracks a brave and resourceful woman from right before the Pearl Harbor attack through the next 30 years.

When readers first meet Claudia Wyler in Hawaii in 1941, she seems like a real ditz. Her husband, Navy Lt. Jack Wyler, proves to be a controlling and abusive jerk. Then one day, they hear explosions: The Japanese are bombing Pearl Harbor. The couple survive the assault, but Jack is soon killed in a car accident. Claudia is on her own in Hawaii, getting a slim widow’s pension of two bucks a month. Her life then truly begins. At the start of the story, she is an avid reader of women’s magazines that advise her on how to be a perfect wife. And at the end? Well, the destination, as they say, is not as important as the journey. This woman who was born to East Coast privilege learns to be a remarkably good car mechanic, works as a dishwasher in the Grand Hawaiian Hotel, joins a chorus line, and turns into a superb choreographer. And, after hitting rock bottom, she becomes a sex worker, desperately leading a double life. Along the way, she serves as the de facto mother of Edgar Lee, the son of a deceased friend. To say that Claudia is treated shabbily (and worse) is an understatement, but she comes to embody Nietzsche’s famous dictum: Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. The tale’s point of view is Claudia’s, and Miller loves to play with clichés (“Claudia thought her can of worms was nothing like Annette’s kettle of fish”) and delightful figurative language (at Adm. Harris’ reception and dance, “the presence of a powder room had eddied a flotsam of ladies”). The author also provides nostalgic period touches, like Ipana toothpaste and Chesterfield and Old Gold cigarettes (the players smoke all the time), so that readers get the sense of being enveloped in a long-ago era. There are skillfully drawn characters, some mysterious and scary like Mr. Anthony and others loyal to the end, such as Annette Anisinelli, Claudia’s best friend. Though it covers only three decades, this story has the feel of a saga and is as satisfying as one.

A wonderful evocation of a time and place and a woman’s indomitable spirit.

Pub Date: Nov. 18, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-9906893-3-1

Page Count: 490

Publisher: Milbrown Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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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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LONG ISLAND

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

An acclaimed novelist revisits the central characters of his best-known work.

At the end of Brooklyn (2009), Eilis Lacey departed Ireland for the second and final time—headed back to New York and the Italian American husband she had secretly married after first traveling there for work. In her hometown of Enniscorthy, she left behind Jim Farrell, a young man she’d fallen in love with during her visit, and the inevitable gossip about her conduct. Tóibín’s 11th novel introduces readers to Eilis 20 years later, in 1976, still married to Tony Fiorello and living in the titular suburbia with their two teenage children. But Eilis’ seemingly placid existence is disturbed when a stranger confronts her, accusing Tony of having an affair with his wife—now pregnant—and threatening to leave the baby on their doorstep. “She’d known men like this in Ireland,” Tóibín writes. “Should one of them discover that their wife had been unfaithful and was pregnant as a result, they would not have the baby in the house.” This shock sends Eilis back to Enniscorthy for a visit—or perhaps a longer stay. (Eilis’ motives are as inscrutable as ever, even to herself.) She finds the never-married Jim managing his late father’s pub; unbeknownst to Eilis (and the town), he’s become involved with her widowed friend Nancy, who struggles to maintain the family chip shop. Eilis herself appears different to her old friends: “Something had happened to her in America,” Nancy concludes. Although the novel begins with a soap-operatic confrontation—and ends with a dramatic denouement, as Eilis’ fate is determined in a plot twist worthy of Edith Wharton—the author is a master of quiet, restrained prose, calmly observing the mores and mindsets of provincial Ireland, not much changed from the 1950s.

A moving portrait of rueful middle age and the failure to connect.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9781476785110

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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