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DEAR CHRYSANTHEMUMS

By turns delicate and wild, this novel will linger like a chrysanthemum’s fragrance long after the last page.

This novel in stories illuminates Asian women’s resilience across decades of personal, political, and economic upheaval.

“Chrysanthemums bloom early in the autumn,” the narrator remarks. “Noble flowers in Japan, they flourish under short days and long nights. Their petals bear a resemblance to the sun’s rays.” Taking place during years ending with six, “a divine number...[which] means a smooth life, a perfect path,” the book tells a series of intimate stories spanning the years 1946 to 2016, taking place in Paris, New York, Shanghai, Singapore, and Beijing. Among Sze-Lorrain’s exquisitely rendered characters are Madame Chiang Kai-shek’s personal cook; a former dancer who, during the Cultural Revolution, must live in a Shanghai apartment building where she witnesses her neighbors routinely depart in coffins; and a Juilliard-trained pianist who is plunged into encounters with her past when, in 1996, a piano is mysteriously delivered to her new apartment in Paris. The women’s stories weave together in understated and inventive ways, much like a recurring motif in a musical composition, which comes as no surprise given the author's background as a poet and zheng harpist. Sze-Lorrain excels in the lyrical mode as her attention to sensory observation illustrates how seemingly minor details such as the play of light from a shattered stained-glass window or the geometrically interlocking joints in a table can become microcosmic worlds if one knows how to look. Weaving these details together with an orchestral sensibility, the novel serves as a multilayered meditation on intergenerational trauma, memory, and resilience. Although this novel feels complete, one has the sense that Sze-Lorrain has many more stories to tell.

By turns delicate and wild, this novel will linger like a chrysanthemum’s fragrance long after the last page.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781668012987

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2023

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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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IT ENDS WITH US

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of...

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Hoover’s (November 9, 2015, etc.) latest tackles the difficult subject of domestic violence with romantic tenderness and emotional heft.

At first glance, the couple is edgy but cute: Lily Bloom runs a flower shop for people who hate flowers; Ryle Kincaid is a surgeon who says he never wants to get married or have kids. They meet on a rooftop in Boston on the night Ryle loses a patient and Lily attends her abusive father’s funeral. The provocative opening takes a dark turn when Lily receives a warning about Ryle’s intentions from his sister, who becomes Lily’s employee and close friend. Lily swears she’ll never end up in another abusive home, but when Ryle starts to show all the same warning signs that her mother ignored, Lily learns just how hard it is to say goodbye. When Ryle is not in the throes of a jealous rage, his redeeming qualities return, and Lily can justify his behavior: “I think we needed what happened on the stairwell to happen so that I would know his past and we’d be able to work on it together,” she tells herself. Lily marries Ryle hoping the good will outweigh the bad, and the mother-daughter dynamics evolve beautifully as Lily reflects on her childhood with fresh eyes. Diary entries fancifully addressed to TV host Ellen DeGeneres serve as flashbacks to Lily’s teenage years, when she met her first love, Atlas Corrigan, a homeless boy she found squatting in a neighbor’s house. When Atlas turns up in Boston, now a successful chef, he begs Lily to leave Ryle. Despite the better option right in front of her, an unexpected complication forces Lily to cut ties with Atlas, confront Ryle, and try to end the cycle of abuse before it’s too late. The relationships are portrayed with compassion and honesty, and the author’s note at the end that explains Hoover’s personal connection to the subject matter is a must-read.

Packed with riveting drama and painful truths, this book powerfully illustrates the devastation of abuse—and the strength of the survivors.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1036-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 30, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2016

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