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THE MONA LISA SISTERS

A refined and entertaining tale about one determined woman exploring both motherly and romantic love.

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A young widow travels to Paris and ends up caring for two recently orphaned American girls in this historical novel.

Lura Grisham is born into wealth and privilege in the late 1800s in Connecticut, but her socio-economic status does not protect her from heartbreak. After marrying her father’s business associate Walter Myer, she conceives a child. But their happiness is cut short when the couple are involved in a carriage accident and Walter and the unborn baby are killed. During her mourning period, Lura decides to take the trip to Paris that she and Walter had always talked about. While sightseeing at the Louvre, Lura notices two young girls without adult supervision and learns that they have been abandoned by their father. With little forethought, Lura takes full responsibility for the children. As she tries to find their father, she meets Joseph Myer, the half brother of her dead husband. Walter had never known about this brother. With help from friends back home and a detective, Lura learns that the girls’ father was a mobster killed in France. She brings the girls back to the United States with the intent to adopt them. Unfortunately, she makes many mistakes while traveling, such as failing to alert the French authorities to their circumstances. As the story unfolds, Lura’s feelings toward Joseph grow complicated, and she also seems increasingly likely to lose custody of the girls. When a representative of the French government shows up at her home in Connecticut, Lura worries the girls may be lost to her forever. Told alternately from the perspectives of Lura and Joseph, Cramer’s novel is chock full of information about Paris, New York, and law enforcement in the late 19th century. With an action-packed plot, the book features several appearances by notable historical figure Louis Brandeis, who is a longtime friend of the main characters and helps with their legal troubles. The author deftly depicts the era’s American and European societal norms. Full of the period’s technological innovations, old-fashioned behavioral strictures, and elegant language, the work provides a perfect balance of mystery, romance, and history.

A refined and entertaining tale about one determined woman exploring both motherly and romantic love.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 301

Publisher: Russian Hill Press

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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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 FAMILIAR

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

In 16th-century Madrid, a crypto-Jew with a talent for casting spells tries to steer clear of the Inquisition.

Luzia Cotado, a scullion and an orphan, has secrets to keep: “It was a game she and her mother had played, saying one thing and thinking another, the bits and pieces of Hebrew handed down like chipped plates.” Also handed down are “refranes”—proverbs—in “not quite Spanish, just as Luzia was not quite Spanish.” When Luzia sings the refranes, they take on power. “Aboltar cazal, aboltar mazal” (“A change of scene, a change of fortune”) can mend a torn gown or turn burnt bread into a perfect loaf; “Quien no risica, no rosica” (“Whoever doesn’t laugh, doesn’t bloom”) can summon a riot of foliage in the depths of winter. The Inquisition hangs over the story like Chekhov’s famous gun on the wall. When Luzia’s employer catches her using magic, the ambitions of both mistress and servant catapult her into fame and danger. A new, even more ambitious patron instructs his supernatural servant, Guillén Santángel, to train Luzia for a magical contest. Santángel, not Luzia, is the familiar of the title; he has been tricked into trading his freedom and luck to his master’s family in exchange for something he no longer craves but can’t give up. The novel comes up against an issue common in fantasy fiction: Why don’t the characters just use their magic to solve all their problems? Bardugo has clearly given it some thought, but her solutions aren’t quite convincing, especially toward the end of the book. These small faults would be harder to forgive if she weren’t such a beautiful writer. Part fairy tale, part political thriller, part romance, the novel unfolds like a winter tree bursting into unnatural bloom in response to one of Luzia’s refranes, as she and Santángel learn about power, trust, betrayal, and love.

Lush, gorgeous, precise language and propulsive plotting sweep readers into a story as intelligent as it is atmospheric.

Pub Date: April 9, 2024

ISBN: 9781250884251

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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