Historically and politically compelling, yet the three-soul plot device is contrived.


Revolutionary and domestic politics collide in this tale of a woman’s ghost attempting to understand her life decisions and make amends for her transgressions.

Set against the Chinese civil war, Chang’s debut novel explores the frustrations of intelligent women valued only for beauty and obedience. A young woman’s consciousness awakens at her own funeral, surrounded by her three souls: her yin, manifesting as a dancing schoolgirl; her yang, manifesting as an elderly scholar; and her han, manifesting as a silhouette of light. Until she can remember her sins, she cannot ascend to the afterlife and reincarnation; she runs the risk of becoming a hungry ghost, roaming the Earth for eternity. To help her remember, Song Leiyin’s souls make her watch her own life unfold again, beginning with the evening of her sister’s engagement party, the night she met Yen Hanchin. Born into a traditional and prosperous family, the three Song daughters realize their dreams are circumscribed. Leiyin’s eldest sister, Gaoyin, already married, worries that if she doesn’t conceive a child soon, her husband will take a concubine. Leiyin’s second sister, Sueyin, is betrothed to a well-connected young man far more interested in opium than the business world. Leiyin’s eldest brother, Changyin, waits in the wings to become the family patriarch, while her second brother, Tongyin, squanders his educational opportunities at college to drink and mingle with friends. Leiyin herself longs to continue school, to become a teacher, to make a difference in China. When she meets Hanchin—poet, translator and political agitator—Leiyin’s aspirations gain a romantic edge. Her plans to escape her father’s oppressive household, however, quickly land her in an unexpected marriage. Still, her ambitions and her desire for Hanchin simmer, waiting for a startlingly tragic opportunity. Now, her ghost must find a way to repair the damage wrought.

Historically and politically compelling, yet the three-soul plot device is contrived.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-229319-0

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2014

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Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot...


The Owens sisters are back—not in their previous guise as elderly aunties casting spells in Hoffman’s occult romance Practical Magic (1995), but as fledgling witches in the New York City captured in Patti Smith's memoir Just Kids.

In that magical, mystical milieu, Franny and Bridget are joined by a new character: their foxy younger brother, Vincent, whose “unearthly” charm sends grown women in search of love potions. Heading into the summer of 1960, the three Owens siblings are ever more conscious of their family's quirkiness—and not just the incidents of levitation and gift for reading each other's thoughts while traipsing home to their parents' funky Manhattan town house. The instant Franny turns 17, they are all shipped off to spend the summer with their mother's aunt in Massachusetts. Isabelle Owens might enlist them for esoteric projects like making black soap or picking herbs to cure a neighbor's jealousy, but she at least offers respite from their fretful mother's strict rules against going shoeless, bringing home stray birds, wandering into Greenwich Village, or falling in love. In short order, the siblings meet a know-it-all Boston cousin, April, who brings them up to speed on the curse set in motion by their Salem-witch ancestor, Maria Owens. It spells certain death for males who attempt to woo an Owens woman. Naturally this knowledge does not deter the current generation from circumventing the rule—Bridget most passionately, Franny most rationally, and Vincent most recklessly (believing his gender may protect him). In time, the sisters ignore their mother's plea and move to Greenwich Village, setting up an apothecary, while their rock-star brother, who glimpsed his future in Isabelle’s nifty three-way mirror, breaks hearts like there's no tomorrow. No one's more confident or entertaining than Hoffman at putting across characters willing to tempt fate for true love.

Real events like the Vietnam draft and Stonewall uprising enter the characters' family history as well as a stunning plot twist—delivering everything fans of a much-loved book could hope for in a prequel.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3747-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 6, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.


Book 2 of Hearne's latest fantasy trilogy, The Seven Kennings (A Plague of Giants, 2017), set in a multiracial world thrust into turmoil by an invasion of peculiar giants.

In this world, most races have their own particular magical endowment, or “kenning,” though there are downsides to trying to gain the magic (an excellent chance of being killed instead) and using it (rapid aging and death). Most recently discovered is the sixth kenning, whose beneficiaries can talk to and command animals. The story canters along, although with multiple first-person narrators, it's confusing at times. Some characters are familiar, others are new, most of them with their own problems to solve, all somehow caught up in the grand design. To escape her overbearing father and the unreasoning violence his kind represents, fire-giant Olet Kanek leads her followers into the far north, hoping to found a new city where the races and kennings can peacefully coexist. Joining Olet are young Abhinava Khose, discoverer of the sixth kenning, and, later, Koesha Gansu (kenning: air), captain of an all-female crew shipwrecked by deep-sea monsters. Elsewhere, Hanima, who commands hive insects, struggles to free her city from the iron grip of wealthy, callous merchant monarchists. Other threads focus on the Bone Giants, relentless invaders seeking the still-unknown seventh kenning, whose confidence that this can defeat the other six is deeply disturbing. Under Hearne's light touch, these elements mesh perfectly, presenting an inventive, eye-filling panorama; satisfying (and, where appropriate, well-resolved) plotlines; and tensions between the races and their kennings to supply much of the drama.

A charming and persuasive entry that will leave readers impatiently awaiting the concluding volume.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-345-54857-3

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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