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VIRTUE

A compelling family tale with convincing, psychologically perceptive writing.

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A fractured family seeks a way out of a series of crises in this debut novel.

Tom Holder is a tenured professor of philosophy employed by Barnes College in Maine. He likes teaching but not writing and churns out “just enough pedagogical crap to maintain tenure.” He has recently completed the first draft of a book written with the intention of “lancing Trump with a sharp-edged pen” and pissing off “people in high places.” The latter objective is achieved immediately, as the work’s contents land Tom in the crosshairs of the “loathsome” college president, Amos Whitely. Meanwhile, Tom’s wife, Hannah, is discontent with being a stay-at-home mom. Before Tom received his tenure, she was the main breadwinner, working in a bank in Boston in a management training program. Her prospects of becoming a professional were derailed with the move to Maine, where she grew resentful of Tom’s success. Their children, Madison, 14, and Dillon, 15, have their own problems. Madison is the target of a homophobic slur in high school. Meanwhile, sophomore Dillon is brought home by a police officer after being caught drinking. The status quo of the family is further disrupted when Hannah decides to take the LSAT with the hope of returning to Boston and attending law school. Tom also learns that his estranged father, whom he has not seen in over 20 years, has been diagnosed with cancer. As pressures build, Tom and Hannah find their marriage under considerable strain.

The story is poignantly recounted in intimate alternate chapters from the perspectives of Tom and Hannah. Moot writes with a succinct eloquence, creating a cast of psychologically plausible characters. For instance, when Hannah learns that Madison has been called a “dyke” by a boy at school, the intensity of her shifting emotions is palpable: “Digest, process, breathe. Calm, thoughtful mother. No, fuck that. Rage. Protect your daughter. ‘I’m calling his mother.’ ” The chapters written from Tom’s point of view are sufficiently distinct in tenor to convince readers that the narrative is being delivered by a different person. Tom is contrastingly self-involved and self-pitying: “I rolled out of bed, fed Bart and let him out. A man’s best friend. A man’s only friend. I put on a pot of coffee and showered while it brewed.” Moments such as these capture an everyday routine with which most readers will be familiar, and the difficulties faced by the Holder family are easy to relate to. The reasons behind Tom’s becoming estranged from his father add an extra element of intrigue to an already strong plot, and Moot’s examination of family secrets and teenage rebellion proves thought-provoking. On rare occasions, Tom’s narrative feels stiff and contrived, as though it has been lifted from an academic study, although this may be an intentional reflection of his professional diction: “Religion supplies answers for some. It soothes our existential anxiety by reassuring us that there is a higher power with a larger plan.” This does not detract from a carefully conceived and sharply written novel with characters that are impossible not to root for.

A compelling family tale with convincing, psychologically perceptive writing.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73458-002-0

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Roads End Books LLC

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2020

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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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SWAN SONG

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

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A stranger comes to town, and a beloved storyteller plays this creative-writing standby for all it’s worth.

Hilderbrand fans, a vast and devoted legion, will remember Blond Sharon, the notorious island gossip. In what is purportedly the last of the Nantucket novels, Blond Sharon decides to pursue her lifelong dream of fiction writing. In the collective opinion of the island—aka the “cobblestone telegraph”—she’s qualified. “Well, we think, she’s certainly demonstrated her keen interest in other people’s stories, the seedier and more salacious, the better.” Blond Sharon’s first assignment in her online creative writing class is to create a two-person character study, and Hilderbrand has her write up the two who arrive on the ferry in an opening scene of the book, using the same descriptors Hilderbrand has. Amusingly, the class is totally unimpressed. “‘I found it predictable,’ Willow said. ‘Like maybe Sharon used ChatGPT with the prompt “Write a character study about two women getting off the ferry, one prep and one punk.”’” Blond Sharon abandons these characters, but Hilderbrand thankfully does not. They are Kacy Kapenash, daughter of retiring police chief Ed Kapenash (the other swan song referred to by the title), and her new friend Coco Coyle, who has given up her bartending job in the Virgin Islands to become a “personal concierge” for the other strangers-who-have-come-to-town. These are the Richardsons, Bull and Leslee, a wild and wealthy couple who have purchased a $22 million beachfront property and plan to take Nantucket by storm. As the book opens, their house has burned down during an end-of-summer party on their yacht, and Coco is missing, feared both responsible for the fire and dead. Though it’s the last weekend of his tenure, Chief Ed refuses to let the incoming chief, Zara Washington, take this one over. The investigation goes forward in parallel with a review of the summer’s intrigues, love affairs, and festivities. Whatever else you can say about Leslee Richardson, she knows how to throw a party, and Hilderbrand is just the writer to design her invitations, menus, themes, playlists, and outfits. And that hot tub!

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9780316258876

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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