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CONCH PEARL

Sharp, beautifully textured writing.

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A young girl growing up in the Bahamas in the 1970s must navigate obvious and hidden dangers alike in Justicz’s novel.

Twelve-year-old Domini Dawes, known to her friends as Dede, is a white English girl who lives in Freeport, Grand Bahama Island. The novel opens with her pinned to a boat in fear as a storm rages all around her. The story then backtracks to describe Dede’s life prior to becoming lost at sea, a life in which she already appears to be cast adrift. Her mother’s boyfriend, Silvio, is reputed to be “moving drugs” and shows little interest in her. Her mother, Anita, is a croupier who leaves Dede to her own devices each evening while she works at the local casino. Bullied at school by Jethro, the son of a bigwig politician, Dede has few allies. Johnnie McGuinn, the building manager at her apartment complex, seems to be one of the few people who are eager to spend time with her, but McGuinn has an unhealthy interest in prepubescent girls. Ethel Edgecombe, a sage Bahamian woman who also lives in her building, keeps a watchful eye over Dede, but McGuinn is intent on worming his way into her confidence. Frustrations at school, coupled with the sickening desires of the building manager, lead Dede to take a boat and head recklessly out to sea. She finds herself washed ashore on a strange island and under the guardianship of a woman named Harmony Knowles; Dede is unsure if Harmony is a figment of her imagination or real. Will Dede make it back to Freeport, and will the men in her life pay for the damage they have inflicted on her?

In this finely crafted novel, the author effortlessly builds complex psychological portraits of her main characters. Dede is ferociously indignant yet childishly naïve, particularly when unwittingly renaming her predator, “Johnnie Angel”: “Mr. McGuinn. It’s my nickname for him. He’s always sunburning his forehead.” In the character of McGuinn, Justicz convincingly takes readers into the revolting mind of a pedophile: “The bra she now wore; her breasts had grown in the past three months, and she was shaving under her arms. If she hadn’t already, she’d soon go through the change that ruined them all.” The novel presents a nuanced treatment of complex themes, from male domination of women to issues of racial inequality. When Ethel, a Bahamian by birth, recalls attending university in England, the slur “over-sized darky” remains with her. Yet she also feels like an outsider attending an upscale event in Freeport: “Still trying to impress a social club that had no room for the likes of her.” Justicz also has a captivatingly unique descriptive style: When Dede grips the armrests of her chair in anguish, the author notes: “If she squeezed any tighter, the truth would come out of the furniture.” The final part of the novel, which revisits the Bahamas in the 21st century, unnecessarily tries to tie up the loose ends a little too tightly—but the book’s conclusion presents some unexpected twists that are definitely worth waiting for. A stirring celebration of strong-minded women, this is a superb offering by a truly talented author.

Sharp, beautifully textured writing.

Pub Date: Oct. 10, 2023

ISBN: 9781959984115

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Fomite

Review Posted Online: Sept. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 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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THIS SUMMER WILL BE DIFFERENT

A steamy, romantic summer read with a charming setting.

A florist attempts to avoid her best friend’s brother—and their powerful chemistry—on Prince Edward Island.

When Lucy Ashby visits her best friend Bridget’s family home on Prince Edward Island for the first time, Bridget gives her three rules: Eat your weight in oysters….Leave the city behind. And, most importantly, Don’t fall in love with my brother. Unfortunately for Lucy, she sleeps with Felix basically the second her plane lands, unaware that he’s Bridget’s brother until it’s too late. Lucy has never felt understood or accepted by her immediate family, and Bridget is one of the very few people she allows into her inner circle, so Lucy’s desperate to abide by these rules. And so she and Felix try to avoid each other on every one of Lucy’s visits to PEI over the years. And, of course, they fail spectacularly, always returning to each other when they’re in between relationships. But it’s never been anything serious…Lucy makes sure of that, backing off whenever her emotions feel too strong. In her “real life” back in Toronto, it’s easier for Lucy to avoid thinking of Felix as she runs a busy floral shop, working herself into the ground. But when Bridget asks Lucy to come to PEI for an emergency girls’ trip less than two weeks before Bridget is supposed to get married, Lucy drops everything to be there for her best friend. She doesn’t expect to find Felix there, along with feelings that are stronger and more difficult than ever to ignore. Even more than jeopardizing her relationship with Bridget, Lucy is afraid that giving in to her feelings could ruin the life she’s worked so hard to build. Fortune, the author of hits like Every Summer After (2022), gives readers another refreshingly summery story full of angst, romance, and sex scenes aplenty. The PEI setting is a beautiful backdrop for Lucy and Felix’s secret hookups and Lucy’s journey of self-discovery as she learns how to stand on her own two feet as a business owner, friend, and daughter. In addition to frequent (and welcome) Anne of Green Gables references, there are oysters galore and many sandy, windy scenes that transport readers straight to the island.

A steamy, romantic summer read with a charming setting.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780593638880

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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