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AN ART, A CRAFT, A MYSTERY

A NOVEL IN POETRY

A smartly conceived and emotionally stirring poetic tale.

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Two women journey to Colonial America and are accused of witchcraft in poet Secord’s debut novel in verse.

“Don’t think these skills were simple, / they were an art, a craft, a mystery, / yet when the men took notice, / they doubted diligence and named it witchery,” reads the closing verse of this book’s title poem. The skills to which the poet refers are those adopted by 17th-century women to nurture their communities—skills that outsiders distorted and called malevolent acts. This novel initially hurls the reader into the heart of London, England, at a time of plague. Lydea Gilbert and her niece, Kate, tend to the sick with little success, and after losing loved ones, they decide to journey across the ocean. In 1636, they board a ship called the Truelove and set sail for Massachusetts, accepting a period of indentured servitude to pay for their passage. They’re made to work for Hutchinson, a merchant; his wife, Anne, is later put on trial for heresy. Lydea and Kate then travel on to Connecticut, where they go their separate ways, with Lydea going to stay with her cousin, Thomas, and Kate marrying John Harrison, a grower of hops, barley, and tobacco. In 1654, Lydea is accused of being a witch by families she “nursed through pox,” and in 1668, Kate, too, is dragged from her bed and charged with witchcraft. In a final note, the poet reveals that the characters of Lydea and Kate are based on real women, the author’s ancestors, who lived in and were persecuted by Puritan society.

Secord powerfully captures the precariousness of the lives of women healers in the space of a deceptively simple quatrain: “My pockets carry sentimental pieces. / These womb-shaped bags hang below my skirts / hiding needed things, tools for nourishing, / locks of my children’s hair and linen strings.” These brief lines speak volumes about Lydea’s maternal benevolence and the need for her to conceal her practices from those around her. The work presents poems from the separate perspectives of Lydea and Kate, and these first-person accounts shape two psychologically distinct characters. The younger Kate’s vulnerability is palpable on occasion: “I thought that I could live / without her presence, but being with child / again, I wish I could feel her hands.” Secord is also expert at communicating atmosphere, as when, on their arrival in America, Lydea observes: “The air smells / ever green, and trees outnumber men,” a stark contrast to the “many funeral pyres” of the London they left behind. Some readers may be initially skeptical of a novel written entirely in verse, but Secord maintains a strong storyline throughout, and her poetry adds a deeper sense of mysticism. From its opening line, “We kept the small alive from day to day, / kept households warm, kept bread made,” this book is a passionate celebration of historically undervalued daily endeavors of women and a vital reminder of what victims of persecution endured.

A smartly conceived and emotionally stirring poetic tale.

Pub Date: Feb. 22, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-60489-303-8

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: March 25, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2022

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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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JUST FOR THE SUMMER

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Two people with bad luck in relationships find each other through a popular Reddit thread.

Emma Grant and her best friend, Maddy, are travel nurses, working at hospitals for three-month stints while they see the country. Just a few weeks before they’re set to move to Hawaii, Emma reads a popular “Am I the Asshole” Reddit thread from a Minnesota man who thinks he’s cursed—women he dates find their soulmates after breaking up with him, and the latest one found true love with his best friend! Emma has had a similar experience, which inspires her to DM the man and commiserate. She’s delighted by her witty, lively interactions with software engineer Justin Dahl, and is intrigued when he suggests that if they date each other, maybe they’ll each find their soulmate afterward. Emma upends the Hawaii plan and convinces Maddy to move to Minneapolis for the summer so she can meet Justin in person. The overly complex setup brings Emma and Justin together and the two hit it off, with Justin immediately falling head over heels for Emma. Jimenez then pivots to creating romantic roadblocks and melodramatic subplots centering on each character’s family of origin. Justin’s mother is about to serve six years in prison for embezzlement, which means Justin must move back home to care for his three much younger siblings. Emma was traumatized by her own mother for much of her childhood, left to fend for herself and eventually abandoned in the foster system. When her mother shows up in Minnesota, Emma must face her traumatic childhood and admit that she has prioritized her mother’s well-being over her own. There is little time devoted to Emma’s painful efforts to heal herself enough to accept Justin’s love, which leaves the novel feeling unsatisfying.

A wallowing, emotionally wrenching family drama that leaves little time for romance.

Pub Date: April 2, 2024

ISBN: 9781538704431

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Forever

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2024

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