HESTER

Nathaniel Hawthorne plays an unexpected role in this lively fictional look at the origins of his masterpiece.

This novel reimagines The Scarlet Letter from the point of view of a woman who might have inspired Hester Prynne.

Isobel Gamble is still a teenager when she emigrates from her native Scotland to Salem, Massachusetts, with her much older husband, Edward. Isobel comes from a long line of women with secret knowledge—her namesake is an ancestor known as Isobel Gowdie, Queen of Witches. But she’s been taught since childhood to mask such knowledge, including her synesthesia, a condition that lets her see colors associated with sounds and letters. She’s bent her energy to her skill at needlework, which has helped her support her family. With Edward, who’s an apothecary, she believed she’d made a good marriage—until they ended up in the poorhouse because of his drug use. Salem is their second chance, but almost as soon as they arrive, he turns around and goes back to sea as a medic, leaving her almost penniless. Isobel gets to work and finds support from some people in the community. She also gets to know a tall and handsome young fellow named Nat Hathorne, a man she saw the day she arrived in town. Isobel is a red-haired beauty, and Nat’s interest in her quickly turns into flirtation and more. The Salem witch trials are more than a century in the past, but Nat, an aspiring poet, is haunted by the role of his great-great-grandfather, John Hathorne, one of the most implacable judges in the trials. The trials haunt this book, too, woven through its story of Isobel, a woman who bears the bigotry of the town because she’s an immigrant and a woman whose husband may have deserted her. The author has incorporated plentiful research about the witch trials and, in Isobel’s present, the Underground Railroad. The rich details of life in Salem in the early 19th century, and especially about Isobel’s creative work as a seamstress and designer, enliven the tale.

Nathaniel Hawthorne plays an unexpected role in this lively fictional look at the origins of his masterpiece.

Pub Date: Oct. 4, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-2502-7855-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 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

FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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