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LADY TAN'S CIRCLE OF WOMEN

Women’s friendships in a world where they have little freedom shape a quietly moving book.

The lives of women in 15th-century China are illuminated in this engrossing novel.

Tan Yunxian was a real historical figure who published a book about her career as a physician, but little is known about her personal life. See creates a rich story about a girl born into an aristocratic family. That accident of birth should have written her fate: limited education, bound feet, arranged marriage, childbirth, and a life spent entirely behind the walls of family compounds. She doesn’t escape all of those things, but after the early death of her mother, she’s raised by her paternal grandparents, who are both doctors, and given an unusually advanced education, including in the healing arts they practice. Yunxian’s life is constrained by rules governing her class and gender, and she is literally never alone—even when she sleeps, her maid sleeps at the foot of her bed. Her family’s wealthy extended household has an elaborate structure, and she learns early to negotiate the gradations among first wives, second wives, and concubines and to recognize that, like them, she is valued for beauty and fertility and little else. She breaks a rule, though, when she becomes friends with Meiling, the daughter of Midwife Shi, who delivers the family’s babies. As Yunxian’s grandmother says, midwives are “indispensable”—male doctors are not allowed to look at or touch their female patients—but they’re also reviled for their contact with blood and practice of abortion. The lifelong friendship between Yunxian and Meiling will have an indelible impact on both women, and in a later portion of the book they’ll even be involved in an attempted murder trial. Yunxian’s arranged marriage is a fairly happy one, but as she matures, she grows more focused on practicing as a physician. She sometimes has insight into the inequities of feudal China, especially the treatment of working-class women. But she’s hardly revolutionary; even though she experienced the brutal pain of foot binding and watched her mother die of an infection caused by it, she binds the feet of her three daughters without question. Although the book’s pace can sometimes slow, it’s packed with historical detail.

Women’s friendships in a world where they have little freedom shape a quietly moving book.

Pub Date: June 6, 2023

ISBN: 9781982117085

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 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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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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