An indelible story of loving yourself in a world of dreadful realities.

CONSTELLATIONS OF SCARS

In this novel, a sheltered young woman harboring a striking condition discovers the outside world may be as harsh as her repressive mother claims.

Amelia Weaver believes the pearls agonizingly coming out of her upper arms and back are a monthly sickness. But her mother sees it as a benefit, making good money by routinely selling the pearls. She keeps her daughter at home for years, asserting that people will lock Amelia up if they know what she can do. Her mother ensures Amelia stays put by confining her to the attic when she’s away. At age 21, Amelia absconds from her Roseburg, Oregon, home and heads to Portland, where she quickly has to deal with a lack of both money and shelter. Luckily, she finds a buyer for her pearls—a soon-to-open museum of “human oddities,” such as Gabriel, whose entire body is covered in hair. This small museum community becomes like a family, and Amelia lives on her own with an apartment and a job. But a condition such as hers isn’t one she’ll be able to keep secret for long. And she will come to the unfortunate realization that people just as cruel and selfish as her mother are never far away. Ousley’s thematically rich tale packs a few punches. For example, the protagonist’s “harvest” of pearls corresponds with her menstrual cycle, and Gabriel endures mistreatment for a condition he, unlike Amelia, can’t easily conceal. Characters are sublime, as the ones whom some call “freaks” are dynamic and tenderhearted while the rest of humanity includes a mugger and worse. The author gracefully describes disturbing scenes, such as Amelia’s harvests, making these painful, bloody experiences palpable without graphic details. Amelia muses about the terrible effects of these incidents: “After that first year of harvesting pearls, my skin had constellations of scars. I avoided mirrors. The one comfort to my isolation was no one could see my monstrous skin.” The moving novel has its share of positivity as well, especially Amelia’s making friends for the first time in a long while. Though the latter half of the book takes a surprisingly drastic turn, it’s befitting, as is the potent ending.

An indelible story of loving yourself in a world of dreadful realities. (acknowledgements, author bio)

Pub Date: June 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-953238-23-8

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Midnight Tide Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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