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SHADOW LIFE

A family tale with engaging prose but an undisciplined plot.

In this novel, a man learns the story of his heritage following a stressful murder trial.

Matthew Rice is in a Toronto court, the foreman of a murder trial jury. Against all his personal beliefs, Matthew tells the judge that the jury could not reach a verdict, which results in a mistrial. This decision goes on to haunt Matthew. The fact that the defendant, Henry Dawson, is cleared of the charges of murdering a child settles over Matthew like a suffocating blanket, particularly when another kid is killed two weeks later. Needing help with his mental health, Matthew begins seeing a psychiatrist. Then, after losing his wallet, he tries to attain a copy of his birth certificate only to learn that the record of his birth in Canada is messier than he realized. Upon learning that the woman who raised him did not give birth to him, Matthew begins a journey of self-discovery as he travels to Australia to learn about his biological mother. Later, he flies to Ireland to discover more about his heritage and acquire his birth mother’s diary. Decter’s smoothly written story is a bit all over the place. Initially, it appears to be the tale of a man who is fed up with the sociopolitical climate of Canada: “The tectonic plates of his beliefs and Toronto’s civic realities ground against each other.” Matthew is also doomsday-oriented, hoarding propane tanks and liquor for when the country disintegrates. The author seems to be gearing up to make his protagonist’s distress regarding the mistrial a striking example of a broken judicial system, fueling Matthew’s disdain. But then the story rapidly shifts its focus to Matthew’s upbringing and his birth mother, which are compelling elements. Unfortunately, readers will feel as if the book morphed into a different novel when they weren’t looking. Additionally, there are a lot of passages that concentrate on Matthew driving his boat—which are intriguing but puzzling.

A family tale with engaging prose but an undisciplined plot.

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-77086-667-6

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Cormorant Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 3, 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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HOME IS WHERE THE BODIES ARE

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

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Three siblings on very different paths learn that their family home may be haunted by secrets.

Eldest daughter Beth is alone with her fading mother as she takes her final breath and says something about Beth’s long-departed brother and sister, who may not have disappeared forever. Beth is still reeling from the loss of her mother when her estranged siblings show up. Michael, the youngest, hasn’t been home since their father’s disappearance seven years ago. In the meantime, he’s outgrown his siblings, trading his share of the family troubles for a high-paying job in San Jose. Nicole, the middle child, has been overpowered by addiction and prioritized tuning out reality over any sense of responsibility, much to Beth’s disgust. Though their mother’s death marks an ending for the family, it’s also a beginning, as the three siblings realize when they find a disturbing videotape among their parents’ belongings. The video, from 1999, sheds suspicion on their father’s disappearance, linking it to a long-unsolved neighborhood mystery. Was it just a series of unfortunate circumstances that broke the family apart, or does something more sinister underlie the sadness they’ve all found in life? In chapters that rotate among the family’s first-person narratives, the siblings take turns digging up stories and secrets in their search for solace.

Answers are hard to come by in this twisting tale designed to trick and delight.

Pub Date: April 30, 2024

ISBN: 9798212182843

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Blackstone

Review Posted Online: Feb. 3, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2024

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