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HOW TO READ A BOOK

A finely wrought story, beautifully told, with deeply memorable characters.

After accidentally causing the death of a fellow driver, a Maine woman does time in prison and then reestablishes her life on the outside.

Violet Powell was just 19, drunk and high, when she caused the death of Lorraine Daigle, a beloved mother and kindergarten teacher. She is convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 28 months in prison. Though she thinks she won’t be able to survive, she does. Prison turns out to be excruciating and monotonous, and while she’s serving time, Troy, her “boyfriend-slash-fiancé-slash-future-slash-everything,” never writes or visits. Even worse, her mother dies and her family blames her. The book club that meets every Friday is her solace, along with Kitten, Jennie Big, Aimee, Dawna-Lynne, and the seven other members of the group. The discussions, in which Violet and her fellow inmates get to exert some control over their lives by complaining about books, are a brief respite. Harriet, the former teacher who leads the group, and the other women are willing to see Violet’s humanity. Violet, who will never forgive herself for her bad choices, is both the best of herself and the worst of herself at every moment. When she’s released, her sister drops her in Portland with a prepaid one-year lease on a furnished apartment, money, clothes, and the information that no one in her town or family can forgive her or wants to see her again. She must find her own way. A chance meeting with Harriet in a bookstore turns into an unexpected meeting with Frank Daigle, husband of the woman whose death she caused. This gorgeously told story follows the first few months after Violet’s release, what she calls the shimmering time, as she tries to define herself on the outside. And at first, only Harriet and Frank are willing to see her for who she is.

A finely wrought story, beautifully told, with deeply memorable characters.

Pub Date: May 7, 2024

ISBN: 9780063243675

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Mariner Books

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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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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THE NIGHTINGALE

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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