THE HALF-LIFE OF SNAILS

A savvy if somewhat dense tale of good intentions gone awry.

A woman’s 2014 research trip to Chernobyl has unintended consequences.

Holloway’s debut novel centers on Helen, a single mom whose home in Wales is under threat by the planned construction of a new nuclear power plant to replace an old one. She fears the loss of not just her home, but her rural way of life, which she’s trying to pass down to her 5-year-old son, Jack. (The snails of the title refer to a pair Jack keeps as pets.) Her sister, Jennifer, works at the current plant and is more ambivalent about the land buyouts, though she’s under threat of losing her home as well. To better make the case for nuclear power’s dangers, Helen heads to Ukraine to join a tourist group visiting the catastrophically failed Soviet-era plant there. Soon enough, complications escalate. Helen is separated from the group and then injured without means to send word back home. Jack, staying with Jennifer and her husband, begins acting oddly. And Russia annexes Crimea, setting roadblocks in Helen’s path out of the country. Holloway’s descriptions of the Welsh landscape and the isolation zone around Chernobyl are richly detailed, starkly contrasting lushness and degradation. And she’s meticulous in describing Helen’s relationships with her family and her acquaintances on the tour. All that consideration gives the narrative a certain stodginess that feels ungainly in the latter chapters, which should be more propulsive storytelling about peril and escape. (Subplots involving the sisters’ ailing mother and a highly symbolic orphaned lamb add some additional drag.) But the details persuasively explain Helen's concerns, and Holloway is expert at capturing the fear, verging on paranoia, generated by them.

A savvy if somewhat dense tale of good intentions gone awry.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-913640-57-6

Page Count: 376

Publisher: Parthian Books

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 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

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IT STARTS WITH US

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

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The sequel to It Ends With Us (2016) shows the aftermath of domestic violence through the eyes of a single mother.

Lily Bloom is still running a flower shop; her abusive ex-husband, Ryle Kincaid, is still a surgeon. But now they’re co-parenting a daughter, Emerson, who's almost a year old. Lily won’t send Emerson to her father’s house overnight until she’s old enough to talk—“So she can tell me if something happens”—but she doesn’t want to fight for full custody lest it become an expensive legal drama or, worse, a physical fight. When Lily runs into Atlas Corrigan, a childhood friend who also came from an abusive family, she hopes their friendship can blossom into love. (For new readers, their history unfolds in heartfelt diary entries that Lily addresses to Finding Nemo star Ellen DeGeneres as she considers how Atlas was a calming presence during her turbulent childhood.) Atlas, who is single and running a restaurant, feels the same way. But even though she’s divorced, Lily isn’t exactly free. Behind Ryle’s veneer of civility are his jealousy and resentment. Lily has to plan her dates carefully to avoid a confrontation. Meanwhile, Atlas’ mother returns with shocking news. In between, Lily and Atlas steal away for romantic moments that are even sweeter for their authenticity as Lily struggles with child care, breastfeeding, and running a business while trying to find time for herself.

Through palpable tension balanced with glimmers of hope, Hoover beautifully captures the heartbreak and joy of starting over.

Pub Date: Oct. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-668-00122-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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