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THE HOUSE ON FRIPP ISLAND

An entertaining and ultimately tender book.

A summer vacation to the beaches of South Carolina reunites childhood friends Lisa and Poppy and their families, but when the week ends in tragedy, the survivors are left to untangle the secrets snarled just beneath the surface of their seemingly ordinary lives.

Lisa and Scott Daly are rich and unhappy. Married almost 20 years, they've settled into a routine of petty irritations that contains neither passion nor interest in each other’s lives. When they win an all-expenses-paid vacation to Fripp Island, South Carolina, at Scott’s company’s Christmas party, Lisa jumps at the chance to invite her best friend, Poppy, who has stayed in their hometown of Wheeling, West Virginia, and lives the kind of working-class life Lisa escaped with her marriage to Scott. From the first it's apparent that the families have brought their problems with them to the island. Lisa feels certain Scott is having an affair, one that he seems to be pursuing even on his family vacation. Poppy’s husband, John, is recovering from a nagging back injury, but his reliance on pain medicine has Poppy up every night counting his pills. Poppy’s oldest child, Ryan, an awkward but handsome boy primed to leave for college in the fall, spends more and more time immersed in mysterious projects, and Lisa’s 14-year-old daughter, Rae, is a seething mass of hormones and fragile teenage ego. The younger girls, Poppy’s Alex and Lisa’s Kimmy, are at crossroads of their own, poised in the fraught territory between childhood and the first of their teenage years. Throw into the mix a handyman on the sex-offender registry and his long-distance-runner wife—the improbably named Keats and Roxie Firestone—and the mood of the week is a mix of emotional turmoil with the occasional golden moment of beachfront reconciliation. However, the opening chapter is narrated by the ghost of one member of these two families, describing the moment of their murder during that vacation from the vantage of 20 years in the future. With that in mind, the reader is primed to pick up all the tantalizing clues Kauffman weaves through her sometimes exposition-heavy prose. Our assumptions about whose tensions, desires, rages, and shy longings might erupt into murder are provoked and reversed right up until the final pages, when the mystery of Fripp Island is revealed.

An entertaining and ultimately tender book.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-358-04152-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2020

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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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SWAN SONG

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

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A stranger comes to town, and a beloved storyteller plays this creative-writing standby for all it’s worth.

Hilderbrand fans, a vast and devoted legion, will remember Blond Sharon, the notorious island gossip. In what is purportedly the last of the Nantucket novels, Blond Sharon decides to pursue her lifelong dream of fiction writing. In the collective opinion of the island—aka the “cobblestone telegraph”—she’s qualified. “Well, we think, she’s certainly demonstrated her keen interest in other people’s stories, the seedier and more salacious, the better.” Blond Sharon’s first assignment in her online creative writing class is to create a two-person character study, and Hilderbrand has her write up the two who arrive on the ferry in an opening scene of the book, using the same descriptors Hilderbrand has. Amusingly, the class is totally unimpressed. “‘I found it predictable,’ Willow said. ‘Like maybe Sharon used ChatGPT with the prompt “Write a character study about two women getting off the ferry, one prep and one punk.”’” Blond Sharon abandons these characters, but Hilderbrand thankfully does not. They are Kacy Kapenash, daughter of retiring police chief Ed Kapenash (the other swan song referred to by the title), and her new friend Coco Coyle, who has given up her bartending job in the Virgin Islands to become a “personal concierge” for the other strangers-who-have-come-to-town. These are the Richardsons, Bull and Leslee, a wild and wealthy couple who have purchased a $22 million beachfront property and plan to take Nantucket by storm. As the book opens, their house has burned down during an end-of-summer party on their yacht, and Coco is missing, feared both responsible for the fire and dead. Though it’s the last weekend of his tenure, Chief Ed refuses to let the incoming chief, Zara Washington, take this one over. The investigation goes forward in parallel with a review of the summer’s intrigues, love affairs, and festivities. Whatever else you can say about Leslee Richardson, she knows how to throw a party, and Hilderbrand is just the writer to design her invitations, menus, themes, playlists, and outfits. And that hot tub!

Though Hilderbrand threatens to kill all our darlings with this last laugh, her acknowledgments say it’s just “for now.”

Pub Date: June 11, 2024

ISBN: 9780316258876

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 9, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2024

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