Distinctly drawn characters make the book readable, but it lacks the ambiguity and intensity of really good gothics.


From the author of Dietland (2015), a 1950s gothic, complete with a haunted mansion, a controlling older man, a bevy of dying girls, and a heroine who escapes.

Sylvia Wren, a rich and famous painter, has a secret: She’s actually Iris Chapel, heiress to the Chapel Firearms fortune, who escaped as her father was driving her to a psych ward 60 years earlier. When a journalist threatens to reveal her identity, Sylvia decides to take control of her own narrative by writing a memoir (this novel). Iris is the fifth of the six tragic Chapel sisters, born in the 1930s, all named for flowers, about whom the village children make up a rhyme: “The Chapel sisters: / first they get married / then they get buried.” The girls grow up in a gloomy Connecticut mansion nicknamed the wedding cake with a stern, traditional father and a cold mother, Belinda, who believes she’s haunted by the ghosts of people killed by Chapel guns. Their maternal grandmother, Rose, and Rose’s mother died in childbirth, traumas that echo down the generations in the form of an apparent curse. Again and again Belinda smells roses and announces that something terrible is going to happen—and soon after, it does. Typically, the “something terrible” takes the form of a Chapel sister having sex with a man for the first time, then shrieking, laughing, smashing a window, and dropping dead. Although this novel skips from the 1950s to the 2010s without engaging with the feminist movement of the 20th century that made freedom possible for artists like Sylvia, Walker makes it clear—through heavy-handed symbols and explicit thematic statements—that she considers this a feminist story. “I’ve finally come to realize that it’s my destiny to be one of the madwomen. One of the women who speaks the truth no matter how terrifying it might be. One of the women who stands apart from the crowd,” Sylvia writes. She escapes her sisters’ fate by never having sex with a man (she’s a lesbian), by running away to New Mexico, by becoming an artist famous for vulvar flower paintings that sell for “an obscene amount of money.” (“In the world of The Cherry Robbers, Georgia O’Keeffe does not exist, and Sylvia Wren occupies (some of) that space,” Walker writes in an author’s note.)

Distinctly drawn characters make the book readable, but it lacks the ambiguity and intensity of really good gothics.

Pub Date: May 17, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-358-25187-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2022

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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 27, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2022

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The years pass by at a fast and steamy clip in Blume’s latest adult novel (Wifey, not reviewed; Smart Women, 1984) as two friends find loyalties and affections tested as they grow into young women. In sixth grade, when Victoria Weaver is asked by new girl Caitlin Somers to spend the summer with her on Martha’s Vineyard, her life changes forever. Victoria, or more commonly Vix, lives in a small house; her brother has muscular dystrophy; her mother is unhappy, and money is scarce. Caitlin, on the other hand, lives part of the year with her wealthy mother Phoebe, who’s just moved to Albuquerque, and summers with her father Lamb, equally affluent, on the Vineyard. The story of how this casual invitation turns the two girls into what they call "Summer sisters" is prefaced with a prologue in which Vix is asked by Caitlin to be her matron of honor. The years in between are related in brief segments by numerous characters, but mostly by Vix. Caitlin, determined never to be ordinary, is always testing the limits, and in adolescence falls hard for Von, an older construction worker, while Vix falls for his friend Bru. Blume knows the way kids and teens speak, but her two female leads are less credible as they reach adulthood. After high school, Caitlin travels the world and can’t understand why Vix, by now at Harvard on a scholarship and determined to have a better life than her mother has had, won’t drop out and join her. Though the wedding briefly revives Vix’s old feelings for Bru, whom Caitlin is marrying, Vix is soon in love with Gus, another old summer friend, and a more compatible match. But Caitlin, whose own demons have been hinted at, will not be so lucky. The dark and light sides of friendship breathlessly explored in a novel best saved for summer beachside reading.

Pub Date: May 8, 1998

ISBN: 0-385-32405-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 1998

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