A QUESTION MARK IS HALF A HEART

A warmhearted portrayal of family and forgiveness with some loose threads.

At nearly 50, renowned Manhattan photographer Elin Boals is at the top of her game, but a mysterious letter threatens to splinter her life.

The letter isn't even a letter, really. It's a star chart sent from her childhood best friend, Fredrik, whom she hasn't seen since she abruptly left Sweden at 13. After all these years, why would he have bought her a star? More importantly, why does the chart inspire Elin to run a search, querying the statute of limitations for homicide in Sweden? As Elin reminisces, she’s already impossibly late for yet another family dinner—even her daughter Alice's acceptance to dance school can't entice Elin from her work. Her husband, Sam, is about ready to divorce her. Yet even as Sam and Alice plead for her attention, Elin drifts further away, and this time her work suffers, too, as Elin begins to forget who, when, and where she's shooting her next gig. Lundberg alternates short chapters between Elin's present and past lives, but what ought to build tension toward the revelation of why Elin left home—not to mention why she's kept her childhood secret from Sam and Alice and who might have committed homicide—falls flat. Elin’s personality is so sweet and her childhood story so like a fairy tale that it's hard to see even abusers as villains. Moreover, the star chart never seems to turn into a real clue. Indeed, few clues point to the actual disaster that drove Elin away. Consequently, when it does arrive, the climactic moment seems like it comes from another novel. Nonetheless, Lundberg does deftly spin the tale of Alice and Elin’s reconciliation, as Elin decides to tell her daughter everything. Together they travel to Sweden, heading back into Elin's past, ready to face the truth.

A warmhearted portrayal of family and forgiveness with some loose threads.

Pub Date: March 23, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-328-47302-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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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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