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ONCE IN A LIFETIME

An enjoyable, starry-eyed coming-of-age tale.

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In Mattaboni’s 1980s-set debut novel, an aspiring artist and her friends immerse themselves in the lifestyle of a funky resort town.

It’s 1984, and 20-year-old Jessica Addentro dreams of studying art in London. However, for this summer, she’ll have to settle for waitressing in New Hope, Pennsylvania, an artsy village on the Delaware River. She’s hoping to save up enough to spend her junior year in London, making multimedia art inspired by the city’s punk scene: “I want to recreate that shoulder-padded, safety-pinned, gelled-together world, through abstract shapes, swipes of color, and vivid bits of broken glass, and make it twice as beautiful on canvas. That’s not too much to ask, is it?” As she saves her pennies, she lives with three of her closest college friends from the University of Pittsburgh—plus a pet duck—in an area that proves to be full of countercultural types, including Matt “Whit” Whitlan, a bass player for a New Wave band whom she meets at a show in Philadelphia. Jess isn’t looking for a boyfriend—she and her college beau, Drew, are only “semi-dating” until she gets back to campus—but she’s about to have the kind of summer where nothing is off the table. Mattaboni’s prose is rich with sharp dialogue, musical references, and painterly details: “I’m a half-formed mosaic, dancing around in a world full of indecision and New Wave anarchy and the mystery terror of AIDS,” says Jess at one point. That said, the author has a habit of beating the reader over the head with the ’80s-ness of the setting, and the narrator seems a bit too self-aware at times for someone who’s barely out of her teens. Still, the author has a talent for enlivening even minor characters with memorable personalities, and she manages to capture the very real magic of small bohemian towns. Overall, it’s as much a nostalgia trip as it is a bildungsroman, but the reader won’t have to have personally lived through the ’80s to appreciate this ebullient and engaging story of youthful longing and independence.

An enjoyable, starry-eyed coming-of-age tale.

Pub Date: March 25, 2022

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 347

Publisher: TouchPoint Press

Review Posted Online: April 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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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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