SPELL HEAVEN

AND OTHER STORIES

A seamlessly written book full of beautiful connections.

A Bay Area writing professor narrates these interconnected stories, emphasizing the importance of memory and shared experience.

"Is it possible you might need to carry something from the past, from what has happened to what will be?" the narrator asks, and this question weaves itself throughout the stories. In nonchronological yet seamless order, the narrator recalls moments of her life, often weaving flashbacks and thoughtful, sometimes humorous or horrifying anecdotes into the main narrative. In “Murderer’s Bread," she and her partner, Stevie, leave the city for a quieter, more conservative coastal town, where they worry about fitting in. Their concerns about homophobia are palpable, yet the couple embraces the neighborhood’s other outsiders, forming an unlikely community despite their doubts. In “As If You and I Agree,” a contemporary pandemic story, the narrator’s anger at two men not wearing masks builds until she surreptitiously curses them with her middle finger while pushing up her sunglasses. The interaction—which occurs as she's taking her morning walk on a path next to the beach—is familiar, latching on to the heightened emotions about public health circa 2020, but what happens next is unique and aptly illustrated. In silence, she unites with her PPE–defying enemies at the rare sight of a humpback whale, breaching "like a huge middle digit,” just like the finger she insulted the men with moments before. Though the narrator's nostalgic tone can sometimes feel forlorn, there's an overarching sense of optimism in her recollections, with beads of wisdom scattered throughout the book. "You can have a life where whatever you catch brings you joy," she says on a pier near her adopted home, reminiscing about the time she saw a man laugh as sea gulls plucked a comma-shaped pink shrimp, perhaps bait, from his fingers—a simple memory that she distills to its moral essence.

A seamlessly written book full of beautiful connections.

Pub Date: April 26, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-64009-516-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Counterpoint

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

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  • New York Times Bestseller

THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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

FOURTH WING

From the Empyrean series , Vol. 1

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

On the orders of her mother, a woman goes to dragon-riding school.

Even though her mother is a general in Navarre’s army, 20-year-old Violet Sorrengail was raised by her father to follow his path as a scribe. After his death, though, Violet's mother shocks her by forcing her to enter the elite and deadly dragon rider academy at Basgiath War College. Most students die at the War College: during training sessions, at the hands of their classmates, or by the very dragons they hope to one day be paired with. From Day One, Violet is targeted by her classmates, some because they hate her mother, others because they think she’s too physically frail to succeed. She must survive a daily gauntlet of physical challenges and the deadly attacks of classmates, which she does with the help of secret knowledge handed down by her two older siblings, who'd been students there before her. Violet is at the mercy of the plot rather than being in charge of it, hurtling through one obstacle after another. As a result, the story is action-packed and fast-paced, but Violet is a strange mix of pure competence and total passivity, always managing to come out on the winning side. The book is categorized as romantasy, with Violet pulled between the comforting love she feels from her childhood best friend, Dain Aetos, and the incendiary attraction she feels for family enemy Xaden Riorson. However, the way Dain constantly undermines Violet's abilities and his lack of character development make this an unconvincing storyline. The plots and subplots aren’t well-integrated, with the first half purely focused on Violet’s training, followed by a brief detour for romance, and then a final focus on outside threats.

Read this for the action-packed plot, not character development or worldbuilding.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9781649374042

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Red Tower

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2024

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