Read it for the suspenseful plot, but look elsewhere for the facts.

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SWEET MADNESS

Interest in Lizzie Borden, tried and acquitted in the brutal 1892 murder of her father and stepmother, has never flagged; this fictional retelling depicts the unsolved crime from the perspective of the family’s live-in, Irish-immigrant maid, Bridget Sullivan.

Andrew Borden rules his household through tightfisted micromanagement and intimidation; his second wife, Abigail, passive and reclusive, communicates via written lists; Emma, Lizzie’s older sister, is seldom home. Lizzie, lonely, unstable, and combative, has attached herself to Bridget, following her when she leaves the house. Bridget’s grateful for her friendship and help with chores, but she finds Lizzie’s sleepwalking, spying, and screaming matches with her father deeply upsetting. Bridget’s fiance, Liam, wants her to quit, but she’s reluctant to leave a well-paid job. Lizzie reminds Bridget of her mentally disabled sister, Cara, for whose condition she feels responsible. While the portrait of the claustrophobic, creepy Borden household and its denizens, Lizzie especially, is grippingly vivid, Bridget herself is problematic. As a domestic, she’s less than credible. Her contemporary vocabulary full of breezy colloquialisms (“I didn’t buy it” (expressing skepticism); “you owe me”; “I’d stashed it”) bears little resemblance to the real Bridget’s plain speech (well-documented in trial transcripts). Lizzie holds the power in this unequal relationship; her inconsistent, abusive treatment renders Bridget’s tolerant affection puzzling and its rationale weak.

Read it for the suspenseful plot, but look elsewhere for the facts. (Historical fiction. 13-17)

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4405-8894-5

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Merit Press

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2015

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An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments.

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ALWAYS AND FOREVER, LARA JEAN

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 3

Lara Jean prepares for college and a wedding.

Korean-American Lara Jean is finally settled into a nice, complication-free relationship with her white boyfriend, Peter. But things don’t stay simple for long. When college acceptance letters roll in, Peter and Lara Jean discover they’re heading in different directions. As the two discuss the long-distance thing, Lara Jean’s widower father is making a major commitment: marrying the neighbor lady he’s been dating. The whirlwind of a wedding, college visits, prom, and the last few months of senior year provides an excellent backdrop for this final book about Lara Jean. The characters ping from event to event with emotions always at the forefront. Han further develops her cast, pushing them to new maturity and leaving few stones unturned. There’s only one problem here, and it’s what’s always held this series back from true greatness: Peter. Despite Han’s best efforts to flesh out Peter with abandonment issues and a crummy dad, he remains little more than a handsome jock. Frankly, Lara Jean and Peter may have cute teen chemistry, but Han's nuanced characterizations have often helped to subvert typical teen love-story tropes. This knowing subversion is frustratingly absent from the novel's denouement.

An emotionally engaging closer that fumbles in its final moments. (Romance. 14-17)

Pub Date: May 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4814-3048-7

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2017

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A satisfying if slightly lesser sequel. (Romance. 13-17)

P.S. I STILL LOVE YOU

From the To All the Boys I've Loved Before series , Vol. 2

Lara Jean's romantic entanglements complicate themselves further.

In the wake of the events detailed in To All the Boys I Loved Before (2014), Lara Jean confesses her love for handsome golden boy Peter. This frees the pair to start a romantic relationship with a clean slate, but over the course of the novel it becomes clear that embarking on a relationship that turns an aggressive blind eye to baggage is never a good idea. When a viral video of a steamy love session between Peter and Lara Jean rears its ugly head and a boy from the past enters Lara Jean's life once more, Lara Jean's life gets complicated. Every character from Han’s adored previous novel is back, with new dimensions given to nearly every one of them. Subplots abound, among them two involving Lara Jean's father and Peter's ex-gal Genevieve, but benefitting most from this second look is John Ambrose McClaren, a boy briefly referenced in the former book who is thrust into the spotlight here as Peter's rival for Lara Jean's heart. With all these characters bouncing around, Han occasionally struggles to keep a steady hand on the novel's primary thrust: Lara Jean’s emotional development. Han gets the job done in the end, but this overeventful sequel pales to the original where structure is concerned. The author's greatest success remains her character work, and the book does indeed give everyone a solid arc, narrative be damned.

A satisfying if slightly lesser sequel. (Romance. 13-17)

Pub Date: May 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4424-2673-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: July 4, 2015

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