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FOUR OF A KIND

A WOMEN'S HISTORICAL FICTION

An edifying historical saga for readers interested in the evolution of women’s rights.

Russell’s debut historical novel explores the women’s rights movement through the eyes of four successive generations.

In December 1963, great-grandmother Ruby Wright gathers together her daughter, Bess Wright-Pickering; granddaughter, Katy Pickering; and great-granddaughter, Jesi Pickering. She gives them each the task of writing about their “year of awakening,” or, as Bess explains it, “a year of 4 seasons, where the spring seed of an event is born, grows, matures, and becomes winter wisdom as a life-changing realization.” Ruby, who came of age near the turn of the 20th century, discusses her stifling experiences as a Victorian-era housewife and her participation in the nascent women’s suffrage movement. She often brought her bright, obedient daughter, Bess, to the demonstrations, and the girl readily took up her mother’s mantle, later crusading for women’s rights and the ratification of the 19th Amendment. Her daughter, Katy, reveals a time in the 1940s when she traveled to Georgia, the site of her father’s plantation. There, she attempted to find out more about her father, who died before she was born. In the process, she uncovered shocking secrets, and around the same time, she became pregnant with Jesi, who was born with leg deformities and still requires the use of a brace. At first reluctant to write, Jesi soon divulges her experiences with a black boyfriend during the 1960s’ civil rights movement. In this ambitious novel, Russell vividly portrays the sexism and sense of powerlessness that all four women experienced. Each woman writes five chapters, and the novel alternates between them, sometimes abruptly. The author devotes most of the novel to the two eldest women, but Katy’s and Jesi’s stories are no less complex, and seem shortchanged by the narrative. It sometimes isn’t clear whether a character is writing, remembering past events or reading from journals or letters. Readers may feel that it takes considerable time to get to know each character, but once the women become familiar, the story reads much more smoothly. Despite a few grammatical errors and a somewhat protracted length, the novel manages to enliven and enhance a momentous period in history.

An edifying historical saga for readers interested in the evolution of women’s rights.

Pub Date: July 20, 2014

ISBN: 978-1497348936

Page Count: 496

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2014

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WE WERE THE LUCKY ONES

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Hunter’s debut novel tracks the experiences of her family members during the Holocaust.

Sol and Nechuma Kurc, wealthy, cultured Jews in Radom, Poland, are successful shop owners; they and their grown children live a comfortable lifestyle. But that lifestyle is no protection against the onslaught of the Holocaust, which eventually scatters the members of the Kurc family among several continents. Genek, the oldest son, is exiled with his wife to a Siberian gulag. Halina, youngest of all the children, works to protect her family alongside her resistance-fighter husband. Addy, middle child, a composer and engineer before the war breaks out, leaves Europe on one of the last passenger ships, ending up thousands of miles away. Then, too, there are Mila and Felicia, Jakob and Bella, each with their own share of struggles—pain endured, horrors witnessed. Hunter conducted extensive research after learning that her grandfather (Addy in the book) survived the Holocaust. The research shows: her novel is thorough and precise in its details. It’s less precise in its language, however, which frequently relies on cliché. “You’ll get only one shot at this,” Halina thinks, enacting a plan to save her husband. “Don’t botch it.” Later, Genek, confronting a routine bit of paperwork, must decide whether or not to hide his Jewishness. “That form is a deal breaker,” he tells himself. “It’s life and death.” And: “They are low, it seems, on good fortune. And something tells him they’ll need it.” Worse than these stale phrases, though, are the moments when Hunter’s writing is entirely inadequate for the subject matter at hand. Genek, describing the gulag, calls the nearest town “a total shitscape.” This is a low point for Hunter’s writing; elsewhere in the novel, it’s stronger. Still, the characters remain flat and unknowable, while the novel itself is predictable. At this point, more than half a century’s worth of fiction and film has been inspired by the Holocaust—a weighty and imposing tradition. Hunter, it seems, hasn’t been able to break free from her dependence on it.

Too beholden to sentimentality and cliché, this novel fails to establish a uniquely realized perspective.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-56308-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Nov. 21, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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MAGIC HOUR

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Sisters work together to solve a child-abandonment case.

Ellie and Julia Cates have never been close. Julia is shy and brainy; Ellie gets by on charm and looks. Their differences must be tossed aside when a traumatized young girl wanders in from the forest into their hometown in Washington. The sisters’ professional skills are put to the test. Julia is a world-renowned child psychologist who has lost her edge. She is reeling from a case that went publicly sour. Though she was cleared of all wrongdoing, Julia’s name was tarnished, forcing her to shutter her Beverly Hills practice. Ellie Barton is the local police chief in Rain Valley, who’s never faced a tougher case. This is her chance to prove she is more than just a fading homecoming queen, but a scarcity of clues and a reluctant victim make locating the girl’s parents nearly impossible. Ellie places an SOS call to her sister; she needs an expert to rehabilitate this wild-child who has been living outside of civilization for years. Confronted with her professional demons, Julia once again has the opportunity to display her talents and salvage her reputation. Hannah (The Things We Do for Love, 2004, etc.) is at her best when writing from the girl’s perspective. The feral wolf-child keeps the reader interested long after the other, transparent characters have grown tiresome. Hannah’s torturously over-written romance passages are stale, but there are surprises in store as the sisters set about unearthing Alice’s past and creating a home for her.

Wacky plot keeps the pages turning and enduring schmaltzy romantic sequences.

Pub Date: March 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-345-46752-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2005

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