Oh for the days when life was a picnic on the beach: Hilderbrand sets the gold standard in escapist fiction.

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28 SUMMERS

A Nantucket-ization of the world’s most romantic adultery story.

Inspired by the 1978 movie Same Time, Next Year, Hilderbrand creates her own pair of annual secret lovers—Mallory Blessing and Jake McCloud. Mallory is a Baltimore girl, born and raised in Anne Tyler territory, who inherits a Nantucket beach cottage from her gay aunt. Jake is her brother Cooper’s best friend from his college days at Johns Hopkins. They first cross paths in 1993, when Mallory hosts Cooper’s bachelor party over Labor Day weekend…and the book’s title gives you a pretty good idea of the rest. When they meet, Jake is already the property of a glamorous but coldhearted powerhouse named Ursula DeGournsey—the two grew up together in South Bend, Indiana—who by the end of the book is a U.S. senator running for president. To get to 2020, Hilderbrand paves a lush path of nostalgia, introducing each year with a rundown of headlines, song lyrics, and pop-culture memories, and also slips in an astute commentary on marriage, showcasing various good ones and bad ones along the way. Come for the sailing, the sunsets, and the sweet romance, stay for the cold gin and tonics, the lobster dinners, and truly unparalleled picnics: “rare roast beef, Boursin, and arugula pinwheel sandwiches, chicken and potato sandwiches with celery and chives; a marinated cucumber salad from the Baltimore Junior League cookbook, and lemon bars with a coconut shortbread crust.” In her 25th novel, Hilderbrand gets everything right and leaves her ardent fans hungry for No. 26.

Oh for the days when life was a picnic on the beach: Hilderbrand sets the gold standard in escapist fiction.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-316-42004-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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Groff’s trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.

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MATRIX

Set in early medieval Europe, this book paints a rousing portrait of an abbess seizing and holding power.

After the spicy, structurally innovative Fates and Furies (2015), Groff spins back 850 years to a girl on a horse: “She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France.” The inspiration is a historical figure, Marie de France, considered the first woman to write poetry in French. Groff gives her a fraught, lifelong, sexually charged tie to Eleanor of Aquitaine. A matrix, which comes from the Latin for mother, builds implacably between Eleanor and Marie. But in the first chapter, the queen rids the court of an ungainly, rustic Marie by installing her in a remote English convent, home to 20 starving nuns. The sisters hang the traveler’s clothes in the communal privy, where “the ammonia of the piss kills the beasties”—the lice. After a long sulk, Marie rouses herself to examine the abbey’s disastrous ledgers, mount her warhorse, and gallop forth to turn out the family most egregiously squatting on convent land. News spreads and the rents come in, “some grumbling but most half proud to have a woman so tough and bold and warlike and royal to answer to now.” The novel is at its best through Marie's early years of transforming the ruined, muddy convent, bit by bit, into a thriving estate, with a prosperous new scriptorium, brimming fields, and spilling flocks, protected by a forest labyrinth and spies abroad. In this way, Marie forestalls the jealous priests and village men plotting against her. Readers of Arcadia (2012), Groff’s brilliantly evocative hippie commune novel, will remember her gift for conjuring life without privacy. And she knows a snake always lurks within Eden. The cloister witnesses lust, sex, pregnancy, peril. Marie has visions of the Virgin Mary, 19 in all, but these passages stay flat. Medieval mystics, unsurprisingly, write better about mysticism. The gesture toward a lost theology based on Marie’s visions amounts to weak tea.

Groff’s trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59463-449-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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