A tour de force of anguish made bearable by glimmers of redemption.

BRIGHT BURNING THINGS

A downtrodden single mother in Dublin shares her inner torment as alcoholism puts her at risk of losing the 4-year-old son she adores.

Sonya is a former actress who lost her career and lover when she decided to have her baby. Her narration is imbued with theatrical histrionics both mesmerizing and horrifying—mostly horrifying. The manic affection and pride with which Sonya describes her isolated life with son Tommy and dog Herbie, whom Sonya calls her other “boy,” are belied by the filth and squalor they clearly inhabit. Sonya is a mother who leaves a 4-year-old alone on the beach while she swims in her underwear with her imaginary, “lethal and irresistible…sidekick”; who drinks three bottles of wine and passes out while Tommy sits hungry in front of the television; who, in a burst of obsessive love, presses Tommy against her stomach as if to stuff him back into her womb, almost literally smothering him until he escapes her hold; who slaps him in a pizzeria, where a stranger named David Smythe steps in to pay for their food out of concern and suggests she get help. The sense of impending disaster looms until Sonya’s supposedly estranged father shows up and forces her into rehab, where she interacts with three key characters: Sister Anne, whose spirituality is hard for Sonya to accept but who sees her as redeemable; fellow addict Jimmy, who can't cure himself but offers Sonya practical support; and David Smythe, who (too) coincidentally turns out to be a former addict–turned-counselor and who may or may not offer the safe haven Sonya needs. Harding eschews sentimentality while making it clear that her characters, however warped, are complex human beings. But even after Sonya returns home and regains custody of Tommy, the reader cannot relax and trust that Tommy will be safe in her care.

A tour de force of anguish made bearable by glimmers of redemption.

Pub Date: Dec. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-309714-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: HarperVia

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2021

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An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

THE SUMMER PLACE

When a family convenes at their Cape Cod summer home for a wedding, old secrets threaten to ruin everything.

Sarah Danhauser is shocked when her beloved stepdaughter announces her engagement to her boyfriend, Gabe. After all, Ruby’s only 22, and Sarah suspects that their relationship was fast-tracked because of the time they spent together in quarantine during the early days of the pandemic. Sarah’s mother, Veronica, is thrilled, mostly because she longs to have the entire family together for one last celebration before she puts their Cape Cod summer house on the market. But getting to Ruby and Gabe’s wedding might prove more difficult than anyone thought. Sarah can’t figure out why her husband, Eli, has been so distant and distracted ever since Ruby moved home to Park Slope (bringing Gabe with her), and she's afraid he may be having an affair. Veronica is afraid that a long-ago dalliance might come back to bite her. Ruby isn’t sure how to process the conflicting feelings she’s having about her upcoming nuptials. And Sam, Sarah’s twin brother, is a recent widower who’s dealing with some pretty big romantic confusion. As the entire extended family, along with Gabe’s relatives, converges on the summer house, secrets become impossible to keep, and it quickly becomes clear that this might not be the perfect gathering Veronica was envisioning. If they make it to the wedding, will their family survive the aftermath? Weiner creates a story with all the misunderstandings and miscommunications of a screwball comedy or a Shakespeare play (think A Midsummer Night’s Dream). But the surprising, over-the-top actions of the characters are grounded by a realistic and moving look at grief and ambition (particularly for Sarah and Veronica, both of whom give up demanding creative careers early on). At times the flashbacks can slow down the story, but even when the characters are lying, cheating, and hiding from each other, they still seem like a real and loving family.

An alternately farcical and poignant look at family bonds.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5011-3357-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

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REMINDERS OF HIM

After being released from prison, a young woman tries to reconnect with her 5-year-old daughter despite having killed the girl’s father.

Kenna didn’t even know she was pregnant until after she was sent to prison for murdering her boyfriend, Scotty. When her baby girl, Diem, was born, she was forced to give custody to Scotty’s parents. Now that she’s been released, Kenna is intent on getting to know her daughter, but Scotty’s parents won’t give her a chance to tell them what really happened the night their son died. Instead, they file a restraining order preventing Kenna from so much as introducing herself to Diem. Handsome, self-assured Ledger, who was Scotty’s best friend, is another key adult in Diem’s life. He’s helping her grandparents raise her, and he too blames Kenna for Scotty’s death. Even so, there’s something about her that haunts him. Kenna feels the pull, too, and seems to be seeking Ledger out despite his judgmental behavior. As Ledger gets to know Kenna and acknowledges his attraction to her, he begins to wonder if maybe he and Scotty’s parents have judged her unfairly. Even so, Ledger is afraid that if he surrenders to his feelings, Scotty’s parents will kick him out of Diem’s life. As Kenna and Ledger continue to mourn for Scotty, they also grieve the future they cannot have with each other. Told alternatively from Kenna’s and Ledger’s perspectives, the story explores the myriad ways in which snap judgments based on partial information can derail people’s lives. Built on a foundation of death and grief, this story has an undercurrent of sadness. As usual, however, the author has created compelling characters who are magnetic and sympathetic enough to pull readers in. In addition to grief, the novel also deftly explores complex issues such as guilt, self-doubt, redemption, and forgiveness.

With captivating dialogue, angst-y characters, and a couple of steamy sex scenes, Hoover has done it again.

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5420-2560-7

Page Count: 335

Publisher: Montlake Romance

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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