A gripping drama of the conflict between love and destiny.

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HAMNET

Imagining the life of the family Shakespeare left behind in Stratford makes an intriguing change of pace for a veteran storyteller.

While O’Farrell eschews the sort of buried-secrets plots that drive the propulsive narratives of such previous novels as Instructions for a Heatwave (2013), her gifts for full-bodied characterization and sensitive rendering of intricate family bonds are on full display. She opens with 11-year-old Hamnet anxiously hovering over his twin sister, Judith, who has a mysterious fever and ominous swellings. When Hamnet asks his grandfather where his mother is, the old man strikes him, and as the novel moves through the characters’ memories, we see the role John Shakespeare’s brutality played in son Will’s departure for London. The central figure in this drama is Shakespeare’s wife, Agnes, better known to history as Anne, recipient of the infamous second-best-bed bequest in his will. O’Farrell chooses an alternate name—spelling was not uniform in Elizabethan times—and depicts Agnes as a woman whose profound engagement with the natural world drew young Will to her from their first meeting. The daughter of a reputed sorceress, Agnes has a mysterious gift: She can read people’s natures and foresee their futures with a single touch. She sees the abilities within Will that are being smothered as a reluctant Latin tutor and inept participant in his father’s glove trade, and it is Agnes who deftly maneuvers John into sending him away. She believes she will join Will soon, but Judith’s frailty forestalls this. O’Farrell draws us into Agnes’ mixed emotions as the years go by and she sees Will on his increasingly infrequent visits “inhabiting it—that life he was meant to live, that work he was intended to do.” Hamnet’s death—bitterly ironic, as he was always the stronger twin—drives the couple farther apart, and news of a new play called Hamlet sends Agnes to London in a rage. O’Farrell’s complex, moving finale shows her watching the performance and honoring her husband’s ability to turn their grief into art.

A gripping drama of the conflict between love and destiny.

Pub Date: July 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65760-6

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

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GOLDEN GIRL

From the greenroom of the afterlife—make that Benjamin Moore "Parsley Snips" green—a newly dead Nantucket novelist watches life unfold without her.

In her 27th novel, Hilderbrand gives herself an alter ego—beloved beach-novel author Vivian Howe—sends her out for a morning jog, and immediately kills her off. A hit-and-run driver leaves Vivi dead by the side of the road, where her son's best friend discovers her body—or was he responsible for the accident? Vivi doesn't know, nor does she know yet that her daughter Willa is pregnant, or that her daughter Carson is having a terribly ill-advised affair, or that her son, Leo, has a gnawing secret, or that her ex is getting tired of the girl he dumped her for. She will discover all this and more as she watches one last summer on Nantucket play out under the tutelage of Martha, her "Person," who receives her in the boho-chic waiting room of the Beyond. Hermès-scarved Martha explains that Vivi will have three nudges—three chances to change the course of events on Earth and prevent her bereaved loved ones from making life-altering mistakes. She will also get to watch the publication of what will be her last novel, titled Golden Girl, natch, and learn the answers to two questions: Will the secret about her own life she buried in this novel come to light (who cares, really—she's dead now), and will it hit No. 1 on the New York Times bestseller list (now there's an interesting question). She'll also get to see that one of her biggest wrongs is posthumously righted and that her kids have learned her most important lesson. As Willa says to Carson, "You know how she treats the characters in her books? She gives them flaws, she portrays them doing horrible things—but the reader loves them anyway. Because Mom loves them. Because they’re human.”

If novelists are auditioning to play God, Hilderbrand gets the part.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-31642008-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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