Historical verisimilitude worthy of a Ken Burns documentary but oh so much more lurid.


A saga of the Civil War gathers all the usual suspects—enslaved people, slave owners, abolitionists, soldiers, and nurses—but the result is far from clichéd.

Kelly’s ambitious tale begs to be called “sweeping,” but its chief virtue is the way it homes in on the microcosms, some horrific, inhabited by its three narrators. Georgy, from New York, one of seven daughters of the abolitionist Woolsey family, is determined to become a nurse. She studies with Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell, America’s first female medical school graduate, and strives to batter down prejudice not just against women doctors, but women nurses. Despite her proven ability, she’s often replaced at battlefield hospitals by incompetent, drunken male nurses. Jemma’s family is enslaved on the Peeler tobacco plantation in the border state of Maryland, where the White population seems equally divided between Union and Rebel sympathies. Firmly in the second camp is Anne-May, who inherited the Peeler plantation from her elderly Aunt Tandy Rose, flouting her late aunt’s testamentary directive to free Peeler’s slaves. Anne-May is bad to the bone, whips Jemma regularly, employs a brutal overseer, spends her family’s dwindling funds on fripperies, is addicted to snuff, and takes advantage of her husband’s absence at the front to flagrantly carry on an affair with a local merchant. The affair turns into a spying mission for the Confederacy, involuntarily abetted by Jemma, who, more literate than Anne-May, is forced to write down Union secrets in Anne-May’s little red book. And that’s only the beginning of Anne-May’s moral bankruptcy. These alternating, intimate vantage points situate readers in the chaotic political, military, and social hellscapes of Civil War America, from Gettysburg to the draft riots. Cliffhangers closing each chapter keep the plot moving at a satisfying clip.

Historical verisimilitude worthy of a Ken Burns documentary but oh so much more lurid.

Pub Date: March 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5247-9640-2

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.


The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.


An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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