A novel about a real-life madam-turned–real estate magnate stumbles on style.


The story of a Black woman who became a millionaire a century ago.

This completes the author’s quintet of historical novels about what she calls “invisible” women of color whose significant stories have been erased. Hannah Elias certainly has a significant story. She was born Bessie Davis in 1865 to a struggling family in Philadelphia. In this fictional version of her life she was raped as a child, unjustly imprisoned for theft as a teen, and cast out by her family. She became a sex worker to survive and soon moved up to running bordellos. Moving to New York City, she cultivated upper-class admirers, a goal made easier by her ability to easily pass as White, and parlayed her success into a real estate empire. By the time she was in her 30s she was one of the richest Black people in the country but little known—she was careful to avoid scandal. That all blew up, however, when Cornelius Williams, who had been a tenant in one of her boardinghouses and suffered the delusion that they were lovers, shot and wounded Hannah at her mansion on Central Park West and shot to death city planner Andrew Green, known as the “Father of Greater New York” for his role in founding Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and other landmarks. His death was an error: Williams mistook him for one of Hannah’s longtime millionaire lovers John Platt. But the murder, which opens the book, exposed the relationship between Hannah and Platt as well as Hannah’s wealth, leading to tabloid headlines and blackmail accusations that shook New York City’s upper crust. It’s a compelling story, based on what Chase-Riboud says in the acknowledgements is a long-lost trove of documents about Elias. But the novel, especially in its first half, slows the story down with prose that is often clunky and overladen with details, dialogue that sounds more like lecture than conversation, and much repetition. The last part of the book does build momentum, if the reader gets there.

A novel about a real-life madam-turned–real estate magnate stumbles on style.

Pub Date: Feb. 8, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-301990-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.


A long-lost painting sets in motion a plot intertwining the odyssey of a famed 19th-century thoroughbred and his trainer with the 21st-century rediscovery of the horse’s portrait.

In 2019, Nigerian American Georgetown graduate student Theo plucks a dingy canvas from a neighbor’s trash and gets an assignment from Smithsonian magazine to write about it. That puts him in touch with Jess, the Smithsonian’s “expert in skulls and bones,” who happens to be examining the same horse's skeleton, which is in the museum's collection. (Theo and Jess first meet when she sees him unlocking an expensive bike identical to hers and implies he’s trying to steal it—before he points hers out further down the same rack.) The horse is Lexington, “the greatest racing stallion in American turf history,” nurtured and trained from birth by Jarret, an enslaved man who negotiates with this extraordinary horse the treacherous political and racial landscape of Kentucky before and during the Civil War. Brooks, a White writer, risks criticism for appropriation by telling portions of these alternating storylines from Jarret’s and Theo’s points of view in addition to those of Jess and several other White characters. She demonstrates imaginative empathy with both men and provides some sardonic correctives to White cluelessness, as when Theo takes Jess’ clumsy apology—“I was traumatized by my appalling behavior”—and thinks, “Typical….He’d been accused, yet she was traumatized.” Jarret is similarly but much more covertly irked by well-meaning White people patronizing him; Brooks skillfully uses their paired stories to demonstrate how the poison of racism lingers. Contemporary parallels are unmistakable when a Union officer angrily describes his Confederate prisoners as “lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true.…Their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail…was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.” The 21st-century chapters’ shocking denouement drives home Brooks’ point that too much remains the same for Black people in America, a grim conclusion only slightly mitigated by a happier ending for Jarret.

Strong storytelling in service of a stinging moral message.

Pub Date: June 14, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-39-956296-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: March 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2022

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 36

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?