An engrossing, quietly eloquent, and heartbreaking loss-of-innocence novel.


An evocative historical novel involving the haunting letters and diaries of a World War II flyboy stationed in the South Pacific.

It’s the final August weekend of 1940, and 20-year-old Philip Zumwalt, recently graduated from college, has two goals. He wants to be a famous musician/songwriter, and he dreams of becoming a pilot. For now, he will be moving from his hometown of Nebo, Illinois, to the neighboring town of Payson, where he will be the new high school music teacher. But first there’s a dance to attend at the casino in Quincy’s Highland Park, featuring Tommy Dorsey and Frank Sinatra. He meets the mesmerizing Elinor “El” Robinson, and they dance the night away together. Several days later, Philip begins his teaching assignment. Much to his dismay, he discovers that the woman who so dazzled him at the casino is a senior at Payson-Seymour High School. Worse, she is his student in band and in his class on world problems. The magnetism between them continues, but romance is forbidden until El’s graduation. Swanson uses the world problems class discussions to gently introduce readers to the diverging views roiling the country about whether the United States should or will become involved in the war raging in Europe. After the school year, Philip resigns, and he and El are free to fall in love. Philip enlists in the U.S. Army Air Force, where he hopes to become a pilot. During basic training in Illinois, he acquires the first of his three Army-issued diaries, which are liberally quoted through Part 2 of the novel. This is not an action-driven narrative, although it contains descriptions of several bombing missions that highlight feats of bravery and determination. But these are sandwiched between the long hours Philip spends reading modern classics, drinking to dull his psychological turmoil, struggling to come to terms with the brutality and moral conflicts of war, and writing. Making ample use of cultural and linguistic references of the period—especially through the lyrics and rhythms of popular music—Swanson takes readers inside a painful time capsule.

An engrossing, quietly eloquent, and heartbreaking loss-of-innocence novel.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73728-550-2

Page Count: 404

Publisher: Boathouse Productions

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2021

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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

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

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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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