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LINEAGE OF THE TREES

An intricate and captivating dual narrative that keeps returning to the magic of trees.

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A tragedy-scarred woman dedicates her life to guarding trees.

Brunette’s novel opens with an emblematically vivid and horrifying image. The book’s main character, Lata Marie, recalls the day before her eighth birthday, when Aunt Charlotte set fire to her house—“a rambling Victorian with a turret and a wrap-around porch”—and was consumed in the flames. “The last time I saw her,” Lata reflects, “she stood in the attic window waving at me, a solid wall of fire behind her like a stage curtain.” From that stark initial image, the narrative flows backward to flesh out the oddly controlling nature of Lata’s Uncle Jesse and its effect on the unconventional Charlotte, who “had a translucent quality—an ability to walk through a room full of people as though she were the only one there.” It was the extensive amount of time she spent with Charlotte as a child that gave Lata her own sympathy for nature and “taste for wildness.” The story expands to include Charlotte’s own background; the tale of her introduction to the neighborhood woods, protected by the Convent of the Sisters of St. Francis; and the semimystical lessons she absorbed from nature. “The woods taught me things you can’t learn from people,” Charlotte muses, “like how to make friends with trees and the little plants that grow beneath them.” Looming in the background of all these deep stories are the fate of the woods and the fiery culmination awaiting Charlotte.

Brunette handles the many strands of her novel with considerable, delicate skill. The decision to shuttle the plots between chapters focusing on Lata and those concentrating on Charlotte could easily have backfired since it necessarily stands in the way of a central momentum forming. But the author makes this split narrative work, increasing the undercurrents of tension between the two stories across diverse time periods and personalities. Somewhat unexpectedly, the character of Jesse, with his odd obsessions—reflected in a different way from these two narrative perspectives—often takes primacy. The book unifies the various threads through a sense of connection to the natural world and a feeling of resentment at its destruction. “Did anyone make their prayers to the forest, make their case for the good this city would do by rising up in its place?” asks a character looking at the rapid urban expansion. “Did anyone talk to the people who had lived there first, convince them of the pressing need for the giant dry cleaner and the drug store and the factory that made foam rubber?” Brunette gracefully and subtly moves her parallel stories forward, and although Charlotte’s tale is noticeably more intriguing than Lata’s, both are adroitly shaped in order to evoke and echo each other. And the suggestion running through both accounts—the unambiguous sanctity of the natural world—lends the two storylines an urgent kind of real-world spirituality.

An intricate and captivating dual narrative that keeps returning to the magic of trees.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9892605-5-8

Page Count: 234

Publisher: flamingseed press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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JAMES

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as told from the perspective of a more resourceful and contemplative Jim than the one you remember.

This isn’t the first novel to reimagine Twain’s 1885 masterpiece, but the audacious and prolific Everett dives into the very heart of Twain’s epochal odyssey, shifting the central viewpoint from that of the unschooled, often credulous, but basically good-hearted Huck to the more enigmatic and heroic Jim, the Black slave with whom the boy escapes via raft on the Mississippi River. As in the original, the threat of Jim’s being sold “down the river” and separated from his wife and daughter compels him to run away while figuring out what to do next. He's soon joined by Huck, who has faked his own death to get away from an abusive father, ramping up Jim’s panic. “Huck was supposedly murdered and I’d just run away,” Jim thinks. “Who did I think they would suspect of the heinous crime?” That Jim can, as he puts it, “[do] the math” on his predicament suggests how different Everett’s version is from Twain’s. First and foremost, there's the matter of the Black dialect Twain used to depict the speech of Jim and other Black characters—which, for many contemporary readers, hinders their enjoyment of his novel. In Everett’s telling, the dialect is a put-on, a manner of concealment, and a tactic for survival. “White folks expect us to sound a certain way and it can only help if we don’t disappoint them,” Jim explains. He also discloses that, in violation of custom and law, he learned to read the books in Judge Thatcher’s library, including Voltaire and John Locke, both of whom, in dreams and delirium, Jim finds himself debating about human rights and his own humanity. With and without Huck, Jim undergoes dangerous tribulations and hairbreadth escapes in an antebellum wilderness that’s much grimmer and bloodier than Twain’s. There’s also a revelation toward the end that, however stunning to devoted readers of the original, makes perfect sense.

One of the noblest characters in American literature gets a novel worthy of him.

Pub Date: March 19, 2024

ISBN: 9780385550369

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2024

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