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


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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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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